‘U-turn now Alex, it’s not too late!’
‘U-turn now Alex, it’s not too late!’ by Alex Porter
With only weeks to go until Scots go to the polls in Scotland’s independence referendum there is one simple fact that stands out above all the clutter of debate – the NO side is winning. That is the key fact that Yes strategists are well aware of. The question for Yes campaigners then is: what can be done about it?
Well, SNP leader Alex Salmond’s usual dazzling tv debating skills didn’t cut it against former Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling in the latest televised referendum debate. Darling was obviously prepared for the occasion in forensic detail by highly professional media managers. The superficiality of political celebrity wrestling isn’t going to turn the tide in favour of team Yes, so what will?
As a former US president once said: “It’s the economy stupid”.
The opinion poll research emphatically shows that a clear majority of voters believe, rightly or wrongly, that their economic interests are best served by remaining inside the Union. Whether you like it or not, that is the key area where the referendum is being won and lost.
So, if team Yes wants to win Scots over, this is where they must take a strategic risk.
Why? When your football team is losing and the final whistle is not far off, the manager knows he either takes a risk or he’s going to lose.
Well, Yes is 2 – 0 down heading into the last 10 minutes. How then can Yes salvage the match?
One key issue gets to the very heart of the economic debate. It is the issue which is currently an open wound for Alex Salmond but one which could be turned into a strength for Yes but also a devastating blow for No. That issue is currency.
There is no reason why the remainder of the UK should be in a currency union with Scotland any more than an independent Scotland would have no choice but to be in the Euro. Darling’s devastating exploitation of that reality in his tv face-off with Salmond was crucial. That debating moment is considered the key point where the veteran SNP leader came off second-best to the man “who once lost an argument with a washing machine”.
Well, if Alex can’t win with that argument for Yes no-one can. This weakness in the SNP’s currency union case has been identified by Better Together as the Achilles Heel which will undermine Yes electoral momentum. Understandably, it is a message that will be driven home by the No campaign all the way to polling day.
Better Together is well-resourced and their army of consultants and analysts will have researched the issues and identified currency as the key target area where the Yes campaign is vulnerable. They are banking on it to see them home to victory next month. It stands to reason then that If there is one place for Yes to attempt to pull off a daring counter-offensive it is currency – the money in the voters’ pockets.
Announce that an independent Scottish currency is now plan A and the No side’s referendum scheme would be thrown into disarray – the tables will be turned.
Yes, many would point to the nationalists changing a key policy in the middle of the campaign but this could be blamed on Unionists who would appear intransigent and determined to keep Scotland outside a currency union – is this the attitude towards Scotland after 300 years of Union together? This logic would ring especially true of those Scots such as Darling and Alexander who would be viewed as taking sides with rUK instead of Scotland.
There are a good number of key advantages to this strategic policy change both economic and political. Yes campaigners could ruthlessly and relentlessly build their case and attack the “failed UK economy” and point to the corruption of the City and the sky-rocketing UK debt as well as the foodbanks as reasons why Scots should escape the Titanic before it sinks.
Such a powerful message would resonate with every family who are struggling to get by, especially Scotland’s poor – much forgotten in the referendum campaign but representing a large chunk of voters.
This is the tactic deployed by Catalan nationalists in relation to the Spanish crisis and there was recently 1.5 million Catalans marching for independence putting Scotland’s independence march of 20, 000 into brutal perspective.
However, this case about jobs and family budgets cannot take place. Why? A currency is only as credible as the economy which supports it. By campaigning to keep sterling, the nationalists are effectively admitting that the UK economy is strong and stable.
This is a campaign critical mistake as it cedes the entire economic argument to Better Together. Think about it: If a Yes campaigner argues that the UK economy is a basket case then the correct response would be: “Why then do you want to keep sterling?”. It’s a powerful question and one independence supporters and the broader electorate would be wise to ask themselves!
By making a U-turn the nationalists would have the much needed game-changer their activists are now desperately looking for and so seize the initiative. Outside of Salmond’s sphere of control just about every other pro-independence organisation and beyond backs an independent Scottish currency. The merits of such a currency then has been thought through and the case can quickly be made.
The remainder of the campaign would thereafter see searching questions over the economic weakness of the UK and City corruption. The financial crisis could be continually pointed to and the UK state described by Yes campaigners as ‘unsustainable’ and ‘a danger to every Scottish family’. Indeed the No campaign’s own leader Alistair Darling – who was Chancellor when the financial crisis was incubating and then routed the UK economy – would himself face uncomfortable scrutiny over his credentials when it comes to that crucial area of the economy.
Imagine the enormous relief for campaigners when they no longer have to defend a policy many and perhaps most do not believe in. Such a policy shift would be welcome by all Yes campaigners. People know that control over monetary powers are the most important economic powers and critical to national sovereignty so the indy currency case would resonate.
Indeed, while the currency union idea has been defended in terms of how it would benefit rUK, there has been no compelling case made that would alleviate genuine fears over the potential dangers that Scots would face inside such a currency union!
For Yes there would be one key advantage to shifting policy on currency – when you advocate an indy currency there is no longer any need for a Plan B. Remember Yes only needs a Plan B because rUK is not compelled to agree to a money union.
And would the No camp have time to co-ordinate their case against Yes which hinges on currency? It has a more disparate group of interests within it – it is a clunky organisation – and so would struggle to devise a lethal case against the Yes campaign by election day. Yes could utilise its one major advantage in the campaign – fleetness of foot.
Napoleon once said ‘no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy’. Yes campaigners have one last opportunity to push for a killer move on the referendum chess board and advise Salmond to ‘U-turn now Alex – it’s not too late’.