As 2014 draws to its close I cannot help but surmise that it is being marked in Scotland by an almost compulsive pessimism among unionist politicians and their supporters, while nationalists are often upbeat and optimistic, except for when they dwell for a second on the actual result of the independence referendum.
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Has there been an open and public debate among nationalists about why they failed to convince a majority of Scots to support them? All I have seen are partisan distractions; a leadership change that never stopped for an inquest about why it became necessary in the first place and Alex Salmond flip-flopping for the umpteenth time to attempt yet another comeback.
What about the failure to convince people on the currency question, the repeated evasion on EU membership, the genuine threat to jobs?
Instead the SNP rejoices in the various opinion polls that give it a lead over Labour from anything between 3 to 23 per cent as we approach a general election in May next year, as if this suggests the electorate now regrets its decision of 18 September. To maintain the momentum of an independence campaign that has not stopped – except to take air for a few days – the SNP continues to find new grievances to cultivate a them-and-us division between Scotland and the rest of the UK and offers us the prospect of a further independence referendum, possibly as early as 2016, despite having said the exact opposite in an effort to get its vote out and convince doubters to join them. Such behaviour is either deceitful or shamefully opportunist, it is certainly not principled or democratic.
Such behaviour has thrown a pall over the unionists who, having realised that they must begin to campaign against each other in an effort to maximise their respective party votes have immediately become divisive and leaderless as a group. There is no Better Together and there is no Alastair Darling, instead we have had Scottish Labour leadership elections, UK Labour leadership crises, Tory defections and UK Independence Party by-elections.
Nevertheless I remain highly optimistic about the prospects for unionists in 2015.
There is a very long journey to be made before Scots enter the ballot booth on 7 May and decide – if they are Labour supporters – whether voting Labour or SNP is more likely to deliver a Labour government at Westminster. Just asking the question in that manner should help concentrate minds in Labour heartlands.
Likewise the propensity of the SNP and past Yes campaigners to believe their own publicity that Scots think in significantly different ways from the rest of the UK has often allowed nationalists to mis-read the electorate’s intentions. Be it welfare reform, going to wars in the recent past, defending ourselves against terrorism and Neo-Soviet aggrandisement, or remaining in the European Union – Scots think broadly the same as the rest of the UK.
Unionists are generally against the idea of having another independence referendum; they did not care much for the nastiness that developed in the last one, believe (correctly) that it held back our economy from a quicker recovery, distracted us from real issues of social concern that we already have the powers to deal with, and divided (sometimes bitterly) families, friends and communities.
For all of these reasons I believe it would be better if our nation made up and looked to use the significant powers already at Holyrood’s disposal, those we are about to receive courtesy of the Scotland Act 2012 and the substantial transfer of fiscal accountability that will follow after the general election.
I fear another referendum would be even more divisive than the last, would cause significant economic disruption and put jobs at risk all over again.
I know I am not alone in thinking that for those reasons another referendum would be bad for Scotland but for all that I do not fear one because I think the Union would be lost. On the contrary, a further referendum could in fact deliver a more resounding victory for the Union than before.
For all the current polls suggest the result could be independence if a vote were held again, too many unionists are reliving the last campaign like generals fighting old battles, forgetting that no two campaigns are the same. For a start, Better Together or its replacement will never again be allowed to run such a downbeat unevenly negative campaign as last time. While asking hard questions of the SNP’s weaknesses had its place, a more positive case for remaining British would be advocated from day one. Friends of the Union must surely live on?
Another lesson learnt from 2014 is that Scottish businesses cannot allow themselves to be so marginalised and so would speak up earlier about the risks and choices facing them, their employees and customers. Oh, and Labour might be in Downing Street again, killing the argument that only independence will stop a Tory government.
Then there’s the oil price collapse. Even if it recovers back to over $100 the dramatic fall we are now experiencing will provide a salutary and lasting cold shower to counter all those something-for-everyone wish lists that offered a land of make believe.
Of course were the nationalists to be defeated again then there would be no way back for them, that would be the end of the matter. There could be no further, final heave.
So as we approach 2015, unionists have, for the sake of Scotland’s economic, social and cultural interests, every right to want to avoid another referendum – but they should not fear it. Indeed if we are to have another then I say bring it on, the sooner the better, so we can consign narrow nationalism to history once and for all.
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