Last weekend I was in Sweden. I like it there. Things work. People are polite and thoughtful and not obsessed with class. The food and climate are good and the woods and the water remind me of home. It feels like a place where a lot of important things have been sorted out.
Flying back into Edinburgh on Sunday night I was acutely aware of the fact that I was returning from a country where independence is taken for granted to one where it isn’t. I wondered how I would feel to be touching down in a Scotland that was independent. Proud and energised were the two thoughts that came at once to mind. That it’s within our grasp to live in a society that we are free to fashion as we choose is one of the most thrilling prospects I can imagine.
A friend in the south accused me of being deluded and suggested that I should wake up. If so, mine is a delusion suffered by somewhere around half of the voting population of Scotland. A couple of million somnambulists? I think not. A couple of million people who are now wider awake than they’ve ever been in their lives would be nearer the mark. A couple of million who have turned the possibilities upside down, sliced them sideways, put them under the microscope and concluded that we have everything we need to make a success of it, and that the alternative no longer bears thinking about.
I can’t deny the depth of sentiment that many people attach to the union, and I have always wished to respect that. I know very well that feelings on both sides run deep. But I’ve come to believe that the union no longer serves Scotland well, and I’m not really very clear how it serves England either – unless it’s by maintaining oil revenue, which is trifling in the face of a trillion-pound debt, or by providing a home for Trident. What else do we have to offer in practical terms?
Setting the practicalities aside, the analogy of personal relationship is hard to avoid: the things we have shared over time won’t disappear because we’re separate, and we’ll continue to cohabit in these islands, and relate to and spark off one another in future as mature, independent and, most importantly, equal adults. That will benefit both of us.
Just as I want to remain respectful of No-voters’ feelings, I’ve also tried to stay clear of the subject of their campaign. But I’m not sure that I can any longer because as we enter the final stretch it seems to me to be in itself a warning of what we may expect if we remain in the union.
The negativity and misinformation not only of the campaign itself but of so much of what has been written or said in the mainstream media leaves me breathless – and the fact that no one has managed to produce a single positive reason for Scotland to stay probably says all we need to know. If we are to be better together after the referendum why, as someone pointed out recently, aren’t we now?
Returning to the analogy of relationships, my 23-year-old son was the last of my children to leave home. He went to London a couple of months ago to start working life. We are deeply connected but our relationship has changed and matured, our needs and preoccupations have diverged, and there would be no benefit to either of us in my insisting that he remained under our wing. Had I tried to persuade him of the dangers and uncertainties of the world beyond our doors, threatened him with the prospect of bankruptcy and mugging, he would rightly have said ‘Thanks, but I’ll take that chance to live my life the way I want to live it.’
In three weeks we face the most important decision about our futures that any of us will ever take. To those who are still undecided I would say: here is an opportunity to do something extraordinary, to confound the nay-sayers, to build a country we can be proud of, to take the risk (which is maybe not so great) of becoming like the rest of the world, and to take it from a position of greater strength and stability than any country that has ever done so before. Not to take this chance, I believe, is to consign us to a future of even greater uncertainty, and one with no discernible benefit on the horizon.
Finally, if most of your information has come from the newspapers or the television, almost all of which are avowedly pro-union, I implore you to seek balance by looking further afield before you make up your mind. This is a good place to start. So is this. Or this.
Click here for a collection of all my posts on the referendum to date.