Building blocks for change
It’s exactly 100 days until the referendum and the polls have a long way yet to swing before there’s any real prospect of Scotland saying ‘Yes’ to independence.
But then that’s no real surprise. The campaigns have been uninspiring, the facts muddied and mired, the political ding-dong predictable, and the respective visions opaque.
And worse, the sheer acrimony, the navel-gazing, the rancour about who has been insulted and who said what, where and when, gets worse by the day, leaving facts and figures obliterated, underexplored, and the electorate desperately shouting for more. But fear not, the answer could lie in LEGO.
For after a fortnight that has seen the UK Government claiming that Scots would benefit from a £1,400 so-called UK dividend by sticking with the Union, there’s also been a counterclaim from the Scottish Government that people would be £1000 per person better off under independence.
With the Treasury citing ‘conservative’ independence start-up costs of in excess of £1.5bn and a figure of £2.5bn being described as ‘reasonable’. With the Finance Secretary, John Swinney, repeatedly refusing to answer how much he thinks it would cost and the academic who helped inform the Treasury shooting its claims down in flames, the three opposition leaders in the Scottish Parliament were left writing to the First Minister demanding to know the real bill.
With the independent think-tank, the IFS, saying that Scots would face either public service spending cuts or higher taxes in the first year of independence and with Salmond calling foul saying it based its calculation on incorrect estimates of oil revenues and levels of debt.
With the Tories moving from a position against devolution to an even more radical proposition for a transfer of powers in the event of a ‘No’ vote than even the so-called party of devolution itself.
With Labour launching its referendum campaign for the second or maybe the third time, reclaiming the word ‘No’ [clever that] and showing off its shiny new indy ref express bus which will take the cause to the country.
With the leader of Better Together, Alistair Darling, being quoted in a heavily trailed magazine article as likening the First Minister to the Korean dictator, Kim Jong-iI, and saying that the SNP represented a ‘blood and soil’ nationalism which immediately provoked howls of outrage from nationalist supporters for its Nazi connotations before being retracted and a correction published attributing the quote to the interviewer rather than the interviewee.
With the oil and gas industry – fundamentally critical of this whole debate – basically coming out as pretty well unfazed by the whole independence debacle.
And now President Obama seemingly throwing his support behind the UK.
With just 100 days to go, there has been nothing quiet on the referendum front.
But to cap it all, HM Treasury has released a helpful 12-point guide on how we Scots could spend our union dosh, all splendidly illustrated by LEGO characters indulging in their UK dividend including: an overseas holiday for two with cash leftover for sun cream; paying for Christmas presents twice over, with some money left over to spend on Hogmanay celebrations; share a meal of fish and chips with your family every day for around 10 weeks, with a couple of portions of mushy peas thrown in; go for one haircut a month for over three and half years… you can go for significantly more if you’re a man; pay off your energy bills in full over the year; and, finally, you’ll still have enough left over for endless hugs with everyone to celebrate being in a United Kingdom…
Tosh. But it’s no joke. The battle for Scotland has moved over the last few weeks into an unseemly scrap over who would put more money in our pockets. And we can argue all day over whether an independent Scotland would be better or worse off – the truth is that neither side really knows and to some extent, it’s beside the point because a) if we stay in the Union we’ll be facing even bigger public spending cuts as the nation grapples with an unwieldy trillion pound national debt, and b) we don’t know the make-up of the government that would be running the first independent Scotland or how it would operate the levers of economic growth anyway.
So despite the millions of pounds spent, the claims, the counter claims, the rancour, the insults and the barbs, the polls have essentially remained the same.
But Scotland has I believe, changed. Whether enough to go for wholesale constitutional change remains to be seen. But the axis on which this relationship turns between Scots and the rest of the UK has changed. The debate has taken Scotland to another level. It does walk a little taller. It does talk a little braver. Scots do see independence as a possibility rather than a joke and, I guess, I for one have come to understand that despite being born and brought up in England, my attachment to the Union is not an emotional one and it too has been found wanting. That doesn’t make me in favour of ‘Yes’ but it makes me in favour or at least open to change. And like business, I’ll live with whatever the vote delivers and I’ll organise my life accordingly.
How do I think this will all pan out? I’m tempted to do a Darling and simply say, *Inaudible mumble*… but the fact is no one knows. There is one certainty, however, and that is that it will leave a lot of bitterness – whatever the result. Loosely translated, LEGO means play well. So if one can take anything from the Treasury’s facile attempt to illustrate what this debate is essentially about then that is perhaps it; play well, for after all of this we still have to play together, free hugs or no free hugs.