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Proof we care about future of our nation

IRRESPECTIVE of how you intend
to vote on September 18 you would
need to be living on Muckle Flugga
or the moon not to be aware that something momentous is happening
in Scotland now.

It is often glibly and presumptuously said that people have lost interest in politics and politicians, that they'd rather do the weekly shop than consider the merits of one policy or another. If ever that was true - and it would appear to be, judging by the number of those who can't be bothered to vote - it is surely less so at the moment. Across the land, halls are packed nightly with audiences eager to hear what speakers have to say and to chip in their own tuppenceworth.

At last, it seems, there is evidence that people care and are concerned about the kind of country in which they would like to live. Far from being narcoleptic with apathy they are demonstrating by putting their bums on seats that the coming referendum really matters.

Over the past few months I have attended several of these gatherings and many more are in the pipeline. In general, I have been impressed by the level at which they are conducted and the good-humoured manner in which they evolve.

Mostly - and this may be crucial - those taking part have not been politicians. They are academics, artists, journalists and business folk, who bring with them their experience not only of Scotland but of the wider world. Some, for example, are non-native Scots. Unlike those of us who were born and bred here, they have chosen to settle in this country which many of our own kinsmen lose little opportunity to talk down.

The perspective of incomers is invaluable. They view Scotland as "ithers see it", through fresh eyes and with open ears. What they like about it is instructive. Earlier this week a Canadian Scot with a Filipino heritage told a gathering in a library in Edinburgh that she found living in Scotland liberating and welcoming.

Moreover, she described the natives as generous. On the negative side, she observed that we are argumentative and must always appear to be in the right. We have also, it would appear, an aversion to hope, a quality, one suspects, those new to Scotland must have in abundance.

As she spoke I saw heads nodding in agreement. It felt cathartic, as if one was learning to look at oneself in a different light and from a fresh perspective. This, I've discovered, is one of the most illuminating aspects of the independence debate. While we are where we are there is an imperative upon those on both sides of the argument to consider how we got here and where we might go in future.

This requires candour and sympathy, not hollering and point scoring and fear mongering. Everyone with half a brain knows that there's no reason economically why Scotland cannot run its own affairs. That much is surely a given. What we need urgently to address, however, is what kind of a place do we want our country to be.

It was Shakespeare who - despite never having set foot over the Border - said Scotland was almost afraid to know itself. Were I the bard's editor I would have insisted that he delete 'almost'. For too long we have looked into a mirror and seen reflected an image, a myth, a lie.

We have lived too often in a state of delusion, unable for myriad reasons, some historical, others societal, to address the desperate reality of life as it is for many citizens.

That is to our shame. But what is happening today offers the hope that the aforementioned speaker found missing.

I say this without the comfort of an opinion poll or any think tank's study. I have no research to go on other than that I have witnessed in sundry halls to which crowds have flocked on dark nights to demonstrate they care. For the most part they are quietly impassioned, impressively well-informed, inordinately curious and utterly engaged.

Some have even read Scotland's Future. At the end of each event I call for a vote. This week's was typical, a handful of switherers and around two to one in favour of separation. What this shows I'm unsure but it does seem to indicate that the game is far from over.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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