18 February 2014

Treacherous weapons

Newsflash: prominent / eminent / official person expresses opinion / prediction somehow relevant to independence referendum shocker, Yes / No campaigners outraged.

It is becoming a familiar format. The media unearth a suitably credentialled worthy or bigwig, ask them a few prickly questions, and invite an indiscretion liable to wind up one side of the constitutional debate. Which is generally fair game. This Sunday it was Barroso's declaration that an independent Scotland's EU accession would be "difficult if not impossible", for which read, bloody hard, tending towards chuffing hard. Cue salivation in Class 2B, as the Bash Street Better Together kids get their tweets formulated and fire off a series of whizzpoppers about pariah Scotland's hilarious exclusion from Europe, like the plooky teen tapping, ignored, at the form room door. 

On one level, this is a perfectly understandable response on their part.  Uncertainty and risk are the No campaign's favoured instruments.  They want us to see the independence referendum as a jury might a criminal trial, with Yes campaigners' being afforded the opportunity to displace the presumption in favour of union.  Has the prosecution proven its case? If not, the defence need not take to its pins and clear its throat to offer a reasoned account of its own. The proposition falls. 

Where, it seems to me, Better Together go wrong is that they've ceased properly to discriminate between credible and incredible lines of attack.  Does a particular intervention, however wrong-headed, ignorant or loopy favour our position? Then attack, attack, attack. This isn't a phenomenon unique to themselves. Pro-independence folk share the bad habit of enthusiastically promoting congenial interventions in the debate, however objectively dodgy their reasoning or provenance.  The First Minister loves to quote an eminent somebody, pouring icy water on an opponent's position. But we have to try to retain our critical faculties, and resist the partisan logic that every scrap of opinion, prophecy or claim which happens to chime with our constitutional preferences must be right.  That way intellectual bankruptcy lies.

Barroso's intervention this week furnishes an admirable case in point. Whatever your view about the desirability of Scottish independence, his remarks over the weekend were cobblers, and all fair-minded folk who want Scots to vote on the facts instead of distortions should have regarded them as cobblers.  Since, a number of constitutionally unaligned or no-tending voices have offered interesting (and quietly incredulous) responses to the Commission President's opinion. Sir David Edward, a No voter who served on the European Court of Justice and on the Calman Commission, described Barroso's reasoning as "absurd". Professor Michael Keating at the Future of the UK and Scotland blog argues that his intervention "confuses the question" of Scottish accession to the EU and the real and unreal challenges facing it, concluding that:

"None of this is in itself an argument for independence. Unionists can argue that Scotland is better off as part of a big EU state than as a small independent one. It is not consistent, however, to agree that Scots can vote to be an independent state but then seek to deprive them of the basic rights of any European democracy."

While this morning, for the Scottish Constitutional Futures Forum, Professor Neil Walker - "inclined to vote 'no' in September's referendum" - responds to Barroso's comments. He writes that these:

"... recent  events  have fuelled my anxiety about  the climate in which the debate is taking place. They have made me wonder whether the case for independence is getting a fair crack of the whip on the international stage, and have caused  me to ponder the implications of lending my vote to a position that remains so reliant upon negative rather than positive arguments."  

Noting, of Barroso's comments, and asking:

"These remarks have been well publicised. Predictably, they have been seized upon by Better Together as vindicating their long-standing scepticism about an independent Scotland's EU future, and as further evidence of the emptiness of nationalist promises. But why should anyone listen to Barroso on this topic?  Does he have a legitimate political voice in the debate? Does he speak from a position of legal authority?  Or, regardless of his political or legal standing, does he simply have a good insider argument, and one that we should heed? The answer, on all three counts, would seem to be 'no'. Why is this so, and why is it important to the integrity of the debate that the kind of intervention Barroso has sought fit to make should be challenged?"

It is an interesting piece, exploring the complex and contested principles undergirding the European Union, and how these relate to the particular case of an independent Scotland's chance of negotiated EU accession, and the terms of that accession.  

For what it is worth, my own view is that the Nats bungled the early argument on Scotland's EU status, the rhetoric of "automatic" membership offering Better Together an easy and predictable free shot at our vitals on the reasonable basis that (a) there are legal protocols governing EU accession and (b) EU treaty amendment requires unanimity among Member States.  However smooth or rough Scotland's accession to the EU might be, and whatever might be lost or gained in terms in that negotiation, "automatic" seamless and unruptured the process ain't. We have to make informed, prudential and principled judgements about its outcomes.

As Lord Glennie observed in a recent Court of Session decision, "the decision on continued membership will not ultimately be decided solely as a legal question but will, to a greater or lesser extent, involve questions of hard politics." To my mind, taking into account the principles undergirding the EU, and past practice, these hard politics favour some sort of EU accommodation with an independent Scotland. For that reason alone, the demand for certainty emanating from some quarters of the pro-Union debate is absurd. It is like one of David Greig's Yes/No plays.

Yes: Should we go out for dinner, darling?
No: Can you guarantee that the restaurant won't have been booked out, exploded, or become infested with weasels?
Yes: Um. No.  
No: We'll stay in. Microwave mac-and-cheese it is.

Much - too much - of the uncritical response to Barroso's intervention continued to foster this kind of ridiculous shadow-boxing. The temptation to squeeze short term tactical advantage from an intervention damaging to the other side may seem irresistable for the cynical hack.  It is certainly understandable, and a measure of skulduggery and position-taking is to be expected in a political campaign.  But a treacherous weapon is ever a danger to the hand.

39 comments :

  1. "However smooth or rough Scotland's accession to the EU might be, and whatever might be lost or gained in terms in that negotiation, "automatic" seamless and unruptured the process ain't."

    Great wisdom by and large as ever, but has anyone ever actually publicly conceded the principle that as the two supposedly equal partners in the Union, Scotland and the rUK will share a common status with regard to EU membership, whether that be "both in" or "both new states requiring to apply, even by an accelerated rubber-stamping process"?

    I know it's widely said that the rUK will continue as the UK and Scotland will be deemed to have "left" the Union rather than dissolving it, but has anyone representing the Scottish Government ever formally accepted it?

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    1. But surely the UK's membership of the EU and all of its existing treaties were ratified by Westminster, with Scotland ceding legal autho... oh come on, you can't be serious?

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    2. Stu - as you well know, Scotland was extinguished as a country... Correct though, that this has not been heavily enough challenged nor brought to the attention of the EU. It may be that this position is untenable (few other countries are going to bother about getting to grips with the Acts of Union), but I don't think it should be given away without a fight.
      There are a lot of imponderables. There's no doubt that for EU countries wanting to put one over the rUK, the question of its exact status within the EU could be questioned. But I would imagine the consensus will be that member states won't want to do anything to further alienate the UK from Europe. If you compare the advantage to the EU of keeping a big, even if unenthusistic, country within the EU, as opposed to backing an enthusiastic but small and untried Scotland, the chancellories of Europe will look carefully to their own interest.

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    3. You've left out what happens when a 'big, even unenthusiastic country' wants to up sticks and depart the EU.

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    4. Yes, Tychy, is it solipsistic in here or is it just me?

      I think it's all down to the expectation of a smooth transition, no problems, everything peachy... like Hebrews 13:8, except with jam.


      ~alec

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    1. >> But we can credibly guarantee that a Scottish currency would be pegged to Sterling, £ for £, in the event that such a formal agreement cannot be reached. It means the same thing to most voters.

      That's because pegging (ugh, negative connotations there) doesn't mean the same thing to most voters, and those for whom it does will have been willfully mislead by anyone telling them that it did.

      >> No will win if there is widespread uncertainty over the currency and threats of refusing debt aren't going to make people feel safer.

      There is no uncertainly now. In the highly likely event of a No vote, it will be because the electorate have chosen of their own free will.

      If only Salmond had spent time working on a Plan B. He still had plenty of time since the Euro went tits up, and all those quotable accounts of his dissing Ster£ing came back to haunt him.


      ~alec

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    4. That's it? Two countries! There's a reason you struggled to find examples.

      The Danish Krone was pegged as a stop-gap measure by the political parties who wanted the €uro but were peskily rejected by referendum and are trying to slip it in. The Swiss Franc took a hit when it was pegged, but it was considered the lesser of two evils given the gross incompetence of the Eurozone project which was threatening to sink it.

      There's much less hassle pegging or linking an existing respected currency to the €uro than an entirely new one, quite possibly with toxic rating after reneging on any share of the UK debt as any Scottish currency would be.

      And, even if this is what would happen, why has Salmond not said so or prepared a case for it? The fact is he hasn't because he has, at all points, expected someone else to do the heavy lifting... either through the €uro or Ster£ing.

      >> The SNP's version of independence looks a lot like full fiscal autonomy and the removal of Trident.

      Shall we not ask the Scottish public what they think of Trident? You may well be surprised.

      In any case, "fiscal autonomy" is not "monetary policy" which comes with using a certain currency, be it your own (with its own exchange rate or pegged to another) or in a currency union.

      It's quite clear that in addition to not having a coherent currency policy, a good many people in your camp - including the professional economist Salmond - do not know what a currency actually is.

      >> It would be achievable within the United Kingdom but no-one is offering it.

      September 2014 is about leaving the United Kingdom, you banana. Why the Dickens should those remaining do anything to finance a departure beyond that contained in the Edinburgh Agreement?

      >> It's highly likely London's obstinance will give way to pragmatism when Scotland votes for independence.

      It's not likely at all. In fact, there's somewhere between zero and almost zero chance of it happening. There is going to be no currency union.

      You say it's bluff and bluster. Well, what suggestions d'you have just in case it's not? The cold hard truth of the matter is that you don't, Salmond doesn't. You speak of others coming around after the event or alternatives being deployed (or switching the subject to entirely different countries like Denmark and Switzerland when asked about an independent Scotland), but you simply don't know and hope others do.

      It's headless chicken stuff.


      ~alec

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    6. Meaningless, meaningless, meaningless.

      What would be the Government - and electorate - of the EWNI have told you that there is going to be no currency union. An independent Scotland would have no leverage over it, and a lot of other matters.

      How many other advanced post Industrial nations can you think of which peg their currencies to another?


      ~alec

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    10. >> The next government of the UK is still to be decided - including by Scottish voters.

      So you're banking on a NO vote? Not that it matters. The Three Chancellors have ruled it out. The polled public have told you to sling your hook.

      There is going to be no currency union.



      ~alec

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    11. >> * UK cannot be a continuator state in the EU / UN (inc. Security Council) and other organisations without consent of other members.

      Wrong. Pointless explaining why. It's wrong.

      >> * rUK is the sole debt holder until Scotland says otherwise.

      Quite true. That said, an independent Scotland which reneged on any or all of her share of the UK debt would find herself with a toxic rating, as an EWNI absorbs the debt just as the UK absorbed a much greater shock in 2008.

      >> * Sterling-area trade deficit doubles without Scottish exports

      First this makes the assumption that the current estimation of putative trade with Scotland is with companies and institutions rooted in Scotland, and not ones which would be prepared to relocate to an EWNI.

      Secondly, based on the same figures, an EWNI will have 20% of her trade with the US and 40% with the EU (not just the Eurozone)... all without currency unions or even pegging.

      >> * A tax / regulatory environment that undermines London's dominance

      Assume that the top few percent of tax contributors in the UK which are responsible for over 1/3 of tax revenue are spread evenly across the country. I'd be willingly to bet they're concentrated around the SE.

      >> * BP oil licences can be withdrawn.

      Great, that'll instill confidence in the cash cow of North Sea oil. No currency union, no oil investment... are you hoping for a currency based on barley?

      >> * A referendum on the monarchy.

      Zero relevance to a currency union (which there won't be).

      >> * Prosecution of UK war criminals, [...]

      Yes, I want all those Bangladeshi genocidaires prosecuted. Oh, you meant Tony Blair... twat.

      >> [...] tax avoiders and various others the UK has turned a blind eye to

      What, like Adam Ramsay's folks?

      >> * Removing Trident from Scotland immediately

      Note no suggestion of a referendum. And you call yourself a democrat!

      Okay, you want Trident removed? Pay for it. Given you just have refused to accept any debt, you have no bargaining chips.

      >> * Abolishing rights of non-residents to own property

      Great, that'll go down well with the potential market from the 52 millions other full citizens who have every legal right to live in and own property in Scotland (and whom you've denied a vote in the referendum to) not to mention foreign confidence.

      Even if the Scottish Courts don't strike it down immediately, the EU will. You don't have the faintest idea of how any sort of economy works do you?

      >> * Defence alliances with non-NATO countries. [...]

      Yes, I hear Suriname is just crying-out for that.

      >> [...] We can even sell those aircraft carriers to anyone who wants them.

      Shame, it looked as if you were about to call yourself anti-war. That said, you try that with Royal Navy property, you won't have to worry about not having a currency union as your attention will be 100% taken up by the AMRAAM using your nipples as target practice.

      >> * Supporting other countries in their territorial claims against the UK

      You either support them on principle (which, considering we're talking about Spain and Argentina over and above the wishes of the Gibraltarians and Kelpers respectively, is not one recognizable as a democrat) or you do so out of petty, spiteful, unprincipled revenge which would cause North Korea to blanch.

      Then again, give that this 'support' won't extend beyond an extra bottle of single malt whisky, it'll be safe to discount it'll be of as much use as a motorcycle ashtray.

      ~alec

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    12. >> Switzerland and Denmark are very good examples of "advanced post industrial nations" that peg

      To the great chagrin of one of them which did the opposite of succeeding when pegging started, and many Swiss now want out of it.

      >> Hong Kong has been pegged the USD for 30 years.

      Given the general state of the HK economy and standard of living when this started, this maybe is not the comparison you want to make.

      >> Every current Euro member was pegged to the ERM successfully.

      Existing currencies which had established varying degrees of trust. Not bushels of barley just tied together by a bunch of over-promoted mediocrities who just had refused to accept their share of a national debt out of wounded pride.

      >> Under Bretton Woods even the US Dollar was pegged.

      ??? That was when entire continents had torn themselves apart in war!!! There really are some right loonies out there who think they have any conception of economics.

      Sod a currency union, there is going to be no sanity in your vision of an independent Scotland.

      >> There are plenty more.

      Where are they? In a notepad in that treehouse where your secret gang meets?

      ~alec

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    13. Mark, I can understand why you removed the following:

      i. Showing all oil investors that they cannot consider themselves safe. Similar economic illiteracy arising from pseudo-socialist claptrap about property ownership. Likewise for your belief you could sell stolen property.

      ii. Cod republicanism.

      iii. Unilateral expulsion of Trident (without a cost proposal, nevermind a referendum),

      iv. Stuff about war criminals which try as youse might youse have not been able to demonstrate any basis for (I am sure you weren't talking about non-Euro mass-murderers)

      v. Complete failure to appreciate that a Government cannot turn a blind-eye to a legal practice (tax avoidance =/= tax dodging), and lack of awareness of who might be included in this.

      vi. Hilariously overinflated notion of how militarily relevant an independent Scotland would be. Less hilarious disdain for the self-determination of other nation groups over and above your spiteful hatred of the UK State.

      I can understand because they were insane, compared to which the same old same old about big bad London-pants when it came to tax collection was lucid.

      It does suggest, though, that you're not committed to open debate. To be honest, that's why I repeat such claims verbatim - to the detriment of character count, hence my multiple posts - when speaking with your camp... to not to look as if I'm the one being dishonest.

      The stuff you left wasn't much better... especially the failure to understand what a continuing state is.


      ~alec

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    15. On that I agree. It was rambling, but it served a purpose of pointing to your complete lack of seriousness on the matter.

      >> I simply don't believe rUK and iScotland will be working against each other after the Yes vote

      And I simply don't believe Scarlett Johansson will reject my request for a date.

      There is going to be no currency union. It will not be in tan EWNI's interest, and as the continuing state it will hold all the cards.


      ~alec

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  3. Didn't Crawford and Boyle try and envisage the UK as a 'Greater England'?

    I'm reminded of a chase scene in an adventure film, where the desperate quarry hurls objects however flimsy into the path of the pursuer...

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  4. LPW: 'On one level, this is a perfectly understandable response on their part.'

    It was all too predictable alas. Barroso and other eurocrats have agendas specific to their own perceived national interests - worth remembering Neal Ascherson's comment that Europe is the Dark Continent (with levels of corruption the Middle East can only aspire to) - Barroso's intervention is not worth much more than a yawn and his credentials are non-existent as Professor Walker says (many thanks for linking to his piece, enjoyed that).

    Until (as Billy Connolly wittily puts it) the vote is over and we get the country we deserve, this is indeed all 'shadowboxing', as you say. At the outset of the Great Debate, I remember some pundit writing of the skilled tacticians about to be brought in on both sides to aid the strategic vision of the masterminds in the rival camps. The Barroso kerfuffle demonstrates it is more like a ping-pong game played in the dusk between Elmer Fudd and Mr Magoo.

    I think the Nats missed their shot here, they should have just laughed at the man. The SNP - foolishly I think - seems to take the default view that Euro bigwigs should be given more respect than they merit - I suppose this is down to a desire to make a contrast with the kippers, but there are plenty on the British left who are also not enamoured of the Barroso barrel.

    Shrug and move on.

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  5. That weasels thing is good.

    Who wins when Barroso is encouraged to clown about on the telly saying the EU is a red-tape labyrinth full of furtive weasels who will object to the leaves on the trees and the minutes in the hour if it suits them? UKIP. If Scotland votes NO, who benefits from this view of Europe? UKIP. If Scotland votes YES, who benefits from this view of Europe? UKIP. With every bungling intervention like this, and every revisitation to the EU issue for the next eight months as a malleus scotorum the likelihood of an EU exit in 2017 increases. Not such a big deal for Scots you might think if we actually do vote for YES. On the other hand, if there is a NO vote then Scotland will be out in the cold too as part of the UK State even though UKIP has no support in Scotland. In 2017, at a stroke, we would be a lot further back than where are right now. We'd scratching around for support for yet another referendum, in the teeth of metropolitan sneers and jeers about neverendums, while London squeezes its choke-hold on the UK economy tighter yet and pumps a trillion bucks worth of oil revenue down its gullet. Cameron's short-term calculation is working against his interest.

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  6. What about the suspicion that Barroso knowingly threw his overblown phrase into the works as part of some backroom deal with Cameron? Perhaps in return for some concession on the EU referendum, or the "renegotiation" leading up to it? There's not a shred of evidence for that, of course (nor would one expect any to appear in public), but the oddly exaggerated nature of his remark certainly invites the question...

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  7. Our President is also on his way out and the next guy can freely disown his remarks. It seems a general media malfunction that nobody is inquiring about/debating who Barroso's successor will be or what sort of regime will follow the Barroso Commission. With that calibre of democracy, you might possibly wonder why we are lobbying to join the EU in the first place...

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  8. "... recent events have fuelled my anxiety about the climate in which the debate is taking place. They have made me wonder whether the case for independence is getting a fair crack of the whip on the international stage, and have caused me to ponder the implications of lending my vote to a position that remains so reliant upon negative rather than positive arguments."

    The SNP has been in existence for eighty years, so I would presume it has rehearsed and fireproofed its positions and arguments and tactics and policy insofar as can be. It has had all the resources of government at its disposal for seven years, with civil service personnel to gather facts and evidence that can be used to prove the SNP case (where it can be proven) and press departments to manage press relations.. Even without civil service access, the SNP is richer than all the other Scottish parties combined with the ability to disperse their message far and wide and deep.

    The SNP has a leader who will be heard whatever the circumstances and other leading members who, as government ministers, dictate the agenda and have at least some control over the messages that get out and when and how they get out.

    If the message is not getting a fair crack of the whip (whatever that is) maybe that's the SNP's fault. After all it's their responsibility to ensure the message does get out.

    Of course, if the message is unconvincing in itself, then the more it is broadcast the more damaging it is to the messenger. Maybe it's not the fairness of the crack of the whip that matters, maybe the message is the problem.

    When it comes down to, as my old Granny used to say there's no profit in polishing a turd.

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    1. Depends on whether the turd in question are the specifics of EU membership and currency or whether the basic principle of self - government. I used to be a staunch unionist. It wasn't discussion of EU membership that prompted my change more the basic principle of governance and where those powers of governance are centred. Now the EU and currency questions are important and I think the Yes campaign have been a bit stupid in blithely asserting it will all be plain sailing. But the core of the message about where governance might be most effective - the core message if you like - isn't the problem. It's some of the important ways of managing it that hasn't been done very well.

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    2. So what is the core message, and why is it not the problem?

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    3. As I said, the question of where governance might be most effective, ie most decisions being taken by a government in Edinburgh. That, by the way, is not a recipe for avoiding mistakes or eejits being in positions of power (no country has been able to avoid those things, including the UK). But it would mean having to take responsibility and not blaming others when it goes wrong. That is the core message. Why is that not the problem? Well, perhaps nothing I will say will convince you, but I think it much healthier to take responsibility for one's life and then cooperate with others where it seems best (which no doubt in our interdependent world would be a lot of the time). I'm not one of those who sees the UK as some terrible thing which has given us nothing, far from it. Indeed a large part of me will always have an element of a British identity. But more and more I've become convinced that tinkering with devolution here and there will not deliver the boot to arse I think we need as a country. Well, that's my view anyway for what it's worth.

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    4. So how would it be better for the Scottish people if we were economically worse off and could decide on deeper cuts for a lot longer than George Osborne and had broken our links with our friends in the rest of the UK in order to make us worse off?

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    6. But why do you insist we would break our links? Sure a yes vote would have an impact on relations with the rUK. But one has only to look at Anglo-Irish relations to see that what's resulted is a much better relationship than if Ireland had remained in the UK. Different history, of course, but I'm not so much a pessimist as you seem to be on the issue of long term relations - independence doesn't have to mean permanently soured ans broken relations. In fact a Scotland taking responsibility for itself rather than constantly girning and moaning about being the forgotten partner would I submit have a much healthier relationship with the countries of the rUK. As regards the economy, well I don't have a looking glass into the future. How we do economically surely depends on the people and government of Scotland and the decisions taken by numerous actors inside and outside Scotland. We'd be responsible for getting off our collective derrières and doing the necessary to improve our economy and continuing to build the alliances and links that help to do that. No political party or individual can give guarantees on that front, not even George Osborne - to do so would be foolish.

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  9. And why isn't the SNP broadcasting the core message?

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  10. Maybe it's .............in The White paper aka 'Scotland's Future'. Freely available dontcha know?

    'If the message is not getting a fair crack of the whip (whatever that is) maybe that's the SNP's fault. After all it's their responsibility to ensure the message does get out'

    When the MSM and TV in Scotland are pro Union it can be a trifle difficult. How would you propose the 'Yes' campaign should go about getting their message out.

    Answer: Grass roots activism.

    As if you care, right enough.

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    1. What I said was

      "The SNP has been in existence for eighty years, so I would presume it has rehearsed and fireproofed its positions and arguments and tactics and policy insofar as can be. It has had all the resources of government at its disposal for seven years, with civil service personnel to gather facts and evidence that can be used to prove the SNP case (where it can be proven) and press departments to manage press relations.. Even without civil service access, the SNP is richer than all the other Scottish parties combined with the ability to disperse their message far and wide and deep.

      The SNP has a leader who will be heard whatever the circumstances and other leading members who, as government ministers, dictate the agenda and have at least some control over the messages that get out and when and how they get out.

      If the message is not getting a fair crack of the whip (whatever that is) maybe that's the SNP's fault. After all it's their responsibility to ensure the message does get out."

      try addressing all the points instead of blaming someone else ....... media, whatever...

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