Margo MacDonald: It’s good to talk so get cracking

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For the moment, the “Mebbes Aye, Mebbes Naw” have the floor. But as 2013 rolls out, the one Scot in every four now listed in the “Don’t know” column of opinion polls measuring support for independence is likely to respond either “Aye, all right then“, or “That’ll be right then”.

The flight from the referendum battlefield by the third of the electorate whose votes decide every electoral contest is a temporary respite before the real battle begins. Right now, their patience has been worn thin by the incessant, boring exchange of insults by those who have failed to govern the UK out of its collapse and those who haven’t had the chance to properly govern Scotland.

It’s quite understandable that positive support for independence should have dropped as it has. The No side has sustained a depressingly negative campaign geared to undermining community and personal self-confidence – take oil as an example. Oil prices are volatile. Therefore it shouldn’t be seen as an asset, only another difficulty, according to the No campaign. Or, the oilfields are running dry, so don’t expect to collect the money from taxes that we would need to rebuild our housing stock or improve our roads.

Loaded statements like these, both completely wrong, are reported verbatim by the news outlets to which they are given by press officers from Better Together. Usually, the Yes campaign, or government “spokesmen”, respond in dull, measured, dismissive shut-downs, delivered with the warmth and passion associated with civil service publications by the ubiquitous “spokesman”.

As yet, the only known face, as opposed to “anonymous spokesman”, to break cover and come out to personally fight his corner, against all comers, all at the same time, is Angus Robertson MP. Before the current rows about who can, and cannot vote, and whether the EU loves us or not, we began to wonder if anybody loves us. The No campaign nudge-nudged, wink-winked undecided voters into half-believing we would be alone, very alone in the world, friendless and hard up. But they lost credibility by trying to bounce President Obama into declaring a life-long opposition to and detestation of Scotland as a 
sovereign nation.

Angus Robertson ignored all that junk and waded into what was seen as the policy portfolio from Hell – defence. Not everyone on the Yes campaign agreed with the projected policy ideas he promoted with commitment and even some costs. But as the debate on defence has developed, so has Angus, and the case he now puts forward lacks only a 
punchline.

With respect and some humility, can I put it to him that the next time somebody with lots of gold braid on his uniform hat, or a slightly dog-eared person who claims to have been an EU 
eurocrat tells him Scotland would not be welcome in Nato, he should say “OK” and leave the table . . . and leave them wondering about his 
alternatives.

Because there are alternatives for Scotland to investigate that would probably suit our needs better than membership of Nato. It’s a better idea to have researched all the alternatives prior to the real negotiations as to continuing in membership, or changing the basis of Scotland’s membership, so that no nuclear weapons can be stored or used from here, etc. The political and economic conditions of the time will play big parts in settling the outcome. But an examination of possible blockage points and their minimisation if possible would be 
useful at this stage.

Angus’s success in provoking some sort of debate before the referendum is to be applauded. The Yes and No campaigns are equally febrile and disjointed. Both sides give the impression of exclusivity and total enmity with the other that is quite at odds with the public attitude. Scots want as much information as possible, as soon as possible, and they don’t feel like going to war to get it. Simples.

Late in the day, perhaps, the Scottish Government promises to release the information needed for people to make their minds up on whether they feel more secure with 
universal benefits or targeted benefits. 
Allowing voters time to think round policy ideas is a unifying and confidence building exercise. Disagreements over outcomes continue to exist, but these are agreements to disagree rather than handy declarations of division.

I’m lucky enough to have had the experience of taking part in an organisation, the Edinburgh Conversations, established by Professor John Errickson, that without publicity, brought together main players from the Arms Reduction negotiating teams from the US and the Soviet Union. They met in Edinburgh or a suitable venue in each other’s country before the Geneva talks and rehearsed difficulties in a trial run. The Conversations helped to clarify and perhaps minimise difficulties in both policy and 
communication.

It’s ironic that such a procedure was devised and executed by Scots more than 20 years ago, and that today’s political leaders and strategists cannot conceive of such sophisticated campaigning.