Tom Peterkin: Tories makes some keen on independence

A FRIEND was meeting his sister for lunch in a smart Edinburgh cafe. When the waiter took her coat, my friend was slightly surprised to see a “Yes Scotland” badge pinned to her lapel.

His sister, as far as he knew, was not a political animal. Coming from one of those families that steers away from discussing that sort of thing, he didn’t even know that she was sympathetic towards independence. In fact, until he saw the badge, he suspected she was of the opposite inclination.

When he asked her about her newfound political belief, she told him she didn’t really like any of the political parties in Scotland and that included the SNP. The point, she explained, was that she disliked them less than she hated the Tories. Independence offered the chance to escape from Conservative rule and George Osborne’s reign of austerity.

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Given the antipathy towards the Conservatives in Scotland and the economic hardships facing almost everyone, her reasoning has its attractions and it is a line of argument that the SNP and the Yes campaign does its utmost to promote.

That, of course, leaves the Labour Party in Scotland in a difficult position. At every turn the SNP points out that Labour is working with the Conservatives in the Better Together campaign.

This week we saw the beginnings of Labour’s attempts to provide an alternative to that narrative in the form of a speech from Margaret Curran, the shadow Scottish secretary.

It was symptomatic of Labour’s problems that as she was speaking in Edinburgh she was being overshadowed by the protests that greeted Iain Duncan Smith, who happened to be visiting the city at the same time.

“Why are you here in Scotland when we have a different philosophy…we dinnae want you? We dinnae need you. We’ve got mair pandas than you,” was the “greeting” the architect of the bedroom tax received.

Meanwhile, Curran was trying to persuade voters that it was better to get rid of the Tories by voting Labour in the 2015 general election rather than voting Yes at the 2014 referendum.

One of the journalists covering the speech remarked that Curran was “whistling a tune in the hope that the public will pick up the chorus”.

Continuing that analogy, the chorus was found in the passage that said: “Instead of providing a positive vision, the Nationalists are increasingly reliant on a negative argument that says the best way to get rid of a government is to end a country.”

It is an argument with some merit, but it will not persuade Nationalists who point out that in 2010 Scotland as a whole voted Labour yet got a Tory UK government. But to others the thought of splitting up the United Kingdom is too big a price to pay simply to end Tory rule at Westminster.

But judging by the attitude of my friend’s sister, there is a body of opinion out there who believe the referendum is a chance to run from the Tories.