Exactly a year ago today, I arrived back in Glasgow for the first time in over four years. I hadn’t seen my parents, my sister’s family and most of my old friends in all that time – the longest time, in fact, between any of my previous visits. Four years! It only dawned on me just how long that really was when I booked my flights.
Not surprisingly, I was filled with an enormous sense of pride, excitement and nostalgia as the sleek Emirates jet made its final approach over the city I once called home, before touching down at Glasgow Airport right on schedule.
Over the next week, I visited several old haunts and reacquainted myself with my parents and many of my friends. I even managed to squeeze in a mini 25-year high school reunion. It was non-stop, but great fun – it felt like I was squeezing an entire year’s worth of socialising into a single week.
I also appreciated every single moment of this particular trip back to Glasgow more so than any before, because this was my first visit since I’d freed myself from the grip of the black dogs of anxiety and depression. In other words, I didn’t go around constantly worrying about how much the whole trip was costing. I just had a bloody good time.
At the end of my memorable week in Glasgow, I caught a train down to Chester, England to spend a couple of days with my sister Claire’s family, before flying home to Melbourne from Manchester. Mum and Dad came to Glasgow Central Station with me, to see me onto the train and wave me off.
As I lugged my oversized suitcase through the carriage to my allocated seat, Mum and Dad stayed back in the doorway, holding a small bag of food I’d bought for the three hour journey. I’d scored a deal where I managed to buy a seat in first class for only five pounds more than in economy, but I wasn’t going to risk paying five pounds more than shop prices for a sandwich or a Mars Bar on the same train.
“Come on in”, I said to Mum and Dad. “There’s been no announcements yet, there’s still loads of time before we leave.” But no sooner had they made their way to my seat than the doors closed – and the train started moving.
We all looked at each other blankly for a moment, wondering where the next stop was, and whether the ticket inspector would give Mum and Dad a fine for being on the train without a ticket.
I went looking for the inspector to explain the situation before she found us first. We were shocked when she told us that the next stop was Carlisle – 100 miles away, in the north of England!
She quickly reassured us, however, that we could all relax because this happens all the time. There would be no fine, no charge at all in fact. She even promised to phone ahead to Carlisle and make sure Mum and Dad were booked on the first train back to Glasgow – again free of charge – and then they’d be home in time for tea.
In an instant, we went from the fear of the unknown to getting an extra eighty minutes together, all while Mum and Dad got a free ride in first class. They also commented that if Scotland voted for Independence a year later, they might find themselves in a tricky situation if the same thing ever happened again as they’d not brought their passports with them.
On the touchy topic of Independence, until a few weeks ago, I was of the strong opinion that a vote for Independence would be disastrous and wrong for Scotland. I truly feared for the futures of my family and friends.
Asking four million Scots to answer Yes or No to the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” seems simple enough. But never in probably most of the voters’ lifetimes have their answers to a straightforward question had such far-reaching consequences.
The United Kingdom, I reasoned, is a union that may not work perfectly, but is at least a known entity. I have to admit that I wasn’t fully armed with all the facts, and I don’t have a crystal ball, but it seemed to me that there was so much that could go horribly wrong with an independent Scotland so many risky factors to take into account. And the opportunity to vote in such a decision doesn’t come along every four years, so the people of Scotland would not be able to change their minds if it did indeed go horribly wrong.
I shared my opinion on Facebook in number of different contexts on a few occasions, and I was truly taken aback by the sheer polarity of the opinions of many of my Scottish friends.
What struck me most of all was the number of them who said they’d gone from being staunch No supporters to a firm Yes, simply by becoming more informed of the facts. It was the sheer passion of their opinions, and their bravery in the face of an unknown future that made me realise my support for a No to Independence was primarily based on an uninformed fear of change, a fear of the unknown.
Indeed, it was a black dog-induced fear of change, a fear of the unknown that used to make me such an indecisive manager at work. So many what-if scenarios and unpalatable sky-falling-down outcomes used to run through my head all at the same time – what if I do this, what I don’t do that, what if this happens, what if that breaks – so much so that many decisions I was responsible for making, well, sort of just made themselves. And as I questioned my anti-independence opinion, I remembered that one of the things I am most proud of after defeating the black dogs of anxiety and depression is my ability nowadays to confidently make decisions in the face of the unknown. Why, I thought, should the Independence vote be any different?
As my cousin so eloquently and hitting-the-nail-on-the-headedly wrote: “I do not believe that a ‘Yes’ vote will lead to the sky falling down or the country being flooded. It won’t lead to famine or a swarm of locusts. Overall, Independence is nothing to fear and I believe the Scots are capable of managing their own affairs.”
I’m still not armed with all the facts, nor have I managed to find a crystal ball anywhere on eBay. And even though I am not eligible to vote because I no longer live in Scotland, I still wouldn’t say I’m now all in favour of a Yes for Independence. If I were forced to vote today, I’d probably still vote No, but if the truth be told, I’ve recently become more of a Dunno.
However, given time, and enough of the facts that my passionately converted Yes friends have educated themselves with, even without a crystal ball, I just might have been convinced otherwise.
What has changed, however – and this is the important bit – is that regardless of which side wins, I no longer fear the outcome.
Of course I’m not suggesting that anyone who realises they intend to vote No partially out of fear should now vote Yes. What I am saying is – don’t fear the outcome of a win for Yes to Independence.
After all, I also believe that the No voters would still have the ultimate choice in an Independent Scotland. They would have the choice to live in fear of an ominous future filled with floods, famine and locusts – a future that will never transpire – or they could choose to embrace the change, to accept the decision of the majority, and to get excited about rather than hindering the possibilities of a brave new world for Scotland.
I’m also not suggesting that anyone should vote Yes just to prove their bravery or that anyone who votes No lacks such bravery.
But on the other hand, I truly hope that as four million Scots literally hold a piece of history in their hands next week, whoever decides to vote No at least doesn’t let their only reason for doing so be a black dog called fear.