A couple of weeks ago, I attended the launch of a Fabian pamphlet by Gordon Brown. Stronger Together puts the case for continuing the union between Scotland and the rest of Britain. Embarrassingly, Gordon and I were wearing the same tie, but that did not seem to put him off his speech.
There was a muffled scoff during the Q&A session, when Douglas Alexander suggested that, even though the SNP were ahead in the polls, the strength of the Labour argument (or rather, the weakness of the SNP argument) would shine through. Interestingly, however, it looks like this might be happening. According to The Times:
It is only in the past fortnight — largely because of previous opinion poll findings — that Scotland has had to ask itself whether the pleasure of giving Tony Blair a last kicking is worth the price of putting the SNP in office. It is not.
I wonder how much of this is down to Brown and Alexander’s (and McConnell’s) powers of persuasion, and how much is down to a change in voter tactics, influenced by opinion polls. There is no doubt that in every election a kind of electoral Heisenberg effect occurs, whereby advanced polling that seeks to predict the result, actually alters it. I’ve often worried that this is anti-democratic, although I suppose making a choice is as much about who you do not want to lead you, as opposed to who you do. Recall once again the old adage about governments that lose elections, rather than oppositions that win them…
Much of the Fabian pamphlet focuses on the econmoic benefits that Scotland gains from being in The Union, and how much would be lost if the people chose Independence instead. This may be persuasive, but I cannot help feeling that the economic argument should not matter. Dyed-in-the-wool Nationalists and Unionists alike cite a greater, moral imperative for their point of view, whatever it happens to be. Never mind the administration costs of leaving the Union: I have more time for the argument which says that Scotland and England should remain together because we share common values (whatever they may be). Just like marriage, these links should be worth saving, even if greater economic prosperity were to be found through a divorce.
Likewise, I think the most honest Nationalist argument is that which says that the Scots and English are culturally different. It is their belief in this premise which motivates their political activity, not some economic calculation. As it happens, I disagree with them, as I tried to point out in a post at The Sharpener. I think the notions of Scottishness and Englishness have converged somewhat in these past 300 years. This is by no means proven, however, and the independence debate should be fought over this ideological battleground, rather than over some calculus of the North Sea oil revenues.