WHEN Scottish Labour published the final report of its Devolution Commission two months ago, the reaction was at best lukewarm and at worst downright contemptuous.
Johann Lamont’s attempt to please two irreconcilable factions in her party – those who genuinely believe Holyrood needs to evolve into a far more powerful parliament, and those who see any further devolution as a treacherous sop to nationalism – produced a report that, inevitably, pleased neither. It left ordinary party members and the wider electorate scratching their heads about the message coming out of Scottish Labour HQ. This newspaper’s response at the time was a measured one – that although the commission was a disappointment and a missed opportunity, it was nevertheless a useful starting point for the process that would inevitably follow a No vote in the independence referendum. Devolution 1.01 in 1997 was the product of Labour making concessions in order to achieve a cross-party consensus – agreeing to proportional representation, to cite the most obvious example. In the same way, Devolution 2.01 after a No vote in the referendum would produce a more radical outcome than the one Labour currently has in mind. The comments we report today from Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, represent an important acknowledgement of that reality. The constitutional future for Scotland in the event of a No vote is not Labour’s commission proposal, nor the Lib Dem proposal drawn up by Sir Menzies Campbell, nor the Tories’ Strathclyde Commission report, which will be unveiled later this month. It is none of these. Instead, it would be the product of an all-party, consensus-building process that would include all three of these parties – as well as the SNP and the Scottish Greens.
Alexander’s comments are an important contribution to the referendum campaign debate. Yes voters are entitled to know that a victory for them on 18 September would mean pro-UK campaigners accepting the will of the Scottish people and then joining with nationalists to work in Scotland’s best interests under the new constitutional reality. The converse is also true. If it is a No vote, it is equally beholden on Yes supporters to accept the will of the Scottish people and engage with the UK parties to develop the best possible way forward for Scotland under the constitutional reality of life within the UK. The moral imperatives in one scenario must apply equally in the alternative scenario. How can it be otherwise?
Of course, it is hard for many of the key players in the referendum campaign to contemplate a scenario in which their chosen path is rejected by the voters. That is entirely understandable. Emotions are running high. The stakes are daunting. Each side wants to prosecute its case to maximum effect over the next four months, in the hope of victory. But the spirit of generosity and magnanimity required of all Scots in the post-referendum landscape is the same, regardless of which side they have campaigned on and which side has emerged triumphant. It is as true of a Yes vote as it is of a No vote. As the incoming Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland acknowledges in our pages today, there will be an urgent need for a process of national reconciliation after 18 September. This will have to take many forms – including one that is political.
Douglas Alexander says in his speech tomorrow that such a process would not be easy. He is right. It is hard for politicians to step outside the confines of their own party positions, and to make concessions to sometimes bitter rivals. But this is exactly how Scotland won back its parliament in a historic moment in 1999, and it will be how Scotland creates its new constitutional future after 18 September, regardless of the outcome of the vote.
Internationalism is our strength
IT IS an inspiring story. In our news pages today we report how an app developed by 21-year-old Scottish student Neil Stewart is helping smallholders in south-east Asia maximise the potential of their crops.
It is a simple idea, simply executed, but it could have a very real impact in an area where a failed crop can have devastating human consequences. And the most encouraging thing about this example of Scottish internationalism at work is that it is by no means unusual.
Anyone who comes into contact with Scotland’s schools, universities and colleges, as well as many branches of Scottish commerce, will know that international connections abound.
There is a myriad of scholarships, internships, exchanges, twinnings, transfers and joint endeavours in which Scots share their knowledge and skills with people in the developing world, with the aim of making a real difference in real lives.
This newspaper plays its own small part. Last year we set up the Livingstone Journalism Scholars programme in association with Strathclyde University and the Scottish Government, to mark the bicentenary of the birth of explorer David Livingstone.
We welcomed two Malawian journalists to our newsroom and we look forward to welcoming another two this autumn. What we have taken from this process is that we have as much to learn from those we are supposedly helping as they do from us. This arrangement is nothing special – our rival newspapers have their own excellent international links. What is heartening is that this lattice of human connections is now part of the everyday structure of contemporary Scottish society. This is a normal part of who we are and what we do.
Ours is a country whose international role has not always been an honourable one – the prominent role Scots played in perpetuating the slave trade is a particularly egregious example, which is rightly coming in for harsh and bracing scrutiny this summer in a series of events linked to the Commonwealth Games.
But we have also been known to do some good in the world, and it is this we as a country and as individuals can choose to have as the foundation for our future engagement with the world outwith our shores.