I’m writing this on a spellbinding early Indian summer’s morning in Perthshire. The mist has burnt off and the sky is cloudless. The trees and bracken are just starting to turn. The hills are within touching distance. All is still and clear. Or is it … ?
Perhaps you feel you’re still in the mist, your head and heart fogged with uncertainty. Should we keep things as they are or should we vote for change? Can we afford to take a leap in the dark, or is it safer to trust the people who currently run things on our behalf? Is the man leading the charge a cunning, self-serving manipulator or an impassioned advocate of what he believes to be best for Scotland? And how are we to decide for ourselves what is best for our country, best for us as individuals?
Most of what you read in the papers or see on the television tells you that we would be mad to go, that independence would leave us impoverished, outcast and vulnerable, a small inconsequential nation in financial peril with diminishing resources, high taxation, underfunded public services, crumbling institutions and no voice on the world stage; that a vote for independence is a foolish triumph of heart over head, not to mention a betrayal of old friends, and that many of those who advocate it are motivated by selfishness and hostility.
You will also have heard that should we stay we will be given the powers we need to raise more taxes and manage more of our own affairs, while retaining all the benefits of financial, political and social union with our bigger neighbour.
Then there are the opposing arguments – you hear less of them in the mainstream media, more in the online channels and on social media as well as in village halls and on street corners – that this is a moment of great opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime chance to take control of our own affairs, manage our own rich resources, spend our own taxes the way we want to, and speak to the world with the dignified voice of a self-determining, sovereign nation like every other – one, what’s more, that has a mature, balanced and affectionate relationship with its larger neighbour; that an instinct for social justice will lead to a fairer society where there are neither food banks nor grotesque salaries for bankers, and where characteristic ingenuity and drive will create jobs and long-term prosperity.
You will also have heard that should we stay we face further austerity from a government which boasts one elected representative north of the border and is lurching ever further to the right, the threat of reduced funding for our health service, a share of a massive bill for upgrading a nuclear arsenal sited 30 miles from our largest city, a very uncertain future in Europe, and the possibility of a backlash for having had the temerity to contemplate independence in the first place.
So which is right? And how do you choose? One claims to be the voice of prudence and reason, the other the voice of optimism and belief. But prudence tends not to favour change, while belief tends not to put bread on the table. So is it a question of head over heart, or vice versa? Clearly not. There’s plenty of both on both sides – just as there are unpleasant people of extreme views on both sides (though given what’s at stake, I believe history will come to look on this campaign as one of the most civilised on record).
There is one critical difference between the two sides, though. While there are positive and negative arguments on both, only one is actually driven by a positive. Imagining a better future, whatever anxieties accompany it, unlocks energy and opens the heart. Seeking to maintain the status quo does neither.
But we now know that change is coming anyway, whatever the result. The genie is fairly and squarely out of the bottle. So we will all have to find a way to move forward productively, graciously and magnanimously – whether in victory or defeat – in order to create or adapt to the new circumstances in which we’re going to find ourselves.
So if you’re still undecided when you walk into the polling station next Thursday, you might ask yourself this: do you want to go with the energy for change or the safety of the status quo? That is to say, would you rather vote in hope or in fear? And if it feels lonely to be making this decision, remember that once you have, there will be somewhere around two million other people ready to keep you company.
All the best