At the end of the year, where do we stand in the Great Scottish Independence Debate?
I admit straightaway to being very sympathetic to the Yes campaign. Yet I hope I am open- minded enough to allow myself to be persuaded, against all my current instincts, to consider changing my mind if the Better Together campaign can come up with some genuine, realistic positivity about Scotland's future as a constituent part of the UK. Unfortunately what we are getting right now is relentless, unremitting and very tedious negativity. I suppose a No campaign is by definition going to be negative, but even so some of those making the case for the continuation of the Union might allow themselves to look, just occasionally, for a brighter perspective.
Two days ago I read a piece by the leader of Better Together, Alistair Darling, which consisted of a sustained, swingeing attack on the SNP. But Mr Darling is a model of discretion and good manners compared to some of the others trying to make the Unionist case. Take Lord Lipsey, who last week accused John Swinney of acting like a scoundrel. I cannot think of a more honourable and decent politician than Mr Swinney; he is manifestly no scoundrel. On the other hand, if the good lord were to take a look round his own environs in the south, I'm sure he would soon find many who could validly be called scoundrels, although it's a very forceful term of abuse.
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Indeed I'm surprised that there has not been more indignation about David Lipsey's ill-considered outburst. One of my favourite reference books is Prof. Samuel I Hayakawa's Modern Guide to Synonyms (originally published by Funk and Wagnalls in the US and later published in the UK by Penguin). Prof. Hayakawa states that scoundrel is a stronger word than cad, heel, knave, rascal or rogue, and he further writes that all these terms refer to unprincipled people, especially men, who are unethical or immoral in their behaviour, particularly for their own gain or pleasure.
So the big problem for those on the No side of this extended debate is this: How can they get away from all their loose slanging and name calling? How can they escape the shackles of dismal negativity in which they are currently trapped? I wish somebody – Alistair Darling, Lord Lipsey, anyone at all – would present an exciting, coherent and credible view of the Unionist future. I'm sure that such an uplifting, persuasive vision exists in someone's mind somewhere. Why has it not been shared with the rest of us?
Of course there is still time – nearly two years of it. But that raises another serious problem for the No campaign. The Scottish referendum will take place when the next UK General Election is looming. This election could well be one of the most rancid and divisive in recent history. Okay, that sounds negative, and I'm criticising Forward Together for negativity.
But seriously, is the next UK General Election going to be fought in a climate of sweetness and light? Will it be notable for positivity, optimism and respect for opponents? Hardly. Labour and Tory politicians will be at each other's throats and the Liberal Democrats will be desperately trying to disassociate themselves from the Tories. So how on earth will these three parties manage to drop all their differences and divisions and present a united and friendly front as the Scottish independence debate reaches its climax? Will that not seem somewhat hollow, even phoney? As the months roll on, Better Together will be promoting a very peculiar kind of togetherness.
The current campaign is leading to a referendum; if Scotland votes Yes that will not be the end of the matter, just another stage, albeit pivotal, on the journey. There will follow a crucial period of two or three years before Scotland can become effectively and formally independent. Much will have to be thrashed out in that intervening period. This renders a lot of the current scaremongering and slanging so much hot air and acrid, obscuring smoke.