I offered to go to Glasgow for the IndyRefDebate, Salmond vs Darling next Monday, this time on BBC, so there shouldn’t be any transmission cock-ups. To help my cause I submitted the killer question, but they must have plenty of white British semi-retired males so I can’t ask it in person. I want it asked by someone, however. It goes like this:
A YES vote would give Alex Salmond carte blanche to negotiate what he can and what he thinks ‘best for Scotland’; a favourite expression of his. Whatever he has in eighteen months he wants to present as the country’s ‘independence’. But negotiations are negotiations; despite his best intentions and endeavours he cannot determine the outcome, and it is likely that he will fall well short of what he has led us to expect. What plans does he have to check with us that we like the pig as it emerges from the poke?
Independence would not be achieved in one vote next month. Independence would be the outcome of dozens of Acts of Parliament and thousands of business and network decisions over which the political world has no control. The SNP has given no indication of who would conduct the negotiations from the Scottish side. You would expect Salmond to state categorically that he would immediately form some sort of body to be drawn from all walks of life and all political parties. But as things stand, the SNP alone would go ahead, and try to achieve what is ‘best for Scotland’. The job is far bigger than that – it’s an outrage that he’s got this far without mapping out the first few steps. And he has no way of knowing who Scotland will be negotiating with: in less than twelve months from now there will be a different government in London, with different priorities. And what if even people who voted YES think that we have a poor deal? Is there any comeback? No.
An ex-Governor of the BBC yesterday indicated that an independent Scotland can forget about being tuned in. An oil expert and industry leader, who submitted a piece of work the SNP liked very much a few months ago, has today said that the SNP is over-stating future oil revenues from the North Sea. The SNP response? ‘there are other experts with other views’. Let me, with all due modesty, refer you to a passage in my previous blog We’re aw Jock Tamson’s bairns: You’ve got to hand it to the SNP. Every considered opinion, every weighted judgement, every sober fact, every piece of academic research that doesn’t point in their direction is turned on its head and trumpeted as all the more reason for voting for independence. Problems and difficulties with their proposals are waved aside: according to the SNP all will be well and those who even mention the problems are scaremongering and somehow saying NO to Scotland. It’s dirty and it’s scary.
Well, you won’t see me on your screens from the comfort of your sitting-room, but let’ see if the killer question will be asked. And if it’s answered properly I will finish my book. And if it isn’t I will finish my book. Bloody politicians, making life too interesting…
In an extraordinary combination of events, the Indy debate has suddenly been thrown into sharp focus. First there was the Commonwealth Games, which showed the good will that can be generated by sharing. Never mind the events and performances, which were wonderful. Scotland and Glasgow have made firm friendships around the world. It really counts for something, it’s called soft power. You can’t buy it, you have to earn it. And a very generous contribution to UNICEF was a hard outcome.
Then there has been the markings of the beginnings of the Great War a century ago. Really it was the collapsing of Empires – Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and British. Nationalism was the new radical. Look where that got us – the worst outcome was the 1939 – 1945 war. Since then we have been building unions. The British Isles have been in a union for three centuries, more or less, depending on where you start counting, and on the whole it has worked well. Of course there have been problems. It’s an easy game just to focus on them.
But the enemy of decent civil society never changes. It is selfishness. Having worked through empires and nationalism in the last century, now what we need is partnerships and unions to deal with the old enemy in its present form: corporate greed. The Scot Nats are well out of date.
So we come to last night’s debate. I was pure delighted that Darling came out fighting. Contrary to my forecast – see the previous blog It’s getting closer – there were two killer moments for me. The first came when Salmond, invited to consider that he might be wrong in asserting that Scotland could keep the £sterling, could do no better than reply that he thought Darling was ‘wrong’ in his handling of bank oversight when he was UK Chancellor of the Exchequer. Somebody should tell Salmond that was then. There is no record of him or anyone from the SNP warning Darling at the relevant time that the banks were getting out of hand. Indeed, Salmond wrote to Fred the Shred congratulating him on his ‘success’ at RBS and urging him to produce more. Scotland would not be in safe hands if the best a putative leader can do is hold it against Darling that he was in office when the music stopped.
The second was when Salmond was trying to skewer Darling into saying YES or NO on whether Scotland could be a successful independent country. He was working up to re-visit the famous occasion when Jeremy Paxman repeatedly asked the Home Secretary Michael Howard a YES or NO question, only for Darling to retort that Salmond was more like Howard: ‘You can’t blame me for asking you questions that you can’t answer.’ And that’s not mentioning the period when Salmond was trying to hold against Darling a series of quotes from other people. ‘This is ridiculous’ said Darling. ‘I’m not here for bar-room banter.’
And that’s really the issue. Nothing has been negotiated, so there are very few hard propositions to be working with. To vote YES would be buying a pig in a poke. Who would negotiate the terms of separation with rUK? The people who vote YES might not like the pig that emerges from the poke. Would they get another vote in eighteen months to assert that this is what they voted for? There are no plans for that. The YES campaign loves to emphasise that the NO campaign’s sub-text is fear. We should be mightily afraid of the YES campaign.
And, of course, the news you are waiting for: yes, my book is coming on fine. I’m finalising drafts of my analysis of Trainspotting the book, then I need to firm up the section on Trainspotting the film, then that’s me. Just like that!
See the Walks page for the August programme of Trainspotting tours. There are no tickets. All I ask is that you call or text or email me no later than the night before. They are not Fringe events – do you know how much it costs to be a Fringe event these days? – so you could say they are on the fringe of the Fringe, like lots of other shows, keeping Edinburgh in August fresh and honest, in the best tradition. We are normally able to get into the Dockers’ Club for one of the stations along the way, worth seeing in its own right and a key location in the book.
By the way, have a look at the Edinburgh City of Literature web site, and see how they spectacularly (almost) completely avoid reference to Edinburgh’s most on-location author. Actually there’s a wee meeting at the Book Festival to encourage businesses to capitalise on literary tourism, and maybe I should be there. I can’t because of a prior commitment, but in any case I’m concentrating for the time being on finishing the book. It’s a completely new analysis of Trainspotting which requires a lot of drafting and re-drafting to get right. I have told the City of Lit folk – who I get on with very well – that I’ll make it impossible for them to go on ignoring Welsh.