Punctuation and Persuadables

Better Together

Better Together’s mass launch in Dundee

In the next part of our review of the year, Kate Higgins looks at the highs and lows of the Yes and No campaigns and our political class …

Reflecting on 2012, there have been lots of political punctuation marks. The SNP failing to sweep the boards in the local government elections with expectation running so high that simply becoming the biggest party at local level and scoring net gains all across the country served to seem like a defeat, with the failure to take Glasgow City Council and sweep all before them as in 2011.

The passing of the Minimum Pricing Bill put Scotland at the forefront of creative policy-making, a leading nation prepared to square up to its big social problems. A triumph, however, somewhat tempered by the realisation that inequality and poverty is growing and deepening.

It’s also the year the Tories and Lib Dems began to dismantle the welfare state as we know it. The passing of the welfare reform bill marks a watershed with consequences still to be felt in every household in the land.

We also marked the passing of two greats in the Scottish political landscape, in Stephen Maxwell and Bob McLean, and who sadly will fail to see the fruits of their lives’ labours contributing towards Scotland’s constitutional journey.

Economic uncertainty continued to dominate, with long term unemployment becoming a feature in many communities, especially among young people and also women. Yet, the cuts are still to bite with any real ferocity and reality in many parts of the public sector in Scotland. John Swinney and the SNP Government have done what they can to hold back the tide but can do no more without growth and within the powers that they control.

What of our Parliament? Must do better is surely the end of year report with political discourse largely puerile, sterile and increasingly futile. Vast swathes of the ranks are conspicuous by their anonymity, which is also a charge which can be laid at the door of some of the Scottish Government’s Ministers in particular. Everyone needs to raise their game, and fast.

But this will chiefly be remembered as the year in which two tribes went to war. Or at least the phoney part of it in which sniper fire dominated. We had the launch of the referendum campaign, of Better Together, of Yes Scotland and finally, the signing of the Edinburgh Agreement. Along the way we lost policy and clarity on a host of hard questions for the yes camp and lots of obfuscation and bluster chiefly from the no camp. There was little debate worth revisiting with process taking precedence over policy.

Perhaps the most noteworthy development in the political firmament has been the rise of the community based approach with the largely spontaneous appearance of groupings in favour of constitutional change, including Women for Independence, the Radical Independence Conference and a host of individuals prepared to pop their heads above the parapet. It’s a development the main pro-indy protagonist, the SNP, has struggled to comprehend and engage with, but that will surely come in 2013.

What is clear is that the naysayers have nothing to offer in response, with a Unionist campaign grouping dominated by the traditional political parties and few new voices. Its reliance on old, tired and familiar faces retreading worn out arguments and scare stories, and even fabricating a British narrative which never existed then, let alone now, suggests trouble ahead.

It is to be hoped that the unedifying polarisation between those definitely on one side or the other ceases, if only because surely neither side can keep up the sniping for another two years. For the space needs to be created for the majority of the population – the undecideds, the persuadables one way or the other – to have the debate on its terms. And if we as a nation are to determine our constitutional future with confidence, then we have to be allowed by the vested interests of the yes and no camps to ask the questions, find the solutions and satisfy ourselves that when we reach the end of 2013, we will feel able to make an informed choice on the most important political question in our history.

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