Proud like a Yes swan

I saw a Better Together referendum broadcast on the BBC last night. It was full of proud and patriotic Scots proudly telling us how proudly proud they were to be proud and patriotic Scots. We’ve got lovely scenery you know, and they were all dead proud of lots of other stuff that’s never going to change because it’s already happened, like things achieved by people who are long since dead.

The video featured that lovely wummin that retweeted the oh so funny wee joke that Catholics are like Christmas lights because they’d look better hanging from a tree. So that’s just patriotic and Cool Britannia then, in an Orangey grassroots way. And oh so very proud she was. Alicsammin doesn’t know what a joke is. Britishness is so inclusive isn’t it. And the ordinary mum who just happens to be the chair of her local Labour party was there as well, being proudly and patriotically grassroots too. And some wee manny, being proud in Gaelic, proudly proud of a Union that’s killing his language.

They were all proud of a Union that’s dead, a partnership that’s a takeover, an equality that’s subordinate. Proud of a Union that tells us we have no right to anything. They’re proud of the ball and chain that restricts their freedom of movement. Proud to surrender their choices to others. We’re better together because then we don’t need to accept any responsibility. We can remain children. We can remain like the cygnets in the pond in the park and think that the world is bounded by the fence. Ugly ducklings forever.

It was all a bit desperate, over-compensation. The only people you should ever need to tell how proud you are are the people you are people of. But the people the ProudScots are proud of are all dead. They’re proud of the dead because they can’t be proud of the living. So they stress how proud they are, to cover up the vanishing dignity, the evaporating hope, the death of aspiration.

The essence of Unionism is being proud of the dead and the inanimate. Perhaps it’s safer that way. It’s a passive pride, a pride that stands on the dignity of others, without a sign that you might dare to imagine that you could make people proud of what you could do yourself. Or that you might be proud enough to dream of what the people of Scotland could do together as a nation, not in the past but here and now. You might dare to think that pride is about an active present not the passive past. But an active Scottish pride is a dangerous pride. The ProudScots keep it safe and quiet, they’re proud of the scenery viewed through the window of the coach as it winds its way through a the estate of an absentee landlord in a landscape denuded of humanity. All aboard the ProudScot tour bus.

There was enough chest expanding pridery on display to inflate the egos of a pride of Unionists – that’s the official collective noun for them, in case you were wondering. They like to think that they’re the British lions. Did you know that lions eat their young and turn on the sick and wounded? True fact that. And most of their food is stolen from hyenas and other far more successful hunters. ‘Nother true fact that.

I don’t much fancy being a proud British lion, it’s just a less successful hyena with better hair. Hyenas have more laughs anyway. But I’m proud too, proud enough to know that things should be better than this, proud enough to dream of a country that doesn’t just mouth justice but practises it, proud enough to do something about it. And proud enough to understand the difference between being proudly self-regarding, and the pride others could have in you.

Today the doctor called from the hospital. We spoke about the pride and dignity of a beloved man whose life is slipping away. She needed to know if she should strive officiously to keep my partner alive. Sometimes the ones you love are so broken and worn out that you need to let them go free. She wanted me to know that the time for a decision is approaching. It’s not here yet, but it will be soon. He’s not coming home again.

So I watched the proud Scots being proud of having no answers, proud of the certainty of lack of faith and ambition, passively proud of the past. They live in a broken dream but are too afraid to let it go, blinded by their own passivity and pride they can’t see it can never be fixed, can never be healed. So they distract themselves with currencies, alicsammins and cynicism. They don’t want to face the decisions that face us all. The decisions required to take charge of your own life by yourself. It’s too hard, too frightening. So they retreat into denial, it’s all good, it’s all just fine, look at the dead and be proud. No future just a present that looks to a past that’s vanished.

But the time to let go is coming. Be brave. Face the fear. Accept it. And life will go on and you’ll discover the strength within you. The strength you can’t see because you’re too busy looking at the past.

I went to the park with my friend Mary and the dug to feed the swans. I had some Yes cakes left over from Friday, and on the basis that you are what you eat, I fed them to the cygnets in Alexandra Park and imagined they will grow up into Yes swans. They’ll leave the safety of their wee pond and will fly off to recolonise a loch in a Highland estate long since cleared of human beings. The swans will do what the people can’t. They’ll fly free.

Swans start out life as ugly ducklings, and then grow into graceful and elegant creatures, who can be right nippy wee buggers if you cross them. They take to the skies and find their own paths and soar above the proud lions, the imagination flies free. And they don’t care what anyone thinks of them.

Scotland can fly free and find her own path, in grace and beauty. I want to be proud like a Yes swan.

The dug you can trust

It’s another great debate next Monday, the totes unbiased and completely neutral Beeb version whoo-hoo. But we can all save ourselves the bother – Alistair is going to bang on about the currency and how there’s no plan B but if there was it would be utter rubbish as well, as would plans C through to Z. No doubt while doing the pointy finger thing. And the UK media will write it all up as another glorious victory for the logical clearmindedness of Brittania over the woolly thinking of sheepish separatists. And they’ll be doing the pointy finger thing too, only in print.

The only other place you see pointy fingers with such regularity is in religious fundamentalist propaganda videos, or if you’re 15 just after your dad has discovered some cans of beer have gone missing from the fridge. I just thought that should be pointed out. In Alistair’s eyes Scotland’s the naughty wean that’s taking the beer out of Westminster’s fridge and threatens his subsidised swally in a Commons bar. And it’s all the fault of that evil Al-Iqsammin who didn’t do the pointy finger thing at all, even though he’s got a fundamentalist name. Because that’s how evil he is. Leading us astray like that. That’s the great achievement of 307 years of union, it’s turned one of Europe’s most ancient nations into a basket case of recalcitrant children who can’t be trusted with the TV remote control. Scotland the infantilised nation, makes you so proud doesn’t it. It brings a tear to our eyes as we weep with despair.

Anyway, that will be your Scottish independence killed stone dead again. Just like it was last week and the week before. It’s been killed off more often than Christopher Lee in a Hammer Horror fillum. But then along comes a wee round of opinion polls and there’s your Yes support clawed its way out of the grave and standing there with a knowing smirk on its face, in its best clothes without a crease or a smudge of dirt on them. I never understood how vampires could do that, the clothes thing, the smirk I’ve got off pat. We should ask Michael Forsyth, he ought to know.

The theme song for this month is the repeat chorus of George Osborne’s sermon on the pound, which earlier this year first leapt into the hit parade of blows to Alicsammin like the annoying Birdie Song in an episode of Top of the Tops. Howzabout that then. It was even accompanied by its own special dance moves, consisting of sticking two fingers up to the people of Scotland and telling us to fuck off or submit to Osborne’s abuse. We have nothing, we’re owed nothing, we’re entitled to nothing. Independence was killed off then too, and the UK media was full of the crows of the Noes. But it didn’t work then and it isn’t working now.

The only solid track record Westminster possesses is a scratched 45 rpm that sticks on lies. They lied to Scotland in 1979, when they told us that the oil would have run out by the 1980s. They refused to allow the development of the oil fields in the Firth of Clyde and off the west coast of Lewis because it might interfere with their war toys. They lied in 1997 when we were promised a Parliament with full tax raising powers and we got limited powers over income tax that were so hedged about with caveats that they’re unusable. They’re doing it again now, warning of the volatility of oil and how it’s a declining resource while the internet buzzes with rumours of major oil discoveries.

It’s bad enough that our elected representatives lie to us, but what sticks in the craw is that they believe they have the right to lie to us. They can only do that because there’s nothing we can do to prevent them, nothing we can do to hold them to account. The Tories can lie because they don’t need our votes. Labour can lie because they take us for granted. And the Lib Dems just lie because they’re fantasists who are easily seduced by the promise of a ministerial Mondeo. And if we do manage to vote one of them out of power, they just go to the Lords while the grasping careerist circus spins merrily on. Vote No, vote to be lied to. Vote No, vote to say you’re fine with being treated like a small child.

Alistair Darling’s currency threat relies on convincing the electorate of Scotland that Alicsammin is a liar who can’t be trusted. And since Alicsammin is the Marmite of Scottish politics, they’re halfway there. Unfortunately for Alistair the electorate of Scotland doesn’t trust him and his pals either, and unlike Holyrood elections there is nothing we can do to get rid of Westminster’s untrustworthy basterts. We’re lumbered with the party that people vote for south of the border, and the political rejects just get rewarded with a seat in the Lords like Michael Forsythula, the Right Count of Stirling.

Cynical Scottish voters are faced with a choice. You can choose untrustworthy basterts that you can’t do anything about, the ones who have a track record of lies, deception, disappointment and crushed hopes, the ones who don’t have to take your views into account they’re only interested in the views of the banks, of big business, of the rich and powerful. That would be Alistair and his pals. Or you can choose untrustworthy basterts who do have to take your views into account or suffer a boot up the arse – that would be the MSPs at Holyrood. If they lie to you, you can get rid of them and they don’t get a nice wee seat in the Lords as a booby prize.

In the end it all boils down to trust. The No campaign wants us to surrender our trust and place it in the hands of politicians who are not answerable to us, not accountable to us, and who think they have the right to lie to us. The Yes campaign wants us to trust in ourselves, in our potential, in our talents, resources and skills.

Who do you trust more – a rabid Westminster dug that is out of control, that eats you out of house and home, that steals from your plate, that stops you entering the spare bedroom and pisses radioactive waste in your living room, that regularly attacks the neighbours in the Middle East, and threatens to savage you if you don’t surrender, or a wee ginger Holyrood dug that’s taken to obedience classes on a short lead and a muzzle. A dug we can teach to do tricks.

Vote for control. Vote for the short lead. Vote yes.

Free cradle to grave healthcare in NHS Scotland or the Great British NHS Sell-Off?

A guest post by Dr Nancy Burge

Did you know that in England the Health and Social Care Act of 2012 made the most fundamental change to the English NHS in since its inception by removing the UK government’s obligation to provide universal healthcare?

Did you know that in England the biggest contract ever tendered in the history of the NHS in England is a £1.2 billion pound deal to sell off cancer services and care for the dying?

And did you know that over 200 Westminster MPs and members of the House of Lords have financial interests in health care companies in England?

The privatisation of the NHS in England is now rapidly increasing.  With the Health and Social Care Act of 2012, for the first time since 1947 the Secretary of State not only abdicated his responsibility to provide healthcare for all in England but has got the legal powers to introduce a market, allowing providers to pick and choose which patients will get care and what will be charged for and also to introduce insurance structures similar to those in the USA.

Michael Portillo confirmed in a TV interview that these plans were deliberately kept out of the Conservative manifesto because of the risk of losing votes.  And it’s not just the Conservatives who are in on this plan.  Andy Burnham, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, signed off the privatisation of Hinchingbrooke Hospital during Labour’s final year in power and told Holyrood magazine, “Let’s get health policies that can be consistent across England, Scotland and Wales”. But with an impending election he has changed his mind and calls for a pause in privatisation.  In his latest speech Andy Burnham now says “If things stay as they are, the competition framework foisted on the NHS will in the end break it up. It won’t survive five more years of this.”

In England entire NHS hospitals are being turned over to private companies.  Healthcare services are now being split up into smaller chunks.  An explosion of new private providers are waiting to cherry-pick the most profitable services ranging from mental health services, GP and Out Of Hours services, to diagnostics such as blood tests, x-rays and scans.  Ambulance services are now being run by bus companies.  No one really knows yet how the financially less attractive services will be run in the future.  And how can we be sure that any of these services are being run for the good of patients rather than the profit of the shareholders?

Do you remember the catchphrase of the NHS that it provides “care from cradle to grave”?  Well, the whole range of services from maternity services to care of the dying is all going out to tender in the Great British NHS Sell-Off.  The largest contract in the history of the NHS is a £1.2 billion deal for providing cancer services and care for the dying.  So some of the sickest patients in England will have their treatment dependent on a provider whose bottom line will be profit.

Why this isn’t in the newspapers. How can this be happening right under the noses of people in England?

It is because these private healthcare providers are allowed to hide their true colours under the existing badges and logos of the NHS.  All you will see in these privately-run clinics where doctors and nurses wearing NHS identity cards on NHS lanyards treat their patients, are the usual NHS signs.  Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Care says “as we are providing NHS services, NHS brand guidelines require us to ensure that the NHS is the primary logo”.

Companies such as Virgin, Serco, Harmoni, Care UK, and Ramsay Health are hoovering up the healthcare contracts.  Yet this massive privatisation process is going on totally under the radar because of the branding rules.  And because of EU anti-competition laws it will be difficult to reverse.

But what has all this got to do with the NHS in Scotland?  If the NHS in Scotland has been functionally independent since 1999, surely we are ok?

Without devolution NHS Scotland would have been repeatedly reorganised by the Westminster Government of the day, regardless of the special needs of Scotland.  And since 1999, we have had free prescriptions, and free personal care for the elderly since 2002. Scotland was the first country in the UK to introduce the smoking ban.  We have a separate contract for GP services in Scotland.  We have Health and Social care now working together to provide a better service and save money. NHS Scotland has always a separate pension scheme.  There is also a separate pay structure which meant that Scottish NHS health care workers got the recommended 1% pay rise denied to those in the English NHS.  And the loophole which would have allowed private providers into Scotland was finally blocked by Nicola Sturgeon in 2011.

So won’t all this good stuff just carry on, regardless of what we vote on 18th September?  Why do we need to vote YES to save the NHS?

A No Vote will allow Westminster to control the overall level of Scotland’s budget and continue to make decisions that directly affect poverty and health in Scotland through the tax and benefits system.

Westminster can still force changes on the Scottish NHS because of its tight hold on the purse strings.  The status quo is really is no longer an option where the NHS in Scotland is concerned.

Currently, Westminster gives Scotland a fixed percentage of the public expenditure of UK as a whole, known as the Scottish Block Grant.  The Scottish Government chooses to spend about 40% of the Scottish Block Grant on running NHS Scotland.  Up to now the Barnett formula has guaranteed Scotland a fixed percentage of the total of public expenditure in the UK.  As public expenditure fluctuates in in the UK our proportion is fixed.  When it goes up, we get more –but when it goes down, we get less.  The Barnett formula has now only been guaranteed for one more year.  After that Westminster will decide how the money is to be divided up based on their assessment of the needs of the four nations.  I believe that is a fair assumption that our proportion will be smaller.

But how does this affect Scotland?  I thought that devolution meant the Scottish NHS was safe?

The privatisation of the NHS in England threatens NHS Scotland not only because of its knock-on effect on our funding but also because it exposes us to the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement.

As private sources begin to replace public expenditure on the NHS in England, we can see that the amount of public money being spent on health will decrease. And so, as the total UK public expenditure goes down, the consequence to Scotland will inevitably be a decrease in our funding. There will be an even smaller funding cake for the four nations to share. And with the planned loss of the Barnett formula in a year, Scotland is likely get an even smaller slice of this even smaller cake.

But privatisation of the NHS in England puts Scotland’s NHS at risk in another way.  The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or TTIP is an additional threat to Scotland’s NHS.  This trade agreement between the European Union and the USA requires that state services to be open to competition from American multinationals.  It applies where privatisation is already established, unless there is an existing state monopoly.  When the UK Health and Social Care Act introduced a private market in health provision in England, it opened whole of the UK to TTIP.  After a No vote, private providers and insurance companies could argue that Scotland is only a region of the UK and cannot be exempted from competition for health provision.

So only by becoming an independent state can Scotland can protect the Scottish NHS.

Let’s just look closely again at the two very different paths taken by the NHS in England and in Scotland over the last few years.

There is now a market economy in healthcare in England, using private providers whose bottom line is profit.

In Scotland, since devolution the Scottish government has worked to keep NHS Scotland true to the founding principles of the NHS, by continuing to provide and improve its unified, publicly funded service, free for all at the point of use.

A few days ago, First Minister Alex Salmond proposed that an Independent Scotland should “guarantee that not only will the NHS be kept in public hands, but that the services that are free to access today will be free to access in the future.”

A vote for YES really will give us the chance to protect our beloved NHS in the new nation of Scotland for generations to come.

On the 18th of September this NHS doctor will be voting YES – I really do hope you will too.

Nancy Burge is a GP in the Isle of Skye

Changing the world with a Yes cake in Shettleston

The dug and me, well mainly the dug but I got to tag along too, had a great time on Friday evening meeting the enthusiastic and committed volunteers at Yes Shettleston in the East End of Glasgow.  From a wee group of less than ten a few weeks ago, Yes Shettleston’s ranks have now swollen to some fifty volunteers, and more keep arriving every day eager to make a contribution.

Earlier that day, Ruth Davidson the Action Krankie took a wee break from being sporty to give an interview to the Guardian.  Being an Action Krankie and a big fan of Davie Cameron, Ruth believes sporting metaphors describe her politics perfectly – “Oh look someone got a gold medal for running about a bit” being the closest we’ve ever got to a positive case of the Union.  With Ruthie there’s a lot of grunting, striving, tearful promises that she’s doing it all for Great-Auntie Annabel, and then she runs round in ever decreasing circles and ends up worse off than where she started.  So exactly like the Unionist parties’ promises of extra powers for Scotland then.

But it’s a hard and lonely life being the only lesbian Tory Glaswegian in Scotland.  I follow Ruth’s career with great interest, since part of the reason I came out as gay and made a general nuisance of myself about gay rights all those oh so many years ago was so that future generations of lesbians and gay men could pursue their dreams and still be true to themselves.  But it turns out it was so some wee careerist abseiler could decide she wanted to be a Tory MSP and become the glittery lesbian bauble in Davie Cameron’s modern Conservative PR plan.  I could weep sometimes, I really could.

In her interview Ruth explained what motivates her, and said:  “If somebody says I can’t do something then it’s: ‘Right, I’ll show you,’ and I’ll go and do it.”

You got that one right Ruthie hen.  Yes Shettleston is full of people who share that sentiment in full, and so are other Yes groups up and down the country.  We’ve heard Ruthie and her pals tell us we can’t do it, we can’t govern ourselves, we need Westminster to do it for us.  Aye right.  We’ll show you.  We’re going to go and do it ourselves.  The message from Shettleston is that we have the confidence in our own talents, skills, experience to know that we can do it.  We have the confidence of our own audacity and the strength of our passion to know that you’ll not only watch us do it Ruthie, but yer wee jaw will have abseiled down to the floor.  Watch – and learn what gallus means.  Cannae?  Aye, right.

The Yes Shettleston volunteers want Scotland to break out of Ruth’s style of politics where a small minority run around energetically in circles getting nowhere while the majority tune out and watch soap operas instead.  Like so many of us, they’re fed up fighting against the latest austerity threat, the latest Tory cut, the latest Labour betrayal.  They want to fight for something positive.  They want a plot line with a resolution, a story that develops.  They want a Scotland where politics becomes a documentary of the possible and not a melodrama of you cannae.

You don’t get the quantity and quality of commitment and energy on display in Yes Shettleston in a campaign which feels like it’s losing.  And that’s because we’re not losing, we’re winning.  The media has been crowing for the past week that it’s all over for the Yes campaign, but while they’ve been stuck in their currency rutting, real people have been talking about fairness and justice.

People have been talking about oil, and rumours, and about politicians who think they have a right to lie to us.  People have been talking about Shettleston, about Castlemilk, about Methil, about Niddrie and the Raploch, and about how the only way things will ever change is for those of us who live here to take matters into our own hands and change them ourselves.   The words of Shettleston’s grannies ring in our ears: If ye want somethin done, dae it yersel.

The No campaign has the media, it has the corporate interests and the right wing foreign politicians trading favours with their Tory pals.  Incidentally Tony Abbott, we’ve already had a message from Australia, and it’s from someone infinitely more dignified and with far greater wisdom than you.  He said we should vote Yes.

The Yes campaign doesn’t have any of that.  It doesn’t have the corporate backing, or the weight of the state, or the massed ranks of the media.   The Yes campaign just has people in it.  Real people, lots of people.  People who give their time and their energy and their talents and skills and experiences.  The authentic version of the kind of people that politicians invent so they can find quotes for their leaflets.  Yes groups speak for themselves.  Yes supporters think independently.  We’re the people being told we can’t, watch us change the world.

Yes Shettleston is full of women and men of every generation, most have never been involved with politics before.  They’re the Scotland of the friendly welcome, the Scotland of the enquiring mind and the passionate heart.  The Scotland you always wanted to live in but were too ground down by the cynicism to believe could ever exist.  It exists already.  It’s here, and it’s in a Yes group near you.  Come and make it happen everywhere.

There are loads of ways to get involved.  From staffing the Yes centre and making tea for footsore canvassers, to chapping on doors, signing up to drive elderly or disabled voters to the polls on the Big Day, stuffing envelopes, or just providing a listening ear.  Come and connect with Scotland.  This isn’t party political.  It’s people political, it’s about our lives, our futures, and about making our voices heard.  The political is personal, and that person is you.  And Agnes might bake you a Yes cake.

Yes Shettleston are based at the Yes Shettleston Campaign Centre, 647 Shettleston Road, Glasgow, G32 7EJ.  The centre is on the corner of Blair Street, next to Sheddens bar.  The Campaign Centre is open daily from 9am to 9pm.  Drop in for a chat, volunteer, get involved, and become friends with a Scotland of possibility.

If you don’t live in the East End of Glasgow, you can find your local Yes group here:

Meanwhile in other news, the respected historian Tom Devine has announced that he’s decided to vote Yes.  Tom Devine, now there’s a history man for you.  Dan Snow, eat your heart out.

All over the world … it’s a YES!

So who cares what a right wing Australian Prime Minister with chronic foot in mouth disease has to say after being briefed by a UK Conservative cabinet minister, people all over the world have been expressing their support for Scottish independence – for justice, and for equality.  I stitched this map together from photos sent to Solidarity with Scotland from supporters of Scottish independence and friends of justice in all four corners of the globe – even Australia.


Wee Ginger Care Needs – a thank you

Not much in the way of an update today, so apologies to everyone who was looking for words about the independence referendum. I’m off to a meeting of Yes Shettleston this evening, they’re having a wee party for their volunteers and very kindly invited me. Although to be honest, it’s the dug that they really invited. I’m just his butler.

I’d like to thank everyone who has donated to the Wee Ginger Care Needs Fund. The target of £10,000 was never a serious target, I just stuck it in in the usual panic that confronts me when faced with an internet form to fill in. I never expected the total to come anywhere close, but thanks to your care and generosity we have exceeded the target. The indiegogo appeal is now sitting at £10,585 and an additional £445 was received in postal donations. The funding period officially ends on Sunday.

Although originally the appeal fund was intended to raise money to buy in extra care help for my partner Andy, things have changed. Two days after starting the appeal, we found a buyer for our house in Spain. Unfortunately the house hasn’t sold for the price we hoped, and it’s left us with a shortfall of around £14,000 in the amount we need to buy the rented flat we currently live in. So the entire amount raised by the fundraiser appeal will go towards making up the shortfall, and we should – just about – squeeze home. It’s going to be very tight financially, but we’ve got a chance of making it now thanks to your generosity and kindness. Without this fundraising appeal we’d have had no chance at all. Words alone cannot express our gratitude. You’ve given us a roof over our heads.

Andy is still in hospital. He suffered another stroke early in July and it has had a significant impact on his mobility. His dementia has progressed further and most of the time he’s no longer engaging with people. I spoke with the physiotherapist the other day and she told me that they are reaching the limits of what they are able to do to help him in hospital, but unfortunately in her opinion he still does not have sufficient mobility in order to return home. They’re giving him another week to see if there is any more improvement, but if not we will have to discuss his additional care needs and how they can best be met. I don’t want him to go into residential care, and will do all I can to avoid that happening, but things are still up in the air. Getting him home will entail him getting substantially more care support than he had previously.  But thanks to you, at least he will have a home to come back to.

Once the official fundraising period is over, I will take a couple of days to send individual emails of thanks to everyone who has donated. However some donations have been made anonymously, and most of the postal donations were made without a return address – so I won’t be able to contact those people to thank them. I’m writing this blog post as a way of expressing our thanks to those kind but anonymous individuals.

You’ve demonstrated that Scotland is a country of caring and generous people, and irrespective of what happens in September, or what happens with Andy, that gives me great hope for the future and has brought immense comfort during a difficult, painful and distressing time. So thank you again. With people like you in it, Scotland can never fail.

The audacity of Yes

I went to church last night but I was among the converted they were preaching to, which was a novel experience for me. Canon Peter McBride of St Thomas church in Riddrie had organised a debate on the referendum, which was originally going to be held in the church hall, but a double booking meant a change of venue to St Bernadette’s church hall in Carntyne. Despite the late change of venue, there was still a good turnout – around 100 people attended, so many that the wee church hall wasn’t able to hold everyone and the event was moved into the church itself so there would be seats, or rather pews, for everyone.

However the debate turned out not to be a debate because Better Together or whatever they’re called didn’t manage to provide any speakers, although a number of requests had been made to them. Now there’s a surprise, they’re normally so keen on public engagement what with them being romping home in the polls and have supporters and donations coming out their ears.

But we must demonstrate some Christian charity, what with this being a church and everything, and assume that it’s not a deliberate strategy to keep people disengaged from the referendum debate, but their poor ears were so full of supporters and donations that they were unable to hear the polite request for some speakers for a debate. “What was that? You want streaker’s furry deer bait Father? Can priests ask for that? I’m sorry I can’t quite make you out, I’ve got a Tory business donor trying to privatise my cochlea.” So the good Father got slung a deafie. He’s clearly an SNP front organisation.

So we didn’t get a debate, and perhaps it was all the better for that. Free from the need to spend most of their time rebutting people who only want to talk mince about the currency (we’re going to keep using the pound, in case you were wondering) the speakers were able to expand upon more profound reasons for independence and what Scotland can achieve by taking her future into her own hands. For once we did not get bogged down in the trivial mechanics of the process of becoming independent.

There were three excellent speakers, the Scottish Government’s Health Secretary Alex Neil, Jeane Freeman, former advisor to Jack McConnell and founder member of Women for Independence, and the veteran Jim Sillars. All three spoke with passion and conviction about the kind of country that Scotland could become.

Alex Neil spoke about how we need independence in order to protect the health service from the creeping privatisation taking place south of the border. Even though Scotland’s health service is already fully devolved, the overall budget is still set by Westminster. It’s only with independence that Scotland can ensure that our health service is kept in public hands.

In an impressive speech, Jeane Freeman spoke about her journey to Yes from her traditional Labour background, and how over the course of her experience in politics she came to realise that devolution is not enough – Scotland requires the full powers of independence in order to develop into a mature and fully developed country. For Jeane, Scottish independence is the only way to fulfil the dreams and aspirations of the founders of the Labour movement, the people who first inspired her to get involved in politics.

But it was Jim Sillars I’d really come to hear. Jim has no need to go to Specsavers, he knows how to do the vision thing. Jim spoke about the oil. He mentioned the rumours of huge new discoveries off the west coast, and also explained how Westminster’s obsession with nuclear weapons led the MoD to ban oil exploration and development in the Firth of Clyde and the Atlantic approaches, despite significant oil resources lying under those waters. At the same time that Thatcher was taking an axe to the traditional industries of Scotland, her government actively blocked the development of a resource which could have led to a Clyde oil boom.

But then he pointed out that for decades, politics in Scotland has been reactive. We’ve devoted our energies and time to defending ourselves from the poll tax, from privatisations, against attempts to introduce fees in Scottish education, the bedroom tax and on and on in a litany of malign policies imposed on this country by governments we didn’t vote for or support. It’s only independence that can change that, and unleash those energies spent defensively to allow Scots can live in a country where we are no longer constantly fighting to maintain what we already have, but where we can take positive action to improve our lives and change things for the better.

Jim spoke of a Scotland of possibilities, a Scotland where working class people can have the audacity to dream bold dreams and seize the initiative. In passing he said that any independence negotiations must not be held in London, where the Scottish delegation could find its hotel rooms bugged by the intelligence services. We should insist that the negotiations are held in Edinburgh – that would really bug Westminster.

And he mentioned a mad off the wall and audacious idea, one which a friend had advised him not to bring up. The UK Government is currently building two massive aircraft carriers, even though they only expect to bring one into operational service – and that only after they’re able to find planes to put on it. The other was meant to be sold off on, but no one wants it. It’s a white elephant, a massive liability. Jim suggested that Scotland should do Westminster a favour and take it off their hands for them. It could become the flagship of the new Scottish navy, but not as an aircraft carrier bearing weapons of war and birds of destruction. Let’s convert it into a hospital ship, and send it to war zones and troubled regions around the world. With independence Scotland’s contribution to the wider world would no longer mean sending off our young men and women to fight and destroy, to kill and blow things up. Instead they would be healing the sick and caring for the wounded. It’s a vision of the kind of Scotland we can create.

Jim said the vessel should be named after that great Scottish humanitarian, Robert Burns. But that was the only point at which I disagreed with him. We should call it the Margo MacDonald.

But I’ll give the last word to Canon Peter McBride. In his closing words, he thanked the contributors, praised the audience for their polite and respectful reception of the speakers, and said that when considering how to vote in September we must not think solely of ourselves. It’s not about whether you personally will be £300 a year better off or worse off, you can do that by changing your electricity supplier, it’s about what’s best for everyone. Voting Yes, it’s the Christian thing to do.

Vote Yes. Dream a bold dream, dream of audacity, dream of taking your future into your own hands. Vote Yes, for compassion, empathy, and for those worse off than yourself.