I spent last night at the Hydro by the Clyde at the Celtic Connections Burns Night concert and as we heard artists from Africa, South America, Australasia, Greece -and Dunkeld – I looked up at the great man’s face on the big screen and wondered how it was that the words and ideas of a boy from rural Ayrshire all those years ago could capture the imagination and the hearts of millions in all corners of the earth, defying time, fashion and technology to still wring our emotions today. One man. One pen. One world.
It is the achievement of a single talented person who has taken his place in the history of the world and it serves to me as a kind of metaphor for Scotland’s movement – that one small country should never be afraid of making its mark on the world. It can be done. The proof is there among our own people, the Scots, that we are as good as anyone. We have a song in Selkirk which has a line about holding our head high because we come from nothing small. Small country, but big history, big heart.
I suspect that it is in the thinking space where ideas and belief form that the real movement in the polls comes from. It isn’t just the thought that we might be economically safe or richer, it is the spreading realisation and belief that these things are within our grasp and it is fear that prevents us from seizing them. If you think about Scotland’s position long enough, you start asking: Why not? What’s stopping me?
Part of that answer lies in collective behaviour. If you live a privately-owned, well-off area with your life sorted, you recoil that anything might upset it all. Everybody else, pretty much, in your area is of the same mind and there is collective security. You don’t even have to defend voting No, nobody would bother to challenge you. Easier to write it off as irrelevant, naïve, unnecessary, romantic and dangerous.
But isn’t there a sense now that it ain’t quite so far-fetched? The British government is in danger of appearing ridiculous as it’s claims and assertions are destroyed from within. The debt issue has torn away the camouflage over the reality of currency and debt post independence revealing that London will have to invite us to take a share of debt rather than Scotland automatically inheriting it. It has shown how Scotland’s capacity to repay will best be served by an economy closely linked to England’s – in their own interests – making a currency union logical. The foreigners argument has been destroyed by the admission that dual nationality will be available and, as I wrote at the time it was announced, the cowardice of their own leader Cameron is having a deflating effect on a campaign with too many leaders, none of them strong enough. I don’t object to Britain using its diplomatic muscle to get international support – although it is depressingly familiar that they would use a devolved organisation as a front for their campaign – but I do object to the cant and hypocrisy of telling us it is for the Scots alone as they do so. The Herald’s leader today reads to me like a breakthrough in the debate saying it isn’t sustainable for Cameron. I urged editors collectively to challenge Cameron to debate with Salmond, well, at least one is now on the case.
I think it is getting harder for Unionists to hold the line, a point reinforced by the admission that the parties will not be able to stand behind a united package of reform. That would have been their ace. All three, even the Tories, with a worked out scheme of Devo Max endorsed by the London leaderships so it would be implemented whichever configuration of parties runs the UK. Now that has disappeared and even if Labour produce a stonking settlement in March, we know it will be irrelevant unless Miliband commits to implementing which he can’t do in a coalition. It will hinge entirely on guaranteeing a Labour victory at Westminster and I’m not sure Scots will view that as a guarantee. Maybe it’s coming yet for a’ that.
*Can I recommend a piece in the Scottish news section of the Sunday Times which is unsurpassed for a glimpse into the smug, self-regarding, snooty world of the Britnat middle classes…It is a column by Jenny Hjul built on so many outdated Fear assumptions that I wondered if the Rev Stu had been invited to produce some satire by Murdoch’s men. It has border guards, your papers being checked on the train, immigrants – they won’t even stay in Scotland it’s so ghastly – and the kind of high decibel outrage that only the middle classes and their epic sense of entitlement can generate. Priceless…and all the more enjoyable for the SoS opinion poll.