You’ve lost that loving feeling
As relationships go, Scotland and the rest of the UK are going through a rocky patch. In the space of a week we have gone from love bomb to stink bomb. And when spurned by a powerful ménage à trois of unlikely political bedfellows, one side has simply turned to the wall and refused to accept the inevitable. They are screwed.
As I argued in this column last issue, the SNP has been sold up the constitutional river by a leader that gambled with their future and lost. And for those diehards that truly believe the party strategists have predicted every move that the unionists would make and will pull that elusive Plan B out of a hat, there will be disappointment. There is none. And they are in denial.
Last week the Westminster parties stamped all over Salmond’s bluster. They did what some had been calling on for a while and provided the certainty that in relationships we all crave. It was an unequivocal ‘No’ and yet still the nationalists hang on in the faint hope that a ‘Yes’ will change their mind. Don’t they understand that it is that outcome that this move is meant to negate and won’t happen ahead of 18 September? Desperate talk cheapens their cause.
The arguments for a sterling zone have always felt distinctly out of sync with the argument for going it alone. All it ever provided was a comfort blanket to make the case for change a more palatable proposition. And even with Nicola Sturgeon’s enviable powers of debate, the conclusion was always the same, a limp and unconvincing, ‘Well, it’s Scotland’s pound’.
Unlike some, I never believed that Mark Carney’s intervention was a game-changer. He said nothing we didn’t already know. He said there were pros and cons. We knew that. He said what the Scottish Government’s own Fiscal Commission had said before. But what he did was inadvertently fan the flames and put the pound at the heart of this campaign. What could be more tangible of a momentous move into the dark than the pound in your pocket becoming a thing of the unknown? That fear gains traction.
There were some – they used to be the SNP – that argued for Scotland to have its own currency. But Salmond deafened that call. What would have been so hard about spelling out other options? But time is now running out to convince anyone of the virtues of a homegrown currency and having argued for so long of the benefits of sharing the pound anything else looks second rate.
There must be some in SNP HQ who rue the day that some bright spark decided to effectively neuter their own passion for having an independent Scotland by coming up with the plan of a shared pound. That, after years of fighting to extract themselves from the power at Westminster, the idea of holding on to a common currency would take hold must have surely seemed like a wild pipedream. But like on so many things, the party faithful heard what they wanted to hear. If compromise brought a form of their heart’s desire then second best was a price worth paying – for now.
And there’s the rub, for the currency wasn’t Salmond’s to gamble. It’s a sad fact that Westminster is dominated by three parties with so little to separate them out that it wasn’t such a huge leap of imagination for Osborne, Balls and Alexander to jump into bed and call the game a bogey. That’s not bullying, to paraphrase Balls, its life.
And of course, there is an argument to say that witnessing Labour in almost unsavoury glee in cahoots with the Tories and their coalition partners, the Lib Dems, to collectively flex the muscle of the UK to give the SNP – a party that, unlike any of them, has secured majority government and seven years at the seat of power – a bloody nose, is an unedifying sight. It might provide succour to the argument that we are better off alone. But where does it take the debate we are in?
There is nothing that has been said in the last few days that changes the fundamental argument about whether being in the UK is good for Scotland or not. If a shared currency is not possible, then what is?
And therein lies the opportunity. What should happen now is that the ‘Yes’ campaign, instead of being the impotent play-thing of the SNP, should assert its position as a genuine, cross-party, loose coalition of the left – something the Labour Party can only dream about for the Better Together campaign – and come up with the alternative Plan B. It can’t be beyond the wit of Canavan, Fox, Sillars, Harvie et al to say ‘enough is enough’ and push the SNP to one side. I understand those talks are already underway.
If Scotland wants independence then it needs to accept that change comes with some pain. And that might be having to think about how a new currency would work. The SNP has led on ‘Yes’ and been found wanting. Its chief executive, Blair Jenkins, said on the BBC that Scots had agreed on a shared pound. They have not. Now is the time for ‘Yes’ to show some proper leadership and a vision. And they might do well to also harness the anger of a former Labour First Minister, Henry McLeish, who said after last week’s currency debacle that the UK parties, including his own, are treating the electorate like idiots.
McLeish feels that pain. He has been consistently shouted down by his own party as he has made the argument for Labour to recapture the constitutional debate and put itself at the heart of what Scotland deserves. And for McLeish, and many more, that is not in a Valentine’s Day pact with the Tories to maintain a status quo and keep a nation panting for more.