I wrote before the recent referendum about my views as an undecided voter and suggested that I was tending to ‘no’. Like the majority of Scots, I voted ‘no’. As an ex-SNP voter and an instinctive independence sympathiser, I want to reflect here why the ‘yes’ campaign failed to convince me and the majority of Scots of their message.
Simplistically, perhaps, voters in the referendum could be classified into three groups. Nationalists, who would always vote for independence, unionists who would always vote for the union and a group in the middle who will listen to and be influenced by arguments. I suspect this middle group is the biggest group – clearly it is the group who need to be convinced when such a major political change is proposed.
To convince people, like myself, there needs to be both an emotional argument for independence and pragmatic arguments to back this up. These have to demonstrate that, for the majority of citizens, independence will improve their lives or, at the very least, not make them worse. What ‘improvement’ means – depends on the individual – for many it means material improvement; for some it means a more ‘civic’ society; for others it means a society that focuses more on environmental issues.
The ‘yes’ campaign had a fantastic emotional appeal – as Salmond said, who would not want to have control of their own country? I completely support the notion of local democracy and I hope that a consequence of more devolution for Scotland is that the legitimate demands of English voters for a say is recognised. But, on the 2nd point, the ‘yes’ campaign utterly failed. The believed that the emotional appeal would carry the day but ignored our history of Scottish pragmatism – the canny Scot is not just an invention of the Sunday Post.
Where did the ‘yes’ campaign go wrong?
Firstly, it adopted fixed but fundamentally indefensible positions. Its position on the currency is an example of this. Instead of saying that there will be a currency union and therefore prompting a negative response, a far better position would have been to say that we believe that keeping the pound is in the best interests of both Scotland and the other countries in the UK and we will enter into negotiations about the best way to do this. Telling the EU that Scotland will be a member instead of saying that we want to negotiate interim membership until membership formalities have been completed is another example of unwise intransigence.
Secondly, whilst optimism is a very positive characteristic, when it comes to economics, it is better to hope for the best but plan for the worst. Instead of producing figures and data of how the Scottish economy could thrive at a lower level of oil production than assumed, the tactic of the ‘yes’ campaign was simply to deny the problem. Instead of ignoring the fact that the currency policy would have problems for financial institutions, this should have been recognised and positive incentives proposed to keep operations in Scotland even although headquarters were moved elsewhere.
Thirdly, there was never any acknowledgement that independence in a globalised world has to be limited. We may dislike the fact that the international financial markets can make or break a country (I do) but there is no point in denying that it’s true. Few countries, apart perhaps from North Korea, are truly independent and a failure to acknowledge this is, I believe, simply insulting to Scottish citizens.
There were many other, perhaps less significant mistakes. Although controlling a lunatic fringe is very difficult (and from the events in Glasgow, it is clear there is a lunatic fringe on both sides), the condemnation of the cybernats from the ‘yes’ campaign was half-hearted; equating a ‘no’ vote with a lack of confidence was again insulting.
Had the ‘yes’ campaign thought through its economic policies and showed some evidence that they understood the fundamentals of negotiation, then I believe it would have had a much more convincing case. People like myself would have been far more willing to accept independence if there had been any evidence that the people who would be in charge of negotiations had any idea of what they were doing.
I believe that the blame here must fall squarely on Alex Salmond’s shoulders. His personality drove the campaign and, from all reports, opposition to his views was simply not tolerated. He is an excellent speaker, is, I think, devoted to Scotland and has a big personality. He believed that this would be enough to carry the day but failed to understand that his case lacked the essential foundations to make it convincing. He didn’t do his homework and consequently deserved to fail.