A campaign defined by its negativity reached for the nuclear option last month.
George Osborne came north to lecture the Scots, with the UK Chancellor telling a packed press conference that should we vote for independence then the cooperative approach proposed by the Scottish Government would be rejected. Leave the UK, we were told, and we were leaving the UK pound.
This threat has failed to make it past springtime, with a UK Government Minister admitting that a currency union would happen. This pivot on the pound has left the No campaign in utter peril.
Osborne’s speech appeared to be designed to put the final nail in the coffin of the Yes campaign. Lacking a coherent, positive argument of their own, the central strategy of the No campaign has been to make the process of becoming independent look as difficult as possible. A series of obstacles have been piled up that, together, were designed to make it all look like a risk not worth taking.
And the pound was central to this. To No campaign strategists, nothing could represent the security and continuity of the UK as much as the ‘pound in your pocket’. If independence meant losing this security, surely only the most foolhardy of Scots would still want to vote yes?
The first problem was that these currency claims weren’t quite true. The No campaign have repeatedly argued that ‘the only way to keep the pound is to vote to remain within the United Kingdom’ – a blatant lie. As a fully tradeable currency, the pound could in theory be used by any country in the world. Where Scotland differs is that the Bank of England, as a publicly owned institution, is as much ours as it is George Osborne’s – and the Scottish Government have been clear that any attempt by the rest of the UK to prevent Scotland receiving our fair share of assets, including the Bank of England, would result in Scotland refusing to take our share of liabilities. No deal on currency, no deal on debt.
But the bigger problem for the No camp was that the public never quite believed the threat. The sight of an out-of-touch Tory threatening Scotland pushed many undecided voters to Yes, and an opinion poll published earlier this week by the Times newspaper showed that a majority of Scots believed Osborne was bluffing.
This, on top of successive opinion polls showing a steady growth in support for independence, has obviously left the No camp in something of a panic. Even the arch-unionist Daily Mail carried a front-page this week with the headline ‘Campaign To Save The UK In Crisis’. While talks of crisis-meetings amongst anti-independence Chiefs might have begun to raise the eyebrows of No activists, nobody was prepared for the shock admission from the heart of the UK Government that the currency threats were just bluff and bluster after all.
Today the Guardian reports an anonymous quote from a senior UK Government Minister who admitted that ‘Of course there would be a currency union’. While anti-independence politicians have scrambled to deny the comments, the Guardian’s reports that the hard line on currency was taken at the urging of Alistair Darling is further proof that the threat to deny Scotland the pound was nothing more than a campaign tactic and not a serious proposal.
Ultimately, this referendum should be about more than the back-and-forth of politicians or the question of short-term obstacles. Independence is an opportunity to change the country we live in for the better and the debate should reflect that. But the No campaign have attempted to win through fear, through bluster and through bullying. And this negative approach has now left them with falling support and an argument in tatters.
Project Fear has failed – and this pivot on the pound can only add to the Yes campaign’s momentum. As we enter our summer of independence, Scotland will fear no more.
Image from Documenting Yes