Within the last few days Sir Tom Hunter has entered the independence referendum debate with a call for politicians to stop scaremongering and to start proposing positive arguments in support of the Union. Sir Tom is quite right! The scaremongering tactics that have been used by Unionist politicians will simply not work. As Sir Tom correctly pointed out “Scottish voters are not daft”.

However, Scottish voters are sceptical, and they can be sceptical towards the arguments both for and against independence. As Carol Craig (2011) recognised, the Scots are “independent-minded, opinionated, and sceptical people”. As such, Scots are not going to be fooled by hollow scare stories. Hard evidence will need to be provided by both camps in the independence debate. As Carol Craig also observed, “This need to see the logic and rationale behind something means that Scots are more likely to be questioning rather than accommodating”. Scaremongers beware!

For many Scots independence is the obvious future for Scotland; scaremongering will never alter this opinion. Others are fully determined that the Union with England will be maintained. However, there are many Scots who, whilst nurturing the dream of an independent Scotland in their hearts, are unable to reconcile this idea in their heads. For these Scots, even though they believe the current Union is inadequate and wish to see change, full independence is an option they are not prepared to support today. These are the sceptical patriots; the sceptical patriots are ruled by their heads not their hearts. For all parties in the Scottish independence debate the opinion of the sceptical patriots is critical. These are the people who will eventually swing the result of the debate one way or another.

The objective for nationalists is simple; the sceptical patriots must be convinced that independence is a sensible and achievable road for Scotland to take. Solid economic arguments, as well as appeals to the patriotic heart, will be required if this is to be achieved. If nationalists can provide the solid arguments required to support their case, the sceptical patriots could well be persuaded to support the cause of independence. For nationalists, the objective is to bring the heads of the sceptical patriots into alignment with their hearts. If this can be achieved, the game will be up for unionists and independence will be attained.

For unionists, the objective is to persuade the sceptical patriots that remaining in a Union with England is the most sensible course of action. However, the challenge for unionists is that the status quo, the current Union treaty, is no longer considered to be an acceptable agreement by a large number of Scots. Many Scots, including many sceptical patriots, wish to see change. For too long now the unionist arguments have been negative, scaremongering, and based on instilling the fear into Scots that Scotland is weak and incapable of sustaining itself in the world. “Stronger together, weaker apart” appears to be the favourite scaremongering slogan today. The thrust of this slogan is clearly aimed at Scots; “Scotland will be weaker if the Union does not continue”, is the doom laden message. Unfortunately for unionists, the events of the latter end of the twentieth century have completely undermined this type of argument, as one small European nation after another has stepped up to the challenge of independence and has succeeded. How many of the new nations that have emerged in the last twenty years have ended up being “weaker” than they were before? If unionists really wish to win the argument for maintaining a Union between England and Scotland the time has now come for them to embrace radical positive polices that can convince all Scots, but particularly the sceptical patriots, that there is value in maintaining a union with England.

The growing desire for change in Scotland presents unionists with a dilemma. Should they attempt to defend the current inequitable Union using the scaremongering tactics of the past? Can Scottish unionists really look their countrymen in the eye today and argue that the current Union is a good deal for Scotland? Or could this now be the time for unionists to admit to the failures of the past and embrace the cause for radical change? Is it not time that unionists themselves proposed a new union between England and Scotland? This is a critical decision for unionists and one that they must get right. As Hazell (2009) argues, “for the first time the Union is perceived to be in danger; but the danger to the Union lies more from within, from clumsy defence by unionists, than from the challenges from the nationalists without”. The clumsiest defence that unionists could undertake heading towards the Scottish independence referendum would be to defend the current inequitable Union.

The fundamental problem for unionists is that the desire for Scottish independence will not disappear, it will continue, it will endure. Even if independence is rejected in the referendum planned for 2014, the drive for independence will not be abated. For over three hundred years the desire for an independent Scotland has burnt in the heart of very many Scots. This desire will still be burning brightly three hundred years from now if independence has still not been achieved. For unionists the message is really quite simple, the “do nothing” option will never succeed, radical change is required or eventually the drive for Scottish independence will prevail. There is simply no point in unionists burying their heads in the sand any longer trying to convince themselves, and others, that the current Union is a viable solution for the future.

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