Sorry for the rather obvious headline to this post, but I'm just getting back into the swing of things after a lay-off and the inspired prose is slightly, errr, sticky just now.
Anyway you will have noticed the major news event that was the launch of the campaign to keep Scotland in the UK (AKA "Better Together" or, more accurately, "No"). What, you missed it? Oh noes!! Well, just for your benefit those lovers of democracy at the Grauniad have captured a typically highly detailed and objective report of this star-studded jamboree here. Even more impressively they have recorded verbatim the main item of the event - a speech by the Right Honourable Alistair Darling MP: a failed Chancellor of the Exchequer from a failed UK Government.
It's rubbish. What follows is the text of his speech (in black) and a few pithy comments from a talented political commentator (in green). Links are from the Graun article.
In just over two years Scotland expects to be given the historic choice of whether or not to stay in the United Kingdom. That choice will shape Scotland's future, not just for the lifetime of a parliament but for generations. There will be no going back. [If we can go forward, we can just as easily go back. Not that we will want to…]
I welcome a referendum, but I am no longer sure that Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National party, still does. [That would be why he fronted a rather more impressive campaign launch than yours, Alistair, would it? Why he has just appointed full time organisers for the campaign? ] The SNP had a good year in 2011. This year its momentum has stalled. The SNP did not do as well as it anticipated in the Scottish government elections. [But it did do better than anyone else, including your party, didn’t it, and better than last time?] Recent opinion polls show support for independence slipping. [One recent poll in a Unionist newspaper – taken in the wake of the Jubilee celebrations - has shown a slight fall in pro- and a slight increase in anti-.] Alex Salmond is wobbling. [A non-sequitor, and not borne out by facts. Also, Alex Salmond is not the campaign. All Scots are the campaign.]
No wonder. The SNP has had 80 years to prepare for this [78, to be exact, although the formal campaign can be traced back to 1886 and the informal one to 1707], yet the party still struggles to answer the most basic questions on Scotland's future: on how the currency would operate [You've not been paying attention Alistair: Scotland will initially use Sterling in the same way as many non-Eurozone countries use the euro and many non-US countries use the US dollar]; or the regulation of Scotland's banks and insurance companies – a big share of our economy. [Here I have to agree with you, the finance “industry” does represent a big share of our economy. It didn’t use to: once upon a time we had proper wealth-creating industries. That is why I trained to be an engineer not a banker, but why I now work in a bank.]
The question is not whether Scotland can survive as a separate state. Of course it could. [We know. We have known that for a long time, in the face of vehement denials. But this change of message is a major and very welcome u-turn for Unionists.] The real question is what is best for Scotland's future. There is a powerful case for being a strong partner in a United Kingdom [why has no-one yet made it, then?], in a Scotland that offers a modern, positive view of its identity, hewn from a rich history, with wide horizons [Waffle].
In the UK, Scotland is part of a social union [yes it is and will remain so whatever happens], underpinned by an economic and political union [“underpinned” implies a solid foundation – where is that?]. We have a Scottish parliament with real decision-making powers [but not on every issue]. We also have a key role in a strong and secure United Kingdom. [Whether or not the UK is strong or secure is at best moot. Whether or not Scotland’s role is key is at best moot.]
The referendum challenges us to answer some deep questions, about who we are and what we believe. [We know who we are and what we believe – we are Scots and we believe that we should run our own lives.] Our links with the rest of the UK – through families and friendship, shared political, economic and cultural institutions – run deep [and will nearly all remain intact]. We don't need to abandon any of the identities we share – Scottish, British, European, citizens of the world [That’s right, we don’t; and we won’t].
We have achieved so much as a partner in the UK. [No, the UK achieved much, and Scotland's contribution has been largely ignored so far.] We created and then dismantled an empire together, fought fascism together, built the welfare state together. The BBC and the Bank of England were founded by Scots. The NHS was founded by a Welshman. The welfare state was founded by an Englishman. We would not have achieved half as much if we had not been a United Kingdom. [Pure conjecture, and rather insulting to the Irish.]
We are being asked to make the choice for Scotland's future in the most uncertain of economic times. [And just whose fault is it that these times are uncertain? Not Scotland’s. Who spent all our money on bust banks, Alistair?] But it has to be about more than just economics. [Oh it is, it most definitely is.]
In a difficult world where more than 7 million children under the age of five die from preventable diseases; where the threat of climate change challenges all of us; where the gap between rich and poor continues to grow – these are the big challenges that we can influence as a strong partner in the UK. Independence is an inadequate response. [Waffle. What effect would Scottish independence have on child nutrition in Africa? And I’m not even going to start on the climate change monster. As for the wealth gap – remind me please, Alistair – during your government’s recent tenure did the gap in the UK grow or shrink? ]
Times are tough and uncertain, particularly in Europe where the difficulties of a currency union are exposed [although it should be noted that small, prosperous, northern European countries are having no difficulties at all in this currency union]. We need more growth and more jobs. We do not need new areas of instability, uncertainty and division that separation will involve. [And these areas are..? ]
The SNP, formed in the 1930s [1934, look it up, lazybones] to win independence, seems not to have done the most basic homework. It is making it up as it goes along [a bit like running the UK Treasury, then?], gambling with jobs, businesses, savings [again, a bit like running the UK Treasury]. It has a duty to answer the fundamental questions on separation. [Don’t just moan – ask specific questions and the SNP or the Yes campaign will answer them.] What are the risks? The costs? The justification for upheaval and division? This is not an abstract debate. It is about jobs and the welfare state. [Why just jobs and the welfare state? What about freedom, self-determination, well-being, self-respect, ambition, etc, etc, etc?]
Scotland trades more with England than with all other countries in the world combined [and will continue to do so.]. The UK is the world's oldest [the current UK dates from 1922] and most successful [prove it] single market. Why turn our biggest market into our biggest competitor? [If the rest of the UK is buying from Scotland now it is because we are selling something they want. Independence will not mean that they suddenly develop new productive capacities and satisfy those needs themselves, does it? This just displays the complete lack of understanding of business realities that has always plagued Labour governments.]
In the UK we share opportunities and we also share risks. Four years ago when Scotland's banks [e.g. Northern Rock, Bradford & Bingley, Halifax Bank of Scotland, Lloyds, etc] were on the brink of collapse, the size and strength of the UK meant we could stop it happening [And we’re paying for that mistake now and will be for years to come. They should all have been allowed to go bust.] Sometimes it works the other way round. That is what partnership means.
The UK has unique [meaning tiny] influence, in the EU, the Commonwealth and the G20 groups of the most powerful global economies. We are one of only five countries in the world with a permanent seat on the UN security council [only because of the fall-out from WW2 and our early ownership of nuclear weapons]. As part of the UK, we have real clout [No we do not. Nor does the UK.] Why would we give away this deep influence? [See previous comment.]
Scotland's people can best shape their own country and look outwards to help improve the wider world as a partner in a strong UK. [If the UK were indeed strong this argument may carry some weight. It is not, so it does not.] We are better together. [Really? How? Nothing here has convinced me.]
Well, there you go. That's their best shot. It's difficult to know what to make of it since it is so devoid of content. Will they come up with something more concrete? I hope so, but even more than that I hope that the Yes campaign pre-empts them by producing a coherent consolidated argument that we can all use, safe in the knowledge that the background research is safe.
I had a conversation with a work colleague this afternoon (an Englishman, in an English office). Somehow or other this topic came up and he expressed his opinion that Scotland would never be independent. I disagreed, and asked him to describe one positive benefit for Scotland for remaining within the Union. Like every person to whom I have posed this question he started off confidently but very quickly came to a halt without producing a single example. I've promised him a pint for every one he comes up with.