AS WE SQUARE UP for Scotland’s independence vote 18 months from now, the dynamic of the contest is beginning to shape up, and it doesn’t look as if it is going to be a particularly clean fight, with unfounded and negative accusations already being hurled by both sides.
The American writer, Franklin P Adams, once said that “Elections are won by men and women chiefly because most people vote against somebody rather than for somebody” and this was certainly confirmed by the last UK Election: Labour lost the 2010 election, but it wasn’t clear who actually won it.
So when we consider the prospects for the SNP’s case in 2014, we need to think about who will form their opposition – who it is that people voting for independence will be voting against - and it is not quite so easy to identify exactly who that will be.
It doesn’t seem to be the opposition politicians in Holyrood – Labour, LibDem and Tory – and it seems unlikely that this crucial campaign from the UK’s point of view will be left to such a motley bunch of unimpressive individuals as Scotland’s opposition MSPs.
Step forward the ‘Better Together’ campaign, a consortium of UK unionists headed up by Alistair Darling, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer. However not much in the way of inspiration or positive message has yet emerged from this group to encourage support for their cause.
They have a tricky message to develop and deliver. They have to persuade Scots that they are part of a great United Kingdom and that it would be foolish to put all that in jeopardy - no doubt this will include calling up memories of the triumphant London Olympics in 2012 which demonstrated the ‘better together’ message so well.
Danny Boyle’s brilliant opening ceremony defined the UK we know so well: an innovative, dynamic, multi-cultural, caring society featuring such very British achievements as the Industrial Revolution - in which Scots played such a key role; the Windrush ship that brought workers from the West Indies and which set us towards the diverse multicultural society we have today; the National Health Service that delivers our universal healthcare; the creativity and universal appeal of the likes of J K Rowling and J M Barrie; and the up to date innovation of Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web.
This is clearly the kind of United Kingdom Scots feel very comfortable in – a social democratic country which embraces its multicultural community and values our ability to care for those less able to care for themselves.
Unfortunately, following the recent Eastleigh by-election in which UKIP managed to push the Conservatives into third place, the political agenda in England seems to be moving in quite a different direction.
‘Little England’ policies seem to be in the ascendancy: strict control over immigration; savage cuts to the welfare state; the questioning of our participation in the European Court of Human Rights; and even our continued membership of the European Union itself.
If, as now seems quite likely, UKIP does very well in England in the European elections in June 2014 and, as a consequence, England becomes completely fixated by a right wing, isolationist debate just as we Scots are squaring up for the vote on independence in the autumn of 2014, the Scots might well feel repelled by this agenda, and prefer to seek ‘independence within Europe’ instead.
Maybe the ‘Better Together’ folks should keep Danny Boyle’s phone number handy, he might be needed again.