WITH barely two weeks to go before the independence referendum, the Yes campaign has finally acquired momentum.
The latest string of polls suggest it will take only a modest three-point swing to put the two sides on even keel – no wonder David Cameron says he is nervous. The political mood feels very similar to the final weeks of the 2011 Holyrood election, when the optimism exuded by the SNP campaign caught the nation’s imagination.
Two straws in the wind. I’ve started seeing Yes posters in shop windows. It is rare for small businesses to pin their colours to the mast so flamboyantly. Again, at a public event I did in Waterstone’s in Sauchiehall Street last week – debating with Labour’s Jim Murphy, who rather ridiculously refused to change his eggy shirt. A troop of young, working class women were in the audience. They were Don’t Knows brought by a Yes friend. They listened attentively for two hours of political debate and appeared unimpressed with Jim’s psychedelic martyr’s shirt. Lesson: the referendum debate is reaching folk often turned off by conventional politics. If they vote, they won’t vote No. The outcome will hinge on the level of voter turnout. Cue lots more scare stories designed to frighten off Scots from governing themselves.
First we’ve had Douglas Flint, chair of HSBC bank, claiming there will be a flight of capital from Scotland if we vote Yes. If a senior banker in any other situation started predicting a run on the banks, he would be denounced (rightly) for irresponsibility. Actually, HSBC only has 10 branches in Scotland. Mr Flint’s real agenda has more to do with cosying up to David Cameron as part of the City’s campaign to reduce regulation. Fact: Scotland had record foreign inward investment last year.
Then we’ve been told academics will flee south from Scottish universities after independence – always assuming the Tories let them in. True, Scottish institutions attract above-average research funding from south of the Border. But that’s because out universities are world class, not because of charity from the London-based funding councils.
Far from being worried, Sir Tom Divine, one of Scotland’s leading academic historians has actually switched sides and now advocated a Yes vote.
Security is likely to be the big ‘scare’ in the last days of a close referendum fight. Enter General Sir Richard Shirreff, until March Nato’s deputy supreme commander, and yet another of the Oxford-educated elite who dominate the British establishment. Sir Richard has just denounced the defence policies set out in the Scottish Government’s independence White Paper as “amateurish” and “dangerous”.
He immediately gave the game away by also claiming that Scotland’s future membership of Nato was uncertain, the better to scare voters. Why would Nato want to exclude a key ally in the North Atlantic, when there is a renewed threat from Russia? Last week Nato hurriedly signed a defence agreement with non-members Sweden and Finland, as a signal to Putin. Sir Richard would be better employed getting on the blower to his old chums to fast-track independent Scotland into Nato, rather than give comfort to the Kremlin.
I’m not even sure Sir Richard has read the White Paper. He claims “there is no mention of any naval aviation”. In fact the independence White Paper says the following: “…options for procurement will be taken forward and airborne maritime patrol capability delivered. A detailed specification of requirement will be developed as a priority and final numbers of aircraft required will depend on this. However, the numbers maintained by comparable nations [i.e. Norway] suggests a potential fleet of four”.
Again, Sir Richard should address his concerns over lack of defence capability to his former employers. He seems blithely unaware that the UK scrapped all its Nimrod maritime recon planes back in 2011, to save money. If Malayan Airlines Flight MH370 had disappeared over the Atlantic, any airborne search effort would have been conducted by the Royal Norwegian Air Force which has Lockheed P-3 maritime aircraft.
It’s possible that Sir Richard meant naval strike aircraft. Again, he should be addressing his concerns to the UK Ministry of Defence. The MoD flogged Britain’s entire fleet of naval Harrier jump jets to the US Marine Corps. As a replacement, the Royal Navy has its heart set on buying the super-expensive Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter. But this has been dogged by cost overruns and the entire fleet was grounded last year because of engine cracks. The F-35 is outclassed by Russian and Chinese jets that fly faster and manoeuvre better. Ignore the hype about the F-35 being stealthy. Chinese hackers stole the design plans years ago.
Fear is the enemy of political clarity. I began my debate with Jim Murphy by referring to my mongrel heritage: working-class father born in Liverpool of Irish Catholic extraction; mother born in Glasgow of Ulster Orange stock; wife from Southampton. My point being that the demand for Scottish independence is not about identity but about better government. It’s not about separatism but about creating a partnership of equal, self-governing states within these islands.
Earlier, I personally assured Jim of my disgust at the egg incident and that no one in the Yes campaign would condone it. “Of course, George,” he replied with a vigorous nod of the head. “I know that.” But when Jim stood up to speak, his tone altered radically. Rather than engage me, he launched into a bogus attack on ‘separatism’ and ‘nationalism’. The next day he claimed that “the Yes Scotland campaign has organised mobs…to intimidate me.”
If the politics of fear triumphs in this referendum it will not makes us more secure in our beds. (Sir Richard Shirref, by the way, wants the UK to invade Iraq again to fight Islamic State.) Far less will it save the Union. What the politics of fear guarantees to do is poison relations between Scots and the rest of the UK, especially if we wake up still inside the Union only to find we’ve been duped.