A multiplex cinema might seem an odd venue for the launch of the SNP's latest independence campaign.
The Declaration of Arbroath Reloaded, perhaps. For so long as but 100 of us remain alive we shall watch Braveheart. And there is a sense of deja vu about tomorrow's event at Edinburgh's Dundee Street Cineworld, which is billed as the start of the greatest community-based campaign in Scottish history – whatever that means. Haven't we watched this movie before?
Didn't Alex Salmond just have a Big Launch in Edinburgh Castle in January with the world's media in attendance? There will presumably have to be another launch in September when the SNP finally gets round to analysing the results of its consultation on the referendum timing. How many more of these are we going to have to sit through over the next two-and-a-half years until the referendum actually happens? There's only so long that you can go on releasing prequels to the big picture, and the SNP's biggest problem may turn out to be independence fatigue.
Times change and public taste is fickle. Only a year ago Scots astonished themselves by electing a Nationalist Government in Holyrood by a landslide majority. Many Scots, and not just signed-up Nationalists, were really rather pleased with that result. But that was then; this is now. At this precise moment constitutional change is probably bumping along the bottom of the voters' priority list, only marginally above electoral reform and abolishing the House of Lords. People's minds are elsewhere – on their power bills, their mortgage rates, the security of their jobs, the future of their children and their pensions.
The Nightmare on Dundee Street for the SNP is that Scottish voters suddenly take against Mr Salmond and the whole Scottish independence debate as an irritating irrelevance. The questions about questions, the niggles about the referendum date, whether 16-year-olds should vote – I mean, who really cares? For what it's worth, the UK Government now accepts the 2014 timetable; it looks like there will be no second question; the Electoral Commission will have a role in overseeing the referendum; and the SNP will accept modest tinkering with the wording. But even for constitutional geeks like me, it all seems a bit subordinate when Britain is stuck in a double-dip recession as Europe disintegrates.
Now, I'm pretty sure that most Scots could be persuaded to support independence if we could go to sleep tonight and wake up tomorrow as Denmark or Norway or one of the other agile Nordic states. It's an attractive option and the television is certainly better. The SNP no longer has to persuade us that small nations can do very well in Europe. But it's the getting there that is the SNP's big problem: making it real. The Unionists believe that the economic case for independence is the Nationalists' Achilles' heel; it's not – boredom is. Weariness at constitutional pedantry – the futile arguments about whether an independent Scotland might have to reapply to join the European Union when there may not be a European Union left to join.
Most Unionists also think Scots are afraid of leaving the UK because we'd stop getting the Barnett welfare cheques at the end of the month. Wrong again. Most Scots now realise that Scotland would be more than viable as an independent nation. The old scare stories about Scotland being left isolated and impoverished have largely been exposed as economically illiterate. Scotland is a socially homogeneous nation with a highly skilled workforce, a thriving knowledge economy and formidable natural resources. If anyone thinks that North Sea oil is over they should look at the record number of applications to drill for oil and gas in the current licensing round.
Investment is pouring into Scottish renewable energy with offshore wind alone set to create tens of thousands of jobs in the next decade. Indeed, an independent Scotland would, like Germany, probably benefit from being in the European single currency because it would prevent Scotland's petro-currency becoming over-valued.
But we are already in a single currency, the pound zone, and SNP policy is to remain here for the time being. I'm afraid that many Scots are going to say; well, if that's the case, well maybe we should remain in the UK for the time being too – if only to see what happens next.
Scots are a risk-averse race and there's a lot of risk about right now. So Mr Salmond's task tomorrow, as well as reaffirming the relevance of independence, is to escape from the quicksand of constitutionalism – of independence lite and devolution max and the rest of the constitutional gubbins.
The First Minister needs to level with us. We aren't an oppressed country; we don't need national liberation. Independence is certainly an option for a nation seeking to restructure its economy and reaffirm its core social values. But is it the right option right now?
The Cineworld complex in Edinburgh's Dundee Street is in some ways a metaphor for the new Scotland. An ugly commercial shed built on the site of Edinburgh's departed brewing industry, it is a retail wasteland of glass and steel where most of the units seem singularly short of customers. This is the great service economy that was supposed to replace Scotland's manufacturing industry and has left us with rather a lot of glass boxes with not much in them.
My own view is that Scotland would, on balance, be better off running its own glass boxes. The UK economy is too bound up with the interests of the City of London; Westminster has been captured by commercial lobbyists and sinister figures like Rupert Murdoch. Scotland's interests cannot adequately be articulated within the present constitutional arrangements, which date from the British Empire, and through a Unionist Parliament dominated by the Conservative politics of the south-east of England. Scotland and England are on different historical trajectories. But while some form of economic independence – lite or max – is in my opinion inevitable, that doesn't mean the voters are going to buy it on the SNP's extended timescale. There is every possibility the SNP has found itself on the wrong side of the political cycle and that scunnered Scots will turn away from yet more constitutional innovation.
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