Translations

EN

The closer Scotland gets to the referendum on its independence from the rest of the UK, the harder it is becoming for any political issue to be addressed in its own right. Everything is seen through a constitutional lens.

Each issue comes to be perceived by supporters of the UK as an insurmountable obstacle to independence, providing yet another reason to vote No. All too often campaigners for a Yes vote on the other hand will see issues either as signs of the inherent failings of Westminster and reasons to advocate independence, or as potentially divisive problems which must therefore be left hanging, incapable of resolution, until after the vote.

It’s an illusion of course. If we were capable of approaching the decision on independence in a calm and rational manner, with all sides willing to accept the choice the people will make, we would be quite able to continue to debate the rest of the political agenda at the same time. Goodness knows we need to. This is a time of extraordinary challenge in the economy, in social justice, and in the growing environmental crisis. Wherever one places the blame for the failure of the deregulated, free market, buccaneer capitalist economic system which has been dominant in recent decades, it falls to our generation to cut a new path. In doing so the arguments we win or lose will have an impact for generations. Political paralysis isn’t helpful at any time, but it’s the very last thing we need right now.

The introduction of a new debate, about the UK’s relationship with Europe, may worsen this paralysis, or it may provide a new stimulus to the independence campaign.

The introduction of a new debate, about the UK’s relationship with Europe, may worsen this paralysis, or it may provide a new stimulus to the independence campaign.

OK, calling it a new debate is a little misleading. The issue of Europe has been a dividing line in British politics for many years, particularly on the right. But it has acquired far greater momentum over recent months. It has also acquired a new relevance to Scotland, where anti-EU voices have failed to gain ground. UKIP and Eurosceptic tendencies within other parties have been far less evident here than in parts of England, and there has been no sign that this is likely to change.

Independence for who?

The European debate which has been taking place in Scotland – seen like all other issues through that constitutional lens – has been focused on the process an independent Scotland would have to go through to become a full member of the EU, and what the likely terms of membership would be. Almost no-one seriously suggests that if Scotland votes for independence, we would not or should not be a full member of Europe. In a way this is a surprising gap in the political landscape, since independence within Europe could easily be portrayed as merely swapping one economic and political union for another, rather than a more ‘purist’ version of Scottish independence. But the reality is that there is little interest in filling this political space, and even UKIP have never made any serious attempt to do so.

So David Cameron’s new zeal for a renegotiation of the terms of UK membership, and a referendum to follow, is having a very different impact north and south of the border. In England it is providing him with a defence against encroachment from UKIP. In Scotland, it is levelling the playing field on our existing European debate. If the Yes to independence campaign is accused of risking a long period of uncertainty about our relationship with Europe, it can now answer that the very same uncertainty will be the consequence of a No vote. Staying in the UK now represents the only credible threat to the ability of Scots to secure ourselves continued membership of the one union we all agree we want to keep.

More than this, it leaves the No campaign with a deeper problem. Just as Scotland is currently suffering paralysis because of the independence referendum, David Cameron’s referendum on Europe is likely to cause the same effect throughout the 2015-20 session of the Westminster Parliament. If the Labour Party ends up offering a similar commitment (as seems entirely possible) then we can be under no illusion that a No to independence vote will be followed by the offer of further devolution.

That prospect, derided as the “jam tomorrow” argument by many on the Yes side, including myself, has been held out as the clinching argument to persuade undecided voters to stick with the UK. If sceptics are persuaded that such an offer can’t be trusted, many will take another look at the case for independence.

Staying in the UK now represents the only credible threat to the ability of Scots to secure ourselves continued membership of the one union we all agree we want to keep.

So the prospect of a Westminster Parliament in the grip of the very same paralysis that Scotland currently endures might just be the shot in the arm that the Yes campaign needs. If Scottish voters who see the need for some degree of greater self government reach the view that the independence referendum is this generation’s only realistic hope, it could change everything.

In his effort to sideline the United Kingdom Independence Party, David Cameron has raised the stakes on the Scottish independence vote, and may just have helped to end the United Kingdom itself.

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