Putting words into the mouths of opponents can make it easier to deride and dismiss them. An example is one of the most emotive and oft-repeated sound-bites of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum campaign, apparently denigrating Scotland’s size, economy and people.
This was the infamous description of Scotland being ‘too wee, too poor and too stupid’ to make a success of being a separate country.
Yet this insult did not originate from unionists; rather it was a creation of the SNP leadership. This ‘catch-phrase’ helped sum up what they wanted people to believe their critics were saying, using it to stir grievance against those who favoured Scotland’s positive place in the UK, implying they were ‘talking Scotland down’.
Most independence supporters know the ‘too wee, too poor, too stupid’ phrase was a creation of their own side, but feel it reflects the tone of some of the more arrogant criticisms of independence.
Perhaps something in the phrase appeals to elements of both sides of the argument.
Of course, ‘too wee’ is obviously flawed, with plenty of countries thriving despite being smaller still, whether in terms of numbers of people, geography or economic output. Yet influence in the world is a different thing, depending on whether you accept the positive part that the UK has tried to play in the world over generations, or if you take a more jaundiced view of that role.
As for the ‘too poor’ element, many countries with a GDP less than Scotland have perfectly healthy economies. The financial issue for an independent Scotland is how to afford the public services it has grown used to.
Currently we depend on significant top-up funding from the rest of the UK. Sharing of resources flowed in the other direction when the oil market was buoyant, but the boom in oil revenues is over. Scotland spends £15 billion more than it raises in tax.
Which services or universal benefits would need to be cut, or taxes raised, to enable Scotland to live within its means?
The ‘too stupid’ taunt is demonstrably nonsense, given the excellence of our universities, engineers, scientists, technologists and entrepreneurs. Perhaps the only thing that can reasonably be called stupid is the tendency on either side to characterise those who do not agree with them in simplistic and divisive terms.
Credible unionists do not claim that Scotland could not survive as an independent country. Rather they accept that once a period of harsh economic reality is overcome, the determination and creativity of the people of Scotland would likely see it ultimately thrive, but would it be worth the short term pain in order to secure the promised gain?
More fundamentally, would the great many Scots who value being British too, be prepared to give up so much that truly defines them?
Keith Howell is a business consultant. He lives in West Linton, Peeblesshire and blogs on www.nupateer.com