The last time I was back in Scotland, I was asked, ‘Would you ever live here again?’ I gave a non-committal answer to avoid offence, but inside myself, I believed I knew; no, I would not.
In truth, I had not then and still have no plans to live in Scotland again. I love the country and the people, but I am both a Scot and a European; the day life in rural France gets too humdrum, it won’t be to Scotland that I turn.
In the last few months I’ve thought a lot about this, however.
Well, as things stand, I couldn’t see it. I love France, the French, and French life. Scotland, shackled to an unequal union of the United Kingdom where it is increasingly obvious that everything is done for the benefit of London and the Home Counties, has little attraction. Scotland, despite all that having a wee Parliament of our own has appeared to do, is still controlled by the smug, self-serving men in Whitehall.
Scotland, now, is as Scotland was when I was growing up—a place for young people to leave, to get their education and then spread their wings, taking their talents far away. You only have to look at the list of famous Scots, from Andrew Carnegie to Alexander Graham Bell who have gone to the USA, for example, and transformed not only their own lives, but the world. These things could never have happened in a Scotland ruled as a fiefdom from London; and despite everything, all the pomp and theatre of Holyrood, nothing has really changed; Scotland is not free.
However, at the debut of this fresh young year that holds so much potential for Scotland, a tantalising prospect has arisen.
What if Scotland bucks the polls and votes to become, once again, a sovereign state, this coming September? Would that not change everything?
A new, young, Scotland will have need of all Scots. She will need our skills, our expertise, our passion, our commitment. Could I, as a Scot, refuse that call of duty? Scotland educated me and the very great part of what I am, personally, is of her.
My first novel, Poaching the River, was a homage to my Scottish upbringing. I declined offer after lucrative offer to work in London, partly because I resented the fact that Scotland’s talent was being leached out by a bloodsucking city far outwith its borders, but also because I wanted my children to know what it was to be young in a free and open place, and in truth, so that they would have guid Scots tongues in their heids. My Scots roots are deep and powerful and they are not to be gainsaid lightly.
So in the end, I am now less sure of my answer to my questioner. I might know better after the 18th of September, that fateful day when Scots will decide whether to surrender their nation or demand its resurrection. For make no mistake, the reaction of Westminster to a ‘No’ vote is easily predicted; just as a cynical Unionist Labour Party created the illusion of self-government in Scotland to douse the catching fire of nationalism, so a ruthless, self-interested Unionist Tory party will just as quickly dismantle that illusion, with the same objective. It will crush all remnant of resistance to the hegemony based on London. Scotland will vote, in September, for its very survival.
I can only hope that Scots make the right decision, and reach for glory; ‘Per Ardua Ad Astram’, was the motto of the ordinary Scots school I went to, ‘Through Hard Work to the Stars’. Yes it will be hard work; yes we would face many obstacles and snares, not least from the erstwhile Westminster masters, who will do everything they can to do the young nation down; yes, it would be the greatest challenge Scots have known in centuries.
Who, however, would refuse that challenge? Who, of right mind and good will, of strength and resourcefulness, would not seize that day? Who would not throw open the shutters and let in the light of freedom and independence, to a Scotland where our young people are not lured away, but can stay and make a nation great?
And small contribution though it may be, and rare enough that I would consider such a thing, if my country once again gets off her knees and stands on her own two good Scots feet, and she has need of whatever I can bring, then I will answer her call.
How could I not?