The Sunday National’s Yessay contest received so many fantastic entries – but between the reader vote and our top trio of judges, Gerry Singh’s pitch to an undecided voter on why Scotland should be independent has emerged as the winner... 

I RECENTLY drove south on the M74 heading to the Lake District, that beautiful part of Cumbria, to do some walking in the hills and stroll by the lakeshore of Ullswater.

I imagined approaching the border sign that said “Welcome to England where all the power lies” and suddenly felt ­diminished. After a week of excellent walking I drove back north and imagined a sign that said “Welcome to Scotland where your vote doesn’t count” and felt a sinking feeling of inferiority.

Then I thought: what must it be like to wake up in a country where self-determination was as ­natural as rainfall or sunlight, whether you are English or ­Scottish? It was then that my heart soared. Not just for myself. But for all of the people of these islands who surely have the right to take whatever path up the hill they choose, and not have to feel separate.

Here are some words I don’t like: Nationalism, ­Unionism, Separatist and Imperialism.

It seems to me that a binary choice between holding the British state together at all costs and shouting for independence from the rooftops is a false dichotomy.

Scotland and England will always be one land mass and it is becoming increasingly obvious that self-determination is the desire of both countries. If the people want that then they should not be frustrated by politicians clinging to a historical idea whose time is simply running out. History shows that all empires fail in the end and that new beginnings like green shoots will emerge just as the sun shines brighter ­after the rain.

In this year, 2021AD, we are the luckiest people to live on an island where we can make history in a peaceful and mature way and allow a transition to ­occur that is in the best interests of all without conflict, violence, bloodshed or bitterness, which so many other peoples around the world have had to suffer in their efforts towards self-determination.

Scotland and England are mature democracies with an abundance of wealth in resources, people and invention. We are rich beyond the dreams of many poorer countries and it must be our humane duty to attempt to distribute that wealth a little more fairly.

I can imagine an English parliament for England, a Scottish parliament for Scotland and a Welsh parliament for Wales without one dominating the others.

This does not have to be seen as a loss of identity but rather a reinforcement of identity. If you feel ­British rather than Scottish that does not have to change. Just as Sweden, Norway and Denmark are independent countries under the overarching name of Scandinavia. It is what you feel, not what is imposed upon you, that is real. You cannot force a British identity on people who do not feel it. Flag-waving only antagonises and causes division and its overtones are sinister. We have to seek to be more enlightened than that.

I believe at this point in our shared history that an independent England is just as important a part of a new dispensation as an independent Scotland. We cannot afford to let the uglier aspects of nationalism that Brexit has unleashed flourish because of a ­perceived enemy as the SNP are currently portrayed in the media. As Bob Dylan wrote, “the darkest night is just before the dawn”. I think that the present Tory government are in danger of taking us all into a very dark place no matter where you live in Britain.

The truth is that Scotland is and always will be an independent country. All we are looking for is to have that ratified and written into a ­constitution that legalises the concept of self-determination and self-government. The same rule should apply to England and Wales. Ireland is a more complex problem for obvious historical reasons – partition having created a particular ­difficulty to overcome.

If Scotland had the power to ­completely govern itself, just think what a legacy of enhanced self-esteem we would be ­handing over to our children and grandchildren. Self-esteem and self-worth are not side issues, or subordinate to ­economic ­considerations, but are ­absolutely ­integral in establishing a culture of agency and self-belief that does not depend on being in opposition to a larger neighbour that for too long has reflected back at us a ­stereotype of ourselves as dependent and in need of subsidies. We could finally ditch the term “Auld Enemy” and start to view our neighbour as a friend.

IF the British state as it is currently behaving under the present government was a marriage, it would represent one of coercive control where psychological bullying and put-downs are the most obvious example of this abusive relationship, followed by love-bombing to win us back. These are classic features of domestic abuse when one partner seeks to control and disempower the other. Just as domestic abuse is now widely accepted as a crime and can be more subtle than raising a fist, nations can also be guilty of engaging in similar practices.

As a people we have to unlock the mind-forged manacles that keep us ­captive in an unhealthy relationship for fear of ­reprisal that came at us under the guise of Project Fear.

Scotland running its own affairs has never been about narrow ­nationalism. I am mixed race and I was born in ­Glasgow. My father, who I lost before I was two years old, was Indian. My ­mother was white Scottish with Irish ancestry. ­Unable to care for me when my father deserted us, she put me into a children’s home the day after my second birthday. She never came back.

Why do I mention such personal ­trauma in an essay about Scottish ­independence? Maybe it is because I ­believe nations can suffer similar traumas that keep them from acting confidently in their own ­interests. The Highland Clearances are an obvious wound to the psyche, as was forced migration. The decimation of heavy industry in the Thatcher era was another. The inequalities that have been deliberately orchestrated have made food banks a normal fact of life – a situation that should be completely unacceptable in any civilised country as rich as we are. It doesn’t have to be this way.

India gained its independence after 200 years of colonial rule that robbed that country blind. My lost father was a victim of the partition of India that cost the lives of a million people and left tens of ­millions displaced. India is now an ­economic powerhouse. They had grown used to accepting imperial rule and all the propaganda that came with it that classed the Indian as somehow less able than a British person. It was not true then and it is not true now.

The National:

Crowds at New Delhi watching a motorcade on Indian Independence Day

As someone who was orphaned at an early age and suffered my share of racial abuse I have a country that has looked after me in adulthood. With one hand tied behind its back, Scotland gave me an excellent education, despite failing at school because of adverse childhood ­experiences. I went to university and taught some of the most disadvantaged children in a poor catchment area. It shocked me to see how pervasive poverty was and still is. With full powers I truly believe that Scotland can do better than this.

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The British state is now ­dominated by two parties slavishly beholden to ­unrestrained market forces and ­privatisation. I do not believe that the ­majority of people in these islands signed up for that.

What Scotland wants is social ­democratic accountability and ­proportional representation. We already have the latter in the bag.

I want to live in a country where the people are sovereign and where the economy and land use will one day reflect the needs of all of its people so that the scourge of generations of poverty may at last have a chance of being eradicated. I am not looking for or expecting to see some utopian society suddenly ­emerging, but what I think we all have a right to ­expect is that politics serves the many and not the few.

I think that without self-government Scotland and England will together be ­diminished and it is the poorest in ­society who will pay the price. I think that we all have to rise above our own perceived ­economic interests, especially if we ­happen to be doing OK. The reality is that if we do not then it is future generations who will suffer as the obscene levels of wealth being amassed by a few individuals further erode civilised values.

Think not of yourself, but look to your grandchildren and imagine what future they might have on a planet slowly sinking into a climate emergency, while the super-rich continue sunning themselves on their $20 million yachts. The status quo is not an option. Nothing worth ­having comes easy. Not in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to go to ­university, but I did. Sacrifices had to be made. I washed pots and pans in a very hot hotel kitchen for two years while studying to get the grades necessary.

Of course there will be hurdles to overcome in reaching any worthwhile goal. One of the first hurdles may well be changing your mind. We all cling on to the beliefs that have served us well up to now and there is no doubting the ­reality of tribal loyalties in terms of for and against any big issue of the day.

Maybe for the first time in your life you are thinking of voting in a way that you could not have imagined a few years ago. Changing your mind requires an act of courage, and to visualise something good in what had previously been considered to be misguided can be an uplifting ­experience.

Instead of a mythical Union ­symbolised by a flag that is trumpeted by Brexiteers, who paradoxically despise the ­European Union, we could have a real union of ­people living together as friends and ­family just as we have always done. The difference being that the political path of Scotland and England will be determined by the people and not by elites making policy in their own interests with little concern for the population.

ONE of the greatest leaps of imagination to arise out of the suffering of the Second World War was the creation of the National Health Service. Much of the medical profession was against it at the time. Now that same profession is trying to save it. How vital that institution has been during this pandemic. Yet there are dark forces, if the political status quo remains, who are working tirelessly to dismantle and destroy it in order to open it up to further privatisation to amass more profits for the already wealthy at the expense of the rest of us. If that happens it will be a tragedy and a deliberate attack on civilised values and would render the term “British values” redundant because there will be no such thing.

The NHS saved my life. I had a heart attack in my mid-40s and thought that my number was up. Complete strangers ­dedicated to saving my life did just that. There was no charge. It was free at the point of delivery.

As an orphan boy I am here today ­because of humane public services like free education and health care. Isn’t that something worth changing your mind for?

The National:

A vote for independence and we will all be free at the point of delivery. Not only that, but your grandchildren will be proud of you for “screwing your courage to the sticking place”.

Nobody can predict the future. All we have to go on is our experience of the past and ask ourselves: How can I help create a better world for future generations? And in attempting to create that better world, wouldn’t you rather have the ­power in your own hands?

When Scotland does become self-governing, I hope to be around to once again drive down the M74 over an ­invisible border and follow that thread of tarmac back into the Cumbrian hills in that beautiful part of England. Nothing will have changed. Yet everything will have. I will imagine a sign saying “Welcome to England, Old Friend”, and when I gaze out from the hilltops, having persevered through wind and rain, the view of the lake will stun me with its grace and ­beauty. Standing there on the highest peak I will imagine returning north and a new sign will greet me with the words “Welcome to Scotland, Welcome Home”.