Written on the eve of the Scottish independence referendum in September 2014
For the next 48 hours, Scotland is in a liminal state. This liminality, meaning the experience of having crossed a threshold but not having reached the other side, is a time of tremendous uncertainty, but one in which every moment and experience has extraordinary significance. The liminal space is highly prized for its transformative power, but it is very hard-won. It is a time of loss and paradox, always preceded by a process of initiation; that is, a testing time, an uncomfortable ordeal during which we are pushed to our limits and the false self is burned away by a process of enduring adversity.
We in the independence movement have taken on one of the most powerful forces in the world: the British state and its political, military, media and financial elites. We have been smeared, characterised as “spoilt, selfish, childlike fools”, dismissed, patronised, slurred as fascists, underestimated, threatened, bribed and lied to, all in an attempt to subdue us, convert us, or make us give up in despair in the face of overwhelming odds. We have passed the test. We have departed from the norm now. We have entered the dreamtime, the liminal space between the past and many possible futures. Like Schrödinger”s cat, we are in a quantum state, neither one thing nor the other, standing in defiance of being defined until we emerge into the light. And like the cat, we are never getting back in our box.
This is a vision quest, a time of imagination, a time of discernment. Which Scotlands will we choose? This is not the time to hold fast to the proposals of professional politicians of any stripe. They can take care of that for themselves. This is our time, a time to call forth the “more beautiful world our hearts know is possible”, and then demand it is made manifest. Will we demand a bioregional Scotland, one in which we live well, but within our ecological limits recognising that there is no wealth but life; one in which localised economies based on dignified sufficiency, not greed and consumerism allow us to flourish and thrive and to eradicate poverty; one in which we choose to leave most of the hydrocarbons that happen to be in close proximity to our landmass in their rock formations, lest we simply become another part of an environmentally destructive domination system? Can we move from an extractive economy to a steady-state economy of prosperity without growth? Will we choose a Scotland that is built on subsidiarity, a social system in which power and decision making is only in the hands of governments and authorities when it can”t be effectively held and executed by cities, towns, communities and individuals: are we ready for that kind of radical empowerment? What would that look like? We know that Scotland”s local government system is one of the worst in Europe in terms of size, constitutional protection, and financial autonomy: what are we going to do about that? Will we learn from the penetrating insight of Swaraj? The spiritual self-rule doctrine of Gandhi, who knew a thing or two about non-violently claiming independence from the British state. Swaraj is a soul-force, a life”s work of self-determination and internal decolonisation. It is not simply about changing the set of politicians who wield power over us and merely carrying on the same consensus: Gandhi dismissed this as wanting “English rule without the Englishman… the tiger’s nature, but not the tiger”. It”s a cry of resistance against a dehumanising system, and a demand that our self-determination comes from within. We become “real people in a real place”.
Eventually, after this process of visioning and discernment, comes the final stage of our initiation: the return to rejoin our community. Early in the morning on Friday the 19th of September 2014, we will know our destiny. We emerge from the liminal space into the mundane. We will begin the process of wrestling our dreams into reality. We will start the work of healing the wounds sustained during the campaign. In some cases, we will be working on our grief and acceptance. We will need to be kind and loving to each other, especially to our erstwhile opponents. If independence is indeed a process, and not an event, then how we comport ourselves in this phase is crucial, because countries tend to recapitulate their founding myths. Forget trivial ideas of a ”divided Scotland” being ”torn apart”. Remember Solzhenitsyn on the dividing line not being between people, but down the middle of every human heart. Those who made a different choice are not other than us. Everybody was right from their perspective, and simply did the best they could with the information, courage and wisdom at their disposal. The challenge in this phase of return is how to integrate it all into an emerging Scotland that none of us have ever seen before, and which we have the great responsibility of co-creating together.
We’ve got a future to build. Let”s get to work.