We’re still dutifully ploughing through “Scotland’s Future”, but in truth we’re not really its target audience. We’re already convinced, and much of it is just like reading our own articles back except in rather blander language. What we can definitely say for certain is that it doesn’t lack detail – the composition of an independent Scotland’s armed forces, for example, is laid out almost down to the rifle.
Naturally, that didn’t stop the No camp from rushing onto the nation’s TV screens within minutes of the press launch ending with their considered, serious and thoughtful assessments of a document none of them had read.
“Nothing new”, kneejerked Alistair Darling on BBC News, as if he had a clue whether it contained anything new or not. Hilariously, by 1.59pm he’d digested enough of the 670-page tome, in between his countless media engagements, to have a fully-formed opinion published by the Spectator.
“Nothing has changed as a result of today’s White Paper. There is nothing that we found out today that we didn’t already know. Yesterday Alex Salmond’s case for breaking up the UK was based on assertions. Today it is still based on assertions.
The simple fact is that the nationalists have ducked the opportunity to answer any of the big questions about our country’s future. They promised us facts. What they have given us is a wish list with no prices attached.
If this White Paper was going to be credible, it had to address the fundamental issues that people are concerned about. They didn’t. We still don’t know what currency we use if we vote to go it alone. We don’t know who would set our mortgage rates. We don’t know by how much taxes would have to go up. We don’t know how secure our pensions and benefits would be in an independent Scotland.”
That’s just part of the former Chancellor’s diatribe, and it’s as light on truth as it is on laughs. We DO know what currency an independent Scotland would use. (Sterling.) We DO know who would set our mortgage rates. (Banks and building societies, working from the BoE base rate, just like now.) We DO know how much taxes would have to go up by. (Nothing. They wouldn’t need to rise at all.) And so on.
We can’t, of course, be surprised at the avalanche of negativity unleashed by “Better Together”. But we must confess ourselves mildly taken aback at its insulting crudity.
They must surely know that every even remotely intelligent human being watching, listening to or reading them being interviewed is perfectly aware they can’t have read the paper, because nobody can read 670 pages in an hour and a half. Had they had any wit about them at all, they’d have waited until tonight’s current-affairs shows or tomorrow’s full-scale Holyrood debate, at either of which they could have at least halfway-plausibly pretended that they’d read the document before rubbishing it.
Instead, they tripped over each other to rush in front of the cameras and microphones and openly reveal to the Scottish public that they were happy to blithely pontificate in complete ignorance. First Darling, then Alistair Carmichael, then Willie Rennie, then Blair McDougall, then Johann Lamont and Ruth Davidson all issued great screeds of vitriolic scorn about the contents of a manifesto for independence that every living soul watching them knew they hadn’t seen.
(Not that you’d have known from the interviewers who dumbly nodded along without ever thinking to point that pertinent fact out for the benefit of viewers and listeners.)
And pity especially poor Iain Gray, who stood up in front of the Presiding Officer and angrily demanded to know where the money for an oil fund was going to come from.
You knew what he meant, of course, but the hapless former leader who took Labour to the most spectacular electoral defeat in its history just couldn’t shake the old habit of offering his opponents an open goal, and the SNP benches roared with laughter that, for once in a Parliamentary chamber, appeared spontaneous rather than scripted.
Media reaction has been largely predictable. The Telegraph, now the Union’s lead attack dog, tore in from multiple directions with unrestrained bile. Alex Massie penned a more sensible piece for the Spectator, as you’d hope. Scottish journalists, who’d at least skimmed the paper and were therefore unable to criticise the lack of answers, switched to Catch 22b: the classic “Has taxpayers’ money been used to pay for this?”
We’ve tweeted a few comments on the paper ourselves as we’ve gone along, but frankly we have nothing much to say about it so far. It’s a bit repetitive, rather wonkish (we’d have liked a glossary explaining to plebs like us just what the “balance of payments” is and why it’s important, and a few other such technical terms which are tossed out casually as if everyone’s a politics nerd), but by and large it’s clear and accessible – especially because in this wonderful modern age you can download it and instantly search the digital version for whatever you want to know about.
(We’d started by skipping to the huge section answering 650 questions from the public and were initially concerned that the answers came with no sources or footnotes, but in fact those are linked from the main chapters and held in a vast appendix at the end.)
We don’t expect the Unionist camp to change its tune. We’ve already seen that no matter how many times a question is answered, they’ll manage to turn a deaf ear and claim it hasn’t. But it’ll be difficult from now on to make that stick, because even among all the people who don’t bother to read the paper, it’ll be pretty obvious that at 670 pages, where an answer CAN be given, the chances are that it will have been.
The starting pistol on the real debate just got fired.