A debate in the Scottish parliament last week and a massive march in Edinburgh at the weekend in favour of a Yes vote marked the beginning of the final year of the independence referendum campaign.
Everyone, I think, understands the huge significance of the vote we will register a year from now, and it’s no surprise that so many people are keen for more information and a clearer debate between the two sides to help them make up their minds.
Unfortunately, only one side in the campaign really seems to want to engage in a debate.
When the Sunday Herald invited Alex Salmond and David Cameron a couple of weeks ago to submit articles in favour of and opposing Scottish independence, Mr Salmond submitted a full article setting out a clear summary of the case for independence. In it, he was generous in his praise for Mr Cameron in signing the Edinburgh Agreement which paved the way for next year’s referendum.
Mr Cameron, on the other hand, who famously said in 2011: “I will campaign to keep our United Kingdom together with every single fibre that I have”, couldn’t be bothered to submit more than 130 words, even when informed by the paper that Mr Salmond’s article was, as asked for, a full page.
When an invitation was put to the chair of Yes Scotland, Denis Canavan, to debate with the chair of Better Together, Alistair Darling, Yes Scotland replied that they would be happy to do this – anytime, anywhere. Better Together turned the invitation down flat.
We know that Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish Government, is keen to debate the issues with David Cameron, leader of the United Kingdom Government, but again, David Cameron, despite the pledge quoted above, refuses to do so.
More worrying than this, however, has been the reported actions of local Better Together groups to prevent Yes Scotland groups from campaigning. There have been a number of reports of attempts (sometimes successful) to stop Yes Scotland groups from setting up perfectly-legitimate stalls at local events on the grounds that as Better Together are unable to find enough people to staff a stall themselves, Yes Scotland must be banned as there is a lack of “balance”.
Again, disturbingly, is the Better Together appetite for smearing their opponents. Recently, in the Scottish Parliament, Labour leader Johann Lamont could not resist garnishing a perfectly-fair question about a land deal with an attempted smear of the businessman who had bought the land legitimately (in an auction where there were no other bidders) as the businessman in question had expressed some sympathy with the Yes campaign.
Rather than engage with the issues raised by the group Labour for Independence, Scottish Labour tore a photograph in two of a Yes Scotland event where both Labour for Independence and the SNP were involved, and submitted it to the press to “prove” that Labour for Indy was just an “SNP front”.
This is all just dirty tricks, and no way to conduct the most important debate we have had in 300 years.
With national newspaper sales figures plummeting, and debate on the internet restricted to relatively few people, it seems to me that local newspapers (the best of which are maintaining very healthy sales figures, and which communicate with their readers in a way that the nationals do not) are an obvious area where a proper forum for debate can be constructed.
The Southern letters pages can play a very important part in this debate. All of us can contribute here.
Anyway, in line with the thousands of others who marched through Edinburgh last Saturday, I am strongly of the opinion that Scotland should vote to become an independent country. Can anyone provide me with persuasive reasons why we should not?