By Christopher Silver
When you wake up on Friday, don’t change. A lot will have changed by then, obviously. A line will have been crossed, you’ll find yourself thrown into a new space, perhaps a different mindset. Either way, in a few hours time you will know much more about yourself and a question long asked will have been answered.
Yes or No, all eventualities will bring movement, challenges, complexities and uncertainty. You’ll make a choice and that choice will have to be negotiated before it can be fully understood. Though it will all seem to hinge on the moment and the final brutal number, this is really just part of an age old process of finding a place to stand.
So you will change. Nothing endures but change. Still, I want you to stay the same as you are altered, as you grow. There is so much that I want from you regardless of the outcome.
I want your chancers to be just as fly. I want your working class women to be just as strong. I want your grandparents to keep on about the weather and the nights drawing in. I want your football teams to be just as shit and your wit to remain so dry that it’s delivered more like philosophy than humour. I want you to moan about buses with a lyrical intensity. I want your wet streets and drunken truths. I want your regulars, your tenement stairs, your awkward lovers. Your tunes, your muckle sangs, your islands, your haar and your brilliant autumn days. Your dense arguments, small prides and big passions. I want self-deprecating anecdotes and piss poor service in abundance. I want your gallus weans and genteel relations. And much more than this.
I want everything that is distinct, eccentric and maddening about you to flourish. This is why I will vote Yes. But Yes can only ever be one part of you and I can’t imagine a Scotland without its proud No voters – the truth is, I want your sceptics too.
For years now you’ve been shaped by an enormous debate. Both sides have been asked to do things that, as Scots, you’re trained not to – to stick your necks out, to wear badges of loyalty that do not correspond to historic divisions. You were asked to be brave, but not brave in a hard man way, more a first day at school kind of brave. Stepping out to engage with whoever happened to pass by with a chip on their shoulder and a surprising knowledge of macro-economic affairs.
I want you to remember this time well. It deserves to be remembered so. Not because of the righteousness of either side, but because so many brought so much of themselves to this flyting without precedent. You all came to this debate for the best of reasons. And you can look back on it with pride. You decided questions of vast import and all that got bruised were egos and reputations (some the better for it). Rhetorical blows sufficed.
The world looked on at you fascinated. For the most part, you lived up to Jimmy Reid’s call from a different era: for responsibility, dignity, and maturity. Here was a place where the mightiest of states could be bent to the democratic will. Where the sense of national community was strong and enduring enough for vast differences of vision to be thrown across bar rooms, TV studios, offices and town halls without recrimination.
I have seen you looking your best. At the top of rolling news for days on end, the skyline of your capital city in its late summer glory or the spontaneous crowds in George Square for a backdrop. All the while, more and more distant friends have gifted you their understanding. This was the stuff of transformation. Scotland you mattered. You mattered in a way that you have never mattered in your entire history. From across the planet they came to talk to you and this, more than anything else, is what independence is about. You learned to engage with the world as its equal for the first time. By Friday night the cameras might have packed up: or they might stay for the long haul, but that is your decision and yours alone.
Like thousands of others I have lived this referendum for a year. I wasn’t expecting to, I wasn’t really supposed to, but I embraced it. The daily fascinations, discoveries, and arguments of #indyref have dominated my thought, decimated my income, and broadened my horizons. I have done much that, a year ago, would have seemed improbable, over ambitious and uncharacteristic. Yet I have done far less than vast numbers of my fellow citizens. I am but the least of these and proud to be. I have seen the best and the worst of you, Scotland.
But this did not start and cannot be said to end with Thursday’s question and Friday’s answer. So I want to tell you something personal. This is not your way. You know that we don’t talk in these terms or reveal ourselves as a matter of course. But given that you’re changing anyway, indulge me. I’m 27 years old. Born in 1987. It was the year that Mrs Thatcher’s 3rd term began, and the year that Letter From America got to number 3 in the UK charts. I remember hearing that song as a kid and asking what is was about. It was explained to me as being about the highland clearances and it was easy for my 5-8 year old mind to understand that story, of people being moved off the land en-masse. But then I was told, it’s still happening: and that’s what the song’s really about. That I could not grasp. How could you empty a land of people, if it was already empty? Back then I couldn’t begin to understand the monumental patience that you asked of your people. That their quiet needs and burning desires have so often been made to wait. Yes or No this must surely change too. For too long Scotland has been a place that its people have had to leave, for want of opportunity, for fulfilment, to escape its dour, limiting tendencies or its harsh indifference. All too often this has been the definitive experience of your 307 year old entanglement with a far larger neighbour. If independence achieves nothing else it must be to make you a worthy destination again.
Scotland, when your often tragic history was presented to me, I came to feel something very strongly. It was not and is not nationalism. It certainly does not fill me with pride. Your story as I understand it, has been an often bitter one: complex, contested. A place where so many have been excluded, removed or denied, for accidents of birth, language, postcode, accent. From that early understanding to this day I will always see that story as one that demands some kind of clarity at its end. That to accept that history as inevitability, as a cruel cycle, is not an option. Instead you have led me to believe that politics is about allowing people the space and the individual and collective freedom to be themselves. This was a significant lesson, described in MacDiarmid’s epic thus:
‘And let the lesson be – to be yersel’s,
Ye needna fash gin it’s to be ocht else.
To be yersel’s – and to mak’ that worth bein’,
Nae harder job to mortals has been gi’en.’
This is a hard lesson for you and the great challenge of the 21st century. But we don’t become ourselves alone. Must you always be the exception? I want your distinct voice to show its uniqueness in the crowd, I do not want you to be an obscure bystander. A sub-nation, a half country, an opt out, no more. I want to see a new space for you in the UN General Assembly between Saudi Arabia and Senegal. Remember, if you choose to, you will not be leaving anything, you will be joining the world.
It’s a world that is riven with uncertainty, division and economic madness, certainly. So I implore you to find a way of being yourself that lives up to the wildness of your struggles, to your tears of outrage, to the best of your hopes.
As Pablo Neruda tell us:
Our original guiding stars are struggle and hope. But there is no such thing as a lone struggle, no such thing as a lone hope. In every human being are combined the most distant epochs, passivity, mistakes, sufferings, the pressing urgencies of our own time, the pace of history.
Dear Scotland, on Friday you will still be the same place and you will still be loved. Many of your people will be distraught and concerned. But has this not so often been their condition? Perhaps now is the time to step back into the pace of history because, try as we might, we cannot escape it. Scotland I want you to go out into the global family of nations again, to speak with your own distinct voice, because if we are to make this world liveable in this century, we all need a place to stand.