Tuesday 31 May 2011

Scottish Independence Day? Here's a Date For Your Diary!

So you thought that Homecoming Scotland was politicised in 2009 did you?

Well I'd guess that you ain't seen nothing yet!

As the Celtic heads of their individual parliaments gather today in Edinburgh and the Scottish Tourism Forum make plans for their first post election gathering in Crieff tomorrow it seemed like a good time to reflect on what's ahead following the landslide election result.

We all know a referendum is coming and we all will look at that concept in varying shades that's for sure but there is little doubting in our opinion that it will have a significant (positive) impact on the business opportunities for hospitality related businesses in the run up to it. But therein lies the sixty four million dollar/pound/euro question. When will it actually take place and how do we allow for these opportunities?

Well Mr Salmond, has already made it quite clear that the referendum will happen but not until the second half of the parliament. Both he and his opponents understand fully why this is not going to be a rush job - well we think they must. It6's not to do per se that it needs to be in the second half of the parliament. Not all to do with the work needed to be done to set the ground rules or the platform for a positive vote and surely a lot more to do with maximising the potential for a yes through the correct timing of the vote. Timing is they say everything. Perception they also say is everything. Take your pick. But choose the time when perception of our strengths and potential as a country are at their highest and you will be able to inevitably swing more voters towards the necessary positive.

So what exactly does this have to do with tourism and hospitality and our plans for investing in our business, our area, our regions and our infrastructure?

Well 2014 is in the second half of this parliament's life.

It has already been designated the second year of Homecoming. Glasgow hosts the Commonwealth Games. The Ryder Cup is at Gleneagles. It is the seven hundredth anniversary of Bannockburn.

It will also be the year of an Independence referendum!

Do you really think that a referendum was intended for any other time? I am pretty certain that that Salmond et al cannot believe that all the scenario planning has come to this. Salmond the supreme strategist must have sat down with a big list of what ifs and couldn't possibly have hoped for such an opportunity as 2014 to secure the yes vote that would have seemed so impossible only a few years ago. The political pieces have fallen into line with a series of events that will see Scotland having the highest profile as a small country for many decades and it would be impossible to image than he won't leverage the opportunity.

Scotland will be the centre of attention in a sporting and cultural sense for sure and will provide the SNP ministers with photo opportunity after photo opportunity to maximise the national pride and sense of optimism that is undoubtedly required to garner a yes vote to such a big question. You can almost see him parading around Hampden in an open top bus - well no you can't because therein lies another lesson learned from the past. Remember the last referendum? It took place in the wake of the disaster that was Argentina; the euphoria that lead up to Ally's Tartan Army marching band had not only been dissipated but many political commentators argue that the hangover of that world cup debacle was instrumental in the defeat in the March referendum which followed.

"William McIlvanney has commented upon the role of sport, in particular football, in the nation's political psyche. (Glasgow Herald 10 September 1988, p.17). The 1979 referendum results on Scottish Devolution occurred one year after the 1978 World Cup campaign in Argentina. During the 1990s McIlvanney was still suggesting that if Scotland had fared better during that World Cup, the result of the referendum might have been different (Jarvie and Walker 1994). The suggestion here appears to be that the exit of the Scottish national football team from the competition may have been a final Sport, Nationalism and the Scottish Parliament blow to faith in Scotland's capabilities to run its own affairs (Gallagher 1991, p.106). This argument has also been given some weight by Harvie (1994, p.197) who conceded that the publicity machine of Ally McLeod, the Scottish team manager at the World Cup, had managed to convince the
Scottish supporters that they were going to win. Reflecting on this in relation to the 1979 referendum, Harvie suggests that Matters political might have been a lot different had they won, and that the 'we were rubbish hangover' certainly contributed to the 1 March outcome. (Harvie 1994, p.197). "
Change the title of the paper above to Sport, Culture, Tourism, Nationalism and the Scottish Parliament and you can see that there has quite possibly never been and never will be a better chance, a more fortuitous set of circumstances perhaps, of a Yes vote in Scottish history.

It also leads you to think that sport and culture will play a major part indeed the critical role, not just in determining the year but the time of the year that will offer the point of highest returns for determining Salmond's  independence vote date.

Let's look at the calendar.
  • New Year's Day 2014 - The start of the referendum campaign. Major speech, a year of destiny even?! "Not just a year of Homecoming for the Scottish Diaspora but a year of Homecoming for Scotland as a nation. The year when our like will be seen again. The year where we take the stone that is destiny into our own hands and shape it with knowledge, with pride and with passion that will see Scotland rise once again in a period of unrivalled opportunity" (Copyright Plan B!)
  • January 2014 - Burns Day/Month - The bard will not be missed out in the evangelical song of self determination even this particular year doesn't celebrate anything in particular. The new museum has opened in Ayrshire and will play a political role in January. Expect some major Burns promotion in the south west of Scotland.
  • 24th June - the seven hundredth anniversary of Bannockburn. It will not be played as an overt anti English card but then you just need to make sure that you celebrate our history and our heritage, fly some standards and let the emotion flow. It will be utilised for sure!
  • 13th of June - World Cup Opening Ceremony in Brazil with the final month one month later. A reason why the referendum would not take place in this particular five week period - and also a very good reason why it wouldn't take place afterwards. If we're there we could be a disaster and the Argentina example will have been learned by Salmond.
  • 23rd of July - Scotland hosts the Commonwealth Games and the months ahead will see the SNP talking up Glasgow as if an independence result depended on it! 
  • September 2014 - The Ryder Cup rolls in. The political potential for this event over the coming three years is immense. The role of Scotland in the world of golf will be promoted as it never has been before and the industry should be ready to leap on the money spent ahead of it as it will disappear just as quickly after the last putt has been sunk. 
So when can we expect a referendum? Well not after the World Cup - the Argentina Effect will not have gone unnoted for Salmond. It will not take place after the Brazil World Cup, it will therefore be a Thursday before the 13th of June. It also follows that the maximisation of the feeling of pride ahead of both The Commonwealth Games and The Ryder Cup would also be beneficial to the vote and therefore the chance of things going wrong (ie factors outwith of Salmond's control) should be avoided. He can manipulate if not control the advanced publicity and PR but hands over event management and critically results into the hands of others. Salmond the Strategist will not take such a risk with his defining moment.

So, that narrows it down. March to June? Thirteen weeks to choose from and the optimum date to be selected from thirteen Thursdays in 2014. Which one of the thirteen will be the lucky one?

Winter problems and gloomy weather? Avoid as far as possible. Bank Holidays? Too many in May makes it another problem with the Spring bank holiday on the 26th of the month. Easter falls on the weekend of 18th - 21st of April writing the latter part of that month out as well.

So let's narrow it down to the following dates: April 10th, May 1st, 15th or 22nd or the 5th of June?

Best bet? Depends on whether we qualify for that pesky World Cup football thingy in Brazil!

If we do I'd go for the 5th of June. One week before the World Cup may be a big risk and one that may be too big for him to take but if we have qualified the kick back will be potentially massive as we head out to The Copacabana and the World Stage; if we don't then they will know by the October of the previous year and that may be what could influence the date to be the 1st of May. June is also the month of Bannockburn and that background emotional attraction of being independent by the 700th anniversary of that victory could influence.

I know even as I reread (and I rarely ever reread anything!) I've never written as big a piece of contrived fiction since my English O Level analyse of "Cynddylan on a Tractor" but to think that Alex Salmond has not already been through this is underestimating the man's intellectual prowess. So I'm phoning up Paddy Power looking for a fiver on the nose for the 5th of June followed by a placing on May 2014.

I'd also safely bet that it's going to be a good time to be in the tourism and hospitality business!

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