To be read with: CONDEMED: Britain’s Disabled People are facing a Holocaust of Cuts ~ We are set to lose £28.3bn of support under this cruel, heartless and unconscionable regime Posted on October 17, 2013
The Scottish National party meets tomorrow in Perth for its last conference before the independence referendum. Polls suggest its 2014 conference will be a sombre affair as the party contemplates the reasons for a no vote. Yet, for now, the party is in buoyant mood.
SNP spin doctors claim that support for the union is soft and point to the high proportion of those who have yet to make up their minds. They insist that the campaign is still in the phoney war period. SNP strategists place considerable emphasis on the power of positive campaigning, insisting that the electorate will tire of attacks on independence and vote for hope over fear. This is Pollyanna politics.
Questions will be asked, fears exposed and alternatives proposed in the bars and fringes of the conference this week despite the outward optimism. Has the party stripped independence of its emotional appeal? How is it to respond to the relentless attacks of the no side? Is it possible to win when the press is overwhelmingly opposed to independence? Will the much-awaited Scottish government’s independence white paper really lay fears to rest?
The white paper is published next month. Some commentators expect this to be the launch of the campaign proper by the SNP. Supporters of independence hope that the white paper will finally refute claims that independence would leave Scotland vulnerable to terrorist attacks and other unknown threats, without a viable currency option, and excluded from the EU. But therein lies the problem. Supporters of independence are on the back foot. If the white paper is simply a response to the familiar litany of scare stories, then it will not move the debate beyond where it has been stuck – in a place that has advantaged its opponents.
Responding to the agenda set by opponents is not a strategy for victory. If that is all there is to the yes campaign then Labour’s Ian Davidson is right that the battle is over save for “bayoneting the wounded”. No campaign can hope to win when the agenda is set by opponents. The challenge over the next year will be to shift the focus of debate.
It is not that the SNP has failed to outline a vision of post-independence Scotland. In essence it has proposed in a series of reports and statements that Scotland would be a Scandinavian-style social democracy underscored by a vibrant economy. If victory was assured for the side with the most positive message then the yes campaign would be leading by a massive margin. But the SNP’s opponents are not in the business of comparing visions, not least because Labour and Tory unionists could not agree on the vision. They make a virtue of necessity and focus on attacking independence. That may be the clue as to how the SNP might turn this referendum around.
Poor rates of economic growth, high levels of emigration and appalling social and health conditions of Scotland should be difficult to defend. If independence is to be judged over the long haul, so too should the union. Yet supporters of the union have been under little pressure to defend Scotland’s miserable record within it. Historians will look back on this campaign and ask why unionists were not on the defensive given this poor track record.
The traditional appeal of the union for many Scots lay in the social welfare afforded by successive UK governments. Indeed much of the SNP’s support is due to it being at least as strong on welfare as Labour. This needs to be better understood by independence supporters. The safety net of the welfare state compensated for other public policy failings. An extensive network of welfare in a weak economy has been more appealing than the risks involved in independence. Scots have never been particularly radical.
It takes little to convince most Scots that the Tories do not have Scotland’s interests at heart. The challenge will be to convince people that the problem is not only with the parties in power but the UK’s long-term direction of travel. This is in a direction away from the welfare state that once made Scots unquestioned supporters of the union. If Scots believe the welfare state is being dismantled, then one of the most important pillars of the union will be removed.
Voters, it is often said, are inclined to vote for the status quo and avoid risky change. If the focus is on constitutional change in and of itself it does not augur well for the yes camp. But if the campaign shifts focus on to welfare and social solidarity then that could give supporters of independence an advantage. The SNP needs to convince Scots that independence may involve constitutional change, but that this is the best way to preserve the best of British.
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