I’ve been following the Scottish independence campaign with a detached sort of interest. Because I don’t have a dog in the fight, and no real opinion either way (not my circus, not my monkeys) so I’m just watching both sides in their attempts to win the debate. And I have a question, which I’ll phrase by stealing a quote from elsewhere:
How exactly is “Be a complete fucking dick to Scotland” supposed to persuade them to vote to stay part of the UK?
On the one side, the Yes campaign is led by Alex Salmond. Opinions vary on him. The leader of the SNP is, to his enemies, a scumbag, a slimeball. Satan incarnate. Now, when I read that sort of thing, it always comes across as shooting the messenger and ignoring his message. It doesn’t help that every time Salmond heads South of the border, he wipes the floor with whichever Westminster idiot is put up against him. He’s even able to deal with the hectoring of Paxman or John Humphries.
The “No” campaign just seem to be throwing mud at anything and everything, trying to turn Salmond into a hate figure along with a side order of unfounded scaremongering. The key question for me as a interested observer is around finance – how will Scotland cope, fiscally, if granted more independence. Opinions on this vary, from Yes in the Yes camp to No in the No camp to… er, Depends, and We’ll Cross That Bridge When We Come To It by anyone knowledgable who has actually written a report on the subject.
Salmond has recently-ish maintained that Scotland would not be dropping the pound. (I say recently-ish as he was batting eyelids at the Euro a while back, before that imploded.) However, the latest tactic is that all three Westminster parties have said that they might take the pound away from Scotland and “where would you be then Salmond, eh? Eh? Answer that you pooey bumhead.”
Which got me thinking. What, ultimately, is The Pound? To me, it is a currency, a coin. Like most financial instruments, it is a construct of trust, an item of agreed value. Since when did the pound become some kind of actual real thing? I know the Tories elevate the pound to God like status, but then they worship at the altar of money above all else – read any pronouncement from a Tory and you’ll see the word money in the first three sentences. Hell, even some of their objections to gay marriage were fiscal. But it has got a bit ridiculous. The No campaign seems to treat The Pound as some kind of trophy, wrestling over it like who gets custody of the kids in a divorce. But recently, and to far too many people, The Pound has stopped being a financial instrument and taken on a mystical quality. George Osborne is The High Priest Chancellor, consulting The Great Golden Coin on matters financial. The Pound must be Defended. The Pound is Sacred. The Pound is Holy. Gaze upon The Pound and fear Its mighty power.
It is a bit… weird really. Fetishistic at times. William Hague tried a similar tack in the 2001 General Election, declaring that Britain had “only x days to save the Pound“, as if there was any realistic possibility that Tony Blair was going to remove the Queen from bank notes. It is the same sort of fetish that they have about Work. You must Work. Education is Preparation for Work. Life is Work. You will not retire, you will Work. If you do not Work, you are not a valid human. Work makes you Free.
To be honest, I don’t think people don’t really care about the pound. I know I don’t. I do like the idea that my coinage is called a pound, has the Queens face on it and not a dollar or mark, but then other countries have pounds and other countries have photos of Liz too. Perhaps we could have a cooler name, like Baht or Colones. I have to admit that sometimes I look at the other peoples Dong and get jealous. But when it comes to it, as long as I can exchange an amount of them for goods or services, I don’t care if they are called pounds, euros, groats, magic beans or Magnificent Metal Discs of Awesomeness. What I do know is that for something so valuable to the very core of the Tory party, they don’t half treat The Pound like shit.
The No campaign is weird. One minute, it is all “Don’t leave us Scotland, we need you as much as you need us” and the next minute it is “You’ll regret it, you bitch, you’ll see!” While Salmond goes about his business, organising meetings, answering questions, the No campaign is running personal attack pieces on supporters in the Scottish Daily Mail and when it does campaign, it campaigns South of the border. Even if I was prepared to believe David Cameron, I can’t vote in the referendum, why are you trying to persuade me? And if you are trying to reach out to the Scots, why are you doing it from a lectern in London and not one in Edinburgh? (Cameron gave the above “don’t go” speech from the Olympic Park in London.)
As I write, the Yes campaign still is likely not to gain a majority. It has gained momentum though and I think that by the time of the vote there is a strong chance it could be Yes. It is typical of the three Westminster parties that they are approaching the campaign all wrong – and all speaking with the same voice
I’ve often said that current politics is about, well, playing politics than actually solving issues or making the country better. You only have to look at Michael Gove’s pathetic attempts to be Machiavellian in education (who cares, Govey boy, it is only the future of an entire generation that you are fucking around with like a teenager deciding who they want to be Bestest Friends with today). The Tories lurch to the Right to appease a party full of ignorant morons with absolutely no MPs. Clegg does whatever Clegg does (which is hopefully look into the mirror and weep at what he has become).
The No campaign feels like it is doing, just, well, fucking about playing politics. No real campaigning on the issues, no boots on the ground canvassing. Just a veiled threat here, a suggestion to a newspaper editor that they could do with an attack piece there (oh yeah, how is that for a fine example of the independence of the Press?). No problem lads, I mean, it is only an issue that has ramifications for the United Kingdom as whole, not really a biggie.
It reminds me of the 2008 US Election. On one hand you had the Republicans, all money and attack ads and slogans and soundbites. And on the other, Obama managed to mobilise armies of volunteers on the ground, young ones who were offered the opportunity to believe that there was a guy who listened to and spoke for them. The Republicans and the No campaign are playing old style politics, where independence and peoples lives are an abstract notion, pieces on a chessboard to be manoeuvred and nudged and played with. Obama at times seemed to not only be using a different board, but playing a different game altogether. Time has, of course, proved this trust to be misguided, but the lessons in running a campaign seem to have passed Westminster by – but Alex Salmond seems to have noticed. Independence for Scotland is a real change and real change always comes from the grass roots.
Not that we can look to Labour to provide an alternative. Ed Miliband is utterly incapable, presumably because that part of his source code, along with the module that gives him a fucking spine, is still in beta. He’ll just keep saying the same repeated soundbites in order to avoid upsetting people who will never vote for him while completely pissing off those who would. Maybe they need to put more than 16K of RAM in him or something.
(Addendum: I wrote that yesterday and today we have the interesting prospect of Westminster taking the Pound away from Scotland and ignoring a Yes vote. It neatly shows what I was trying to say. The idea of the Pound being taken from Scotland is ridiculous. It isn’t the Stone of Scone or the Elgin Marbles. It isn’t a Real Thing that can be locked away in a cupboard under the stairs of the Treasury. It is an idea. An idea with currency (oh-ho!) but an idea none the less. Westminster can no more ban Scotland from using The Pound than it can ban it from going on the Playstation before doing its homework.
By threatening to simple ignore a Yes vote, then it justifies the absence of proper campaigning and debate on the issues. Modern politics is thus – if you don’t like what people say, then just pretend it never happened.