Paul Teasdale says that most people in Scotland hope that Cameron does not deliver on his pledges
The referendum in Scotland has ended in a mess. Nobody is happy; least of all the people who voted “No”. All of the No voters to whom I have spoken are angry that, despite the clear margin in the vote, it appears that those who supported the union have lost and there will be a big step towards independence, with a more powerful SNP government. In England there is talk about devolution but with no idea of what that means and no consultation.
In fact the whole experience of the referendum in Scotland was a mess: a terrible no campaign, unpleasant intimidation, and a lack of informed argument. We need to do better should we face a referendum on membership of the European Union. It is notable that the calls for Cameron to honour his pledges, made in the last days of the campaign, are being led by people who voted “Yes” – people who did not vote for them in the first place. In truth nobody voted for them. The referendum does not give a mandate for the proposals. There are many on both sides who hope that the pledges will not be honoured. The nationalists feel they can then have another referendum. On the other hand few No voters would accept that this is what they voted for. The no campaign was a shambles from the start, and it has been completely outmanoeuvred in the aftermath. The referendum should have put an end to arguments for independence and would have done so, had Brown and Cameron not intervened to move the goal posts days before the vote. Instead, the reaction to one poll – one using dodgy methods – was to cave in and accept the nationalists’ argument, giving them more than they could have expected two years earlier.
When the question to be put in the referendum was being discussed it was argued, rightly, that people in Scotland could not vote for more powers for themselves within the UK without consultation with the rest of the country. But that is what we have; no green or white paper, no consultation. Nobody has any idea what the options for devolution in England might be. Talk of localism is a substitute for regional policy, but without a regional policy greater local control is more likely than not to have negative effects. It is perhaps worth noting that there was no claim in the referendum that Scottish devolution has actually produced improvement in economic outcomes. Consideration of the experience of the referendum gives great cause for worry should we face a referendum on EU membership. Cameron’s panic has shown his willingness to abandon any position and adopt the policies of the opposition. Having derided UKIP in the past, now that they are an electoral challenge he is adopting their policies, so a referendum does seem more likely.
I am tired of claims from the Yes camp that the Scottish referendum stimulated a great democratic debate. Yes, a lot of people talked, but with very little information. The normal forums failed. Most alarmingly, presenting the two sides on the BBC meant that it was rather reminiscent of discussions of global warming where the desire for balance meant that Nigel Lawson and his like have been given airtime. In national politics journalists feel an obligation to challenge what is said by ministers but during the referendum fear of being accused of bias meant that statements that were demonstrably untrue were not challenged. So the public heard two contrary claims being repeated as though it was merely a matter of taste. Over the two years before the vote there was a reliance on Question Time formats or head to head debate with no attempt to deconstruct the arguments, resulting in reliance on rhetoric and soundbites. The No campaign was rightly concerned about the dire consequences of leaving the union but never made the case for the union. That sounds rather familiar. Most of those who speak against UKIP emphasise the dire consequences of leaving rather that praise the achievements of the EU. It is about time Labour politicians sang the praises of the EU, and why we should be proud to be part of the European project .