Andrew Smith: Five big challenges for Yes and No


CommonSpace columnist Andrew Smith outlines some of the key issues likely to face both sides of the upcoming #ScotRef debates

WITH another independence referendum on the horizon the campaigns will soon kick into gear as both sides come to terms with the new terrain.

In order to win, the Yes campaign will need to pick up at least one in 10 2014 No voters, while holding onto the broad coalition created in 2014. At the same time, the No campaign will need to hold on to almost all of those who gave it a majority last time, all the while hoping to peel away at the more risk-averse among Yes voters.

Neither task is easy, with a long way to go before any votes can even be cast. Here are some of the challenges facing each side.

(For the sake of this article I am assuming the question will be Yes/No again rather than Remain/Leave.”

Yes campaign

1. It’s the economy, stupid

What is the new economic case? For far too long, both sides of the constitutional debate have emphasised and exaggerated the importance of oil to the national question. However, it definitely can’t be the case for a Yes vote this time. 

2014 was fought on a somewhat optimistic reading of Scotland’s short-term economic opportunities that would see low business rates combined with high oil revenues. What will be the basis of the new one?

2. Sort the currency out already

New currency, new danger? Unlike 2014, it seems highly unlikely that Scotland will be in any position to share the pound with the UK. 

What would be the alternative? The Euro wouldn’t even be possible (regardless of desirability), so a new currency seems like the most viable option. The work on developing and selling the idea would need to start now. 

To a lot of voters, a new currency sounds like a risky proposition that could cut wages and raise house prices etc – who capitalises banks? Who underwrites debts etc? Would a new currency be pegged to the pound? If so then why link to a currency that many independence supporters think could tank in the aftermath of Brexit?

3. Europe’s trickier than it looks

What relationship would an independent Scotland have with Europe? It seems likely, even on the SNP’s preferred timetable, that Scotland would spend at least some time outside of the EU. 

If the preference is full membership then how does it affect Yes voters who opted for Brexit? 

If instead the preferred option is the Norway model, is that enough for those who voted No and Remain?

4. What if Brexit isn’t actually all that bad?

It could well be that Westminster agrees to allow another vote, but only once Brexit is formalised. If that is the case then what if Brexit isn’t the disaster that lots are anticipating? 

What if the transition is far more stable than scare stories have suggested?

What if (and this is a totally devil’s advocate question) Scots decide that Brexit Britain isn’t that different from the one they recently voted to stay part of? Would the upheaval of independence really seem seem worth it?

5. Project Fear 2.0

The role and influence of big business and international institutions will be important. This is especially pertinent if Brexit goes badly. 

The same organisations and experts that cautioned against leaving the EU would no doubt be out in force again with similar warnings. If they have been proven right once then would people be so willing to ignore them this time? 

What if the UK demanded tariffs on trade with Scotland? Would leaving what is regarded as another successful (and more valuable) trading body seem like such a good idea?

No campaign

1. It doesn’t have a story

What is the narrative for the UK? Last time round the EU was a big part of the No campaign – everyone was told that the biggest threat to EU membership would be a Yes vote. That obviously won’t stick again. 

Since the last vote the Smith Commission has been and gone, with some extra powers and no notable impact on the burgeoning support for Yes. With little demand in England and Wales, there is no short-term chance of federalism – what will be the positive offer?

2. No escape from the Tories

The prospect of another generation of Tory rule is very real. Despite all of the talk of a Tory revival in Scotland, they are still only polling at around 20 per cent. There is little reason to think this will change in the short term. 

With only one Tory MP in Scotland, the significant lead they enjoy across the UK is unlikely to set the heather alight. In short, without a credible chance of a UK-wide Labour government then the UK becomes a much harder political sell. 

Why would Scots want to vote for another unaccountable generation of Tory rule?

3. There’s no credible leader

Who will lead the No campaign? Who will be the face for the UK? Scottish Labour isn’t popular enough, Scots Tories are too Tory, and the big-hitters from 2014 have almost all either lost their seats in Westminster or retired. 

I expect Gordon Brown will probably be getting a lot of calls right now. But would he have the inclination or even the appeal to front it up? And if not him then who?

4. What if Brexit’s a disaster?

A successful Brexit would no doubt be an asset for No, but what if it doesn’t go to plan? What if all the worst fears come to fruition, or at least a number of them? What would that do to the UK case? 

What if people associate the UK with unaccountable Tory governments and an unsuccessful hard Brexit that 62 per cent of Scots rejected? It would impact on the economic case that is likely to dominate the No campaign, but it could be catastrophic to the political case for the union.

5. The UK government is fighting too many battles

The UK government will be fighting on three fronts. Even if we assume that a vote would take place after Brexit, much of the debate won’t. 

Whitehall will be fighting its case during Brexit negotiations, a Scottish referendum and a contentious political backdrop in Northern Ireland. There will, of course, be lots of unknown unknowns to deal with, too. Busy times ahead.

It’s all to play for

All across the world there are resurgent movements against the political class. Some of these are reactionary in nature, and others more progressive. Some have been successful and others have fallen short. 

Scottish nationalism is obviously at the more progressive end of the spectrum, but will it be successful?

It’s not clear how Scotland’s constitutional future will pan out. It seems unlikely either side would have wanted to fight it with this political backdrop, but both have led too many people up the hill to retreat without losing a massive amount of credibility. Let the campaigns begin.

Picture courtesy of justgrimes

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