The Better Together campaign needs to raise a ‘yes’ for the most successful union ever conceived, writes Brian Monteith
NEGATIVITY. It is the one word that will remain a problem for the unionist campaign – so long as it does not offer a credible narrative about how constitutional reform can be delivered following a No vote. Slowly, like a convoy moving only as fast as its last trailing ship, the unionist parties are beginning to assemble what looks like a plan.
The recalcitrant Labour MPs and the Tory dinosaurs that together have, for too long, resisted change are now marginalised. Not only is the destination of greater powers coming into sight, the charts of how to get there are also being dusted down and placed on the bridge. Crucially, an understanding is dawning that what is required is a United Kingdom convention that can agree a coherent solution that could work across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – and resolve English concerns about political imbalance.
While the ships with names like Cameron, Brown, Strathclyde, Lamont, Davidson and Alexander begin to gather together before their make-or break journey, there is still a job to be done in selling the positive case for the union. So far, attempts to point to the benefits of being a family member inside the United Kingdom looking out – rather than an outsider peering in – have had, at best, mixed results.
It is no surprise most nationalists comment on negativity and scaremongering. Tactically, it puts them on the side of hope and positive aspiration with the unionists portrayed as mean-spirited and lacking ideas. The reason for the unionists’ discomfort is simple – we are already inside the UK.
Presenting the positive case on what might be gained from joining the club that you have been a member of for over 300 years, when more has been forgotten or taken for granted than a generation can possibly ever remember, is nigh impossible. Many of the benefits can only be described by working out what could change, or worse, disappear altogether. Glib assertions from nationalists that nothing will change are – when the due diligence is done – shown wanting.
As the debate over Scotland’s currency showed, delivering a message that a formal currency union using pound sterling will not be possible is not enough. It may be a technical knockout but, devoid of a straight and credible answer, the SNP retort that Goliath is bullying David plays easily to the Scottish love of the underdog and the terrier spirit that is in our national DNA for not giving in.
The No campaign, negative by definition of the very word it is promoting, must get smarter. It needs to campaign for a Yes for the Union rather than a No against divorce.
To truly examine the positive case for remaining in the great British family, we need to take a step outside the birthing room as if we were not responsible for those great sons and daughters that shaped our nation. Ordinary or heroic, steadfast or exceptional they will have been, but only by revisiting the issue as if Scotland were still an independent nation considering joining the United Kingdom will we be able to establish just what benefits we might gain – and identify the positive case for the UK.
Not only will this allow their campaign to take on a positive appeal, it also offers a significant advantage that the secessionists cannot match – a greater degree of certainty about the benefits of union being real and existing – because we are, of course, enjoying them already.
As a separate nation considering joining the UK, we could have a common defence force, a common currency, a common infrastructure network, common weights and measures and technical standards and many other shared opportunities.
A British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force could not only improve our nation’s security it would give our own personnel unlimited possibilities to lead in the field.
A common currency that is legal tender in every nook and cranny of the islands will reduce the costs of commerce, give certainty to trade and deliver reassurance to the people. A common approach to daylight hours, weights and measures and other technical standards across private business and public services can deliver similar benefits as well as reduce costs considerably.
An open market that gives commerce equal access to markets from John O’Groats to Land’s End can bring to consumers the genuine benefits of economies of scale and shared overheads – making the price of groceries as competitive in Wick as they are in Weybridge. Why require by law separate companies with separate administrative and logistical burdens when they can operate as one and average out the costs? Like all choices there will naturally be costs – but, unlike the nationalists, the unionists should not be afraid of being honest with the Scottish public and spell them out. Yes, it will mean pooling or sharing some aspects of decision-making, some national sovereignty – but it will also give us a place at the top tables where our voices can be heard.
It remains a central weakness and contradiction of the SNP that it views abandoning Scottish sovereignty to the European Union as acceptable – but sharing sovereignty with our British family that we have far more in common with as beyond the pale.
We would have more say in our existing formal currency union, with influence in the Bank of England, its monetary policy committees, the Treasury, and the Westminster parliaments that hold them all to account than we will if we are freelancing using whatever currency takes our fancy. Ironically, going that way means less influence and greater dependancy – not independence.
Only a Scottish currency would offer true independence – but the SNP does not want Scotland to have this, previously wanting the Euro before pleading for the pound.
Looking at examples such as these, showing why, if Scotland were outside the UK, we would be saying Yes to joining the most successful Union ever conceived should be the approach of Better Together. It does not need to wait on constitutional proposals, it can be made now. How the unionists present their case is as important as what they say and it’s never too late to become positive.