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Tuesday, 14 May 2013

And That Is Independence?

The independence campaign, as opposed to simply the Yes Campaign, has taken a bit of a hiding in recent weeks. The opinion polls have consistently trended in a downward direction and the number of Scots who say they are in favour of independence, is at its lowest level for some months. It is all the more galling, considering there has not been a single positive message from the No Campaign, whose sole strategy has been to spread uncertainty. This has taken little or no effort and has consisted of nothing other than a series of questions of the "Ah, but what about...?" category. That something as ludicrously simple and negative has had such an impact on the support for independence, says much about two things; the wafer-thin confidence of the Scottish people and, the lack of political bite of the independence campaign.

To someone who believes in Scottish independence for its own sake, the fact we have to "persuade" Scots of the benefits of independence, being in control of our own country, the dignity and self-respect associated with independence, is quite dispiriting. That there have been polls, which show that as little as an extra £500 per year, would be sufficient to "buy" the votes of many Scots, suggests that dignity and self-respect are in gey short supply. There will be many who will say I have no right to take that attitude but when it was raised on Question Time, which was being broadcast from Scotland, Janet Street-Porter and Frank Field could hardly hide their disdain. Frank Field summed it up when he said, "I expected to get a hard time up here tonight, but if the only reason you want independence is money..." All of that aside, the independence campaign is going to have to change gear quickly, if it hopes to get a "Yes" vote next September.

I have long been of the opinion that the SNP no longer seeks independence and regularly criticise the party as a consequence. I am just as regularly ridiculed as a "purist" or caricatured by SNP supporters, as some kind of neanderthal "full of bitterness and hate for the SNP" although none of them has been able to explain how what they propose equates with any acceptable definition of independence. One of the reasons the No Campaign has found it easier to ridicule many of the claims made by the Yes side, is the way in which the meaning of the word "independence" has been stretched to the point where there is no circumstance which the SNP does not include in its definition. If after independence is established, Scotland controls its own monetary policy, that is independence BUT, if the Bank of England controls monetary policy, that is still independence. Unfortunately, the SNP presumes to speak for the independence movement and its pronouncements are made with that intention. We are all expected to accept that whatever policy position is adopted by the SNP, is the policy which will prevail AFTER independence. Patrick Harvie of the Greens, has already been moved to remind everyone, "We can't just be there to wave the flag for someone else's campaign." Of course, we are also given an assurance by SNP supporters, that we can always change everything after independence, as if the real world of politics was that easy.

Why should any of the above impinge on the Yes Campaign, which has gone to considerable effort to impress on us that the referendum is not about policy, it is about deciding if Scotland should be independent? If that was how the vast majority of the Scots electorate saw it, those who think about politics - perhaps - at an election, that would be fine, but unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the Yes Campaign, it is still seen as the creature of the SNP. It now has to either accept that is the case and try harder to change the image or,   just admit that it has itself to blame for allowing that to happen and go with the flow. Whichever path it chooses, it must also do something about its inability to effectively counter the No Campaign, by presenting a harder response to its more ludicrous claims.

The problem the Yes Campaign will have if it contradicts the SNP, as happened with the currency for example, is the likely reaction of the SNP supporters, who resent any opposition to the party. Dennis Canavan was only one of several members of the Central Committee who said he preferred a Scots currency, but he rather spoiled the effect by going on to say he would also consider the euro in time. He opted for a Scots currency by saying, "If Scotland were to have its own currency then it would have far more freedom to do its own thing and it would have a full range of economic levers to determine its own economic policy." All of that is perfectly accurate but if we later adopted the euro, we would have none of those powers or freedoms.

The Yes Campaign placed itself in a similar position when it said, "The people who care most about Scotland, are the people who live in Scotland, who will be taking the decisions about our future." then, "As a member of the European Union we will have access to the world's largest free market...and independence is the best way to guarantee it". That is not only SNP policy, it contradicts the whole notion of independence, as well as the claim the Yes Campaign is not about policy. Blair Jenkins also endorsed the SNP's volte-face on NATO, stating "It will be to the benefit of the Yes Campaign".

It is little wonder the Scots electorate is confused about what independence would mean. SNP policy has been full of contradictions. It endorsed the ERM until it collapsed eighteen months later, but it then endorsed the euro, with Alex Salmond claiming the "pound is a millstone around our neck", but then the euro went into meltdown, so it decided that perhaps the millstone wasn't really so big after all and plumped for a currency union based on sterling, arguing with every policy change, "we will still be independent". We are all expected to accept all of this because a committee of "experts" has endorsed it. There is no doubting the economic expertise of the Fiscal Commission but their policy paper did not conclude by stating, "...And that is independence". No, what they endorsed was the SNP's economic policy, not independence. The next time Scots are asked to accept the findings of another panel of experts, it will do no harm to ask, "How many of them are Scottish Nationalists, how many of them favour independence, how many of them are prepared to say, "And that is independence"?


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