By Professor James Mitchell (University of Edinburgh)
‘The Anglo-Scottish union was the ‘most conservative of revolutionary measures. To put the matter shortly, it repealed every law or custom of England or of Scotland inconsistent with the political unity of the new State, but it did not make or attempt any change or reform which was not necessary for the creation of the new United Kingdom’
– A.V. Dicey and Sir Robert Rait, Thoughts on the Union Between England and Scotland, London, Macmillan and Co, 1920, pp. 244-5.
This description of the union between Scotland and England might equally apply to the form independence would take should Scotland vote YES on 18 September. Opponents suggest that independence would be a major rupture, creating uncertainty for a small new state finding its way in a hostile international environment having abandoned the security of the ‘most successful political multinational state in the world’.
Supporters of a Yes vote suggest independence will offer opportunities to address the country’s deep-rooted problems. They argue that leaving the union means being able to make policy decisions that are suitable for the people who live there. In addition, independence would make a more prosperous and fairer Scotland possible.
The campaign has been dominated by the competing messages of fear and hope with Better Together, the official campaign group against independence, offering a relentlessly negative campaign while Yes Scotland has been, until recently, unremittingly positive.
But a shift has taken place recently. Yes Scotland has placed more emphasis on negative campaigning, trying to turn the tables on supporters of the union, by suggesting that the National Health Service is being undermined in England with significant consequences for Scotland. Better Together has majored throughout on the currency after the SNP Government expressed its support for a currency union.
The most striking difference between the two camps has been the emphasis placed by supporters of independence on grassroots campaigning, while opponents have focused more on using the media.
This was always likely given the overwhelming bias across the media in favour of the union. The extent of public engagement has been unprecedented in modern Scottish politics though the conventional media has been very slow to appreciate this with their focus on the Westminster and Holyrood bubbles. This engagement is expected to be reflected in a high turnout.
The result may in large measure be dependent on turnout – with a higher turnout helping supporters of independence – and the mobilisation of support, but also whether either side can scare enough voters to support them. Whatever the result, changes are expected. Though in all likelihood, much will continue as at present to an extent that neither side is willing to concede.
Professor James Mitchell AcSS, FRSE, is Co-Director, Academy of Government & What Works Scotland at the University of Edinburgh. His recent books include: The Scottish Question , More Scottish Than British, co-authored with C. Carman and R. Johns and After Independence, co-edited with Gerry Hassan.