Will the referendum debate go two way at last today?

Adds at 2pm. David Cameron’s speech ( in full here, courtesy of the Scotsman) was a constipated affair. Like Eric Morecambe and the Grieg piano concerto, he played all the right notes but not necessariily in the right order – and without enough colour and tone . He talked nervously into the middle distance, not to the single Scottish listener waiting to be lifted.  What was missing was the emotional pull to counter Alex Salmond’s deft and cunning patriotism.  Content wise, he sounded prepared still to argue against a late 2014 referendum date – although the BBC  were  claiming this was  more or less conceded. We shall see. What was not conceded was “devo max” alongside an “in or out”  referendum question. Referendum first, then we’ll consider greater devolution, said Cameron repeatedly in answer to pressed questions.  This tactic exposes a flank to Salmond. Unless Scots have a good idea of wider powers of devolution  as an alternative  to independence, Salmond surely keeps the initiative. Unionists need to co-opt dev max – or at least devo more – as their own. The trouble is, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems are divided  on this, as is Labour. They will have to get their act together, fast. Cameron couldn’t bring himself to mention any Labour  figure later than John Smith as part of his unionist pantheon. But he did call on Alisatair Darling, John Reid and Gordon Brown to join the unionist campaign – in which he said rightly, modestly – he was “only one of many”.

More later after the next move, as Cameron meets Salmond and the spin really starts.



Alex Salmond made his case in London last night (“the economic case is absolutely clear”)  and David Cameron speaks in Edinburgh today on his first ‘proper’ visit  (according to Ulster- born commentator Lesley Riddoch) for two years. His main pitch is essentially emotional. At this stage after such a long vacuum on the unionist side, this seems right coming from an English Conservative Prime Minister.

I am 100 per cent clear that I will fight with everything I have to keep our United Kingdom together. To me, this is not some issue of policy or strategy or calculation – it matters head, heart and soul. Our shared home is under threat and everyone who cares about it needs to speak out”

The two come together as the real debate  – or is it the battle? – is joined at last. Leading polls analyst John Curtice says arguments on the economy seem central with the public, (listen to his rapid-fire interview on the Today programme) and each side has it all to do to convince them.

The BBC’s Douglas Fraser explains the Scotland’s Oil arguments with a clarity and fairness we’re unlikely to get from the principals. His contribution incidentally shows how important moderators of various kinds are likely to be  in a debate which could drag on for two years.

If you put aside a pound a year, and invest it, after 20 years, you could have £30. Multiply by a billion, and you’ve got the latest piece of Alex Salmond’s vision for an independent Scotland… It’s simple, and an example of how you could use surplus tax revenue from, say, oil.So that’s where [Alex Salmond] gets his suggestion that £1bn could be set aside by an independent Scotland each year, resulting in £30bn after 20 years.

(Ah but…).

In a piece under his name in the Scotsman, Cameron hints that he will still press for the referendum earlier than 2014.

The strengths that have served us within the United Kingdom through the centuries are precisely the ones we most need today. So let’s have this debate, set out the arguments – and settle the question.

But if it lasts that long, which case will grow stale quicker?

Which side would apathy favour?


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  • Quintin Oliver

    Thank-you, Brian, for continuing to deepen and broaden this debate.
    I have argued on this site, and in Holyrood Magazine http://sluggerotoole.com/2012/01/31/time-for-a-closer-look-at-whats-under-the-bonnet-of-a-scottish-referendum/ that Salmond may have missed his ‘honeymoon’ moment – three whole years at the top of your game, without ‘events, dear boy, events’ intervening is not easy.
    But there are campaign techniques with which to stage out the 30 remaining months – let’s hear them…

  • Neil

    The nationalist side can be at least as cheered to find an independent survey of finances that suggests Scotland is well able to hold its own, at least under current circumstances.

    It will be all the more cheering to find this same think tank made waves in recent years by rubbishing Scotland’s over-weening public sector.

    At first, it bracketed Scotland with North Korea and Cuba, and then warned the nation was at risk of being overtaken by fast-growing countries such as South Korea, Poland and, yes, even Greece.

    Fascinating stuff. I do hope Cameron does ‘press’ for an early referendum. The Scots seem to take instruction well, especially from the Tories so it’s a sure fire winner. It was funny on spotlight the MSP saying that he’d gladly pay NI Unionist’s fares to get them over to Scotland to support the Scottish Unionists.

    Honestly I reckon on the apathy front the losers will be Cameron and friends. The excitement is bound to run high one way or the other as the referendum looms, and it will be the Nationalists who can talk about their imagined future with positivity and hope, as opposed to the continuing misery and hopelessness likely to be in full swing by 2014 when the Tories have succesfully completed their aim of blaming this entire crisis on the poor and disabled, and duly sliced away every bit of the safety net the ‘scroungers’ have to line the pockets of the unfortunate bankers (slash Tory donors).

  • galloglaigh

    Spotlight was interesting on Tuesday. Lord Laird claimed he’s opposed to any form of nationalism. He thinks that “nationalism is narrow and small; It sorta lacks self confidence”. What Lord Laird fails to realise, is that unionism is a form of nationalism. Unionism, be it Irish, Scottish, Welsh, or English, is in disarray. They are holding on to a comfort blanket, that will one day be whipped away by a big bad nationalist. Unionism needs to take a hard look at itself, and ask the questions: Why do people not want our union? Why is it failing the people who don’t live fifty miles or less from London? And yes, that does mean N.Ireland. Why has the union failed those living West of the Bann for example?