Passages edited by the Herald in bold.
We have been told many times about the wonderful, energising effect of the independence referendum, which was no doubt the case for those in the happy-clappy Yes bubble. For the majority of us outside, the experience was very different, with our politics, our patriotism, our courage, our intelligence and our age-related faculties having been insulted by the Yes campaign.
The result is a divided Scotland, which opinion polls show to be marked by high levels of bad feeling between families, friends and neighbours. It is hard to see why the healing of these divisions is not the number one commitment of the Scottish Government. For example, the new First Minister told the Scottish Parliament last Thursday that she would govern for the whole of Scotland, then on Saturday convened a massed rally of pro-independence partisans, complete with waving Saltires and sentimental and warlike songs.
This is not the only opportunity that the Scottish Government has missed to reunite Scotland after the damage of the referendum campaign. Before 18th September, Alex Salmond undertook to convene an all-party Team Scotland to manage the ongoing process following the Yes vote that he so foolishly expected. Some of us believed then that he should have offered to set up such a team whatever the outcome, and invited others into a government of national unity and concilation to govern until the 2016 election.
The publication of the report of the Smith Commission offers another such opportunity. It is not perfect: in particular, many in the No camp believe that it risks going too far, as the referendum result only meant one thing: No to Scotland being an independent country.
However, it meets and exceeds the aims set in the Vow made by the Prime Minster, his Deputy and the Leader of the Opposition, by which the Yes campaign has set such great store since the result. Moreover, it is a cross-party document, whose signatories include both the SNP and the Scottish Green Party. And essentially, it is also necessarily a compromise, which many of us regard as a good thing in itself.
Scotland faces a stark choice. We can either continue deeper into a dark place of division and increasing polarisation. Or we can accept that although our differences continue, we need to live together, respecting those differences and accommodating them through a new constitutional settlement within the UK. The Smith Commission proposals offer the chance to do just that.
It looks like they may be the last opportunity that we may have for reconciliation. Let us hope that even at this late stage, our politicians of all parties – but especially the SNP – give Smith the unqualified support it requires and deserves.
Peter A. Russell