When the cornerstones of your argument are based on wishful thinking, whimsy and straight-up denial, they are quickly eroded in direct proportion to the level of attention and scrutiny they receive. And so it goes for Alex Salmond, his Scottish Nationalist Party and the rest of the pro-Scottish independence movement.
What started as a seemingly serious and passionate argument in favour of localism and self-determination has – with only the first stirrings of an intervention from serious business leaders and Westminster politicians – been revealed as an illogical and fundamentally unserious argument put forward by people who lacked either the courtesy or capacity to construct a real one.
Alan Cochrane, the Telegraph’s Scotland editor, sums it all up:
In the parallel universe inhabited by the First Minister of Scotland and his separatist supporters, their campaign to break up Britain is sailing towards victory. The reality, however, is somewhat different. On Sunday, José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, fired what was but the latest in a series of well-aimed torpedoes at the SNP’s attempt to win September’s referendum on Scottish independence.
And so it is, inside the SNP’s alternate reality. To look at Alex Salmond and the rest of the pro-independence group campaign, you would scarely notice that their argument has been comprehensively derailed or even encountered the slightest bit of turbulence. Aside from the now familiar petulant accusations of bullying or intimidation, they remain all smiles, convinced that the opposition of UK political parties to sharing the pound or of the EU to admitting an independent Scotland are minor obstacles that will quickly be overcome in the aftermath of a Yes vote.
Such is the power of denial.
Salmond’s second-in-command, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, is no better. Her response to indications that the European Union would look very dimly on the membership application of an independent Scotland? The assertion that to deny membership to the Scots would be ‘un-European’ – as though the EU were some kind of principled organisation that always dutifully followed its founding documents and operating guidelines to the letter.
She insisted the EU would not deny Scotland its right to be members of the EU since this would run counter to the principle of national self-determination – a founding principle of the EU.
Her remarks came after all three parties at Westminster said they would not allow an independent Scotland to remain in a currency union with the rest of the UK and the European commission president José Manuel Barroso said it would be difficult, if not impossible, for Scotland to join the European Union.
In pressing their ever-weakening case for separation from the United Kingdom, the nationalists are very good at putting words into the mouths of others – of course business leaders would demand that the UK government allow Scotland to continue using the pound, of course the European Union would stop everything that it’s doing to expedite Scottish accession – but ultimately find themselves being contradicted or slapped down nearly every time when those people ultimately speak for themselves.
It would be unrealistic to expect this denial to dissipate in the near future. Though the Saltires, shortbread and scotch whiskey postcard image of an independent Scotland endlessly promoted by Alex Salmond is increasingly being exposed as a farce, a tour-de-force in wishful thinking, intoxicating beliefs such as this are long-held and self-reinforcing, and do not vanish in a puff of smoke at their first exposure to reality.
But it must be disheartening for the nationalists that in response to firm UK positions on sharing the pound and strengthening EU rhetoric on Scottish accession, all Alex Salmond has in response is bluster and outrage. As Cochrane rightly notes:
But just as Mr Salmond dismissed [George Osborne and the shadow chancellor] for indulging in “bluff, bluster and bullying” over sterling, the best the nationalists could come up with yesterday in response to the head of the EU was that he was being “preposterous”.
Sound bites of this nature have become the stock-in-trade of the SNP leader, with his speech in Aberdeen yesterday littered with well-worn smart-Alex phrases about how those opposed to him had been indulging in, variously, “a destructive campaign” and were “undermining the democratic process”, “dictating from on high” and indulging in “caricatures”.
We can only expect to see more and more of this as the independence debate lurches toward its September conclusion. If Alex Salmond is not willing to articulate his Plan B, a detailed plan for how a newly independent Scotland would sustain itself and relate to the rest of the UK, to Europe and to the world – and all evidence thus far suggests that he is not able to do so – then playing the victim card is really the only option left open to him.
A pivot towards the argument/caricature of the plucky pro-independence Scotsman being bullied and browbeaten by the forces of British imperialism and big business would be entirely understandable in the waning days of the campaign, when the SNP high command finally acknowledges that all hope is lost. But to see this take place so early in the campaign is quite shocking. The nationalists can talk for Britain (or rather, for Scotland), but now they seem to be lost for words.
There are 211 days until the referendum on Scottish independence, and already it sounds as though the Yes campaign is giving voters a sneak preview of their post-defeat blame game. This is worrying for the nationalists, but should gladden the hearts of everyone who values the strength and integrity of our United Kingdom.