When Moses ventured to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, some said to him, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’; they were too discouraged by their cruel bondage to believe that a better world was even possible. Perhaps, like many of the oppressed, they were suspicious of all change, and of any unknown thing which might worsen a bad situation. After all, Moses’ good intentions had so far resulted in nothing more than having to make bricks without straw. Perhaps they perceived that there would be deserts and seas to cross before they reached the promised land. In either case, the dangers and difficulties of leaving Egypt were more apparent than the far greater, but less immediately obvious, dangers and difficulties of remaining in Egypt as subjects of a despotic pharaoh. These reluctant Israelites were so eager to avoid the perils of wandering, that they were willing to jeopardize their one chance of enjoying liberty.
Likewise, to many people in Scotland, the dangers and difficulties of independence are much more apparent than the dangers and difficulties of remaining in the UK, even though independence is the only route to freedom and the common-weal, while staying in the UK will ultimately condemn us to misery and slavery at the hands of Westminster, Whitehall and the City.
The prize for which we strive is not mere independence, understood simply as the absence of external rule, but the establishment of a free and well-constituted Scottish State, through which justice can be upheld and the common good served. It follows that nationalism cannot, then, be our primary motivator. Statehood is not a matter of them and us, as if ‘we were Israelites and ‘they’ Egyptians. Such narrow nationalism is not only conceited, exclusivist, arrogant, dangerous, and irrelevant, but also obscures the more important questions of liberty and justice.
Our complaint against the British State is not that it is ‘foreign’, but that it is a little too ‘pharaonic’. The excessive powers concentrated in the Prime Minister, the dysfunctional electoral system, the absence of constitutional restraints, and the lack of transparency and accountability, all provoke a profound disquiet. These complaints are not just abstract or theoretical. Constitutional failures necessarily translate into failures of legislation and policy; when liberty is eroded, channels of communication between citizens and the State become blocked, redress for injustice becomes difficult, and priorities are distorted away from the common good, towards the power, convenience, or privilege, of those who dominate.
We long, then, not just to cross the Red Sea to independence, but to receive a good law on the other side – that is, to adopt a democratic Constitution worthy of a free people.