WE WALKED into the polling station as a family: me, my husband and our 17-year-old son, each of us queasy with excitement and lack of sleep.
We left the house at 7.15am because that was the only time we could guarantee we’d all be free. And it seemed important to make this journey together. As a gesture of unity in the face of our disparate views, perhaps, but, more than that, as a means of marking the broader journey we, and our country, had made since we last took a vote on our constitutional destiny almost a generation ago.
Our son was born on 29 August, 1997. Conceived the day the Stone of Destiny came home and due just weeks before the referendum, we called him our “devo baby” when he was still a blur on an ultrasound scan. On his arrival, we named him Jamie after the Stuart kings as a tribute both to Scotland’s nationhood and its place within the union.
One of our first family outings involved wheeling him in his pram to the local primary school where, without reservation, we ticked the same two boxes on the ballot paper: one for the creation of a Scottish Parliament, the other for the existence of tax-varying powers.
Those were heady days, right enough. Still on a high from the Labour landslide and knowing a Yes/Yes result was almost a foregone conclusion, we talked of how lucky our boy was to have surfed into this world on a tidal wave of optimism.
This time round, Jamie was old enough to cast his own vote; he long ago outgrew us physically. And – in the 18 months of the campaign – he astonished us with his zeal for politics and his determination to engage in a decision-making process far more challenging and divisive than the last one. Though he resolved early on to vote Yes, he continued to arm himself with information and to hone his arguments so he could persuade others. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows he prepared a PowerPoint presentation in an attempt to convert a pair of No-voting family members. He didn’t succeed, but he gave it his best shot; and the exercise was worthwhile because it gave them an insight into the rationale behind his choice, thus building a bridge for life beyond the referendum.
My son’s approach to his democratic responsibility has been a revelation; but as with him, so with Scotland as a whole. Since the referendum was announced, a population largely disenfranchised from politics has been transformed. For months now, the vote has dominated every space; at supermarket check-outs, in doctors’ surgeries, in hairdressers and in bars, new ideas have been cultivated and debate has flourished. People haven’t relied on propaganda from politicians or the media. They have actively sought out information. We have heard them on TV and radio shows quoting from the White Paper and debating Jose Manuel Barroso’s position on EU membership or the pros and cons of a currency union. For me, the high point wasn’t a political speech, an unexpected poll result or the sight of Yes voters massed in Glasgow’s George Square, but the news that 97 per cent of eligible voters had registered. What a tribute to the work of both grassroots campaigns and what a legacy for the nation.
Of course, this level of investment has its downsides too: it’s all-consuming; it’s stressful; it’s exhausting. Last week, almost everyone I spoke to said they felt physically sick with nerves. For some the day could not come quickly enough, others didn’t want it to come at all, preferring to live in a state of suspended anticipation than confront potential disappointment. Then there were those of us who, like the young Chris Guthrie in Sunset Song, were constantly torn between two parts of their identity – the Scottish and the British – the up-to-the-wire undecideds who, even as they lifted their pencils in the booth, continued to feel conflicted.
Such an emotional overload brought with it flared tempers and bad blood. That’s inevitable. There were fierce Twitter spats, some bile and the occasional egg. Many families were split, a few irrevocably. There were occasions I had to walk away from conversations for fear of saying something that could not be unsaid. And yet, as the Scottish Police Federation pointed out, the debate was largely good-natured.
We have come a long way in 17 years. From the early days of the new parliament, our country has grown in confidence to a point where we can express our differences vehemently and still, mostly, remain on speaking terms. We have become so invested in our fate that more than 84.5 per cent of us took the time to mark our cross on the ballot paper. No-one can now argue the result does not reflect the settled will of the Scottish people.
So what kind of a future can those babies wheeled to the polling stations by their parents this time look forward to? At the very least, it should be one in which they believe they have a power to influence their own circumstances; where if they don’t like what they are doing, they are willing and able to raise their voices in dissent.
Today, I couldn’t be more proud of my devo baby, who educated himself, voted the way his conscience told him and is now bearing his disappointment with good grace; that’s how I feel about my country, too. On Friday night, some of the energy created spilled into violence as thugs unrepresentative of No campaigners engaged in violence. But we must not let a minority throw us off course. Now, let’s go build a better Scotland. «