Scotland politics

Scottish independence: Now the marathon becomes a sprint

Runners at the Commonwealth Games Image copyright AP

This race, for so long a marathon, has become a sprint for the line.

Across Scotland today thousands of activists again poured on to the streets. Many have taken time off work to campaign for their vision of the future.

In beating sun and lashing rain, they have plodded and slogged and argued for the best part of two years.

Many have given up wages or holidays to stand on the streets and talk politics with strangers, to try to persuade others to back their particular vision.

A visitor from abroad must find it hard to reconcile the reputation of the Scots - as a cautious, reserved, slightly dour people - with what they see now on our streets.

Romance, passion and pride are all on display.

Referendum night

The BBC's Scotland Decides will bring continuous, up-to-date, coverage as all through the night, as well as comprehensive analysis. On Twitter, keep abreast of the all the action overnight via @BBCPolitics and @BBCScotlandNews.

A Scotland Decides programme presented by Huw Edwards will be broadcast on BBC One from 22:35 BST, while Scotland Decides The Result will be broadcast on BBC One Scotland.

Or follow the results on BBC Radio 4's Scotland Decides programme presented by James Naughtie and Rachel Burden. BBC Radio Scotland will also provide live coverage from 22:00 BST until 06:00 BST.

There is no doubt that for some this campaign has been divisive, splitting families and ending friendships.

There are plenty of voters who did not want any of this to happen at all and some still regard it as an unhelpful distraction.

Whatever happens at the ballot box there will be sadness as well as delight. There will be laurels and regrets.

And yet, on both sides, the debate has kindled something too.

The air is crackling with energy. Scotland has stared into its soul to ask itself big, fundamental questions.

Who are we? What do we want? How do we reach our goals?

Restlessness abroad

And, in asking and beginning to answer, it appears that this nation has moved.

The polls suggest that many people, some of whom will strongly resent the tag "nationalist", have come to believe that Scotland should have more control of its own affairs.

In some respects both campaigns are now arguing over the same ground, emphasising both continuity and change.

Image copyright PA

There is a restlessness abroad, a feeling among the four million voters who will decide the future of Scotland and the United Kingdom, that something needs to change.

But what?

For all the careful words of the campaigns, offering an independent Scotland within the British Isles or a stronger Scottish Parliament within the UK, alternative solutions are on offer.

They vary greatly, from a socialist republic to a radically redesigned federation.

Nothing, it seems, is certain any more.

Image copyright Getty Images

But amidst all this division, all this uncertainty, all the shouting, there is some hope for a calmer, more settled future.

Last Sunday, in the minutes after chairing the final debate in a series about the referendum for the BBC, I was worried.

The audience had been vocal to the point of anger.

Some had tried to shout down the panellists and each other. At some points I feared we may be heading for an actual fight.

But, as I left Wallace High School in Stirling half an hour later, when everyone else had melted away, two of the most vociferous audience members remained... one "Yes" and one "No".

They were chatting amicably in the evening air, smiling broadly, trying to convince a young boy of the merits of their different arguments.

The boy, leaning on his bicycle, was 11-years-old. He seemed to know as much as they did.

It was an extraordinary, heart-warming moment.

They say people don't care about politics.

They are wrong.

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