When Alistair Darling urged us to believe in the dictum that we are ‘better together’, I think there is probably a very strong sense in which he genuinely believes that to be the case (but I also think, quite cynically, that he is using a very clever tactic here, which may turn out to be a master stroke).
In fairness to Darling, and those behind the ‘no campaign’, the arguments given in favour of maintaining the political status quo, whilst weak, probably still reflect a deeply held conviction, that the best future for Scotland will be one which is secured through an unaltered position within the United Kingdom.
But rather than simply rhyme off the benefits we apparently enjoy as part of the United Kingdom, and remind us of the impending uncertainty that independence would bring, it might help the case somewhat to promote a positive vision for the future.
My view is that the key problems with the unionist strategy are that it fails to offer one single reason why Scotland should not want to regain full responsibility for its own affairs; and it fails to take cognisance of the growing conviction in many quarters that some form of structural change would need to occur in the United Kingdom if the ‘better together’ promise were ever to be fulfilled.
Even if we were better together in the sense promoted by the ‘no campaign’ – the senses in which we are supposed to benefit, such as having a stronger voice in Europe, or a stronger defence arrangement, for example, are all areas in which the current devolution agreement prevents Scotland from autonomously participating and building any strength in the first place – there would still be an urgent need to address the fundamental flaws in the United Kingdom’s corrupt political, economic and sociocultural frameworks.
It might be possible to muster a little sympathy for the ‘better together’ campaigners themselves – because, after all, we are talking about some people’s deeply held beliefs, which ought to be given due consideration and respect – if what they believed in really did have a promising message to deliver for Scotland. But as far as I can see, it doesn’t; and as far as the spin has gone so far, there is little prospect of a positive message being delivered any time soon.
However, here is a cautionary note to finish with: it is one thing to recognise that our current constitutional arrangement is not perfect, and that there are serious problems that need to be addressed in the United Kingdom as it stands; every day the news greets us with another one, piled up on top of another one.
But until the ‘yes campaign’ is in a position to present a detailed and unambiguous vision of what an independent Scotland would look like, and how it would positively improve the personal circumstances of the people of Scotland, doubts will remain in the minds of those waiting to be convinced that a yes vote would be in their best interests.
We live in a society where most people have simply given up on politicians and have little or no interest in the details of our constitutional arrangement. If the ‘yes campaign’ focuses exclusively on the need to change the latter, without clearly justifying it in terms of improved personal circumstances, it may lose some ground.
For many people, the decision will simply come down to what is better for their own individual circumstances, what is left in their pocket after tax, rather than what is better for Scotland as a nation. And that is exactly what Alistair Darling and company are playing on when they talk about being ‘better together’. It is an attempt to make us feel more secure by not changing anything. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be a master stroke for the ‘no campaign’.