On 18 September 2014 two sets of nationalists – Scots and UK respectively – will be hoping their supporters vote in large numbers.
Personally I think they’ll both struggle with turnout – given what’s at stake, these campaigns are oddly technocratic. The ‘yes’ campaign, perhaps intending not to scare off undecided voters by playing a fervent nationalist stereotype, stresses how little would change in an independent Scotland.
The ‘no’ campaign, seemingly wary that in a straight fight it might struggle to match the misty eyed-or-mountain romantic appeal of the ‘to be a nation again’ vibe, isn’t really invoking the idea of a country either. Instead, the campaign prefers to rely on negative scare stories – focusing in particular on ‘national security’-type issues.
As nation-based bust-ups go, this is hardly 1776.
Both sides might get closer to a campaign to be proud of with a focus on legal issues.
Thinking back, devolution was still pretty young at the time of the Lockerbie trial – at the time the legal community in Scotland successfully projected their huge pride that the trial had been held abroad under Scottish law and had stood up well to the international scrutiny that entailed.
The ability to project national prestige is surely a defining feature of a nation.
And I notice first minister Alex Salmond spent some time last year promoting Scotland as an arbitration and dispute resolution centre, though it doesn’t seem to feature in his yes campaign. That’s a shame – Scottish banking has a mixed rep now, but not so its advocates and courts.
For either campaign, surely this far into devolution, the huge body of Scotland-only laws to have come out of Holyrood should be some kind of battle ground?
These laws have affected people’s lives in palpable ways – they are real in a way that ethereal fears around the future of Nato membership are not. So has separate law-making been just great, or a chance for second-rate law makers to ‘go rogue’?
At a formal lawyers’ dinner I attended in Edinburgh a few years back, the after-dinner speaker was not the customary comedian/raconteur, but one of the sheriffs, who launched into a 30-minute tirade against the Scottish executive for passing bad laws.
Why be dull, frankly?
The audience, I sense, would have preferred more jokes – but even less electrifying would have been a speech from the average ‘no’ campaign luminary.
My point is, pick up any newspaper north or south of the border, and it’s clear that the law arouses strong passions in among the media and the general population – in a way that Nato membership, say, no longer does.
So why not focus on it?
The answer that both the ‘yes’ and the ‘no’ campaigns fail to provide, is how they can respectively hope to build or maintain a nation based on the low-risk technocratic glue, and fear-stoking that the campaigns currently rely on.
As it appears at the moment, whether the result is ‘yes’ or ‘no’, it doesn’t feel as if there will be any winners.
Eduardo Reyes is Gazette features editor
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