Friday, 5 September 2014

Why I'm saying yes to Scottish independence

Readers of The Takeaway Secret and More Takeaway Secrets may recall that in the introduction to these books I made reference to my having been affected by social anxiety disorder and, subsequently, agoraphobia and depression.  Social anxiety disorder is an illness which can have profound effects on a person's life, causing them to focus inwards and overestimate their own inability to cope with things that the rest of the world appears, on the surface, to take in their stride.  Self doubt, low confidence and an underlying fear that you are somehow undesirable, unpopular and unappreciated in the world around you leads to a vicious circle of self sabotage, post event rumination and general anxiety.  Slowly but surely, the illness swallows up the life of its victim, often leaving them facing severe difficulties with employment and overall health and well being.

A phrase often used in relation to those with social anxiety and similar mental health issues is 'lost opportunity'.  As the illness takes over, the individual soon begins to miss out on a wealth of experiences and opportunities.  From the woman who opts out of college or university education despite being academically bright enough to thrive in that environment, to the man who decides against applying for a promotion simply because doing so would require meeting new colleagues and making new acquaintances.  In extreme circumstances, the ruthlessness of the illness ensures that hugely important family events are missed such as birthday parties, weddings and even funerals.  In some cases, my own included, the ability to even leave the house and take a walk down the street on a sunny day is lost completely.  The spiral of self doubt ultimately ensures that this self fulfilling prophecy is acted out in full until a person not only feels inadequate but, to their mind, proves that inadequacy each day by their own inaction.

A large number of people (exactly how many, we'll discover on September 19th) look to be ready to say no to the prospect of Scotland being entirely responsible for its own affairs.  For at least some of them, that decision is based on an anxiety that Scotland won't be capable of governing itself.  Cognitive therapy tackles anxiety by highlighting the pointlessness of the unending list of questions sufferers typically put to themselves in the run up to an event.  "What if I can't get served at the bar because it's busy?"  "What if I don't wear the right clothes and people stare at me?"  "What will I talk to people about?".  Typically, social anxiety ensures that the person focuses hugely on these sorts of panicked quandaries, doubts and questions often coming so rapidly in number that the individual, perhaps unsurprisingly, decides that it might be easier not go to the event in question.

"What currency will we use?"  "What if we're not up to running things ourselves?"  "How will we pay for everything?".  The anxiety and fear of the unknown is palpable in every question.  Of course, some of these questions are good ones and, as time marches on will inevitably require a definitive answer.  Many of them have been answered various times and in various ways and, ultimately, whether those answers have been deemed good enough will depend on who you ask at the time (it'll be the £pound, by the way).  The point though is that this fear of the unknown shouldn't be, can't be a good enough reason to choose not to try.  One of the most simple and beautiful pieces of advice we give our children in this world is that they are as good as anyone else.  We strive as hard as we can to ensure that they know this to be true.  We tell them, quite rightly, that if they put their mind to something, if they are determined and hard-working, if they try and try again, that they can ultimately achieve their goals and that dreams really can come true.  What sort of message do we send them then if we, as the guardians of their future, can't find the self-belief and confidence to take that advice ourselves.

As things stand, we live within a country and a system which has seen votes in Scotland in a general election influence the outcome only four times in almost seventy years, the very opposite of having an influence on policy.  We are governed by people who have no mandate to govern us.

How will we pay for things?  What will happen?  How will we survive?  We'll survive by doing what every successful country in the world does.  We'll elect people we trust into office and ensure that they're held to account.  We'll ensure that they carry out their work to the best of their abilities and, if they fail in this, we'll ensure that they are replaced by others who can do better.  We'll believe in ourselves and in each other and say that we, the people who live in Scotland, are as capable as anyone else.  We can do it.  We can, and we must.  The alternative is to leave a legacy of negativity, anxiety and self-doubt for future generations.

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