No fear!

In a letter to The Herald last week, a correspondent remarked on the ’unprincipled, illiberal and undemocratic’ stance of Jo Swinson and Willie Rennie—the heirs, however unlikely it may seem, to the party Don Roberto once, albeit briefly, called his own.

In support of his argument, the correspondent referred to Don Roberto’s often quoted observation that ‘the enemies of Scottish nationalism are not the English, for they were ever a great and generous folk, quick to respond when justice calls. Our real enemies are among us, born without ambition … ‘

Well-worn quotations tend to come in various forms. The version I know uses the word ‘imagination’ in place of ‘ambition’. Either way, while I understand the general sentiment, it strikes me as somewhat harsh to write off two million Scots voters as having no imagination, or indeed ambition.

Certainly there were, and next time around will still be, some Scots unable to conceive of anything but the status quo: those who now, inexplicably, would prefer to be dragged over the Brexit cliff than countenance any change to the current arrangements. If that’s not a failure of the imagination, nothing is.

But there are others for whom imagination plays as important a part in the fact of their cleaving to the Union as it does for those who can see a brighter future for an independent Scotland. 

 In some indeterminate way the idea of independence frightened her, and she was not alone in 2014. 

Some months ago I had a conversation about independence with a friend and neighbour who had voted No in 2014. Her main reason, she explained, was that the idea of it had been ‘too scary’. There was nothing wrong with her imagination, just that it presented the unknown as something to be feared, an existential threat; and one which the Better Together campaign was not slow to take advantage of, or to clothe in the fraudulent specifics of, for example, loss of state pension or EU membership.

One could argue that the ground had been well laid over decades for that turn of the imagination. Carol Craig’s 2003 book The Scots’ Crisis of Confidence forensically deconstructs the causes of the Scottish cultural cringe, the ‘too wee, too poor, too stupid’ mentality, and the many other factors that left so many Scots in a kind of paralysis of national self-esteem, wholly susceptible to negative propaganda both from Westminster and from within Scotland itself.

Nevertheless, fear is something to be sympathised with, however frustrating it may be if you don’t happen to be suffering from it, and I can sympathise with my neighbour. In some indeterminate way the idea of independence frightened her, and she was not alone. (On an existential level I would suggest that this fear was about not being able to look after oneself and ultimately falling into some kind of abyss. In more concrete terms, that might translate into us, Scotland, lacking the ability to govern ourselves, the country going bust or descending into chaos, and everyone ending up ill and impoverished—or something of that nature.)

Nothing could be further from the truth. But how to get that across to someone whom, I sensed, would have been open to being persuaded and reassured, without appearing to browbeat them? 

For people to change their position on anything at all, let alone something as monumental as independence, there has to be an emotional shift; something has to be felt. But facts play their part in facilitating that shift and here, I remember from 2014, there is a twofold difficulty: first in being sufficiently well informed and confident to use the facts; secondly in presenting them not so much as part of an argument to be won but neutrally, as information that might or might not be of interest.

Cut to 2019 and enter Business for Scotland with their soon-to-be-published little book Scotland the Brief. I picked up an advance copy at a dinner a couple of weeks ago. The pocket sized version (there is to be a larger oner as well) has 70 pages of at-a-glance facts and graphics about the Scottish economy and independence. Designed in a way that is engaging and accessible to anyone, it leaves one in no doubt that Scotland is a prosperous, asset-rich country with a highly developed economy, and one which, thanks to devolution, already has most of the infrastructure necessary to function as an independent nation.

Assembled by the Business for Scotland research team, the booklet tells us, for example, that since records began Scotland has never run a trade deficit—in other words it has always exported more than it has imported. Or that each year Scotland exports £17,500 per capita as opposed to the rest of the UK’s £8,600, which places Scotland just behind Denmark and Norway and ahead of Sweden and Finland. Or that Scotland wins 43% more EU research funding than the rest of the UK. Or that the Scots are the most educated people in Europe, with 47% of 25-64 year-olds having a further or higher education qualification. And so on …

There are hardened No-voters who will always be beyond the reach of any kind of persuasion, but for those who might be open—I think here of my neighbour, and a growing number of others—I can see this little book being a game-changer. It can be left behind after a conversation, mailed to a friend or dropped through a letterbox.

Scotland the Brief  is due to be published in early October. There will also be an accompanying mobile phone app. All can be advance ordered here. I’ve put my request in already.

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