By David Torrance
It was Ko-Ko in Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado who sang about having 'a little list', on which were 'statesmen of a compromising kind', such as 'What d'ye call him - Thing'em-bob, and likewise - Never-mind'. This week saw statesmen and women on both sides of the constitutional debate produce their own little (or not so little) lists, summarising - or so they believed - compelling arguments for and against independence.

First off the mark was Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael, who instead of listing 'society offenders who might well be underground', set out twenty reasons why Scotland is better off as part of the UK.

Some of these were fair enough, others were a little tenuous, and some even a bit weird, but it betrayed a certain defensiveness on the part of Better Together and the UK Government; a realisation that they have to be a little more proactive when it comes to 'selling' the status quo.

In response, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (The Mikado might have had her praising, 'with enthusiastic tone…every country but [her] own'), issued a list of fifty questions for Unionists to answer, and as with Carmichael's these were a combination of reasonable, tenuous and downright hypothetical. A lot were predicated on successive Westminster governments persecuting Scotland in the event of a 'no' vote, which rather demonstrated that so-called 'scaremongering' is not confined to Better Together.

Nevertheless, both lists said something interesting about either side of the independence debate, an attempt to be more positive from the Unionists, and arguably a more negative approach from the Nationalists, roughly speaking a reversal of where the two camps were at for most of last year. I guess it's the Buzz Feed approach to the #indyref – our politicians are so, well, with it.

The two lists are, however, very different: Carmichael's focus on demonstrable benefits of Scotland (as he sees it) from the Union, while Sturgeon's peer into a crystal ball and see bad things befalling the northern half of the UK, something she challenges the incumbent Coalition government to refute. Given that Parliaments cannot bind their successors, this is difficult for them to do, but then that's the point, and also why Unionists often seek similarly quixotic assurances from Nationalists.

But I digress. The Scottish Secretary's list was accompanied by a speech at Stirling University, his first of 2014, again pitched as a 'positive' case for the Union. Although there was little new in terms of content, there was an implicit admission of not having risen to the occasion thus far. 'For too long', acknowledged Carmichael, 'we have allowed to go unspoken the contribution that Scotland makes to the UK – and we have been equally silent on the benefits that we get from being part of it.'

He and his colleagues, he went on, had started to put that right during 2013, with the publication of a series of papers under the 'Scotland Analysis' banner, the closest thing the UK Government has to its own version of the Scottish Government's White Paper, although the generally comprehensive papers are more descriptive than visionary, in contrast to 'Scotland's Future' which at points resembled more of an aspirational manifesto than a statement of fact.

As for making a more 'positive' case, I'm not altogether convinced the Scottish Secretary added very much to the sum of referendum knowledge, beyond utilising the usual language about the UK being a 'family of nations' and 'greater than the sum of its parts'. 'We all put something in and we are all getting something out,' he posited in Stirling, going on to mention higher per capita public spending north of the border (that being, presumably, what Scotland gets 'out').

Carmichael went on to detail a few of his favourite things (another list) about the United Kingdom, chiefly the NHS, BBC and what he called a 'formidable sporting culture'. Again, this is old territory, although the Scottish Secretary took care to emphasise that as 'in so many sports, the nations of our UK family have different traditions, different strengths and different teams', not just competing against one another (as the Home Nations will do in this summer's Commonwealth Games) but also together, via the British Lions and Winter Olympics.

Carmichael also made a point of contrasting his rationale for the Union with that of his Nationalist opponents for independence. 'You'll find no grandiose flights of fancy here – only the very facts of our United Kingdom,' he said. 'The list can – and does – go on. Together these facts to make a positive case for Scotland in the United Kingdom.' The Scottish Government's White Paper, he argued, was 'not a vision; it is a mirage', and like 'all mirages, the closer you get the less real it becomes'.

The Scottish Secretary concluded his speech, in case his audience missed the point, by using the word 'positive' a lot. In 2014, he said, it was the job of all Unionists to 'make the strong positive case for the UK and to make it loudly and proudly…the positive choice to stay part of the United Kingdom family…the positive choice for a bright Scottish future as part of the United Kingdom.'

Of course, using the word 'positive' does not mean an argument actually is positive (a similar critique applies to pro-independence arguments, which are often very negative), but it's all about tone, an important aspect of any political debate. The most effective campaigns are a mixture of positive and negative, appealing to voters' aspirational instincts while also playing to basic fears. Both Better Together and Yes Scotland realise this, but apply each in different proportions.

But one thing Unionists still aren't prepared to do is champion Britishness in the way that many do Scottishness. While Prime Minister, Gordon Brown had a go but quickly realised defining it was going to be quite difficult. Interesting then that this week an article in the Scottish Daily Mail (also carried, in edited form, by the Guardian) got quite a bit of attention online. 'There is one place in the 21st century where it is particularly unfashionable to be British,' wrote the former journalist Chris Deerin. 'That place is, of course, Britain.'

Bravely (not, I think, an unreasonable word), Deerin went on to write that 'the argument for the continued existence of our United Kingdom is first and foremost a moral one' (my italics). 'We have a big choice to make this year,' he concluded. 'Undoubtedly, Britain will be traduced in every way possible by those who wish to destroy it. But perhaps it is also an opportunity to rediscover what we have, what we have done, and what we might still do.' For Deerin, a world without Britain was 'almost unthinkable'.

Is that also true for Scots? Well, it depends who you speak to. Perhaps around 20 per cent of the electorate don't much like Britain and would not lament its passing, but the rest – to varying degrees – like at least some aspects of 'Britain' and want to retain them, as of course do the SNP. And that's the point of all these lists: Unionists want to remind voters about the best of British, while Nationalists want to flag up the negatives, past, present and future. I suspect there will be quite a few more little lists as 2014 progresses.

David Torrance is a writer, journalist and broadcaster.
He is also author of 'Salmond - Against The Odds' a biography of Scotland's First Minister


# Muz 2014-01-15 19:50
"He and his colleagues, he went on, had started to put that right [positive case for Scotland in the Union] during 2013, with the publication of a series of papers under the 'Scotland Analysis' banner, ..."

Really? Are they including the one that stated Scotland ceased to exist in international law. Is it positive and/or beneficial for a country to be "extinguished"?
# Henderson 2014-01-15 20:01
Im with Torrance on this.

Lets get the debate onto Scotland v Britain.

Yep Lets get the PM on TV with the FM, come on David you know thats what you were trying to say really.

Sooner the better, yep lets get the shouters for Britan out on the streets, Banging it for blighty in WW1 celebrations and at NO rallies (like Anas Sarwar has said has already happened though we dont know where) with their Union Jacks and shouts of Jocks go home or something of that nature.

It has to come to this, so the sooner the better.

I know which rallies would look more dubious and attract the ne'er do wells - don't you.
# bringiton 2014-01-15 20:08
Westminster tried to head off independence in Scotland by establishing a "parish council" in Edinburgh known as the Scottish Executive.
This is not what most Scots thought they were getting at the time.
Their clear refusal to consider additional powers for our parliament should tell us exactly what the future holds if we vote No.
Unionists need to explain to those of us who consider Scotland to be a country,why,uni quely in the world,we shouldn't manage our own affairs and why we are better off having an electorate in another country deciding who should govern us (even if occasionally we agree).
Of course,if you do not consider Scotland to be a country but rather a region of Britain/England then none of this applies.
# Macart 2014-01-15 20:37
That's right Mr Torrance the UK gov and Better Together do need to sell the union and a more positive vision of Scotland's future within the union. Frankly retention of the BBC and sporting achievement are not going to cut it.

Real constitutional change and systemic overhaul of governmental practices. Perhaps a vision on how to address crushing poverty in our own streets. How about a cunning plan to reindustrialise or create a world class manufacturing base? Something a little different from financial services/casino banking for a change.

There's a small spread of issues which they could approach for starters. I'm sure we'll hear something any day now.
# G. P. Walrus 2014-01-15 20:40
The debate isn't about "being" Scottish or British, it is about where the power lies, Edinburgh or London.

The central point is that 100% of votes cast for the parliament in Edinburgh are cast by residents of Scotland. Less than 10% of the votes cast for the parliament in London are cast by residents of Scotland.

Therefore the parliament in London has never, can never and will never put the interests of the residents of Scotland first and foremost.

That is to the great detriment of Scotland in so many ways. That is why, as a resident of Scotland, I will be voting Yes in September.
# bringiton 2014-01-15 21:21
Sorry to re-post this but it is a very powerful statement about "power" and where it should be as far as Scotland is concerned.
# GuitarBoy 2014-01-15 21:23
Alistair Carmichaels speech was just a lot of tripe, dished out in desperation because there's nothing more nutritious in the pantry. Even liberal seasoning, by way of repeated use of the word "positive", isn't going to disguise it.

I agree with GP Walrus in that I don't see a Yes vote as being a choice between being Scottish over British. We ARE Scottish and we ARE British. Voting Yes won't change that in any way. All it will change is that we will be able to vote for a proper government who will have Scotland as it's priority.
I also happen to think that the argument about not getting the government we vote for is not being fully exploited. Saying that we vote Labour, and we get the Tories is fine but we've also voted Labour, thinking we would get a government who would care enough about Scotland, but we didn't and never really have. THAT, to me, is what the debate is all about.
# BRL 2014-01-16 01:58
Totally agree with you both and that's the nub of the matter; we were a union of dual acceptance, which is now become unacceptable to us Scots. That is what this referendum is about. Commonsense and respect from both camps will see a suitable outcome.
# Breeks 2014-01-15 21:41
This article reminds me of comments made by Derek Bateman relating to the media, where traditional journalism gives way to two protagonists being presented face to face to promote their arguments, but there is no critique or 'weighting' given to the strength or paucity of their arguments. It's all about noise, and learning anything new isn't part of the formula.

As a list of 20 positives for the Union, I rather suspect Mr Carmichael might find himself in hot water with Trades Description Act. That said, I wasn't bowled over by Nicola Sturgeon's list either. I think a more telling repost to Mr Carmichael might have been Vicent Partal's rather more uplifting 20 reasons I'm an Independentist.
# PaulC 2014-01-15 22:14
" the Scottish Secretary took care to emphasise that as 'in so many sports, the nations of our UK family have different traditions, different strengths and different teams', not just competing against one another .... but also together, via the British Lions and Winter Olympics"

Would that not be the British and Irish Lions, a team that has been captained by citizens of the Republic of Ireland on two of its three most recent incarnations.
# rabb 2014-01-15 22:55
"Given that Parliaments cannot bind their successors, this is difficult for them to do"


All 3 main political parties in Westminster (Con, Lib & Lab) are pushing the same line.

They all want us to stay in the union and stand shoulder to shoulder in the form of Better Together.

Regardless of which one is in power all those questions can and should be answered and bound to whoever is in power because they all want the same thing(unless of course there is a 4th political power about to sweep to power in London?).
# creigs1707repeal 2014-01-15 23:05

You write: "...which rather demonstrated that so-called 'scaremongering' is not confined to Better Together."

Do you understand the difference between scare-mongering and legitimate concenrs? A little test--which of the following do you think is merely scare-mongering and which are legitimate concerns?

1) Food prices may increase in indy Scotland.

2) Roaming mobile charges may increase in indy Scotland.

3)Barnett Formula may be reduced/scrapped.

4) Scottish airports may be bombed.

5) Holyrood powers may be stripped back after a No vote.

6) The UK may not be a member state of the EU in 2020.

So, David--which of the above statements do you consider as 'scare-mongering' and which do you consider as legitimate concerns? Take your time.
# martin morrison 2014-01-16 01:59
You forgot
7) Scotland might not be allowed to enter the Eurovision Song Contest.
# mealer 2014-01-15 23:21
Grandiose flights of fancy? That sounds to me like MR Cameron prancing about the world stage pretending to be the big boy,while the Chinese,Russian s and Americans describe Britain as an unimportant little country.And Mr Carmichael seems to claim that the kind of societies that function well in Scandinavia are a vision which will turn into a mirage.Presumably he either doesn't believe they exist,or doesn't believe me and my fellow Scots have what it takes to do what they do.And he's supposed to be the Secretary of State for Scotland.
# Abulhaq 2014-01-15 23:40
If we want to stay "British" then vote no. After independence the concept of British as a "supranationalit y" will be redundant. It was only ever such in the fanciful minds of Scots anyway. To the English it was an alternative name for English and a look in any foreign language dictionary confirms that. There was a British Empire but the people who ran it were always styled English regardless of where in the British isles they came from. On this matter we need to blow away the historical cobwebs. We are Scots and European. In future only that will matter.
# mealer 2014-01-15 23:52
Why doesn't trident feature in mr Carmichaels list of union benefits? It's extremely expensive,so surely it must be something he considers to be well worth having.And it's supported by all the unionist parties.Also,it's an integral part of Londons image as a big player with a seat at the top table.So why isn't Trident up there near the top of his list?
# thejourneyman 2014-01-16 00:32
So that's it? A very disappointing contribution from DT. I thought when it was announced, this could be good to have an anti independence commentator giving us a view on Newsnet, but nothing said gives me even a moment of stopping to think again! DT couldn't help but qualify his comment on AC's use of the word positive by balancing it with a misplaced opposite criticism of pro independence comments.
AC's "British Lions" omission of 'and Ireland' and his misrepresentati on of the NHS Scotland heritage is reprehensible when trying to make a pro British argument. In fact his ignorance, or laziness, defeats his own point by exposing the arrogance of BT spokespeople (if that's a word).
Danny Alexander's attempts to placate the market was a game changer but obviously too hot for DT to handle in his first Newsnet piece.
Perhaps he'll get better?
# cuckooshoe 2014-01-16 01:37
Wings Over Scotland's blow by blow account of Mr Carmichael's speech is more honest..
# Onwards 2014-01-16 03:01
It comes down to the question: Do we have to be politically ruled by Westminster to be British?

I don't think so, and can see Scotland after independence contributing to a modern, less restrictive sense of Britishness... a new relationship of equals.

We really could have the best of both worlds.
# GuitarBoy 2014-01-16 10:08
Onwards I completely agree with this point. Independence will give us the means of setting policies which work for Scotland but that doesn't mean that we can't work with the rUK on matters of mutual interest. The key thing, as you say, is that we would be working with them as an equal partner, and not as a subservient and highly neglected region or province.
# Angry_Weegie 2014-01-16 10:58
I'm afraid that this is just another of the standard unionist arguments, both sides are just the same, both are a mixture of positive and negative, so what's the point of voting for independence, there will be no real difference in the way you're governed.

I'm sorry, David, but if that's what you really think, you're deluding yourself. You've been looking at the arguments through your pair of union jack glasses. If you can't tell the difference between an aspirational view of what Scotland could be and the doom and gloom rants from the No campaign, then you should really give up trying to write political pieces and concentrate on the children's fairy stories.
# X_Sticks 2014-01-16 21:45
Sterling job David.

Money for auld rope, eh?
The stuff above is a bit stale, though.

Still not sure what you're trying to say.
Are you trying to say anything?

Are you trying not to say anything?

Positive - Negative.
Holyrood - Westminster
Independence - Westminster Sovereignty.
SG White Paper - Scotland Analysis Papers.
SNP's Dream Future - Westminster propaganda
Blah - Blah

My shopping list:
1. self determination for my country.

I also read Deerin's DM article. A moral argument for the United Kingdom. Seriously?

Superceding sovereignty over our own country for the first time in 300 years? Really?

Thon boys aff his heid.
# UpSpake 2014-01-17 09:09
I almost expect nothing more adventurous from what is now a London based hack. Whatever happens to people who migrate down there whether they be journalists or politicians they almost immediately fall victim to blinkered thinking.
They exhibit no vision for their homeland and believe all this subservience nonsense verbatim. What is wrong with them ?.
Now though, with a much more balanced scenario here in Scotland with all shades of opinion coming out in favor of a Yes vote perhaps the likes of Torrance could care to visit Wealthy Nation or Business in Scotland for an enlightened opinion of Scotland's future ?.
# call me dave 2014-01-20 20:32
More negativity in this latest epistle.

You must be logged-in in order to post a comment.


Donate to Newsnet Scotland


Latest Comments