I am currently writing a doctoral thesis on the dyanamics and strategies of environmental debate in Sweden, a land popularly assumed to be a paragon of environmental virtue. This is a belief apparently held by the Swedes themselves, as illustrated by their somewhat smug showing in Doha where they failed to mention the motorway the size of the Channel Tunnel they are about to build in Stockholm.

A particular area of interest is the referendum on nuclear energy which took place in Sweden in 1980, following the narrow election of a Centre-led government on a wave of anti-nuclear sentiment. As I sit here in the archives of the national library of Sweden shifting through media footage the narrative presented is all too familiar – institutionalised parties unable to accept that the will of the people may be different to their own agenda, dubious claims and character assassinations and an ultimately unsatisfactory outcome. It could quite easily be Scotland in 2013.

The Swedish referendum offered three choices, each embodying a respective ethos of social utopianism (No to nuclear power), realism (Nuclear power isn’t great, but let’s keep the power stations we have so we can carry on as now), and economic necessity (If we get rid of nuclear power the economy will collapse and your children will all live in third-world poverty).

If the third one sounds particularly familiar it is because that is more or less the same ethos adopted by the BetterTogether campaign. Things might not be optimal at the moment, but imagine all the potential bad things which could happen if you chose to change the situation.

The campaign itself was not that surprising, and it was eventually won narrowly by the middle line, in part because of the phenomenal weight of the Social Democratic Party who decided that it was the desired outcome. They successfully combined their campaigning power and a successful synthesis of the Yes and No arguments to win a substantial share of the vote. A similar tactic is being taken by BetterTogether, telling people that they understand the desire for more self-governance in Scotland but that such an outcome is achievable via a No vote without the risks and uncertainty’s of independence. In both cases the campaigners possessed the luxury of not having to specify a post-referendum course of action beforehand.

And therein lies the really interesting thing. The outcome of the Swedish referendum led to the birth and subsequent growth of the Swedish Green Party, now the third biggest party in parliament, and exposed a falacy in politics – namely the idea that there is a straight ideological dichotomy between left and right. It illustrated that the interests of large social-democratic parties which aim to reflect the experiences of normal people do not always do so, and the Swedish Green Party pioneered a kind of leftist liberalism which capitalised on a lack of faith in the institutions of state, red or blue, which had passed down judgement from on high. What was disquieting for the Social Democrats was that a large number of people abandoned the party after feeling short-changed by a lack of internal debate. It illustrated a cynical failure of leadership structures and showed that the kind of campaign tactics traditionally used by the behemoths of left and right are not suitable when the topic of discussion is anything other than their bread and butter.

The SNP, whilst obviously being a political party, is a broad church which encompasses many different types of people from centre-right Celtic-tiger growthers to leftist social democrats, nominal greens and a smattering of cultural nationalists. The party exists, to all intents and purposes, to fight for a yes vote in the referendum. The big problem with the BetterTogether campaign is that none of the parties participating were set up to fight such a referendum. By aligning their political identities completely with a fairly inflexible unionism they are putting square pegs in round holes and are unable to coherently argue for unionism, in part because discussions of Scotland’s constitutional future are taboo-laden. Rather than developing arguments for a union the No campaign relies on attacking the unknowns of the Yes campaign. This is perhaps a surefire way of winning the referendum if people can be made to err on the side of mediocre caution, but in the long term it may well be to the detriment of current political allegiances.

What people conceive of as Scotland is changing rapidly, and this is something which the SNP have capitalised on. Young and fragile it may be, but there is now a distinctly Scottish political discourse which the Labour party and the Conservatives have ignored entirely. Since Scotland ceased to be a collection of local councils with a unique legal system and became a concrete polity, both civic and political life have undergone a process of conceptual transformation. The SNP are by no means the instigators, nor are they the sole beneficiaries of this change, but they have been able to much better understand how people think, rather than telling them how they think. The cleverest move pulled by the SNP has been the name change from Scottish Executive to Scottish Government. This has permeated every aspect of public life and consciousness. In a state where government is customarily used to refer to national parliaments, it was a masterstroke. There are no longer meetings between the British Government and Scottish Executive, but between the Scottish Government and the British Government. Anyone looking to be in charge must govern Scotland rather than just administrate.

This does not mean that the SNP are in any way right in all their policy, but on the issue of the referendum they have a coherent ethos, one which says that they are governing and that increased power is in the country’s best interest. The No campaign’s parties are unable to align their political program with their referendum stance.  Between Yes and No is a realm of possibility, asking for somebody to fill it with a genuine vision for the way forward which reflects the needs and desires of Scotland’s citizens. The bottom line is that Scotland will never be the same again, and even if Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom, there must be room for a less dogmatic unionism which is grounded not in the belief of what is but in a desire for what can be.