by Patrick Harvie MSP
The most important people in the debate about Scotland’s independence referendum are the ones who’ve not made up their minds yet.
Some people are motivated by national identity, patriotism or by one flag or the other. They will vote Yes or No with a passion, but they’ve already made up their minds before the debate really begins.
In between, there are many others who are open-minded on the question of Scotland’s future but not yet convinced. They can see the opportunities but they want to understand the risks better.
They won’t be fooled by doomsday scenarios painted by the No camp but they also won’t accept bland assertions from the Yes campaign in place of serious answers.
This is the right way to approach the debate and it’s entirely sensible to use the next two years to put serious questions to both sides and to expect serious answers.
The party political debate has grown ever more hostile and tribal.
Maybe that’s a wider failing of party politics but it is getting worse in Scotland right now. It seems to me that making this fundamentally important decision in a climate of anger and insults would be a terrible mistake. But I believe that a different debate is possible.
I recently went along to the launch of Henry McLeish’s book about Scottish politics. The former First Minister took part in a debate with another writer, Elliot Bulmer, who has worked on ideas for a written constitution for Scotland.
The discussion between them was so much better than anything that takes place in Parliament. There they were, one voting Yes, the other voting No, and each willing to defend their choice but still to focus on the things they had in common.
Both spoke about how government works and how it could work better in the interests of the people. Both spoke about democratic accountability.
Both spoke about the ambitions people had during the original campaign for a Scottish Parliament, the striving for a better kind of politics and the need to recapture that vision.
There was also a bit more honesty than Parliament sometimes manages.
On both sides of the referendum debate, some people are pretending they can look into a crystal ball and tell you what the future has in store for Scotland. We’ll be forced to join the euro. We’ll all be £500 richer.We’ll attract huge overseas investment. The electricity market will collapse. The uncomfortable fact is that neither side has a crystal ball.
Whether Scotland votes Yes or No, we will face uncertainties. Both sides should be honest about that.
The SNP plan to join Europe but keep using the pound as our currency might work. In the short term, it might even be the best option available. The SNP are wrong to offer it as a guarantee and the Labour party are wrong to dismiss it out of hand.
But the wider truth is nobody really knows what state Europe itself will be in by 2014, or whether the UK Government will even be holding a referendum about pulling out.
Instead of bland assertions, we need to focus on the kind of society we want and how government need to work to achieve it.
I want a more equal society, a greener environment, a fairer economy and politics that let people in to participate instead of holding power within the political “club”.
That’s why I find the opportunities of independence so attractive and that’s why I want to be honest about the risks, too, and find ways to overcome them, instead of hiding them.