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Scotland: Beyond Independence

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There is something about the commentary on Scottish Independence (one could hardly call it a reasoned debate) that feels other-worldly. The SNP flaunts the Saltire. Those opposed to "independence" wave the Jack. It is beginning to feel like a marriage in which the man and woman talk past each other for fear of addressing the truth. Most English people think the Scots should go for it, but remain deeply Unionist. Most Scots are wary about leaving the Union, while being closet nationalists.

As it is in a disintegrating marriage, it is not the individuals (or in our case countries) that are rotten, but the arrangement they find themselves in. So let us take a deep breath and acknowledge one thing: neither party needs the arrangement as it now is in order to function perfectly well. That said I believe the time has come for the SNP to abandon its call for Independence! - the rallying cry has served its purpose - and concentrate instead on those things that must be done to improve the prospects of the Scottish people in our increasingly pan-national world.

If we look at two successful European economies, Sweden and Germany, they have a number of things in common. The first is that the standard of education amongst their young is high and relevant. The second, arising in part out of the first, is that industry in both countries is highly productive. The third is that large amounts of private capital have been deployed so as to improve each country's competitive well-being. The fourth is that the state, the unions and the owners of capital all work together for a common purpose. The fifth is that wasteful and inhumane poverty has largely been eliminated. The sixth is that within a vigorous market economy, public spending decisions are as localized as possible. The seventh, and possibly most important, is that everyone's focus seems to be on long term objectives rather than short term expedients.

Notwithstanding the success of these two countries, we would be exceptionally foolish to lose sight of what we are already part of. As the London Olympics demonstrated - in gold, silver, bronze and much else besides - Britain is a remarkable polity. What it may lack in cold corporate efficiency, it more than makes up for with its freedom of expression and creative drive. Just as they are for the Republic of Ireland, Scotland's closest links will be with England, some of its deepest psychological ties will be with North America, and Europe will likely remain its biggest market. But as Europe integrates (or falls apart) these British Isles will continue to be our home and shape our outlook. So let's drop Independence! - a largely meaningless word in any event - and concentrate instead on what matters.

Of course this does mean that our politicians and media, both north and south of the border, will have to learn to walk and talk at the same time - but is that really too much to ask?