IF you listen to the politicians, it’s all black and white. Independence for Scotland is either the answer to all our problems or a threat to everything we value.
Big claims and doom-laden warnings compete for voters’ attention and neither side seems willing to acknowledge any downside to the case they are arguing.
But, of course, politics, like life, is more complicated than that.
And it could be argued that asking people to accept some of the simplistic messages emanating from the Yes and No camps is a serious insult to their intelligence.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, firmly in the No camp, seemed to acknowledge the point at a fringe meeting at the party’s conference in Aberdeen at the weekend. In the face of accusations that the Better Together campaign is negative and scaremongering, he urged his own side to concentrate on the most serious issues.
He told his fellow Lib Dems: “We don’t differentiate sometimes between the big issues that really matter – the currency, research, the single market. We latch onto the silly arguments that do not count. People then say ‘If you say black when it is clearly grey, why should we believe you on the big issues? How can we tell when it really matters?’”
“It’s the big issues we need to focus on and give a bit of frankness to the debate.”
Former UK Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy has also criticised the No campaign, saying it is “a bit stupid” to use rhetoric claiming the independence battle is “Salmond versus Scotland” when most people accept the First Minister is on Scotland’s side.
Polls have shown a narrowing of the gap between Yes and No, so it is perhaps not surprising to find some critical analysis of the Better Together strategy.
And the No campaign has been dealt a serious blow over the currency issue, which had previously looked like one of the Yes side’s weakest points.
Chancellor George Osborne’s “sermon on the pound” and his insistence there would be no currency union between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK was meant to be the final word on the subject. Shadow chancellor Ed Balls and Lib Dem Danny Alexander declared their support for his stance. It would not be an issue for negotiation, they all said. It was just a No. Alex Salmond’s claims that they were bluffing and would change their tune after a Yes vote were ridiculed.
But now what was intended as the definitive position has been fatally undermined from within the coalition government by the unnamed minister who said of course there would be a currency union to ensure fiscal and economic stability on both sides of the border. Any vote for independence would be followed by complex negotiations, the minister said. “The UK wants to keep Trident nuclear weapons at Faslane and the Scottish Government wants a currency union – you can see the outlines of a deal.”
Mr Salmond denies that Trident would be a bargaining chip, but the crucial point is that, despite all that has been said, a currency union now looks far from being the no-go area that it was supposed to be.
The reality is there are many issues where there can be no absolute certainty about what would happen – whether Scotland becomes independent or stays part of the UK.
Politicians would gain more credibility if they opted for an honest recognition of the grey areas rather than insisting they have all the answers.