Donnie Munro, the former lead singer of Runrig, has kept out of the debate over Scotland’s future until now.
Writing exclusively for the Press and Journal today, the former Labour candidate and Edinburgh University rector breaks his silence, criticising the failure to put “devo max” on the ballot, and calling for a federal UK.
What has become increasingly apparent to me during the course of this referendum campaign has been the fact that so little real political substance or new radical thinking has emerged as a result.
As I have listened to the debate and discussed these issues with many people on both sides of the argument and many who remain undecided, one thing has emerged with absolute clarity.
That is that despite all the media “heat” generated since the start of one of the longest campaigns in our history, the campaign itself does not at all seem to have its origins at the “grass roots” of Scottish public opinion or debate but is in essence, a political construct, cleverly orchestrated around the long held, and perfectly honourable aspiration, of a Scottish National Party, first elected to govern by less than a third of the Scottish popular vote.
The Nationalist position has always been clear, if not always politically coherent or consistent, and the remarkable success of the SNP at the last Scottish election finally delivered to Alex Salmond the mandate he required to fulfil a manifesto commitment, to hold a referendum on Scottish Independence and there the current process began.
Not forged in a furnace of mass discontent, no groundswell of committed political activism, no protests, no lobbying, no huge marches demanding change, no popular mass movement, no coherent political or philosophical agenda reflecting mass public anger or disaffection.
Just a political opportunity, gifted, in large measure by default, by those who had placed the nationalists in government with a clear majority, to a large extent as a protest vote cast by many who had no interest whatsoever in the prospect of breaking away from the UK.
However, having achieved that mandate in part by default, it was highly revealing that, the SNP leader, an instinctive gradualist and supreme strategist, given the choice, his and his party’s preferred option from the outset, was for a referendum ballot which would include the so called “devo-max” option, giving the highly pragmatic leader, a “fall back” position.
It was one which he knew instinctively from the polling evidence up to that point was undoubtedly the preferred option for the vast majority of Scottish people, a situation I believe remains the case today, were it to be offered.
However, the SNP were unable to gain the necessary support from the other parties for the inclusion of the “devo-max” on the ballot , something I believe to have been a grave error of judgement on the part of the other parties and the Electoral Commission, and, as a consequence, the Scottish people are now being invited to participate in a critical and historic referendum but sadly denied the choice of the very option which the vast majority had appeared to favour.
The devolution settlement brought in by the Labour government was such that it was always seen as a “process” and not as “an end” and we have seen that process continue with the setting up of the Calman Report and the subsequent adoption of its key recommendations.
This is a constructive, consensual and mutually beneficial process, the ultimate outcome of which I believe, given the opportunity, would most likely and sensibly lead towards the emergence of a federal solution for the UK, a pragmatic and logical way of resolving the current issues which would retain the strength, integrity and partnership of the whole, whilst giving full expression to the democratic will of its constituent members. Most importantly, it avoids the enormous disruption, cost and uncertainty of separation.
Not only would it deliver real autonomy to its constituent members, of which England would be one, with its own parliament sensibly in the north of the country, but it also offers the opportunity for real radical constitutional change, a modernising agenda for the UK as a whole including the long overdue scrapping of the House of Lords.
Such a solution would allow for retention of the pound as our shared common currency, no disruption or barriers to trade and would further strengthen the integrity of what has been arguably one of the most successful social, political and economic unions in world political history avoiding the damaging uncertainties which remain unanswered, even at this late point in the debate.
It does seems strange, that at a time when the world becomes ever more economically interdependent, where co-operation and strategic partnerships hold the key to lasting peace, economic development, human rights, social justice, political stability and national security, the SNP and the Yes campaign should be so determined to tear us out from the stability of one historically successful union.
And at the same time, they argue the case for the importance of Scotland being or becoming, with far less certainty, a member of the larger and less accountable European Union and also a member of NATO and, additionally, proposing to enter into a shared currency union over which we would have absolutely no control.
As a life-long opponent of nuclear weapons and a supporter of the campaign for unilateral nuclear disarmament, I find the SNP pronouncements on Trident to be particularly disingenuous and lacking moral integrity.
To talk of “scrapping Trident” as an issue in this referendum whilst at the same time declaring the intention of seeking membership of NATO, a first strike nuclear alliance, makes their claims on Trident, from a moral perspective at least, appear as nothing more than a hollow political tactic in this campaign.
It seems clear from the adoption of Labour’s Calman Report, the Lib Dems own Steel Commission and Campbell Report on a federal UK, the SNP’s support for a devo-max option on the ballot and the Scottish Tories support for full tax raising powers for the Scottish Parliament, that there already exists a broad political consensus for some form of a federalism, and, when coupled to the very clear polling evidence of the majority public support for some form of devo-max, it seems an act of utter negligence and recklessness on the part of our political classes to have prosecuted this polarised referendum , simply as if there were no alternatives.
Pope Francis, as an impartial outside observer, contributed one of the most insightful observations on this whole issue, when he said that the desire for separation was only really understandable and justified when it was stimulated by a need for emancipation and freedom from oppression or subjugation, in fairness, hardly the circumstances in which we live or the experience of a nation whose successful union with the rest of the UK has promoted some of the greatest, most enlightened and equitable reforms in social and political history.
If democratic accountability is at the nub of this debate, then surely we can work together to overcome the imperfections and bring about a new federal constitution which will be to the mutual benefit of all parts of the UK, meeting the challenges of an increasingly interdependent world in a manner which honours and celebrates the enormous achievements of our collective human endeavour, our shared history and values, and our continuing and shared aspiration for the creation of a more just and inclusive society.