The Blog

The Place of Fear in the Scottish Referendum

The Scottish people are dissatisfied; a default stance of any citizen within a democracy. The wholesale boldness, even audacity of the Yes campaign taps into the Scottish frustration. But destroying a nation because of discontent is nonsensical.

Change and hope and the promise of a better future. These have been the mantras of the SNP's referendum campaign. It's a campaign style that in recent times achieved ultimate legitimation in 2008 through Barack Obama's heady presidential campaign with its slogans and cries of 'hope and change.' In the 2010 general election the Conservatives tried to emulate the Democrats strategy, but could only come up with their rather limp election slogan of 'vote for change'. For the SNP though, the change mantra has been a brilliant way to whip up fervour and enthusiasm and a strategy which permits the nationalists to label all dissenters as conservative defenders of the status quo. This is a fundamental reason for the SNP surge and the resulting panic they've caused amongst the so called 'Westminster Establishment'. Yet it is a mantra which is ultimately quixotic and irresponsible. They offer the ultimate change: destroying a nation and a 300 year-long union.

The positivity of the Yes campaign means they smugly contrast themselves with the No campaign's 'Project Fear'. The hypocrisy of this accusation is palpable. The fear stoked by the SNP has been central to their campaign; claims of a wholesale privatisation of the NHS under the current government are shameless distortions. Salmond perpetuates irrational fear about the 'Westminster Establishment', deriding them as if they are a uniform bloc with the same agenda whose sole purpose is to serve themselves at the expense of the people of Scotland.

There's a certain historical irony behind the proposed breakup of The Union. Following the initial 1707 Act of Union that brought England and Scotland together, Robert Burns infamously lamented how the Scottish politicians who voted for Union with England were 'bought and sold for English Gold'. The Union was thus supposedly the outcome of greedy, self-serving opportunists. And now Alex Salmond is the modern day manifestation of his opportunistic ancestors, whose proclamations of a beneficial change for all Scotsmen mask a need for individual glory. Salmond's cynical opportunism was laid bare when he saw Andy Murray's victory in last year's Wimbledon final as a chance to wave the Scottish national flag to the cameras. Salmond's favourite film is Braveheart and he is willing to play with people's lives so long as he is able to position himself as the central protagonist in what he loftily labels Scotland's march to 'making history', just as his hero William Wallace was the central protagonist in that bygone chapter of history.

As vacuous an aspect of the Yes critique of the No campaign is the idea that fear is an invalid campaigning tool. Fear, though less appealing, though less romantic, is a responsible way to campaign. The SNP's call for change thrives off a reckless patriotism and nationalism. Scotland knows best. The Scottish people can run their own country better. It's a fundamentally dishonest creed that isn't sincere about the benefits that Scotland has of been a part of the UK, nor honest about the real dangers that an isolated, introverted Scotland cut off from the rest of the world faces.

The Yes campaign lauds how it is an optimistic grass-roots movement rather than the No's Establishment operation. The Establishment has rightly been rattled by the referendum process. Civic participation has been revitalised and those previously apathetic are smitten by the rhetoric of the SNP. Political participation should be celebrated. Yet relentlessly bashing of 'The Establishment' is the easy, spurious even the indulgent way to respond. It's easy to proffer the simplistic explanation that all Scotland's problems are the fault of the Westminster Establishment. It's a populist message that is so tangible, that so easily resonates. But despite the problems of the so called Establishment, it has ever been the main fortress of the nation that has made Great Britain great, that though tainted, is not broken. That can adapt and improve itself, for the benefit of all the United Kingdom as it has done in the past. We should hazard against the ideas that insurgences are inherently a good thing; be wary of a political campaign that is so reliant on whipping up a heady populist fervour, whose justification is predicated on change for change's sake.

The Scottish people are dissatisfied; a default stance of any citizen within a democracy. The wholesale boldness, even audacity of the Yes campaign taps into the Scottish frustration. But destroying a nation because of discontent is nonsensical. The quixotic appeal of creating a new country is irresponsible. Nourishing fear is sometimes necessary, for in this instance, an independent Scotland faces significant dangers. A country that will be without a currency. A country where jobs are immediately lost and investment withdrawn from the country. A country that will struggle to gain membership of international bodies. Hope and change against fear and realism? Which is the most responsible campaign? What best serves the interest of the Scottish people?