The counterfeit currency threat … Where now for No?

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  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
“The nationalists are in utter chaos over currency.  Alex Salmond’s Panama Plan would be an absolute disaster for Scotland, leaving us without anyone standing behind our banks and resulting in sky-high interest rates for our mortgages and loans.  The only way to keep the strength and security of the pound is to vote to stay part of the UK.”
 
The words of the Better Together campaign almost exactly one month ago.

  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
“The nationalists are in utter chaos over currency.  Alex Salmond’s Panama Plan would be an absolute disaster for Scotland, leaving us without anyone standing behind our banks and resulting in sky-high interest rates for our mortgages and loans.  The only way to keep the strength and security of the pound is to vote to stay part of the UK.”
 
The words of the Better Together campaign almost exactly one month ago.

The statement followed UK Chancellor George Osborne’s visit to Edinburgh on February 13th where he issued a carefully worded statement apparently ruling out a currency-union between a newly independent Scotland and the rest of the UK.

It went down like a lead balloon, despite Labour support for the Tory Minister’s threat.  Polls showed an immediate shift away from No.  A temporary hit, the No campaign insisted, we are aiming long term.

It wasn’t long before a number of big businesses duly issued statements highlighting their ‘concerns’ about ‘uncertainty’ should Scots vote Yes.  Each statement puffed and promoted for consumption by an uncritical media.

The disappointment felt by the No campaign when polls showed support for Yes still increasing must have been quite a blow.  But nowhere near as big a blow as the one they endured this weekend when the Guardian revealed a senior coalition minister had admitted the currency threat was indeed just a bluff.

Who the individual was is not important, although the media hounds will be on the scent in anticipation of a major scoop – names in the frame include Defence Secretary Philip Hammond and former Shadow Chancellor Oliver Letwin.  What is important though in terms of the debate is that this particular No campaign weapon has been blunted, perhaps beyond use.

Unionist claims of economic uncertainty and business exodus if Yes prevails in September hinged on the illusion that the threat to block a currency agreement was serious.  This threat was the bedrock that supported statements from Standard Life and Alliance Trust.

Now that threat has, or is perceived to be, a campaign tactic the whole house of cards collapses.

Why do it, why let the cat out of the bag now?

The polls may well provide the answer.  The so-called payback for Darling – for it was he who was the architect of the currency threat – was businesses issuing warnings on the back of the uncertainty.  But as has been seen, polls taken after these warnings were published show support for Yes increasing.

Not only that but most people when asked said they did not believe the Tory/Labour threats.

A campaign strategy that was backfiring is no strategy at all.  A clue to the motivation behind the briefing to the Guardian lies in the attempted linking of any currency deal to Trident. 

The BBC and other pro-Union outlets latched onto this piece of mischief quickly.  On Good Morning Scotland this morning there are already recordings of Professor John Curtice confidently telling listeners that Trident is negotiable.

However politicians as canny as Salmond and Sturgeon are unlikely to be caught out by such a blatant ploy and have very quickly quashed the suggestions that their policy of a Scotland free of nuclear weapons was negotiable.

So where does this leave Better Together, or for that matter their cousins in United with Labour who have also invested heavily in the currency scare?

In a bad place is the short answer. 

In Newsnet Scotland’s recent Panelbase survey we asked those taking part to rate their top ten issues.  Number one was the economy and number four was currency.  It’s no wonder that Salmond proclaimed on Sunday that the No campaign was holed below the water line.

What’s left for Better Together?

They have one avenue of attack left, EU membership.  This always played second fiddle to the currency debate, but it has been a recurring theme ever since the referendum campaign kicked off in earnest.

Claims that Salmond lied over legal advice have surfaced time and again as have suggestions that a Yes vote will see an independent Scotland thrown out.  Both have been products over some over-creative BBC reporting – think of Andrew Neil’s manipulated interview with Salmond and Raymond Buchanan’s now notorious report on Reporting Scotland which appears to have cost him his career.

This issue though doesn’t have the potency of currency, the EU was number seven in the Panelbase top-ten.

The only other escape route for the No campaign is if a hapless coalition minister suddenly appears in front of media cameras admitting that he was talking out of his own backside and duly resigns.

Will the Scottish electorate fall for it?  I think not, I think we’ve just witnessed a key moment in the referendum campaign, one that is slowly moving away from No.