Sunday, 10 March 2013

Amateur Hour

This blog might never be published. About a week ago my router started playing up which indeed is one of the reasons I didn’t blog last weekend.  For whatever reason if you switch it off and on again it sometimes works for a wee bit so I’m hoping that will get this online. If it does, and anybody knows anything about routers, then please get in touch via twitter.

Anyway, I had a really weird dream last evening. (I say evening because I fell asleep on the couch).

I was invited, in the dream, to sing, in full Highland dress, “The Bonny Lass o’ Ballochmyle” to an after dinner company.  I protested however that I would look ridiculous in full Highland dress and I thus found myself preparing to sing while wearing a lounge suit. Only on facing the audience did I find myself realising that this was more ridiculous than if I’d been kilted up. You’ll be pleased to know that at this point I woke up.

Now, whether you be a country maid or a happy country swain you can make of that dream what you will. I’m inclined however to think of it as a warning that there is no point in doing something half-heartedly.

That was obviously the thinking of the Better Together team when the leaked Scottish Government document about the financial challenges facing an Independent Scotland landed in their in-tray.

I have no idea what possessed the normally ultra-cautious John Swinney to write a sentence like:

“I expect that the Working Group will consider the affordability of state pensions as its work on fiscal sustainability proceeds”

but on any view it was always going to be disastrous if uncertainty about such a basic state provision was revealed as a possible consequence of separation. Indeed, if Labour had made such a claim the cries of scaremongering would have been deafening.

The boys and girls at Better Together didn’t put this out in a lounge suit. They waited their time, sat on their leak, and then threw the kitchen sink at it; publishing it in a way that then effectively wiped out coverage of the SNP’s own preferred GERS figures. Well done them.

I've said before that this campaign will be war to the knife and I can’t help thinking that this episode demonstrates the professionalism of one side as against the gifted (or not so gifted) amateurs at Yes Scotland. Faced with a potential equal opportunity does anybody think they’d have handled it as deftly and devastatingly?

On the Nationalist side, there are two public visions of the economics of an independent Scotland. There is the view that we’d be pretty much where we are just now, or possibly slightly worse off but with opportunities to improve. That’s the view of the Scottish Government’s own Council of Economic Advisers and the one articulated by Andrew Wilson  ("neither a black hole or a pot of gold") in today’s Scotland on Sunday.  And then there is the alternative "Joan McAlpine" view that we’ll be rolling in it; fortuitously able to have Scandinavian public services at American levels of taxation. All paid for by oil. And indeed even money to save up for when the oil runs out, not that it ever will.

The problem is not so much that  both these visions cant be true, it is that if the Nationalists can’t agree among themselves about this then it raises the question of whether they know what they’re talking about at all. That their hearts are ruling their heads. Just some less than others.

In the aftermath of Wednesday’s debacle we are told that all John Swinney’s fears of last year have somehow proved unfounded in less than twelve months. All of them.  Nicola has assured us that an independent Scotland will “abolish child poverty” and Eck and Mr Swinney are apparently planning to pop up in Aberdeen tomorrow to announce that they’ve just noticed, over the weekend, that there is even more oil than they previously realised. This looks like amateur hour and somebody at Yes Scotland should be telling them that. It just keeps the Leak story alive for another week. Remember Healey’s first rule of holes.

They’ve apparently, finally, got the paving bill next week. A perfect opportunity to change the subject. They should get on with that.

But in the longer term they need to get a line on the economics of independence, any line, and stick to it. I say "any line" but surely better that of Wilson and the economists and indeed, privately, John Swinney. It has the advantage, not least, of being somewhere near the truth. And somebody with authority at Yes Scotland should be telling them that. And if no-one has the authority to do that then such a person should surely be appointed. But then that would be no Yes man.