Independence may be the “shock” required to invigorate Scottish confidence, according to a former Labour first minister.
Henry McLeish made the remark in an appearance at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, in which he also said the Union appears to be an “empty vessel” for the future.
He warned Labour to stop working with the Conservatives in the campaign against independence and urged his party to embrace a third option for greater devolved power – known as “devo-max”.
Without that choice on the 2014 ballot paper, Mr McLeish said a “No” vote would cede control of Scottish destiny to Westminster.
Despite the comments, he told the capacity crowd that he remains opposed to independence. Asked if Scots have a problem with self-confidence, he said: “I’ve always believed that a nation maybe needs a shock to the system.”
Ireland was transformed from an agrarian society, Germany and Japan were rebuilt after war, but “nothing much” has happened to Scotland, he said.
“As Scots in government and business we’re quite complacent, quite content,” he said. “But we’ve huge problems. Inequality is rampant.
“In a sense, one of the reasons why there could be a case for independence is to say that might be the shock to the system.
“We don’t have a victimhood complex; we can’t blame the south of England. We would be responsible for both good and bad in Scotland. That may be a good thing.”
But a “transformed union” may also be able to deliver for the country, he added.
While saying the union represents a shared history, he added: “My concern is it’s an empty vehicle as far as offering me or my grandchildren a future which could be different from what I’m seeing that we’re moving into.”
On the Tories, he said: “I believe that the Conservatives bring nothing to the table because they’re part of the problem. I believe still that Labour can be part of the solution, but we have to make a choice.
“There’s no great desperate need for us to be sitting round a table and quite frankly the Conservatives are still in existence because of PR [proportional representation] in the Scottish Parliament – a PR it has spent its life voting against. So, Labour should keep well clear. There’s nothing to be gained for either the electors or the party.”
He predicted a backlash against his party after 2014 “if it all goes horribly wrong”.
In a show of hands, support for independence or the union appeared tied. Asked who supports devo-max, roughly the same proportion signalled their support.
Mr McLeish, arguing for devo-max, said a straight Yes-No referendum could harm Scottish interests if independence loses.
“What do we do then? We’ve lost control of our own destiny and we’ve ceded it to Westminster,” he said.
Meanwhile, festival organisers were criticised by members of the Campaign for an English Parliament who were told to stop handing out flyers at the site in Charlotte Square.
Eddie Bone, chairman of the campaign group, had wanted to promote his cause, but was escorted from the area.