National conversations.

It’s been awhile since I last blogged. Not much has changed, really; I’m still in Dunblane living the quiet life, volunteering once a week in a charity shop and reading novels like I haven’t done in far too long.

Through the Internet, social media and the chat of friends I have been able to keep up with developments back home. But I’m also keeping my eyes open for stories in Scotland.

It’s a good time for it, because in slightly less than a year Scotland will vote on whether it should become an independent country. From now until 18 September 2014 the Independence Referendum will most likely be the biggest story.

I’ve visited a few times before, but this is the first time I would say that I’m living in Scotland. I don’t know very much about this country and its politics, and have been reliably informed that Braveheart provides a woefully inaccurate and bastardised account of its history. I don’t have many pre-conceptions, and there is much to learn.

A year seems like a long time, but considering the amount of work that needs to be done it’s no surprise that the activists on either side of the Independence Referendum are already swinging into action. The media, too, is getting a piece of pie – it seems like every other episode of the BBC’s Newsnight Scotland and STV’s Scotland Tonight has to do with the referendum (or #IndyRef, as it’s known on Twitter).

It’s fascinating to follow, simply because there are so many aspects of the debate. From politics to the economy to social welfare and the arts, pretty much every bit of Scottish governance, life and society is fair game. Whether they are leaning towards ‘Yes’, ‘No’, or still undecided, people are talking about what they want to see in their country.

The content of the discussion is different, but the conversation makes me think of Singapore. We, too, are talking about what we want to see in our country. We’re trying to figure out what sort of Singapore we want to live in.

The conversation has been heated and fractious at times. The response I got for questioning nationalism and highlighting concerns with an uncritical ‘Singaporeans First’ rhetoric has been surprising – I’ve had my share of debates with people of completely opposite views, but the number of people (interestingly, pretty much all male) who descended upon my Facebook wall to explain/mansplain How I Am Totally Wrong and Am A Silly Child far exceeded any other post that I can remember.

But it’s important to keep talking. Not to convince everyone – there are some people who will just never be persuaded – but to engage with those who are reaching out, and to continually reflect and refine our ideas. People’s minds can change, and it often works better when we’re challenging one another and pushing for better solutions.

In a way, being away from home right now has its benefits. It’s good to see people in other societies and countries having their own struggles and national conversations. It’s good to see that all over the world we are dealing with uncertain futures and trying to find our way. It’s good to see that all over the world there are people who care enough to get out there and try to do something.

It certainly puts Singapore’s problems, controversies and arguments into perspective. They’re not insignificant, but they’re not extreme or insurmountable either. And, at the end of the day, we’re in a relatively good position to deal with them.

If that doesn’t give you hope, then I don’t know what will.