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From Project Fear to Project Fantasy

On Sunday afternoon, BBC Radio 4 broadcast an adaptation of Walter Scott's novel, Redgauntlet.

The action was, however, moved to 2035 - in an independent Scotland. The Jacobites of the book were turned into revolutionaries seeking to re-unite Scotland and England because, as one of them says: "We all know independence hasn't worked."

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In the background to the drama, there were references to the need for passports to move between Scotland and England, to separate currencies and to marijuana being legal in Scotland (but not England).

There was even mention of a pregnant woman being spat on and harassed because the father of her baby was an Englishman. The narrator was the prominent No supporter David Tennant.

With the recent launch of the unionists' Project Fantasy, this was indeed a BBC play for today.

After the many months of Project Fear's "Naw, ye canny" campaign, Better Together is now trying a more positive approach.

A vision of heaven on earth north of the border is being conjured up provided Scots vote No. The chief plank of Project Fantasy, the main strand in the fairy tale, is Devo-Max(ish), sort of.

Each of the main unionist parties has published vague promises of further devolution of legislative and tax-raising powers. All differ markedly. Could you ever imagine them agreeing on one?

If they do, you can be certain it will include abolition of the Barnett Formula. Enhanced tax-raising powers will be an excuse for a big reduction in government spending in Scotland. Another thing you can be sure of: the revenue from North Sea oil won't be channelled through Edinburgh.

Though fantasy writer JK Rowling is a big No supporter, it's Gordon Brown who's created an advanced version of this devo-max game - federalism. The reality is that in the highly centralised polity that is the UK, this particular make-believe will never get beyond Level One.

The English regions show no appetite for regional assembles. The north-east decisively rejected such a proposal in a referendum a few years ago. Without English regional assemblies, England (with 85% of the population) is too predominant in the UK for a federal system to work.

Would the existing Parliament be the federal parliament? If so, would the English parliament be the House of Commons sitting with English MPs only? That's absurd but can you see the London establishment, especially Westminster politicians, allowing an English Parliament to meet in Manchester or Birmingham?

John Major is a good representative of that establishment. He recently warned us that the USA 'would never forgive' a threat to remove nuclear weapons from Scotland. Major opposed devolution. Presumably, he'd get the Yanks to declare war on us to prevent more democracy coming our way!

As Sir John's scolding reminds us, Project Fear is still running alongside the new fantasies. There's that Scottish cringe to pick away at.

And it would be hard anyway for the likes of Alistair Darling to do positive. Only last week on Andrew Neil's politics programme, he was asserting it was his duty to warn Scots of the consequences of a Yes vote. Scotland's self-appointed National Jeremiah.

Still, have you noticed how he now adds to the end of his usual, hair-raising predictions of doom that Scots "can have the best of both worlds" if they vote No? I suspect though that the worlds he has in mind are probably Krypton and Middle Earth.

What Project Fear and Project Fantasy share is a lack of worry about facts. Take the estimated start up costs of an independent Scotland. When the No side claimed this would be some £2.7 billion, the academics in this field pointed out it had got the figures slightly wrong. By a mere 650%. A grotesque mixing of fantasy and fear.

Even supposedly neutral agencies are joining in. According to the Office for Budget Responsibility, academic and industry evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, the dial showing our oil reserves is zooming towards empty at a speed of knots.

But we can't be surprised at the UK establishment taking sides. The partiality of the BBC is evident in more than just its choice of fantasy dramas.

Take Pienaar's Politics, also on Radio 4 last Sunday. The host made much of Alistair Carmichael's acceptance that Scotland would not be kicked out of the EU in the event of a Yes vote.

Instead, Carmichael said the real issue was that an independent Scotland's terms of membership would be much less favourable than those currently enjoyed by the UK. That's a debatable contention but at least it moves us on from expulsion on September 20.

However, the BBC's news bulletins later that day only reported Carmichael as insisting an independent Scotland would have to re-apply for EU membership.

No wonder Project Fear hasn't been abandoned. With the BBC and much of the media prepared to headline preposterous doomsday scenarios, it's a reasonable bet that doubts will be put into the heads of many Scots.

We could of course just stop listening to the BBC. But a much better way of terminating all this fantasising is to vote Yes.

That will put an end to all the pipe-dreams about devo-max and federalism. However, what many Scots don't yet realise is that a No vote will put an end to them as well.

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