Leading Article: How to Lose Scotland

The Spectator, April 26, 2014 | Go to article overview

Leading Article: How to Lose Scotland


Credit: The Spectator

For centuries, the possibility of Scottish independence seemed so remote as to be laughable. Until recently the nationalists seemed quixotic, rather than menacing. Now, however, we are facing the very real prospect of a 'yes' vote in the Scottish referendum in September, which would in all probability result in the resignation of David Cameron as Prime Minister. An ICM survey published at the weekend found that 48 per cent of voters who have made up their minds intend to vote for separation. The stakes are terribly high.

There is much debate about the real state of public opinion, and much faith placed in the old rule that, as a referendum draws near, undecided voters tend to favour the status quo. But partition of the United Kingdom and the end of 300 years of shared history is a real threat. George Osborne's main gambit, saying that a separate Scotland would not be allowed to use the pound, has, if anything, strengthened the 'yes' vote.

For decades, it was possible to puncture the myths created by the Scottish National Party by simply pointing out the trouble that partition would cause. Most economists agree that an independent Scotland would not be a land of milk, honey and oil, but would be the world capital of austerity, since any government would have to close the gap between its promises and its capacity to pay for them. The Scottish National Party has always protested against 'negativity' and 'bullying' from its enemies, because it dislikes anyone listing the many ways in which separation would hurt ordinary Scots.

But it now seems that the unionists have overplayed their hand. Take Osborne's currency threat. There are some 300 million banknotes circulating in Scotland -- are voters seriously to believe that redcoats will be sent up north to confiscate them all? The European Union president says that its rules may force Scotland to re-apply for membership, and it is also forbidden to bail out countries. But, as everyone knows, the EU changes its rules to accommodate whatever is expedient.

In Scotland, the debate is taking forms that Westminster politicians do not understand. Those who truly believe that Scotland should be a separate country tend to be evangelical about it. Their strength is in old-style campaigning: meetings held in towns and village halls. The Better Together campaign does not have this zeal -- and this is, in a way, understandable. It is harder to evangelise for the preservation of the status quo.

This needs to change. Exposing weaknesses in the nationalist argument is not enough -- the unionists need to make the wider, more emotional case for saving Britain. …

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