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Scots Can Vote Positively on Thursday - Against Division

17/09/2014 11:23 BST | Updated 16/11/2014 10:59 GMT

In my home town of Lanark, "Braveheart" William Wallace began his campaign against English rule more than 700 years ago. I was back there recently as supporters of Scottish independence held a colourful rally to commemorate Wallace, with a pipe band, fiddle music and rousing speeches. I enjoyed their company and was impressed by their passion. I understand the appeal of their cause. But I am not convinced by it.

For most of the last couple of decades I have lived away from Scotland, in Germany, Geneva, the Balkans, West Africa, Washington and now London. I have also travelled widely -- I am working in Macedonia at the moment. Wherever I am, I instinctively and happily identify myself as Scottish. But from my perspective, the uplifting result in Thursday's referendum would be a No vote.

Wherever human beings are together, they can dwell on what they have in common or what separates them. They can divide or they can share. That is essentially what the referendum is about -- do we divide up the resources of the United Kingdom or do we share them? I know many Yes supporters believe an independent Scotland would share its wealth more fairly. Maybe. But where is the social justice in telling the poor of south Wales or the north of England: it's our North Sea oil, you're on your own? Solidarity, to me, means sticking together.

I know, too, that many Yes supporters do not see themselves as nationalists. They talk of self-determination. But I have been in too many places with people waving flags and declaring "we're different, we need our own stuff". I have seen it in the Balkans, I have seen it in the Middle East. You can see it around the world now. Scotland's independence movement is peaceful, of course, but this insistence on difference is depressing.

We're not even that different anyway. Research suggests we have very similar ideas about politics even though we vote differently. We can all think of people we know from other parts of the UK. Are we really so different from them that we need to live in separate states? A Montenegrin journalist introduced me to a phrase of Freud's -- "the narcissism of small differences". I fear some Scots have a bad dose of that at the moment.

There is also at least a hint of superiority about the Yes campaign. "We're different" is almost always code for "we're better". Apparently, we Scots care more about others so we need to be rid these nasty English Tory types who are only out for themselves. Surely life has taught us that people are more complex than that? I have lived in England for only a few years but long enough to learn that it is a big, politically diverse place, part of a larger patchwork of peoples --   the UK. And I am happy to be part of it.

Sometimes there are overwhelming reasons for demanding independence. Macedonia voted to leave Yugoslavia in 1991, fearing it would otherwise have been dragged into a huge regional bloodbath. Kosovo, where I lived for a year, declared independence after years of repression by its Serbian government and a war which killed thousands and drove hundreds of thousands from their homes. Further afield, South Sudan achieved independence in 2011 after a 21-year civil war that killed two million people.

And Scotland would declare independence because... we don't like the bedroom tax? I know that is indicative of bigger issues but it might just be worth recalling that, from a global perspective, Scotland and the UK have it pretty good. Yes, there are problems, serious ones. Poverty, too much inequality, not enough social mobility, outdated institutions, elites not held to account. But it is not clear to me that independence is the solution to any of them.

Do we need our own intelligence and security service to fight child poverty? An embassy in Seoul to build a fairer Scotland? Instead of getting to grips with the important stuff, Scotland's best and brightest would be preoccupied with the gubbins and baubles of a new state.

Too much of the debate has been about the policies and politicians of the day. The referendum asks how we should organise a state, what decisions should be made at what levels, for decades and centuries to come. I have lived in centralised states, federal states, a confederation, and various hybrids. If Scotland votes No, we can debate what would work best for all the people who live on the same lump of land and its islands. If Scotland votes Yes, our common state is dead.

Like many Scots, I have been underwhelmed by the No campaign. In the novel Catch 22, there is a character who was such a bad marketing executive that he was highly sought after by companies wanting to make a loss for tax purposes. If I didn't know he was fictional, I'd be pretty sure he was in charge of Team No.

The Yes campaign has not always been honest about the risks and costs of an independent Scotland. But it has been driven by an inspiring message: we can do so much better. When I was back home, I went to see Referendum TV, a daily talk show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Its leading lights were pro-independence but they gave the other side a hearing. Their enthusiasm was palpable, the place fizzed with ideas.

But this is not the X Factor. It is a not a vote for who put on the best show. It is a vote for what you believe, what makes sense. As I do not live in Scotland, I do not get a vote in the referendum. But I hope my fellow Scots reject division. Then I hope that all those who have been energised by ideas of greater fairness and democracy take their campaign to the rest of the UK.

The independence campaign reminds me of playing football in the park in Lanark as a kid. If you were losing, there was always the temptation to go and start your own wee match in the corner with your pals. Why not try to win the big game? Build bridges, not barriers.

That is why, for me, it is possible to cast a positive No vote. It is a vote that says: we can figure this out together.

A few years ago, my mum moved from Lanark to the Borders. That's where I go now when I go home. On my most recent visit, we walked for hours through the Border hills. The landscape was beautiful, with the heather in its purple splendour and the odd thistle bobbing in the wind. But you know the best thing of all about that part of the country? There is no border.

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(Landscape near Stobo, Scottish borders. Photo by Andrew Gray.)