Philip Stephens says that unionists are making Scottish independence more likely with their dismissive arguments:
Tune in from Edinburgh or Glasgow to the conversation in London and it is not difficult to see why Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister and leader of the Scottish National party, still hopes to lead his country to independence. From the Labour left to the Conservative right, self-proclaimed English unionists hum the same insulting tune: outside the union Scotland’s future would be one of impoverished irrelevance.
This complements Alex Massie’s longer essay in The Spectator on why the referendum later this year might just pass after all. As Massie and Stephens both point out, public opinion has been moving towards voting ‘yes’ for independence, and the SNP leader Alex Salmond has a record of delivering surprising, late surges in election campaigns. Add to that the rather dismal arguments that unionists have been making, and it becomes increasingly plausible that Scotland will vote to break away. In a follow-up post, Massie makes a similar point that insulting Scottish voters into submission is a good way to encourage them to vote for independence:
An argument that suggests, implicitly, that, sure, you could vote for independence but if you do you’re stupid is not an argument that is going to prevail. Insulting or threatening the electorate is a bold move and one that causes more trouble, really, than it is worth.
It’s an odd approach for unionists to take, since they have had more support from the public all along. A heavily negative campaign that aims to discourage voters from independence by emphasizing all of its downsides makes the most sense if there were already a strong majority in favor of it. To run the same campaign when your side has had the majority from the start is a good way to alienate even those that might otherwise agree with your arguments, if for no other reason than that a relentlessly negative campaign is in itself off-putting. As Massie has been pointing out for a while, unionists have frequently focused their arguments on the possible technical problems associated with independence and have failed to make a positive case for the virtues of remaining part of the U.K. He continues:
True, this creates certain difficulties for Unionists. If an independent Scotland is feasible it becomes harder to argue that it is plainly an idiotic notion. But that in turn would, in a sane world, suggest ministers should cease suggesting every damn business in Scotland will scuttle south after independence.
Perhaps some would. So be it. But that kind of anxiety isn’t enough to win the argument on either the intellectual or emotional level. Who wants to be held hostage by business? Who wants to admit to hankering after a Yes vote but being persuaded to vote No out of some tender concern for BAE Systems or BP or Tesco or god knows who else? Not many people.
Along the same lines, if the unionists mainly rely on painting a gloomy picture of what post-independence Scotland will be like, enough people may conclude that there is no positive unionist case to be made and will decide to vote for the referendum whose advocates at least pretend to have a clear idea of where they want to take their country. I still doubt that Scotland will vote for independence in the end, but it is a lot more likely than it was just a few months ago.