It’s a puzzling paradox. Having put the prospect of a referendum on independence on the furthest edge of the political horizon, the SNP seems rather in a hurry to launch the Yes campaign.
According to newspaper reports today, the “Yes, Scotland” campaign will be launched later this week, with two and a half years of activity to persuade the populace to back the shift from devolution to independence. Part of me is thrilled; you don’t spend much of your life, believing, hoping and at various points, campaigning for Scottish independence not to be excited that its prospect is within reach.
Which is why the timing of the campaign to secure a Yes, vote is crucial. As is its launch. And I fear the SNP, caught up in its own sense of indefatigability as well as in the minutiae of its own issues, has called it wrong.
From the party’s and the leadership’s perspective, there are sound reasons for launching the campaign this week. The team is in place, as is the war chest, the messaging and the furniture of modern campaigning.
But there are also narrower political considerations. Euan McColm suggested, in the aftermath of the local government elections, that “Salmond’s ‘unstoppable’ juggernaut seems to have its first roadblock”. Certainly, the momentum has slowed; Labour proved that it is not down and out; in some areas, the SNP did spectacularly well but in others, it failed to make the gains it and others expected. What better way of re-gaining the initiative than to launch the biggest campaign for hearts and minds we have ever seen?
Then there is the small matter of Leveson. The First Minister heads there shortly, apparently willing to share with the Inquiry all that he has so far failed to discuss here in Scotland. There is a chance that what the FM has to reveal, under oath, draws a line under the Murdoch thing and shows that he, his Government and Scotland are so far removed from shenanigans “down there” to enable everyone to move on.
But there is also a risk that what is revealed at Leveson sparks a potential firestorm around the FM which grows in heat and intensity during the long grass of the summer recess. For the media strategists, this week offers a clear window where the launch cannot get buried by other issues or agendas. This is true only if you take a very narrow view of what matters in domestic politics, and sadly that is what we have been doing in recent years here in Scotland.
But I’m not sure, people will agree that the timing is right.
You don’t have to stray far this weekend in the news agenda to find the doomsayers. While there are hopeful signs that a way ahead for the Eurozone has at least been signposted, it remains to be seen if Greece’s participation in the currency can be maintained. And if it leaves, what then happens to the other economic dominoes waiting to fall – Spain, Portugal, Ireland and even Italy – is almost too scary to contemplate. Some are suggesting we need more bank bail-outs; others are calling for them to be allowed, this time, to fail. Only Germany appears willing to hold the austerity line; remarkably, the UK has snuck in the back door of the G8 summit and emerged out the front at the side of President Obama, giving the impression that a strategy for growth was theirs all along.
Having read my fill of analysis of what is going on and consulted a few who know about such things, I am none the wiser. It’s all too complex but like most other ordinary punters out there, I can discern that in the big scheme of things, we’re not in a good place and it could be about to get a whole lot worse. As we saw last week, with downgrading of banks’ ratings and plummeting share prices, things move fast. We may or may not be where we started, with Greece still teetering on the brink and Spain still staggering along. By Friday, we could, however, be in a very different place in geo-economic and political terms.
There was good news for Scotland this week, with unemployment falling faster here than in the rest of the UK and announcements on jobs. And the outcome from the G8 looks like a victory for the Scottish Government’s call for investment to create growth in the likes of its “shovel-ready projects”. But the Scottish Government has been largely silent on recent developments on the international economic and political stage. When we need it to assume the mantle of a government with pretensions to full potency, it prefers not to actually.
Yet, I reckon people would be very interested in hearing the Scottish Government’s view of what is happening in Europe, and what the implications are for Scotland, now, and as we might be, as an independent country with a seat at the European table. And I’m guessing they’d like a little honesty about our current and future prospects – from all politicians.
In 2011, the SNP received an overwhelming mandate from the Scottish people to carry on doing what it had done so well. With the other parties posted missing in action, only the SNP had offered leadership – and competent leadership in which they could trust.
Now, with the economic ringwraiths circling at macro level, as well as micro for many households, many people want to be reassured that we have a Government absolutely focused on the job at hand.
What matters to many of the so-called persuadables right now is the threat of joblessness, of mortgage hikes, of drowning in a sea of personal debt proving too stubborn to shift, of having to put the heating on in May because it’s so cold and can we really afford to be doing that, of how to service and MOT the car at the end of the month, of what can be cut back from the food shop to keep the cost down and how to afford new shoes for the kids and a night out for the anniversary.
And this is just what is keeping those with means and some level of security awake at night. The worries and concerns of those sitting below this waterline are even more fundamental.
But whatever their circumstances, chances are, few people outwith the political bubble are excited about the imminent launch of the Yes, Scotland campaign. Two and a half years might not seem very long to the SNP’s team, when there’s so much still to do to achieve independence, but for ordinary voters, it’s a lifetime away. And they’d really rather their Government concentrate on what’s bothering them this week than their own political priorities.
The timing of the launch of the Yes, Scotland campaign is important, particularly if the timing is wrong. And choosing to launch at the end of this week is the wrong time. Now’s neither the day nor the hour to see the front o’ battle lour, to shamelessly misquote Burns.