There was a moment in 1977 when I was forced to decide whether or not I was going to allow fear to control my choices, and by extension, my life. I was 18 years old, poor, and living on my own while going to college. I wanted my college education very badly. I wanted the future I imagined (rightly, as it turns out) it might give me. A future I chose, not the one the fate of my birth had tried to choose for me. But there was a problem. And the decision I made then, how I chose to face that problem, is why I’ll be voting yes for independence in tomorrow’s referendum.
My apartment was a good half hour walk from the college, and because I was studying theatre arts, my day often didn’t end until after ten o’clock at night. The walk home – I couldn’t afford the bus or a bike – was through dark neighbourhoods, across freeway overpasses, and past closed shops. I was terrified the entire time. Every time.
I could’ve ended my day earlier, and come home in the light. But that would’ve meant not auditioning for, or working on, the college productions. If I wanted my degree I had to work on those shows. If I wanted the life I dreamed of, I had to take that walk nearly every night.
I chose the walk.
It wasn’t easy. It took a long time for me do it without shaking, to do it with confidence. But eventually, as this choice led to others – some scary, some not – I built the life I had dreamed of.
I’m not any braver than the average joe. I still feel fear and uncertainty when I’m forced to face up to a frightening choice, whether it’s walking alone at night, immigrating to a new country, or voting for independence for that country. But the things I want, the goals I have, are bigger than the fear. The life I wanted to – and do – live, is larger and better than the life giving into fear would have delivered. The same is true for Scotland. The vision of what Scotland can be as an independent nation, the future we dream of for Scotland, is bigger than the fear the pro-union campaign has tried to instil in us. Larger than the risks independence might, even probably, bring.
Being told to ‘be afraid, be very afraid’ by a noble prize winning economist, being told that the markets will crash, that the ‘dark forces’ will celebrate, that my taxes will go up, that my food will become unaffordable, that independence brings with it risks and uncertainties… doesn’t get my vote. What gets my vote is the chance at a future for Scotland which the people of Scotland can design, work for, and walk into together, unshackled by the abusive relationship that the union has become. I want to help work toward zero food banks in this rich nation, to keeping education free for all – education which might change someone’s life, like it did mine. I want health care for everyone, without privatization. I want to live in a country that accepts its immigrants as warmly as I’ve been accepted, without the creeping threat of UKIP-driven nationalism and an EU exit.
I accept the label of optimist No voters put on me. I accept that ultimately, having read everything I could find about currencies, health and public services, devolved this and that (because, after all, I’m in the habit of looking potential problems in the eye), my heart will have the final say on the matter. I accept that this is an emotional decision. Because, really, why shouldn’t it be? It’s about the rest of our lives, after all. And we do not need David Cameron to tell us that there will be no going back. We know this. We might feel emotional about it. And some of us voting yes, might even do so a little fearfully. But we will do it.
Because fear does not control my choices, and it shouldn’t control Scotland’s choice, either.
I know what facing down your fear, and reaching for the dream of yourself, can bring. The risks, yes. But the rewards, too. Tomorrow, on September 18, 2014, I will vote in support of an entire nation facing down the fear, looking the unknown in the eye, and reaching for independence. Reaching for the future we all want for this country. The future a yes vote allows us to dream of. To walk toward, and work for. And to achieve.