The Better Together campaign is selling the wrong Britain

They have forgotten the message of Danny Boyle's opening ceremony: that Britain is more than a country of career politicians and bullying bankers

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The Independent Online

The year is 2012. The Daily Mail has just reacted to the opening ceremony of the London Olympics with typical reactionary gusto. ‘Why have so many been taken in by his [Danny Boyle’s) Marxist propaganda’, thundered the paper’s columnist Stephen Glover.

Elsewhere on the right, Conservative MP Aidan Burley described the ceremony on Twitter as ‘The most leftie opening ceremony I have ever seen - more than Beijing, the capital of a communist state! Welfare tribute next?’ He finished his rant by branding Danny Boyle’s choreographed celebration of Britain ‘leftie multi-cultural crap’.

How long ago it all seems today. Not only because two very eventful years have passed since the opening ceremony of the London Games, but because, when it comes to Scottish independence, sensible people who want to keep the union together appear to have forgotten exactly what it was that sent British conservatives into such frothing spasms back in 2012. More importantly, they have failed to remember what might have saved a Union that looks increasingly close to shattering like a pane of glass.

For while the political establishment sleepwalks towards a probably irreversible break-up of the country, the celebration of Britain which prompted conservative commentators to vent their spleens in such an undignified manner has hardly figured in the campaign to keep Britain together. In the name of a boring political bipartisanship, the vision of Britain trumpeted by the Better Together campaign has been a status quo one, with a nice but dull former Chancellor as its frontman and a strategy based on terrifying Scots with stories about how ‘the markets’ (see ‘the bankers’) are going to get seek revenge in the event of a break up.

The same people who have masterminded the lacklustre No campaign now wonder why working class Labour voters are being won over for independence in their droves.

Pro-Union politicians have, finally, grasped the fact that talking about facts and figures alone will not be enough to save Britain. In the ‘head versus heart’ debate of commentariat cliché they have realised, absurdly late in the day, that only some of the people some of the time vote on the basis of dry economic data. Former US President Bill Clinton once said that elections were about ‘the economy, stupid’. As it turns out, the assumption that people vote only on the basis of how many pound notes they have in their wallet is also pretty bloody stupid. People vote for lots of reasons, not all of them based on self-enrichment.

But that isn’t the only mistake the Better Together campaign has made during its campaign for a No vote. For the majority of the Scottish referendum campaign, the pro-Union camp has not only put undue emphasis on the sort of stuff that sends policy wonks into nirvana and the rest of us to sleep; it has also signally failed to match the Yes camp with any sort of British national story. For the SNP and the Yes brigade, Scotland is set to fulfil its historic destiny as a Northern European social democracy and escape the repressive rule of a gilded Westminster elite. For the No camp, Scotland should stay in the United Kingdom because…well, if it doesn’t then an eye wateringly wealthy English Chancellor will punish Scots by removing the right to use Sterling as a currency.

Talk about how not to endear people to your message.

The story trumpeted by Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony back in 2012 – the opening ceremony that was derided by exactly the sorts of people that any remotely sensible person would want Britain to be derided by – was that, as one Washington Post writer put it, ‘We [Britain] may not always be your cup of tea, but you know - and so often love - our culture nonetheless.’ Britain was – and is - ‘a nation secure in its own post-empire identity, whatever that actually is,’ as another outsider looking in put in in the New York Times.

In other words, the Olympic ceremony told a story that British conservatism would rather forget. It drew attention to the essential truth that under the surface we are two countries: one of empire, monarchy and the class system, but also a multi-racial society at ease with itself and which cares for the sick regardless of how much money they have. We are the nation of George Orwell, Aneurin Bevan and Sylvia Pankhurst, as well as a land of top hats and the Bullingdon Club.

Video: Cameron urges Scotland to vote 'No'

Should Scotland choose to reject the idea of Britain next week, it won’t be the Britain of ‘leftie, multicultural crap’ that Scots are turning their backs on. It will be the subsection of Britain that thinks it perfectly normal for the Prime Minister to be a lineal descendant of King William IV, a great grandson of a 1st Baronet and the son of a stockbroker. That is, after all, the Britain that has largely been presented by the Better Together campaign: the country of career politicians, bullying and sullen bankers and the ‘green and pleasant’ land that is almost devoid of social mobility.

Revolutions tend to boil down to an ideological struggle between the future and the past. However delusional some of the economic arguments for Scottish independence may be, Scottish nationalists have a crystal clear idea of the sort of revolutionary future they want: a break from the despised ‘Westminster village’ and in its place rule by Scots for Scots. In contrast, Better Together has - largely unintentially and by omission - emphasised exactly the side of Britain that evokes such antipathy in those Labour voting Scots who may very well decide the result of the referendum.

If Scotland does go independent next week then British conservatism must shoulder the blame. But so must those liberals and leftists who, in emphasising Britain’s past rather than its future, have allowed the pro-union camp to be dominated by a British story that bears little resemblance to the Britain of the British people. There has been plenty of ‘pass the port, old boy’ and not enough ‘multicultural crap’ of the type that gives British conservatives a touch of the vapours. Put simply, we have been David Cameron when we should have been Danny Boyle.

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