Sunday, February 16, 2014

In defence of negativity

There's something of a consensus emerging on both sides of  the referendum debate and it is that the No campaign is far too negative.  Take the Scottish liberal Tory Alex Massie for example:
"I have plenty of issues with the Yes campaign and the SNP and they offer us plenty of guff too but at least their imbecilities, most of the time, look to a sunny future rather than endless drizzle.
I know what he means - there is a catastrophising* tendency in the No camp that is undoubtedly counter-productive but a certain amount of negativity is unavoidable if one is to do justice to the situation. My own 'vision' of a Scotland in the Union is positive for me. I like Britain. The Union that the Nationalists despise so much is what made me. I am its very incarnation. I like to visit England to see my family and friends, going somewhere that is very different and yet somehow the same. I have a strong affection for what is familiar - but I can't reasonably expect to sell this to someone else. How am I supposed to compete with people who think that when Scotland is independent we will have Scandinavian public services alongside American levels of taxation and we'll all hold hands and celebrate the gorgeous mosaic of our diversity - because xenophobia is an English problem, don't you know?

A 'sunny future' indeed but I'm afraid I'm not happy with this demand to be all upbeat and positive.  Why should I be?  I'm not an American.  Whether literally or metaphorically it's going to continue to rain a great deal in Scotland after September 2014 and if it's considered 'fear-mongering' to point out that there's no pot of gold at the end of the constitutional rainbow then that's just too bad.  I would even take the negativity a stage further and state my concern that there are now no good outcomes to be had from Referendum 2014 because it is impossible for it to yield a result that people will be happy with.  One of the reasons for this is an intrinsic problem with referendums; they are usually sold as a mechanism for dealing with an issue 'once and for all' yet this is exactly what they don't do.  It has rightly been argued that one of the reasons the Yes side may still win in September is their committed army of  foot-soldiers.  Labourish Scotland has only woken up to the real possibility of independence since 2011 and are struggling as they are competing with believers who have been preparing for this their whole lives.

What happens to the soldiers on the losing side when the war ends is a question that has been asked too infrequently in history.  If Scotland votes no, are they going to accept defeat, admit it was a fair fight and just go home?  I thought the most likely outcome from a No was some kind of evolving 'devo-max' compromise where we ran the risk of becoming as tedious as Belgium.  A Yes vote wouldn't have looked that different.  For the hardline Nats, an independent Scotland would be neither independent nor Scottish enough.  When are we getting rid of the Queen, why are we in the Sterling zone?   George Osborne's intervention ruling out currency union is a 'game-changer' in some senses yet in other ways not.  I'll leave it to others who know a lot more about economics to discuss the details but as far as I can judge, an independent Scotland launching its own currency, possibly pegged to the pound or the Euro, is now the least mental option.  This would carry risks obviously and certainly produce higher borrowing costs.  If  I were a nationalist, I would prefer this to a Sterling currency union because the latter would mean Scotland wasn't really independent at all.  But something that you might think should be an option that people who really believe in independence would favour is as I write being presented as an outcome of 'bullying'.  It is for this reason my answer to the nationalists' question "What are you afraid of?" is that I fear this will not end well - because I'm afraid this might never be a settled issue.  It certainly won't be by September 2014.

*Note: The way Western political discourse slips into the language of the apocalypse is something I've always assumed comes from Christian eschatology and have tried to correct it in myself accordingly.  But there's always a nagging doubt: we don't know exactly what happened in Pompeii because by definition no-one survived to tell the tale but there must have been at least one person who said "Ach, it'll be fine" who won the argument... 


George S said...

The longer this goes on the more confused I become. For different reasons from you I regard myself as British and regret the break up of the UK as a pointless exercise that will at some level do more harm than good. I dislike it because I far prefer interntionalism to nationalism and one of the least attractive sights on the world is someone of any nation shouting into my face how great their nation is, and how it is always some bigger or smaller minority bastard that is to blame for their own frustrated misery.

The vision of one bunch shouting: we'll shut off your pound and the other shouting back: we'll shut off your oil and your debt and kick out your nuclear too is not edifying. I deeply dislike Salmond but admit he is a clever man.

Nevertheless it was the English people in England who actually took us in when we were refugees, and I am obliged to them for that. Furthermore,
I don't think I have heard a bad word from any English person I know about Scots apart from those ancient jokes about Scottish meanness about fifty years ago, and I don't hear it now either.On the other hand I don't think I have heard a good word from Scots about the English ever.

That predisposes me towards the English, which is a great pity since I have found so many Scots lively, intelligent and decent.

I am hoping for a No vote.

Shuggy said...

Me too, as you know. If I was George Osborne I would have said something like, "If Scotland votes yes, she can of course continue to use the pound. It is, after all, a fully tradeable currency, as your First Minister has pointed out. But given the size of your banking sector, this would be reckless in the extreme. And I'm afraid we are going to decline your invitation to join a currency union because we don't think it is in our mutual interests."

His wording might have made it sound like 'cutting off the pound' but I would have in substance said exactly the same thing he did. What Salmond and co are in effect saying is, "I'm leaving and taking the kids. We're going to have to share the car and as part of this arrangement, you are obliged to pick me up whenever I'm too pissed to drive. Oh and if I crash, it's coming off your insurance." The suggestion that this is not entirely reasonable is 'bullying', apparently. I'm now very concerned about this because it shows just how little the nationalists are interested in economics - and this is with a First Minister who is an economist! It is, as you say, all rather unpleasant.

Anonymous said...

I thought this explained the currency issue well - at least I understood it while I was reading it.

Shuggy said...

Yes, I saw that. It's an excellent piece.

Anonymous said...

A passionate Yes pal says on FB that he is so excited about learning about currency options, which he never thought he would be. That's the positive energy, which I have in cycling campaigning. I get excited about road plans and traffic budgets. The negative noes say, Oh fuck, do I have to get interested in currency options? I've got other things I'd rather think about.

The Yesses are having a far happier time than the noes, whatever the outcome.

Also I know, like and respect a load of passionate yesses, and can see massive fallings out all round.

(PS - I had another comment - has that got lost somewhere?)

Shuggy said...

How excited is he going to be when he discovers that there's now only one that isn't bat-shit crazy? I didn't get the sense from Nats I know that they're having much fun now that reality has kicked in. (I have two comments from you, which I can see. Is there more?)

Simon Fawthrop said...

I thought Nicola Sturgeon was very weak when being grilled on currency union on the Today program this morning. She certainly didn't like be asked if the rest of us should have a say on the issue.

On you main thrust, I suppose its hard not to be negative because you are responding to those who want to change the status quo and so all you can do is find the negatives in their arguments.

O/T but did you get to listen to this Start The Week programme about teaching history? I don't know much about the subject but I thought it was an interesting discussion and Gove came across quite well, for once.

Al said...

Expectations of a Scandinavian type utopia are probably restricted to a minority of hardcore YES supporters. Low income working class scots are probably aware they are getting screwed by the present system somehow, have less to lose, and so are more inclined to take a chance.

I would say that Scots inclined to vote YES due to distaste of the conservatives outnumber the utopianists ( this combined with general moves in England towards the right, and discredited labour party).

At any rate, unionists shouldn't get so worked up. The union parties hold the cards, and if they really want to save the UK, they could clearly commit to a devo-max arrangement

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