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For Once, It's Not the Economy, Stupid - Scotland's Future Is Bigger Than That

14/03/2014 12:47 GMT | Updated 14/05/2014 10:59 BST

"It's the economy, stupid," said James Carville, a famous Democratic strategist at the heart of Bill Clinton's successful 1992 presidential campaign. That refrain has been recycled for countless political fights since it was first uttered. Many would be forgiven for thinking Carville's statement holds true for the campaign for Scottish Independence.

Before this past month, the economic plan outlined in the Independence White Paper - the 'guide' to independence - seemed simple: It says that Scotland will enter a currency union with the United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland; it will use its more favourable balance sheet to maintain public spending levels; and it will use the tax revenue from North Sea oil to ensure Scotland's future remains bright.

At the very least, most observers would accept this plan is no longer simple and is increasingly failing the credibility test. There is certainly an argument to be had about whether the Scottish Government should have been bolder in signalling a new course for an independent Scotland, for instance, proposing an entirely separate Scottish currency. Regardless, the economic argument of those favouring independence has taken several blows.

Some have had fun with this, quietly smirking that the Scots are rising above their station. 'Too right', they say, 'the Scots take English taxes and they'd be stuffed without us.' This line of thought is epitomised by a 2012 Economist cover (displayed below). Better Together's research identifies that the vast bulk of undecided voters are concerned about economics. Their strategy until polling day will be, to a large degree, a continuation of the theme over this last month - hammer Yes Scotland on the economics.

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Whilst this is understandable, and probably based on an accurate and well-researched set of polls, it does not speak to the heart of what this historic vote represents. Let's get real. An independent Scotland would face difficulties, of course it would. But it would survive without a currency union. It is almost inconceivable that border controls would be introduced with the rump UK. The only business left would not be a lone crofter who repairs thatched roofs in his spare time. So let's stop pretending, shall we?

What is far more important, and esoteric, is the conversation about the future of Scotland and the rest of the UK. It should be a debate about democratic accountability and where decisions about Scotland's future ought to be taken. Importantly, it should also be a conversation about what shape the other constituent parts of the UK want our Union to take.

Democratic accountability, and the overwhelming demand for this by the Scottish people, is the principle reason that many voters prefer the idea of 'devo max' over either the status quo or independence - they want MSPs to take the vast majority of decisions about the country. Yet, because of a narrow politics, this discussion has yet to seriously begin.

As a keen observer, I'm growing tired of hearing endless streams of back and forth about the economics of independence. Of course the issue deserves scrutiny, and will continue to be at the forefront of most of the rhetoric, but it would be helpful if the debate expanded beyond this one issue if for no other reason than a big, open and difficult debate is needed if any would-be nation wants to become a prosperous independent state.

For now, the campaign is robbing the Scottish people of this conversation. For the country that gave us the Scottish Enlightenment, to date the debate about Scotland's future was been woefully narrow and inadequate. There is still time to remedy that.