In a week that has seen linguistic nuances erupt into a holy Twitter war of words over independence and whether you can even use that word to describe what would happen should Scotland vote ‘yes’ in a referendum about it, it is perhaps time to stop, breathe and take stock.
For while some may see the current, constant, misinformed and childish, cyber spat about the constitutional future of Scotland (which culminated last week in questioning whether an SNP leader claims to be a nationalist or not) as harmless badinage, played out by lazy minds and busy fingers, some of us are waiting for the real meat of the debate to begin.
Today, we are told that starts with the antiindependence fight entering the ring with the launch of the Better Together campaign but whether we can expect to see the level of argument raised remains to be seen.
Last week, Alistair Darling, the former Chancellor and the man fronting what is, but can’t be described as, the ‘No’ campaign, dismissed the idea of Scotland being allowed to use sterling, taking it upon himself to say England would not allow it. Really?
He said it would reduce Scotland to a situation of ‘economic serfdom’ and questioned what would be independent about an independent Scotland that kept the pound and had its monetary policy dictated by the Bank of England and ergo, the UK Government.
He also, rather misguidedly, went on to say that the banking crisis had been, in part, caused by decisions made in Edinburgh, with the clear inference that place trumped policy in terms of ownership of blame. And while it is plainly nonsense to say that Scotland as a nation must take responsibility for the total failure in corporate governance of a UK bank, just because it is headquartered on Scottish soil, more importantly, Darling’s premise was in danger of falling into an argument as to why Scotland should go its own way simply to avoid a repetition of those fiscal catastrophes that happened under his watch and with Scotland as part of the Union.
Undoubtedly, Darling’s comments are a way of shifting responsibility. But the reality is that New Labour was founded on the understanding that the only way Labour could win across Britain (leaving aside how it might win in Scotland) was by supping with the devil. It embraced the City and literally played ‘casino capitalism’.
Remember Super Casinos? They went, along with the deregulation of the City and Labour turned a blind eye to the gross inequalities that had developed. It was not place but policy that created – not contributed, as Darling would have it – to the crisis. And the policies were those of the UK Treasury under Brown and Darling. And therefore, given Darling’s role, that is a big credibility gap for the Better Together campaign to bridge.
Of course, it is a moot point to ask how an independent Scotland would have operated – probably not that differently. But it does raise questions as to the role of states in the modern world and how Scotland would operate should it stand alone. This we need to hear.
As it stands, we have a pro-independence movement playing it safe by keeping the monarchy, the currency and even the collective British identity. This may well have been seen at SNP HQ as a devilishly clever tactic to not frighten the horses but already, it threatens to create a schism within the ‘Yes’ campaign, unless it can spell out why we should bother.
And paradoxically, we have the antiindependence brigade arguing, on the one hand, that Scotland is better together than apart and on the other, mocking their opponents for being too timid in their aspirations – effectively arguing that the SNP et al are for maintaing the status quo, only with knobs on. And given the current economic state of play, wouldn’t you rather have it that way than not?
The truth is: Scotland will probably be a poorer country when independent, as will RUK, and as will most other European countries. It is the times. We have in common an enormous obligation to spend yet we have little current or foreseeable economic growth to counter that spending and boost tax revenues. The Scottish Government has been set an agenda of dumbing down the independence prospectus to avoid tricky issues like welfare, currency, government borrowing, pensions and public sector reform because the figures are frightening. But they are frightening for us all including everyone in the UK, whether Scotland is in it or not.
There are enormous political, economic and legal obstacles to be identified, discussed and clarified before we reach our referendum. Two and a half years seems too long for many but while our politicians and their Twitteratti focus on the minutiae and a limited lexicon of party-approved terminology, then this constitutional debate amounts to little more than empty words and the future of Scotland deserves a more brave approach than that.