MAINSTREAM newspapers focused on the economic aspects of independence in the run-up to the 2014 referendum, publishing a disproportionate number of stories looking at its potential “speculative, negative consequences”.

And academic Dr David Patrick has said if people believed those arguments then, they will likely believe them if there is another indyref in the next few years because the “frightening” message that Scotland cannot afford independence would be the dominant “factor” – and would be tied to Covid-19.

He said that even though the first Scottish independence referendum was only seven years ago, the events are still in fairly close living memory for many people, as with the 2008 financial crash and General Election in 2010.

Patrick, who wrote “Front-Page Scotland Newspapers and the Scottish Independence Referendum”, told Scotonomics – the Scottish Economics Show on YouTube – that between 2010 and the first indyref, the country had already gone through four years of “Conservative-led austerity.”

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This had led to libraries and a number of other services being closed or removed, along with financial safety nets which many people had come to depend upon.

“People went into 2014 as a result of that [2008] crash, and as a result of government policies, demonstrably struggling,” said Patrick.

“It meant that if you’ve been going through a period when you’re already worrying about your household bills, how are you going to pay for this, how you’re going to cover this, it’s the news.

“But if the press then almost collectively say, ‘if you embarked on independence all these things are going to get worse”, you can completely understand why some people may be receptive to that sort of fearmongering, because it’s playing on people’s ... anxieties.”

“Without exaggerating the case, from my reading of the sources certainly, in 2014, everyone in Scotland was apparently a professional economist, especially people who were professional columnists or opinion piece writers. By no means can I actually speculate or hypothesise on how much understanding various journalists would have in these ... discussing economics seems to go hand in hand with political correspondents to a degree, but beyond that, there were people who aren’t even necessarily professional journalists, they’d be more like guest columnists or MPs or the like who were providing the material in these instances.

Patrick said people who were struggling to make ends meet were told in 2014 that independence could lead to their household bills and mortgages rising – “very real concerns” for people at every stage of their lives.

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“That doomsday style reporting would have had an impact at any time because it always does, but given the historical context of when it happened ... that was something that most people had experienced for the better part of five years or more.

“As long as you’ve got governments of any colour which are going to stick to this programme of austerity, it is going to tighten household budgets, it’s going to make people more desperate if you make them more

receptive to these types of negative economic messages.”

He said he would be “fairly sure” that should there be another referendum in the next few years, the economic question would again be pushed to the front.

However, he said the arguments used by the Unionist camp in their 2014 campaign would be presented as having “even more weight” now because Britain is in so much collective debt as a result of the pandemic that Scotland could not afford to be independent.

“The UK is in infinitely more collective debt in 2021 than it was in 2014, so if people believed that argument or accepted it then, it’s going to be more convincing to them now.

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“It’s public knowledge that the impact of the coronavirus pandemic – having to fund the health service adequately to combat it, the furlough scheme, bounce-back business loans and various things – this whole process has cost the UK a lot of money and that is what a lot of people are aware of.

“So it means that should there be another referendum, that very simple but frightening message of ‘Scotland simply can’t afford independence because of recent history’ will be used as an argument.

“I can almost guarantee that will be a dominant narrative factor.

They’ll link Scotland’s poor economic prospects to the coronavirus pandemic.”