What do we really want from Scotland’s independence vote?

The debate on Scottish independence is a passionate one in which I’ve been participating for all of my adult life. Yet since moving south two and a bit years ago (and feeling more Scottish than ever), I’ve never felt more disengaged from the discussion over where Scotland goes next.

The other day I dropped in on a stimulating and vigorous Twitter conversation between the singer Eddi Reader (@eddireader) and Mary Galbraith (@mary_galbraith), a Scottish Labour activist. While I felt I had nothing constructive to add to what each was saying, it riled me that I’ve felt such inertia about the 2014 vote that I don’t even really discuss it at all.

In the main that is because I’m no longer immersed in the minutiae of Scottish politics, not discussing Holyrood and Westminster with friends, family and colleagues on a daily basis. I have to seek out the Scottish news on TV and online, which I do but it’s not quite the same. And it’s also because unless something dramatic happens to Debbie’s career in the next year or so, I won’t be living in Scotland when the independence vote is held and so I feel quite removed from the process.

For me, there is no ambivalence about independence – I am instinctively (and it pains me in ways I cannot express to use the word) a unionist. I’ve always felt Scotland’s long-term interests would be best served as part of the UK. Devolution seemed to offer a way for Scotland to celebrate and express its more civic-minded (lower case) nationalism through policies devised and debated in our back yard.

Devolution hasn’t been a failure but neither can it be hailed as a complete success. The Edinburgh parliament has been hamstrung by many things, not least of which is the often grim quality of the MSPs on all sides elected to the chamber. Not all, I hasten to add, because there have been some outstanding MSPs in the last decade and a half but far too many bench fillers for my liking.

But there’s no simple UK = good, independence = bad for me. Nothing is that clear cut and nor should it be. I want to be persuaded and convinced by cogent, well-thought-out arguments from either side (even without a vote!) but the same, tired old clichés I’ve been hearing for 40 years are being trotted out on either side.

The late Donald Dewar, who piloted the Scotland Act through the Commons in 1997, often described devolution as a process not an end in itself. So I was interested to read of a speech on Friday by Douglas Alexander that calls for a national convention that would help define and shape the Scotland of the future. He acknowledges there might well be a yes vote, despite what the polls currently say, but believes a convention similar to the Constitutional Convention that devised devolution in the 1990s would let Scots from all walks of life have their say on what kind of Scotland they want to live in. Euan McColm in today’s Scotland on Sunday has a good analysis of his speech.

A national convention is an interesting idea which most likely will go precisely nowhere. Giving a voice to ordinary people rarely sits well with politicos – too often we don’t give quite the responses the politicians are looking for.

But there has to be more to the independence debate than a simple yes or no. The discussions, as fevered, passionate, thrawn and occasionally funny as they are, should be about where we’re going, not where we’ve come from. And I don’t need a vote to know that.

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