This is the unedited version of a column that my friend Richard Walker, editor of The Sunday Herald, commissioned from me for his paper's edition on the Sunday before the independence referendum. All comments most welcome.
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It’s a watershed year for me. My eldest daughter’s birthday’s in late September: she’s just reminded me that she’ll then be 25, exactly half my age. 25 years ago, I first started to hit the stump for independence, hanging off SNP Snappy Buses with Jim Sillars and The Proclaimers, rousing the bellweather citizens of Govan.
Up ahead, in another 25 years, I’ll be nearing the number of my father’s death. So it’s not even that the Yes vote coincides with a mid-life crisis. Like many other indy-types of my generation, I look at Sept 18th as a serious “end of Part 2” moment. With, hopefully, an operatically glorious Part 3 to come.
Amidst the storm of facts, memes, links and briefing notes that occupies my Yes activist head at the moment, it’s the conversion stories among peers that make me feel a permanent shift has occurred in Scotland.
These are people who you argued with furiously at parties in the dregs of the 80s and 90s, who thought the very idea of independence “brought them out in hives”, who ended up in occupying some commanding height in the whole wide world (whether in business, government or arts).
I now meet them in the Glasgow streets with their Yes badges on, manning stalls or attending meetings. Or I receive their heart-felt social media posts of how they’ve come to this point. It’s become a daily delight.
After a quarter century of thinking, writing and agitating around independence, I have come to a few solid truths about it all. One has always been summed up by Winnie Ewing’s timeless phrase, “Stop the world - we want to get on”.
I am an unabashed child of the 80s explosion in Scottish letters - Polygon Books, Edinburgh Review, Radical Scotland, Cencrastus, Variant, Chapman, Common Sense. What was, and remains, thrilling about these publications was their easy combination of Scottish-national and global affairs. Deep-rooted analysis of Scotland, considering all the constitutional and socio-economic options - but also a hungry eye for great ideas, and stirring voices, from all four corners of the planet. (The internet now makes this an everyday experience, of course).
To be intensely here, but also to be enthusiastically everywhere. And to imagine that not just for your head in books and periodicals, but for a bustling, ambitious country. This is why Federo-Maxo-Whatever has never really interested me. I want Scotland properly in the world, which means as a nation-state. We have larger lives to live out there.
The other truth is connected to this. We have a chance, with independence, to repair and rebalance the lives we have inherited from Thatcherism.
Whatever cheap fame I have partly comes from a song my brother and I wrote called “Labour of Love”. The song is actually trying to get into the head of a working-class Tory supporter, seemingly voting against their own economic interests. When written in 1986, the chorus hopefully presumed a change of heart was possible. It only took 11 more destructive years…
It was recent documentaries around the Miners Strike that made me realise how tense we all were in the 80s - and what a class war had been engaged there. The Common Weal project has done us all the service of reminding us that, in the same period, labour and capital in the stronger European economies were figuring out how to manage changes - in technology and globalisation - without ripping apart communities and workforces.
Watching footage of the demolition of Ravenscraig, as we currently bulid Forth Road bridges and renewable energy-tech with far-off steel supplies, makes me lurch inside. We were in a fight. They - meaning the neo-liberal project - beat us. The damage, both societally and psychologically, was severe.
Now after a period when the competence and integrity of almost every establishment elite - from financial to government to media - is in tatters, we Scots find ourselves in the luckiest of situations.
We have a new Parliament, that’s done (as Salmond has said) “no’ bad” on most fronts. We have, through a blend of historic national identity and ideological forcing, a robust consensus of left-of-centre values which - if well-expressed politically - will result in a redistribution of wealth and life-chances to those brutalised by Thatcherism.
We have a resource base - whether natural, infrastructural or human - which no nation on the brink of independence has ever possessed. And we have, through the movements and conversations generated by the network-powered indyref, a citizenry equipped and ready to take on full responsibility for their country.
We can begin the building of a Good Society - right here, right now. Yes, we should aim to inspire and support others (maybe starting with the peoples of England). But the great work - maybe the greatest work of our remaining adult lives - is before us. We should start it, dig the shovel into the turf, this Thursday.