On Referendum Day +1 – a Nation divided?

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By Alex Robertson

Recently I was reminded of the enduring problem of the political landscape of Scotland.  The enigma concerns what will the Unionist Parties, or more accurately, their supporters do the day after the Referendum vote.

Of course, if the Nation votes ‘NO’ people presume that is an easy question to answer.  Actually it is far harder than the alternative, so let’s take it first.

If Scots vote against an independent Scotland in late 2014, the Unionists may assume, probably do assume, that it is back to business as usual. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

If the referendum is lost at all, it will be by a small margin.  And is it really to be expected that the supporters of an independent Scotland will just pack up and go off into hiding somewhere, all hope and aspiration gone?  A very substantial number of Scots will have voted for change and been denied.  Many more in the No camp will have been for significantly more powers within the Union, but (if missing from the ballot paper) will have been denied that voting opportunity.

I predict that if a success for the No campaign does happen, which I do not for a moment believe will happen, then the day after the referendum will see the campaign for independence continue with renewed vigour, a campaign for a new referendum and a reconsideration of the No decision.  No more Mr Nice Guy either.  Carrying on as usual is just not a credible option.

But in the much more likely event that Scots do vote to make all their own decisions from then on, then work will begin the next day on making our independence a reality.  At least on the side of those who voted YES.

But it is what those who campaigned for NO will do that is the really interesting question.  As things look now, there are no signs of the Lib Dem, Labour or Tory parties doing any thinking about what would be their position, their policies, inside an independent Scotland.  Perhaps they assume that they need only wave some magic wand and a whole new set of policies for an independent Scotland will miraculously materialise.

For the Labour Party such a scenario would be a nightmare.  Who wants a Unionist left of centre party in an independent Scotland when there is a perfectly good pro-independence left of centre party in government already?

The Scottish Labour Party is currently heading for the biggest political train crash of all time.  Sound exaggerated? Then look around and see: who in Scottish Labour is talking about policy for Scotland?  Who in Scottish Labour is producing ideas about what Scotland could be like, either inside or outside the Union?

Looking at the current Labour Party, does any one of them have a vision for Scotland that they are burning to present to the Scottish people?  What are their specific policies and plans which will make Scotland a better place, and how exactly?  Does Labour really believe that Scotland is better off in the Union?  Then let them tell us how exactly. 

If they do, they are keeping mighty quiet about it.  And the tragedy of it is that I believe that many Scottish people are really looking for such a vision from what used to be the biggest party in Scotland.  And turning away frustrated, disappointed and confused.

But the Tories, what of them?

And before anyone says ‘who cares’, it is worth pointing out that currently around 15% of Scots voters are right of centre on present reckoning, with probably some more hiding in the heather.

The need for a pro-independence right of centre party is a necessity in our reformed democracy. The Tories missed a chance given to them by Murdo Fraser before the last election. They passed up on that, and now the brick wall is a bit closer.  Personally I think it is to be regretted that right of centre voters will be deprived of a credible voice in politics, and in the referendum debate.  There is still time, just, for a voice to be raised among the right of centre ranks, but the window of opportunity is closing.

The media … dear oh dear, the media.

The Scottish media are behaving like kids playing with a loaded shotgun, seemingly oblivious to the danger they are creating.  Political debate is always going to arouse passion.  But the image of the debate thus far, the reporting, the characterisation is so skewed that it infuriates one side and leads the other to feel complacently that the deal is done, the outcome a dead cert.  Its unfairness, partiality, is anathema to one side and an opiate to the other.

But on the morning after, what then?  One side is going to feel cheated, bitter, deprived of their rightful verdict.  The result is likely to be close, so either the pro-independence supporters will feel that the media has ‘loaded the dice’ and react accordingly, or the pro-Union side is going to feel deeply injured and aggrieved – how could it be when they had been promised victory was theirs by right?

If we’re not careful, the media will have created a divided Scotland and along that particular road we, none of us, should wish to tread. 

Politicians need to stick to policies and be as factual as they can be, without smears, scares, or sensationalism.  The media should revert to what they are meant to do, report the facts free of distortion or favour, without characterisation or the sickening selectivity of news items to splash and which to smother.

No party is beyond playing the mischievous card in the game we call politics, but the cut and thrust ought to leave the electorate feeling as though they had observed a mature debate – that the playing field was level and that the rules of engagement had been enforced equally.

There is too much embitterment being created at the moment.  Winning at all costs is too high a price if the currency being exhausted is mutual trust and respect between Scots.