There was a bizarre shock horror story in the US liberal press over the weekend written by a left leaning journalist who had gained access to a briefing given by Karl Rove to high value donors at the Republican Convention.
I both despise and respect Karl Rove, for he is very good at getting right wing candidates elected.
You can guarantee that Axelrod and Plouffe and the other brilliant strategists around the President will not have been surprised, far less horrified, at what Rove had to say, for they will already have wargamed what they believe are their own weak points (on this occasion it certainly can't (just) be the economy, stupid) and tried to work out a counter-strategy. For only losers start from the assumption that their opponents will play "fair". Politics is, after all, a blood sport.
Now I say this because, even at this early stage, there is something weird going on with the Independence Referendum campaign. More naive elements aligned to the SNP are assuming they can dictate the terms on which it is to be conducted. They propose to make a positive case for Independence, even one based largely on the fantasy of lower taxes and yet better public services that might have come straight out of the Karl Rove playbook. We, as their opponents, "must", they insist, make a positive case for the Union.
They further propose that it is taken as a given that the worst possible form of government for Scotland is a Tory Westminster Government. And nobody is to make any attempt to suggest otherwise.
Finally, they claim that their official policy is for civilised dialogue about the nature of nationalism and sovereignty in a modern world, as if we were engaged in an academic seminar conducted by Pat Kane and Gerry Hassan, rather than in war to the knife.
Well, here I propose to let them inside the briefing room. I expect the same "shocked and outraged" response from my SNP readers as some more naive Democrats expressed about Rove. But, while maybe not quite in the Axelrod and Plouffe class, the people around Eck are more street wise. They've already wargamed this and realise that they do not have the counter arguments. That's why they are desperately trying to avoid having a Referendum at all. The good news is that the Tories are apparently coming round to imposing it upon them.
Point One. We'll be doing little more than making a default case for the Union. Independence would mean mass unemployment at the Clyde shipyards. And at Faslane and Rosyth. And RBS will relocate to England (it will of course remain in the ownership of the British Government) as will Standard Life and indeed most of the rest of the Edinburgh financial services industry (for who would want to hold their investments, or their pension, in an unstable foreign country). Americans are highly unlikely to invest in, or even visit, a Country hostile to NATO and indeed all inward investment is likely to more or less come to an end. Worried about benefit cuts? At least you're still getting benefits. It's difficult to see how anything other than subsistence benefits could be paid against the background of the mass unemployment Independence would create. Receiving, or hoping to receive, a British State Pension or a public sector occupational pension? Hard lines.
Working in the public sector? Only if there is money to pay your wages.
And then there's the cultural and demographic effects. A National Broadcaster where you only see what Alex Salmond wants, and even then only if he can afford it. A National Cultural policy that in its promotion of Scottish literature and music makes De Valera's Ireland look like Renaissance Florence. A massive brain drain as any young person of ambition, having escaped compulsory Gaelic in every school, will still have the portable skill of speaking English, at least for the moment, and will, if they've any sense, leave the Country at the earliest opportunity. After all, that's precisely what happened in Ireland.
And when the oil runs out? For the handful of poor souls still here, perhaps cannabalism?
Outrageous? Read the #bettertogether leaflets. They are but an opening, still reasonably civilsed, salvo against a background that most people assume a Referendum is still little more than a theoretical possibility. And already the Nats are calling foul.
And never forget, the reason that negative advertising is so prevalent in American politics is because..............
Point Two. Of course a Tory Government is not ideal but it pays your wages if you're in the public sector. Maintains law and order. Guarantees your pension or state benefit. And even when it is making a mess of the economy, it can still afford to do so. Anyway, we've had Tory Governments before, even Mrs Thatcher, and we're not actually starving. Who can guarantee the same if we let our hearts rule our heads and take a leap in the dark? And, finally, Tory Governments can always be voted out. Once freed from the restraints of "British" civilised norms who can be sure Eck would be prepared to take that risk? And who'd be there to stop him? The Queen?
Point three. I've already made that point.
Sure, you can say negative things about the Union. But the sales pitch of Scottish oppression, relative British economic decline, evil English Tories (from time to time), involvement in foreign wars. They only preach to the already converted. And that's no more than 20% of the population. With a bit of a "sod them all" add on, you get to the 28% that remains my prediction if there is ever a vote.
That's still an awful long way from 50%. Which is why Eck is up to what he's up to.