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Have the Wheels Come Off the Campaign for Scottish Independence?

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It would be fair to say that Alex Salmond, the SNP, and the YES campaign for Scottish independence have had better weeks than the one just past since launching the White Paper setting out their vision for an independent Scotland in November 2013.

Two of their major policies - a sterling currency union with the rest of the UK and EU membership - have hit the buffers, calling into question both the vision embraced by the SNP for independence and their ability to deliver on it should the Scottish people vote Yes in the referendum on September 18.

On the proposed currency union the Chancellor of Exchequer, George Osborne, delivered a speech in Edinburgh demolishing the prospect of Scotland being able to enter into any such monetary union with the rest of the UK in the kind of withering terms usually associated with a schoolmaster chastising a recalcitrant schoolboy. The fact that the chancellor was supported in this stance by both the Lib Dems and the Labour Party meant that though Salmond and the YES campaign may have lost the economic argument, they certainly won the emotional one at the sight of the three big Westminster parties 'ganging up' on the Scottish people to try and bully them. While this may be nonsense, it is very effective nonsense all the same, and the unionist parties concerned should take note that if they are serious about maintaining the union they should consider more carefully their approach over the next seven months or else face the very real prospect of its break-up.

Regardless, when you separate out the issue of a currency union from the political posturing involved in the back and forth between both camps, it is undeniable that Salmond and the SNP have got themselves into one almighty pickle. The idea that upon becoming independent the government over what is left of the UK would agree to have the Bank of England underwrite the debts and currency of what would now be a foreign country across its northern border, this was never going to be a credible proposition.

The most astounding thing about this, however, is the fact that Alex Salmond and the SNP did not draw up any alternative proposition when it came to the currency should it arise that their first option of a sterling currency union would be denied, as it just has. It smacks of political adventurism and recklessness on their part, especially so given that what we are talking about is an issue that will impact millions of Scots when it comes to their mortgages, pensions, and jobs.

Adding more spice to this imbroglio is the stance of the SNP leader in declaring that if the currency union option is denied then Scotland would renege on its share of the UK's national debt upon separation, citing the fact that if it can't share in the assets of the UK in the form of sterling then why should Scotland accept any liabilities in the shape of its share of the debt. The problem with this position is that it will not do much to inspire the confidence of putative investors in the newly independent Scottish economy, run by a government that starts life by refusing to pay its debts.

As if the debacle over the currency wasn't bad enough, up pops the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, in a BBC television interview at the weekend, during which he casts serious doubt over the ability of a newly independent Scotland to enter the EU. Barroso said that it would be "extremely difficult if not impossible" for Scotland to join the EU, citing the fact that it would have to apply for membership and gain the approval of all EU member states in order to do so. The prospect of Spain in particular, currently facing its own separatist problems with Catalonia and the Basque country, agreeing to Scotland's entry as an independent state is probably slim at best.

The response of the SNP to this double whammy has been understandably robust, with both the leader of the party, Alex Salmond, and his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, a ubiquitous presence across the media in the aftermath fighting a desperate rearguard action to shore up two of the key policies outlined in their 700-page White Paper, titled Scotland's Future.

What seems clear is that the SNP and the broader YES campaign they are leading is starting to pay a heavy price for their timidity in putting forward a vision for Scottish independence which can be summed up as 'independence without independence'. On issues such as the currency, EU membership, and NATO membership, it is evident that the strategy from the outset has been to appease the business community, both at home and abroad, that the changes wrought by independence will not consist of any radical departure from the status quo. This is their weakness, for it has left them vulnerable to the fate of their vision being decided by Westminster in the case of the currency union, and Brussels when it comes to EU membership.

There is an appetite for a much more radical and progressive vision than that in Scotland after three decades of Thatcherism. A vision encompassing the re-nationalisation of the railways, a state owned energy supplier and bank, operated in the interests of the public instead of shareholders, would enjoy much support in the country, as would policies in favour of progressive taxation, trade union rights, a living wage, full employment, and major investment in housing and infrastructure.

In other words, offering a break from the neoliberal straitjacket that would be self imposed by a currency union with the rest of the UK and EU membership would have offered the YES campaign the best opportunity to maximise support across Scotland.

As it is, Alex Salmond and the SNP - adherents of neoliberal nostrums when it comes to monetary, economic, and fiscal policy - have come up against a neoliberal private members club that has just declared it is not currently accepting new members. This may leave them increasingly reliant on the emotional argument in favour of independence, based on empty symbols of Scottish nationalism such as the Saltire and the depiction of England as the auld enemy trampling over the rights of the Scottish people.

It is a dangerous path to tread.

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