Amateur at Work


By Derek Bateman
When I started this blogging thing it was to put my view out there and add my voice to the greatest debate of our lives…for the independence of our country. I’m not a policy expert or a party adherent, clued up on minutiae, but I’ve been around the scene long enough to know my own mind and to judge my ideas against those who are paid to proselytise.

I’ve seen and heard their weaknesses and observed how they operate and it helps me form opinions on the political class and the way we are governed.

But, like 99 per cent of us, I’m not for example a trained economist or a reader in international law so, again like the 99 per cent, I rely a lot on common sense and everyday experience to inform my judgement. I’ve found it not a bad process because often I find the real experts are too close to their subject and suffer professional myopia, a kind of academic’s tunnel vision, to be totally useful. (Sorry to all you professors). In other words, as a glance at previous blogs will show, I’m an amateur.

I’m happy with that because as a journalist it allows me strip out complexities in an argument and focus on areas which a lay listener will understand, acting as a kind of bridge between interviewee and audience. (And you thought I just asked questions).

So it’s in that spirit that I followed the news about currency, the latest element being a Scottish civil servant’s statement that a sterling union could not be stated as fact. In other words, it could not be guaranteed. It would however be set out as the best option for Scotland.

In Propagandaland this turned out to contradict the Scottish government’s position that a pact would inevitably follow independence and was variously another setback for Salmond or, in one London paper, a crisis.

Worried that my lack of professional insight denied me access to the glaring evidence so clear to the journalists – and Johann – I re-read the news only to return to my first reaction. The Scottish government never could guarantee a currency union because it could only be achieved through negotiation with London. It is not in Salmond’s gift to deliver a formal currency pact, meaning that the crisis wasn’t real in any meaningful way because nothing had actually changed but was instead a propaganda row.

The critics were really drawing a line differentiating between the perception they placed on Salmond’s words – that he somehow promised something he couldn’t deliver – and the reality spelled out by a civil servant that it couldn’t be promised because it needed agreement first. Left unchallenged was Salmond’s pragmatic statement that it was common sense for London to agree a currency share as it was in the interests of the pound itself and of business on these islands – a point previously agreed by Alastair Darling.

At no stage in any of this semantic orgy did anybody say the key words: That London will not agree to a currency union, which remain the only ones relevant. If the unionists want to destroy Salmond’s policy, rather than damage his PR strategy, they must insist that London clarifies its position and either concedes it will discuss a pact or that it rules it out.

The pressure should be applied not to Salmond but to Osborne and his supporters as Salmond has made clear his position but what is Osborne’s? We don’t know beyond veiled and totally unconvincing threats. I’m not sure I’ve read a single Scottish journalist make this case.

I’m sure one has and I missed it but in a deafening demand for information and clarification, isn’t it clear that, whatever Salmond says on a range of important issues, it is only London that can provide the answers? Accepting that most journalists work for Unionist-backed outlets and are obliged to follow the paymaster’s tune, isn’t there still a wider responsibility on the trade of journalism to seek out information and to hold accountable?

It must be my naivety again but after watching Alistair Carmichael dissembling on Newsnight I thought the UK’s position had weakened considerably. It couldn’t be more embarrassingly obvious that they are playing a double game demanding answers from the SNP to questions that they themselves won’t address.

They are deliberately refusing to clarify on currency and the EU – not to mention naval contracts – and, like puppet-masters, must laugh as the once proudly independent Scottish media dance to their tune. It seems to me this contradictory, hypocritical and unhelpful stance is of a nature that editors should have the guts to confront it. Yet, as they did when Cameron weasled his way out of a head-to-head TV debate with Salmond, Scottish journalism turns away. A lost cause.

Lacking the professional knowledge of the Press, I’m dangerously relaxed about the currency. I can’t see how anybody can stop me using my own currency and, that being the case, nothing much will change. I’ve said before that a Yes vote will send London into overdrive and they will desperately want a common currency for both monetary reasons and global credibility and it will form a key part of disaggregation talks, whatever their uncritical salesmen say today. The real question will become a different one – do we want to be part of their debt-ridden, bank-obsessed economy at all or should we launch our own healthy currency and leave them behind?

And I leave that in the hands of a professional economist….

Courtesy of Derek Bateman