Slugger O'Toole

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The Scottish referendum campaign: personal relations are affected as the arguments become keener

Thu 30 January 2014, 12:24pm

Both sides of the independence referendum campaign are busy spinning Bank of England Governor Mark Carney’s warning to Alex Salmond  that “some ceding of national  sovereignty” would be necessary as the price of independent Scotland’s desire  to keep the pound. The Nats are treating it with all  the appearance of calm acceptance;  the No campaign, championed  here by former Scotsman editor Iain Martin, that Carney has spiked Salmond’s guns.

The Nats’ case has rested forever on the allegation that the Westminster parliament is a dreadful place which never looks out for Scotland’s interests. Post-independence, when the Scots have said goodbye to the Union, the SNP leadership supposes that, suddenly, Westminster – representing the vast bulk of the UK – will be transformed into a font of wisdom and generosity. Want the Bank of England to promise to bail-out the Scottish banks? Sure, go ahead! Arrangements for fiscal transfers? But of course! Knock yourself out. It is Nationalist naivety of the highest order.

BBC Scotland’s political editor Brian Taylor appropriately arbitrates:

For the unionists, the scheme is in tatters. For the nationalists, Mark Carney’s remarks are “common sense”.

The splendidly contrarian columnist Iain McWhirter dares to make some comparisons with the breakup of Czechoslovakia which began with keeping  the currency union but ended up with the poorer Slovaks actually joining the euro just as it was coming under serious strain. Both parties to the Velvet Divorce have survived and are even moderately flourishing.  (The Czech-Slovak divorce took just six months after the decision to separate, and was given effect through 31 Treaties and some 12,000 legal agreements, many negotiated subsequently).  McWhirter’s point is that economic fortunes are unpredictable – which is ok up to a point.

Next time you hear people assert that Scotland would become an economic basket case if it wasn’t for the beneficence of the UK Treasury and the Bank of England, invite them to take a reality check. Countries such as Scotland are what the new Europe is all about. An independent Scotland would not be cutting itself off, whether it kept the pound, adopted the euro or had its own nominal currency pegged to either. There are many ways to skin the monetary cat. It just depends who’s holding the knife.

The Daily Telegraph’s Scottish editor Alan Cochrane who is no slouch at mordant comment,  makes the interesting  point of a break down in civility in the tone of the campaign.  As we look around, is this the inevitable effect of nationalism of whatever strain (including Ulster Unionist nationalism?)

Is Scotland now at war with itself?  It could hardly be otherwise. The vote in September is not about a new government, it is about a new nation state.

Although there has been no violence, the language of the opposing camps is becoming ever-more poisonous and it is at the personal level that I fear this debate will sour relations for a long time.

You can argue that Irish contrasts are stronger than the fascinating parallels. In the bitter post-independence climate after 1922,  the south nevertheless kept the pound and didn’t cut the last link with sterling until 1979. In 1933 just after he came to power,  de Valera ’s priorities were different when he suicidally reneged on repayments for land annuity loans to the UK and the tariff war began. Today is different:   rampant uncontrolled globalisation created today’s financial instability, not the protectionism of the 1930s. And if Alex Salmond shares any of Dev’s ultra-visionary nationalism he manages to keep it well under control.

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Comments (7)

  1. grandimarkey (profile) says:

    It may be worth pointing out that the Yes campaign has narrowed the gap in the opinion polls to the narrowest it’s been since the campaign began.

    Not hard to see why when the most ‘positive’ thing that the No campaign can seem to muster is this truly bizarre video.

    As to souring relations, well yes and no. Any independence debate I’ve seen between people/friends in an informal capacity is normally fairly intense, this is a bit of a big deal, but it lacks any easily identifiable physical/racial/religious/nationality trait in the ‘other’ to become anything more than a political disagreement. Don’t expect the burning of houses or guns on the streets.

    What is clear is that the momentum is with the Yes campaign and the polls are finally beginning to reflect what I’ve been seeing (albeit anecdotally) on the streets for the past year, a growing disaffection with London (the No campaign has been abysmal) and a growing belief that Scotland is better off looking after her own affairs.

    Another anecdotal tale to finish off. Hand on heart (as good as that is on internet fora), a clear majority of people I speak to in my age group (23-30 lets say) voice that they are going to vote yes. And it always makes me really happy.

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  2. Cymro alltud (profile) says:

    Assuming, Brian, that you think that civility is a good thing, might I suggest that you drop ‘the Nats’ thing you seem to be so fond of? It’s clearly being used in a derogatory fashion by – if we are to follow your lead – ‘BritNat’ commentators. There’s no need for it…

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  3. megatron (profile) says:

    I can only speculate but I would imagine that a message of “you couldn’t make it on your own” is a risky one.

    I think a thoughtful analysis of Carney’s comments would indicate that it would of course be possible to manage a currency union – the important point to remember is that no path is risk free.

    The debate is about freedom to choose (and subsequently change) your path.

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  4. Michael Gillespie (profile) says:

    With Mr Carney commenting on the implications of a monetary union for an independent Scotland the devolution debate continues apace. But an independent Scotland is ill defined. The Crown will continue to be Head of State that makes Scotland not separate in a Republic but a nation within the Kingdom. That makes the independence call a call for home rule with in a federal Kingdom.
    The eminent Irish historian Roy Foster of Oxford commenting on Parnell’s home rule venture wrote: -
    “Brilliant though Parnell’s home rule campaign was it failed because home rule was never clearly defined.”
    Parnell should have defined an independent Ireland within the Kingdom in a written National Government of Ireland Act. That would have made clear what the Irish and British were letting themselves in for.
    Scottish Independence (Home Rule) will fail because Home Rule for Scotland isn’t clearly defined and the people don’t know what they are letting themselves in for. A clear definition would require a written constitution for Scotland with the Crown as Head of State defined in the National Government of Scotland Act. When the Scottish people have a written constitution of their own in which they are in control then they are a truly independent sovereign nation within a Federal Kingdom. Australia and Canada became sovereign nations under the Crown in the 20th century when the people were granted control of their own written constitutions. What is important for those countries is the nature of their constitutions not the nature of their currencies.

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  5. mr x (profile) says:

    Some people in Scotland may be looking at the way the UK Government ‘saved’ RBS and comparing it to the way the US ‘saved’ Vietnam.

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  6. DoppiaVu (profile) says:

    Let the Scots vote how they want, good luck to them.

    But if they vote for independence, then it should be full independence. They can have their own currency, pegged to sterling if they wish, but that’s it. The UK cannot be lender of last resort to an independent state which is at liberty to make economic decisions entirely independently of any central control.

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  7. grandimarkey (profile) says:

    Seems the No campaign are struggling to muster the kind of support on the street that the Yes campaign has been enjoying of late…

    Perhaps it’s because their leaflets are full of discredited nonsense?

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