The coming year will be a challenge for all parties
Politicians and others have issued their New Year messages. This year – more than most – they agree on one subject – if not their response to it.
Alex Salmond released his message on video where he urged voters to “take responsibility” for Scotland’s future. He said the eyes of the world would be on Scotland, in what would be a “truly amazing year”, one in which Scots could take “the opportunity of a lifetime” by voting for independence in 2014.
Calling for the debate to be ‘constructive’, he appealed to Scots to think “about the sort of country we want Scotland to become. Let’s not wake up on the morning of 19 September next year,” he said, “and think to ourselves what might have been. Let’s wake up on that morning filled with hope and expectation – ready to build a just and prosperous nation.”
Labour leader, Johann Lamont argued that people should look forward to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and learn lessons from athletes competing there. “We all have a duty to show the best of Scotland,” she explained, “and shape the debate to ensure it is inspiring for all of those people who are yet to engage or been switched off by what has happened up until now. If we are going to have the kind of debate that this country deserves, then we all need to do what will be asked of those runners, cyclists and swimmers heading for Glasgow this summer – up our game and rise to the occasion.”
For the Scottish Liberal Democrats, party leader Willie Rennie hoped that the coming year would “reaffirm Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom”. In a curious comment, he said he had been “checking the tea leaves” and found that it was going to be a good year. “I am confident the economy will continue to grow,” he added, “and that we’ll create more jobs, cut taxes further and increase pensions higher.”
Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, called on Scots to vote “with their hearts and their heads” to reject independence. “Already, thousands of people are involved in the two campaigns – some are long standing members of political parties for whom door-knocking is second nature, but others have been spurred into activism for the very first time. This is healthy and good as we need as many voices to be heard as possible.”
From a business perspective, the Director of CBI Scotland, Mr Iain McMillan, called on the Scottish Government to be “open and realistic” about the risks and costs of independence. In an unusually forthright message, he pointed out that “in publishing its White Paper on independence last month, the SNP Scottish Government set out its case for Scotland leaving the United Kingdom and becoming an independent country.” But he then went on to question aspects of it.
On the EU, he warned that Scotland might not be able to “negotiate from within” (as claimed in the White Paper) and went on to suggest that “the different immigration policies outlined in the White Paper may in time result in border controls being imposed at the Scottish border with other parts of the UK.”
As well as raising questions about Scotland’s future use of the Pound and an independent country’s access to defence contracts, he went on to suggest that the “laws and rules, currently common to both Scotland and the rest of the UK, will diverge over time thus raising the cost of conducting business across the Scottish border with other parts of the UK. Scotland’s tax system will diverge from that in other parts of the UK and result in more costly and complex operations. Companies will have to deal with more than one regulator in a number of sectors, including financial services, thus fuelling additional costs for business.”
All this is happening at a time when the campaigns from both sides have urged the public to get involved and vote in next year’s referendum. In an unusual display of unity, Alistair Darling, leader of Better Together, called on everyone to vote so “the decision we make is decisive”. He also made an appeal over the future, saying that “first and foremost we should not divide Scotland.”
Meanwhile, Blair Jenkins, Chief Executive of ‘Yes Scotland’ claimed the issue was “too big to be left to politicians alone”. He stressed there was a broad “diversity of views, visions, background and cultures” in the Yes campaign. “Among the many sectoral groups adding their weight to the Yes campaign,” he said, “are Polish for Yes, French for Yes, Third Sector Yes and Yes LGBT.”
On the 18 September 2014, voters will be asked the yes/no question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”