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Nicola Sturgeon

This week we’ve been celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament…if celebrating is the right word. It is certainly the focal point for our current debate over independence, which boils down to the question: just how much power should the parliament have ?

The late John Smith MP Devolution "the settled will"

The late John Smith MP
Devolution “the settled will”

Almost everyone wants it to have more power. Unfortunately we are not being offered a range of powers in the referendum question, only a yes or no to independence. And looking back on it, this is one of the mistakes the Better Together campaign made at the beginning of this whole divisive affair.

John Smith, the Labour leader who’s death 20 years ago has been marked this week with the opening of a new Centre for Public Service at Glasgow University, once famously remarked that devolution was “the settled will” of the Scottish people. It has been anything but settled. John Smith may have started the ball rolling but Donald Dewar kicked it on with his famous remark – “devolution is a process not an event.”

So more powers are being devolved from Westminster all the time, the latest involves half of all income tax, landfill tax, stamp duty on house sales etc. The Better Together parties have promised still more powers, though, disastrously, they’ve not been able to agree on a detailed alternative to independence. Thus the referendum debate has become even more confused and uncertain.

Can David Cameron help create a "united front" against independence?

Can David Cameron help create a “united front” against independence?

The prime minister came to Glasgow on Thursday to try to forge a united front against independence, even invoking the spirit of John Smith. But Mr Cameron’s “sunshine” speech was not exactly helped by the Chancellor back at Westminster who repeated his warning that there can be no currency union after independence. And the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon was able to dismiss the spring offensive as a “Tory takeover of the No campaign.”

The referendum has however brought the dying tradition of the public meeting back to life. I was at a referendum debate in Edinburgh last Sunday afternoon – sponsored by the local churches – and every seat was taken. I could see steam coming out of peoples’ ears as they tried to keep their feelings under ecclesiastical control. The Church of Scotland – which holds its general assembly this coming week – has called for a service of national reconciliation in St Giles Cathedral in the immediate aftermath of the referendum in September.

It could be a humbling experience, if the campaigns turn nasty or if the result is close. Perhaps we Scots will be revealed as not the greatest practitioners of democracy in the world. After all, the parliament we have built over the last 15 years is not without its flaws. Its successes I think have included free personal care, free university education, the national parks, the smoking ban and being a national forum. But its failures are legion: the cost, the expenses scandals, its timidity over taxation, its failure to spread power down to local communities and its turgid and ineffective committee system.

Commonwealth Games Ticket fiasco

Commonwealth Games
Ticket fiasco

But parliaments are not the only things that can go wrong. The organisers of the Commonwealth Games suffered humiliation at the hands of their computer experts earlier this week. The sale of the last 100,000 tickets had to be suspended when the on-line and telephone systems designed to handle the stampede collapsed. Then our newest jail, HMP Grampian in Peterhead, which only opened in March, erupted in an old-style riot. Forty prisoners went on the rampage, beating up their new furniture and fittings. Police had to be brought in to restore order.

The brutal world of football also suffered a few shocks this week. The new owner of Hearts, Ann Budge, brought along her new brush on Monday morning and swept away the manager Gary Locke and eight other coaches and players. Instead she’s brought in a former manager Craig Levein and promoted Robbie Neilson to first-team coach. The Paisley club St Mirren have also promoted Tommy Craig from within. And in both cases, the new philosophy seems to be to nurture home-grown players rather than take part in the bidding war for outside talent. Not before time.

About the only place were tranquillity reigns is the European election. There are unlikely to be any riots or stampedes at the voting stations on Thursday. But we are all waiting to see if the SNP increase their number of seats from 2 to 3, whether Labour will keep their two seats and whether the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats will hold on to their single seats or whether they will be taken by the Greens or UKIP. Who would have thought that democracy could be so exciting ?

The history of Scotland could well be written up as a search for energy. We began by cutting down the Caledonian forest, then cutting up the peat bogs, then mining the coal, then building hydro-dams and nuclear power stations, then drilling for oil offshore, and now building wind farms – on and off-shore. This week, the plan for one of the world’s biggest wind farms was given approval – 326 turbines 14 miles out in the Moray Firth.

Chancellor George Osborne 'Glee' at the estimates for oil

Chancellor George Osborne
‘Glee’ at the estimates for oil

Energy-related history can give us as much insight into our country’s character as the battles between the clans or the royal families, or the disruptions caused by religious sects or the industrial revolution or the class struggle. Would we, for instance, be having a referendum on independence if it wasn’t for “Scotland’s oil?”

The Chancellor, wisely or not, strayed into this minefield in his budget statement on Wednesday. George Osborne announced, with some glee I thought, that the official estimate of oil and gas revenues from the North Sea over the next four years had been downgraded by £3bn to £22bn and it would leave an independent Scotland, he said, with a shortfall in its government budget of £1,000 per head of population.

Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP’s deputy leader, responded by saying Westminster’s estimate of oil revenues “goes up and down like a fiddler’s elbow.” And besides, it took no account of the rise in revenue expected from the increased production which will surely follow the new investment by oil companies in the North Sea.

Freeze on whisky duty

Freeze on whisky duty

Mr Osborne pleased Scotland a little better when he announced a freeze on whisky duty, a cut in the tax on beer of a penny a pint and a cut in bingo tax to 10 per cent. How his major changes to pensions work out will have to be seen. Will retirees drawn on their pension pots and spend the money now or will they invest in annuities and the new pensioner bonds ? Scotland’s finance industry will be waiting anxiously to find out.

On Tuesday, the Scottish Labour Party published its “white paper” on further devolution. Finally, after some internal wrangling it seems, we have Labour’s alternative to independence. The Scottish Parliament, it says, should have more control over income tax, 15p out of every 20p. It should also take over the administration of housing benefit (allowing it to abolish the so-called “bedroom-tax”), some disablement benefits and the work training programme.

Crucially too, the Scottish Parliament should have the power to increase the income tax rates on the highest earners and reform the property tax system. The party leader Johann Lamont said: “ The Scottish Parliament would then have the power to reverse the Tory cuts for the rich and ensure that those with the broadest shoulders should bear the greatest burden.”

Meanwhile the Tories have been outlining a totally different direction of travel. At their conference in Edinburgh last weekend, their leader Ruth Davidson said: “We shouldn’t be digging deeper into people’s pay packets. The Scottish Conservatives are committed to cutting the tax bills of working Scots.” She talked of rewarding the “everyday grafters” and the “working class” and shaking up the “amoral” welfare state. Revolutionary stuff indeed.

The Thin Red Line History will not repeat itself

The Thin Red Line
History will not repeat itself

This, while a real revolution has been going on in the Ukraine…a president ousted, the province of Crimea lost. The small Ukrainian community in Scotland has so far supported the new pro-western government in Kiev. But I can’t help the thought that “it’s Russia’s oil” which will determine the outcome of this crisis. Back in 1854, the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders bravely held the “thin red line” against the Russians at Balaclava. But I doubt if we can do the same this time. Indeed, we shouldn’t attempt it. The referendum in Crimea has been decisive. We should accept the result, as hopefully we will do in Scotland in September.

Worrying though all this is, we won’t escape war or history during the Edinburgh Festival this summer. The programme has just been announced by the outgoing director Sir Jonathan Mills. One of his main themes is war, especially “the war to end all wars” which began 100 years ago this year. The programme includes Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, “All Quiet on the Western Front” by the Thalia Theatre of Hamburg and Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony performed by young musicians from the Ukraine.

‘What Women Want, What Women Need’

380 women from throughout Scotland are expected to descend on the Scottish Parliament to celebrate International Women’s Day. The theme for this year’s event is ‘What Women Want, What Women Need’. Through an annual roadshow programme, the SWC meets with women from all over Scotland, who provide an insight into what they want and need in order to improve their lives

Agnes Tolmie

Agnes Tolmie

Issues such as better transport, accessible, affordable childcare and opportunities for education and employment are consistently discussed. Employer support, Government initiatives and local investment are just some of the mechanisms required to support the achievement of these wishes.

Speakers on the day include Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP; Alicia Castro, Argentine Ambassador to the UK; Alison Fraser, SWC Volunteer; Abby Mavers, an actor in BBC’s ‘Waterloo Road’ and Scottish comedian Susan Morrison

SWC Chair, Agnes Tolmie, explained that there was “a feeling that in many ways, women ‘have it all’. The reality is far from that ideal. Significant obstacles still exist across a number of areas such as education, employment and representation in political and public life. One of the most important ways of breaking down these barriers is to listen to women and take on board what they really want and what they really need. This will not only improve their lives, but the lives of their families and communities as a whole.

The SWC are delighted to be able to bring women together from different backgrounds and of diverse ages from throughout Scotland on International Women’s Day. We look forward to celebrating with all women attending.”

The currency hasn’t played the part the ‘No’ campaign expected

One could almost feel sorry for the ‘No’ campaign. They must have thought they’d played a blinder – part deliberate, part accidental.

Chancellor George Osborne Hardly played a blinder

Chancellor George Osborne
Hardly played a blinder

The deliberate part came with the now infamous speech the Chancellor, George Osborne, gave in Edinburgh a few days ago. He stated quite categorically that, if Scotland walked away from the Union, it would also walk away from the Pound. That was supposed to scare the ‘don’t knows’ (and even perhaps some of those leaning towards a ‘yes’ vote). It was supposed to have been the ‘game changer’ in the campaign – the one that would stop the independence movement in its tracks.

The first polls since the speech suggest it’s achieved exactly the opposite. A poll for the Daily Mail might be assumed to lean towards the Unionist cause. Instead, the first indications are that the strategy has singularly failed. It show a five point fall in support for the ‘No’ campaign – and a seven point rise in the ‘yes’ vote. The poll surveyed 1,005 people. The headline result shows that 38 percent supported the aim of ending the 307-year union with England, up from 32 percent in January; 47 percent would vote to stay in the UK, down from 52 percent.

In a statement, the Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said it was “clear that there has been a severe backlash to George Osborne’s bluster and threats on the pound. Far more people,” she argued, “(are) more likely to vote Yes on the back of the Westminster establishment’s attempted bullying rather than No.”

However, the poll did suggest that the SNP would do well to come up with a ‘Plan B’ over the currency issue. A poll in ‘What Scotland Thinks@ suggests that 65% of Scots think they should!

The ‘accident’ part of the blinder can when European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso suggested that it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible” for Scotland to join the EU. Now, a former senior European official has claimed that his words were “unwise and inaccurate”. Giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament Europe committee, Jim Currie, a former European Commission director general, insisted that Scotland had a right to membership.

He explained that the issue would concern “a territory which is currently part of a full member state. We’re dealing with people who would have certain rights as EU citizens and which would be very difficult to take away, and nobody would want to. The bottom line for me is that it would be dealt with in a pragmatic way, and it would involve inevitable negotiations which would be rather tough.”

It is worth bearing in mind that a survey for the BBC of the issues that most concern voters show that neither the currency nor Europe were high in the list of priorities. Keeping the Pound came 5th while the EU came 9th. It’s also worth remembering that one poll doesn’t make a trend!

Is there a ‘Plan B… C… or D’?

It may be St Valentine’s Day but the message from London has suddenly changed from “Love” to a stony “No.” Last week, David Cameron went to the Olympic stadium to declare his love for Scotland and his desire for us to stay in the United Kingdom. This week, the declaration from “Mount Olympus” was followed by a rare trip to Scotland by the Chancellor George Osborne to warn voters that if they choose independence, there will be no currency union with the rest of the UK.

Danny Alexander  Fell into line with the Chancellor

Danny Alexander
Fell into line with the Chancellor

Labour’s Ed Balls and the Liberal Democrats’ Danny Alexander fell smartly into line. The SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon complained that the unionist parties were “ganging up” on Scotland and we were being “bullied” into voting No to independence. It was all part of “project fear”, she said, and it would backfire spectacularly.

The currency question is undoubtedly an important one. It’s something very real, in your hand every day, and something to be worried about. So the SNP and the Yes campaigners have been responding to the London offensive with the assurance it’s all a bluff, that the rest of the UK would find it in its interest at the end of the day to keep Scotland in the sterling zone, making trade easier and sharing the UK’s debt.

Nicola Sturgeon 'Feisty'

Nicola Sturgeon

In interviews this week, the feisty Ms Sturgeon was reluctant to talk about her plan B or C or D, saying she was not going to be bullied out of her plan A, an agreed currency union. She didn’t want to threaten the rest of the UK with plan B which is for Scotland to use the pound sterling unofficially but not take on its obligations, such as the debt or limitations on borrowing.

Plan C of course is to join the euro, which was SNP policy until the global crash and the euro zone crisis. Plan D is for Scotland to have its own currency, the groat or the bawbee, which would float on its own on the turbulent seas of the international money markets. Unpopular though it may be, I think an independent Scotland should join the euro. It would certainly make our entry into the European Union much easier and there are signs that the euro is gradually recovering its credibility.

Scottish Power investing in Ben Cruachan

Scottish Power investing in Ben Cruachan

There were indications from the heavens this week that Scotland is indeed a separate country. We were spared the storms and floods that have swept the coasts of England and Wales and swollen their iconic rivers. The gods have clearly taken the view that we in Scotland are at least trying to take global warming and climate change seriously. We may be still be missing our emissions targets but our legislation is among the most ambitious in the world. And we are making a real attempt to switch to renewable energy.

This week Alex Salmond was in Spain to see a pump storage hydro scheme operated by Scottish Power’s owners Iberdrola. The company is now investigating a £600m expansion of its similar scheme at Ben Cruachan near Oban. When the windmills are turning, water is pumped up from Loch Awe into a reservoir inside the hollowed-out mountain and when the wind drops, the water flows down to the loch again through a series of electricity turbines. Result: the holy grail, renewable energy all the time.

Donald Trump will no longer invest in Scotland (Pic: Gage Skidmore Creative Commons)

Donald Trump will no longer invest in Scotland
(Pic: Gage Skidmore Creative Commons)

One man who does not like it, because he doesn’t like windmills, is Donald Trump. This week he lost his court case against an experimental wind farm in the sea off his new golf course at Menie in Aberdeenshire. “Wind farms are a disaster for Scotland,” he’s quoted as saying, adding (and I can’t quite believe he said this) “a disaster, like Lockerbie.” He promptly announced he was abandoning plans for a hotel and luxury village at Menie and instead he had bought a new golf resort at Doonbeg in County Clare on the west coast of Ireland. It’s said to have cost him £12.3m and will be the 16th golf resort in his portfolio.

As I write, Scotland is still waiting for a medal at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Our curling teams are testing our nerves with up and down performances. Team GB is celebrating Jenny Jones’s bronze medal in the snowboarding, said to be Britain’s first ever Olympic medal won on snow. Only, it’s not quite.

Alain Baxter from Aviemore won a bronze in ski-ing at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002. The medal was denied him at first because he failed a drugs test. However he was later cleared when it was discovered the banned substance was in an ordinary inhaler he’d bought quite innocently over-the-counter in the USA. The British version of the inhaler, which Baxter normally used, did not contain the forbidden substance and, in any case, the amount was not enough to affect performance. He’s still waiting for his medal to be returned but has meanwhile congratulated Jenny Jones on her achievement.

Olympian justice, like Olympian love, is a fickle thing.

Scotland would ‘walk away’ from the pound after a ‘Yes’ vote

So – the gloves are off. The Westminster politicians have changed their tactics – from charm offensive to plain offensive. And it’s all happened so quickly.

David Cameron Stay - for the sake of the family

David Cameron
Stay – for the sake of the family

First, we had the Prime Minister choosing the rather curious location of the velodrome in London’s Olympic Park to send out an ‘emotional, patriotic’ appeal to Scots to stay in the union. David Cameron stressed that he wanted Scots to realise that people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were not looking the other way. As his put it, “it’s so important for Scotland to realise that the rest of the family see this as a very important family decision.”

Shortly before that, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, had been to Edinburgh where he didn’t appear to rule out the prospect of a currency union after a ‘Yes’ vote in September. What he DID say was that an independent Scotland would need to give up some power to make such a currency union UK work. Again in his words, the proposal from the Scottish Government “requires some ceding of national sovereignty”.

Thus far, so friendly! Then the Chancellor, George Osborne, comes to town. His message was rather like Margaret Thatcher at an EU Summit – No, No, NO! He insisted that a vote for independence would mean Scotland walking away from the pound. Indeed, he said that was “no legal reason” why the rest of the UK would want to share sterling with an independent Scotland.

George Osborne Why would the rest of the UK want to share the pound?

George Osborne
Why would the rest of the UK want to share the pound?

“When the Nationalists say the pound is as much ours as the rest of the UK’s,” he asked, “are they really saying that an independent Scotland could insist that taxpayers in a nation it had just voted to leave had to continue to back the currency of this new, foreign country? Had to consider the circumstances of this foreign country when setting their interest rates? Stand behind the banks of this foreign country as a lender of last resort? Or stand behind its foreign government when it needed public spending support?”

What made this speech more important in the independence debate than that (say) of David Cameron was a series of hints that this was not his view alone. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the Liberal Democrat MP Danny Alexander, appears to support Mr Osborne’s position, as indeed may Labour’s shadow chancellor, Ed Balls.

It would therefore seem that the politicians from London are playing ‘good cop, bad cop’. But the risk they run is a hardening of feeling on both sides. After all, the Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has warned that if UK ministers decided to hold to this position, then an independent Scotland could retaliate by refusing to accept a share of UK debt.

It doesn’t bode well for the likely tone of the Independence Referendum campaigns as we move towards September.

Would Scotland be able to negotiate EU membership ‘from within’?

The European Union – and Scotland’s future place within it – is an issue that simply will not go away.

William Hague  Scotland would have 'to re-apply' for EU membership

William Hague
Scotland would have ‘to re-apply’ for EU membership

The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has been in Glasgow where he weighed into the argument with a claim that an independent Scottish state might not be able to negotiate ‘from within’ as promised by the Scottish Government’s White Paper. Indeed, he went as far as to claim that Scotland would have to reapply for EU membership if the country votes ‘Yes’ later this year; and it may not be able to join under the same terms of membership as the UK currently enjoys.

Speaking of BBC Radio Scotland, Mr Hague said that, even if the European negotiations were “constructively-minded”, it would still be a complicated process involving the agreement of all 28 EU member states. He went to claim that Scotland would be obliged to join the Euro single currency, which the Scottish government had said it would not do.

His was not the first voice to question the White Paper’s claims on Europe this year. Writing in ‘Policy Review’, the enigmatically named Schadenfreude wrote: “in a debate in January, in the Scottish Parliament, the Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon asked the rhetorical question: ‘Which European Union country would not want to have Scotland as a member?’ She would have done well to check with Rome, Brussels and Madrid.”

Nicola Sturgeon London's plans for a referendum 'the only real risk'

Nicola Sturgeon
London’s plans for a referendum
‘the only real risk’

The author went on to point out that Italy, Belgium and Spain would not welcome the prospect of being asked to agree to European Union membership of a country that had split from its former partners. The example, he/she wrote, would be “highly contagious”, pointing out that the central governments in all three are facing at least some calls for independence from significant parts of these countries – the North of Italy, Catalonian and the Flemish area of Belgium.

The SNP Government clearly doesn’t see things like this. The deputy first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has consistently argued that the White Paper had clearly set out the way in which Scotland could continue EU membership. This states that, in the event of a ‘Yes’ in the autumn, membership would be negotiated ‘from within’ ahead of its planned “independence day”, in March 2016.

She’s added that the UK government’s EU referendum, proposed for 2017, posed the only real risk to Scotland’s status in the EU. As she explained on Good Morning Scotland, “the fact of the matter is that, if Scotland votes ‘No’ and we don’t become independent, there is absolutely no guarantee at all that we would stay within the European Union. We could find ourselves taken out of it against our will.”

But William Hague dismissed this, insisting that what the government in London was trying to achieve by 2017 was “a reformed EU that we can recommend the whole of the UK stays in.” He added that the plans to hold a referendum on EU membership, if the Conservatives won next year’s UK general election, were not an immediate threat. “Scotland in effect is going to have two referendums on whether to leave the EU and one of them is in September,” he said.

Stewart Carruth is currently Depute Chief Executive of Stirling Council

SCDI has announced that Stewart Carruth has been appointed Strategic Director of the Scottish Cities Alliance.

Stewart Carruth 'Exciting opportunity'

Stewart Carruth
‘Exciting opportunity’

He takes up this appointment on part-time secondment from Stirling Council, where he is currently Depute Chief Executive. He has been appointed to lead the Alliance as it works with its partner councils and the Scottish Government to deliver economic growth.

His primary role with the Scottish Cities Alliance will be to drive and deliver the development of collaborative projects and investment propositions to promote growth and create jobs. His experience includes senior strategic and leadership positions across public, private and third sectors, including posts with Aberdeen City Council and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Stewart described his new role as “an exciting opportunity. I look forward to working on the various collaborative projects and investment opportunities in order to maximise the profile of the Scottish Cities Alliance, its member-cities and their shared economic aspirations.”

The Alliance, funded jointly by Scotland’s seven cities and the Scottish Government, has successfully built a framework for collaboration since its launch in 2011. In embarking on this next phase, it aims to translate this collaboration into delivering significant added value to Scotland’s economy, and to elevating the position of Scotland’s cities within the wider UK and international context.

Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon

The Deputy First Minister and Minister for Cities, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, said it had been “a pleasure to watch the Scottish Cities Alliance grow and mature over the past two years, building collaborative partnerships at a level not previously seen which benefit our cities, their regions and Scotland as a whole. Stewart’s appointment as Strategic Director is a huge opportunity for our cities and I know he is dedicated to helping the Alliance deliver its ambitious plans”.

The SCDI has long believed that Scotland’s cities had fantastic potential to ensure a vital contribution to the Scottish economy. Today’s appointed promoted Ross Martin, its Chief Executive, to remind people that the cities were “centres of innovation, knowledge and creativity, combining the entirety of their assets in physical, social and intellectual capital. By translating ambitious plans into practical projects and collaboration, I am certain that the Alliance will deliver significant value from a shared approach.

“I am grateful to the leaders of our seven cities and to the Scottish Government for ensuring the goodwill and resource to make the Scottish Cities Alliance a success for Scotland. SCDI has an integral role to play in working closely with the partners to ensure we can deliver the maximum output for the economy, and this aligns perfectly with our core mission of ‘Engaging Civic Scotland, Driving Economic Growth’”.

Childcare – a political issue

Childcare has leapt to the top of the political agenda. It’s now one of the big issues of the referendum campaign, maybe the defining issue because it helps describe the kind of country we want to be. Alex Salmond chose the very first parliamentary day of 2014 to announce that the Scottish government is to hugely extend its childcare programme.

Free childcare for all two-year-old children  in families seeking work

Free childcare for all two-year-old children
in families seeking work

From this summer, all two-year-old children in families seeking work will be offered free childcare every school day for either a morning or an afternoon session. From next summer, that will be extended to two-year- old children in families on jobseekers allowance and certain other welfare benefits. Over the two years, that will involve 15,000 children or a third of all two-year-olds and cost nearly £60m.

In addition, the Scottish government is to match the Westminster government’s pledge to introduce free school meals for all pupils in the first three years of primary education. That will cost around £50m.

Mr Salmond freely admitted that this was only a down-payment on the “transformation of childcare” the SNP has promised in its independence white paper. But it allows him to illustrate what would be possible if Scotland were independent. His argument is that getting more young mothers into work would yield the Scottish government enough money in income tax to pay for the “free” childcare. And it would do more for the economy besides, not least creating 2,000 new jobs in childcare.

David Cameron wants to move  on to 'more emotional ground'

David Cameron wants to move
on to ‘more emotional ground’

The tactic also answers the question the unionist parties have been asking since the white paper was published back in November – if more childcare is good for Scotland why not introduce it now? But having introduced it now, a more difficult question for the SNP emerges – if this can be done with the present powers, why does Scotland need independence?

But childcare wasn’t the only battle-cry of the first week back. David Cameron declared that he wanted to move the referendum debate on to more emotional ground – the close ties of family and culture between Scotland and the rest of Britain. But he ruled out coming north to debate the issues personally with Alex Salmond on TV. The pro-Union parties have also come under more pressure – from an unlikely alliance of Nicola Sturgeon and Henry McLeish – to publish their own white papers, outlining their alternatives to independence.

George Osborne More austerity to come

George Osborne
More austerity to come

Meanwhile, south of the border, the Chancellor George Osborne was doing his bit to boost the cause of independence by announcing that he wasn’t nearly finished with his austerity programme. If the Conservatives win the next election, he promised another £25billion in cuts, half of it to come from the welfare budget.

This might bring a smile to the City fat-cats, if to no one else. But by Wednesday the fat-cats (bosses of our top 100 companies) were already smiling because that was the day when their earning overtook the average man or women’s salary for the entire year. The High Pay Centre told us that executive pay had increased by 74 per cent over the past decade to around £4m a year, while the average wage has remained pretty flat at around £26,000.

Edinburgh Airport Closed because of bomb scare

Edinburgh Airport
Closed because of bomb scare

I wonder if any of the top executives were caught up in the chaos at Edinburgh airport on Tuesday. Apparently what happened was that a scanning machine at check-in threw up an alarming image of a possible bomb inside a suitcase. The check-in was shut down immediately and the owner of the suitcase was asked to give a swab sample from the palms of his hands. This showed signs of an explosive substance. The whole airport was shut down for the afternoon and a full emergency drill was put into effect.

It turned out however that the items in the suitcase had simply arranged themselves by chance into what looked like a bomb on the x-ray machine and the owner’s hands merely had traces of ordinary chemicals which are often mistaken for explosives. The only things left flying were questions. Did the airport managers over-react? Should the suitcase have been opened sooner – in a safe place? By even reporting the disruption, are we encouraging terrorists to try again?

At least it wasn’t the weather closing the airport. Not this time. Scotland escaped most of the storm-damage and flooding which struck the south and west coast of England on Monday and Tuesday. But 70mph winds and very high tides led to nearly 29 flood warnings being issued in Scotland, mainly along the coasts of Ayrshire, Arran, Argyll and Bute, and parts of the Firth of Clyde, including Helensburgh and Dumbarton.

I wonder if the year 2014 will be remembered for its weather storms or its political storms or for no storms at all.

‘Better Together’ – a negative campaign so far

There have been grumblings amongst pro-Union supporters for some months now. However, it’s taken one of the leaders of the ‘Yes’ campaign to spell it out. If we’re going to have a proper debate on Scotland’s future, then the ‘No’ campaign has to set out in detail what a vote for them would mean for Scotland.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

In a speech in St Andrews, Nicola Sturgeon challenged the ‘Better Together’ campaign to set out its vision of Scotland after a ‘No’ vote. She argued that the Scottish Government had provided “a compelling case for independence” in its ‘Scotland’s Future’ white paper and claimed that unionists had to respond with a vision of their own.

“The referendum is not a choice between change and no change,” she said. “It is about choosing the kind of change we want for Scotland and who we want to be in the driving seat of it, ourselves, or Westminster. It is a choice between two futures. That means that the consequences of both a Yes vote and No vote need to be considered carefully. And that means both the Yes and the No campaigns have an obligation to inform.

“Those of us on the Yes side take that responsibility seriously. In November, the Scottish Government published the independence white paper, Scotland’s Future, setting out the practicalities and opportunities of what will happen if Scotland votes Yes. I believe it sets out a compelling case for independence. It gives robust, credible and common sense answers to the legitimate questions that people have. I am happy to let you – the Scottish people – be the judge of it.

“But to make an informed choice between these two futures, you also need to know what a No vote will mean for Scotland. Now, as we enter this next, vital phase of the campaign, it is time for the No campaign to spell that out in detail to allow you to compare and contrast the competing visions for the future of Scotland and make your own minds up.”

Sir Tom Hunter Voters 'detered' by negative tone (Picture: from Vimeo)

Sir Tom Hunter
Voters ‘detered’ by negative tone
(Picture: from Vimeo)

A spokesman for Better Together however insisted that the SNP’s “White Paper manifesto for breaking up the UK was nothing more than a wish list without a price list. Rather than facing up to the consequences of breaking up the UK, the nationalists promise us the sun would shine brighter everyday if only we were independent. The idea that the White Paper was compelling is, frankly, laughable.

“There is a strong positive case for Scotland remaining part of the UK. Today we have the best of both worlds – a strong Scottish Parliament with responsibility for schools, hospitals and childcare, and we benefit from being part of the larger UK. Why would we want to trade the strength and security of being part of the UK for the risk and uncertainty of independence?”

The problem is that too many people believe that the ‘No’ campaign has relied too much on the fear factor. They don’t appear to have the kind of vision which appeals to the hearts of voters – and this referendum will be decided as much on how people ‘feel’ with their hearts as with the evidence examined by their heads.

In an article in The Sunday Times, the entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter warned that the negative tone of the debate could even deter voters from taking part in the referendum. He was worried by a number of factors – not least that the fate of the Union could be decided by just a fraction of the Scottish population as there is no minimum threshold on the number of votes needed in the referendum on September 18.

“I’m concerned,” he said, “that there is no minimum turnout required. Most of us could stay in bed and 20,000 vote, but as long as you’ve got 10,001 votes it’s a Yes or a No. Not for a moment do I expect that to happen, but from a straw poll over the festive period I sense a general annoyance with a debate that is polarised, unproductive and lacking in ambition.

“I am undecided, principally because I simply don’t believe I have enough information to go on and many questions remain unanswered. Moreover, I’m not sure we’re asking the questions the public wants answers to. Equally, we need Alex Salmond and his team to address critical issues and questions to inform people who really are undecided.”