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27 July 2006

Feel the fear and do it anyway

Feel the fear and do it anyway has been a popular quote since 1987 when it was popularised by Susan Jeffers in her book of the same name.

Unfortunately it's taking a while to sink in.

It was 2 years after that book was written that I started a smoke free campaign, and it is fear of change which has likely been the main reason for it taking almost two decades to happen.

In an earlier blog, I made a historic announcement about smoking. Note: it's "a historic announcement" in Scotland because we pronounce the h. It's "an historic announcement" in England because they generally say "an 'istoric announcement", grammar checkers please note!

The historic announcement was that Scotland had become the first part of the UK to become smoke free by law.

Here's a reference to the campaign in the Usenet archives of 1990 when I was in Scotland on Sunday. My workplace in England had gone smoke free in 1990 but my suggestion of having smoke free rooms in pubs was laughed at. Despite this set back I was on Channel4 and seen by 3 million viewers. The campaign got the biggest mailbag that the programme had ever had, and every letter was in favour. This backed up similar research by the Consumer's Association in Jan 1988 who found that smoke free areas were the most wanted change in UK pubs.

Despite public support, the industry felt the fear and didn't do it anyway. This attitude ran right through the 1990s and up until the time when the prospect arose not just of forcing public spaces to have a smoke free area, but of banning it completely. In the intervening years, I had come round to the same point of view. Here is an article from 2004 which is typical of the negative messages that were put out over the last few decades.

However, the gloom and doom merchants were wrong. Although there have been a small number of prosecutions, by and large the legislation to ban smoking in Scotland has been exceptionally well received. Read more about the ban being well received and the number of prosecutions. The ban may even be increasing custom.

So much for that then. After nearly 20 years of talking about it, the one way to find out for sure if it's going to be a success is to JFID (just flipping do it).

And now to Scottish independence.

Bogged down by similar fears, we seem unlikely to follow Montenegro's democratic example due to the Scottish Referendum Bill being blocked by the government. No surprises there. There's an election to the Scottish Parliament in May 2007 and with the SNP taking a surprising lead you can bet that the negativism will be flying thick and fast in the run up to the polls about how bad independence would be for Scotland. This is despite the former First Minister Donald Dewar publishing figures that Scotland would be the world's 7th richest country.

Like smoking, the figures speak for themselves but are obfuscated by spin from lobby groups.

I wonder how many of those who predicted the demise of the Scottish licensed trade post smoking ban will be writing letters to the national papers in the run up to next May suggesting the imminent demise of the Scottish economy under independence for much the same specious reasons? Perhaps they need to feel less fear and let democracy take its course. This isn't separatism, the pejorative term favoured by some unionists, independence is the right to take responsibility for our own affairs. Something that Scotland already has in many areas under devolution - we are effectively independent in all the areas devolved to the Scottish parliament.

Curiously the unionist parties keen to call the SNP, Greens, Socialists and independents separatists weren't calling Montenegro separatists earlier in the year. No, they were welcoming that nation's self determination to achieve nationhood through peaceful means and democratic right. Democracy is sometimes more uncomfortable when it is closer to home.

Perhaps those politicians need to talk less in terms of fear and more in terms of accepting democracy.

Maybe this time next year we will be on the road to independence. Only then will as a nation we will have grown enough to have felt the fear and done it anyway.

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