Referendum Update: IT’S STILL THE ECONOMY

My previous assessment of the Referendum Campaign in early August was downbeat although less bleak than in June. The polls have yet to move YES-wards to any great extent but intuitively, I sense the beginnings of movement. In the street, people are now raising the issue of voting YES, asking questions rather than avoiding the topic. All quite unscientific, yet perhaps straws in the wind.

Also, the issues are beginning to surface now that September 18 is less than a year away. Since the summer the NO campaign seems to have run out of puff and become querulous. As for YES, while it has shown greater signs of aggression and acumen, it needs a sharper economic focus.

Even amongst those voting NO or undecided, many are fed up with the patronising attitudes and demeaning comments from Whitehall visitors.

Two dangers have been averted.

To my surprise, the Grangemouth crisis Instead of undermining Scottish confidence, has done the opposite.

The relative inactivity of the UK Prime Minister has been noted and contrasted with the effort made by the First Minister. The strength of the UK is not of much use if London can’t be bothered to apply it. Instead Scotland was seen to have the capacity and will to act.

Defence jobs have always been a problem, but by allowing sole UK surface shipbuilding capacity to continue in Scotland, London has defanged the issue. Scotland can have its cake and eat it. In return for Royal Navy orders, side deals will be done to buy other defence equipment needed by Scotland from BAE and English suppliers.

Leaving aside Alistair Carmichael’s ‘bovver boy’ approach, it is clear that the more intelligent and subtle, Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond has other objectives. While assuming that Scotland will vote NO, his main objective in any negotiations following a YES vote will be to secure continued use of Faslane for the nuclear submarine fleet, at best for the new Trident over a 30 year term with a fall-back of a lease for 10 years until the present vessels are phased out. There will be fierce negotiations with Westminster and come the first General Election, the ratification of any provisional agreement on Trident will be a principal issue.

Without doubt also, the blackmail factor of the referendum saved Govan and without this pressure, the Clyde would have suffered loss of more jobs. If we surrender our clout by voting NO, the two yard policy cannot be guaranteed, given the continuing run-down of the Royal Navy and the need to continue the austerity programme..

It’s the Economy

Yet, the NO vote, despite the negativity of Better Together, is ahead in all opinion polls. YES Scotland needs to concentrate on the economy to answer the fears of those who feel that the British economy provides security. The outcome of the Referendum will stand and fall on how people feel. Safe with Britain, it will be a NO vote. Confidence in Scotland will be YES.

The North/South Divide

The referendum has made us short-sighted as to what is happening elsewhere in the UK. And being in Northern England seeing family last week was an eye opener. In England there is concern about the contrast of a booming London and the South East compared to the North of England. The debate has ignited over the consequences of HS2 to the southern rural environment outside London where most constituencies are held by Conservative MPs as against the benefits to the North. One comment put it thus:

“The great cities of the North have been adrift from London for decades, but since 2007 the capital and the South East have accounted for almost half of Britain’s growth in output. If the map of Britain is not to become a literal illustration of Disraeli’s two nations, the tracks (of HST2) must be laid.”

The huge expansion of the London economy compared to RUK is frightening. The City of London caused the financial collapse and yet is the prime beneficiary. Unfair, but it will continue if the Unionists get their way.  That is the essence of the argument YES Scotland must take to the people. The City State of London is booming. House price inflation is out of control. That bubble has the capacity to bring the British financial structure crashing once more, especially since the boom is based on consumption and increasing private and public debt.. And then what will happen to the pensions and jobs of Scots?

Challenge Needed

YES Scotland must challenge the Unionists and all who are against Scottish independence by asking two questions:

  1. If Scotland remains in the UNION, what guarantees will you give to redistribute wealth from London to Scotland to redress the imbalance of prosperity and industrial poverty?
  2. Given the voting power of the densely populated London and the South, HOW can that be done?

The London question is the soft under-belly of the Union. To make an impact, YES Scotland in a kind of  ‘street fighting’ must harry their opponents unrelentingly, demanding answers. The Unionists will be hamstrung. They cannot give such a pledge; the British capital would not allow it. Today the grip of the London octopus is so powerful that the RUK exists to serve it regardless. If Scotland votes NO, the resources of the English North, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland will continue  be exploited for the benefit of London.


Things may feel slightly better but no supporter of independence can be confident, let alone complacent. Only a sharper focus on the economic problems facing Scotland within this unequal United Kingdom can tip the scale.

Although I am happier than before, there is a large gap to bridge. It can be done. An English friend put it brilliantly:

The NO vote is larger and open to contraction, the YES vote is smaller and open to expansion

Gordon Wilson is Director of Options for Scotland and former Chairman (Leader) of the Scottish National Party

November 2013