There are two things consistent about the Independence referendum campaign. The poll lead for staying in the Union and the constant use by the commentariat that the pro-Independence camp need a “gamechanger”. This is not something I’ve ever thought, preferring to think of the “yes” camp as badly behind and needing snookers to get back into the campaign. On the face of it, Nick Watt’s story in Saturday’s Guardian has delivered that desired snooker.
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The story goes that a member of the Coalition government - the prime suspect being the person pictured to the right - has essentially said that “Of course, there would be a currency union” in the event of a Yes vote. Deepthroat went on, speculating that the quid pro quo could well be the SNP’s policy regarding nuclear submarines, currently deployed at the Faslaine base in the Holy Loch – “you can see the outlines of a deal”. At a stroke, the argument that Better Together have been prosecuting, that there will be no “Sterlingzone”, has been demolished. What has been worse for Better Together has been attempt to rebut this story from the key figures in Better Together. The sight of these figures trying to cover up their collapsing policy is akin to cheating husbands being found out.
It seems though that Better Together are suffering from collective wobbles, which seems to have destabilised their campaign. This incident seems to be the latest and most serious setback to their campaign that really should be straightforward. The Better Together campaign really should be based around flagging up the holes in “The Salmond Plan” (and there are holes…), consistently referencing & reinforcing the shared tied and cultural identity that we have as part of the UK (or endlessly repeat the opening ceremony from the London Olympics) and also putting forward the Devolution 2.0 proposals (fiscal autonomy) that really should have been put forward five years ago – when we wound up with the pig in a poke that was Calman instead.
Instead Better Together has fallen into the trap of endlessly rubbishing anything that Yes Scotland puts forward, before reading the small print.
Sterlingzone is the ideal example of what has gone wrong with Better Together. From the outset, Swinney’s proposals had more than the whiff of being a hasty compromise after the Eurozone crisis made adopting the Euro electorally toxic. Modern currency unions demand an element of there being a sharing of economic & monetary policy – it was the difficulty in this area that Mark Carney flagged up that made Sterlingzone difficult (but not impossible). Indeed, if anything Carney while not torpedoing Sterlingzone did torpedo the other SNP flagship policy – the lowering of Corporation Tax rates (initially to 3% lower than the r-UK rate). Yet the response from Better Together was a complete misreading of what Carney actually said. And this heavy handedness continued.
It could be argued that Better Together’s troubles started with Osborne’s declaration on Sterling. Michael Portillo on the BBC’s This Week programme described Osborne’s speech as “economically correct… but bad politics”. The heavy handed declaration that there will be no Sterlingzone has played into the hands of the pro-Indy Yes Scotland, as well as having the effect of backing themselves into a corner. It has been a gamechanger, but in terms of reinforcing the trend rather than reversing the (at that point) nascent trend. As I mused on Twitter, I wondered if Darling’s opposition to currency unions extended as far back as when he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury in Blair’s first Cabinet way back when Blair was keen on UK entry to the Euro.
Instead of the heavy handed approach, the UK government might have called Yes Scotland’s bluff and issued their initial negotiating terms regarding Sterlingzone, rather than blunder into the bear trap like a Wookie into an Ewok trap. Not only has this heavy handedness fundamentally undermined Better Together’s arguments regarding being better together, it has changed and harmed the Union itself. With Balls quite happy to stand shoulder to shoulder with Osborne & Alexander on Sterlingzone, what other issues (apart from the continuation of Austerity – which Balls has already signed up to) will they find common ground with? If the heavy handed nature of the dismissal of Sterlingzone does not have critical enough consequences for Better Together, Deepthroat’s revelation has destroyed the credibility of the Better Together parties. As a (now former) Chancellor once said to his boss, the Prime Minister “How can I ever trust anything you say ever again?”.
Whether this is the supposed “Gamechanger” that nationalists apparently need remains to be seen. What is true is that the anger among “Scottish” Labour types at Deepthroat is palpable. Whoever it is, they have delivered the mother & father of own goals to Yes Scotland at a time when there is creeping momentum towards Yes Scotland. This will do anything but check that momentum.