The former chief executive of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Andy Myles, has today confirmed that he is supporting the pro-independence Yes Scotland campaign.
There are some for whom this will come as a surprise, although I am not one of them. Myles was a negotiator in the Scottish Constitutional Convention, which paved the way for devolution, and also in the coalition negotiations of 1999 and 2003. He has certainly been a key player in Scotland's recent political development. He was never, however, an instinctive devolutionist and in the last year or so it has become obvious in the many online conversations I have shared with him that he has become dissatisfied with the limitations of the constitutional status quo.
Myles' thinking is focused - as indeed I believe mine is - on achieving the best possible outcome for Scottish people. He has for many years he has thoughtfully championed the cause of a workable and pragmatic federalism but has become increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress on the future of Scotland's (and the UK's) constitutional future. While I have previously noted that "if it was a crime to be a federalist party, there wouldn't be sufficient evidence with which to convict the Lib Dems", Myles today went further, arguing that devolution has failed to "[bring] power back closer to the people...I can see no evidence that it will lead on to a modern British federation, where Scotland is a genuinely equal partner with the other parts of the UK. None of the UK parties are even talking about what I consider to be federalism. I have come to the conclusion that the best way forward is an independent Scotland within the EU."
In recent months it has become apparent to me that this thoughtful man, attempting to make sense of the various questions and issues at stake, was likely to join me in deciding to vote "yes". While I cannot profess to share his expertise on constitutional matters, I do share his passion for them - and his concern for Scottish people. I also agree wholeheartedly with his desire to live in a country with a "written, amendable constitution" and I understand why he believes that "voting Yes is the surest way of getting to this benign position".
Myles is correct in his assertion that the independence question is fundamentally a matter of democracy rather than identity. I would go further, however. It is not simply about a written constitution, however much a progressive and desirable step that would be. The question is this: will Scotland be more democratically representative as an independent nation or as part of the UK?
Will Scotland be more able to deal with the issues of poverty and deprivation, be better equipped to build a green economy, to take charge of its own political, social and economic destiny as an independent country? Roy Jenkins, one of my political heroes, once wrote: “Let us be on the side of those those who want people to be free to live their own lives, to make their own mistakes, and on the side of experiment and brightness... of fuller lives and greater freedom.” He was not directly referring to the question of Scotland's political future, but it begs the question whether "being on the side" of "fuller lives and greater freedom" might not be easier in an independent Scotland than under the status quo. Does an independent Scotland offer a more effective avenue for achieving such liberal ambitions as voting reform, increased localism, greater democratic freedoms, a more tolerant and pluralistic politics and the creation of a liberal society than does a dysfunctional Union?
Like Myles, while I remain a believer in federalism as the best possible outcome, I have concluded that it remains a most unlikely prospect. I, similarly, am not a devolutionist. In the absence of any considered and realistic proposals for federalism (and the Campbell Commission's report, while largely positive, is not it) I see the best achievable outcome as an independent Scotland. Support for independence is hardly a default position for a liberal like myself, but more of us are arriving at the conclusion that the Union in its current form is neither desirable nor sustainable, and that a little more devolution is insufficient. As Grimond once observed, "not to go far enough may be worse than going too far".
Caron Lindsay, writing about Myles' decision on Lib Dem Voice, made a welcome appeal for reason in what is becoming a toxic and polarised debate: "I hope that Andy’s decision will somehow get more liberal thinking into our discussions over the next few months. I’m not holding my breath, but I’d like us to lift our eyes from the very narrow scripts of the two official campaigns and reclaim the debate for ordinary people."
She also concedes that the "liberal Scotland where we bother about freedom and giving people opportunities in life and building a sustainable future [is] not on offer from either side." I read in that a tacit admission that Better Together's negative and highly tribalistic tactics are not to her liking, but she overlooks the reality that it's not what the "sides" promise now that matter, as if this was a General Election with fully developed manifestos, but what the potential outcomes can do for facilitating that "liberal Scotland" we both long to see.
As far as I see it, a "no" vote rules out any significant progressive change. And while a "yes" vote by no means guarantees the kind of change we want, it seems - to myself and Andy Myles at least - to be a risk worth taking. I hope others join us.