By Stephen Noon
The excellent visit of William Hague to Scotland yesterday got me reminiscing. Mr Hague’s purpose in Scotland was not to spread happiness and contentment but, instead, his aim was to tell us Scots that the world was big and bad and that we needed people like him to speak for us when it came to the important stuff.
Mr Hague is nothing, if not versatile. He has a variety of scares up his sleeve, as those of us who recall the 1997 referendum can attest.
Thanks to the efforts of a colleague, here are some blasts from the No past. You might recognise a lot of what they were saying, because time after time, whether it’s devolution or independence, the No campaign use the self same arguments as they try desperately to halt Scotland’s progress.
On August 8th 1997, in the Herald, Mr Hague warned that devolution would turn Scotland into a “high-tax ghetto”. Scary, eh? But what was the reality? After many years of council tax freeze and the removal of business rates for our smallest companies, he was wrong on the taxes, and with recorded crime levels now at a 39 year low, wrong on the ghetto. A double-edged scare, doubly destroyed.
If he could be so wrong then about devolution, why on earth should any of us believe a word he says now about independence?
But there’s more. Just over a month later, again in the Herald on 10th September 1997, Mr Hague described our devolved Parliament as “a dangerous trap from which Scotland might never recover”. I wonder if that was a dangerous trap in the scary ghetto? He never made that clear. But, after the celebration party, recover we did, with enough energy and enthusiasm to deliver free personal care, scrap tuition fees and introduce far reaching measures like the smoking ban.
Looking back at it now, if we hadn’t voted Yes, people like Mr Hague would currently be privatising our NHS (as they are doing in England), which is something we actually might never recover from.
One of the reasons a Yes in 2014 is so important is we need the power to protect our welfare state from Westminster’s wrecking ball, in the same way that we are able to protect our health service. That’s a new power for a very clear purpose.
Mr Hague wasn’t the only guilty party. We had the general Tory claims that devolution would hit us Scots in the pocket – a tactic depressingly, abysmally and without a shred of originality, repeated by ‘No Better Together’ in their campaign leaflet for this weekend (make sure you follow YesScotland’s ‘#Yeswecan’ response on twitter).
In August 1997, according to the version of the No campaign active at that time, devolution would cost us Scots £400 a year, each and every year. And, all because of a “pygmy parliament” that would “diminish, impoverish” our country (that was Michael Forsyth, in case you wondered, Scotsman 28th June 1997). There has, of course, been a lot of diminishing and impoverishing, as we know to our cost, and it’s come in one direction, from Westminster.
My favourite No campaign re-release, is in relation to Orkney and Shetland. I had actually forgotten they had played this card too in the 1997 devolution debate. The Tories’ then Scottish spokesperson, Liam Fox, made clear their view that if either Orkney or Shetland voted No in 1997 they should remain under direct Westminster control.
As the Scotsman reported on August 7th 1997, Dr Fox said “If these islands say that they don’t want to be part of a devolved Scotland it would be bizarre for Mr Wallace [the island’s then MP] to say that they should answer to Edinburgh not Westminster.”
A (now rather better known) local councillor, Tavish Scott, popped up to condemn the No argument, arguing that Orkney and Shetland remaining a “satellite of Westminster” and “to have no voice in Scotland” would be “a retrograde step”. The arguments don’t change, just, in some cases, the people making them…
These people must think we are daft. That we don’t remember their favoured tactic of belittling, scaring, talking down. Yes, we’ve heard it all before. We weren’t taken in then. And we won’t be taken in now.
Courtesy of Stephen Noon – http://stephennoon.blogspot.co.uk/