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22 January 2013

Where is the evidence
for the daft claims of
Ian Hamilton?

Brian Fitzpatrick

Ian Hamilton QC

Many years spent at the coalface of the Scottish Bar ought to have taught Ian Hamilton QC that bald assertions only go so far in the absence of evidence (10 January). Are we really to uphold the daft claim that 'the Nos are led from London'? Just where is the evidence, save for prejudice, for that?

It reeks of the stale claims against 'London Labour' manufactured by the SNP spin machine and too readily taken up by the less talented sections of Scottish political journalism at a time when the then prime minister hailed from North Queensferry and the Mail and its allies ranted about a Scottish 'takeover'. But why let mere pesky facts impede an emotive argument? Admittedly, despite all the anxious protestations that Alasdair Gray's outburst re the drear effects of English colonisers on Scottish cultural life were the eccentric rantings of an ageing writer, nothing apparently excites the nats' base more than declaiming the antics of perfidious Albion, real or, more usually, imagined.

Therein lies the problem for Ian Hamilton, Mr Salmond and co. Unable, and at the moment unready, to extend the appeal of their argument beyond their existing support, it seems instead we are to be treated to premature outrage about the likely referendum outcome. Just how dare the blasted opposition not conduct this debate in the terms sought to be set by the secessionists.

Let's examine some of Ian's assertions: 'History is against continued union. History is on the side of independence'. Really? Then why was his leader so determined to falsely assert, all serious evidence to the contrary, that there would no change to Scotland's place in the 'ever closer' union that is the European Union and why has every recently emerged European state moved rapidly to accede to the EU?

Why, if independence is the natural default of nations, does Mr Swinney tell us that all will be fine because monetary and financial policy will be determined by the Bank of England, working to priorities set by a chancellor no longer subject to pressure from Scotland? Why the reassurances that we will still access sterling through a (non-existent) sterling zone and move freely through these islands under the terms of an equally non-existent common travel area? All of these, of course, being answers secured only through the sustained cross-examination by the likes of Alistair Darling and Better Together on what is, of course, the key policy of the nationalists ever since the 1930s. In a democracy, history is what the people decide.

There is strength in the union. There is collective clout in the union. Good arguments certainly for Europe but even better ones when made for the union that is Britain. Like most Scots I value the home we built together: the union of the NHS, the welfare state, the BBC and so many more shared values and institutions. The union where working people joined and join together to improve their lot and, in doing so, transformed this shared land and did so in the teeth of adversity and opposition. While nat true believers look southwards and see only problems and 'colonisers' (Gray, Fiona McLeod MSP et al), most Scots still look south and see friends and family and people very much like themselves.

As we move towards 2014, that majority will resist the siren temptation to be diverted from support of the union by that odd mixture of outraged upset and truculent arrogance evidently coming to the fore of much of the nationalists' more vocal advocacy. The nats condemn the paucity of their opponents' rhetorical 'cupboard' only because they realise that the Scottish public have now closely inspected their own nationalist cupboard and found its contents deeply unappetising. They sense that the argument, as well as the spirit of the times, is moving away from them. Were the mood of our nation akin, say, to Latvia or Lithuania emerging from under the Soviet heel that national sense would be palpable – when clearly it is not.

Unlike Ian, I have been out on the streets when Better Together have been campaigning and, from the responses received from ordinary Scots, the nationalists should be very concerned. Mr Salmond, for one, has had his Blair moment: where once many saw him as 'standing up for Scotland', his tired combo of chutzpah, bluster and lies now fails to impress the only jury that matters.

The nationalist response to an unfavourable political environment might of course be to seek to engage that legitimate debate but, more likely, will revert to name-calling and the disparaging of good men and good Scots like Messrs Darling and Robertson (whose views surely are just as worthwhile of attention as Ian's?). Their problem is that the rest of us disagree with their key policy and their world view of the coming vote doesn't permit that fellow Scots might not share their views without being, at heart, poor dupes.

We might wait awhile before 'Quisling' starts rearing its head afresh as part of the exchanges (admittedly a more difficult area for any perceptive nationalist) but don't expect too long an interval. A good start to getting the good debate professed to be sought might be to acknowledge the bona fides of your opponent.

Brian Fitzpatrick is an advocate and former Labour MSP