I love the app in Facebook that gives me snapshot of this day in time over the last few years. The captured moments trace the shadow of my family’s story. Photographs reveal chubbiness lost from children’s cheeks. Long-since forgotten stories come to life and prove Virginia Woolf right that “one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later”. I love this gift from Facebook – the expansion of my memories in the light of today. I know what matters in a way I didn’t then and I know better what to treasure on the road ahead.
Over the last few weeks the memories popping up are less about family and more focused on my own personal growing up, my political awakening, which arose from last year’s campaign for Independence. As I look at the younger me, I feel the same twinge of regret as I do seeing pictures of my round-faced children. There was such innocence and such hope, a fearlessness and a sense of possibility. There was a readiness to jump and an expectation of flight or at least being caught.
My son has just started school and his excitement, sharing what he’s learned each day, mirrors what I went through last year. I was learning incredible things and proudly showing them to my Facebook family and hoping they’d approve. The reaction was quite like that in our car journeys home from school. Some did not mind if I was right or wrong but encouraged my sharing. Some were excited to discover something new for themselves and some thought I was naïve and no doubt annoying at times.
My teachers encouraged me regardless. They came from throughout Scotland and beyond. They were well-studied and patient scholars who analysed, reported, blogged and spoke. Many had been stating their case for years without giving up. Some took on a new role of examining the evidence on offer and making sure we had all the evidence. Without them and without social media, I am not sure there would have been much of an argument.
Like many, I once saw Independence as a slightly eccentric ideal, a nationalism that was almost endearing as long as it wasn’t really an option. I grew nervous watching more and more people getting behind the idea and became too scared to find it charming any more. I began reading posts furtively, clicking links then extending that with my own study, still not sure who to trust. As the scaremongering in the media became more blatant and I dared to believe the evidence I was gathering, I finally saw that the eccentric dream was in fact a vision of hope and it was well within reach, if only we had the confidence to say Yes.
I look at that younger self now with the same feelings of pride and protection as I have for my children. And as with my children, I realise that I now know more. But I also realise that some of the more I know doesn’t help. Some of the experiences of growing up make you less confident and fear distracts you from the truth. The last year has changed me. I went through a grief that blindsided me last September and I have never been quite the same since.
The campaign had instilled in me such confidence in Scotland that I couldn’t quite believe we hadn’t been brave enough to say Yes. I felt angry at the machine, fuelled by lies and fear, that stole my country’s future. I was angry at the individuals who had carelessly given away our chance. I, who had argued vociferously during the campaign that the referendum would not split the country, was feeling completely divided from those who had voted No. I genuinely felt something had broken inside me. It would have been very easy to allow bitterness and cynicism to grow.
This experience was perhaps my adolescence. I retained my childlike vulnerability but had to step into experiences that hurt. Just as adolescence is a time of becoming something new, so was my post-referendum experience. I had to work hard to apply principles I had often written and spoken about but perhaps not had to really exercise much – grace, kindness, patience, openness and above all, bravery, to keep believing.
As often happens, out of the grief came strength. Gradually I returned to seeing people as more than the choice they happened to make on one day. My anger at those who manipulated the debate has died down. What remains from my experience is realism about how a country might change direction and a realisation that change is inevitable regardless of how people vote. Grassroots movements involving people from all sides have led to campaigns and direct action, supporting for example, food banks and abandoned refugees.
I think the maturity gained over the last year has not been just for me but for the country. We are older and wiser post referendum. We all understand that things are not as simple as we first thought. Many who felt strongly against Independence last year, voted SNP in May, emphasising the importance of social justice at the heart of politics in Scotland. Those passionate for Independence see that we cannot force people to believe. We must patiently demonstrate the evidence that backs our case. The way ahead is perhaps not the simple fork in the road that we faced last year, but a winding path, with options along the way that can lead us eventually to the destination we all want – a positive Scotland that serves people well. So as my Facebook memories appear this week, I feel the same emotions but they are expanded with the wisdom of experience.
My heart aches for what was but as with my children, it is warmed by the possibilities in what lies ahead.