IT'S a dirty job, but someone's got to do it.
For the next 12 months, as with most of the last year and much of the year to come after this new one, my trade will involve weighing and reporting claims and counter claims about the merits or otherwise of Scotland becoming an independent nation state.
My demands of the protagonists on both sides are few and not particularly onerous. Keep it clean, honest, accurate, positive and – if possible and as a bit of a bonus– let it also be fresh, imaginative and optimistic, whichever cause you are arguing for. Give us a sense of the kind of Scotland in which you envisage real people living real lives after October 2014.
The pro-Union side continues to talk up fear and uncertainty as if it's still February 1999 when Tony Blair unveiled the "Divorce is an expensive business" campaign devised by Douglas Alexander. So far it appears to be working. Facing a double or even triple-dip recession, we indeed live in fearful and uncertain times, but that will be the case regardless of whether or not Scots vote for independence. The 21st century is simply not a time for certainties. The question is whether Scotland can better weather these uncertainties in or out of the Union. There can be no clear answer to that question, only differing opinions and best guesses. Both sides should recognise that.
Similarly, the SNP cannot prove that citizens of an independent Scotland would be better off than if they had chosen to remain in the UK. It does not help that Nationalists can be prone to optimistic assertion – an upbeat song sung into a cruel economic wind which may prevent it being heard, a song with a happy ending and no difficulties along the way.
Look how badly the Scottish Government mishandled the European issue, asserting that there would be a smooth, guaranteed transition to EU membership for an independent Scotland when it had taken no up-to-date legal advice, something which was bound to emerge eventually. It is one thing to offer up the opinion that the EU would in all probability admit a stable, prosperous democratic nation with extensive marine resources and citizens who have long been EU citizens. It is another to assert that this would be automatic. It was a hostage to fortune and badly played.
The other area which has been mishandled by the SNP is the conflation of its own party policies with those of the future Government of an independent Scotland. Keeping the pound, being in the EU and in Nato, retaining the Queen as head of state, these are current SNP policies, not permanent political certainties.
The Yes campaign has recognised this, which explains the thoughtful analysis by former Alex Salmond aide Stephen Noon last weekend when he was at pains to point out that in the event of a Yes vote all parties would be pitching their manifestos to form the first government of the post-independence Scotland. His musing that in theory there might be no place for the SNP once independence had been achieved grabbed all the headlines, but his wider argument was imaginative and full of the endless possibilities which will be open to voters in the event of a Yes vote. Scotland could then be whatever its electorate asked for and was prepared to pay for.
Alex Salmond may not care to admit it, but he is doing exactly what Tony Blair and Bill Clinton did in terms of political triangulation – pandering to the support of political opponents to win votes, while taking his own traditional support for granted. If the First Minister pulls off a Yes result he will believe it was worth it. But it means issues such as Nato or the currency or the monarchy will rear their heads again in years to come. These will not be settled in October 2014, but if Scotland was to vote Yes – a big if, at present – they would be for May 2016.
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