Eddie Barnes: Using fairness and inequality is a huge gamble for Yes campaign

HALF a million homes across Scotland are receiving a small, four-page leaflet from the Yes campaign, as the pro-independence movement begins its 2013 push. Coloured red (hello Labour voters), it attempts to start a debate with prospective pro-independence supporters on the issue of fairness.

The UK, it declares, is “on track to become the most unequal” country in the developed world – in other words, the gap between the rich and poor is widening. “That’s why many families in Scotland are struggling to make ends meet, or are worried about their security and their children’s future,” the leaflet continues. An independent Scotland could solve this, it suggests.

Fighting the case for independence on the issue of fairness and inequality is a serious gamble. That is the view, also expressed last week, of ScotCen, the country’s leading independent social research body. In its annual survey of attitudes in society, it analysed what would be the defining issues that will decide how people vote in 2014. The economy is easily the biggest one. If people can be persuaded that independence will make the economy stronger, there is a clear uplift in support.

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The issue of inequality and fairness ranks far lower. Even among those who think independence would reduce the income gap, only 38 per cent say they would back independence. So while the ideal of a fairer, more equal Scotland as proposed in the Yes leaflet may find agreement from people, it might not, says ScotCen, tip enough people into voting yes.

Presenting the findings, Professor John Curtice, one of the authors of the report, put it bluntly: “What the Yes campaign needs to do is to persuade Scots they will have £400 more in their own pocket, not £400 in their poorer neighbour’s pocket.”

Blair Jenkins, the chief executive of the Yes Scotland campaign, argues in response that he can do both. He has already trumpeted the claim that every person would be £500 better off under independence. But with that claim conspicuous by its absence in this week’s leaflet, the impression is given that it is the idea of fairness that really animates the campaign.

Mr Jenkins responds to Prof Curtice by noting that his findings are already out of date, because the impact of the UK government’s welfare reforms and the reduction in people’s benefits have not yet fed through to their pockets. “People are talking about this more than they were in the summer of last year. I apply the ‘taxi driver test’. I keep hearing stories about a member of their family, or a friend, and how they have been affected by this. It has become much, much more of an issue.”

That is surely correct. But the Yes camp now has to both persuade people that independence is the solution, and hope that issues of inequality and fairness become so front and centre to people that it influences the way they vote. This week, the Yes campaign is placing half-a-million bets that it will.