On the Scottish referendum ... viewed from afar

Next month I’ll be eligible for Australian citizenship and will vote in future federal elections. For the Scottish independence referendum, no such luck. The eligibility criteria are clear:

British citizens can vote, as can certain Commonwealth citizens, Irish and other EU nationals, members of the House of Lords, provided – in all cases – they live in Scotland.

That rules me out, alongside 130,000 Australian taxpayers born in Scotland and another 1.7m with Scottish ancestry.


And yet, of course, I’m invested.

When I was in Aberdeen recently, my home town and Europe’s oil capital, the referendum wasn’t the only topic of conversation. My mum (a would-be yes voter) is dying and will likely be gone by next Thursday; my dad (yes) has his own debilitating health issues; my grandfather (whose parting words to me at the airport were, “Remember your Scottish passport next time”) is juggling infirmity and impending grief. But the topic crept into every conversation, one way or another. How could it not?

There’s a mismatch between the overwhelmingly pro-union media and the swell of pro-yes sentiment on the ground, much of which shows a clear-eyed optimism and positivity befitting a word like “yes”.

I watched the first televised independence debate while over there, during which the predominant no campaign lines (your currency is uncertain, your oil might run out, you can’t survive on your own) were further honed for what has been dubbed – by its architects no less – Project Fear. The no leader Alistair Darling and the patronising Better Together lady have done a brisk trade in repeating ad nauseam how severing ties will be FOR EVER – as in Orwell’s muddy boot stamping on a human face, FOR EVER.

The soft sell has come mainly via celebrities such as David Bowie and Paul Mull-of-Kintyre McCartney, urging Scots not to “leave”, whatever that means. And then there are world leaders. Separatism is bad, says Obama and China’s Li Keqiang. And, of course, Tony Abbott, who reckons those trying to secure self-determination via democratic, non-violent means “are not the friends of justice, the friends of freedom”.

According to Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister and chief proponent of the yes campaign, Abbott “put his foot in it”. I was raised never to kick a man with a foot or any other appendage in his mouth, so I won’t. Suffice to say, many of those hedging geopolitical bets from afar have elevated the art of saying nothing to a new high.

I watched the second debate – held a couple of weeks ago – on YouTube from my bed in Melbourne. For those 90 minutes, I could have been in Aberdeen, Inverness, Edinburgh. But the next morning, I got up and cycled to work in Australia.

I won’t be returning to live in an independent Scotland; but I’ll be delighted if that’s a viable option. The alternative – no, but thanks for the opportunity – would be retrograde in nearly every way I can think of. Scotland is a country and surely – surely! – countries have a right to …

No, wait, I’ve moved on. And five million people living in the north-west of Europe might soon do the same, FOR EVER. I hope they do.

First published on Guardian Australia, 2015.