Tom Peterkin: Internal conflicts can cause confusion

Picture: PA
Picture: PA
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THERE was an exchange on STV’s political discussion programme Scotland Tonight this week, which neatly summed up the challenges that the Yes campaign faces at the moment.

In order to win over those voters who might plump for the devil they know rather than taking a leap into the unknown, one would have thought it would be helpful to have some unity when it comes to presenting a vision of an independent Scotland.

Just how difficult that is proving to achieve was illustrated when the SNP MSP Kenny Gibson was on the telly with Patrick Harvie of the Greens. The two Yes Scotland colleagues were keen to impress on viewers just how much they agreed with each other when it came to the “opportunities” and “possibilities” that independence would throw up.

It was when the discussion got down to the nitty-gritty of Corporation Tax that their united front began to go awry. It was an issue that saw the politicians retreat to their parties’ position. First up was Mr Harvie who criticised the “centre-right mistakes” of the past two decades that had seen a policy of cutting the levy to give “tax giveaways for big business”.

Independence, argued Mr Harvie, would offer a chance to break away from the old centre-right consensus on Corporation Tax and make things “different and better” in Scotland.

This was slightly inconvenient for the show of unity. A few days earlier, Alex Salmond had made a 3 per cent Corporation Tax cut below the level of the rest of the UK, the big idea of his newly published economic independence paper. With that in mind, Mr Gibson launched a robust defence of his government’s policy, parroting Mr Salmond’s line that cutting the tax would create 27,000 jobs over the next two decades. The move would take more people into work and create wealth, which could be used to help the vulnerable, he argued.

As Mr Gibson extolled the benefits of the policy, a slightly tetchy Mr Harvie interjected saying Salmond’s flagship policy was “discredited”. That disagreement showed that it can be a weakness as well as a strength that the Yes Scotland campaign encompasses a variety of political creeds from Scottish Socialists to free marketeers. On the question of unity, Mr Harvie has said there should be the freedom to offer competing visions of the future on both sides of the debate, pointing out that there are a divergence of views on the No side.

That is all very well, up to a point. Just as Mr Salmond rejoices in pointing out inconsistencies between the Tories and Labour on the No side, Better Together will relentlessly attack anything that can be perceived as a divided Yes Scotland campaign.

Internal conflicts within the campaigns about what voting Yes and No will actually mean should stimulate some healthy debate. But if they are not resolved then it leaves the voter with little other than confusion.