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

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.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London