The Spirit of the 45 Rebellion: Continuing the Inclusiveness

Saturday was a very late start for me – the product of an inconveniently late Friday night until 4am, when I knew that I had (for one last time) to be at the Marchmont stall for 11 the following morning. Instead, I woke at half eleven, groaned, rolled out of bed, and was at the bus stop just after midday – but some bizarre bus delays (I choose to blame the Edinburgh trams…for no good reason) meant that all trace of the stall was gone by the time I reached the Meadows just before 1pm. It was disappointing to miss it (even before I heard about the quantity of cakes that had been on offer) as it was an opportunity for a last ‘thank you’ party for those who had helped at the Marchmont Stall over the year (and sometimes longer), with the table covered this time not with leaflets, badges and stickers, but instead with membership registration forms for the Scottish Socialist Party, the Green Party and the SNP.

This idea, to offer people the membership forms if they wanted to sustain their political engagement, had been conceived on Tuesday night at the mobbed meeting in the Argyll Bar cellar – and of course that was long before the true scale of the post-result membership expansion had become clear: all the Yes political parties had doubled in size. But we all know about gym memberships – you pay your membership fee and sign up, then feel morally vindicated that ‘you could’ participate if you got the time, but will probably not do so for several years. As much as many of these people had been non-party Yes activists like myself, is there not a danger that these new recruits are just padding?

Well, later in the afternoon on Saturday I went to the Newington Yes Shop, for (another) ‘thank you’ party. A variety of Yes activists (over 40 at any one time) crowding into the tiny shop for a last gathering. (Fortunately I arrived a little less late for that event – sandwiches, if not cakes, were consumed aplenty.) It was anything but a wake. There I talked with Sally and Alison of the Greens/English Scots for Yes, and asked how things had been going: they had had their regular Green Party meeting on the Thursday night, where they normally had about 35 people turning up. Instead, they had had to move to a larger venue…and even then there was not enough room for the more than 400 people that had come along. So these new party members (as someone said ‘it is unlikely that they believe in ‘No’ if they just joined the Greens) seem to have got past the first ‘gym membership’ stage: they have actually gone along and tried out the weights.

But the SNP’s gain in membership since the announcement of the result has, of course, eclipsed everything. On the day of the Referendum, they had 25,000 members – which meant that at that point they already had more members than all the Scottish political party memberships combined. But SINCE the result was announced, an additional 40,000+ members have pushed them over 69,000, making them larger than the whole UK-wide LibDem party membership – so the SNP is now the third largest UK political party.

There is a sense of agitation since the 19th September, a rising power, looking for a new direction and outlet – but will it find one in time, before it starts to dissipate? In addition to the two events on Saturday that I had known about, there had apparently been a further one, spontaneously organised through Twitter (damn it, I’m probably going to have to get on that last social media horse after all…): between 1 and 3pm a party of a couple of thousand had taken place outside Holyrood. As has become standard, a wag observed ‘The BBC – of course – were not in attendance.’ And part of that disillusionment is manifesting in the surge to consolidate the pro-Indy social media (including the wonderful Dateline Scotland – see them on YouTube) as permanent fixtures, with crowd-funding activities that no doubt bring a warm glow to the heart of Wings Over Scotland’s Stuart Campbell. asa variation on Jello Biafra, Don’t Bemoan the Media – OWN the Media.

The media are an important component in providing an environment within which the Yes attitude and philosophy can thrive – the only newspaper to come out for Yes, the Sunday Herald, has just this weekend reported that their sales are up 111% on last year, in sharp contrast to all other newsprint. (The historian Tom Nairn once said “Scotland will never be free until the last minister is strangled by the last copy of the Sunday Post.” – so it is perhaps unsurprising that this publication was one of only three – with the Scotsman and the Financial Times – that actually came out in open support of a No vote..and it is somewhat bitterly appropriate that this week it is celebrating a century in print.) So alternative media outlets are required to help sustain and grow that community – it would be hard to maintain a Yes perspective against the grinding day-to-day onslaught of BBC Scotland’s Winston Smith-type output. But within these media, there has to be a direction – short-term realisable objectives. Clearly, the Daily Record’s front page ‘Vow’ of the three Westminster leaders for ‘more powers’ for Scotland two days before the Referendum, fell apart within 24 hours of the result being declared, and there needs to be a regular holding to account for each date that fails on Gordon Brown’s ‘exciting timetable’. Also, there is a gearing up towards the Westminster general election…but that is almost 9 months away, and that is a long time to sustain people’s energy or anger at betrayal.

And there does seem to be some anger and disappointment – most particularly from No voters. There has been a surprising number of encounters with what are being referred to as ‘hangover Nos’ – they vote No then the next day they feel sick and realise with the victory that it was not the result that they wanted and that they have done the wrong thing (sometimes even before ‘The Vow’ started to come apart at the seams). Frustrating though that may be for those of us who wanted a Yes and therefore voted Yes (as opposed to No – there is a clue in there), we have to build something that includes them for the future. Going down the Referendum line, we need almost another 5% in order to win – and beginning with hangover Nos and incorporating them is a good place to start.

Back to Sally at the Newington Yes Shop: she is fingering her ‘45’ badge, saying she is not so comfortable with it – she had originally been very glad to have that badge of identity as being part of the 45%, but now feels that it was like a stage in grieving, and now it is time to move on. For one thing, she felt that the ‘45’ identity alienates those who did not vote Yes but want to be part of the future of the group that did. We agreed ‘45+’ might be much better (if less catchy and punchy), and maybe that was the way to go. It is a fair point – the branding of the post-Referendum Yes identity has to be done carefully, and as inclusively as possible. As I wrote before on an earlier post, some of the No voters (many of whom were taken in by the Daily Record) just don’t know they are Yes voters yet – and a taste of that post-1979 disillusionment will do them a world of good.

Towards the end of the party at the Newington Yes Shop, I was stunned to see a familiar figure on the far side of the room: my old friend (former Scottish History Professor at the University of Edinburgh) Owen Dudley Edwards. Back when I was president at the students’ union in Edinburgh, Owen and I had gone on anti poll tax demonstrations, where he had shared some of his personal stories about Gore Vidal and many others (see also my earlier Jim Sillars post for his perspective on possible routes to independence). To my great and pleasant surprise, he had apparently been regularly staffing the Newington Yes Shop, just as I had regularly been staffing the Marchmont stall (albeit in my case for only the last couple of months, during my 50 Days).

Suddenly, it all fell into place – Irene on the Marchmont stall had turned up one day wearing a ‘Scottish Academics for Yes’ design t-shirt, which I was very keen to acquire a copy of. The next day she came back from the Newington Shop bearing one for me, and said she had asked an academic there if it was Ok for her to wear such a t-shirt, as she was not an academic herself. The academic in question had replied that of course it was OK: just because one wore a Black Sabbath t-shirt, did not mean you were a member of the band. Suddenly, the wit of that academic’s response – even though we had not spoken for some twenty years – was recognisable as pure, unadulterated Owen.

I asked him about attacks on the Newington Yes Shop, and he told me of the ‘Nazi’ graffiti that had been sprayed upon it from its opening day. As we talked, and the wine flowed, there had been some intermittent flute music, prior to an acapella rendition of Hamish Henderson’s 1960 Writers Against Apartheid protest song ‘Freedom Come All Ye’ (which seems to be emerging as the post-Referendum Yes anthem, after its international tour de force by the South African soprano Pumeza Matshikiza at the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony a couple of months ago). After a lull, the music started up again with a piper, and Owen made to leave, but grabbed my forearm as I was turning away and pulled me close so that I could hear his words over the bagpipes: “I’m SO glad you’re involved in this.”

I was touched, and genuinely felt the same to hear that he had been involved so deeply in the campaign – but instead of reciprocating, I said only one thing as a farewell.

 

“Owen, I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”

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Greys’ Psychology: Inside the Mindset of a Defeated Demographic

I went to a reunion of the Yes Marchmont and Yes Morningside activist groups on Tuesday night, at our regular HQ of the Argyll Bar. I was actually prepared to be somewhat inspired on the way over there, as the vibe that I had got across social media from the wide Yes movement was quite astonishingly upbeat. Arriving there, after the vanguard arrival of the English Scots for Yes, the group built up to about 38, filling up the cellar bar, all writing out their A4 sheets of ideas about how we go forward. There are a lot of galvanized people who aren’t going to let this go. Many of them had stories of ‘No’ voters who had recanted within 24 hours – some feeling sick when they realized the result was not what they were wanting (hint – you have to vote for what you want, guys…), and others seemingly genuinely astonished at Westminster so quickly and blatantly backtracking from its not so solemn ‘Vow’ on the front page of the Daily Record two days prior to the vote… As I said in an earlier post, this voting generation may just need a refresher course in that ‘1979 experience’, in order not to be so naïve again – but have they blown it forever, or do we get another shot at this? Soon. Because – sorry Alex – but when Jack Straw is writing about ‘uprooting a healthy plant time and again’ as a reason for making the Union legally indissoluble during Labour Conference, you realize that it REALLY has to be ‘Soon’.

Traveling back on the bus after the meeting, a comparatively young woman got on the bus, and sat down opposite me. She may have had the odd drink, if her ability to not drop her unlit roll-up was anything to go by – as well as her urge to offer Strepsils to the back of the bus, and to wish to indulge in conversation. “I tried to report a crime to a policeman earlier – and he wouldn’t listen to me. Wouldn’t do a thing about it!!” I asked a question or two to elucidate some more details: “I said it was a crime that Scotland still wasn’t an independent country – and he wouldn’t even write it down in his book!”

It was a great gag – but then humour has always suffused the Yes campaign, just as much as sublimated anger and arrogance has suffused the No. Talking to Mark (one of the mass purveyors of the WBB) on one of the last days of the stall, he reported one rejoinder that he had overheard to one naysayer: “Aw, don’t be such a Nawbag – and grow yourself a pair of Yes-ticles.” On the bus with me was a good friend and colleague (an old-style socialist from Leicestershire – the type that cancelled his longstanding membership of the Labour Party after the Iraq invasion), who was up visiting me in Edinburgh for a few days of joint work. He had angsted about the Referendum but – finally, and not without the help of the Wee Blue Book – he came forward supporting Yes before the vote. I had a few friends down south who had been like that – who suddenly seemed to ‘get it’ on the ‘eve of war’, and their support was greatly appreciated. But it is not the young – or the southern non-voters – that were really the issue, according to the stats: the demographic that REALLY voted No – by over 70% – was the over 55s. The Greys.

This – with the curse of hindsight – was, of course, entirely predictable: the demographic that was least internet savvy, is inevitably the one most resilient to the idea that mainstream media (especially the BBC) might be less than reliable. Sealed in their social media-free bubble, they were by-and-large immune to Yes. Maybe we could have done a grandchild-to-grandparent dialogue, as a means of exploiting Generation Yes. Inasmuch as sometimes you felt it was a race to get as many people unplugged from ‘The Matrix’ as possible, in order to see the real world and the harsh realities of the choice we had to make, we did not ever find a way to get to that particular batch.

I engaged my pet ‘over 55’ in the process early on, helping her give an online response to the consultation exercise ‘Your Scotland Your Referendum’ launched by the Scottish Government in January 2012. At the time she wanted more information on different aspects. I obtained a copy of the White Paper for her – but that was apparently ‘too much’ – even the WBB didn’t work its magic. I’ve tried quizzing her on why she voted ‘No’, and Mum’s adamant insistence is (STILL) that there was ‘not enough information either way’ and that there ‘should have been a third option’. This may just be a group who, with DevoMax off the ballot paper, voted ‘No’. Why would you go that way? What would drive a Grey to do that? It seems unlikely to be pension fears, given Gordon Brown (he who most vociferously propounded that nonsense, contrary to Home Office statements) was also responsible for the tax grab that destroyed most private pension schemes in the UK when he was Chancellor. But then, memories are fickle in the over 55s: as mine said “They say that Alistair Darling was Chancellor….but I don’t remember that. Was he really?” No, Mum – not really…

Well, then, was it another brand of shameless last-week manoeuvering that swung them, perhaps the type that led to stories about ‘disrespecting the war-dead’ with a ‘Yes’ vote? This ‘reimagining’ of social history is tasteless but – again – entirely foreseeable: the ‘celebrations’ (as they were initially rashly referred to by government spokespeople) commemorating the centenary of the declaration of war (as well as hosting Armed Forces Day in Stirling – a repackaging of Veterans’ Day to try to expand the ‘romantic and heroic glow’ of the old war dead to take in the woefully under-resourced and vulnerable modern military – way to ‘punch above our weight’ guys…) were an opportunity to try and appropriate these activities as ‘solely for the Union’, dismissing somewhat more commonplace motivations. The state that declared war on Germany on August 4th 1914 (the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland) no longer exists, but Scotland’s dead constituted over 16% of the British dead for that campaign – there were thirty two ‘Thankful Villages’ in England and one in Wales (where no men from the village died in the conflict), but there were no such villages in Scotland. I talked with my brother about this, and he pointed out the military tradition in many Scottish families which might lead to such disproportionate levels of casualties – however that tradition (like mass emigration) tends to be the result of a lack of opportunities at home in farming or industry, the ‘disposal’ of a sector of working class (predominantly) males. Family traditions of going into the armed forces do not always start through choice.

The great security of the armed forces is a great mythical dividend of the Union – never mind the twelve ‘traditional’ Scottish regiments abolished/merged since 1957, the air and sea protection around the country has been stripped back, with cuts disproportionately high in Scotland, only Lossiemouth left (albeit without any submarine spotting craft) as an airforce base, and Faslane as a military naval base with Coulport’s Trident submarine pens. Scotland’s role in the UK military is to be undefended, provide a base for the nuclear weapons of Westminster’s vanity and provide fodder for US wars, both of which consequently make us a target for foreign attack. We no longer even derive the local economic benefits from having the number of bases we used to on our territory – economies compromised by reduced local spending power, just as with deindustrialisation thirty years ago.

Of course, this does not stop ‘supporting our military in Scotland’ getting wheeled out at election time: the Conservatives last pitch in the run-up to the general election was vote Tory for more Scottish military investment but since then they have closed RAF Leuchars and Kinloss and reneged completely on their promise to build a ‘super barracks’ for Scottish military returning from Germany (most of whom now appear to be in Belfast).

Certainly, my mother was deeply offended when, just this week, Tony Blair turned up arguing that British troops should go back into Iraq. ‘You do realize,’ I helpfully said ‘that in voting ‘No’, you have given them complete permission to keep using Scottish working class people as fodder for US conflicts like that, don’t you?’ ‘I didn’t vote for that!’ Oh, yes, Mum, you SO did…

As I predicted in an earlier post, the Party of ‘I Told You So’ is in the ascendancy. With each broken promise and escalating threat, it seems we are growing stronger – the membership of all three Yes parties (SNP, Greens, SSP) have doubled, such that the Scottish National Party is now the third largest political party by members in the whole of the UK, beating the LibDems into fourth: forget my little ‘metrics’ of FaceBook ‘Likes’ – there is the real rise in support, right there.

The question is, even with the unexpected continuation of many of the pro-independence blogs and social media sites that one expected would fold utterly after a ‘No’, how does this support sustain itself and – I think most importantly – manifest itself? Fair enough – we can do events on every day that Gordon Brown’s timetable fails to deliver what he said it would, and we can have a demonstration next September 18th – but we need something more now. Before the end of the year, when there will undoubtedly be a Yes manifestation at Hogmanay.

“For the Record- I am English, I entered military service when I was 18. I served up until 2008 where I was severely injured in Iraq. On leaving hospital in Plymouth I returned to my partners home town in Scotland. I served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia and Serbia. Instead of 6 month tours I often ended up away for almost a year with no leave. I am decorated with an exemplary record of praise from senior officers. The fact I can walk is a tribute not to the military support but to the Scottish NHS. I find it insulting that my fallen comrades are being used as a tool in this campaign by the ‘No’ side. Our sacrifice over the last century has not been about protecting a union, but about protecting our democracy. To use this against a yes vote is an affront to their sacrifice. They and I, fought for our right to have a free vote in any election and to take this away from us in emotional blackmail is disgusting and I believe that those saying this should hang their heads in shame and resign. VOTE YES and let us all move forward to a future of our own making.” (Unknown Soldier)

MorgueTown: A Velvet Revolution Smothered (or, failing to get into the second round of a tournament on goal difference AGAIN?)

I can remember the eve of the 1992 general election. I was working in the Edinburgh University Students’ Association, and confidence was building in how the vote was going to go. Lorna Davidson, our tireless officer (geez, I can’t even remember what her job title was…but it was the most invaluable one, bar none) was talking to me happily about the coming coalition. I looked back at her, and said ‘It isn’t going to be a coalition’. Although she heard my words, she missed my look, and said ‘I know, but I keep trying to tell myself not to think about that, about getting a Labour government.’ I looked at her and gently said ‘I didn’t mean a Labour majority.’ She blanched, shut down, and went away shaking her head – at the time, I thought she was angry, as she muttered ‘no way, no way’ – but I think I probably had uttered such a horrific concept, that it offended her: the idea that we could live in such a world where Such Things could happen.

I took no pleasure at all in being the only person in that extremely politically active office that correctly predicted the result of that election. I remember writing an editorial in the wake of that result, and for some reason I could only think of a quote from Alan Moore’s ‘Watchmen’ to sum up how I was feeling: “The horror is this: in the end, it is simply a picture of empty meaningless blackness. We are alone. There is nothing else.” Sometimes…you just get a feeling, on the street.

Fast forward to the deathly quiet on the streets of Edinburgh on the 19th. I was out strolling, to pick up a prescription. I couldn’t help thinking that I should try and put in a bulk order, as prescription charges will soon be coming back in. The streets seemed deserted – very few people visible, let alone conversing. There had been a death in the family – that mythical ‘family of nations’, perhaps.

In spite of how I’d been feeling about the way the campaign was going, this didn’t really appear to surprise me. There had been a couple of odd moments where I had realized that, although the script was good, there were a few near misses that meant it was not a fairy tale…which implied the fairy tale ending might not be coming either. Perhaps that was what was bugging me when I said ‘of course, we won’t get Edinburgh’ (I still don’t know what the percentage vote was here) – and even the ending of my last blog post seems scarily prescient. In a strange way, I remember feeling that with regard to the misattribution of the Magnus Gardham piece in the Herald last Saturday. It made me realize that – yes, in the fairy tale ending, Magnus does see the error of his ways (even if he just wrote it because he wanted to be on the winning side) and makes that sudden declaration for Yes. But for that online piece to be misattributed to him…that is a story that has a different ending.

The day of the vote had been eerily quiet. The grey weather may well not have helped my mood – as people pointed out to me, that upbeat optimism on a sunny day might make a difference in how people vote – but as I stood outside the Polwarth polling station, the overcast clouds, the wind gently blowing hosts of leaves down around us, it felt like the first day of autumn. I had the urge to start quoting ‘O season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…’ – and thought, ‘John Keats? How inappropriate’.

Inappropriate for one narrative, perhaps.

I didn’t actually watch the results shows – again, odd (and yet the prospect of a last splurge of Union-skewed broadcasting was strangely unappetising). Even more unusually, I did not take up the offer of meeting up with the rest of the campaign group. In fact, I went to bed, and lay there with the laptop, as people started to message me the results as they came in via FaceBook and GChat. My first reaction was that the turnouts seemed lower than we had expected – which was not a great sign. I started screwing up my gaze at the list of constituencies…inevitably reading across from them to the scale of the SNP lead or loss there in Holyrood, as a marker of some degree of receptivity to the idea of an independent Scotland, if nothing more than that. There were a few wobbles in the percentages, but it still looked possible (thank you Dundee)…until the collapse in Stirling. Thirty to forty thousand votes down, in the home of the council that dreamed up the hosting of Armed Forces Day as a direct opposition to Bannockburn 700, the council that wanted to stop flying the saltire – how appropriate. For one narrative.

Of course, we are less than 24 hours into Gordon Brown’s ‘exciting timetable’, and the first target has already failed to be met. Miliband has opted out of Cameron’s devolution plans, and is setting up his own commission aimed at – guess what? – devolving power from Holyrood down to the district city and regional councils that Labour still controls many of. [‘I told you so.’]

What? So now we have to systematically get rid of Labour from there, as well?

Cameron has already said that delivering a Scotland Act before the general election would be ‘meaningless’ – so that’s gone, too. Jack Straw is writing that the Union should be made indissoluble in law, so no more votes ever. [‘I told you so.’]

Apparently it was the over 55s that lost it for us – some 73% supposedly voting ‘No’, around 560,000 of the 800,000 postal votes, most of which are part of this demographic (and a stark contrast to the 71% of the much smaller demographic of 16-17 year olds that voted ‘Yes’). The irony of a group of people voting that way because the former Prime Minister that destroyed the private pension scheme in the UK (and oversaw the UK’s state pension decline to the worst in Europe) might have scared them that their state pensions (already-guaranteed by the Home Office) were at risk, is a bitter one indeed. I find it hard to find other reasons why they would have voted that way – it is unlikely that, as a group, they all wish their children and grandchildren to be in penury…and can delusions from the Telegraph really have made them that upset about the war? Certainly the ‘over 55’ that I live with has been inarticulate in her defence of her decision – and as much as I can (scandalously) take out my disappointment and anger on her, I know that it was my failure to reach her that resulted in her mistake.

Whatever – we didn’t reach them as we should have: the ‘silver surfers’ are too few in number to make an internet-informed difference in that demographic of some 900,000 yet, and although the surfers will be a far greater number in any subsequent vote, we still need an approach that can get past that. What makes me saddest is the coming wave of health decline and mass emigration – it is hard to see how that can be avoided from happening again (as it did after 1979): as much as I would hope that people can believe for a little longer that we can get something out of this, just by the speed at which the mendacity of Westminster looks to be falling apart, I find it hard to imagine people sticking around much longer. We were already running out of time, with balancing the books on a declining budget, and I can’t see that that can continue much longer.
The benefits from Holyrood’s different way will be lost, the Parliament neutered.

The vague reports of civil unrest are spreading – just as with the signing in 1707. I cannot say that I blame them, and it is exactly what I expected – I just don’t have the energy to participate.

I remember meeting someone who was a probable ‘No’ voter on one of the last days – ex-army, with his Filipino civil partner at his side, he told me that things were not bad enough to justify ending the Union. If one is comfortable, it is easy to say ‘I do not think the Union has been so bad’ – if you don’t see or hear about how things have changed for everyone else, you might be comfortable enough (especially if you have bought into the recent media campaign to criminalise the poor) to think that, and look no further. But the context and the society within which you are ‘comfortable’ is changing: you will not remain so well-insulated forever…and really, is it all just about ‘I’m alright, Jack’? Of course, one cannot push that angle in conversation with someone you are trying to reach, so instead I asked him to go away and think about one thing: what are your criteria for ending the Union, if this is not enough? Put another way: if not now, then when? The Union cannot last forever, no matter how sentimentally it is spoken of (and we can take issue with those sentiments another time) – it is a fact that it will cease to exist one day, either split or subsumed within something greater (for yes, there are many things greater than the United Kingdom – an independent Scotland would very likely have been one of them), that this will not simply be a permanent relationship beyond Death. So, given the nuclear weapons, the increasing poverty, the redirection of our natural wealth, the emigration as opportunities fail, the declining health without a sense of any control over our own lives…how much worse do things have to get, before you accept that it is time up on the Union?

 

“There are 250,000 children living in poverty in Scotland. That’s a moral outrage and economic stupidity.” (Jim Sillars)

Waiting for the Future: Three and a Half Hours for the World to Turn

…and that is the polls closed.

On FaceBook, Alex Salmond’s page now has over 90,000 likes, Nicola Sturgeon over 61,000, even John Swinney is over 15,000. It may be a crude metric, but…it probably means…something.

I voted late – about 2 hours ago. After taking a shower to remove the campaign grime, I took a walk around the neighbourhood, to see how things might have changed.

It had been a grey, first day of autumn sort of a day – not perhaps the invigorating inspirational day to get the vote out that might have been good – but, then again, perhaps the sort of day that keeps the less inclined (71% likelihood to vote) ‘No’ voters a little more at home (compared with the 83% likelihood ‘Yes’ voters). I certainly felt a little subdued – but whether that was due to a slight drop in temperature (not apparently experienced by Glasgow, interestingly enough), or lack of sleep, it is hard to say. I was way on the south side, in Polwarth Terrace, staffing outside a polling station. One No woman with a voice like a foghorn, who insisted on lobbying the people coming up her side of the pavement to vote. Periodically, they would go into little clusters and talk about how if ‘they’ won it, it would be through intimidation and fear. Geez – they really have no idea of the abuse done by the No advocates…Yes campaigners are teddy bears and pussycats in comparison.

As I walked around the district this evening, what was interesting, was how fast the ‘No’ posters were already being spirited away, but the Yes ones were still up. Packing away a guilty, shameful secret, perhaps? The only No advocate left is the one who did the big art installation in his window that I mentioned before, the small altar to the union flag.

There’s a damp grey pause in the night, as we wait in these intervening 4 hours, before results start to be declared at around 2am – and I am strangely uninterested in watching the BBC (or other TV) padding and filler until that starts to happen. The revanchist agenda has geared up over the weeks, waiting for the opportunity to pounce for revenge in the wake of a ‘No’ vote. You can see it online in the comments – the grudging struggle online to understand, with seemingly decent people starting by saying it is ‘Scotland’s choice’ – then maybe even managing to say ‘good luck to them’, and then it all falling apart under the bitter spite of ‘but Salmond wants to be King’ and ‘no currency union’… This is the direct result of the media’s deliberate and determined failure to report the debate honestly, a deliberate move to misrepresent it, and poison the chalice. The media’s most conspicuous impact to date on Anglo-Scottish relations is the enthusiastic promotion of the idea that Scotland is subsidised by (predominantly) English taxpayers, an idea with a long pedigree (since around the time the McCrone Report on oil wealth was finished) but given unprecedented prominence during the Referendum debate. The animosity generated in England by this idea, so ably articulated by the London-based commentariat and its followers alike, has probably done more to erode Anglo-Scottish relations, and thus the well-being of the Union, over the last decades than anything else.

Yet unionist politicians and journalists know this idea of subsidised Scots is false. They use the statistics of Scotland having 8.4% of the UK’s population but receiving 9.3% of its public spending as enthusiastically as they ignore the statistic from the same source that Scotland also contributes 9.9% of the funding of that spending.

Further damage to Anglo-Scottish relations comes from the promotion of the idea that the desire for Scottish independence is driven by anti-English prejudice. This is an idea stated as fact by unionist commentators and politicians alike, both north and south of the border, despite it simply not being true. In fact, the reverse prejudice (anti-Scottish one) has far more palpable evidence to support its existence. An unrelenting flow of vitriol has poured forth over the past months, unsanctioned and unquestioned, particularly from opinion columns and the below-the-line comments appended to such columns, but also on radio and television, and with little effort to moderate the abuse by those who are in a position to do so. This scorched earth and burnt ground is the real legacy of the ‘No’ Campaign – and they simply don’t care about the permanent damage that it does to what was left of the Union beforehand.

This agenda, or myopia, has been greatly facilitated by what has been described as a ‘narrowing of the concept of Britishness’ since the mid-eighties. It has accelerated throughout the Referendum campaign and now, regardless of result, this has had damaging consequences in terms of the environment that this media dimension has created, even if the ‘No’ side win. But – of course – this does not matter to the ‘No’ funders and backers – as they (mostly living outside Scotland) won’t be living with the result of their work.

The agenda for revenge will be vocally supported by those MPs who have come out flatly in opposition to any more ‘powers’ being seen to go to Scotland, even before the result is in. This will give Westminster all the political backing to do as little as it wants…or even less.

The funny thing is, I can hear what the advocates of the ‘No’ vote in Scotland – like the foghorn woman at that polling station today – will say about it. ‘Well, its perfectly understandable – if it wasn’t for the damned SNP and that bloody Alex Salmond asking such a stupid question… he has brought ALL of this on our heads – nobody else but him.’

Oh, Scotland. Did you see the barrel of the gun you were looking down, and realise the terminal decision to vote ‘No’? That refusal to take ownership for our own actions, let alone begin to think about the different futures that we could have WITH independence, has more consequences than ‘stifling a little political creativity’… That rather than tapping a rich vein of ideas, allowing us to see in stark lighting exactly what we don’t like about the British State, and how we would do things markedly differently – that rather than that, that irredentist fury could descend on us – without discriminating between ‘No’ and ‘Yes’ voters…except on the basis of money?

The world waits on the turn of the hour hand. Fog may assail the helicopters, and delay the counting of the votes from the islands. The world waits to see…if Scotland put the barrel in its mouth and simply pulled the trigger.

 

“One of the charges against Better Together is that it is unremittingly negative, preferring to pose endless questions of the Yes side, rather than sell the benefits of the UK. Privately, some inside Better Together even refer to the organisation as Project Fear. McDougall is unrepentant about the tactics.” (Sunday Herald, 23/6/2013)

Coming out of the Attic: Rejoining the Family of Nations, or Putting Scotland Back in its Box?

I’ve stopped watching the television. I’ve even stopped reading some of the blogs. I am now four weeks behind on even Referendum TV, and Derek Bateman seems to have become about as incoherent a blogger as myself, having similarly run out of ‘big issues’ to write out as essays, and instead using kneejerk reactions to individual small developments. I confess – he probably has similar issues of sleep deprivation, exacerbated by coffee, excitement and anxiety. So forgive this mess of a fiftieth post – I have half-finished posts on the ‘Economic Dangers of Dependence’ (cool title, huh?) and the scorched earth legacy for the Union from the ‘No’ campaign. But it seems that I have run out of time…and posts.

Yesterday was a slow start. Not so much cumulative fatigue, as a foray into the darkness of an unlit, soot-filled 1870’s attic. Peering into the gloom, balancing on joists barely detectable underneath the (regulation) two layers of loft insulation, like an entry level X-Files episode. Boxes piled and scattered across the fibreglass, vestiges and an archive of a former life…at first I could find nothing, old primary school books, boxes of university political campaigns, and I retired back downstairs. You see, there was an international assembly for Yes on The Meadows scheduled last night after the legend that is the Marchmont Yes stall closes for the last time, and we were encouraged to bring international flags along. A fellow undergrad at Edinburgh, Monika, had first got me involved in politics, and I had campaigned with her for Croatian self-determination back in the late eighties, seeing (as I have mentioned before in this blog) a lot of parallels with Scotland’s situation. Monika has always been a staunch supporter of Scottish independence, and although now based in Brighton, I know she would love to be here right now.

So I had gone into the attic in the morning – that filthy, unlit 1870s attic – to look through the mass of boxes accumulated throughout my life, to try and find the Croatian flag that we used to use together for campaigns. Frustrated in my first attempt, I went back up, armed with a more powerful torch (iPhone illumination is not perfect) and tried again, arranging long planks in the space in order to move the boxes around, to sort them as they were checked. The second attempt worked, after going through Primary 3 jotters and far too many Edinburgh University Students’ Association files: with much stoor, the large Croatian self-determination box appeared, and there was the flag, stuffed down the side. I grabbed it and headed out for the bus, Monika’s proxy presence assured.

The bus went up past Elm Row, and I spotted a lone Better Together supporter, attempting (unsuccessfully) to thrust leaflets into the hands of those sitting at the bus stop. Then, my eyes refocused on the background: the entire length of black railing at the interchange had been covered with little red ‘End Tory Rule Forever Vote Yes’ leaflets neatly impaled along its length. It looked spectacular – as so often during this campaign, the bus took me past before I had the chance to take a record shot through the window. Then I was getting off at Princes Street, and heading up towards The Meadows. Several international TV crews were filming down the side of the National Gallery of Scotland and the Royal Scottish Academy – one BT supporter was stammering as he declaimed to one camera ‘well, in terms of scaremongering, I think Yes have been at LEAST as bad as No’, and I failed to stifle a laugh as I went past. It was noteworthy that the only people with No badges that morning were in front of cameras – every member of the public that I passed wearing a badge was a Yes.

Arriving at the stall for the last time, a 4-way ‘crossfire of Yes’ developed at the foot of Middle Meadow Walk: Yes Marchmont, next to English Scots for Yes and Green Yes stalls, later joined by National Collective with Amy & Jamie. The previous afternoon, a Yes supporting masseuse (Valaska, Caribbean) had come along with her massage chair and offered us all free massages. Unusually (honest) I was first in the queue then – my incessant whining on this blog about my back and joints perhaps means that is not so surprising to you – and she was great…and was back for the last hours of the final day, as we counted down to the International Yes event.

Slowly, the flags started to assemble, as the media began to throng around the media (only RTE – of course – being English language): although the abstract international ramifications of a possible Yes vote had been discussed before, the reality appears to be dawning around the world. I had been Skyping with a good friend in Portugal – she was so excited about how many of her political friends were discussing it, and in the context of it being a profoundly positive message for the world: that there is Another Way, that does not involve the NeoLiberal Consensus (that must be what George Robertson meant by ‘the Forces of Darkness rejoicing’…). Scotland – right now – is the single most politically literate country on this planet. How bizarre is that? Maybe that whole ‘Enlightenment 2.0’ post was not so out there, after all…

And then it began…a Russian photographer was there: “I am here for the moment from Berlin – really hope it is Yes”.

A Cuban friend e-mailed me quoting Che Guevara in the subject line ‘Hasta la victoria’ – and applying to move to Scotland from England if there is a Yes.

A Swiss friend sent me a message that he would be delighted if we would vote for independence on his birthday.

A Polish woman from the University of Edinburgh approached the stall: “I have been here for 23 years, and this is the first time in 25 years that I have experienced anything like Solidarnost”.

A fervent Englishman who regularly dismissed Scots and their independence for decades told me this morning that we would be deluded fools to vote No.

Today more messages, from Chile, France – even two from China hoping for a Yes vote.

And yesterday, just before the crowds built to 4,000 on The Meadows (not bad for something only advertised by Twitter), an English student approached the stall. She had her two friends with her – all three of them had come to Yes from No. She was so fired up and enthused, demanding a last Wee Blue Book from the stall, in order to go out and convince more Undecideds. “I know I’m English, but I feel so much a part of this, that now I feel I’m more Scottish than English.” That really got me – and I had to turn away, or I knew I would just start crying.

Because she GOT it. And she was the perfect example of what we have built here, and how it is NOTHING to do with this mythical ‘anti-Englishness’. (However, you can easily check out the reverse attitude, directed at Scots, by looking at the below the line comments on almost any online version of a mainstream newspaper. Lovin’ those lovebombs, Guys…) Her brief, beautiful, glorious enthusing at the stall just made me so profoundly happy – and in a way said so much more than the many messages of support we took during the celebration, from speakers from Wales, Eire, Galicia, Basque, Catalan, Quebec… I watched the sun go down, and felt that something really special was about to dawn.

Have we moved comfortably into the lead? Are we (or am I, more accurately) deluding myself? Apparently Jim Sillars reckons its 55:45. I don’t know anymore. I’m too tired to process information – too long on polling station duty today (4 hours), with too little sleep last night. I don’t know what is going to happen anymore – despite the fact that I have no reason whatsoever to doubt my previous calculations in the earlier posts. I just need to sleep.

I just keep hearing Peter Gabriel’s ‘Come Talk to Me’, the glorious opening track on his ‘Us’ album – with that bagpipe opening effect (so sue me for being a cliche). It’s the song of victory…and then the lyrics for negotiations starting. Right now I just need to sleep.

Oh, yeah…and remember to vote.

 

“When the people fear the government you have tyranny. When the government fear the people you have liberty.” (Thomas Jefferson)

“The greatest awakening of political thought in our lifetime” (Derek Bateman, Broadcaster)

“Not since Iraq have I seen BBC News working at propaganda strength like this. So glad I’m out of there” (Paul Mason, former Newsnight correspondent)

“There are 250,000 children living in poverty in Scotland. That’s a moral outrage and economic stupidity.” (Jim Sillars)

Marchmont and Market Penetration

This bizarre electoral experience continues…ever heard of ‘redding cards’ (spelling?)? Me neither – until I was called to deliver them on Monday night… Apparently you give them out to your supporters (as determined through canvassing) for them to hand to your representative at the polling station – it serves as a way of checking if all of our supporters have voted, by the time 7pm comes, so we know who we need to chase up in the evening. Slightly bizarre – maybe even antiquated – but I got on with it, getting down to Spottiswoode Street and ignoring the drizzle. I had had an unexpected break during the day anyway, as the rain had made it impractical to set up the stall, so I had got some respite from standing behind the table, which seemed to be affecting my back and legs.

A lot of high buildings in that street – and it seems (from my direct experience) that most Yes voters do indeed live on the 4th floor. [sigh] As one has to hand the addressed card over directly to the individual concerned, there was a lot of opportunity for conversation…even though this was not a canvassing exercise. In one flat, a woman received the card for her husband with a slight smile, quietly declaring herself to be undecided. She commented on how politically informed her 8 year old daughter had become, and we discussed how positive that was for the future – then she confessed that she had actually been thinking about voting ‘Yes’, after the Orange Order march on Saturday, but said we had missed a trick by not clearing up their mess after them. I was slightly stunned – given our apparently highly successful media coup via Twitter – and suggested she look it up. This seemed to make a positive impression (as, indeed, it should have done) – but I still think she was not won over. So apparently it is not just me that does not do Twitter.

Then I met Walter. I guess I could tell the way things were about to go, when he took the card from me, and said ‘Aye, so…’  Receiving the card, for him, was merely a perfunctory introductory formality – a prelude. He needed to talk – and his sister Liz (through to see him from Glasgow for the day) was there too with a west coast perspective on what was happening through there. Without a pause for breath, he launched into an attack on the BBC’s presentation (he may have used the ‘B’ word, it is true…) – his disgust at their coverage was that of someone who wasn’t going back. He asked me how I thought it would be on Thursday – and I gave what has become my usual answer (see previous post) on the result. He asked if that was because of Tommy – I had not realised Sheridan had quoted exactly the same figures when he was taking Andrew Neil apart on the Sunday Politics Show, but I know he has been travelling extensively, and has done more than enough election campaigns, for me to take some confidence from that.

The degree of excitement was palpable – Mark said to me that he would have assumed Marchmont would be SOLID ‘No’, based on the profile of those who live there, and yet looking around the dominance of ‘Yes’ posters in the window (bearing in mind all the caveats that I used in my ‘Badges’ post), it was clear that there had been a massive penetration into the area by the Yes campaign. It was certainly true – there were far more Yes windows in Spottiswoode Street than my pack of card recipients would suggest. It looks like – although I can’t swear to it – a lot of people have committed heavily to Yes even in the month since the last canvassing. I left him, slightly bemused by his informed perspective on his environment, and trying to square that with my experience around The Meadows.

Another recipient of a card – Roy, I think his name was – told me also about how he felt we were making inroads in the area – an 18 month ‘embittered No voter’ had finally told him last week that he was going to vote Yes because of the negativity of the ‘No’ campaign. This made me realise that there had also been a change in character at the stall since I came back a couple of weeks ago. Before, one or two ‘No’s might turn up, with what Kaye referred to as the ‘Borg’ approach – completely scripted, ‘tell me why you are voting Yes’, in an attempt to sideline us from engaging with actual undecideds for hours, if necessary. But the strength of numbers on the stall now, meant that that was an impossible strategy to successfully deliver – there were always plenty of Yes people to deal with ‘passing trade’, and there simply aren’t the committed ‘No’s present to swamp us. Instead, we actually have time to work on ‘No’s…it is not what they are expecting, but you can see sometimes when a point goes home, and their confidence is – ever so slightly – shaken. I won’t deny that it isn’t satisfying. But the thing is that we actually have the resources to indulge in such tactics, and start to undermine the people sent to thwart us. That speaks volumes. And that was why, in the run-up to last weekend, when Blair Jenkins announced there were 35,000 volunteers going out on the streets, I laughed for so long when the BBC reporter said ‘and of course we can be sure that there will be just as many ‘No supporters out there, too…’  Really?  I mean – you can add all the people in the Orange Order march (many from England and Northern Ireland) in, if you want, but even then that is just not a credible statement. Regardless of the result, there is only one side that has had a grass roots campaign, and it isn’t ‘No’.

Anyway, back to those cards: inasmuch as it may be a traditional campaigning technique, I am not convinced that these cards are that useful – or, at least, not so much as where you have a small constituency of party political supporters to ‘get out the vote’. The numbers now for this are huge – and I feel that people will feel less part of a campaign that is offering to help them, than they might feel intruded on…but I know that the people that I met when I was giving those cards out enjoyed the opportunity to excitedly engage with the debate.

And I got a huge amount out of it, too, on the eve of the vote – just another kick and buzz to keep going, and remember who else is out there, willing us on.

 

“Those who say ‘It can’t be done’ should not interrupt those who are busy doing it.” (Roddy MacDonald)

The Sunday Herald, Selfies and Supermarkets: The Last Weekend of the Campaign

Sunday – the day of ‘OpenAirYes’ on the Meadows. I can feel that I am becoming more and more run-down as the last days start to take their toll, (even one large zit starting to appear on my face – sorry for the TMI) and even after a solid 8 hours sleep, my legs are becoming solid girders, and I want another 8 hours sleep to follow. But it is up to the stall for ‘OpenAirYes’, the stall being moved to Middle Meadow Walk for the day, to give room for National Collective.

On the way, I grab a Sunday Herald, then sit on the bus, scanning the ‘indy selfies’ front page double spread…until, with a guffaw, I find myself, 7 across and 17 down (if you are interested). I have gained some weird ‘credentials’ for having been a part of this thing – just through that one image, that one act of vanity (taken before I had the zits, I am pleased to note).

Striding with a bit more confidence, I make it to the site, a band playing ‘Children of the Revolution’ a la Moulin Rouge as I approach – Kaye is there, and the stall is on its way. Down towards Sainsbury’s, about halfway between us and the crowd for National collective, a Better Together stall has appeared. It seems appropriate that they are down there – Cameron’s summoning of the supermarket bosses to Downing Street (possibly with an offer of even more tax breaks?), followed by the announcements an hour later that ‘prices may go up or down in an independent Scotland – then filtered through the magical filter of the BBC to become ‘prices may go up in an independent Scotland’….well. Given what we have been told for years, about costs for Scottish produce being elevated in Scotland because they have to be sent down south to a distribution centre before being sent back up again…it kind of flies a little in the face of that. But hey ho – that won’t make much difference when the asteroid strikes us for being independent, will it?

The onslaught of supermarket announcements following on from the (formerly) great and the good of the failed banks pronouncing their own end of the world scenario…countered only by Tim Martin, Chairman of Wetherspoons, saying there is no problem, and dismissing the claims of politicians and businessmen “who should know better” of an independent Scotland’s economic prospects. It is hard to say, but there is a real reaction that is palpable against this onslaught. Of course, these ideas have traction – they are basic (if not also baseless) fears, therefore will have an impact – but you can sense a degree of disillusionment even beyond committed ‘Yes’s…that it is even starting to repulse the undecided, and drive some of them into our arms. It will probably affect the percentage of undecided that come to Yes at the end – our ratio of 2:1 has been excellent, and would be enough to win the day comfortably on the polls for some time, but that is going to drive it down to 50:50 transformation, I would say. Of course, the last undecided are going to be the hardest to win over – some of them have only recently shifted from soft ‘No’s and will be frightened back there again – but it is always sad when something reinforces that sense that ‘if we lose this, then Scotland will have been robbed through lies’. Some of us have felt that way about BBC Scotland for a while…then there was the spectacular own goal of Nick Robinson last week. Allegedly, the comparative videos from that press conference (the one from the live BBC news Channel with Alex Salmond’s complete 3 minute answer to Nick’s question and Nick’s annoyed heckling, and the one that Nick put out on BBC news saying Salmond ‘did not answer’) have had traction with some ‘No’ voters, who have started to realize that perhaps you don’t need to own a tinfoil hat (or be a university academic) to believe that the BBC exhibits overt political bias.

We stretch bunting between a tree and a lamppost (as ‘designated tall person’ I get that job – finally, something that I can – almost – uniquely contribute!), and set up. Margaret, Kathryn, Frances, James and Jamie is there with his National-ly Collective smoothness, and soon we are getting deluged by people – there is music, the adjacent ‘Ninja Buns’ stall (not an exercise programme, but a food dispensary) is doing a brisk trade. The badges are vanishing, balloons zooming off the stall to indy bairns, the posters slowly eroding, but as ever, the one commodity that is the most sought after, is…the legend that is the Wee Blue Book. It doesn’t ‘cure’ everyone of ‘Nawness’, but its hit rate is unbelievably high, with over a quarter of a million in circulation around Scotland in just a month since Wings Over Scotland’s Stuart Campbell finished the most tightly referenced piece of literature on the Referendum. ‘Yes’ campaigners desperately try to find stashes of them to get out to the undecided – we are even running out of ‘Don’t Knows’ and starting to hit ‘No’s with it. Marco appears at the stall – he had 20,000 copies, and his stock is now entirely gone – we went through loads in the past week, and I have taken to hiding them. People come up asking for them, and I ask if they ACTUALLY have people that they can try to persuade with them. There will be a souvenir edition if we win – but hoard the copy and you take it out of circulation, potentially losing votes in the process.

And some ‘Wingers’ turned up at the stall – the Major (again) and the legend that is Morag. Morag had some Plaid Cymru helpers out working the rural villages (note – they may have come up, but they are NOT being paid – contrast that with Better Together…), and it was good to meet them on the stall. They asked me about the polls – as most people do now, these days. I gave him my caveats – polling companies using Westminster voting intention rather than Holyrood voting intention, 16/17 year olds, the voter registration drive – and the potential for postal vote fraud (still not heard anything more about that missing bag of Dunbartonshire postal votes). All things being even (I say) I am still quietly confident, and would not be surprised at a final 60:40. I realize within that that we may well not get Edinburgh – but the information from Glasgow seems extremely positive, and they are almost five times the population: if we win Glasgow, Edinburgh becomes irrelevant.

Of course, it is a matter of personal pride and shame if my home city does not ‘vote the correct way’ (lol – sounding like the Simpsons video of Groundskeeper Wullie), but one has to be realistic, and Edinburgh is the city in Scotland least likely to go for ‘Yes’. I know this as I look around the hordes going up and down the Meadows – even when I see that the ‘Better Together’ stall halfway down the hill only has people with Yes badges at it, mobbing them with questions as to why they are not voting ‘Yes’. We send some people down there, just to make sure it does not get out of hand – there is no need for anything uglier than an Orange march at the meadows this weekend. Occasionally we see a couple of individuals with No badges or t-shirts start to walk down Middle Meadow Walk…only to suddenly realize there is a sea of Yes badges walking up the hill towards them, and you can see a realization dawn on their faces. That maybe they are not quite the dominant majority that they thought they were.

I meet Will Macleod, the US correspondent who did that brilliant summary on a US radio station of all the material that was not getting covered at all on the BBC, and we walk down to the National Collective assembly, passing the crowd of ‘Yes’ people around the ‘No’ stall, where everything still seems well under control. At National Collective, Hue and Cry’s ‘Labour of Love’ kicks in, and a man with a huge Alastair Darling papier mache head starts bustin’ some dance moves, much to everyone’s delight. The party feel continues – people are happy, people are smiling. People believing that we are going to Win.

Soon enough it is 6pm, and we start to pack up as people begin to disperse. If this is the best that Edinburgh can do, then – good though it is – it is not what we have seen on videos from Glasgow and Perth this weekend. It is sobering, but not entirely disappointing. I head for home with my Sunday Herald – wondering when I am going to get time to read it.

Because…well, can I tell you a secret? I should probably confess something to you: my fears for ‘The Last Weekend’. You see, we have had something of a shortage of media ‘support’ up here. All newspapers vigorously (and unquestioningly) opposed to a Yes vote. Until 2 months ago. The Sunday Herald came out for ‘Yes’ – alone amongst all press (and with television coverage that has produced fascinating academic studies revealing political media bias in a western state). Some thought – it’s just a cynical commercial stunt. To be fair, if so, then it was well-calculated – their sales have increased 25% in two months, when their nearest competitor lost 11% over 6 months. But their daily sister paper, The Herald, had some of the most venomous opposition to Yes, from their political editor, Magnus Gardham. So cynicism was justified. And now I come to my secret fear. That the Sunday Herald would perform a volte-face akin to a matador, and stab ‘Yes’ in the heart with a ‘change of mind’ on the last Sunday before the vote. But here’s the thing – they didn’t. Admittedly, there was the comedy story about Alan Magee’s opinion piece (see previous post) – but the Sunday Herald is still behind ‘Yes’.

So, not an emotional ‘trap’ for ‘Yes’ supporters after all.

Which is ‘Nice’.

 

“I think there’s been a massive amount of nonsense talked, especially by businessmen, about Scottish independence. There’s no reason why Scotland shouldn’t thrive as an independent economy.” (Tim Martin, Chairman of Wetherspoons)