Perspectives: Anatomy of a scare story
Posted by Stephen Noon on June 11, 2013
Every time I see yet another No campaign scare story my mind turns to the sombre warning issued by none other than Gordon Brown days before the 2007 Scottish election. With every ounce of gravitas he could muster and based on his wisdom and experience as the Chancellor who ended "boom and bust", Mr Brown assured people in Scotland that:
“The day after an SNP administration came to power, the fiscal position would start to become chaotic, unstable and unsustainable.”
Of course, a few months later the world’s economy did enter a period of chaos and instability, but few if any would put the US sub-prime mortgage collapse and ensuing stock market crashes down to the SNP. Indeed, for most fair-minded observers, it is reasonable to say that the sky did not fall in when the SNP became Scotland’s government. Mr Brown was engaging in that favourite of No politicians, the politics of fear.
And, before Scotland even voted for devolution, the then Scottish Secretary, Michael (now Lord) Forsyth delivered another master-class, showing us that the very best scare stories also include an element of talking down: a not so subliminal message that you Scots, you’re just not up to it.
His attack on the so-called tartan tax, could hardly have been framed in a more offensive way (from the Herald, 9 December, 1995): "An alcoholic asking for the keys of an off licence on the basis of a promise that he would not take a drink would have more credibility with the Scottish people than Mr Blair and his pathetic assertion that he would create a power to raise a tartan tax but that it might not be used." Of course, four terms into our Parliament, the rather useless tax-varying power has not been used!
Theresa May is no Lord Forsyth or Gordon Brown, but today her attempt to engender fear exposes the approach adopted by successive No politicians. In order for us to accept Mrs May’s claim that Scots would not be able to claim dual nationality, you would have to believe that a future UK government would treat Scotland differently from every other nation in the world. You would have to agree with the idea that the Mother of Parliaments, the cradle of democracy, would behave in a totally irrational way to its nearest neighbour and Union partner for 300 years.
As the Scotsman reports today, “the current UK Borders Agency advice states that British subjects who take on another nationality can keep their British passport as long as the second country allows dual nationality.”
The Scottish Government has indicated that it will allow dual nationality, and so for Mrs May’s scare to have effect, the UK government would have to reverse its current approach.
This raises two questions. First, why on earth do No politicians think it is a good idea to tell Scotland that they will seek to single us out for punishment if we vote Yes? That they will treat us differently, treat us worse than everyone else? It doesn’t say much for how they view the nature of the relationship that has been built up between us if this is their approach. And, I can’t help wondering whether these Tory ministers who are willing to punish Scotland for voting Yes, are also willing to punish us for not voting Tory?
And second, do they not realize that their scares have a diminishing return? As they say, fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. All it takes is for a Scottish voter to see through one of the scares for them to adopt, justifiably, a "Why should I believe anything you say?" approach.
Within the depths of the Yes Scotland private polling is a piece of information that gives me absolute confidence that the No campaign’s tactics are backfiring. The more information people say they have about independence, the more likely they are to vote Yes. That explains the No campaign’s approach: undermine, confuse and misinform, and hope people don’t notice – but I have every confidence in the people of Scotland. We can see right through it.