IT is unlikely that William Shakespeare ever set foot in Scotland but he had an uncommon grasp of its psyche.
"Stands Scotland where it did?" asks MacDuff in Macbeth, to which his fellow thane, Ross, replies: "Alas, poor country, almost afraid to know itself." Do those words, written 400 and more years ago, ring as true today as they did then, when a Scottish king had recently assumed the English throne?
In a little over a year's time everyone living in Scotland over the age of 16 will have the opportunity to vote for or against independence and show that in the 21st century Scotland does know where it stands.
It is a responsibility no-one should accept lightly. As First Minister Alex Salmond has intimated this is a once-in-a-generation occasion and, as such, is an opportunity for Scots to show in what direction they think their country should go. Ought it to remain in the United Kingdom or should it plough its own furrow in an increasingly global world?
History, of course, cannot be ignored but it must not be allowed to dominate the debate. We are where we are. How we got here is interesting and instructive but it is irreversible.
The nationalist movement has been one of steady if slow progress driven at least in part by a desire for self-respect. It most certainly was not fuelled by antipathy towards our nearest neighbours. Rather its motivation was cultural and invigorated by the sense that if Scotland is a nation then it should stand on its own two feet.
It is vital that all who are joined in this debate also recognise that the many Scots who oppose independence do so sincerely and with the best of intentions. They are not any less Scottish for resisting change. They say that we are "better together" and insist there is no need to break up a union that has endured for three centuries to our mutual benefit.
Indeed, they also argue that the referendum is an unnecessary diversion when there are so many other matters clamouring for attention.
What no-one can deny, however, is that the Scottish Government has a mandate to hold the referendum. When the Scottish National Party won a majority at Holyrood in 2011 that was inevitable. It was the culmination of decades of patient and persistent campaigning for independence.
Over the coming months it is incumbent on all Scots to become as informed as possible on the issues. We will be bombarded by information and advice, much of which will be valuable and much of which may be discarded like junk mail.
Inevitably influential expatriate Scots, many of whom have not lived in Scotland for a long time, will want to exercise their vocal chords. That is their prerogative. However, their views are those of the voteless. Of greater importance are the views of people who are living here today and who intend to live here tomorrow.
We hope the debate will be passionate. How can it be otherwise? We also hope that it will be civilised and sober and hard-headed. It is inevitable that there will a concentration on the economy and we will doubtless learn a lot about the price of oil, the level of corporation tax and whether, come independence, we will be a few pounds a year better or worse off, none of which any of us can predict with any certainty.
But what should remain uppermost in our minds is a picture of the country we want ourselves and our children to inhabit. There is a need for vision, imagination, principles, integrity and a sense, too, that nothing will be given to us, that every Scot must work together for the betterment of all.
The Sunday Herald will play its part. We will strive always to eschew bias. We will give space to both sides of the debate ... although it has to be said that balance can prove difficult to achieve when major players such as David Cameron are reluctant to articulate their arguments at length when given the opportunity to do so.
In due course, on the eve of the referendum, we will offer our recommendation. Stands Scotland where it did? No longer, surely, afraid to know itself.
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