I am sure we’re all grateful to Dr David Patrick for his insights reported in The National. But did anyone seriously doubt that the British propaganda machine’s principal line of attack would be some variation on the old ‘Too wee! Too poor! Too stupid!’ (TW!TP!TS!) argument? It is, after all, the whole reason for framing what is strictly a constitutional issue as an economic issue. So that the debate and the campaign can likewise be dragged away from the actual question being put to voters and into the realm of economic modelling and forecasting. The constitutional issue is something the British desperately don’t want to engage with. An economic debate is where they feel on far safer ground.
The British don’t want to engage with the constitutional issue because it’s a debate they cannot win. They cannot win that debate because the only constitutional arguments they can advance actually strengthen the pro-independence campaign. To argue against the restoration of Scotland’s independence in purely constitutional terms the British would be obliged to acknowledge the true nature and purpose of the Union. They would have to maintain that the people of Scotland are not sovereign in our own country. That we have no right of self-determination. That Scotland is not a ‘real’ nation. You can see why they’d rather go with some formulation of TW!TP!TS! – while never stating it explicitly, of course.
The facts of the constitutional issue don’t lend themselves to manipulation. The people of Scotland are sovereign. There is no way to put a positive spin on denial of this. Scotland is a nation. There’s no way to argue that Scotland is not a nation without inviting a powerful adverse reaction from almost every single person who considers themselves Scottish. As a nation in which the people are sovereign, the people have the right of self-determination. There is no way to argue that we don’t without exposing the inherently anti-democratic nature of the Union. Independence is normal. How might it be argued otherwise without appearing quite deranged?
Dealing with the constitutional issue as a constitutional issue would be a nightmare for British Nationalists. It would be the stuff of their nightmares but for the fact that they know how to take the debate away from matters constitutional and make it all about money. They can be quite confident that they’ll never have to deal with those awkward constitutional matters because they are assured of the cooperation of the pro-independence campaign in making it all about money. The British are conscious of the fact that they wouldn’t have won in 2014 if the SNP, Scottish Government and Yes movement hadn’t been so easily lured out of the citadel of their constitutional case and onto a battleground where the solid constitutional points can be overwhelmed by the furious doom-mongering of massed economics experts.
No area of academic study better lends itself to the generation of fear and doubt and insecurity than the field of economic modelling and forecasting. The modelling material is the softest of clay in any colour the economic expert chooses. The forecasts can be whatever the economic expert wants them to be. All that’s necessary is that they carefully select the inputs which will produce the desired outcome. They don’t get to call themselves experts unless they’re skilled in choosing the appropriate inputs for a given result. Economic forecasting is just an impressively complicated way of getting from a preconceived idea to a foregone conclusion.
Not that numbers don’t matter. They do. Success is highly dependent on the number of economic experts you can throw into the fray. And the British state has thousands of them. The Scottish side in the 2014 campaign had a relatively miniscule force. We relied on the superior quality of their arms. But the pikes and staves of truth and integrity are of little avail against the swords of lies and the thundering artillery of the British media.
The British knew that all they had to do was pick at the ever-present sores of doubt until they became the open wounds of fear and they’d save their precious Union. It was always obvious that the British were going to frame the issue such as to allow for the easiest generation of the most doubt. That’s what they did with the 2014 referendum. There is no reason to suppose they won’t do the same should they find themselves in the same situation. Dr David Patrick is certainly correct. But he is kinda stating the obvious.
What requires explanation is why the Scottish side in the 2014 campaign so readily – even eagerly – went along with the British plan to avoid the constitutional arguments altogether. Why was the Scottish side so easily led onto the field of economics where we were all but certain to be cut to shreds? Why was no discernible effort made to steer the debate back to the constitutional question the referendum was intended to answer?
More importantly, why is the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government gearing up to make exactly the same mistake again? Why has there been no attempt to reframe the issue as a constitutional rather than an economic matter? Why has the SNP so determinedly refused to engage with discussion around alternative approaches to the constitutional issue – other, that is, than the approach which served our opponents so well ten years ago?
That reframing is tricky rather than difficult. Challenging, for sure. But far from impossible. Had the SNP under Nicola Sturgeon been willing to listen to those who sought to learn and apply the lessons of the first referendum campaign, we would already be totally prepared for the next one. Had they taken on board the case for an alternative approach maybe Nicola Sturgeon and her party and her government would be so frustratingly reluctant to confront the British political elite.
Maybe those who argue that Scotland is ‘Too wee! Too poor! Too stupid!’ have some kind of a point. With the issue reframed we could argue that Scotland is certainly too wee to be in such a grotesquely asymmetrical political union. Too wee to ever get the government we vote for. Too wee to be able use parliamentary means to defend our rights as a nation and to protect ourselves against the imposition of massively damaging policies. Scotland is too wee for the Union.
Having reframed the issue we could allow that Scotland is indeed too poor. Too poor to indefinitely shoulder a disproportionate part of the burden of British pretensions. Too poor to fully mitigate the devastating impact of policies which are anathema to us. Too poor to bear the cost of the Union.
Unfortunately, it appears we are too stupid to realise how vital it is that the issue be reframed and a fresh approach adopted for any new referendum.
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