Ian Swanson: Scotland holds its breath

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SO the day has finally arrived. By 10pm it will all be over and Scotland will collectively hold its breath as it waits to find out what it has decided – Yes or No?

Many people have found it a difficult choice to make.

Of course there are those on both sides, who have always been firmly committed – and on the Yes side, many who have been campaigning for this moment most of their lives.

But for a huge number of people, it has been a case of weighing up the pros and cons, trying to imagine the alternative scenarios, talking to family and friends and attempting to come to a judgement.

Perhaps they started out as likely No voters, seeing no need for independence, but found themselves warming to the argument that too often Scotland votes one way but still a UK government of a different stripe emerges.

They may have recognised the issue is far bigger than any political party, but still felt tempted by the prospect of never having another Tory government.

Listening to the debate, they may have worried about the economic implications, but been reassured by apparently impartial economists who say independence would mean neither disaster nor bonanza.

They may be uncomfortable with some of the nationalist rhetoric, but feel devolution has allowed Scotland to pursue different policies from England on health and education, and independence would similarly enable a different approach on the economy, welfare, immigration and defence.

Or perhaps they began with a sneaking sympathy for Yes, thinking Scotland is a wealthy country and there is no reason why it could not make it on its own, but have become alarmed by the talk of job losses in the financial services sector and elsewhere if companies decide to move south.

While irritated by talk of friends and relatives in the rest of the UK being turned into “foreigners”, they might still have felt a little bad at apparently turning their backs on them.

And while recognising there are big uncertainties with both independence and staying in the UK, they may have come to feel it is just too big a change.

Two years is a long time for any debate, but the referendum campaign has only really come alive in the past few weeks as the narrowing of the polls seemed suddenly to concentrate minds. As undecided voters wrestled to make a decision, they are entitled to have felt let down by the politicians who too often have treated the campaign as just another political point-scoring battle between the parties instead of a nation deciding its future.

Any sensible approach to the question of independence recognises there are advantages and disadvantages either way. But there has been little willingness to explore any of the issues on that basis. For the two campaigns, everything is black and white.

Perhaps it’s no wonder then that so many people remained undecided for so long. Some commentators diagnosed the late surge for Yes as a symptom of a general anti-politics feeling among the public. But it looks much more like Scots taking seriously the big decision to be made about the future of their country and coming to their own conclusion. Most people will recognise, even after making their choice, that there are pros and cons with either outcome. Once it’s Yes or No, perhaps the politicians will also be able to admit that and everyone can get down to making it work.