A choice of two futures

Something interesting is starting to happen in the independence debate. These articles, written by two leading Scottish journalists and published over the past few days are, perhaps, the first visible signs of it but they could, in my view, be the start of a much bigger tide of opinion.

Both Joyce McMillan and Kevin McKenna describe themselves as people who should be on the ‘no’ side of the debate but, instead, find themselves increasingly disillusioned by the lack of hope and vision from those arguing for the status quo.

And therein lies a big problem for those making the case against independence. Theirs is an approach which is unremittingly negative. It tells people what they should – supposedly – fear from Scotland becoming an independent country, but offers no hint of what people can hope for if they opt to leave key economic and social powers at Westminster. 

Why is this a problem? Well, firstly – and contrary to what many people believe – it is my experience that people do prefer hope over fear.

Secondly, as an approach, it is subject to the law of diminishing returns. As one after another, the scares are answered, people become inured to them. Which means that, in order to retain any kind of impact, the scare stories have to become ever more outlandish. The result then is two fold: (a) the attacks become ridiculous – for example last year Alistair Darling claimed that an independent Scotland would have no claim on British pop music ; and (b) the determination to put a negative gloss on everything is so overpowering that own goals are scored – with the most recent example of this being the UK Treasury’s admission that an independent Scotland would be, at worst, no worse off than it is now.  Surely this should be a cause for celebration, not an attack on independence.

But it is neither of the above observations that present the biggest problem for those on the ‘no’ side of the debate.

Their biggest problem is that the weakness of the political, social and economic case for the status quo means they have no choice but to be negative.  So when they realise that it is the wrong approach (and I am sure wiser heads already realise this), there is little that can be done about it.

But sooner rather than later, those on the ‘no’ side will have to answer the question: What are the political, economic and social arguments for sticking with Westminster government?

Because in the referendum in 2014 there are two alternative futures facing Scotland – and both options need scrutiny.

Those alternative futures concern the kind of country we want to be, and it will be incumbent on both sides to set out how our preferred outcome will help make Scotland more democratic, prosperous, fairer, greener and safer than we are today.

Those of us on the ‘yes’ side will argue that, for all our strengths and attributes as a country, Scotland could and should be doing better than we are. This is not as good as it gets. Success needs to be achieved and we believe that independence maximises the powers and opportunities that Scotland needs to succeed.

We will point out that independence ensures that we always get the governments we vote for. We will make the case that control over direct and indirect taxation will give us tools to grow our economy faster, create more jobs and counter the gravitational pull to London and the South East. We will argue that the ability to make our own decisions on tax and benefits will increase our ability to tackle the poverty that blights our society, with all the knock on effects for the living standards, health and wellbeing of our citizens. We will contend that control over our own resources will allow us to invest in the priorities we set for ourselves as a nation.

Those on the ‘no’ side have to explain why, however bad or unpopular government from Westminster is in Scotland, they think it is better than any future we could achieve with independence.  They need to set out, equally clearly, how leaving powers in the hands of Westminster allows us to tackle the challenges we face as a country better than we could ourselves.

The problem they will have in doing so is that, as an argument, it runs counter to experience:  when generations of Westminster government have made us one of the most unequal countries in the developed world; when leaving economic policy in the hands of successive UK governments has resulted in a long term growth rate for Scotland that lags far behind that of many other comparable countries; when investment in nuclear weapons has been a bigger priority for the use of our resources than tackling child poverty; and when the living standards of so many Scots are under more pressure than ever before, as a result of failed economic policies, how can it possibly be argued that more Westminster government is the answer.

These are the questions the ‘no’ side can’t escape. Because in this choice between two futures, it will not be good enough for either side to simply attack the other. People will want to hear the positive case from each – a clear vision of the kind of country we want Scotland to be and how our preferred constitutional outcome will equip us to achieve it.

I know that the Scottish Government is up for that. I’m less clear that the ‘no’ side will be able to rise to the challenge.

  • DougDaniel

    Very impressed with your blogs so far, Nicola.

    “These are the questions the ‘no’ side can’t escape.”

    Well, they can if the media don’t ask them! However, the two articles you mention are perhaps the beginning of the process of the media giving proper scrutiny to the No arguments. Once that happens – and once the media starts recognising that there is indeed movement in the opinion polls, from “no” to “maybe” – I think the momentum towards independence will really start to kick in.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1639295792 Donnie MacAulay

    Thank you Nicola for telling it like it is once again. Maybe one of these days, hopefuly sooner than later, the “Don’t knows” will see the only alternative is a YES vote in 2014

  • Henry Hooper

    Brilliant..just brilliant.
    circa 2000 comments posted on Kevin’s article…..dare I say it but I’m sure he’s touched on a nerve that many “in-betweeners” have

  • http://peterabell.blogspot.co.uk/ Peter A Bell

    It is not only the “political, economic and social arguments for sticking with Westminster government” that we need to be aware of. It is also the consequences of doing so. It is commendable that the SNP and Yes Scotland are bending over backwards to keep the debate positive in the face of a tide of dire negativity from the anti-independence campaign. But, as part of the process of informing the debate on Scotland’s constitutional future, we must be prepared to acknowledge the potentially disastrous implications of a NO vote.

    We know that the “jam tomorrow” promises of the British parties are not worth the breath expended in uttering them. Having rejected the obvious dishonesty of theses “assurances”, it is incumbent on us to ask what will be the alternative.

    We know with perfectly sufficient certainty that the power afforded the British state by a NO vote will not be used to deliver the enhanced devolution which successive UK Governments have failed to implement in the past and, indeed, have explicitly rejected on a number of occasions. Not least when offered the opportunity to have their intentions in this regard put to the people of Scotland in the referendum. It would be irresponsible of us not to consider what this power may be used for.

    We know that the British political establishment was vehemently opposed to the people of Scotland being permitted a say in their country’s constitutional status. Is it not reasonable to suppose that, given the power to do so, the UK Government will seek, by diverse means, to ensure that there can never again be a referendum on independence?

    We know that such devolution as there has been was not willingly given by a beneficent British state but extracted under the dual threat of SNP electoral success and the rising tide of civic nationalism. A NO vote will inevitably be seen as removing this threat. What then is to prevent a massive rolling back of devolution? What is to stop Westminster stripping the Scottish Parliament of powers? Can we really imagine that a UK Government of whatever hue would pass up the opportunity to remove the embarrassing social and economic policy contrasts between Scotland and the rest of the UK?

    There are many positive reasons for voting YES. Avoiding the very real perils of voting NO may not be the best of them. But it is, nonetheless, a perfectly valid reason for choosing independence.

    • Smokeball

      Couldn’t agree more. The time may well come hen the Yes side has to point this out to the people as part of our campaign

  • Allan Mackenzie

    The pain that I amongst others experienced in 79,through our betrayal from the dependency parties has slightly abated,purely because of people like Nicola and Alex are actually showing an exemplary tenacity . I have now become hopeful and I am sure that hope will realise a yes vote for my country.

  • http://twitter.com/JoanFlitcroft Joan McDowall

    Like Allan I well remember that fixed vote and the pain that followed when we realised there was no ‘jam’ tomorrow. This time things feel different, perhaps that is why the ‘No’ campaign is panicking.  Also through the web we are more informed regarding the truth and hidden truths. Belief in oneself and ones country is a powerful weapon…..good one Nicola.

  • http://www.facebook.com/richard.richardson.5661 Richard Richardson

    My first comment is that this is an excellent pro Independence op-ed piece but I have to ask why is it published on a taxpayer funded and civil service moderated website? How can this site being used to actively campaign for Independence be justified when its costs will not be included in the Yes Campaign budget and those funding it are all taxpayers not just the Yes camp?

    My second comment is that even this blog entry also falls into negative campaigning. Now the no camp may be negative in pointing out the potential harm in a Yes vote but this piece falls into another form of traditional negative campaigning, not just by attacking the No campaign but also in running down the UK and Scotland within the UK.

    It turns out that for most Scotland today is a good place to live. 

    “Those of us on the ‘yes’ side will argue that, for all our strengths and attributes as a country, Scotland could and should be doing better than we are” is negative campaigning about how things are now. 

    Dealing with poverty is possible under the current constitutional arrangements. I tell you what – rather than funding the yes campaign maybe the Scottish Government could take the resources used on this site (and the forthcoming civil service papers to put the case for independence) and spend it on dealing with poverty instead. 

  • gerrydotp

    I’d rather that some of my tax money was going to fund this site which is clearly encouraging open debate and comment, than the amount of my tax money which is going towards financing the Scottish Office, Scottish Questions in Westminster, and Ian Davidsons very expensive and downright incompetent committee, all of which seem to be intent on denigrating the Scottish Parliament and people.  Perhaps the UK government should be diverting the money spent on all these area’s and giving it directly to the Scottish Government so they they are better able to tackle the problems we have here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/christian.allardsnp Christian Allard

    I see more people on the ‘No’ side of the debate shifting straight to the ‘Yes’ side, ‘don’t know’ is not an answer for many of us who care for the future of Scotland. Many on the ‘No’ side care for our future and will vote Yes in 2014, they just don’t know it yet.

  • Grahamski Falkirk

    I would like to register my disgust at my taxes being used to fund a political blog like this.

    It would be slightly more palatable if it was a wee bit more coherent or even jsut well-argued. It wouldn’t be quite as bad if it wasn’t so riddled with dreary propaganda and groundless assertions but I suppose bearing in mind the alleged author of the piece..

    However, I did chuckle at Ms Sturgeon’s chutzpah in trying to give advice to a campaign which currently leads her campaign by some twenty points.

    • Keefer22

      “a bit more coherent or even jsut well-argued”. Was that your best attempt at being coherent?

      The latest polls show the no vote dropping by 5% to 48% and the yes vote steady on 30%.

      Seems your arithmetic is lacking too.

      • GW76

        “yes vote steady on 30%” – or dropped to lowest ever at 23%, but whatever

    • mrvasey

      “However, I did chuckle at Ms Sturgeon’s chutzpah in trying to give advice to a campaign which currently leads her campaign by some twenty points.”

      And that’s as good as it’s going to get Mr Falkirk, the figure will slowly start coming down until the vote goes in favour of independence come voting day.  You can quote me on that one.

      I would also like to register my utter disgust at my taxes being used to fund weapons of mass destruction and also being used in an underspend in Scotland by the MoD.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jimmy.cunning.5 Jimmy Cunning

    what about Scots living  away as in England, still my country but now no say  or view , were British and should be proud , cant be Scottish proud any more  ,no voice , worked all my life paying into system in Glasgow and London so why no voice ,

  • http://twitter.com/peterthomson13 peter thomson

    Cannot figure out why you constantly build a case of how the ‘No’ campaign should be going about there duty? Surely you being a ‘Yes ‘proponent speaks about the positive aspects of Independence, raises awareness on content perhaps not so well discussed or debated. Thereby ensuring a better informed electorate on the benefits of Independence. If, and when, those opposing actually counter with some valued material only then may it be worthy of retort and recognition. It is excellent testament that those initially opposed feel inclined to turn the page and evaluate differently after being presented by such shallowness. Let them dissenters hang themselves, for they’re ever so good at it. The ‘Yes’ push forward over the next 18 months needs to continually rise above tactics designed to sully what should be the most liberating time in recent Scottish history. Rise above the obvious bias in our media, keep pulse with the those pockets of energy who may think this is a forgone conclusion. The road is long, and no doubt with many twists and turns to come before judgement day. 

  • http://twitter.com/KurikatKate Kate

    And I would like to register my DISGUST at tax papers money being used to fund a STATE BIASED Broadcaster, at least here, people are NOT being blocked from leaving their opinions in comments. now that to me seems a lot fairer than the BBC tax funded website.

  • dadsarmy

    The problem for journalists is that to write an article, they have to do at least some research. They started the debate with pre-conceptions, and a meme of what media has been promulgating for years – the idea that Scotland is a subsidy junkie, would have no money to spend on defence, can’t afford its benefit, health, free tuition paid for by Westminster and the rest of the UK. They just wrote articles based on these assumptions.

    However, as they do more and more research, perhaps to use in their next article, they become more and more aware that they have been fooled, that it is Scotland that pays for our free tuiton and NHSS, and that the figures show, if anything, that the subsidy is the other way around. Scotland subsidises the rest of the UK, which means that an Independent Scotland will be able to do better for itself, not worse.

    Well, that gives a problem even for London based non-Scottish journalists, but particularly it gives a problem for those living in Scotland, or genuinely intending to return here. Do they lie, or do they tell the truth?

    I think increasingly over the next 21 months journalists will be faced with this dilemma. What I say is this:

    The Truth will set you Free

  • http://www.facebook.com/richard.richardson.5661 Richard Richardson

    Nicola – How are the tweet reactions listed at the bottom of the page selected? Who does it? What is the criteria for inclusion?

    Is it a civil servant who is supposed to be neutral? Are they paid for by the taxpayer and do the selected messages have to be so unremittingly one sided?

  • http://twitter.com/gorbalsgal fiona m brown

    Some answers to questions can only be hypothetical; many that underpin Independence are so.(I would be doubtful of Westminster governments, past and present, supplying accuracy and openness per reserved powers data!)  However, we do know and can see all around us, the answers arising from the signing of the Act of Union and the nub of the ‘better together’ assertions! Given an opportunity to win back our ability to self determine by a YES in 2014; IT IS THE WAY TO VOTE

  • dadsarmy

    Watching Prof Curtice on Scotland Tonight, taking part in the Guardian thread, and actually looking at all the charts in the 2011 – and subsequently the 2012 – social attitudes survey, I was struck like him, by one thing.
    I think from the charts, depending on how you interpret them, that it is certain there is already a majority in favour of the Scottish Parliament taking most, and even all the decisions for Scotland. Well, this is self-determination, Indpendence in fact. But mention the word “Independence” and those ratings plummet. As Prof Curtice said (highlighted ironically maybe by Ian Davidson in an SAC), the word “Independence” is toxic. Perhaps it brings up visions of tartan-clad English-haters running around shouting “FREEEEDDDOMM”, after watching Braveheart for the 88th time.
    The challenge for the YES campaign then is perhaps not to show that we will be better, and that our economy will be better, education, welfare, research, or any of these fine things. All they need to do is de-toxify the word “Independence”, to win a battle that is already won. They have just 21 months to do this.

  • crb999

    The question settled on is succinct but it should be the bow wave of a thousand policy
    previews to which ‘Yes’ would be the response. e.g.’Should sovereignty over Scottish seas encourage us to rebuild our fishing fleet?’ ‘Should Scotland significantly reduce road fuel tax?’Should Scotland radically revise the way road vehicles are taxed?’ ‘Should Scotland invest in a national water scheme capable of supplying and selling water to England? The areas of education, health, crime, manufacturing, recreation, forestry, power
    generation can all provide simple questions to which the answer is yes!
    ‘Yes’ has to become the word for 2013 and of course 2014, ‘Yes Scotland!’ but never ‘No England’ Let us have none of that negativity that we so often see pouring out of Westminster. I agree with dadsarmy, the word ‘independence’ been poisoned, perhaps we should talk in terms of reliance, confidence and trust in Scotland and the Scots.I have seen two coalitions including the 1940-45 arrangement and the remaining time has been taken with either Labour or Conservative governments, each destroying what the other had built, all of which seemed to be Londoncentric.We need to restore the understanding that sovereign resides in the Scots and not the Queen or Westminster. Faith in ourselves and our country has been constantly attacked by the gutter media and of course Westminister but is is not dead and will prevail.What will also prevail, after the win, is the variety of political parties we have now and maybe more.Finally it should be stressed that a win for the ‘Yes’ vote in 2014 retains our ‘Scottish-British-European’ identity, we just won’t be UKish.


    We should consider asking the four Northermost counties in England if they would consider joining with Scotland if it wins the 2014 Yes Vote.

    I suspect the answer would seriously disturb Westminister.


    If we have to start talking negatively, let it be on the impact on England when the yes vote is counted.

    England’s place at top table will be seriously impaired, its nuclear policy will have to undergo radical revision, its will to interfere in other peoples problems throughout the world would have to stop!

    So it’s not all negative then!