Sunday, 26 March 2017

Division

In today's Observer Kevin McKenna has an article about the 'divisiveness' of another referendum on Scotland's independence.  It's a word we hear incessantly from the Scottish branches of Labour and the Conservatives, and I must admit it has always puzzled me.  People never agree on anything.  Some like curry, some prefer Chinese food.  Some like to drink alcohol, others don't.  Some prefer to pay low taxes, others prefer to have better public services. Each side will often try to persuade the other side of the merits of their view.  That, in a nutshell, is politics.

Since the nature of politics is to support a particular set of views, it follows that politics is divisive by default.  So why has it suddenly become the word du jour amongst Unionists?  After all, surely they must be used to division of opinion and the art of persuading people to support their particular world view?  Even votes in Westminster are known as 'divisions'.

The answer lies, I think, in the Unionist politicians being jolted out of their comfort zone by the previous referendum on independence.  Until that took place they had a cosy world-view.  Sure, Labour wanted higher taxes for the rich to pay for better public services and the Conservatives wanted low taxes and a minimal state.  But behind those differences they were in agreement that it was best for Scotland to be part of the UK.  Sometimes Labour would be in government, sometimes the Conservatives.  Each would get their turn, so if you lost a General Election, it was only a matter of time before it would be your turn to win.

The SNP and the wider Yes movement have disrupted that.  The SNP have proved that Labour and the Conservatives are not the only choices in Scotland, having proved that they have some competence in managing Scotland.  Of course, the Unionists politicians like to dramatically claim that services are falling apart in Scotland, that the SNP couldn't run a corner shop, let alone a country.  However, for the ordinary Scot, these shrill screams do not chime with their everyday experience of living in Scotland, which is why they continue to vote in SNP governments.

The wider Yes movement has disrupted things by coming very close to winning the independence referendum in 2014.  Suddenly being run by Westminster isn't the only option in town.  And since the Brexit vote in June last year, independence has become more attractive to those voting No last time, meaning that this time the campaign for independence is starting from a position of 50-50 rather than the 28-72 it started from last time.

This is, I think, what is at the root of the cries of 'divisive!'.  Labour and the Conservatives no longer have a monopoly on what's best for Scotland, ie remaining in the Union.  Now they have to produce a case to to persuade the voters on why they should vote to remain in the UK.  In the last referendum they didn't do this, relying instead on scary stories and threats of vengeance.  I don't think that will work nearly as well this time around, since people have seen it all before.  This time they will have to produce a positive case for staying in the Union, and that will take a great deal of hard work.  Better, then, to try and avoid the necessity by demonising the independence movement.  After all, the Unionists have their own careers to think about, and some of them don't fancy being in a small country that doesn't punch above its weight.

I honestly think that no positive case for the Union will be produced.  Instead I suspect that we will get Project Fear Mk 2, this time with the volume cranked up to 11.  However, the independence movement has also learned from 2014, and we will be ready to counter their arguments.  Bring it on.

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