Can we now vote?

Alex Salmond debates Alistair Darling. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Alex Salmond debates Alistair Darling. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

For those of us who have for the best part of three years since the SNP’s triumph in the Scottish parliamentary elections closely followed the build-up to the ‘neverendum,’ the Salmond/Darling debate understandably felt anticlimactic. The battle lines drawn long ago, the ‘Yes’ campaign again wilting under concerns over currency and the  ‘No’ camp offering no semblance of a refreshing vision for Scotland in the case of a failed vote for independence, voting day could not come sooner.

I have been asked on many an occasion what I think about the referendum and how I would vote if I could. It’s a shame I won’t get to participate, but given that I no longer reside north of the border and perhaps won’t be living there in the near future, it’s only fair those whose livelihoods will genuinely be affected by Holyrood’s decisions be entitled to vote.

So what do I think? I am fully aware that the independence the SNP is advocating is often unambitious and overly corporate-friendly, equating by and large to a form of ‘quasi-independence,’ no matter how appealing and encouraging it may sound on the whole. I am at times enthused by the bold and invigorating ideas put forth by organisations in the Yes movement, amongst them Bella Caledonia and Radical Independence, spurring a welcome and meaningful injection of civic input into British political life not seen for years. I have heard not one word from ‘Better Together,’ for all my patience and relative nonpartisanism, that has alerted me to new and inspiring possibilities as part of the United Kingdom in the event of a no vote.  I have read a million different statistics and opinions and long ago gave up on my search for the truth amidst all the crossfire. Much as both camps see it as such, I have refused to view this debate through a black or white lens. I do continue to feel that if ‘devo max’ were on the ballot paper,  considerably expanding for instance Holyrood’s tax-raising powers, it would be the one direction for Scotland’s future I could perhaps be eminently comfortable with for now.

Devolution has benefited Scotland, restoring its confidence and pride as well as addressing a previously gaping democratic deficit. So where do we go now? Change for change’s sake is rarely worth it. We won’t become Scandinavia overnight. But the opportunity to at least attempt to build a fairer and more prosperous society, no matter how feasible let alone genuinely intended, is a most enticing one. There is nothing more irritating for me amidst the general petulance that so often blights proceedings  in the Holyrood debating chamber than when Salmond and co. continually cry ‘if only Westminster would let us,’ so much of the time finding excuses and other culprits for their own considerable shortcomings. It would be satisfying if we could have no one but ourselves to blame for our failed endeavours, however noble.

Although September 18th is our most significant constitutional milestone in three centuries, one could relativise its actual importance. Perhaps I am parroting the optimism of the Yes camp, but there was a time when devolution was unthinkable. Then devolution was meant to ‘kill nationalism stone dead.’ Now the discourse has shifted to considering what an independent Scotland would look like and its very workings. The question is no longer whether Scotland could go it alone, but rather if it would be better off as part of the Union.

The centre ground has shifted, and there might be no going back. Independence, in whatever shape or form, whether voted for in September or not, if in the span of my lifetime or not, is probably the next natural step. Nonetheless I am reassured, even from afar, that no matter the end result, the Scottish electorate will have taken the best possible decision. Of that I am certain.


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