“My hunch is that poking Scotland in the chest while telling it what it can't do won't help the No's”
Billy Bragg – 12th February 2014
Considering that’s the view of a passionate, patriotic (in the finest sense of the word) Englishman, it makes you wonder what the reaction among voters in Scotland to George Osborne’s scolding lecture will be in the weeks and months ahead.
The First Minister’s response this week was measured and positive – and although many Scottish voters would be tempted to respond “Aye do you think…” to the “No you can’t” diktat from the unionist parties, he opted for the “Yes, we can” message.
Let’s consider Osborne’s track record as Chancellor and credibility. He promised that the UK would keep its AAA credit rating – failed. Reduce the deficit? – failed. We are meant to believe that Mr Osborne is omniscient in economic matters, especially when it comes to the issue of a currency union – and of course, he is guided by the most impartial advice the civil service can provide. A view provided by the mandarins will inevitably incline towards caution, as change is always suspect and the status quo is the default preference at all times. Was the UK Chancellor correct on this occasion? Let’s consider the report from Professor Christine Bell of Edinburgh University.
“Legally under international law the position is clear: if the remainder UK keeps the name and status of the UK under international law, it keeps its liabilities for the debt. The UK took out the debt, and legally it owes the money. Scotland cannot therefore ‘default’. It can be argued that international law does, however, contemplate that on dividing, the two resulting states.”
Some economists have been making dire predictions that Scotland ‘defaulting on the debt’ is irresponsible – and ignoring the actual response from the Yes campaign which is to set out a reasonable negotiating point – that if assets aren’t to be shared, then why should liabilities? Why is a Scottish government not allowed to its negotiate in the event of a “Yes” vote ? That, in effect is the position of the 3 main unionist parties – to deny the right of elected representatives to secure the best deal for Scotland in the event of a “Yes” vote – a blatant denial of the democratic right of the Scottish people to determine their own future. “
Just consider what has actually happened last week – the Tories, Labour and Lib-Dems position as articulated last week is to state clearly and unequivocally that there will be no reasonable negotiations around our joint economic interests in an attempt to bludgeon voters into voting “No”.
In a nutshell, the Better Together message boils down to – there’s no point in voting “Yes” because it’s not going to work ( because we say so) and there’s no possibility of an alternative future. There’s no such thing as political will, there’s no point in expecting your elected representatives to articulate and fight for the possibility of change and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the political and economic systems in one of the most unequal countries in the western world. The fact that those who are articulating the “no change” message have a personal stake in business as usual as the system has worked very well for them (Westminster MP’s) gives them not a moment’s pause.
I watched the first in the “Scandimania” documentaries last night, where Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall travelled around Norway and expect he’ll be accused of pandering to the “Yes” campaign by showing a small successful country that’s made good use of natural and human resources to support a society that looks fairly decent – not perfect, but sustainable. One of the more depressing aspects of the nay-sayers is the petty sneering at our Scandanavian neighbours whenever the prospect of a different society in Scotland is discussed.
I fully expected the big red panic button to be pressed in the run up to September 18th, but am curious as to why now – presumably to halt any sense of momentum in the “yes” campaign, but all this has done is give people time to discuss and consider why there is No Future. The conventional wisdom is that negative always beats positive and that fear always beats hope – that’s tired old politics and my next post will be on how that’s the politics of self-destruction for the unionist parties in Scotland who may find they are destroying their own hopes in order to Save the Union. It’s still in the balance for the referendum, but voters will wonder why in future elections should they vote for parties that are insulting their democratic right to express an opinion, and insulting their intelligence at the same time.