'1945 not 1745 holds key to winning referendum'

By James Mackenzie 

Forget 1745 - the referendum will be won by whoever captures the spirit of 1945.

There's a dilemma the Yes campaign has yet to face - should independence be described as a modest reform, an opportunity to tweak our politics under the Saltire while retaining many of the trappings of Britain? Or should it be billed as something more ambitious?

The core nationalist support: they're in the bag already and they're not going anywhere. To win, the Yes campaign needs to look beyond this base and build broader support. So which message would bring in more waverers: caution or change?

Pragmatic audience

The untapped non-nationalists and persuadable waverers are more a pragmatic audience. They don't care about the Jacobites, and they don't give a stuff about the flag.

But they do know that too many MPs helped themselves before helping society, and that the demise of the Lib Dems' modest constitutional reforms are probably the end of that for a generation or more.

They're the clear majority of Scots who want the railways reintegrated under public ownership and, yes, they want rid of Trident too.

To look at this another way, even if everyone who voted in 2011 turned out, and every SNP voter voted Yes, the referendum would be lost by about 10%. Adding everyone who voted Green, SSP or for Margo gives the narrowest squeak for Yes.

Potential for change

But that's not realistic, not least because, as the polls show, not every SNP voter can be expected vote yes in 2014. It will therefore beessential to target those who previously voted Lib Dem because Westminster needed to be shaken up, and those Labour voters who thought Blair and Brown might bring serious progressive change. They'll never see independence as an end in itself, but they could be persuaded that it's part of the means.

Despite some early radical change from New Labour – such as Holyrood itself, of course – the 1945 Attlee administration remains Britain's only consistently progressive administration of modern times, with a legacy broadly sustained until 2010.

It's time for those of us who want an independent Scotland to emphasise the potential for change on that scale. The offer can be a Scotland that hands over far more democratic control to the people than Westminster ever will, not just through a more accessible parliament but through the handing on of power to local communities.

Do we want to be a nation that for the first time tries properly to get to grips with the persistent poverty that still blights Scotland, or one where economic policy is set by the financial institutions that got bailed out when their run of luck ran out?

Do we want a policy on immigration and asylum which is limited by the prejudices of the mid-market London media, or do we want to seize the economic and social benefits that immigration brings, and to accept our responsibilities as a good global citizen? Although some aspects of energy policy are set at Holyrood already, an independent Scotland could decide to move much more quickly and to claim the economic opportunities of a major shift to renewables.

Our own decisions

The list goes on, but the crucial offer here is not a specific set of policies - because those will have to be decided at the first election to an independent Scottish parliament. The offer has to be that the power to make those decisions will be available much more directly to the Scottish people.

No more waiting for Westminster to act, no more blaming anyone else: our own decisions, taken in an institution Scots already feel represents them more effectively. Genuine ambition, in other words, without a limit on what we can achieve.

Frustrated Labour and Lib Dem voters know independence isn't all sunlit uplands and easy choices, but they, like Greens and Socialists, are open to the idea that it will, on balance, be better than being stuck with Westminster.

Name the issue - whether it's immigration, energy or economics - and ask these voters if they think Holyrood or Westminster is more likely to take the right decisions. Which institution, do they think, is more likely to listen to the concerns of the Scottish public? For a pragmatist, progressive change might be possible in theory either as part of the Union or as an independent nation, but the loss of confidence in Westminster politics is deep and widely held.

The Yes campaign needs to be run as the opposition to Westminster itself, not to any of the parties who've traditionally ruled there. A successful independent Scotland in 2045 is possible. But getting there will require a serious effort to claim the spirit of 1945, not 1745.

- James Mackenzie writes for Better Nation
Welfare state