Sunday, 13 July 2014

Scotland too brave.


I've just returned from a week's walking holiday in Scotland, based on Pitlochry. I've made no attempt to carry out a straw poll on the independence issue but have had two in-depth conversations.

The first was with a well-educated professional whom I already knew slightly and whose views on most general issues I respect.  He surprised my be saying he would "probably vote 'Yes'."  His reasons were twofold.  He feared that the the Tories might withdraw the UK from the EU and that would be a bad move for for all concerned.  Better for Scotland to come out of the UK but remain in the EU.  An English friend who has lived in Scotland for several months tells me that that is a view she commonly hears.  His second argument was that he feels Scotland to be a more caring , liberal and tolerant society than England is today, and would be better able to maintain this if independent.

My other conversation was with a man doing some gardening.  Whether that was his job, or he was the owner of the property and doing some tidying-up I don't know, but he was highly articulate and enthusiastically  in favour of the "Yes" campaign.  His main reasons were also essentially twofold.  He wanted to get rid of Trident or any replacement and abandon silly pretences to being an independent nuclear power.  Then he pointed out that in the whole of Scotland there is only one Conservative MP.  Why should Scotland, therefore, be ruled by the Tories?   I was too slow to point out that that was an argument for a better electoral system rather than for independence.

Neither was impressed by my counter-arguments that independence was, apart from the Trident issue, a rather hefty hammer to crack an inconsequential nut. Scotland already has considerable independence (their own legal and educational systems, control over their own NHS.)  If  the vote is for  "No" they will achieve even more, essentially  Home Rule, now called Devo-Max:  for all practical purposes having complete control of their own domestic affairs, including taxation powers,  and remaining with the UK for defence, foreign policy, the currency, the BBC and the weather forecast. Once that had been achieved this it would strengthen the chances of similar devolution to Wales and the English regions (not least  Yorkshire, which I believe has a larger population than Scotland), on the lines of the German Lander.  So a "No" vote would be doing us all a favour.

Without having seen too much of either, I do get the impression that the "Yes" campaign is positive, cheerful and exciting.  Going it alone has panache, a sense of adventure, "Scotland the brave!"  By contrast the "No" campaign is negative, dull and dreary. My English friend tells me that she has heard of people  intending to vote "No" but reluctant to admit it or display their posters for fear of being seen as a pariah by the neighbours.

All in all I get the impression that the debate is on a far more informed,  civilised, thoughtful and factual level than political discussion in England, particularly as  now on Europe or as it was in the referendum for electoral reform.  I suspect that the negative bullying of the "No" campaign is based on the findings of these dreadful focus groups from which the parties now judge what people are really thinking.

In this case I hope they're right, and there will be a narrow vote for "No", but it is sad that a sensible outcome depends on subliminal impressions rather than open debate.

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