ONE of the common criticisms of the Better Together camp in the independence referendum campaign concerns its tone.
While the Yes Scotland camp works hard to project an air of positivity – albeit one that is predicated on extreme negativity about the UK and doom-filled predictions for Scotland if people vote No next year – the anti-independence movement relies heavily on a stream of detailed questions about the practicalities of achieving independence. This can often take on a carping tone. Better Together often sounds like a plumber you have called in to fix a leak, who sucks his teeth while telling you that such a big job will take a great deal of time and cause a great deal of hassle. Better Together strategists acknowledge this is a danger – although they have yet to come up with an antidote. Perhaps the positive and upbeat case for the UK comes at a later stage of their plan – or perhaps, if the polls show it is not necessary, we may never get to it.
It is probably a structural characteristic of the campaign, however, that opposition to independence will be couched in terms that seek to interrogate the available evidence to divine exactly what this would mean in practical terms for Scotland, and for Scots. This might not be pretty, but it is absolutely necessary. There is a proposal from the Scottish Government for a momentous change. The process of deciding whether to accept this change will therefore lean heavily on a granular examination of what that change will entail. And as our front-page story today suggests, one of the areas where there will be no shortage of questions is who will qualify for Scottish citizenship, and on what terms.
The reason there has not been much attention on this in the referendum campaign so far is perhaps that it necessitates discussion of a policy few Scottish politicians are comfortable with – immigration. The SNP has already accepted an independent Scotland would share a head of state with the rest of the UK, and would also share a currency, necessitating a need for macro-economic policy not too divergent from that of the rest of the sterling zone. What they have not yet done, and have not been pressed too hard into doing, is to accept that the lack of border controls between Scotland and England would necessitate both governments on this island agreeing a shared immigration policy.
This is difficult territory. The reason Scots politicians are wary of immigration as a subject is a lack of confidence about where the Scottish public stands on this issue, which south of the Border is extremely contentious. Scotland’s relatively small immigrant community means this is rarely a concern among voters here. But would this change if the referendum threw up questions about whether Scotland would have a more liberal attitude to immigration than the rest of the UK? Political strategists suspect it might – despite the rhetoric of some Yes campaigners who point to England’s recent drift to the UK Independence Party as a sign of the political disconnect the order represents.
This is why the apparently innocuous issue of who would qualify for a Scottish passport after independence is potentially one of the most difficult in the whole referendum debate. Those questions the Better Together campaign are fond of raising, and the uncertainty any failure to answer those questions will produce, will ensure citizenship is one of the key battlegrounds in the coming months.
Most people would probably agree it is distasteful, in any circumstances, to celebrate someone’s death. We are all human, and there is something about the loss of a life that, regardless of one’s religious belief, or lack of it, transcends for a moment the good or ill that person did when they were alive, and causes us to pause and reflect on our common mortality. That is why many people will find last week’s displays of celebration at the death of Margaret Thatcher distasteful, even if they did not share her politics.
But we must also accept that Thatcher presided over a time in British history where some sections of the community suffered abominably, and disproportionately, not least in Scotland. Her economic reforms – which even some of her opponents now accept were necessary adjustments to an unworkable command economy – were implemented with a relish that still seems cold in its disregard for the economic and social consequences.
To many people, therefore, the customary blandishments that always accompany the death of a famous figure have been, this past week, themselves bordering on the offensive. Thatcher’s legacy is not just one of economic reform, it is also one of damage done to families, communities and the personal dignity of millions. They will shed no tears at her funeral this week. And they are entitled to be unmoved at her passing.