You've got to admire Alex Salmond’s balls, or cojones if you’re a Spanish reader. The Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) boss was hands-down winner of last week’s debate against Alistair Darling, ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer and empowered by the ‘No & Better Together’ campaign to keep the 307-year Union alive. Either that, or the BBC – which televised the joust – had a cunning plan to fill Glasgow’s iconic Kelvingrove Hall with wildly partisan ‘Yes’ voters, who, at times, almost raised the gilded rafters with whoops of joy as their man thundered and harangued his way to victory. Maybe schemers at the Beeb had calculated that if Scotland votes for independence in 20 days’ time, Salmond will deliver on his promise of a Scottish Broadcasting Corporation, so they can ‘free-transfer’ Newsnight’s grating Kirsty Wark back to whence she came. Meanwhile, having been roundly trounced in the previous, Sky TV debate by Darling’s intellectual grasp of financial realities, it was clear from the outset Salmond was hell bent on turning Round Two into the verbal equivalent of a bar-room brawl. Arrogant, indignant, abrasive and smugly contemptuous, the man who would be Laird of Scots merely bulldozed aside his opponent’s cogent ripostes with bluster, if not Braveheart bravura, dismissing glitches – such as a liberated Scotland’s currency – as minor impediments, if not trivialities. Besides, according to him, it’s all been sorted. So forget all three Westminster party bosses and the Governor of the Bank of England vetoing the GB£ as a go-it-alone Scotland’s currency – while Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, effectively kyboshed any pipedreams of Scots joining the euro – Salmond is adamant he’ll be sticking with sterling. A win in the 18 September plebiscite will be a mandate from the ‘sovereign will of the Scottish people’ to demand it, announced Smart Alex haughtily, disdaining Darling’s rhetorically query, ‘What about the sovereign will of the people in the rest of the UK?’ Despite waves of approval flooding over him from the Glaswegian faithful, Salmond exposes his economy naivety by stating the good, old £ was an international currency that could be traded by anyone. Absolutely. But, as Darling pointed out, so is the US dollar and Russian rouble. However, whichever foreign currency the born-again nation chooses, it wouldn’t have a central bank to back it up and could be mashed into neeps and tatties by speculators. The lack of economic nous was spectacularly absent from the brash, tub-thumping, populist, even if an audience that could have been hand-picked by SNP apparatchiks salivated all the more over his gall. Ditto with the party line on North Sea oil, Salmond emphasising, ‘It cannot be regarded as anything other than a substantial asset.’ Again, absolutely. But, as Darling tried to explain to deaf ears, the SNP has inflated the fossil fuel’s revenue to the tune of £5-billion a year to support its profligate spending plans. And, anyway, it’s a diminishing asset, with experts predicting oil revenues will tumble sharply in the next 20 years and could vanish by 2050. Then there was Salmond’s claims that cuts in the English NHS budget were impacting adversely on Scotland. What he neglected to mention was that health is the responsibility of Scottish ministers in the devolved Scottish parliament. Besides, as Darling noted, spending is actually increasing in England, with corresponding extra cash – via the block grant or Barnett Formula – going to Scots. On nuclear weapons, Salmond repeated his vow to expel those pesky, Trident-toting subs from their Faslane base within five-and-a-half years, even if it took two decades to move the warhead storage facility from nearby Coulport. While I’ve never quite understood the Left’s obsession with nuclear disarmament – especially since the East-West ‘You nuke us, we nuke you’ stalemate stopped the Cold War overheating – this would be at the direct cost of 8,000 jobs and countless others dependent on the shipyard workers’ spending. It might also cause a rethink in Defence Ministry plans to move the entire Royal Navy submarine fleet to Faslane, along with the countless fresh jobs it creates. Salmond’s fuzzy solution is to establish ‘very substantial’ onshore employment in that area and create a ‘considerable’ Scottish navy. Cost? And in what currency? Who knows? And thereby the Nats’ case for independence is exposed for what it is: the Scots, a small, feisty and highly inventive people, are being asked to take a massive leap of faith into the great unknown, based on the say-so of a man who seems to struggle with elementary maths. As a mere Sassenach, with no part to play in Scotland’s decision on its future, I respect Salmond’s fervour, but I question his judgement and some of the ploys his Nats have used so to tilt balloting rules in their favour. The 400,000 expat Caledonians living south of Hadrian’s Wall – who’d add 16% to the turnout – are barred from voting, yet the franchise is extended to home-based 16-year-olds, with negligible experience of life and probably less of economics. So, as crunch time approaches, what it boils down to is whether Scots buy into Salmond’s patriotically brazen, heart-over-head vision of a liberated, real-time Brigadoon or decide that remaining part of the UK is less chancy and there’s strength in numbers. Even after the TV browbeating of Darling, the bookies still make the ‘No & Better Together’ campaign 1/6 favourites, though pollsters say that with 10% of the electorate refusing to state a choice, the referendum’s outcome is too close to call. ‘There remains a chunk of voters who flatly refuse to tell us anything and they hold the true balance of power,’ says Martin Boon of ICM Research. For a variety of commercial, financial and emotional reasons – not merely being historically joined at the hip for three centuries – I’d prefer Scotland remains part of the UK, as, I guess, would most of the English, Welsh and Northern Irish. Nor would I be wooed by the sweet talk of an egotistical English political hustler, who wanted to annex England from the rest of the UK. I trust the majority of commonsensical Scots will share that view in 20 days’ time.
To read more of Hugh Ash’s comments, follow his online blog – Views From The Mallorca Pier – at hughash.wordpress.com