The map scrap: Scotland tries to find its bearings

The Economist front cover showing map of Scotland Image copyright Other
Image caption The Economist front cover has prompted a huge response

Edinborrow as capital of Skintland. Poortree capital of Pie in the Skye. There's Grieff in Perthshire, and further north are Stonehaven't and John no Groats.

How they must have guffawed with glee at The Economist headquarters while drawing up their mock-up mocking map of a post-independence Scotland.

How they must be astonished at the response. A Twitter storm before the magazine even hit the news-stands. More than 1,300 posts on The Economist website so far - far in excess of any other subject addressed by this global publication.

The First Minister has led the attack, saying the magazine will "rue the day" it poked fun at the Scots.

Cartography hasn't been this much of a minefield since the Balkan War. It might as well have included a cartoon of Mohammed. No doubt subscriptions are currently being taken out simply so that people can cancel them in disgust and indignation.

Even the BBC has come under attack, with the allegation that it shows the corporation's bias to pay little attention to the stramash over the magazine cover. Perhaps people haven't been listening to our radio output. Or perhaps it's because, well, it's only a magazine cover.

Ridicule

One response has been to brand the 'Skintland' map offensive, puerile, sneering, offensive to every right-thinking Scot, and even racist in its metropolitan haughtiness, saying more about London's mindset than it does about Scotland.

There's a confusing variation on this response - condemning it while arguing it's a disaster for the pro-union parties, as referendum campaign co-ordinator Angus Robertson has done. Surely if the offence caused is bad for the pro-union case, the anti-union case should be relishing it, and demanding more of the same?

An alternative response is to note that the cover has hit a raw nerve among Nationalists, and that they seem to be unable to handle satire and ridicule.

But let's not forget that the reason The Economist editor put the map on the cover of his British edition was to get people to buy it, and to talk about it. And on the latter score, he's clearly hit a bullseye.

The magazine, while taking itself very seriously, is no stranger to satire. Its 1970s' covers were the first shop window for the puppets that went on to make Spitting Image. Last time it got this kind of response was when it savaged Silvio Berlusconi. Not the best of company to be keeping.

And what of the articles inside? Unfortunately for The Economist, its cover artist and its journalists didn't seem to communicate, as the pictorial image of Scotland is not supported by the evidence it presents. It points out, graphically, that Scotland is doing rather well by comparison with most of the rest of the UK. And it doesn't make the case that an independent Scotland is doomed to failure.

If it ain't broke...?

What it does is rehearse arguments that will be no strangers to those who have followed the economic debate in Scotland, including this blog; isn't oil revenue a dangerously volatile basis for balancing the budget?: how could an independent Scotland bail out failing banks?: wouldn't its borrowing rate probably be raised?: what would be the costs of inherited public borrowing and nuclear power decommissioning: and how would it handle its currency and European membership?

They're all legitimate questions to ask, even if some have already been answered. But you'd only address those issues if you got over your offence at the front cover.

With the temperature cooling a bit, the SNP today has deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon responding with a list of seven strengths to the Scottish economy; lots of wealth, lots more oil, renewable power potential, food and drink exports, world class universities, still attracting inward investment and the relative size of its deficit.

They're not actually answers to The Economist's arguments. Nor do they look like compelling arguments for independence on their own, most of them raising further questions - only one of which is: if it's so clearly not broken, what is it you're trying to fix?

But at least Ms Sturgeon is taking the debate in the direction of the issues around independence and the economy. That has to be better than the tone of many of the responses provoked by a mere magazine cover.

If we've got two and a half years of this to go - and who knows what follows the referendum - we surely need to find a way to disagree with respect and dignity. A sense of humour might be useful too.