With sterling tumbling at the start of the week, in response to an opinion poll showing support for Scottish independence 2 points in the lead, and the FTSE 100 declining by 0.3 per cent, £3.5bn was knocked off the market value of six companies with Scottish exposure such as Lloyds Banking Group (down 3 percent), Standard Life (down 2.8 per cent) and energy provider SSE (down 2.4 per cent).
So Scots have had their first taste of market reaction to the slightest possibility of Alex Salmond’s Brigadoon fantasy becoming reality.
If a solitary opinion poll can wreak such havoc, what would the actual delivery of a Yes vote do? That consideration would weigh heavily on most electorates, but it will not daunt many Scottish voters.
Instead, a puerile pleasure at the mayhem they are causing is likely to ratchet up declared support for independence – though that might not translate into eventual Yes votes in the privacy of the polling booth. If it does, the world will be treated to the spectacle of a nation of householders in negative equity, a government that has expelled Trident from its soil unblushingly seeking Nato membership and an economy subject to a foreign currency and central bank pursuing readmission to the EU, for which adoption of the euro is a precondition.
If you recognise those as scenes to which only the brush of Hieronymus Bosch could do justice, consider the optimistic alternative: a No vote followed by Devo Max, the political euphemism for giving the Supreme Soviet at Holyrood complete control of Scottish income tax, welfare (the only growth industry in Alba-bania) and just about every aspect of sovereign governance except the anthem and flag. That is the Hobson’s choice now facing Scottish Unionists. You could call it a democratic deficit.
Since the opening of the Scottish parliament in 1999 and its colonisation by MSPs of stellar mediocrity, 129 Scottish villages have been missing their idiots. But Holyrood acted as a seed-bed for the SNP, growing from a taxi-load of MPs at Westminster to majority government in Scotland by 2011.
The fatal instinct of Unionist politicians was to appease this threat. Ruth Davidson, the kick-boxing lesbian famously promoted as Scottish Tory leader by David Cameron, promised a line in the sand: “No more devolution.” With the classic consistency of professional politicians she is now leading the charge for Devo Max.
So is George Osborne. Although the Tories insist the constitutional concessions being showered on Alex Salmond are no more than their original intentions, this panic reaction to the YouGov poll has provoked contempt and demoralised No voters.
Expect more extravagant offers, on a daily basis, between now and 18 September. We can count ourselves lucky if Alex Salmond has not been offered the throne of Scotland by polling day. David Cameron took the Devo Max option off the referendum ballot paper; he is now imposing it without even giving Scots the possibility of voting against. The status quo is not an option. Grown-up Scots with houses, jobs, basic economic literacy and a solid stake in society have been marginalized, to court the benefits dependants who will be herded out of sink housing estates by the SNP to vote for the creation of a fiscal North Korea on the fringe of Europe.
The problem is that Dave is a politician who does not do politics. He is that fatal combination: a stranger to self-doubt wholly devoid of elementary political nous. A politician would have told Salmond: it’s Yes or No, full stop. If the Scots want to leave, good luck to them, but we are not prepared to unravel the United Kingdom any further at the behest of 4 million Jock voters.
Devo Max represents only a change of gear on the journey to separation. Two fiscal systems are unsustainable within a unitary state. Welfare in the hands of Holyrood is a blueprint for social and economic meltdown. Independence and Devo Max are like the old Scottish song: “You’ll tak’ the high road and I’ll tak’ the low road…” The destination is the same.
Politically, Dave’s cowardice has saved Alex Salmond from political oblivion if Scotland votes No. In that event, on 19 September the SNP would have fragmented amid recriminations and Nicola Sturgeon, Salmond’s deputy, would have taken his job. Exit stage left the Union’s most dangerous enemy.
Now, instead, even if No regains its recent 22-point lead by polling day, Salmond’s get-out-of-jail-free card reads as follows: “I’m sorry I couldn’t deliver independence, but full anthem-and-flag sovereignty was always a big ask. Now you need me to stay in office as the only Scottish politician who can hold Westminster’s feet to the fire and secure optimum Devo Max. I am starting today…” Scottish Unionists are in a lose/lose situation. Thanks a lot, Dave.