As we step somewhat unbelievably into 2014, time relentlessly and unforgivably marching forwards, what seemed like a long referendum campaign suddenly sees the referendum date looming larger in our calendars. The polls have barely shifted of course since the September 18th date was announced back in March, so one would think that the deflated ball remains unwhacked in the Yes Scotland court, the clock still ticking on from the nine short months there is left. No room for pregnant pauses now or the dreams of independence will be stillborn. The question is, what next for Yes Scotland? What should the strategy be for the short time that is left?
I asked this question to a learned, non-aligned friend recently and, as a committed Yes voter, I despaired that his entirely sensible answer began with ‘well, two things I wouldn’t have done are….’ as opposed to ‘what they should do is…’.Past tense. Nightmare! Surely it isn’t too late already? Surely a route to Yes still exists for the SNP’s mythical electoral machine and Yes Scotland’s big tent alliance? Of course it does, and nothing much needs to change to stay on it too.
I agreed with the two criticising points that my friend raised incidentally, but they also offered a glimpse as to how a subtle shift in tone and message could reap dividends for the Yes campaign and propel a polling shift from No to Don’t Know and Don’t Know to Yes that is necessary to achieve victory. To paraphrase and summarise his full answer: ‘well, two things I wouldn’t have done are not got bogged down in debates about currency and the EU’. He is, of course, quite right, but there’s no reason why the Yes campaign should stay stuck in the mud on these scores for too much longer.
The question of membership of the European Union has thus far focussed on the relatively tiny period between Scotland going from being a member via the UK to being a member in its own right. Self-confessed lovers of political minutiae such as David Torrance are still poring over the pre-membership period, (presumably wilfully) blinkered to the wider and considerably more important post-membership picture. This period may be the “seamless” transition of 18 months per the SNP’s take on the issue, or it may be several years of tough negotiating as per Better Together, but even several years of waiting to rejoin the EU in the context of the future lifetime of an independent Scotland is a mere blip, a blink of an eye.
It certainly doesn’t deserve the undue focus that it is receiving and, what’s more, look at the direction of travel – rUK is heading inexorably towards the European exit door while an independent Scotland would be heading the other way, an eager, equal partner at Europe’s top table with wind, wave, oil, trade, food and education to share, more MEPs to represent it and a rotating presidency to look forward to.
For the currency question, I remain confused why the SNP doesn’t commit itself to a referendum on a Scottish pound, keeping the Sterling or adopting the Euro, possibly in the second term of government. Continuously having to argue that Scotland will keep Sterling is a rather odd argument for independence, and typically a clear sign that Yes Scotland is on the backfoot. The promise of a referendum on the matter, again within the infancy of an independent Scotland’s lifetime, would, at a stroke, undermine Better Together’s headline-grabbing, somewhat shallow objections and also serve as a useful reminder that the type of Scotland we shall have is for the people to decide, not the politicians.
Linked to the solutions for these two issues, and in many ways the embodiment of them, is the trump card that Yes Scotland still has at its disposal but has not yet played to its full advantage. It is a trump card that is pivotal largely because Better Together enjoys no such option. A long-term roadmap for Scotland, an opportunity to be truly radical, the offer of a spine-tingling vision that can reach beyond our collective cynicism and stir a country into being. The unionist parties can’t agree on what Scotland will look like post-No, particularly with a 2015 General Election that takes priority, which leaves the field open for the Yes parties to sell a vision that will make Scotland be a nation again.
It’s too late for policies on the hoof of course – I’d have liked to have seen the promise of a Scandinavian tax system to match a Scandinanvian welfare state, the promise of a Scottish pound that could strengthen or devalue to suit the Scottish economy, the promise of a more protectionist mentality where Scots are not ashamed to back Scottish businesses (as is the case in the rest of Europe, to the UK’s disadvantage), the promise of a crackdown on amateur property magnates, the promise of fully transparent tax returns for both companies and individuals alike, but even these are all small fry against a distinctly Scottish dream that can still be packaged and sold. Scotland has a long, rich history and it is its long, rich future that should be the focus of this campaign, not shallow promises around the Bedroom Tax, not who gets to debate whom and not concerns around how smug Salmond might appear on September 19th if we dare to vote Yes, as if this vote is a personal pet project of the First Minister. This decision is much bigger than any one of us, Salmond included, and it should feel that way more and more as this year progresses.
The SNP showed positivity and vision in the run up to the 2011 Holyrood election, a strategy that won them an unlikely majority. Yes Scotland doesn’t need to raise its game so much as raise its sights over the next nine months. Through looking beyond the petty squabbling of the first few years of independence and the humdrum politics of today, and resisting the urge to pen the snarky press releases that stain our national newspapers, it can build an unbeatable argument for voting Yes, capture the imagination of the Scottish people and find the momentum needed to achieve victory later this year.
The polls changed drastically in the SNP’s favour in the final few weeks of campaigning in 2011, there’s no reason why they won’t do the same again in Autumn 2014 if they hold to the same strategy.