Blair McDougall, campaign director for the Better Together campaign, reacts to the signing of the referendum deal between Alex Salmond and David Cameron today.
This has been an extraordinary period in Scottish politics and in Scottish history. The election of a nationalist majority government to the Holyrood Parliament in May 2011 has brought the issue of the constitutional future of Scotland and the entire United Kingdom into sharp focus.
Perhaps, given the scale of that election result, it is understandable the entire debate has been, until very recently, viewed through a nationalist prism.
The nationalists in general – and Alex Salmond in particular – have been working hard to present a view to the Scottish people and to the rest of the world, that independence was now an inevitability and the outcome of any referendum on the issue would only deliver one result – a separate Scottish state.
However, this sense of inevitability has been firmly debunked in recent months. On a number of fronts, we have started to see the wheels come off the nationalists’ separation bandwagon.
It has been argued on Left Foot Forward and across a wide variety of media that the spectacular SNP victory in May 2011 was as much to do with the failures of the opposition parties to present a coherent vision as it was to do with the popularity of independence.
I think it is certainly true that now the proposition of independence is a reality, rather than a hypothetical device used by the SNP as a depository for grievances, support for separation has dropped and is continuing to drop. And, having a real debate about the implications of independence has allowed the SNP to be criticised and held to account in a way they haven’t really experienced since coming to power.
The days of them standing up espousing assertions that declare everything you like will stay the same in an independent Scotland and everything that you don’t like will simply go away are, I believe, over.
In the past, for example, the SNP would complain interest rates were set for the overheated south of England. Their solution, even during the euro crisis, was to leave the currency union with our biggest trading partner and join EMU.
When the euro became too unpopular this policy was dropped and they have talked of remaining in the ‘sterling zone’, signing a fiscal stability pact with the government of the remainder of the UK, and even having the Bank of England regulate Scotland’s financial services. So: a nationalist movement is now arguing for a foreign government to control Scotland’s public spending, Scotland’s currency and Scotland’s banks, in return for losing all political representation and control over each of these policies.
There are few more striking examples of how, having campaigned for a separate state for 70 years, the nationalists now find that when their moment has come, history has left them behind.
Why haven’t the nationalists developed more credible positions on such fundamental issues? The simple answer is their political leadership neither expected nor wanted to be where they find themselves today. The first minister does not want the in/out binary choice to be put to the Scottish people; he tried everything he could to get a second question on the ballot paper as some kind of face-saving exercise.
Privately nationalists will admit the two worst things that have happened to them are winning a majority in 2011 and then having a UK prime minister offer them a referendum. They were left with no option but to test their central belief with the people.
Better Together will continue to ask the questions of the SNP that will allow the people of Scotland to make a real judgement on the merits of separation. We make no apology for being robust in our challenge of the nationalists. But we will also make the positive case for the UK: for stability, opportunity, strength and security in an uncertain world.
We are also confident in making the emotional case for the United Kingdom. We are proud to be the campaign standing up for solidarity and common endeavour. There was a lot of talk about the effect the British summer of the Olympics and the Jubilee Celebrations had on the debate.
I don’t think, in reality, they convinced anyone to vote one way or the other. They were less a barometer for our future and more a weather vane for how we feel now. They showed the values and culture that unites us. They showed a country where our strength lies in the diversity of the sum of our parts.
The nationalists’ view is we are so radically different from friends and family from across the UK we have to turn our back on them. They will work day and night over the next two years to divide the people of Britain from one another. We will work every bit as hard to keep our people united. We hope you will join us.
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