In two years' time, Scotland will be holding a referendum to determine its future as a nation. Watching the news today, one could be forgiven for thinking that, instead, it was holding a bake sale. "Would you buy a used pie from this man?" asks Johann Lamont, pointing the finger at Alex Salmond (one assumes that if Iain Gray were still Labour leader, the offending item would be a sandwich). Whatever one's political inclinations, it's hard to escape the feeling that someone's telling porkies - but to focus on this is to miss the bigger question. Why should anybody contemplating the referendum base their decision on what they think of individuals?
The great man theory of history has always been seductive, and this is certainly a historical moment. It's often easier to contemplate such momentous changes (and there will be changes regardless of which way Scotland votes) by filtering them through the personalities involved. But whilst this may prove useful for students trying to form an emotional connection to the past, it is dangerous on several level when applied to the present.
First of all, we need to take ego out of the equation. The magnetism of particular individuals (whether it attracts or repels) will have little meaningful effect on how events play out after the referendum. Yes, in the short term, it may play a significant role in alliance building (whether that's renegotiating aspects of the union, strengthening our relationship with Westminster or establishing new international relationships), but this decision is much bigger than that. We are voting not just on how issues might be managed in the immediate term but, potentially, about how our country will function for hundreds of years. In that time, everybody involved in today's squabbles will die.
Secondly - and this may seem less obvious - we need to take nationalism out of the equation. Scotland deserves better than to have its future decided by flag-waving, whether that flag is the Saltire or the Union Jack.* This isn't about dead warriors, empire, Team GB, Woolworths or tartan-wrapped fudge. People can feel passionately Scottish and still support the union or can vote for independence without jeopardising their British identity - really, it's okay, that's allowed. I was quite taken aback when I heard members of the No campaign arguing that we shouldn't be independent because people care for each other across the border. Personally, I care for people all over the world (and have family around the world too) but it doesn't influence my political relationship with them. It would be perfectly possible to support an independent Scotland from an internationalist perspective, preferring that option for economic or managerial reasons without according it sentimental value. Similarly, it's possible to support the union without the prerequisite of having best friends who are English.
Thirdly, we need to remember that this isn't about political parties. If it were, why would Labour be working with the Conservatives? The Green Party has allied itself to the Yes campaign alongside the SNP, as has a faction of the Labour Party. Despite their official line, there are LibDems wavering in either direction. And alongside this, of course, there are a great many ordinary people who feel passionately one way or the other but don't worry much about political parties until it comes to marking a cross on the ballot paper on election day (if, indeed, they even do that). Don't like the SNP? Independence would likely lead to them splitting and dwindling as members' other concerns rise to the fore. Don't like Labour? If we stay in the Union you can bet they'll take the blame for every subsequent Westminster-wrought ill. (The Conservatives are probably not long for this world either way.) In other words, it's all rather complicated; and, again, the issue of our country's long term future is bigger.
If we, the Scottish public, allow this issue to be reduced to a spat about personalities, we'll all be poorer for it. So by all means bitch about Salmond (if you don't blame him for the recent confusion over legal advice, you can always remind yourself of his sometime cosy relationship with Donald Trump), but don't base your approach to the referendum on that issue. Despair, if you will, or one or more of the No campaign's strange bedfellows, but remember that they won't be around as long as the consequences of this decision. And let's remember that, when all is said and done, we'll all be eating the same pie, so let's not poison it with spite.
* I realise that, strictly speaking, it's only the Union Jack when it's flown at sea, but I'm trying to keep this simple.