Scottish Election 2021: SNP have no more answers on economics of independence than they did in 2014 – Brian Wilson

Rather like family disputes, debates about Scottish politics are best conducted in private. Anyone who doubts that should have watched the wretched Channel 4 News attempt to shed light.

They would have found a miserable hour of introspection, largely devoted to the hypotheticals of independence and the place of a referendum in pandemic recovery – a bizarre concept in itself.

You can understand where Channel 4 was coming from. There is no reason their audience should be interested in the failings of Scottish education, our local authorities being starved of cash or any other domestic consideration devolved to Holyrood.

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But from Notting Hill northwards, they have all heard of the constitution so let’s just bang on about that instead. Anyone, which means Anas Sarwar and Willie Rennie, who tried to move away from that agenda was put firmly back in his box.

It meant the programme failed on two fronts. I guess 90 per cent of viewers outside Scotland made their escape after ten minutes out of sheer tedium while it did absolutely nothing to elucidate arguments within Scotland, other than through another dose of constitutional bickering.

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There was one potentially interesting question about the principle of whether Scotland has the right to secede if it wants to. The problem was that the format made any attempt at a sensible answer impossible.

Say “yes” and before a word of sense could emerge, Nicola Sturgeon would have been triumphalist about an “admission” while Douglas Ross would have been declaring “weakness”, rendering anyone other than the Tories untrustworthy in defence of the Union. So, rather than walk into either trap, the question was lost in the general fog.

Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond were wrong about the economics of Scottish independence in 2014 and will be again, says Brian Wilson (Picture: Jane Barlow)

It should be returned to at leisure because it is important to differentiate between the democratic principle and the false rhetoric around it. The SNP have always pretended Scotland is being denied something it wants rather than that it is they who seek to impose a permanent outcome most are opposed to. That is the misrepresentation they should not be allowed to get away with.

But how do you say that in the heat of a shouting match? How do you distinguish between the principle and the actual proposition which the SNP are fighting this election on? With shameless opportunism off the back of a pandemic, they want to demand a referendum, this year according to Messrs Blackford and Russell though the polling seems to have taught Ms Sturgeon to amend the script.

It is clearer by the day that she does not have a clue about what secession would involve. The implications of borders are just beginning to be understood. The Growth Commission report which was supposed to give them economic cover is now “out of date”. There is not a word of clarification on currency, far less certainty on EU membership.

Yet the slogan remains: “Give us a referendum and we’ll tell you later what it’s about.” Ms Sturgeon advises us with a straight face that they will produce their prospectus “at the appropriate time as we did in 2014”.

Really? Remember the 2014 farrago depended on oil at $112 a barrel average – a figure not subsequently reached on a single day. Without that, said Mr Swinney in a paper the public was never meant to see, pensions and benefits could not be maintained. So the promise of “just as we did in 2014” should not be persuasive.

There is only one way to stop this level of argument dominating another five wasted years of Scottish politics and that is by not handing Ms Sturgeon the majority she seeks next Thursday. On Friday morning, every vote cast for them, whatever the reason, will be claimed as a vote for a referendum.

The alternative is a period of relative calm in which the focus is indeed on recovery, Ms Sturgeon is not on our screens every hour of every day, Anas Sarwar has time to make the contribution he is capable of and then let’s see whether most of us want another referendum. Sounds like a better plan to me.

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