In an otherwise wholly unedifying spectacle, the second debate between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond revealed three core elements of the Yes campaign's political strategy to win the referendum on Scottish independence.
On the important issue of monetary policy, the First Minister is now simply seeking a mandate to negotiate a currency union. Two things follow.
The first logical consequence is the UK political parties ought to make clear what mandate they would seek from the British electorate.
The Chancellor and his Opposition counterparts have all rejected the idea of a currency union, but have not asked for a mandate for this position. It is time for the UK political parties, via their 2015 election manifestos, to seek a mandate to reject a currency union unless and until the electorate, in a referendum, votes for a currency union. What is respectful of the sovereign will of the Scottish electorate must equally respect the sovereign will of a British electorate (and taxpayers) that would stand behind a currency union.
The second consequence is that, if the Scottish electorate does not know precisely the terms of independence before it votes, then it ought to have the option to vote again once the terms have been decided. This is as true for issues such as EU membership as it is for the currency, the terms of which will require negotiation. Otherwise, a Yes vote simply hands the Scottish Government a blank cheque to negotiate whatever bargain it can strike without the electorate having the option to reject a deal that would be bad for Scotland.
The second thing to come out of the debate is Mr Salmond's concern to tackle child poverty. Given the unacceptably high levels of child poverty in the UK compared with other EU states, giving children a better start in life is an important political aspiration. But if there is a moral case for tackling child poverty it is not a case that is made better by borders. In the First Minister's constituency of Gordon, seven per cent of children live in poverty, according to the End Child Poverty campaign.
Compare that to the 38 per cent of children in poverty living in the Newcastle Upon Tyne Central constituency. Mr Salmond wants a fairer and more inclusive society but only by turning his back on some of the poorest children living in these islands. And it is the poor who will be left behind if his economic policies do not go to plan. An affluent middle class that flirts with independence always has mobility on its side.
This links to the final point. Repeatedly the First Minister asserts the justification for independence is to ensure the Scottish electorate gets the Government it elects. The right to elect a representative of a political party is not, of course, a right to have a Government of the same political complexion unless you live in a one-party state. Sometimes, constituencies in Scotland have sent representatives to Westminster from parties that go on to form a government and sometimes not.
The same is true of constituencies in England, including the electorate in Newcastle Upon Tyne Central, who have returned a Labour Party MP but ended up with a Conservative Liberal Democrat Coalition Government. Pluralist politics means political communities accept the will of the majority. The Scottish electorate is not trapped in a permanent political minority and, through devolution, has multiple modes of political expression via Westminster and Holyrood elections.
Paradoxically, a vote for independence will diminish the number of channels for Scottish political representation. Mr Salmond wants to insulate Scotland from the politics of the Right and, where expedient (as with health services) to constitutionalise policies of the Left. This is not constitutional politics; it is playing politics with the constitution.
So it turns out that all his talk of democratic mandates, an inclusive society and political representation is wholly disingenuous. Mr Salmond simply wants to stack the political decks. And to win.
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