Unionists need to deploy emotive, as well as logical, arguments in support of the UK, says KEZIA DUGDALE MSP

 

Three year ago, on my own blog, I wrote a piece exploring the difference between Diet Coke and Pepsi Max, concluding that they were essentially the same drink with a different combination of artificial sweeteners. Today, our country’s constitutional future hangs in the balance and soon we’ll all be debating the minutiae of saccharine versus sucralose.

I didn’t come into politics to defend the union. I am Scottish and British. They are not competing identities, but threads that weave the very fabric of who I am. I don’t consider my identity to be up for debate, but it now appears to be the issue of the forthcoming Parliament.

With permission, I’d like to throw two toys out of the pram before agreeing to play nicely.

Firstly, I don’t accept that the Scotland Act gives the Parliament the powers to hold its own conclusive referendum on independence. We forget at our peril its powers simply to “negotiate a settlement.”

That is an all-encompassing get out clause – the future of the BBC, the Army, consulates, currency, membership of the EU will all be debated in a referendum campaign but the hard facts and brutal realities can be parked until after the event.

Secondly, the SNP’s comprehensive win in May was both historic and compelling, but it is not a statement of growing support for either a referendum or independence, since both were so completely absent from their campaign.

But how very dare we let the facts get in the way of a good argument!

Here lies the danger for all pro union parties – if the facts bare little relevance to the debate, then we must sing with one voice in order to drown out the regimented war crys for independence from the SNP.

Perhaps it is time to abandon rational arguments and seek to build an emotional narrative around the positive case for the union. A bond. A relationship centuries old – where both parties have rights and responsibilities that they share for the common good. Through sickness and in health.

There’s little doubt in my mind that devolution is the settled will of the Scottish people, but I do worry whether the settled will is perhaps too settled to get off its bum and defend itself.

The SNP’s 2011 campaign was yes, built on “record, team, vision,” but the relentless positivity was also deliberate. It was laying the ground work for a referendum campaign built not on the premise of why independence. But, why not?!

Perhaps there’s merit in the Tories idea of presenting the country with a ballot paper with two clear options “yes to the union” or “yes to independence.” I’d personally much rather make a positive case for the union over a negative case for independence, but that’s just my nature.

Salmond’s command of all committees, the chamber and even the Presiding Officer’s chair suggests that any opposition capacity to influence the question is unlikely, but perhaps their good will as Government would last longer if they were seen to be more consensual on the big issues?

To avoid further suggestion of an “elected dictatorship“, why not give the power to set the referendum question to a Citizens’ Convention and demand all Scotland’s parties agree to adopt its recommendation, whatever it says?

It is in the interests of everyone that the result of a referendum is seen as conclusive, so if the SNP have so much faith in the answer, why not surrender the right to be judge, jury and executioner of the question?

Kezia Dugdale was elected as Labour MSP for Lothians on May 5. She worked for George Foulkes in the previous parliament and is a prominent blogger on the Scottish policial scene. Follow Kezia on Twitter at @KDugdaleMSP.