The emotional case for Union

Over the weekend I read articles by Kevin Hague and Ruth Davidson. Hague was plugging the emotional case for Union.

One of the things that a reader is struck by when visiting Hague’s website is that displayed prominently in the right menu bar there is a report penned by him entitled,

The price of independence, an objective analysis.

 

Does Hague honestly think that a non-expert using incomplete information to confirm pre conceived beliefs is objective?

No doubt he probably does but recently, science has been finding out our decision making tends to be primarily emotional. We come to our views from sentiment then we go in search of the facts that justify them.

Hague is a master at appearing to have fallen in love the with Union using excel as his only aphrodisiac. Refreshing then was it to see him attempt to make an emotional case for Union in his most recent blog. 

There are two obvious flaws with Hague’s piece.

He fails to make a solid emotional case for Union and he fails to realise the first referendum was won by an emotional case for the UK.

It may come as a shock to Hague but it wasn’t his graphs and charts that temporarily saved Blighty.

What won indyref1 was a very skilled Better Together campaign that utilised emotion. This was acknowledged by one of its key architects. Better Together was successful in indyref1 because they used the fear of change as their main tool. The Better Together social media pages played on this beautifully. Facebook feeds were brimming with sad tales of Aberdonian grannies petrified they would somehow never again see their grandchildren, who were destined to be stranded in Plymouth by the inevitable post independence border fence. English celebrities were clambering over themselves for a chance to lovebomb any Jocks whose love of queen and country appeared to be wavering.

If Hague’s GERs based pie-charts were successful at all it is only because they were used to manipulate the most powerful emotion of all, fear.

Hague’s blog forgets about all of that in order to claim the emotional case for the union as a novel idea he just came up with.

His blog proposes that unionists can win by highlighting the social contract we all share as members of our family of nations. Which is basically a limp version of the Better Together argument but lacking in any pathos. Almost every nation has a social contract and many do it better than the UK. Hague’s effort is the blogging equivalent of Michael Bay remaking Watership Down and pretending the original never existed.

What is astounding though is that Hauge is proposing to remind us of how much we benefit from the UK in the face of an ever increasing bombardment of news stories proving the opposite.

The neediest are reliant on crisis loans and food banks, the disabled die in droves days after being declared fit for work, folk are discovering they will be lucky to retire before they expire, services are drastically underfunded, wages have been declining while the cost of living has skyrocketed and the elderly are being forced to sell their houses just to pay for their care.

Not only that, he is proposing to sell the emotional case for the union at a time when the cost to Scotland of a certain decision the UK made on our behalf is becoming apparent. A decision that will be fulfilled via a process that the Supreme court decided the nation of Scotland has no say in. A process that is due to override Scottish law and strip the Scottish parliament of power.

Never mind the emotional case, it would be a struggle to convince a semi cogent toddler that it was even a union at all.

Check out this video by a real economist if you are in any doubt about whether or not Brexit will be a good idea.

Which brings me to Davidson’s blog.

Well, blog is a bit of a misnomer. It was actually a hedge funded Tory mouthpiece masquerading as a blog which, give or take a word of two, is a fairly apt description of Ruth Davidson.

Not sure what she was ingesting in Ibiza but last weekend she wrote something that contained some passages that sounded borderline compassionate. Unlike Hague, who wants to save the union by telling people everything is brilliant in the face of all evidence to the contrary, Davidson has realised that Hague’s social contract is in tatters.

Her article argued for a reset of capitalism. Something most independence supporters could probably buy into.

Some of her paragraphs could have come from the pages of Bella Caledonia.

Too much profit comes from tax avoidance, land speculation, financialisation and other unproductive economic activity, rather than through innovation and high performance.

Closing loopholes, increasing enforcement and overhauling regulatory frameworks can go some way to addressing the creeping cronyism that is making free market capitalism an unfree and anti-competitive capitalism, but this stick approach should only be one half of the story. Government also has the ability to set the tone and the direction of travel by using its vast array of levers and resource as a carrot, too. It should do so.

If business itself has flunked the opportunity to put its house in order following the 2008 crash, then it is time for governments to take the initiative. Reforms of corporate governance, the break-up of monopolies, restrictions on tax avoidance, lowering barriers of entry to market competitors – each of these actions is required and each needs governments to cooperate in order for them to be effective.

So, unlike Hague at least Davidson is aware of the problem of trying to sell the emotional case for Union in the face of the current reality.

What was notable about Davidson’s article though is that it didn’t once mention the word Brexit. How is Davidson going to achieve her reforms in the post-Brexit bonfire of regulations that is being concocted by Gove, Fox and Davis?

Does anyone genuinely think that cracking down on the mores of the elites is going to be easier in the post-Brexit UK? Not me, and you don’t even have to look too far back to realise why. I’m pretty sure it was the EU and not the UK that just slapped the biggest corporate fine in history on Google. The UK authorities considered doing a similar thing and baulked at it lest they offend our corporate overlords.

At least post Ibiza, Ruth is not blind to these problems, but the truth is we need systematic change to give Ruth a chance of solving them before that holiday magic wears off.

In Hague’s blog he argues that the main emotional argument for the union is about Scotland taking back control. He’s wrong, it is actually about the citizens taking back control of a system that no longer works.

This could happen in the UK but it is not something that is likely as there is not a groundswell of support for it in England. Unlike most supporters of Scottish independence, the English have chosen to blame the wrong institution for their problems. You won’t change a corrupt Westminster system by handing it more power.

Independence wouldn’t be a utopia but it is hard to argue that we would not have a more egalitarian system and that is what is needed to achieve Davidson’s goals and to make Hague’s social contract look less ridiculous.

In the meantime, my advice to Hague is to go back to plan A. There always was an emotional argument for Union and that was to scare undecided voters shitless. Don’t embarrass yourself by pretending everything is even close to hunky dory. Things are looking grim in post-EUref UK, but if anyone can soothsay an even grimmer fate for an independent Scotland, then Hague is the man.

Rereading Hague’s blog, it does spend most of its time doing just that.

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Bobby Hainey

Joint founder of Autonomyscotland. In my spare time I enjoy Road Cycling, Munro bagging and beer.

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