Few people remember Nick Johnston‘s career as a Tory MSP, which ended more than twelve years ago. But his decision to come out for a Yes vote today is still telling, not because he’s personally significant but because it demonstrates that the desire for Scotland to do better with self-governance does indeed span the conventional left-right spectrum, just as the No campaign does.
To be fair, though, his arguments aren’t exactly outside the independence-minded mainstream. Anyone from the Radical Independence Convention or the SNP or the Greens could have said that “while problems and opportunities with particular resonance in Scotland can go by the board at Westminster, it’s just not possible for that to happen in a Scottish Parliament“, or noted that “inequalities inherent in British society fester even more strongly in Scotland, leading to despair and often apathy“. Wanting a “a more dynamic economy, or measures to tackle poverty” is hardly bloodthirsty Thatcherism.
The fact is that any ambitious young centre-right politicos should be seeing the opportunity Johnston sees. It’s impossible to see a strong future for the Tories under devolution, particularly given the current positions adopted by the SNP. A party that combines a degree of social liberalism and protection for public services from privatisation with a centre-right position on tax and spend will always hoover up their votes, especially if that’s a credible alternative Scottish government to Labour.
An independent Scotland will almost certainly keep voting to the left of the rUK, on average, despite the polls showing a smaller gap than many think, but independence will open up space for everyone to get out from under Westminster’s stifling influence and for our politics to be reshaped.
The Fergus Ewing wing of the SNP and the Johnston end of the Tory party aren’t that far apart (and independence would force the Tories to cut their ties to London and adopt the Murdo Fraser plan: Murdo coincidentally succeeded Johnston), the SSP might stage a comeback, Labour might rediscover an interest in something other than the constitution, and Greens, well, I think we’re already winning mindshare from SNP supporters and others on the left who want something more radical than NATO, the Queen and the pound. And the SNP itself: some of its activists and MSPs would go home – job done – but the rest would find other things to work on, new alliances to make based on issues other than the constitution. I can’t wait to see it unfold.