It is only a couple of weeks since the Yes Scotland campaign was launched, but the umbrella organisation running the campaign for Scottish independence is already in trouble.
The Scottish Greens have walked away from the grouping, citing the SNP’s reluctance to work with other parties in any meaningful way. Green co-convener Patrick Harvie MSP said, “We can’t just be there to wave the flag for someone else’s campaign. We’re either involved in shaping it or we’re not.”
At the rather shambolic launch of Yes Scotland it was promoted as a broad based campaign for independence run by a number of political parties. But the reality of the fledgling organisation appears to be rather different.
There is no Executive Committee or Steering Group in place to manage the campaign or to make decisions on its direction. The company established to run the group, Yes Scotland Ltd., has a single director, who is an SNP lawyer. Its money comes from the SNP. And day to day operations seem to be under the control of two of Alex Salmond’s former political advisers, Jennifer Dempsie and Stephen Noon, along with Angus Robertson, leader of the SNP’s Westminster group.
The only other party now involved in the campaign is the Scottish Socialists, who also appear to be being sidelined by the SNP.
It is, of course, still early in the campaign, with a referendum not likely to take place until 2014. But that begs the question of why there was such a rush to launch Yes Scotland without taking time to put the appropriate structures in place first.
SNP campaign manager Angus Robertson dismissed the issue. “We in the SNP have been working well with the Greens and others as the Yes Scotland campaign gears up. This will be progressing in the weeks and months ahead as we go from strength to strength,” he told the Sunday Herald.
I’m sure many people will be watching closely to see whether the Yes Scotland campaign really is as inclusive as it has been portrayed, or whether the SNP will continue to run it in its own fashion.
And this all comes after the Yes Scotland website proudly displayed as a list of its supporters anyone who had followed the campaign on Facebook or Twitter – including the Deputy Leader of the Scottish Conservatives. A climb down soon followed.
Another gaffe came from Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy Leader of the SNP, who provoked something of a storm on a BBC debate. Sturgeon claimed that an independent Scotland would have the right to nominate a member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee. This assertion turned out to be nothing more than a vague hope, and has not been agreed by anyone. It was not raised by Sturgeon as a possibility or a negotiating point, but rather as something that would certainly happen, leaving the SNP open to the charge of making it up as they go along.
And yet another interesting issue was flagged up last week during BBC’s Question Time by Alan Cumming. The actor, who spoke at the Yes Scotland launch, stated that Scots would still fly the Union Flag after independence, a position backed on the programme by Alex Neil, the SNP Cabinet minister.
Now, as any school pupil will tell you, the Union Flag is the flag of the United Kingdom and is an amalgam of the flags of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. So it would seem to be logical to infer that should a country withdraw from the United Kingdom it could not use that country’s flag.
How then can it possibly be argued that an independent Scotland could use the Union Flag?
Now in itself this issue is a minor one. There are many far more important questions that the SNP have yet to answer about life in their proposed independent Scotland. But it does expose a growing trend to try to minimise the impact that independence would have – as if they are not confident about being able to win the argument for radical change.
An independent Scotland, we are told, would be ruled by the Queen. It would use the pound sterling as its currency. It would automatically be a member of the European Union. It would retain some sort of “social union” with the other countries of the UK, whatever that means. It would show television programmes like EastEnders and Coronation Street. And now it would use the Union Flag too.
It makes you wonder what the point of independence really is if so little would actually change.
In fact the SNP’s argument is steadily becoming closer to one for a devo max type solution, where the Scottish Parliament has tax raising and spending powers, yet the country remains as part of the United Kingdom.
Could this mean that the SNP actually wants to have a fall back position on the referendum ballot paper in case it cannot win the argument for full independence? Or even that the gradualists within the party would be quite happy to see one more step taken towards independence now rather than risk a defeat that would put their cause back by a generation at least?
With such a long time to go until we are allowed to vote on Scotland’s future there are sure to be many twists and turns during a lengthy referendum campaign. Every word and every policy statement will be poured over as the two sides argue over each point.
But for now it is clear that the pro independence side will have to up its game considerably if it can ever hope to persuade a majority of voters to back it come referendum day.