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Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Are Scots The Most Venal People On Earth - Or Is It Just Our Politicians?

One of the most depressing features of the campaign for independence, is the almost total lack of any principles associated with it. Clinton coined the phrase, "It's the economy stupid" but he was referring to a political campaign involving political parties seeking to form the next government of the United States of America. The referendum is not about the election of any particular party, although we could be forgiven for thinking that the SNP was the only party that mattered and the entire independence campaign was about the election of the SNP. That is the fault of the media in part, as from the outset, there was a determined effort by the SNP to emphasise the distinction between it and the Yes Campaign. Unfortunately, as the campaign has continued, the differences have become blurred - quite deliberately much of the time - and laziness on the part of large sections of the media, has ensured that as far as the public is concerned, there is little or no difference between the two. That may now suit the SNP as it has increased its party workers, however inadvertently, by a considerable margin.

The referendum campaign is about the future independence of the Scottish nation and the question to be asked, "Should Scotland be an independent country?" could not make that any plainer. I pointed out in a previous blog, that the figure of £500, as the figure needed to bribe Scots to vote for independence, seems to have appeared out of thin air as no one knows why it should be £500 and not £400 or £600. The fact that any figure, of any size, should be put on the political freedom of the country, is demeaning enough, but to set the figure at such a paltry level, is surely a measure of how little self-respect many Scots have. The natural reaction to such a comment, that will come from many Scots, will no doubt be, "It is all very well for someone who doesn't need the money or is quite comfortably set up in life, but £500 could make an enormous difference to a great many Scots and should not be lightly dismissed as being of no importance."

That is no doubt true and the evidence is in the food banks which fed over 50,000 families last month alone, an abomination in a country as rich as ours, but you would find it almost impossible to find any argument coming from any of our political leaders which did not mention money. The leaders of the SNP have said time and again, they do not want independence for its own sake, then follow up with a litany of how much better off we could all be if only they had the freedom to control tax and spending. On the other hand, the No side, with a string of Westminster politicians in their wake, claim to be able to put a price on everything if we vote Yes, making it perfectly plain they know the value of nothing. The traditional arguments against independence, included the charge that the country was "too poor" that "our standard of living would fall" that "without English subsidies etc, etc..." Public reaction in Scotland, together with a greater awareness of how insulting they were being, caused Westminster politicians to change their tune slightly, and Cameron was one of the first to admit Scotland could "make a success of independence."

We could be forgiven for supposing that this would mean, that by being a "success" we would at least, be able to maintain our current standard of living without relying on some imaginary largesse from our Southern neighbours. We would be wrong, because, although Westminster politicians have been less inclined to speak openly about English subsidies, the London dominated media and English commentators, still speak disparagingly about Scots' ability to finance our current life style. Since the day the campaign started in earnest, we have been subjected to a daily list of the items we could not afford or which would increase in price, if we become independent. The first casualty was oil, which suddenly began to disappear at a much greater rate of knots than it had only the day before, but Cameron has now cut the feet from his own side's argument by announcing there could be another £200 billion to come out of the North Sea - but only if the UK control the exploitation. They are so used to insulting us and being condescending, they are now no longer even aware of when they are behaving in such a manner. Then, despite the fact Scotland has been subjected to a much higher rate of defense cuts in the past decade, than other parts of the UK, we were told we would be left without an adequate defense force after independence because we simply could not afford one. So bereft of adequate defense were we liable to be, and so open to likely terrorist activities, that the government of the rUK would probably have to bomb our airports - just to keep us safe.

Last week, Gordon Brown announced we would lose £200 million from our pensions after independence; that coming from the man who completely destroyed the UK pension industry as Chancellor in his very first budget, is surely the height of irony. He then proceeded to create the conditions which allowed UK banks to almost destroy the country.Why he feels in any way qualified to offer Scots any advice is surely a mystery. Unfortunately, the latest ICM poll for Scotland on Sunday, would seem to confirm the view that the economy is still the most important issue which will determine the outcome of the referendum but when every item is given a price but never a value, that is hardly surprising. That was underlined when the argument was advanced that Scotland's universities needed independence to thrive; not because of any perceived threat to the development of ideas or the undermining of their world status, but because of a lack of funding under the Union. Of course funding is important if world class research is to continue, but is the history of Scottish commitment to learning and education and the spread of ideas, going back to the 15th century, the part played by Scottish thinkers in the Enlightenment, not even more important in the debate about how that history and educational commitment can be continued and spread even further?

To be fair to the SNP and the Yes Campaign, much has been said about creating a "fairer Scotland" but how much faith can be placed in that promise, when a major plank in the economic platform is to reduce corporation tax to 15% or to set it at a level at least 3% lower than that of the rUK? The Scottish Government's fondness for centralisation, as evidenced by the abolition of local control of police and fire services, together with the appointment of a guardian for every child and young person up to the age of 18, in Scotland, is more likely to lead to bureaucratic intransigence when and if their authority is questioned, than it will lead to any kind of fairness. The Greens and Scottish Socialists both have political platforms which commit to a re-distribution of wealth and overall "fairness" but both struggle to have their voices heard in the main debate, therefore the Scottish electorate is persuaded to believe the only relevant players in the campaign, are the Unionists on the one hand and the SNP on the other.

The main blame for making the whole campaign nothing more principled than a public auction, must lie with the Unionists. It is their responsibility for presenting nothing but daily scares of how much independence will cost, how much we will lose or how little we contribute to the United Kingdom, as "evidence" of our total inability, alone of every and any other country in the world, to be an independent nation state. The SNP and the Yes Campaign must take responsibility for allowing themselves to be repeatedly cornered into untenable positions, by pretending independence will change nothing. If we intend to change nothing, why bother with independence? The Scots themselves must take responsibility for allowing themselves to be treated as if a few quid here or there, is sufficient for them to give every impression of not having a principled bone in their bodies. Are we such an unprincipled and spineless lot, that the promise of £500 is sufficient to swing tens of thousands of votes either way? Was the figure of £500 or even the whole survey, just a figment of some clever pollster's imagination? If it was, he/she knew his/her audience well enough to get away with it.

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