The professionals seem to be knocking seven bells out of the amateurs, says former deputy SNP leader, Jim Sillars
What is to be done? Are we to endure hundreds more days of the same – of Westminster pouring cold water on independence, with its damaging questions and accusations, none of which seems to have been anticipated either in SNP Government inner circles or Yes Scotland?
Is there no understanding within the SNP Government or Yes Scotland, of the reality being shaped by the anti-independence forces, of non-movement of the independence vote? Opinion pollsters are asking exactly the question that will be on the referendum ballot paper. Their polls, so consistent they cannot be far out, show either Yes is stuck or falling. The initiative has been seized by the No side, and all we hear from Yes Scotland and SNP ministers is a claim of scaremongering, and protests about the No side’s negativity.
The professionals seem to be knocking seven bells out of the amateurs, and that latter description fits the SNP ministerial core as much as it does Yes Scotland. If Alex Salmond believes, as he claimed at a recent FMQs, that he would pay George Osborne to come here more often to boost the Yes vote, then we really are in trouble. Don’t they realise that the recent SNP opinion poll that led the leaders to boast of a big majority of Scots wanting to keep the pound, plays right into Osborne’s hands? If you vote Yes, you don’t get to keep it unless Westminster agrees, and if it says “get lost”, you don’t keep it, whereas a No vote does keep it in your pocket.
If the article in The Herald on 9 May by Toni Giugliano, Yes Scotland community groups adviser, is indicative of the intellectual rigour of that outfit and its grasp of public opinion, then they need a collective brain transplant asap.
According to Mr Giugliano: “The rise of UKIP south of the border is testimony to the polarisation of sentiments on Europe between Scotland and the rest of the UK.” He is not above employing scaremongering terminology himself: “Next year the people of Scotland will have the opportunity to choose between isolation and participation in Europe.” A claim that 58 million RUK people, with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, with ties to the Commonwealth, who present an enormous export market to the EU states, where the balance of trade is very much in the EU’s favour, can be in “isolation”, is nonsense on stilts. As for there being a significantly different “sentiment” north and south of the border on the issue of the EU as it has developed, he must travel in a very small circle.
Scots are not blind to the fundamental structural flaws that have seen the euro drive countries into repeated recessions, causing millions to be unemployed and families ruined, with the eurozone becoming the greatest drag on the world economy. There is no evidence that Scots are more willing than the English to become part of a United States of Europe run from Brussels. There are many Scots, no different to those south of the border, who believe out is better than in. Little Englander thinking is not what is driving demand for either change in the UK’s relationship with the EU, or exit, but a revolt at how sovereignty, without the people’s consent, has been transferred to centralising institutions in Brussels manned by an incompetent self-serving elite, all born with a tin ear to the human cries of pain emanating from the chaos they have created. It is ironic that Mr Giugliano cited Ireland’s EU presidency, given that the young are fleeing that country in droves as a result of EU policies. If Yes Scotland thinks this nation is in love with the EU, it has made a profound mistake.
Mr Giugliano’s article appeared on ‘Europe Day’ when the Brussels website told us there were celebrations everywhere. I did not see any Highland dancing nor heard the skirl of the pipes, or saw leaps for joy in the streets, indicating we are so glad to be in the EU. What then is to be done to get the Yes side back into a position where independence might win? There is still time. It requires a root and branch re-examination of the relationship between Yes Scotland and the SNP, and an equally rigorous rethink by the SNP Government, and the party, of the policies that so far have done more for the No side. It is impossible to make the SNP subservient to the other groups given its size, and its position as the Government, or to get others like the Greens or Labour Yes to toe the Salmond line on everything.
These inherent fault lines should have been addressed long before there was any launch of a Yes campaign. The lack of what I call “the Bible” – that is, a document based on asking all the difficult questions and providing the answers, which then delivers solid well researched, intellectually tight material for activists to use – is proving fatal. Currency, EU membership, Nato, pensions both state and private, are but four examples of work not done or sloppy thinking. Given the woeful performance of the SNP leadership so far, it is a foolish gamble to believe that when they produce the civil service-created White Paper in the autumn, that it will fix things. There needs to be a much wider involvement in the production of a “Bible” without which Westminster will continue setting the agenda and continue to run rings round the Yes side.
There now has to be one voice, one message on the policy questions people will seek answers to. To get that SNP Government, the SNP, as a party, the other parties involved, Yes Scotland and experts outside of them but with a great deal to contribute, should meet, and honestly address the crisis now evident, to identify the issues that will decide how the people will vote, and hammer out the answers, even if it requires swallowing big pieces of humble pie in Bute House.