Wednesday 6 August 2014

Thoughts on the referendum debate

I came away from the debate feeling that Alex Salmond had tried to be too clever by half and that his opponent, Alistair Darling, had landed some solid punches to emerge as the winner on points. Given that Salmond needed to demolish his opponent to have a hope of clawing back some votes, this might go down as a night that the nationalists will rue for many years to come.

The hardest punches were over the future of the currency that Scotland will use after independence. All Salmond could say was that of course there will be a currency union, but quite rightly Darling pressed him for a Plan B and  Salmond  ducked and weaved to avoid answering.

Now he could have come out fighting and said that if London gets stroppy it can kiss goodbye to the Faslane nuclear facility on day one of independence. Oh, and remember that share of the UK national debt that will fall to Scotland? Well, you can shove it. There are lots of issues that the UK will want Scotland to agree to, and thus lots of issues that can be traded off in the negotiations. The problem is that Salmond did not take that line.

Alternatively, the First Minister could have said that Plan B would be for Scotland to continue allowing the Scottish clearing banks to issue sterling denominated notes that are backed one hundred percent by interest bearing treasury gilts that are held in London. Darling would have replied that there would be a shortfall between the currency in circulation and the needs of the economy, which is true, so Salmond could have said that taxes on the middle class would have to rise, assuming that oil revenues and excise duties did not cover the difference. Given that the middle class is pretty overwhelmingly on the no side of the debate that strikes me as what the Americans call a no-brainer. 

Salmond gave none of those answers, and stonewalled his way through - which is why some people started to jeer him in that section of the debate.

I can understand why this strategy is being followed, because Yes Scotland wanted to get as many people onside as possible, and assumed that the working class would vote yes so it needed middle class support. The problem is that large chunks of working class people are so disengaged from this debate that they are not even registered to vote.

The referendum is now just six weeks away. I really do not know what Yes Scotland can do to turn this debate around.

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