IT WAS hardly the most edifying prologue to the Scottish vote
about whether to break away from the United Kingdom. Alex Salmond
and Alistair Darling, respectively the leaders of the Yes and No
campaigns, had a second TV debate on Monday, which descended into
an angry shouting match.
The next day, the media was much concerned with who had won. The
advocate of union, Mr Darling, might have done better in the first
televised debate, but the champion of independence, Mr Salmond, had
"won" in the second.
Yet this is not an issue where it makes sense to talk about
winning and losing. That was underscored by the tone of the
proceedings. The two politicians frequently sounded like a
bickering couple - Mr Salmond shouting over Mr Darling - so that
much of the exchange on currency, social justice, North Sea oil,
and the NHS was rendered incomprehensible. Perhaps that explains
why the polls showed no significant shift in Scots' voting
intentions the next day.
Still, it was good that the encounter was aired not just in
Scotland, but in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, too. There
has been a quality of Scots self-absorption about the debate that
has left many in the rest of the UK feeling disenfranchised. The
dangers of this were first highlighted for me by a play at last
year's Edinburgh Festival. I'm With the Band, written by a
Welshman, Tim Price, centered on a rock band called The Union, in
which the keyboard player was an Englishman, the guitarist a Scot,
the bass player from Wales, and the drummer a muscly Ulsterman. The
band, whose glory days were in the past, was in crisis, after
discovering that its manager had not paid any VAT for 12 years.
It was a clever allegory, and a good deal more subtle than my
outline suggests. Its central thesis was that the independence
debate should not be myopically focused on the pros and cons for
Scotland alone. Centuries of shared history, emotion, psychology,
and kinship would mean an impact on Wales, Ulster, and England,
An independent Scotland could condemn England to a permanent
Conservative Government. Mr Salmond's sketchy plans for an
independent Scots currency could impose costs on the rest of the UK
or, alternatively, compromise the real autonomy of Scottish
sovereignty, or embroil this island more directly in difficulties
with the euro.
But that is just politics and economics. Mr Price's questions
about kinship, emotion, and psychology feel unexamined. Change
there could bring an unexpected backlash from what is left of the
UK, and bring oppositional antagonisms that might create new
problems as much as solve old ones. Perhaps the Churches should
have things to say about that. It would be possible to weigh
theologies of self-determination against those of mutual
responsibility. Balancing subsidiarity against solidarity is always
harder in practice than in theory. Pope Francis hinted as much
when, speaking about independence for Catalonia, northern Italy,
and Scotland, he pronounced: "All division worries me."
The trouble is that in a political union - as in a marriage, or
a rock band split by "musical differences" - it takes only one side
to walk away.
Paul Vallely is Visiting Professor in Public Ethics and
Media at the University of Chester.