I didn’t rush to make a blog post after the Obombashell news that the American prez has made some anodyne and highly qualified comments about Scottish independence. Because the truth is I don’t really give a toss what Obama said, and I expect you don’t either. In this we are merely expressing the equivalent Scottish view to the widespread public opinion in the USA regarding Scottish independence. They don’t give a toss either, the only difference being that whereas we’ve all heard of Barack Obama, very few people in the USA are aware that Scotland is holding an independence referendum. The number of people in the USA who know about Scotland’s referendum is probably lower than the number who think we’re already independent. It may be a higher number than the number who believe Scotland is a part of Ireland, but that’s a bit of a coin toss.
This is actually, believe it or not, a positive. The only way that the Scottish independence campaign would impinge upon the consciousness of yer average truck driver in Arkansas or a shop worker in North Dakota would be if members of the McTaliban were kidnapping US servicepeople and force feeding them the Collected Works of the Prophet Al-Iqsammin. Scotland’s US obscurity is a good thing – it means we’re not causing any upset. “Down with the Great Satan USA” is not a pro-indy campaigning slogan in this referendum.
Obama recognised this. The way he phrased his comments was significant, and careful. The US prez said that “from the outside” the UK seemed to be working, refraining from any comment about how it seems to be working from the inside. He did not have to add the “from the outside” qualifier, but he did.
Obama’s the American president, he only is where he is because he’s negotiated the snakepit of Democrat party infighting, and the brutal slugathons of two presidential campaigns. American politics is all about dressing up tiny little policy differences and pretending that they’re significant. Since there is possibly even less difference between the two main US parties than the fag paper separating Labour from the Tories, window dressing is all they’ve got. It’s not the shop contents that matter from the outside, it’s the window dressing. Obama is very well aware of the difference between how a political system looks on the outside and how it appears on the inside – knowing that is his job. As far as Scotland is concerned he’s on the outside, which means he can safely file it under “not my problem”.
But he went further. Obama twice stated that this vote is for the people of Scotland to decide, and it was significant that he did not explicitly urge Scottish voters to stick their cross in the Nope to Hope box. The truth is that the USA can live with the result whatever way it goes. Not that this was apparent from the hysterical coverage given to the Nope to Hope comments by U-Kok-Upists.
Can you imagine the uproar there would have been in the UK media if Obama had said something along the lines of “Go for it Scotland. Wipe the smug look aff thon Davie’s face. We don’t think much of the lightweight either.” It was never going to happen. That is not how international politics works. The diplomacy rule is that when asked about a contentious decision whose outcome does not have a great impact upon you either way, you do your best to minimise the impact of any comment you make and you don’t do anything to embarrass your hosts. That’s especially true when your hosts have explicitly asked you to say something about the situation. That’s pretty much what Obama did. He has no control over the hysteria of Better Together and the wild dog pack of the UK press.
In the US coverage of the Obamaplea the headlines were more interested in his much stronger comments about the UK remaining united with the EU. Oddly these comments didn’t receive much comment or publicity in the UK media. Perhaps they wouldn’t have gone down too well with the swivel eyed readers of the Telegraph. The Wall Street Journal’s headline on the speech screamed: Obama Says UK Should Stay in EU. And in much smaller letters the sub heading said: As for the Coming Scottish Independence Vote, President Says US Satisfied With a ‘United’ UK. Spot the difference in importance rankings?
Meanwhile the right wing Washington Times reported: Obama: hard to see UK benefiting from leaving EU
Here’s what Obama had to say about the prospect of an in-out referendum on the UK’s membership of the UK:
“And it’s hard for me to imagine that project [the EU] going well in the absence of Great Britain. And I think it’s also hard for me to imagine that it would be advantageous for Great Britain to be excluded from political decisions that have an enormous impact on its economic and political life … I’m sure the people of Great Britain will make the right decision.”
That’s a much stronger statement which comes as close as possible to an outright plea to vote against leaving the EU without actually saying “For God’s sake don’t listen to nut-job Nigel.” But it was scarcely mentioned in yesterday’s focus on his bland comment about Scotland.
Did anyone seriously expect anything different? Just look at how the equally anodyne comments of Mark Carney of the Bank of England were spun. A studiously neutral speech saying that the bank would do whatever politicians told it to do became a warning of economic armageddon if Scotland continued to share the pound with the rest of the UK.
Intriguingly, although amidst the welter of UK press reports yesterday I can’t track it down now (perhaps a reader can supply the link – this is citizen’s journalism after all, so you’re expected to do some of the legwork yourselves) there was a wee menshie that the Scottish Government was surprised by Obama’s intervention. They were not surprised that he’d said something blandish in support of not giving the US more changes in international relationships because they’ve already got their hands full, they were surprised that he’d said so now – the Scottish Government hadn’t been expecting anything from him until much nearer the vote. The fact it’s happened now means that it will be lost and forgotten by the time September arrives, and Better Together has already shot the bolt of the biggest celebrity endorsement it’s going to get.
All that Obama’s comments showed was the Scottish media is not fit for purpose. But we knew that already, and it’s one of the reasons only seen from the inside that led us to this independence debate in the first place. All that really happened yesterday is that the voters of Scotland got more confirmation that if we want to live in a country where grown up and informed debate is possible, we need to vote yes in September.