In the past Ive drawn a parallel between the Scottish debate and a divorcing couple. Certainly I suspect Alex Salmond danced a secret jig when the Tories won the last election as he knew the Tories would be an electoral asset towards independence. And sure enough, the Tories immediately adopted the persona of a wife beater husband. Their response to Scottish independence talk has started off with the position independence? Youre not getting that, wed strangle you first, moving onto you walk out that door, youre cut off, you aint coming back and well see you on the street.
Of course such tactics of trying to scare the Scots (see here and here) out of voting for independence have backfired badly. Opinion polls suggest the gap is down to 5% in favour, with 17% dont knows. So if only a small proportion of those dont knows either abstain or vote yes, then independence is a possibility. Again, returning to our divorce analogy acting like a complete psycho is only going to convince the wife to get as far away from this raving loon as fast as she can, regardless of what it costs.
So Cameron has resorted to the next stage, showing up on the doorstep with a photo album blubbering about how great we are together. I presume Camerons next move will be to start ringing Scots up at 4am screaming that he hates em cos they ruined his lifee…but theres still a chance :)).
But seriously, if Cameron actually wants to save the union, heres a few practical suggestions:
As I pointed out way back at the beginning of this debate, the opinion polls showed that what the majority of Scots wanted wasnt full independence, but Devo Max. No, thats not a type of soft drink ;D, but means more devolved powers to the Scottish parliament. With the Scots getting control over tax, welfare spending, energy, health care, etc. Indeed pretty much everything other than defence and foreign affairs would be handled by the Scottish parliament.
The SNP left it up to the other parties to put the Devo Max option on the ballot paper and the Tories walked straight into the SNP bear trap by arrogantly rejecting this opportunity. They were hoping that they could bully those the opinion polls suggested were in favour of Devo Max, into putting up and shutting up. But it seems instead that a large number of them are instead going the other way and supporting independence. I recall warning that this Tory position was a dangerous gamble that would almost certainly backfire and it would seem Ive been proved correct.
To me therefore the obvious get out is for Cameron to swallow his pride, U-turn and offer more devolved powers to the Scottish ASAP, even before the vote goes ahead.
Of course another problem here is the Tories themselves. There is a perception in Scotland that the Tories have screwed over the Scots right the way back through history. Hence why there is but one Scottish Tory MP and why many Tory candidates often get such little support they lose their deposits in Scottish elections, or get beaten by some single issue quack campaigning for thistle farming.
This is also why Darling Alastair, aka ex-chancellor during the financial crisis, aka the guy barred from every pub in Scotland, is heading up the ironically titled were better off together rather than Cameron or any Tory. And recall how Scots in Glasgow actually had a street party to celebrate Thatchers death (my all-time favourite Frankie Boyle joke, dont give her (Thatcher) a funeral for 3 million quid you could buy everyone in Scotland a shovel and well dig a pit so deep we can hand her over to Satan personally :)) ).
The fear among some Scots is that they are being spared the worst of the Tory cuts down south, but as soon as the referendum is out of the way, the Tories will starting hacking away at the Scottish budget in a way not seen since the days of Edward Longshanks. Of course by voting for independence, they can insure never again to have to worry about a Tory government down South making waves up north. And the last thing the Tories want is to turn this debate into a referendum on the Tory party, as thats a vote they are always guaranteed to lose up north.
This of course again emphasises the importance of Devo Max as part of the solution. More devolved powers will lessen the fear Scots have of rampaging Nasty Tories down in Westminster interfering in Scottish affairs. As an additional measure Cameron could indicate that there are no deferred spending cuts in the works and no hidden surprises.
Now theres nothing wrong with being sceptical of the EU, after all I come from a country who regularly vote, No or maybe to EU treaties. However the sort of Daily Mail-esque anti-EU xenophobia we hear out of UKIP or the Tories is largely an English phenomenon. As I mentioned in a prior post, as things stand I would argue that any pro-EU Scot would be advised to vote yes for independence. For while this might mean a temporary period outside the EU, it would avoid the risk of being dragged kicking and screaming out of the EU if England votes to leave in the not too distant future.
Of course Cameron could counter this by confronting the bigot brigade within his own party. i.e. drop any plans for an In or out referendum on the EU, make clear he still plans to negotiate the return of powers from the EU and will vigorously oppose any new powers Brussels tries to impose. But otherwise he is in favour of the UKs continued membership (cos leaving would be insanely stupid and counter-productive), and if anyone in the Tories has a problem with that, well heres a tinfoil hat, some swivel eyes, go join UKIP who are currently campaigning against gays causing storms.
At the very least he needs to be clear what the consequences would be if say a narrow majority of British voted to leave the EU, but an overwhelming majority in say Scotland or Wales voted to stay (e.g. that an in/out referendum would have to be passed in all the UK regions to be valid or that this would trigger a second independence referendum). Otherwise he risks a sort of double jeopardy option not only in Scotland but in Wales and Northern Ireland too!
Trident and Nukes
One other issue is the fact that the Tories seem so confident in the need for Trident (which could be at risk if Scotland gets independence) they want to base it all the way up North as far away from London as possible! Equally, I recall a geologist pointing out to me that the best locations for a future UK nuclear waste repository are either in Scotland or the Midlands of England (not Cumbria). There is a distinct lack of any sort of democratic debate on these matters. The Tories have seemingly decided to just up and impose nuclear reactors, waste dumps and Trident subs on any community they feel they should. By contrast David Cameron is throwing money at those willing to accept Shale gas fracking on their doorstep.
Clearly therefore there needs to be more democratic engagement on this issues. Perhaps even a referendum on Trident and retention of nuclear weapons. And if there is some national interest towards basing Trident in Scotland, or putting any future nuclear waste dump in the country he needs to be clear that in return for hosting such facilities there will be adequate compensation to the locals.
Finally, returning to our analogy of a divorcing couple, if the UK marriage is going to work it needs firstly the recognition that things arent working and that real change is going to have to be implemented. If the Tory plan is to make some half-baked promises to try harder and not to hit the tax cuts/anti-immigrant bottle as much, blubber while leafing thro photos of the 2012 Olympics and generally try to scare Scots out of voting for independence. While they might, despite themselves, win the 2014 vote, nothing will really change, dissent will fester and a few years down the line there will be another referendum (and again the Tories plans for an in or out EU referendum certainly offers such an opportunity) and this time Scotland might well vote to leave.