If You Want to

Referendum day in Scotland. It’s been murky of weather and murkier of heart for me and my family today. I have been attentive to the arguments for and against the independence of Scotland since the referendum was announced two years ago, one year after we moved to Edinburgh for me to start my PhD.

We did the math. Unless my studies went freakishly fast or I got a sweet job moments after submitting the thesis (to which I remain, in these unsteady post-submission days, totally unaverse), we would be here to vote. My wife is a dual citizen; I am a Commonwealth citizen. The franchise was ours. So – we could vote.

Yet I felt reticent about marking a ballot on this one. I have voted in Scottish, local, and national elections, and I voted in 2011 on a referendum for electoral reform at Westminster. I felt aware enough to take part, but this was something different. The future of a country I was not born to and am not a citizen of… So – should I vote?

Then last year, in July, our third child was born: a son. In our Marchmont home, just up the hill from MacDowall Road, where his granny was born during an air raid in the Second World War. He can be a Canadian citizen, but he is not yet. What he is is British, born in Scotland. His story gives me a stake in the vote. Besides which, we love it here and could happily build our future here. It was then that I became more comfortable. So – I would vote.

These last few weeks, the intensity of the campaign has increased. Since school got in, really, and I would chat with mums and dads at the pick up, the drop off, the football pitch on weekends. And I have realised, as I think many people in Scotland are realising, that people I love, respect, and care for are on different sides of this debate. Nonetheless, we get on. I haven’t had any shouting matches. Got in one little Twitter dust-up this week – and, really, that was in defense of language rather than a debate over the best outcome (the words “never ever” actually do have meaning and should not be casually thrown about as 10 of your 140 characters).

I feel encouraged by the level of civic engagement in the debate, but rather than burgeoning optimism today, I feel dread for the heaviness of the task we’ve all been given – that we’ve given ourselves, as it were, by handing the SNP a majority government at Holyrood and the very means to ask the question. We left the house this morning after a breakfast of crepes to vote at the kids’ school, and then we joined other families and lugged bags of sand across the schoolyard. We are building a new sandpit, and we discussed drilling holes in tires, anchoring them down, and spreading a heavy liner to make this thing work. Good, physical labour to take my mind off the task I had just completed and which, if we’re lucky and responsible, over four million of my fellow residents have been completing over the day. We solved problems together. The kids pushed mini wheelbarrows and then later mucked into the sand, building castles and tunnels and such whilst we scrounged for cable ties and charged drill batteries.

But it was a temporary fix. The heaviness has remained, unhelped by our Scottish-born son who is assailed by Tooth Number Nine, a molar, and is punishing us for it with his yells. I took him for a walk through the neighbourhood after the bedtime story, and as I walked down our Marchmont streets, I heard music. Two lads in one of the top-floor flats had the window open. They were waving a saltire out the window, had strung up a home-made banner, and they played “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” by Cat Stevens as I passed. I hadn’t heard the song before, and it was beautiful. We just walked past as Yusuf Islam told me, “If you  want to say yes, say yes, and if you want to say no, say no. ‘Cause there’s a million ways to go, you know that there are.”

They saw me, strolling my sleepy son, and waved. I waved back. What made it beautiful was that I couldn’t read their banner. I didn’t know which “side” they  were on, what they  wanted to say today. It didn’t matter. There are a million ways to go.

Here’s a lovely version I found this evening.

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