The ‘prospectus’ fallacy

I am pretty sure I’ve put this question to Robbie Mochrie before. I’ve certainly asked it of others who talk of selling independence on the basis of some gleaming vision of Scotland’s future as an independent nation. When you “explain clearly what will change with independence” what will you say to those who instead of responding in the Pavlovian manner you suppose, ask how you know what will change with independence? How are you able to predict the future with such confidence? How can you guarantee that your gleaming vision will materialise?

I have also asked how it might be possible to devise a ‘prospectus’ for independent Scotland that isn’t likely to deter as many as it enthuses. One voter’s egalitarian Utopia is another person’s communist dictatorship. There is no perfect prospectus that only appeals and never repels. Political parties have been trying to devise such a manifesto for as long as there have been political parties. None have succeeded. What makes Robbie Mochrie suppose this magical prospectus is going to appear now?

I almost asked what makes Robbie Mochrie think he is the one to devise a perfect prospectus for independence. But it is notable that for all the people who pontificate that this is what Scotland’s cause absolutely requires not one actually presents us with the finished article. They all suppose it will be devised by somebody else. Or by a bunch of people sitting around a dinner table. This perfect prospectus has been talked about for a decade at least. Still, there’s no dinner table far less the dream brains trust that might sit around it. It’s always a prospectus in prospect. Nothing concrete ever materialises. I wonder if Robbie Mochrie has ever reflected on why this might be. I have.

The questions are all rhetorical, of course. Like the many questions I have put to the SNP and Alba and various others, there will be no meaningful response. If the questions are not ignored the most common response is to tell me I shouldn’t be asking such questions. Apparently, questioning the wisdom handed down from the likes of Robbie Mochrie makes one a British agent or an closet Unionist or some such. So why do I bother? Well, I as the questions not in the expectation of an answer but in the hope that the asking will cause at least one other person to ask questions of their own.

Here’s another thing I question. Robbie Mochrie opines that,

For the last seven years, Scottish voters have been almost equally divided between support for, and opposition to, independence.

Robbie Mochrie: Enlightened discussion is the way to make Yes case

I suspect many (most?) Yes activists would simply nod in agreement with this. By training and habit, however, I cannot see such a statement of fact without wondering how true and accurate it is. At a superficial level it may be true and accurate enough for conversational purposes. But does it suffice as analysis on which to base thinking about how we might progress Scotland’s cause? Readers shall, of course, make their own judgement on this. I would ask only that they factor in at least one ‘complication’.

The problem lies not with the 50/50 split as indicated by polls, but with the terms “support for” and “opposition to”. This assumes that all those on one side of the divide are absolutely for the restoration of Scotland’s independence and all those on the other side are just as absolutely against. In reality, the two sides are further sub-divided into more narrowly defined categories. Not all of those on the Yes side of polling can accurately be described as supporting independence. Some are, of course. But many are motivated by things other than genuine support for independence. For some it’s an anti-Tory thing. For others it’s agreement with the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government’s policy agenda. For others still it’s one or other of the various ‘visions’ proffered or promised by the likes of Robbie Mochrie.

Similarly, on the No side there are hardcore British Nationalists for whom the Union is an object of almost religious devotion. And the No side also has its share of people who are motivated by partisan loyalty or antipathy to SNP+SGP/Scottish Government policies.

Doubtless each of these categories could be divided into numerous sub-categories – and so on right down to the individual. There is, however, a point beyond which such granular examination ceases to be useful. And a point at which it becomes nonsensical. So let’s just stop where we are and ask ourselves what implications this complication might have for our thinking on the way forward for Scotland’s cause.

It seems obvious to me that even this light scratching through the superficiality of a 50/50 prompts serious questions about the utility of the whole ‘positive case for independence’ idea. Apart from the fact that insistence on this approach to the constitutional issue has had no discernible impact on polling since 2014, the proposed prospectus even if perfected cannot possibly address all or even a significant part of the electorate. A single prospectus, if it is coherent, will not have cross-category appeal sufficient to produce the decisive outcome required.

How do you devise a prospectus that persuades both those who like the policy agenda of the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government and those who detest it? Forget about the hard-core British Nationalists, how might a single, fixed and detailed prospectus have a useful level of appeal across all the other categories on the No side? How do you formulate a prospectus that appeals to those on the No side without risking it being unacceptable to some on the Yes side?

There is no possibility of a single defined ‘positive case for independence’ having the impact required. There would have to be different versions of the prospectus for different categories of voter. The range would inevitably include versions which are contradictory or mutually exclusive. I trust the ridiculousness of this is evident enough to require no further explanation.

There is a solution to this conundrum. Although ‘solution’ is probably not the right word. But the impossibility of both an all-purpose prospectus and the impracticality of a pick ‘n’ mix prospectus make any other idea worthy of consideration.

Instead of trying to sell independence by burying it in a ‘vision’ and then hoping you can sell all – or enough – of the multitudinous facets of this vision to all – or enough – of the electorate, why not sell independence on its own merits as an alternative to the Union? Why not explain independence as rectifying an anomalous and deleterious constitutional arrangement? Why not eschew the endless complications of a ‘positive case for independence’ enshrined in a formal prospectus and present the restoration of Scotland’s independence as a positive thing in and of itself contrasted with the ever more easily demonstrated harmfulness of the Union?

Rather than chasing an illusory ‘prospectus for an independent Scotland’ why not reframe the entire constitutional issue in such a way that what is demanded is a prospectus for Scotland as part of the British state?

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4 thoughts on “The ‘prospectus’ fallacy

  1. The “vision thing” is more about a party’s manifesto than the reality of independence. By the way when is the revised edition to the Wee Blue Book coming out? That’s what’s needed.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Independence, taking back control, it worked for the Tories on Brexit, and who doesn’t like to be in control, incidentally I don’t recall a Westminster government prospectus on leaving the EU, so why should Scotland need to provide an indepth one as they did in 2014, it will only be open to scrutiny and allow holes no matter how shallow (more like dents, but inflated by the unionist media) to be shot into it.

    I mean and it might sound controversial, but the majority of the Scottish public don’t give a stuff about the nuts and bolts or the small print of independence when it comes to a prospectus, the thicker the prospectus the more the unionists will go through it with a fine toothed comb and find fault with it. Have we learned nothing from Farage and Johnson on populist politics.

    No a short and sweet slogan backed up with say Scotland needs all the levers of government, outlined in a thin prospectus which highlights how to make Scots more prosperous, or something to that effect. I mean how many ordinary folk actually read the 2014 (White Paper) prospectus, and how many recall the slogan taking back control? used by the Tories six years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes, keep it simple. If we attain Independence then the future of Scotland shall be a matter wholly for the Scottish People – unlike the present where the Scottish people are only part of the equation – and not the biggest part at that.

    It is arrogance to detail what an Independent Scotland “will” be like. Outline the possibilities yes, but emphasise that it will be the Scottish People exercising their democratic rights that will shape the future.

    And yes the more you waffle on the more there will be to pick holes in.

    Two or three hundred extremely well chosen words should be enough.

    Liked by 2 people

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