A visit from the
spooks, and other
The unionist parties belatedly begin to get their act together and try to focus the independence debate on hard issues such as currency, defence, border control and international recognition. The aim is to counterbalance what they see as a crude emotional appeal based on historical animosity to England with a focus on the political realities of an interdependent globalised world. Alistair Darling presents a reasoned case but is perceived as lacking in charisma compared to Alex Salmond. An ill-judged suggestion that Tony Blair should be brought in to strengthen the unionist cause provokes howls of protest and threats of major disruption at any meeting he might address. The letters pages of the Herald and the Scotsman rival each other in their vituperative exchanges between pro- and anti- unionist factions.
An academic study publishes an analysis of the administrative and legal costs of independence. It attempts to estimate the time-scale and financial implications of the constitutional, contractual and organisational restructuring that detachment from the rest of the UK would entail. The figures seem astronomical and a lengthy process lasting at least a decade is predicted. It is concluded that the main beneficiaries, certainly in the short-term, will be lawyers and bureaucrats and that attention will be deflected from the substantive issues that the country needs to address (jobs, health, education, inequality). The Scottish Government PR machine seeks to discredit the findings and it is rumoured that pressure is put on the academics' university to encourage them to back off. This is denied by both sides. Six months later one of the authors of the study leaves Scotland to take up a senior position in England.
The British intelligence services leak 'information', via the London media, that suggests personal and financial improprieties by leading SNP politicians, with the aim of damaging their credibility. The 'evidence' consists of documents, emails and text messages: their provenance, and the means by which they have been obtained, become more important than their substance. In a speech in the Scottish Parliament, Alex Salmond dismisses the episode and cheekily suggests that if MI5 wanted to run an effective 'sting' operation, they should have sub-contracted the job to Mossad, which at least has a record for competence. His position is strengthened when a secret recording of Tory toffs (a Bullingdon Club reunion perhaps?) catches them discussing ways to undermine Scotland, should the referendum produce a vote in favour of independence.
A left-wing group within the SNP becomes increasingly concerned about what they perceive as a steady drift to the right by the party. They claim that too many compromises are being made in an attempt to secure a 'Yes' vote. In particular, they are uneasy about the cosy relationship that seems to be developing between the party leadership and certain business interests, with promises of low taxation and other financial concessions intended to attract inward investment. The rebels want to see an independent Scotland that is republican, anti-capitalist and committed to the public sector. Commentators forecast the possibility of internal fracture if independence is secured, and perhaps the emergence of a new alignment involving Scottish Labour and SNP rebels. Ironically, even sections of the right-wing press regard this as a desirable counterweight to the possibility of a one-party state.
Plans are revealed for a nationwide celebration, on a scale similar to the queen's jubilee, if Scots favour independence. Supporters see this as a fitting way of marking an important historical event. Critics see it as evidence of the SNP leadership over-reaching itself and draw comparisons with the escalating costs of the Holyrood parliament and the Edinburgh trams fiasco. The highlight of the celebration is to be an entertainment featuring Scottish stars. There is general agreement that singer Susan Boyle and actor David Tennant should feature but less unanimity about comedians Billy Connolly and Frankie Boyle. One wag suggests that a Chic Murray tribute act would capture the theatre of the absurd which Scottish politics has become. The proposal is put on the back-burner until the result is known.
Scottish athletes do well at the Commonwealth Games in 2014. There is much flag-waving and self-congratulation. The first minister is attracted to the idea of a series of photo opportunities featuring himself and gold medal winners, believing that this would create a national mood of success and achievement. It is pointed out, however, that not only would the proximity of his own bulky frame to super-fit athletes be unflattering, but also that it might undermine the deputy first minister's drive to reduce obesity and promote healthy living. He is advised that being photographed with successful entrepreneurs and visiting dignitaries poses fewer risks.
As the referendum approaches, the BBC is attacked for its coverage of the independence debate. It is accused of trivialising important issues by giving too much space to 'rent-a-quote' celebrities. More seriously, nationalists claim that they are given insufficient time on radio and television to present their arguments. Unionists accuse nationalists of wanting to indoctrinate the public. A tabloid newspaper creates a furore when it runs a headline containing the phrase 'Nats-i Propaganda'. Soon afterwards a televised debate gets out of hand, as members of the audience jostle and shout at each other, and eventually it has to be abandoned. In the post-broadcast recriminations, a well-known TV presenter loses his sang-froid. His tantrum is subsequently broadcast on YouTube and attracts thousands of hits.
The weather forecast for the day of the referendum is torrential rain and strong winds. Alternative metaphorical interpretations of the climatic conditions are offered. For unionists, the weather presages a period of storm and turbulence if the vote is in favour of independence. For nationalists, the conditions offer an opportunity to demonstrate resilience and determination in the face of adversity. There is the beginning of a shift in discourse from 'brave new world' to 'rocky road ahead'. Meanwhile the people of Scotland stock up on whisky and prepare either to celebrate or drown their sorrows.
Walter Humes held professorships at the universities of Aberdeen, Strathclyde and West of Scotland and is now a visiting professor of education at the University of Stirling