Thursday 13th February
There he is, our Chancellor of the Exchequer, all but ruling out a currency union.
Even though we knew he’d do this it still seems to be quite shocking to hear this new escalation. In his speech he said that it wouldn’t work, that it was unreasonable for the rest of the UK to take on this responsibility and that he couldn’t propose this to the rest of the UK , because they could be exposed to the ‘unacceptable risks’ presented by an independent Scotland. Delivered in his usual expressionless monotone style the dead pan delivery just added to the menace. It just came across as ugly and even intimidating. The pound that we thought we shared with the rest of the UK is not in fact ours at all. We would be excluded, and the rest of the UK would now do all it could to make life as difficult as possible for an independent Scotland. It was a crushing rejection of our case for a currency union and quite clear and seemingly unequivical.
We seem to be almost unprepared for this and there is no immediate response and almost a temporary paralysis. Concerned that there would be the usual phone round for response I phoned our press office for the holding line to be told that Nicola Sturgeon would be appearing on the Daily Politics. Meanwhile all the Unionist parties are all over the media gleefully predicting that it is now all but over.
Nicola’s appearance on the Daily Politics was steady, if obviously tense and tetchy, with Andrew Neil again and again determined to get an answer for a plan B. I see the first signs of a toughing this out and sticking to the existing line that the UK will be in a different frame of mind following a Yes vote. Just as I see the constant demand for a ‘plan B’ to be asked – ad nauseum. Later in the day, as predicted, Ed Balls and Danny Alexander also rule out a currency union – so that’s all the Westminster parties together on this.
As part of her visit to London Nicola is also speaking at the UCL this afternoon, now with added press attention. By now the line is toughened up that this is a political statement from the Chancellor, that currency union is still our preferred option and that this is in the best interests of both an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK. Not too sure if this is going to continue to be sustainable as the unionist start to put some muscle into their ‘you’re not getting it’ line
Later in the evening Alex Salmond is drafted on to Newsnight and Scotland Tonight to shore up our position. Alex, is as persuasive as ever and almost has me believing that the Government is bluffing! He is helped by following a bumbling Danny Alexander who almost does what he can to blow the Government’s advantage. There’s still lots of debate in this yet.
Friday 14th February
The great ‘St Valentine’s Day massacre’ is how the cartoonist in the Independent saw it with the three UK “chancellors’ packing away their machine guns in front of a blood splattered Alex Salmond portrayed as a caledonian Mickey Mouse. Meanwhile, Alex himself is on morning radio now stating that this is all ‘bullying, bluster and bluff’.
Since we started this process it was always presumed that this would be done in partnership and that we would both work for the best interests of our respective nations if we did indeed vote Yes. This morning I actually feel quite sorry, but also angry, that this will no longer be the way that the referendum debate will now be conducted. Yesterday marked the start of a new hostility and the first signs of an apparent intention of a rUK to damage an independent Scotland if we dare to vote Yes
The only positive is that there appears to be an emerging anger that the Scots have been bullied and threatened by the UK Government and there is already some evidence that this is building up. Back in Perth this morning someone actually came into my office, clearly incensed, insisting that he was now a committed Yes voter after watching George Osborne and Ed Balls cosy up together.
It does look bad that Ed Balls is siding with George Osborne and that they have all ganged up on Scotland. I have always thought that we can’t win the referendum without a real sense of grievance and injustice. Well, hello Mr Grievance, we’ve been expecting you! It is possible that we can get through this if we can tap into this emerging anger and present the UK Government as an intimidating presence determined to bully the Scots out of choosing for itself and being denied what we thought was also ours. So far the UK Government have been a beacon of reasonableness and partnership in the referendum but that now looks like it’s evaporating quickly.
Still many turns to go and at this stage and it ’s now over to the Scottish people to see what they make of this dramatic raising of the stakes.
Thursday 3rd July
Got a note late last night to tell me that the Prime Minister would be visiting my constituency with the usual instruction to not share this information or publicise it – as if I would! Dave’s coming to address the Conservative Friends of the Union in the Dewar’s Centre in Perth and as usual it is a closed meeting to an invited audience. Cameron is majoring on the ‘bullying’ theme and how we are ‘silencing’ businesses. He’s making a pitch to the ‘silent majority’ to come forward and speak out, only of course, the silent majority of non-Tory voters will be kept out by the PM’s security spooks.
Speaking in the hour or so he was in Perth he said “I come across business leader after business leader, large and small, in Scotland that want to keep our UK together, who think it would be crazy to have border controls, different currencies and split up our successful UK. I would urge them to speak out, talk with their workforces about the strength of our UK and vote to keep it together.” The only thing is that Cameron singularly refuses to identify which business leaders he’s referring to and provide any evidence of this ‘intimidation’. This is just about becoming the main theme in the No campaign and there are all the signs that they are going to ramp this right up.
Friday 4th July
The main purpose of Cameron’s visit is of course the launch this morning of the aircraft carrier the HMS Queen Elizabeth, an absolute behemoth of industrial warship. Longer than three football pitches it is the biggest warship ever built by the UK. The Queen was at Rosyth to officially name it by smashing a bottle of Islay malt whisky onto the hull. Built at six locations around the UK it is the first of two aircraft carriers under construction. Famously bereft of aircraft, this and the second carrier, named the Prince of Wales, will be built at Rosyth regardless of the outcome of the referendum. That didn’t stop all sort of indy ref discourse whether through the symbolism or direct confrontation.
Cameron told us “If the United Kingdom stays together, as I hope it will, Glasgow and Scotland will continue to be an absolute centre of excellence in terms of shipbuilding. Let’s celebrate today the fact that so many people have worked so hard to produce the Royal Navy’s biggest ever ship. It’s a really exciting day for Scotland, a great day for the United Kingdom and a sign of things to come if our country stays together.” This signalled the usual predictions that shipbuilding would cease in am independent Scotland and the usual stuff that the UK doesn’t build complex warships outside the UK, even though it does.
The First Minister carefully avoids all this and instead talks of the skills of the workforce saying “What keeps us safe for the future is not the willpower of David Cameron, it’s this magnificent deep water facility and the great skills of the workforce.” He even took along his dad, a veteran who served in the navy during the war. My dad worked at Rosyth dockyard when it dominated the economy of West Fife in the 60s and 70s employing tens of thousands of people. Practically every family in the Dunfermline area had somebody who worked in the dockyard. Such was its role in the local economy that at school we even sat the ‘dockyard exam’ to place us at the level we would start our dockyard career. In those days we were told that devolution would destroy employment at Rosyth, now of course it is independence. Only a few thousand souls now work at the dockyard and it a mere shadow of its former self. The UK Government will continue to suggest that what is left of this activity will go with independence and I have no doubt that people will still believe them – even when the historic evidence stares them in the face.
Monday 7th July
The bullying theme goes through the roof today with the broadcast of a Channel 4 Dispatches programme with ‘evidence’ on how the SNP and the Yes campaign are intimidating businesses and organisations.
First in the frame is that appalling bully, Angus Robertson, my Westminster colleague, who represents most of Scotland’s whisky distilleries. This ‘thug’ had the audacity to ‘meet’ the boss of the Scotch Whisky Association, Gavin Hewitt on six occasions, where the poor Mr Hewitt apparently ‘felt’ that there was a genuine fear that, by coming out publicly against independence, there would be “retribution down the track.” He even ‘thought’ that he (Angus) was trying ‘to neuter business comment”. Appalling!
Next up was that ‘Flashman’ of Scottish politics the great oppressor, John Swinney, who even went as far as to ‘pressure’ Government and public organisations to pull out of the CBI after it backed a No vote. ‘Unbelievably” he contacted bodies like Visit Scotland and Skills Development Scotland, telling them that it ‘may’ be inappropriate to remain (as a public body) in an organisation that had hoisted its mast as a No campaigning organisation. What absolutely dreadful behaviour from this, thankfully, now exposed tyrant.
Even though this ‘evidence’ could only be regraded by any reasonable person as being on the ‘thin’ side the Nos went to town. All of this “won’t come as a surprise to those who’ve found themselves on the wrong end of an SNP tirade” said one “the Scottish Government using its position to breathe down the neck of everyone who dares disagree is frankly appalling” said another.
Almost unbelievably this was kicked around all day and otherwise sane journalists took it seriously. In actually watching the programme it was almost apologetic in the poverty of its ‘evidence’ and even the rehashed ‘silencing the academics’ seemed almost comical. Dreadful stuff from Channel 4 and does nothing for the quality of the debate.
Meanwhile on the the BBC, Robert Peston, managed to show how it could be done. In a very informative half hour he’s almost even handed in looking at the financial issues of independence. The broadcasters have to try and up their game and get this together. The unhappiness with, particularly the BBC, is becoming a real issue in the referendum and the charge of institutional bias in our national broadcasters is becoming almost a story in itself.