Originally published in Kettle Magazine 14 January 2014
Tense. It only takes a few letters to consign something to the history books. Does, did. Here, was here. Is, used to be.
Tense is also the best way to describe Scotland right now. The most important debate in a generation (if not more) is being waged by two sides – both claiming they have the best interests of the nation of Scotland at heart.
Think of it as an semi-drunk argument in a dimly lit pub. It’s going on and on and on and on. Your contributions are shouted down, whilst there’s ringleaders on each side of the room volleying put-downs across the bar, their respective sides cheer with each verbal salvo, but without taking it in.
There. You’re sick of it already. Now, here’s an actual fact for you: the campaign hasn’t even begun. The real campaign doesn’t properly begin until June. That means six months more of unregulated bombardment from both sides until someone steps in to vaguely mediate the debate.
Against the notion of going solo, the Better Together campaign have conducted themselves thus far like trial lawyers – relying, almost entirely, on a healthy dose of hyperbole to create reasonable doubt so as to ensure the Scottish electorate return the verdict in their favour.
Meanwhile, the Yes Scotland team are trying to present an alluring image of an independent Scotland that appeals to the majority of the centre-left Scottish electorate. The recent launch of the white paper on independence by the Scottish Government flopped, with much of the vision presented being a mixture of policy that could either be adopted now, or would be wholly dependent on the party of government post-independence.
The white paper is, an all honesty, a big step forward for those without vested interests in either campaign. With many Scots likely anti-independence by default, both campaigns have got their angles right…just about. They said that they wanted to see what an independent Scotland would have to offer. The yes campaign’s response typically featured some (good) anti-Tory rhetoric, or a promise that all would be revealed in the white paper.
Of course, these people also said that they wanted to see what Scotland could gain from remaining in the United Kingdom. There’s been no reply from Better Together, nor does there need to be – ‘project fear’ as they have become to be known by some on the Yes campaign, simply need to persuade that there’s no way of knowing if the grass is greener until they’ve crossed the fence for good.
Dissuasion rather than persuasion is the name of the game as far as Better Together are concerned – the reason the yes campaign have put more pressure on them recently to release their own version of Scotland’s future, as – policy-wise – it can’t be as strong as one calling for full independence, when compared with a limited extension of devolution to Holyrood.
But the thing is: it took a year of the campaign before white paper to come out, by the time this article sees the light of day, the rhetoric pushing Better Together to actually present their own vision will not be as strong.
It’s almost as if the campaigns think that they will get their way by issuing releases nit-picking at the antics of the other campaign, or who they’ve got to publicly ‘come out’ in favour of their campaign. Very few people care, and if they do, they really shouldn’t. The debate is on whether you think Scotland would be better off as a separate entity – not to mention the definition of ‘better off’.
Oh yeah, and there’s not going to be a TV debate. Salmond, undoubtedly the foremost political aurator in the UK, would almost certainly beat David Cameron in a leaders debate.
There’s been two options put forward for a leaders debate: one where the leaders of the campaigns put their arguments across, where Better Together would have a fair chance of winning. The other option is that the leaders of the respective governments in Holyrood and Westminster would face each other off…and Yes Scotland, as I’ve just said, would probably win.
I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on which side supports which format.
And on it goes…