I have just finished reading Henry McLeish’s interesting new book, ‘Scotland the Growing Divide’.
In it he develops a strong argument in favour of Scotland remaining within the United Kingdom.
But unlike the majority of fear mongering politicians who are firmly entrenched in the ‘Better Together campaign’, McLeish does not feel the need to question Scotland’s economic worth as a stand-alone nation, nor belittle its potential value to the international community.
Despite the fact that McLeish describes Westminster’s relationship with Scotland in less than positive terms, he nonetheless argues that the best future for Scotland is one in which it remains within the United Kingdom – however, not under the present constitutional arrangement.
McLeish believes that status quo Unionism and Independence are divisive scenarios. He believes that they are not the only options open to the people of Scotland and that we should start thinking immediately about exploring a ‘third way’.
His position is that he truly believes in the United Kingdom, whilst at the same time he acknowledges that the current constitutional arrangement is not fit for purpose and must adapt if it is to survive.
McLeish believes that more a federal style of government would better serve the nations that make up the United Kingdom. Rather than repeal the Treaty of Union, he would rather see it reformed in a manner that goes beyond devolution into an arrangement of shared power, taking Scotland towards ‘a more radical form of home rule’.
It is a very interesting and worthwhile argument. It is a suggestion to the people of Scotland that independence in the traditional sense promoted by the SNP isn’t the only option if we want to be much more fully responsible for our own future, whilst preserving some of the real benefits of being part of the United Kingdom.
But at the same time it is also a warning to the rigid unionist thinkers that their unwillingness to countenance any challenge to Westminster’s absolute sovereignty could be the very thing that destroys the United Kingdom in the longer term.
It is difficult to argue with this line of argument. It presents a compelling alternative to the two options on the table at the moment. It makes sense, but it describes a state of affairs that would be unlikely to gather sufficient support within the context of our current political thinking.
There is no denying that the Union will have to adapt if it is to survive. There is no denying that old style British politics and the absolute sovereignty of Westminster are out of date and causing more problems than they are solving. And there is no denying that the current constitutional arrangement no longer works for Scotland.
The majority of unionist thinkers are simply burying their heads in the sand about it; whereas the ones who are fully aware of it are trying hard to convince us that the status quo is in our best interests. They don’t want to adapt. Their ‘better together’ campaign underlines that fact with gusto.
I genuinely cannot see ‘the third way’ materialising. Politics is too much of a game; politicians and their party sponsors have too much to lose on a personal level if things change in a manner that doesn’t suit their private agendas. There is just not enough honesty in British politics, nor enough progressive thinking, to make it happen.
The idea of sharing sovereignty is not compatible with Westminster’s reason for being, and I doubt it ever will be without the type of wholesale and radical reform of British politics that would shock the entire country into a new way of thinking and working – and that is precisely what we need, according to McLeish.
For my part, I would still prefer to pursue complete independence in the traditional sense, even if the United Kingdom did manage to shock itself out of its constitutional slumber and McLeish’s third way became a real option (attractive as it may be for many people not yet convinced about the benefits of independence, yet struggling with the thought of remaining part of a rigid union that has failed Scotland for generations).
Devolution was described by John Smith as Scotland’s unfinished business.
That can mean different things to different people. To me it is simple. It means we have had a standing commitment since the 1997 Referendum to ensure that Scotland’s progression to independence would be achieved within our life time.
2014 is our opportunity to finish that business. For the future of our country.