Leaders: ‘Better together’ must learn from unionist mistakes
POSITIVE messages have been demanded by nationalists of their opponents in the long battle ahead over independence.
Alistair Darling, chair of the “better together” campaign, duly responded yesterday with, he said, positive messages over the benefits of the cultural and social union between Scotland and the rest of the UK. These, he argued, have provided Scots with constant opportunities to fulfil themselves, to the benefit of Scotland and Britain, on a much bigger stage.
His text, in summary, was that the ties that bind are more important than the differences which divide. It is a solid basis on which to build a campaign, but not much more than that, for it is a rather familiar message which unionists have used before. When his warning that independence would cast our children into a deeply uncertain future is added, what was delivered yesterday begins to sound rather like the dire warnings tried before against the SNP, and which have been increasingly ignored by the electorate.
As this is going to be a long, long campaign, it is important to learn the lesson of recent British and Scottish political history in terms of what attracts – and what repels – voters. It was perhaps expecting too much to see a sparkling sprint start to what will be a marathon but both sides have to realise how voters perceive their respective campaigns. After yesterday, there continues to be a gap in the unionist campaign. This debate is about Scotland’s future, but it is unclear what shape the unionists propose devolution should have should they win the referendum vote.
It is a gap which has to be filled, a lesson which can be learned from some recent constitutional history. Through the Conservative years in the 1980s and 1990s, the Tories were mystified why, according to the polls, devolution was an exceedingly low priority with the voters and yet seemed to cause them so much pain in elections. One interpretation of what they failed to understand is that the electorate, while primarily concerned about such matters as unemployment and the health service, increasingly viewed devolution as a barometer which could be used to judge how committed political parties were to Scotland. Since the Tories were opposed to devolution, many concluded they were not interested in Scotland and thus the Tory vote fell to extinction levels.
The unionist parties risk repeating this history. True, they can point to the passage of the Scotland Act as the most significant piece of fiscal devolution that has happened since the Act of Union. But so little has been made of this constitutional development that the opportunity to gain political capital from it looks to have been lost. More is now needed.
The best that can be said for the “no” campaign’s start was that it matched the “yes” launch for lack of lustre. The opportunity is still there to develop a story for Scotland’s future that will win hearts and minds.
Energy policy at crossroads
THOUGH it may not be generally realised, the United Kingdom is approaching a major decision about energy supplies. Is it the country’s priority to have cheaper energy, or is it to have carbon-free energy? Achieving both at the same time looks to be difficult, if not impossible.
Graham van’t Hoff, the chairman of Shell UK, has pointed out this dilemma with some clarity in his interview with The Scotsman. While offshore wind power has the capability of supplying much of Britain’s electricity needs, the cost of developing it is still high. These costs may well come down, but this still needs to be proven. His alternative, which has significant implications for Scotland, whether independent of remaining part of the UK, is that gas power stations should be built to replace coal-fired ones. Gas has the merit of producing about half as much carbon for the same amount of electricity as does coal. The advances that are being made in developing unconventional sources of gas, primarily from shale deposits, have already caused gas prices to fall dramatically in America and the same could happen on this side of the Atlantic.
Of course, Shell is a major oil and gas producer, so Mr van’t Hoff has significant self-interest in making this point. But he has economics on his side and, as the technology in gas power is well known, his is a strategy that could be deployed relatively quickly. And as cheaper energy is badly needed to provide an economic stimulus, there is much to be said for it.
But capturing and storing the carbon from gas generation could also be as expensive, if not more so, than offshore renewables. The case for continuing to develop them is still a strong one.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Tuesday 21 May 2013
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