It really does feel like the night before Christmas. I’m not sure if I’ll sleep tonight. And if that makes folk titter, tough.
There’s no doubt that like the bounty Santa brings, there will be some boring detail in the independence White Paper tomorrow. Because it aims to set out a route map to full, sovereign nationhood, there are bound to be sections which are the equivalent of socks and satsumas. Dull and unimaginative but needed.
If we’re really lucky, there will be a few surprises. Things we forgot to put on the list but stuff we’re delighted to find made their way in there anyway.
The problem with anticipation is the nagging fear that the reality won’t live up to the expectation. There’s so much riding on this plan, what if it’s one great big disappointment? Yet, only the Scrooges at Better Together surely will find nothing in it to please them.
It’s important to acknowledge the sweat and tears, the late nights, the energy, enthusiasm and the commitment, of all who have had a hand in shaping this tome’s content, tone and style. I don’t have to read it to know that their efforts deserve acclaim. Backroom boys and girls, many of whom have worked behind the scenes for years, step forward – for once – into the limelight and take a bow.
It would be wonderful if the White Paper starts with a declaration, an opening statement of intent which spikes the senses and sends shivers down the spine. Which speaks to us as we are now and calls on us to commit to a different future.
It would have to go some to match the Radical Declaration of Independence (read it over at Bella Caledonia). I hope some bright spark thought to record David Hayman reciting it, for that would be worth hearing, again and again. It’s a pitch perfect summation of many of our dreams and hopes for what independence might – could – deliver for Scotland.
And while I agree with John Finnie MSP, that its arc is inclusive rather than exclusive, aiming to speak to all and not just some, I would have liked to see a focus on future generations. If I could put one thing above all others on my Santa list for the White Paper, it is that it sets out what independence might achieve for children. The ones born now and those still to come.
Let me explain. Like many independence supporters, I am both Braveheart and Borgen, as David Torrance would have it. At the age of seven, I was in Margaret Ewing (then Bain)’s kitchen the morning after her 22 vote victory in East Dunbartonshire. I remember midge-infested Glentrool rallies, being crooned to in Gaelic by Donnie Stewart. I used to sneak down to listen to the political arguments which waged long into the night in my parents’ house, fuelled by passion and whisky in equal measure. My formative years were spent being infused with existential nationalism. I grew up with independence woven into my DNA.
The early 1980s were doldrum years for the SNP, when the party was mired in a mess of its own making. So, I flirted, subscribing to the New Statesman, Red Wedge and class consciousness. If it was a Saturday, we marched, often barely aware of what protest and why.
But then came the poll tax and suddenly, the SNP rediscovered its rationale. Can pay, won’t pay. More protests, rallies and marches, this time with a Scottish purpose to the fore. Every cut – to manufacturing, to students, to communities – seemed to slash at Scotland’s soul. History might not bear it out, but it’s how we felt at the time, that Scotland was singled out for special treatment.
In 1991, my first son was born and it really did all make sense. The existential pushed aside by the utilitarian. The goal of a better and different Scotland not for me, but for him. Did I want him to grow up in a Scotland like this? Where education and employment opportunities were subject to the whims of the Westminster roulette wheel?
We lived then in a village with 70% unemployment, victim to a creamery closure which removed at a stroke the dignity of work for whole households. Yet, that village in adversity, found its sense of community and its communitarian roots. Everyone looked out for each other. Everyone made different possible by focusing on more than making do. That experience offered a glimmer of a brighter future. Of what might be possible.
And that experience sparked in me an undimmed desire to do better by my own bairns and all of Scotland’s bairns. The boy I had is now a man and still we are yet to arrive. The wee one is nearly no longer a boy. And still we journey.
But tomorrow sees the publication of a plan, in which reside all our hopes, fears and desires. And for those who doubt – still – if Scotland has indeed got what it takes, think on this. In a land of plenty – relative plenty, if you like – how can it be that our children have so little?
Don’t take my word for it, listen to the OECD. In 2009, it published an overview of children’s well-being in 30 countries. None excelled, but some did far better than others. In six key areas – material and educational well being, health and safety, housing and environment, risky behaviours and quality of school life – only Sweden and Iceland scored higher than average on five, while Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Finland did so on four. The UK? Higher than average in one, quality of school of life; lower than average in another, risky behaviours; and pretty dismal in all others. Only fifteenth out of 30 on housing, 20th on health and safety and 22nd on educational well-being.
We live in a wealthy, highly developed state, rich in resources, yet we are out classed by much smaller nations with less wealth and fewer resources on how we nurture the next generation. How can it possibly be worse than this? Is this what we want for our children?
No matter if you gave up on hope a long time ago, read the White Paper and think not what independence might achieve for you, but what it might offer for your children and your grandchildren.
You might be happy with making do, but with the chance to change almost within reach, why would you wish it for them?