‘Questions, a Burden to Others’: The True Divisiveness of the Scottish Independence Referendum

The 1960s television series ‘The Prisoner’ warned against asking questions when living in The Village. ‘Questions, a Burden to Others’, followed by the ever-so slightly patronising companion message ‘Answers, a Prison for Oneself’. Nobody wants you to ask questions, is the message – and you will not like any answers that you get. Perhaps they saw it as ‘Divisive’?

‘Divisive’ has become a very popular word in the press recently, in reference to referenda: it is supposed to indicate that asking a referendum question is a bad thing, because it ‘divides’ people. The usage seems to me to be desperately trying to ignore that any democratic process – whether referendum or election – becomes therefore intrinsically ‘divisive’. There is a reason why they ring a ‘Division bell’ in Westminster to signal MPs to go to their division lobby to vote for or against a resolution. Should they rename it something less ‘choicey’? Something that sounds less – dare I say it? – ‘separatist’? If democracy was not divisive, then that would be because everyone thought the same….and therefore there would be no reason to check which was the preferred option for any given question. So, in that sense, ‘divisive’ though asking a question may be, it is also kind of intrinsic to the idea of democracy in the first place…otherwise people are just being dictated to. (We might guess that the individuals that ran The Village were more in favour of the latter – rather than the former – option of government.)

Therefore, the treatment by politicians and the press of ‘Divisiveness’ as incredibly unusual in a democracy, and something that people need to be protected from, needs closer examination. Political elections are HIGHLY ‘Divisive’ – and the fact that they happen pretty much annually, whether for local councils, Holyrood, Westminster or to the European Parliament – suggests that society somehow manages to recover and continue on, no matter how ‘divisive’ – or ‘choice-ive’ – multiple parties on a ballot paper are. So are the dangers of being ‘Divisive’ more unique to the clearly terrible phenomenon of a referendum, rather than an election, then? Astonishingly, Switzerland – which had 31 referenda between 1995 and 2005, to answer 103 questions – has not collapsed into internecine violence and anarchy as a result of this ‘division’ in its political culture. It seems that asking questions is not so dangerous after all.

One thing that the prospective referendum certainly seems to have been ‘Divisive’ about, is the response of the political parties. At their conference in Perth on Saturday, the Scottish LibDems said they would oppose a second independence referendum – just as Nick Clegg (former Deputy Prime Minister and ex-party leader) said that Westminster should not block one. The leaders of the political parties opposing the SNP in Holyrood have faired little better: the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has gone on record saying that she opposed a second independence referendum, but that Westminster should not block it.  In September 2015, the Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said that she would allow Scottish Labour MSPs to have a free vote on a second independence referendum, even permitting them to campaign for independence. However, since then she has moved from her position, saying in July 2016 in the wake of the EU Referendum (The Guardian on 7th July) that it would be “categorically wrong” for the UK Government to refuse a second independence referendum, and now saying that she will oppose such a referendum. And – to top it all – the UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Saturday that it would be “fine” for there to be a second Scottish independence referendum. He changed his position again this morning, just before Nicola’s announcement from Bute House – but not before a Labour supporter had started a Twitter poll on whether or not Corbyn was right to approve of the referendum, and 89% of the votes cast said ‘Yes, he was’. So the latest statement from Jeremy is that Scottish Labour will vote to block the referendum in Holyrood, but UK Labour will not vote to block it in Westminster. All clear, then? All this from the party that brought you the new Twitter hashtag of #unitescotlandnotdivide with zero sense of irony.

‘Divisive’ – the word was even used by No.10 Downing Street today, straight after Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement, when the Prime Minister’s Office said that an independence referendum would be ‘Divisive’. This would presumably be ‘Divisive’ in a similar way to BrExit, except that BrExit gets more and more ‘Divisive’ as it continues, steering harder towards an antiquated imperialistic world-view, and away from the liberal state that people once thought the UK was…even going so far as for Theresa May to threaten to take devolved areas back from Holyrood.

In this regard, Theresa May seems to have been keen to be as provocative as possible and make people in Scotland feel divided from the UK’s decision-making, even if she does not want them to vote for independence so that Scotland is actually away from the UK. That single odd action by Theresa May at the Scottish Conservative conference a couple of weeks ago – talking about taking powers back from the Scottish Parliament, for some new devolved settlement – exemplifies how unnecessary it was for Westminster to be facing the prospect of another Scottish independence referendum again, especially so soon. All of this is happening as a result of the UK Government’s mismanagement not so much of the 2014 Referendum, as of the aftermath of the Referendum: from Cameron’s English Votes for English Laws on the morning of the 19th September 2014 (rendering Scottish MPs second-class members of the Westminster parliament, hot on the heels of promises that the Union was a partnership of equals), on to the homeopathic treatment of the Smith Commission to make the promised ‘Vow’ an irrelevance. All this, just at the time they should have been endeavouring to woo people back, to make them feel valued as part of the Union – as JK Rowling opined in her advocacy of a ‘No’ vote: “I doubt whether we will ever have been more popular, or in a better position to dictate terms, than if we vote to stay.” But no: on it went, with the disappointing response to the differential EU referendum result for Scotland…it has all been botched by an indifferent Westminster government, who did not seem to realise that there was ever a ‘peace’ to win, once the first campaign was finished and won.

So ‘wooing’ (rough or otherwise) was the path not chosen by the UK Government. Instead, the message of ‘gotcha, suckers’ was writ large. They were so confident that such an SNP mandate was a one-off circumstance that would not be repeated, that they could be as boorish and triumphalist as they wanted about their victory, secure in the knowledge of the inevitable collapse in support for the Scottish National Party now they had lost the September 2014 Referendum. This was clearly the end of the SNP, and the end of aspirations for an independent Scotland.

Well, not so much. We arrived today at the First Minister’s residence in Bute House for a morning press conference called at short notice. A series of recent polls showing increased support for Scottish independence (one even exceeding 50%) and the campaign had not even had the starting pistol fired. At the end of the First Minister’s announcement to the press that she was going to ask the Scottish Parliament to pass legislation for a second referendum on Scottish independence, a fundraiser was launched to raise a million pounds for the referendum campaign in 100 days. In seven hours, it had raised over a hundred thousand pounds (almost an hour after Wings Over Scotland’s annual crowd-fundraiser had coincidentally hit the same figure following 14 days on Indiegogo).

As much as the rhetoric has been about ‘Divisiveness’ from the unionist parties run from London, it is the negative actions of those parties that have led to a uniting of Scots from different party backgrounds under a Yes banner. Far more so than when the last starting gun was fired, back in 2012, with support for Scottish independence on 28%. The answer this time may – or may not – be different, but the responsibility for the question being asked lies solely in London.

 

“A country denied the ability to run its own economy is blamed for being bankrupt by the authority which exercises those macro-economic powers over it. The British Treasury pulls our wings off then laughs when we can’t fly.” (Derek Bateman, former BBC Scotland broadcaster)

(Thanks to Chris Cairns of Cairnstoon for the above cartoon, first published 11/3/2017)

P.S. I would love to have said that Scotland might culturally be more comfortable with the idea of having referenda than many other areas of the UK, due to its tradition that the people – rather than parliament – are sovereign…but that might be giving a lot of people a little more credit for knowing more details of Scottish political history than might perhaps be realistic. Especially as I could not have claimed to have known this myself before the previous referendum occurred…. 🙂

Race to the Bottom: Scarecrows, Straw Men and the Murder of Axmed Abuukar Sheekh

Last week was marked by the fallout from the Labour Party’s Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, use of a speech at a party conference to equate the movement for Scottish independence with racism, as well as the volatile comment pieces that sprang up as a result.  (See http://www.ericjoyce.co.uk/2017/03/the-claire-heuchan-episode-is-an-early-warning-to-independence-supporters/ for a timeline of the most significant contributions.) The resulting field of commentary resembles less one of battle, than one of agriculture, because it is so filled with ‘straw men’ that you cannot see the crops for the scarecrows.

The Mayor of London had been invited to speak at the Scottish Labour Party’s spring conference in Perth last Saturday, which was serving as a final rallying cry before May 2017’s Scottish council elections, in which Labour are expected to lose heavily (a projected drop of 12 points on 2012’s results, where they lost the popular vote to the SNP for the first time). Khan apparently penned his speech in conjunction with Anas Sarwar (former MP and deputy leader of Labour in Scotland – rumours were rife over that weekend that Khan was somewhat annoyed at Sarwar for messing up his pitch, perhaps as an attempt to break Khan’s erstwhile close relationship with Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon). Much of his oration was trailed in advance on the Friday in the Daily Record – an understandable preview platform, as it is the Scottish Labour Party’s pet tabloid (infamously responsible for the empty ‘Vow’ that swung the September 2014 Independence Referendum vote at the 11th hour), but it caused such a backlash that his speech as delivered the following day seemed to back off from the stridency of some of his more contentious statements as they had been promoted in print. “There’s no difference between those who try to divide us on the basis of whether we’re English or Scottish and those who try to divide us on the basis of our background, race or religion” had the caveats of “in this respect” and “of course I’m not saying the SNP are racist” inserted, to slightly distance himself from his own previewed text.

The take-home message from his speech was easy, his comments parsed down to the shorthand version of ‘if you vote for Scottish self-determination, then you are a racist – so stop supporting independence and back the Labour Party’…which unsurprisingly drew a somewhat negative response from the Yes movement: many of them were former Labour voters, and this strategy may not have been the wisest to ‘woo them back to the fold’ in advance of the May council elections. (People don’t like being called racists.)

In the immediate aftermath, with Khan’s speech doing more to damage his reputation than to encourage a resurgence for the ailing Labour Party, enter Claire Heuchan, a PhD student from Stirling University, who penned a comment piece for The Guardian newspaper, endorsing the interpretation that Scottish nationalism relied on ‘othering’ and issues of belonging:”both perspectives are reliant on a clear distinction being made between those who belong and those who are rejected on the basis of difference”. Inherent in Heuchan’s article is the assumption of a belief on the part of the Yes movement that Scottish society has somehow already achieved an egalitarian nirvana, which is a fallacy of presupposition, often presented as Scotland believing itself ‘racism-free’. This reminded me of my time as a student in Edinburgh in the 1980s, when a 28 year old Somali refugee student called Axmed Abuukar Sheekh was murdered in the Cowgate in Edinburgh on January 15th 1989 by a group of white youths. Firstly, it is depressing to recognise just how long the Somali refugee crisis has been ongoing. But beyond that, although there had been racist killings in Scotland before, this brutal act more than any other publicly killed the lie of Scotland being free of racist violence, and led to a coming together of a group of us, to form Edinburgh Students Against Racism. Our aims swiftly coalesced around a campaign to have the murder classified as racist: there was a determination on the side of the authorities not to prosecute it as a racist killing, in spite of correspondence composed by the suspect (while incarcerated) bearing National Front and swastika symbols…along with the Union Flag.

The association of the Union Flag with such sentiments should not come as any great surprise, even before the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox by Britain First supporter Thomas Mair last year – after all, it is unlikely that any country will grow to become a major imperial power if it is ‘burdened by inclusive attitudes’ – and the well-recorded support for racist groups in the UK (the British National Party, the KKK, the Orange Order, the English Defense League, the Scottish Defense League) for a ‘No’ vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum of September 2014 was emphatic. Beyond campaigning groups, this pattern was also reflected in the attitudes of those who actually voted. Last September, a YouGov poll correlated responses to questions about what people regarded as making someone ‘Scottish’ with their vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum: place of birth, parental heritage, where one grew up, time period of residency, even simple personal belief of ‘Scottishness’ were all assessed by the sample. In all categories (save for ‘two parents Scottish’), Yes voters were more receptive and welcoming to those who considered themselves to be Scottish – for whatever reason.

This was further supported by a Panelbase poll in February of this year, where a question was asked about the level of immigration: with Scotland having one of the lowest immigrant population shares in the First World (at less than 7%), it is not unreasonable to use this question as a proxy for racism. (People don’t tend to like being asked directly if they are racist.) The results were quite stark, with No voters, Leave voters and supporters of the two main unionist parties (Conservative and Labour) polling as significantly more racist than Yes voters, Remain voters and supporters of the LibDems and SNP. (Similarly, the over 55 part of those sampled, which famously voted ‘No’ in contrast to the younger demographics, also came out with more than 50% agreeing that there was ‘too much immigration’.)

Sadiq may have unwittingly stumbled into this, without realising it, but …the idea that Scottish independence is about anti-English racism is old and redundant: it is demonstrably not, and is very far away from that. Scottish self-determination has not been about ‘anti-Englishness’ for a very, very long time, and only a failure to conduct adequate research might lead him to say otherwise. Such a statement is at best lazy or ‘late to the party’, at worst deliberately provocative…and, indeed, an attempt at divisiveness.

With Sadiq’s apparent starting point intrinsically flawed regarding the Yes movement, the first Straw Man appears. Khan was fundamentally wrong about Scottish independence being about dividing Scots and English – apart from the fact that I can remember vocal English SNP members back in the 1980s, the self-determination movement exists because people who live in Scotland recognise that UK governments systematically and repeatedly fail, disparage and ignore them and their needs (simply look at the power structures involved). This has often been reflected by Westminster outrage when Scotland decides to similarly ignore the agents of those Westminster governments – and begins to vote en masse for an alternative. Straw Man #1 is the premise that ‘Scottish independence is about being anti-English’ – and one might surmise from Khan’s modifications on the day of his conference presentation that he had started to realise that this might not be a safe argument, and that he perhaps had to some degree been set up by his hosts as a comparatively uninformed stooge. But this is a standard British nationalist/unionist error, or trope, and I cannot help feel (having seen British nationalism unfold over many years) that the narrative that we hear from that side telling us that Scottish self-determination is identity politics, is simply because they cannot themselves imagine any other reason why someone would want to be independent from Britain (because, why else could you ever wish to leave such an oh-so-perfect union?) – except for despising the dominant and controlling nation of the UK.

But whereas Khan set the first hare running, the rest of the Straw Men from last week were planted by Claire Heuchan.

Claire presents Straw Man #2 by attacking the concept of  “a fairer Scotland”, a commonly cited aspiration for the Yes movement.  Through her myopic prism of ‘othering’, she can only interpret this as being a statement about being ‘fairer than England’ – the more obvious conclusion that the aspiration is for a Scotland fairer than it is just now, simply does not occur to her…or perhaps does not fit with her argument, as such an aspiration is not an unreasonable ambition for any country. (It seems too obvious to go into the idea that perhaps the current lack of fairness in our society might in some way at least in part be due to the actions of the controlling partner of the Union over the preceding 300 plus years – but I digress.)

Straw Man #3, however, may be the most offensive – that those who campaign for Scottish independence are white and therefore have never experienced racism. Putting aside the very clear racism deployed against Catholics in Scotland, as elaborated on by Paul Kavanagh (see https://weegingerdug.wordpress.com/2017/02/28/lets-talk-about-racism-in-scotland/), which affected a great deal of supporters of Scottish self-determination, that assertion is simply not true, either. It follows Heuchan’s wry yet smug (and more than a little patronising) comment that “there is a certain irony to white people with progressive politics rubbishing what an Asian man has to say about racism”.

When Heuchan’s opinion piece initially came out in The Guardian, I was shocked by the vociferous criticism it received by dignified and respected journalist Ian McWhirter as “pig ignorant…piss poor”. But having read – and reread – it, I began to understand why he reacted that way. From initially thinking that the writer was simply well-intentioned but hapless, I began to believe that her piece was fundamentally racist or discriminatory in and of itself. For a long time, Scots complaints against discrimination within the UK were dismissed – ‘it cannot be racist because you are not a race’ was the laughing response – and yet now we have the insinuation that as a group we can ourselves be racist to English people? One rule for one and another for another? Well, that would be consistent with our experience in the Union thus far, I guess…and the silencing of people in Scotland as ‘others’ who can have no legitimate reason for protest is furthermore extended within the accusation of Claire’s article: if you are white, you cannot contest this, because you lack a common frame of reference. (Again, Paul Kavanagh gives the lie to that observation in his blog referenced above on anti-Irish racism.) Maybe it was all just a light piece of PhD thesis task avoidance behaviour  by Claire, to troll using The Guardian and (as one observer put it) call the best part of 2 million Scots racist, then disappear off Twitter for 5 days – but she cannot expect to give her opinion without it going unchallenged. Playing the race card in this cynical way is nothing but an attempt to gain exceptionalism and exclusivity from criticism: the naivete of the statement “white SNP supporters and allies have never been subject to racism” is hackneyed and rings hollow. Heuchan listens only to her own prejudices, rather than objectively commenting on the Yes movement itself, and her remarkably thoughtless article has, however unwittingly, done more to silence discussion about racism in Scotland, than to enable a discussion about it – despite perhaps purporting to do exactly the reverse. But then, as we will see, enabling discussion and resolution may very well not be her demonstrable agenda behind writing the piece after all.

But before that, let us look at Straw Man #4, equating national self-determination – a movement for all who live in Scotland – as being one of exclusion (an argument that could only be made for a nationalist movement in a controlling position within an already existing state – which Scotland most certainly is not). Here, Claire goes beyond the ‘standard’ error of describing self-determination as an issue of identity: her contention of the ‘othering’ of difference is precariously and utterly reliant on being able to describe Scottish self-determination as being about identity in the first place. She expresses it in terms of the fear of differentiation as a means to argue against self-determination…but I cannot help wonder if she would have the same reservations when speaking to those in the United States, India and much of Africa about making the same decision to determine their own future and leave the rule of a government based in London. Surely she does not give legitimacy to one and not the other…because of skin colour, or religious differences? Or…does she think that the case for Scottish self-determination has some fundamental reason why it – as opposed to the many other self-determination movements that have led to the diminution of the British (and other) empires – lacks legitimacy? Why would it be so exceptional?

After Heuchan’s comment piece was published, her past tweets (as Sister Outrider) and the nature of her political activism began to emerge during the following days: not only had she been a ‘Better Together’ activist (you will see her at the very start of this BetterTogether advert https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxbAu3LphYM – as the first of ten ‘students and young people’), but also repeatedly using the phrase ‘British and Proud’ for her observations – including rebuffing an approach from the Afro-Caribbean community. This phrase is a somewhat typically British Nationalist mantra. Shortly after these tweets began to be publicised, Heuchan went off Twitter, citing abuse and threats.

As I have said, as much as I wanted to believe that Heuchan’s piece was well-intentioned, I came to wonder more and more about whether it was fundamentally racist in and of itself. Khan is no political novice, and definitely no backroom student keen to take part in activist videos – he is a clever and savvy politician, and had to be to get to the office of Mayor of London. As such, it is profoundly depressing to think of how much his remarks demonstrate his ignorance of broad discrimination – and how much it validates the perspective that the London commentariat really have neither the first clue about, nor any interest in, what happens in Scotland. To appropriate Theresa May’s terminology, he is only capable of understanding a simplistic “narrow idea of” racism, and struggles to imagine anything beyond that (in spite of the plethora of evidence to the contrary), revealing his dearth of understanding of discrimination where it is on a non-colour basis. To an extent, Sadiq Khan looks like he was simply used to deliver someone else’s message, and has come out of it looking a trifle gullible and more than a little foolish. In contrast, I cannot find Claire Heuchan to be such a victim: she very clearly appears to have intended to exploit Khan’s error in order to make political capital to further her ‘Better Together’ agenda.

Eric Joyce notes that Heuchan (as an apparently committed unionist) ignores any context of unionists ‘othering’ outsiders to give any comparisons (much as she woefully fails to present any substantive evidence or examples for her argument – which is somewhat concerning in a would-be academic). We have already looked at the statistics of voting patterns with regard to racism and immigration for both Scottish Independence Referendum and EU positions, to show that Yes and Remain were positions very much against ‘othering’, in stark contrast to those favouring BrExit and ‘No’. Even beyond that, taking the way the Scottish and the UK governments – symbolising the Yes and the unionist movements, respectively – approached the constituencies to which they put the questions in those two referenda is enlightening: the openness of the Scottish Independence Referendum (where the franchise was not determined by where you were born, but simply if you lived in Scotland, without question of time of residency), was without any question a far more inclusive stance than that taken for the EU referendum, where EU nationals were simply denied the vote. Evidence and polling data aplenty was available – but Heuchan was not making a critical analysis, solely wishing to focus on Scottish independence supporters, without context of their opponents, lest the Yes movement start to look a lot more pleasant in comparison.

At Edinburgh Students Against Racism, like most student groups, we had invited speakers. Local MP  Alistair Darling was (perhaps ironically, now) one, back in the day when he did not feel that he had to remove his beard if he wanted to rise to power and ermine. Another was the broadcaster Muriel Gray, who was then Rector of the University of Edinburgh, and she came to one of our early meetings. I remember one anecdote she related to us there, about riding the London Underground, watching a black man reading the Daily Express, and wanting to shake him and shout “why are you reading that, that paper HATES you!!”. Labour campaigned against Scottish self-determination on the basis of its xenophobic ‘fear of becoming foreigners’, with the inherent underlying exceptionalism that nothing could be worse than waking up one day and ‘not being British’. Since then they have emphatically endorsed immigration control, and echoed the most discriminatory policies of the Conservative government. Even the UK government’s approach to permanent residency applications comes across as significantly more discriminatory than most other EU member states: in Europe, under the same EU law, the UK government requires an 85 page form to be completed, at a cost of £65 for such an application – whereas in Germany, it is 2 pages for €8 and in Eire it is 5 pages and free. These barriers to migrants are all anathemas to Scotland, a country that is utterly dependent on increasing immigration in order to survive and thrive, and it makes me seriously question why Claire advocates a Union that speaks – not just through the rise of UKIP ‘values’ in the Conservative government, but also through a Labour opposition that comfortably embraces the terminology and tropes of ‘blood and soil nationalism’ – of foreigners in such negative terms. Her premise that Scottish self-determination is driven by ‘anti-Englishness’ may be delusional, but the UK Government and opposition seem to be remarkably at home with ‘othering’ – and perhaps that is worth her while reflecting a little more soberly on.

Within a couple of days of her comment piece being published in The Guardian, Robert Sommyne (a supporter of Scottish independence from a London Afro-Caribbean family) had responded to contradict her, using his experience with the Yes movement, and Claire Heuchan had left Twitter, citing online abuse. This posting is very deliberately not about abuse (which will be dealt with in another piece, as part of the new information-political landscape that we live in), and clearly deals with the assertions in the person’s writing, rather than criticism of the person themselves. Abuse should not be tolerated, and regardless of how insultingly your political movement may have been trolled in The Guardian to an audience of three quarters of a million people, it simply should not be done: any ad hominem comments or attacks simply look as though you cannot rebut the argument itself – so play the ball, not the player. But if you publish opinions and comments, you have to be prepared to be held to account for what you publish – someone studying for a PhD in particular should know that. Criticism of your published work is not abuse, and such not be conflated to be such – holding someone to account is not abuse – as Eric Joyce has noted, if you do genuinely suffer online abuse and threats, then that has no part in political debate, and you should report it to the police. As with the experience of the 2014 independence referendum, the Yes side is the only one which receives any scrutiny or examination – never the one representing the vested interests of the British establishment….and given Heuchan’s avowed unionist agenda, I would have been less bothered by her article if she or The Guardian had made it clear that her comment was coming from a far from neutral standpoint, but one with a very real axe to grind. But it was left for others to discover that through research, and to disseminate the hidden broader context of her opinions, and how her words played directly to her own very specific political agenda, rather than actually coming from a more balanced perspective, as they purported to.

As I have said, Scottish independence – in and of itself, by its very definition – relies on the idea of increasing immigration, as Scotland (inside or outside of the Union) will not survive and thrive without it. Indeed, the journalist Stephen Daisley once made a key distinction between the two ‘anti-establishment’ political parties at Westminster: “Reduced to its simplest terms, UKIP wants fewer people to be English while the SNP wants more people to be Scottish.” And yet somehow ‘anti-Englishness’ is bizarrely supposed to be the driver of the inclusive movement of Scottish self-determination. The audacity of taking a movement that demands higher levels of immigration and paradoxically trying to equate it with a “narrow nationalism” where there are those who belong and those who are rejected, is as bold as it is ludicrous. This is simply not the profile of a country that is ‘othering’. Scottish nationalism is described by its most poisonous critics as the “worst kind of nationalism”- one might ironically presume that this is because it welcomes immigrants, so does not really fit into the more common definitions of nationalism that the British state can more comfortably relate to. Therefore, in comparison with British nationalism, Scottish self-determination does not ‘tick the correct xenophobic boxes’. To use Claire’s own vocabulary, “purism” currently governs British identity, as evinced by ascendant politics in England, reinforced and ‘validated’ by the BrExit vote. “British and proud” is becoming less and less a phrase that one can utter without irony.

This incident may well be an early preview of how the next Scottish Independence Referendum will be fought: in the context of a likely wasteland where the UK is destroying its economy in parallel to ideological dismantling of the health service and the welfare state (which the Scottish government will not be able to stretch its budget to protect forever), thus undermining the previously-deployed empty arguments in the First Referendum about sticking with the UK for economic reasons, the fight to kill Scottish independence will have to move, to this time be an attempt to portray an anti-imperialist self-determination movement as nothing more than racism. This straw man in particular may be the first scarecrow of the new Project Fear. If that is how they want to win it, with all the implied damage that such a scorched earth policy will inflict, as a rerun of what Sadiq Khan himself described as the Leave campaign’s ‘Project Hate’, then that is a choice that shows how little they value the constituent parts of their “precious Union”. So be it – it avoids dealing with the issues, and the inherently difficult approach of making the mythical positive case for the Union, so one can see why it would attract a new ‘No’ campaign looking for a new bottle of snake oil in the bottom of its almost empty bag.

It is of course possible that Claire Heuchan stumbled unwittingly into this, not realising that she was effectively resurrecting this age-old refuted simplistic argument (although her previous activism for Better Together would lead me to question her veracity in that regard, if she were to make that argument…as does her selective deletion of over 16,000 tweets from her account before she came back online today), but regardless of that it is unlikely that the Yes movement is going to simply accept being tarnished as racists – and it is entirely unreasonable to expect them to do otherwise – as a way of trying to invalidate a movement for self-determination against a fundamentally imperial-style of control. Because it is anti-imperialism – not racism – that is closer to the character of Scottish self-determination.

In this light, it seems beyond credulity that Sadiq Khan – who warmly congratulated Pakistan and India on their independence days after his speech last week – could have come to Scotland and made such an ill-thought out comment on Scottish self-determination, and one cannot help but wonder how much he feels he was poorly-advised. Khan reportedly believes that nationalism as a concept is divisive by definition because it stresses differences, implies superiority and erects barriers to other people. I beg to suggest – and believe that the arguments above demonstrate – that the campaign for Scottish independence fulfils precisely none of these three criteria.

But British nationalism? Now that is a whole different story.

 

“It isn’t important where you come from, what matters is where we are going together as a nation.” (the late SNP MSP Bashir Ahmad (1940-2009) speaking in 1995)

 

 

 

 

 

Tales from BrExitWorld: Laughing at the Holocaust

I had trouble sleeping last night – woke up about 4am, then just couldn’t get back to sleep. While I lay there, my mind drifting, it seemed to me that I could hear laughing…in some way at the holocaust. Well…give me 1,500 words, and let’s see if I can explain it any better than that.

Today, the 18th November, is Alan Moore’s 63rd birthday. Perhaps unsurprisingly this week I found myself drawn back to watch the film version of his classic ‘V for Vendetta’ ten years since it was released. As much as I was devouring the very different comic when it was being issued by DC Comics, I always found the film, written by the Wachowskis, to be nonetheless very powerful and appealing in its own right. One of Moore’s many criticisms of the film’s script, was that it translated the story of anarchy versus fascism into a US political debate (albeit staying in the setting of London). I can remember the promotional material when the comic came out– the slogan ‘Welcome to Fascist Britain, 1997’ seemed prophetic then, living through Thatcher’s government, as much as I would argue that, after this past year, the film now seems prophetic. The vision of a Fascist Britain, governed by a thuggish breakaway from the Conservative Party (Norsefire), requiring swearing of Articles of Allegiance, with High Chancellor Adam Suttler (beautifully played by John Hurt) strikes a chord with both BrExit England and President-Elect Trump’s New America.

The reports of racist attacks in the US (and elsewhere) may not be as quantifiable as the post-BrExit vote spike in violence observed in Britain (at least not until August 2017, when the figures are annually released by the US Government) and therefore dissembling by Trump supporters that the incidents are all hoaxes sadly gains some traction in the absence of official collated data, but it does now seem that this type of aggressive behaviour has in the minds of some been given a legitimacy due to the poor quality of candidate about to enter the White House on January 20th. Already the protesters are appearing with rhythmic placards: ‘No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA’. But there are deniers spreading across social media, saying ‘it ain’t so’ – questioning whether stories are hoaxes (Breitbart News being particularly keen to push that angle, of course, as they have been one of the most incendiary outlets for support for Trump since the start), unfortunately fed by a component of the population that either wishes to defend its decision or can’t bring themselves to believe the horror of what has come to take up residence in Washington D.C.: from ‘oh now, it can’t be so bad, he’ll be held in check’ to the mind-numbing and naively destructive ‘it can’t be bad, change is a good thing – right?’. By doing so, they are helping lay a foundation of skepticism to greet any future reports of abuses or other incidents – and inadvertently become apologists for white supremacists.

In a recent post I drew attention to the similarity of the wins by Trump, BrExit and the No campaign against Scottish independence, and others have been drawing other connections. A week ago, we all noted the photo of Trump with Farage in the foyer of Trump Towers with the gauche golden lift in the background, looking fresh as though plucked from a luxury hotel in China. Trump had even had Farage at one of his rallies, and referred to his prospective win of the White House as being “BrExit plus plus plus” – so the link between the two was clear. But a recent article (https://wildernessofpeace.wordpress.com/2016/11/15/cresting-the-rising-tide/#more-4060 – screen grab above from Wings Over Scotland’s repost) had another image from the same golden lift photoshoot, with a mob of other BrExit steerers surrounding the two, all with pedigrees for opposing the Scottish independence vote, as well. Take a long look at them: that group got three for three, and – mostly in this year – have between them made the world unrecognisable.

Farage seems to have upset the bumbling Conservative Government by being far higher up Trump’s speed-dial list than them, to such an extent that not only is he being asked if he will rejoin the Conservative Party (which he left in 1992 after Major signed the Maastricht Treaty), but there is also a suggestion that he may be made a Lord. On the one hand, it might seem like he is being shunted sideways, patted on the head and told to be quiet by Theresa – but then again he would provide a strong pro-BrExit voice in the House of Lords, where the Conservatives do not have a majority. Theresa May would need such an advocate for a hard BrExit in that house…and might feel that it would finally be getting him to do some work to deal with the consequences of the BrExit campaign that he had been building towards for years and finally won in June this year. Farage – like Trump – was always difficult to take seriously, although the media (in particular the BBC) seemed dangerously entranced by him long before he had an elected MP for his party. But, as Carolyn Leckie’s piece ‘Beware the rise of Fascism in UK and US’ noted the day before Trump’s election, fascism does not come wearing its trappings on its sleeve, with obvious monsters at its head – it is presented by amiable harmless-looking buffoons, it lulls, befriends, and acts as the only friend for the poor and frustrated…even if it is plainly clothed in wealth and elitist privilege.

Amongst the voices denying that BrExit and Trump’s election are a dangerous surge to the right (nicely labelled with the inoffensive ‘alt right’ caption), I can’t help but hear a laughter of derision at the comparison: ‘why no, that’s not us, dear boy, of course not…!!’ That psychology that makes people believe that bad things only happen to (or are done by) ‘other people’ can turn a standard that everyone should be measuring themselves against, into a standard that is just for ‘those other people’ to keep themselves in check with.

‘It happens to other people – not us.’ That passive racism so well-exhibited by Generation WW (who were taught it as part of wartime propaganda) that it was somehow exclusively ‘a German thing’, blinds us to such threats coming from anywhere else – especially close to home. Certainly Generation WW was willingly blind to just how keen a population the Third Reich would have found in Britain to exercise some of those racial purity laws – and if THAT generation could be in denial, given their proximity to those events, what about more recent generations, that have been so distanced in time from the entire experience of that war? They may not laugh at the thought of the holocaust being homegrown as easily in Britain after a banking collapse (as it was in Germany 80 years earlier), but they still desperately need to not see the commonality. And it is hard not to see it in the context of the holocaust, for what is to come.

In Germany, at least, they teach the horrors of that war and why totalitarianism must never take hold there again – elsewhere, where countries don’t feel they have to take responsibility for their anti-semitism or racism at the same time in history (because, you know, it wasn’t ‘their’ racism that was causing all the problems of the war, right?) a smug complacency develops – ‘their’ racial intolerance is Ok – they’ve got it under control – its just a bit of ‘banter’, right? All the usual excuses that apologists for intolerance deploy to deflect criticism, happening on a national level: ‘it doesn’t happen here – it happens to other people – it simply wouldn’t happen here, you know – because, of course, we’re BETTER than that other country that started the war…’ and the hypocrisy of that simplistic justification is completely lost on them, as they slowly start to move back to the dangerous mindset that sets all the wheels back in motion again.

Of course, it is hysterical and unreasonable to leap to Nazi Germany as a comparison for Trump or Farage – of course it is. Unfortunately, history gives us absolutely no better comparator. Those people who warned us about not learning the lessons of history – particularly with reference to the Third Reich – have sadly been vindicated.  In this context, I thought Farage’s suggestion that Trump restore the bust of Winston Churchill to the White House to be somewhat inappropriate: as much as it was symbolic of a link and that mythical ‘special relationship’ between the UK and the US, I’m not really sure that Churchill would approve of Farage himself, given that he represents the rise of the same political threat that Churchill spent so much of his energy fighting against during the war, but hey ho…irony sleeps for noone.

For myself, I am just starting to find it funny – almost as funny as BrExit – because the whole thing of such a dark, hideous disaster, underpinned by such base stupidity and denial is preposterous. Especially with the war of words between those saying ‘No…it can’t be THAT bad…change is good, right?’ and the others going ‘You have no IDEA how bad this really really is!!!’ – that is – in and of itself, funny.

The holocaust is very much the ‘poster boy’ event for mass atrocities resulting from such racial (and other) discrimination – the sheer scale of its numbers meant to intone immediate solemn agreement from all that ‘IT’ should never happen again. And yet…it seems that in practice it is not having that effect on a significant number of the global population. I mean, if 6 million dead were not enough to get the lesson learned last time…then what is? How much more death do we need the next time – how high the mountains of bodies to be digitally recorded in colour, so superior to those old black and white Pathe wartime newsreels – to have a chance of the lesson sticking? If THAT many people dying isn’t enough of a warning to tell you that this is the way things go (so don’t even start on that path by voting in leaders advocating such racist policies) then what is the magic magic number that will be? What is the magic number that does the trick, so people realise that the lesson from history is not a restricted ‘discriminate even more against people in other countries called Germany’ but a very simple and encompassing ‘do not go there ever again – because anybody can do that’?

And its not like there were not the accounts to bring the point home – Pastor Niemoller, for one – although perhaps today he would instead be saying “first they came for the Muslims, then they came for the women…” Yet it was not enough to give enough people pause to think. And of course – as long as people can externalise those uncomfortable parts of the narrative to apply to others, and not them, then the lessons from history will continue to go unheeded – and voters will still be exploited by smiling right wing politicians who know they can easily take advantage of them to gain power.

The pictures outside the golden lift in NYC are naked triumphalism from those who do not care to sit back in the shadows anymore – they’ve won, and as far as they are concerned, they have remade the world in their image – what can anyone do against them now? In the coming years they will drive the US’s media to follow Breitbart News as a legitimised model, and slowly start to dumb down the nation’s attitudes into bestial savagery.

Happy Birthday, Alan – as Bart Simpson recently noted on his blackboard, ‘Being Right Sucks’.

 

“Immigrants. Muslims. Homosexuals. Terrorists. Disease-ridden degenerates. They had to go. Strength through Unity, Unity through Faith. I’m a god-fearing Englishman and I’m goddamn proud of it.” (Lewis Prothero, the Voice of London, V for Vendetta, 2006 motion picture – or maybe also the Daily Mail editorial, any day of the week)

Tales from BrExitLand: Repucalypse Now – An Ill Wind and a Little Local Trouble in the Colonies

The son of an illegal Scottish immigrant to the US (Mary Ann MacLeod from Lewis, see May 21st 2016 article in The National  http://www.thenational.scot/news/the-mysterious-mary-trump-the-full-untold-story-of-how-a-young-scotswoman-escaped-to-new-york-and-raised-a-us-presidential-candidate.17824 ) won the US election this morning and is scheduled to become the 45th President of the USA on January 20th 2017, the oldest (at 70) first term president that the country has ever had.

Springburn-born Craig Ferguson (now a naturalised US citizen during his ten year stint presenting The Late Late Show on CBS) apparently made much political capital on his show out of pointing out that to ‘trump’ in Scots meant to fart. This was a surprise to me, as I had only come across the expression in some districts in England during my life (and a search on Google reveals only references to its use in Wales, Norfolk and the north of England). And it is indeed hard not to see his election as a wind of ill omen for the world.

Like the Scottish Independence Referendum of September 2014 and the June 2016 EU Referendum, this was an essentially binary vote, with only two real choices. Perhaps another similarity between the two other political choices was that the two main options were not the choice that many people wanted to have – the unusually high number of 6 million ‘Other’ votes that did not go the way of Trump or Clinton would seem to testify to that. At the end, Hillary emphatically won all the ethnic demographics – except for the white one, which formed 70% of the voters, where she only had 37% support. Was it perhaps an unjustifiable fear of feminism and female leaders (see http://wp.me/p4SdYV-6Y ) that drove this section of the electorate, especially when one sees that Trump won 7 out of every 10 non-college-educated male white vote. Exit polls also indicated that women voted Democrat in much higher numbers than they voted Republican…as one might expect, given the prevalence of Trump’s misogyny the last weeks of the campaign.

All three of these binary votes in as many years were negative votes, against openness, inclusion, hope and progressives, the decisive mass vote of the over 45s overwhelming the wishes of the younger electorate. All three were also characterised by a remarkable disregard for checking facts – or more a disinterest, either by the media or the majority of the voting public, in those same facts.

The Scottish Independence Referendum had a barrage of unchecked facts – but in a very polarised sense: Better Together’s howlers went almost universally ignored, as they were in keeping with the narrative that the press wished to present, whereas the Scottish Government’s 670 page White Paper ‘Scotland’s Future’ was attacked in microscopic (and ludicrous) detail. (Yet note the contrast in level of detail offered between the Yes campaign for an independent Scotland and the Leave campaign to exit the EU, where they did not even have a Plan ‘A’.)

Interestingly, the media’s polarity did have the unexpected effect of triggering a rapid drift away of its clients, as members of the public became increasingly disillusioned by what they were being told by the mainstream news outlets: the subsequent engagement of people in Scotland with online and independent news media to get an alternative perspective that felt (a little) less biased, resulted in a plunge in newspaper sales (except for the Sunday Herald, which doubled its previous year’s sales, in the 4 months after it declared for Scottish independence) in parallel with an emergence of online sources as the most-trusted sources of news. [This dimension will be explored separately within the forthcoming instalment of the review of modern Scotland’s Thrie/Four Estaits ‘The Death of Scotland’s Post-War Dream, Part 3’.]

The two plebiscites of 2016 effectively went to the core of the identity of former imperial powers (see Gore Vidal if you want to contest that), they harken to the power of a bygone mythical age of greatness, and a garden of plenty which the advocates can restore you to. Well…that’s not exactly unusual in politics. But with BrExit and the US election, there was more of a rejection of analysis of any fact-checking (whether by TV stations or other media sources) in favour of empty jingoistic slogans – no matter how much Trump was fact-checked and shown to be lying on a grand scale with his fragments of sentences, his fatuously dismissive behaviour and salvation slogans carried greater force. BrExit’s ‘Leave’ campaign leaders went further, resorting to casual dismissal of expert opinions in the face of their absurd claims: “People in this country have had enough of experts” quoth Michael Gove (somewhat ironically, given that as a former education secretary, he should have had some faith in the products of the education system that he was overseeing…unless he felt that the EU were in some magical way forcing his education system to produce unreliable experts, perhaps?).

This dismissal is an insidious one of anti-intellectualism, whereby instinct and anecdote is endowed with greater (inevitably mystical) power than facts, data, or authorities that have the education and specialist training in a field that allows them to consider it objectively – so that you don’t have to go through all that training to do that for yourself. Stephen Colbert went so far as to coin the term ‘truthiness’ – Wikipedia defines this as “a quality characterising a ‘truth’ that a person making an argument or assertion claims to know intuitively ‘from the gut’ or because it ‘feels right’ without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.” In other words, it presents you with a legitimate licence to disregard everything you wish – spirituality and religion sweep away facts: the final triumph of Magic over Science. It brooks no argument against it – because it does not come from reason.

Fear is invariably invoked in politics – which is rarely helpful, as it leads to irrational decisions, and that is one of the reasons that the Yes campaign avoided utilising it even in the face of their opponents relentless use of nothing else. But fear multiplied by nonsense just creates chaos which is socially destabilising – it creates a level of frustration which (as Yoda might point out in sentences Trump can only listen to with envy for their coherence) leads to hate, and then violence. England in particular has seen the rise of this phenomenon in the wake of the BrExit result seemingly ‘legitimising’ racism as part of mainstream political discourse.

Will misogyny similarly rise in the USA in response to the role model that has been elected to their highest political office? One can only hope not – but with much less certainty than yesterday morning.

 

“…it’s an ill wind blaws naebody gude.” (Rob Roy, Sir Walter Scott)

Tales from BrExitLand: BrExit and the New Darien, An ‘Equivalent’ for the 1651 Navigation Act

Alex Harvey was a remarkable musician – Glasgow-born, a committed pacifist, toured with the Beatles in Hamburg, eclectically famous reworkings of Jacques Brel’s tango ‘Next’ and Tom Jones’ ‘Delilah’ with his proto-punk Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Hearing his music, I realised everything that I wanted to do as a musician had already been done – and brilliantly well. Sadly, I put down my guitar, and turned my attention elsewhere…

Alex also did a song called ‘Roman Wall Blues’. In it, he imagined himself as a legionnaire guarding the wall as the rain lashed down on him from Scotland, feeling miserable, fed up, and wishing he could go home. It’s a perspective of the Roman Empire’s interface with (what would become) Scotland that I reflect on, when I hear the ‘Scottish cringe’ version of that history. You could say that Scotland (let’s keep those geopolitical concepts contemporary) was ‘more trouble than it was worth’ for the Romans to subjugate. But that description holds true whether you think it was militarily too difficult to conquer (more trouble), or just too miserable to bother taking (not worth enough). Your interpretation tends to be coloured by whether you think Scotland has/had intrinsic value, or only had value when incorporated into something larger – an Empire. Alex’s Roman legionnaire had a very clear opinion on the subject. And the Romans – one could perhaps say – were the first serious attempt at a Europe-wide empire.

I find myself reflecting on this subjectivity of perspective – and the political dimension of such perspectives – in the light of BrExit. It reminds me very much of another subjective historical event that is often trotted out by unionists with the weary predictability of Scotland ‘not being worth the Romans conquering’ – a little story called the Darien Project.

The enacting of Westminster’s Navigation Act of 1651 followed a period of decline in Scotland’s fortunes since the point of the Union of the Crowns almost 15 years earlier. The ensuing years had seen Scotland become poorer, suffering from its new close association with its neighbour through being dragged into England’s wars on other countries (does this scenario sound familiar, yet?), where before Scotland had separate and secure international alliances. Westminster’s Navigation Act, often enforced with gunboat diplomacy, had the effect of circumscribing Scotland’s international trade, placing an ever-tightening iron grip on her economy. Having lost her only colony – Nova Scotia – in 1632 (as a result of England’s war with France), Scotland therefore desperately needed a new colony to develop international commerce with, without being ringfenced and suffocated. The plan was to form a colony in central America (what today is the Isthmus of Panama on the Gulf of Darién), in order to establish trading links with Africa and the Far East. But the East India Company was keen to preserve its monopoly in traffic from these territories, and applied pressure on the King in London, and those who had invested in this bold scheme, to withdraw their support. This left Scotland no choice but to be the sole investor in this ambitious project: in the face of disappearing external investment in the scheme, the only option remaining was for the people themselves to take the financial risk entirely on themselves.

It seems remarkable in this day and age that such a venture was entirely privately-supported (therefore zero national debt entailed), by all walks of Scottish society. Yet perhaps this reflects that in this time of sharp national decline, it must have been a comparatively easy and straightforward decision…there being no other option left to the people except to sit and watch the situation deteriorate more as they were further starved of commerce by the powers in London. In this scenario, Darien was a last throw of the dice for a country being bullied by its supposed ‘ally’ – the other alternative would have been to respond with similar gunboat diplomacy. As a population of only around 1 million at the time, there would seem to have been some strong resentment of the treatment of them by both the King and Parliament, for the Scots to so enthusiastically have bought into the Darien scheme, raising £400K in a few weeks – equivalent to 20% of the nation’s wealth at the time – from all walks of society, so that every lowland Scotland family was affected or linked in some direct way to the outcome of Darien.

Tellingly, the first ships set out in secret from Leith, going the long way round the north of Scotland to start their journey west, anticipating that they would be attacked by English warships as part of the ongoing ‘gunboat diplomacy’ of the Westminster Navigation Act which had cost Scotland so many ships by that stage. Ultimately, the project failed, in large part due to the King and Parliament in London: the intended initial trade with the West Indies and North America, prior to the trade routes west being established, did not materialise, because the King had forbidden those colonies to trade – or even communicate – with the new colony, for fear of upsetting either the Spanish (who had neighbouring holdings) or the East India Company. The colony died in disease and isolation, further betrayed by their King in London.

Although the Darien Project was a bold gamble by the people of Scotland…it seems somehow less bold when you consider that it was a gamble made by a People with no remaining choices.

The cost, however, was much greater than one of money. As unrest at London’s treatment of the Darien colony increased in Scotland, the monarchy in London, in an attempt to stem the increasing likelihood of a war with Scotland that they could ill afford, initiated the Union of the Parliaments. They knew that many of the members of the Scottish Parliament (including some exceptionally wealthy landowners) had invested heavily in Darien, therefore would be susceptible to some financial leverage – in particular a ‘get out of jail free’ card to write off their losses. Hence Article 14 of the Treaty of Union was ‘The Bribe’ (called ‘The Equivalent’, it consisted of £398,085 and 10 shillings) to pay off the debts (and more, in some cases) in the event of union being agreed to by the Scottish Parliament.

Daniel Defoe (known today as the author of the novel ‘Robinson Crusoe’) was at that time a spy, and this quote from him summed up the clear intentions of the Union of the Parliaments – “ …all that is dear to us, daily in danger of being encroached upon, altered or wholly subverted by the English In a British Parliament, wherein the mean representation allowed for Scotland can never signify in securing to us the interest reserved by us, or granted to us by the English.

In one smooth manoeuvre – probably not even an intended outcome from the hostile approaches to Darien – London rid itself of a potential war on its doorstep (with the possible result of asserting a different monarchy on a London throne), and acquired a truly lucrative asset for its long-term future. The members of the Scottish Parliament were plied with financial promises until the required numbers were achieved to vote through the Act of Union, in spite of the riots in protest throughout the country, so that they could salvage their own personal financial resources – Scotland itself was still in credit at the time of union, and not (as widely stated within more pejorative accounts of Darien) a ‘bankrupt nation’. The bells of St Giles rang ‘Oh why am I so sad on my wedding day’, the signatories were chased through the streets of Edinburgh by an angry mob, ultimately forced to sign the act (so it is said) in a baker’s shop off Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.

Here comes the subjectivity of perspective, and Alex Harvey’s legionnaire: today, the Darien Project is often propounded by unionists as being ‘proof’ of either Scots being incapable of running a project or of the quite exceptional generosity of the English in bailing them out – but (of course) usually omitting the negative role played by the king in London at the time, in attempting to ensure that the project would fail. Scott Minto (see quote at end) deals with the subject more extensively in the context of political revisionism, pointing out that rather than an example of great charity, it is “more akin to having your neighbour beat you with a baseball bat in order to gain access to your home, only to chastise you and claim you should be grateful for the first-aid they administered after they’d got your keys” – but notes that the issue was all about access to international trade.

And so we come – perhaps less than seamlessly – to BrExit, which presents a remarkably similar threat of restricted trade access as the Navigation Act did almost 400 years ago. But the world has changed – as has Scotland: the interconnectedness of the modern global marketplace prevents such embargos as could be initiated by London centuries ago – unless we are isolated within an inward-looking UK outside of the EU.

This time we need no Darien Project as a gamble for a lifeline to our own economic salvation. In this context, if Article 50 is invoked by the Westminster Government to pull Scotland backwards out of Europe, it will again have the effect – whether intentional or otherwise is irrelevant – of once again threatening Scotland’s international trade economy. This time we need no colony, no great gamble, no declaration of war (as was considered back in the early 1700s) to defend ourselves. Our economy is strong, so strong that we can entirely discount the oil and gas sector (when the oil price is low, it still only provides added extras to a healthy economy, and does no harm – indeed quite the reverse), and still have the same living standards as the rest of the UK (the GDP per person is almost identical to the UK, even when Scotland’s oil and gas revenues are excluded), and our economy is more evenly spread with far less reliance on financial services than the rest of the UK – and ready for independence. We are a net export economy (not a net import one as per our southern neighbours, who are overly dependent on their financial services sector), and therefore far more able to stand on our own feet.

Subjectivity of perspective means that no doubt unionists would argue that Scotland has to stay in the UK outside of the EU to preserve its future…meaning, to preserve the future of the UK, not the future of Scotland. Other perspectives would say that Britain has become a toxic thing to be associated with, particularly in the last 20-30 years.

Staying with Britain has now become the Worst of all Worlds, representing the worst possible future for Scotland. It’s time to move on from trade blockades – whether through legislation or gunboats – and move away from the imperial xenophobia of our island neighbour.

Alex Harvey’s legionnaire would be only too happy to agree.

 

“…would you consider the Union as an act of rescue from England towards Scotland? It is, I’d venture, more akin to having your neighbour beat you with a baseball bat in order to gain access to your home, only to chastise you and claim you should be grateful for the first-aid they administered after they’d got your keys. To describe the Union, as Professor Chalmers did this week, as a benefit that had ‘convinced the  business classes that they needed the military protection of the Royal Navy if they were to benefit from the new riches that colonialism promised’ is to stretch the truth to breaking point. In reality Scotland’s nobles were bullied and bribed into signing the treaty by their more powerful neighbour, and when they none-too-reluctantly acquiesced it wasn’t for the benefit of the people of Scotland.

“Scotland was not bankrupt and could have continued on as an independent nation. But being in the Union benefited Scotland by removing the impact of the Navigation Acts (allowing the Scots to trade with the colonies) and removing the threat of English privateers commandeering or destroying Scottish shipping. Access to trade – the same goal pursued by the Darien Scheme – was what brought Scotland into union with England, not some mythological pride in “Britishness”.” (Scott Minto, “Skintland”, Darien and the mythology of the BritNats, 14/4/2012, http://wingsoverscotland.com/weekend-essay-skintland-britnat-mythology-and-the-darien-scheme/ )

Tales from BrExitLand: From Supreme Court to Supreme Irony…and ‘They think it’s all over’?

It may be a bizarre piece of PR advice (or control), but Theresa May increasingly resembles Lou Beale in press photographs. And yet she lacks the ‘loveable’ old Eastenders matriarch’s control and dominant personality. The High Court result last week was not a huge surprise, but how clueless it made the Prime Minister appear, was.

To recap, a legal challenge had been made to Theresa May’s use of the arcane Royal Prerogative to circumvent Westminster from making the decision as to whether or not to trigger Article 50 and the ensuing two year sprint to leave the EU. The legal appeal was successful, in the eyes of the three High Court Judges (subsequently labelled ‘enemies of the people’ in the Daily Mail headline the next day) because parliament is sovereign (note the distinct difference that ‘The People’ are sovereign in Scotland), and the rights of people living in the UK could not be changed without the permission of parliament. This means that, rather than parliament only voting on the package negotiated by the Conservative Government, parliament now has to decide whether or not to enact Article 50 on the basis of an advisory referendum at all.

Suddenly the Westminster government is even more on the back foot than it looked before, with their own pet anti-Christ Farage promising a Second Coming if there is a ‘betrayal’ of the ‘Full English BrExit’ vote, the cabinet scrabbling to still look credible while promising to appeal the High Court’s decision in the Supreme Court. And, you know, if that fails, the Conservative Government still have one place  that they can turn to, in order to get permission to leave the EU without looking to Parliament: that’s right – the European Court. Ah, anybody smell the scent of irony, lightly lying on the air around the cooling last autumn barbecue of 2016? A ‘Leave’ campaign stridently proclaiming their outrage at EU legislators passing ‘insane laws’ overruling ‘our own sensible law courts’, then coming in supplication to that same European Court to ask permission to overrule those same courts decision on the most insane legislation of all – the determined act of self-harm that is the UK leaving the EU (with or without parliamentary scrutiny).

From Supreme Court to supreme irony. Bravo, for ‘taking back our courts’, people. You’re doing a fine job of building confidence, winning the Peace after the vote, and showing everyone how in control you are.

Theresa must have thought she was playing a winning hand, taking the UKIP extreme position on BrExit, and thus removing UKIP’s constituency. UKIP representatives in punch-ups, declaring the party was ungovernable without Farage…’May the Farce be with UKIP’, Theresa must have hoped, and it certainly looked as though she had seen off the biggest threat to Conservative seats. But now suddenly the prospect looms of Westminster having to debate enacting Article 50 – and all the potential damage that entails.

Nothing is as important to the Conservative Party, as their own divisions over Europe. So, although theoretically if the party whip is brought out, the majority government should still win. But traditionally the Conservatives are SO split on the issue, that that is far from certain: the resignation of Stephen Phillips, the incumbent MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham directly following the High Court decision is only the top of the iceberg – especially when you consider he was pro-Leave. Again, I say nothing is as important to the Conservative Party, as their own divisions over Europe, and they have a wide spectrum of positions on that subject – so much so that it is hard to know whether they would vote for something that is not their preferred flavour, but hold out for a revised version, or ‘hold the nose’ as the division bell rings. A subject so close to their hearts…yet wanting (one would presume?) to appear ‘listening’ to their constituents opinions for the purpose of reelection – a heady and toxic brew of conflicts indeed.

This, surely, is what May was wanting to avoid: she knows the issue could rend the Conservative Party asunder, rather than emasculating UKIP, as she had hoped. So, it will be interesting to see how the Conservative MPs  vote – no matter how bullishly loyalty is demanded, there will be dissenters, and in significant numbers. That means support from other parties will be required to get parliament approval.

The Labour Party split, one might have thought, would be hard to calculate, given their ambiguous role in the EU Referendum campaign. But then Jeremy Corbyn came out critical of the government’s position, and straightaway with sad predictability the majority of Labour MPs declared they would be unquestioningly supporting the government – just to be contrary to poor old Jeremy. sigh. Extinction beckons…

And what of Scotland’s MPs? Well, the Unionist Scottish MPs – all 3 of them: the Liar, the Fool and the Puppet – will vote as irrelevantly as their numbers suggest. But what of the oh-so-Machiavellian (that’s shorthand for ‘being prepared’) SNP? It has been a long journey from the position they had just prior to last year’s General Election, when they appeared poised to conditionally open the door of 10 Downing Street to Ed Milliband, to now, cast as gatekeepers again (in the absence of any other actual parliamentary opposition in Westminster) but this time for a softened BrExit? How times change. But what concessions might the block of over 50 SNP MPs win, in exchange for their deciding votes on an Art8icle 50 package brought by the Conservatives? What deals could the SNP broker, in return for their vote for Article 50, without seeming to be undemocratic? The SNP have thus far striven to be the party acting ‘above board’, campaigning for a Remain vote for the good of the whole of the UK, and it would be tough to maintain that current public stock of integrity, if they are seen to be subsequently attaching conditions for Scotland while supporting England cancelling its (sub)membership of the EU.

In terms of Scottish independence, if Article 50 is stopped, then that removes the immediate threat which opens the door for the second referendum. So – although the government will no doubt appeal the High Court’s decision – it all comes down to whether May can get enough of her MPs to vote for enacting Article 50 or not. That’s still a big question – if her party thinks she is weak, she could have a revolt – but anyone doing so could be accused of not respecting England’s vote in the referendum, which could be political suicide for anyone going against her. The way that it will go, probably comes down to just how much control Theresa May actually has over her party – and to what extent she is exactly what she has appeared to be: a directionless puppet who has wed herself to carrying out UKIP’s policy, in the disguise of ‘people’s democratic champion’. Or does Lou Beale’s bullish resolve and cunning lie beneath her Lou Beale exterior?

One thing is for sure – if her fellow Conservatives smell a hint of weakness that she might not win the vote, it will be like blood to a pack of hunting dogs, and she will be consigned to history more quickly than Thatcher’s premiereship was by Geoffrey Howe.

Well.

Let’s see, shall we?

“When it comes to the vote, the SNP, the Greens and Plaid Cymru will likely be against and you would think the Liberals would too, but they have a propensity to get big decisions wrong. The SNP can say Scotland voted Remain and so we will. Plaid and the Greens can stand on principle and the Tories will call for party unity to respect the Leave vote. Tory rebels will vote against in small but significant numbers, which will be important as that means Labour MPs will be needed to vote Brexit through and, given their leadership’s inability to campaign for Remain, it will be interesting to see how many Labour MPs decide to back the Government. If the Westminster parliament was to block Article 50, it would be akin to bringing UKIP back from the dead, there would be a UK democratic meltdown and widespread calls for Scotland to be thrown out of the UK. UKIP will have at least 45 per cent of the vote to play with and that is why Theresa May is going for a hard Brexit: she can’t be seen to be soft on immigration and risk splitting her own party in the face of potential Labour or UKIP revivals.” (Gordon Macintyre-Kemp, 4/11/2016)

Tales from BrExitLand: Johnson and May Trying to Steal from Sturgeon, or Stupid Is as Stupid Does

Well, that was a bit of a Summer Surprise, wasn’t it? (And I say that fully conscious that I wrote ‘predicting’ this EU scenario in December 2014.) The narrative for the European vote – even although Scottish independence supporters had been talking about this split outcome as a platform for the next independence referendum for more than 18 months – is still somehow unbelievable…with so many stupid errors of judgement as to make a film script of these events lack any credibility whatsoever.

First of all – what genius (on Cameron’s side, remember) thought that placing an EU Referendum amidst a European Championship football competition where England was represented, was a good idea? The European question was an English question, and so the issue of the Euro Championships obviously come centre stage – a draw with Russia, and a game to win against Wales, knowing that if they lose they are out…if you are going to inflame English nationalism (which many have interpreted as rising through the increasing support for leaving Europe), then of course you hold it during a football championship where England will be playing – a win makes the feeling of empowerment soar, a loss makes their hatred of foreigners do likewise: surely the worst possible time for a referendum on Europe, Cameron? Didn’t you check your calendar and realise that it was happening? I was travelling between Peterborough and Cambridge in the days running up to the vote – deprived housing districts in Peterborough were as redolent in ‘Leave’ placards as they were in St George’s Crosses…and Cambridge was just as devoid of both, instead decorated with a forest of ‘Remain’ banners. You could see a very clear ‘deprivation’ split – as well as the melding (or blurring) of identities.

Secondly, there was the nature of the actual campaign – ‘OutFearing Project Fear’ – such a contrast where September 2014 was Project Fear versus hope, this time it was Project Fear versus a near-identical Project Fear on the opposite side. Cameron obviously thought that what worked in Scotland would work again – but failed to factor in the solid press antagonism to Scottish independence in 2014, as compared to the split in the press over the EU referendum: this time, the press were NOT in his pocket, his message had a stifled platform, and his campaign stalled.

On 1st June, two ICM polls for The Guardian — one online and one by phone — both put the ‘Leave’ campaign on 52 per cent. Previously only the online polls had put ‘Leave’ ahead — those indications were a seven per cent drop for ‘Remain’ on the phone poll carried out by ICM the previous month. But then a further poll came out, appearing to show that ICM’s were yet another Iain Gray rogue poll – the undecideds were breaking 2:1 for ‘Remain’, giving ‘Remain’ a seven point lead. ‘Remain’ breathed a sigh of relief – the data was gathered over 10th-15th June, and on the 16th June Labour MP Jo Cox was killed, reportedly by someone shouting ‘Britain First’. That seemed to be an end to the possibility of the EU departure – because, regardless of whether the individual was a member of the organization, or was not acting under ‘instructions’, surely the associated revulsion from such an act would swing people away from voting for Leave, and thus be associated with such an act? A prompt for ‘shy Remainers’ to come out firmly for the EU, I would have thought.

As much as my sympathies and vote was very much for Remain, it has always annoyed me that single acts of violence, which can be utterly dissociated from the main campaigns and campaigners, can be attached to them by the media in order to discredit the broader campaign. I was pretty sure that was going to happen after the murder of Jo Cox. More than this – with the timing in the polls, Cameron also being put under the spotlight by Jon Snow on Channel 4 News a day earlier for electoral fraud by his party in 31 constituencies at the preceding General Election (thus jeopardising his majority in Westminster), it is hard not to note how politically convenient the timing was for him, no matter how much one wants to resist the tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists with the model of yet another ‘lone nut’. Follow the money, as they say…who would benefit from such a radical move? Certainly not the Leave campaign: they would clearly lose out in the backlash following such a tragic incident.

And yet apparently not. The Jo Cox factor did not have the powerful effect that one would have anticipated at other times – shockingly so.

A friend (who worked in the Department of Environment and Climate Change, no less) described the mood in the office, the morning the result was declared, and the common cause between the City of London and Scotland: the plans to flood the M25, and dig a tunnel up to Scotland to create the new state of the ‘Isles of Sanity’. Sadly, the shock in that government office reflected the preparedness of the whole of Whitehall for that particular outcome.

And as soon as the dust of the result cleared, the leaders were gone – Theresa May stepping into the vacuum, her position of being acceptable to both Leave and Remain factions only credible through her highly understated and modest expressions of support for Remain, while fully committing herself to enacting ‘the wishes of the people’. Which is actually one small sliver of a silver lining for this whole fiasco: during the Scottish Independence Referendum, we were always worried about the margin that we would need for Westminster to not contest or simply ignore the result (as they did with other parts of the Edinburgh Agreement). Part of the sabre rattling in the run-up to the Scottish Independence Referendum very much coalesced around the ‘No’ side saying ‘even if you get a marginal win, we’ll demand a rerun anyway’. Personally I thought that as much as we would have taken a one vote win, we would need to have had nearer 60% of the vote to be reasonably confident of withstanding such calls. May’s acceptance of a result that she supposedly was not in favour of has changed all that – win a referendum by 2%, and Westminster capitulates. Precedent established.

What grounds would justify a rerun (of either referendum) is another question: an online petition to rerun the EU referendum immediately gained over 3 million signatures on the basis that ‘wait we did not understand the question’. Arguments for a rerun of the Scottish Independence Referendum are somewhat less about regarding the electorate as idiots. A reasonable summary would be ‘Westminster, you got a second chance with your promises and threats in 2014, and you blew it on every single level’. And that was even before the hollowness of the promise that ‘you can only stay in the EU if you vote No to Scottish Independence’ was exposed – Sturgeon even flagged that up clearly as their manifesto commitment in the May 2016 Holyrood elections, so they knew what was coming with that even larger SNP landslide than 2011. The difference between the revisiting of each referendum is ‘the electorate were too dumb to understand’ as opposed to ‘last minute promises by the Westminster government of the day in the purdah period utterly failed to be delivered’. The bizarreness of the Daily Record – the newspaper that delivered the hollow empty promises of ‘The Vow’ two days before the Scottish independence vote – now coming out encouraging Nicola Sturgeon to hold another independence referendum after the EU outcome, is …well, surreal, frankly.

And Boris’ plan – if the tales are true – was to narrowly lose the vote – not win it. What – was he trying to do a Nicola Sturgeon, thinking that the electorate loves a gallant loser? Did Boris think that it was just a ‘rebound’ factor in the SNP’s popularity from narrowly losing, that gave them their current status – that if he could emulate the SNP’s gallant failure, that he would spontaneously acquire a heroic status? Not so easy as the SNP made it look, was it Boris? A bit more to it than that, old chap: you have to offer something different from Fear and Hate to do that…or as Sadiq Khan described the ‘Leave’ campaign ‘Project Hate’.

In the immediate aftermath of the vote, I still would not have been surprised if the ‘decision’ failed to be implemented – the ‘Leave’ MPs were talking in a very relaxed fashion about the long grass that it could be kicked into, in stark contrast to David Cameron’s promise to enact Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty as soon as the result was known. The only problem is that the local council elections are due next May, and if the Conservatives do not seem to be respecting the result, they could lose heavily to UKIP. So Boris has announced that Article 50 will be activated early next year (before the end of March). Madness.

Or is Theresa May – similarly to Boris – also trying to copy Nicola Sturgeon? As much as Nicola makes much of attempting to secure a non-BrExit future for Scotland within the UK, you must think that she fully expects to be turning around in 6 months time to say ‘well guys – we tried, but they were not playing ball’, having done enough to win over at least some of those who would not have supported a full-blown attempt to go all-out for independence from June 24th. If Theresa also uses the rhetoric of hard BrExit, in order to appear to be driving down a UKIP motorway, but then is pulled up by some outside threat to say ‘sorry guys – we could not do it after all, we will have to go soft’, then she might similarly be hoping to convince enough UKIP-leaners to abandon support for them because she appeared to sincerely give it a go, even though she had no expectation of success. (After all, why else would you allow Amber Rudd to give such an obviously-repugnant speech about foreign worker registration at a Conservative Party conference? It seems unlikely that that was a serious policy proposal to be brought forward to Westminster, given the cries of ‘neo-Nazi’ that were certain to follow and resonate with such a move.)

The UK Government still seems in utter chaos – for each new glimmer of light shed by a cabinet minister, a distancing statement follows from Downing Street within 24 hours. The new Home Secretary announces a programme of businesses registering foreign workers? No, that is not government policy. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union says that it is highly improbable that the UK will retain access to the single market if the price is free movement of people? No that is an opinion, not government policy. It is fair to say that more has been retracted than revealed about BrExit by the UK government since the morning of 24th June. And yet Theresa May – pursuing a far harder exit from the EU (eschewing even the single market) than was ever in the Conservative manifesto – believes that Nicola Sturgeon has ‘no mandate’ to offer a second independence referendum, despite it clearly being stated in the SNP manifesto that this would become live if the UK vote went against the vote of Scotland in the EU Referendum.

One could argue that the electorate that voted for Leave have been taken for fools by opportunists, and are now destined to be ridden roughshod over by a government driving for a far more damaging break than they had a mandate for. However one cannot say the same thing about Scotland – 44% of the vote went to a party who said that they would have a second independence referendum in the event that the UK voted to leave the EU while Scotland voted to stay in. That path was flagged up very clearly – the Conservatives lemming-charge towards a cliff edge most certainly was not.

 

“For the state must draw a sharp line of distinction between those who as members of the nation are the foundation and support of its existence and greatness and those who are domiciled in the state simply as earners of their livelihood there.” (from chapter 2 of Mein Kampf)