Tag Archives: Scotland

Lessons from the Scottish Independence Debate

It looks like it is 50:50 as to whether Scotland will vote yes to independence. As I have previously said, I don’t much mind what they do and can see selfish benefits to England from them leaving – assuming that they are not allowed currency union. What does concern me is that a serious debate with many fundamentally important facts to be debated seems to have been hijacked by emotion. I believe that the media, particularly TV journalism has colluded with this. Unsurprisingly, most politicians have been utterly uninspiring and ineffective – if you’re relying on Gordon Brown to make your points then you know you’re in deep trouble.

The fundamental question for the Nationalists to answer is what currency they would use. If is absurd for Salmond to claim that a yes vote gives him a mandate to obtain a currency union. Such a union would be politically suicidal for any UK government, and financially unjustifiable. All that had to be done was all three UK political leaders (four if you want to include Farrage) to state, unequivocally, that there would be no currency union. Full stop.

Salmond’s argument was that if so Scotland would accept none of the UK’s debt. To which the four should have pointed out that as the lending world considered apportionment on population head fair he was now proposing to launch the Thistle (or whatever) with a default. Good luck.

That no politician managed to make these points is depressing. Notwithstanding the huge benefit that the separation of Scotland would give to the Tories, it is incumbent on the prime minister of the UK to ensure that any debate on a referendum that he created is sensible. Whether Scotland stays or goes, Cameron has failed.

Instead we have been seeing a rush to offer extra devolution from Westminster, the so called “devo-max” that Salmond reportedly wanted. This has, of course, been Labour led because the absence of Scotland removes the last bastion of visceral socialism that keeps them electorally viable. But it should not have happed. Cameron should have pointed out that there is already a rolling devolution programme within the UK and that this vote is not about that. It’s in or out, and if it’s out you will not have Sterling.

I suppose that, given the low calibre and lower expectations of our current politicians it was too much to expect an intelligent debate. But the abject failure of TV to pin the participants to a point and expose their contradictions is profoundly depressing. How can democracy work if most people don’t read newspapers and TV can’t provide sensible, objective and rational debate? Even the most educated humans are more emotional than rational (c.f. house purchase). Those less educated have no immediate source of information. So now, 500 years after the enlightenment and almost a century after universal suffrage this country faces government produced by emotional response to inaccurate messages rather than intelligent response to rational debate. It’s alarmingly like Brave New World.

If Scotland leaves then it’s not my problem. But the explicit demonstration of the failed state of democracy in this country is. At the moment my only response is to vote UKIP (although I can’t stand many of their candidates – such as the ghastly Hamiltons) on the grounds that it breaks up the establishment. But it’s going to take much more than that.

I suspect emigration may be a better solution. But not to Scotland.

Scotland’s Second TV “Debate” on Independence

If ever there was a demonstration of what is wrong with the current relationship between media and politicians it was the “Scotland Decides” debate last night. Arranged by the BBC with an invited, balanced audience it featured Alastair Darling, Alex Salmond and lightweight BBC presenter Glenn Campbell as mediator. The utter failure of mediation and the typical preference of covering a wide range rather than focussing on principle produced something that was, after 45 minutes, unendurable.

The fundamental question for the separatists to answer is what currency an independent Scotland would use. Darling rightly focussed on this, but abjectly failed to make the point that Salmond cannot be certain that the remainder of the UK will allow Scotland into a currency union with Sterling. Even if they did, which is increasingly unlikely, Scotland would have no power over it. Salmond’s threat that if he wasn’t allowed currency union he would not accept the Scottish share of the current UK national debt was never really challenged. I very much doubt that any Chancellor will be content with that arrangement, and as it seems fundamentally fair I suspect that would be the view of any arbiter. It would also render the Independence negotiation pretty short – Scotland would get nothing, with bills to follow.

Scotland could of course peg the Thistle (or whatever they want to call it) to Sterling, much as the Irish did with the Punt. The problem is that this gives them reduced control of their economy. At best it may give them a little stability while they either build some economic track record or join the Euro. Anyone with an ounce of common sense or financial acumen knows this.

Instead, Salmond was allowed to get away with mouthing this as blandishments. Similarly, he got away with his optimistic oil forecast and switching the discussion to the NHS and the problems of the Welsh Assembly. He gave a great performance of evading the question, landing sound bites and making Alastair Darling look lumpen. What he did not do was produce a coherent economic plan, or even the basis of it.

In a well-run debate the host would have kept him under control, forced him to answer the questions and prevent him from interrupting Darling’s flow (such as it was). In a courtroom the judge rules supreme, with the (usually unspoken) threat of Contempt of Court to bring unruly advocates to heel. Robin Day could do this on Question Time, and on a good day so can David Dimbleby. Paxman ruled on Newsnight. Sadly Glenn Campbell was utterly ineffective. The net result was two politicians speaking over each other, failing to stick to the salient points and operating as snake oil salesmen. In the absence of intellectual content, Salmond won.

As an Englishman from the South Coast I care little whether Scotland stays or goes, although as I blogged recently (https://paddybc.com/2014/08/) the more I think about it the happier I will be for Scotland to vote “Yes.” But I do care about the way in which elections are conducted, the harsh reality being that TV debates are far more influential than perhaps their content justifies. If Scotland does vote “Yes” in the wake of a fatuous TV encounter, I hope that the remainder of the UK learns from their lesson and starts to require more from its current affairs presenter than nice hair and a good smile.