Martin Hannan: Have no fears as hope is here

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Hope is a magical thing. It is the human quality that, along with love, makes our species worthwhile. We need to hope, we need to believe there is such a thing as hope, and we need to believe that hope and the possibility of change for the better will always beat fear.

We have begun the Greatest Debate in the history of Scotland. The last one in the early 1700s really only involved a few dozen aristocrats and gentry – this one is for five million of us.

In this debate, there will be many different areas of discussion and disagreement but, in 2014, it will come down to a simple choice – hope or fear.

If the last few days of debate about the process for the forthcoming referendum have proven anything, it is that the principal battle lines for the campaign will be these – the proponents of independence will offer hope for a new and better Scotland, and an improved UK, while the unionists can only offer the same old, same old of fear.

It has started already. The same old stories of Scotland being too wee, the same old scaremongering about Scotland not being able to go it alone, the same old attempts to frighten the citizens of this nation into being less than they can be.

Unless the unionists change their tactics immediately, unless they start to tell the Scottish people some positive messages, unless they can show there is hope in the union, their cause is utterly doomed. As an SNP member, I am not sorry about that, but I would like them to at least put up a semblance of a fight rather than the mishmash of whining they have emitted so far.

Yet when your arguments are so obviously based on negativity, when most of your leaders are frankly pathetic, and when you are arguing for an entity whose time is over, all you can resort to is trying to whip up fear.

Nothing we do as Scots will ever be more important than the choice we make in the referendum. Nothing. We can make history, we can change Scotland forever, but to do so we must go forward with hope. While many Scots will rightly have anxieties and concerns, when it comes to the moment of saying yes or no, I believe hope will win.

What has amazed and pleased me over recent days is the desperation of people to cut to the chase and get stuck into the real substantive issues of the Greatest Debate because I believe those arguments will be won by the Yes campaign. Yet logic dictates that the Scottish Government is proceeding sensibly and in accordance with its democratic mandate – consult the people and decide the process first, and then move to the meat of the issues.

So far Alex Salmond has run rings round the opposition. They said “you’re scared to name the date” and he did. They said “you’re scared to define the question” and he did. They said “you’re scared to take the Electoral Commission on board” and he did. Some feartie.

The First Minister will continue to lead the Yes campaign, and God knows which unionist will draw the short straw to oppose him, but which locality will be in the forefront?

At this time, I would make a special plea for Edinburgh. This capital city needs to be at the centre of the Greatest Debate. While I believe all the airts and pairts of Scotland should be involved, and absolutely must hold their local hustings about every issue, it is for the capital of Scotland to be the place people look to for the defining discussions.

We need a location that can become the central establishment where the big set-piece debates take place – not Holyrood, as our parliament will be too busy, and not some soulless Glasgow telly studio.

There is a superb purpose-built debating chamber in this city and it should be brought back into use now. The former Royal High School building on Calton Hill was Donald Dewar’s nationalist shibboleth, and the reason he inflicted £400 million-worth of “upturned boats” upon us.

But the history of the building is exactly that – past news. It seems crazy to have such a facility in public ownership, especially as any development is years away, and not have it used for the purpose it was originally intended for – discussing the future of Scotland.

Another point. I am asking too much, I know, but let the Greatest Debate be conducted without anonymous backbiting and with patience. When you are contemplating something so epochal, so fundamental, time must be taken to have all the points and issues fully debated.

Some unionist last week said the referendum should be held soon because the devolution referendum of 1997 was conducted within months of the Labour victory. Excuse me, but that vote was about a scheme which people like Canon Kenyon Wright had been working on for many years. This referendum is about the future Scotland the people must choose, and it is going to take a lot more planning and talking to get answers.

The Greatest Debate is under way. Last Wednesday’s launch was not the beginning of the end, it was not even the end of the beginning, but it was, definitely, the start of the beginning.