By Guy Stenhouse

In all walks of life – social, political, business, words are used which we know actually mean something else. For example if a business person says sales are quite “flat” you know they are probably falling rapidly , or if market conditions are described as “challenging” it means they are Bad.

Sometimes the reason for this is kindness – not wanting to upset people. Sometimes it is politicians excusing their stupidity or fibs. “I may have misspoken” is a recent and unwelcome import from America. In the Covid-19 world fancy words like exponential rather than very rapid are used to describe the progress of infections so that we remain in awe of our masters on the telly.

Often, however, powerful words are used to attempt to manipulate us. The biased question the SNP Government first proposed we should be asked in the 2014 referendum was “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?”. The Electoral Commission was asked to have a look at this question and recommended the “do you agree” part of the question should be dropped. The Scottish Government accepted like lightning, having achieved a major success, a question about independence and the answer they wanted you to give was Yes rather than any other word. David Cameron’s over-confidence about the outcome of the referendum – which became a bad habit resulting ultimately in his downfall – led to him not retaining any control over the question to be put to the Scottish electorate. It handed the SNP a huge advantage by enabling them to pose a question which was highly favourable to their cause.

What does independence feel like? Going to the pub when you are 18, passing your driving test, having your own money, owning your own home. Independence is a highly positive word. Add to that the Yes/No answer. Are you a negative person or a positive one? Which is better, more galvanising, more tomorrow – Yes of course.

Independence sounds like doing what you want but it is not what Scotland could have. It would move from the British Union, of which it is an important part and which is moving in the direction of giving increased powers to its constituent nations, to the EU, where it would be a marginal player, and where the direction of travel is towards increasing centralisation of power. Instead of having some power exercised by London, it would be exercised by Brussels and Berlin – where’s the improvement there?

In due course we would have to join the euro and we would have to curb our significant budget deficit by spending less, not more. Even before that, if Scotland had its own currency, we would be dependent on international financial markets in which we would be a far weaker player than the UK.

Meaningful independence is the ability to do more for your citizens, not less. At the moment Scotland has the independence to shape its response to Covid-19 to suit its particular circumstances, whilst still drawing on the financial strength of the British Union. This is the best of both worlds. What we see as chaotic in England is in fact a clash of centralised versus local action and it is quite clear that more local resource and action would be an improvement . Centralised bureaucracies are not good at dealing with circumstances which vary significantly across a large nation. The lesson England should learn is that devolving power to its regions, many of which would have a larger population than Scotland, would be a good thing. In Scotland what we are seeing is a political arrangement which – far from being broken – is working well.

The real constitutional question is whether Scotland should remain in the United Kingdom or leave it. Do we separate or not? The word "independence" is an emotionally powerful red herring . Separation from the UK – the shattering of the UK single market, a different currency, a huge fiscal hole to fill – would reduce the potential for our citizens and adversely impact our economy, making the high-quality public services we want less, not more, achievable.

The Scottish public know the difference too. An opinion poll as recently as last month showed that if the question asked was whether Scotland should remain in or leave the UK, Remain had a lead of 10 percentage points over Leave.

Words matter. Scotland must face the real and honest question, not a misleading one.

Guy Stenhouse is a Scottish financial sector veteran who wrote formerly as Pinstripe