The debate around the referendum on Scottish independence ought to be a battle of high-minded political principles between Unionism and Nationalism. Instead, in our age of petty politics, it has largely descended into a low-temperature discussion about economic technicalities.
If one political thread has emerged, it is the ever-dreadful and destructive politics of fear, as opponents of independence seek to scare Scots away from voting ‘Yes’ in September’s referendum.
On Wednesday the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, went to Scotland and gave a typically dull bank manager’s speech about the technical and institutional arrangements that would be required for an independent Scottish state to retain the British pound as its currency. Carney, a Canadian, stressed he was not a politician, refused to express any opinion on independence, and stuck to his technocrat’s script, ‘tiptoeing through the minefield’, as one commentator observed.
Yet the anti-independence lobby reacted to his speech as if it were a political timebomb. Carney’s observations about the ‘clear risks’ of an ill-founded currency union, as illustrated in the Eurozone’s vulnerability to ‘sovereign debt crises, financial fragmentation and large divergences in economic performance’, were seized upon as apparent proof that a ‘Yes’ vote would be disastrous for Scots. ‘Bank chief’s warning to Scotland’ shouted all the headlines on Thursday. Former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling, who now heads the ‘Better Together’ campaign for a ‘No’ vote, declared that the governor’s dire warning was a ‘devastating’ blow to the independence lobby.
Is this really the best that supporters of the historic Union between the English and Scottish parliaments can do? Devoid of any inspiring political arguments, they are poring over a banker’s speech that was about as exciting as a third-quarter balance sheet, trying to find something with which to frighten Scots off the idea of independence.