Albert Einstein was no dummy. He believed imagination to be more important than knowledge. And that mantra that would serve Scots well as they gather information to help them decide their future in about two years. None of us should see knowledge as unimportant. But when it comes to momentous events, what we know and what we are comfortable with are seldom the best—and never the only—guides to the future.
From your first dive in a swimming pool to your first job to your life companion, the right choice comes from a gathering of all of yourself, an in-depth analysis that mixes courage with conviction, ambition with emotion and a connection with the inner peace we all have when we know we’re doing what is right. None of that is either easy or instant and, however much we may seek advice and counsel, must come from deep within.
Much of life programmes us to follow known patterns. Whether a commute or a communion, familiarity reassures and calms, encourages confidence in known outcomes and allows is to enjoy time in surroundings that comfort us. Britain, rightly, is proud of many long traditions and—whether it is as maritime nations or having a global outlook—the Scots and the English share many of them equally. Honorable unionists (yes, there are many) apparently believe that our history to this point must determine our future. They recite the glory of Britain, as if that familiar story were enough.
“The Union has provided over 300 years of stability, and has become a political and economic powerhouse with a seat at the top table internationally.”
“So, if the vote should take place in 2014 then, yes, let us all recognise the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn when our ancestors proudly fought against the English. But let the celebrations be for the 70th anniversary of the D Day landings, when our parents and grandparents fought and spilt their lifeblood not against the English, but side by side with the English.”
Both quotes are from Jackson Carlaw’s 350-word argument on why we Scots should be “better together” with the English. I find little in it with which to quibble—beyond his Pavlovian slurs on the SNP. But nowhere does he illustrate any future vision and why it will indeed conform to that. This is wholly representative of the Unionist debate to date.
Passionate or even principled as such unionists may be, it is retrograde thinking, a kind of anti-advancement some people suffer, like P7 kids in trepidation about what the High School might bring or stay-at-home youth who decline to move out because who would feed them and do their laundry?
Such personal dilemmas can be resolved by appeals to practicality (you’ll earn more money) or to emotion (we all need to grow up). But what when it applies to a country? Surely similar thinking applies. Moving out from your family is a natural thing and, however fraught with unknowns, is also full of opportunities, of new experiences, of growth and development available no other way. The feelings and affections remain.
The people I know supporting independence have more ambition than to be satisfied by reminiscences. They see Scotland full of potential, but strapped to another country that lives more in its past. England is still trying to hold onto glories of Empire, to the prestige of “being at the top table” as a nuclear power on the UN Security Council, a country that “punches above its weight” that can still exert gunboat diplomacy in others’ affairs, like in Iraq or Afghanistan. But for what? And why must we be part of it?
Scotland is an energy dynamo of a country, waiting to be unleashed. It could expand its present leading-edge presence in oil, renewables and engineering. It could export growing amounts of whisky, fish and even fresh water. It could welcome ever more tourists to appreciate its world-class wildlife, culture and history. Any people that for centuries has dispatched sons and daughters around the globe to bring innovation, hard work and success wherever they landed deserves the reputation we have, small though we are.
And we Scots didn’t earn that by being followers. From the Hudson Bay to Jardine Mathieson, Scots have shown how to think different, how to synergise, how to look past others’ mundane pursuit of the known and visualise another future. Watt saw past Newcomen and triggered the Industrial Revolution; Adam Smith blazed out of the Enlightenment and saw what that revolution could bring through far-seeing use of capital and markets; John Maclean fought and won the battle to give workers a fair share and a fair voice in the midst of capitalist exploitation and human misery.
And who says we Scots are yet done?
We belong back where we’re at our best—not as an appendage to someone else’s memories, glorious and proud though they may be—but at the cutting edge of civilisation and development. We need another Declaration of Arbroath to fire imaginations so far that it rings as powerfully down the centuries; we need the self-belief that kept clansmen fierce and proud of the life they wrung from unforgiving country; we need the inventive competence that made the Scots engineer a byword in coaxing magic from machinery.
We need to look to the visionaries of today, to the people whose unshakeable belief in what was possible confounded the suits, exasperated the beancounters and shattered the comfort zones of pedestrian conformity. Embrace Robin Williams’ inspiring teacher in Dead Poets Society. Absorb the business lateral thinking of Richard Branson. Live the inspirational motto of Apple Computer, once its founder returned in 1997 to revive its lost soul: Think Different.
For, as a country, we have never been conventional. We have always been a little wild, on the periphery, out there. Britain became great because we gave the English something that they, bless ’em, lack: fire and soul. It’s now time to rediscover them for ourselves. While it’s too long to be our motto, Scots should consider how Apple launched its rediscovery of what had made that company great—and took it, via iTunes, iPod, iPad, IPhone, etc from a doing-OK $2.4bn plateau to a 63,000-person global revolution valued at half the entire British economy ($0.5 trillion).
“Here’s to the crazy ones: the misfits; the rebels; the troublemakers; the round pegs in square holes; the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”