And so, it is finally upon us.
For the longest time, it has felt completely abstract – I knew that the vote would come, but for all the certainty of it’s approach, I couldn’t visualise it happening. Over the last 10 days or so, it has all become very real. In two days time, Scotland will go to the polls, and our fate will be decided.
Two days? It reads ludicrously. Just as much as ‘tomorrow’ or ‘today’ will. It’s ludicrous, and it’s inspiring, and it’s exciting. I recently talked to someone in Australia, who told me that she ‘did not envy my position.’ Don’t envy? This moment, perhaps more than any moment in our history, is the singular most extraordinary time to be alive in Scotland. We should grab hold of this marvellous opportunity, relish it while we have the chance. With 97% electoral registration, looking towards an 80% or above participation rate, we can proudly say that we are. With millions of others by my side, I will visit the polling station on Thursday and take our future in hand. It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me – or has seen my obnoxious excuses for social media feeds – that I will be marking my X beside Yes. My mind has seemingly been made up about this for some time. I will be voting for an independent Scotland.
And yet – and yet. In these last few days of the referendum, in these last few days, possibly, of our four countries centuries old union, I find myself doubting. I doubt the decision I am about to make partly because of the magnitude of it. This is the most important conclusion any of us will ever have to come to. No hyperbole. I cannot claim to be certain that I am doing the right thing, and I would go so far to say that I treat those who, at least publicly, assert that they are certain, have been so for some time, with a sense of suspicion. Many people would tell me, with certainty, that I am wrong to vote the way I am. To me, they are equally suspect. The idea of certainty as virtuous is a fallacy. Certainty of belief said gays would never be married in churches; certainty of belief dictated wars should be fought without thought of consequence, on spurious grounds; certainty of belief sends deluded men and women to their deaths, wasting their lives and destroying countless others in the name of Un-Islam. Certainty of belief does not grant clarity, as some on both sides would have you believe. It is a tool used first to impress, then control, people who wish desperately for the world to be better. It blinds us to differing perspective, positions us against any dissenting voices – no matter the clarity or reasoning of their arguments – and inexorably polarises, to the point where compromise or discussion become impossible. Certainty, above all else, of a particular point of view denies us the ability to imagine the world complexly, to imagine a scenario in which we may, deep breath, be wrong. Certainty is not a virtue.
In part, I doubt my decision because there are many I know who disagree with me; people I love, respect, admire, care deeply about, who’s remarkable intelligence, compassion, and that most important of qualities, humility, I would vehemently defend to anyone. I know that these peope will walk into their polling stations on Thursday, some of them the same polling stations as I and mark a cross for No. A proportion – and I would be so bold to say, a large proportion – of my fellow Yes voters would tell me that these people have been lied to, hoodwinked, that they are fools to believe in any kind of meaningful change from within the union. Some, and I know because I have seen it said, would counsel me that they are bad people. I know it not to be so. It is too simple a worldview, too certain, that people who disagree with our own opinions must be in some way flawed, in some way worse than ourselves. I have written, on this very blogging site, of my distrust of artificial communities – in that instance, talking about the perceived gay ‘community’ – that are bundled together because of banal traits rather than common goals and values. Yes, there are unseemly elements voting No, the Orange Lodges that most progressive thinking Scots would hope to leave behind one day, the British National Party, the Scottish Defence League. No voters have kicked pregnant women, have likened Yes voters to Nazi’s and traitors. Yes voters, on the other hand, have pushed elderly people, have sworn at mothers with young children, have berated, talked down to, jeered at people. Contained in the ranks of Yes voters are those who will vote for anti-English reasons. In the online forums of Yes voters I have seen photoshopped pictures of the Queen with a black eye and a bloody nose, as if violence against women, or any violence, were a joke, a bit of fun, permitted. These views and actions, on both sides, are minorities, yes. Everyone I know, whichever way they vote, find them abhorrent, as do I, but to deny they are there is counter-productive. The people who commit these acts are from no community of mine. You are not a bad, or a stupid, person for voting one way or another in a referendum. You are a bad and stupid person if you are a bad and stupid person.
You’d be forgiven for thinking I’ve found this debate a rather depressing one, but I haven’t. For the most part our discussion on national sovereignty has been peaceful, respectful and free. Homes, pubs, lecture halls, churches, auditoriums, theatres, right up to some of our largest stadiums, have been packed with voters who have already made a considered decision, and those who have yet to be swayed one way or another. Westminster has myriad faults, but the very fact we are able to discuss our self-determination and vote on it without hindrance is testament to the freedoms we enjoy, the democracy we have crafted. In a world where too few have such rights, we should remember, and be grateful. None of us want Scotland to be worse off – none of us wish to see our home diminished. In the experience I have, from talking to those planning to vote Yes and No, the majority of us will vote the way we do because it is the way in which we see hope blossom. Look for that hope as you make your decision – and keep the counsel of your doubts. It is they, not any certainty, that will help you make the right decision.