Brian Wilson: Secession leads to a dangerous end

Ed Miliband in Glasgow backing the Union. Picture: Getty

Ed Miliband in Glasgow backing the Union. Picture: Getty

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THE offer of a package of powers for Holyrood should have happened earlier, but at least it has happened now, writes Brian Wilson

AS, MERCIFULLY, the finishing line approaches, there is one phrase which stands out in my over-loaded recollection of the Scottish referendum campaign. It came from Pope Francis and he was not speaking specifically about Scotland, so much as division of countries and peoples in general.

The critical distinction he drew was between “independence for emancipation and independence for secession”. In a more intellectually demanding age, every nuance of the debate would have been measured against that yardstick. What exactly are we being asked to liberate ourselves from, and at what human cost, risk and precedent?

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In my own mind, I have applied the Pope Francis test often and have found nothing which approaches the threshold of “emancipation”. We are not oppressed. We are not discriminated against. We hold precious liberties. Both the struggles and advances of past generations were shared in by people with the same needs, interests and commitments to freedom and human dignity in every corner of the United Kingdom.

The case for a Yes vote is about the independence of secession, and nothing else. Yet as Pope Francis went on to say: “The secession of a nation without a history of forced unity has to be handled with tweezers and analysed case by case”. There has been no such forensic approach; just the relentless promotion of division based on grievance, bombastic assertions and denigration of opponents. By any rational analysis, the case for Scottish secession has not been made.

I was reminded yet again of the Pope Francis test when Alex Salmond, chief architect of division, this week drew an astonishing analogy between people registering for the Scottish referendum and “the scenes in South Africa…when people queued up to vote in the first free elections”. Here, surely, we were listening to a man operating at the delusory limits of self-aggrandisement.

To claim comparison between the suffering of South Africa’s black population, on the basis of institutionalised racism, and the position of Scotland within the UK is ludicrous and offensive. Disappointing though it may be to his followers, Mr Salmond is not the Biko of Banff but a shrewd populist who is adept at pressing buttons which would be best left unpressed and at driving wedges where none need exist.

Having wrapped himself in the flag that used to belong to all of us, Salmond wants us to take sides between “Team Scotland” and “Team Westminster”. Within that not very subtle code lies the insidious folly of what he is promoting. Everyone who follows him is, by definition, in “Team Scotland” while dissenters are branded as supporters of a hostile, alien entity.

It is the ultimate false dichotomy of politics but once these lines are established, they take forever to redraw. When the nationalist mob is screaming “go back to England” at Labour MPs, visiting journalists are heckled by Salmond’s henchmen at a press conference and business threatened already with “a day of reckoning”, rational people must ask if that is the road we want to be led down in the name of Team Scotland. Personally, I prefer Team Progress, Team Unity, Team Common Humanity, Team Freedom of Speech.

It is an essential of Mr Salmond’s mantra that everyone who disagrees with him is part of a conspiracy, motivated by self-interest. So the idea that banks and businesses are speaking the inescapable truth when they point to hazards and consequences is anathema. They must be branded as liars, acting as puppets while dark forces in the Treasury pull the strings. Wherever the dire implications of hard fact arise, Mr Salmond’s imperative is to muffle them with the clamour of orchestrated indignation.

When the Prime Minister and leaders of political parties, who collectively represent far more of Scotland than Mr Salmond, seek to participate, they are derided for having the temerity to cross the Border and sneered at for only being here “to protect their jobs”. There is no interest in respectful engagement. Only the constant attack on the rights of others to be heard within what Salmond has defined as the territory of Team Scotland – ie himself, his acolytes and those misguided enough to be used by them.

These tactics have been examined in a superb essay by Dr Carol Craig for The Scottish Review. The Nationalists, she writes, “have created an atmosphere where any facts or viewpoints which are ‘negative’ are being ridiculed. But how did a country once respected for its emphasis on reason, common sense and principles get to the position where healthy scepticism or inconvenient truths are demonised as scaremongering lies?” It is a very good question which can only be dealt with through the ballot box.

The Nationalist strategy, writes Dr Craig, has been to relentlessly promote “optimism” regardless of evidence. She points out: “It was exactly this cocktail of unbridled optimism, and disconnection from reality, which brought down the banks and led to austerity across the western world… We are all still paying the price for bankers’ reckless optimism and governments worldwide, as regulators, not being pessimistic and fearful enough to restrain them.’’

The voters of Scotland are now the only regulators who matter and we must not make the same mistake. Once the word games about optimism and pessimism, positives and negatives are over, there could be an extraordinarily heavy price to pay. That will not trouble the promoters of nationalism, driven as George Orwell said by “blind zeal and indifference to reality” for whom total victory would be a Yes vote next Thursday, without a care about what happened thereafter.

This column has been consistent in urging the anti-separatist parties to come together to offer a package of powers for the Scottish Parliament which would provide the most appropriate balance within the United Kingdom. It should have happened earlier and in a more orderly fashion but what matters more is that it has happened now and would be delivered, just as in 1997 and 2008. An inescapable realpolitik has been created.

That is a constitutional outcome which would satisfy the great majority of Scots and then we could get on with the real dynamics of politics – which is not drawn between Team Scotland and Team Westminster but between Team Rich and Team Poor, Team Powerful and Team Powerless. Emancipation takes many forms. Secession takes only one and it leads to a divisive and dangerous end.

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