YOU wouldn’t believe the things I do for you guys, such as sitting through the inaugural meeting of the Aberdeen branch of the Alba party.

What I didn’t expect, I have to say, was to be nodding quite so much. In fact, there was a lot I agreed with. The guest speaker at the online meeting was the Alba MP Kenny MacAskill and much of what he said on poverty, justice, and other issues was pretty good. His latest comments on the constitution are also promising. It’s finally happened: I agree with Kenny MacAskill.

The general theme of the meeting was crime and justice and Mr MacAskill, who used to be justice secretary under the SNP, showed once again that he’s pretty progressive on the issue. There’s no reason, he said, why Scotland should have a proportionately much higher prison population than most of our neighbours; Northern Ireland, for instance, has had decades of turmoil and terrorism and yet still they put fewer people in prison than we do. We also can’t seem to get our heads round community sentences in Scotland: the truth is that in many cases they are more effective than sending people to jail.

I suspect the reason for the relative lack of progress – and Mr MacAskill touched on it in the meeting – is that there’s a persistent streak of social conservatism in Scottish opinion and, while it’s strongest in the Tory party, it’s strong too in Labour and the SNP. The problem, said Mr MacAskill, is that the loudest lobbying he often gets on crime comes from wealthier parts of the country even though they are less likely to suffer from crime. This is often the problem: the people who fear crime the most are usually the ones who are least likely to be victims of it, and yet they have the loudest voice, and their voice is often conservative.

Mr MacAskill didn’t offer any particular solution to the problem – in fact, there’s little sign of change from the SNP government – but it was a reminder that we shouldn’t dismiss all of Alba as extremist. Don’t get me wrong: a lot of what they say is alarming; in a recent interview with Andrew Neil, Mr MacAskill appeared unable to explain what currency our pensions would be paid in after independence. Basically, setting up a new currency in a new country with a massive budget deficit (let’s face it: probably the biggest proportionately in Europe) is terrifying, and yet Mr MacAskill et al dismiss it all with a casual wave of the hand.

However, Mr MacAskill’s latest contribution to the constitutional question is much more promising. Writing in The Scotsman, he admitted Scotland was deeply divided and said politics was stultifying as a result, and it was refreshing to hear him say it. There’s still a myth in the SNP that the 2014 referendum was a lovely, joyous event, and there’s never been an admission from the First Minister that it left Scotland bitter and divided. To hear Mr MacAskill admit it openly was a relief because it’s only with an accurate analysis of where we are that we can accurately work out where we should go next.

Mr MacAskill’s opinion on where that should be will surprise quite a few people I’m sure. His preference, he said, remains complete independence, but, given the current impasse, a coalition should be built around “home rule” – essentially, everything devolved except defence and foreign affairs. According to Mr MacAskill, taking such a route would undermine neither independence nor the union but would facilitate the progress Scotland needs. “Building a coalition to expand the powers of the Scottish Parliament without breaking the Union must surely be possible,” he said.

To hear a nationalist speak like this is surprising, but in a way it’s strange that we should find it surprising. As Mr MacAskill points out, home rule has radical, left-wing roots and yet support for home rule, or federalism if you prefer, has been lately associated with conservatives and unionists. Partly, that’s because of the historic division in Labour between the radical supporters of home rule and the anti-devolution element that thought it would mean more bureaucracy, more expense, and a worse deal for the poor. But it’s also partly because there’s always been a wing of the SNP that’s suspicious of anything short of independence – even when devolution was happening, some suspected it was all just a ruse to appease the Scots and thwart independence and they feel the same way about home rule or federalism.

But Mr MacAskill’s logic should be convincing for nationalists and unionists. The nationalists who were suspicious of devolution were ultimately proved wrong – devolution did not dampen down nationalism – in fact, as a result of it, they are now closer to independence than they’ve ever been. So why would they resist home rule? Surely it is a step even closer?

As for unionists, the logic is just as compelling. No one thinks we can carry on as we are – in Mr MacAskill’s words, caught in a cycle of “we demand a referendum” and “you’re not getting it” – so home rule may offer a way forward. David Cameron’s great mistake (one of many) was to reject the idea of putting Home Rule, or Devo Max, on the ballot paper in 2014. If he had, it would probably have won and meant a much lower share of the vote for independence and there’s no reason to suppose the situation has changed much. In other words, if middle Scotland likes home rule, introducing it might move us on from the battlefield of Yes versus No.

It’s just a “might” of course, but perhaps Mr MacAskill’s comments could also reconnect the idea of home rule with its radical roots. We’re in the weird position currently where the SNP keeps saying it is radical but doesn’t do much that actually is radical. Under the current devolution arrangements for instance, it could be much less cautious with the powers it has, by making taxation more progressive for example. And yet it doesn’t.

And surely, as Mr MacAskill suggests, the SNP could also support the “radical” choice of home rule as a step forward towards independence. Instead, it argues for full independence, all or nothing, while making not very much progress towards it. But my question for the nationalists in the room would be: what is more radical? Constantly calling for independence but pretty much staying where we are? Or going for home rule and potentially getting a little bit closer to the ultimate aim?

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