WHILE prospects for indyref2 inch forward very slowly – far too slowly for some – an increasing flow of writing about Scottish independence has started to appear. Two recent stand-out books are Gerry Hassan’s Scotland Rising and Gavin McCrone’s After Brexit: The Economics Of Scottish Independence.

One of them (the clue as to which one is in the name) is optimistic and positive, while the other sounds a cautionary note about the country’s prospects outside the current UK.

Hassan’s Scotland Rising’s respect and humility in discussing key issues in a crowded and angry marketplace is welcome, and he displays very good antennae for the increasing suppression of the “four nations” language of at least nominal mutual respect by the new muscular Unionism.

The National: Gerry Hassan (above) has written a stand-out book on Scotland’s future Gerry Hassan (above) has written a stand-out book on Scotland’s future

Hassan also has a keen eye for the displacement of class by national identity – indeed, identity politics generally. In presenting the case for independence, Hassan focuses on democracy, the UK’s high levels of inequality (where “remote” geography does so much to drive economics), the psychology of confidence and the apparent inability of the UK to reform into a modern post-imperial state.

In presenting the case against, borders, financial issues, Europe and – perhaps most revealingly – British identity and solidarity are all identified. There is a recognition that recent UK legislation has interfered extensively with the devolution settlement and is paving the way for further interference.

With regard to the postponing of the independence referendum, Hassan sees the UK Government as playing for time rather than engaging in deep strategy.

But that perhaps is the point: playing for time is the strategy because of the likelihood of the political leadership of the Yes movement – as opposed to the sentiment supporting it – fragmenting its forces on other issues or being undermined by events. There are some signs of this already.

The UK Government is helped in this by the fact that while the effects of Brexit have been marginally favourable to independence, this Anglo-Welsh venture into sovereign nostalgia has not been the existential issue that it might have been expected to be, given the damage it has caused and its disproportionate threat to the Scottish economy.

The National: Gavin McCroneGavin McCrone

Politicians of all parties talk about economic growth while not focusing on the fact that one of its major drivers – EU citizens of working age who, in aggregate, contributed 64% more in taxes than they claimed in benefits over a decade in a recent University College London study – are being excluded from the workforce.

Given an ageing population, paying higher taxes for more threadbare public services is the inevitable outcome of “making Brexit work”, as the recent UK Autumn Statement has made clear.

For Gavin McCrone, an independent Scotland outside the EU or EEA is unthinkable: “a quick route to the country’s impoverishment”. Much more focused on the economic risks of independence than the deep and incisively positive thinking of Gerry Hassan, After Brexit is a very useful text to read alongside Scotland Rising. It points out key issues such as the need to rebalance the mix between goods and services trade in an EU-focused context, the risks to Edinburgh as a financial centre and the difficulty of Scotland balancing its budget.

These are all critical issues, and McCrone handles them with acuity and fair-mindedness.

He is generally favourable to an independent currency and appears to evaluate the risks of adopting it much lower than some economists do.

However, he is very clear that the spending commitments and ambitions of the Scottish Government in major areas of domestic policy present a threat to the budget, as do public sector pensions, potential upward pressure on mortgage rates and other threats from the economic transition.

Although he sees the potential of new forms of energy such as hydrogen, it can be argued that the study is quite backwards-looking.

There are some curious blind spots, such as the lack of apparent understanding of the direct and indirect benefits of overseas students to the economy, and After Brexit is a better guide to the risks of the first few years of an independent Scotland than to its long term potential. That is, of course, fair enough, but it is not explicit.

There are a number of key policy areas that neither book looks at in detail.

Two of these – which to its credit, the Scottish Council on Global Affairs (SCGA) is tackling with Scottish and UK Government support – are defence and foreign policy. These are telling omissions because it is these questions that must settle the kind of state that Scotland seeks to become in the eyes of others, and the present crisis of war in Europe should bring that home to us.

More discussion of defence and the role of Arctic security in an era of global warming and Russian Federation aggression would be welcome. In a more peaceful vein, the excellent work done by Michael Keating and others on the purposes and effects of different kinds of paradiplomacy could be further embedded in Scottish Government policy and outlook.

The manufactured clamour over “pretendy embassies” helps no one, and it would be good to see Scotland join as many of the international organisations that do not require statehood as possible.

The hostility to the constructive and informed development of Scotland’s international profile so sadly prevalent in Scotland reflects an introspective view of Scotland’s economy and society found not only in Unionism but in the Yes movement also, where there is arguably a tension between utopianism and state consent.

State consent – a belief in the state and willingness to make sacrifices for it – has a long history and is much stronger in some countries than others.

Among our neighbours, Ireland became independent when GDP per capita was less than 60% of the UK average in 1921 (it is now some 175%), and as a result had a stronger bounce back from the banking crisis of 2008 due to widespread acceptance of difficult measures, and has levels of state consent which allow Irish citizens to tolerate significant differences from the UK in policy such as health care charges.

By contrast, there is very little sign that consent for an independent Scotland as a new state with totally fresh priorities and not as a utopian version of Britain is as strong as one might expect on the verge of major constitutional change, though that may be slowly shifting.

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There is, for example, very little support for the euro; there is pro-European sentiment but not a lot of interest in European policy and in general, the global role sought for Scotland is not clear.

Some will see the term “utopian” as critical of nationalism, but in fact, it is true of many Scottish Unionists too, who hope, in Hassan’s words, to see the “Union ... seriously working on its offer”.

Though fewer now seem to believe the federalist myth (entirely alien as it is to the “fetishisation of parliamentary sovereignty” in British constitutional theory and practice, and even more so after Brexit), this too is a version of utopianism: the Scottish desire to make the United Kingdom in our own image.

There is no evidence this will ever happen. But the idea of making Scotland a perfect United Kingdom north of the Tweed and of making the United Kingdom perfect for Scotland are two sides of the same coin.

High state consent means being citizens of a country which people can believe in even when it is not immediately benefitting them and is far from “perfect”.

Are we nearly there yet? Independence is not a narrowly won vote: it requires state consent and the belief to stick with that even in difficult times. And for those who support that, that means believing in Scotland.