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Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Former Lib Dem chief executive supports "Yes" campaign

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.

5 comments:

Caron Lindsay said...

I don't see progressive change from a yes vote, not with what's on offer. One of the reasons I'm no is that it gives us more options for such change in the future The others are a bit more complex - I feel very emotionally and practically invested in the UK and that's hard to break, even if I wanted to. .

Andrew said...

Fair enough, but do you see progressive change genuinely stemming from a no vote?

I must admit to having no real emotional investment in the UK, and perhaps I try and see things logically where others might seem things on a more emotional level. That might sound like criticism, but certainly isn't intended as such. Many things I do have an emotional connection to, but countries and political unions are not them. (Not even the EU - that's more of what you've termed a "practical" investment!)

I simply can't see a no vote giving us anything other than more of the same. I have no faith in the Tories or Labour do so anything other than some tinkering with devolution, and we lack the political means to ensure a federalist outcome is on the agenda even if we wanted it to be (which I remain to be convinced of).

tris said...

Like you Andrew, I have no emotional ties to the UK. I’ve no ties of any kind, and I’m inclined to agree with the assertion that patriotism is the last vestige of the scoundrel.

All countries are made up of rocks and soil; they contain nice bits and horrible bits (the nice bits usually due to nature; the horrible bits usually due to man’s intervention). There are nice people and nasty in every country I’ve ever visited.

I’ve lived in England; I’ve lived in France and I’ve lived in Scotland and I’ve travelled very very widely so this isn’t based on a two day visit to the Isle of Man!.

I want to see a better life for Scots; I want to see a country which gets the kind of governments it votes for, and at the moment… and for all my life, it hasn’t. It could be argued that we did get a Labour government (which is what we voted for), for 13 years. But I doubt very much that the policies of that Labour government were those which most Labour voters in Scotland were looking for when they elected them. (Wars, Atos, Privatisations, City of London allowed to run riot)

Like you I imagine that in the event of a no vote there will be a little tinkering around the edges, but so far nothing I have seen from any of the parties amounts to a hill of beans. And in any case, any further devolution would have to get through a London parliament far more concerned with the needs and wants of its own constituency, which is largely England. (What proportion of the MPs are from England?)

Many English people already think Scotland is subsidised by tax money of hardworking English families up and down the country and has a better life than they do because of THEIR taxes!!

More meaningful devolution is, in my opinion, very unlikely. Indeed depending on the influence of UKIP, it may be necessary to repatriate powers.

Brown has said that Labour would write the Scottish parliament and its powers into the constitution… but it would have to win power first. And the next Tory government could, whatever Brown says, remove that permanence.

The Tories refuse point blank to say what they would do, but they were against devolution and when it happened they accepted it, but they were drawing lines in the sand all over the place in the early days of Ruth Davidson. Thus far and no farther. We will get nothing from them.

Independence is the only way to achieve the kind of lifestyle that Scots seek.

For most people it is nothing to do with bonnie purple heather and coothie fowk… Pffff. You can get that in Ireland or Iceland, New Zealand or Laos. It’s practical. Being ruled from England, means being ruled by England for the benefit if England (and most specifically London, which Vince Cable says sucks the life out of the rest of us). Good advertisement for the union.



Anonymous said...

As a non voting foreigner living in Scotland for the past 10 years my emotional involvement stems only from my new Scottish family. Personally I cannot see how the UK government as a whole has been able to continue as an elitist 'old boy's club' with little or no regard for the majority of citizens. My personal belief is that with Scottish independence comes the opportunity to give a workable government back to the people it is suppose to serve.

Iain Ross said...

"I don't see progressive change from a yes vote, not with what's on offer. One of the reasons I'm no is that it gives us more options for such change in the future"

This is a bizarre comment. You don't see "progressive change from a yes vote", it is a referendum not an election. As Andrew points out in his piece, it is opportunity that is on offer, the opportunity to create a progressive society. Which leads me onto the second point, more options under the UK settlement, are you serious? The Unionist parties are not interested in reform and change and history shows this to be the case.

You also state that you are "emotionally invested in the UK". You therefore appear to be in the same boat as most of the Labour party; you have your core views but these come second to your belief in the British state / establishment.