Thursday 11 September 2014

Why is the Better Together campaign such a shambles?

In the last couple of weeks before the Scottish independence referendum I've covered the subject in some detail on my blog. Two of the core themes of my work have been the complacency of the Westminster establishment, and the astonishingly poor campaign strategy of the anti-independence camp.

In the article I wrote about the failings of the anti-independence
 campaign I identified four key areas of failure. The strategic error of ruling out Devo Max in order to play an "all or nothing" gamble with the constitutional future of the UK; the incessantly negative fearmongering tone of the No campaign; the risky and economically destabilising "you ain't keeping the pound" game of economic brinkmanship; and the unedifying spectacle of the three establishment party leaders making a haphazard dash to Scotland to make some undeliverable last minute promises.

There is plenty of detail and analysis in the original article, but for reasons of space I chose to leave out more detailed analysis of why I think Better Together has been such a strategic mess, which is the reason for this secondary article.

Let's get this absolutely clear before I go any further. Even if the swing to Yes is halted and reversed in the last week before the referendum, and the No campaign somehow manage to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, the 
anti-independence campaign has been completely inept. With the full weight of the political establishment and the corporate media behind them, the anti-independence campaign has still managed to lose control of the way the debate is being framed, and consequently they're losing the debate in the streets and in public meetings across Scotland.

Given the huge advantage of having the mainstream media on their side, the only way to explain the appalling failure of the No campaign is to look at the key personalities and decision makers. In my view the two most obvious politicians to blame for the strategically inept nature of the anti-independence campaign are Alistair Darling and George Osborne.

Alistair Darling

Other than the fact that he is an MP for a Scottish constituency, it's extremely difficult to think of any reason why Alistair Darling was selected as the leader of the anti-independence movement.

It's almost as if the political establishment imagine that the public are such a bunch of feckless halfwits that we'll simply have forgotten that he was the man who rescued the insolvent financial sector with £1.5 trillion in bailouts (over 100% of the GDP of the entire UK at the time) and demanded virtually nothing from the banks in return.

After years of New Labour turning a blind eye to the catastrophic decline of the UK manufacturing sector, Darling's bailouts for the insolvent banks were by far the biggest state subsidies in history.

What makes this grotesque example of "socialism for the rich" so much more offensive is that in his youth Darling was a Trotskyist and a member of the International Marxist Group. It doesn't matter if you're a left-wing or not, a guy who changes his stance from outright communism, to one of blatantly serving the interests of the capitalist financier class at the expense of the public, is clearly not a man to be trusted at all.

George Osborne

George Osborne may not be at the forefront of the anti-independence campaign, but his fingerprints are clearly all over it. The most notable influence he's had is the economically risky game of "you ain't getting the pound" brinkmanship.

Most well informed people know that George Osborne hasn't had a proper job in his entire life other than short stints at data entry and towel folding, and that he has no economics qualifications at all either. What a lot of people don't know is that aside from being the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he is also the chief strategist at Tory party HQ. Osborne has been deeply involved with Conservative Central Office since his decision to become a career politician in 1994. It's worth noting that since Osborne has been involved in Tory party strategic planning, the party has endured its longest run in history without achieving a majority government.

Since the Liberal Democrats helped the Tories sneak into power in 2010 George Osborne has been working tirelessly to extract the costs of Alistair Darling's bankers' bailouts from the poor and ordinary in the UK, causing a huge drop in public spending power, and the flatlining of the UK economy. Osborne's ideological austerity experiment is conclusive evidence that the man is oblivious to, unable to understand, or willfully ignorant of basic macroeconomic theory.

The flatlining of the UK economy that Osborne's ideological austerity experiment has caused, has resulted in him borrowing an incredible £200 billion more than he claimed he would back in 2010. In fact, Osborne has created so much extra debt during his four years as chancellor, that he's added more to the national debt than every Labour government in history combined!

Given that Osborne is so evidently clueless about macroeconomics, it's no surprise at all that he seems to have another blank spot when it comes to uncertainly, which is a hugely important factor in economics.

Nobody with the slightest understanding of how important economic uncertainty is, would ever consider deliberately seeding the Scottish electorate with fear over the future of their currency with "hard man" threats like "No ifs, no buts, we will not share the pound if Scotland separates from the UK" as George Osborne has been doing.

The problem with uncertainty is that it doesn't just affect Scotland when ridiculous threats like this are made, it destabilises the whole United Kingdom economy because economics doesn't exist in a vacuum. If you introduce uncertainty about the future value of the pound, you're clearly going to destabilise markets either side of the border.

In order to minimise the effects of economic uncertainty, the two sides should have sat down together and negotiated a short-term currency union during the process of constitutional separation in the event of a Yes vote. This would have been for the best of both economies, but George Osborne and the 
anti-independence crew clearly give much higher priority to making threats in order to intimidate the Scottish electorate, than they do to minimalising economic uncertainty, and avoiding the worst of its economically destabilising side effects.

No plan B

With inept clowns like Alistair Darling and George Osborne behind the anti-independence strategy, it's no wonder that it's so absolutely hopeless. Neither is it surprising that despite the extraordinary bias of the mainstream media, the Yes campaign are winning the debate on the ground.

One of the biggest indicators of the strategic ineptness of the anti-independence movement is the fact that David Cameron's official spokesperson has openly admitted that the government has made absolutely no contingency plans in case the Scottish electorate choose independence because 
"The government’s entire focus is on making the case for the UK staying together".

That the government has absolutely no plans should Scotland choose independence other than "they ain't sharing the Pound, no matter how much economic damage it causes either side of the border" reveals their endless repetitions of the claim that "Salmond has no plan B" as the nonsensical and profoundly ironic nonsense that it is.

If these people had any strategic nous at all, they wouldn't be automatically assuming that they're going to win, they'd have a contingency plan that amounted to more than "hard man" threats over the future of the Pound, and they certainly wouldn't be using "No plan B" as a favoured propaganda narrative, when it's absolutely clear that they themselves are the ones without anything remotely resembling a contingency plan.


Alistair Darling and George Osborne are clearly two of the most inept Chancellors in history. One was responsible for the biggest display of "socialism for the rich" in economic history despite having once been a Marxist, and the other has created more debt in four years than every Labour government in history combined, and clearly hasn't the faintest clue about important economic stuff like uncertainty and elementary macroeconomics.

With strategic incompetents like this arguing the case for union, it's absolutely no surprise at all that despite all of their advantages, they've run an appalling campaign driving countless moderates and undecideds into the arms of the Yes campaign.

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