by Murray Ritchie
Not long now. Fingers crossed, it could just be that on Friday we shall wake up to a new Scotland in which we have a second successive SNP government and independence is closer than ever.
So much of the credit must go to Alex Salmond, the master tactician, who has outperformed Labour and the Unionists at every turn. He might not care too much for the comparison but Alex Salmond is now the Donald Dewar of our time, a man whose command of Scottish politics seems unassailable. The difference now is that Salmond has plenty of potential successors. Donald, we now know, did not. The future looks more inviting than ever.
It has been such fun to watch Salmond’s confused critics running round in ever-diminishing circles trying to land a blow on him. On the one hand Ed Miliband and Iain Gray have whinged about him being obsessed with independence and on the other the wider Unionist family (and a couple of dissident nationalist voices) have accused him of parking the independence debate.
But the bold Alex just smiles and carries on with his canny game of keeping the SNP inching towards another electoral success after which there is every likelihood of an independence referendum. It is at this point that finally, after all these years, we have to get serious about the route-map to independence.
Alex Salmond seems to think that by 2018 we will have done the deed. Well, that’s a little too long for someone of my advancing years. Time to step up the pressure, please, now.
If Alex Salmond finally pushes a referendum bill through Holyrood, the SNP must work on proclaiming the advantages of independence. Too many Scots are still doubters. They need to have their fears calmed with a reworked, fuller and clearer explanation of what independence will mean and what benefits it will bring.
The starting point should be a forceful response to the tired pejorative language of the scaremongers and their talk of separatism, secession and isolation, and, of course, economic ruin while “breaking up the UK”. Let’s admit it, we are not short of people who are, sadly, still moved by this dishonest rubbish. We need to dish the doomsayers with strong and positive responses that are attractive to doubters and undecided voters.
For example, if independence was won at the price of keeping the monarchy for another generation or two I would find that acceptable. Not my preference, but still worth the candle. If we became an independent state in a new confederal United Kingdom that, too, would be fine by me. I have always argued that if we are independent in Europe – a good idea in my view – then we can be independent in a reformed UK where some powers are shared with our closest neighbour. And power-sharing is the answer to separatism. A confederation of independent UK states is the least scary option for those who might still suffer from the Scottish cringe, and it is only one step beyond full fiscal control which is the final stage before devolution becomes independence.
Scotland and England were, after all, independent states under a single crown for more than 100 years after 1603. Surely it is not too difficult to adapt that constitutional arrangement for a new Union – the United Kingdoms – in the 21st century. That way we gain independence – a seat in the UN and all – but no-one can say we are breaking up the UK.
If the results of the 2011 election go as we wish and the SNP is soon back in government, then Alex Salmond’s gradualist approach will have been vindicated. And those who want a faster track to independence – the so-called fundamentalists – will find that their time has also come. This conjunction of arguments looks like a happy prospect. A second SNP government with time on its side would be wise to take a couple of years to broadcast the benefits of independence – and hold its referendum when it knows it can win.
Published with thanks to the Scottish Independence Convention