There was no eerie blue glow this time, no song and dance. Wrapped safely in Napier University’s silver-plated bubble, the leading lights of ‘Better Together’ set out their grand vision for the No campaign with the calm reservation of those who are, for now, the clear favourites to win the independence referendum.
The theatrics and razzmatazz of Yes Scotland’s celeb-filled launch would not have suited Better Together’s calm, quiet politicians. Nevertheless, there was music. I’ve heard that song before, muttered the press pack. And they were right – Munroso’s ‘Down Under’, the song commissioned by the No campaign to soundtrack their launch and video, features a guitar part that sounds uncannily like Big Country’s ‘One Great Thing’, the soundtrack to Yes Scotland’s launch.
The similarities didn’t end there. Better Together have used Yes Scotland’s early launch to their full advantage, appropriating the saltire-waving and emphasis on ‘positivity’ that the SNP have been so eager to monopolise since the genesis of their campaign just over a month ago. They’ve been quick to catch up with Yes Scotland’s online presence too – bettertogether.net is bright, professional and easy on the eye, while the video of ‘real Scots’ makes a smart contrast with the Yes campaign’s rather elitist bunch of businessmen, politicians and celebrities.
As a spectacle, Better Together did well. Shame about the substance.
Alistair Darling, keen to jettison the cumbersome deadweight of positivity early on, told us that a Yes vote would give ‘our children’ a ‘one-way ticket’ to a ‘deeply uncertain’ future. He has a point. Elections tend to change things (at least a bit), and those things usually happen in the future. Children, like all humans, are incapable of travelling through time, and would inevitably end up in the future without the opportunity to return. In accordance with the widely-accepted laws of physics, we’re also incapable of knowing the events of that future with any real certainty. It’s a crying shame, but it’s the best we’ve got until Gordon Brown comes out of hiding to unveil the time machine or crystal ball with which he hopes to save the world, again. So yes, Alistair, tickets to the future do tend to be one-way – and rather uncertain.
Not to be outdone, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom did his very best to show us how very certain we could be about our future in the Union. While Better Together sang the praises of the welfare state we built together, David Cameron was announcing that anybody under the age of 25 should lose their right to housing benefit, which charities say will lead to ‘inevitable’ increases in the numbers of homeless young people. He proposed enormous cuts to benefits across the scale, and suggested the imposition of punishing sanctions on anyone who could not comply with strict government conditions. Labour muttered glumly that welfare was beginning to cost rather a lot as unemployment soars, but otherwise let it slide. There’s an election to win in three years, you see, and nobody wants to hear about poverty, do they?
Here is the last great certainty of our proud union. For decades, the most vulnerable members of society – the old, the unemployed, the disabled and the young – have seen a sustained and brutal assault on the mechanisms that were established to support them. This has been done with the shrieking support of a hysterical media and the mindless acquiescence of a Labour Party that has little claim to the mantle of compassion that it once held. Mr Cameron’s speech today is just a Torified continuation of Mr Blair’s welfare reforms, and today’s pitiful response of Her Majesty’s Opposition highlights a deep and enduring consensus on the welfare state that is based on nothing more than the assumption that the poor deserve to be poor. If they weren’t so spendthrift, lazy and eager to breed, they’d get on their bikes, pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get a bloody job – regardless of the state of the economy.
It’s a repulsive notion. It’s all the more repulsive when it’s accepted, and often propagated, by a self-proclaimed party of ‘social democracy’ like Labour.
There are many supporters of the Labour Party who don’t hold those views. They understand that poverty is systemic, and that we are products of our surroundings, genes and experiences – the unfortunate deserve compassion, not vilification.
Perhaps Alistair Darling and Johann Lamont are among those silenced voices, and yet they stand in that silver bubble at Napier University and tell us that we should welcome certainty. We should be happy to sit comfortably in our own silver bubbles, floating through government after government as the lives of countless millions are savaged and debased by the violent underside of our proud union.
Cameron, Darling, Rennie and Lamont are certain of what the future holds in the union. If the launch of Better Together is to be believed, it looks no different from today. It is the certainty of a society that is en route to being the most unequal in the developed world. It is the certainty of political scandal and decisions about our society being made by unelected bishops and lords, lobby groups and wealthy donors. It is the certainty of more illegal wars to prop up our vast, tottering façade of international power. It is the certainty of weapons that float in our waters with the power to kill a million people at the touch of a button. They think this is a certainty we should want.
I have a wonderful 9-year old sister, blessed with an enormous sense of hope for the future. I love her more than anything else in the world, and I don’t want her to live in this proud, arrogant union any more. If Alistair Darling has a one-way ticket to send my loved ones into an uncertain future, show me where to sign up.