In just two years from now, the fine and upstanding citizens of Scotland aged 16 years and older will be invited to cast their votes. They’ll face a simple choice: to remain loyal subjects of the United Kingdom or rebuild Hadrian’s Wall. The battle lines of PR combat, of spin and counter spin, have been drawn. The stakes are high.
For Alex Salmond, the Wallacesque proposer of the motion, failure would most likely end his political career. Of course, should he win, he’d surely be odds-on favourite to become the next King of Scotland.
For David Cameron, who wants to preserve the union, failure could lead not only to him being the last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom but to an awkward chat with QEII if she loses Balmoral in the asset trading that would invariably follow a vote for separation. It’s enough to send a chill wind around the sporran regions of all Scottish loyalists.
Salmond’s big idea is that Scotland would regain control over its own destiny and social services after 300 years of direct rule from London. In return for a yes vote, he promises better pensions, free education, free healthcare and freedom from the decision-making and austerity measures distilling through the Palace of Westminster and 10 Downing Street. For Cameron, he’s offering the Scots … well, exactly what they have today.
Despite the generous nature of what Mr Salmond and his colleagues in the SNP are putting on the table, never more than 33% of Scots have expressed favour with cutting ties with the south. That’s where the PR battle for Scottish hearts and minds come in. Salmond needs a majority vote.
But given Cameron’s success in fighting PR battles to date, I’d be in favour of agreeing in advance, a few consolations, just in case. Should Scotland choose to go it alone, for example, we’d get to keep Kirsty Wark, Sharleen Spiteri and Billy Connelly.
I’d also propose that should Salmond get his way, a non-exchangeable, non-refundable commitment clause is reached that would repatriate, without delay, the Proclaimers, George Galloway and Marti Pellow. The Scots would also get to keep the deep-fried Mars Bar.
The problem with Salmond’s commitments of social largesse, of course, is that he has no idea what might be affordable for an independent Scotland. The revenue from Scotch whisky and tins of shortbread only take an economy so far. Until someone figures out what proportion of North Sea oil revenue Scotland gets to keep and what portion of the UK national debt, including the cost of bailing out Scotland’s Royal Bank, Scotland gets, Mr Salmond he has no idea what kind of balance sheet he has to play with. In fact, the answers to these questions today are needed to understand whether Scotland is a net contributor to the UK economy or a drain.
On a more serious note, talk of nationalism and separation doesn’t always proceed with the good cheer and neighbourly cheerfulness the Scottish National Party suggested this week.
If Scotland goes it alone, how long will the Welsh wait before suggesting that they, too, should be independent? And take it from someone who has lived more than half his life living on the Irish border.
It can all turn ugly.