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The prof's lesson for Scottish Labour - vote Yes

The most significant statement in the referendum campaign recently didn't include a mention of sterling or barrels. It was the declaration of support for the Yes side from Professor Tom Devine, Scotland's most eminent historian.

His views thankfully moved the debate on from the splitting of fine economic hairs. Can any objective, rational mind really doubt that an independent Scotland would be prosperous - even without the pound or oil reserves?

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What do the likes of Swedes, Danes and Finns have that we don't? Nothing.

Well, nothing except the capacity to decide their own futures. And that's undoubtedly why currently they are happier and more prosperous than Scots.

But it's not just about the standard of living or the rate of economic growth. It's about choosing the kind of society we want to be.

As part of the UK, Scots are denied that choice. Instead, they have been dragged off in a direction they don't want to go. As Professor Devine notes, "it is England, since the 1980s, which has embarked on a separate journey."

The vehicle was neo-liberal economics and Mrs Thatcher pointed out the destination: "There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. It's our duty to look after ourselves."

In 1979, England voted to opt out of what Professor Devine calls, the "British idea of fairness and compassion in terms of state support and intervention." In contrast, it's the "Scottish people who are wedded to a social democratic agenda and the kind of political values which sustained and were embedded in the welfare state of the late 1940s and 1950s."

In the light of Professor Devine's words, it's heartening to see that 28% of those who backed Labour in the 2011 election plan to vote Yes. The only disappointment is that the figure isn't nearer 100%.

The ideas and values which have caused Professor Devine to support independence are shared by almost all Labour voters in Scotland. Why aren't they following suit?

You have to admire their generosity. If Scotland had been independent since the Second World War, there would have been a social democratic government in Edinburgh for all of that time, apart perhaps for a few years in the 1950s. In contrast, Labour has only been in government in Westminster for thirty of the seventy years between 1945 and 2015

But UK Labour can win again, can't it? Maybe, but it won't be a social democratic government. It's been forty years since anything resembling social democracy won power in the UK. There won't be again anytime soon.

In 1997, New Labour opted for Thatcherism. Government, said Mr Blair, was about "helping the individual to help themselves."

New Labour hasn't abandoned the Blair legacy. Only last month, he was advising Ed and co.: "No political philosophy today will achieve support unless it focuses on individual empowerment, not collective control."

The welfare state, the NHS and state education are apparently key pillars of "collective control". That's why it was New Labour which started the process of privatising and dismantling them. Disgracefully, under the New Labour mantra of "empowerment and choice", inequality grew while unregulated Loadsamoneys made fortunes.

The only alternative Miliband offers is 'One Nation' Tory paternalism. Is that the best Scottish social democrats can hope for?

As Professor Devine points out, "The union of England and Scotland was not a marriage based on loveā€¦.It was pragmatic." But now, "all the primary foundations of that stability have gone or been massively diluted."

And probably never recoverable. Westminster Labour and its supporters are out of touch with all things Scottish. The writer Polly Toynbee, doyen of Labour commentators in England, recently dismissed the sentiments of the Declaration of Arbroath. All freedom fighters, good or bad, she claimed, say the same sort of thing. But the only examples she gave of people claiming to be freedom fighters were from the Middle East, Libya and Afghanistan. Toynbee's attitude is not untypical of the contempt which many of the Labour intelligentsia in England have towards the values which underpin the movement for Scottish independence.

However, there is another left-of-centre perspective in England. People like the singer Billy Bragg support Scottish independence because it would force the English into a radical reassessment, not just of its constitutional arrangements but about the kind of society it wants to be. An independent, social democratic Scotland could be a beacon of hope, a good example for England to follow.

The plea from Professor Devine and Billy Bragg to social democrats in Scotland is quite simple: vote yes to independence and set us all free.

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