You could call it the Test Of Resolve, or the What If Test. Roughly, it goes like this: what if independence comes and the world isn't set to rights? What if Scotland doesn't prosper? What if the scabs of poverty and prejudice still adhere to the body politic? What if we can't pay our way, if our culture doesn't flourish and bloom, if we turn out to be just a dank, forgotten corner of Europe after all, with skivvying for tourists our chief occupation and tribalism our enduring hobby?
What if it gets worse than that? What if, after a few years of penury, your fellow Scots decide that it really is time to give the Tories another chance? Stranger things have happened: six decades back, on a turn-out enormous by modern standards, Scotland gave the Conservatives an absolute majority of its votes.
Worse things have happened, too. Across Europe, time after time, the nationalist impulse has turned rancid, then vicious. Critics of the SNP pray for signs of that, if discreetly, in vain. But they have a kind of point. What guarantees that Alex Salmond's party will remain forever immune to the poison if things go wrong?
What if Scotland's (mostly) latent religious bigotry becomes its distinguishing feature? What if deindustrialisation, booze, a poor record of business start-ups, and a lack of capital have actually left us, as all the unionists insist, too impoverished to match our dreams? What would you think of Scotland and independence then?
I understand these doleful questions – you can invent them at will – very well. That's because I've applied the test to myself often enough. I'm a nationalist too, and one who will vote 'yes' without hesitation the minute Westminster gets out of the road. What I am not, though Salmond's devoted followers find the idea difficult, is someone who grants the SNP a copyright on nationalism, as an idea or a sentiment. I would call myself a republican socialist. Those two words carve a wide trench between me – and a few others – and the party Salmond has made his own. If I amplified the description, I'd call myself a republican socialist who rejects the old Left idea that nationalism only divides people, fosters the garbage of "ethnicity" and race, and gets people killed.
I begin with James Connolly: there can be no internationalism without nationalism. First, know who you are.
Hence my test. I apply it to myself to find out why identity matters. Would I still want independence even if every one of those dismal possibilities became reality? Yes, I would.
Questions breed questions. The next one would be: how come? According to a lot of people, after all, my answer is barely rational. Who actually chooses a state of affairs in which, objectively, they would be worse off than before? In a nutshell, that's the unionist case: decline, gloom, misery. For what?
I don't happen to believe an independent Scotland will fail. By my best guess, things will seem much as they are, at least for a generation. The dole queues won't disappear overnight, budgets will still be under strain, North Sea oil won't do more than level a couple of playing fields. But that's OK. The economics of independence is an important topic. It isn't the heart of the matter.
The issue is one of attachment. The map says it's an attachment to one small corner of one small island group. History says it's an attachment to the fate of a peripheral nation that for 300 years barely featured in the chronicles of great powers. Scots talk a lot about our scientists, explorers, writers, philosophers, soldiers and statesmen because for three centuries the nation of Scotland has been a bit player. Notable individuals have been our consolation. Yet the attachment, for some of us, persists.
You can't call it simple patriotism, not as such. There are plenty of honest Scots who describe their dual identities, British and Scottish, and can't see why they should lose one for the sake of the other. They see nothing impossible about deep, dual allegiances. I see nothing but an impossibility, but I won't – and don't – doubt their patriotism.
History, then? That animates a lot of Scottish nationalists. They talk about the Union of 1707 as the original rigged election, and worse. They talk about a great historic wrong, and list other wrongs: me too. We each ask the historical question Unionists never answer: if the past 300 years have been such a blessing for Scotland, why are we left too poor and weak even to contemplate independence?
But history won't do. You have to know the past to work out who you are, but I don't live in the past. Precious few Scots can trace their ancestry in an unbroken line to Bannockburn. Who calls an accident of birth a virtue, in any case? Bannockburn was a battle of huge significance, but it was a battle that happened seven centuries ago. It doesn't explain my attachment any more than it explains the attachment of someone who is the first person in a family to be born in Scotland.
The negative definition, then? That's the person who is a Scot because he's not English. But I'm not a lot of people: you can't graft much significance to the fact. Nor does it explain the self-identification made by those born in every part of the world who choose to be Scots, who defy the lingering blood nationalism of the minority who still dare to blether about who is "real" and who isn't. Salmond, to his eternal credit, doesn't tolerate that sort of racist.
The SNP's leader argues that a Scottish identity, like independence, is a choice. He's right, of course: nations result from decisions. But that still leaves me wondering what impels the choice. Sometimes I think it's the place itself, the land overlaid with traces of what was, the land as it looks, smells and sounds. Someone told me once that living in the Arizona desert beneath a vast, endless sky shapes the very way a person thinks. Sometimes I suspect Scotland has a similar effect. Here you are, says the landscape. Here. You. Are.
That has quelled thoughts of emigration a couple of times in my life, but it does not explain a choice, least of all the political choice awaiting in 2014. Perhaps that choice has been formed from all the ingredients listed above, like a recipe. Cook all those things together – history, land, language, culture and the rest – and only one sort of outcome is possible. Something deep-fried, probably.
Robert Louis Stevenson, who left to remember, and because the country was killing him, said Scottishness was "an accent of the mind". It's a great phrase. Where do accents come from, after all? No doubt they too arise from all the ingredients we call circumstance – historical, political, economic, and the rest. RLS would probably have added, though, that how you speak matters less than what you say. His was the old Scots of the Lothians, now and then. It's mine too, now and then.
Why the attachment to nationalism and the declaration of independence? Because it's an utterance, a way of saying: "This is who I am." Without it, I am dumb, a shadow, no-one.