IT’S the hope that kills you.

When all else fails and it gets hard to deny that Scots could make a perfectly good go of independence, there’s always that reliable, gloomy old trope to fall back on.

Now admittedly, it’s generally applied to Scotland’s sporting efforts, but Yessers who entered polling booths in 2014 also know the pain.

So, why do Scots believe hope inevitably results in failure? Why do we hug that gloomy prospect to ourselves – just to get the retaliation in first?

Why the uneasiness about success when we do win – as the Scottish Rugby squad did so spectacularly in 2023?

That uneasiness mirrors our continuing lack of confidence in independence.

On paper, we are dancing, with a progressive ­outlook, abundance of renewable energy, skilled workforce and friendly people.

But still we fear, we believe - feck it, we know – that in reality, everything will still somehow go wrong.


Partly because Scots have been sold the poisonous lie that aggression, division and hesitation are ­basic parts of the Scottish psyche – and that carefully ­constructed myth is still a dead weight that entangles our national propeller.

And partly because denied the experience of ­owning, running, managing and deciding the shape of our own lives, Scots have no means of shrugging it all off.

Perhaps because Scots – for long centuries – have been denied the experience of owning, running and managing our own lives.

Because it’s doing, deciding and learning from ­mistakes that develops deep-seated confidence.

Not waiting for the decisions of other people.

Yet waiting and watching forms most of our ­“official” experience as Scots.

Our forebears lived on land owned by someone else.

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf: Late night letter from UK demands DRS glass exclusion

The language they spoke was banned by someone else.

Their ability to stay was ended by someone else.

Their children were saved from urban squalor by council houses – still owned and managed by someone else.

And today we live in towns, villages and islands with a degree of remoteness from power that is unique in Europe – in massive so-called “local” ­authorities, all run from somewhere else.

Who in Scotland – beyond the union movement of last century and the community buyouts of recent years – has spent a lifetime running anything?

It’s different elsewhere. And the encouragement to take control of your life starts young.

I remember visiting the Bukkespranget Outdoor kindergarten in Tromsø, Norway five years ago. The word means the “kid goat’s leap” and describes the small but adventurous physical steps the children are encouraged to take every day.

Sitting in the early morning darkness at “drop off time” around an open fire (wearing a borrowed, all-in-one snowsuit since I was too daft/unprepared for the outdoors to have one of my own), I was chatting to kindergarten ­owner Turid Boholm when one of the kids ­clambering on a low climbing frame behind us fell into the snow with a soft thud.

Almost on autopilot I was up, but on a faster auto-pilot Turid sat me down again. One of the slightly older children – maybe five years old – came over to help the younger bairn. There was no damage done – the team take care to ­remove stumps and stones so there are only “small learning accidents”– and play ­continued with the children ­cheerfully sorting ­themselves out.

Staff are ­constantly watching but they leave space for children to care for one another. So, learning is a constant feature – but not learning the three Rs. That comes later, at the age of six or seven when children are ready. The kids at kindergarten are learning something far more important – confidence built through plenty of small, shared adventures.

Doing. Not watching.

As a fairly headstrong and taller than average lass, I didn’t understand the hesitation caused by too much ­watching till an encounter on the fabulous, ­boulder-strewn beach of Rackwick on Hoy in Orkney. The only way across was to run, skipping skilfully from foot to foot and boulder to boulder without thinking about it too much.

That’s what I generally did, until ­Rackwick, when my boyfriend set off just ahead of me. Suddenly, coming second, I had a profoundly different experience – watching as he nearly fell, nearly missed his footing, nearly had too large a gap to skip before reaching the next boulder. All I could see were problems and the ­multiple ways he might fall – all he saw was the next step, which he took successfully each time. The difference between us – he was doing, I was watching.

READ MORE: Edinburgh Airport and others confirm passport e-gates not working

In life, you need a mixture, otherwise it seems danger is all around. Watchers become worried, hesitant and keen to overprotect and regulate.

Doers dinnae.

I REMEMBER climbing the Sutherland peak of Suilven – there’s a long walk in and I had started late (as usual), so arrived a bit knackered at the foot of the near vertical-looking mountain with its famous domed top.

I couldn’t see any path up at all, which was a bit discombobulating. This was an oft climbed hill, so there had to be a way to follow in the footsteps of other people.

After a wee while walking backwards and forwards and consulting the map, I simply took the first step up the hill and there, suddenly in front of me, was the next. Nothing more – until the next step and so on, one step after another, all the way to the top.

Which was indeed one of the narrowest summit ridges I have every crawled along, humming Buffalo Soldier by Bob Marley for courage and distraction. Ahem.

Solutions present themselves once you begin. They disappear if you hesitate o’er long.

Or as Goethe put it: “Whatever you dream you can do. Begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”

Unfortunately, Scots have experienced too much watching and not enough ­beginning, stuck indoors at the ­premature age of five and even four, ­unlike 82% of the world’s countries whose schools start at six or seven when children can control motor functions, sit still and concentrate on formal learning.

Happily, some Scots dusted down their thinking on Early Years at the last SNP conference which adopted six/seven as a school starting age – a pivotal moment in Scottish politics and public life. If that pledge gets delivered, with better pay and training for staff, local organisation and plenty of parental involvement, we will be a lot further forward in developing deep confidence amongst the next generation.

Not relying on hope, courage or ­bravado to grab the occasional ­sporting triumph, but producing stronger ­youngsters through better organisation of their early years.

So, let’s encourage our kids to become the best participants they can be in any sport and at any level – even if that means our elite teams are mediocre for a while by world standards, don’t win medals or even entry to European competitions.

Let’s develop the activity, skills and ­potential of the whole population as the Icelanders have done and leave some ­other poor sods to produce the world’s most watched club football, watched by an unfit, sedentary home population that pays through the nose to simply look on.

Then it won’t be the hope that kills us, because far less will ride on the ­performance of elite teams and if they lose, we know our watching youngsters will learn, adapt and progress.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon: 'I literally had no idea who Alister Jack was'

So, we can hirple on as we are, with all the frustration and anger generated by a life on the sidelines – or we can do ­something about it.

Scots have been made civic ­bystanders by political structures that centralise power while offering communities the unpalatable choice between stepping up to become buyout superheroes or ­continuing to have no say whatsoever in their local domain.

Community councils (average budget £400) are utterly ignorable while regional councils – the largest in the developed world – do everything. Central control has robbed Scots of the vital, confidence-building experience of running communities which in turn has hollowed out confidence in our ability to run Scotland.

There’s not been nearly enough ­practice, experience, ownership, ­control and empowerment to laugh that doubt away.

Perhaps that’s why so much seems to turn on the identity and capacity of one person – the First Minister. If the mass of people are deemed incapable of heavy lifting– – the business of ­delivering ­independence falls on a dangerously ­limited set of shoulders.

Yet, when you look at Finland, Iceland, Norway and Estonia – countries that ­became independent over the last ­century – their success arose from harnessing the skills, belief and confidence of their whole population, already empowered by powerful local government and widely dispersed land ownership. Essentially, their local independence generated the drive for the same thing at national level.

In Scotland, it’s been precisely the ­opposite.

And that’s why independence unnerves so many people. There’s a deep-seated conviction that despite our good form on paper, despite the oil, wind-power, whisky and indeed the whole damn barrel-load of advantages, Scotland will feck it up.

Because we know what winners look like – Old Etonians, ready-fitted with brassneck and the cavalier, entitled ­approach of folk who don’t need to try too hard in this world. Measured against them, and their competitive, dog eat dog world, Scots conclude we don’t have what it takes.

No killer instinct. No ability to ­muscle everyone else off the park, or talk ­ourselves up like airheads. Yes, there are occasional toe-curling bouts of nervous boasting which can generate the energy to move forward. Yet the Scottish Cringe and the Scottish Brag are two sides of the same coin. They speak of endless performance anxiety. An inability to just be.

And unless we confront the origins of this damaging lack of confidence, we will continue to undermine ourselves, ­whatever the constitutional set up.

We all know where we are in life when Scotland comes second. We know where we are losing to an infinitely worse team after beating world champions. We know what it’s like to have a potential that ­never quite gets realised.

Because that’s where we are in the United Kingdom. And that “also-ran” ­status won’t change until our ideas are radically overhauled.

READ MORE: Downing St crash: Man faces making indecent images of children charge

In sport, in life and the political ­domain, the expectation of exclusion makes Scots pull their punches, ­undershoot, ­under-imagine and ultimately, underperform. It is the ultimate vicious circle. But it can be circumvented.

The antidote is there in every ­low-expectation-defying, community ­buyout, where “ordinary” Scots take on the management of assets once owned by councils, private landowners, the Church and the State. Essentially our citizens have managed to revive islands, ­bridges, halls, parks, schools and townships ­abandoned by the powers that be. Those citizens are all volunteers and there have been thousands of such bold, selfless ­buyouts all over Scotland. And we doubt the capacity of Scots to run Scotland – it’s mad.

Meanwhile, on February 11 2023, the answer was also there on the pitch at Murrayfield, when Scotland beat Wales 35–7. As predicted.

But what happened next?

A small amount of joy and a lot more anxiety. Success created even more ­troublesome hope, including the even ­harder-to-handle possibility that Scotland might now win the Six Nations – yip the ENTIRE ­SERIES. Nightmare.

The level of thinly disguised terror and chittering nervous laughter on display was harder to hear than the actual match.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Real confidence doesn’t have to be right all the time. It can easily admit mistakes. Can take the lead without ­dictating to everyone else. Can be flexible – ­embarking on journeys without every i dotted or t crossed. Can be generous. But can also work very, very hard in pursuit of a vision.

If confidence is redefined as ­something different to the blustering Downing Street model, we might realise many Scots ­already have it in quiet, modest spades, just like our European cousins.

It’s high time to reassess.

Our people have got what it takes.

Our systems need a radical overhaul.

And that’s what independence gives us the perfect opportunity to do.

Thrive is on sale in bookshops, via publisher Luath

Or signed copies via