Sunday, 6 July 2014

Spin shouldn't be allowed to scare the Scots out of independence

I am English, as were my parents and their parents before them; even Jacky Charlton couldn’t get me into anyone else’s team. As such I have mostly avoided expressing an opinion on whether or not Scotland should be independent from the rest of the UK.

Then I turned on the news one morning to hear that J K Rowling had been subjected to a ‘vicious’ attack on Twitter for saying she didn’t agree with the ‘yes’ campaign. My first reaction was that nothing in the silly, playground world of Twitter could ever be truly vicious; my second was that something seems to have gone seriously wrong with what should be one of the defining political debates of our age.

Actually both sides in the debate around independence seem to have spent much of their time behaving like the participants in a Twitter squabble.

The basic arguments seem to be, for the Yes campaign that a vote for independence will lead to the creation of a utopia where the sun always shines, services are delivered free of cost and everything is good all of the time. For the No campaign things are much bleaker, that foolishly cast vote in favour of independence will lead to the sun falling from the sky, perpetual winter and hard times all round.

Needless to say since negatives make for better headlines than positives the media has given a large, maybe unfairly so, section of its space over to various members of the three main parties telling the people of Scotland to keep a tight hold of nurse for fear of finding something worse.

If I were a Scot this would make me inclined to vote for independence, largely because it is always better to be on the side of hope, at least it is if you want to world to be a place worth living in.

Independence, were Scotland to gain it in September, would be a difficult option for the Westminster establishment to come to terms with; but not one with which they couldn’t come to terms. Not least because whatever else they may be Alex Salmond and David Cameron are both first of all pragmatists.

Independence would bring problems relating to issues like currency, the new nation’s portion of the UK’s overall national debt and what to do about the oil. Thorny though they are these problems are open to be solved because it would be in the interests of both countries to do so quickly and cleanly.

Where independence could founder, possibly even before it has been achieved, is on those problems that are more intractable because they are linked to expectations. Under Alex Salmond and the SNP the Scots have enjoyed old style social democracy at a time when it is being consigned to the history books over the border.

Salmond is a shrewd man and has used the independence campaign to make the case for Scotland to follow the Scandinavian model with high levels of public services paid for by tax levels to match. This is probably the right choice for the Scots and may well be for the rest of the UK too, but it’s not an easy sell.

The No campaign are banking on most Scots not wanting the higher taxes and levels of state interference in their daily lives involved and aren’t above using scare stories to ram the point home. Even when at the far end of the spectrum these approach the absurd, suggesting that an independent Scotland would be like a miniature North Korea shut off by barbed wire and minefields from its more prosperous neighbour whilst the out of touch leadership cling to a discredited ideology.

Even if this is bonkers there is still the inconvenient fact that if the Yes campaign wins then Scotland will have to negotiate the problems experienced by any newly independent nation. Finding a place in the world, balancing the books and stopping the rosy post- independence glow fading too soon, the good news is that in Alex Salmond they might just have a leader with the guts and political nous to brazen things out in those first difficult years; even so it may be a close run thing.

The truth is it may be too close run; there is a real chance that as with the vote on AV in 2011 negativity could win the day. Not by having the best arguments, but by hammering all the wrong ones so fiercely the No campaign will turn off enough people to win by a narrow margin.

That is what politics has become in one of the most developed countries in the world as it bumbles its way into the second decade of the twenty first century. Not a battle of ideas because there are precious few ideas left, just the insistent whine of an establishment determined to hang onto power.

That’s tragic and dangerous because it holds back progress in favour of the order to which the people who have always held power have become accustomed. What follows on from this is the slow atrophying of our democracy as each government proves to be a little more remote than the last.

I hope that doesn’t happen this time and that the people of Scotland show us all the way by taking their courage in their hands and voting for independence. If they do and it works, as it will, then it will open the way for councils and communities across the country to crawl out from under the Westminster behemoth and demand politics on a more human scale.

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