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Blogs

With friends like these the Union has no need for enemies

6 February 2014

4:44 PM

6 February 2014

4:44 PM

In the cover story for this week’s edition of the magazine (subscribe, by the way!) I write that “The battle for Britain is being conducted on a wavelength which unionist politicians in London struggle to pick up.”

As if to prove my point, consider this story from today’s Financial Times in which it is revealed that government ministers in London have been pressuring defence companies to “highlight potential job losses and disruption if Scotland splits from the UK”.

Philip Dunne, minister for defence procurement, “would like to see the defence industry in Scotland being a bit more upfront in explaining their concerns to their workforce and the people in Scotland and I urge them to do that at every opportunity.”

How often does it need to be said that this dismal kind of nuts-and-bolts fear-mongering is counter-productive? Sure, the defence industry post-independence would likely contract but so what?

Are we really supposed to think that the fate of the United Kingdom should be decided or even influenced by the number of people Babcock or BAE Systems might employ north of the Tweed after independence? Is this debate so niggardly, so small as this? Is this the best the British government can do?

Apparently so.

Who is this supposed to impress? The people who work for these companies? Sure. But that’s about it. Who else thinks that the fate of the nation should be determined by contemplating the impact independence might have on a handful of companies?

It’s like arguing Britain shouldn’t leave the European Union because doing so would have a catastrophic impact on Welwyn Garden City. It might but that’s hardly the point or the real issue, is it?

[Alt-Text]


An argument that suggests, implicitly, that, sure, you could vote for independence but if you do you’re stupid is not an argument that is going to prevail. Insulting or threatening the electorate is a bold move and one that causes more trouble, really, than it is worth.

Indeed, it is juvenile and hackle-raising stuff. The kind of thing liable to provoke a sod-you backlash just as much as it is likely to scare folk into voting No.

Worse still it reveals the extent to which Whitehall and Westminster still cannot grasp that this is an argument about a concept or an idea much more than it is a question of dismal accountancy.

That is the case not least because it is not obvious Unionists can win the accountancy question. The Prime Minister concedes the obvious: there’s no requirement for Scotland to be a basket-case after independence. This is perfectly sensible. Because it is true (though it would help if we elected fewer numpties).

True, this creates certain difficulties for Unionists. If an independent Scotland is feasible it becomes harder to argue that it is plainly an idiotic notion. But that in turn would, in a sane world, suggest ministers should cease suggesting every damn business in Scotland will scuttle south after independence.

Perhaps some would. So be it. But that kind of anxiety isn’t enough to win the argument on either the intellectual or emotional level. Who wants to be held hostage by business? Who wants to admit to hankering after a Yes vote but being persuaded to vote No out of some tender concern for BAE Systems or BP or Tesco or god knows who else? Not many people.

Better Together needs a story about the future as well as the past and that narrative needs to be based on something good, not on gloomy predictions of mass unemployment after independence.

I have plenty of issues with the Yes campaign and the SNP and they offer us plenty of guff too but at least their imbecilities, most of the time, look to a sunny future rather than endless drizzle. Perhaps drizzle would be the order of the day but no-one wants to vote for it, far less do so enthusiastically.

So, again, what is this sort of intervention designed to achieve? Who is supposed to be convinced by it?

It’s not just Whitehall that’s all at sea, however. At First Minister’s Questions today Johann Lamont raised the BP non-issue before shifting to the troubling implications for supermarket prices in an independent Scotland. Vote No or pay more for your mince. 

At that moment I began to wonder if Johann Lamont was a cunning piece of satire. A kind of warning to vote No because otherwise people like this will have more power in an independent Scotland than they do now. A kind of political variant of the so bad it’s almost good movie. Or, if not good, then at least effective. Enough to concentrate the mind, then. Albeit unwittingly.

Help ma boab.

Then again, I have no idea what the Scottish Labour party thinks about anything (though I have a suspicion it’ll be no good, whatever it is) and nor, it is becoming clear, do they.

But between them, Westminster and Labour are making an almighty hash of this campaign.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


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