Mark Casci: A fatal misjudgment has brought UK to the brink

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IT was not supposed to be this way. When David Cameron finally succumbed to years of anti-United Kingdom rhetoric in January 2012 and allowed the Scottish people a referendum on whether to become independent or not, he did so with the clear conviction that the outcome of such a referendum was a foregone conclusion.

At the time, opinion polls showed that those in favour of remaining within the United Kingdom were some 20 percentage points ahead of those favouring independence. Put simply, Cameron thought he could not lose.

And for the next two years he appeared correct, as poll after poll showed little oscillation.

Initially pledging to “fight with every fibre of his being” to preserve Scotland’s place within the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister was seldom seen or heard from regarding anything connected with Scottish independence. Nor was the leader of the Opposition. Or anyone else based at Westminster for that matter.

The reason for the complacency was that all of the above thought they had an unbeatable hand, namely that an independent Scotland would never be allowed to keep Sterling as its currency.

Ever since Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist James Carville posted a sign reading “It’s the economy, stupid” in the Clinton campaign’s headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas, it has led political strategists of all stripes and colour to believe that all the voter cares about is the money in their pocket. And this, from day one, is what has informed the No vote team’s strategy.

A currency union, Scots were repeatedly told, would require a bilateral agreement between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK. With no currency there could be no economy, and without an economy there can be no country.

However opinion polls now suggest that this notion has been built on sand. Despite failing to ever articulate a valid or coherent answer to the question of a post-independence currency, Alex Salmond has now taken his party and campaign to the brink of a historic victory.

The scale of such a vote would be one of cataclysmic change. The very fibre of our being as a sovereign state would be pulverised and the most successful political union in the history of the world would be over. The word “British” would be consigned to the history books.

The Union Jack would have to be replaced. The UK would suddenly find itself with five million fewer citizens. The long wait for a “British” Wimbledon champion would theoretically be resumed. And, having presided over the collapse of the United Kingdom, Mr Cameron’s position as Prime Minister would be utterly untenable.

The real question is how on earth have we gotten into this mess?

Better Together, with the full backing of all three mainstream parties, made this campaign all about fiscal matters rather than concentrating on the key issue – the heart and soul of our great nation.

The misguided notion that the Scots, despite the national stereotype, were merely interested in how much extra cash independence would place in their pockets has left the United Kingdom close to oblivion.

Moreover, it singularly failed to address one of the biggest cancers on our nation, one that we also feel all too acutely in Yorkshire; namely that our country has become under successive governments so hopelessly centralised in favour of the South-East that the rest of the nation is made to feel marginalised.

Amidst all the Yes and No polling conducted in the past 10 days, there was a far more interesting and damning poll which revealed the level of distrust in David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg – the three men who abandoned PMQs yesterday to head up to Scotland.

It’s the same phenomenon that saw Ukip clean up in the May council and European elections and the reason that the likes of Salmond and Nigel Farage are able to enrapture voters.

These men are not a product of the Oxbridge/ think-tank /Parliament production chain. What they lack in policy and ideas they make up for in their passionate charge against the status quo.

Salmond has long been one of the foremost political operators in the country, convinced that a new order is the only way to ensure prosperity. His vision of making Scotland a Scandinavian-style nation of high public spending and social justice funded by its rich natural resources is nearly a decade old, but is winning droves of acolytes by the day.

If the Union does manage to limp over the finish line next Thursday, we will be left to reconcile ourselves to the fact that mainstream politics has become such a turn-off now that a sizeable proportion of the country was prepared to join hands and jump off the cliff into oblivion.

You have to wonder what it is that 
they fear so much behind them to take that risk.

Mark Casci is The Yorkshire Post’s News Editor (and a proud Scot).