Category Archives: No campaign

Do Better Together deep down want an independent Scotland?

yes? no? maybe.
yes? no? maybe. by Visionello, on Flickr.
Linguists have established various rules for how people interact with each another, the so-called Gricean Maxims. These rules can be broken, but they still underpin the way people interpret what they hear.

One of these rules is the Maxim of Relation, which is often described as “Be relevant!”

The consequence of this is that when Better Together ask questions of the Yes campaign, such as their lenghty 500 questions, there is an assumption that they are relevant, that they aren’t just scaremongering by asking pointless questions.

In other words, Better Together are saying between the lines that they would support a Yes vote if somebody would just answer all their questions satisfactorily.

I don’t believe for a second that any prominent No campaigners will change side if they get enough answers, but my point is that people interpret their questions as if they would.

Better Together are basically saying that they’d love to see an independent Scotland, but that they are concerned whether it’s feasible and need some reassurances in order to recommend a Yes.

This is possibly an excellent strategy, given that this is probably quite representative of how many Scots currently feel.

It strikes me as somewhat odd, however, that Better Together don’t tell us that Scottish independence is a fundamentally bad idea. If even they don’t believe in the Union deep down, why do they bother?

A No campaign fundamentally opposed to Scottish independence would presumably run a completely different campaign. They would say things like “Who would make a better job at running the country — Westminster or Holyrood?” “Would you rather your pension was in the hands of Salmond or Cameron?” “Why give real powers to a mere region?” “Don’t risk losing the protection of British nuclear weapons!” “The House of Lords is a superior way to curtail the powers of a democratically elected parliament!” “Vote with your heart, vote for Britain!”

In short, Better Together have decided to run a negative “Yes, but ….” campaign instead of a positive “No” campaign. I wonder whether this was a conscious decision, or whether they just are fearties who deep down want to see an independent Scotland as much as the rest of us?

The positive case for the Union in 1707

Imperial Wine Gallon, 1707
Imperial Wine Gallon, 1707, a photo by east_lothian_museums on Flickr.
When Better Together and other unionists are asked to present the positive case for the Union, they tend to struggle.

Most of the time, they simply mention some past achievement, such as winning the two World Wars, but if pressed, they either come up with something that isn’t of great benefit to most Scots (e.g., the UK has more embassies than an independent Scotland is likely to have, for instance in South Sudan), or they make a thinly veiled threat and say that it’s positive because it won’t happen if we vote No (e.g., there are currently no border posts on the English-Scottish border — forgetting that manned border posts are rapidly disappearing all over Europe).

However, if you go back to 1707 when the Union was formed, it would have been relatively easy to present a positive case, such as:

  • Sharing the colonies — given that Scotland had practically none, this was of great benefit to Scotland.
  • Getting protected by the Royal Navy instead of being hassled by it.
  • Access to sell products in England — at this time there were lots of trade barriers between countries.
  • A guarantee that Scotland wouldn’t get invaded by the English — again, a real possibility at the time.

I’m not saying that creating a political union with England in 1707 was necessarily the right choice, but you could at least put up a positive case for it. However, the modern international set-up (including organisations like the EU, NATO, WTO and the CoE) means that these arguments have lost their potency.

Of course nobody knows the future, but there aren’t many signs that all the current international organisations will be abolished any time soon, and unless that happens, it’s unlikely there will be a positive case for small countries to attach themselves to their largest neighbour.

Is Fife a kingdom, and is Scotland a country?

Scotland ~ Fife
Scotland ~ Fife, a photo by e r j k p r u n c z y k on Flickr.
Fife is a bonnie part of Scotland, but obviously when it’s called the Kingdom of Fife it’s just a way to commemorate the fact that it was a Pictish kingdom many centuries ago. The word “kingdom” thus has a ceremonial meaning in the collocation “Kingdom of Fife”, but a real, current meaning when we say “the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.

The reason for this brief introduction to the meanings of the word “kingdom” is that I wonder whether something similar is true with regard to Scotland’s status as a country.

Most Scots — and definitely everybody on the Yes side — see Scotland as a real country, which just happens to have formed a political union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

However, I wonder whether some people on the No side mean something completely different when they say that Scotland is their country, for instance when they insist that they love their country just as much as the Yes campaigners. Do they interpret “country” in a ceremonial fashion, just like the meaning “kingdom” has in the “Kingdom of Fife”? So do they actually mean that they love their region (Scotland), presumably as part of a real country (i.e., the UK)?

This is important because it relates to the representation Scotland gets in Westminster.

As Wings over Scotland put it recently:

If you’re claiming “my country” as being Scotland, then it’s a country [that] only gets the government its people vote for around 40% of the time. The argument from the No camp is that Scots have a vote in electing UK governments like everyone else does, and should just shut up and accept it if their wishes get over-ruled by the much larger population of England, because that’s democracy and people in Newcastle get Tory governments they didn’t vote for either.

But that only works if you’re saying that your “country” is the UK. The minute you identify Scotland as being a country in its own right, that argument disintegrates. Regions of a country have to accept the overall will. Countries should get the governments they vote for.

In other words, if Scotland is a country, then the UK is a union and Scotland should get many more seats in the House of Commons. It’s also logical that Scotland has a parliament, a separate legal system and even its own football team.

However, if Scotland is just a region which is ceremonially called a country, then the current representation in the House of Commons is completely fair, but it’s then a bit strange why Scotland needs a parliament when other regions don’t (in this world view, four regions have parliaments — Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and London — but eight don’t: NE England, NW England, Yorkshire and The Humber, East Midlands, West Midlands, East of England, SE England and SW England), and there’s absolutely no justification for Scotland having a separate legal system and its own football team.

I’d like people from the No campaign to tell me what kind of country they consider Scotland to be.

Celebrating a Scottish victory

Alex Salmond waving the Saltire.
Alex Salmond waving the Saltire.
I wasn’t going to write anything about Salmond waving the Saltire after Andy Murray’s victory, but the reactions — especially from unionist quarters — have been so strong that I decided to have a quick look at it.

I have seen four reasons given for being upset at Salmond’s wee stunt:

  1. It’s against the rules of Wimbledon’s All England Club.
  2. It would have been OK for normal people to wave a Saltire, but a First Minister should be above such plebeian antics.
  3. The Saltire is a symbol of the Yes campaign, and as such it shouldn’t be displayed at a non-political event.
  4. Doing it behind Cameron’s head was wrong.

Let’s examine these in turn:

The Queen of Denmark, the Crown Princess and the Crown Prince at a handball match.
The Queen, the Crown Princess and the Crown Prince of Denmark at a handball match. No stiff upper lip there.

  1. Against the rules: While it might be against the rules, it’s hardly a huge crime, and I somehow doubt anybody would have been mortally offended if Đoković had won and the Prime Minister of Serbia had pulled out a Serbian flag.
  2. Not something a First Minister should do: It appears to me to be part of the so-called “Scottish cringe” that important people should act like the English upper class, and such people would celebrate a tennis victory with a stiff upper lip. However, there’s no reason why this should be the case. In Denmark, the royals and important politicians don’t act like Englishmen, and neither did Scots before the union with England. As Michael Fry writes in The Union:

    [During] James VI’s journey south in 1603 to claim the throne of his late cousin, Elizabeth of England, the people swarmed to welcome him in almost intolerable numbers. […] He asked what all these people wanted, and smooth-talking Englishmen replied they came of love to see him. He cried in Scots: “I’ll pull doon ma breeks and they shall see ma erse.” When he had spoken like that at home, his people answered in kind. That was how Scots treated their kinds, worthy of loyalty but on a level with themselves.

  3. The Saltire is the symbol of the Yes campaign: If this is now the case, it follows that the Union Jack is now the symbol of the No campaign, and both should be banned from non-political events until the referendum has taken place. This would be rather perverse, given that both flags primarily are symbols of their countries, not of political movements.
  4. Not behind Cameron: I fail to see how waving a Saltire behind Cameron’s head can be seen as offensive. Downing Street were flying a Saltire that very same day, and Cameron is the Prime Minister responsible for Scotland, as well as being of part-Scottish descent. If I had been Cameron, I would have turned round and waved it together with Salmond.

To conclude, it doesn’t strike me that any of the reasons given for being outraged really hold water, so it’s more likely it’s simply the No campaign trying to throw mud at their opponents.

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.

Better Together’s donation rules

Yes Scotland has some very easy donation rules: Anybody can donate up to £500 (even people who have absolutely no connexion to Scotland), but to donate more than that you need to be domiciled in Scotland. Fair and easy.

On the other hand, Better Together’s donation rules really are somewhat difficult to comprehend. They seem to be happy to allow donations from the rest of the UK, but possibly only from “real Scots”, as they like to call them:

Yes Scotland and Better Together donation rules

Let’s have a look at all the Better Together boxes:

  1. It’s clear Better Together will accept unlimited donations from “real Scots” living in Scotland.
  2. They haven’t said much about donations from “foreigners” in Scotland. It’s possible that they (like the SNP and Yes Scotland) consider everybody living here to be Scottish, in which case they’ll allow unlimited donations from this source, too.
  3. I’ve written “unlimited” in this box because otherwise there’s no way that Ian Taylor (born, educated and domiciled in England, but with Scottish ancestry) would have been allowed to donate £500k.
  4. I’m basing this on this quote from The Herald: “Better Together campaign director Blair McDougall […] said he would refuse to take cash from foreign donors, but would accept UK-wide donations up to £500.”
  5. Better Together’s website contains this: “we will ask all donors to confirm they are not from overseas; we will check that anyone who gives a donation of over £500 is not from overseas”. So people from abroad can still donate up to £500 if they pretend to live in the UK.
  6. Same as above. It appears Better Together don’t differentiate between “real Scots” and “foreigners” when they live outwith the UK.