Yes, Scotland should have more independence. Wales too. But don’t forget the English

by Stephen Tall on September 8, 2014

I’m a federalist which, I guess, places me somewhere between the unionists and the separatists. Which means that, as I ‘fessed up last February, I’m much more ambivalent about the case for Scottish independence than most Lib Dems:

I believe in power being as close to the people as possible. Is ‘devo-max’ or full independence the best way to achieve that? That’s the key question Scots need to be able to answer by September. Ironically, it’s the one not on the ballot paper.

So I’m not as fazed as many down south are by the apparent tightening of the polls suggesting Yes Scotland have drawn level with Better Together. It now seems likely the result will be close. If Yes loses, but narrowly, it won’t settle the issue: it will merely postpone it. After all, the UK voted in 1975 to stay in Europe by a convincing 2:1 margin but that debate hasn’t gone away. The Nationalists will be back – and as the older generations are the most indy-sceptical it’s quite possible demography will be on their side. Even if the Union is saved this time, it may not be next time (and there would be a next time).

I’ve been surprised by quite how central Better Together has made the currency to its campaign. That’s not to say I think Alex Salmond has given satisfactory answers to the questions raised: he hasn’t. But (and I realise this risks sounding glib) I can’t be alone in thinking that, if the Scots do vote to become an independent country, the issue will be resolved. I’m not sure how, and I’m not sure Scots will like the results of how it’s resolved. But resolved it will be.

By focusing so intently on the currency, and giving Salmond time to work out some rebuttals, Better Together has forfeited the opportunity to take the wider fight to Yes Scotland. If you’re going to run an overtly negative campaign — and when you’re asking people to vote No that’s not an unreasonable campaign pitch: it didn’t, after all, do No2AV any harm — at least do it properly. Spray every issue with a mist of uncertainty: the possible threat independence poses to jobs, the health service, the welfare state, schools, transport, the environment, etc.

And then don’t forget the positive. Belatedly, perhaps too belatedly, the talk is of further devolution, of empowering the Scots. But this isn’t a Scots-only issue, or even a Scots- and Welsh-only issue. The rise of Ukip in part reflects the upsurge in English nationalism, allied to the view that government is too remote, too centralised in a Westminster elite which doesn’t understand life beyond SW1. The key difference is that the SNP vote is concentrated in one nation of five million where the electoral system accurately reflects how the public votes. Yes, we should repatriate more powers to local communities. Not only in Scotland, though: across the UK.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.