When Gordon Brown edited the original Red Paper on Scotland in 1975, the SNP was on a high after winning 11 seats in the General Election the previous year; now a new Red Paper has been published as Scots consider how they will vote in next year's referendum on independence.

The original paper rejected independence and the new one does the same, but in proposing devolution to a greater or lesser extent, both papers have raised an issue that may end up being more important even than independence: the idea of a federal United Kingdom.

The authors of The Red Paper on Scotland 2014 believe such a federal arrangement, with most powers devolved to four parliaments and others such as foreign policy retained by a central parliament, would help bring about a more equal Scotland. They propose widespread devolution of fiscal powers and suggest the Scottish parliament should have the ability to nationalise industries.

It is a radical policy document and although the authors say it is hard to believe the original Red Paper was edited by Mr Brown, in many ways the proposals are totally in tune with the former Prime Minister's vision. Then rector of Edinburgh University, the young Brown wrote that meeting Scotland's social and economic needs was more important than independence. The authors of the Red Paper 2014 argue something similar: radical social change is more important than the blind alley of independence.

The best way to deliver this radical social change, say the Red Paper authors, is federalism and, certainly, should the Better Together campaign secure a No vote in the referendum next year, the idea of a federal UK will become the most pressing issue in Scotland's relations with the rest of the UK. The authors of the Red Paper 2014 say the Better Together campaign and its alliance of Tory, Labour and LibDem has alienated much of the labour movement and whether true or not, many Scots have come to associate the No campaign with the austerity measures some of its supporters have implemented in Government. It is an association that First Minister Alex Salmond has done his best to exploit.

The position of Mr Salmond and others is that only a split from the UK will deliver a fairer Scotland. The authors of the new Red Paper say federalism could do it. Whatever happens, there will have to be a review of Holyrood's powers after the vote next year. Progressive reforms have left the UK with an anomalous, part-devolved, part-centralised system and consideration will have to be given to other options, including a federal structure. The only option that will not be acceptable is the status quo.