The clocks have changed. Spring flowers are starting to bloom. Green shoots are appearing on the trees. The weather in turn has been fantastic.
It is Spring and this editorial is a Spring time ramble through the post Scottish conference season countryside to take stock of where we are.
At their conference, the SNP speakers spoke to a packed assembly of the party faithful who were bristling with excitement and full of momentum. Independence finally seems within grasp as never before. A rallying call was given by Angus Robertson that the race was on.
Almost 1.5 million pocket campaign guides were distributed to delegates instructing them how to best influence the debate – to prepare the way at least for a vote on independence if not independence itself.
This is a slick, well funded and well organised campaign. If that is all that counts then the Scots may as well role out their Saltires and start singing “Flower of Scotland”.
Hopefully the campaign in the lead up to the referendum will not be so dominated by one side.
Unfortunately to date the pro Union response has been less slick, largely unfunded and is still dis-jointed though starting to show signs of slowly coming together.
Labour and the Lib Dems, having their conference on the same weekend, started the ball rolling for the alternative viewpoint to independence.
Ed Miliband spoke at the Labour conference and defended the Union as the “best bet” Scots would have for a fairer future. This defence of the Union was echoed in a speech by Douglas Alexander, the Shadow Foreign Secretary.
The Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont in turn offered to play a key role in a cross-party campaign to keep the Union. She said there would be a “collective leadership” for her party’s “no” campaign and wanted active roles for the former chancellor Alistair Darling and former prime minister Gordon Brown.
The Lib Dems produced some passionate rhetoric in defence of the Union and announced that former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy would be heading their pro-Union campaign.
Encouragingly, during the conference, in an article in the Herald Charles Kennedy urged unionist parties to join together to save the UK and warned “A tribal campaign is likely to become a fraught exercise for all of us involved.”
In addition Willie Rennie, the Scottish leader of the Lib Dems pledged that his party would bring people together during the debate on Scotland’s future.
These conferences were followed by the Conservative conference where the launch of Conservative Friends of the Union was made with a new website – but to date not much content or direction in it.
This group is in theory open to people of all political persuasions but it remains to be seen whether this will actually attract many members beyond the party faithful.
In addition there were encouraging words from Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative Leader, who called on the other pro union parties to put their aside their differences and join forces to campaign for the Union..
She said “I say to Johann Lamont and to Margaret Curran, to Willie Rennie and to Michael Moore, Scotland expects us to work together, and we are.”
Altogether a lot of encouraging noises for a united campaign for the union from every party but as yet little substance. However the press reported a few weeks ago that David McLetchie (Tory MSP) had had meetings with Anas Sarwar (Labour Deputy Leader in Scotland) and Willie Rennie (the Scottish Lib Dem Leader).
ODN are very supportive of this initiative and anything that may come of it. All the pro-Union parties must come together and speak with a single voice on this issue. We would strongly advise them not to get bogged down on the issues of devo-max, devo-plus and how much power should be devolved to Scotland. We would advise them rather to concentrate on one question and one question only – “Should Scotland leave the United Kingdom”. This is really the only issue. Fortunately it is also the one which all the parties seem to agree on.
We are aware that positive talks are still taking place and that each party is well aware of the fact that the stakes are high and that a united effort would bring strength to any campaign.
However it still leaves open the question as to how people with no political affiliation and yet who love being British can get involved. There are rumblings of a new business initiative being set up to defend the union and there are groups on facebook tapping into social media but as yet there is no definitive umbrella group coordinating all this effort – one that everyone who is passionate about remaining in the UK can identify with and feel comfortable getting involved in.
We all really need to come together – to coordinate funding, save costs, establish priorities and avoid duplication of effort.
We really need to come together.