Barack Obama's historic triumph in the US Presidential election shows just what is possible when enough people are motivated by the desire for change and renewal.
The Democrat candidate’s mantra of “Hope” resonated with people at a time when it was a commodity in short supply, while his twin maxim, “Yes We Can,” was a deceptively simple appeal to the better instincts of people yearning to feel part of building a brighter future.
How do the momentous events across the Atlantic impact on us here in Scotland? Well, I have already taken the opportunity, while congratulating Mr Obama on his victory, to invite him to Scotland next year as part of our Year of Homecoming celebrations. Homecoming is about urging as many of the Scottish diaspora as possible to visit us next year – and what better way to demonstrate that than having the 44th President of the United States, who experts have concluded can trace his Scots lineage to the 12th century, leading the way?
But the US election also carries more fundamental lessons for us. It shows us that ordinary people will respond well to a positive message, that they are simultaneously turned off by baseless scaremongering and that ultimately hope can triumph over fear.
That is a finding that heartens me greatly, for we here in Scotland are all too frequently faced with a public discourse that lapses into the politics of fear. And nowhere was that better demonstrated than in the fallout from the global financial crisis.
We were faced with the unedifying spectacle of Labour politicians, including the prime minister, turning to the old, discredited scare tactics which suggest that Scotland is uniquely incapable of making its own way in the world, and should be denied the chance of taking on the same rights and responsibilities that all normal independent nations take for granted.
Those scare stories had, I hoped, been consigned to history, on the basis that ordinary people simply no longer believed them. Unfortunately, the international financial turmoil has convinced the Labour Party it was worth dusting them off for one last airing, in the expectation that they would find a willing audience.
They are wrong, of course. Scotland has changed decisively in the last 18 months. As I said on the day the SNP won the Scottish election in May last year, we are a country that has moved on for good and forever.
That others fail to realise or recognise that is their problem.
Former Scottish secretary Douglas Alexander said, as Labour’s campaign manager in the run-up to the first Holyrood elections in 1999, that his party’s job was to “engender fear” among the people of Scotland.
Fortunately, Scotland has grown up a lot in the last nine years, even if Mr Alexander and his party have not.
The fears and smears of old were bad enough, but now they have been taken a step further. No longer are Labour content with simply insulting Scots – now they are talking down some of our nearest neighbours and friends as well. It is not just crass diplomacy to try and besmirch the reputations of Iceland, Ireland and Norway in the way that the SNP’s opponents have done, in a misguided attempt to talk down Scotland’s prospects as an independent nation.
It is also a wilful misinterpretation of the facts. Yes, Iceland has manifest and particular problems, and Ireland may have moved into recession. However, the Irish are still around 40 per cent more prosperous per head than people in the UK and are likely to emerge from recession in the same position.
Meanwhile, the UK is tipped to slide into recession along with the US, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, with the IMF predicting that Britain will see the deepest recession of any of the G7 economies next year. At the same time, the IMF predicts that Norway, Sweden and Finland will all see their economies keep growing throughout next year.
Why is it that these smaller independent European nations seem best placed to ride out the global economic storm, while bigger countries are expected to struggle? I believe Scotland would be similarly well placed to weather the storm had we the ability to take the best decisions in our own interests when it comes to jobs, investment and stability.
Ireland showed just how influential smaller independent countries can be when it moved swiftly to guarantee all deposits in its banks, a move that saw the flight of savings across the Irish Sea from British savers after the UK government failed to provide similar guarantees.
Norway, meanwhile, has accrued a massive national pension fund worth almost £200 billion, thanks to its oil fund. If only the same were true for Scotland, whose North Sea oil wealth has been squandered by successive Westminster governments.
Let us be clear about what has happened. The current financial and banking crisis has affected all countries and economies, large and small. In terms of how it has impacted here, it happened on the UK government’s watch and moreover within the Union.
It was Gordon Brown who, as chancellor and now prime minister, presided for more than a decade over the age of irresponsibility in the City of London, an age that has now come to such a shattering end.
“Yes we can” was a campaigning slogan the SNP first used more than a decade ago. It is a phrase that has now found its way to a wider audience as people the world over are enthused by a sense of renewal and optimism following the American election.
But that simple affirmation remains one that should guide us here in this country. And the change ushered in by the new age of responsibility should mean Scotland taking responsibility for itself as an independent nation.
Alex Salmond is first minister of Scotland