It was tempting to write, "Is the Referendum Alex Salmond's to Lose?" because to the media commentators and therefore the electorate and onlookers South of the Border, it is all about Alex Salmond. As far as they are concerned, there is no one else in the SNP, or at least none that matter. That is hardly susprising as the party has become very much a cult of the personality of Salmond, encouraged by him and those around him. As long as he is performing well, that will work in favour of the desired result in the referendum, but let him make the odd mistake, which he will do, and not only will he be crucified, so will the cause of independence.
Earlier on this blog, I asked if it was possible to have a civilised debate in the lead up to the referendum and, as I suspected, it is going to be difficult. For generations, the aspirations of Scots have been treated with derision by English commentators, any time the issue of Scottish independence or even, in the very early days, the question of devolution, was raised. Sometimes the strongest opponents of any kind of Scottish control of anything, have been the Scottish sections of the London-based parties. Ted Heath, in his Declaration of Perth on 21st May 1968, first raised the standard for devolution but had 20 Scottish Tory MPs, at least half of whom were totally opposed. The Scottish Council of the Labour Party had to be forced, kicking and screaming to support their own Labour Party leader's plans for devolution and, when the opportunity to vote for it came about in March 1979, a Westminster-based Scottish born MP was instrumental in introducing the infamous "40% Rule"; Sir Alex Douglas Home (who liked to boast his ancestors fought at Flodden while neglecting to say on which side) told Scots to vote against this proposal because the Tories would provide something better and Scots Labour MPs Tam Dalyell and Brian Wilson led the campaign throughout for a No vote.
The English media will continue to deride the whole idea because it is in their DNA, they can't help themsleves. Many of them such as Jeremy Paxman and Kelvin McKenzie genuinely believe that we are incapable of governing ourselves, although McKenzie would be glad to be shot of us because he thinks he subsidises us. Paxman, who gives the impression he has some eveil-smelling concoction hovering just under his nose, every time he has to deign to discuss the topic, gives every indication he believes we lack both the talent and the intelligence to run our own affairs. That is good; with any luck those kind of people will be given wall-to-wall coverage in Scotland between now and 2014. The Scottish media will ensure the self-loathing Scots will also be given plenty of air time, as well as endless column inches to tell us how we can't survive without English subsidies. They should be asked - daily if necessary - to tell us how it feels to believe they are living off the backs of the unemployed, the homeless and the socially deprived in England. Those unfortunates would obviously be better off, if they didn't have to subsidise Scots, many of whom are much better off than they are. Where is the dignity and self-respect in not only believing that you are living off people more unfortunate than you are, but in demanding that you should continue to do so?
In having that kind of opposition, the SNP could not ask for better and when we see the calibre of the leadership of Labour, Tory and Lib/Dem parties in Scotland, it would be tempting to agree with Paxman - if that is all we had. It is no more than two weeks ago that the leader of the Conservatives Ruth Davidson, told a TV audience that the Scottish Enlightenment was only possible because of the Union with England. Johann Lamont will struggle to live down the part played by her party, in the collapse of the banking system, or to explain the cynical exploitation of the political system by their once well -loved and now well-heeled party leader, Tony Blair. And who would envy poor Willie Rennie as he attempts to explain to the handful of Lib/Dems left in Scotland, why the party has just abandoned another dearly-held policy commitment? Scots are going to be gey scunnered of this kind of treatment for the next 30 months or so. It is one thing to have to thole it in three and four week bursts during election campaigns, or to know that is the opinion of our English neighbours but it is quite another, to be fed an almost weekly diet of derision and negativity about our abilities, over such a prolonged period. No people, with even an ounce of self respect and a millimetre of backbone, would tolerate it, therefore the SNP has never been in a better position to win.
There is a danger however, that the ground already won and the latent support that needs only one last, relatively small push to become strong supporters of independence, will all be lost by the party's apparant unwillingness to trust the Scottish people with the truth. As the debate heats up and people demand much clearer answers to the important questions which will inevitably arise, it is not going to be enough for the SNP to simply assert, as Unionists do, in the expectation it will be enough. It has been customary in the past for the Unionists to argue by assertion; thus, "Scotland is too small, or too poor, or lacks sufficient talent, or lacks political experience was deemed sufficient, no further explanation was necessary or given.
There are three major issues where the SNP has adopted the same approach, refusing point blank to explain, rather than merely assert. The first is membership of the EU and more particularly, the euro, something which has been a running sore for close on twenty five years. "Independence in Europe" was supposed to be the comfort blanket the Scottish people needed, to persuade Scots an independent Scotland would not be isolated and to take the sting out of the Unionist barb of "separatism". It did neither. It is an oxymoron, a classic contradiction in terms and persuaded no one except SNP activists, and not even all of them as a substantial number of them left the party because of it. Anyone with any knowledge of economics, argued the single currency could not and would not work; it was simply a matter of time before it came to grief. Even with the crisis in full flow, riots in Greece and demonstrations on the streets of several of the worst effected members, the SNP clung to the fanatasy that membership of the euro would be in Scotland's best interest but latterly with the caveat "if the economic conditions are right." The cybernats harassed and abused anyone who dared to suggest the party was wrong while the usual suspects continued to assert the wisdom of the policy in the letter pages of Scotland's broadsheets.
Without the slightest preparation of the ground beforehand, John Swinney suddenly announced two weeks ago, the "SNP could not see the conditions being right for at least another decade". The policy has not been changed, membership has just been delayed. In other words, membership of the euro is still the long term aim and would still be in Scotland's best interest; but not immediately. If the euro survives at all, it will not be in its current form and the SNP's policy stance leaves it open to the charge it simply does not understand the ramifications of the planned reforms or, it does not care and will be perfectly happy with Scotland's economy, including its budget, being run by the ECB. There is no way the SNP could sell that policy to the Scottish people, particularly as they have gone to great lengths to tell Scots that membership of the EU will not be a surrender of sovereignty. Of more immediate importance however, are the consequences which arise from delayed membership of the euro.
The second hole the party has dug for itself is its policy of remaining with sterling in the immediate aftermath of a Yes vote in the referendum and Scotland becoming an independent nation state. The consequences of that have been set out in some detail in earlier blogs and nothing has changed, except the pressure on the party leadership to explain. Salmond annoyed some and infuriated even more, commentators by attempting contemptuously, to brush off all questions anent the policy, by claiming "there are 67 countries in the world who all share a currency in the same way." Was that a mistake - he altered later statements by pointing out that the currencies were shared "either informally or formally" - or was that a deliberate attempt to mislead people, after all he was a professional economist? It is being left to the Unionists and other critics of the policy to explain to the Scottish people just how much this would inhibit any Scottish government's ability to run the economy. The criticisms have been detailed enough to leave no doubt that Scotland would not be independent and, if the SNP did not understand the implications before -a most unlikely scenario - there can be no excuse for not understanding them now. More importantly, there has been plenty of time to offer a rebuttal or a confirmation or an explanation of why the policy is being promoted as the best for a newly independent Scotland. It will be a Scotland independent in name only but the SNP insistes or asserts that not only will the country be independent, but Scots will control the economy. Given the amount of detailed criticism that has appeared in the media and on the internet, that is nothing short of a deliberate attempt to mislead.
The third area of difficulty is of more recent vintage but has the potential to create just as much damage, unless nipped in the bud quickly. An investment fund manager recently asserted, passed an opinion, gave his judgement that an independent Scotland "would be unlikely" to be given the much-valued AAA rating by the rating agencies. Suddenly, it became a vital pre-condition for independence, for the country to have this rating and immediate confirmation was demanded by the three leaders of the Scottish versions of the Tories, Labour and Lib/Dem parties. When it was discovered that the SNP had made no formal request of the rating agencies for a rating to be given to Scotland, but that the party asserted confidently, passed an opinion, made the judgement that the AAA rating would be given to Scotland, another crack appeared in the independence argument. It matters little apparently, that the biggest economy in the world, the USA, as well as Japan, France and 15 members of the eurozone have been downgraded in the past year, that Ireland, Hungary and Greece all have junk status. It took a leader in The Scotsman, to point out that it was impossible to give Scotland any kind of rating at the present time.
This would not have been difficult for the SNP to defuse; it would have been easier still to make the opposition look very foolish and their demands not only unreasonable but totally unrealistic. There is no doubt that the lower the rating a country is given, the more expensive it is for the government to borrow money and the Scottish people will find that out because in time they may have to face it. How much more acceptable would it be if they found out from the people who want to lead the country to independence, the people who have enough confidence in them to believe the AAA would only be a short time in coming? Each time the SNP attempts to mislead Scots or appears to have so little confidence in them, they will not trust them with the truth, more doubts and uncertainty are fostered. The party is in danger of undermining the people's confidence beyond the point of no return.