THE road to independence wound up a close in Ruchill. That, at least, was my father’s view. It was vigorously prosecuted in the early 1960s as he stood as a candidate for the Scottish National Party in the council ward in north Glasgow.

His election machine consisted of his five kids, a group of pals and whatever money could be rustled up from raffles, sales of songbooks and the occasional concert. This was the SNP: a small political party considered by some as cranks and by others as fascists. The bile spouted on the stumps, particularly by members of the Labour Party at the time, was clearly audible and comprehensible to a primary school pupil. I was that soldier. So were my two brothers and two sisters.

The battalions, in truth, were relatively threadbare. The ranks were not strong in number even if they were in belief. This was a time when saving a deposit – that is, gaining enough votes to have your cash for standing as a candidate returned – was considered a victory. It was why every voted was courted, every door knocked, every letterbox filled with election leaflets.

These were delivered by every available hand, including those of schoolchildren perhaps ignorant of the complexities of political debate but grasping innocently and strongly the principle of self-determination. It was obvious to me then in short trousers and with shirt hanging out that making decisions for Scotland in Scotland was a good idea. Sixty years on, in long trousers and with shirt hanging out, it remains the most sensible course of action for the one-time schoolboy soon to be all-time pensioner. There are some truths that are held to be eternal or, at least, illuminate and inform a lifetime. The desire for self-determination has personally never waned. It has, too, been shaped by the past as much as it yearns for an independent future.

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It is five years since the referendum on home rule but it is, perhaps, worthwhile to consider the history before 2014 and reflect on the lessons it offers.

The first is that the progress has been swift by historical standards. This is now officially an era of long-time nationalist government, of a system in Holyrood where the majority with the help of the Green Party is in favour of independence. In my childhood, the nationalist movement was so small it was basically comprised of people who all knew each other. Party conferences were like a large family wedding. Electioneering, particularly in by-elections that allowed everyone to come together in a single campaign, was conducted by a familiar group: the Murchies, the McGilliverays, the Gows and Mackays, the Blythmans, the McAteers, the Ewings, the Leslies, the Lindsays, the Grieves, the McCormicks, the Maxwells and, yes, the MacDonalds. There were others, of course, and they were all known on first-name terms.

In this distilled force for nationalism – or self-determination as I prefer to call it – there were several constants. Political debate in its strictest sense was rarely engaged.

This may seem odd but arguments over philosophy, economics or the priorities of a Scottish independent government were only conducted after the serious business was concluded. The members of the SNP then had gazed upon the mountainous task facing them and decided, instinctively or otherwise, that the summit had to be gained before a specific view could be taken.

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This is not to suggest that the people who frequented my house, ran up closes alongside me or sang and drank in my father’s house after the pools closed were apolitical. On the contrary, many held strong, unyielding views on the left and the right of the spectrum. For example, the by-election campaigns of Hamilton in 1967 and of Govan in 1973 were largely run by the same people, but the candidates, Winnie Ewing and Margo MacDonald, were at different ends of the political spectrum. Yet the message remained the same. All arguments were over the efficiency of the campaign rather than details of a putative Scottish government on, say, nationalisation of industry or disbursement of benefits.

My view from the top of the close when pushing leaflets through doors or from the bottom of the stairs as songs were sung in hope and qualified triumph, was that there was a swell of left of centre activism. But it was never allowed to deflect from the one, true goal: independence...

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