It’s the final countdown (in Scotland at least)

Scotland today enters the formal 16 week period in the run up to September’s independence referendum.

Scotland today enters the formal 16 week period in the run up to September’s independence referendum, during which strict spending limits come into force for both of the formal campaigning organisations. Broadcasters are also expected to adhere to clear guidance on the coverage provided to both sides of the debate.

The final countdown is being marked today with a flurry of activity from a number of key people and institutions.

Speaking to BBC Scotland, the politically neutral presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament, Tricia Marwick, has expressed confidence that the people and politicians of Scotland will come together to unite the country whatever the outcome of the referendum.

Citing the aftermath of the 1979 and 1997 referendums as examples to follow, she said:

“In 1979 when Scotland voted for an assembly and it was denied, people came together.

“In 1997 there were Conservatives who were passionately opposed to the creation of a Scottish Parliament. The coming together that we saw after both of these referendums, we will see again. I am absolutely confident of that.

“Scotland’s constitutional journey has been an entirely democratic process” she said, “and I am absolutely confident, knowing the politicians in this parliament, that regardless of the outcome they will accept it.”

Elsewhere, one of Marwick’s predecessors, Lord Steel, who served as the first Presiding Officer at Holyrood in 1997, will today launch a scathing attack on the nationalists for being distracted by the referendum from tackling key socio-economic problems facing Scotland. Speaking at an event in Glasgow later today alongside his Lib Dem colleague Baroness Williams, Steel will say:

“The long-drawn out debate has distracted the Scottish government from giving priority to deep-rooted problems in Scotland such as the pervading poverty and unemployment disfiguring so many of our public housing estates, and the existence of what the late Ralf Dahrendorf called an underclass.

“A few brave souls have tried to enter such a debate. One strongly pro-independence writer who is a friend of mine argued that one case for independence was to let a clapped-out old England float off to sink in its own mess.

“What a miserably selfish argument – I would argue that one reason for staying within the UK is precisely to give it the benefit of Scottish experience.”

He will continue:

“Be in no doubt that a ‘no’ vote is not a vote for the continuation of the status quo, but a chance to proceed to fundamental improvements in our present governance.”

The Guardian is meanwhile reporting research conducted by academics at Glasgow University which challenges Alex Salmond’s claim that Scotland is one of the richest countries in the developed world. Reporting that the findings show that it is in fact “a middle-ranking economy with high levels of foreign ownership”, the paper writes:

“The domination of non-Scottish firms, particularly in key industries such as North Sea oil, financial services and banking, whisky and salmon, means a significant amount of Scotland’s wealth is exported to the rest of the UK and overseas.

“According to the study, the level of outside ownership means that Scotland’s actual income is as much as $5,000 (£2,990) less per head than Salmond suggests. The study uses a measure for national income that puts Scotland at 20th among the 34 countries in the OECD group of developed nations, behind Ireland, Denmark and Japan. Salmond’s argument that Scotland’s gross domestic product (GDP) places the country 14th in the OECD has been a crucial plank in the case for independence.”

Assessing what the next 16 weeks might have in store, Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University has concluded that it is the Yes campaign that faces most pressure, and will require a substantial reversal of fortunes if it is to succeed in September.

Assessing the polling figures as they stand for the ‘What Scotland Thinks’ blog, he concludes:

“The advances made by the Yes side so far have at least put the winning post within its sights. But its campaign is going to have to step up a gear (or two) in the next 16 weeks – or their opponents make a major slip – if the perpetual lead that the Better Together campaign has enjoyed so far is eventually to disappear. We await both sides’ efforts.”

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