I think one of the key reasons why the Yes campaign failed to build a compelling case for independence in 2014 is that, rather than spending time trying to bring the fundamental issues with our place in the UK into sharper focus, they got too hung up on trying to offer counter arguments to a series of challenging questions raised by the No campaign.
Of course these questions had to be dealt with; however, they were highly tactical, and they had the desired effect of creating sufficient doubt in the minds of those who may have voted for independence otherwise. It will be vitally important not to get drawn into that particular language game again.
This time around the temptation to place too much emphasis on the point that Scotland should not be forced out of the EU against our will, should be resisted. Of course it is important, but it makes it too easy to counter that with facts and figures about voting intentions and patterns across the two different referenda, doubts about whether an independent Scotland’s accession to the EU would be drawn out and fraught with difficulties, and why you would chose to reclaim sovereignty from one union and then give it away again to another (as if the unions were of the same ilk).
We should also resist the temptation to focus too much on questions like which ‘single market’ is more important to the Scottish economy; what the GERS figures apparently tell us about the state of Scotland’s finances as a region of the UK and what they could tell us about the fiscal position of Scotland as an independent country with full control over its economy; and which currency an independent Scotland would use?
These are all important questions. However they are rooted in a deeper set of issues which need to be looked at first. Therefore, in my view, the argument for Scottish independence needs to be based around a discussion of the following issues, and their consequences for the people of Scotland –
First, the issue of Scotland’s permanent democratic deficit, the effect of which has been hammered home by Westminster’s handling of the outcome of the EU referendum, captured in the Tory Prime Minister’s patronising insistence that ‘we leave the EU as a United Kingdom’, and her Secretary of State for Scotland’s angry assertion that ‘it doesn’t matter what the people of Scotland want’.
Second, the constitutional irrelevance of the Scottish Parliament, despite the Sewel Convention, which was brutally exposed in the judgement that absolute authority in decisions of fundamental importance to Scotland lies with Westminster alone – no need to consult the Scottish Parliament on how Westminster plans to strip the Scottish people of their EU citizenship and the freedoms and rights which that citizenship vests in them (after all, as we were told by the leader of the Scottish Labour Party in 2014, the people of Scotland ‘are not genetically programmed to make political decisions’).
Third, the opportunity for the people of Scotland to exercise their fundamental right of self-determination being dependent on legal permission being granted by Westminster. It just sounds utterly incredible that a nation can have this right denied to them on the whim of a Government sitting in a neighbouring nation, just because that neighbouring nation’s superior population size voted to go in a different direction, and therefore the timing doesn’t suit them as they pursue their own agenda, arguing that it needs to be our agenda too!
Fourth, the Block Grant and Barnet Formula are deeply embedded in the Scottish psyche as necessary life support mechanisms – we have come to be believe that we need them to be in place because we spend more on public services than we raise, that we are subsidised by England, and that we cannot afford to be independent.
Rather than see that they are contrived political tools used to massage the strains of forcing four nations to stay together in a union of highly unequal economies – in which the largest one needs to manipulate and control the economies of the smaller ones in order to safeguard every competitive advantage possible – we have been trained to see them in a way that reinforces our belief in our inability to run our own affairs as a fiscally autonomous country.
Scotland’s growth and confidence as a nation will be forever stunted, and its voice forever silenced, because of this undemocratic and unequal union. The union that holds the four nations of the UK together is, in my view, economically too restrictive, politically too centralised, institutionally too corrupt, constitutionally too archaic, and globally too inward, to be anything but detrimental to Scotland’s ability to reach its full potential.