“Do I contradict myself?Very well then I contradict myself,(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”Walt Whitman – Song of Myself v51
Who am I? I am half English (with a bit of French) and half Scots. My father’s family are from Cambridge, via the East End of London (proper Cockney), and my mother’s family are old Lanarkshire stock. I am fiercely proud of my British heritage, as much of my English part as of my Scots, and both parts are hugely important to me. My children are half American and they are just as proud of their own mongrel ancestry… but we’re Scots, and we all live here in Scotland.
The independence debate is about many things, but it’s decidedly not about ethnicity. It is about all of us as individuals and as a collective unit, Scottish or British or both. It is about political leanings. left, right or centre. It’s about who we are in the world, the plucky Scots engineer standing just behind the brave Captain as he makes bold and heroic decisions to save the galaxy… or the captain of our own destiny, David Livingstone exploring and bringing peace to our own heart of darkness. Ultimately the debate is about power and our relationship with it.
On the 18th of September this year, between the hours of 07:00 and 22:00, we will, as Jim Sillars has eloquently said, for the first time in over 300 years have total sovereignty in our own nation. Do we, the people of Scotland, have the confidence to retain that power, to hold it and wield it ourselves, and to sink or swim on our own choices? Or are we too timid to keep the tiller and so pass it back to safer, surer, stronger hands? How small would we have to be inside, to choose to give our sovereignty away again? How tiny and timid and, lacking in belief and faith?
Of course, I know this is only my view of the moment, and I know that many others have very different perspectives of what the 18th of September means to us all, but for me it comes down to just this: there is not one reason I can think of to remain governed by Westminster that isn’t counterbalanced by at least one reason to govern ourselves.
Making the decision to bring our nation’s political power back into the hands of those who live and work here does not deny, diminish or denigrate any part of my patchwork ancestry or my history. It does not insult or malign any of my family or friends in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, France, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Jordan, Oman, Tanzania, India, Singapore, China, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the USA, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Sweden, Denmark, Latvia, Ireland, or Germany. It does not in any way slight a single one of them, because they are always my friends and family, regardless of their residence and irrespective of their nationality.
Voting Yes in September is not a narrow, insular, isolationist choice. It does not mean turning our backs on the rest of the world. It is a great, broad, open-armed embrace of the fullness of participation in everything the world has to offer us, without being filtered through an unnecessary layer of democratic deficit. Voting Yes says “I believe the country I call home is the equal of any other nation on this planet, and I believe it’s time we joined the game on our own terms.”
And those of you from Scotland but living outside her borders and unable to vote in this referendum, you do have a say, so make your voice heard.
Try to imagine coming home to a new nation? One with its own voice in the world, listened to by some, ignored by others, but unmistakably, uniquely ours. Our voice being heard on its own merits and for its own views, undiluted by the democratic distortion of being the (very) junior partner in an historically successful, but now outdated, alliance.
I recently watched a video of Jim Carrey giving the commencement address to the Maharishi University of Management graduating class of 2014. If you get a chance to watch it, you should. It was, as you’d expect, very funny and, as you’d expect, a little wacky but, I have to confess, I was a little taken aback by the depth of wisdom in the speech. I mean, Maharishi University… Jim Carrey… Transcendental Meditation…
There were some fantastic pieces of advice, regardless of whether you’re a believer in the spiritual system Carrey and this university follow. I think my favourite was a story about how his Dad could’ve been a successful comedian but, in order to give the family a level of security, he became an accountant. He was then laid off when Jim was 12, and the family had to do whatever they could to survive. Jim said:
“So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was, that you can fail at what you don’t want… so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”
Fear is at the heart of the independence debate, and the Better Together campaign is playing on that very heavily… it’s too big a risk to go it alone, there’s no guarantee we can afford it, we will be exposing ourselves to dangers from all around, we are much safer under the protection of our bigger neighbour. Maybe that’s all true… but what if it’s not? What if we say No and we STILL fail? How are we going to feel then?
We can’t escape fear, it’s all around us, but we get to decide how we are affected by it. Given all the risks, given all the uncertainties, given that no one can accurately predict the future, why don’t we aim at the bolder vision? We can choose a path out of fear disguised as practicality because what we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, or we can choose to dream big and reach for the seemingly impossible. Then, if we fail, at least we failed doing something great and noble and aspirational and farsighted.
But we won’t fail. Oh, sure, we’ll get stuff wrong and there will be difficult decisions to be made, a price to pay for pushing ourselves. There will be years when we are under performing rUK, and years when we are outperforming them, but is that really going to be the measure of our success as a nation? That we are doing better or worse than rUK? I hope not. The measure of our success should be how we perform against our hopes and dreams and vision. The measure of our success should be our confidence as a nation and the growth in our ambition for ourselves.
This year, on the 18th of September, we can open the door onto a new world, a new universe of hope and promise and aspiration, a future in which any difficulties and hardships we experience along the way can be counteracted with the belief we can have in our new nation. Easy? Naw. Exciting? Oh aye.