The constitutional question is, without doubt, the most significant issue in Scottish politics at this time. It is remarkable, therefore, that there should be so much shallow thinking on the topic, even from well-respected academics. We have come to expect intellectual indolence from political journalists. Just as we now take it for granted that what passes for thinking in the British parties at Holyrood will be limited to the first banal anti-SNP sound-bite to pop into the head of some artless spin-quack. But we would surely hope for better from someone of Professor Devine’s vaunted reputation.
He talks of uncertainty and instability as if these were, not the commonplace features of everyday life that they are, but phenomena associated particularly, if not solely and exclusively, with independence. Which is rather odd given how glaringly obvious it is that being part of the British state is the cause of so much uncertainty and instability for Scotland.
Like all too many others, Professor Devine falls into the error of treating the move to independence as if it was the the creation of a constitutional anomaly, rather a process of normalisation. He approaches the issue of the restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status as if this was a disruptive act against existing stability and security. It’s almost as if the current constitutional settlement represents some ideal against which the untested notion of independence is to be measured.
The reality, of course, is that uncertainty and instability are the norm. In choosing between independence and the British state, we are not choosing between certainty and uncertainty, or stability and instability, but between two different ways of addressing the vagaries of national life. There is no sure and secure option on offer. All that is available to us is the choice between dealing with uncertainty and instability ourselves – according to the needs and priorities of the people of Scotland; or leaving things in the hands of a Westminster elite that is demonstrably inept and corrupt.
The woefully trite observation that “instability produces risk” adds absolutely nothing to the debate because it is at least as true of remaining in an anachronistic political union as it is of becoming a normal independent nation.
There is absolutely nothing about independence which makes it the inherently ‘risky’ option. Staying in the union is also fraught with risk. The only reason for talking about supposed “weaknesses” in relation to things such as currency is as an attempt to rationalise the simplistic assumption that independence presents greater dangers. In fact, there are no such weaknesses in the case for independence that aren’t matched, and outstripped, by weaknesses in the case for remaining in the union. It’s just that the latter are never addressed.
During the first independence referendum campaign the debate was notable for the topics that were effectively excluded. There was no proper discussion of the constitutional aspects of the issue – the debate was confined almost completely to arid economics. And the arguments of the anti-independence campaign were never scrutinised – the claims and assertions of unionists went almost totally unchallenged.
Professor Devine is showing a tendency to return to that rut. We must resist this. As we approach the second independence referendum, the Yes movement must seize control of the agenda. We must broaden the debate to ensure that it encompasses issues beyond mere economics. And we must insist that every part of the unionist case is scrupulously examined. We must turn the debate around and demand that those who would deny the sovereignty of Scotland’s people be obliged to justify themselves.Views: 1998
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