Brian Monteith: Uncivilised descent into threats
This is my last column before Scotland’s momentous decision about its future direction as either a partner with England, Wales and Northern Ireland – as we face the many challenges that this century is going to throw at us – or in direct competition with them, making those challenges even more difficult for all of us.
I would have liked to have been able to write about a civilised and dignified referendum campaign that engaged the people of Scotland and laid out the facts for them to make a decision. Sadly, I find that impossible. It is certainly true the Scottish people have been engaged, but for too many, what we have been treated to from both sides is too much assertion rather than facts. Too many questions have gone unanswered.
The onus on breaking up a partnership of over 300 years – where families have intermingled and settled in peace, where close bonds have been forged in establishing and reforming our democracy, and where blood has been spilled in our mutual defence from Trafalgar to Afghanistan – lies with the Yes campaign. Led by the SNP, taking the Great out of Great Britain requires straight answers to difficult questions and where it is not possible to give them then the trustworthiness of the politician must make the assertion believable.
In every respect the Yes campaign has failed this test. We still do not know what currency an independent Scotland would have, how its pensions would be honoured, how the looming black hole in the public finances would not deliver super-austerity and what additional costs we would face from the European Union.
Worse still, the Yes campaign has in the final few weeks taken an unpleasant and deeply worrying tone of arguing for independence at any cost, no matter how savage to individual livelihoods, by seeking to browbeat and demonise those that might disagree with them so that they might choose to say nothing rather than be vilified, ridiculed or assaulted.
Last week, we had the spectacle of an SNP councillor being charged for abusing opponents, an SNP staffer dismissed from an NHS health board for abuse and a threat by leading Yes campaigner Jim Sillars that businesses that had voiced support for a No vote would face “a day of reckoning”.
With no visible sense of irony or shame we also had a First Minister who derided as bullies those businesses that had explained how a Yes vote could impact on their commercial operations. I looked up my faithful Chambers Dictionary and the description of “a blustering, noisy, overbearing fellow” better suited the First Minister than the spokesmen from banks, telephone companies and supermarkets who have been moved to speak out.
And why have they suddenly come clean? For no other reason than they previously thought a likely No victory meant they could keep quiet, but as I suggested last week, the YouGov poll changed all that. Suddenly they had a fiduciary duty to tell their stakeholders of employees, customers, shareholders and investors that they might have to relocate, pass on the additional costs and lose jobs as a result. The knock-on effects that such dislocation would cause could only bring great distress to Scotland’s property market and the standard of living of all Scots.
Had the same business leaders announced independence would mean lower prices and more jobs they would have been lauded by the First Minister – but they didn’t because they couldn’t, because it would not be true.
Whatever happened to the positive arguments for a brave new Scotland? It is one thing to say that we will be able to shape our future as a sovereign nation – but to then go on and claim that we will use another country’s currency against the sovereign will of its people, and that establishing a new membership of the European Union and Nato is without risk or cost, is to deny all reality.
Independence could work, I have no doubt of that, but the readjustment and disentanglement of our economy will come at a high price and require the antithesis of the policies advocated by those in the vanguard of the Yes campaign. We are told of how just and more equal other countries are but there is silence on the realities of their own troubles, such as Ireland’s horrific unemployment (nearly double that of Scotland) or how Norway’s health service has charges we would find unsupportable.
Instead, to deflect us away from the risks we want answers about, the Yes campaign is attempting to turn the referendum into a general election against the Tories. It is not that long ago that Tories were mighty useful in giving Salmond’s first administration a majority when needed, and when I look around Scandinavia I see nothing but Conservatives in power for much of the last 30 years. If one thing is certain after Thursday, it is that Tories will not be disappearing and to suggest otherwise as a reason to vote Yes shows the partisan negativity of a desperate campaign.
Alex Salmond may have got the Yes campaign this close so far, but by refusing to answer the reasonable questions put to him and by seeking to bully anyone with a contrary opinion he has become the personification of what will keep the nationalists from crossing the finishing line first. From the mobbing of Nigel Farage and the refusal to condemn it, through the orchestrated haranguing of Jim Murphy’s speaking tour, to the slighting of journalists who have asked the hard questions and the constant talking over of opponents in TV debates, the negativity of the Yes campaign has turned Scots against Scots. Alex Salmond has divided our nation more than Margaret Thatcher did.
So this week we come to the vote and the Yes campaign has still not shown how an independent Scotland could prosper, nor has it accepted that there are any risks to pursuing the break-up of such a successful union – leaving it with only the emotional sentiment of people who want change.
Our British families are still reaching out to each other from all corners of our island and joining through love, we still support UK-wide campaigns to establish justice across our land and blood is still being spilled to ensure our mutual defence. We can build a better Scotland, but we can achieve more by remaining in the United Kingdom than making foreigners and competitors of our own people.