‘Tis true I am no stranger to four letter words. (Am a journalist FFS!) But the one I fancy deploying in the run up to IndyRef2 is hope. As the late great Nelson Mandela was wont to say: “may your choices reflect your hopes not your fears.” It’s a mantra the politically late David Cameron now admits wishing he’d deployed in the 2016 battle of Brexit. “We made some big mistakes in the (Remain) campaign,” he writes in his autobiography, out this week. “I should have done more to mix criticisms of the EU with talking about its very real achievements”.
There is a painful truth in that admission. It’s only now, as the bold Boris treats cherished democratic norms like irritating, minor and disposable inconveniences, that we begin to realise the full enormity of what stumbling naked out of the EU club will cost us. Not just the logistical horrors outlined in the government’s own Yellowhammer assessment, scary enough as they are, but the full panoply of human and workers’ rights which we have long been able to take for granted.
Gove, IDS, and the risible but dangerous Farage can witter on all they like about joyous new post Brexit freedoms, but the stark fact is that we are ditching hard won personal rights and liberties in exchange for the less than seductive prospect of doing deals with the house racist in Pensylvannia Avenue.
His predecessor, Barack Obama, with whom the contrast becomes ever starker, ran a hugely effective campaign on the back of hope and positivity. YES WE CAN became more than a T shirt slogan; rather a stoking up of personal belief in Americans longing to recapture the great American conceit that be you ever so humble you can aspire to the greatest office in the land. (These days that only holds good if you can also lay your mitts on tens of millions of campaign dollars.)
You might think that Trump’s victory eight years later suggests that Obama’s victory was a temporary aberration. But remember The Donald also pressed the same button on his campaign trail of the little guy making good. This, remember, was the candidate who was going to “drain the swamp” of Washington corruption and insider privilege. The fact that he restocked that very same swamp with a bunch of crooks and chisellers, some of whom are currently re-stocking the penitentiaries, appears not to concern his more rabid base camp followers.
There are lessons here for us as we gear up to our own rendition of yes we can. Five years ago the better together coalition played very much on our fears rather than our hopes. Some, like a muddled position on currency and the wider economic future, not entirely unfairly. Others, like cynical shroud waving over pensions, just plain mince. (It’s a technical term.)
But many of the scares they relentlessly mongered can now be cheerfully flung back on egg splattered faces. Not least how voting No was the only possible way to protect our status as citizens of Europe. Yeah. Right. While much work has and is being done on managing the economy.
So my fervent aspiration is that this time round we too will benefit from the fact that in the lexicon of successful elections “hope” – and “change” – are the most potent terms to win over those fearful of an independent future for our smart wee country. A smart wee country with 10 times the population of little Malta who, prior to joining the EU 15 years ago, was laughed out of court for suggesting for a nano second they could ever be self sufficient. They are one of 9 other current members considerably smaller than Scotland, whilst Slovakia, Denmark and Finland are roughly the same size.
By accentuating the positive in IndyRef2 I don’t mean reciting a list of Scottish inventors, and historical light bulb moments important as these achievements were. What we need now is to shine a light on the very good story we have to tell about 21st century Scotland. Not just the breadth of its products and services and the continuity of its innovatory skillset, but the kind of country which has been shaped by the freedom bestowed through limited self government.
Twenty years of devolution under different administrations has seen Scotland forge a different ideological path from its southern neighbours in a whole range of social, health, and educational initiatives. We get some things wrong, we underachieve in others. But I would argue that throughout these two decades we have begun to see the shape of the modern, outward looking, socially just nation we aspire to be.
Just yesterday I heard Herman Van Rempuy President of the European Council until 2014, suggest that Brexit had altered European perceptions of Scotland’s bid to join as a nation state in its own right. In his carefully precise way he said he wasn’t arguing that breaking up the UK was something he favoured, merely in that eventuality much would have changed since 2014.
It already has. The UK is at a dangerous tipping point. But that very danger may persuade a critical mass of Scottish voters that they have the chance to jump off the Boris bus before it takes them over the cliff edge.Just don’t tell them this time to hope for the best. Tell them that the best is yet to come. Viewed from within the current Westminster bourach, it’s no more than the truth.
Published in The National 16.9.19