• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Yes campaign must up its game to win over doubters

The SNP's Angus Robertson complained that the Queen's Speech - possibly the last ever to the United Kingdom as it stands - ignored Scotland.

Some might say: "Well, that's what you want, isn't it?" But actually I think he's wrong. I suspect this Queen's Speech had quite a lot to with Scotland, at least indirectly.

Look, it said: forget about that Ukip nonsense, immigration, illegal wars, inequality. The UK really isn't all that bad. Look at our bucket list: Dutch collective pensions, plastic bags tax, anti-slavery bill, tax-free childcare, cracking down on zero hours contracts and firms that undercut the minimum wage plus protection for people on zero hours contracts. A have-a-go-heroes bill and a Cinderalla bill against cruel parents. Even getting rid of corrupt MPs. See: Westminster can learn, can make nice.

No wonder one of Her Majesty's pages fainted. This was like a Queen's Speech given a makeover by The Guardian. It's been called the last stand of the Liberal Democrats but it could also be a cinema advert for Better Together featuring the UK as the home of liberal reformism. And remember, those nice pensions might not be available in an independent Scotland. All your pensions will be at risk under the Nats.

Of course, this Coalition programme was also about wrong-footing Ed Miliband in the run-up to the 2015 general election. But care was clearly taken to avoid anything that might have frightened the horses in Scotland. No mention of that referendum on British withdrawal from Europe; nothing on clamping down on immigration, as promised by David Cameron. No mention of the market reforms to the NHS, welfare reform or the £12bn in extra public austerity that George Osborne talked of in the Budget.

Nothing on changes to the Barnett Formula, the great unmentionable of the referendum campaign. Nor of course anything on new powers for the Scottish Parliament, like the devolution of income tax proposed by the Scottish Conservatives. We only get those if we vote No. On that glorious day Her Majesty will unlock the treasure chest of devolution max, allowing new powers to flow in abundance to a grateful Scotland.

I'm not saying there wasn't a lot to like in the Queen's Speech. No-one is going to object to measures to combat slavery or emotional abuse of children in England.

The pension reforms conceal a lot of complexity despite the promised transparency - but the intentions are undoubtedly sound. They will give people more control, more choice and the opportunity to get pensions that are 30 per cent higher than possible now - as they are in the Netherlands - by drastically cutting the charges the insurance industry levies on pension funds. Mind you the same companies will still be in control of the implementation of the new schemes so pensioners should watch out.

Would collective pensions work if Scotland split off? There's no reason why not, since they have after all been pioneered by the small nations of Northern Europe. Better Together will claim that under EU rules cross-border pension funds will be outlawed, increasing costs, but it's unlikely that pre-existing ones will be. This is one of those EU indyscares the press love as they are essentially unanswerable. Which doesn't mean the Scottish Government shouldn't rebut them.

One of the mysteries of the entire referendum campaign has been the willingness of the Scottish Government to hang around on the ropes while unionist academics and think tanks batter it senseless with financial forecasts and reports calculated to induce anxiety and insecurity among voters. Such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) report yesterday claiming that an independent Scotland would have a deficit of £8bn even with oil revenues.

Now, the IFS is the gold standard of public finance, and is above politics - though it is not above allowing its numbers to be used in a political way. It has released a succession of reports, all saying essentially the same thing: Scotland is getting older, has a higher public spending bill, and oil revenues are declining. This means an independent Scotland would be austerity Scotland because the Scottish government would have to slash public spending or increase taxes to avoid a fiscal crunch.

In fact, the IFS said much the same of the finances of the UK in February. It warned that, even with the Chancellor's extra £12bn in cuts, there would have to be a 30 per cent reduction in non-NHS spending over the next few years. But there is an assumption the UK Government is able to deal with these issues in a way an independent Scottish Government would not.

There are lots of arguments against this fiscal defeatism. It assumes an independent Scotland would not be able to increase immigration which would rebalance the demographics. It assumes that growth policies in an independent Scotland would not be able to improve job creation and tax revenues. It takes a pessimistic view of oil revenues at a time when there is booming investment in the North Sea. It also ignores the fact the Scottish economy has arguably performed more effectively in recent decades and delivered more tax revenue than rUK

But look - it is not for the IFS to make these arguments. It doesn't look back, or take best case scenarios. It takes a static accounting model, sticking firmly to the dismal numbers, and leaves it to the politicians to explain how they would make them add up. And I would have to say that the Scottish Government has been singularly ineffective in dealing with the challenge of fiscal accountability. It has relied too much on the lazy argument that the figures are discredited simply because they are favourable to unionists. This is why the IFS keeps coming back with essentially the same report - they want to underline the apparent inability of the Nationalists to address it.

This is odd because the Scottish government has at its disposal expertise equal to the IFS. I don't just mean the grand names in the Fiscal Commission. It has the civil service, which is very good at numbers and where to find them, and a lot of pretty competent spin doctors. But unless the Scottish Government and the Yes campaign finds a way of getting them into the public consciousness admirable proposals like the new welfare model, unveiled yesterday, will not be given a decent hearing.

This week's Ipsos-Mori poll demonstrates that among women and older voters the Yes Campaign is failing to get its message across. We all know this is the case, anecdotally. According to Ipsos Mori, the referendum is pretty much 50/50 among men and young people are turning to Yes in significant numbers.

I dislike generalisations about gender, but women are probably more risk averse than young men. Unless the Yes campaign and the Scottish Government can convince Scotland's women that their fears are unfounded - fears they find amplified daily in the newspapers - the Queen will be delivering a very different and harsher speech next year. But it will be to the same United Kingdom.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

238112