A glimmer of hope for life after 2014 vote
Robert McNeil Friday 10 May 2013 Columnist
WARNING: may contain hope.
Yup, you have been warned. Indeed, you're going to be warned daily for another 16 months. Rarely can any vote in modern history have been so imbued with fear as the independence referendum. True, Scotland isn't one of those bad places with death squads running around reminding citizens of the consequences of voting "wrongly". Here, we have the press to do that. Not waving guns just drowning us in scare stories. But the effect is the same: be afraid.
The fear seems to have affected even the BBC. Online monitors – fast becoming the great hope of democratic accountability – performed a quick, basic internet search of the BBC linking the words "Scottish independence" and "warning" in the same sentence. Prefaced by the dreaded i-word and a colon in each case, they found: "Pension shortfall warning"; "Warning over 'weakened military'"; "'Havoc' warning from pensions firm"; "Luxembourg warns against 'going separate ways'"; "Barroso warning on EU membership"; "Michael Moore issues warning over vote question"; "'Border checks' warning from Home Secretary".
This isn't necessarily the BBC's fault. Apart from anything else, its agenda is largely driven by the print press and, even if it weren't, it has to report the endless warnings and fear-mongering issued in press releases by ministers and other clots.
A bigwig from Westminster's warning is real. It's true that he said it. No getting round it. Except, the truth about truth is that it has many faces.
As a journalist, you can present one side's truth or the other's. If there's space, and there should be on a big enough story, "Independence warning" can be "Independence warning dismissed". "Fears raised" can just as easily be "Fears rejected". Unless, of course, the reporter hasn't contacted the other side with a chance to reject the fears.
The BBC almost always does. And, in Scotland, its political analysts in my view are very good. I don't accept the personalised critiques of BBC figures by Nationalists so incensed at the overwhelming torrent of negativity that they see bias whenever any Yes or SNP spokesman is questioned rigorously. That way, paranoia lies.
But the fact remains that the BBC has become as much a conduit for warnings and fear as the worst tabloid-sized newspaper.
Surely, there must be another way, another dimension to this debate? Rain from its dark clouds has drenched everything. The whole debate is miserable. Or, at least, it was – until a group of economists and academics produced a blueprint of how a Yes vote could transform Scotland into a Nordic-style country with cradle-to-grave public services, better jobs, better wages, more shared ownership of industry, more local democracy, more gender equality and less social division.
This "Common Weal" model would take Scotland in a different direction from, as the Sunday Herald put it, "the UK's decline into a low-wage, low-skill economy in which markets rule, public services dwindle and the gulf between rich and poor widens". True, there'd be a bigger tax take, but from a fairer system and a larger pot of wages.
Bejasus, I almost wept when I read this. It was like a ray of sunshine breaking through what seemed like endless darkness. But I wasn't becoming ludicrously lachrymose out of sheer uplifting joy. Nope, it was from recalling the likelihood that, if the polls are anything to go by, we'll never get the chance to attempt this. Instead of an enlightened, progressive, Nordic-style model, we'll remain thirled to the whole dreary, fear-filled, pomp-and-poverty Britain of Ukip, the City and the Little Englanders who so despise Scottish "separatism".
Thanks to an unlikely hodgepodge that includes the Labour Party and the Northern Isles, a Nordic model of poverty-denying progress will be stymied. How nuts is that?
OK, maybe I'm over-egging the sunny uplands, as it were. But what's wrong with enjoying a little May sunshine after all the gloom? What's wrong with a little hope, creativity and vision, particularly when based on realistic examples?
As the saying goes, fear keeps you sitting, boldness helps you stand. And, once standing, let's boot these will-sapping warnings back into the receding darkness.