Michael Moore writes… Hullabaloo Tuesday

Heard much about the referendum lately?

I only ask because there is a curious phenomenon at play in Scotland at present.

Never mind “Will you be voting ‘Yes’ or No’ next year?”: the real divide in Scotland seems to be between those who think they have heard too much from politicians already and those who think they have heard nothing at all.

To campaigners on both sides of the ‘great debate’ this latter camp is intensely frustrating.

At my last count (I am in recovery now), the UK government had published over 600 pages of analysis and argument. The slackers at the Scottish Government had barely managed a couple of hundred pages themselves.

But this coming week they are preparing to flip the scales with the mighty tome that is ‘The White Paper’.

A shortage of information and argument there will not be. And more is to come.
But before we politicians sit back and wait for an engrossed nation to weigh up ‘optimal currency area theory’ or ‘Article 346 national security exemptions’ for ship building, we need to get the point that people in Scotland are making to us.

The point is surely not that there is a lack of information (I will not accept that argument from anyone unless they provide sworn statements to the effect that they have read all the Scottish and UK government papers in full).

Nor is it about the quality of the arguments (OK – it might be, but this is politics and it is necessarily rough and ready, often robust and certainly noisy).

The real point is that there is still a long way to go to next September’s ‘big decision’. And people across the country are thinking this through on their own terms and in their own time.

Meantime they will happily make politicians and the media sweat it out as we try to unlock the key to everyone’s vote.

But if we pay attention, I think the question being asked across the country can be heard very clearly.

It is not ‘Can Scotland be independent?’ or ‘Do you agree we need a state called ‘Scotland’ to be a proper nation?’, although there are many on either sides of the argument who might want to frame things in these ways.

Instead, the question is a more straightforward ‘What is better for my family, my community and my country?’

The way the cases are argued is also being judged – is it fair minded and candid or presumptuous and bombastic?

We certainly need the big arguments and the detailed information. It all needs to be open to scrutiny and challenge. But the tone has to be right, too, and the arguments have to engage.

So what does this mean for ‘The White Paper’?

It is a big moment. I predict that anyone who has tuned out of the debate so far will find the pizzazz tomorrow hard to ignore.

After months of build up there is huge interest and expectation amongst politicians and journalists about what will be in it. It is clear that plenty of voters are intrigued by the prospect, too.

Even as someone who is very firmly committed to Scotland staying within the United Kingdom, with enhanced powers for the Scottish Parliament, I am looking forward to the White Paper.

There will certainly be lots of noise, from both sides of the argument. Let me add some of my own.

I expect a lot of the arguments and the detail tomorrow will be familiar to us. (I would not dare criticise another politician for repeating themselves – it is the very essence of getting any political message heard.)

But I do think people are now entitled to the answers to all the many questions posed over the last two years, to which, in the meantime the response has been: ‘Wait for the White Paper’.

At the risk of being greedy, what would also be refreshing would be a clear acknowledgement that not all of what is wished for by the SNP, and others, is in Scotland’s collective gift to deliver if we vote to separate from the rest of the UK.

This is a clear test of the paper’s credibility; we need to hear the nationalists’ case made straightforwardly, distinguishing between what would be under an independent country’s control and what would be subject to serious negotiation, not just assertion, with the rest of the UK and our international partners.

It would be good, too, if there were an acknowledgement that the rest of the UK would have legitimate interests in any negotiations and would argue robustly for them. Fair minded people in Scotland would surely understand and expect that.

So, let’s see how fair minded the White Paper is about the big choice we are making.

How straightforward it is about the the basic uncertainties involved.

How it answers the many questions posed by people across the country.

In short, is the White Paper going to be realistic and substantive?

Only in the calm after hullabaloo Tuesday, will we know how serious the nationalists are about the quality of the ‘great debate’ and the big question about Scotland’s future.

* Michael Moore was the Liberal Democrat MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk from 1997-2015 and Secretary of State for Scotland from 2010-2013.

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  • widescreen2010 25th Nov '13 - 8:35pm

    It is very dull over here at LibDemVoice these days.

  • Tom Robinson 25th Nov '13 - 10:41pm

    Mr Moore:

    I see your successor, Mr Carmichael, is scheduled to debate with Nicola Sturgeon for an hour this Wednesday on STV.

    If it is any consolation to you (given many consider a major factor in you replacement was the view that you lost your own debate with Nicola), I fully expect Mr Carmichael’s efforts to make your own appear as a veritable triumph.

    I wouldn’t blame you for having a gentle laugh if my prediction proves correct-you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t 🙂

  • In England we have heard far too much about your Scottish Referendum.

    Either get on with it and become Indpendent or better still let us English vote for our Independence.

  • David Rogers 26th Nov '13 - 10:34am

    I agree with the first sentence of Colin Ross’ comment above, the most recent symptom of this being this morning’s BBC Radio 4 Today programme having one of it’s presenters in Scotland for the whole programme, and – oh yes! – he just happens to be Scottish……..meanwhile the other one, the Welsh one, was in London.
    Which brings me to my main point, fair representation – or in politics, one person, one vote, one value. All but three or four of the English regions are each home to more people than live in Scotland. Yet when do we hear as much about their issues and concerns? The South West, and Yorkshire and the Humber, are each very similar in population to Scotland. The West Midlands, the East of England, the North West, and the South East are each home to significantly more people – and in the case of the latter, more than London too!
    I accept we hear far too much about London in the UK media, and that lazy arrogant assumption that in some way it represents or is typical of all of us. That is often annoying to those of us who live relatively close to it – but how much more so that must be in Devon or Durham………
    So let’s have more debate about the future for the diversity of England, and much less about Scotland and London. The current political system is unsustainable. I support the right of Scottish representatives to take decisions about, for example, health and education (even tax) issues in Scotland – but not for them to be involved as well in decisions about those same crucial tax and spend matters affecting my life in England. So let the case for Federalism be made.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Nov '13 - 11:26am

    David Rogers

    I accept we hear far too much about London in the UK media, and that lazy arrogant assumption that in some way it represents or is typical of all of us.

    Although the “London” we hear about tends to be London as perceived by the social elite. So one might imagine from what we hear that it’s inhabited entirely by media types, people with well-paid jobs in the finance industry, top civil servants and so on.

    See how the proposed “mansion tax” is written up as a “tax on London” as if everyone in London lived in a house valued at a million pounds or more. The vast majority of people in London do not live in houses with that value. In the part of London where I live, three-bedroom houses are valued at £250,000-£300,000. That’s still a LOT compared to average incomes, but somewhat less than one might imagine if one supposed from the way it is reported that London consists only of the very centre, the trendy inner north suburbs, and the posh south-west suburbs.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Nov ’13 – 11:26am
    Although the “London” we hear about tends to be London as perceived by the social elite. So one might imagine from what we hear that it’s inhabited entirely by media types, people with well-paid jobs in the finance industry, top civil servants and so on.

    Yes indeed. Working class London and working class South East are invisible to the BBC
    See the latest Royal Television Society Lecture
    Owen Jones – Totally Shameless: How TV Portrays the Working Class

    first broadcast BBC FOUR 22.00 Sunday – but still available on i-player, catch up, etc

  • @ David Rodgers ‘So let the case for Federalism be made’ Well said David! The regions are being increasingly hollowed out by the ever more powerful London effect. We need to make the case for strong vibrant regions with large budgets and powers recovered from Whitehall. ” A first-rate city with a second-rate country attached.” That is how one rather brutal friend of mine describes London. said Stephanie Flanders recently. As the one party that has sought a Federal UK for many years we are we are ideally placed to campaign for it. If we leave it to the Labour /Tory nexus then both overheated London and the de-populated regions will pay a high price.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Nov '13 - 5:35pm


    We need to make the case for strong vibrant regions with large budgets and powers recovered from Whitehall.

    Whitehall? I remember the old debates about Federalism – the regional authorities were going to control things like energy and water – now privatised. The power in London is no longer much with government, it’s with big corporations, and setting up regional authorities won’t help much with that – big corporations can bully nation states, playing one off against another, so how very much more they would be able to do that with regional authorities.

    Any attempt to set up regional authorities now would just be seen as bureaucracy gone made, cushy jobs for yet more politicians, spending money on fancy regional assembly headquarters, but in reality not being able to do very much.

  • Tom Robinson 27th Nov '13 - 11:57pm

    As predicted, Carmichael totally outdebated by Sturgeon. This is not ONLY my view but that of the 2 commentators. I advise everyone to view the recording (STV-a recording of the program will be available online) to confirm what I say.

    AND Mr Moore, one of the 2 commentators said Carmichael did no better than you, one of them even worse. Full marks to me for my prediction of the 25th 🙂

    Carmichael desperately appealed like a wee boy to the moderator for help. If the moderator HAD intervened she would have stopped the contest.

  • Euan Davidson 29th Nov '13 - 7:44am

    To the posters on here complaining about they’ve heard too much about the Scottish referendum, sorry to hear that the break up of our country is such an irrelevance to you, it is ludicrous to act like this only effects Scotland, it effects the rest of the UK as well.

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