Ewan Crawford: Rude awakening awaits the Jacka-No-ry group
THE idea of a feeble populace in thrall to Westminster’s generosity will not play to Scots voters.
The No campaign launch at Edinburgh’s Napier University yesterday was like a cosy, cuddly Scottish version of the CBeebies bedtime story.
It was a touch of pure escapism to send the children safely to sleep happy in the knowledge that everything in the world was all right.
This was a Scotland where no-one was without a job, where no-one feels any uncertainty, no-one has any concerns over pensions, welfare, health or any of those other nasty things that other people, in other countries have to endure.
But, like a lot of good bedtime stories there was an evil villain lurking in the wings: the separatists and their dastardly plans to put power into the hands of the people who live here.
As the main storyteller, Alistair Darling, warned, in what was surely the most patronising line ever used in a political speech: “It’s a big, difficult world.” Much too difficult clearly for us to cope with. Much better to close our eyes and dream the night away while the grown-ups deal with that stuff.
There was even that nice Ms Goldie, like some am-dram version of Jerry Springer roving around the stage, chatting to people who told us how much they really loved Scotland and bizarrely wanted to “smash England at rugby”.
Meanwhile, in the real world outside of Better Together land, where Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems are all pals together to protect us from the bad people, a rather different debate was being played out.
This is the world of politics, where those big, difficult decisions that Mr Darling was talking about are taken.
On the same day that Labour and the Tories were banding together in Edinburgh, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, was announcing plans to dismantle large parts of the welfare state, remove housing benefit from young people and introduce regional variation on payments: code I suspect for cutting benefits for those who live outside London.
This is also the world where the Conservatives accuse Mr Darling of bringing the UK (and Scotland) to the brink of a Greek-style bankruptcy and where Labour in turn holds the Tories responsible for a double-dip recession because they are slashing public spending and failing to promote growth.
But, alas, those differences are for others to hear. Because here in fantasy Scotland, Labour and the Conservatives act out the parts of Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan singing sweetly into each others’ eyes: “Together, we are oh so true...”
These political differences, however, cannot be hidden no matter how much those at the launch yesterday want them to be.
In fact, those welfare proposals highlight that it is not really the SNP that is seeking to break-up Britain as the No camp would like to put it.
The idea of a single British economy and social settlement is falling apart. Independence supporters are seeking to respond to these dramatic changes, not cause them.
Recent academic research has shown the UK economy is hopelessly unbalanced with the greatest volume of private sector job creation taking place in London and the south-east of England. These two areas have certain natural advantage and also benefit from huge capital and other spending.
In return, other parts of the UK have been, in effect, compensated by welfare spending which is now being withdrawn.
What then are the implications for the Yes side? The most interesting information relating to the independence debate has actually come not from the two campaign launches but from polling and survey results published at the weekend.
These showed that most people want the Scottish Parliament to have more powers, that they want the Scottish, rather than the UK government, to have the most influence over their lives and that they feel disengaged from the independence debate. Unsurprisingly the economy was seen as the most important current issue.
This means the side that can present a compelling political narrative that is in tune with voters’ concerns, as expressed in these results, can expect to be rewarded. Happily pro-independence supporters favour the first two of these findings: we also want more powers for the Parliament and we want Holyrood, rather than Westminster, to have more say over our lives.
On the question of engaging voters, it would be good to see more emphasis on what Alex Salmond called the “progressive beacon” that an independent Scotland could be. This sense of mission and of creating a more equal society must be an essential part of the independence case.
With regard to the economy, the SNP has been engaged in a long, ongoing campaign to demonstrate the inherent advantages we have as a country and that we provide comfortably more by way of tax to the UK treasury than our population share.
The reality of most people’s lives means there is also an opportunity to develop a more convincing choice for voters than that presented by the Conservatives and Mr Darling yesterday.
This is a choice based not on why it would be good to change the current political arrangements but why we have to change them.
Within the current settlement we know nearly 90 per cent of the UK spending cuts have still to come. That will inevitably mean further public sector job losses.
We know also that without the tax and other powers we need to compete effectively we won’t be able to create nearly enough private sector jobs. And we know that those who find themselves out of work will face still greater hardship.
Fortunately with our university sector, our renewables potential, massive oil resources, huge food and drink exports and many other advantages we are in a position to offer an alternative to decline.
That is surely a better choice than a fantasy bedtime story, no matter how comforting it may seem to be.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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