Comfort Circles

Over the last few months I have started several (dozens) pieces detailing my own personal opinions on the upcoming independence referendum here in Scotland.

Dozens.  Honestly. (37 – I just counted. This makes 38). (EDIT: Now 39).

Each has failed to please me.  Each was good, precise, entirely true and fair yet each seemed too small, too insignificant, too focussed on one aspect of the debate or too many.  And each was also far too long.

As I edit my tales and scribblings here in the far north of Scotland (over eight hours on the train from Edinburgh) I realise this inability to write a punchy, snappy essay may not be a bad thing. I would like to believe it shows that I, like millions of others, have listened, read, researched, questioned, digested and processed all we can in relation to the upcoming referendum.

I am, like those other millions, approaching this whole issue with the gravitas it deserves.

Which is why the sudden upsurge in column inches and television footage (I guess at the latter here – I don’t watch TV) is particularly galling. It seems that the established media and Westminster have been panicked into ramping up their involvement, exponentially. From many of the comments and stories I have read, you would be forgiven if you thought we had only just decided to hold this referendum.

(Scottish) UK Sunset (?)

The Daily Mash, here, covered this perhaps best of all with this quote:

Bill McKay, a Scottish person, said: “Yeah, we’ve all been talking about the politics referendum for, let me think now…

“Three and a half years.”

Oh!  And before I go any further, let’s get this out of the way — I have already voted, using my postal vote to say Yes.

Yes, I believe Scotland should be an independent nation, but I am no nationalist.

And one other thing — I will state this clearly and in bold — the very fact Scotland’s people have been engaged in this debate, whatever side they are on, is a great thing. It has re-energised politics and it seems it is destined to continue to do so across the spectrum and, indeed, the current United Kingdom. People need to listen, they need to stand up and raise their voices — they need to shake the status quo, the established parties who, let’s face it, are not that different from one another. There is hope this will now happen. Hope is a powerful thing.

I have worked for the Home Office and for the Department for Works and Pensions. I have worked for Lloyds TSB and Nationwide Building Society. I have also had the usual rich platter of jobs a writer collects — I think it is part of the contract; one-day-binman, warehouseman, stocktaker in a toy store, alcohol-injector in a Christmas pudding factory, and several others.

In all these positions, all these means-to-an-end jobs, one overarching connector links them. I had to expand my comfort circles to undertake each one.

Scottish Dawn?
(Scottish) Dawn (?)

Comfort circles. If you have missed this phrase I would be surprised. It has been management-speak, HR and Training prayer for many years now. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, look it up, others explain it better than I (or perhaps they care more?).

When sitting in a dull and homogeneous training room, on a dull and homogeneous training course — whether paid for by taxpayer or stakeholder — you can be sure the trainer will mention comfort circles at least once. They will probably draw a diagram on the flipchart, ask embarrassed and bored trainees to list a litany of examples they think fit. Often it is the second or third time this idea is trotted out within a matter of weeks.

We are told change is good. Fear at the unknown is good. It stimulates growth, personal development. This is the message we are taught. Step outside your comfort zone, challenge yourself.

Which is exactly what the people of Scotland are doing.

We have not followed the route I suspect many south of the border, especially those in power, thought we would. We have not simply ignored the referendum, ignored the possibilities and options. Instead we have looked beyond our collective personal comfort zones, stepped outside and questioned.

This seems a pertinent moment to mention this — in those dreary training courses the notion of the comfort circle is often bastardised to better reflect company/government policy. Yes, make sure you step away from what YOU think is comfortable, challenge YOURSELF, but do not challenge the hand that feeds…

Standard Scottish Stag
(Standard Scottish) Stag

Perhaps the Better Together politicians simply assumed this would be the case with this vote? Maybe they had been on these same courses? What they fail to realise is this — if you can get someone to challenge themselves, then it is only logical they will feel empowered, stronger, more willing to challenge everything and anything.

This piece, the 39th, let’s not forget, has been substantially edited. It has not so much been trimmed, rather hacked and sawn into tiny pieces.

There is so much to say, so many topics I would like to cover. Many others have been talking about the referendum on their blogs for months or years already, their ideas fully on view and questioned. I made a conscious decision not to do that.

I would like to talk about my own personal relationship with Scotland, this land I live in through choice — but not the land of my birth.

I would like to talk of the hopes I have for an independent Scotland — and the fears.

Chris Townsend, the outdoor writer and photographer, talks about why he is voting for independence here. If you want to see some more of my own views, this is worth a read — as mine tally neatly with his.

Kev Sherry, of the band Attic Lights, also discusses his personal opinions on why he has changed from a No to a Yes, here at the New Statesman. Much of what he says echoes my own thoughts.

Standard Highland Cow
(Standard) Highland Cow

I do not hate England — I was born there. The established media may be trying to present this vote as something negative, something anti-English — it’s not. The opposite is true, Scotland wants to explore new possibilities, test herself. We are not digging a trench and pushing ourselves out into the Atlantic. By simple geographical semantics you will still be able to call yourself British, whatever happens and wherever on these islands you live.

My own immediate family, those of us who have a vote, are split — two No, five Yes. This is not uncommon, I know of many others who are in a similar situation. For the media and southern politicians to present this vote as divisive is disingenuous and unfair — we are all getting on with life, we still love those who are voting a different way. I have personally seen no rancour or cruelty — plenty of passion, yes, on both sides — but nothing untoward. Perhaps the rest of the UK should sit up and take note — this is grown-up politics, not from the politicians, but from the people.

I will leave this here (it creeps ever longer) with this final thought.

The Scottish people have already stepped outside their individual comfort zones. Some have not liked the experience, or found nothing for them and stepped back. Others have found it stimulating and are willing to test themselves again.

I do hope Scotland votes Yes, a nation expanding its comfort circle through peaceful democracy is a great thing. If the vote is a No (and it could honestly go either way, as I’ve been saying for months and months — often to disbelief south of the border), then I take personal comfort in the fact this has shaken things — and I hope they are never the same again.

Either way, if you have one, please make sure you use your vote. Keep things peaceful, keep engaging in the process, keep questioning those in power — ask them uncomfortable things, do not accept lies and deceit.

We have a real chance to alter the way we live.

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