Scottish independence: Story of Home Rule can bind us together

These polls are not a reason to panic. They are a rallying cry, an opportunity to sharpen the campaign

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“What’s happening Jack?” is a question I’ve been asked a lot in recent days. As a few of us predicted, the referendum is going to the wire.

A quarter to a third of Scots really do want independence. They are the true believers. But now others are tempted to vote Yes to teach “them” a lesson. “Stick it up them.” “It can’t be any worse.” It is not so much anti-Tory as anti-politics, and we know how catching that can be.

This is what has united tax exiles with Trots and right-wing moralists with the Greens. Despite the serious reservations about leaving the UK that most Scots share, the “give it a try” or “no more Westminster” message has grabbed the imagination. But this is not a by-election. There is too much at stake.

These polls are not a reason to panic. They are a rallying cry, an opportunity to sharpen the campaign, and to set out a more positive future. The Better Together campaign must reignite the spark of hope that Home Rule inside the UK represented in 1999 and still represents today. Of course they have to stress risk and uncertainty – I understand that. But to win, and win well, campaign leaders have to embrace the principle and the story of Home Rule. It cannot be Westminster vs Scotland as it has become. It has to be Independence outside the UK vs Home Rule inside the UK.

But we also need a promise of change in the way the UK is governed, not just a timetable for more powers at Holyrood.  We need a firm commitment by all three UK party leaders to a Constitutional Convention to clean up and reinvigorate our democracy and genuinely decentralise power from London and the South-east. After all the scandals, and the disappointments of recent years, nothing less will transform public confidence in our union of nations, the UK.

Jack McConnell was First Minister of Scotland 2001-07