Ben Wray: We must win #ScotRef - and here's how we'll do it

A second referendum is on its way and Yes needs to get its case prepared, says Common Weal head of research Ben Wray

SO now we know: we’ve got minimum 18 months, maximum 24 months, before independence d-day. 

The vast majority of that time – say three-quarters – will be full campaign mode: crystal clear and relentless targeting of the not yet convinced. That gives us maximum six months to debate, discuss, analyse, research, propose and prepare. At Common Weal we are planning to use the next six months to its full.

We’ve already made good ground in this process. After Brexit last June, we decided that it was now obvious that the old independence case of the 2014 referendum was out of date. In July, we published Scottish Currency Options Post-Brexit. We got a great response to that, which motivated us to set-up the White Paper Project: a process for building and renewing the fundamentals of the Scottish independence case.

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From July to January we published work on debts and assets, we went Beyond GERS to look at what Scotland’s first year budget could be, we produced a report on borders and customs, another paper looking at the detail of a Scottish Currency and, finally, White Paper version 1.0: our first stab at putting a draft white paper forward, warts and all.

We’re now heading towards White Paper version 2.0, with a new wave of input and expertise from people across Scotland and beyond attracted to the project. We are going to publish another series of specific papers before we get to version 2.0 (probably in June), and then from June to September we will gather in the feedback, iron out the creases and fill in any remaining gaps before publishing the final version.

The purpose of this work is pretty straight forward: if you want to build a beautiful house you should do it on solid foundations. If the independence movement pitches its case to undecideds on half-truths and platitudes, they’ll sense our own side's doubt in our case from miles away. If we have confidence that our case makes sense, that will show through.

It’s not that we think lots and lots of undecideds are going to read our policy work: we know that narratives and identities shape most voter preference. But those narratives are strengthened or weakened by good or bad policy: we all saw the way the currency issue in the last referendum became a proxy for a more general doubt and uncertainty about independence.

Plus, beyond strategies for winning, the shape a new country takes is very much influenced by how it begins. Many in the Republic of Ireland believe that a lot of its problems can be traced back to not breaking sufficiently with Britain at the birth of the Irish Free State in 1922. We want to get off to a good start, one that has the means and confidence to do things very differently from the arcane British state.

From July to January we published work on debts and assets, we went Beyond GERS to look at what Scotland’s first year budget could be, we produced a report on borders and customs, another paper on Scottish Currency and, finally, White Paper version 1.0: our first stab at putting a draft white paper forward, warts and all.

We know from talking to people that our work has been widely read and been influential. This shouldn’t be too surprising: there’s only a very small number of people in Scotland who have been doing research-based work into the fundamentals of the independence case with any rigour. Because we’ve been doing it for nine months, we’re maybe a little ahead of others.

Not that we think we’re even close to something we’re fully happy with. The gaps are still significant, and that’s what we’re working to address now. Key areas we are looking at now include:

- Trade

- Foreign currency reserves of a Scottish currency

- A Scottish tax code

- Pensions

- Social security

- Defence

- Broadcasting

We know from talking to people that our work has been widely read and been influential.

These are not side issues. If we aren’t convincing on trade and pensions, for example, we quite rightly will be attacked relentlessly by the British state. They will make us pay for our inadequacies, so we can’t give them any.

In questions during Nicola Sturgeon’s historic announcement on Monday, she was asked about the issue of currency: "All in good time," the first minister announced. Fair enough, but time is short and there’s lots to do. 

On Wednesday, Common Weal will be launching a new fundraising effort for the White Paper Project. We urgently need more research capacity, and that requires more money

We don’t have time to waste. We all know we can’t lose twice.

Picture courtesy of Common Weal

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