By Dave Taylor
There is another way to interpret the presentations released on YouTube by the BBC College of Journalism, and that is to see them as helping their mainly London based journalists to understand what is happening in that strange country, far to the North – even further north than Birmingham!
It isn’t surprising that the concentration should be on the strategies and ideas of the SNP (or Salmond, as the BBC and other MSM prefer to personalise everything onto the party leaders). These journalists have an understanding of Westminster politics already and in reality, most of the presentations weren’t actually about how Scotland would be affected, but how London and rUK would be affected by independence.
Few will be surprised that the London chattering classes remain mainly concerned with their own situation.
In many ways, the presentation by Stephanie Flanders was a dramatic demonstration that the SNP approach to the referendum has been hugely successful in reducing the feelings of “threat” caused by the prospect of fundamental change.
She made the point that Scotland is no drain on the rUK economy. The 10% “shortfall” between income and expenditure was raised, then shot down. What they refer to as a “subsidy” for Scotland, is labelled as “deficit” for the UK. Both figures simply represent the monies borrowed by the UK.
Additionally, she pointed out that the idea that Scotland was reliant on public sector employment was a myth.
She debunked a couple of Unionist scare stories. On the EU, she made the reasonable point that there is actually no precedent for the dissolution of an existing member state, but that the presumption was that Scotland would continue to be an EU member, whether that would be automatic or after application.
On negotiations, she was clear that rUK wouldn’t be unreasonable on issues like monetary union – despite posturing in advance! – because it would be in their interests as well.
Now, I would take issue with her on her UK sourced data. She clearly hadn’t looked at the GERS data, which make it clear that Scotland contributes more to than it takes out of the UK Treasury, but of course we still “benefit” from the expenditure on defence, foreign wars, (not to mention London sewers) that the UK borrows the money to support. That the BBC’s Economics Editor didn’t appear to discriminate between attributable and unattributable expenditure was unfortunate to say the least!
However, for a London based commentator, she wasn’t too bad.
Nick Robinson was simply describing the strategies being adopted by the UK Government. There would be “a series of explosions”, which is how they apparently describe leaks of studies commissioned by UK Departments on defence, borders etc.
Wow! That was a startling revelation. None of us have ever seen such leaks highlighted in the Scotsman before. I have no doubt that Robinson has good links to the UK Government, and it seems that they remain reliant on a tired old strategy.
Brian Taylor struggled a little with his audience. Jokes which would have resonated with a Scottish audience fell flat. He did, however, make it clear to them that the old strategy of Unionist scaremongering simply didn’t work anymore. He told them that the tranche of Scottish opinion “hostile to independence” had significantly declined. While many were still sceptical to the idea of independence, they were no longer hostile, and were happy to vote SNP.
He rubbished the idea that 2014 was the preferred referendum date because of the Bannockburn anniversary, and made the point that the SNP strategy was to hold the referendum as near as possible to the UK General Election and the threat of another Tory Government. I have no “insider information”, but I’ve always assumed that this was part of the SNP strategy.
I rather liked his description of the Unionist campaign as a “hesitant awkward beast” and of the Unionist parties “shuffling towards each other”.
Much seems to have been made of his assertion that the SNP wanted Devo Max on the ballot paper as a “parachute”. I’ve always used the term “safety net” myself.
Does anyone seriously doubt that this is the reason for keeping that option open? If the polls suggest a clear win for independence, then the Devo Max / Devo Plus options will disappear as fast as bathers from Aberdeen beach in January. While either of these options would be less than satisfactory, they would be better than what we have now, and currently represent the preferred choice of most Scots according to polling.
Taylor gave his opinion that the SNP don’t want an early referendum because they “fear they would lose”, but also that the UK Government don’t really want an early referendum either because they “fear they would lose”. He considers that the Unionist stance is really designed to force acceptance of a single referendum question, and to deny the opportunity to vote for an enhanced devolution.
He made the point that many posters have made on this site – that a vote for Devo Max/Plus wouldn’t actually mandate a Parliament which could deliver it.
What he omitted to say was that, in political terms, any UK Government failing to deliver on that would massively increase the demand for independence.
Then there was Andrew Neil. Oh, dear. What a woeful performance. Not that it would have been noticed by his audience, except that his fellow presenters contradicted his assertions. He was confident that “international law is absolutely clear”, while admitting that, in fact EU membership was “really murky territory” since nothing was clear.
Neil remains an unreconstructed Unionist, and little that he says is of value.
The saddest part of his appearance was that some of his audience would assume that because of his accent, he actually has any comprehension of Scotland.