8 December 2011

Why are the old, Unionist scare stories failing?

Thanks to Rachel Ormston of the Scottish Centre for Social Research, I've been able to get my hands on a little more of the data behind this week's press reports that as many as 65% of Scots would be willing to back independence, if it made them only £500 better off. In the interest of unaccustomed brevity, I don't propose to trawl through all this material in one go, winkling out the particularly interesting findings in a single, mammoth pile of detail. Regular readers will be familiar with themes which have particularly detained me, analysing past polling.  Under the headline totals, what differences of social class, of gender might the findings disclose? If there are differences, why might these be and what do they imply for nationalist strategies in the referendum? 

For today, I wanted to focus on the economic findings that have much exercised recent discussion. In the Herald, Robbie Dinwoodie wrote up the findings under a headline, suggesting that "Old scare stories lose the capacity to shock", arguing that negative Unionist arguments about the economy of a future, independent Scotland were generating a "diminishing return". I'm not convinced that this reading of the ScotCen figures is entirely convincing. Dinwoodie presents the image of a once potent discourse of economic calamity, now able only to generate an attenuated, quite diminished terror in the population.

What the data clearly suggests is that Unionists' current attempts to do so have comprehensively failed to promote the idea that Scotland would clearly be financially jiggered by independence, by no means does the data suggest that the narratives of financial fear have entirely lost their virtue.  Quite the contrary.  ScotCen's findings suggest effectively peddled images of a hobbled and beggarly Scotland retain their real potential to breed caution and seriously to curtail nationalist ambitions. To put it in Dinwoodie's terms, while the present returns of Unionist economic rhetoric on independence are poor, narratives encouraging fear, uncertainty and jittering chickenheartedness clearly remain a real asset for a negative Unionist case against Scottish nationalism. Let's look at the detail. Take first the respondents' attitudes towards the impact of independence on the economy.

Q1: As a result of independence would Scotland's economy become better, worse, or would it make no difference?

ScotCen's 1,156 respondents answered thus:

A lot/a little better: 34%
No difference: 26%
A little/a lot worse: 29%
Can't choose: 10%

If we combine positive and neutral responses, these figures suggest 60% of Scots believe that Scottish independence would have a positive or neutral impact on the Scottish economy, with less than a third fearing economic deterioration or collapse. To be cheeky, let's also lump the indecisive into that group, as characters who have not been convinced by the stories of a vagabond, indigent independent Scotland. 29% isn't an insignificant segment of the population, to be sure, but is hardly the sort of fearful percentage one might have hoped for, if the arguments of financial anxiety are to be primary points in a pro-Union argument.

ScotCen then tried their hands at a nice wee thought-experiment, where contingency in human affairs is suspended, and the Scottish voter, musing how to vote in an independence referendum, could have a clear apprehension about the economic consequences. How would that effect respondents' views?

Q2: "Say that it was clear that if Scotland became an independent country, separate from the rest of the UK, it would make little difference to the standard of living, and on average people would be no better off. In those circumstances, would you be in favour or against Scotland becoming an independent country?"

On an independent Scotland with economic prospects that are neither-good-nor-bad, folk divided as follows:

Strongly in favour: 15%
In favour: 32%
Neither in favour nor against: 19%
Against: 22%
Strongly against: 10%
Don't know: 2%

By way of comparison, it is worth setting this alongside folk's views in 2011, absent clear ideas about the economic impact of independence. Asked, Q3: which of these statements comes closest to your view? Quoth the respondents...

Scotland, independent and outwith the EU: 12%
Scotland, independent but within the EU: 20%
Scotland, within UK but with some tax powers: 49%
Scotland, within UK but with no tax powers: 9%
Scotland within UK with no elected parliament: 6%
Don't know: 5%

Collapsing the various options into independence or devolution or no devolution, this generates three rough blocks of opinion: 32% support Scottish independence, 58% would prefer a devolved parliament within the UK, with only 6% opposing devolution entirely, fondly recalling the rule of an imperial parliament in London. Contrast this with the results of the thought experiment, where participants are assured that an independent Scotland wouldn't impact on the economy. The difference is stark, with support for independence running 15% higher, if respondents take as given that the economic impact of becoming an independent state would be negligibly positive or negative. What if Q4: "it was clear that if Scotland became an independent country the standard of living would be higher and people would on average be £500 a year better off"? Would you be in favour or agin independence?

Strongly in favour: 29%
In favour: 36%
Neither in favour nor against: 9%
Against: 17%
Strongly against: 8%
Don't know: 1%

To the surprise of many, if assured (or in referendum terms, "able to be convinced") that they will see a relatively modest financial benefit from independence, support vaults up to 65%, with 25% opposed. As Iain MacWhirter suggests in the Herald, the key implication of this finding is the apparent softness of pro-Union opinion; wages of hollowed-out of accounts of the Union's shared purposes and narratives...

"Scots are thinking hard cash because they no longer recognise any coherent moral message from an increasingly eurosceptic United Kingdom, dominated by the City of London, and run by a Government largely composed of ex-public schoolboys. Why should Scots keep faith with a Union based on plutocracy, where personal enrichment is the only mission around?"

While no comfort to those whose convictions are rooted in deep-seated, and stubborn commitment to the Union, Scots "thinking hard cash" by no means deprives Unionists of powerful, negative arguments against nationalists. Take the opposite case, and say voters could be convinced that independence would strip £500 out of their wallets a year. What do their constitutional convictions look like then? Q5:

Strongly in favour: 6%
In favour: 15%
Neither in favour nor against: 12%
Against: 42%
Strongly against: 24%
Don't know: 2%

Imagining their depleted purses, and a lost half-thousand pounds per annum, the figures basically flip, with 66% opposing independence in some degree of intensity if they believe they are likely to lose out themselves. What to make of this? A grim testimony to the fickleness of Scottish public opinion, which is primarily venal and animated only by self-interest? 

For me, one of the particularly interesting questions is, just why is contemporary Unionist rhetoric about beggar Scotland so comprehensively failing to convince the public? Why does such a small slice of the population seem to be hearing the lines endlessly flung about by Westminster politicians? After all, these critical, anxiety-generating-and-sustaining stories continue to receive great play in the media. ScotCen's findings make crystal clear that uncertainties about the impact of independence on household budgets are powerfully capable of making a great many people think twice about independence. So why are they failing? Are nationalists winning the argument? Maybe, but clearly not by a significant margin. Recall that on ScotCen's figures quoted above, general support for independence remains some 15% lower than it would be, if folk believed that becoming independent was economically neutral vis-a-vis individual wealth. 

While these figures are in many respects encouraging for Nationalists, that such "hard cash" thinking will be vital in determining the outcome of the referendum is by no means only encouraging for us.  Indeed, it is easy to envisage that these findings may precisely encourage Unionists to unleash a terrifyingly negative campaign focussed on damning accounts of the impact of independence on household budgets, putting the fear of God into the Scottish population (or should that be the fear that Mammom might desert them?) Needless to say, this is not a terrifically uplifting prospect.

Interestingly, these findings suggest that if the promised sunny and compelling case for the Union does not materialise before 2014 (and increasingly, I suspect it simply cannot), Unionists will still have to find new ways to capitalise on the latent forces of fear and trepidation, if they are to prevail in the referendum campaign.  It may be that the concept of independence remains too abstract, and as voters apply themselves to the question more intently, the hostile doubt-sowing critiques of Michael Moore and his ilk will have more bite. For the moment, however, whatever their potential psychological force, the old Unionist tales about being better off in Britain, and beggared if not, are conspicuously failing to convince.

46 comments :

  1. As ever, a telling analysis LLP.
    I have long been convinced that the game is all down to 'the economy stupid' and I think the Unionists have a problem here. When I asked the question 'Is Scotland a subsidy Junkie' at the Scotsman leadership debate none of the Unionists said yes, the strongest negative coming from Elmer who quoted Mr Darling's statement about the RBS failure being the issue we could not have survived on our own.
    The MSM have over the years peddled the subsidy/too wee/too poor story consequently sowing the fear for them. I believe that this has become increasingly irritating to the voters as the SNP have succeeded in government. If the SNP can continue to deliver good results and bring in economic 'heavy hitters' to flesh out the economic case, which Westminster rather telllingly never want to do, then the referendum debate will be interesting. As you say it is obvious that if they can't prove that 'the sky will fall in' the emotional line isn't going to work!!

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  2. "65% of Scots would be willing to back independence, if it made them only £500 better off."

    Sggesting that Scots can be bought quite cheap.... insulting, I would say, and sure to be rejected as a bisis for "independence" by any self-respcting nat.

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  3. "...just why is contemporary Unionist rhetoric about beggar Scotland so comprehensively failing to convince the public? "

    Surely the real question is: would Scotland be better off economically* if we were "independent"?

    ...if the "unionists" are right, and the Scottish people would be worse off, then it's not just "rhetoric", it's true...

    And is it "comprehensively failing to convince the public"? After all the Social Attitudes Survey showed a majority against "independence"...

    *or any other way...?

    BTW, have you notice that it's always nationalists that bring in the "too wee, too poor" excuse?

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  4. I found the Higgs Boson first.

    Tomorrow.

    But the unionist whingeing will always be the same...

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  5. On the other hand we have a rather more practical untainted vision from another country?

    http://newsnetscotland.com/index.php/affairs-scotland/3754-economic-model-predicts-scottish-independence


    Rather puts the scaremongering in perspective.

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  6. My weans love horror type zombie shite they get a real thrill out of getting the bejesus scared out of them now and then. I don't like the stuf but will be thereabouts to make sure that nothing untowards is on screen apart from titulary gore. They have watched so much that they are pretty much immune and the producers need now to find all the more innovative ways to keep them interested in the bog standard scripts.

    This research is a gold mine for nats, bearing in mind my analogy enough. I don't think that those who need to control the narrative from Westminster can be innovative enough to scare us any more.

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  7. Groundskeeper Willie9 December 2011 10:12

    Bought and sold for five hundred quid?

    How very noble and uplifting.

    And, may I say, doing nothing for the stereotypical view of the Scots as tightwads.

    It does however tend to confirm my own rather nebuluous impression that the rise of the SNP since the 1970s corresponding with the decline of the Tories was prompted by the 'It's Scotland's Oil' campaign winning over those most concerned with their personal financial position. The thought that someone was getting their hands on something that was theirs was too much for all those NE Tories to bear.Hence the swing from Tory to SNP.

    Salmond almost let the cat out of the bag with his 'we didn't mind the economic side so much' comment.

    As has been mentioned, this must be pretty nauseating for those principled nationalists who would support independence whatever the cost.

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  8. You guys are daft - that's Braveheart/Groundskeeper Willie. Possibly one and the same?

    The Scottish Social Attitudes survey is run by academics, not politicians. Attacking the questions is as daft as failing to interpret the answers properly.

    PS: Love the rather snobbish disdain for people who actually vote on the basis of what they think will be best for them and their families. Perhaps you haven't noticed but the economy hasn't been doing too well lately (inexplicable lack of Union Dividend) and the natives are getting a little antsy.

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  9. The SSA survey was conducted between June and September. Most of the stories about the economy of an independent Scotland have been since then. We'll need to wait until 2012 to know if they have made any difference.

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  10. @indy "Perhaps you haven't noticed but the economy hasn't been doing too well lately "

    What makes you think it would be any better if Scotland was "indfependent"?

    All the evidence is to the contrary. That's the truth, and it's the question you will not address, never mind answr.

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  11. "As has been mentioned, this must be pretty nauseating for those principled nationalists who would support independence whatever the cost."

    Not in the least. To be honest I don't give a bee's baw-hair why people vote for independence, as long as they do.

    "All the evidence is to the contrary. That's the truth, and it's the question you will not address"

    Possibly because it's not a question at all. It's an assertion of your opinion, and it's a load of crap.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/how-black-gold-was-hijacked-north-sea-oil-and-the-betrayal-of-scotland-518697.html

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  12. After all the Social Attitudes Survey showed a majority against "independence"...

    Depends which question was asked. When it was phrased "Do you want the Scottish Parliament to make ALL decisions about Scotland, with none reserved to Westminster?" (or put another way, independence) the response was 47% in favour to 32% against.

    When the question was "Do you support independence as long as it doesn't make you WORSE off?", independence won again.

    Don't get me wrong, it's cute that you think you can get away with seizing on a single bit of the survey and pretending the rest of it (most of which contradicts your bit) doesn't exist. But it's not the strongest debating position.

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  13. Oh, and:

    "What makes you think it would be any better if Scotland was "independent"?"

    (Generously correcting your spelling there.)

    The word you're looking for is "separated". Please report at once to Union Control for reprogramming.

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  14. Indy

    I fear you miss the wicked cunning of the Union Dividend. If we are doing well economically, it is wages of the Union and nationalist-minded characters should stow their secessionary schemes, and enjoy the lucre Britannia was benevolent enough to furnish us with.

    If, by contrast things are faring less well and we're getting gubbed and our wallets emptied, surely it is obvious to all fair-minded observers [sic] that Scotland would be much worse off, without its Union-top-up of cash, and thus we should be grateful for present penury being generously maintained.

    The Union dividend. An astonishingly cunning thing, eh?

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  15. I really can't imagine how anyone who devotes a rational intellect to the question doesn't perceive that we can hardly fare worse than we are under the Union. If it's evidence the breast-clingers among your correspondents seek, there's plenty of it about: the Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Lithuania, Estonia and even Latvia (again) all appear to be doing rather better than they did in their former straitjackets. And none of them appear tobe clamouring to be let back in. Anyway it is quite amusing that on just the day when the North Brit splashed Danny Alexander on how we need a greater financial and fiscal union to survive, his own Government was engaged on cutting the strings between the UK and a larger one. One reason the old scare tactics don't work is that those who deploy them quite evidently don't believe in them themselves!

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  16. @LPW "I fear you miss the wicked cunning of the Union Dividend."

    department of mirrors

    If we are doing well economically, it is because we're wonderful and need "independence" to release even more of our undoubted and wonderful potential.

    If, by contrast things are faring less well and we're getting gubbed and our wallets emptied, surely it is obvious to all fair-minded observers that it's all the fault of London Labour lackeys and Westmonster and blah and etc.

    The Union dividend. Another straw man (see too wee too poor, above) that only ever gets brought up by nats to get knockeed down. Hurrah, we won the argument again!!!

    LPW, you are a genuinely eloquent nationalist. I have been trying to get my nationalist friends (and others) to explain the arguments for "independence" for decades. The case always seems full of holes when subjected to any logical analysis.

    Could you, as a reasonable and articulate advocate, please give it a try?

    It's a case that is going to have to be made soon. I would really like to have a preview from an intelligent source.

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  17. RevStu ...

    "..this must be pretty nauseating for those principled nationalists who would support independence ...."

    Not in the least. To be honest I don't give a bee's baw-hair why people vote for independence..."

    Stu, did you miss the word "principled"?

    "The word you're looking for is "separated".

    No. It's "independence", including the quotes.

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  18. Am Firinn "...I really can't imagine how anyone who devotes a rational intellect to the question doesn't perceive that we can hardly fare worse than we are under the Union."

    Why don't you give it a go then? Apply your own rational intellect and prove your point.

    BTW, you'll be well aware that "I can't imagine...." is the common logical flaw known as the "argument from incredulity".

    Just because you can't see something doesn't mean it isn't there...

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  19. "I have been trying to get my nationalist friends (and others) to explain the arguments for "independence" for decades."

    No you haven't. You don't have any nationalist friends, because if you did you'd have heard the arguments you pretend to request about a thousand times.

    But hey, I'll be glad to have a go - on condition you give us the fabled, mythical "positive case for the Union" first.

    Loving your "principled nationalists" schtick, though. I bet if Scotland won the World Cup you'd be there girning that we hadn't scored enough goals from overhead kicks and you didn't like the colour of our socks, while the rest of us celebrated like the world was about to end.

    Hope will always triumph over fear, my friend. Your time is almost over.

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  20. Incidentally, I already got you started for free:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/how-black-gold-was-hijacked-north-sea-oil-and-the-betrayal-of-scotland-518697.html

    That's a pretty damn convincing case for why independence would have made Scotland better right there, and it's no less relevant now, as we start to tap our vast renewable energy resources even while the oil is still flowing.

    Since you can't possibly have failed to read it before now, I conclude that your faux ignorance about the case for independence is just more of the tiresome trolling you specialise in, and which is serving Labour so spectacularly well in the polls these days. Keep it up.

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  21. So your case is that, give us 100% of NS oil revenues and everything else will be wonderful?

    Hardly heavyweight analysis, is it?

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  22. Sorry, there seems to have been some sort of technical glitch. The positive case for the Union appears to have accidentally fallen out of your post. Please resend.

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  23. Oh dear!

    Who's trolling now reverand?

    Anyways.

    The case for not destroying the UK is simple: it's not perfect but iit has worked for 300 years and it gives no indication of not working now.


    And, crucially, there's no better alternative on offer.

    That's what I asked you to describe, and that's what I have 100% confidence you won't even attempt....

    btw, did you see lpw on telly just now...

    scruffy bugger, needs a haircut... but knows his onions on the batty secterianism bill.

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  24. "The case for not destroying the UK is simple: it's not perfect but iit has worked for 300 years and it gives no indication of not working now. And, crucially, there's no better alternative on offer."

    That's your "positive case for the Union" then, is it? That's what you're going with?

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  25. Ah, but the Union manifestly isn't working now. Scotland has turned in a surplus this last five years. This may or may not be a permanent position: certainly the breast-clingers tell us Scotland would run at a £4bn or a £9bn deficit, depending on which figure they have plucked (necessarily, for this is all conjecture) out of thin air. Now, remind me what the UK's deficit is again? As I say, I really can't imagine how anyone thinks the Union game is worth the candle...

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  26. If it ain't broke don't fix it.

    Makes sense to me.

    Now what's your positive case for the alternative that you mistakenly call "independence"?

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  27. "If it ain't broke don't fix it."

    Sorry, I'd momentarily imagined you were actually going to make some sort of reasoned, positive case there. My fault for engaging with trolls.

    If that pathetic effort is your argument, mine is "independence would be much nicer because the weather would be better". It's no less spurious or idiotic than yours. Congratulations on your constructive contribution to the debate.

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  28. Am Firinn said..."Ah, but the Union manifestly isn't working now. Scotland has turned in a surplus this last five years."

    So. Scotland running a surplus is a sign that the UK isn't working..???!!!!

    And if Scotland was running a deficit that would be a sign that the UK was being successful?

    Really?

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  29. RevStu, the case that I made was..

    "The case for not destroying the UK is simple: it's not perfect but it has worked for 300 years and it gives no indication of not working now. And, crucially, there's no better alternative on offer."

    and then "if it ain't broke don't fix it".

    You haven't addressed the bit about the alternative which I believe you call "independence". As a Nationalist I had thought you might have some thoughts on that.

    Apparently not.

    Not really surprised though.

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  30. "The case for not destroying the UK is simple: it's not perfect but it has worked for 300 years and it gives no indication of not working now. And, crucially, there's no better alternative on offer."

    That's not a case, that's an assertion of personal opinion backed up by nothing. The UK is not "working", it's bankrupt. And there certainly IS a better alternative on offer, as anyone who's spent even a day in Norway (or read any of the UN's quality-of-life rankings tables) could tell you, backed up by cold hard facts and figures.

    But since you're clearly only interested in trolling rather than a reasoned, grown-up debate, I'll leave you to it. After all, the SNP are at 51% in the polls to Labour's 26%, and as Napoleon once said, "Never interrupt your enemy when he's making a mistake."

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  31. Ahhhhh RevStu "And there certainly IS a better alternative on offer, as anyone who's spent even a day in Norway"

    So your alternative is that the UK should emulate Norway?

    I know that's not what you mean, only joking. But, TBH Rev, you're not making your case very clear.

    So here are a few questions and clarifications to help direct your thoughts:

    Do you believe that Scotland would be economically better off if we left the UK?

    If so, why do you think that? As you say, backed up by cold hard facts and figures would be nice.

    And if you think the people of Scotland would be better off economically, by how much would they be better off?

    How long would it take to achieve this "better off"? Would it come the day after "independence"? Or would we have to wait a year, a decade, 70 years (like Ireland only to lose it again) 100 years (like Norway) Never (like many African states)? Some reason, facts and arguments would be useful here as well, if you have them.

    Would the amount that you think we might be "better off" be worth all the legal complications, constitutional upheaval, economic costs, political energy and personal bother and general all-round hassle of achieving it?

    Take your time, these are not easy questions to answer. I know, because I've asked them before and got quite a lot of rot in reply....

    And, BTW, that's only the start...

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  32. BTW,

    anyone can answer the above questions, I'm not limiting to RevStu....just in case you thought I was...

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  33. "Take your time"

    I'll take as long as it takes for you to post an ACTUAL positive case for the Union, rather than a glib soundbite, then you'll get all the answers you ever wanted.

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  34. @RevStu

    Actually, if you go back through this thread you'll see that I asked for LPW to make the case for "independence". And you butted in.

    So I'm waiting for you..

    In fact I'm not really, because you haven't a clue how to answer the very basic questions I posed.I know it, you know it, anyone reading this thread knows it.

    Sad really.

    "What do we want?"

    "INDEPENDECE"!!!

    "Why do we want it?"

    "Haven't a clue.....sorry...".

    wanders off... baffled..

    "Here Eck? Why do we want it?".

    "Don't listen to them Rev. Them unionists.. always looking for us to have the facts.... WE KNOW we're right, why do we have to explain?"

    "But Eeck, I don't have the facts..."

    "Never mind. Trust me. I'm a politician. I've got them somewhere....

    ..have you seen my whirling bow tie?"

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  35. Yawn.

    Keep it up, love. It's really winning the Scottish electorate over.

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  36. Rev
    It's not about persuading the public. I doubt if there's anyone left on this thread but me and you.

    It's about your (and cybernats generally) ignorance of the basic arguments that underpin your political beliefs.

    Either that or your acknowledgement that your arguments are too weak to put in the public domain for fear of derision.

    Either way.....

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  37. We've put them in the public domain a thousand times. You just keep pretending to be deaf and blind.

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  38. Can you point me to where I can see them?

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  39. Sure I can. As soon as we hear the positive case for the Union.

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  40. Dying of old age before a Unionist ever answers that question.

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  41. Rev,

    You see my problem? You are just the latest in a long line of nats who have failed to give any reason for their faith in "independence".

    Because, when you boil it down, that is what it is, faith: a quasi-religious belief with little real evidence to back it up... which is why you are struggling to provide what you call "cold hard facts and figures".

    Dont be upset Rev, it's not really your fault, that's just how faith works: if you believe, you don't need the facts, the very fact that you believe is fact enough (for you at least). And it leads to intellection torpor: if it's true (and it is true, have faith) then why bother gathering evidence to prove it is true?

    So it comes to pass that, in any such discussion, "you tell me first and I'll tell you" is nearly always the nationaliist last line of defence.....

    They never explain (because they cannot) why "independence" would be better. They only like to make the negative case against the current constitutional set up, so that any failing in the current regime (and all systems have failings) is seen as "proof" that we need "independence".

    For example, there is an economic crisis at the moment and the UK is suffering its share of the pain. "Look", cry excited nats "look at all that pain. We need "independence"", never considering if the pain would be just as bad or even worse if we had "independence".

    (And of course when there was a boom they cried "Look, Scotland's got the biggest banks in the world, proof, if proof were needed, that we need "independence"", never considering that bank failure would absolutely destroy the economy of an "independent" Scotland)

    In this way any explanation of why we wouldn't have the same failings if Scotland was "independent" is ignored or pooh-poohed, because it's a given fact of the faith, with no need of proof, that it would "better" if we were "independent".

    So, I could give you all the arguments there are in favour of not destroying the UK (which boil down to: it works ok, and there's no better alternative on offer, so why destroy it on speculation that things might get a wee bit better somehow, some way, some time, maybe never, who knows?) and you still wouldn't be persuaded to let go of your faith.

    Rev, I don't expect you to accept all of this. But I most certainly do not expect you to give a cogent argument with cold hard facts and figures to show why "independence" would be an improvement on the current constitutional set up...

    ..because they don't exist, and if they did you would know them (which you obviously do not) and you would have posted them already...

    It would be great if you would at leasst attemp to prove me wrong...

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  42. Yawn. I'm ready when you are.

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