Friday, January 31, 2014

Sense of Humour failure in Scotland

The debate on Scottish independence grinds inexorably on. 

It is growing ever more poisonous and unpleasant- an army of cybernat trolls will jump upon anyone who dares to criticize the Yes campaign to even the slightest degree. It is obnoxious and nasty- and stupid.

The fact is that Salmond, our prospective "father of the nation" still has a lot of work to do before he can put forward a credible plan for separation. Although at times he strives to suggest that independence is not that big a step, it is damn difficult to judge when he can not answer some critical questions. He has tried to avoid giving details about specifics, and yet the very nub of the question lies in the details that he refuses to give. Having once said that Scotland would adopt the Euro-  a difficult enough prospect for an economy which would be majority state controlled- he now says that Scotland could keep the Pound. Yet in order to do so, Scotland must sacrifice sovereignty to the very government that it is seeking to reject: Westminster. There are vast questions and major uncertainties in this policy, but the reaction of the SNP is simply to ignore them. 

Then there is Europe. Salmond flat-out lied to the Scottish people when he said that his legal advice was that Scotland would automatically be in the EU from day one. He never took such advice and if he had, it would have told him that Scotland would be in limbo until a myriad of transitional arrangements were complete. That's Alex Salmond- never let the facts get in the way of a good story. There are many other questions from pensions to sea borders where the answers are by no means straight forward and every time we are simply told by the Yes campaigners that a solution would be found in due course. I have no doubt that a solution might be found, but when the Scottish government threatens as its first act to default on its share of the common UK debt, but that this will have no impact on the credit rating and interest rates of an independent Scotland, then please forgive my scepticism. The fact is that the case that the SNP is putting forward is fundamentally dishonest.

I was recently interviewed by an Estonian journalist about the national debate and was told that Kenny MacAskill- Scotland's Justice Minister, who has had a flat in Tallinn and knows Estonia reasonably well- had said words to the effect that Scotland and Estonia shared a common history of oppression. I literally could not believe that he could say anything so crass. Within living memory one third of the Estonian population was murdered, sent to Siberia or exiled. Scotland lived under democratic rule- however imperfect- Estonia lived under Soviet tyranny. The idea that Scotland has endured such oppression is an insult to Estonia's dead and Scotland's living. If Kenny MacAskill cannot spot the difference between freedom and oppression, then I wonder if he is best qualified to supervise Scotland's law. 

Yet in a sense all the SNP have the same sense of false grievance as Kenny MacAskill. For them Scotland is a dark and fearful place which can only be lit by the flame of independence. The idea that there might be pluses and minuses on both sides is anathema- so they will not talk about the national debate in any rational way. Their vision is relentless and fanatical. Any lie is worth telling if it brings independence. Anyone who supports independence is friend of Scotland- no matter what their actual agenda for doing so. Whereas anyone who questions the centralizing leadership style of the SNP  or who dares- God forbid- to say that independence carries high costs that might simply not be worth paying, is an Enemy of Scotland.

We could have had a genuine and worthwhile debate about the place of Scotland in Europe and the World. We could have talked about the urgent need to transform the Scottish economy away from its state dependency. Yet none of that has yet been raised- because the implication of at least a decade of pain after independence does not fit the false hopes that the SNP is deluding itself -and us- with. If Kenny MacAskill wants to talk about Estonia as a model, he should also focus on the fact that a whole generation lost their jobs and struggled to catch up. He should focus on the wholesale closure of state businesses that was necessary for Estonia to survive. The brutal truth is that independence carries huge costs, some of which we can not even forecast.

The common state has costs too, of course, but the difference is that the Better Together campaigners do not pretend otherwise. A new reformed UK is what the majority of the No campaign supports- and that is also what the polls say that the majority of Scots (and the majority of the rest of the UK) say they support. Salmond can pretend to some pseudo-Britishness all he likes, but voting Yes takes Britishness off the table forever.

So, after receiving reasonable abuse from the Yes campaigners, let me respond in kind. Yes is a vote for a poorer, narrower, more bigoted and more backward Scotland, dominated by the humourless, fanatical trolls whose abusive dominance of the cyberwaves is making me ever more certain that they must not merely be beaten in September, but turned out of office at the next available opportunity. The dishonest, thuggish, abusive and nasty tone of their comments is a disgrace. Their ignorance of their own proud history- before and after 1707- has made them small minded and mean. Their failure of confidence is the root of their sense of inferiority- and they are trying to drag the rest of us into an angry sense of false grievance. 

They call the No campaigners "fearty"- but the fear is on their side, not on the side of those who work in a spirit of goodwill and internationalism. I have reached out and engaged with Yes supporters, but I think that the level of humourless fanaticism that animates the Yes campaign will strain more friendships than mine before this debate is over. 

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