Last Tuesday was the 15th Anniversary of that amazing day when the first democratic Scottish Parliament was officially opened in 1999. It was a day I’ll never forget, so it seemed like the perfect moment to set out my views on the independence referendum that takes place here in September.
I was joined by former Liberal Democrat Deputy First Minister, Lord Jim Wallace of Tankerness, and that brought back memories of the years we spent together campaigning for Home Rule, designing the plans in the leadership of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, winning the 1997 Yes-Yes referendum and then in government making the Parliament work for Scotland.
The benefits of Home Rule within the UK, and the gains made under it, have not been emphasised enough in the referendum debate. Too much of the debate has been negative, too much based on assertion not fact, and too little on the principles of how Scotland should be governed.
The increasing polarisation between Unionism and Nationalism has come to dominate and distract the debate. I am neither a Nationalist nor a Unionist – I am a patriot, a democrat. I want a better Scotland in a better world.
And my view is clear: Home Rule for Scotland within the UK is the best and most positive system for us, and the system I will continue to fight for. We have autonomy to decide our own laws and strong powers to make our own decisions and change lives. And it allows the voluntary sharing of sovereignty with those who live in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the areas where we work best together.
Home Rule inside of the UK was never a soggy compromise – it was democratic and right for Scotland. It provided the Scottish nation with the crucial opportunity to change our country for the better, and the facts are that it has.
We are healthier with better health services and the ban on smoking in public places. We are cleaner, using powers on the environment to boost recycling and generate more renewable energy. We are more just, using powers to deliver victim’s rights, and other changes in our courts. And devolution has encouraged a cultural renaissance and created a new National Theatre for Scotland. We have more jobs, more people, more connections, more quality schools and colleges, more confidence. And we have the power to attract major events to Scotland like the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup. And to deliver them well.
We have transformed rural communities: abolishing feudalism and developing community ownership. And we have reversed Scotland’s historic population decline, building a more secure foundation for the future.
And we can still use the power and influence of the UK for Scotland’s ambitions, services, policies and status. In defence and foreign relations, in economic matters that impact beyond borders like trade we can be part of a bigger voluntary union, the UK.
We are not colonised, or forced into this Union. The question in September is not about ‘freedom’ from the English. And it is not about a dislike of Alex Salmond or David Cameron. It is not about where you were born or what flag you wave.
The vote is about how we choose to be governed: Independence outside the UK or Home Rule inside the UK.
I genuinely hope there will be a break in campaigning during the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in July. We must use that time to show off Scotland at its best.
But the referendum can do that afterwards too, if the debate changes in the final weeks.
I urge those campaigning for an independent state, to set out the facts and highlight the consequences, to be open and honest, and to accept that those who disagree with you are patriots too. Respect the other side.
And to those who share my view that Home Rule inside the UK, our devolved Parliament, was worth fighting for and is worth fighting to save, I say run a more positive campaign spelling that out. Tell the nation how proud you are of Scotland’s achievements and why you want to save devolution.
Because that is why I will say No Thanks in September: we are better off when we have the best of both worlds.