This is not a political blog, and although my books have a political background I rarely mention the darker arts here.
But the proximity of the referendum for Scottish independence, and the way it is shaping thinking and lives prompts me to say something about it so others can gain some idea of the transformation taking place.
At the start of the campaign over two years ago, the No side (a coalition of Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and UKIP parties plus some others) had a substantial lead — around twenty per cent. Since then, the Yes side (Scottish National Party, Green, Scottish Socialist Party, Labour for Independence, and a raft of other organisations and groupings) has gradually narrowed that lead, until at present there are only a few points between the sides.
The No campaign (originally calling itself Better Together and using a UKOK logo, but recently relaunched as No Thanks) has been overseen by the UK government (a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition), with as its leader a former UK chancellor (now backbencher) from the Labour Party.
On the Yes side the campaign is run by a cross-party organisation called Yes Scotland, with input from the Scottish Government and the other parties and organisations favouring independence.
Two referendums on the governance of Scotland have been held previously.
The UK came about in 1603 when the crowns of the two countries were unified, James VI of Scotland being Elizabeth 1 of England’s nearest heir. Then in 1707, for many and varied reasons, the nobles who sat in the Scottish parliament at the time decided a parliamentary union with the ‘auld enemy’ England would suit their purposes. Rioting took place but the union went ahead.
Over the years a number of attempts were made in the UK parliament to give Scotland home rule, and the Liberal Party for decades embraced home rule for Scotland as one of their key beliefs, though of late it has taken a back seat.
Then in 1979 we were allowed our first referendum, not on independence but on an extremely limited package of devolution of a small number of powers. Because of a 40% rule inserted into the referendum legislation, requiring the proposal to be passed by 40% of those registered to vote (including, since an old election register was in use, those who had died) the referendum result was regarded as being against change although a majority actually voted in favour.
The demand for change did not fade away, and eighteen years later, in 1997, a second referendum took place, with a large majority voting in favour of a devolved Scottish parliament with a range of powers including very limited tax raising powers.
Now seventeen years later, because the Scottish National Party (SNP) won an overall majority in the 2011 Scottish parliament election, we are having a referendum on independence.
The debate is concerned with democracy, the fact that Scotland rarely gets the government at Westminster that it votes for, with only one Conservative MP in Scotland. The well-worn joke being that there are more pandas (two) here than Conservative MPs.
It is also a debate, not about the past, but about the type of Scotland and society we want to live in and leave to our children and grandchildren. The apathy that has for too long ruled, has been shaken to the core. The people who live in Scotland (including many not born here) have become engaged, eager to have input, make their voices heard on a range of issues.
Across all society, dozens and dozens of groups have been set up to campaign from their own perspectives — from academics and creatives, Asians and pensioners, business people and students, film makers and athletes, nuclear disarmers and veterans, young people and mums, farmers and LGBT, Italians and social workers, Africans and Christians, Third sector and EU citizens, fishermen and trade unionists, cabbies and crofters, and groups of those from England, Hong Kong, France, Denmark, Canada, Poland and others, socialists and conservatives, radicals, teachers, NHS Scotland staff and the disabled.
Around the country we’ve seen an explosion of public meetings in halls crammed full, people coming along to hear what’s being said, grabbing the opportunity to ask the questions that burn in their minds. They’ve been bombarded by the media and by leaflets through letterboxes, by street stalls, and declarations to be signed. And from this an alternative media has been born.
In a profusion of news and political blogs and more personal blogs, on Twitter and Facebook, in books, and plays, and poetry, in concerts, Scottish-wide tours, and in pop-up events of music and everything else thrown in, people in Scotland have come alive, got involved, anxious to campaign.
The date of the referendum is 18th September. Whatever the result on that day, one thing is certain — life and society in Scotland will never be the same again. A spirit, long comatose, has been reawakened, and demands significant change.
And for a taster of the campaign in its final weeks, here are the videos produced by No Thanks and the Yes campaigns. Enjoy.