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What's next after scare tactics fail? Smears

It might come as little surprise that the Sunday Herald has elected to be the first, and so far the only paper in Scotland, to declare support a Yes vote in the independence referendum in September.

But it wasn't a decision that was taken lightly. There was a vigorous debate among those involved in the paper.

The general hostility to independence in much of the rest of the media does not appear to be delivering the expected momentum for the No side. In fact, the polls have been narrowing over the past two months since the Chancellor, George Osborne, delivered his Declaration of the Pound.

Last week, YouGov recorded its highest Yes vote yet, at 42% after don't knows were excluded. No has a comfortable lead at 58%. But more worrying for Better Together, YouGov confirmed that many Scots don't believe the Chancellor's claim that "if Scotland walks away from the UK it walks away from the pound".

Forty five percent still think there will be a monetary union after independence, against 38% who think Scotland will lose the pound. Voters also seem to be defying the scare that Scotland would be thrown out of Europe if it votes Yes. Forty six percent believe Scotland would remain a member of the EU, according to YouGov, against 32% who think not.

This is serious stuff. A credibility gulf appears to be swallowing the two key issues on which the No campaign chose to fight this battle: Europe and the Pound. The attempt to threaten Scots with economic ruin and political exclusion is not working. Indeed, it may have been counter-productive. The Scottish Social Attitudes Survey last week confirmed what we knew anecdotally that Yes voters are far more likely actually to vote in September than the No supporters. This is the problem with a campaign based on fear and threats - it tends to induce to apathy and lack of motivation rather than determination to act.

Perhaps this faltering of momentum for No explains last week's rather desperate attempt to turn the referendum into a verdict, not about Scotland's future, but about Alex Salmond's character. Every utterance of Alex Salmond is now ripped out of context, twisted around and reinserted into a bogus narrative that Scotland's First Minister is an apologist for Vladimir Putin, supports Tory tax cuts, thinks Scotland is a nation of drunks and feels political affinity with Ukip's Nigel Farage. This is the politics of the smear. A change, perhaps, from saying that Scotland would be thrown out of Europe or the pandas be sent home, but nastier.

What Salmond actually said in the GQ magazine interview was: "Well, obviously, I don't approve of a range of Russian actions, but I think Putin's more effective than the press he gets, I would have thought, and you can see why he carries support in Russia. He's restored a substantial part of Russian pride and that must be a good thing". That's pretty much a statement of fact and what most commentators on Russia had been saying. Remember, this interview was anyway conducted before the annexation of the Crimea.

Maybe Salmond should have realised these remarks would be turned against him and zipped his mouth. But accusing Salmond of being an apologist for Putin is rather like saying that David Cameron is an apologist for fascism because he supported the Maidan demonstrations in Kiev, which involved the active participation of a number of far right organisations. Actually, I am distinctly uneasy about the new regime in Ukraine and the way it has been promoted by Nato - not least because it was installed after the militant overthrow of an elected president.

NO doubt some will say that makes me an apologist for Viktor Yanukovich and his appalling taste in interior design, but I am not. However, the fact remains that the Ukrainian president could have been removed by conventional means as early as 2015. Replacing an elected leader, even a distinctly unpleasant one, with a junta that includes self-proclaimed national socialists leaves the new regime's democratic credentials just a little shaky. The situation in Kiev is very fluid, contradictory and dangerous, and trying to press it into an ideological mould fashioned by the Cold War does not help.

I'm not even going to bother with the nonsense about Alex Salmond calling Scots "a nation of drunks" - he said we had a drink problem which is beyond doubt. Or that he is a mate of Nigel Farage and supports tax cuts for the rich. I cannot think of any two politicians who are less alike than the UKIP leader and a First Minister who supports the European Union, unilateral nuclear disarmament, green energy, open borders, increased immigration etc.

But there is a section of the UK media, including some on the metropolitan Left, who are determined to portray Alex Salmond as a neofascist because they are unable to comprehend the concept of civic nationalism. To some people, the mere mention of the word nation is suspect - except of course when it is the British nation.

Somehow Tony Blair wasn't seen as a neofascist when he talked of cool Britannia.

Democracy and civic nationalism have always been very closely linked, certainly since the European revolutions in 1848, which was called the Springtime for Nations.

When all those Eastern European countries declared their independence from the Soviet Union after 1989 they were not cast as right wing, neo-fascist or reactionary. Scotland is not under the domination of a foreign power, and such comparisons are of limited relevance. But that doesn't mean that it is wrong for this partially free nation to seek to govern its own affairs if it feels that government from London is no longer acceptable. Scotland never ceased to be a nation after 1707 and has an inalienable right to self-determination. It already has a sovereign national parliament; independence merely extends self-determination to the economic sphere.

Federalism might have been a viable alternative to independence had there been an open minded and enlightened regime in Westminster. But that moment is past. The Liberal Democrat Danny Alexander says that a No vote will lead to federalism, but Liberals have been saying that for over a century. It's certainly not going to happen now. The various schemes for "more powers" offered by the unionist parties have been unconvincing when they are not incoherent.

Even as a non-nationalist, I find myself almost irresistibly drawn therefore to the Yes campaign. As the author and former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway - surely one of the most humane and non-fascist thinkers around - put it last week at a Saltire Society event, it is impossible in this climate to see any possibility of real change happening without a vote for independence.

The only way to achieve federalism in a polity dominated by the myopic city state of London is to remake the UK as what is should always have been: a truly multinational entity in which the component parts - Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and the English regions if they wish, have genuine political autonomy. Perhaps then they could come together in a new political arrangement recognising all parts of the UK.

But it would have to be on the basis of equality. There can be no continuing with a remote government which so fundamentally lacks an understanding of the moral foundation of Union that it would threaten unilaterally to withdraw the pound and force economic ruin on Scotland.

That is redolent of the kind of economic destabilisation that the old British Empire used to deploy in colonial countries in the Middle East and Africa. The demonisation of Scotland's elected First Minister - the elected leader of Scotland - is another.

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