UNLIKE some of my friends in the Yes campaign, I always enjoy reading Scotland on Sunday columnist Euan McColm.
He has the capacity to get under the skin of either side in any public debate, and he exercises this capacity with a combination of seriousness and mischievous glee.
In a column for this paper last month he seemed to be playing the role of Ghost of Christmas Past, reminding Yes Scotland of its perhaps naive optimism in earlier days and its talk of growing momentum for the independence cause.
Every campaign likes to talk up its own chances, and I’ve no doubt that Euan could dig up a few over-optimistic predictions of Green electoral success from my own back catalogue if he was so minded. But in truth, everyone making the case for a Yes vote has known for a long time that we have a real job on our hands. With a proposition that’s inherently radical at a time of economic uncertainty, and an opposition which feels the need neither to defend the status quo nor to offer a coherent vision of change, but rather thinks that doubt and fear will win its case, this was never going to be a breeze.
What will ultimately determine how undecided voters make their choice will vary widely, but for all the Yes campaign’s challenges in taking on this task, we’re learning more all the time about the ways in which those voters can be won over. More importantly, we’re steadily building the capacity at a local level to deliver an active campaign across Scotland during the main 16-week referendum period.
It’s worth remembering too that the story isn’t over once the ghosts of Christmas Past and Present have disappeared. There is one more Ghost to meet, which may have just a chance to prompt a change of heart. So let us consider the Ghost of Scotland’s Christmas Yet to Come.
Because by the time we’re all writing our reflective opinion columns in 2014 we’ll know what the voters of Scotland have decided to do. Whichever choice they make, we’ll be entering a new political landscape, with the SNP contemplating their mission in life once the project of independence has been settled either way, and the Better Together parties gearing up for a Westminster election six months later. Labour will be seeking a mandate for change (or as much change as they think Middle England will endure), the Tories will be seeking that elusive overall majority despite leaking votes to the raving right, and many Lib Dems will be refreshing their CVs “just in case”.
Where will Scotland’s prospects be in all this? What chance for the better society, for the stronger democracy, for the sustainable economy that many on both sides of the great divide want to see? For those who see the independence debate as an opportunity to raise our collective sights and challenge the status quo in our country’s politics, not merely in our constitution, Scotland after a No vote could be a far bleaker prospect than a tough referendum campaign.
Anyone who looks out of their window next Christmas and feels revulsion at the poverty and inequality in our society while billions are spent on the weapons of war; anyone who sees the capability of our country and knows that it’s been stifled too long; anyone who believes in the value and necessity of building a society which meets our needs without destroying our ecological life-support system; all of us will be left wondering how much can ever be achieved within the narrow confines of devolution.
Of course, my Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come doesn’t just “scatter gloom and misery”. It could hold out a hand of hope, rather than pointing a finger of judgment.
The people of Scotland will consider all their possible futures over the coming months, and the last thing I want is for anyone to pick the “least worst” option. But ask yourself what kind of society you really want to live in – the one you can almost believe in when you read A Christmas Carol and see the change the ghosts brought about in a heart so cynical to have said No to a better world. Then ask yourself what we need to start building that society. You may find yourself reaching the conclusion that the status quo isn’t the future you want. «
Patrick Harvie MSP is co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party