3517800489_4b5aaa6974_z
What is the state we are in? We have two official versions – an old nationalist tale of identity, history and sentiment from the Brits and a half-formed promise of something better from the Scottish Government. Neither feels quite right.The state of the UK is critical. Heavily-indebted, a volatile economic model, diminishing in global standings, unable to reform welfare, discreetly privatising the NHS. No annus mirabilis for the Queen to laud.The state of Scotland is hard to ascertain. Why, if all of the above about the UK is true, do so many Scots want to keep that? Why, if change is essential, do the Scottish Government cleave so close to the old model?The better question is what kind of state do we want to live in and how is it achieved. That’s where I think the White Paper should have begun – what do we want as a people?The referendum may be about here, but its profoundly universal. We wrestle with how to fix the problems of a financial crash, of a failing democracy, of the purpose of government, just as everyone does. It’s not our state that is in crisis, but all states.

It’s long been assumed the 20th century ended in 1989. The end of communism marked a great shift between eras. Yet 2008 seems a better terminus – when the centuries emerging theory of globalism took a kick to the groin and everyone winced.

We can see how between 1945 and 2008 the modern state refined itself through welfare and common provision and then, from the 1980’s on, sought to pay for this through capitalist chicanery. We are left with states that can’t afford themselves and can’t find an alternative to the wonga-wisdom of the City.

The question is ‘Should Scotland should be an independent country?’ when it could be – who in god’s name has a plan how to get out of this mess? Thankfully, we’ve sussed this out – hence the boom in smart websites unencumbered by neo-liberal orthodoxies and public meetings where honesty is common.

So what state do want to be in? I suspect one where we admit old pension promises are simply unaffordable and we should sort out an honest solution. Where we protect the idea of the NHS but can discuss reform without being called a Tory. Where welfare is a mark of civilisation, as is paying your taxes. A state that can think how to get off the global finance charabanc without bankers threatening us with disaster. I’m really sick of democratic choice coming a poor second to financial thuggery.

Once we’ve worked out the kind of state we want, the question is will the UK or Scotland be the most likely to deliver it. In 2011 we prepared a paper for political cabinet arguing that instead of selling a prescriptive version of independence, we ask people what kind of country they would like. Loosely modelled on Finland’s national conversation exercise, it would go from town hall to classroom simply testing the dreams of the population. It didn’t fly then but it’s common knowledge now – we want a society of our choosing. Yes has heard this, No hasn’t.

If its equality that bothers you, then the British economic model is structurally incapable of adjusting without giving up on the City of London. If it’s a welfare system that works, then look at the chaos of the UK reforms. If it’s a tax system people respect, then you can’t have the UK Treasury’s tolerance of havens.

In short, if we are to become the people we could be, then it is impossible in the UK. That doesn’t mean it’s a sure thing in Scotland, simply that Yes is a start in the right direction.

Alex Bell is former Head of Policy to Alex Salmond and author of The People We Could Be, published by Luath and launches at the Quaker Meeting House, Victoria Street, Edinburgh, 5.15pm Monday 18 August.