Margo MacDonald: Time to move beyond the past

Teasingly, he described it as "Independence Lite." Dead seriously, I describe it as Independence and Beyond. But whether ironic or po-faced, in our different ways we're signalling that the game isn't over when a majority of our fellow citizens vote for independence.

The SNP member with whom I share a home, ideals and a family was explaining the relationships Scotland might have after the Scottish State becomes sovereign, and Westminster is no longer the final arbiter on actions or votes decided by Holyrood. But just so there's no mistaken interpretation of his intention, he was poking fun at those who adopt a mood of foreboding whenever the "I" word enters the conversation.

The image conjured up by fainthearts opposed to Scottish independence is all too often of a cheerless, friendless, talentless little country where life is hard going, the sun never shines and the expression "lighten up" is quite inappropriate. Fortunately, this confidence-free attitude is becoming rarer. Public opinion has changed. It's dawned on us that we could hardly fail to improve on the mediocre to miserable legacy of Westminster sovereignty.

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But sovereignty alone is not enough to guarantee improvement in the quality of public services. It simply gives Holyrood the basic toolkit to construct a more ambitious political, administrative and financial environment in Scotland. Sovereignty is essential in today's global market place.

My preferred expression, Independence and Beyond, is meant to convey how successful countries use the freedom conferred by the legal right to conduct their affairs in their own interest.

Legal equality is the foundation stone for meaningful Scottish independence. Right now, groups of differing political persuasions are seeking to find a bridge from the position they held on "self-government" before the political tsumani swept the SNP into power.

Attempts are being made to find a new way of sharing power between Westminster and Holyrood that would give a Scottish government more elbow room, but would still leave the last word to Westminster.

Westminster would continue to be the internationally recognised sovereign power, able to commit the Scottish Regiment to a foreign war against the wishes and votes of the Scots and their parliament at Holyrood, for example. That's why a basic, fundamental choice cannot be ducked.

It's commonly assumed the primary reason for changing the power relationship between Westminster and Holyrood is to improve Scotland's economic performance, and that full fiscal autonomy is essential, but that responsibility for foreign and defence policies is not. That should not be confused with strategic thinking, but should be exposed for what it is - sloppy, sentimental timidity.

A bit harsh? No, it's tough thinking, because we cannot afford to waste time when the rest of the world is changing its modus operandi. If we commit to falling into step behind an English parliament's defence policy, we lose control of however much money their policy costs. The same is true of foreign policy. It's indivisible from defence policy as well as trade policy. If Westminster retains control over Scotland's trade policy, Holyrood will have to stump up for policies that may be different from what, left to our own devices, would be our choice.

Also, the Holyrood Government's ability to prioritise its current spending and investment programmes would always be subject to what Westminster would prioritise. So the freedom conferred by what's been called "Independence in the UK" is constrained financially, and may well dictate that relationships with countries and groups outside the UK cannot differ from Westminster's. This form of "Independence Lite" will also influence how Scotland is seen by countries all over the world. Understandably, they won't differentiate between England and Scotland, even when Scottish public opinion runs counter to Westminster's.

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So how do we square the circle on continuing to work constructively with the other parts of the present UK, whilst building Scotland's distinctive and independent profile in the world's emerging markets?

Firstly, we must examine the benefits and drawbacks of our present relationship with England. On the financial and economic front, regardless of whatever statistics and balance sheets are produced, if you do not believe Scotland could better the legacy of the Union, the worst health record in Europe, the highest percentage of the most impoverished communities in the UK during three decades of oil and gas revenues and a growth rate that lags behind the rest of the UK, you'll probably feel safer with Independence Lite.

But if you don't, you'll see that Independence and Beyond implies first establishing equality of status for Scotland, and then constructing new relationships, partnerships and practices with other parts of the present UK in whatever policy areas suit joint action, or shared information etc. Summarised, Holyrood would have the right to say to say no, if necessary, and yes when co-operation or partnership is in our best interest.