In four days, the most extraordinary campaign in Scottish (and, for now, British) political history reaches its conclusion as close to 4.3 million people – an almost unbelievable 97% of eligible voters – have the chance to change their country forever. For 15 hours on the 18th of September 2014 the people of Scotland will have absolute control over their own destiny – by breakfast-time the next morning we will know whether or not they have decided to retain that control, or hand it back to Westminster for, at least, another generation (and perhaps even another lifetime).
For Yes voters – especially those hoping to sway the ever decreasing number of undecideds – honesty is absolutely imperative. There are, we should acknowledge, a number of genuine uncertainties surrounding independence, but for every politician, business leader and international analyst telling us that the sky will fall down, the seas will boil and the angel of death will take all of our first-born sons if we vote Yes, there is another telling us that we will be not just fine, but successful, prosperous and, in the end, better. Yes there are uncertainties, but there are two things that we can be absolutely sure of: firstly, dozens of countries have successfully met the same challenges faced by Scotland with far fewer resources than we have – if they can do it, so can we; second, the Westminster establishment has proven beyond all reasonable doubt that it cannot be trusted to deliver the sort of social, economic and political change we so badly need.
This realisation leads, inexorably, to one question – what are No voters actually voting for? We hear a great deal about voting against ‘uncertainty’, ‘separation’, ‘nationalists’ and whole host of other equally pejorative (and deliberately inaccurate) terms, but remember this: a vote against independence is not a vote for DevoMax (promises of which aren’t worth the paper they’re not written on); it is not a vote for solidarity with the poor and exploited people of rUK, (no true philosophy of solidarity has ever required the sharing of nationality); it is not a vote for progress. A vote against independence is one, undeniable thing: it is a vote to maintain the status quo, a public expression of confidence in a system which, not just through negligence but through the deliberate policies of Westminster, entrenches the sort of disgraceful poverty, deprivation, inequality and lack of democratic accountability which should never be allowed to blight a society which can do so much better.
So what is driving Yes voters? The nature of much of the media’s representation of the campaign means that we must first be clear about what we are not voting for: we are not voting for the SNP, and we are not voting for Alex Salmond; we are not voting for a country where we are all made rich by a sea of black gold; we are not voting to have all our problems magically washed away by a river of whisky and Irn-Bru; and we absolutely are not voting for the effortless foundation of a social-democratic nirvana.
What we are voting for is simple: the opportunity to do better. As the Sunday Herald stated so eloquently in the editorial which announced their support for a Yes vote: “The prize is a better country. It is, truly, as simple as that.” Nobody seriously believes that we will wake up on the 19th of September in a country permanently rid of the scars of poverty, inequality and deep-seated social disenfranchisement, but we could wake up in a country that has the opportunity to focus our national energies on solving the problems that, for too long, have condemned swathes of our children to lives which should never be seen as acceptable in a country as wealthy as ours.
In the final few days of this incredible campaign we must not allow fear to undermine our potential. A Yes vote will not erase our problems overnight, but nor will it plunge Scotland into a pit of Zimbabwean-style collapse; it will not automatically see the rebirth of genuine political choice and engagement, but nor will it anoint the SNP as unchallenged rulers of our nation; it will not instantly change the lives of the 20% of our children growing up in poverty, but it will put their future in the hands of the people of Scotland.
A Yes vote will not guarantee change, but it does give us the opportunity, the means and – crucially – the momentum to achieve something incredible; that, surely, is a chance worth taking?