Firstly, we have to remember that “good governance” is actually more important than self-governance in the modern world. The SNP is to be commended for raising the bar in the way that it has governed since 2007. It has been smart, disciplined and hard working, and the public swung strongly behind what it saw as a highly effective team and First Minister at the last elections.
It would, however, be a mistake to confuse that stronger governance with the politics of independence.
Also, our public services need reform. We have a local government and public services structure created for the demands of the 20th, not the 21st century.
The pace of the development of joint working and partnership working has proven to be positively glacial in recent years. Because the politics of reform are so difficult, we may find that, at the very time when we need reform most, it will be held up until after the referendum.
That would be both a tragedy and a missed opportunity, but at the moment public- sector reform looks to be disappearing over the referendum horizon.
The other fundamental major issue we need to face is wealth creation. Our parliament has, since its inception, been driven by the politics of a “Dutch auction” of parties competing to hand out the most goodies to an increasingly demanding public.
We have to learn that, as a nation, we have to create wealth in order to be able to distribute wealth. That, of course, brings the debate to the other major challenge in Scotland, which is that so much of the country seems to hate the private sector.
How the country of Adam Smith and the Enlightenment came to foster such a harsh view of business I do not know, especially when so many of our current ministers have delivered so many good things for the economy, but Scotland can in many instances be very hostile place for the private sector. I regularly receive e-mails from an organisation called London Loves Business – and it does. We need to learn to love business too and to love markets, but I fear there is a more entrenched and deeply held support for business in Communist China than there is in present day Scotland.
The public sector can do amazing things including nurturing wealth creation, but no matter how high public spending is, it can’t of itself deliver jobs and wealth for us or our children. We need to have a look at how the independence debate affected the financial services industry in Montreal and Toronto. Or do we think the banks will just always be here?
We need a positive debate. Scotland can govern itself, the oil won’t run out overnight and Alex Salmond’s personality can’t be allowed to become a central issue of the political debate on independence.
As a Labour supporter, I remain dismayed that the leadership of Ed Miliband hasn’t yet begun to grasp the fundamental political issues, let alone find answers. The real issue with the party in Scotland is not that it didn’t devolve; it is that it didn’t modernise. That’s one clear reason why the quality of the debate from the opposition has been so painfully low so far.
Independence is not an end for the central political challenges of helping a small country to earn a living from the outer rim of the European Community any more than devolution was. Can independence spur us on to become a country where wealth creation is valued every bit as much as good public services? That is the central question we need to ask.