THOUGHTS ON ST ANDREW'S DAY

I hoised a new Saltire yesterday, having finally got embarrassed enough by its (very) frayed predecessor.  In my neck of the woods flagpoles are fairly ubiquitous. Most are our national flag, but recently I spotted a new one for Armistice Day still aloft, one which flew both the Saltire and the Jamaican national flag, one which had both the Saltire and the Union Jack, one with the Saltire and the Shetland flag, and one with the Jolly Roger.  Let nobody say we are not a diverse wee communty!

And we all too, enjoy diverse identities.  My own inclination is to describe myself as Scottish and European with a residual smidgin of British, but the sign of a country comfortable in its own skin is to acknowledge the right of all its citizens to self describe as they feel and to hold them all as having equal value.  It seems important to say so on a day when the execrable current occupant of the Oval Office has seen fit to post videos linking Muslims to violence despite the filmed material's  provenance being the appalling British First party whose relationship to the truth mirrors his own.  Listening to his apologist, the ultra right wing commentator Anne Coulter on the Today programme, gives us an alarming insight into the rabidly twisted mindset of those who still consider him a fit and proper person to be presdident. Or indeed to hold any public office.

Two things seem to me quite clear about this: the UK government has to stop wittering about special relationships and show some bottle instead of whiny neediness. (Anyone in government who still thinks they can nail down a trade deal with this serial liar and dissembler is as crazy as Coulter!) And secondly, whatever the diplomatic and royal niceties the idea of a State visit has to be buried.  Apart from the obvious inappropriateness, there isn't a contingency fund deep enough to pay for the security needed to keep a hostile public from making their feelings known to a reviled foreign leader.

But there is another issue which concentrates the mind on our National Day, and that is the debate over the second Referendum. Those who want it yesterday, and those who want more certainty on the result before pressing the Go button share one common goal. None of us wants to mess up what may be our last opportunity in many decades to become the small, democratic, socially justice nationhood to which we aspire.

The other weekend I went to Edinburgh to listen to the Build conference staged by the Scottish Indpendence Convention, the umbrella group for Yes inclined folks of all political persuasions and none. It says something for our country that they attracted a couple of thousand individuals - all paying their own way - to the Usher Hall on a sunny Saturday in November. What most impressed me about all the speakers was their shared belief that you win nothing by badmouthing those who disagree with you; that hitting the listen, rather than the broadcast button is the key.

I'm absolutely sure they are right. Most of the people I know who voted No did so for a variety of financial reasons, worried that they or their country or both would be the poorer for independence. Addressing these fears, and doing so in a rational, numerate way will be much more important next time round than taking pot shots at naysayers. There are other lessons to be learned from other camapigns and we should never be so tribal as to scorn a cherry picking exercise from campaigns as varied as Corbyn and Sanders. Above all we should recognise that there are people able to be persuaded to vote Yes from every single political party in the land with the possible and welcome exception of the couple of people in the UKIP telephone box.

We need too, to distance ourselves from any group who thinks it's in any way clever to troll those who did not want independence in 2014 and are unlikely to change their minds.  I don't for a nano second share their view, but I utterly respect their right to hold it. That's especially important on social media platforms. Think before you tweet; and remember that alcohol and twitter are rarely good bedfellows. It's also a platform which allows people to jump with Olympian ease to the wrong conclusions.  A fair while back I wrote a short - supposedly jocular - riposte to a post from someone I knew quite well. Cue a furious response suggesting, inter alia, that I was somehow responsible for the trolling this person had endured over the years. Confused? I most certainly was! So while we all know emails famously don't do humour, it seems that tweets have the same distant relationship. (Though there are some brilliantly funny videos posted - most involving our four legged friends.)

Similarly when I queried the wisdom of Alex Salmond taking his show to RT (the cuddlier name for Russia Today) I was assailed at great length and with varying degrees of rudeness. It is possible to hold two thoughts simultaneously about the former First Minister; that he has done great things for his country, and that he makes errors of judgement like everyone else. I believe this to be one of them.

So the question  on Indyref2 is - if not in the nearish future then when?  It is the most important conundrum this country will face in my lifetime.  You might reflect that such is the already apparent damage from Brexit that there will be little difficulty in persuading voters that they won't be better together with the likes of Boris, Govey and hyphenated Jacob and we need time to let the true post Brexit horrors sink in, or you might suppose that unless we get out from under sharpish, there will be a very long haul to dig ourselves out of the collateral damage - and even more difficulty trying to get a discrete deal for Scotland's relationship with the EU.

A secondary consideration is all the Yessers who voted for Brexit, and all the Remainers who are still unionists. My own view on this is simply: to thine own self be true.  If we truly believe, and I do, that the time is overdue for Scotland to join the happy band of small, self sufficient, forward looking nation states, then we must at every turn accentuate the positive. For we have a positive story to tell, and a positive future tantalisingly within our grasp.  Happy St Andrews Day.