The following is a transcript of my address to a Yes Clydesdale Independence Roadshow in Biggar on the evening of Monday 7 October 2013.
The problem with following a couple of erudite and eloquent speakers such as Robin McAlpine and Aileen Campbell is that you’re likely to discover that they’ve said most of the things that you were planning on saying.
Which is annoying. And even more annoying when they say it better than you could.
Tell you what else is annoying… Apart from Willie Rennie, I mean.
What’s also annoying is people who answer a question with another question.
You know the kind of thing I mean.
What do you want for dinner? What do you fancy?
What would you like to drink? What are you having?
Are you OK under that bus? Do I look as if I’m OK?
That sort of thing. Very annoying.
But sometimes you can’t avoid it. Sometimes you can’t help answering a question with a question. Because sometimes the question simply begs another question.
People ask me, “What persuaded you that Scotland should be an independent country?”
Why would I need to be persuaded?
Independence is not some extraordinary, outlandish condition for a nation.
Independence is the default status of all nations.
Independence is normal.
Why would I need to be persuaded that Scotland should be normal?
I’ll tell you what is not normal.
Being subject to government by people and parties that we have decisively rejected at the polls.
That’s not normal!
Having imposed on us policies that are opposed by the majority of our elected representatives and abhorred by most of Scotland’s people.
That’s not normal!
The very existence of our nation being only grudgingly recognised at best and the sovereignty of Scotland’s people being explicitly denied.
That’s not normal!
Being independent is normal.
I am approaching 63 years of age, and it seems to me that I have known all my life that Scotland should be independent. It isn’t something I had to figure out. It isn’t something that I had to have explained to me. It isn’t something I had to be persuaded of. It’s just something I know in my heart to be true.
I seek for Scotland no more than that status which every other nation assumes to be theirs by right.
I seek nothing more extraordinary than the restoration of our nation’s rightful constitutional status.
I seek this, not in the expectation of advantage or for anything that is promised, but simply because it is right. It is proper.
It is normal.
That is my starting point in the great debate in which our country is now engaged. And if that sounds like a passionate argument – an argument from the heart – then I make no more apology for that than I do for responding to the question, “What persuaded you Scotland should be an independent country?”, by asking, “Why should I need to be persuaded?”.
That response reflects what I feel. That response is not just some politician’s cunningly crafted sound-bite nor some pundit’s pompous opinion. That response is the simple honesty of someone speaking from the heart..
Of course, I am aware that there are practical issues. To argue from the heart – to make the passionate case for independence – is not to deny the relevance of these practical issues It is merely to put them in a more complete context. A more human context. A context which does not seek to deny our humanity by making the great issue before us nothing more than the cold and soulless calculation of an accountant.
As the journalist, Iain MacWhirter so aptly put it, “A nation is more than a balance sheet.”
I would add that we – each of us here and everyone else besides – are more than mere beads on some monstrous corporate abacus. We are human beings. We are people. We have feelings. To insist that those feelings are not relevant to the decisions that we make is to deny half – and perhaps more than half – of our humanity.
My ambition; my desire; my passion for independence comes both from the calculation of my mind and the urging of my heart.
That, too, is normal.
Of course there are practical issues. Don’t mistake me for some starry-eyed, woolly-minded romantic. I’m too old and too cynical for that. My passion for independence is real. But I strongly believe that passion should serve our intellect rather than rule it. Passion should drive us, not simply to achieve an aim, but to ask searching questions about that aim and about our own motivations in pursuing it.
Passion should infuse our arguments with human spirit, augmenting, strengthening and enlivening them.
But passion should never pretend to be an argument in itself.
Passion must take its proper place alongside pragmatism.
Passion should never be blind and unthinking.
But passion must always have a place in our politics if our politics is to have a place in human society. Real people have dreams! How relevant to real people can politics be if it is devoid of a dream?
Having a dream is normal.
Of course there are practical issues. If it’s facts and figures you want then there’s a very nice, very clever man called John Swinney who has facts and figures aplenty. And he’s really good at explaining those facts and figures as well. His belief in independence has not deterred or diverted him from addressing those practical issues. Rather, it has driven him to better formulate and articulate the arguments that serve his aspirations for Scotland.
John Swinney is not alone, of course. There are countless people in the SNP, in the Scottish Greens, in Women for Independence, in Business for Scotland and too .many other parties, organisations and groups to mention who are making the solid, practical case for independence.
But there is no spreadsheet function; no algorithm, equation or calculation that can make the decision for you next year. As each of us steps into that booth and picks up the pencil we will guided as much by our feelings as any rational assessment of the information we have been plied with over the preceding months.
We will all of us vote with our hearts as well as our heads.
That is perfectly normal! Don’t let anybody tell you it’s not!
I said earlier that I seek independence because it feels right rather than for anything that is promised. But this is not to say that there is no promise. And I’m not talking here about the all-too-often empty promises of politicians, but of promise in the sense of possibility, potential and hope. I speak of promise in the sense of that dream that should ideally be at the very heart of our politics.
For decades now we’ve been told that our dreams don’t matter. Our hopes and aspirations are of no consequence. Even our rationally determined priorities don’t count.
These things don’t matter because people don’t matter. All that matter is the heartless, inhuman economic imperative of market forces.
We have been dispossessed of our politics. Our politics has been taken from us. The politics that should belong to the people has instead become the province of spivs, speculators, spin doctors and a self-serving professional political elite.
Politics has become a wasteland. Barren! Devoid of humanity. Devoid of dreams.
It is time to take back our politics.
It is time to make our politics human again.
It is time to make our politics normal.
One of the great things about the independence debate is that it has inspired a new vigour and diversity in political discourse here in Scotland. The Jimmy Reid Foundation is just one example of this exciting revival of radical thinking. The Common Weal project just one illustration of the fresh, stimulating breeze that is blowing the dust off Scottish politics.
Politics has been energised in a way that we have not seen for decades. Ideas that had been all but crushed out of existence by the stultifying weight of the neo-liberal consensus that dominates the politics of the British state have been reinvigorated by the sense that change is possible.
If we can get a referendum on independence – quite unthinkable only a few short years ago, what more might we be able to achieve? Minds have been opened. And hearts have been opened too.
In Scotland, people are daring to dream again.
Isn’t this the way our politics should be?
Isn’t it good that our politics should be driven by aspiration and hope rather than the fear and despair that is all the British parties offer us?
Isn’t it right that we should be urged on by the possibility of creating a better, fairer society?
Isn’t it wonderful to dare to feel just a little bit passionate about politics again?
Doesn’t it feel like we are starting to emerge from a dark place?
Doesn’t it feel like we’re getting back to normal?
That’s a lot of questions. Doubtless you will have a few questions of your own. I promise I’ll try to avoid annoying you by answering your questions with other questions. As we go into the question-and-answer section of this evening’s event, I undertake to address the practical issues with such factual information as I have at my disposal and such rational analysis as I may be capable of.
For the moment, however, I wanted to take this opportunity to speak to you from my heart.
From my heart I want to answer the one question to which all other questions are ancillary.
From my heart I want to answer the question that brooks no prevarication or equivocation.
From my heart I want to answer the question that demands a straight answer.
Should Scotland be an independent country?
With all the passion that is in my heart, I say YES!