Writing in The Guardian this week, George Monbiot offered an intriguing perspective on the referendum. Imagine a state that was considering surrendering its sovereignty to a larger union, he proposed.
It would retain a measure of autonomy but cede key aspects of its governance to another nation, which would use it as a military base and yoke it to an economy over which it had no control. An attractive proposition? Not likely. And the argument, he suggested, is not altered by the fact that Scotland is considering gaining rather than losing its independence.
It would certainly make for an interesting discussion among the students of the Frenchwoman I met while out canvassing this week. She is a lecturer in Scottish politics at the University of Nantes. I repeat, a lecturer in Scottish politics. At a French university. I asked if she had enough students. ‘Plenty,’ she replied. ‘It’s a fascinating subject, and it encourages them to think about how their own state is run.’
Although the new term has already begun in Nantes she had been given an extension by her head of department to remain in Scotland till after the 18th. Imagine the opportunity – like a lecturer in vulcanology being given leave of absence to witness an eruption. She herself is a Breton, she said, adding wistfully that what is happening here could never happen in France where the heavy hand of centralised government lies everywhere.
Her reaction seemed to me typical of that of so many overseas observers who are either admiring and envious of our democratic process, or amazed that there should be a debate at all, given what’s on offer. Why would you not want independence? is a common refrain, to which George Monbiot’s proposition is a reverse echo.
As the day comes closer, as our nerves stretch further and we become increasingly campaign-weary, it’s easy to default to the negative: the why-wouldn’t-we-want-it (because everyone else has it) or the why-we-shouldn’t-stay (because the status quo is rotten) view of things. But I believe this is the moment when it’s most important to keep sight of the positive reasons for a Yes vote. And one doesn’t have to look far for them.
There’s an excitement in the eyes of so many of the people I talk to, in the voices of so many of the independent commentators and bloggers I read, and it’s not the light or ring of fanaticism, rabid nationalism, Anglophobia or any of the other unpleasant characteristics so mischievously ascribed to the Yes campaign in recent months.
It’s simply something welling up in the hearts of a very large number of quite ordinary people, a belief that positive change is coming, a moment of unparalleled opportunity for Scotland to become the very best country it can be. It’s a palpable sense of something momentous being within touching distance and it transcends all the normal boundaries of age, gender, race, class, wealth and political allegiance.
It’s a song of hope that’s ready to burst from a couple of million throats, a hymn to this beautiful, rich land and the potential of its warm, thoughtful, ingenious people to create the fair, decent, equal and prosperous society that has stood for so long and so firmly in the Scottish imagination, and to which so many who live in Scotland today aspire.
Realising it won’t necessarily be easy, but one thing we know for certain: for it to happen at all, we must first be able to imagine it. Right now, the imaginations of half the voters in Scotland are on fire.