DEAR … oh dear, what do I call you?
Forgive my ignorance. A friend told me one of The Herald's best kept secrets is that it has an agony aunt readers can turn to in their hour of need. Well, dear whoever you are, I guess that would be me.
You see, something alarming dropped through the letter box this week, and it was not the latest Yes! newsletter, all the way from North Korea, or another pamphlet from the No camp telling me oxygen would be rationed in an independent Scotland. It was a postal voting form for the Scottish independence referendum. Twenty four hours on and the envelope remains unopened. The thing might almost be ticking for all the alarm it is causing me.
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First, I should say I pondered long and hard before outing myself as a female switherer. Having seen Better Together's television ad targeted at women voters I was loathe to do anything that might contribute to the idea Scots women have nothing but scone mix between their ears. Did you see it? It is set in a kitchen, of course, and features someone's idea of the average Scotswoman in 2014. We know it is 2014 because of the gadgets surrounding Mrs Dunderhead, but it could have been 1914 for all the awareness shown.
Mrs Dunderhead starts by informing viewers that "My Paul is worse than the telly these days". Apparently, her Paul is forever banging on about the referendum and asking if she has made her mind up. She would love to, we are told, but there are only so many hours in the day and such a lot to weigh. Being cruelly deprived of the opportunity to bump into Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz at the salad counter in Tesco, or Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, in the accessories aisle in Primark, Mrs Dunderhead is all a dither.
She tells us "that guy off the telly" (Alex Salmond? Sir Bruce Forsyth?) keeps telling her that Scotland can keep the pound and all will be fine. "Yeah right," she scoffs, "I've heard that one before", as if calling to mind some duplicitous boyfriend from her past. With such leaps and bounds of logic does she eventually come to a decision that it will be a "No" from her. For the sake of the children, naturally.
The Yes camp have proven to be no better at speaking to women voters in a way that does not call to mind children's television presenters. Instead of treating women voters as individuals in their own right, with the same variety of concerns as men, the Scottish Government thought a cobbled together childcare policy, which they could have implemented years ago, would be the very dab. That, and wheeling Nicola Sturgeon out at every turn. Only the weather is on the television more often than Ms Sturgeon.
Like most of my countrymen and women, I have grown up with the independence question. It is in with the bricks of my psyche. It fills the airwaves, the pages of newspapers. The very air around us crackles with this debate. So why do some of us have such trouble finding the right place on the radio dial? I refuse to believe this is a female "thing", a trait up there with having an interest in handbags and being paid less than men.
To take one example. The Prime Minister was in Glasgow yesterday to talk up the economic strength of the Union. One million Scottish jobs rely on it, he said. So will my job be safer or more vulnerable in an independent Scotland? Will it be safe if Scotland opts for No now, only to become less so if the UK votes to leave Europe in three years? And what of the poker match going on over the pound? Having said no to a currency union, are Labour, the LibDems and Tories really going to back down months out from a UK General Election?
Yours in agony,
PS: Should I make the wrong decision, do you have any advice on how to get the stain off my soul on September 19?
Dear Ms Scot,
How delighted I was to hear from you. From anyone, in fact. The Herald does indeed have an agony aunt but in 10 years yours is the first letter I have received. Our readers tend to be irritatingly well-informed on almost every matter (only Chicago house music of the early 1980s being something of a grey area for them), and have no need of the services of an agony aunt. If anything, our staff ask them for help.
Can I also share your dismay at the Better Together ad, an election broadcast so ill-judged it might as well have been set in a Jacuzzi at the Playboy mansion. I agree, too, that the other side have not distinguished themselves either in their approach to women, but then politics around the globe, with some honourable exceptions, tends to exhibit the same characteristics. Have you thought of moving to Denmark, home of Borgen?
But I digress, and I do so for the very good reason I do not have an answer to give you. I cannot supply a map that leads you from don't know to decision in five easy steps. Anyone who says they can is likely to be a politician, or a taxi driver, and heaven knows it is difficult to distinguish between the two these days.
We have all, as you say, been living with this matter longer than some of us care to dwell upon. There has probably never been a more informed electorate in Scottish history. For every argument there is a counter argument, for every Treasury paper there is a chapter in the Scottish Government's White Paper. The idea that there is one clear, simple answer to each question is a fiction of the kind only totalitarian states deal in. It is up to you, having weighed the information, to decide, and what a glorious privilege that is. Folk marched and died so you might swither and vote, so vote you must. If nothing else, all this agonising will be good practice for the next referendum (oh, didn't I mention?).
In coming to a decision, try to find a quiet place away from the shouty folk who tend to be either unalloyed optimists or cast-iron pessimists. There are a lot of them about, and many were in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum last Monday. Do not rely on the head or heart in isolation, and never underestimate gut instinct. Sometimes, it is all we have to tell rogue from right.
Above all, dear Ms Scot, be merciless in questioning the claims from both sides. In addition to probing what politicians are offering, ponder why they are doing so. Ask not what you can do for your country but what your country, independent or not, will do for you.
I hope that helps. Just in case it does not, and you are left feeling empty-handed, I enclose a cure for chafing that one of our readers, a doctor in Balfron, swears by.
Yours in sisterhood,