No longer are we bored united. The heatwave seems to have sparked life into the constitutional debate, with folk prepared to discuss some of the meat and bones of what independence might mean.
While a discourse on whether an independent Scotland should keep the monarchy is not quite an everyday issue for voters, it’s tangible enough for folk to take an interest. Especially when there is now a guaranteed lineage well into the next century.
The arrival of the newest member of the Firm reminds us all that this is a dynasty with longevity: some will be content with this state of affairs, but many others, who don’t ordinarily make the link between the Royal Family and its constitutional role, will have paused to digest this. This is exactly the purpose of a debate on our future – it creates a space for a blether about big things and wee, and gets us thinking about who we are and what sort of country we’d like to be.
Has the arrival of the new royal baby signalled a similar debate down south? Not if the media can help it. There was a great piece in yesterday’s Sunday Herald on how broadcast media, in particular, colluded in the construction of a narrative around the birth of Prince George which bore little resemblance to reality. The Scottish media might have mixed motives in encouraging such a debate within the context of the independence referendum, but let’s at least credit them with doing us a service. Different opinions have been invited, encouraged and given a place.
Indeed, the opportunity to let opinion flourish is exactly the point of Yes Scotland. Even if it doesn’t seem to think so. Its somewhat sniffy response to Dennis Canavan’s views on the monarchy missed the point completely. Its role is not to repeat or create a policy position but to welcome the debate itself.
Yes Scotland should have been much more effusive and enthusiastic in welcoming its Chairman’s comments – and encouraged him to speak in that capacity. It should have marked out the difference between here and there. “Isn’t it great that the referendum offers us the opportunity to discuss these weighty matters? Isn’t it good that we are all getting the chance to think about what kind of country we want to be? That’s what independence offers – the right and responsibility to consider and choose how we want to be governed. With the monarchy, that might involve a referendum at some point but that would be your decision – Scotland’s decision – to take. Polls suggest we’d opt to keep the Queen or King as our head of state, but at the moment, we don’t get to say how we run our affairs. That’s what independence offers. Isn’t it exciting?”
And it is exciting. Indeed, the response of Better Together implies just how so. Its dead hand attempt to dismiss Dennis Canavan’s views suggests it sees such opportunities as threats. Because the last thing the proponents of the status quo want is for people to start questioning the central thrust of its argument, especially within its own camp. For there are many, particularly from Labour ranks, who share his views: a debate on issues which highlights what independence offers is clearly a dangerous thing.
The concern is that the yes camp doesn’t seem to know how to seize such moments. Where’s the Yes Scotland online blog on this topic, with a range of views represented? Where’s the threading of a narrative combining the monarchy issue with other topical news items?
In the week that the hereditary right to rule was reinforced – a concept that rubs against the idea that we are all Jock Tamson’s bairns – we also learned that some of the richest landowners in Scotland whose position is maintained partly through significant public subsidy, also have the right to keep that information from us. Not only is it wrong that they as individuals, and not their businesses, benefit from taxpayers’ money, but worse, we, the body bountiful, don’t even get to know whom our largesse benefits.
This is the Scotland we currently live in, where a tiny percentage of very wealthy people get to preserve their status on account of who they are and to whom they were born. I know few Scots who are comfortable with this state of affairs and most would opt for a different set-up. The opportunity to change who owns Scotland, how Scotland is owned and who benefits materially from our rich resource base is fundamental to the concept of independence.
That’s the logic which underpins the idea of an oil fund for future generations. And it is implicit in Yes Scotland’s thumbnails on why people should vote yes and in all its literature. But it’s all too subtle and needs to be stitched together in much more emphatic fashion, with a range of voices encouraged, fostered and welcomed.
The point is that with independence, there is no official line, no single policy direction, but a range of choices available to Scotland to take. And therein lies the rub. Not only do we need to convince ourselves that we have the confidence and capability as a country to take the opportunities independence offers, but we need a campaign exhibiting the same qualities to get us there.