CONTEMPLATING the past ten or so days in the referendum debate I found myself drawn to a passage of St Matthew’s Gospel.
You don’t have to be religious to find wisdom and resonance in ancient words: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits”.
We don’t need to stretch our mind too far to see how this biblical metaphor fits. First came the lamb, in the shape of the Prime Minister’s “love-bomb” speech: Scotland should be collectively told it is loved and wanted and needed; phone a friend in the north to say “we want you to stay”.
But barely had the warm glow been allowed to resonate northwards before the mask slipped and the wolf’s teeth shimmered in the light once more.
We are loved so much that if we don’t stay where we are, the gun that is pointed to our electorate’s head will be fired. So goes the tale. Like the echo of a thousand guns fired in futile anger as country after country declared its independence from London down the decades, so the oldest tricks in the Whitehall playbook are being deployed.
So we hear very little about why Scotland “should” stay. Only angry threats about what will evidently happen if we don’t.
So Scotland will be kicked out of Europe and sterling, forced to shoulder every debt inherited from the UK while gaining no share of any asset. Borders will go up and life chances will go down.
Like the “rough wooing” of the infant Mary, Queen of Scots, by Henry VIII on behalf of his son Edward, it is becoming the caricature definition of “winning ugly”, and any student of Britain’s history will know such victories end Pyrrhic.
All of that said, there can be no doubt that George Osborne’s intervention last week, coordinated in London with Liberal and Labour colleagues in the No campaign, had its short-term desired effect in the media if not the target electorate. And if the polls narrow further the shouting and the baiting will get louder and angrier. Has anyone independent spotted that the emotion and extremism is coming one way?
The challenge for the Yes side is to keep their composure in the face of quite irresponsible and reckless provocation and stick to a campaign plan and tone that will win. Get dragged into the gutter and progressives mostly lose.
The irresponsibility lies in the deliberate attempt to create discord, uncertainty and fear where there need be none.
Having said they wouldn’t pre-negotiate, London is doing just that by saying that, irrespective of the sort of policy agreements the Bank of England governor outlined which could make it work, Scotland will not be allowed to “keep the pound”. Well let’s see.
Calls for plans B, C and D on currency damage not just the Scottish but the UK economic interest, but no blow is too low for the establishment that currently rules us. “By their fruits shall ye know them.” So look around you.
When Labour made the Bank of England independent it didn’t even put Plan A in its manifesto, it just did it. There was a reason for that in the need to avoid market uncertainty and the London parties know that.
The alternative models for Scotland are all around Europe with Denmark, Norway, Switzerland and the Netherlands all succeeding with different monetary policy and currency models.
But the Scottish Government is taking the responsible route by advocating a position that will minimise uncertainty and create the best possible outcome for both Scotland and the rest of the UK through the transition ahead. It is a position advocated by independent Nobel Prize-winning economists. So whom do you trust? Independent analysts of world renown or Tory politicians with clear vested interests and a track record you can measure in the fruit they bear?
If First Minister Alex Salmond had put a new Scottish currency in the referendum plan the criticism and condemnation from London would be even louder. Contemplate that. Every single trading business will want a currency union to stay in the event of a Yes vote.
Again the London government knows all this. Which is why it would like to create disruption where none exists and push this debate to an extreme it isn’t at. It is brutal high-stakes power politics that underline the credentials of Osborne for the type of partisan politician he is.
In truth we know that they all want a No vote because they want to keep things the way they are now. And they seem willing to say just about anything to secure that outcome. But if we vote Yes, the sneering tone will change overnight, because enlightened self-interest will win out on both sides of the Border.
The phoney war is undoubtedly over in this campaign. Which makes it all the more important for advocates of progress to remain composed, positive and generous of spirit. Each voice raised against us in anger must be met with a calm smile. Composure, patience, purpose and perseverance will win the day. «