WHEN the history of Scotland’s independence referendum comes to be written, the events of Thursday evening last week may well come to be known as “The Salmond Wobble”.
Faced with a united front from the pro-Union parties, with George Osborne, Ed Balls and Danny Alexander all ruling out the SNP’s plans for a currency union with what remained of the UK after independence, Alex Salmond made what could turn out to be a costly error of judgment. Asked repeatedly for his Plan B, Salmond was drawn into saying that the panel of macroeconomic experts who came up with the SNP’s currency union strategy had also looked at a number of other options. A currency union with the rest of the UK was not, he clearly seemed to be indicating, the only option for an independent Scotland. There were other possibilities. This was echoed by his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, who was giving a string of media interviews in London. Fast forward to this weekend, and the tone is very different. There is no more SNP talk of other options. The party policy, expressed in the white paper published last autumn, is for a currency union with the rest of the UK. Full stop.
But it is too late. The political genie is out of the bottle. Despite this weekend’s attempt to regroup around one single policy on currency, the SNP leader and his deputy are on record as saying it ain’t necessarily so. And their opponents will remind the voters of this at every opportunity between now and 18 September. Those voters, the No campaign will calculate, will go to the polls with no clear picture about what the currency of an independent Scotland will be if they vote Yes. Of course, many will vote Yes anyway, convinced of the merits of independence on a range of other considerations, and relaxed about whether the pound in their pocket is part of a sterling zone, or is pegged to sterling, or is not a pound at all but a free-floating Scottish currency of some other name. But are there enough of these voters to win independence? That is now a key question in this campaign.
There is an additional problem for the Yes campaign. If the white paper is not the definitive word on currency in an independent Scotland, and if it is just an opening gambit in a negotiation, then what other aspects of the SNP blueprint for independence are equally flexible and subject to change? Getting rid of Trident? Joining the European Union? Keeping the Queen as head of state? Joining Nato? The argument that Scotland’s Future was just a starting point for negotiations may be entirely acceptable to some voters. But others will have been under the impression that the white paper was intended to be taken at face value, and that what you see should be what you get.
Some in the SNP ranks are asking how the party got itself into this position. Had the SNP not war-gamed the currency issue and anticipated this scenario? They must have been expecting such an eventuality – perhaps not so early, but at some point, certainly. So why The Salmond Wobble? Why introduce a note of uncertainty on such a key issue? The SNP is talking a good game this weekend, predicting that the pro-UK parties’ intransigence on a sterling zone will come back to haunt them, and that Scottish voters will take an unforgiving view of Westminster dictating how we Scots should run our country. This was always a calculated risk for the Better Together campaign. The Tories are not liked in Scotland, to put it mildly. How will voters respond to taking a telling from Osborne, with Balls and Alexander meekly in tow, is one of the imponderables of the moment.
Which side of this historic battle benefits the most from the events of the past few days therefore remains to be seen. But make no mistake, this has been a landmark moment in the referendum campaign.
Worlds of work and sport must speak up and act over discrimination against gay citizens
TODAY this newspaper is proud to publish The Pink Scotland List, at a time when the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in this country is truly coming of age. It follows the passing of the equal marriage act at Holyrood – a victory for equality that was important not just in the equal rights it secured, but just as significantly in the manner with which those rights were won. This law passed with a remarkable degree of political unanimity, and with the support of a comfortable majority of the Scottish public. It is worth remembering that same-sex sexual activity was illegal in Scotland right up to 1980, and equal age of consent was only introduced in 2001. Scotland has come a long way in a relatively short time. We wanted to celebrate that cultural shift by highlighting the role LGBT Scots play in the public life of the nation, as symbols of a liberal, progressive, generous-spirited Scotland at its best.
The battle for legislative equality for LGBT people is now all but over, after long and successful campaigns on issues such as age of consent, civil partnership, adoption rights and – most recently – marriage. But while there is much to be pleased about, no-one should be under any illusion that the fight against anti-gay prejudice has been won. The truth is, we are not even close.
From the playground to the boardroom to the dressing room to the shop floor, homophobic attitudes in this country are still all too common. And while in some areas of Scottish public life – politics, the media, the third sector and the arts, for example – LGBT people can feel comfortable about being open about their sexuality, in other walks of Scottish life this is simply not the case.
It is dispiriting that our list contains only one person from Scotland’s business community and only one person from Scottish sport. The hard truth is that openly LGBT people in these fields are hard to find. Why? Because they feel that to be truthful about themselves to clients, or colleagues, or teammates, or bosses would be to hamper their career or sporting progress. In Scotland in 2014, this is unacceptable. Our sporting and business worlds need first to recognise they have a problem. And then they must demonstrate how they intend to address it.