Soap Box: Jo-ann Robertson, MD of public affairs, Ketchum Pleon

If you have read a newspaper in the past week you might think David Cameron made a political gaffe by intervening in Alex Salmond's campaign for Scottish independence.

Jo-ann Robertson, MD of public affairs, Ketchum Pleon
Jo-ann Robertson, MD of public affairs, Ketchum Pleon

But this is not one of those political debates where the dust will settle any time soon. The Prime Minister has made a well-timed political move, and in doing so has flushed Salmond out of his rabbit hole and forced open the debate about the real impact independence would have on Scotland and the UK.

This debate has been raging for decades, but the threat from the SNP has never been so intense. Salmond's strategy had rested on allowing the full impact of Tory cuts to be felt for long enough, to demonstrate responsible and stable government, and stoke up enough nationalist sentiment to win over a voting public that is stuck at just over 30 per cent support for going it alone.

The SNP is now being forced to debate the issues, and there can be no doubt the economy will be at the heart of the matter. The problem with the economic case for independence is that it is fundamentally selfish - buying into it opens a can of worms. On the same economic arguments that Salmond makes, we could see the Highlands & Islands demanding separation from the impoverished central belt, while Londoners might become agitated at the wealth that is redistributed across the UK.

At the end of the day, there is nothing more British than an independence movement that says 'Freedom? Yes please, but not right now, maybe in a couple of years.' The challenge for the Labour Party and the coalition is to demonstrate 'we really are all in it together' - not by asking what would have happened when RBS and HBOS needed bailing out, or through debates about currency, but by having a clear message of aspiration and decentralisation that unites the British public behind the value of the Union.

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