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Thursday, February 13, 2014 

The weirdest good cop/bad cop strategy in history.

The Tories have come up with what might be the oddest good cop/bad cop strategy in history when it comes to Scottish independence.  Just last Friday David Cameron was invoking the spirit of London 2012, summoning up all the usual boilerplate about this being the greatest country on Earth, something the Americans are much better at claiming because they genuinely believe it, urging reluctant unionists to tell undecided Scottish friends to stay. 6 days on and George Osborne is back to ramping up the fear, allied with the gruesome twosome of Ed Balls and Beaker Danny Alexander. Should Scotland vote yes, there will be no currency union, end of.

For those who like me think that every time a Tory opens their mouth on independence the yes campaign cheers, it doesn't exactly strike as a winning formula. Not that there was anything spectacularly wrong with Cameron's speech, despite the wearying nonsense about Britain being a brand; if anything, more misjudged was the response from Nicola Sturgeon, complaining about the PM leeching off past sporting glories, apparently letting the fact Alex Salmond had been far more shameless in unfurling a Saltire as Andy Murray won Wimbledon slip her mind.

While David Cameron can do charm, even if it's patently insincere, George Osborne by contrast can only do smarm.  Putting him up in what seems to be a Better Together orchestrated operation to say there will be no negotiations for a currency union is the equivalent of a two finger salute, and the obvious response is to reciprocate.  Yes, he was essentially just presenting the advice provided to him by the permanent secretary to the Treasury, but surely a better option would have been to release the letter and allow someone else to make the case.  Far more than the whole thing being a stitch-up between the Westminster parties, that it was once again a Conservative telling Scotland what it can and can't do seems to play straight into the SNP's hands.

This in turn undermines how this is certainly the most significant challenge yet to Yes Scotland's narrative, and it's one they could have avoided.  Scotland's Future was weakest where it should have strongest, glossing over any potential problems in keeping the pound, as well as in joining the EU.  It might indeed be the "most logical option" to have a currency union, yet independence supporters despite their arguments are playing a weak hand.  The threat to default on taking a share of the national debt if a currency union is refused would almost certainly lead, as Robert Peston says, to investors demanding a punitive interest rate when the newly independent country seeks to borrow.  This would doubtless drop within a few years but could still be crippling.  The SNP's enthusiasm for a currency union also downplays the disadvantages to one, namely that it brings into question how independent a sovereign nation is when its monetary policy is decided in another country entirely.  Using the pound without currency union is certainly an option, just as the dollar is used without permission as the official currency in a number of south American states, and the Euro is in Kosovo, but carries risks (not having a lender of last resort) as well as benefits.

The SNP's response has been, as always, to claim plucky little Scotland is being bullied by the big boys, with a secondary line of it all being bluster and bluff.  It could well be, but the whole point is to plant doubts, something the ploy will certainly achieve.  The other implicit threat is that regardless of the Edinburgh Agreement, the rest of the UK on independence would refuse to just go through the motions when it came to the discussions on (re)joining the EU, NATO, etc should Scotland in turn renege on paying its share of the national debt.  Macpherson suggests this cutting off your nose to spite your face strategy could potentially cost less than currency union with a nation that has "misaligned tax and spending policies", which seems a more devastating critique of the SNP's vision of independence than anything yet come up with by Better Together.

All of which goes to the heart of the campaigns so far run by both Yes Scotland and Better Together. The SNP's case at times has, as Flying Rodent puts it, been only slightly off "promising every man in the country a bigger dick and a Lexus full of cocaine".  Scotland certainly could be a successful independent country,  just not necessarily the social democratic paradise they're so keen to paint it as becoming.  By the same token Better Together hasn't even bothered to present a positive case for the union despite the impression conjured up by its name, preferring instead to scaremonger and also bleat about supposed smearing by cyber-nationalists.  Both would benefit from dialling it down a shade, presenting a more realistic case and even, gasp, accepting their opponents' arguments are legitimate.

And the three bears.

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