Robert Hoskins seeks, but fails so far to find, an honest appraisal from independence supporters of what the coronavirus support package means to many Scots, and hopes that with new leadership Labour can more effectively champion our vital union.

If I were studying for a masters in contemporary Scottish politics and had to choose a topic for my 20,000 word dissertation, I would choose the Scottish media’s coverage of the 2014 independence referendum campaign. I would drill down on that topic limiting it to the role played by pro-independence journalists only.  I would find the work of these journalists in all the main Scottish based dailies and their Sunday equivalents.

My search dates would run from the day the referendum was called in 2012 to September 18th 2014. I would then enter the following key names to generate the articles for my search: Macwhirter, Kane, Hassan, McKenna, Riddoch, Wishart and McMillan. I would then enter key words like Scottish independence referendum, fiscal transfer, Barnett Formula, fiscal deficit, population share of UK debt, capital flight, currency, lender of last resort. I would painstakingly find, retrieve and read every article these journalists wrote on the subject of Scottish independence over this 3 year period paying particular attention to every article which included a critical approach to any one of the topics highlighted in my key words search.

Out of this vast canon of work, my overarching hypothesis would be that I would expect to find only a handful of articles that these journalists had written that addressed any of the topics highlighted in my key word search, currency probably being the most likely ‘hit’. I would also confidently predict that from those handful of articles identified, not one would have questioned the economic viability of an independent Scotland, let alone concluded that independence was not the best outcome for the country. I would go so far as to say that it is an impossible task to write a pro independence article spelling out in detail what services would be slashed to accommodate the loss of the £10 billion fiscal transfer on day one of independence, and still conclude that independence would be the best outcome for the country.

Let’s fast forward to the last fortnight of March 2020 and repeat the above exercise, using the same journalists but this time changing the key search words to Rishi Sunak, £9 billion bailout of self employed, bailout of private sector, £2,500 per month guaranteed and, crucially, Indy Ref 2 and independence, and see what articles we generate.  Surely a fortnight on from the initial announcement of the private sector bailout and a week since the announcement of the self employed rescue package these journalists would have been falling over themselves to tell us how an independent Scottish state would have been able to pay the wages of hundreds of thousands of Scots who are currently facing lockdown? Surely at least one would have risen to the challenge? To be fair to them, a number of those journalists have indeed written pieces on the bailout package itself, but not one of them to the best of my knowledge has put it into the context of how an independent Scotland would respond. I wonder why?

So let me step up to the plate instead. There is as much chance of me bailing out my fellow citizens from my meagre savings account as there would be an independent Scotland without a lender of last resort, mired in debt with the millstone of a fiscal deficit of £12.6 billion tied around its neck. The only thing that we do know for an absolute certainty is that the First Minister would be on the phone to the IMF pretty damn quick asking it to bail the country out instead.

One would have thought that most of the country could now see what Scexit-sceptics have known for ages, and that is when Scotland faces a financial crisis the Empress Scexit is, and has always been, completely starkers. But apparently this message is not getting through. The latest set of opinion polls show that the exact opposite is true, that an ever increasing majority of the country still perceive her not only to be fully clad but dressed in a Saltire suit of impenetrable armour. 

How does one explain this? What is it about the thought of bankruptcy which is so attractive to so many fellow Scots that they are not only going to vote for the SNP in record numbers at the Holyrood election but they also appear to be eating further into the slender majority still held by Remain in the UK if there was another Scexit referendum?

Take the 330,000 part-time working Scots, the majority of whom I would imagine would be independence supporters who have just received the welcome news that they will have 80% of their income up to £2,500 per month reimbursed as from June. Many of those independence supporters you would have thought would now be experiencing genuine relief, perhaps for the first time ever, that we dodged a bullet in 2014 when we voted to stay in the UK.

You would think that those very same independence supporters would now be wanting answers to the very same questions that those independence supporting journalists dare not ask nor answer. Just how would an independent Scotland guarantee the salaries of hundreds of thousands of fellow Scots to enable them to put food on the table for themselves and their families?  One possible answer to this conundrum is that perhaps Scots actually do believe that it is Holyrood that is bailing them out, and not Westminster?  After all, the recent UK government £1.25 billion investment in the Naval Dockyard at Rosyth to build 5 new frigates also went totally unacknowledged by the First Minister. Why? Because acknowledging bailouts and mega investments breaks the first rule of nationalism – never credit Westminster for any positive contribution it makes to Scotland. 

A more credible explanation for the gravity defying polling could be that the First Minister, love her or loathe her, is a damn fine spokeswoman. She has created the ”Chief Mammy” role and claimed it as her own. For a politician her acting skills are extraordinary, and she has such a wide emotional range, from empathy through compassion to sincerity. It is no coincidence that these are precisely the skills that you need to manage a crisis.

Which brings me onto rule number two of Scottish nationalism: never ever participate in any UK-led initiatives to do good in the country. Even during this unfolding disaster, the branding must be Scotland and the prize has got to be independence. That means that we as a people can never all be in this public health disaster together, in solidarity with our fellow citizens in the rest of the UK by volunteering our services. Under no circumstances. Apparently ”Scotland Cares” (more than the rest of the UK is the unwritten subtext) is to be the recruiting banner which us Scots must rally to volunteer our services. We are witnessing the gradual politicisation of this crisis for party gain.

It remains to be seen if the Chief Mammy still reigns supreme in six months time, or whether she will be holed below the waterline by the aftermath of recent events in court. History tells us that even political parties that are bitterly divided will only implode if there is a credible opposition for voters to turn to as an alternative.

Next week, Sir Keir Starmer will likely be elected UK Labour leader, a leader who, according to polling, the public actually like. A leader who is collegiate in approach, who brings gravitas to the role and who is on record as being opposed to Scexit.  The Labour Party will hopefully also have a new Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland appointed in Ian Murray who will also be unequivocally opposed to another Scexit referendum as will, we must hope, the new Scottish Deputy Leader Jackie Baillie.  In the next few weeks, almost all the ingredients could be ready for a Scottish Labour fight back at the next Holyrood elections (whenever they may take place). It is to be hoped that by that point the rest of the country will realise that, in times of crisis, a party that is four square behind the union will do more to protect their economic security than a party who wants to break it up.