Sunday, 7 September 2014
Time to be blunt.
So. There has been a poll and we are on the point of Armageddon. Apparently.
For what it is worth I do not believe that if the Referendum was to be held tomorrow that the nationalists would win and I strongly suspect that in their heart of hearts neither do they.
But only an idiot would now dispute that if the poll was held tomorrow they would get a decent result. By which I mean a result above 40%.
Now my critics can feel free to pile in to observe that I have long maintained that the Yes vote would be 28%. I still maintain that is the true level of support for Scottish Independence, somewhere between a quarter and a third of the electorate. I readily concede however that I have misjudged how the campaign would unfold. My misjudgement was in assuming that people would vote based on the relative merits or demerits of Independence. It is increasingly clear however that, for a critical section of the electorate, they are proposing to vote not against the union but against the real world.
There is a profound disillusionment with politics in the United Kingdom, indeed across the wider democratic world. It manifests itself in any number of different ways. Insofar as in Scotland it has not, so far at least, led to support for Parties of the extreme right, as it has elsewhere in Europe, or to violent religious fundamentalism, as it has elsewhere in the world, I suppose we have some cause to be grateful.
But it is the same phenomenon. That "the system" has failed to deliver for the "little man" (and woman) in a way it is perceived to have done (often quite wrongly) in days gone by. Indeed that the system has failed to such an extent that virtually nothing else could be worse.
These tides of opinion come around from time to time. In different times they gave rise to the belief that capitalism itself was the problem that needed to be swept away, in others that what was needed was submission to the will of a unique man of destiny as the embodiment of the national will.
And the problem on each and every occasion for the supporters of the status quo was that they found themselves hobbled by the faults and limitations of the status quo while those advocating something new could never be accused of that having failed because that "something new" had never had the opportunity to fail.
But each historic example had its own unique features and so does what we are currently experiencing in Scotland.
It has been a fundamental error of the No campaign from the outset to assume that the key to victory was to deliver the solidly unionist Tories and Liberals to the polls and then to get Labour voters there along side them with the assurance that a Labour Government is just around the corner. That's not to say a Labour Government is not just round the corner, it probably is. The problem has been to assume that Labour's traditional electorate in Scotland is as enthusiastic at that prospect as the Party's hierarchy undoubtedly is.
For we face a dual problem. The days when a new government could offer a real and immediate transformation to the economic prospects of the electorate are past. Peter Hennessey wrote a book about the 1945 Government entitled "Never Again". I suspect that many Tories have a similar conclusion about the 1979 to 1990 period and see a possible solution in withdrawal from the EU. But the days where Great Britain or indeed any other even large European Country could pursue an economic policy in defiance of the wider effects of globalisation are a thing of the past. That's not all bad, for the benefits of the modern, inter connected, world are many and varied: from the relatively trivial in respect of the ease of travel across national boundaries to the very significant indeed in the longest period of continuous peace enjoyed by western Europe since the high days of the Roman Empire.
But that comes at a price. Let us be honest, if Labour had somehow won the 2010 General Election then certainly some things: rampant euroscepticism at the heart of Government, the Bedroom Tax, this bloody referendum would have been different but the general macro economic policy of Government would have been much the same. Perhaps a little less austerity leading to an earlier and more evenly spread recovery but austerity nonetheless. The deficit is as unsustainable for the country as it has proved unsustainable for individual punters to maintain a lifestyle based on easy credit underpinned by rising property prices. So any government would have needed to address that.
And in that process people, poorer people in particular, have been hurt. Certainly Labour would have spread the misery more fairly but we couldn't have magiced the misery away.
But the danger is that as a consequence of that misery people are understandably drawn to anybody offering happiness instead. Without considering why if it was that easy to do none of the current political shops have it on sale.
To be fair, in proffering Independence as that magic solution the Nationalists can also point to any series of own goals scored by the current system. The lack of regulation of the banks that led to the crash in the first place but, more mundanely, the disclosure of long running inadequacies in everything from the competence and honesty of the Police to the sexual misbehaviour of once revered public figures to the MPs expenses scandal.
So the initial Better Together offer "UK:OK" was never going to work. The UK had been proved to be far from OK. The question should have been whether what was offered as an alternative would be any better. In that, with a critical section of those contemplating a Yes vote, not the 28% but the others, we have much to do.
What needs explained in much more direct terms than it has been to date, is that the solution to not liking the view does not lie in throwing yourself off the cliff.
The economic evidence that an Independent Scotland would be significantly worse outwith the United Kingdom is overwhelming. It is spelled out most recently here but there are any number of other independent sources for that conclusion. It is simply not good enough for the nationalists to quote a handful of, often partisan, dissenting voices and even then to often quote them selectively. Decisions of this importance have to made on the basis of the overwhelming balance of opinion not by relying on the occasional contrarian.
Common sense says that the major Edinburgh financial institutions would not wish to be domiciled in a different country from the vast majority of their customers and that our financial services sector and its ancillary support would be devastated by a Yes vote. Common sense says that the pork barrel of warship orders would not be awarded where no electoral reward could ever follow. Common sense says that the complexities of European Union membership could not be resolved in eighteen months and that if the Nats stick to their March 2016 timetable then on September 18th we are voting Yes to temporarily at least leaving the EU. Above all common sense says that even if it is unwise for the UK to reject a common currency (and it most certainly is not) it would now be politically impossible to sell a U-turn on that to the UK electorate.
Yet a Yes vote demands a suspension of common sense in all of these areas or, and this is where we are failing, a belief among otherwise sentient potential Yes voters that somehow, even if all of the above does play out as inevitable, somehow the living standards of ordinary working people would not be affected too badly. Ironically the underlying mindset for this is because really significant collapses in living standards "do not happen" in the post war United Kingdom. After all, for the vast majority of people they haven't even really happened even as a result of the 2008 crash. What gets forgotten is that a Yes vote is a vote to leave behind that very security.
The idea that there is likely to be no major financial consequence to Independence is bordering on the delusional. And not just consequence for "the country". Financial consequence for every voter. And their children. And their parents. And their friends. We have to say that loud and clear. Yes means a devalued currency; higher prices in the shops; lower pensions and benefits in real terms; mass unemployment; collapsed property prices.
Independence is not something we could "give a try" and then change our minds about later. It would involve not "a wee bit of hardship" as some of the less dishonest Nats might concede. It would involve years of grinding misery with living standards butchered and with the civil unrest and human misery that would inevitably follow.
The UK is not OK but even with the Tories in power it is a much better prospect than that. That, I'm afraid, is the message we need to get across.
To hell with positive campaigning. Let's just tell the truth.
And, P.S. There are no secret oil fields.