Here’s a happy thought for Yes campaigners. They have already won the argument against the Union…the problem is they still haven’t convinced the Scots. It may be that this formulation of apparently contradictory effects is the reason the polls so far are stuck in neutral and a sense of gradual movement is hard to detect.
Take the first part of the equation. Is there a rational person – as opposed to the determinedly committed – who still says Scotland can’t do it? It isn’t so long ago, in the pre devolution age, that a belief in Scotland’s almost total ineptitude was the conventional view. We were totally and hopelessly dependent – and weirdly untroubled by it – on the British Establishment whose agents we respected in the shape of a Scottish Office, often including unelected pantomime toffs – Lords Glenarthur, Mansfield, Sanderson or Strathclyde, anyone? Devolutionists were a rag tag of ne’er-do-wells and the disenfranchised fed up with opposition. As for the dangerous dreamers of the SNP…
But since Scotland has demonstrated, rather than postulated a confident capacity to legislate in it’s own interests and move in a divergent direction, it is only flat-earth ears who say it can’t be done today. Largely unnoticed the official line has been changed by the facts and is now a completely different formulation that says: Of course Scotland can do it but is it worth it? That’s a completely different proposition based on reality. A binding agreement (on the face of it) is signed by the British state to guarantee that independence if there is a simple majority.
All that is left to the No Change brigade is to show how devoid they are imagination, inspiration, belief and pride by running down Scotland’s prospects to make independence appear too risky. For me the proof that they are finished in terms of argument is two-fold. One, they are now reduced to hiding the truth. This comes in the form of allowing their leader to duck out of the one major head-to-head event of the entire three-year campaign which could have commanded total national attention and revealed the true divide between the sides…Cameron versus Salmond live on television across the United Kingdom. I still find it jaw-dropping that this has been dismissed as not being the role for the leader of the United Kingdom, a man who will fight tooth and nail for Union and whose sole political skill is presentational. Editors have allowed him to slip out of this in another demonstration of supine complicity by a media still exhibiting 1950s deference to the British state. I suspect this may become unsustainable though as the polls tighten and the London media which does have the balls to take on Downing Street starts to get frightened of the outcome. Backed by hysterical backbenchers, it is entirely possible that cowardly Cameron will be pleading for a pop at Salmond before voting day.
Second, London’s refusal to take up Brussel’s invitation for clarification on the attitude the institutions will take and the approach we can expect to our membership is the kind of sleight of hand the same brave Scottish media would have lambasted Salmond for. They did after all make a mockery of Salmond not having asked about membership when the freedom of information row was filling their pages. But now when there is a clear course of action to enlighten the voters, they shrug with indifference. Where is Catherine Stihler when you need her?
Taken together these two denials of openness and democratic choice, along with the unsubtle failure to be honest about currency union, demonstrate they have nothing to gain from revealing the truth while protesting it is Salmond who won’t give answers. That hypocritical ruse is their only cover left.
While the uncritical media dutifully report the remarks of a self interest player in Spain, knowledgeable voices are getting through to offer clarity on the real story of EU membership, the latest the unrivalled EU expert John Palmer.
Even the much vaunted, by Unionists, IFS figures confirmed that Scotland was in a better economic position than Britain and it is only looking years ahead and only if all British government estimates are accurate that a budgetary squeeze kicks in by which time Scotland can act to step up economic activity and head off demographic changes.
I know many will believe the claims that Scotland still can’t make a success of independence but where are those arguments convincingly made? Increasingly it is the Alistairs who make wild assertions and unsubstantiated claims, not their opponents who now point to the Independence Bible (it’s Sunday) to make their case in the knowledge the Nos have nothing to counter it with. Do you hear cogent arguments made by ordinary Scots apart from a weak and generalized: We’re probably better together?
But why isn’t opinion turning? I think the problem is a large percentage of Scots who aren’t applying logic at all. It isn’t that they are following the detailed debate as such, it is that they have no concept of their country as anything other than what is has been throughout their lifetime, a part of Britain that used to be something special and with plenty of off-the-shelf history but not a place that could conceivably equal other countries. They see Scotland as not a country at all but the way it is seen from London, as a region with history and some differences but, like all subsidiary units, not an equal for the founding nation. It leads to disbelieving outbursts accompanied by furrowed foreheads about “Scotland…a nation. Don’t be ridiculous” sometimes followed with “I’ll emigrate if that happens”. They have been consumed by the British message and have allowed it to demolish what remained of their separate sense of national worth. It is the total success of Britishness which has supplanted their national identity, reduced it to a leisure activity (sport) and rendered them unable to envisage Scotland for what historically and legally it is, a nation like all others which merged in alliance with a bigger neighbour and now may want to rearrange that relationship to suit modern needs. They are not listening to the argument, as is their right, and they probably don’t listen at election time either preferring to believe nothing will change so why bother.
I doubt if many people really do believe the argument that Scotland is better off in Britain, a point daily being dismantled by reports showing personal debt approaching £1.5 trillion – equalling sovereign debt. Families are borrowing to pay utility bills while bankers earn 35 per cent pay rises to £1.6m a year. The government subsidises mortgages for the rich and has to be stopped by the Bank of England before another bubble is created – guess where?
But my No cohort doesn’t connect any of this to their own country or their own vote. It is something that happens to them and they can’t change. They won’t see either the desperate Tory and Lib Dem moves to begin campaigning for continued EU membership because the polls show a real possibility of the UK voting us out.
Yes campaigners can argue all they like but I wonder how many of the Don’t Knows are actually Don’t Cares and Won’t Cares, people for whom there is no political message that gets through and for whom the idea of Scotland as their country is as relevant a flight to Mars.