Scottish independence: Here’s what voters need from both sides –Scotsman comment

Voters need answers to hard questions about Scottish independence from the SNP, but also a better vision of the future of Brexit Britain from Boris Johnson and co.
Is Boris Johnson truly committed to the unionist cause? (Picture: Stefan Rousseau/WPA Pool/Getty Images)Is Boris Johnson truly committed to the unionist cause? (Picture: Stefan Rousseau/WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Is Boris Johnson truly committed to the unionist cause? (Picture: Stefan Rousseau/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey may strike many as an unlikely saviour of the Union, but his warning that “the forces of nationalism threaten to tear our family of nations apart” is significant.

For their part, nationalists will be encouraged that the head of a unionist party is so worried about Scotland leaving the UK that he made it a central part of his first party conference speech. It will add to their sense of optimism after polls showing a small majority now back independence.

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Meanwhile, unionists – of all parties and across the UK – need to start thinking more carefully about how to respond to the growing support for ‘Scexit’ ahead of next May’s Scottish Parliament election.

The coming months may well be absolutely critical to the future of us all – although independence is by no means as inevitable as some like to suppose.

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Unionists need to ask all the key practical questions about independence that proved effective ways to influence opinion in 2014. A Survation poll this month found independence was less popular if Scotland had to replace the pound with a new currency, if it would result in a hard border with England, and if Scotland would have to wait to rejoin the EU.

However, the ultimate success of the 2014 campaign should not mask its failures. The minds of enough voters may have been won over, but hearts are important too.

Brexit has given birth to what, in some ways, is a new nation and unionists need to sell a vision of the future that is appealing to Scotland. The SNP has long suggested we could become a Scandinavian-style country and that is an attractive idea for many.

Boris Johnson was a liberal Conservative when he was mayor of left-leaning and pro-EU London and, if he is truly committed to the unionist cause, needs to rediscover his One-Nation Tory credentials and the kind of the values that Ruth Davidson’s electoral success showed can be popular north of the Border. It is already plain that what former SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson describes as “Brexit little Britain” and comparisons with Trump’s America will be central lines of the SNP campaign.

Voters should not let the SNP off with failing to answer the hard questions about independence but, likewise, they should seek reassurance from unionists that Britain will remain the decent, law-abiding liberal democracy it has long been.

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