The Future is Bright, The Past is Orange: The Last Weekend of the Campaign

It has been a vigorous, if somewhat tense, last few days on the stall. My legs are aching from too many hours standing behind the Yes Marchmont table…don’t get me wrong, I’m not professing to be one of those Great Persuaders, I’m merely secondary occasional small-scale (if frequently long haul conversations) stuff, and I view my primary contribution as one of making stupid jokes to keep everyone’s spirits up.

And actually, that has not been terribly difficult, as confidence has continued to build since last weekend. Although there was a (not altogether unexpected) swathe of polls (after The Big One in the Sunday Times that showed Yes ahead) showing ‘no, you are losing…even if just by a little bit!!’, the sense that we are continuing to gain ground has only increased. That has been good, as I had a slight concern that premature optimism from one poll might lead to some complacency. Margaret introduced me to the Wings Over Scotland legend that is Major Bloodnok (surprised to see how young and good looking he was – but then I guess a Terry Thomas avatar lowers expectations), and the quantity of people mobbing the stall for copies of the (equally legendary) Wee Blue Book so that they could run away and convince their friends, has been inspiring. I am so proud to have been a (small) part of that project, and to see the way that EVERYONE knows about it, with nothing but word-of-mouth promoting it, is absolutely stunning.

But we had the occasional cloud, as there was the Orange Order march for No on Saturday. Yes Scotland (rightly) advised us to stay away from the city centre and avoid contact with the march, so that there were no incidents that could be spun to fit the preordained BBC narrative. This is why Edinburgh didn’t have examples of the ‘feelgood festival feeling’ shown by videos on FaceBook from Glasgow and Perth that same day, and I did feel slightly robbed of that, as a result. Anyway, this meant that we decided to set up our stall at Cameron Toll for the 11am-2pm duration of the Orange march, which was starting on our patch (The Meadows).

The stall had a good turnout – but Cameron Toll is a modern shopping mall, with most people arriving by car, so we fairly quickly were getting restless, and began to discuss the possibility of where we could move to. At the same time, there was some confusion – Wings had posted a link to the online version of Magnus Gardham’s column, and it appeared that this creator of venomous anti-Yes diatribes had suddenly come out for Yes with a staggeringly eloquent piece. I checked the hard copy version in Cameron Toll’s mall, and realized that, beyond the headline, there was no resemblance.  An hour later, the Herald were admitting they had mistakenly put a piece by Alan Magee (Creation Records founder) under Magnus’ name.  The structure of the universe was restored.

By 1pm we had made our decision – we were going back to retake The Meadows.

As we packed up, a most bizarre sight drove by the Toll – a huge biker chapter bearing ‘Masonic Sons of Scotland’ banners…and with so many of their mighty hogs covered in ‘Yes’ stickers. Grins, horns and friendly waves – even – from some of the gang as they went past…presumably they were on the Orange march, but maybe they didn’t get the memo about it being a ‘No’ event?
A couple of cars dropped us at the top of Middle Meadow Walk, and – with more than a little apprehension – we went down the slope towards our regular patch. There had been a rise in ‘combative confrontations’ recently, with a graffiti/swastika attack on the Yes Newington shop, so we had some reason to be cautious…but when we got there, the main thing to greet us was the sea of plastic bottle garbage stretching across the grass, glinting in the sun. I was slightly taken aback – not only by the striking scenes of litter desolation across The Meadows, but also the dozen or so portaloos being loaded on to t a truck for disposal, when that site was supposedly only their rallying point for half an hour before the march started.  Whenever I have attended a march starting there, that has never been an issue – but, as one of the council workers said to me later, a lot of them had come from England and Northern Ireland, and had been drinking heavily on the coaches.

Frances had the idea. As soon as she saw the rubbish, she suggested that some of us should go and help the two council workers there who were starting to clear up. Her idea was that we could then use that as a photo opportunity for social media. Personally, I really liked the metaphor about cleaning up the garbage of the Union, and went across to confirm with council workers that it was Ok to help and that we wouldn’t be treading on anyone’s toes. Surprised, they happily accepted our help (as they had to be finished by 5), warning us that they didn’t have gloves or litter pickers.  Not a problem, I said. I went back and recruited James from the stall, as he had the smartphone necessary to deliver images to Twitter, and we got to work. Thirty to forty five minutes later, as other council workers arrived to aid their colleagues, we were done – the council workers were pleased as they had been out early that day (someone had been painting ‘Yes’ as a welcome for the marchers on some of the buildings there). 24 hours later, we had had over 500 retweets and 170 favourites (he said, typing it as though he knew what it meant…). Apparently (as a non-Tweeter) that is ‘good’. It was only later that I realised the power of appropriating someone else’s publicity stunt for one’s own ends…

We went on to have a good afternoon and evening on the stall, finishing around 7pm, as has become standard.  The longer hours are really starting to go for my legs, thighs protesting whenever I stop and try to sit down, but we are getting an early evening footfall that we have not engaged with before. There were stragglers drifting around with Union flags or Rangers jerseys about their person, but noone tried to hassle us (as a group, we don’t exactly look like much of a physical challenge!). After we had closed up, a retreat to the Argyll Bar provided an opportunity (for me, at any rate) to collapse with a Williams Brothers Seven Giraffes, and kick back with Jamie (National Collective) and Ronan – a member of the group who had funded over a thousand of the Wee Blue Books himself.

We might have experienced a false dawn that day with Magnus Gardham seeming to have had the most Damascine of conversions by publishing the most damning indictment of the week’s Westminster trips in The Herald, and coming out for Yes. But even putting that editorial hiccup to one side, it had been good. In the morning, I had been concerned about getting across the heart of Edinburgh to Cameron Toll, before the Orange Order march bisected my city and cut me off from the stall. On the way, I saw SO many ‘Yes’ stalls out across the streets, with only one cluster of ‘No’ nearby, and a handful of ten people with vote No placards strewn across the Royal Mile (where else?) in an attempted blockade.

In contrast, a young woman with a life-limiting illness called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency climbed the face of Edinburgh Castle with oxygen strapped to her back and tubes up her nose, to place a giant ‘Yes’ sign there in protest at Gordon Brown’s lies about transplants (the only cure for A1AD is a double lung transplant). It was a stunningly heroic action, and she apparently spoke at the BBC Pacific Quay protest. That kind of courage is humbling.

You can feel it in the air. We are rising. Will it be enough? Will Scottish Labour’s famous sleight of hand with postal votes (already one bag of them seems to have gone missing in Dunbartonshire) instead carry the day? Who knows? But we might just make it.

 

“The Yes campaign isn’t about politicians, it’s a grassroots movement of ordinary people like you and I, it’s about change, it’s about taking ownership of our future and our children’s future in Scotland and it’s about overwhelming exhilarating hope.” (Michelle McManus)

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‘Sheridan. Charlatan.’: Socialist Equality Party, myopic pawns of Empire and Capitalism

Last week, while on my way to the Marchmont stall, I saw a woman being harassed by another stallholder at the top of the Meadows, by the medical school.  He was tall, with an aggressive style and a north of England accent – she was much shorter…and had 3 children with her in a pushchair. He was trying to tell her that voting Yes was a betrayal of the working class, she told him how he was effectively supporting the establishment elites.  He did not like that – I suspect he rarely encounters that in his regular constituency. (You will see why I believe that he was not an Edinburgh resident later…it is not just the accent.) I didn’t recognize the name on the stall that he was orbiting, and moved in to comfort the woman as she left him distressed, and continued her journey towards the Meadows with pushchair. After reassuring that I was ‘with the other lot’ she declared herself as a Yes, and we talked (somewhat emotionally) of the joy of living in these times, and both gripped each other as we laughed with eyes pricking.  She went on her way happy – a childcare worker, and I took position on the Marchmont stall at the bottom of the slope.

I was slightly disturbed by what appeared to be an intervention by a group that I did not recognize.  Well – stylistically I recognized them – I used to know a lot of people in the Revolutionary Communists and the Socialist Workers parties when I was at the University of Edinburgh. There was a strident voice, and a very combative approach often when on stalls, and an insistence (which, understandably, comes with the territory) on seeing everything through the prism of the workers’ struggle. Surprise surprise, many of them were human beings underneath, and you could chat quite civilly with them without a problem.

I thought about it over the course of the day, and decided that I would try to engage them the following day. (I confess, I thought it might produce something interesting for this blog…) I was curious as to what this new beast was, and some of the others on the stall had told me that he was arguing for a British-wide socialism.  This slightly confused me – had he not heard of the 1990s? Did he not realize that the major party hope for this to happen had sold out some time ago, and was now fairly indistinguishable from the Conservatives…determined to pander even more to the ‘Hate the Poor’ sentiments of a right wing electorate?

I found two representatives with a stall a couple of days later – they were in George Square, trying to talk to Freshers’ Week students. I made no secret of my perspective, with Yes and Wings badges prominently displayed as I approached. Initially, I waited for one student from Spain to finish with a representative on the stall, before talking to Danny from Liverpool, a relaxed and quietly spoken former seaman, with an easy style – maybe even a little hesitant.  But after a few moments, another individual jumped in to release him to talk to other passing trade.  He didn’t give me his name, but said he worked on the London underground as a ticketing clerk, and had taken time off work to come up and do this.

I asked him for his pitch, explaining that I was genuinely curious as to where he was coming from, and why he was arguing for a ‘No’. The Socialist Equality Party were in Edinburgh campaigning for a No vote, he explained, because all ‘nationalism’ was bad. What needed to happen was that the whole working class of Britain should unite together, not regionally factionalise. The Yes campaign was led by the right wing, and would simply create a separate version of the same unfair Westminster model, which exploited the working class – when there needed to be a pan-European movement.  I started to engage with that point when (for the first time producing his stabby finger to underline his words…rather than his point) he said that he also wanted an end to the European Union, as it was run by big business. Well, that meant that no argument of ‘this way we stay in Europe, whereas a No vote means risk of being out after the EU referendum in a couple of years’ was going to work with him.

So I started to ask him about how, given that corporations were so heavily investing in a No vote, did he not think that he was actually supporting Empire and just the big business control that he professed to dislike so much?

Yeah.  That didn’t go down so well.  Stabby finger – with added caffeine. Edinburgh, he declared,that Empire (I’m not going to deny aspects of that…) – indeed, he started to lengthily decry the involvement of Scots in the atrocities across the world as the footsoldiers of the Empire. (In retrospect, he may not like Scots very much – despite how much he wanted us to ‘stay’ – in fact, it was a similar vibe to David Cameron, in that sense.) I accepted his point, then started to talk about reasons, including loss of land, agricultural prospects etc as to why more Scots entered the armed forces (even having family traditions of military service), as a metric of disadvantage, along with our high levels of emigration due to lack of opportunities – that perhaps this indicated that we had been treated as something less than the ‘partner’ we had understood ourselves to be, and more like a colony.

Again, he did not like that – and was not prepared to accept that Scotland had been disadvantaged at all. I raised the issues of denuclearization, foodbanks, rising poverty…no, none of that worked.  And one thing that he kept coming back to – more than anything else – was how much he despised Tommy Sheridan. The mantra that he kept coming back to – more so even than hating big business – was ‘Sheridan, charlatan’…I had to admit, it was kind of catchy.

Seriously.  The SEP were so virulently opposed to Tommy, they could have been the Sheridan Execution Party – a familiar reek of old-school Trotsky-related division and factionalisation suddenly filled the air, from almost twenty five years in my past. I asked him why, if this was going to be a more social democratic country, why should we not try to have a better future, for all workers in Scotland, rather than continue to be impoverished and attacked across the UK, delicately trying to raise the point that the Labour Party, as it might have been under Michael Foot or Neil Kinnock, as a group within which such ideals of working class unity might actually have flourished – was so long dead, how could he expect to effect this political change? That, under 13 years of Labour, not a single one of the pieces of Conservative’s anti-trade union legislation had been repealed – including the act that made strike action of solidarity illegal in Britain?

The workers uniting in revolution.  Of course. ‘Don’t Vote Yes – Salvation is coming – for Everyone! Just hang on.  It’ll be along…any minute now. Really.’

Eventually he moved away, seeming to decide that he was getting too angry or frustrated, and wanted to talk to others…not seeming to realize that the Freshers that he was engaging with would not have a vote, as they had arrived several days too late to register for the vote.  Not accepting that by arguing for a No (no matter how deaf the ears) he was supporting the Empire and state that he claimed to revile, and was acting against the chance of betterment of this group of workers. That maybe we have a lifeboat – and instead of going down with everyone else, that maybe it is time for us to stop propping up the 4th most unequal society in the developed world, and try to make something better.

‘Sheridan. Charlatan.’ I walked away from the stall, thanking him for his time, somewhat saddened by his crushing naivete, that seemed to blind him to all but a utopian revolution of the working class…when the time for that had long passed.  Tony Blair had taken the party far away from the point at which they could have cradled that radicalism – indeed, the failure of Neil Kinnock to be elected (some might argue because his voice was not ethnically ‘English’ enough – I have seen enough politicians arguing that Gordon Brown should not have become PM for exactly the same reason) probably signaled the rise of the right in Labour and the end of that possibility.

And now, these supposed socialists were acting for big business and supporting Empire, so blinded by their ignorance that they were willing to be imported to a campaign that they had as little understanding of (or interest in learning to understand) as London-based BBC journalists.

It seemed a sad fall for the radical left, to have come to this. England needs a Yes vote to revitalize its politics as much as Scotland needs it address social inequality.

 

“Hope has two beautiful daughters. Anger, at the way things are, and Courage, to try and change them.” (Saint Augustine of Hippo, 5th Century)

Unwelcome Honesty in Westminster: The Quebec 1995 PlayBook Revisited

No secret has been made of the fact that Westminster has closely modeled the ‘No’ campaign on the campaign run by the Canadian government against the Quebec movement in 1995. There are, of course, a lot of differences in situations – inasmuch as that campaign appeared tohave a much stronger ethnic/francophone/cultural component, Quebec had never before been an independent country as opposed to a region. Quebec already has something approaching what people referred to as DevoMax a year ago – with significant autonomy in taxation and revenues, and only really wanting to expand their authority to encompass defense and foreign affairs. In contrast, Scotland is well short of that position and level of control, and some might draw parallels in the degree to which taxation and revenue are retained by Westminster (with politicians with very different priorities) being functionally similar to what one might term a ‘colony’.

Promises of more powers and money, lovebombs…all were deployed immediately before the 1995 vote in Quebec. Even a parade. Subsequently, powers were taken away, health and education funding have declined or stalled, and centralist priorities of military spending and industrial investment elsewhere in Canada have dominated. After the hollow promises, as Sol Zanetti, leader of pro-independence Quebecois party Option Nationale puts it, they now have the “worst of both worlds”.

But of course, you may cry – that could not happen here. Could it?

Well, for those who think that Yes supporters are disingenuous when they bring up the 1979 failed promise of devolution by Hume and Thatcher, and perhaps a bit too paranoid, it was enlightening to hear William Hague in charge at Prime Minister’s Questions while the three party leaders were on their ‘private audiences only, no public meetings’ flying trip to Scotland the other day. In response to a question about the ‘promises of more powers’ that were being made by Cameron and the others, William Hague candidly declared that these were just campaign manifesto promises, not government policy commitments.

Of course, you then go back and see how often the Westminster parties have made promises that strangely were the absolute reverse of what they actually did in power.

In 1997, Labour declared they had no plans to introduce tuition fees, and that they would reform the electoral system. Instead, they introduced tuition fees and failed to reform the electoral system.

In 2001, Labour promised not to introduce top-up fees. Which they then did.

In 2005, Labour promised not to raise the basic or higher rates of income tax, and that they would hold a referendum on the European Union constitution. They raised the higher rate, and did not hold a referendum on the EU constitution.

Too far into the past? Well, in 2010 the Conservatives declared they had no plans to increase VAT or abolish the Education Maintenance Allowance. They also pledged no top-down reorganisation of the NHS and no cuts to front-line services. They then increased VAT to 20%, abolished the Education Maintenance Allowance, instigated massive top-down reorganisation and privatisation of the NHS (England) and brought in the biggest peacetime cuts to front-line services.

And then, of course, there is the one so obvious that it seems cruel to mention – the Lib Dems famous promise to vote against any increase in tuition fees. Before they voted to triple them.

To have grounds of concern as to whether or not these ‘promised powers’ that the three parties cannot agree on, and will face political opposition to in Westminster, may not materialise, one does not have to believe any intent to deceive…any more than perhaps in the above examples. One merely has to note that despite the undertakings of individuals in campaigns that seemed completely black and white, the promises did not translate into reality. It simply might have been because it seemed impractical, because they ran out of time.

Or impractical because they never had any intention of holding to those particular promises in the first place. Potayto potahto.

The point is, you shouldn’t be surprised if they don’t come to pass – in any shape whatsoever.

And get worried if a last minute ‘love’ parade gets announced next week for Edinburgh or Glasgow.

 

“The statements by the party leaders made on this in the last few days are statements by party leaders in a campaign – not a statement of Government policy today, but a statement of commitment from the three main political parties, akin to statements by party leaders in a general election campaign of what they intend to do afterwards. It is on that basis that they have made those statements.” (William Hague, 11th September, 2014)

Closing Down the Airwaves for a Fomenting Fish?: Music from the Revolution will not be Broadcast, Either…

So there is a rumour doing the rounds on social media…well, when is there not?…about pro-independence songs being banned in the two weeks up to the Referendum date. Really? I mean, is that likely?

Maybe it is. The last few days has seen some frantic thrashing around by the Union campaign, with a saltire comedically refusing to be hoisted above 10 Downing Street (the live Sky anchorwoman declaring through her laughs ‘well that tells you all you really need to know’ as it fell down), and 100 Labour MPs having a daytrip across the border to Glasgow to chant ‘Scotland Says No’ in a chilling throwback to the 1980s ‘Ulster Says No’ campaign behind Ed Miliband in Buchanan Street (yet also comedically pursued by one man playing the Imperial March from Star Wars, shouting ‘your Imperial Masters are here!!’). So…perhaps such a clumsy approach would be entirely in keeping with this last minute uncoordinated lashing out (I’d love to say death throes – but cannot be that confident…yet).

BTW, this is not related to the BobFM witch radio story, where a DJ decided to play nada from Scottish artists up to the Referendum. This rumour comes from one of the ‘get XXX song to Number one in Referendum week’ FaceBook pages. After sales saw it shooting up the charts, the organizer of the campaign started phoning around radio stations to ask why The Proclaimers’ ‘Cap in Hand’ was not being played. The only enlightening answer that he received was apparently from Two Lochs Radio. Here is the text of his post: “So the plot thickens. I contacted just about every radio station in Scotland asking them to play Cap in Hand, until I spoke to a very pleasant guy from Two Lochs Radio, who told me the song is at the top of a banned list, a list of songs the government have made it illegal for every radio station in the UK to play in the two weeks running up to the referendum.”

There have been contradictory statements about this subsequently…maybe it is cultural selection that despite sales it is simply ‘not making it on to people’s playlists’ – which might be understandable, particularly with some of the more conservative ‘yoof’ orientated radio stations, why would they play such old records? And yet…

I’ve come across something similar before. The artist Fish – a longstanding advocate for an independent Scotland – ran into problems with the release of his single ‘Something in the Air’ (a cover of Thunderclap Newman’s hit) in the run-up to the 1992 general election. But then, the problem came not from the government, but his then record company, EMI, who told him that it was ‘too political’. If you listen to the ditty, you might find that hard to reconcile – Fish was out of Marillion for four years by then, so hardly still a major hitmaker to fear as a rabble-rousing focus, and the song is generically rather than overtly political. And yet he was blocked from releasing it until the following year, apparently out of fear that he might ‘foment’ unrest and stimulate support for the SNP.

And a fomenting Fish can perhaps be a terrifying prospect to wealthy record company executives, if not governments.

So maybe – tinfoil hat permitting – this banning list is a real ‘thing’. I cannot help feel though that even if it is, it is so badly misjudged – and likely to cause a backlash – that it is ill thought through. Although perhaps that reflects on Westminster’s management of the ‘No’ campaign as a whole, from the failure to put up a flag properly, all the way down. From start to finish, ‘No’ have lost their poll lead – if not the campaign – through their misperception of the Scots. Where does this come from – the traditional Labour in Scotland arrogance, taking the population for granted, as peasants in their fiefdom, or a Westminster attitude of patronizing sufferance? I did once study African History at university, and it does remind me so much of that tone of speaking down to the ‘child race’ – the ‘Westminster MP’s burden’, perhaps. Its at times like that, that I remember Stephen Noon’s comment that sometimes the language is so very much from a colonial mindset, and miles away from the ‘partnership’ attitude towards the UK that so many of us grew up believing in. Coupled with the bizarre responses of statements of undying love…which seems a really strange strategy to anyone involved in the campaign (really – that is not our problem, guys). But I can’t help wondering if it subconsciously illustrates what they think they have been doing wrong – and that perhaps they have some deep-rooted animosity issues that they are projecting? Kind of like ‘well, I guess I haven’t thought nice things about them – so I’ll apologise by telling them that I like them anyway.’ Yet, at the same time, that vindictive mindset of threats comes out in parallel. Again – maybe that tells us something about their real perceptions and understanding of who we are and our relationship to them.

Whatever. Either way – and for either result – I think it is probably too late by now, for such a (real or imagined) move to make a difference.

 

“The very core of the fear in ‘Project Fear’ is fear of English vengeance. All the stuff about trade barriers and borders and passports and no one ever buying whisky again are predicated on the same thing: on the apparently inevitable consequence that they will hurt us if we dare.This expectation which informs all the dire prognostications of economic boycotts and general administrative bloody mindedness, even of proper fisticuffs over the assets – is based on an image of the English as petty, spiteful, nasty and vengeful.The No campaign seem certain that the majority stakeholders in the ‘greatest multinational family’ in history will react like vindictive children.” (Peter Arnott, Playwright)

Holding the Line: ‘That Scottish Film’…

So, there is….’that Scottish film’. You know the one – with the Australian/American? With the woefully inaccurate blue and white paint on his face? It always gets brought up by No voting Labour in Scotland people – people who have seen the Mel Gibson film too many times, that’s all, just nonsensical emotion and sentiment (pot and kettle now, No campaign!!). This is despite the release of the film in 1995 coinciding with the greatest drop in membership for the SNP – not a rise at all – so this film can hardly be accused of galvanising people into campaigning for independence. That is the real ‘Braveheart Myth’.

Maybe there are a lot of reasons why that film would not do such a thing. For one, most people with a smattering of knowledge knew about its inaccuracy. I sat in the cinema when the caption came up for ‘The Battle of Stirling’ and thought – ‘but it was Stirling BRIDGE’ – and then, as it became evident that there was not even going to be a river (let alone a bridge) and therefore no representation of Wallace’s military genius in recreating Thermopylae in order to defeat numerical superiority… blank disbelief.

I know this was not the same experience for everybody. A lot of my colleagues have said that they had absolutely zero Scottish history taught to them at school – yesterday one said that the only thing they learned about Bruce was that he was in a cave (for reasons unclear) and inspired by a spider to ‘try try again’…for something (also unclear). End of. For my part, I was at a public school (George Heriot’s, even), and we had stories of Bruce, Douglas and Wallace all taught to us – ‘History for Young Scots’, the book may have been in primary school. Perhaps the state schools had a less liberal attitude – certainly the accounts of my colleagues would suggest an attempt to airbrush pretty much anything pre-Union from the education system…but I cannot directly comment on that. Suffice to say that those history lessons informed me when I sat through that film, ticking off the errors as they came. (And let’s not even go to the research from four years ago that indicates that the story of Wallace and his band was the likely inspiration for the Robin Hood myth – and on that basis, ‘Prince of Thieves’ is an even more inaccurate retelling of the Wallace story. 😉 )

I remember, also, how much that film irritated the Establishment. I watched the Oscars live, as Barry Norman ignored the film and director both being up for Best Picture – and bristling with annoyed contempt when the result was announced. Personally, I think that they could not see past their own prejudices to assess the film independently. At the end I remember turning to my English girlfriend (whose ancestors ran with Wallace in Elderslie) who had enjoyed the film, and started to recount the historical inaccuracies in the film…but there was one thing that I could not escape. Some of the most stirring moments…were absolutely on the money, in terms of conveying my own personal sense of who I was. The arc of the emotion, or the spirit of the film, ‘felt’ right, despite the morass of errors.

From a dramatic perspective, one of the tightest (leaving aside Gibson’s ‘eve of battle’ speech on horseback) was when he held back his army from rushing into combat, and throwing away their advantage. Remember the line – you will if you’ve seen it: “Hold…hold…hold…” It is genuinely thrilling, and has entered popular culture as a conversational meme.

I thought of this a couple of days ago, when Nicola Sturgeon tweeted – standby, they are going to throw everything at us in the next 7 days. If the following 48 hours were anything to go by, she was dead right. As comedic as the ‘3 wise men’ running up to Scotland was, with Norman Smith standing in London with a face like he swallowed a wasp, having laughingly dismissed the campaign some months ago, the resurrection of the old plugged scare stories of price rises in supermarkets (ably illustrated by Dateline Scotland Episode 7), mortgage rises, and tired financial exits have been wearing indeed. The onslaught of the last days has only increased – but the peak incident was at an international news conference, where Alex Salmond responded to declarations from RBS, Lloyds and others by reading the full letter from RBS, and making clear that undertakings of no job movements or losses had been made to staff. As this was in response to a somewhat patronising Nick Robinson question, Alex then went on to break the story of the Treasury briefing journalists on market-sensitive information, to the applause of the assembled international media. The 8 minute video did the rounds from the BBC News Channel live broadcast, with a variety of comments relating to how Alex’s reply had handed Nick’s – well, let’s politely say ‘rear end’ – back to him on a plate.

Fast forward to the 6 o’clock news – and by magic transformation, not only is Nick’s heckling cut out, but he states that Alex “didn’t answer” the question. Wait, what? Even though it was broadcast on the BBC News Channel, for all to see? Also appearing yesterday was the Pistorius trial judgement (part 1 of 2), where he was determined to be not guilty of murder. If Nick Robinson was reporting that in the evening, would Oscar similarly have been convicted of premeditated murder, via Nick’s ‘Magic News Editing Suite’? This is into ‘implausible deniability’, when your own TV station has broadcast the answer in full that you so determinedly say did not happen – this is not via someone’s amateur camera phone coverage in the audience, later shakily uploaded to YouTube – this was the BBC’s own Political Editor ignoring himself being broadcast live on the BBC News Channel only six hours earlier.

Maybe Nick never exactly floated my boat – he was clearly noone to give time of day to the idea of independence, but then most of the London media pack are like that – but to move from supercilious dismissal to outright deception like this was quite striking. Until perhaps one looks into his background.

President of the Conservative Party Youth Group? President of the Oxford University Conservative Association? Founder member of Macclesfield Young Conservatives? Young Conservatives National Advisory Committee member? Chairman of the National Young Conservatives? Really, BBC??!? Political Editor under a Conservative-controlled government???! With his selective memory, Nick should clearly have gone into politics at Westminster, where he might well have soared.

Of course, Nicola is right. This is just the beginning – kitchen sinks and copper pipes from the wall will be ripped out and hurled over the next days. And we are still waiting for the well-nigh inevitable faux terrorist stunt in the last 48 hours of the campaign.

Are they skilled enough in their deception in the last days to get away with it? They have botched a lot of things over the past months – years – perhaps due to complacency from their dominance of the airwaves…but if they get it ‘right’ now, it could perhaps make the difference. Perhaps the key question is, how many people have already learned not to trust the BBC, or even the other media? Have they discredited themselves ‘enough’ to drop the ball at this late stage?

And Nicola said: Hold…Hold…

 

“The onslaught of scare campaigns would make Dick Cheney blush.” (Peter Macleod in the Sydney Morning Herald)

Scotland’s Economic Prospects In and Out of Union, and the Death of the Post-War Dream

At the end of my first day back on the stall, an individual approached the stall wanting to know our reasons for voting Yes. It soon became clear that rather than undecided, he was a ‘No’ voter, so as my colleagues packed up tables and diminishing numbers of leaflets in the background, I continued to talk to him. Although ‘No’ supporters are ‘high risk’ in terms of time investment (and there is always the danger of them simply being a deliberately time-wasting troll – but for that they usually pretend to be undecided), this is also part of winning the potential peace if we get a Yes vote, and if at least some concerns can be alleviated amongst the more rational and less headstrong of them, then the smoother that transition might be. We don’t want ‘Project Fear’ to reap its own harvest of further fear in the wake of an actual ‘Yes’, having spent its entire campaign trying to create uncertainty about the future of a much wealthier (per head) independent Scotland, without turning any scrutiny to the massive uncertainties of remaining tied to a UK economy that is going down the pan with an ever increasing debt mountain (and punishing the poor and disabled on its way down).

It appeared, from his account, that he had been swayed to ‘No’ by the arguments of a variety of economists. I suggested that he look at Joseph Stiglitz’s analysis, but wanted to use it as a prompt to get a particular article on the economy up on this blog.

Others elsewhere have noted the degree to which the UK’s economy continues to decline, thus starting to raise the possibilities of further cuts than those already waiting in the wings after a ‘No’ vote. Others elsewhere have run the numbers for what Scotland’s net surplus contribution to the UK has been over the last thirty years (£222 billion). For further figures on Scotland’s longer term pre-oil overpayment, I refer the interested to Business for Scotland: http://www.businessforscotland.co.uk/scotlands-century-of-lost-wealth/ and also for figures predating Ireland’s break from the UK to ‘The Historical Debt’, an article on Wings Over Scotland that reprints figures from a 1960s (pre-oil) publication.

The Financial Times (February 4th) has noted that Scotland would start with better finances (10.9% better, to be precise) than the UK from day 1 of independence. This – like many reports – also makes the flawed assumption that the expenditure plans of the Scottish Government would remain the same as currently (i.e. devolved rather than independent), whereas the lack of burden of UK –spending plans currently not directly benefiting Scotland would also be lifted. If you like, this is the dividend savings of self-government – freed of supporting infrastructure projects elsewhere in the UK with no direct Scottish benefit (particularly London-centric ones, such as the Olympics – see earlier blog for the tourism impact on Scotland that year) such as HS2 (which Scotland will pay £4.8-7.9 billion towards, despite it stopping 150 miles short of the border), the replacement for Trident (£250 million per year for Scottish taxpayers, currently £160 million per year for the current model), shares of the £3 billion Westminster refurbishment (never mind the £60 million per year currently paid to running Westminster and the Scotland Office – and that is without the imminent 10% pay rise announced for MPs) and the £4.2 billion London sewer upgrade (perhaps related to the preceding item in the list – who can say?). They also do not take account of export duty and VAT currently lost to Scotland via payments through port of exit (for duty) and head office location (for VAT).

The proposed budget in the SNP’s Scotland’s Future manifesto includes £800 million per annum on defense, in order to set up a Scottish military. There are also the opportunities that come from paying for a Scottish rather than London-based civil service – and from closing tax loopholes (£2.8 billion currently estimated to be lost in Scotland by HMRC) partly through replacing the horrifically complicated UK tax system with a transparent and efficient one with fewer loopholes.

All of these are positive opportunities to save vast amounts of money as well as expand our activities and pay towards an oil fund. But there is a rising political pressure (undoubtedly a vote winner with those in the UK that are outside of Scotland) to scrap the Barnett Formula, which (if replaced by an average system for all), will leave a hole the size of 30% of the Scottish block grant. This should also be viewed against the alternative, whereby the Scottish Government Budget allocated from 2011-2016 is planned to drop by almost 10%. Where, of the 42 nations analysed, the UK’s pensions are not only the worst in Europe (see previous blog) but 39th out of 42 in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (Mexico, Indonesia and South Africa are the only countries that come lower in pensions).

Currently we have a political climate that demonises the poor, to the extent that a welfare agenda that saves £6 million by Ian Duncan Smith with a benefit cap in its first year, yet costs £120 million to implement, is presented as legitimate or beneficial. Where, under the pretense of eliminating the DWP estimated £1.2 billion of benefit fraud, cancer sufferers assessed as able to work, while benefit overpayments due to error are £1.4 billion (DWP estimate) and dwarfed by the £16 billion of unclaimed benefits both go unaddressed. And figures for tax avoidance are estimated between £30-120 billion, yet that is not a priority. Labour’s complicity in the welfare cuts (even promising to go further) and the privatisation of the NHS in England and Wales dragging NHS (Scotland) down the same route of a privatized health service through corresponding funding cuts paint us a picture of the future of health and welfare within the UK that is increasingly bleak. This is the Death of the Post-War Dream, as the Westminster government ties its people into nuclear energy companies with ridiculous guaranteed tariffs when we have our own burgeoning energy resources, nuclear weapons sit on the Clyde as a ghost of Empire that are entirely redundant for us in the modern age, and not tackling but creating more poverty when we could seriously address it as a priority which it has ever been for Westminster.

Our priorities are not those of the SE of England, and they are the ones who determine the government of Westminster – NEVER us. And for that reason, we cannot expect to ever receive an equitable deal within the Union – that is simple politics. If we take responsibility for ourselves and our actions, we can avoid continuing as the rich nation held in poverty by its neighbor, and be what we can be.

 

“Even excluding North Sea output ….Scotland would qualify for our highest economic assessment” (Standard and Poor’s, global credit rating agency, February 27th 2014)

 “An independent Scotland could expect to start with healthier state finances than the rest of the UK” (Financial Times, February 3rd 2014)

A Binary Mess of a Decision: Salmond’s Trust & The Social Media War

It’s a funny thing about politics – you cast a vote in secret, and it is up to you whether you disclose it afterwards. So how does this work differently in a referendum? Well, in a multi-party election, its fairly easy for uncertainty of ‘actual choice’ to play a role: even if you know someone well enough to know their political views, a comfortable region of doubt still usually exists – perhaps their clearly articulated political viewpoints are still nebulous or ill-defined enough localized to 2 or 3 different political parties. Let’s face it, even when some people used to say they were for an independent Scotland, it was quite often the case that that statement would be ‘suffaced’ (like a preface is to a prefix, so a sufface is to a suffix 🙂 ) by ‘but I don’t trust the SNP’. I can remember Magnus Linklater’s poll in the Scotsman at the time of the 1992 election which said something very similar, with over 50% wanting independence, but political support for the one party wanting to deliver that objective at less than half that figure. So party political votes cannot be clearly mapped on to personal beliefs in a clear way – and you might well be left suspecting that dear Aunt Jessie might have voted for the Conservatives with her unusually ‘traditional’ view on immigration, but could not be 100% certain – especially if tactical voting came into play.

The Referendum is different. Apart from not being about any politician or party, it is a simple Yes or No. Binary decision. So in a broad sense, it is much harder to hide your reactions to a variety of issues, and not give away which way you’re inclining in your vote, when there are only two options – and that is with uncertainty in the casting, before knowing the result. It will be even easier to tell afterwards – the response will be a link between your beliefs and whether your vote was on the winning side or not.

So even if you don’t raise the issue with others – you can get a sense fairly quickly, in any long period with a colleague conversing on anything else. Even with the big switch over the weekend, when everything seemed to step up a gear, you could have a good idea from people’s various levels of tension.

To be fair, many ‘No’ voters (from experience on the stall) seem easy to spot: their refusal to think or engage with the question that has been so marginalised for so long pushes them swiftly into the open, and as the tide of Yes support rises around their feet, that stuttering confusion as incoherence rises along with incredulity leads to only one response:”…just….No!!!”. A lot of this inarticulacy – often coupled with an insistence that this is not something that will be discussed – comes from the last decades of marginalization of the idea of Scottish independence as merely a joke commodity. Surprisingly, this has dictated much of the press coverage since the SNP majority, which has been (until a few weeks ago) fairly universally condemnatory and abusive of anyone contemplating Yes…and most especially of that First Minister.

As others have noted before, this is a somewhat bizarre approach. As much as personalizing a campaign makes it easier to pretend it is one person and thus easier to discredit, the one person that they have chosen does remarkable public satisfaction and trust ratings.

Yesterday I mentioned how so crude a metric as his ‘FaceBook likes’ were soaring in the last 3 weeks. Better Together would no doubt say that this was no doubt the CyberNats, well-trained members of the SNP machine, all-powerful as mythical creatures tend to be – yet the membership of the SNP party (although easily the largest in Scotland) is only around 25,000. Alex is today on 57,145, Nicola on 39,071, John Swinney on 10,527. In August last year, a poll examined how much the public (regardless of whether or not they agreed with the individuals concerned) felt that they were acting in the best interests of Scotland.
On the Yes side: Alex Salmond +15, Nicola Sturgeon +12, Patrick Harvie -14
On the No side: Alistair Darling -11, Willie Rennie -13, Anas Sarwar -18, Ruth Davidson -18, Johann Lamont -19, Michael Moore -20, David Cameron -42

The same poll asked which of these the public believed were telling the truth about independence. On the Yes side: Alex Salmond (-3), Nicola Sturgeon (-5), Dennis Canavan (-19), Blair Jenkins (-31)
On the No side: Alistair Darling (-27), Michael Moore (-43), Anas Sarwar (-47), Blair McDougall (-62)
On this basis, the combined net trust ratings were Yes -58, No -179, making the No campaign slightly over three times as distrusted as Yes.

The following month, September 2013, another poll looked at the satisfaction ratings of the four party leaders: Alex Salmond: Overall rating +11; David Cameron: Overall rating -45; Ed Miliband: Overall rating -46; Nick Clegg: Overall rating -53

As a leader midway through second term leading government, those are remarkable satisfaction and trust ratings, in comparable terms, given that the No campaign has decided to try and focus their attention on identifying the campaign solely with him and noone else.

As in the creation of a single isolated personality, so for the pretense that there is only one group in Yes. But that is one of the things that I like about ‘Yes’ – it is a truly broad umbrella, with all sorts of groups contained within it. I like the breadth of ‘Yes’, and the wide-ranging skillset of its diverse supporters. Like Business for Scotland. I confess at the opening show of the Willie Macrae play last month at the Edinburgh Festival, I found myself behind Michelle Thomson, the Managing Director of Business for Scotland in the queue – then had the embarrassment of experiencing a ‘fanboy crisis’. I blustered an apology at the end of the performance, explaining that it was a little weird for me, as I had been watching her on YouTube the previous night. Right, so THAT went well, then….

Or there is also National Collective, whose creatives I have referred to elsewhere, and not forgetting Radical Independence, Women for Independence, Academics for Yes, NHS for Yes, Disabled for Yes, Wealthy Nation…And yet many of these groups are barely referred to at all during Referendum coverage. Because, as in the same way as ‘Yes’ has to be solely identified with Salmond (see ‘Conflation and Personalisation’, elsewhere on this Blog) following the strategy highlighted by Professor John Robertson’s research (University of the West of Scotland) on media bias, so all groups must merely be ‘SNP fronts’ – which of course is hilarious in the context of the stooge Astroturf organizations (see ‘Fake Plastic Grass Roots’ elsewhere on this blog) parachuted in to try and give the ‘No’ campaign a veneer of credibility. That same ‘personalising’ strategy that eliminates the ‘Yes’ movement and the grassroots campaign in favour of leaving Alex Salmond as somehow the only person in Scotland that wants this to happen, also airbrushes every other group out, eliminating the broad umbrella or ‘kirk’ of ‘Yes’, in favour of painting it solely as the SNP – and nobody else. That way it shuts down and denies any discussion of this being a ‘popular’ movement – one born of and sustained by the people, with whom sovereignty is retained.

And yet still the Yes support has risen. Almost as though people are finding the guidance on ‘who to trust’ from elsewhere. Perhaps from themselves. Out there, exploring on the Internet. Using Social Media: becoming the Caledonian version of the Arab Spring. Ignoring the media machinery for the state. Against all the odds.

IF we manage it.

 

“If Scotland becomes independent, it will be despite the efforts of almost the entire UK establishment. It will be because social media has defeated the corporate media. It will be a victory for citizens over the Westminster machine, for shoes over helicopters. It will show that a sufficiently inspiring idea can cut through bribes and blackmail, through threats and fear-mongering. That hope, marginalised at first, can spread across a nation, defying all attempts to suppress it. That you can be hated by the Daily Mail and still have a chance of winning.” (George Monbiot)