The case for Scottish independence is based on a short-term, simplistic analysis

The Scottish nationalists pick the best years for North Sea oil receipts and extrapolate into the future. The pro-UK voices point out that the decision to leave the UK is a long-term one and so we must look beyond short-term and simplistic analysis.

Blair McDougall is Campaign Director for the Better Together campaign

A referendum isn’t an election. That seems obvious, but the importance of the differences between an election and a referendum help explain why the nationalist government in Scotland have found themselves in such difficulty.

For years, separating from the UK has been a vehicle which could carry any and all political grievances. Independence was the answer, regardless of what the question was.

In much the same way that UKIP frame all of the UK’s problems as having a common source in the political cooperation with our nearest neighbours, so the nationalists in Scotland have laid the blame for every problem at the door of our political and economic union with the rest of the UK.

The nationalists have created a political dynamic around this idea. Voters who would otherwise choose one of the UK parties split the ticket believing (I think wrongly) that Scotland will be better represented by a nationalist voice within the UK.

However, now that the impending referendum has transformed independence from hypothetical pub-conversation to real prospect, the framing of the debate has changed.

In elections voters will observe the debate and make judgement as to which narrative presented by politicians is most compelling. We know that, while important, elections are merely a way of choosing someone to exercise decision making on our behalf for a few years. The decision can be deemed less serious because it is temporary.

In any referendum, the decision is one that voters have to decide for themselves. In a referendum on an irreversible decision like withdrawing from the UK,  the decision is taken very seriously by voters.

When that decision has the potential to impact on their cost of living, jobs, mortgages and savings, the demand for information on which they can base that decision grows.

This was the background to Better Together’s preparations to the annually published GERS (Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland) public accounts earlier this week.

Such events are normally a “he-said-she-said” battle between the pro-devolution and anti-UK parties. Those inside the Scottish political beltway get very excited but the debate rarely penetrates into the consciousness of normal Scots.

The nationalists pick the best years for North Sea oil receipts and extrapolate into the future. The pro-UK voices point out that the decision to leave the UK is a long-term one and so we must look beyond short-term and simplistic analysis.

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