WHEN each of my daughters was born, I created an email address for them. Every so often throughout their lives, I email them with the intention of handing over the password when they fly the nest. I email them on their birthdays, or when they win something, or when we have a major family event, or even just when I manage to capture a photograph I think they might like to keep.

I email them, too, when there’s a major national event of some sort that I think they might benefit from understanding. I never give my view (I have a secret despair for the intergenerational passage of political views); simply a background to the topic in question.

I emailed them a week ago, after the results of the Scottish Parliament elections emerged, and after the initial reaction settled in my consciousness. I told them that the decisions made by a small group of unionist politicians over the next few months will probably determine whether their children are born into a country called Scotland, or a country called the United Kingdom.

There is no inevitability about the electorate’s view on this. Sure, we may have gone from perhaps 25 percent of Scots certain to vote Yes a decade ago, to perhaps 40 percent today, but we still have those middle-of-the-road voters, the people who don’t wave flags or go on marches, who will ultimately decide the constitutional fate of all of us.

It is perfectly clear to me that current behaviours point to only one home for those decisive voters – nationalism. The unionist reaction to the SNP’s landslide victory in the election was hysterical. It might have been rather amusing, actually, if the matter at hand were not so serious.

It needn’t be this way, but turning this around will require the unionists – particularly the Conservatives – to change the psychology of unionism. They need to be re-educated. To paraphrase Einstein, the unionists cannot solve their problems with the same thinking they used when they created them.

We can travel back as far as we want for examples of unionism creating its own problems, however we need only look back a decade to see exhibit A. In 2012, after an unrelated meeting in Downing Street, I was asked for my view on the upcoming independence referendum, with polls at that time recording 65-70 percent for No.

I told my questioner that if he fought the referendum on the basis that ‘No means status quo’ he would win narrowly or, on a bad day, might even lose. He looked at me the way you might look at someone if they vomited on your kitchen table. I was told that they would fight on the status quo and win by 30 points, before I was dispatched.

A couple of years later, just three days before the referendum, a petrified Downing Street put ‘The Vow’ on the front page of the Daily Record, leading to the Smith Commission and the third tranche of devolved powers.

If it looked like a panicked, half-hearted and disingenuous bung, it’s because it was. Just like the Calman Commission before it, which was the unionist response to the SNP victory of 2007, this was peak reactive unionism.

It could have been very different. In a conversation which was little known at the time, but which has since become accepted fact, when the Yes campaign was polling somewhere less than one-third, then First Minister Alex Salmond offered then Prime Minister David Cameron a different kind of referendum. The proposal was that there would be two questions on the ballot paper; the first a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to constitutional change, and the second an ‘independence’ or ‘devo max’ to the type of constitutional change.

Had Mr Cameron accepted the offer, it is not a stretch to suppose that the devo max option would have won by a seismic margin; polling at the time certainly pointed towards this. Had that happened, it is also not a stretch to suppose that the immediate and growing momentum for a second plebiscite would have been absent from mainstream debate, confined to the 25-or-so percent who always have, and always will, believe that there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The core determinant in Mr Cameron’s refusal of the offer by Mr Salmond is the same core determinant which is preventing unionists from making rational decisions in the wake of this latest SNP landslide – psychology.

In the final analysis, saying no to Mr Salmond’s offer was the only logical output from a coterie of people who are emotionally and psychologically unwilling to embrace devolution. It is primarily a Tory phenomenon, but Labour-types should not be naive enough to believe that it doesn’t, at times, infect them too.

They suffer from a very British disease which sees decentralisation as defeat. Unlike in the Anglo-Saxon countries to which we exported democracy, British unionists view pockets of power outwith the capital suspiciously, as a threat. Where Americans fiercely protect the power of state government, we fiercely protect the power of the central government. Where Canadians see separate provincial political parties as an expression of local diversity, Brits see them as a slippery slope to political separation. Where Australians celebrate their states having codified and clearly understood governance, we tinker with localism according to the prevailing politics of the day.

And what good does that do us? Which of the four countries in question is in danger of fragmenting? Only ours.

Unionism’s problems are not the creation of nationalists. In truth there has not been much of a pull-factor. They are entirely self-inflicted; unionists have pushed middle Scotland away. It is true what some say, that change now may be too late. The current is strong, and it is pushing unionism out to sea. However, if they want to at least put up a fight, unionists must reimagine unionism.

The only viable United Kingdom, now, is a looser kingdom at ease with its many identities and embracing its political diversity. It is a kingdom enthusiastic about decentralisation, aware that localism is the adhesive which keeps it together, not the wedge which drives it apart.

People sometimes ask: but what powers do you want? There are direct answers to that question, in both taxation and legislative arenas. However, this is no longer so much about what unionists do, as it is about how they do it.

Devolution through gritted teeth will never change opinion, because it is so transparently grudged. The enthusiasm of Canada is missing. The cooperation of Australia is missing. The partnership of America is missing.

The model of the Union Connectivity Review and the levelling up agenda, for instance, is sound, and is actually borrowed from federal systems. But the bitter, cynical, conniving undertone is turning it from a celebration of partnership into an attempt to create into a constitutional version of Stockholm Syndrome.

Unionism can still prevail. It can win a referendum. But this is about far more than tactics and strategy. The uncomfortable truth is that, in the case of very many unionist leaders, their head is in devolution, but their heart is not. Changing that may not be a sufficient condition to win, but it is a necessary one.

•Andy Maciver is Director of Message Matters

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