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We hear that a "prospectus" for the independence option in the referendum is being prepared in the bowels of the SNP - a "little blue-and-white book" which will provide a coherent policy framework, for citizens considering what will probably be the biggest political decision of their lives.
Quite a few columnists have been noting with wry interest how the year's end has brought what seems like the UK establishment's praise of Alex Salmond, as a major political figure on these islands (eg, The Times' "Briton of the Year"). In a gripping stretch of realpolitik, the Labour activist Ian S Smart wonders whether this is an "Ally's Army" episode - the UK building us up for a world-changing moment, ready to catch us in their Unionist embrace as we inevitably fall short of our ideal and reject independence, leaving a quiescent, depressed and tractable Scotland.
Yet isn't it equally possible that a properly-bolted-together prospectus for independence would be one of the more significant cultural "memes" of the next 18 months - one which might reverberate beyond the London media, and become part of a global conversation about democracy and self-determination? Debate about the independence process often talks about the significant "holes" in the SNP's position. As a Unionist tactician, Smart is clear as a bell about how to exploit them. For him, it's only the threat that independence will disrupt the continuity of pensions or welfare benefits, of access to BBC shows or easy financial transactions across the border, that's needed to secure a clear majority against.
Yet perhaps there's a much "higher road" than one where focus groups can be negatively targeted with, in Smart's words, "frightening effectiveness". There's an old saying in Scottish politics about never underestimating the intelligence of the Scottish electorate. Surely some of those smarts come from living through a period where the constitutional question has, at the very least, inserted an awareness of how governance, at a macro-level, matters to the everyday person. Two effective SNP administrations at Holyrood have made that manifest, through a range of tangible policy differences in education, health and local taxation.
Perhaps we should remind ourselves that Scottish citizens have a level of political awareness which is more acute and lively than in other parts of the island. So the challenge for independistas in 2012 is not to nervously huddle around an obdurate minority in the opinion polls for independence, but to intellectually and rhetorically "work as if they were in the early days of an independent nation", to misquote Alasdair Gray. That is, to stretch and develop their existing understanding of the possible powers of a Scottish Parliament, making concrete and clear what extra benefits (and defences against Tory-Coalition policies) come from statehood.
I think one of the tipping points will be a context in which a Eurosceptic majority looks like solidifying in the English polity and returning a right-wing, small-government Tory regime (perhaps earlier than expected). Against that, I'm sure it's possible to present a joined-up welfare-pensions-and-taxation framework for independence which will look more attractive, even more stable, than a status quo which leaves some of these services and functions to a regime which is fundamentally opposed to concepts such as "the social wage" or "social democracy".
An England spiralling into isolationism will also leave headroom for the SNP's development of their diplomatic and geo-political arguments. A real educational achievement in the popular consciousness for independence would be an awareness that a Scottish state, if democratically mandated, would have the right and the ability to situate itself, in a tailored and unique way, amidst European and global political and economic frameworks. If the debate over the border escalates into an near-referendum moment on whether the UK should remain within Europe under current terms at all, would that allow the Scottish electorate to vote for the pragmatism of keeping international options open, both in a Nordic and a EU direction, in a situation of upheaval and chaos?
Jim Sillars' request that Scots (politicians and citizens) start "thinking like a state" has never been more pertinent - however much I might dissent from details of his analysis. And there are aspects of that state-thinking in the coming "prospectus" which I will probably object to strongly. For all Angus Robertson's character as an individual, I profoundly disagree with his discourse around Scottish armed forces under independence. We need much less of the "our-fair-share-of-the-military-spending" rhetoric, and much more vision about the changed culture of a "Scottish Defence Force" - a clear sense of different priorities about participation in future interventions and peace-keeping, a background recognition that the "great traditions" of Scottish regiments should not be so blithely celebrated. Freedom Come 'A Ye, over Scotland The Brave.
I will also probably be unhappy with any kind of "continuity plan" for broadcasting and media regulation, involving BBC Scotland having greater autonomy under independence (while retaining its title and general programming). I don't believe it's beyond the wit of independence policy-makers to sketch out a future where access to beloved programmes is guaranteed, in a time-shifting and digital multi-channel environment, but where the name-change to an "SBC" or some other title signifies the same shift in seriousness as "Scottish Executive" to "Scottish Government". That is, a Scottish "state" broadcasting service which (of course) parallels the BBC in its constitutional distance from political control, but which at least accepts - as the current BBC Scotland essentially cannot - the basic legitimacy of a Scottish state perspective. Meaning less Central Belt murr-durrs on the nightly news bulletin, and more coverage of a Scotland that will exists in the world of globalisation, and covers the complexities of national progress within that. And much more besides, in terms of the cultural, social, energy and business agenda.
But all that aside... If we can seize 2012 as the year of "education towards independence", I think Comrade Smart's sophisticated but depressive view of the insubstantial nature of Scottish political will for independence can be overturned. If he's right about the "Devo Max" option being a non-starter for the Unionist parties - which remains to be seen, and that's another post - then an independence movement has a clear run at a prospect which only asks us to be at our best, as persuaders, thinkers, tactitians and activists. In a world where there are enough grand narratives of despair available, we should enjoy the opportunity to argue for a tangible achievement of progress and modernity.
For 'a that, and 'a that, it's comin' yet...