Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Sweet Smell Of Separation


Don’t be alarmed. The title of this blog post isn’t anything to do with Wife-features and me. No, it’s about the absurd tone of those leading the charge against Scottish independence.

There’s a great line in the 1957 Burt Lancaster-Tony Curtis movie The Sweet Smell of Success (directed by Alexander “Whisky Galore” Mackendrick) in which Burt’s megalomaniac newspaper columnist JJ Hunsecker says of Tony’s slippery publicity agent Sidney Falco: “I’d hate to take a bite of you. You’re a cookie full of arsenic.”

By default those campaigning for a No vote are sending out a negative message: Scotland shouldn’t decide on issues such as welfare, tax, foreign policy and defence. If they were smart they’d coat these bitter opinions with something sweet to persuade undecided voters that a No vote has positive implications. But judging by the latest comments of Scotland’s Labour and Conservative leaders they’re not even trying.

In this magazine comment piece Ruth Davidson claims we have “a seat at the top table of global decision-making”. Last time I checked the UN had no reserved a space for Scotland in its debating chamber, between Saudi Arabia and Senegal. Instead we have to hope a Tory PM represents the interests of a nation that overwhelmingly votes for other parties.

Ruth talks about her commission on how devolution can be improved and says “most importantly” it includes “a number of senior ‘real world’ figures from Scottish business”. To be clear, the commission is headed by Thomas Galloway Dunlop du Roy de Blicquy Galbraith, 2nd Baron Strathclyde, and the number of business figures involved is two. As to their ‘real world’ status, I would simply point out that one is simultaneously on the board of numerous ports, film studios, housebuilders, a yacht group, Celtic football club and is a council member of the CBI big business lobby group. That's one busy boy.

It is however useful to know that the commission’s findings will be clear before the referendum vote, although whether the Tories at a UK level will commit to delivering new powers if they win the General Election in 2015 is anyone’s guess. I rather suspect if Cameron’s lot get back in they’ll be obsessing over EU membership, and Scotland will be forgotten.

“Independence will kill parliamentary devolution stone dead,” says Ruth, buzzing with positivity. Yes, the SNP have tied the hands of local authorities – and Scotland’s local authorities are too big anyway – and they’ve merged the fire brigades and the police forces, but that’s because the punters voted for them. It’s called democracy. If Conservatives genuinely want to see more local control then why do I continually hear Tory politicians talking about the bloated public sector? Oh, what’s that? You want local control but with services provided by the private sector so actually there’s nothing left for locals to control?

Hilariously Ruth hopes the Government’s White Paper on independence, due this autumn, will reveal what an independent nation might “look, smell and feel” like. (Please can it look glittery, smell of cut grass and feel like bubblewrap? And not dishevelled, patchouli and moist.)

In the same magazine Labour’s enigmatic Scottish leader Johann Lamont says the referendum will “hog” the headlines for the next year and that the Edinburgh Agreement is “grandly titled”. This sort of language is familiar. I often see Labour politicians refer to the referendum as a distraction, yet in almost the same breath they often refer to it as the most important decision we’ll ever make. Which is it?

According to Johann the debate is becoming “increasingly bad-tempered”. I have to say the conversations I’ve had with undecided voters have become increasingly constructive and informed. The clock is ticking and people are starting to seek out information so they can decide. I’ve come across former staunch Labour supporters and those who would normally describe themselves as of the Left who find the prospect of taking responsibility for taxation and welfare incredibly appealing.

Lamont says however we vote the “financial future is bleak” and “we have less money”. Argh! I’m being dazzled by such rays of sunshine.

We also have to “compete in a global market”, echoing the words of David Cameron who told CBI  types that Britain needs to keep flogging fighter jets to the Middle East, needs to keep cutting taxes for corporations and needs to cap welfare and freeze child benefit.

She then goes on to say she wants “a battle of ideas, not a battle over identity.” Characterising the referendum as a debate about identity indicates a failure to appreciate that those voters motivated by flags and history have already decided how to vote. Such abstract concepts have not cropped up once in the conversations I’ve had with undecided voters. If Labour genuinely move towards a debate about ideas I’d welcome that.

Finally, Johann says she campaigned for a Scottish Parliament so “no longer would we have a political leader like Margaret Thatcher who could make decisions that would have such a significant impact on people’s lives.” Yes, hooray for Holyrood. Thanks to its mighty powers we no longer have a Tory PM and Chancellor dismantling the welfare state. Oh, wait a minute.

Taken together the tone of the two big pro-UK parties is clear. Westminster does a grand job and if you’re thinking of reforming the way the people are served, think small.

But as Sidney Falco says in the Sweet Smell of Success: “I don't want tips from the kitty. I'm in the big game with the big players.” Scotland is a big player and this is a big game. Let’s think big.

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