How Better Together has been losing the argument

The latest poll puts support independence, for the first time, above the ‘No’ vote.  I am still sceptical that this will translate into a ‘Yes’ vote overall – the polls have narrowed, but they have not turned.  It does seem clear, though, that Better Together is having the worst of it – and as things are likely to develop in the short time before the referendum, they will make things worse again.  [An example, on 10th September, is former PM John Major’s cringeworthy assertion that Scots ‘haven’t understood’ the objections to independence, after a two-year campaign.]

There are three fundamental problems with the No campaign.  The first, which at this stage they can do nothing about, is that ‘yes’ has been much better organised – mobilising people in local campaigns, getting them to sign pledges, involving them in discussion.  The second is that Better Together has been relentlessly negative; honorable exceptions Gordon Brown, Douglas Alexander and JK Rowling have tried to inject some positive arguments, but the positives have been drowned out in a sea of negativity.  At this late stage, it is still hard to find what anyone, on either side of the border, is gaining from the Union.  The third problem is that bad arguments have drowned out good ones.  There have been so many foolish claims – about Europe, immigration, currency,  defence, and so forth – that it has become hard to pick out the arguments which have any merit. In the table that follows, I’ve sketched out in general terms what I see as the main arguments.  Like the polls, they are finely balanced.

In the next few days, London-based politicians will be falling over themselves to get to Scotland and to offer views and arguments that they think people should be persuaded by.  It won’t work – if anything, it will have the opposite effect.  At this stage, people know many of the arguments.  They’ve heard enough foolishness  to know what not to take seriously  – such as George Osborne’s preposterous assertions about money or  Ed Miliband‘s inane intervention today, suggesting that independence implies a fence on the border.   What they’ve not heard is people saying that it would be good to co-operate or why it might be better to stay.


Good arguments for YES

(and what I see as the counter-arguments)

Good arguments for NO

(and what I see as the counter-arguments)

Self determination and accountability.

The Scottish Government wants to continue with a series of unions, e.g. in currency and defence, which will undermine self determination and locate control outwith the country.

Solidarity and mutual responsibility: the UK founded the welfare state.

The welfare cuts have undermined solidarity; the programme of ‘rolling back the state’ has undermined the welfare state.

Responsiveness to need.

The centralisation of power and functions in Holyrood (e.g. police, fire, council tax and social care) reduces local responsiveness and accountability.


Common physical geography: policies that need to be considered together include maritime policy, transport, energy, communications.

London has ignored issues of remoteness – and most major projects (like HS2) benefit London first.

The failure of UK government to reform and the promise of   participative constitutional development

 No answer – but the last-minute pledge from all parties, a week before the vote, from all parties to an ‘iron timetable’  suggests the force of this argument has belatedly been recognised.

Pooled resources lead to greater capacity – e.g. the BBC, the NHS (could Scotland support unusual specialisms?), financial control

No answer

Scotland needs a different economic policy from that pursued by all the main parties.

So does England.

Pooled risks – economic management is better done in a larger unit

 The UK has embraced neo-liberalism and its consequences.

Bad arguments for YES

(with counter-arguments)

Bad arguments for NO

(with counter-arguments)

The White Paper has the answers.

Any settlement must be negotiated and so all answers must be uncertain.

Uncertainty is scary.

All politics are uncertain – but what we’re sure of to date is bad policy.

The negotiating parties will all agree with the Scottish Government’s assessment of everything.

They won’t.

Scots won’t be allowed to use rUK facilities – using the pound or watching the BBC.

Special permission to do many things is not needed, and the EU guarantees many basic forms of co-operation.

Institutions like the Bank of England and the BBC are Scotland’s and will be shared.

Institutions won’t be shared, by any precedent in international law. Property assets and financial liabilities should be, but there has been no discussion of property assets.

If Scotland votes no it will get more powers.

The Treasury will keep a stranglehold – look at the fines imposed on Northern Ireland for not passing the laws that London wants them to have.

 Scots will be £1000 better off.

We don’t know – but it would still be a bad reason to change the constitution if we did.

Scotland runs a deficit.

The UK runs a bigger one.

There’ll be no working arrangements for a wide range of policies – currency, immigration, pensions, security, etc.

The UK makes these arrangements now with its neighbours – such as Ireland and the Crown Dependencies. The only reason for not doing so would be revenge.


Leave a Reply