Same questions. Different answers.

English: First Minister Alex Salmond and Deput...
Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon – Honest brokers
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was chatting with some friends the other day when the subject turned to “that interview”. You know the one I mean. The one where Andrew Neil attempts to interrogate Alex Salmond. In the course of the conversation one of my friends wondered aloud how it might be possible that two people observing precisely the same conversation could come to totally different conclusions about what has been said. One person utterly convinced that the interviewee said one thing, the other just as adamant that no such thing was said at all. That which is observed remains the same. But the reports of what has been observed differ markedly. Same evidence. Different verdicts. How might this phenomenon be explained?

It seems trivial to point out that, given exactly the same thing is being observed, the difference can only be attributed to the observer. In the example under discussion, one individual approaches the matter in the spirit of open-minded inquiry, seeking understanding through a process of logical and methodical reasoning. The other comes to the matter in a spirit of narrow-minded prejudice, seeking only affirmation of preconceived ideas. One comes bearing meaningful questions looking for answers. The other comes laden with predetermined answers looking for ways in which they can be rationalised.
But how do we tell which is which?
A good place to start is by asking which adds most to the bare facts of the issue – the things that are known. Which puts most effort into manipulating those facts. And which asks us to share the greatest number of their own assumptions. As far as “that interview” is concerned, I don’t think there is much doubt that it is those who are seeking to smear the First Minister who come out worst on all counts.
The nonsense about “that interview” is just a distraction. Nothing more than British Labour and their Tory allies playing to their own core British nationalist support. But the point about differences in the way things are perceived and portrayed has a much wider relevance. There are matters of some significance where the sensible, logical answers are being lost – or intentionally obscured – in a fog of obfuscation born of blind prejudice and irrational hatred.

Take the issue of Scotland’s EU status post-independence. The SNP approached this looking to discover what was the most probable scenario. They looked at the options available to the EU and weighed them rationally to determine the most credible position. A position which others taking a similarly reasoned approach have also arrived at. Their approach was entirely pragmatic. They did not adopt a position driven by ideology or partisan interest and then go looking for ways to justify that position. But their opponents did exactly that. How else to explain the extraordinary nonsense they’ve been coming out with.

There are the baffling inconsistencies and contradictions such as we heard in the Scottish Parliament yesterday (Tuesday 30 October) when the unionists parties mounted a scatter-gun assault on the Scottish government which included, as well as the customary smearing of Alex Salmond, attacking the SNP position on the EU. One moment the unionists were asserting that Scotland would not be a member of the EU after independence, the next they were saying that Scotland would be a member… but citing “authorities” who stated that Scotland would not be a member. Confusing? You bet! But it gets worse.

Some of the “authorities” the anti-independence parties are fondest of quoting are Spanish politicians. They never quite get around to explaining why a Spanish politician’s opinion should be more valid than that of a Scottish politician. And they never cite those Spanish politicians who express views on the matter which are “inconvenient”.

On those occasions when they allow that Scotland will be a member of the EU on independence they append to this the argument that this membership will be subject to “negotiations”. Naturally, given their low opinion of Scotland and its people, the unionists assume that we will come off worst in these negotiations. We will, for example, be forced to join the euro. Despite the fact that their is no mechanism by which this can happen. But most curiously of all they don’t explain what the starting point for these negotiations might be.

The “thinking” seems to be that Scotland will somehow continue to be a member of the EU, but that all of the treaties that define a member state will no longer be in force and will have to be negotiated. Or should that be renegotiated? I know! It makes no sense at all. The only logical starting point for these putative negotiations is the point at which Scotland finds itself immediately prior to independence as a result of all those treaties having been signed on its behalf by the UK. In short, precisely the position stated by the SNP.

We see the same contrast between pragmatism and irrationality in other issues too. Like Scotland’s post-independence currency. As with the question of EU membership there are various options. These are the things that are known. The same things are known by both sides. But, again, very different conclusions are arrived at depending on the mindset of those looking at the options. And. again, it is the option selected by the SNP which is the most reasonable and logical by any honest analysis.

A “sterling zone” currency union is not proposed because it somehow suits the SNP. The reality is that an independent currency might well have had greater populist appeal. But a currency union, at least as a transitional measure, is “best” because it is the option which has the most mutual benefits for both Scotland and the rest of the UK (rUK). Not without negotiated compromises, to be sure. But nonetheless the best option.

Not that one would get that impression from the reaction of the unionist parties to the mere suggestion of post-independence monetary union. That reaction can probably be most accurately characterised as spluttering indignation mixed with contemptuous ridicule. Somehow, the unionists are able to totally miss, or completely erase from their minds, the glaringly obvious mutual benefits of a sterling zone. Not becaue they see different facts, but because they see the facts differently.

The harsh truth is that British nationalists see Scotland’s quest for independence as an act of disrespect, if not actual aggression towards the British state. The British state which they regard as almost divinely ordained and certainly as the foundation of all the power and privilege that they crave. This attitude is totally incompatible with a rational approach to the issues being addressed in the referendum debate. Unionists are simply incapable of being honest about these issues.

On things such as currency and the EU the SNP are telling the truth – at least to the extent that there is a knowable truth.

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