Nicola Sturgeon rattled a few cages with her address to the SNP Conference in Perth when she spelled out the risks associated with failure to seize the opportunity offered by the referendum. With a forthrightness that was either refreshing or shocking depending on your perspective, she told the party faithful and the voting public that, "Scotland can't afford a No vote!".
A lot of the shock was feigned, of course. I first wrote about the implications of a No vote way back in June 2012 (What does no really mean?). At the time, such "negativity" was generally frowned upon within an independence campaign determined to be totally positive, although many people expressed the view that I was actually being overly optimistic. Since then, however, the theme has become part of the narrative of the referendum campaign and the pretence that Nicola Sturgeon was saying something new and controversial was as dishonestly contrived as anything we've heard from Better Together.
The reasons Scotland can't afford to vote No are now well known. Not only will there be no further devolution, it is all but certain that the Scottish Parliament will be stripped of many of its existing powers. The Barnett Formula will be scrapped in favour of a "needs-based" allocation - with those "needs" being defined by a UK Government that has every incentive to cut the block grant to the bone. Not only will this facilitate higher spending in those parts of England where UK elections are actually decided, it will also force the Scottish Government to abandon policies which provide comparisons with those being imposed in England which are increasingly embarrassing for all the British parties.
We can also expect that measures will be enacted to prevent a further independence referendum and that the electoral system will be rigged to ensure that government of Scotland is returned, in perpetuity, to the safe pair of hands that is British Labour and the ever-biddable LibDems.
How do we know this will happen? Simply because this is what best suits the interests of the British state. And, following a No vote, there will be nothing to prevent it. It is nothing more than realpolitik and the forces of history taking their inevitable course.
Even without taking into account the devastating blow that would be dealt to our standing in the world and our own self-esteem by choosing to be less than we might be, it is fairly clear how all of this would be disastrous for Scotland. But it is not my purpose here to dwell on this aspect. My argument is that the repercussions of a No vote will also be disastrous for the union. If this strikes you as counter-intuitive then I would merely ask that you bear with me while I explain.
If a disinterested observer were asked to compile a list of terms to describe the anti-independence campaign, I hazard that the word "thoughtful" would not feature prominently - or at all. In truth, the campaign to deny Scotland's rightful constitutional status never really gets much beyond trite variations on the already painfully banal slogan, "Better Together". If we are not just plain "Better Together" - with no explanation of what constitutes "better", then we are "stronger together" - with no thought as to the nature of this supposed strength or the purposes for which it is deployed. Or we have more "clout" in the world. Another piece of hackneyed sloganeering that draws on the lexicon of militaristic imperialism, with no recognition of the fact that projecting power on a global scale is an obsession of the British state that has little resonance in Scotland.
On reflection, it can be seen that all of this has little to do with benefits accruing to Scotland from being part of the UK. It is all about the advantages the British state gains from being bigger. The thinking simply doesn't get much beyond the woefully simplistic notion that bigger is better
What is missing from the anti-independence campaign's argument is a more profound consideration of what it is about the union that is valued. Valued, not by the British political parties and the vested interests that they represent, but by the people of the UK.
Alex Salmond addressed this issue back in July 2013 when he spoke of the six unions that "govern our lives today in Scotland". The political union of the UK; union with Europe through the EU; the currency union, the Union of the Crowns; a defence union based on Nato and a social union among the people of the UK.
The First Minister talked of these six unions in terms of their importance to Scotland, making the point that only the first of these - political union with the UK - works against Scotland's interests. The others serve us reasonably well and are generally valued by the people of Scotland. Recent polling by Wings Over Scotland confirms this as it shows, for example, a plurality in favour of EU membership, the monarchy, and being part of the Nato alliance.
The currency union is just a fact of life for all of us. As convenient an arrangement as might be contrived. And the social union is something we are so comfortable with that we rarely even think of it. When we do reflect on it, however, it is likely that we rank it first among all the unions. The rest are mere practical or political arrangements, whereas the social union is about people.
My point here is that, if we get past the self-serving politicians of the British parties whose sole priority is the preservation of the structures of power, privilege and patronage which benefit them and their clients; if we address those who have been lured by the simplistic slogans of the anti-independence campaign and induce them to really think about what it is that they value about the union, it is highly probable that they will come up with much the same answers that Alex Salmond did. They would surely place the highest value on the social union. And, while they might vary in the way they prioritise the others, there would still be general agreement with pro-independence campaigners on the list as a whole.
We all, nationalist and unionist alike, tend to value the same things about the union, differing only in the emphasis that we put on each. Where we part company is principally, if not solely, on the matter of the political union of the UK. I would urge unionists to think long and hard about whether we do not have a common interest in that regard also.
The sheer mindlessness of the anti-independence rhetoric pumped out by Blair McDougall's appalling Project Fear operation precludes the kind of nuanced analysis that Alex Salmond has offered. Whereas the circumstances of the world in which we live require a concept of independence that involves a redefining of relationships, the No campaign can think only in terms of a complete severing of those relationships. It presents a totally false choice between all of the six unions, or none of them. Even to the point of threatening to wilfully destroy things that work well, such as the currency union.
Those unionists who value the same aspects of the union as nationalists do must ask themselves whether they are prepared to sacrifice the good bits in order to preserve a political union which serves nobody other than the elites of the British state. They must accept that a No vote does not mean a return to some comfortable status quo ante. Scotland has changed in ways that make that impossible.
A No vote on 18 September 2014 will have consequences. The outcome itself and the all too easily envisaged response of the British state to that outcome will alter an already unsatisfactory political union in ways that must inevitably have a deleterious effect on the social union that we all value so much.
To those intending to vote No I say, if you value the best of the old union, then think of how it will be put in jeopardy by failure to take this opportunity to forge anew the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK. Think how much better together we will be if we create a new union. A reformed association which preserves all that is desirable and effective about what has been developed over the years but places this in the context of a political relationship fit for our times and the future. A relationship that is strong, not in the facile sense subscribed to by British nationalists, but in the sense of being robust and durable. A relationship that respects the differences between nations while cherishing the social and cultural ties among people. A true partnership of equals.
All of this is possible. It requires only the goodwill and commonality of interest that already exists. And the confidence to vote Yes.
This article was first published in Yes Clydesdale's Aye Magazine.
This article was first published in Yes Clydesdale's Aye Magazine.