Two political games are being played. One is about the referendum question – the SNP wants a yes or no to independence, while Unionists want “do you agree or disagree with Scotland becoming an independent state?”
On the face of it, not much difference between them. Both would answer whether we want Scotland to cease being a nation region of the UK, becoming instead a sovereign state within the international community. So why the argument? Is it childishness, a game of one-upmanship for whoever gets the Electoral Commission to endorse its version of the question?
It is far from childish. Research shows that in any referendum the side whose case requires a yes answer has an advantage over the side seeking a no. The advantage could be as much as ten per cent which, in a tight contest, could prove decisive.
There is the subsidiary fact that the side that is campaigning for a yes will sound more positive than one that simply says no, thus reinforcing the advantage of the yes/no question.
That’s why the SNP government question is framed in a yes-no way, and why the Unionist parties want a question that will avoid a no, so they cannot be dubbed as the Abominable No Men. Keep your eye on this debate and pity the poor Electoral Commission which has to decide. It cannot please both.
The other game is a dangerous one, played between Israel, Iran and the United States.
The issue is Iran’s nuclear programme, which Israel and the US – and others – claim is intended to create a nuclear weapon. Iran repeatedly denies this, but geopolitical logic points to an Iranian nuclear weapons ambition.
Iran feels threatened and its historical relationship with the US and UK, where both were active in undermining its political stability, and probably still are, shows good reason for its fear. A power in fear, with the capability of creating a nuclear deterrent, would be daft not to do so. The very same reason that drove Israel to create its nuclear arsenal.
Israel, the US and the United Nations have been determined to stop Iran. The sanction screw has been tightened again and again. Yet, most remain convinced that the sanctions have not had the desired effect and believe the nuclear programme continues.
As well as the sanctions, Israel’s Mossad has been assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists in Iran as a means of slowing down the programme. But slowing down isn’t the same as stopping.
The general atmosphere has not been helped by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, declaring that Israel will be wiped off the map. Although he is president, he doesn’t have the power to order a nuclear attack on Israel. There are at least two layers of decision-makers above him, who might or might not have more wisdom, but that is hardly comforting to the Israelis. Their prime purpose anyway is to remain the only nuclear weapons state in the Middle East, and so stopping Iran’s programme is a matter of strategic national interest.
Israel has form. Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons facility was demolished by an Israeli air attack in 1981. The world breathed a sigh of relief, but talk within Israel, and world intelligence circles, of a similar type attack on Iran is a very different matter, at a very different time.
So far, the US has held Israel back by supporting additional sanctions and, with words such as “no options closed”, implicitly joining in the threat to bomb the Iranian nuclear installations. Recently, however, an unnamed “decision-maker” in Israel, presumed to be Ehud Barak, former prime minister and now defence minister, said Israel could no longer afford to wait for the action by the US, adding: “Israel will do what it has to do.”
If Israel is serious, then this is dangerous serious. The last thing the world economy needs as it struggles to get out of a recession threatening to become a depression is a war in the Middle East. Iran could bottle up the Gulf, causing a new oil supply crisis, and provoke conflict with the US. It could unleash Hezbollah in Lebanon where thousands of rockets could be hurled inside Israel. Confidence worldwide would collapse. Economies everywhere would go into a tailspin.
A unilateral Israeli attack would, this side of US polling day, place President Obama in an impossible position. With Mitt Romney on the record as respecting Israel if it attacks, the president could not repudiate Israel, or even mildly criticise it. He would bring down on his head the wrath of the unusual alliance between the Christian Right and the Jewish lobby – and that lobby in the shape of the American Israeli Political Action Committee is the most powerful in the US.
It will hold its annual meeting between October 12 and 14, three weeks before the poll on November 6. Both candidates will speak and be expected to back Israel, whatever it does.
President Obama will be paralysed by fear of losing votes. Some in Israel see this a perfect window of opportunity to attack Iran. Let’s hope they are a minority.