With one short phrase a blonde-haired legend from the 80’s said more than all the hysteria of the No side put together. Forget Bowie; it was Jackson Carlaw who made the ground-breaking remark that brings sanity and the Scottish national interest to the front of the debate.
When the Tory deputy promised to “man the barricades” to get Scotland the best deal he could from London after a Yes vote, he stepped out of the laager and dared to speak the truth about what will happen after September 18. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-26296632
But he wasn’t letting any cat out of any bag on how the British government will behave, as the nationalists claimed. The West of Scotland MSP, however elevated in Scottish Tory ranks, will not be formulating policy for the British Treasury any time soon. What he was expressing was the democrat’s view – that this is a campaign we all fight to win and after the people have spoken we implement their wish. In the case of Scottish MSPs, all of them, that would be to wrest the best deal achievable for the Scots. If you believe, as he does, that means currency union and EU membership, then his shoulder will behind Bill Kid’s (fellow panellist on the Radio Scotland programme) and Alex Salmond’s.
That this rudimentary statement became news – and was predictably hijacked by sections of Yes claiming it meant more than it actually did – provides an insight into the conduct of the national debate so far. To me it is axiomatic that the politicians exist to serve the people so long as they find their demands within their conscience – otherwise they resign. Anybody actually questioned on this point in the No side will surely say Of course they will abide by the democratic decision. It’s just that the tone of their approach says the opposite, not helped by an honest declaration designed to clarify being turned against him. If, for once, a politician tells the truth, how helpful is it that his opponent jeers as if it’s a slip and his own side tut in despair? These reactions typify the Twitter age where grown men – no names – bitch and snarl in tweets like schoolgirls.
I think the Carlaw Doctrine is one of the most sensible interventions so far, at a stroke opening up a new vista in which all Scots come together in a common cause whatever the outcome. It shouldn’t be a revelation, but it is. It sounds almost statesman-like against the shrill relish of his own leader whenever an obstruction is placed in front of independence. Her delight is evident in her latest “massive tax bombshell” – that VAT will be levied on all goods and services by the EU. “It’s not just Scottish families that would be affected, but Scottish business too. Thousands of people in Scotland are employed across the construction sector in areas like shipbuilding and aircraft repair – areas which benefit enormously from VAT exemption and would be hit hard by such tax breaks being taken away under independence. No ifs, no buts – those are the rules for any new member.”
Actually there are If and Buts, the first being that it only applies to “new Members”, a category the treaties could not ascribe to Scots, even new Members negotiate their own exemptions and the principle that a Member shouldn’t suffer detriment through EU membership. She conveniently forgets David Cameron’s pre-election statement (before raising VAT to 20 per cent): “We have absolutely no plans to raise VAT.”
In May 2009, said that he would never raise a tax that “hits the poorest the hardest”.
He said: “You could try to put it on VAT, sales tax, but again if you look at the effect of sales tax, it’s very regressive, it hits the poorest the hardest. It does, I absolutely promise you. Any sales tax, anything that goes on purchases that you make in shops tends to . . . if you look at it, where VAT goes now it doesn’t go on food, obviously, but it goes very, very widely and VAT is a more regressive tax than income tax or council tax.” And then he put it up. Ifs and Buts, Ruth?
Apply the Carlaw Doctrine to the above and instead of hysteria which even at a human non-political level turns people off, you get instead: Has the first Minister considered how EU VAT rules will apply? Without exemptions the cost to families and businesses could be severe. Which exemptions does he propose retaining and has he, for example, spoken to the building industry? If not, will we have to step in to help him fight the European Commission on Scotland’s behalf to save the exemptions?
That way you get out two messages. One, you’ve flagged up a potential problem for Yes which fits your campaign and two, you’ve also informed the voter that whatever the outcome you stand ready to serve the country’s need. Isn’t it simple?
It also makes it harder for your opponent to criticise, since in a way, you’re standing with him, albeit with a different outlook. Maybe it’s too complicated, after all.
What has become complicated is the other fair-haired superstar in the debate, David Bowie who made a delicate intervention which I thought was sweet but said nothing…only that he was engaged with it, which I like. In fact, what’s not to like? To me this is a sign that our debate is reaching out way beyond Scotland and making all kinds of people think. It’s a lot better than being ignored. It also puts Bowie in the same category as Jimmy Krankie and I like that too having never understood what his music was about or who Captain Tom was. Bowie also managed to unleash yet more ill-informed metropolitan moaning from the Guardian stable. The Observer actually wrote a leader on it bemoaning the childish abuse Bowie had – apparently – received. (Does anyone ever see this abuse? Did anyone ever get sight of Susan Calman’s offensive epistles or did we take her word for it?) Frankly, if you enter the debate – and Bowie did, you take what’s coming. We all do. It’s part of the game so grow up. Which is why I was astonished at the Observer characterising this as indicative of our campaign which is like saying all football should be stopped because of 10 thugs on a terracing. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/23/scottish-independence-proper-debate-david-bowie-twitter
“The subsequent outpourings on Twitter were mostly negative, puerile and cumulatively underlined the message that, without a sharp reversal of course, the Scotland debate that ought to be an important platform for a modern, informed and progressive exchange of views on the meaning of national identity, the value (or otherwise) of the union, and the possible development of a more positive form of nationalism, will prove elusive.”
Really? Is that what you think in London? For years now we have been having erudite and intellectual debates in our country covering all those areas and more, we have think tanks, forums of academics, Nobel Laureates, and entire online community and two huge campaigns running, the Royal Society, the David Hume Society and the National Institute for Economic and Social Research have weighed in along with the Institute for Fiscal Studies and in case you don’t receive television down there, even Richard Madeley has given his Einstein opinion. There are public meetings all over our country. We are debating nuclear weapons and their worth, a new Nordic model for tax and welfare, how to live off renewables without nuclear to save the planet, how to end poverty, ditching the neo-liberal economic model, how nationalism fits with social reform, should education be free? We are having a debate in Scotland that you couldn’t begin to have in London where your only obsession is house price inflation and bankers’ bonuses. If anybody needs to grow up, it is you supremely cocky, ignorant M25 media luvvies who know nothing about the country you write about. This is more condescending drivel which inches us further away from those who claim to be the bright and conscientious and who increasingly display just how far apart we now are in Britain.