IN the Sunday National last week, Trevor Swistchew and Peter Thomson hit the nail on the head in different ways with their letters.

The first with his wry observation about policy differences hotly disputed among independence supporters in areas over which they have no influence whatsoever and Mr Thomson with his compelling narrative of the historic and ongoing damage caused to Scotland purely by its constitutional position within the Union.

What links both is their understanding that as campaigners we need to separate out two things – what is a purely constitutional issue and what is not. We need to focus on the first and not be led down rabbit holes and division (the DRS, the GRA, HPMAs) with the second, which are policy issues. While relevant to citizens and communities (the GRA engaging huge emotional commitment by one side or the other), for independence campaigners, they are more usefully filed under issues for a post-independence republic. Ie, these are issues that – if we had the full powers of a republic – would be resolved without interference from the Unionist press or UK Government.

The National: Scottish independence supporters march through Edinburgh Image: Colin Mearns

The crucial issue for independence campaigners is that we are not yet a republic. We are not yet independent and therefore we are not a state, even though we are a nation. We are, in fact, a malfunctioning half-state trapped within a larger dysfunctional state. That’s the blindingly obvious – yet key – issue from which everything else flows. Including how we campaign.

Unlike a republic, we are not constituted. We have no rule book. No fundamental principles underpinning our democracy; nothing that sets out the relationship between our institutions; no foundational document setting limits on the exercise of power or explaining the citizens’ rights and duties and how differences may be resolved.

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We have a partial democracy only because we have neither full power nor full agency. We’re a nation in which our politics, governance, media, economic powers and highest legal court are disfigured or impeded by the interference of a neighbouring state, and where that disfigurement is embedded and accepted by half the citizens, with no true democratic power and only occasional or contingent agency. The pre-devolution governance of Scotland was sometimes benign and sometimes covertly coercive – but it was always unrepresentative. Tom Johnston was a great Scottish secretary but why should our development be contingent on the competence of one man? Or – in the case of Michael Forsyth or Alister Jack – the inadequacies and even malice of one man?

The National: Irish President Michael D Higgins (PA)

To give the word “constitution” its medical meaning, Scotland is very poorly. Its constitution is weak. Its body politic has been invaded for years by the subtle virus of Unionism. That’s the basic independence issue. Irish president Michael D Higgins (above) has suggested that the true definition of a republic is “a community of vulnerabilities”. But we in Scotland do not have a healthy, democratic, fit-for-purpose form of government directed to fully addressing the vulnerabilities of our communities.

We, the people, are not properly represented because we have a government with good intentions but limited agency, subject to huge external and internal interference. We’re structurally and institutionally interfered with. We are in a pathological state. We are a pathological state. We are not fit for purpose. A democracy so deformed is no democracy at all. That’s the independence issue.

So what to do as campaigners? Concentrate on constitutional over policy issues. First, recognise that the Scottish Government’s powers are sub-optimal.

Second, call out at every opportunity how that constitutional condition restricts their powers and our rights.

Third, call out the half-truths that feature in every comments and letters pages of Union-supporting press that pretend that we really are a republic with all the powers of a nation-state while ensuring that those powers are always under threat.

Fourth, call out the “incompetence” narrative so beloved of Unionists not with “whataboutery” which merely reinforces the incompetence frame but by setting out what powers and competency our government has and what it does not.

Fifth, recognise that our government is in a cleft stick – it has to act as though it is in full control and can fix stuff in order to demonstrate competence and create confidence, while knowing that it is not in full control and will be undermined relentlessly.

Sixth, don’t pretend we are already a republic; our pathological half-democracy is a real thing and we shouldn’t let them pretend otherwise.

Seventh, concentrate on our values, find common values with the undecideds and reinforce the independence message via that common ground.

Finally, we must recognise that this is an urgent matter with very serious stakes. Don’t underestimate it. We are very poorly. We must fight back to health. Let’s have a campaigning mentality every day.
Frances Roberts