I think in future years we should look back on this past Monday as “Momentous Monday”. A lovely, modest and honest man admitted so very publicly, with exquisite dignity, that he was no longer fit enough in mind or body to walk in the shoes of the fisherman. The Pope’s health may be declining but his reputation for straightforwardness is soaring.
But the Pope’s news wasn’t the only event that made Monday unforgettable. By the end of the day’s news bulletins and the teatime news programmes, were you thinking to yourself that we Scots are the luckiest people on earth? Was your head nodding enthusiastically as Michael Moore, the Scottish Secretary, assured wee fly us that we had the best of both worlds. What could he have meant? Is the work undertaken by Scots to sustain our nationhood somehow paid for by someone else?
The Scottish Secretary’s words sketched out a warm, homely atmosphere that allowed Scots to take decisions on hard, if not the very hardest, questions on bread and butter issues in education, health and local government spending. These are all important in creating the sort of community we want for our children and grandchildren. But, Michael Moore insinuated, the real, heavy-lifting goes on in Westminster.
That’s what Scots MPs mean when, almost suffocating in their own smugness, they tell us we’ve the best of both worlds. Better Together thinks it a great coup to have secured devolution that allows the Scottish people through their devolved parliament to offer free personal care and free tuition at universities, but lets them off the hook of deciding on whether to continue as a nuclear power or indeed to invade Iraq or not (I’d hazard a bet that MSPs in Holyrood, representing so-called unionist parties, don’t agree, but keep quiet out of party loyalty).
Far from judging that as being a situation of which we can be proud, many Scots, let’s hope most, accept that the responsibility of being recognised as an equal nation by the other national representatives at the UN depends on our willingness to preserve our uniqueness without a “nanny-state” that sets the boundaries to our adventurism, entrepreneurism and fair distribution of wealth and resources.
But what was momentous about the cauld kale re-het in a report bought from the most highly recommended legal experts in the emergence of new countries? As far as could be made out before an enterprising BBC journalist stuck a microphone in front of Dr James MacCartney, one of the two wise men hired to sink the good ship Scotland before the crew had even turned up, the UN would cold-shoulder the country with arguably the oldest border in Europe.
But Dr MacCartney, to his credit, couldn’t tell a lie, even a quasi-legal one, to look good on telly, and his conscience wouldn’t be silenced. He admitted without the application of thumbscrews or other aids to memory that the UN would more than likely welcome Scotland, and that it wouldn’t be all that difficult for Scotland to negotiate a place in Europe. Does it get any better than that?
As I ventured an opinion last week, it’s a whole new ball game and the negotiations, after we have voted Yes, will reflect the politics and priorities of the moment . . . particularly those of the two countries that drive the EU, Germany and France.
Only a fool could think this truly marvellous transformation in the opportunity opened to Scotland the brand, Scotland the society, Scotland the also-ran, to 21st century Scotland – with futures for our young people denied to their counterparts in other countries – could be achieved easily without the independence negotiators having to give a little to gain a lot, or at least, the absolute necessities. It’s our good luck to be energy-rich and have a developed expertise in our universities to make that into employment and the best services we can afford.
But the Yes campaign is not the vehicle for negotiating the route through the present arrangements with the UK over the administration of some services like pensions and benefits, the EU treaty obligations and possible opt-outs (of the euro, for example), and frank discussions with the United States government regarding nuclear weapons on the Clyde.
Although the timescale outlined by Alex Salmond seems to allow less than two years to accomplish agreement on these, as well as establishing a new economic management system that should be robust, even though it may only be a temporary transitional move to share monetary policy with the Bank of England, a rolling programme can most certainly be put in place.
Once again, there will be hiccups, misunderstandings and cock-ups. But what will emerge will have been made in Scotland, and the responsibility will have made us a bigger country . . . on our terms.