SHOULD Scotland’s future be bought and sold? Who should be allowed to fund the case for and against separation? And does it matter? Back in June the SNP was on its high moral horse.
Looking down from the saddle was MP Angus Robertson who declared that the SNP and its campaign would not accept donations from outside Scotland. It demanded that the Better Together campaign agree these same rules in the interests of fair play and transparency.
Yet just a number of months later that position has changed. In a little noticed moment at a recent Westminster Scottish affairs select committee, Blair Jenkins entirely reserved this position. The head of Yes Scotland said “yes please”. The separation campaign will happily accept donations from anywhere in the world. Scottish tax exiles – film stars come to mind – are being encouraged to open their wallets. SNP ministers presumably rattle the tin on overseas visits.
Mr Jenkins cited a limit of £500 per donation to the Westminster committee. But politicians, businesses and corporate donors have a terrifying track record of finding ways around any voluntary limit. Worse still there is no regulation here. The SNP can say “yes please” to any donations. They do not have to declare any such income. The only constraint will be the so called regulated period. This is the 16 weeks or so before Scotland votes in the autumn of 2014. Until then the SNP can vacuum up foreign money to throw at voters without needing to say where it has come from or who wrote the cheque. Who is being bought and sold now?
Why, having declared there should be no money from outside Scotland, has the SNP changed its tune?
Why is it saying yes to any person living across the globe who wants to donate? The SNP was given a £2 million campaign start when its lotto ticket came up gold through an Ayrshire couple who gave them a million pounds and then the national Makar left £918,000 in his will. So a massive war chest is in place to throw at the Scottish electorate between now and the spring of 2014.
Consider the last few months. The Yes campaign has been holed by a serious of self-inflicted political disasters. Ministers have been caught misleading parliament. The public do their politics by impression, nuance and tone. They know that this Teflon government is not so non-stick anymore. The details of legal advice on EU membership, the cutting of the further education budget and the missing of binding climate change targets miss most of us. But an impression is now about that the government are not quite what they say they are. That matters rather more.
I suspect senior SNP strategists are thinking not of 2014 but 2016. Then they have to face the electorate as a government who have lost both a referendum and a record of competence. No wonder they are stockpiling money.
• Tavish Scott is Liberal Democrat MSP for Shetland