Tuesday 26 June 2012

Tired arguments

In launching the Scottish campaign against Independence, the campaign chair, Alistair Darling, claims that the campaign will be a positive one.  And in fairness, much of what he is quoted as saying reflects that positive approach, concentrating on the links between Scotland and the rest of the UK, and reflecting the name of the campaign group itself, ‘Better Together’.  (Good name, by the way – it encapsulates the message that I’d be trying to convey if I wanted to retain the union.)
It seems to be hard for any politician to stay positive for long, however, and his claim that Independence is like buying a “buying a one-way ticket to send our children to a deeply uncertain destination" is a case in point.  It’s a nice piece of rhetoric, but it’s open to challenge in at least two ways.
The first is the assumption that independence is a one-way, once and for ever decision.  Whilst it’s true that the number of countries who have voluntarily ceded their independence once gained is vanishingly small (I would have said zero, but a commenter on a previous post managed to come up with one almost comparable example…), it doesn’t have to be that way.  But the fact that it is that way in practice tells us not that reversing the decision is impossible, merely that it’s not something that any nation actually wants to do – not quite the point that Darling wished to convey, I suspect.
And the second is about the question of ‘uncertainty’.  Of course, there is some degree of uncertainty about how independence will turn out; that’s undeniable.  But there’s also a degree of uncertainty about how continued participation in the union will turn out.  On what objective basis can either be said to be more or less uncertain than the other? 
Then there’s this little gem:
"We're positive about all of the identities that we share - Scottish, British, European, citizens of the world - and don't see the need to abandon any of them."
The implication is that choosing Independence means abandoning one of those identities, the British one.  In saying that, he’s reflecting the rather ill-thought-out comments of his party’s leader a week or so ago, because implicit to both is the assumption that ‘identity’ is somehow dependent on governmental structure.  However, it’s an assumption which is fatally wounded by his inclusion of the phrase ‘citizens of the world’; if that identity isn’t dependent on structure, why should any of the others be?
The BBC also shows examples of two of the leaflets being produced by the campaign, both of which left me thinking that they’ll have to try harder if they want to appeal beyond the ranks of those who already support them.
The first implies that the fact that 1 in 5 Scots is employed by companies based in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland is somehow an argument for the continuation of political union.  It seems to me to be a very dubious conclusion to draw – would it mean that if we ever got to the position that 1 in 5 in the UK were employed by companies based in the USA or Germany, say, then we should apply for union with one of those countries?
And the second was that the UK has the 2nd largest aid budget.  I’m certainly pleased that the UK is in that position (although there are quite a few devils in the detail), but why is that a reason for the continued existence of the UK?  The Scots could continue to donate aid at exactly the same level per head if they wanted to (and I hope that they would), so why is this particular statistic relevant to the debate?
Much of what has been said by the pro-union side in the lead-up to this launch seems to have been based around the assumption that bigger is better.  If the assumption is true, then the argument stands; but the assumption seems to be taken as a given and becomes axiomatic.  There seems to be a consequent failure to be able to understand that not everyone thinks that size and clout are the most important things in the world.
The result is that it looks as though the SNP is increasingly in tune with a new way of thinking, whilst the pro-unionists are stuck in the past.  I’m still not convinced that the SNP will win, this time around; but with counter arguments like this, the probability surely increases.


Anonymous said...

Excellent piece by Paul Kavanagh in Newsnet Scotland. And funny too:


As he says, 'Westminister, it's a bit rubbish isn't it.'

G Horton-Jones said...

This was excellent
download and read NEWSNET this article is top quality journalism

Oh for a bilingual Y Byd

Unknown said...

The LOIBOR scandal, which Darling presided over, and knew about, will severely damage the Bitter Together campaign, won't it? Both on a personal level, but also when they try to paint a picture of British superiority - their greater experience in these things, and the international reputation of the City of London. Well, all that is bust after a day, isn't it.