The biggest day in Scotland's history looms - and the country just isn't bothered

16 Sep 2013

Not long till the independence referendum now; the ‘biggest day in Scotland’s history’ only months away. So what’s the state of play? Which way is Scotland leaning? Depends if you listen to Yes Scotland or Better Together, really. However, if you listen to, or rather read, the lead story in Monday’s Scotsman newspaper, you’d be completely dumbfounded as to what is the most likely outcome in September next year. 


“£500” the front page splash. “Scotsman poll reveals amount voters say they need to benefit by to vote ‘Yes’. 

Now, two things need to be borne in mind here. Firstly, this is one poll based on data likely to be pretty selective. Secondly, the other, arguably more interesting part of this story- that only 18% of ‘Yes’ voters would still vote Yes in the referendum if they were £500 worse off under independence- is hidden way down the article, with ‘I’d need £500 to vote for independence, say voters’ the top line. So much so that Mid-Scotland and Fife Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser tweeted the Scotland on Sunday deputy editor Kenny Farquharson asking why the Scotsman hadn’t asked the latter question in their poll. 

One view of this story would be that Scotland does not want independence. I don’t think that’s the case. What I do think is the case is that Scotland doesn’t care whether it gets independence or not, for the simple reason that the country doesn’t know enough about the debate to be able to make its mind up. As far as the independence debate goes for Scotland, indifference is the buzzword. 

On the same day as the Scotsman ran the ‘£500 for a Yes vote’ story, another independence-related story featured in the newspaper. A survey of Scotland’s businesses and their attitudes to the independence debate by the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) came back with some interesting although perhaps unsurprising results. 90% of the businesses surveyed reported back that they had seen no impact on their businesses as a result of the independence debate. 

The BCC said: “This figure was remarkably consistent, whether businesses were asked about orders or sales, employment intentions, or investment in plant or premises.”

So whose fault is this state of affairs? There’s no one answer to that question. It is neither the fault of a particular political party; nor the fault of politicians in general. Scotland’s indifference to the biggest day in its history is all to do with how the independence debate has been set up. From the outset, it was abundantly clear that the debate was to be dominated in Scotland by party politics. However, the blame is far from resting squarely on the shoulders of political parties. 

For the indifference of the Scottish public is down less to substandard representation, and more down to substandard campaigning. Yes Scotland andBetter Together both may have set out with good intentions of informing Scotland about their respective arguments on either side of the debate, but all good intentions have been long lost in a storm of political point-scoring. Party politics has encroached into an issue which is of such vital importance to Scotland’s future that it really deserves to be exempt from the usual scrunching up of the paper mandate by political parties into an unrecognisable ball-shaped mass of point-scoring and the attempted kicking of said ball through the front door of each other’s press offices in a bid to score a goal. 

Too many campaigners on both sides have had, and still do have, political ambitions of their own and that has been their motivation for their involvement in campaigning, rather than a clear, impassioned view for Scotland’s future. Conversely, too few non-party affiliated Scots with strong views on the referendum have sought to get involved in campaigning and the debate has become something which really isn’t anything at all as a result. 

Scotland will make its mind up on September 18th 2014, and the real talking will be not which way the country votes, but of those who bothered to vote, and who really did it because they were bothered about the outcome. 

By Alex Shilling

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