Saturday, 13 September 2014

The Only Winner this week isn't the Union - it's Fear

It's been a frenetic week in the Scottish Independence Referendum campaign (or Indyref as it is generally called now in the political blogosphere). After last weekend's poll showing YES with a narrow lead, the supporters of NO have rallied and NO now seems to have taken a small but decisive lead but there's a very long way to go before the end of polling next Thursday evening.

The panic which the very prospect of a YES vote triggered was extraordinary - financial institutions and think tanks of all shapes and sizes were wheeled out to tell everyone (and especially the Scots) just how bad breaking up "the Union" would be (and especially for the Scots).

Now, I'm not one of those who goes all dewy-eyed over "the Union" but this week has revealed the political and economic reality of the United Kingdom as a centralised authoritarian sham predicated not on helping the people but on the needs of business and politicians.

The Union is held together by a combination of mawkish sentimentality, economic fear and the centralising authoritarianism of Westminster and London.

When the prospect of YES sent politicians scurrying like rats to Scotland promising all sorts of powers to the Scottish parliament, the federal genie was let loose. The correspondence columns of London newspapers were asking the same questions - if Scotland can be allowed to set its own taxes and cities like New York and Stockholm already do, then why not London or Birmingham or Manchester ? These questions cut to the heart of the centralising control of Whitehall, Westminster and Parliament. Successive Conservative and Labour Governments paid lip service to localism but in truth emasculated local Councils and took more power unto themselves.

If Scotland, by voting NO, gains major new powers, then why not Wales, London or Cornwall ? Why not emasculate the House of Commons to a federal Parliament and have local Councils (NOT Regional Assemblies) decide on planning and tax ? If an area wants to build new houses, let them. If a city wants to raise tax to fund improvements, then, if its inhabitants agree, let them.

The second part of the NO campaign has been fear - the use of financial institutions and think tanks to spread a wholly negative message about independence has been despicable but not surprising. Fear has always been a big part of political campaigning but it leaves a poisoned legacy as we are already seeing in both Scotland and England. A wholly repellent anti-Scottish backlash has been allowed to fester in the guise of emergent English nationalism and as for Scotland, how are the two sides to live together in the aftermath of the vote ?

I fear not outright civil war though that happened in Ireland after partition but terrorism and intimidation and it's also clear that while the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh support YES, the borders are strongly NO. How will communities like Hawick, Jedburgh and Selkirk live with a Scottish State they didn't vote for and didn't want ? Will the flight of capital be followed by a flight of people ?

None of this doom-laden nonsense would be necessary but for the tone of the NO campaign. There's absolutely no reason why an independent Scotland shouldn't enjoy strong and positive relations with the rest of the United Kingdom and absolutely no reason why any financial institutions should leave. Indeed, some have gone further and argued that far from becoming a left-wing basket case, an independent Scotland might in time become an economic powerhouse.

Yet fear has dictated the terms of the debate this week - NO has failed to provide a positive case for the Union apart from sentimentality. The YES side has important economic questions to answer but on issues such as a currency, there's no reason why, with goodwill, an independent Scotland couldn't come to an arrangement with the rest of the United Kingdom or indeed the rest of Europe.

Frightening people into voting for your side is as old as the hills yet it solves nothing and achieves less. IF NO prevails narrowly on Thursday, it will be a grubby little win which will do nothing to resolve the question and leave plenty of anger and resentment for the years ahead.

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