The opportunity on both sides now is to demonstrate how their favoured constitutional choice can deliver on the policy issues that matter most to us all.
Our priority is, and always should be, our happiness and success as a society. Our challenge to our leaders must be to deliver the politics and government most likely to help us make it so.
What is not in doubt, to the great credit of the British political system, is that the people who live in Scotland can self-determine. We should not lose sight of how important that is, and just as the civic nature of nationalism in Scotland is a blessing, so is the civil and democratic nature by which a legitimate conclusion will be reached. Not all countries in the world have resolved this tension so sensibly, and historically Britain didn’t either with many of its troublesome territories. Not now, this is a modern democratic choice in a civil and civic context.
The binary choice we face makes the imperative for leadership all the more important to ensure that when a decision is reached we can come together in optimism and hope rather than divide in fracture and dispute. One of the most impressive elements of American political culture is their determination to do just that when their presidential choice is made. In my view, we have the quality of leadership on all sides to ensure that occurs here. We shall see.
It may be unfair, but in politics those arguing for reform and progress must do much heavier lifting than those who wish to conserve things as they are. The progressives must earn the right to a debate on principle by dealing with the details about how things can work. The 1997 Labour manifesto did this brilliantly by narrowing the scope of change to a pocket-sized pledge card. This option is not available to the Scottish Government.
Much work is required, and quickly, to set the terms of the choice we are making, and the hard questions must be answered fairly so that we can vote on principle for a choice we can touch rather than just imagine.
The picture is clarifying already. The strategy is, of course, to narrow the leap between the present and the future to reassure about the reality that much will remain stable as the centre of gravity shifts further from London to Edinburgh.
We know already that the head of state, the currency and aspects of the central bank will remain shared. This means a strong fiscal and macro-economic framework must be agreed and four eminent economic minds are working on that under Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz.
The international treaties and obligations should largely remain untouched, although sound and fury will resound about that inside and between parties as part of the debate ahead. But many other practical questions will puzzle the minds of the undecided, and all deserve as much clarity as possible on the bounds by which negotiations will take place on how government will transition and work.
However, one story that got lost in the noise of the usual personality debates of last week demonstrated to me the spirit in which any negotiations can and will be resolved between London and Edinburgh.
Last Monday, the foreign ministers of Britain and Canada announced a new co-operation in shared diplomatic missions around the world. As Canada’s foreign minister John Baird put it: “Although we don’t agree on absolutely everything, we certainly find common ground on most important issues and we bring the same sets of values and principles to the table.”
David Cameron’s words addressing the Canadian parliament last year – “We are two nations, but under one Queen” – were then echoed by William Hague: “We have stood shoulder to shoulder from the great wars of the last century to fighting terrorists in Afghanistan and supporting Arab Spring nations like Libya and Syria. We are first cousins.”
What is true for Canada and Britain is a much deeper truth for Scotland and the rest of Britain. The depth of relationship should never be in doubt, irrespective of whether or not people here opt to assume maximum control over the policy choices they face. It would be very good if the tenor of the debate could reflect that reality, but I know that hope is forlorn. There is a place for argument and passion, of course, but let us not allow the fog of that war to cloud our vision of the future that awaits us.
I am in no doubt that, whatever our choice, the governments in Edinburgh and London will work, in the end, to ensure the closest kin of any countries in the world remain here in our islands. We have been through too much together for too long for that to ever change. «