JUST over a year ago I wrote in this paper that the decision we will all make in September 2014 is a decision about whether the Scotland we want to live in is best served by independence or by staying part of the UK.
More than 12 months on, it remains exactly the same kind of decision and one we will make not just for ourselves but for our families, our children and our communities. It’s a decision about choice.
To do that we need to lift our eyes above querulous arguments about the monarchy or the pound or mobile phone charges. We need to start talking about what kind of country we want. And in that conversation, we need to pay close attention to our language and our tone.
If there is one thing the decline in voting numbers and the angst over political disengagement tells us, it is this: people going about the business of living – going to work or finding a job, feeding families or looking after children – are not interested in political point-scoring or clever wheezes to show up one side of the argument or the other as foolish or wrong. They are not interested in name-calling or the rapid-fire exchange of statistics. More than not interested, they are utterly alienated by it. It is from this that the “they’re all the same” or worse, the “it’s got nothing to do with me” sentiments come. And who in truth can blame them?
And if that applies to most folk it applies doubly to women. Frankly, we haven’t the time or the patience for behaviour that we grew out of when we left the playground.
For a moment, forget the research, forget the private polling, forget the great political treatises about what wins elections and what doesn’t. Just think of your own life. Do you want to be around the whingers and moaners all the time? Do you want to surround yourself by the folk who tell you “you cannae dae that” or, “it’ll never work”?
If women had listened to these folks in years gone by we’d never have won a smidgen of equality and we’d certainly never have won the right to vote. But we didn’t. Because, simply, we can’t afford to. We’ve too much to do and too many daily problems to solve to waste time giving up. So the unsurprising news is the self styled “project fear” won’t work. Scare stories great, small and at times downright ridiculous, are pretty poor substitutes for genuine, engaging, down-to-earth conversations.
But so too is the absence of opportunities to paint our own picture of the country we want to live in. One of the most exciting projects to emerge so far in this debate has come from the creative and imaginative National Collective. Their “wish tree” invites us to do just that – imagine a better Scotland and paint it in our own colours and with our own words. By running street work, engaging groups, using social media they are collecting the ideas and hopes of people throughout Scotland. A quick look at what folk have come up with so far shows a remarkable degree of agreement. But more than that, it shows that when the question is asked, no-one needs to go away and ponder for weeks before they answer. People in Scotland know the kind of country they want for themselves and their families. They just need to be asked.
So can we take that approach, ask the question the length and breadth of Scotland? Can we lift our eyes above the point- scoring and back-biting and speak to our ambition and hope? For ourselves, for our families and for the communities we live in?
We can. And in growing numbers women across Scotland are beginning to do that. Yes, the majority remain undecided on the next question – will their hopes and wishes be best served by independence or not? So the real job is to argue about that choice, about which future will be the better future for us all.
With facts and information. With a frank recognition that either choice is a gamble. There is no special certainty in remaining part of the Union. Just as there is no special uncertainty in independence. When both sides agree – and they do – that Scotland has the financial, natural and most importantly the people resource to be independent, the question of whether we can afford it or not isn’t really a question at all. The question is – who do we believe has the better chance of giving us the opportunities, the policies, the laws that can take us towards our hopes for ourselves, our families and our communities.
For me the answer to that question is us, the people who live in Scotland. We are our best bet. But I want the conversation to happen, I want it to reach the folks who think politics isn’t for them and doesn’t care about them. And for that, I want the debate, the argument to be characterised by fairness, respect and honesty. By listening as well as talking.
Because at the end of it all, the kind of Scotland I want will be seen as much in how we carry ourselves, as in what we do. «
• Jeane Freeman is a public affairs consultant who was a senior special adviser to Jack McConnell when he was First Minister