SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE: Sitting across the table from me in an oak-panelled room in the White House, President Barack Obama’s chief climate change adviser looked confused.
It was November 2010 and I had asked Todd Stern, one of the world’s leading experts on environmental policy, what he thought of Alex Salmond’s pioneering climate change policies – then by far the most ambitious in the world and heralded by the First Minister as a shining example to other nations.
Mr Stern, who was heading off soon after our interview to lead United Nations climate talks in Cancun, Mexico, muttered something about being impressed by the United Kingdom’s “terrific job” in tackling environmental issues.
I pointed out that Scotland’s carbon reduction targets were far greater than those of the UK government – and were set entirely independently.
The special envoy’s reply was telling.
“I will plead guilty to looking at the UK as an entity rather than Scotland separately, much as I love Scotland,” he told me. “I’ve just not been focused on that [Scotland’s policies] per se – it’s not been on my radar.”
Four years on, I cannot imagine that Scotland is now “not on the radar” of any major world government official. Independence has rocketed us on to the world stage.
Countries across Europe have been looking to the result of Scotland’s poll, fearing a catalyst for independence movements in small factions across the continent, from East Friesland to Transnistria.
Countries across the world have turned a spotlight on Scotland, fascinated by the passion and engagement which has rocked our nation.
I have spoken to independence campaigners from Catalonia, Sardinia, Corsica and the Basque Country, who had travelled to Scotland not just to support their friends in the Scottish independence movement, but to watch the referendum as a beacon of working democracy. They were delighted that the Westminster government gave the people of Scotland the chance to make up our own minds.
Over the next weeks, months and years, we have the chance to help shape the new Scotland. There will be new devolutionary powers granted, there will be calls for even more new powers. There will be debates won and celebrations held; disappointments and setbacks suffered.
But Scotland now has its voice on the world stage – so let’s use it.
The level of engagement in this debate has been lauded by political leaders as something we should be proud of – and so we should.
We have smashed UK election turnout figures, we have brought literally thousands of non-voters into the political arena. But that needs to be maintained.
My fear is that the people of Scotland do not regard the independence debate as politics. We have held it as something so fundamental, so far removed from the daily political grind that it would be easy to slip back into apathy.
Already I have heard people saying: “Well, I’ve given up now.” Well, just don’t.
It would be easy for supporters of independence to give up, claiming they were again being asked to vote for a government they do not want. It would be easy for No voters to breathe a sigh of relief and return to business as usual.
Instead, do something special, something to be proud of – and make sure international players like Mr Stern have no option but to continue to have Scotland firmly on their radar for a long time to come.