My middle name is Campbell. My Christian name is spelt the Scottish way. I am a quarter Scottish. Believe it or not, I am a direct descendent of Robbie Burns through one of his illegitimate children. Strangely, though, I feel little affinity with the country of my ancestors. Whenever I go there I feel like a foreigner. Indeed I feel more welcome and at home when I visit the United States. So in some ways, if Scotland votes to go independent next Thursday I’ll react with a shrug of the shoulders. And if I had a vote in the referendum I genuinely don’t know which way I would cast it. My heart says I’d vote yes, but my head tells me something different. I think that’s how many native Scots will think too, and my suspicion is that a good proportion of them will vote with their hearts rather than their heads.
Alex Salmond is without doubt the canniest politician in the United Kingdom. He has played the ‘Better Together’ campaign like a fiddle. The panic they displayed after the Yougov poll last Sunday was laughable. Salmond’s greatest strength is exactly the same as George W Bush’s, in that he is constantly ‘misunderestimated’ by his political opponents. The patronising contempt displayed by Alistair Darling towards him in the TV debates achieved nothing except push some doubters into the ‘yes’ camp.
The ‘no’ campaign rivals the ‘Yes to AV’ campaign in its sheer incompetence. To win hearts and minds you need to be positive and optimistic. Better Together have been relentless in their negativity and condescension. They needed to pull at the heart strings, wax lyrical about the benefits of the United Kingdom. Instead all they can do is threaten doom and gloom and give the subliminal message that Scots aren’t capable of managing their own affairs. Only in recent days has this idiotic approach changed, but it’s probably too late.
As I write around 20% of Scots are reported to have sent in their postal votes. Indeed, although the opinion polls show that another 10-15% are still undecided, I find it difficult to imagine that the majority of those will swing towards voting ‘no’. There is little doubt that the ‘Big Mo’ is with the Yes Campaign, and Salmond’s challenge is to maintain this right up until polls close on Thursday.
In many ways the First Minister has got away with blue murder. Better Together have completely failed to exploit his woolly answers on many important issues, not least the question of Scotland’s currency. Alex Salmond blithely says that the Pound’s is Scotland’s as well, ignoring the fact that all three main party leaders have told him that if Scotland goes independent it’s on its own. In theory it could still use the Pound, but it would have no presence on the governing body or the monetary policy committee of the Bank of England. This wouldn’t matter in the good times particularly, but if Scotland hit a financial crisis there would be no lender of last resort. It would mean that Scotland would find it very difficult indeed to attract inward investment and it would have no control over interest rates. If you don’t have control over your fiscal policy you’re not a fully independent country – something which Ireland found to its cost in the euro crisis.
Salmond believes that in the end the government will cave in and allow Scotland to keep the Pound. I suggest that this is very unlikely to happen, not least because of if did I suspect Tory backbenchers would force a leadership election. The way around all this unpleasantness is for there to be a UK-wide (including Scotland) referendum which would take place on the same day as the May 2015 general election. There would be a simple yes/no question: Should Scotland continue to use the Pound Sterling? That way the rest of the United Kingdom would have the say we have been denied so far.
And it’s not just the Pound Sterling Alex Salmond wishes to retain. He wants to keep the Queen and the BBC. It’s a sort of ‘pick and mix independence’.
I don’t think we in the rest of the UK have touched the surface in thinking about the consequences for us if Scotland votes yes. That’s partly because it’s impossible to be definite about what they are. But one thing is for sure, we would be diminished on the world stage. We would no longer count as one of the three major players in the EU. We would be relegated into the second division of European powers alongside Spain and Poland. Our place on the United Nations security council would no doubt be threatened, although there is no formal mechanism to remove us.
There are calls for the 2015 general election to be delayed, as it would be preposterous to elect Scottish MPs who would have to then stand down within a year. It’s even suggested there should be a national government which would govern us between the election and Independence Day in March 2016.
We are in totally uncharted waters. Some of us find it difficult to see how David Cameron could cling to office if the referendum result goes the wrong way. There are even suggestions that both Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband would have to fall on their swords too.
How on earth did we get to a point where the entire political and constitution of the United Kingdom is under threat? Make no mistake, if there’s a ‘yes’ vote on Thursday, it will be the biggest constitutional crisis for centuries – bigger than the 1936 abdication crisis or the1910 House of Lords stalemate. One thing is certain, though. The fallout will be fascinating to watch; rather like one of those unfolding car crashes on Youtube videos, except this time it is all of us who will potentially be victims in one form or another.
This column first appeared in yesterday’s edition of the Eastern Daily Press