The irony in this referendum debate is that if we vote Yes we will end up, essentially, in a confederation: common currency, common travel area, dual citizenship, same head of state, some shared services at least during a transitional period, military alliance through NATO, lots of commonalities still in place. The Indy on offer is ‘Indy-Lite’. That’s always been the SNP’s desired goal – after all, the party was founded to win for Scotland ‘dominion status within the British Commonwealth’.
It is also very so close to the ‘home rule all round’ position that the Liberal Democrats have traditionally wanted. There’s an essay published by David Steel in 1970 arguing for just this sort of open confederation.
My natural political ‘home’ would have been amongst the ‘Home Rule Liberals’, but I withdrew my support for the Liberal Democrats in 2007 when the party – which I had long supported – refused to go into coalition with the SNP and to offer a proper three-option referendum. (The 2010 debacle under Clegg was another blow, but by then they had already lost me).
Sadly, many Liberal Democrats do not seem to be able to put their interests (realities, like the bedroom tax, nuclear weapons, benefit sanctions, tuition fees, NHS privatisation) or their principles (Constitutional Reform, democracy) before their positions (national labels). By aligning themselves with the No campaign, they cannot seem to help making this about identity – British nationalism vs Scottish nationalism. That seems to be to be an abandonment of the party’s principles. Labour has always had an ambiguous and ambivalent relationship to home rule, because they have tended to confuse solidarity with centralism – but Liberal Democrats, the party of localism, the party of democracy, the party of the highlands and islands, the party of peace and anti-militarism, the party of the non-conformist social conscience – should know better.
What frustrates me most is that meaningful reform within the UK will always be stymied by the power of London and the South East; the 14 million people in London and the South East will always outweigh the 5 million in Scotland. The swing-voter in Croydon will always have more power than the voter in Cambuslang. Now we have a clear choice: the status quo – with all that means for being unequally yoked to a Britain that is lurching to the Eurosceptic right – or Indy-Lite. Liberal Democrats should be natural supporters of Indy-Lite. The only way to have a real partnership of equals is to vote Yes.