Back in January I wrote about how it seemed to me that the question Why? is so much more fundamental to the independence referendum than the question How? Yet the mainstream of the debate has been framed almost entirely by How.
The reason’s not hard to see. It’s simpler to place practical obstacles – in this case mainly economic and political – in someone’s path than to convince them of the moral, philosophical or emotional benefits of the status quo. Yet whichever way you plan to vote you must surely be clear about why you do or don’t want independence before you start to consider how it might or might not come about.
I was reminded of that post this week by a friend at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. It made me think that I myself have been too easily caught up in the How? of late, and that with only four weeks to go it’s time that I reflected again on my personal reasons for supporting independence. In doing so I realise what a long distance I’ve travelled this year. I’ve had to think hard about many issues to which I had never previously given any consideration, and rethink many others. In the end I come down to nine main reasons why I will vote Yes on September 18:
1. Because ever since I can remember I have felt Scottish before anything else, and proud to be so. These days I’m only really reminded of my Britishness by my passport (although once abroad I would never answer ‘Britain’ to the where-do-you-come-from question); by memories of the history I was taught at school; and by the odd ceremonial occasion, most of which I admit to finding faintly ridiculous. This is nothing whatever to do with England where I was educated for five years, subsequently lived for 20, and still have many ties of family and friendship. It’s to do with a feeling of belonging to a place and a people.
2. So that we can be like everyone else. Scotland is an ancient nation. It was ruled by its own kings for nearly 800 years before one of them happened also to become king of England. Over that time, and since long before, we’ve developed our own culture and society, temperament and humour, political outlook and economy. Our landscape is distinct as are our ethnic roots and strands of our language. We enjoy all the unique characteristics that go to make a country and it’s normal for countries to manage their own affairs and determine their own futures. Their own people are those best qualified to shoulder that responsibility.
3. Because I am an optimist and I feel hopeful and excited. Scotland is a wonderful, wealthy country and its potential is enormous. We’re an inventive, practical, resourceful people with fantastic natural resources. There is no question in my mind that we can make a success of our future and I see independence as the chance to start telling a different story about Scotland: one that owes nothing to defeat, occupation, emigration, industrial decline, sickness, poverty and failure; and everything to possibility, to innovation, the will to prosper and flourish culturally, the willingness to make connections beyond our shores, to stake our claim in the global debate.
4. Because I’m concerned about kindness and I believe that Scots have an instinct for fairness and treating one another decently. But the only way we can truly stand a chance of embedding those values in our society is to have control of every aspect of our social policy, including its funding, and thus prevent the widening of the gap between rich and poor. I also believe in the value of immigration. The vast majority of people who come here from other countries work hard, pay tax and enrich our culture.
5. Because I feel a strong affinity for Europe. I love being in France and Spain and speak a little of both languages. My wife was brought up in France and we both feel at home on the continent. This is against a backdrop of Scotland’s centuries-long European connections, through political alliance with France, intellectual exchange with the Low Countries, trade with the Baltic nations, to name but a few. We should be able to bring our own voice, our own concerns, to the European forum and the prospect of being involuntarily isolated, relegated to the margins by a future UK referendum, is not one I want to contemplate.
6. Because I believe in the NHS as a public service. Thirty-four years ago, in London, my oldest daughter’s very young life was saved because we had free access to the best medical expertise available anywhere in the world. For all its shortcomings our NHS is still the envy of the world and the prospect of creeping privatisation south of the border resulting in funding cuts north of it is both a tragedy and a travesty of a fundamental principle.
7. Because I think Trident is pointless, anachronistic and obscene. Who will we fire those missiles at – if we’re still around to fire them? There is something utterly mad about the proposition that the most destructive weapon ever conceived can be an effective agent of world peace. Only eight nations in the world have declared nuclear weapons, while another five have access to them via NATO. That is a club whose founding principles seem to me to be perversity and bravado. I do not want to belong to it.
8. Because I think it will shake up our press. Scotland today is served by 37 daily newspapers. Not one supports independence. The only one that does is a weekly, The Sunday Herald. No one says that any individual title must be unbiased, but a healthy democracy has a press that overall reflects the current spectrum of opinion. Post-independence I would hope to see changes in our media landscape, with people turning more and more to some of the more thoughtful, and truly independent, online sources of information and opinion.
9. Because I can see independence placing the whole current system of government in Scotland, central and local, under the microscope and inviting us to take a hard look at what works and what doesn’t. The referendum campaign has demanded of us all that we look deep within as individuals. A Yes vote will require that we look deep within as a self-governing nation. Perhaps that’s the most important reason of all.
Click here for a collection of all my posts on the referendum to date.