Living in Scotland right now is a bit like waiting in an airport departure lounge.
You’ve got the tickets in your pocket, Himself is already on his second G&T and the kids have suspended hostilities to gaze at their iPads. A fortnight on the Costa del Deckchair awaits, with no chores ahead of you more onerous than fingering the killer in the latest Patricia Cornwell.
Suddenly, you’re accosted by a rival travel agent who tells you that Spain is just awful – ‘Didn’t you read George Kerevan’s reports from Catalonia?’ – and wouldn’t you rather go to an exciting new destination.
You assure him that you’re quite happy as you are, but he insists on the hard sell. Why, this new destination has all the potential you could imagine. No hotels or bars as yet and, come to think of it, no airport either – but picture the possibilities.
Price? Well, that’s still being worked out but you can’t pass up on this. It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity – and how often do those come along?
Scotland was ready to hand over its boarding tickets – but has been dragged out of the queue by the SNP and asked to behold the adjacent departure gate, at the end of which sits a rickety old wing bucket with no engine and a giant Saltire on the tail. It doesn’t look much now, but go on, take a chance.
Nicola Sturgeon’s Growth Commission, headed by PR man Andrew Wilson, is the alternative package deal. We are not even a full four years on from the independence referendum and the Nationalists have unveiled yet another case for a do-over.
The First Minister says this one will ‘restart a debate’ on independence. If anyone remembers the debate ever stopping, letters to the usual address, please.
Sturgeon has allowed the independence debate to rumble on since 2014 because it gins up her activists. No matter that said debate has amounted to the SNP saying, ‘We should leave the UK’, Scotland replying, ‘No, we shouldn’t’ and the SNP carrying on regardless.
Like a tantruming toddler, it refuses to listen to reason – and even taking away its majority and 21 of its MPs didn’t do the trick. Scotland, an exasperated parent, has decided to let them thcweam and thcweam until they’re blue from lack of oxygen rather than weekend woad.
But the First Minister’s grassroots aren’t as forgiving as the voters and some are growing restless at her failure to deliver the second referendum she keeps assuring them lies just around the corner. The SNP is having its conference next week and delegates are expecting answers from the leader – and a hint at what she will say in her promised autumn statement on independence.
The Growth Commission report is not intended to start a debate within the country but to stifle one within the SNP. The polls indicate that Yes would lose a second plebiscite at this time – but the fundamentalists refuse to believe that and want Sturgeon to press ahead regardless. If she does, she’ll lose the vote and the keys to Bute House. Andrew Wilson’s report was meant to be a soothing sticking plaster – but could well tear the scab off roughly.
Wilson, an economist turned Nationalist MSP turned lobbyist, is a good sort. Heart in the right place, head not far off. There is much in his report that is commendable and wise. He advocates spending restraint and a ‘flexible’ labour market and addresses the need for population growth to generate wealth and fund services older Scots have worked for all their lives.
The pound ought be retained, he counsels, until a new currency can be set up. He concedes some of the realities of separation. RBS no more. Standard Life no more.
Beyond a dip in defence spending and the resulting tumble down the global pecking order, the Scotland Andrew Wilson proposes would not look terribly different to the Scotland we have now. The 2014 White Paper proposed much the same continuity but painted in primary colours to tempt and excite. This is a document of a softer hue – the Beige Paper.
Strip out the constitution and it could have been written by a New Labour or Notting Hill Tory policy wonk. If Scotland became independent on Andrew Wilson’s terms, it’s not entirely clear anyone would notice.
Nevertheless, his ‘case for optimism’ retains all the magical thinking of the White Paper. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have the economy of Singapore and the social safety net of Finland? Indeed. It would be nice if I could down a couple of glasses of prosecco without treating the rest of the bar to my rendition of Total Eclipse of the Heart – but that’s not going to happen either.
The Wilson report breezes through costings for establishing a foreign ministry and an intelligence organisation, as if you can pick up a modular MI5 down IKEA or phone the local temping agency to see if there are any counter-terror specialists looking for shifts.
What Wilson is pushing is not optimism, but the sunny slogans of the motivational speaker. He urges us to see that ‘Scotland can’ – can be an economic powerhouse, can balance growth and fairness, can prosper by quitting its biggest market. Reality will bend to self-belief. Throw in a PowerPoint presentation and a tie-in DVD and you could charge £50 a head for this stuff.
Who this is supposed to satisfy eludes me. Wilson offers an end the country doesn’t want by means many in his party will not tolerate. And what of the two million Scots who voted No? The six in ten of us who say there shouldn’t be another referendum for at least a few years? We are another reality that the Nationalists seem to believe can be bent with the power of positive thinking.
Maybe they’re right. Maybe they will wear us down so thoroughly that we’ll let them have their blessed independence for a bit of peace. I doubt it, though. We’ve chosen our destination and will be hard persuaded to change our plans
Ruth Davidson was followed along the street on Friday and filmed by a strange man haranguing her about independence. The video shows the unidentified male tracking the Scottish Tory leader and challenging her opposition to a second referendum.
Davidson picks up the pace to get away, before turning to tell him how untoward it is to pursue a pregnant woman with a video camera. Still he shadows her and his tirade goes on uninterrupted.
We are probably inured to such things in Scotland – but we shouldn’t be. Of course, no one was hurt in this incident and it was over quickly – but the SNP should reflect on it. The party regularly deploys language designed to stir up anger and resentment and demonise any and all opposition.
When you constantly accuse your opponents of talking down their own country, a small minority of your supporters are going to do silly things like this. An even smaller, far more dangerous fringe, might one day do something worse.
Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg has insisted that he has no desire to be Prime Minister. ‘I wouldn’t challenge Theresa May. That’s a ridiculous idea. The Prime Minister has my full support,’ he told Andrew Marr yesterday. After which, he spent the rest of the interview listing all of the mistakes that the PM had made on Brexit. With supporters like that…
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