Danny Finkelstein’s column in the Times today is characteristically elegant and incisive. In politics as in life he writes, “whatever apparent power and temptation lies with the adoption of the identity of victimhood it is ultimately destructive”.
Since Finkelstein is pondering lessons that may be drawn from the life of Nelson Mandela it may not be immediately obvious that the conclusion he reaches has some relevance to the campaign for Scottish independence. I better elaborate, then.
Much has been said about how and why Unionists need a better “narrative” when making the case for Scotland as part of the United Kingdom. This is true. There is a need for a positive, optimistic, case for the Union. This is also true.
On the other hand, it is less frequently noted that the Yes campaign is pretty negative too. For all the talk of hope and change and so on it remains the case that the SNP – and the broader Yes campaign – is just as happy to wallow in negativity as their Unionist opponents.
In one sense this is as understandable as it is unavoidable. To win, the nationalists must first persuade Scots that the United Kingdom is irretrievably broken and, secondly, that independence is the best way of fixing Scotland or, if you prefer, salvaging something from the wreckage. Inevitably this demands some emphasis on the negative aspects of life in modern Britain. Less hope, more whinge.
This is fine as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go very far for the simple reason that, despite the usual grumbling, most people do not think life in Britain is all that intolerable.
Despite this, Yes campaigners would have you believe that the future for Scotland inside the United Kingdom is bleaker than a November day in Fraserburgh. A cold future awaits us, perhaps even a mini ice age.