BACK in the mid-1990s, as debate raged over whether Scotland should have its own parliament, a shadow Cabinet minister called George Robertson came out with a pithy soundbite to counter those who argued devolution would be a slippery slope to independence. Devolution, he said, would “kill nationalism stone dead”.
Almost 20 years on, with the Scottish National Party in power at Holyrood for almost seven years, and with Scotland poised to make a historic decision on whether to leave the UK, it probably does not rank among the greatest of political predictions.
One might imagine that, after having that phrase cast up to him repeatedly in recent years, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen – as he is now – might have become more circumspect with his language when approaching the subject of Scottish nationalism.
Apparently not. In a speech to the Brookings Institute in the United States, Lord Robertson has said Scottish independence would be “cataclysmic” for the security of the western world, and that it would welcomed by the global “forces of darkness”.
Lord Robertson clearly includes Russia in this. And it is true that president Putin’s expansionism in the Crimea and elsewhere, his use of energy policy to bully the nations of Eastern Europe, and his cynical willingness to use the suffering of the people of Syria as a pawn in his chess game with the West, is a force to be reckoned with, and should not be underestimated in any way.
But the use of words such as “cataclysmic” shows, at best, a lack of proportion and perspective. At worst, it is a sign of the regrettable way the independence referendum debate is becoming increasingly polarised and bitter.
That the enmity in the campaign has deepened is in some ways puzzling. Independence – as presented in the Scottish Government’s white paper, with its vision of a shared monarchy, shared currency and shared macroeconomic policy – is almost unrecognisable from the 19th-century nation state the SNP has advocated for most of its 80-year history. Similarly, the degree of extra devolution now being seriously contemplated by the pro-UK parties would, 20 years ago, have been rejected by two of those parties as a dangerous acquiescence to the forces of nationalism. In some ways the choice on 18 September is between two near neighbours, indy-light and devo-max.
And yet the binary choice Scotland faces this year – with its black or white, yea or nay quality – has had the effect of polarising a debate that within the Scottish electorate has more commonly been a matter of shades of grey. In this heightened atmosphere currently prevailing and fuelled by Lord Roberston it might seem the choice we are facing is bewteen right and wrong, or between good and evil. It’s not.
The division potentially created by such language is a very real concern. Lord Robertson’s intervention is no help whatsoever.
Games organisers must admit error
THE petition against the destruction of the Red Road flats as the centrepiece of the Glasgow 2014 opening ceremony was last night – at the time of going to press – at 10,000 signatures and rising. The organisers should expect it to rise even further, and perhaps exponentially.
It would not be at all surprising, in an age of social networks, if this petition gathered another 10,000 signatories, or 20,000, or many more. Which raises the question: how many Glaswegians – and Scots outwith the city – have to register their opposition to this harebrained idea before the Glasgow 2014 organisers decide to drop it?
Yesterday Lord Smith of Kelvin, chairman of the Games, signalled the organisers’ intention to look again at the Red Road decision. While stressing that many Glaswegians were in favour, he said all views had to be taken into account. This is welcome news. The plan should indeed be reviewed, and then quietly removed from the opening ceremony.
The opponents of Red Road’s role in the opening ceremony are not a small bunch of local sentimentalists or malcontents. They include former civic leaders such as Alex Mosson, and cultural figures such as Alexander Stoddart, Sculptor in Ordinary to Her Majesty the Queen in Scotland. At the weekend Mr Stoddart acidly remarked about the Red Road plans: “Fun’s always better if something suffers and dies in its midst.”
Now is the time for the Games organisers to accept they have made a mistake, and to change course. If they do not, the opening ceremony of Glasgow 2014 will become a focus for division, not, as it should be, a moment for the city and the wider Scotland to celebrate together in unity.