Ewan Crawford: Jolly poor argument for staying in the Union
IN ITS heyday the BBC Scotland sketch show, Scotch & Wry, and in particular the annual appearance of The Reverend IM Jolly, was as much a part of Hogmanay as The Bells themselves.
Rikki Fulton’s portrayal of the ever-downbeat Church of Scotland minister was a brilliant comedy response to the optimism of resolutions and new beginnings that the prospect of a new year is supposed to represent.
Looking forward to the new political year, for those seeking change a necessary part of any campaign must inevitably involve criticism of the current state of affairs – otherwise, why bother?
But all too easily that criticism can fall into Jolly territory where it seems nothing hopeful can penetrate the overwhelming sense of pessimism down at the manse.
That means there also has to be a counter dose of what the former US vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, dismissed disparagingly as that “hopey-changey stuff”.
The trick for political strategists is to find the right balance between pointing out the (bad) consequences if people do not vote your way and the positive possibilities if they do.
When it comes to arguments over independence and the offer from the No campaign I fear that on the Jolly/hopey-changey spectrum my default position is to lean more towards the Reverend.
That is mainly because, no matter how much it is dressed up, it is difficult to forsee how Scotland’s economic prospects can be improved in the event of a No vote next year.
Fortunately, however, there are real grounds for optimism that things could indeed get better if we vote for independence.
I have also been struck by conversations over the past few weeks with people who tell me they are waiting for the arguments to begin.
I suspect that the debate up until now has come across to many as a lot of noise and fury unconnected with their daily lives.
There are big lessons for the SNP here. Firstly the primary debate cannot be with the Labour leadership in Scotland. Labour has decided to mount a campaign based primarily on a combination of all-out personal attack against the First Minister and an assault on what they characterise as Scotland’s “something for nothing culture” typified by free personal care for the elderly and the abolition of university tuition fees.
In 2013 they should feel free to get on with this to see if this is indeed the platform that people in Scotland have been crying out for from a potential party of government.
The overwhelming focus of the independence campaign should instead be about a sense of possibility and a conversation with people concerned about jobs and the economic prospects for themselves and their families. The polling company, Ipsos-MORI, has shown that since 2008 voters have named the economy as “the most important issue facing Britain today”.
It seems safe to assume those findings would be replicated in Scotland.
This is the key area for the referendum debate because it is here there is justifiable pessimism over Scottish economic prospects in the short and long-term without independence.
Academics attached to the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (run by Manchester University and the Open University) have highlighted the huge gap in private sector job creation between London and the rest of the United Kingdom.
They take issue with the mantra of “re-balancing the economy”, heard so much since the financial crash, which implies policy changes to get things back on track or in balance.
In fact getting things back to balance in the sense of the British economy over the past 25 years will mean continuing regional inequality and decline in manufacturing and locally-owned large scale businesses.
Intriguingly they point out that for much of the UK’s recent history, revenues from North Sea Oil have covered up the economic failure that is now being exposed.
A huge Scottish asset has therefore flowed south into the London Treasury and which perversely has been used to prop up an economic policy damaging to Scotland.
But British economic policy has not just been at the expense of Scotland. Former industrial regions of England have also suffered.
At the weekend the leaders of three northern English cities said the scale of Westminster cutbacks now threatened social unrest and “a deeply divided nation”.
This is because the bulk of the Westminster cuts on current spending (used to pay wages for example) are still to come.
Scotland is therefore locked into an economic system which is aggressively cutting public sector employment while concentrating private sector job creation in London.
It is also a system that the Institute for Fiscal Studies has suggested could see the biggest fall in living standards for those on middle incomes for 40 years.
It is time therefore for those of us who support independence to stop being defensive. I would like to hear how, with no new economic powers, those on the No side plan to break this damaging lock. I suspect they cannot.
None of this means that independence will automatically transform our prospects or that legitimate questions over the currency and Europe shouldn’t be addressed.
But there is a startling gap between the potential of the Scottish economy to create jobs and London economic management.
This is a country with extraordinary energy potential, 30 or 40 years of oil revenues, one of the world’s best university sectors, and an international reputation for quality.
Our prospects are about to change whatever happens, and the issue is whether we have the powers to harness those resources and influence that change to create a better future or place our faith in a system loaded against us.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 19 C
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Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West