David Carr: What are we fighting for?

CommonSpace columnist David Carr reflects on the importance of the Scottish parliamentary election and how we carry ourselves, during and after

AND they're off. After the hibernation season, the parties have started to gear themselves up for the election in May. It's been a shaky start.

Some in the SNP have been pugnacious, showing their disdain for lesser parties, whether unionist or indy. Rise, coming from nowhere, have started phoning round members to chap doors. Their media strategy - including the self-confessed stunt of occupying Trump-owned hotels has taken them from 0 to a Daily Record feature. The Greens are diligently, quietly setting up their party machinery across Scotland.

There has been some silliness so far. Some of the SNP commentariat have been been stressing the need to give them all the votes. Voting for another party is 'tactical' - and risks splitting 'their' vote. The opposition parties have focussed on a perceived SNP threat.

Some of the SNP commentariat have been been stressing the need to give them all the votes. Voting for another party is 'tactical' - and risks splitting 'their' vote.

On the unionist side, Labour have been struggling to land #SNPBad blows. Some SNP supporters have been falling for it. I don't really go for phallocentric warfighting analogies - honest - but if they read Clausewitz they might recognise the tactical advantage of drawing one's opponent onto a battlefield of one's choosing. Sun Tzu would react differently. You don't have to counterattack just because they're the enemy.

This attitude of enemies and attacking is unhelpful. It is showing on the indy side, too. SNP members dismiss the indy opposition, forgetting that any government needs effective opposition to spur them into doing a good job.

The smaller indy parties have, perhaps, focussed on specific points of variance with the SNP - granted, there are a few: land reform, fracking, education - rather than setting out their own, overarching vision.

Are voters interested? Outwith the political bubble, are mainstream voters interested in seeing things from the parties' point of view? Or should parties perhaps be talking to voters in terms that are meaningful to voters - how will voting for a party improve the voters' lives?

SNP members dismiss the indy opposition, forgetting that any government needs effective opposition to spur them into doing a good job.

Some have an answer to the last question: independence!

But let's consider this carefully. There is a strange myth circulating that a large indy majority will deliver independence. And an even stranger one that this will, in and of itself, make Scotland a better place.

We should be clear about what powers the Scottish Government has. It does not currently have powers to call a referendum - but may do anyway. It will not be able to call one sooner or deliver more independence no matter how large the party majority is in the Scottish Parliament. A commanding indy majority will certainly be psychologically comforting. But it won't be a weapon.

What you do need a majority for is to govern. Few doubt that the SNP will romp home. Governing well after May will be crucial. The ability to use Scotland's existing powers to make a difference to people's lives will give them confidence in the parliament.

Note that last word. Not government. Parliament. If we favour independence we need to show that our way of running our affairs is distinctly different from the Westminster parliamentary model. Donald Dewar's founding ethos of a parliament of coalition and cooperation may have been part expediency - but we should live up to it. Wouldn't voters prefer that?

There is a strange myth circulating that a large indy majority will deliver independence. And an even stranger one that this will, in and of itself, make Scotland a better place.

Or would they rather see a single, dominant party knocking lumps out of a few fatally wounded unionists from parties that some of them once felt, or still feel, loyalty towards?

We need confidence that we can manage our affairs better, in our distinctly Scottish way. Scotland is already distinctly different to the rest of the UK in many important, life changing ways. Free prescriptions. Free higher education. Defrayment of the Bedroom Tax.

We need to do more. We can do more. The Common Weal's 'A Book of Ideas ' makes some suggestions for, simply, using existing powers, over the life of the new parliament. Making a real difference will take some thought and discussion. A range of perspectives from different parties would be helpful.

Some on the indy side do not seem to realise what independence is about. There is an impression from some that gaining independence is the single, most important thing we must do. It isn't. And maybe we should have a little humility and remember that a fair few voters are unconvinced.

However, some continue to press for indy as the be all and end all. 'Once Scotland is independent,' they say, 'we can take it from there.' And so the political focus is indy or bust. I am sceptical that that abstract argument works for the voters we need to win.

I am also struck by the conservativeness of this vision. The sure-fire way of appealing to the maximum number of voters may be not to rock the boat and go for a pseudo-Blairite tactic of appealing to Little Scotland. Monarchy. Nato. Trickledown corporation tax cuts to magically make us billionaires - like in Ireland. I'm no psephologist - they may be right - but I have little interest in living in an England in the north.

What I want from independence is simple: a better Scotland. The first minister is known to share this expedient view.

What I want from independence is simple: a better Scotland. The first minister is known to share this expedient view.

And I'm not prepared to wait to see if we can cobble one together out of a year zero mess. We have to prepare. Part of this preparation will be for parliament to act effectively and the government to govern well.

But not everything even has to be about indy. Should we not simply be making Scotland a better place - for the hell of it? Many are. Not all support independence.

Picture: CommonSpace