Perspectives on the Scottish independence referendum

Just go to the end if you want the Boris Johnson bit.

It is easy to lose perspective when you are immersed in a continuous, heated debate in places like twitter. Most people do not pay as much attention to these issues as you do. Or, they live outside Scotland, or outside the UK, and they have different understandings and points of reference. They see the debate through different eyes. What are the implications?

What shorthand language we can reasonably use to skip over what we already know, and what we might need to explain?

The obvious example is about the meaning of independence. It is quite common for people new to the debate to quickly realise that independence doesn’t mean independence, and/ or declare that its supporters are stupid if they think it means independence, and/ or that it’s not worth bothering about:

Yet, many have known for some time that the meaning of independence has changed – partly to reflect the SNP’s pragmatic response to interdependence – and many still think that it’s worth doing, for reasons other than a desire to remove themselves completely from the world around them.

What might people need to know about the Scottish context?

The example that springs to mind is Thatcherism and Conservatism. “Not identifying with the Conservatives” was more important to support for devolution than identification with parties like the SNP. There is still great potential in Scotland to demonise the Conservative party. Some people have long memories about the poll tax and associate with Thatcherism the decline of important industries and an assault on the welfare state in Scotland. The Conservative party does terribly in the Scottish part of UK General Elections and secures about one-sixth of Scottish Parliament seats. It still has little chance of forming part of a coalition government in the Scottish Parliament because its inclusion would undermine the status of any other party.

Most importantly, a Conservative-led UK Government, which received little electoral support in Scotland, can sometimes be used to good effect by the Yes campaign (particularly in reference to policies, like the ‘bedroom tax’, that Yes supporters argue can be abolished in an independent Scotland). Things are so bad, for some, that people like David Cameron and George Osborne have to think twice about saying what they think about the referendum, for fear of their statements backfiring.

What might we recognise when engaging with people who view the debate in the rest of the UK?

The main thing is that UK political parties are operating in two arenas. They want to influence the independence debate, but they are also mindful of how their strategies will look to their larger audience, primarily in England. What goes down well in ‘Westminster’ politics, for one audience, may be damaging in Scotland.

Usually, this example is best served by looking at the rising importance of UKIP in England and the need for the main parties to respond, often by taking a tougher line on things like the EU (a referendum now seems inevitable) and immigration. Or, we might note that the UK Government’s rejection of a currency union plays well in the rest of the UK.

However, today, it is best served by the comments attributed to Boris Johnson. Someone who seems, to many, to be an entertaining oaf, worthy of election to London Mayor, and discussed as a potential future leader of the Conservative Party, can be a liability to the No campaign in Scotland. Something that might play very well to many audiences in England – along the lines of ‘Scotland is already privileged, and it deserves no more’ – has the potential to derail the No campaign in Scotland:




Filed under Scottish politics

2 responses to “Perspectives on the Scottish independence referendum

  1. Pingback: Why would the UK Government take a tough line with the Scottish Government after a Yes or No vote? | Paul Cairney: Politics & Public Policy

  2. Pingback: Scottish Independence: beware the Constitutional Convention? | Paul Cairney: Politics & Public Policy

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