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Complacent, Patronising, Now Desperate - The Mistakes of the Better Together Campaign

11/09/2014 11:28 | Updated 10 November 2014

My very earliest memory is of my parents' house in Scotland. We lived in naval housing at the submarine base in Faslane and its back garden is the first thing I remember in this world. My first lessons were in a Scottish school, I made my first friend there, and most of my first words were spoken with a Scottish accent.

We left for the English Midlands when I was five so I certainly don't claim to understand the emotions of the Scottish people in this important moment, but I do feel a strong connection to the country. I would be saddened to see them vote for independence.

But watching the Better Together campaign in action, I wouldn't blame them.

Better Together and Alistair Darling found their silver bullet early on, playing on economic insecurity. Their arguments were rational and true. If Scotland goes it alone then yes, there will be an enormous flight of capital and jobs. Yes, Salmond's currency options A,B,C and D all put Scotland at risk. And yes, Scotland will have to support a very elderly population by itself. All this before they've even tried to apply for EU membership.

Salmond didn't have any answers. Just a dream. And that wasn't quite enough.

But the Better Together campaign got complacent. And repetitive. The more Westminster slammed the economic door in Scotland's face, the more patronising it became. Darling started to sound like a broken record and all of the emotional arguments were gone in favour of condescending economic rants. Westminster and the banks piled on with threats and scare stories. They naively thought they were adding the final nails in the coffin. Quite the opposite.

The more Scotland heard "No, you can't," the more Scotland started saying, "Er, yes we can."

It was patronising. It was bullying. It was everything that drove the Scots to this vote in the first place. Suddenly, Darling was no longer the calm voice of reason, he was the symbol of Westminster and its decades of neglect.

It was easy for Salmond to turn this into his favourite game: "us vs them".

Better Together should have been singing about all the things that Scotland could be. Instead they dictated a repetitive mantra of what Scotland could not be. They should have used the platform to fight for an inspiring future within the union. They should have lobbied for a fairer and more just Scotland. They should have demanded a stronger devolution package early in the game. They should have calmed the disillusioned and the reactionary.

They should have pointed over the border to Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, or to Liverpool. They too, never vote for a Tory government. They didn't much care for New Labour either and they are governed by policies highly inappropriate for their local industries. The mistrust and dissatisfaction of the political system in Scotland is shared by communities in the rest of the UK and Darling should have framed it as part of a bigger problem.

Most important of all, they should have realised that the debate was bigger than money.

While Darling was talking blindly about currency, he let Salmond take the debate and make it about nationalism. About 'us vs them'. And when the debate becomes about nationalism, it becomes about emotions and hopes and dreams. Do you really want to go up against Alex Salmond in that department?

So here we are. Polls are neck and neck and politicians are in desperate disarray. Scotland is walking out of the door and Westminster is practically screaming, "Please don't go. Look, we've brought you wine and chocolates and devo supermax (written on a napkin on the train up north). Look, we've even brought David Cameron up to see you." The final insulting moments of the No campaign.

The damage is done. These last minute gestures might just save the union but it won't save the relationship. We could have created a stronger union. We could have brought communities together with a shared political discontent and called for change. But we've pushed each other further away.

The scary reality is that Salmond still doesn't have any answers. How could he? An independent Scotland is a step into the dark and he's leading his nation with nothing but hope. But when Scotland is on fire and all Alistair Darling can do is read fire-safety instructions, hope might just be enough.