The Liberal leader of the time – Jo Grimond – with whom (despite our different political allegiances) I established a quiet relationship – actually benignly called me the “Gauleiter” of Strathclyde. Those were the days in which the political expediency of a Labour Government led by James Callaghan allowed a referendum on Scottish “devolution” which led to a nominal victory – but one which failed to meet (an impossible) legal precondition of 40% support of the official electorate. For my sins I had been active in the “No” campaign (with people such as Tony Benn) but – in the privacy of the polling both – had actually voted “yes”!!
Reading "Scotland's Future", I couldn't at first account for a faint twinge of melancholy, a recognition. Then it dawned on me. The Scotland being here described – or proposed – was the Britain so passionately hoped for by the millions who voted for Tony Blair, back in 1997.After 18 years of Thatcherism, the longing was for a return to fairness and a stronger regulating and redistributing role for the state.
What New Labour did with those hopes is another story. But Salmond's "what sort of Scotland" is also a moderate, statist social democracy that partners the private sector but is not afraid to – for example – renationalise the Royal Mail.The yes camp is wider than the official yes campaign.
Around Scotland in recent months, I keep meeting people who would never vote SNP or trust Salmond, but who are painfully admitting that they may have to vote yes. This is because they are appalled at the way the British state is heading, under Tory or Labour: the downward plunge into the barbarism of neoliberal politics, the contempt for public service, the almost monthly advance of privatisation.
Wrestling with old loyalties, they may vote for what Ian Jack called "the lifeboat option" – an independent Scotland as the only way to escape that fate.It's a lifeboat the SNP government has already launched, using devolution to keep out English "reforms" to the NHS or higher education.
Gordon Brown himself used to argue that the health service and the postwar welfare state were the supreme achievement of Great Britain's history. And yet it's only the SNP that has embarked on this astonishing attempt to preserve and grow what's left of that achievement in one part of old Ukania. It hurts to laugh at some of history's jokes, but here's one: in spite of itself, the SNP is the most truly British party in these islands.