Lovely! It’s great that Common Weal is doing this work. But it would be unfortunate, to say the least, if the question at the heart of the constitutional issue were to be obscured by a plethora of policy options.
That core question is not about what kind of social security system is best for independent Scotland. Nor is it about what sort of health service we should have. Or how our military should be organised. Or how much tax we should pay. Or what our currency is called and whose picture appears on the notes.
The core question does not concern policy at all. It concerns principle. It is about who decides what kind of tax/benefit system we have. It is about who is acknowledged as the ultimate constitutional authority. It is about where power lies.
It is about addressing the fatal anomalies which have dogged the political union between Scotland and England since its inception. It is about rectifying the democratic deficit inherent in the grotesque asymmetry of influence. It is about deciding, once and for all, the contest between the incomparable and irreconcilable concepts of popular and parliamentary sovereignty.
When, in September 2018, the people of Scotland vote again on the constitutional question, we will not be voting for any policy or any party or any ideology. As was the case four years previously, for the fifteen hours that the polls are open, the people of Scotland will hold in their hands total democratic power. Or something as close to that as we can ever hope to have. The choice facing us will be whether to keep that power to ourselves, or whether to hand it back to a political elite that is remote from us in every sense of the term.
In 2014, we chose to relinquish our democratic power. More than that! By voting No, we not only gave the British political elite our power, we gave them licence to define the power that we had given them. They were allowed to decide what a No vote actually meant after the votes had been cast.
We cannot afford to make that mistake again. So we cannot afford to be distracted by debate about policy in an independent Scotland. Thinking about policy is essential. Discussing our options is important. This is just normal political discourse. It is relevant regardless of and quite apart from the issue of independence. But the matter of being independent cannot possibly take precedence over the matter of becoming independent.
Those whose support for independence is conditional on a particular policy agenda are putting the cart before the horse. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that they have abandoned the horse completely and are sitting on the cart hoping that the fervour of their dogma will be enough to get the thing moving towards independence.
It cannot logically be maintained that independence is about seizing the power to decide whilst simultaneously insisting that the decisions have to be made before the power is seized.
So, fine! It’s good to have a vision. It’s even better to have a range of visions. But can we please keep at the forefront of our minds that, while the Yes movement is very much about developing such broad and diverse visions, the independence campaign is about achieving a very specific goal – bringing Scotland’s government home. Should we fail in that mission, all the thinking on policy will be for nothing. Without independence, the vision will fade to black.
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