Confused? You will be…

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Both sides of the Scottish independence debate have launched their campaigns but semantic rows have broken out over what it all means

Let battle commence. The two sides in the independence referendum campaign have finally opened their accounts. ‘Yes Scotland’ launched last month with a call for 1 million Scots to sign a declaration of sovereignty. Some thought that a little unambitious given that there are 4 million voters.

The unionists, led by the former Labour chancellor, Alistair Darling, made their pitch under the banner: ‘Better Together’ – although not apparently with the present UK government. Neither campaign has gone to plan, and the Scottish voters are bemused as the two sides steal each other’s clothes.

‘Yes Scotland’ hit trouble when the Green Party leader, Patrick Harvie, who had co-hosted the launch, distanced himself from what he called ‘an entirely Scottish National Party vehicle’. The Greens still support independence but Harvie’s remarks were clearly an embarrassment to the SNP leader, Alex Salmond. The Greens are unhappy about his insistence on retaining the Queen and the pound after independence. They think the Scottish people should decide these matters.

There was further embarrassment when it emerged that one of the SNP’s senior marketing advisers had urged the campaign to avoid using the word ‘independence’ because of its negative connotations.

Semantics has also been a problem for ‘Better Together’. It doesn’t want to be called the ‘No’ campaign for similar ‘feel bad’ reasons and has also reportedly had difficulties with the words ‘Union’ and even ‘British’. Their final strapline was: ‘A Stronger Scotland; a United Kingdom’.

If this word play suggests some confusion of identity, well that’s the point. Both sides are trying to escape from the prison of the past. Salmond has been trying to refashion independence to make it less about separation and more about creating a new partnership with England. He has even talked of there being a ‘new United Kingdom’ after independence, with a ‘social union’ replacing the existing political union.

Meanwhile, the anti-independence campaigners are trying to suggest that Scotland might actually gain more autonomy by remaining in the UK. Darling says that leaving the Bank of England in charge of interest rates would put Scotland’s economy under the control of a foreign power. He points to the difficulties peripheral European countries have experienced being in a currency union without having political control.

Moreover, Chancellor George Osborne has suggested that if Scots vote no to independence, the Scottish Parliament could be given full control of income tax. But there is scepticism about Conservative politicians promising better devolution; they offered it on the eve of the 1979 referendum and it never happened. The SNP says that the problem for ‘Better Together’ is that it involves sticking with a mistrusted UK coalition government that is very unpopular in Scotland.

The constitutional cross-dressing has made this a frustrating contest. The pro-independence parties are saying: ‘vote independence for a better UK’; while the antis are saying: ‘vote unionist for more independence’.

Part of the problem is that no one knows what independence means now everyone is in the European Union. Just how independent is Greece now that its finances are run by foreign bankers? The triangulation will have to stop in October 2014. Mind you, by then there might not even be a European Union.

This article first appeared in the July/August issue of Public Finance

About Iain Macwhirter

Iain Macwhirter is political commentator on the Sunday Herald

3 comments on Confused? You will be…

  1. Warren Park says:

    The more complex the arguments get and the greater the uncertainty about the personal benefits of independence the harder the SNP case gets to persuade people. Of course a big risk on the unionist side is that someone with a big mouth sticks their foot in it and causes a chunking in opinion that isn’t easily reversed. Better keep some people under lock and key.

  2. Mike Keene says:

    By using the phrase “a United Kingdom” the Better Together campaign is inadvertently straying into Irish politics because United Kingdom means “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”. Much better for them to concentrate on just Great Britain.

    Why doesn’t Mr Cameron simply tell the Scots that if they go their own way they cannot take the £ with them. The thought of having to join the Euro or adopt their own Groat would stop the referendum movement dead and save a huge amount of time and money being wasted over the next two years!

  3. RolftheGanger says:

    There are none so ‘confused’ as those who want to spread confusion.

    There are two Union international agreements that Scotland has with England. The 1603 Union of the Crowns, merged but did not replace the two monarchies, which continue their distinct existence in the present ruler. This was and is a monarchical and social union that continues to this day. No one proposes disbanding this union.

    The Union to be dissolved is the 1707 international treaty of Union of the Parliaments of Scotland and England. Ending that Union returns sovereignty to the Scottish people and parliament, akin to the period between 1603 and 1707. it worked in a less interconnected world then, it will work again.

    The next deliberately ‘confused’ issue is around Unionist attempts to paint the SNP as isolationist ‘separatists’ as a dirty word. Unionists know the reality and their labelling is false, but persist anyway. This prompts the SNP to stress the continuity aspects of sensible joint defence, social union and other ties. Whereupon this is deliberately misrepresented again by the Unionists.The Unionist side is unwilling to concede that the SNP independent and inter-dependent is definition of future neighborly relationships is perfectly sensible in a globalised interconnected world.

    “Better Together” prompts the immediate question of: “for who’s benefit?” Not Scotland’s.

    The Unionist “A stronger Scotland a United Kingdom’ runs into similar grave problems. Stronger than what? Stronger than we are now – in the Union? Most unlikely. Scotland would continue to be a second string vassal contributor to the burgeoning SE of England. A glorious future ‘United’ Kingdom, in which the socially divisive policies of reactionary neo-barbarian, Thatcherites rule?
    No thanks.


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