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ANOTHER VIEW; Choose wisely, Quebec

Quebec, which has the opportunity to vote for independence today, is not Scotland - and Scotland is not Quebec. While Scotland struggles to rid itself of the baleful effects of a 300-year-old incorporating Union that leaves her powerless, Quebec already enjoys some freedom of action as part of the confederation of Canadian provinces.

Quebec is a contemporary young society, especially when set alongside Scotland, which had many centuries of history as an independent state. It was only in 1759 that it came under English-speaking control. Most important, Quebec works as a real democracy, one in which people can make their own choice about their preferred system of government. Scotland has been denied that choice for the past 16 years, even when all the opposition parties combined to support a constitutional referendum, as they did in a massive demonstration of public will at the Edinburgh European summit in December 1992.

The free exercise of democratic choice is precious and must be admired and protected. Any suggested interference is intolerable, whether from appointed royal advisers still living in the days of empire, or from unelected heads of state prepared to act on such advice. It is as well for the future of the constitutional monarchy that the proposed royal intervention was offered to an inspired disc jockey rather than to the real Canadian prime minister.

Yet for all the differences, there are some similarities between the Quebec and Scottish experience. One is the keenness with which scaremongering is used as a political tool by opponents of change. Another similarity lies in the isolationism, not of those who aspire to constitutional change, but of those who oppose it. To the constitutional dinosaurs perfection lies in the concept of the 19th-century nation state, a form of government so exalted it cannot be changed or improved.

The fact that even federal powers do not satisfy what may be the majority of Quebecers should act as a timely warning to those who oppose any constitutional change in Scotland and to those, especially in the Labour Party, who concede minimal change as a means of buying off support for real progress and power. That illustrates the actual views of people locked into 18th- or 19th-century constitutional settlements - people who are keener than ever to get out into real life.

No wonder such positive thinking frightens hidebound and decaying countries. For it tolls the death-knell of colonialism, establishment power and the old grudging and tightly controlled world order.

Choose wisely today, Quebec. The future lies with small countries prepared to work with larger associations for mutual good - not with large countries ever-fearful of democratic change.

The writer is national convenor of the Scottish National Party.