The Scottish independence referendum  – The second STV debate 2nd Sept 2014

Robert Henderson

The full debate can be found at

Better Together panel

Douglas Alexander Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary and MP

Kezia Dugdale  Scottish Labour  Shadow Party Education spokesman and MSP

Ruth Davidson Leader of the Scottish Conservatives and MSP

YES Scotland  panel

Nicola Sturgeon Deputy First Minister (SNP) and MSP

Elaine C Smith Convenor of Scottish Independence Convention

Patrick Harvie Co-Convener of the Scottish Green Party and MSP

Presenter Bernard Ponsonby

The debate  was divided into opening and closing statements by Alexander and Sturgeon with three sections in which one representative from the Better Together and Yes camps was put up to answer  questions. There was a fourth section which was the audience asking questions which could be put to any member  of the two panels at the presenter’s discretion.

It was a more edifying spectacle than the Darling-Salmond shouting matches.  This was largely but not wholly due to the   difference in programme structure , which included much more audience participation, had  six voices rather than two to be accommodated and excluded  formal questioning of each other by the two sides. This removed much of the opportunity for  the unseemly squabbling which had tainted the Darling-Salmond debates.

To the difference in programme  structure improving matters   can be added the absence of Salmond, , who was primarily responsible for the way the Darling-Salmond debates deteriorated into incoherence as the two politicians repeatedly spoke  over one another.  Darling is not  naturally shouty and was provoked into behaving out of character by Salmond’s  toxic behaviour.  It is also true that Douglas Alexander was a vast improvement on Darling, both in his persona, which was relaxed and controlled,  and in the quietly reasonable  way he answered questions. However, his effectiveness was curtailed  because  the format of the show   meant Alexander remained  silent for  much of the time.

Of the others  Dugdale was nervously gabbling,  Davidson attempted to give factual answers , but spoke  too quickly, Elaine Smith  was strident  and emotional and  Harvie supercilious and adolescently idealistic by turns.  Listening to Sturgeon  was to hear Salmond’s words slavishly repeated by someone else. She even mimicked his practice in the second Darling-Salmond debate of moving from behind her rostrum and wandering about the stage.

Although the debate was much  better mannered than   the Darling-Salmond encounters,  it was not  much more informative. There is an inherent  problem with public debates where two sides are allowed to make assertions without challenge from any disinterested third party.   Even where , as was the case here, the audience were able to ask a good number of questions, little is achieved because there is  no sustained questioning of the  speakers’ responses.  Even where the speakers appeared to be giving hard facts there was no solid challenge to what they claimed. The presenter, with the amusingly incongruous  English name of Bernard Ponsonby,   made attempts to challenge what was being said, but these interventions  rarely went anywhere and appeared more for show rather than a determined attempt to stop the speakers waffling, evading or lying.  The upshot was that after the one and three quarter hours  the programme ran I doubt whether the studio audience or the viewers were much the wiser about where the truth lay.

The subjects  covered  were social justice ,  benefit spending, health and social care,  tuition fees, the currency, North Sea oil,  the Barnett Formula, domestic violence,  the nuclear deterrent, Faslane, defence,  the EU and  the further powers offered  in the event of a NO vote. Because of the number of subjects,  they were all dealt with quickly and inevitably superficially. Some questions or points from the audience went unanswered lost in the fog of politician’s waffle.

Only Alexander and Davidson made any real attempt to consistently answer questions with reference to   facts. For example, Davidson had  a very good point about the startlingly meagre nature of the proposed armed forces  put forward in the SNPs white paper on independence.  (Go into the recording at 1 hour and 15 minutes). At the point of independence  the White Paper proposes that “ Scotland will have a total of 7,500 regular and 2,000 reserve personnel at the point of independence, rising to around 10,000 regulars and 3,500  reserves by the end of the five years following independence” (P237) with the possibility after  ten years  of  15,000 regulars and 5,000 reserves.   (That is for the army navy and airforce of a country whose territory constitutes 30% of  the UK).

Judged purely on the information being given by the panellists,  the Better Together side was far superior, but the YES mixture of bluster, bald assertion  and outright lies was  backed  up by aggressive audience participation by YES voters  which covered the massive gaps in their responses to questions.  The  NO  part of the audience applauded vigorously when good points were made  by Better Together, but they did not exude the childlike  excitement and joy  seen on YES supporters’ faces , which were eerily reminiscent of the sublime inanity of the faces of the hippies in the film Easy Rider.

The extremely  large elephant in the room –   the interests of the rest of the UK in the referendum – went unmentioned  but for one brief comment by Alexander. He  pointed out that  a vote for independence would give Salmond a mandate to engage in negotiations for the terms of separation, not  as the YES camp claimed,  a democratic mandate for anything Salmond demanded : “ The sovereign will applies here  in Scotland.  it can’t bind what would be the sovereign will of what would be a  separate country after independence. “ Go into recording at 33 minutes.

To take one example of the rest of the UK’s ignored  interests  which is of immediate concern , no  discussion has taken place about the position of Scottish MPs at Westminster if there is a YES vote.  If the General Election takes place in 2015 but Scottish independence not until 2017 (or even later if the negotiations go badly), there would be the absurd situation of Scottish MPs and peers  still sitting in Parliament at Westminster, making decisions on English matters.  In addition, if Labour win the  election but only with the support of Scottish MPs, a Labour Prime Minister could find himself with a majority in the Commons one day and a minority government the next. It would also mean that the terms of independence  for Scottish independence would be negotiated by a PM who was arithmetically certain to have to resign after Scottish independence day and was dependent on the Scottish MPs to pass whatever terms were agreed.  That would be an incentive to give far too much away to the Scots.

Looking at the three debates   together , (the two Darling-Salmond debates and this one)  it is astonishing that so many important questions other than the  rest of the UK’s interest in the referendum have gone largely or wholly unexamined. Here are some of them:

  1. The public service jobs which will go south of the border if there is a YES vote. This will be the military  ones,  including the Trident submarines and missiles at Faslane,  plus the  considerable number of public service jobs which have been exported from England to Scotland which deal with English matters  such  as the administration of the English  welfare system.
  2. The position of public sector pensions in Scotland, both those already being drawn and the pension entitlements accrued to the date of independence which have not yet begun to be drawn.
  3. The condition of private sector pensions in Scotland such as those attached RBS and HBOS. These could very easily default especially if the Bank of England is no longer the lender of the last resort.
  4. The very heavy reliance of the Scottish economy on taxpayer funded jobs .
  5. The narrowness of the private sector of the Scottish economy, it being massively dependent on oil and gas, financial services and food and drink.
  6. Immigration to Scotland.
  7. Scottish Nationality.

How should  the NO  campaign have been conducted?

The Better Together campaign has suffered from what is always a fatal flaw: they have  built their strategy  around  appeasement of the Scots. Appeasement can never be a strategy because the appeased always returns for more concessions. Appeasement can only ever be a tactic to buy time, something which does not apply in this context.

The policy of appeasement  has meant there has been no input from those who are  not Scottish and opposed to the break up of the Union.  Any Unionist politician with an English accent has been treated as toxic  by the NO campaign.  The debate has been entirely about what is best for Scotland. Fear of being accused of being  a traitor or Quisling has meant that no honest answer has been given to the challenge put by pro-independents along the lines of “Are you saying that this extremely wealthy and wondrously talented country Scotland cannot be successful as an independent country?” . This is   because to suggest  that Scotland is  anything other than a supremely talented and amazingly  wealthy country would bring exactly those accusations.   Faced with that dread the NO camp has  retreated to the absurd position of  agreeing that Scotland is an extremely wealthy and talented country whilst saying that it should not be independent because it would lose so much economically by independence.

The fear of being labelled  either a Quisling (if Scottish) or a bully (if an English Westminster politician) has allowed the YES camp in general and Salmond to make absurd statements which have gone effectively unchallenged, for example on  these two major issues:

  1. Salmond’s claim that Scotland has part ownership of the Pound. This is a literal nonsense. The legal position is very simple: the Pound Sterling is the English currency. Scotland gained the right to share it when they signed the Treaty of Union. If they leave the Union they forfeit that right because the  Treaty and the subsequent Acts of Union will no longer operate.  No one on the pro-union side has made this very obvious point.
  2. Salmond’s threat to default on taking a proportionate share of the UK national debt if they do not get a currency union. This is a non-starter because Scottish independence is dependent on the Westminster Parliament repealing the Act of Union. Again, no one on the pro-union side has made this very obvious point.
  3. Sterlingisation. Why on Earth did no one on the Better Together side not ask Salmond the question “Who will be Scotland’s lender of the last resort if there is Sterlingisation?” A simple question but one Salmond would not have been able to evade.

The whole business has been misguided from beginning to end. Granting an independence  referendum to be decided simply by those in Scotland  when it affected around 90% of the population of the UK was wrong in principle.  That error was compounded by the failure to define the terms of independence before the referendum was held. Had the terms been decided before the referendum,  it is very doubtful that  the referendum would have resulted in a YES vote because Westminster politicians would have been forced to take account of what the electorate in England, Wales and Northern Ireland  would tolerate by way of terms for Scotland to secede from the Union.  For example, the three major  Westminster Parties would have had to make their pledge that there would be no currency union part of the terms,  because to  agree to a currency union would have left them open to the  anger to the electors in England, Wales and Northern Ireland  at the idea that the Bank of England (and hence the UK taxpayer)  would be the lender of last resort  for Scotland.

If the terms had been agreed in advance, ideally these should have been put to a referendum of  the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland for their acceptance. But even if that was not done,  the fact that a UK general election was  to be held in 2015  would have put great pressure on the politicians negotiating the deal with the Scots to not give too much away.

What can be done before the referendum by unionists?  Precious little if anything in terms of promoting the positives of the UK  because it is simply too late. . What the Westminster parties should not be doing is scrambling around promising an ever more potent version of  DEVOMAX.  That would be because it will be seen as appeasement and because the closer the DEVOMAX on offer gets to independence, the less reason there is for people to vote NO  to get DEVOMAX.

What we have had since the referendum was announced has been  the very small Scottish tail  wagging the very large English dog. That is both absurd and a betrayal of the 90 per cent of the population who do not live in Scotland.

This entry was posted in Devolution, Nationhood and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Scottish independence referendum  – The second STV debate 2nd Sept 2014

  1. Geezer says:

    Ive heard that non-British EU citizens resident in Scotland will be allowed to vote, can this really be true? After all such people (excepting Irish citizens) arent allowed to vote in parliamentary elections, how on earth can they be voting on something as crucial as this?

    I find it hard to believe the ‘yes’ vote has got so large (according to polls). Why didnt all these people vote SNP at the last election?

    I just don’t quite follow the logic. Why did more people vote tory, UKIP, BNP, Britain First in total than SNP (never mind Labour & LibDem) if they were then going to vote ‘yes’ in September?

    The prevailing feeling seems to be the ‘yes’ camp are most committed, most likely to turn out, in which case surely the May vote actually overestimates their numbers.

  2. Colin Ray says:

    I have been following the news and various debates with some interest. One thing that has become crystal clear to me is that everything is all about Scotland. Despite the fact that Scottish independence will have enormous implications for the English and also the rest of what remains of the not so United Kingdom.
    Nobody has asked the English what we think over Scottish independence or for that matter, Devo Max which is promised to give the Scots de facto independence with none of the responsibilities should they reject independence.

    Today, on BBC2’s politics show an historian was part of the panel, along with Lord Baker. The historian was the founder of the Better Together campaign which recruited various so called celebrities (as if anybody cares what they think). He stated that he believed the majority of English people supported Scotland to stay within the UK. Really? How does he know? Nobody has ever asked us or put it to a vote and neither have our opinions been polled.

    This illustrates the absolute contempt the ‘establishment’ and the various literati and Illuminati types have for England and the English. The historian believed the majority of English support Scotland remaining in the UK, therefore, in his arrogant mind it must be true and there is no further need for consultation. Naturally, any further debate about what the English may think, especially when Lord Baker sensibly suggested a federal solution with each of the component parts of the UK having their own parliaments, was quickly brushed aside by the (Scottish) interviewer.

    It seems to me that John Prescott’s statement that,”There is no such thing as an English nation” has been thoroughly inculcated into the political and media psyche with the result that there is no need to consult or ask for the consent of a people who do not officially exist.

    Let’s really find out what the English think by holding a referendum in England for English independence.

  3. Pingback: The Scottish independence referendum – The second STV debate 2nd Sept 2014 | The Libertarian Alliance

  4. Pingback: All you could ever want to know about Scottish independence | England calling

  5. Ian Duncan says:


    Just a Different Perspective May Enlighten

    Imagine for a moment that the UK Government had been based in Edinburgh rather than London after the Act of Union in May 1707 .

    How would English people feel about moving the UK parliament 400 miles north to Edinburgh, and seldom getting the government or policies you want. In fact we’d expect you to accept being a junior partner in that union and having Scots MPs overrule you on policy, tax, defence, and foreign wars for around 300 years. That includes policies affecting England. I could add pensions and welfare, but of course these weren’t around for the last 300 years!

    Oh and of course we’d like to add to call you subsidy junkies regardless of the fact that you had paid more in tax than you had received back in every one of the last 33 years. We’d quietly site nuclear subs and support facilities about 30 miles from London, and make you a pencilled-in target by other nuclear countries. if you complained we’d just point to the jobs which we have created.

    We’d bury the facts of your embarrassingly large surpluses oil and gas as the official UK report in 1975 would be deemed incendiary – in fact we’d classify it as secret for the next thirty years.

    Last year Scotland contributed £42.4bn in tax revenues and got £25bn back under a grant system which carries no guarantees and is likely to diminish. We’d rather like to keep all our tax revenues and spend them more wisely. That would include not spending over £100bn on the Trident replacement programme (four times the current block grant.)

    Shall we mention infrastructure costs which we will have to subidise by Scottish Tax revenues if we say NO? The cost of HS2 – London to Birmingham (and late Manchester) , London Crossrail, London Thameslink, London Airport expansion, possible Euston Station Rebuild re HS2 totalling around £180bn which would cost Scotland over £15bn and bring little benefit to Scotland and the north of England? Compare this £15bn to the £1bn cost of our free university education tuition, free prescriptions, free bus travel for the elderly, free prescriptions and free personal care for the elderly which we’d rather like to keep.

    These are just a few of the reasons why we need our independence, to be a normal nation in a world full of independent nations. When we do become independent, we will become the richest nation ever to have done so in the history of the world. We will have the chance to show that we can support our businesses better (whether small or large), so we can generate more wealth, improve pensions (the UK state pension is the worst in the whole of Europe), and create a fairer society (we are currently the worst in Europe in income terms)

    Voting YES is a no-brainer, simply because it has never actually been “better together”

    PS I have many English friends and live close to the Border. I have no grudge against the English – but we would like to have the governments and policies we vote for, full control of the purse-strings, and the normal right of a nation to determine its own future. Can you think of any independent nation that regretted becoming independent – whether large or small?

  6. John Galt says:

    Sadly, the Nos are very likely to win given that the polls are almost certainly skewed by Scots not wanting to appear unpatriotic. It’s sad because only a Yes result will resolve the issue.

    It’s also weird how the UK party leaders in Scotland campaigning for the union avoid displaying the Union Jack the very symbol of what they say they’re fighting for!

    I guess it’s got something to do with their having spent their lives destroying all it stands for.

    There’s an amusing post on the subject called “Where’s the Union Jack,
    Cameron” at:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s