Scottish Independence: Can't We do Better Than This Dismal Campaign?

20 February 2013

Mario Cuomo, former governor of New York state (and father of the present governor) is perhaps these days most famous for his quip that politicians campaign in poetry but govern in prose. Sometimes, anyway. Scotland’s independence referendum campaign, at present, doesn’t even rise to the level of William McGonagle’s execrable verse. Most of the prose is stale and hackneyed guff too.

This is the subject of my Think Scotland column this week. An argument that should, in theory, be mildly exciting is instead – at least for now – failing to deliver:

My sense is that many of the people paying most attention to this campaign are the people most likely to be depressed by its current content. They ask “Is this all there is?” They wonder if it can’t be better, more enlightening, more elevated, more inspirational than this? What, in the end, are we fighting for?

It is unrealistic to expect a referendum campaign of this import to be conducted without a reasonable share of tendentious nit-picking and outright mendacity. Nevertheless, it is vexing that the campaign has thus far been dominated by these characteristics. Take the question of an independent Scotland’s membership of the EU, for instance. Acres of newsprint and cyberspace alike have been planted with discussion of this issue and most of it has been pointless.

It often seems that the duelling campaigns are incapable of recognising the difference between what is important and what is vital. Questions about EU membership are important but they are not vital. They are, essentially, questions of process, not of principle. If Scotland votes Yes there is no reason to suppose that these european issues cannot be resolved in a perfectly reasonable, amicable matter.

But it is unreasonable, I think, to make these questions a reason for voting Yes or, more particularly, No. Of course, the detail matters but it matters less than the principle. And this is – or should be – a vote on principle not on individual details. Both sides are guilty, at present, of presenting a false prospectus.

[…] I understand why process matters. I understand that the Yes campaign feels it must answer these questions to avoid the accusation they are “ducking the issue”. I understand, too, that it suits the Better Together campaign to raise awkward questions of detail and process, thereby to embarrass the Yes campaign. It often seems, however, that these process questions are really “gotcha” questions and when they’re not they’re still too often not much more than an endless game of Whataboutery? I think the No campaign can win like that but I think that would be a shabby victory liable to leave even some No voters feeling oddly depressed.

Of course, again, the details are not trivial but if the matter is resolved by the question of which side better persuades a majority of Scots that they will be a couple of hundred quid a year better off if only they vote a given way then, by God, we will have been wasting our time. Because that would be an ignoble victory.

Ignoble because, in the end, it trivialises the question. Can identity, nationhood and governance be reduced to such petty-cash accountancy? And if it is then what does that say about the people who allowed it to become so? I hope we can be better than that. I hope we can, at some point, discover some inspiration somewhere along the line.

This may be too much to hope for. Whole thing here.

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Show comments
  • terregles2

    Do you think Cameron would have a televised debate with Alex Salmond to discuss the Great Obfuscation-GERS-2006.
    Don’t think dodgy Dave could handle that.

  • justejudexultionis

    If Scotland is such a massive drain on England then why are the Unionists, particularly south of the border, so keen to keep Scotland in the Union – it makes no sense.

    • terregles2

      They will campaign even harder against Scottish Independence now that they have lost their credit rating. Panicking that they lose all the revenue from our natural resources that they don’t have. Whisky, Gas, Oil, Textiles, Forestry, Fisheries, Renewables, Food Exports, Technology,etc.
      BritNat tories will start even more scare stories to stop independence.

  • justejudexultionis

    Saor Alba agus saor Sasainn cuideachd.
    Say no to a superannuated anti-democratic union of unequals.
    Better a bad Scottish government than a good British one.

  • dercavalier

    Not much good whinging about it now. You were one of the leading lights in the No-Mens’ scare story campaign. However now that you’have had your whinge let’s see you start to be more positive in your writing.

    • Wessex Man

      Coming from someone like you that’s almost enough to make a Scotsman laugh!

      • terregles2

        Thought that you would be still too busy chuckling over the fat controller cartoon to notice what anyone else was laughing at.

  • Cameron

    This may be the biggest political decision that will ever be made in the UK, and we are all being badly let down by the MSM. Personally, the only impact I see their coverage is having, is a wave of energy sapping nausea and depression after exposure. It is toxic waste, but perhaps….

    If the British empire was happy to extinguish entire cultural identities in the support of free-trade, who are we to expect balanced debate now? Britain is still quite a young attempt at a democracy, with universal suffrage only since 1948. What can we expect from the institutional legacy of the colonial system? Not much so far, judging by what I see, read and hear.

    I want a future in an open and democratic society, so will be voting Yes in 2014. Least of all, this will provide me with a written constitution and replace my dependance on Westminster or EU largess to protect my civil liberties.

    • justejudexultionis

      Excellent post – you have grasped all the main issues. This vote is massive but is treated by the media and ordinary Scots as if it were of no importance. The debate is reduced to soundbites and manipulated by the hostile Unionist press to make the SNP look foolish. Salmond is anything but a fool. The BBC is clearly a mouthpiece of Unionism in all this.
      A parcel of rogues, indeed.

      • terregles2

        Indeed the Unionists come out with a different scare story every week. They are strangely silent on what a No vote will mean. If it is a No vote Cameron will take over where Thatcher left off. She used the wealth from the North Sea to pay out dole money Cameron will use North sea wealth to prop up the falling UK credit rating. If it is a No vote Scotland will be lucky if there are any social services or NHS left in ten years time.
        Is anyone seriously suggesting that tories want to keep hold of Scotland for the good of the Scots who never vote for them.

  • Salmondnet

    Why should it be exciting. The pros and cons are either well known or obvious, so the only way to make them more interesting is to lie about them. Making an issue of whether to break up the state you live in because you are a bit bored seems rather disproportionate. Take up bungee jumping instead.

    • Cameron

      The thing is, the truth isn’t widely perceived. Who’s truth?

      Us internet geeks might be informed about the independence debate, some less so, but we are a tinny minority. This is why the MSM has to step up to the plait, and provide Scotland’s voters with the relevant info, in a clear and balanced manner. They are not doing this. but are instead prothletising for the No to Scotland campaign This is how the stats maintained these days.

  • Terence Hale

    Scottish Independence: Can’t We do Better Than This Dismal Campaign? Why not do nothing? Such being a “Children leaving home scenario” let them decide.

    • terregles2

      Unionists will never do nothing about Scottish independence. They have too much to lose if it goes ahead.

  • Cath Ferguson

    I can’t help wondering at what point the unionists will start realising all their “too wee, too poor, too stupid” propaganda over decades is now badly backfiring on them, as many Scots are waking up to just how much of a lie it is, while many in England still clearly believe the subsidy junky myth? At what point will the propaganda change to angrily telling Scots we’re being selfish and greedy for wishing to keep all our own resources when we’re one of the richest parts of the UK, clearly subsidising the south east?

    Once the polls have turned maybe? And when that happens, how will they justify it to those who remain in the No camp, because they still believe the lies?

    Oh what a tangled web…

    • retundario


      • Wessex Man

        I keep telling them they go with our fond farewells and good wishes and then they don’t believe me and start shouting at me in words. We are quite happy to see you go and no we don’t want you to subsidise us, yet still support for the yes vote continues to fall in Scotland.

        Btw did anyone else see the fantastic cartoon of the fat controller in Sunday’s Scotland on Sunday? hilariously funny!

        • terregles2

          the fat controller, Hilariously funny, Should you not be getting on with your homework?


    As the outcome of the vote will impact how much of my taxes go to subsidise the Scots (or not) How come the English don’t get a vote? I think Scotish Independence is a great idea and would definitely vote yes. Sadly, most Scots realise which side their bread is buttered…….

    • Drew Edward

      If Scotland is such a financial burden on the rest of the UK during a time of deep recession and austerity, have you ever stopped to ask yourself why the UK Government, the House of Commons, the House of Lords, the majority of the UK newspapers including the low tax, small government minded ones, why they are all so desperate to keep Scotland as part of the UK?

      • terregles2

        They are not desperate to keep the Scots just the wealth that they get from Scotland.

        Unionists should be made to read The Great Obfuscation-GERS- 2006.
        They should be made to read it and then explain themselves and why they persist in their telling the Scots they are poor and need to stay within the security of being managed by Westminster tories.

    • terregles2

      The English can vote for English Independence any time they like. All they have to do is form a party that campaigns for English independence and if a majority of English people vote for it then you will have it. That’s what the SNP are doing in Scotland you should do the same. Good luck.

  • Watcher

    Not sure the EU will want another basket case economy dumped on them. The English are apparently quite happy to pay for Scotland’s mad socialist excess so why would the EU want to relieve them of the Burden?

    • J. R. Tomlin

      Delude yourself as much as you like; the Scottish economy is much less of a basket case than the English economy and will do fine without pouring money into the SE of England.

    • dercavalier

      Well they’ve already got the English basket case dumped on them so what could be any worse/

    • Cameron

      Evidence please?

    • Drew Edward

      According to the Office of National Statistics, Scotland is the most productive part of the UK outside of London and the South East (based on Gross Value Added calculations), ahead of Wales, NI and the rest of the English regions. According to the ONS Government Expenditure Revenue Scotland analysis, Scotland raises 9.6% of the UK revenues with only 8.4% of the UK population and spends 9.3% of the expenditure, a surplus of 0.3%. Scotland also spends 40% of expenditure on pensions and social security compared to 42% for the rest of the UK, or 15% of GDP compared to 16% for the rest of the UK. I look forward to seeing your evidence to back up your argument.

    • terregles2

      Scotland’s mad socialist excess as you describe it are paid for by Scottish resources not English taxes. Westminster squanders our taxes on war in Afghanistan and it also wants to squander futher billions on Trident.

      England’s mad warmongering and illegal invasion of Iraq has helped to bring the UK to its knees.

      We pay for our social care in Scotland from our rich natural resources that raise countless billions for HMT. Resources like Whisky, Textiles. Renewables, Oil, Gas, Bio Technology, Hydro Power, Food Exports, Pharmaceuticals, Forestry, Fisheries, Metals, Stem Cell Research, Electronics, Paper, etc.

      England has no natural resources that Scotland does not have that is why BritNat Westminster tories are panicking at the thought of losing Scottish revenue. Especially now that Westminster has lost its triple rating.
      The tories get no votes from Scotland they depise the Scottish people as much as the Scots despise tories. Why are the fighting to hold onto Scotland? Obviously it is for Scottish resources.

      • coxy

        ‘England’s mad warmongering and illegal invasion of Iraq has helped to bring the UK to its knees.’

        The Labour Scottish mafia took us into the illegal war in Iraq – Scotland can’t wash its hands of that

        • terregles2

          Blair and his cabinet in 2003 altogether made up twenty two cabinet members. Of the twenty one cabinet members two were Welsh six were Scottish and one of the Scottish members Robin Cook voted against the war. Blair himself was the son of an Englishman and was subsequently adopted by a Scottish family. Blair’s mother was born in Ulster although her family were of Scottish descent. The fact that Blair’s father was English means that Scotland does not take full blame for him England must take half of the blame.

          That makes the Scottish Labour “mafia ” as you describe them only a group of six amongst twenty two and Cook resigned over the war so that takes us to five.

          It seems strange though to complain about the nationality of people in a United Kingdom parliament when we are all supposed to be equal partners in a British state. It seems that Scotland will get it in the neck whatever it does. If it stays in the UK it will be resented for having MP’s represent them in Westminster. If it suggests not sending any MP’s to Westminster and instead being an independent country that also unleashes a barrage of insults.

  • Jupiter

    It will be a whopping win for the No campaign, assuming of course that Salmond doesn’t chicken out & cancel the referendum because he knows he is going to lose.

    • David McCann

      The referendum is ONLY happening because the SNP won the right to do so. The only losers will be those who believe that a No vote will get any addition powers for the Scottish Parliament. Vote NO. Get nothing!

    • terregles2

      You will be praying along with Cameron that the the Scots vote NO. Without Scottish revenue from Whisky, Renewables, Fisheries, Forestry, Pharmaceuticals, Oil, Gas, Textiles. Food Exports, Technology, Stem Cell Research, Paper, Tourism etc. The UK credit rating will be slipping even further.

  • Cath Ferguson

    “”An argument that should, in theory, be mildly exciting is instead – at least for now – failing to deliver””

    I’m excited by the debate and quite enjoying it. But then I moved away from the mainstream media months ago. If the media would step up to the plate and stop being willing to print endless screeds of scaremongering, procedural, technical and deeply dull guff from the no campaign, it might become more interesting to everyone else too.

    • terregles2

      Newsnet Scotland gives another view. A better alternative to the biased BBC and BritNat press.

  • Macky Dee

    I really hope the YES campaign change up a gear. They are our only hope of Scotland leaving!

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Well, this is a battle that neither side really wants to win. Like a couple of Aberdonians racing to the bar to get the first round in.

    • dercavalier

      OR two Englishmen having to go to the toilet when it is their round.

  • CraigStrachan

    And if this is the campaign, imagine what independence would be like.

    • Wessex Man

      Well they won’t let people like me go up there to campaign for the yes vote, so what do they expect?

      • Keith B

        @ WessexMan

        What exactly is stopping you from going “up there”? Unless you are currently enjoying an extended stay at one of Her Majesty’s rest homes for the terminally naughty, I can’t think of anything to stop you – the oft imagined border controls not yet being in operation.

        Thanks for a laugh anyhow and for providing an example of the “outright mendacity” that Alex Massie talks about above.

        • Wessex Man

          Well I asked if I could join the SNP helping in their referendum campaign, since they were talking about fielding a candidate at the next by-election in England and offered to travel round wearing my Campaign for an English Parliament T-shirts going door to door and they told me to get lost!

          • Joe Middleton

            I think you might have missed the point. This is about Scotland’s independence. England already has a parliament in it’s capital where it controls 90% of the MP’s. The SNP will never stand in an English seat because it believes in independence for Scotland so it has no interest in campaigning for votes in England. Despite the West Lothian Question the reality of union is that England enjoys amplified international influence under the disguise of GB and the reality of Scotland’s independence movement is that we need to take some of that influence back to where it belongs.

            • Wessex Man

              Oh dear, I wish you would get your facts right, ENGLAND HAS NO PARLIAMENT, the United Kingdom’s Parliament sits in the United Kingdom’s Capital.

              The Scottish Labour MPs have and do vote on matters relating to England only and are not entitled to vote on the very same matters in the Country they were elected in.

              It was said as a joke on Question Time that they would stand in Eastliegh but in your fevour to regain your “Independence” from we wicked English, you seem to have lost your sense of humour if ever you had that in the first place!

              • Cameron

                The QT comment was apparently made in jest, Yes, but do you really think the audience walk in off the street? There certainly seemes to have been a lack of local representation in the audience. It was also fortunate that guy making the comment was seated perfectly for the mike and camera to pick him up. Do I need to remind you that the BBC has recently declared that they do not need to provide balanced coverage as the election campaign has not officially started.

                • Wessex Man

                  You don’t have to remind me at all, don’t know why you thought you did. Of course it all depends on which election you are talking about I suppose.

                • Cameron

                  Point taken. Frustration tends to hinder my syntax, grammar and attention to nit-picking detail. Doesn’t take away from my general point though.

                  The referendum wont just affect us Jocks, it will affect everyone living in the UK. Do you really want the shape of your democracy to be dictated by the conduct and performance of the BBC? So far they have shown an alarming willingness to undermine the democratic process. Is this fact so hard for you to accept and why?

              • terregles2

                England has no parliament. That situation should be remedied ASAP. You should form a party and campaign for it just as the SNP are doing in Scotland. Reckon you should be on a winner.

              • terregles2

                England certainly had a parliament in 1999 when Tony Blair moved the English maritime border up from Berwick on Tweed to St Andrews. He annexed 6000 square miles of Scottish sea territory. Was that a wee joke as well that the Scots didn’t find as funny as the Westminster BritNats.

            • justejudexultionis

              Tha sin ceart. Scots can ONLY regain their self-respect through full independence.

          • Keith B

            Wessex Man

            I’m sure that if you were suitably identified you would a great boon to the “yes” campaign – though I suspect your reasons for wanting Scottish independence differs from my own.

          • terregles2

            Why would you campaign for an English parliament in Scotland.? Think you should keep your campaign to the area that can make it happen for you. Think that you sound like a perfect canditate to be the first Prime Minister of an independent England. A big improvement on what you have at the moment

    • justejudexultionis

      A lot better than the present situation in which Labour has effectively betrayed ordinary working class Scots, particularly throughout the West of Scotland.

      • terregles2

        In fairness a group within the Scottish Labour party are equally disgusted with Lamont’s support of the Tories. They are embarrassed and ashamed by Labour’s betrayal. Allan Grogan and his Labour for indy group seem like decent politicians. Not all the Scottish Labour party support Cameron.

    • terregles2

      Imagine what independence would be like. Oh yes please. No tory rule and control of our rich resources. Bring it on can’t wait. After reading The Great Obfuscation-Gers-2006 it is sounding better by the minute.

  • Keith B

    “An argument that should, in theory, be mildly exciting is instead – at least for now – failing to deliver”

    @ Alex – Is this not largely due to the actions of your colleagues in the print and broadcast media. It is they who trumpet every ridiculous accusation from the UKOK mob, while dismissing anything that comes from the independenistas.

    The debate is in the gutter because that is where the “No’s” want it to be – anything else would be a disaster for them.

    • Elliot Adams

      yes yes, media conspiracy, all lies all out to get you..

      • J. R. Tomlin

        No one said it was a conspiracy but if you think the media is doing a good job in the coverage, you are one of the very few I have ever seem express that opinion. The media coverage is at best horrendous.

      • dercavalier

        Grow up you fool. Even the arch Unionist Massie thinks the media is fucking things up.

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