Monday, March 31, 2014

"No" Show

Okay, now I'm getting scared.

Some time during last weekend, I realised that I'd stopped thinking about what would happen if Scotland became independent, and instead was thinking about what would happen when Scotland becomes independent.

This was something of a surprise. Previously, I'd made the calculation that there was no chance of "Yes" winning, because there were some really big uncertainties, some of them that are completely unanswerable, and without these being answered it was impossible for "Yes" to make a winning case. (The big unanswerables being over the currency and also over the EU. The latter being something that nobody is able to definitively answer - there's no precedent and no clear process either way.)

But something happened a couple of months back, and it appears the wheels have just fallen off the "No" bus.

It started when George Osborne popped up to tell us, in no uncertain terms, that there absolutely, positively, would not be a currency union. And, of course, he was backed in this by Ed Balls and Danny Alexander. So, that's pretty definitive then, since all three parties were unanimous.

Then Mr Barroso popped up to tell us, in no uncertain terms, that Scotland would be out of the EU and would find it "very difficult" to get back in. Then David Cameron got involved, Gordon Brown, Ming Campbell...

And with every statement, support for "Yes" grew, and quite sharply. Suddenly, a 70/30 split is looking more like a 55/45 split. If the polls continue to narrow at the same rate, they will, of course, cross over.

In August.

What was really bizarre, though, was watching this unfold. I have never seen professional politicians act so spectacularly against their own stated interests. Someone should have advised George Osborne that anything he said would have the opposite effect to that intended - in his case, it's not the message that's the problem, it's the messenger.

And, actually, that's a big problem for the "No" campaign - there's nobody who can present the message. The Tories have very effectively (albeit very unfairly) pushed all the blame for the economy only to Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling, meaning anything else they say is automatically suspect. Meanwhile, the Tories are themselves hated up here (and the Lib Dems worse), so they're out. Which means that the strongest remaining figure on the "No" side is Johann Lamont.

But worse was to come, because on Friday the Guardian (who cannot, by any stretch, be described as pro-independence) published a government minister saying that a currency union was indeed still an option. (That this was the case wasn't a surprise, since a union is "eminently sensible" according to one A. Darling. What was a shock was that someone would be silly enough to say it, at least this side of the referendum.) Apparently, George Osborne had been doing to stick with his, rather more sensible, line that it was very unlikely, but was advised (by one A. Darling) to rule it out in a bid to kill off the independence debate permanently.


It is, frankly, hard to see how they could have screwed this up any worse. And now they're left with an utter shambles to try to clear up, a lot of blamestorming to do... and a campaign that suddenly looks like it's going to snatch defeat from, well, not even "the jaws of victory" - they seem intent on losing from an unassailable position.

Which brings us to Saturday.

The band were out fund-raising on Saturday in Falkirk town centre (which went well, but that's not the point right now). Prior to us going out, one of my concerns is that Saturday was intended to be one of the "big push" weekends for both the "Yes" and "No" campaigns - and this was a concern because our band is constitutionally politically neutral. Regardless of any views I, our pipe major, or anyone else might have, we don't get involved.

Of course, a pipe band in a town centre in the midst of a campaign about an independent Scotland (or not) is a mobile photo-op. And I really didn't want to have to measure out an equi-distant location between the two camps.

It turns out that I didn't need to worry, at least not about that - the "No" camp didn't show up.

What really bothers me about all this, though, is that there is no case for the Union being made. "Better Together" is a shambles, Scottish Labour are an embarrassment, and there's no grass-roots campaign in evidence. On one hand we have a bright, optimistic, vibrant "Yes" campaign; on the other, we have... nothing.

I kinda feel I should be happier about this than I am. I decided to vote "Yes" quite some time ago. (And, again, it's nothing to do with England; unfortunately, the government in Westminster is not fit for purpose and I see no way to fix it.) So, shouldn't I be happy that it suddenly looks like we might win?

But the reason I'm not so happy is this: this is the single most important political decision the people in Scotland will ever have to make. Yes or No, it is a question of vital importance that will affect the rest of our lives, the lives of our children, and the lives of generations to come. It will probably never come again.

So the case needs to be made. Actually, both cases need to be made. The "Yes" campaign are doing that. The "No" campaign are utterly failing; they're failing not just to win the argument; they're failing even to make the argument.

The great philosopher of our times, Homer J. Simpson, once said that "de fault" are the two sweetest words in the English language. On this topic, at least, he's wrong. I do genuinely feel Scotland would be better off away from Westminster, but the last thing I want is for Scotland to choose that because nobody spoke for the alternative. That's seeming like a real possibility now, and that's what scares me.

#12: "Pathfinder: the Half-dead City", by Jim Groves

(I'm still about halfway through the last volume of the "Wheel of Time", so it may be a while before I list another book.)

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