Pete Martin: Unionist campaign may go to the wall
Scots have the intrinsic ability to switch allegiance just depending on what advantage there is to be gained
• A light-hearted look at how the campaign against devolution might frame their message to the public once the gloves come off and the Scotland's referendum begins for real. Illustration: David Gray
AS A former racing tipster, our First Minister must have backed a few donkeys in his day. However, Independence Lite doesn't look like one of them. If you've read the form in the 2010 Scottish Attitudes Survey, you'd bet on Mr Salmond's vision of an economically-liberated Scotland to win at a canter in any well-constructed referendum. But it also makes plain why he has no intention of putting his shirt on the SNP's old favourite Full Fat Separatism.
Fewer than one in three Scots are emotional nationalists. These true believers seek Scottish independence come what may. Many believe passionately that Scotland will be better off without English supervision. One day, history may prove them right. But, in default of definite prior proof, they want "freedom" anyway.
Depending on your point of view, the rest of us are self-serving pragmatists, cynical scaredy-cats or even fawning toadies. Around 70 per cent of us fear independence. But 60 per cent back devolution. A similar majority believe Scotland should have more powers over revenue and welfare. Again, around two-thirds of Scots believe this kind of "devolution max" or "independence lite" would be good for education and our economy.
So the heart follows the wallet. Rather than principle, Scottish self-determination is a matter of self-interest. And we "want our cake and eat it". We quite fancy the extra power but only if it improves our lot. And, just in case it doesn't, we won't let go of Britannia's petticoats either.
Reading between the lines of the research, you may conclude that our populace has no great loyalty to the idea of Scotland as a nation or as an economic network - or even to "Scottishness" as a culture. Lacking internal cohesion, we simply switch allegiances based on perceived individual interest.
That's hardly a new observation about the Scottish worldview. From Robert the Bruce to Gordon the Brown, our leaders have often looked to Scotland for support in their personal ambitions while leaning heavily towards London for power and preferment.
This Scottish comfort with ambiguity is neatly captured in the new sequel to Macbeth (playing this week at Edinburgh's Lyceum and next week at Glasgow's Citizens). Written by Scottish dramatist David Greig, Dunsinane ponders the English "peace-keeping" invasion of 11th century Scotland. Like a stand-up comic handling a dull heckler, King Malcolm explains our national enigma to a baffled England. It seems, paradoxically, the squabbling among the Scots is finely balanced to create stability: "Make a picture of betrayal: they'd all agree on that."The mixture of jollity and polity is worthy of Salmond himself - now officially enthroned as one of the sharpest operators in UK politics. Holding his own with good humour against Britain's heavyweight broadcasters, he's also older and wilier than the lightweight Cameron. How the First Minister must look forward to negotiating with Number 10, like a Bash Street Kid relieving Lord Snooty of his pocket money.
But the real story of Dunsinane is how England is hurt and angered by Scotland's rejection: we may be joined for policy - but not for love. And that seems to be the true story of the current constitutional debate too.
Despite all the benefits that England may endow; no matter how well we've fared under England's protection; no matter how much we've shared in England's spoils: it's been a thankless business. Ingratitude is how they see it. They gave us the Empire and etiquette. They gave us The Beatles and Bowie. We broke the goal posts at Wembley, and gave them the Bay City Rollers.
It's all highly debatable, of course. Neither side of the Border (or the argument) can say whether things in Scotland would have been better or worse had we been independent. Equally, it's impossible to say whether things will become better or worse if we gain full independence.
As Nobel Prize winning physicist Niels Bohr observed: making predictions is very difficult, especially about the future. But it's just as difficult to reconcile current divergent views on Scotland's financial dependence on England. The Establishment angle is that we are benefit-junkies who spend more than we earn. This simply makes some Scots distrust Unionist motives even more: "If that's true," they wonder, "why would England be so attached to such a burden on its northern border?"
Consider Mrs Thatcher's antipathy towards Scotland. The woman who snatched the milk out of school-weans' mouths and sank the Belgrano clearly had little time for charity or sentiment. So, if we really were a drain on the Iron Lady's purse, you'd reckon she would have had little compunction in torpedoing the Union too.
In reality, she was strongly opposed to Scottish independence. Thus the suspicion remains: maybe Scotland oils the wheels of the UK economy in some way that's not revealed in official statements. However, let's even assume that the vast bulk of oil reserves in British waters belong to Scotland. Can we really pretend that our near neighbours aren't the kind of people who could invade an oil-producing nation, perhaps on a peace-keeping mission?
So, while prosperity and peace may be the prize of independence, there's no guarantee these wouldn't be the price either.Bearing in mind how the Darien Disaster and near bankruptcy brought about the Union in the first place, it may not be surprising that Scotland remains risk-averse.
But what's more perplexing is our view of who benefits most from the status quo. Before 2007, it was fairly obvious. more Scots thought England's economy did better out of the arrangement - though there seemed little correlation to constitutional preference.
Since 2007, the SNP's reputation for executive ability has grown. Since then, bizarrely, Scotland has begun to believe that we do better out of the Union than England. Yes, just at the moment we also seem more inclined to take more fiscal powers into our own hands.
It's paradoxical. How can we explain it? Except as the kind of contrariness that makes an old English smoothie like Bryan Ferry perennially welcome on Clydeside. Even though he's become a phoney who milks his audience, fathers fox hunters and, with barely a word for faithful fans at the SECC, finally puts the lame into lam.
That's what makes selling the Union to Scotland so tricky. It's our dark secret - we already love it and are ashamed. As ever, the Celtic Cringe is at work. We feel the poverty of our own culture and are consumed by an inferiority complex that comes from economic disadvantage. In contrast, cultural status springs from fiscal strength. Firstly, it creates the surplus and leisure to feed its own creative markets; then this cultural allure spreads by envious imitation or aspirational consumption among other peoples. Counter-culture and protest may be part of the patchwork, but it's no coincidence the last century saw beauty in Elvis Presley and Coke rather than Kenneth McKellar and Irn Bru.
You have to reckon that promoting the status quo to the Scots is likely to prove counter-productive, not least for any ad agency involved. It's an odd fact that the Scottish agencies who have campaigned for conservative politics have also tended to struggle financially. Irony of ironies, working with the "party of business" has usually coincided with the ad agency going out of business.
It's hard to imagine any campaign for the status quo that will work. Of course, "Tartan tax terror" will likely be the first resort of scoundrel campaigning. But it doesn't follow that scare tactics will win the day. Negativity wins no friends, and the financial argument would be mired in claim and counter-claim. You could point out how great Britain is, but that would be grating. We know kilts can be cheesy, porridge isn't much of a national dish and bagpipes make our ears bleed, but Cool Britannia? Give us a break.
In any case, the re-invention of Scotland and the debate over our constitutional relationships won't be won or lost on a poster. With around 2/3rds of Scots already backing Independence Lite, Alex Salmond knows The Quo won't be rocking all over his world.
• Pete Martin is creative director at The Gate Worldwide
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