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VOICES OF SCOTLAND Scottish voters should not be forced into a binary choice

NEIL FINDLAY puts the arguments for a third option on Scotland’s future

THE Trump era saw the United States deeply divided, society cleaved apart, fuelled by a politics of hatred and conflict. 

Anyone with deeply held and genuine views about poverty, foreign policy, healthcare or democracy was identified as the enemy. 

Decent people were mocked and victimised for daring to raise questions. Social media became a war zone of vicious exchanges and fake news. 

Time will tell how much these divisions can be healed. But one thing is for sure. Scotland should not ignore these lessons.

So, in any debate about the future of our country, I want to see it conducted in a manner that is different from the 2014 experience. 

Then serious debate was often replaced by misleading propaganda. Contrived news ran rife and tribal allegiances meant anyone from the opposite side of the debate was shouted down without a hearing. 

So let me say from the outset that I believe that those who see Scotland’s future as an independent state have a legitimate case to put. 

They have a case that demands respect and intelligent scrutiny. But for that to happen it requires those who support independence to accept that people who don’t share their vision also have a legitimate case that demands respect and fair scrutiny. 

If we begin from this point then we can have that debate in a much-improved atmosphere which will shed light on the huge issues our communities face. 

For me, I see Scotland’s future as a society that has social justice at its core. It must be a future that will put an end to the appalling rates of child poverty, that eradicates educational inequality, creates full employment, funds our public services and enshrines in its constitution a set of civil and human rights that all citizens can expect as of right.

Against that background, I start from the principle that we should devolve all powers to the lowest possible level unless there is an overwhelming reason not to. 

This would, for example, see pensions and the border retained at the UK level, as this is the most logical, practical and beneficial level for these policy headings to sit. 

This would not prevent Scotland from providing additional social security payments to top up pensions or having an immigration system with flexibility to meet our needs but it would ensure that we maintain the benefit of pension protection of a country of 60 million, as opposed to one of five million, and it would mean that on a small island of a nation we avoid internal border controls.

These are just two prime examples of practical devo max that works in the interest of our people. It would see specific policy areas operating within a UK framework but where a pragmatic degree of difference and nuance can be applied when it is beneficial to do so. 

We can then work through all policy areas to establish at which level of government we get the maximum advantage from powers resting.

The principle of devolving power to the lowest practicable level should not stop at Edinburgh — we need power devolved to councils, workplaces, communities and people if we are to have a genuinely participative and inclusive democracy.

I for one have no desire to stand in the way of the democratic wishes of the voters. If another referendum is the will of the people, then so be it. 

But if there is to be another vote, then the electorate must have an informed choice. They should not be forced into a binary vote between the unacceptable status quo and undesirable independence, especially if it is based on Boris Johnson’s ghastly jingoistic, “muscular” unionism or the SNP’s dreadful Growth Commission, both a recipe for austerity, increasing inequality and the further decline of public services.

We have to offer something else and expand the democratic choice the voters have. No-one should fear greater democratic choice.

The third option I envisage is based on a positive vision of democratic, co-operative, peaceful, sustainable coexistence with our neighbours on this island. 

One that rejects both the arrogance of a UK government that ignores demands for further devolved powers for Scotland and Wales and Merseyside, Greater Manchester and the other English regions too. And the centralising tendencies of the present Scottish government. 

We need another option that provides credible answers to big and difficult questions that nationalists and unionists do not want to address.

A third option would:

• Address the crucial currency issue — the setting of interest rates, money supply and currency reserves.

• Address the need to retain UK-wide fiscal transfer via the Barnett formula.

• Address where powers over pensions and social security payment should best sit.

• Identify which powers we need and at which level to address the drug deaths crisis.

• Show how we decentralise power down to the lowest practical level expanding and extending democracy.

• Identify what type of dispute resolution and joint decision-making framework we put in place — at a UK level but also at a Scottish level between local and national government.

• Provide stability for the tens of thousands of financial services jobs in Scotland.

• Avoid the cost and complexity of new passports, borders and embassies.

• Maintain Scotland’s role in the UK’s armed forces (as a fierce opponent of Trident I accept this is a very significant and difficult issue).

• Avoid the huge set-up costs of a new state — the cost of setting up social security Scotland is already double the Scottish government’s estimate as is now sitting at over £651 million.

These are just some of the areas where devo max can answer the questions that others can’t or won’t. The binary alternatives offer a clear slogan without policy sophistication or answers. Devo max offers the opposite.

We have the opportunity to offer greater nuance, sophistication and answers to the really hard questions. The time for a third option has come. Let’s now articulate it to the Scottish people.

Neil Findlay was a Labour member of the Scottish Parliament for Lothian from 2011 until 2021.

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