Don’t answer the questions!

Questions, a photo by elycefeliz on Flickr.
Better Together’s 500/507 questions (PDF) are interesting because of the irrelevance of most of them.

What I mean by this is not that they should never be answered, but that they really aren’t the make-or-break issues that will make people vote Yes or No to independence. Take this question, for instance:

277. What will replace the Nuclear Liabilities Financing Assurance Board?

Of course some civil servants or a Scottish Government minister will have to consider this during the independence negotiations after a Yes vote, but apart from the current Scottish members of the UK’s Nuclear Liabilities Financing Assurance Board (if there are any), I really can’t see anybody changing their vote from Yes to No or vice versa based on the Yes Campaign’s response to this question. Who would seriously say “They want to create a board with seven members? No way! A maximum of five members, or I’ll be voting No!”?!?

I’m not saying there aren’t any questions that the Yes side should be answering, for instance regarding the independence negotiation team (will it consists only of members of the Yes campaign, or will the opposition be invited to join?) or the creation of a constitution for Scotland (will there be a constitutional convention?). However, the detailed questions are for later, once Scotland is an independent country once more.

I think everybody — the public, the media and the Yes campaign — need to get their heads round the fact that the future is unknown and that we’re choosing a new path for the next two hundred years, not a government for the next four. At the end of the day, it all boils down to who we want to make the decisions that affect our lives — Westminster or Holyrood. Once that question has been decided, the chosen parliament can then proceed to answer all the other questions.

Furthermore, lots of Better Together’s questions are absurd because they wouldn’t be able to answer them for the UK, either, such as this one:

350. How much would a first class stamp cost in a separate Scotland?

Given that Westminster are planning to privatise the Royal Mail soon, I’d be surprised if they actually could tell us what a first class stamp will cost in England in 2016.

A No campaigner might at this point argue that the SNP should at least tell us what their intention is, even if they can’t predict the future with complete certainty. However, this is not a general election, and there’s no guarantee that the SNP will be in power after 2016. It’s quite possible the SNP will disintegrate once their raison d’être has been achieved, so Labour (or at least, a Labour-led coalition) could quite feasibly win the 2016 Scottish Parliament election, and what happens then? Because of this, any question that doesn’t need to be answered before 2016 really should just not be considered yet.

It’s hard not to get the impression that Better Together are asking lots of questions in the hope that Yes Scotland might not have thought of an answer, which will make them look unprepared and stupid, and it’s quite a clever strategy (although asking 507 questions at one time almost gave the game away — it would have been a much better idea to ask one or two a day).

Answering Better Together’s questions means fighting the referendum on their terms. The Yes campaign will therefore have to stop answering most questions and instead hammer home the message that this referendum is not about the exact policies that an independent Scotland will implement on day 1, but about whether Holyrood or Westminster will be in charge of Scotland.

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