Ten years ago today I climbed to the top of Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine. I’d walked 2174 miles up the Appalachian Mountains from Springer Mountain, Georgia to get there. It was, in retrospect, probably a stupid thing to do – at the age of 18, I’d ruined my knees for life. But I learnt a few important things.

One of them was this. Only 10% of people who start the Appalachian Trial finish it. But you can usually tell right from the start who will succeed. It’s not necessarily the people who have forked out a fortune for the best gear. It’s not always the most experienced hikers or those who are most physically fit. It’s not even necessarily the one with a determined look in their eye.

It’s the people with a spring in their step and a smile on their face. It’s the those who are having fun. I don’t mean the people who carried booze in their packs and were up all night getting drunk. They flaked out within the first 50 miles. I mean the people who loved the hiking itself, who were thrilled to be walking through the woods day after day in the first place.

When I finished, I went to university, and did something even more foolish. I got involved in student politics. I soon learnt that the same lesson applies to student elections. The winner is, almost always, the person, and the team who are having fun. Again, I don’t mean the group who cop off early and go to the pub – they invariably trundle in in last place. I mean the people who enjoy the campaigning itself.

I think this isn’t just because elections are more fun when you’re winning – though they are. I think it’s a positive feedback loop – just as a spring in the step makes a hiker walk faster, a smile on the face makes a campaigner more compelling. We all want to agree with the cheerful looking woman who just knocked on the door, looking all happy and confident. We don’t want to side with the grumpy bloke who came round and asked how we were voting.

I say all this because, in the last few days, it’s felt like we, those of us campaigning for independence, are enjoying ourselves again. A couple of weeks ago, it all seemed a little low, and the whispered conversations seemed to ask only what the scale of defeat was going to be. Now, whether it’s the chat on twitter or the skip of canvassers footsteps on pavements, something has changed.

Of course, we all know the cause of the change. Eck slam-dunked the debate. Better Together decided to follow up by patronising the hell out of half the electorate. All of a sudden, it felt possible again. The sun’s been out and it’s no surprise that yes campaigners are a little cheery this week. But what we don’t talk about is the effect of all this.


Smiley campaigners are a hundred times more convincing than grumpy ones just like happy hikers get hundreds of miles further than sad ones. We all know from any good party or gig that enthusiasm is infectious. That applies to politics too. We’re still behind in the polls, and we have a hell of a lot of people to persuade. But if we keep on having fun and being fun, if we refuse to argue amongst ourselves, and if we get on with the job at hand then maybe, just maybe, we can do it.

And that’s something to be happy about.