NICOLA Sturgeon’s essay in this newspaper today provides a fascinating insight into where the Yes campaign finds itself at this stage in the Scottish independence referendum, and where it sees itself going from here.
This weekend is, perhaps, an opportune moment for the SNP and its allies to pause and take stock of their strategy, given news last week of an opinion poll showing support for independence at 23 per cent – the lowest it has been in the era of devolution. Last week, a gloating Labour Party pointed out that Margaret Thatcher, in the three elections she fought in Scotland, was more popular than independence is now. This is not how the script for the Yes campaign was meant to go when Alex Salmond launched the campaign for secession around this time last year. And yet that is squarely where the campaign finds itself today.
Sturgeon’s essay is the first of four from the Yes camp, to run in this paper over consecutive weeks, that we hope will build into a comprehensive case for independence. This will be followed by four weeks for the Better Together campaign to develop a comprehensive case for Scotland remaining within the UK. Our intention is that the Scotland Decides series will give each side of the debate the chance to present a thoughtful, coherent and nuanced demonstration of their position. Too often the constitutional debate in this country is dominated by daily hand-to-hand combat on the detail of whatever is that moment’s bone of contention. And too often these exchanges throw off more heat than light. Scotland Decides will attempt to address that. We warmly invite our readers to engage with this project, and join in the discussion of each piece on our website, our Twitter feed, our Facebook page or – for the technologically averse – our letters page. By the end of eight weeks, our hope is that we will all be better informed about the choice of futures this nation faces.
Sturgeon today makes a heartfelt case for independence being the means by which Scotland can be true to core beliefs in social justice –arguing that the referendum need not be about flag-waving appeals to patriotism. She is addressing her argument to those Scots who would not count themselves nationalists, but who can see the potential for their ideal society being more achievable free of the influence of a Westminster government that may often be controlled by a centre-right philosophy that most Scots do not share.
Sturgeon takes a significant gamble, however, when she tells this group their hopes for Scotland are simply not achievable within the UK if there is a No vote in the autumn of 2014. For such a canny politician, this is an uncharacteristic hostage to fortune. True, the anti-independence parties currently offer nothing in the way of a convincing new offer on strengthened devolution. But all the major pro-UK parties have now declared themselves willing to travel this road – most recently with Ruth Davidson’s “Damascene” conversion last week – and there is still more than a year and a half to go until polling day.
As this paper revealed last week, the IPPR think-tank is working on a new blueprint – called “Devo More” – that would encompass tax and welfare powers and could form the basis for a new broad-based constitutional agreement on a powerhouse parliament within the UK. Sturgeon has rolled the dice now in the hope of capturing this key group of voters early on, before the Better Together camp gets its act together. But is it a gamble that risks rebounding on her further down the line?
Light on a good man
HE WAS one of the good guys. Khalil Dale spent most of his adult life helping the most vulnerable groups in hostile and inhospitable places around the world and, in the end, it cost him his life. After starting his career as a casualty nurse in Scotland, Dale headed overseas where he helped tens of thousands of people in dire circumstances by taking control of food distribution, healthcare and development projects.
The roll call of countries where he worked – including Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Iraq, and Sudan – is impressive and even at the age of 60 he was still working away in Pakistan, helping the underprivileged, when he was abducted and killed by thugs seeking a ransom. His story perhaps did not get the limelight it deserved, possibly because of the news blackout imposed by the Foreign Office during tortuous attempts to free him alive. So this newspaper welcomes the decision of the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award committee to shine a light on Dale’s many achievements by giving him its top award posthumously.
As his brother Ian said at the ceremony last night, his brother, who had converted to Islam, would have been humbled by the honour. But in Dale’s case, given the tireless and selfless work he carried out for the British Red Cross and the Red Crescent Society, humility would not have been necessary.