FRIDAY’S launch of the Yes Scotland campaign marked a sea-change in the debate about Scotland’s future.
For some time now the SNP has been at pains to identify those issues around independence that were uncomfortable for many potential supporters, and to neutralise them as difficulties. So we have heard reassuring noises about retaining the monarchy, keeping sterling, accepting the continuing role of the Bank of England in macroeconomic policy and, most recently, the possibility that an independent Scotland might continue its membership of Nato. The language has been emollient, reassuring those voters for whom words like “separation” and “break-up” cause anxiety about the future. Many in the SNP were uncomfortable about these moves to “indy-lite”, but most accepted, if this was the price of victory, so be it.
In the past few days, however, two things have happened. It has become unavoidably clear that the SNP’s political allies in the independence movement – the Scottish Greens and the Scottish Socialists – disagree with it on some of the fundamentals of this strategy. This is particularly true of Alex Salmond’s reassuring words to voters that the Queen would remain head of state after independence – an emotive issue at a time when Britain is marking the 60th anniversary of her coronation. There is disquiet, too, about the First Minister’s low-tax plans for corporations and “business as usual” message to industry and commerce. SNP moves on Nato have also caused tensions with a Scottish Socialist party for whom this is non-negotiable. The independence movement, in other words, has no agreed vision of what an independent Scotland might look like.
The second development is a consequence of this. The SNP is endeavouring to make a virtue of this disagreement. An independent Scotland will, they say, be whatever the voters of Scotland want it to be. After independence, there will be a general election, and the winners of that election will decide what to do on currency, defence, a head of state and everything else. The SNP has, therefore, abandoned its carefully crafted independence narrative and has resorted instead to a blank slate. Nothing is now ruled in, nothing ruled out. The monarchy and Nato could be ditched; equally they could be retained. The Yes camp is suddenly attempting to make a virtue of uncertainty: “We could be run by UKIP,” joked one SNP aide on Friday. There are no constitutional guarantees, nothing that voters can latch on to as a reliable guide to what an independent Scotland would look like.
That is, to say the least, a high-risk strategy. It revives the spectre the SNP has, until now, made much effort to exorcise: the view of independence as a leap in the dark, an invitation to Scots to vote for an uncertain future. Many Nationalists believe this would be a bracing and energising liberation – they argue that a fresh start is exactly what Scotland needs, and that independence can usher in a brave new Scotland capable of reinventing itself for the challenges of the future. This is an honourable aim, and one that many Scots find attractive. The problem is, polling has repeatedly shown that a greater number of Scots find it alarming and are unwilling to make this kind of leap of faith. So where does this leave the SNP? It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Salmond, in his pursuit of allies for the independence campaign, has jeopardised a subtle and nuanced strategy that was wrong-footing his opponents by depriving them of their main attack lines. What he has gained is, at this moment, far less easy to ascertain.
Tartan’s global appeal
DR GILES Jackson, an English-born academic in America with Scottish antecedents and radical sympathies, is making a mark with his Liberation Kilt Company. As we report today, he has registered tartans for a number of protest groups such as the Occupy movement.
No doubt this will be controversial in the eyes of traditionalists. They will doubtless argue that when the Scottish Register of Tartans (SRT) was established, with the endorsement of the Scottish Government, it was intended to bring order to tradition by regulating existing tartans and approving a limited number of new designs for football clubs, civic organisations and sporting events such as the Commonwealth Games.
What was not perhaps anticipated was the registering of tartans for supporters of political dissidents, the anti-nuclear lobby or the climate change movement. Should we be concerned? No we should not. By giving official recognition to these plaids, the SRT is acknowledging the global cultural outreach of Scotland and its iconic tartan tradition. Some may wonder why radical protest groups would want to adopt a uniform and to take the conformist step of applying for official government recognition of what is intended to be a badge of dissent. But if they are happy to do so, then why not? We are all, after all, Jock Tamson’s bairns.