This coming Thursday, March 13, former Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling will take part in an event at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow, where he will be put “under public scrutiny at the hands of James Naughtie”, the presenter of the BBC’s flagship daily radio news show Good Morning Scotland.
Mr Naughtie, who was brought up from London to head BBC Scotland’s referendum coverage last year, has been frequently criticised by a former presenter of the same programme, Derek Bateman, for a failure to display an even-handed tone when questioning representatives of the Yes and No sides.
So we thought of an easy way for Mr Naughtie to put a stop to such allegations.
The “Better Together” campaign, of which Mr Darling is the chairman (although the organisation has recently taken to describing him instead as its “Leader”), has made a number of extremely unequivocal statements with regard to an independent Scotland’s use of the pound Sterling. Here are a few:
“The nationalists cannot continue to make false promises on currency when it is so obvious that leaving the UK means losing the UK pound.”
(This quote directly attributed to Mr Darling himself.)
“It is now clear beyond any doubt – the only way to keep the Pound is for Scotland to remain in the UK.” (Quote again attributed directly to Mr Darling.)
The language is strident, adamant and wholly untroubled by any notions of nuance or uncertainty – “the ONLY way”, “beyond any doubt”, “so obvious”. The only problem with all of these assertions is that they’re demonstrably and unarguably false.
It is a fact universally acknowledged (outwith the No campaign and the Scottish media, of course) that Scotland COULD keep Sterling if it chose to, whether the UK agreed to it or not. Sterling is a fully-tradeable currency which can be adopted by any nation on Earth that wants to, no questions asked, no permission required.
All of the currency options that would be available to an independent Scotland have pros and cons (the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic Affairs have both suggested this year than such “unofficial” use of Sterling could actually be more beneficial to Scotland than a formal currency union with the rUK), but the mere fact of their existence as options is not in any dispute whatsoever.
So in the interests of the people of Scotland, who are entitled to expect to be given accurate and honest information with which to guide their decision on the most important question ever asked in Scotland’s democratic history, we hereby call on James Naughtie to put the question below to Mr Darling on Thursday:
“Do you accept that – whatever the pros and cons, and whatever you consider to be “likely” – an independent Scotland COULD use the pound no matter what, and that therefore your campaign’s constant and unambiguous assertions that a Yes vote means losing the pound are untruthful?
And given that they ARE untruthful, will you pledge to stop making such assertions for the rest of the campaign?”
It seems to us like the very least that could be expected from a diligent professional journalist. Such blatant and serious untruths should plainly not be allowed to go unchallenged, and any attempted prevarication or evasion from Mr Darling would clearly be pursued by any broadcaster worth a penny of their salary (particularly when that salary is directly funded by taxpayers) until a direct answer was received.
The request, of course, is not restricted to Mr Naughtie. It’s a question that ought to be put to Mr Darling every time he repeats the assertion on air, whether on the BBC, STV or any other outlet. But Mr Naughtie has an excellent opportunity on Thursday, and plenty of time in which to press for an answer.
Should he fail to take that opportunity, or to exploit it to its fullest, it will be difficult to avoid the obvious conclusion.