Tuesday 9 September 2014

Why the pro-unionist campaign is falling apart

The UK establishment has united together in a desperate effort to protect London rule over Scotland. This collaboration is obvious both in the fact that the three Westminster establishment parties are happy to put aside their differences (as small as they are these days) and join forces in opposition to greater autonomy for Scotland, and from the way that the corporate mainstream media has continued to present desperately slanted, and often outright biased analysis.

The problem for the establishment powers is not that they don't have the power to spread their message, the constant pro-union bias of the mainstream media is testament to the fact they do. The problem is that the message that they have been trying to spread is so hopeless.

In this article I'm going to explore the tactical ineptness of the pro-Union campaign under four main headings.

A reckless all-or-nothing gamble

The first, and probably the biggest mistake from the no camp was David Cameron's absurd decision to hold a gun to the heads of the Scottish electorate in a "with us or against us" binary choice by leaving the Devo Max option off the Independence ballot.

The evidence is clear that Devo Max was actually the preferred option of the Scottish electorate, but Cameron ruled it out in order to fight a battle over the two less popular options because he'd rather risk the entire constitutional future of the United Kingdom, than give the people of Scotland the level of autonomy they actually wanted.

The decision to rule out Devo Max was an absolute gift to Alex Salmond and the Scottish National Party. Instead of trying to make a very difficult argument that the people of Scotland should choose full independence over remaining in the Union but gaining autonomy over pretty much everything apart from defence and foreign policy, he was left with a very easy juxtaposition of full independence against the unacceptable status quo of having the corrupt and complacent Westminster establishment continue to rule over the lives of Scottish people with impunity.

David Cameron's gamble with the constitutional future of the United Kingdom was a shocking display of arrogance and complacency. The fact that he would rather take such a ridiculous gamble than voluntarily offer people the powers they wanted, just goes to show how unfit he is to rule over Scotland, or anyone at all.

Incessant fearmongering

Fear is one of the most powerful human emotions, and it has been known since antiquity that such powerful emotions are strong motivators. There was obviously a decision made by the political establishment to run a predominantly negative fear based campaign against the concept of Scottish independence.

Some of the fearmongering from the No camp has been demeaning and absolutely ridiculous. From publicising absurd underestimates about how much Scottish oil is left, to blatant fearmongering about how an independent Scotland would be too insignificant to protect itself from global terrorism, "too poor, too wee, too stupid" has been a constant theme of the No campaign.

As the Yes vote has gradually surged, and the polls have shown a strong and sustained shift towards Yes, the Westminster establishment have decided to ramp up the fearmongering rhetoric rather than try to change the message that is clearly turning so many people against them.

Thus in the last weeks before the referendum, we've had George Robertson (a true an establishment insider as there's ever been) demeaning his own country as "a minor entity in the north of Britain" during a speech in which he was fearmongering about the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq*, and we've had the billionaire oil man Ian Wood (another establishment insider) talking down the size of Scotland's oil reserves and fearmongering about the future of Scottish infrastructure and services , despite having led a review into the future of Scottish oil just a few months previously which had come up with much higher estimates.

The decision to run an overwhelmingly negative campaign and repeatedly telling the Scottish electorate that they are "too poor, too wee, too stupid" was another humongous tactical error, which allowed the Yes campaign to portray the independence debate as "a message of hope against a message of fear".

A game of dangerous economic brinkmanship

One of the most pervasive fear narratives utilised by the No camp is the insistence that an independent Scotland will lose the Pound, reinforced through constant reiteration of statements like "No ifs, no buts, we will not share the pound if Scotland separates from the UK" from the Chancellor George Osborne.

Fearmongering over the future of the national currency is a classic example of putting the dissemination of a propaganda narrative way above the best interests of the economy. It's understandable why the establishment developed this strategy, because to form any kind of agreement with Alex Salmond and the Yes campaign over the future currency of an independent Scotland could have been seen as pre-negotiating a successful campaign for independence, and it would have cost the no camp one of their best fearmongering strategies into the bargain. However the consequence of the hardline stance against any kind of currency union (short-term or long-term) is now causing economic panic due to the uncertainty over the future currency of Scotland, the value of Sterling, the valuation of Scottish businesses, and innumerable trade implications. This panic is getting so bad that the financial analysts and mainstream press have begun running stories of how independence could cause a devastating "Eurozone-style economic crisis".

All of this economic uncertainty and the consequential risk aversion and potential of market panics could easily have been avoided had both sides of the debate agreed on a short-term currency union during the process of constitutional separation, should it come to pass. Had it been clear to the markets that an independent Scotland would keep the Pound for a predetermined period (five years, ten years) during the separation process, much of this economically damaging uncertainty could have been avoided.

In playing a dangerous game of economic brinkmanship over the future stability of the UK and Scottish economies, George Osborne and the establishment figures who devised this "you ain't having the pound" narrative have shown their willingness to blatantly ignore the economic best interests of both economies in order to do little more than try to intimidate the Scottish electorate. Such a hardline stance over the future of the Pound is an appallingly risky strategy, and should a vote for independence actually trigger an economic crisis, the people who devised this deliberate policy of promoting fear and economic uncertainty should be held accountable for their actions.

Undeliverable last minute promises

The opinion polls have been showing a gradual increase in the pro-Independence vote, but this didn't stop the establishment going into full panic mode when the first big poll predicted a win for the Yes camp.

That the political establishment and the mainstream press are in panic mode is unquestionable. Witness the absurd decision of the three leaders of the Westminster establishment parties to abandon the weekly spectacle that is Prime Minister's Questions, in order to head up to Scotland in a desperate attempt to shore up the failing pro-Union campaign, and also the talk of "new powers" for Scotland with less than two weeks to go before the referendum date.

The problem with the three establishment leaders making a haphazard dash for Scotland, is that two of them (Clegg and Cameron) are politically toxic in the eyes of the Scottish electorate, and the other is at best a bloody huge disappointment, not least because of his unfathomable decision to share a political platform with the other two in the first place. These three showing up in Scotland is more likely to boost the Yes campaign by reminding the Scottish electorate how bloody awful the Westminster establishment is, rather than turn the tide back towards the pro-Unionist camp.

The mainstream media has been awash with stories of how the political parties are "scrambling" to offer Scotland "new powers". If any politicians do attempt to offer new last-minute changes to the powers on offer to Scotland (after tens of thousands of people have already sent their postal ballots), they would clearly be in breech of Electoral Commission guidelines (since 
the Purdah rules came into force, government departments have been barred from announcing new policies or initiatives), and would surely be guilty of prejudicing the referendum and forcing a new one.

In my view the sheer inaccuracy of the mainstream press coverage referencing the scramble to offer these "new powers" is deeply misleading (see footnotes for examples). Even though both are largely ineffectual and discredited regulators, I'd expect a fair few complaints to the Press Complaints Commission and the Electoral Commission over such misleading, and potentially prejudicial coverage.


Time will tell whether the pro-Union campaign was run badly enough to drive Scotland out of the Union (not much time though, with the referendum due just nine days after the publication of this article).

Whatever the case, the pro-Union campaign has been a disaster. The three main establishment parties (Labour, Conservatives and Lib Dems) aligned against the SNP and a few minor players like the Scottish Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party, and virtually the entire mainstream media aligned against the Sunday Herald, a few independent websites like Wings Over Scotland and a some celebrity Twitter accounts (Frankie Boyle, Irvine Welsh, Kevin Bridges ...) should have ensured an absolute rout for the No campaign.

With the odds stacked so ridiculously in their favour like this, anything but a landslide victory for No would represent a very poorly fought campaign indeed.

In my view the failure of the Unionist campaign can once again be apportioned to establishment complacency. Perhaps they imagined that they couldn't loose if they had had the entire mainstream media on their side, twisting every story to suit the Unionist agenda. However what this completely unbalanced media situation resulted in was a massive grass roots campaign from the Yes camp. If the No camp were going to completely dominate the media, they the Yes camp would dominate in the streets of Scotland. In my view the surge in support for Yes is down to the face-to-face communication that comes of political activism and direct engagement.

Hopefully if Scotland does achieve independence, these political activists and grass roots campaigns won't just sit back an relax after a job well done, they'll realise that "people power" and political activism really can overcome the collective might of the political establishment, the mainstream media and countless corporate interests. Once they have proven this power to themselves, the people of Scotland will have no excuse for not holding the future government of Scotland to account and demanding the kinds of progressive social change Scotland so badly needs after decades of neglect by the Westminster establishment.

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* It is worth considering that the rise of Isis is something that probably never would have happened anyway without a. the invasion and occupation of Iraq, b. the West's interference in the Syrian civil war or c. the west's support for the financial backers of ISIS in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

A non-exhaustive list of misleading "New Powers" coverage in the mainstream media:

The Guardian: "Westminster leaders will on Monday scramble to agree an offer of more powers to Scotland if it remains within the union in an effort to prevent a yes vote in next week's referendum." - which clearly implies that such powers have not already been agreed before purdah.

New Statesman: "
Westminster prepares to offer further powers to Scotland - but is it too little, too late?" - an extremely misleading headline, unless of course the establishment parties actually intend to break the electoral rules and invalidate the referendum!

Express Tribune: "
The British government scrambled Sunday to pledge greater autonomy for Scotland, after a poll put the pro-independence camp ahead just 11 days before the referendum on separation." - clearly implies a causation between the poll result and the offer of new powers.

Wall Street Journal: "
The British government promised new powers for Scotland in areas including taxes, spending and welfare if it votes to remain in the U.K. after a weekend opinion poll showed a surprising surge in support for Scottish independence." - again implying a non existent causation

Reasons Scotland should vote Yes - 1: Uncertainty
Reasons Scotland should vote Yes - 2: We don't need your pity
Reasons Scotland should vote Yes - 3: Westminster complacency

A letter to Scottish voters

How Labour completely dropped the ball on Scottish independence
The "unpatriotic left" fallacy 
"Bedroom Tax" - tax the poor to subsidise the rich
Asset stripping "bankrupt" Britain with Gideon & Dave
The Tory ideological mission
Margaret Thatcher's toxic neoliberal legacies


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