When I was a teenager, I went through a phase of being much-taken with Stoic philosophy. We'd been exposed to Plato's Republic in school, and largely overlooked Aristotle. The Stoics I chanced across by myself: aphorisms of Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius' Meditations.
One aspect of Stoic thought which particularly appealed to me was its emphasis on the power of ideas to shape our responses to life's inevitable troubles, travails and setbacks. It has become a mantra of contemporary cognitive behavioural therapy, but if you can change how you think about a problem, you are half way to enduring it well.
I also found adolescent lessons there about being yourself. About the importance of not "staking your happiness on the souls of other men." That isn't to say that goodness, kindliness or the assessment of others are inevitably unimportant - but you shouldn't outsource your self-esteem to other people, making your happiness and equanimity contingent on their good or bad conceits of you. As a nation, the Scots could do with a good deal more of this sort of confidence, which finds its expression not in chippiness, but in generosity, empathy and open-mindedness born of a basic existential security.
I was reminded of this over the weekend, as the Sunday Herald splashed with its decision explicitly to back independence for Scotland. The editorial explaining this decision is an impeccable statement of the now-mainstream case for a Yes vote: self-government, responsibility, democracy, justice. The response from Yes bods was remarkable too. The news stands were stripped. Copies tucked away for posterity. Twitter was ababble with excitable, breathless (even, dare I say, pathetically grateful) responses to the Sunday newspaper's endorsement of independence.
I don't mean that disrespectfully, but I do think that the enthusiasm of the response cannot be explained in terms of the likely impact of the paper's decision. A more familiar phenomenon in the public debate is independence supporters crowing about the melancholy death of the mainstream media. How can we explain the sudden overflowing gratitude when a mainstream publishing outfit of the "dead tree press" gives independence-supporters the nod?
"At last, we see our voices reflected in the mainstream press," a number of folk cheered. But hold up a wee moment. Why should this reflection matter? The obvious answer here is an instrumental one. The media helps set the political agenda. It is a key source of information for voters going into this poll. Sympathetic (or much more numerous unsympathetic) voices matter and have the potential to affect the result. Absolutely. But only up to a point Lord Copper. And not, to my mind, sufficiently significantly to explain the intensity of the enthusiasm with met Alastair Gray's front page.
As others have pointed out, the Sunday Herald has a relatively limited circulation in the country (around 24,000 copies), and has been perceived as more than characteristically Yes sympathetic for a while. That said, the paper clearly pitches for a liberal, bourgeois audience. We're talking more about the gender gap these days, but we know from recent polling that the Yes campaign also continues to struggle to make inroads and persuade middle class Scots of the virtues of independence.
At the very least, the Sunday Herald splash may persuade persuadables who read it to give independence serious consideration. In a campaign which may be decided on the narrowest of bases, the endorsement of a once crackpot constitutional scheme by an impeccably respectable organ of Scottish opinion is not to be sniffed at. Like the sturdy, sensible SNP government, it helps answer the once-dominant, now embattled, idea that independence is unthinkable, lending the campaign a sort of reputability. But in terms of the overall result, which side the Sunday Herald supports is really of marginal significance. Instrumental arguments can't explain the glee.
It is tempting to look to broader psychological explanations. Glasgow SNP councillor Mhairi Hunter asked a perceptive question recently. Better Together supporters are acquiring the tendency of getting touchy if challenged, hurt if mocked, and anxious if their views are dismissed without being given earnest consideration. For most Scottish nationalists, this is a familiar phenomenon. Mhairi wondered if familiarity bred contempt. I wonder too. Their own hides toughened by years (and for some, by decades) of less than convivial or constructive responses to their constitutional ambitions, Scottish Nationalists haven't exactly been primed to respond sympathetically to the sudden sensitivity of their opponents. I've blogged before about my own encounters of this kind, where sympathy for Scottish self-government is written-off as a self-evident absurdity. It puts your back up.
You can respond to these testing experiences in different ways. The first simply repudiates any concern for those judging you critically. You may not take me seriously, but I don't care. I take myself seriously enough for the pair of us, as I'm going to win. I don't give a fig what you will or nil. But that sort of emancipation from concerns about how others see you isn't so easily achieved. There's a quotation which I think is sometimes attributed to Voltaire, that to be free, all we need do is to wish to be so. There's a bit of truth to that, but liberty can be elusive. And we can grow perversely attached, even to our chains.
You feel a similar glow when Salmond or Sturgeon does particularly well on the UK stage. A winning interview, an ace appearance on BBC Question Time, a flattering write-up. When the First Minister leathers a UK political worthy, trounces Neil or Paxman, or treads the world stage without looking like an inarticulate, over-promoted city councillor, you feel a sort of glad twinge. Biff. That's one in the eye for you, London establishment. Our man (or woman) can hold her own amongst the best you've got to offer, no bother. It's often struck me that there is a certain dubious logic beneath this wriggle of pleasure. A lack of self-respect which feels, however residually, that you've not really made it till you've made it in London and that our own judgement about whether Salmond or Sturgeon are talented or smart isn't sufficient - they've got to impress the very folk we don't care for and express indifference about for us to feel properly proud.
It is an odd, ambivalent phenomenon, but not perhaps a unique one. History has known many edgy, lifetime outsiders, who secretly long to don the ribban or the ermine, to be recognised as respectable by the very establishments which they rejected and railed against (and vice versa). Intuitively, the impulse is to some extent understandable, but it remains somewhat strange. I'm not criticising anyone for it, but the psychology of the Scottish nationalist movement is much more ambivalent and vulnerable than the orthodox Yes story of confidence, hope and optimism sometimes allows. Perhaps it speaks to the relative immaturity of our political culture, and the fact that many of our ghosts still walk amongst us, unexorcised.