27 November 2008 The Scottish Parliament and ponds during the evening beneath a orange sunset. Pic - Andrew Cowan / Scottish Parliament Photograph ©2008 Scottish Parliamentary Corporate BodyOne of the most interesting swing constituencies for the independence referendum is just one person – Jane Carnall. Yesterday morning she pointed me to a piece in which she explains why she’s leaning towards a No vote because of the SNP’s currency union plan.

As she rightly points out, if that plan goes ahead “key decisions about the Scottish economy will be made by the Bank of England in the City of London“, and, like her, I think an independent country should, for economic and political reasons, have its own currency.

Eurozone countries don’t have their own currency, of course: and their monetary policy is set by the ECB. So are they not independent? Well, they’re less independent than EU member states outside the Eurozone as a result.

In fact, all EU member states, because they’ve decided to pool sovereignty, are less independent as a result – and to a lesser extent so too is Norway, which doesn’t even get a say in the EU rules they have to adopt in order to stay in EFTA. Montenegro is less independent than Serbia, because it doesn’t have its own currency and monetary policy. Monaco is less independent than Luxembourg because its defence policy is set in France.

Similarly, countries outside the UK which have QEII as their head of state, the SNP’s preferred model for Scotland, are also less independent. Just ask Gough Whitlam (still alive at 97), whose Australian government was overturned in 1975 by the Governor-General, acting with the Queen’s authority. 

In short, it’s a category mistake to think that independence is a binary on/off, yes/no question in the modern world. Sure, what the SNP propose is now less independence than they used to prefer. But it’s still significantly more independence than we currently have (and devolution already makes us more independent than, say, the North East of England).

The crucial binary part is simply this: where are decisions ultimately taken, and by whom? A Yes means Holyrood and the Scottish electorate, and a No means Westminster and the UK electorate. By that test, for example, Slovakia was fundamentally independent of the Czech Republic on 1st January 1993, but it was clearly more independent by 8th February 1993 when both states began to use their own currencies.

However, her argument, as I read it, stands on two legs: the SNP’s flawed currency policy is just one. The second is that the actual structures of a post-Yes Scotland will be determined by the SNP. To quote Jane again:

You can argue that the referendum is not a matter of party politics and we should just not think about the SNP but only about independence. But this is absurd: the SNP is the party of Scottish government until May 2016, and the only Scottish politicians who are entitled to be part of negotiations with the rUK government in the event of a Yes vote. Therefore, what they say they plan to do in the event of a Yes win matters very much indeed – if you think Yes will win. Because, again, currency union is not independence.”

I absolutely will argue that the referendum is not a matter of party politics. Plenty of SNP voters will vote No, and plenty of Labour voters will vote Yes. Referendums aren’t party politics by definition. And the SNP have a mandate (from 2011) both to legislate for a referendum and to run a post-Yes transitional period, should Yes win. Nothing more, nothing less.

This is where the SNP’s timid indy-minimum is actually beneficial in some respects. It’d be entirely inappropriate for a transitional administration to abolish the monarchy, leave NATO, or leave the existing currency union. “The pound in your pocket” is pragmatically the only appropriate currency for us to be using on day one of independence, prior to a the election of a proper Scottish Parliament for an independent Scotland. I’m okay with those “key decisions” referred to above being made that way for the short term, unless and until the Scottish electorate vote in a Parliament which takes a different view on the currency.

Jane’s view is that people like me who oppose the SNP’s approach to the currency, the monarchy and the rest are being dishonest in saving those fights for another day: quite the contrary. We aren’t saving those fights at all. Every time they make one of these u-turns and hedge what independence means to them we object, we shout loudly that other, better options will be put to the Scottish electorate in 2016, and we remind them exactly this: neither the SNP nor Salmond himself is on the ballot paper in September. Only independence is.

Then, as is obvious already, in May 2016 Greens will stand for election on a platform of much greater independence (within Europe). We know now roughly what that manifesto would look like, and 2016 is the proper point for the parties and then the electorate to start making nuanced decisions about exactly what kind of independence we want for the long term. A Yes/No vote doesn’t allow for nuances on these issues, and nor should it. Nor is it anyone else’s responsibility to try and change SNP policy, as Jane suggests. I’d rather their positions were better, sure (as I argued here with regard to NATO), but other parties’ policies are not my remit, nor the remit of anyone outside those parties.

It would be a terrible mistake for any independence supporter to vote No in September because the SNP’s vision of independence is too halting and timid. A Yes vote will bring massively greater independence, no matter who wins in 2016. With one single vote we will have almost eliminated Westminster’s malign influence over our lives. It’s a huge step forwards, an enormous prize, and yes, there will be much more to be done after that. That’s politics.

My issue with her argument is not even about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. It’s about recognising that devolution may be a process, in Ron Davies’s famous phrase, but so too is independence.