This campaign has been the most thrilling I’ve ever witnessed.
I’ve covered many as a presenter and reporter. I’ve watched weary volunteers try to persuade cynical voters that one barely indistinguishable political brand is better than another. ‘New’ is the most overused and discredited one word cliché in politics.
But this is different. Scotland is on the verge of a peaceful, democratic, revolution which will transform the lives of generations to come. It represents a triumph of optimism.
I remember distinctly when my Journey To Yes began. The first time I was aware of politics was during Margo’s by-election battle for Hamilton. My parents were Labour voters and politics seemed like a dull, monochromic adult world. But Margo was politics in colour. She spoke about hope and aspiration with wit and verve. And as a schooboy I was hooked, persuading my long suffering Mum and Dad to let me go and volunteer for her.
Margo was an effective street campaigner, but Scottish Labour voters weren’t yet ready to make the switch. “I’d like to vote for her son, but….” was the echo on the doorsteps. I couldn’t believe it when she lost. Timidity and tribalism had triumphed over the shock of the new.
I was heading off to University when we voted “Yes, maybe…” in 1979, and in the long Thatcher years watched Labour voters trudging to the ballot box as our industries were decimated, told as they were by the party leadership that it was their duty to counter-balance the way English people chose to vote. And to wait.
The end of their wait was Blair. A Labour government voted in by English and Scottish voters alike. A new British dawn. I covered those years as a reporter living in London. By then we had a Parliament in Scotland – but it was a Parliament without the power to resist as a Labour government cynically prepared for war in Iraq. Like so many I was dismayed by the compromises Westminster MPs made with their conscience. And I thought, like most Scots, that it was utterly wrong for Scottish troops to be sent off to fight and die in wars that Holyrood didn’t vote for. It was a turning point for countless Scottish Labour voters.
As I write, there’s less than one week until the referendum, and it seems that perhaps forty percent of Labour voters are planning to defy the party line and opt for self-determination. They are right to do so. They are choosing an independent Scotland where people will get the government that they vote for at every election. They are opting to use Scotland’s vast resources to create a society with values that we believe in; a well funded NHS, an education system open to all, a decent standard of living for the vulnerable. They are voting too for control over our foreign and defence policies. We will get rid of Trident. And there will be no more reckless military escapades.
As long as I’ve been politically aware, anti-independence campaigners have chosen to campaign on the basis of fear – telling us that we are too wee, too poor and too stupid to govern ourselves. They do this because they know that there has been, traditionally, an insecurity at the heart of the Scottish body politic. It’s been bred through the generations. “What if we can’t…..?”
The joy of this campaign is that I sense a surge of self-belief. The No campaign has been so angry, so negative, so utterly transparent in its orchestrated chorus of doom that I detect a collective roar of disbelieving laughter at its sheer absurdity. We’ve had the column of English Labour MPs trained up to march through Glasgow, and the cavalcade of Westminster leaders panicked into a day trip north to lovebomb us with half baked promises – mocked immediately by Boris Johnson as undeliverable. We’ve had everyone from a lingerie designer to Tory bank bosses telling us, yet again, that they will flee to the Border if we exercise our collective will and vote Yes. And we’ve had Gordon Brown lauded as a man of integrity by his most hated opponent, ‘The Daily Mail’. It is a grotesque procession. And they have over played their hand.
So let us go, and with quiet dignity. Let us move out of our shared flat with no ill feelings, and move into our own. It’s time we did. Let us rejoin the family of nations. No one is expecting daily sunshine. But at least we will make our own choices. We will decide about spending and priorities. We will reject the absurd multi billion pound Trident missile system. And we will emerge self-confident and respected around the world.
You know I never meet anyone these days who tells me that they voted against Devolution. Those who voted No nearly twenty years ago seem to have been struck by a collective amnesia. But I remember what we were told in 1997 by the doom merchants. We were told we’d be ostracized by our fellow Europeans, that big corporations would abandon Scotland, and that house prices would collapse. Some even argued that any Scottish parliament would be an illiberal place controlled by the Churches. Tell that to the Scottish gay couples now planning to get married.
The No campaigners were wrong then. And they’re wrong now.
So here we are again, with another decision. Do we want to complete the job? Will we move ahead to the next step of our journey where we control our oil money, our taxes, our fishing waters, and our army? Norway does. It’s our near neighbour. Once poor, it’s now the richest country in the world. I think we should take this step. I think our children will thank us if we do. What about you?