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Scotland can treasure its past but it must embrace its future

When it's quiet in my niece's home, you can hear the sound of waves breaking on the beach.

It can be soothing, but, in this location, the rhythm of the breakers evokes different thoughts. The beach is 'Sword' - where a predominantly British force landed on D-Day - and so carries its own memories.

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The landing here met with minimal resistance, but Lion-sur-Mer experienced the savagery of war later, when Panzer tanks broke through and were repulsed.

You can't spend time on this coast without being aware of what happened that June day, or reading the books and listening to the memories of those who took part. Today's local children, and their parents, have grown up in a landscape where a memorial tank on a roundabout, or bullet marks in the wall of the Mairie, are part of every day life. They know what happened: the course of the war changed, thousands of local people died, and hundreds of villages were reduced to rubble.

A residual gratitude remains - to all the troops who fought that day - the British, Americans, Canadians and others - and an overwhelming sense of their bravery and commitment. Each village has its own memories, which you sense they prefer to acknowledge away from the international glare of world leaders and rolling news.

There is also an awareness that times and contexts have changed - the countries who made up the Allies have become different places. The UK bears little resemblance to the state that embarked on the war in 1939.

One thing you don't hear from the locals is any attempt to second guess the motivation of those who charged the beaches. They find it sufficient to recognise bravery and duty.

Listening to those who fought, you realise the complexity of wartime action - and reasons for taking part. Some felt a duty to King and Britain, to England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland, their hometown, regiment, mates, or family. Some were fighting fascism, and for others it had even started out as a big 'adventure'. Mostly they tell us it was about survival and helping your pals; grand visions and lofty words tend to be the preserve of politicians and the high command.

It is unfortunate, then, if politicians attempt to annexe the courage of those men for their own causes, seventy years later, and in a completely different context. In so doing they diminish that bravery and demean their own careers.

Whatever the attempts to fudge the issue - and there have been some bizarre attempts by both sides, the referendum comes down to a view on how best Scotland can be governed - as a region of the UK, or as an independent country. Notions of identity and tradition reflect personal choice, often minimally affected by bureaucratic paperwork. In a changing world, this is increasingly the case - a truth which seems either ignored or dismissed by many in this campaign.

To finish with more theories of "relativity": among family and friends in Malaysia, in a society which includes Malays, Chinese, Indians and Eurasians, there are those who still consider themselves 'British' over six decades after the Union flag was lowered.

These are different times and Scotland needs new solutions; we can treasure the past but must embrace the future, and of course we can retain our own sense of personal identity - surely that was the point of the last world war?

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