Saturday, 29 March 2014

Crumbled and cracked

In February, we had the No campaign’s Big Threat: the claim that if we walked away from the UK, we’d walk away from the £.

There is the obvious statement of fact that sterling is a fully tradeable currency, so we can use the £ regardless of what Westminster politicians say (adding further weight to the argument that we will share the £). However, putting this aside, even as the edict was being delivered by Mr Osborne and his ever-helpful allies in the Labour leadership and the Lib Dems, it was doubted and then disbelieved by most Scottish voters.

Worst of all for the No campaign, alongside what was clearly a common sense assessment of the position by voters in Scotland, there was also a palpable sense of outrage: how dare they act as though the £ wasn’t ours as well - so much for a Union of equals.

There was movement in the polls and, contrary to the Westminster expectation, it was in the Yes campaign’s favour. It shows what happens when your campaign is led by people who spend all or most of their time in London and, thus, don’t quite have their finger on the pulse of Scottish opinion: the real Scotland isn’t the one seen, or fondly remembered, from Westminster’s tea rooms and bars.

It’s been said that the No campaign remained hopeful of a longer term impact from the £ threat, as people put aside a supposedly immediate, emotional reaction. The theory was that it would be enough to put a brake on movement to Yes by giving undecided voters a sufficiently strong anchor, based on a clear example of uncertainty and ‘risk’. It was designed to halt any post-White Paper momentum for Yes. I’ve engaged with dozens of undecided voters on the currency question since the UK announcement and for a small number the 'sermon on the pound' did create a barrier. Over time, it may have undermined the confidence of others. But no more. The big (indeed biggest) stick has cracked, beyond repair.

We now know for sure that the No currency pitch was a campaign tactic, driven forward by Alistair Darling. As the Guardian story says: “Westminster's emphatic rejection was taken on the specific advice of the former chancellor and Better Together chief, Alistair Darling, and the main Downing Street Scottish adviser, Andrew Dunlop.” Even more remarkably, a Treasury source admitted that Mr Darling and Mr Dunlop were “running the show – we just did what they said”. So much for impartiality - little wonder the Treasury’s currency claims were so roundly demolished last week.

On currency, therefore, what the Yes campaign said from the beginning has been borne out, while the No campaign are left with a yawning credibility chasm.

In March, the Big Threat was meant to be followed by the Big Offer: the Labour Party’s more powers proposals. But that had a much faster implosion - it took days rather than weeks for the Devolution Commission’s unwieldy compromise to crumble. I was away in Poland when the Labour leadership’s plans were published, but even half a continent away I knew the plans were dead in the water when Twitter revealed one of the most glaring flaws - the fact that no one seemed to have worked out that you can’t vary a restored 10p tax rate (a key Westminster Labour idea) by 15p.

The £ threat hadn’t worried me unduly because of our strong initial response (although in a tight result, every single vote would count), but I had been a little more nervous about the No camp’s 'more powers' positioning. There was a real chance that they could have constructed a proposal that was big enough in ambition to stop a big enough group of potential voters from making that final move to Yes. But that concern has gone. Anyone with a Devo Max leaning can clearly see that, by far, the nearest thing to Devo Max on the ballot paper in September is a Yes.

So, the big threat has cracked and the big offer has crumbled and that creates a big opportunity for Yes. We must not forget that we remain behind in the polls, even though the gap is narrowing. There’s still a great deal of persuasion to do, based as always on our total belief in the ability of the people of Scotland to make an independent Scotland a really fantastic place to live (the No campaign's grim rejoinder - no you can't - is, as we know, yet another reason why their support is slipping).

Today is a time to keep our eyes firmly on and beyond the winning line, on the more compassionate country our Yes votes can help create. Now and the weeks ahead are a time to continue doing what we’ve been doing best, talking about that better Scotland: more conversions through more conversations with people in our social circles and our communities. And, we can be thankful, of course, when the No campaign helps us on our way.

1 comment:

  1. The UK minister was fibbing when he mentioned Trident as the reason why there will be a currency union I got this off the conversation website:

    The reality is that the UK Treasury and Bank of England are no longer free to choose what they want to do. The giveaway was the recent, rushed-out late on a Sunday night, statement by the UK Treasury Secretary to the money markets. The Secretary was forced to re-assure the markets that the UK Treasury would honour all UK National Debt up to the referendum, regardless of the referendum result

    The reality is that the perceived need for a currency union following a yes vote is now 'in play' - and no longer in the gift of Westminster. The UK Treasury and Bank of England will give (as they have long done) give first preference to the actions and demands of the money markets. If the money markets require a currency union for their own needs (with an eye on, for example, the oil asset and Sterling) then it will be.

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