Disorientated Scots confused on independence

Though a "No" vote still looks highly likely, the polls show preferences for independence are all over the place, partly because a docile Scottish media is scared of getting on the wrong side of the SNP by telling the truth

Twilight in Edinburgh
Tom Gallagher
On 27 January 2014 16:55

A brace of weekend polls offers comfort to both sides as the campaign on Scotland’s future inches slowly towards the September referendum. ICM  shows the independence cause up 5 points to 37 percent, while over at SKY, another poll reveals that 46 percent of Scottish respondents would be ‘dismayed’ to wake up to an independent Scotland.

Perhaps more significantly, 46 percent of respondents in the rest of the mainland UK would ‘wouldn’t mind’ waking up to such a result. There must be different reasons for this. A lot of people south of Hadrian’s Wall now assume that most Scots are ‘nationalists’ and that we are no longer ‘all in it together’.

Some may assume that the SNP stands for genuine independence and good luck to the Scots if they at least have the chance to build their own country according to their own wishes. Others, with memories of the heavily Scottish-influenced New Labour era still fresh, might say a big good riddance to those big state ‘control freaks’.  

The ex-Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling continues to make  good speeches but the ‘Better Together’ side has not so far been that effective in articulating a sense of Britishness based on enduring traditions of personal liberty, representative government, and a sense of common belonging not necessarily bound up with  ethnic, linguistic, and religious origins.

Arguably, in Scotland, political rights arrived later than in the rest of the UK. Elites, only slowly altering in composition, hoarded power, and decisions continued to be made at their discretion rather than owing to the strength of common law which (almost  uniquely in the English-speaking world), has a relatively weak influence in Scotland.

Alex Salmond’s SNP is content to exploit these traditions of centralisation and occasional arbitrary rule for its own ends. Its supporters have not been bashful about wishing to endorse a recent report that effectively recommends the expropriation of land from its mainly foreign owners. 

His government’s decision to legislate so as to appoint a guardian for every single Scot up to the age of 18 has not produced the outcry which I think would have resulted in the rest of the UK.

But it is possible to exaggerate the mental gulf that separates north Britain from the rest. The ICM poll, with its positive news for the SNP, also showed that one-third of Scottish voters wish to quit the EU and over half desire tighter curbs on immigration.

There are few outlet for the articulation of such views in the Scottish media with even the Scottish Daily Mail now being run by an editor formerly with the Scottish Sun when, under instructions from Rupert Murdoch, it was resolutely pro-independence.

The SNP continues to harass independent power centres, not just the media, but also business, the universities and local government. It makes rather a mockery of the recent claim by Alex Salmond that a Scotland ruled by him and his followers will be England’s ‘biggest pal’.

An independence regime which tightly manages political and economic freedoms is bound to produce poor economic results for Scotland. All the signs are that it will resemble the post-imperial states of post-1918 central Europe rather than Canada or New Zealand.

The rulers of these struggling new states often used bellicose nationalism directed at their old overlord or minorities attached to the previous era, to cling to legitimacy. Britain, rather than being  ‘a best pal’ is likely to be branded as an alien construction that  hampered Scottish progress in times past.

The ICM poll showed that, among Scots, there is a huge amount of uncertainty about what a post-British future would involve. This disorientation is likely to benefit the side with the slickest campaigning machine, currently ‘Yes for Scotland’.

And it is unlikely to dissipate as long as a Scottish media dominated by careerists fearful of provoking the SNP’s wrath, offers an often tepid and highly evasive account of where the future might lead.

Argyll Publications published Tom Gallagher’s book, Divided Scotland: Ethnic Friction and Christian Crisis last summer. Tom has long been a regular contributor to The Commentator. He is working on a new book which we will announce in due course. Pofessor Emeritus in politics (Bradford Univesity) Gallagher is a Glaswegian, currently living in Edinburgh

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