There’s a scene in The West Wing I’m particularly fond of. In discussing a mission to Mars, one character asks another, “why? Why go to Mars?”
“Because it’s next,” responds the other. “Because we came out of the cave, and discovered fire. We crossed the plains, traversed the oceans and climbed mountains. We went to the Moon and Mars is next.”
Since ‘neath my grim, sweary, pessimistic exterior there’s still a wee boy who loves to look at the stars and imagine strange, new worlds, I loved that moment and it came back to me this morning as I watched the BBC’s latest referendum debate from Fife. Once again we heard that an independent Scotland would face risks. There are unknowns if we discontinue this Union. Here there be monsters. Danger, Will Robinson. There are unknown and dangers, it’s true. That being said…
Go back to that first moment. When our ancient ancestors looked to the light at the end of the tunnel and saw light. They could have given into their fear. They could have stayed in the dark, not being harmed by what was outside, but never knowing either. Never benefitting from a free experience devoid of the shackles of tired tradition and the naysayers of old. Is it inconceivable that years later when they looked back over their lives, those who didn’t leave experienced regret? Isn’t it better to venture outside and experience, than not and forever wonder?
There’s no going back, we’re regularly told. But our ancestors didn’t want to go back. They built villages and towns, then great cities where the peoples of the world came together to bask in awe at the magnificence of what a small group of people could achieve.
In September the people of Scotland face a remarkably similar choice. Scots can choose to stay in the cave and restrict themselves to a cold, dark, monotonous slumber all the way to an ignoble death.
Or they can step out into the light, grasp the noble prospects they’ve won for themselves, stand tall as equals among new friends, face the world’s dangers with those friends, and rejoice in the beauty of opportunity that surrounds us. They can proudly show how a small nation on the tip of civilisation can beam out as a northern light across the globe. They can change the world.
Nothing in life is certain, but those ancestors who stayed in the cave were forgotten. Those who left danced among the stars. Scotland faces the same choices, and immortality awaits.