How has our party got swept up into the negativity of Better Together, and how does one reconcile that negativity with the commitment of the Edinburgh agreement to negotiate in a cooperative way?
The problem lies in a probably well-founded belief that discussing possible negotiations cooperatively in advance would lead to a realisation that they’re perfectly practicable, that Scotland could achieve political independence while maintaining close social and other ties to rUK. Hence the refusal to pre-negotiate, the refusal to investigate options – for example, to ask for an official EU position on continued membership for all present EU citizens – in favour of a simple scare story: if you vote Yes you will fall over a cliff.
It is about self-determination, not nationalism. Indeed it is England that is becoming ever more narrowly nationalistic, as epitomised in the ludicrous promotion of `British values’: apart from being delusional, this concept has no traction in the wider world. We should condemn Islamic State for its gross violations of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights; if we condemn it for its violations of British values we will rightly be laughed at.
A useful test for many of the arguments in the independence debate is to ask how they will look on the 19th September. It seems quite possible that in the event of a Yes vote we might find views on some major issues reversed. To take one example, the pound. We are in a currency union now; so if we vote Yes I would expect the unionists to be negotiating on a basis of minimal change, and arguing – as Alistair Darling did last year – that a currency union is the natural best option. It’s the Scottish side in the negotiations that would be more likely to go for a looser arrangement or a new currency.
Crucially for Liberal Democrats, how will the prospects for further devolution look on 19th September if we vote No? Any progress will depend on Tory or Labour support, and what they are offering is minimal: indeed the limited devolution of income tax could in practice leave us worse off. Our own current policy is much watered down from the original Home Rule concept, with separate parliaments for each country and a federal parliament for foreign affairs and macro-economics. Until we reach that stage the `West Lothian’ problem will just get worse and worse.
If we couldn’t achieve Home Rule 100 years ago, when there was a majority Liberal government and 6/7ths of the Scottish MPs were Liberal, we’re not likely to do so now.
So I’m inclined to go for what is on offer. Currency, EU, NATO, the monarchy, Trident, corporation tax and local government: all are decisions to be taken afterwards, though it would be good to develop a distinctive Lib Dem approach on them. The decision on 18th September is whether to give ourselves those choices.
For me the decision turns on structures: if you have good governance -representative democracy on a human scale – the rest will follow.
And that’s what, potentially, we have with our Scottish parliament: more accessible to the public, and far more democratic than Westminster with its First Past The Post Commons and unelected Lords, stubbornly resistant to reform.
The Scottish Parliament is not perfect of course: for a start, there is work to bedone reversing the SNP’s centralising trend, and getting devolutionright down to local level, as the excellent chapter 4 of MingCampbell’s 2012 report sets out.
The countries that got offered Home Rule around a hundred years ago — such as Canada, Australia, Ireland — all went on to independence, and none have regretted it. So perhaps it’s time to admit that Home Rule is an illusion, or transient at best, and set out a Liberal Democrat vision for an independent Scotland.
If you want to join in forming a “Liberal Democrats for Independence” AO, please get in touch.
* Denis Mollison joined the SDP in 1981 and is an active member of East Lothian Liberal Democrats. He is a former member of Scottish Policy Committee and devised the STV scheme for the UK Parliament put forward by Lib Dems in Parliament (as an amendment to Labour's "Electoral Reform" Bill) in Feb 2010