Leaders: Independence referendum | Gambling

THE year born today will be one for the history books alongside 1320, 1603, 1707, 1979 and 1997.

Scotland will vote in an independence referendum in September. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Generations from now, 2014 will be remembered – either as the moment Scots voted to end three centuries of political union with their southern neighbour, to brave the 21st century as the world’s 207th nation state. Or as the point when Scots decided to stick with the Union, while doubtless maintaining the option to pursue a greater devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament.

Either way, 2014 marks a fork in the constitutional road that will influence the lives of every Scotsman reader, whether we like it or not. This puts a heavy onus of responsibility on the two referendum camps. They should use the last months of the campaign constructively and without rancour, so that a clear-cut decision can be reached on 18 September that both sides will respect. That way the whole nation can move on to tackle the very real economic and social problems Scots still face. The last thing we need is a narrow or disputed referendum result that condemns Scotland to years of infighting and prolonged constitutional navel-gazing.

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Last year in our Ner’day leader, we acknowledged that definitive answers to the difficult questions posed by independence might not be available even after a three-year campaign. That has been demonstrated amply in 2013. We have many more facts but voters (especially in the business community) are still seeking assurance. On the Yes side, there is a need to be less naively assertive, especially when it comes to predicting the responses of international bodies such as the European Union. Business needs a proper risk assessment not a lecture. On the No side, there is still a need for the main political parties to spell out a constructive agenda of constitutional reform.

We should also remember that, as far as the other 7.1 billion inhabitants of Planet Earth are concerned, the independence referendum is a sideshow. 2014 will see American and British combat troops withdraw from Afghanistan, leaving behind an uncertain situation. In December, the International Panel on Climate Change will publish its Fifth Assessment. On the other hand, the world will probably spend more time watching the Fifa World Cup than thinking about politics. There is a positive side to that: 2014 is here to be enjoyed, not worried over.

For that reason, Scotland should embrace the fact it is playing host to a truly remarkable number of international events in 2014, including the (Second) Homecoming, the Ryder Cup and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Each one of us, regardless of our position on the referendum, should do our individual bit to make these events successful and to give foreign visitors a very warm Scottish welcome in 2014. We wish all our readers and advertisers a very happy and prosperous New Year.

New curbs needed for an old vice

THE Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Rt Rev Lorna Hood, is absolutely correct to warn of the dangers that arises from the advent of internet gambling – especially given the tidal wave of television advertising pushing the industry’s wares, complete with seductive offers of cash incentives to sign up. The bookie’s shop door no longer shuts at 5:30pm and it is all too easy to run up debt in the wee small hours playing internet poker.

As the Moderator points out, the lure of easy money affects not just those with a gambling addiction. The unemployed and the disabled, faced with benefit cuts, are being seduced into thinking an internet punt is a better option than a payday loan. In fact, the only winners are the bookmakers.

Unfortunately, the gambling genie is out of the bottle here, thanks to the internet.

The Moderator’s sentiment might be right, but the new technology cannot be reversed or wished away. Instead, we need new solutions for the old problem. Tighter regulation is difficult to achieve given British law has no jurisdiction over gambling sites domained elsewhere. The United States has tried for years to make accessing offshore betting sites illegal, but has failed conspicuously, as have several European countries. One alternative would be to curb advertising on UK television, as was done successfully with cigarettes.

Regulation at an EU level might also help. This is being advocated by the European Parliament. Unfortunately, individual member states are blocking collective action in order to protect national gaming monopolies – an absurd position given cross-border online gambling has destroyed such monopolies.

Perhaps it is time for Britain to take a lead in Europe.