Better Together already lacks reasons to persuade us to stay

Last week, Better Together – the no campaign that isn’t – launched.  I waited for the analysis, the acres of print picking apart every sentence and nuance and then putting it all back together again in a form that suits the journalists.  But there was very little, except for in the Scotsman for whom keeping the referendum in the news has become an obsession.  Whether we like it or not.

Either the journalists were largely content with the launch’s achievements or – after two hours of hearing earnest testimony from ordinary people – they were bored into submission.

But apart from a nice speech from Alistair Darling – and let’s not be churlish, it was a good speech – there was nothing really to report.  It’s not even clear who’s leading this charabanc.  Darling yes, but Johann Lamont was there too.  Apparently, Annabel Goldie and Charles Kennedy represent the other parties, but Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie appeared in some of the photos.  Kezia Dugdale, Labour’s fresh faced Lothians MSP, was given a starring role interviewing some of the ordinary people who believe in the Union, so she too merited a few lines.  A cast of thousands might seem like a strength, though beware the old maxim – never mind the quality, feel the width.

The leaflet produced to accompany the launch purports to spell out how we are Better Together.  But the retreaded statements offer nothing new, come precariously close to sare-mongering and are specious nonsense.  Yes, there are thousands of Scots employed in UK government roles, but a fully independent Scottish government would need these jobs.  Indeed, there would be more government jobs available to Scots than are currently.  In any event, with the ConDems at the helm, by the time we get to 2014, there could be far fewer of these folk in government/public sector jobs thanks to their austerity policies.

There were other vacuous claims in the leaflet but there isn’t a version on the threadbare website to help me recall what they were.  Never mind, if I tell my friends about Better Together, I can have a free badge.  Given that it doesn’t specify that I say nice things, I expect mine in the post.  Or do blog readers not count?

If YesScotland seemed not to have all its ducks in a row when it launched, then Better Together appears not to have rounded its ducks up yet.   I’m all for plain language and making things easy for everyone to understand, but I think we need a little more intellectual rigour than “times are really tough at home and really turbulent internationally“.  Nor do I think the fact that “we have Embassies around the world” will turn out to be a deal-clincher.

For all the claims that there is a positive case to be made for staying in the UK, Better Together has, so far, done very little to propose it, other than trot out the same tired, old scaremongering arguments, subtly disguised as reasons.  They are trying to be positive but they just can’t help themselves.

Nor were they helped by the Prime Minister, David Cameron.  Just as Alistair Darling donned his cloak of darkness to opine that independence represented a “one way ticket to send our children to a deeply uncertain destination” (an accompanying shiver was obligatory), up pops the PM in London to set out his stall for more welfare reform.

The ink is not yet dry on the last lot, and very little of it has actually been implemented.  Already, though, the cultural shift has started with disabled people, with very real and genuine conditions which limit their ability to work without support, are being hounded off their benefits.  Lone parents are being told – despite there being no law yet in force – that unless they agree to work-related activity, their benefits will be stopped.   Citizens Advice Bureaux and specialist helplines are chokka with people burnishing threatening letters from DWP.

Yet, the big changes have still to come.  Helpfully – for the Yes Scotland campaign – they will hit some time in early 2014.  No matter, the PM is rolling up his sleeves and shoring up the core support in the marginal seats in middle England by promising more.  Vulnerable people are, after all, an easy target – much easier than bankers and tax avoiders.

Key among his proposals is a suggestion that regional benefit levels could be set, enabling the UK government to provide a lesser support payment to a family with a disabled child in Scotland than in the South East of England, justifiable on the grounds of higher living costs there and ignoring completely the fact that such families have higher living costs more generally.

But Better Together insists that our interdependence is one key reason why we are stronger in the United Kingdom.  Shame no one told the Prime Minister then.

And herein lies the anti-independence campaign’s biggest problem.  With hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts still to come, with austerity on the menu for the foreseeable future, with a scale of welfare reform likely to touch every single household and family in Scotland, and with a UK Government determined to dismantle all that we hold dear across these islands, it will become increasingly difficult to state with any authority that we really are better together.

Just as we need cogent reasons to vote to go, we will also need persuasive arguments to stay.  The latter might be in short supply by autumn 2014.

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11 thoughts on “Better Together already lacks reasons to persuade us to stay

  1. The last paragraph is the most interesting since it deals with what can be done with politcal power, which is what the crux of the issue is.

    The problem for the SNP is that the answer is not much. See here:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-18402409

    Swinney attacks Osborne for not promoting growth, but does he really believe that Gideon is sitting in #11 going “I’m not bovvered about that”, of course he isn’t! The problem is he can’t do anything about it. Surely the Euro crisis demonstrates clearly the limits of political power? What’s Swinney’s solution? Here it is – “Independence will provide us with new tools – tax credits for example – which we could use to create a step change in R & D in Scotland”. It’s just laughable.

    Should we stay or should we go? It probably won’t make any difference either way. Political power is not the effective force that those who weild it would have us believe.

  2. Don’t think I’ve heard much detail from either campaign, First Minister Salmond does shout alot, though he never actually says much!
    “All we hold dear” was that a comment on our welfare system? if so, can’t say I’ve been to impressed by it over the years.

  3. The ‘no’ campaign is defending the status quo and is, at this stage, well in the lead. People understand the status quo and so the ‘no’ campaign doesn’t have to say much. People appear to want the status quo with more devolved power. The ‘no’ campaign will say more about that nearer the date of the referendum. It won’t saying anything too soon because it doesn’t want to reward Salmond’s second question opportunism. He seems to recognise that there isn’t a majority in favour of independence but that he could claim credit for a significant increase in devolved authority, present it as a score draw and a further step on the road. Pragmatically the onus is on the anti-status quo campaign to explain why Scots should want to change and every time it does explain, its words will be picked apart. This is deeply frustrating for the ‘yes’ campaign, but it’s how it’s going to be for the next two years.

  4. “””””””””””Yet, the big changes have still to come. Helpfully – for the Yes Scotland campaign – they will hit some time in early 2014. No matter, the PM is rolling up his sleeves and shoring up the core support in the marginal seats in middle England by promising more. Vulnerable people are, after all, an easy target – much easier than bankers and tax avoiders.”””””””””””””

    This heartbreaking situation is only preventable with independence. I hope the Scots look very carefully into the abyss from this side of the border and understand that with the Barnet formula, a reduction in england’s public sector contribution will result in the same cuts in Scotland to the block grant — then the financial subsidy will be very very clear. For heck’s sake, Scotland get a grip, wake up and smell the austerity and the looming social disaster that will change the very nature and fabric of Scotland for the worse.

  5. I suppose it’s pretty difficult to make a positive argument for what is essentially a negative choice. The problem with the referendum is that while the Yes camp have to make sure enough people come out and vote Yes, the No camp just have to make sure they don’t. They don’t need a positive, coherent campaign to win – they just have to foster as much fear, confusion and ignorance as they can. Indeed, this is their only route to winning, because there IS no positive case for the union.

    Imagine the difference if the question was worded in such a way that independence, rather than the union, became the default position, so that the onus was no longer on the independence camp to get people to come out and vote for independence, and was instead placed on the unionists to get people to come out and vote against it. Essentially, it would be changing the situation from “Scotland will remain in the UK unless you vote for independence” to “Scotland will become independent unless you vote for the union”.

    Wouldn’t it be great if the debate ended up being both sides telling us their genuine reasons for their desired preference? I mean, surely people like Darling don’t really believe Scotland needs protected from the big, bad world? Surely they can see the way the UK is currently headed? The only unionist I can think of whose arguments seem to ring true to their beliefs is Ruth Davidson, who I’ve seen arguing for remaining in the UK for essentially militaristic/imperial reasons, which is entirely in keeping with how you would expect a Tory to view the world.

    The most truthful thing any of these politicians could say is “I don’t believe Scotland should run its own affairs, because I don’t believe Scotland is a country.” After all, this is essentially what the argument boils down to – a country should be in charge of its own destiny.

    • Another, perhaps less recognised reason the NO campaign don’t make a substantive case is that they don’t feel they have to. Belief in the primacy of the British state is for many (most?) British nationalists a matter of profound faith. That “British is best” is, for them, such an obvious, fundamental, divinely ordained truth that they genuinely cannot conceive of it being questioned – far less question it themselves. You can’t formulate a rational argument for something unless and until you are able to consider and assess the arguments against. Hence the vacuousness of the pro-union case.

      And since a person cannot be reasoned out of a position that was not arrived at by reason we may have to accept that many of the Britnats are a lost cause.

      • In philosophy this is what we term a ‘Straw Man’ argument.

      • Then is should be easy to refute. Yet, strangely, you make no attempt to do so.

      • You obviously don’t know what a Straw Man argument (or fallacy) is. Allow me to explain. It is where you basically misrepresent a position in order to refute it. Here is an example:

        Argument: “Belief in the primacy of the British state is for many (most?) British nationalists a matter of profound faith. That “British is best” is, for them, such an obvious, fundamental, divinely ordained truth that they genuinely cannot conceive of it being questioned – far less question it themselves.”

        This allows the conclusion: “since a person cannot be reasoned out of a position that was not arrived at by reason we may have to accept that many of the Britnats are a lost cause”

        You could substitute your ‘Britnat’ for ‘Scotnat’ and the fallacy would be the same, but in both cases the aim would be to misrepresent the opposing position by claiming they were incapable of reason so you can claim you are and refute them on that basis and avoid a reason based debate.

        Or as we in philosophy say, it’s a ‘Straw Man’ argument.

      • You omit from your “argument” any mention of evidence. Which was probably the cleverest thing about your comment. Because you certainly wouldn’t want to draw attention to the fact that there is abundant evidence in the utterances of various British nationalists to support the case for their belief in some sort of British exceptionalism. While the anti-independence campaign is generally remarked upon for the paucity of its reasoned arguments.

        You obviously don’t know what a straw man argument is. If you did, you would realise that, to qualify as such, the argument must be based on an evidently fallacious assumption.

    • Absolutely my view — precisely put

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