Leaders: ‘Yes’ campaign is in place, but ‘no’ is conspicuous by absence

ANY SCOT who thought, as many say they do at general elections, that they could avoid seeing or hearing what politicians have to say over the next two years, this time about the independence referendum, is going to be seriously disappointed.

From the plans that the SNP set out at its spring conference in Glasgow, in its campaign for a Yes vote in October 2014, every known form of human communication will be used to get the party’s message over.

A relentless onslaught is promised after the council elections in May. Members have been told to write letters to local newspapers, post comments on press websites, engage with Facebook and other social networks, get involved with radio phone-ins, and turn out to any suitable local meeting. They may even do quaint old-fashioned things like knocking on doors.

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That is as it should be. This is the most important decision that any Scot will take about Scotland in their lifetime, so it is entirely proper that there should be the maximum information available to all. But a troubling question is whether the SNP’s opponents will also be sufficiently well-equipped to get their side of the story over.

SNP membership now stands at about 22,000, a record for the party. Add in the Greens, who also support an independence agenda, and pro-independence parties probably have even more members than all the other parties put together. They certainly have more money, thanks to the £2 million which has already been donated. And, as the campaign strategy laid out at the weekend demonstrated, they are out in front with their planning.

Not all of it will be computerised sophistication. Role models and word-of-mouth are important elements which played a big part in the SNP’s hugely successful Holyrood election campaign in 2010. Groups covering everything from Business for Independence to, we suspect, Beekeepers for Independence will be formed and party members already have a handy little list of ten things to tell their family and friends about independence.

Where, exactly, is the Unionist “no” campaign? Talks between party leaders have been held and a launch “soon” has been promised. But if the varying attitudes that have been struck over certain aspects of the campaign are anything to go by, the parties are disorganised and disunited.

Some Labour leaders say they will share a platform with the Conservatives, and some say they won’t. Labour and the Liberal Democrats have separately set up commissions to determine what alternative constitutional reform they might offer voters and it is certain that each will come up with different conclusions.

It may be that the SNP’s opponents are comforting themselves that, with opinion polls consistently showing a 3:2 margin against independence, they don’t have to do very much. They are wrong. The SNP started the last Holyrood election campaign some 13 points behind Labour and wound up ten points in front. The SNP has the will and the means to do the same in the referendum campaign.

Real investment need as railway age returns

More people travelled by train last year than in 1928, when a peacetime record high of 1.3 billion journeys was recorded. Of course, the population of Britain is now about a third greater than it was then, but given that the means of travel have multiplied with car and air travel also being accessible for most people, the figure is still striking.

From one point of view, that the fuel and insurance costs of motoring have risen sharply, the switch to the train is to be expected. But given also that this is also a time of high unemployment and thus there will also have been a reduction in commuting, it is surprising.

There seems little doubt, both in terms of the cash cost to individuals and the public benefit gain of lower carbon output travel, the age of the train is back. But despite the investment there has been in new train routes and better rolling stock, railway infrastructure is struggling to cope with the demand.

But more investment, which has to be paid for, implies higher rail fares which can defeat the object of getting more people out of their cars and on to the train.

If train companies are recording record passenger numbers, then they ought to have bigger profits which, as with most companies operating in a growth market, ought to be spent on the longer platforms and longer trains that are clearly going to be needed.

Financial storms keep drowning parents’ dreams

Life, it seems, is increasingly about chasing non-existent pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. Many parents, struggling with earning a decent living and to bring up kids, keeping them out of trouble while feeding and clothing them, used to fondly imagine that when they reached 50, the kids would have left home and would be financially independent. Then mum and dad could start to have time and enjoyment to themselves.

Such dreams, it appears, are as ephemeral as rainbows. These days, partly because people have left getting married and having children until their 30s, the kids are likely to be still in education which, especially if they are at university, is ever more expensive. They have more things that need to be paid, such as mobile phones and maybe a car. Then they may want to get married, and no parent wants to be seen as a cheapskate, skimping on what is supposed to be one of the proudest and happiest days of anyone’s life. And if you have moved around a bit, there will still be the dratted mortgage.

According to Benenden Healthcare Society, as many as one in five of the over-50s are struggling to support their immediate family. Well, it is true that without rain, there wouldn’t be rainbows. But please, could we have shorter bursts of rain and longer sunny intervals?