A particularly foolish direction of the current debate on whether Scotland should stay in the union or go for the version of independence on offer, is the suggestion that the pro-union campaign – or the political parties involved in it – should ‘make Scotland an offer’ to stay in the union.
This would be quite wrong.
The pro-independence campaign is making ‘offers’ two a penny, having sold the soul we hoped it might have to the notion that votes can be bought.
And maybe they can.
But voters need at least one campaign to remind them that this is not the sale of the century. This is about deciding to belong to one nation or to two, to focus on a single identity or to keep the fluidity, the latitude, we currently have.
There are equally persuasive arguments to be made for either option.
If what we really want is an auction for our favours, what does this say about the sort of people we are, about why we might vote one way or the other?
This is different from weighing the economic arguments for independence and for the union. We have done this, objectively, on serious and prolonged research – and found no supportable economic case for independence.
But in the end, these arguments too are not what this debate ought really to be about.
It’s too late now, though. The Scottish Government took the inducement path early and committed to it. But we cannot have two barrow-boy campaigns, each shouting the odds for our votes.
And supposing we were made an ‘offer’ by the pro-union campaign?
How does the Scottish Government justify its current calls for such counter-offers to be made by the pro-union campaign?
If the UK government or the pro-union campaign were to do this, they would be taking the decisions on the nature of what was on offer – when the argument about the weakness of the union is that decisions are not essentially taken by the partners in the union.
So if we were made an offer we liked and were minded to accept it, we would continue to accept the principle of taking what we are given and of not being a part of deciding on the shape and operation of the union itself.
We flatly do not want to see the pro-union campaign chucking bids into the mix. It would be degrading. It would underline that we are seen as scrabblers for advantage, grubbing for crumbs thrown in the dust. It is a matter of profound sadness that the pro-independence campaign shrank itself to this particular vision. We certainly do not want to face competing campaigns of this order.
But accepting pro-union offers of the same kind, if they were made, would simply perpetuate the status quo of givers and takers, not of equal partners in a re-energised collective enterprise.
It is too late for the pro-independence campaign to raise its game – and it may well prove to have been right in its obvious calculation that votes can be bought in this way.
The pro-union campaign, however, must retain its dignity – and ours – in not descending to this tactic.
If Scotland decides to stay in the union, it must decide to do so on the principle of union rather than of going it alone – and rather than being offered a pre-formed variation of a different union.
The only offer the pro-union campaign can offer that is acceptable is that, whatever the result of the Scottish referendum, there will be a constitutional conference of members of the union, starting in the summer of 2015 [and which would most constructively be a standing constitutional conference] – to reshape and redirect the union together.
This would be honourable, offering only the right to participate in the sort of collective renewal that is to everyone’s advantage, whether the union then is of the four current nations or of England, Northern Ireland and Wales.
After the turbulence and cost Scotland will have put the union through by the end of this, everyone is going to need the fun of renewal, of reinvention.
If we go indy, it would be good to know that our former colleagues in the union we once belonged to were having fun remaking and refocusing themselves in a new union.
And if we don’t go indy, we need to be a creative part of that reinvention.