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Tommy Sheridan did the Better Together camp a favour – by exposing faultline in Salmond’s Rainbow Coalition

Posted on 19 October 2012 | 11:10am

I wonder if Tommy Sheridan ever gets fed up of being called a ‘firebrand Scottish politician’? Probably not, any more than the far more loathsome George Galloway tires of presenting himself as the victim of conspiracy theories, the latest of which is so tiresome I could not get beyond the first eight sentences of The Guardian report.

Sheridan, with whom I crossed swords many years ago when we were changing a Labour Party constitution all but a handful still believed in, is a warmer and more attractive firebrand that not-so-gorgeous George. So when I sat opposite him on the This Week sofa last night, watching the film he had made claiming the independence campaign would be won, I found I was smiling more than I expected to, because reminds me of a more politicised version of that shouty guy with hair who does programmes on coasts, and lots of voiceovers.

In retrospect, he may think it was an error to end his film by lifting his kilt to reveal a picture of Andrew Neil where his privates woud normally be, before immediately saying he hoped there would be a serious and mature debate!

But more seriously, much as I enjoyed our little discussion, I feel he opened up what will become a huge faultline in the Yes Scotland campaign, a faultline which rests on this question: ‘Whose version of an Independent Scotland are we voting for?’

Of course it is now an unofficial part of the unwritten Constitution that whenever you mention SNP leader Alex Salmond, you have to preface with the word ‘canny’, or state, as Michael Portillo did last night, that he is ‘not to be underestimated’. Well, certainly the support he won at the last Holyrood elections would suggest so. However, I am not convinced that the alleged canniness will be borne out by the decision to have such a long campaign. Because the difficult questions are beginning, and the answers are becoming more and more confusing.

Tommy was upfront about the fact that the referendum will not settle any questions about what kind of Scotland an independent Scotland would be. The direction and policies are all to be resolved afterwards, he said. And he was clear that he was backing the campaign because he saw it as the route to higher taxes, the end of the Queen’s rule, farewell to Trident, and to NATO, and hello to an independent Scottish currency.

But Salmond knows that just as Sheridan could never win a majority for that approach in the Labour Party when he was part of it, he has absolutely no chance with the country as a whole. So Salmond is promising that the Queen stays, the hated Bank of England continues to be a force in the land, and Scotland will remain a big player at the UN, NATO and in the UN (overlooking the fact he may have less of a say in all that than he thinks.)

And meanwhile, as I said last night, there are right wing Scottish businessmen saying an independent Scotland can become a Swiss like tax haven – hardly the kind of socialist utopia Tommy Sheridan believes in, or the kind of socially progressive land Salmond claims to support.

So whether it is Big Eck, Tommy, the Greens or the few Tory businessmen saying Yes, the problem is that when you ask them any serious questions about which vision of Independence you are actually getting you are told that you have to wait until after you have voted for independence. I am not sure that is the best strategy for winning over waverers, who tend to look for greater certainty than those who already think they know their minds.

Independence has this week gone from something imaginary that Salmond and Co could give glib answers on,
or which could be used as a way of talking about every grievance caused by ‘London rule’, to
something which people know they are going to have to make a permanent and important decision on.

Rainbow coalitions have a habit of looking pretty as they take shape, them getting ugly as the constituent parts realise they really are of different colours, and can’t coexist without causing division, confusion and, when characters like Sheridan and Salmond are around, rancour. That is when Alistair Darling’s cool, calm, detail-driven, allegedly non-charismatic style will come into its own.

  • Kate

    This analysis would be fine if it wasn’t for the fact that you’re ignoring the most rainbow coalition of them all, the ‘Better Together’ campaign which sees Labour and Tories happily sharing platforms and policies. A bit one-sided. If YES is bound to fail because of its ‘rainbow’ nature, why is ‘Better Together’ bound to succeed?

  • Great article. folks are going to have to provide some detail now, which, as you say the pro independence crowd have not really had to do in the past. One thing is for sure. The next two years are going to provide the most compelling exchanges of opinion, changes of position and backtracking that we have ever seen (well, at least in a public discussion)

  • The good thing is we get to choose what kind of independent Scotland we want by voting for it in post-independence elections. Seems fairly straightforward.

  • Olli Issakainen

    Independent Scotland.
    Scotland will become independent. But what sort of Scotland will we have?
    How much debt Scotland would have?
    Scotland contains 5.1m of UK´s 62m people, which would leave its share of the debt at around £80bn (2012).
    Deficit would be around 10.6% of GDP.
    Yet revenue from North Sea oil is set to fall. Newly independent small country would have sizeable fiscal deficit, high public debt and could not enjoy a triple AAA rating.
    Its costs of borrowing might be higher than those of UK.
    We should also include liabilities obtained through the bank bailouts. UK net liabilities including the banks are over £2tn. RBS and HBOS (now Lloyds) were the largest recipients of state aid.
    Scotland might be able to keep sterling. But monetary policy would then be under the control of BoE.
    Scotland would have its own armed forces.
    As for Trident, Scotland would not allow the UK to keep the bases in Coulport and Faslane.
    At the time of writing UK does not have any alternative bases available.
    BBC should also be divided if Scotland becomes independent.
    Scotland would keep 90% of North Sea oil. Queen would be the head of state.
    Scotland would probably stay in EU and Nato.
    Shetland and Orkney may opt to stay with the UK.
    If voters can choose between independence, devo max and status quo, support would be 26%/26%/33%.
    37% says YES to independence, 50% NO if only two options are available.
    Lot of negotiations are needed for Scotland to become independent. Salmond suggests that the final deal would be ratified by the results of Scottish election in May 2016.
    Current oil and gas receipts are between £6bn and £12bn a year.
    Alex Salmond will swing it for Scottish independence.
    Scotland´s first minister is so dominant. He is brilliant political operator.
    SNP was re-elected in a landslide winning majority in electoral system that was designed to make an overall SNP victory impossible.
    SNP is united and disciplined. SNP owns optimism and the future.
    SNP has no serious rivals.
    Britain will be great, but not Great Britain.

  • @Kate – the bettertogether campaign aren’t proposing radical change – they support the status quo – therefore they don’t have anything to argue over, therefore it is not a problem that they are a rainbow coalition. Wise words Mr Campbell.

  • So Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dem’s are all cosied up together on the future of the UK are they? I mean, most of us think they’re identical now anyway, but thanks for actually confirming it!

  • There is a tendency for nationalists to imagine their dream society realised in the form of their nation. However each nationalist can have a very different dream.

  • MikeB

    One fact that makes independence a no brainer for me is that we will never have a Tory government.

  • Anonymous

    The only true life model in recent history that Scotland can really look for with experiences, for a possible split, is the splitting up of Slovakia from the Czech Republic, the defunct Czechoslovakia, in the early 1990s. But that was with much less compilcated economic and institutional factors, when post-communism reorganisation was going on in that part of the World anyway. But after 2008, post-capitalism reorganisation could be going on as we speak?

    If Scotland does choose to be independent, it won’t be easy for them in the following couple of decades, no doubt, to iron out the wrinkles. History tells a state of flux/erratics does go on for quite a while with this sort of thing, so they should only go for it if they really really want it.

  • Anonymous

    by the way Alastair, with less than an hour to go for THE big game, just spoke to my brother just, who is a BIG Tottenham supporter, and when I asked him who THE Scarlets are playing today, he said Munster, or something like that, he said!?! Brothers ey, who’ll have them!

    Are you on the train already to Turf Moor Alastair, against the seasiders this early evening?

    hang on, pirated sky has started their coverage, got to go… : )

  • wulfrunian

    Having watched Questiontime in Scotland and Tommy Sheridan on The Week I am not convinced that the debate will be very sensible. Alastair Darling looks like a political colossus compared to them, i don’t think the Scots can take the other campaigners seriously.

  • Nellie Boy

    That is absolutely desperate. Painfully clutching at straws.

  • In the prog you pointed out that Salmond is a million miles politically from Sheridan – however, listening to Salmonds speech and his echoes of class war labelling the Snobs in Westminster and his wish for more social spending and so on, I began to wonder if he is quite as far from Sheridan as we thought?

  • Graham

    There isn’t a cat’s chance in hell of Scotland voting independent.

    While Salmond gained a landslide at the last election, it was more down to the ineptitude of the Scottish Labour party. Labour have been divisive in Scotland, since Jack McConnell became leader, and they have never recovered. It is a bitter and twisted country, where we can’t speak without running it past a lawyer first, and where religion interferes with state business.

    I say all this as a Labour voter, and continue to warn the party activists of what is happening at street level, without any sign they are interested.

    Many of my friends would normally vote Labour, as they hold to the same values, but have become disenfranchised from the Scottish section of the party, because many power-brokers in the party, have affiliations and views are seen by them as divisive.

    Unfrotunately, we are talking about the old tribal polarities, that haunt the West of Scotland, and which are being addressed in the wrong manner.

    The SNP gained a large unionist working-class vote, because he was not Scottish Labour, so until Scottish Labour see what they have become, in the eyes of the Scottish public, no matter how many times I tell them, they will play second fiddle in Scotland.

    However, the saving grace is, that those same working-class unionists, who voted Salmond in, will never vote for an independent Scotland.

    Tommy Sheridan is one of these people, when he is right, then he is so-right, but when he is wrong, he is so-wrong.

    The problem for Tommy, is that he is usually wrong.

  • sanshee

    Sheridan may just get the swing vote.

  • Alan59

    How would Scotland be Independent if we were still in the Eu , we would eventually be forced in to the Euro and ruled from Brussels and Frankfurt , so I am voting no .

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