SOMETIMES, out of a crisis comes salvation. The worst of times can bring out the best in people and prompt incredible achievements. It can open our eyes and change our views on the world irreversibly for the better.

The last year’s pandemic struggle has brought some fine examples. Faced with being told to stay at home, see no-one and do nothing for months on end, society has largely obliged, with individuals making unthinkable sacrifices to protect not just their own loved ones but also complete strangers.

Thanks to the dedicated work of scientists around the world we now have multiple vaccines for a virus which, just weeks ago, we were not sure could be vaccinated against at all.

The unprecedented shutting down of economies around the world has brought hardship to many, but it has also shown that, even in the eyes of large business owners, public health ultimately comes before money. And at a time when the possibility of averting catastrophic climate change looked bleak to say the least, the near-complete shutdown and restart of the world economy has brought a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, we will be able to limit our consumption to the point of keeping the planet habitable.

In short, it has been a terrible year, but it has taught us a lot about ourselves and about others, about our strengths and capabilities, about our adaptability and the value of our opportunities. It has been a wake-up call, a reminder that the safe, comfortable and relatively carefree reality that we in the developed world have built for ourselves over the last 75 years is fragile and cannot be taken for granted.

This reminder is particularly timely for us Scots, because as vaccines see the world begin to turn a corner in the struggle against the Covid-19 pandemic, we face the added challenge of Brexit; an all-out assault on our basic rights, that we neither voted for nor endorsed.

At 11pm on December 31, we lost incalculable advantages that go far beyond issues of trade and commerce, damaging our ties with our neighbours and the life opportunities of our children. Importantly though, we know it. Much as the Tory Party would like us to accept our losses, endorse their Anglocentric worldview and forget our identity as Europeans, we know what has been taken from us. We know, now more than ever, that health, prosperity, equality and peace are constant works in progress that require protection, maintenance and respect.

We know it because of what we have lost. Scotland may not be in the EU any more, but we remain as European as we have ever been, perhaps even more so.

When it comes to appreciating the value of liberté, egalité and fraternité, there is perhaps no people on Earth right now as European as the Scots.

Where we go from here is up to us. Having spent the four years since the Brexit referendum largely treading water, trying as much as possible to maintain our existing reality against a current of British nationalism, the easy choice, at least in the short term, might be to do nothing; to stop struggling, lie back and let the Westminster current take us wherever it goes.

But it is not our only choice. We could spend the rest of our days moaning about the consequences of another country’s decisions, comforting ourselves with the knowledge that we at least didn’t make them. Or we could chart our own future. However bad things may seem right now, 2021 brings renewed hope of something better.

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Independence. Finland has it. Latvia has it. Slovenia has it. Small countries have it. Many have gained it relatively recently, and they are not only surviving, but thriving.

Three EU member states have gained independence from the UK in the last century and given the choice, not a single one would choose to give it up. Nobody tells the Irish they are incapable of governing themselves. Nobody is threatening Maltese students’ right to study abroad. Why should the Scots be any different?

IN 2014, the people of Scotland were given a choice between independence or continued UK membership. We narrowly chose the latter, but our choice was not unconditional. Far from enthusiastically embracing the status quo, no questions asked, the Scottish electorate gave tentative backing to continued Union, conditional upon promises made by UK political parties, of greatly enhanced devolution and guaranteed EU membership.

But what the people of Scotland offered as a quid pro quo, the British Government took as carte blanche to do whatever it liked, with no thought given to the Scots.

The ensuing events have ensured that in the coming year or so, we will once again be asked the independence question. They have also ensured that we will do so from a position of clarity and confidence that did not exist in 2014. In 2014 we were told that a Yes vote would risk our EU membership and our rights as EU citizens. In 2014 we were told that a Yes vote would destroy our trade ties and put our national security at risk.

In 2014 we were told that a Yes vote would risk passport checks at the English border. In 2014 we were told that a Yes vote would destroy our relationships, both with England and the rest of Europe, leaving us adrift in the north Atlantic without a friend in the world. In 2021, we know differently.

Rather than risking our EU membership, a Yes vote is now the only way to regain it. Rather than risking our security, a Yes vote is the only way to rebuild the security cooperation and information sharing we once benefited from as part of the EU.

Rather than risking passport checks at the English border, we now know exactly what England’s trade relations with Ireland will look like, giving us a perfect example of how the future of our relationship with England could work, without any need for passport controls or restrictions on freedom of movement.

Trade would keep flowing and while there would be extra paperwork, would free access to the rest of the continent not make up for that? Scotland approaches its next independence referendum in the unfortunate but liberating position of having nothing left to lose by voting Yes.

Will independence be a challenge? Of course, it will, but what is the alternative? They say you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. It was perhaps understandable that in 2014 many Scots were reluctant to break our metaphorical eggs for fear of messing up the recipe. But as we enter 2021, they are already broken, well and truly smashed all over the kitchen bunker. The only way we lose is by making nothing out of the mess.

Last year was a year of hopelessness, lost opportunity, destruction and despair; next year can be the opposite, if we choose to make it so. There is an old Scottish saying that today’s rain is tomorrow’s whisky. Let’s get distilling.