I need to write. It’s how I think. And, by gum, is there plenty to think about right now.
This pandemic, and how we recover from it, is throwing up so many questions about how we live our lives, govern our countries and stimulate our economies. Every single day, our lips move over what we should make or import, where and how we should travel, and how we should educate our young (and not young) people. The imperative to reverse the damage we are doing to our planet is immediate. Constitutional quandaries abound.
Last week, I said to a friend that the forthcoming Scottish election could just be the most important vote in our lifetime – then immediately retracted it. We’ve had a number of those already. Whether it does turn out to be the most important election, or just a really important election, there persists the feeling that, right now, important stuff is happening that every one of us needs to think about. For me, arguably for all of us, writing is thinking.
On Scottish Independence, I am genuinely on the fence. I look to Westminster and see an unelected second chamber of nearly 800, billions being spent to increase our number of nuclear warheads – 20 years after the end of the Cold War – yet no money to give nurses a fair pay deal. The hardest of hard Brexits, and the subsequent self-damage, is only just beginning. Cronyism and corruption prevail. The temptation to pull away from all of that, and to be part of the generation that creates a fairer, more progressive alternative is very real and very difficult to resist. On the other hand, the complex issues of fiscal deficit and hard currency still require clear solutions.
I am privileged to be a reasonably senior public servant working alongside highly skilled and committed colleagues. I have the tremendous reward of helping other people and being paid for it. My job is all about humans and knowledge and interactions, and it allows me to meet and put my nose into almost every stratum of Scottish life. I work in a profession that is a political football. Every man and woman and in the street has an opinion on it and many, apparently, know how to do it. But there is a limited range of professional opinion in our national discourse.
To process all of this, to make sense of the sublime conversations and ridiculous insights that enter my head in any 24-hour period, I need to write. To work out what I think, I need to write. And I need to put that writing out there and test it against what others think.
When my words have been published before, they have struck chords, made headlines and been perceived as a credible, informed voice. But they have also brought hot water alarmingly near and I’d prefer to keep my job and continue paying my mortgage. Anonymity also protects the humans I work with. It means I can test my views and discuss questions on a wider range of issues without involving my employer or drawing unwanted attention to other people who might not want it. Since no political party satisfies me entirely it means I can take a fair swipe at them all without being accused of favouring any particular side. As many of us still wrestle with the question of Independence, I hope I can present a fairly balanced approach.
The expression “he thinks he’s Archie” is used in these parts to refer to someone who thinks too highly of himself: a rib-poke for the vain, the self-important and those who like the sound of their own voice. It seems fitting when I’m sticking my thoughts and opinions out into the world, assuming that the world wants them. But it is accompanied by genuine nervousness and self-doubt: what I write might not be interesting, might be better expressed by others or might just be plain wrong. I know I’m not even a flea on Archie’s dog.
But my writing isn’t for the world. It’s for anyone who wants to read it and engage in dialogue with me to help me think. Archie will just me help get it out there.