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  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
It hasn’t been a great start to the year for the anti-independence campaign.  The much vaunted monthly reports from Westminster have exploded in the face of the UK coalition Ministers.
 
Independence will cost us a quid a year – BOOM!, the Scottish Government’s transition to independence schedule is reasonable – BOOM!, Scotland will be allowed to negotiate EU membership whilst still in the EU – BOOM! And the best … an independent Scotland will be prevented from having nuclear weapons – PHUT!

Each issue, a core element of the Better Together campaign, has tumbled like a domino without the Yes campaign having to lift a finger. 

The UK’s Triple-A downgrade last weekend compounded the bad news and was quickly followed within days by news that Westminster had conceded that an independent Scotland can indeed continue to use the pound - they're to formally announce this gem in March.

If you’re a Unionist then you can thank goodness (if not god) for the O’Brien resignation.  The resignation of the Cardinal and the Pope has ensured the referendum debate, and the triple-A blooper, has remained firmly in the background – well almost.

Triple A downgrade

The triple-A downgrade has been the biggest blow to either campaign, and both have had their ups and downs.  The EU debate has slapped both around the chops with equal slapstickery, legal advise that never was and Cameron's in/out referendum pledge were both embarrassing own goals.

The triple-A loss though was in a different league.  A measure of just how damaging it’s been to the No campaign can be found in the way that BBC Scotland has studiously avoided pursuing it.  A couple of tepid questions from Hayley Millar to Alistair Darling on Monday morning was the sum total of their scrutiny. 

If, as Better Together did, the Yes campaign had leafleted the public boasting about the guarantee of a UK triple-A rating and the billions it was saving Scots then Glenn Campbell and the troops at BBC Scotland would have still been dining out.

Reporting Scotland on Wednesday actually went one better by sending the intrepid Raymond Buchanan all the way to Denmark – a small country of five million which just happens to have a triple-A rating.  Of course, Mr Buchanan wasn’t there to examine how a nation of five million could be in better fiscal shape than the UK, he was there to expose this small Scandinavian country for the over-taxed sweat shop it really is.

Why?  Well according to Jackie Bird in the introduction to the item, and her colleague Hayley Millar that morning on Radio Scotland, nationalists are apparently “using” the UK’s welfare cuts to bolster their independence arguments – how very dare they.

So the ever trusted Raymond was despatched to happy Denmark to tell Scots about the “hefty tax increases” they would endure under independence.  We were also told that happy Danes are having to work longer to pay for the “generous” benefits, but that their welfare system is being reviewed.

Tax is interesting in Denmark, for example workers are able to deduct their travel costs from the taxable income if they travel more than 24 km per day.  According to estimates, the Danish Government takes 42% of personal income whereas the UK takes around 33%.

The GDP per capita of Denmark between 2008 and 2012 was just under $60,000 per year – the UK’s GDP per capita for the same period was $39,000.  But hey, if the nats are “using” the welfare cuts to claim Scotland could be better, then it’s the BBC’s job to remind us all that we are all better being “miserable together”.

It’s a pity that our state broadcaster (unlike STV who debated the triple-A downgrade last night) is in such a ‘state’, for a glance at headlines from one year ago reveals just how embarrassing the triple-A loss is, not just to the No campaign, but their friends in the Scottish media.

Have a look at the headline from the Scotsman in January last year to see how the Unionists were setting the triple-A narrative.

According to the Scotsman, “Most small economies of an equivalent size do not enjoy a triple A rating, in fact it is quite rare.”

The Herald also jumped on the credit rating doomsday scenario with their own take.

The story was based comments from Jim Leaviss, head of retail fixed interest at M&G Investments.

In his blog just after New Year, he wrote: “Happy Hogmanay – an independent Scotland looks AAA on the back of an envelope (as long as it gets all of the oil and none of the banks!), but would probably get rated lower.”

Leaviss also claimed that oil revenue were about to fall “aggressively”.  One year on and we can safely say that Mr leaviss' predictions have been a tad less than reliable.

Healthy debate

With the BBC trying to cover the back of the UK coalition on welfare and running scared of triple-A loss, Scottish Labour is looking to the NHS to regain some of the lost referendum ground.

The anti-independence camp are all too aware of the growing stature of Nicola Sturgeon.  The Deputy First Minister has taken the fight to Alistair Darling and boy is she gaining the upper hand.

Sturgeon’s stock is at an all time high and her firm grasp of her brief means that she comes across as trustworthy and straight in interviews.  Her skilful demolition of the legal advice report, when she pointed out no obligations meant no UK debt for a newly independent Scotland, left Scottish Secretary Michael Moore stumbling around as his celebratory cigar blew up.

This week Sturgeon went straight to Europe’s top table and told them that a newly independent Scotland would remain one of them.  You want our oil, gas, renewable energy, world class education and fish then let’s negotiate – was the message from our no nonsense Deputy FM.

There was also an unreported coded warning to Westminster last week when the German Federal President, urging ‘Britain’ to stay in the EU, mentioned the four constituent component parts of the UK by name.

In an unusual statement, President Joachim Gauck said: "Dear people of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, dear new British citizens! We would like you to stay with us!"

A nod to Scotland and a warning to London?  Who knows, but clearly Germany has no problem acknowledging that Scotland is a recognised individual entity, regardless of its position in the United Kingdom.

Ms Sturgeon’s chutzpah and confidence is why Labour are on the attack and why Lamont has been desperately trying to convince the Scottish electorate that the Scottish NHS, which was brilliantly handled under Sturgeon's stewardship, is falling apart.  Scottish Labour couldn’t care less if the Scottish NHS had a reputation on a par with Lourdes and illness was being eradicated, it is as Salmond said last week, all about getting Sturgeon.

The independence debate will remain on the back burner for the time being and BBC Scotland will be left to nip away at the SNP's heals, this morning another BBC Scotland political reporter Glenn Campbell was once again reporting that a Foreign Minister has said that a newly independent Scotland will have to "apply" for EU membership - this time Latvia [maybe more on that later from NNS].

With the UK economy heading for a triple dip recession there’s no currency for Unionists in wading into referendum waters right now, the emerging rapids are too worrying.  The UK coalition's welfare reforms and the Bedroom Tax are compounding this Unionist discomfort.

Domestic Scottish politics is where their best opportunity lies, so expect attacks to materialise in the Scottish media over the next few days.  Magnus Gardham’s hilarious ‘SNP Euro U-turn’ article is indicative of their desperation for something … anything.

 

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