Ian Swanson: VIPs need to explain endorsements

Richard Holloway is among those who have provided an explanation of why they are choosing to endorse a position on the independence referendum. Pic:Toby Williams
Richard Holloway is among those who have provided an explanation of why they are choosing to endorse a position on the independence referendum. Pic:Toby Williams
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COMEDIAN Eddie Izzard and author JK Rowling don’t like the idea; singer Ricky Ross and crime writer Val McDermid are all for it – and Lord of the Rings star Elijah Wood appears confused, first giving his support and then withdrawing it.

Celebrity and VIP endorsements for and against independence have been coming thick and fast. Even President Barack Obama has had his say.

But how much difference does it make to have big-name backers? Do voters care what the stars think about Scotland’s future?

After two years of debate, the public has probably got tired of listening to politicians talking about the pros and cons of independence, especially when they can rarely resist resorting to party point-scoring rather than addressing people’s concerns head on. So other voices are to be welcomed.

But if their support for one side or the other is to carry much weight, it is what they have to say as well as who they are that matters.

David Bowie getting Kate Moss to pass on a one-liner at the Brit Awards – “Scotland, stay with us” – lets everyone know how he feels about the issue, but does not offer much of an argument to convince anyone else.

On the other hand, JK Rowling’s intervention in support of Better Together was backed up with a thoughtful piece spelling out her fears about the economy, the reliance on North Sea oil and the SNP’s minimisation of the risks involved.

Similarly, the latest recruits to the Yes campaign, former Bishop of Edinburgh Richard Holloway and Sir Harry Burns, Scotland’s former chief medical officer, have explained their stance with arguments which will strike a note with many people.

Bishop Holloway voiced his dismay at the Better Together campaign’s negativity and his outrage at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan fought “for no valid moral purpose”. He said: “I am ready to forgive politicians for getting economics wrong, but never for taking us into costly and unnecessary wars.” And he added: “Over-centralised Britain concentrates power in ways that are hard to challenge.”

Sir Harry spoke of his concern about the way the health service was going in England and suggested independence would allow people to feel more in control of their lives.

It’s difficult to imagine a bigger figure than President Obama to join in the debate. But his remarks – saying he wished to see the UK continue and now adding “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – have probably caused more excitement among politicians than among the public.

Some could barely contain their delight at having such an international hero figure on their side. Voters might be a little more sceptical, realising Mr Obama’s insights into Scottish politics might be a little limited.

And his backing for the continuation of the UK was slightly undermined by speculation that he was responding to a request from David Cameron.

Considered comments from people who have won respect in their own fields deserve to be listened to, whichever side they come down on.

It may not sway thousands of votes, but could help some people who are swithering to come to a decision or make others feel more confident they have made the right choice.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com