This is the latest in a weekly series of indyref essays in which influential figures explore ideas related to the Scottish independence referendum
The question on the voting paper is simple enough – but behind it lies an even simpler question which every Scot should be asking over the next month. It is this: “Where should the final word over Scotland be – in Westminster or in Scotland?”
Don’t listen to the propaganda. Don’t listen to the prophets of doom or to the promises of Utopia. Don’t listen to the fears. Don’t listen to the celebrities on both sides. Just listen to your heart and head as you answer one single simple question – who should decide for Scotland?
If you vote No, be clear what you are voting for. You are voting for the system that allowed Maggie to impose the poll tax and so much else; the system that allowed Tony to take us to war against our will with a case based on lies; the system that allowed Osborne to impose the bedroom tax; the system which can, and certainly one day will, be used against us again; the system that allowed Cameron to veto a possible second question which might have offered a middle way that many wanted.
Scotland stands today at a crossroads of destiny, and the road we decide to take will affect the lives of all our people for generations. Before us are two roads. One is a continuation of the road already travelled. The other is a new way. But before we look at what these roads will mean, we must first look back over the long road we have come – because through our nation’s story there runs a golden thread that leads to us to today as we see how our history is relevant to the decisions we have to make now.
I have a feeling that many who stood firm for Scotland in the past are somehow with us in these momentous days. Who are they?
Well there are those who, nearly 700 years ago in the Declaration of Arbroath, told the great Robert, King of Scots, that he ruled “by consent of the community of the realm”. At the Kirk’s General Assembly in 1989, it was put more colourfully. They said to Robert: “Ye may be the King, but ye dae as ye’re telt, or ye’re on the burro.” No divine right of Kings here!
There are those in the Scottish Parliament who made the first Claim of Right in 1689, declaring James VII deposed because he had “turned a legal limited monarchy into an arbitrary despotic power”.
There are those in Scotland’s Kirk who made the second Claim of Right in 1842 denying the right of Westminster to impose patronage.
There are those in the Constitutional Convention who signed the third Claim of Right in 1989, which recognised “the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs”. I am proud that my signature is on that Claim, alongside those of John Smith and Donald Dewar.
This is the point. The golden thread which runs though them leads straight to us today. All had a single central point – as vital today as ever. All were constitutional claims. The clue is in the common word “right”. All denied the right of the Crown or the Crown in Parliament to impose on Scotland. All maintained Scotland’s right to decide for itself. The Westminster system, with its absolutism at heart, unlimited by any constitution and unrestrained by any checks and balances can never understand, much less guarantee, that right.
The past poses the question. This generation has the momentous, awesome, unique unprecedented task of making Scotland’s Claims of Right at last into a reality of right. If we fail now because of short-term fears, or because we feel we cannae dae it, we will be betraying those who strove in the past to claim Scotland’s right, we will be condemning future generations to see history repeat itself.
As a nation, our past history, our present confidence, our future destiny are in our hands. 2014 can be remembered as much as 1314 as the time when Scotland at long last had the courage to take hold of her destiny.
So we come to the historic crossroads before us.
One way is the continuation of the way we have already come. The signpost reads, “The Way of Fear”. Project Fear tells us this is the way. The other way, they say, will lead to an impoverished, lonely, friendless, defenceless nation. Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Osborne?
Some of the warnings have been bizarre in the extreme. Independence, we are told, would threaten the western world and probably mean the end of civilisation as we know it. Who do you think you are kidding George Robertson?
As I have listened to this battery of fear over the months, I often imagined I heard, faintly, the voice of Private Frazer: “We’re doomed, doomed.”
As the man said: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” If fear denies Scotland her destiny we will pay a heavy price. The road of fear will not be the same as the past. We will be part of a declining, discredited system with policies we reject but can do nothing about. Forget the false fears – there are real fears if Scotland chooses the old road; an NHS under increasing pressure to follow the Westminster way of privatisation; a Westminster likely to drag Scotland against our will out of the European Union.
Don’t be fooled by the various vague promises of more devolution. The press called me the Godfather of Devolution. Well, as the Godfather of Dev, I tell you this – the child has grown up and outgrown devolution, no matter how Max, for two reasons. Firstly, because it leaves crucial constitutional and economic areas to be decided by London. Secondly, because devolution is power by gift; or, perhaps, it is really power on loan, for gifts can’t be taken back. Power devolved is power retained.
To the road of fear, with its illusion of security and real threats to Scotland’s future, we say: “No thanks.”
But there is another way. It is marked “The Road of Hope”. Hope for a new nation at ease with its past, confident in its present and hopeful for its future.
I’m convinced that if Scotland says No, future generations will wonder in despair and confusion why the opportunity was thrown away.
• Canon Kenyon Wright, now a retired Episcopalian clergyman, chaired the Scottish Constitutional Convention which laid the groundwork for the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.