THE recent resurgence of interest in having a third option in any future referendum on independence gives an opportunity to take the debate back to basics.

Surely we should start with a discussion about what vision we have for a future Scotland and then ask what powers we need to achieve it rather than the other way round. For those who believe in social justice, independence should only be a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Political discussion during the past 10 years has been constrained because it has revolved around independence. While there may not be a referendum any time soon, it is still sucking the air out of politics.

If our only choice is independence as delivered by the SNP or status quo, then it is a poor choice.

We know what to expect from the SNP should it become the first government of an independent Scotland. The Growth Commission, endorsed by the SNP membership, gives us some detail. It is based on the simple belief that global capitalism with its free markets and neo-liberal policies is the only possible economic structure. It would lock Scotland into austerity policies for at least the first decade of independence with appalling consequences for public services and jobs.

The Commission's report is committed to retaining sterling as its currency for an undefined future. The Scottish Government would not have control of monetary policy so that even if it wanted to stimulate investment and growth it would not be able. But from the author’s point of view, that wouldn’t matter as he sees no need to adopt a different economic strategy from that of the Tory treasury. The report favours ‘flexicurity’ ie no security for workers and competitive taxation policies for business.

Polls taken after the May election show a country that is divided almost down the middle with occasional swings in favour of independence and then back to favouring status quo. This is a recipe for continuing division and distraction from challenging the policies of both the Tories and the SNP that are failing to address the major problems of poverty, insecure work, low pay, falling life expectancy, inequality in education and much more.

Where does it leave the large number of voters who are wary of independence but who do not support the Tory government and certainly not Boris Johnson?

The Red Paper Collective believes in the sovereignty of the people living in Scotland to make decisions about their future. To allow a democratic choice there should be a clear agreement now that should there be a future referendum it will be on the basis of three options; status quo, independence and radical change based on extended powers.

This third option could be shaped by a coalition for change hopefully with the Scottish trade unions taking a lead. The recent STUC General Council statement recognised the right of the Scottish Parliament to call a referendum but questions the limited binary Yes/No to independence choice and asks for explorations of a third option.

There is a clear model for a three-option referendum which has been used in many countries. Professor James Mitchell, of Edinburgh University, argues: "A third option must be on the ballot paper in any future referendum if we are truly to understand the views and aspirations of the Scottish people. Instead of one simple binary option, the question of whether people want change could be asked, and then, assuming an affirmative vote, two change options would be offered, independence or more powers. This broadens choice and avoids forcing voters to choose between the lesser of two evils."

Independence once voted for can’t be undone. The status quo does allow the possibility of change in the future but endorsing it would be repellent to many working people. We should be able to say ‘yes we want change’, without that meaning we have to say ‘yes to independence’. Unless that third option is clearly defined, we cannot expect voters to entertain it. Defining what that option should be is a far more useful task for the immediate future than being stuck in opposing trenches throwing boulders at each other.

The Red Paper Collective has made a start on this debate in its book Scottish Independence: There is a Third Option which it explores a range of possible new powers and better use of existing powers that could make a real difference. It is time to leave the trenches and build a coalition for real change.

Pauline Bryan, Labour Peer and Convener of the Red Paper Collective