Ach, I’m in a funny old place.
Everyone else got up this morning bursting with excitement at the prospect of a “day that will go down in Scottish history“. On 25 January 2012, the consultation paper on the independence referendum will be published. We’ll get at least one question, hopefully too, there will be answers to some other conundrums and concerns too. It’s a big staging post on the journey and no mistake. And even if you’re agin it all, I suspect the fact that it is now game on has created a wee frisson too.
Can I get worked up about it? Raise a flicker of interest? Feel a flutter in my tummy? No.
My family has in excess of a century’s worth of SNP membership and service in pursuit of the cause among us. In fact, my big chicklet has probably got more leafleting experience under his belt than 1000 of the recent converts altogether. This is the moment we have all been working towards. So why my flat reaction?
Because there are bigger and more immediate things happening. And someone, somewhere has got to get worked up about that methinks. If we wait for independence, it will be too late. If we focus on the choices of tomorrow, we risk ignoring the needs of today. Many are prepared to play the waiting game. They get it, if you like, more than me.
They have their eyes fixed firmly on the prize. Folk like me are scattering their energy and resources, sowing it thinly, attempting to make a difference now. Whose approach is the right one? Which will deliver a yes vote? Who knows. The problem is I’ve never been much good at patience.
So here I am, with the big moment happening around me, more impressed with the attitude of the House of Lords, who are determined to do what they (some of them) can to stand up for the voiceless and powerless and face down the worst excesses of 21st Century Thatcherism. I spent more time last night reading about Lord Mackay of Clashfern than I did about the First Minister’s Hugo Young lecture. An almost treacherous offence I know but before I am hung, drawn and quartered, allow me to explain. That speech was hugely important and significant on a whole range of levels. It also has a lot to say, it marks the start of a step change in the discourse and debate on Scotland’s future and I look forward to perusing it when the mood is right.
But really, truly, deeply? I have a sense of greater urgency about the impending welfare reform measures than I do about the referendum. Maybe it’s because we are still in the trenches of the phoney war. Maybe it’s just the prospect of two years and more of ding dong, with more heat than light being generated. Or maybe it’s because I find it hard to work out how people will summon up the energy to care about our constitutional future while being bombarded by pay freezes, pension cuts, job losses and benefit changes.
I’m under no illusion that anything we do with the current settlement is simply chipping away at the edges. Trying one amendment at a time to change the world and make a difference. It’s soul-destroying stuff. But when you manage to make one stick, when the prospect of a big success for the little people is within sight, then maybe it’s not all so futile after all.
To do nothing, to care but to then shrug our shoulders and ask what can we do, without all the powers of a normal state, isn’t good enough frankly. Everyone in politics or who works and lives in and around politics has a duty to take what they have before them and fashion it as well as they can. The best nationalist councillors do it, investing their time and talents, to make change happen in their own patches. Often, they get accused of going native by their ain folk (me included) and treated with disdain. Yet, their political achievements are significant. It’s a microcosm of the idea of being seen to govern competently and therefore, converting the cautious and the doubters. The launch of the journey to the referendum today is very much a vindication of their approach and hopefully, they get a moment to bask in the realisation of having contributed to history being made.
Me? I think I’ll wait to read the consultation paper until in a more aspirational frame of mind and reserve my cheers and celebration for one Lord Mackay of Clashfern. For, if he pulls off his amendment coup in the House of Lords today, there is half a chance that we can protect some of Scotland’s most vulnerable, impoverished children from the worst excesses and intentions of this Conservative-Liberal Democrat government.
Which puts me in a very uncomfortable place, realising that it’s a funny old world and pondering over some puzzles.
Like how the unelected, unaccountable House of Lords from whom I instinctively recoil has done a far better job of holding the UK Government to account on some of the more bilious aspects of welfare reform than they managed in the other place. The Labour opposition could have, should have made more capital out of its work on this bill. It hasn’t. The UK parties are more aligned on the issue of welfare reform than they care to admit – or some of their appointees to the Lords feel comfortable with, thankfully.
It’s also made me realise that in independent Scotland we will absolutely need to create a revising chamber and multi-cameral parliament that is for the people but importantly too, is by and of them. And maybe I’m not so far behind the pace on the debate after all; it’s just that my focus is elsewhere, on some of the boring and tedious detail that needs to be resolved if Scotland is to be persuaded that choosing independence is the right thing to do.
We all have our place in this debate. Mine is clearly with the minutiae and the detail of the day. It’s a good job then that we have a First Minister capable of creating, carrying and capitalising on the zeitgeist. Making sure the narrative curve is big enough to sweep everyone into its arc, including – eventually I’m sure – me.