When I first saw the title of the lead video on the Better Together website, I assumed 'the best of both worlds' must refer to the devolution settlement, ie. a halfway house between Home Rule and London rule. But it can't do, because devolution is never actually mentioned by anyone in the video, either directly or indirectly. It seems we're supposed to infer that we automatically get the best of both worlds by simply saying No to independence - regardless of whether that leaves us with pre-1999 style direct rule from London, or with the current devolved settlement, or with a degree of autonomy for the Scottish Parliament that is only just short of the powers of a sovereign state. It's essentially a long-winded repetition of Ed Miliband's "it stands to reason" suggestion that the existence of a British nation state (regardless of its form) magically makes a dual Scottish/British identity possible, while the existence of a Scottish nation state (regardless of form) would magically make such a dual identity impossible.
Well, sorry chaps, but that one ain't going to wash. From now until referendum day, the message is going to be driven home that Britishness will not only survive independence, but will flourish. A well-known journalist (I forget which one it was) suggested the other day that the SNP's comparisons with the multi-national Scandinavian identity wouldn't gain much traction, because people here just aren't familiar enough with the Nordic countries. But it doesn't really matter whether that's true or not, because other equally good comparisons are available. For several decades after independence, Australia and New Zealand were perceived, and perceived themselves, to be 'British' countries. Even now, although it may be more difficult to put a name to the common identity, it's obvious that we have cultural ties to those countries that we simply don't have with the largest English-speaking country in the world, the US.
So the No campaign are self-evidently flogging a dead horse by presenting the choice as being between a single identity and a dual one. But a much more interesting question is whether they would be capable of sustaining the 'best of both worlds' argument if they ever did attempt to apply it in a hard-headed way to the present devolution settlement. The implication would be that devolution cherry-picks what people like best about the Scottish and British dimensions, and jettisons what they like least. So to test that assumption, we'd of course first need to identify what it is that the majority of Scottish people like and dislike about the British dimension.
What people like :
The social union
An unspecific sense of economic 'security'
What people dislike :
Trident on the Clyde
Voting left, getting right
Tory and New Labour control over domestic policy, eg. welfare and pensions
Theft and misuse of Scottish natural resources
Suppression of Scottish identity, for instance by the BOA
On that basis, the constitutional models that would take us closest to the 'best of both worlds' are the form of independence proposed by the SNP, and Devo Max. The former would tick all of the boxes with the possible exception of point 4 in the 'likes' section, while Devo Max would address the irrational concerns about a loss of economic security, but unfortunately at the cost of retaining Trident on Scottish shores, and leaving us at the mercy of more London military adventurism. However, either model would be clearly preferable to the status quo, which retains all of the things that people consider to be worst about the British 'world'.
When you look at it that way, it seems obvious that an electorate acting rationally would vote for change. Hence the need for the No campaign to use content-free emotional arguments to get people to muddle up their desire for a British identity with a desire to be ruled by a Tory government they didn't vote for. It's up to the Yes side to de-muddle those two concepts.
So it's little wonder that the Scottish Government are allowing speculation to increase about the possibility of a Devo Max question in the referendum. Such a development would force the participants in the No campaign to take a stance on a constitutional model that would preserve the UK, but give the public something much closer to what they might actually recognise as the best of both worlds. The inevitable effect is that the No side would split down the middle. Hence the panic in their voices as they try to reinvent the maximising of choice for the Scottish electorate as being somehow bad for people's health -
"So. The referendum has been reduced to a damage limitation exercise foe Eck’s ego.
What you describe may be win win win for Salmond. But it certainly is not a win for the Scottish people."
Let me see here. The polls show that Devo Max is currently the most popular option, and that people want the opportunity to vote for it. But actually getting both of those desires would be a loss for the Scottish people. Yup, this is the kind of 'reasoning' that makes perfect sense if you're the Labour councillor for Ward 8, North Coast and Cumbraes.
In truth, if a Devo Max question is all about Salmond's legacy, then clearly the needs of his legacy and the Scottish people's desires have suddenly become perfectly aligned. How inconvenient (for some).
Indeed, isn't it closer to the mark to say that unionist politicians are putting the goal of destroying Salmond's legacy ahead of the best interests of Scotland? The Lib Dems' Malcolm Bruce openly boasted of doing so in a speech not so long ago - his only justification for trying to deny the electorate a say on Devo Max was the belief that defeat in a single-question referendum would end Mr Salmond's political career. It's hard to think of a better textbook example of obsession with one party or one individual overriding the national interest.
Incidentally, a second referendum question will disappoint unionists by failing to cause the confusion they claim to expect. Everyone seemed to cope perfectly well with the two-question 1997 referendum, in spite of it being stated nowhere on the ballot paper that the second question was contingent on there being a Yes vote on the first question. This time, I'm quite sure it will be spelt out in bold print on the ballot paper that the second question ("do you want Devo Max?") is contingent on there being a No vote on the first question ("do you want independence?"). Consequently, the electorate will impress us all by being even more free of befuddlement than they were in 1997.
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Before I forget, here are the results of the weekend poll -
Would Devo Max bring independence closer?