I confess that, entering 2014, I had five main fears about negative actions that I could see happening that would jeopardise a ‘yes’ vote happening. The first was what the Labour Party’s ‘devomax’ offer might be – if they had put something robust forward, they could really have compromised the Yes voters who were more naturally DevoMax supporters. As it turned out, the proposals (dubbed ‘DevoNano’ to reflect their boldness, or lack thereof) threatened nothing of the sort – indeed, they allowed the Conservative Party to bizarrely occupy the territory of being the Party of Devolution, simply because their proposals added Air Passenger Duty to their mix and thus seemed to be presenting a far better offer (regardless of how unlikely it actually is to come to pass).
Then, there was a series of British events that had the potential to be hijacked to aggressively promote an ‘Empire’ narrative, and wrench people’s view of their own identity back towards some dated mythical post-war dream: Armed Forces Day was one – being held yet again in Scotland (twice in the last 4 years), and booked by Stirling Council so as to be in direct conflict with the Bannockburn 700 year commemoration event over the 28th/29th June weekend. Again, this does not seem to have manifested, with photograph-derived head-counts indicating a maximum of 1,200 attending the AFD free event (the same as attended the BBC bias protest outside Pacific Quay that same weekend), in comparison with three sold-out 3,000 each reenactments which demonstrates that a minimum of 9,000 were present on the day for the sold-out ticketed Bannockburn Live event. The third British event on my radar was the Great War commemorations (again, oddly launched in Scotland), which do not seem to have had any great effect either way.
But the fourth was the potential hijacking of the Commonwealth Games as a somehow ‘British’ rather than Scottish event. It didn’t start well – outside the opening ceremony, the ‘No’ campaign’s standard double-sided Union/saltire hand flags were being handed out (despite the fact that no Union flags were supposed to be flying, as it was not a competing nation), and saltires with the word ‘Yes’ were being removed and their carriers ejected. The opening ceremony itself featured the presence (in a slightly cringeworthy image from the seventies of Scotland) of some noted ‘No’ supporters, in the form of the remarkable product placement for Tunnock’s teacakes, and John Barrowman. I did wonder if maybe Karen Dunbar had also come out for ‘No’, given her presence, but the presence in a poster of one of her characters next to a Better Together flier with her scent-related catchphrase has reassured me somewhat on that matter.
By the end of the Games, it seemed that – if any – then ‘Yes’ had probably seen the more positive upswing from the event. Comments on the way that Scottish athletes were supported in their training by ‘Team GB’ fell apart under analysis that showed how many Scots had to leave Scotland in order to access adequate training facilities. But that did not stop some from trying to portray the Games as a series of crushing ‘blows to Salmond’ (or ‘blowjobs’, as Ian McWhirter describes them) – well, one commentator in particular. Ian Smart (named without a trace of irony) is a former Law Society president, and regular Labour pundit on the BBC. His tweets are entering popular culture as a benchmark for vileness, and the prism with which he views the world seems congruent with the Labour Party’s sudden oft-repeated ‘problems with foreigners’. Thus he was keen to present the applauding of competitors from England as a sign of ‘British before Scottish’ identity, rather than Scots being more than happy to support friends and neighbours; his previous tweets referring to ‘poles and pakis’ as inevitable victims in some imagined future independent Scotland were sadly concurrent with his narrative of how impressive it was that Scots were cheering ‘black lassies from England’. Rather than acknowledging that this is part of the face of modern Scotland’s civic nationalism, he insists that this behaviour can only indicate a subsumation of the Scottish identity into that Greater British one – not realizing that his singling out of ‘poles’ and ‘pakis’ in those specific terms says more about his own fundamental personal endemic racism, than the people that he is commenting on. In his desperation to attack his mortal enemy (that’ll probably be the First Minister, I’m guessing), he fails to realise that he is the racist. Like the hero of Richard Matheson’s novel ‘I am Legend’, he utterly fails to recognise that he has become the monster that he thinks he is protecting others from. (For more on Ian Smart’s rants, see his brother’s blog- http://www.citizensmart.net/blog/ma-brother-ian-smart-time-to-act-johann )
UKIP came 4th in the Euro elections in Scotland, narrowly stealing a seat from both the SNP and the Greens, and much was made of it supposedly indicating that Scotland was ‘just as intolerant’ as the rest of the UK. It is, however, worth remembering that in the 2009 European elections, UKIP got 16.5% of the vote in the UK as a whole, and 5.2% in Scotland – a gap of 11.3%. In this year’s election the tallies were 27.5% in the UK and 10.5% in Scotland – a gap of 17%. With less than 3.5% of the total Scottish electorate voting for them (and let’s face it that as a core protest vote, UKIP voters would be highly incentivised to turn out for that European vote, so there probably were not many stay-at-homes for UKIP that day), the political gap as far as UKIP is concerned between Scotland and the rest of the UK increased by around 50%. In the context of UKIP in Scotland, it is hard to know where they go from here: they had blanket BBC coverage, four times that given to the sitting party in government in Scotland (despite having only got 5.2% of the vote at the previous election), and only managed to obtain 10.5% of the votes cast. In this context, should we perhaps be more surprised that it was only a mere 3.5% of the electorate that were influenced to vote for them?
I’ll say again, UKIP came 4th in the Euro elections in Scotland, in stark contrast to their first place ranking south of the border, and they came 4th for a reason. And it is unlikely that that reason was because the people in Scotland saw themselves as ‘more British than Scottish’. It is more likely that people in Scotland simply saw themselves as less xenophobic than voting UKIP required.
Oh, and what was my fifth fear for 2014? Oh, fraudulent postal voting to steal a ‘No’. I have no idea how much this might be an urban myth, in terms of Glenrothes 2008 or others, but the idea of how easy it genuinely appears to be to obtain postal votes (and the ghosts of last year’s Grangemouth scandal loom, in terms of people being signed up without their knowledge for absentee ballots) does still concern me…in fact I think it may be the only way that a ‘No’ vote can now win.
“Voting Yes doesn’t make you a …nationalist, it makes you a democrat.” (Colin Fox, Scottish Socialist Party)