Britannia Waives the Rules, or The Empire Strikes Back

During the mid-eighties I worked for a contractor servicing Shell oil platforms, which meant that I spent a significant amount of time offshore. One of the most striking things was the quality of the different platforms, from the oldest one (the ‘Auk’) which was like a cramped, high density seabed-mounted prison, to the more roomy modern ones (for example the Fulmar Alpha) which were like hotels, with 24 hour kitchens, so that no matter when you finished work, you could pile in there for large quantities of extremely high quality food. Particularly striking for me were the 3 to 4 different types of trifles that were always on offer. I remember one night, sitting down with David Matheson, a friend from school (his dad was the manager of the service company, who had hired me after I left medical school as their medical officer), and taking a break from my selection of trifles to stare with some puzzlement at the contents of his plate. “But, Dave”, I queried, gesturing towards his food, “aren’t you a vegetarian?” “Oh, yes’” he said, without a trace of internal conflict “but you can’t say no to a really good steak” – and he continued to tuck in, with great relish.

I found myself thinking of that incident this weekend, in the context of the oft-propounded impartiality of the Civil Service.

Last year during the Referendum campaign, there were two clear instances that called this supposed professionalism and impartiality into question. The first was the famous February Statement by George Osborne, backed by Danny Alexander and Ed Balls, that a shared currency would be refused by the UK Government with an independent Scotland – backed up by the highly unusual step of the Permanent Secretary of the Treasury publishing his letter of advice to that effect. Questions were asked at the time about this curious move, as it appeared an overtly political one, on the part of Sir Nicholas Macpherson.

It is revealing to reflect at this point on just who Macpherson is, before we consider his extraordinary actions as a civil servant. Even without the ‘Sir’, he would be a clear part of the establishment, as his family own significant swathes of Ross-shire, in particular the £13 million 32,000 acre Attadale Estate (historically part of the Clan Matheson lands – no relation to Dave, I think…), and he was educated at Eton and Oxford. So, already, we might have an idea of what colour his particular impartiality is.

The published letter made the role of the Treasury a somewhat controversial one within the Civil Service – such ‘advice’ is generally supposed to remain confidential, to keep the apparatus of the state out of the public eye and distinctly separate from the government of the day. And the question of its ‘impartiality’ is a somewhat moot one, advising any rUK Chancellor not to agree to such a currency union, thus supporting Osborne’s position – a strategy supposedly contrived by Alistair Darling, the leader of ‘Better Together’ in the belief that a united Unionist front would reverse the ‘Yes’ campaign’s fortunes.

In the event, of course, it did precisely the reverse – the last thing Scots were going to respond well to was a Conservative public schoolboy from down south coming to Scotland to tell them what they could and could not do – and the ‘Yes’ campaign surged upwards in the wake of that wonderful miscalculation.

But the specific question of the Treasury’s letter supporting the move was another matter. So why did Sir Nick decide to break Civil Service protocol to do this?: “because I regarded it as my duty…the British state’s position was being impugned.” So, yes, completely impartial – but of course, we’ll make an exception for a nice juicy steak, then, eh?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Public Administration Select Committee (chaired by Conservative Bernard Jenkin MP) took a rather dim view of this specious excuse on March 23rd this year, and criticised Macpherson’s decision to publish the letter as it “compromised the perceived impartiality of one of the UK’s most senior civil servants” when they concluded their inquiry into Civil Service impartiality and referenda.

This was not the only questionable civil service action during the Referendum campaign, and in the last days before the vote, the Treasury’s actions were again in the spotlight. On September 10th, a Treasury official gave the BBC an unsolicited briefing on a key Royal Bank of Scotland board decision, 25 minutes before the RBS board meeting had ended, thus breaching Financial Market Rules as well as Pre-Referendum Guidelines. (As Alex Salmond has noted, the Treasury official in question was the son of Alistair Darling’s former special adviser Catherine MacLeod.) Sir Jeremy Heywood, Head of the Civil Service, was less than keen on calls for an inquiry into who was responsible for this – and there still appears to be some sensitivity regarding this issue within the Treasury: Salmond notes that only a few weeks ago, Sir Nick “sent The Sun and my publishers Harper Collins a letter telling them he was considering consulting his lawyers about me in a last-ditch and futile attempt to get this aspect of the serialisation of ‘The Dream Shall Never Die’ [Alex Salmond’s Referendum Diary book] binned.” On 16th March it was revealed that e-mail trails showed that the Treasury had been lobbying RBS heavily prior to their September 10th meeting, and had indeed prematurely announced it to journalists before the meeting had concluded. In this regard, the Financial Conduct Authority have said that they have no power to take action against the Treasury, but the City of London Police have given assurances that they will take appropriate action (whatever that may mean in a pragmatic reality…).

The issue of civil servants directly sending briefing information to newspapers throughout the Referendum campaign brought the question of their supposed impartiality further into disrepute. This was highlighted in the second week of December. That week, awards recognized the functions of those who had key roles in both the ‘Yes’ and the ‘No’ campaigns: The List’s ‘Hot 100’ gave National Collective second place on December 11th. The same week, Civil Service World Magazine proclaimed that the Treasury’s ‘Scotland Analysis’ Programme Team had scored in the Annual Civil Service Awards. The award had been created to give “particular recognition for their outstanding achievement in making a difference on an issue of national significance”, and was handed to the winners at an awards ceremony at Lancaster House (which is operated by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office). One of the winners, Mario Pisani (a former speechwriter to Alistair Darling, Danny Alexander and George Osborne), commented on how thrilling it was to be part of an active political campaign for a change – and his remarks were immediately taken into consideration by Bernard Jenkin’s committee’s inquiry into Civil Service impartiality in referenda. It certainly seemed that these civil servants saw themselves very clearly as being an active part of the ‘No’ campaign, rather than providing the objective analysis that they would ordinarily be expected to.

And so we come to this Easter Weekend just gone: ‘FrenchGate’, ‘MemoGate’ or ‘GalliGate’ (one for the Glaswegians out there), depending on your hashtag preference. (No doubt if they had been drinking milk at the French Ambassador’s reception, it would be called ‘Cow’n’Gate’…)

With Nicola’s success at the Leaders’ Debates on Thursday night, the Conservative machine swiftly refocused, reissuing the Saatchi posters with Nicola (instead of Alex) bearing Ed Miliband in her jacket pocket. I guess that is high praise indeed for her performance – the oft-quoted Gandhi mantra during the ‘Yes’ campaign comes to mind: first they ignore you, then they mock you, then they come to fight you, and then you win. They finally realised she was just as palpable a ‘threat’ to their Old World Order as they had perceived her predecessor to be. Which explains the second action, as well.

By Friday night, within 24 hours of the end of the Leaders’ Debate, Simon Johnson of the Telegraph was releasing a story on his Twitter feed that Nicola Sturgeon had said in a conversation with the French ambassador at a meeting in February that she would prefer Cameron as Prime Minister, and did not see Ed Milband as PM material. This story was repudiated precisely five minutes later by Nicola as “categorically, 100%, untrue – which I would have told you if you asked me”, and within two hours both the French Ambassador and the French consul general in Edinburgh had both confirmed that Nicola had made no such comment. Nonetheless, it was the lead news story on the BBC for the full 24 hour cycle.

So where had this ‘information’ come from? (Setting to one side Simon’s interesting abrogation of journalistic responsibility in not even attempting to contact either side of the conversation for comment before going to publish). It appears that it was a mysterious alleged memo from a civil servant in the Scottish Office (under Alastair Carmichael, the UK Government’s man in Scotland), written by someone who was not at the meeting, supposedly reporting a conversation between the French consul general and a civil servant in the Scottish Office – again, the French consul general denies that he made such a comment. As one correspondent somewhat acidically put it in a letters page: “When I want to read fiction, I buy a novel; I do not expect the press to provide it in the course of its normal reporting.”

This time, unlike RBS, Sir Jeremy Heywood, the head of the civil service, has confirmed an investigation has been launched into who leaked the memo of the ‘disputed account’ of the meeting, after Nicola Sturgeon wrote to him demanding one. In reality, of course, this is highly unlikely to report anything before election day itself – thus the potential damage of Sturgeon being formally vindicated will be conveniently contained until after May 7th.

First of all, let’s take a moment to consider the bizarre situation of the Conservatives setting up a leak of ‘she will support us’ in order to discredit her…but they did so in the full knowledge that Cameron’s little helpers, the Scottish Labour Party, would jump in with both feet, keen to do their masters’ bidding, as always. A noteworthy and honourable exception to this, was the Labour peer Baron Swraj Paul, who claimed that this story was a sign that Whitehall’s ‘dirty tricks department’ had been working overtime, presumably to beat back Sturgeon’s post-debate surge. If you were around for the televised Leader Debates in 2010, we all remember how Nick Clegg was resoundingly declared the winner there, and then his lead was eaten away in the last week’s up until election day.

It seems likely that this will not be the last attempt to smear Nicola in the run-up to the vote – yet I am struck by two positives that come from this situation. Firstly, it has focused the election campaign on the SNP, and gives them the oxygen of publicity as the drivers of the General Election that they have never had before, and may well never have again. Secondly, as we saw last year, with each attempt by the establishment to discredit ‘Yes’, independence or the SNP, they drive yet more voters to them, with a public increasingly cynical of what they are told by the mainstream press – we are a ‘thrawn’ people, as some would say. So the Scottish vote is unlikely to be significantly impaired.

But that is not the whole story for this election: there are, of course, still negatives, regardless of how well Nicola comes out of this. Firstly, and most seriously, Ed Miliband discredited himself by jumping on the bandwagon so fast to condemn the SNP for ‘supporting Cameron’ on zero evidence, just shortly before the story was roundly refuted and fell apart. This could arguably mean that he will be the biggest loser from this affair, having lost some of the stature that he had gained as a result of his performance in that same Leaders’ Debate on Thursday night. And that endangers the hoped-for SNP-Labour majority, if it impacts on the progressive English vote.

So we will see how this plays out – today Alistair Carmichael’s buffoon-like face has been smiling away, saying that yes, the memo had come from his department, but in “the middle of an election campaign, these things happen.” This resonates well with an observation by Alex Salmond in today’s ‘The National’: “The standards of Government departments reflect the quality of leadership. The leadership of the Scotland Office was Alistair Carmichael and David Mundell. Enough said.”

It is perhaps as predictable that it is depressing that as I approach the 100th post on this blog, we are still dealing with the same dysfunctional state behavior from Westminster that we were battling against during the Referendum campaign – it really is all they know. But I will leave the last summative comment on this whole farce to Nicola Sturgeon, at the end of her live interview with James Cook, just before she spoke at the anti-Trident protest rally (really? she is supposed to want Cameron in as PM?) in George Square on Saturday afternoon:

 

“I took part in the Leaders’ Debate on Thursday night, and I made very clear in that debate that this election is an opportunity to change the Westminster system because it’s out-of-touch, it’s remote, and it doesn’t serve the needs of people across Scotland and the rest of the UK. I made the case that the election is an opportunity for ordinary people across the UK, to make the Westminster system better reflect their priorities. Perhaps this morning is a sign that the Westminster establishment doesn’t like that message, and they’re beginning to panic about that message: that’s why I’m even more determined to keep taking that message to the streets and the communities of Scotland over the remainder of this campaign.” (Nicola Sturgeon, 4/4/2015, BBC News24)

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Chilcot’s Chickens Coming Home to Roost? Or a Case of Ravens Leaving the Tower?

With the formal dissolution of Parliament by the Queen last Monday, 646 MPs left Westminster to either fight for reelection, or quietly retire to write their memoirs. And there is, perhaps, a surprising number of ‘big names’ retiring from the House of Commons this year: Gordon Brown, Alastair Darling and Jack Straw (this was even before his recent bust last month by a sting that exposed him of selling his cash for influence on camera). For some of us in ‘Yes’, the departure of Brown and Darling was a simple equation to solve: they knew that Westminster had no intention to deliver any form of Home Rule or DevoMax with the ‘No’ vote that they so successfully delivered, and that they would evermore be tainted by that association.

Although, of course, Gordon Brown has not exactly been a great advert for either humility or shame throughout his career. But he HAS been a Member of Parliament for 33 years, and made big noises immediately after the Referendum about returning to front line politics in order to personally wrest and deliver ‘The Vow’ from Westminster…and then suddenly he was leaving this May.

And I don’t really want to be a conspiracy theorist, but…maybe there is another reason that is more directly relevant?

You see, an awful lot of these MPS (not all of them so very long in the tooth) announced – somewhat suddenly – that they were standing down in the last quarter of last year. And this was around the time that a couple of different things were being finalised. One of them was the release of files by the CIA on their practices during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, including illegal rendition flights and the complicity of members of the UK’s Labour government in them and the accompanying torture (or ‘enhanced interrogation’) techniques employed. After some diplomatic to-ing and fro-ing, agreement was reached on the heavily redacted version of the CIA’s report that was finally released in December – but there are still moves in process to have the full version released, with some of that ubiquitous black ink removed from the names.

The other thing that happened around the same time, was that the letters for the Chilcot Inquiry were sent out. These are the letters (sometimes referred to as part of the ‘Maxwellisation’ process) which are sent out to those most heavily criticised in the final report of the inquiry by Sir John Chilcot into the nature of the UK’s role in Iraq between mid-2001 and July 2009, covering the run-up to the conflict, the subsequent military action and its aftermath: the purpose of the letters is to give them the opportunity to formally respond to the criticisms before the document is released to the public. When the delay in the publication of Chilcot’s report until after the forthcoming General Election hit the headlines towards the end of January this year (following Jim Wallace’s announcement that it would be ‘unfair to the Government in the run-up to the General Election’), it was revealed that the principal cause of the delay was that certain individuals who had received these letters, had been somewhat dragging their heels in replying to the Inquiry’s communication. As Tony Blair is primarily regarded as ‘The Great Satan’ of the whole process of dragging the UK into that illegal war, attention focused very swiftly on him as the most likely candidate for the person trying to delay publication. But – again – Blair has been stoically unapologetic for his actions from Day One, continually refusing to express any regret for his decisions, and even although Chilcot is said to contain much of the private communications between him and George W. Bush, including details of their secret deal to bring British Armed Forces in to support the US military action almost a year before Parliament approved it, part of me wonders if he would really be embarrassed too much by this: he regularly seems to cite his faith as validating his actions in an almost bulletproof fashion…WE might think he has a lot to be ashamed off, but, really, would he?

Consider the list of those believed to be heavily criticised by the (as yet unpublished) report: letters have been sent to Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell (spin doctor or ‘communications strategist’ under Blair from 2000-2003), former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (2001-2006 under Blair), Geoff Hoon (Secretary of State for Defence under Blair, 1999-2005, stood down as an MP before the 2010 General Election), and other Labour politicians. Gordon Brown (Chancellor of the Exchequer under Blair from 1997-2007) and Alastair Darling (1998-2007 under Blair, then Chancellor of the Exchequer under Brown) were also cabinet members at the time. Blair, Hoon and Campbell do not have seats in the Commons (Campbell never did), so would not be affected, but…have Brown, Straw and Darling decided to go early, rather than be exposed to criticism day in and day out by their political opponents while still Members of Parliament, becoming lame ducks to their party in the process?

At least, if they have retired from the Commons, their exposure to flak is significantly more limited – a couple of bad weeks with the Press camped outside your door, then you can let family life return to normal.

And where does this leave the hawk-ish Jim Murphy in this, US imperialist-supporting Henry Jackson Society champion that he is? Was he not also a cabinet minister (2008-2010 under Brown) at a crucial juncture, covered by the Inquiry? He is not retiring from the House of Commons per se – and certainly, as one of the campaign managers of David Miliband’s Labour Party Leadership campaign, it seems likely that he was hardly a favourite to win promotion at the Court of Ed – so, in that sense, him moving his sphere of interest to working in Holyrood made sense, if he was not going to receive any further opportunities under the current leadership (but if Cameron becomes Prime Minister again, let’s see how fast that might change, with a new Labour leader…).

But maybe it was also put to him that setting his ambitions towards being First Minister at Holyrood might be a wiser and more pragmatic career move, with forthcoming revelations – retiring from the Westminster’s House of Commons in a subtly different fashion to Jack Straw and Gordon Brown. Moving to ‘the little league’ (from his expense-claiming perspective), and being King Jim in a smaller, quieter, more parochial pond (he may wish), rather than the intense and critical focus of Westminster, and at least avoid the brunt of any coming Chilcot wrath? Jim has not exactly got the dogged resilience of Blair – appearing to change policy with the weather vane to try and be as populist as possible (but more on that in another post soon), and a major scandal that tars him might be a challenge even for his Twister-like loquaciousness.

I know – it is just annoyingly inconclusive speculation at this point, before either report appears in a fuller version – but such a pattern nags at me, and I do wonder about the synchronicity.

Is it just a coincidence that they are all going just now? Or do they know what is coming, as far as damage to their reputations, and reckon they can limit it by jumping before they get pushed by public pressure?

If the ravens leave the Tower of London, the kingdom is said to fall – hence their wings are clipped. But the clock tower of Westminster that contains the bell called ‘Big Ben’, renamed Elizabeth Tower for the Diamond Jubilee in 2012, has no such myth. However, one wonders if the simultaneous departure of so many Labour hawks from Westminster has some similar symbolism.

 

“Of course delay to publication of Chilcot is frustrating but it is not sinister and is irrelevant to election since none of the key figures are standing.” (Peter Riddell, Director of the Institute for Government, 22/1/2015)

EU Exit: Secret Treasury Advice States “It’s Madness”.

Just over a month ago, I was at a conference in Berlin, receiving the commiserations of many colleagues from around the world (including Venezuela, USA, Mexico, Australia) on the globally disappointing result of the Referendum. Inevitably, in this international environment, and directly linked to the result in Scotland, the question of the UK’s EU In/Out Referendum was not far away. Most espoused the opinion that it would be madness for the UK to leave the EU, and although Cameron didn’t want to do it, he might just have painted himself into something of a corner.

Largely, it is madness because of the massive economic impact (an even bigger economic impact than the £500+ million calculated for businesses in England and Wales if Westminster had not agreed to a currency union following a ‘Yes’ vote). A new Freedom of Information request by ‘The National’ has highlighted that the Treasury (so keen to have its opinions on the currency union publicised back in February) are refusing to disclose the same advice given to Government Ministers concerning the implications of an EU exit for the UK. How one interprets the decision to withhold (which seems to be an increasingly subjective decision, depending on the political affiliations of the time, contrary to the intention of FoI), depends on which way Westminster wants the public to jump. And they may well want to contain that little problem until after the May General Election is out of the way…Cameron would not at this moment want to be seen as supporting an EU exit by having the Referendum, in the light of Treasury advice saying (probably) “it’s madness”, as that would make it a little more difficult for him to get reelected, in what is already looking like a difficult fight to win a majority for the right to become the Prime Minister of Austerity Britain.

This is, of course, interesting in the context of the Scottish dimension. Polls (before and after September) have regularly shown a clear majority of Scots wanting to stay in the European Union. At the end of October, a report in The Times noted that only four Scottish Westminster constituencies wanted to leave, as opposed to the majority of constituencies in England – and of those four Scottish constituencies, only one (Banff and Buchan, on 57%) made the top 250 Westminster constituencies that wanted to leave. The lack of support for a Scottish exit from the EU (as one might guess from the percentages cited thus far) also goes well beyond the ‘Yes’ camp: my own constituency of Edinburgh North – which I think only managed in the high thirties for ‘Yes’ – only shows 23% support for an EU exit, with Edinburgh South nearer 24%.

The implications of this apparently likely opposing result on each side of the border then brings the constitutional element into play. In a poll at the start of November by Panelbase, those surveyed were asked to consider the (apparently likely) scenario whereby Scotland voted to stay in the EU, but was outvoted by the rest of the UK to leave with it. They were then asked, in these circumstances, if a second independence referendum would be justified, in order to ensure that Scotland was not taken out of the EU against its will. Excluding the 13% Don’t Knows, 52% said yes (including 22% of former ‘No’ voters in the Referendum), and 48% said no, the UK decision should be accepted.

This, of course, is one of the keystones of the 2017 ‘Referendum Rerun’ scenario. With SNP majorities in the Scottish Westminster constituencies in 2015 and for Holyrood in 2016 endorsing their mandate for a rerun, a split on leaving the EU would be enough to trigger the second referendum as an act of responsible governance. Given that the position of all those malleable banks and big businesses (who were loudly saying ‘No’ in September because of some hypothetical damage to business), would now be reversed at the prospect of losing the EU market with some serious real damage to business, there might be some interesting flipping of positions.

This should be remembered in the context of the IPSOS-MORI poll at the end of October that showed 55% support for a second independence referendum if either the above EU in/out scenario OR a majority Conservative Government was elected in May 2015. Longer term, 58% would support a second referendum within 5 years (or 66% for it happening in the next ten years) REGARDLESS of circumstances.

The EU In/Out split is an interesting scenario – but one should not underestimate David Cameron’s ability to play both the English electorate and his political opponents by using them as proxies (you see, Nick?). His use of Labour as his Referendum prophylactic, so that he could stand back while they soaked up the damage to their long-term reputations, was clever if obvious – as was his linkage of EVEL to ‘The Vow’ (Gordon Brown as the extra-special Labour prophylactic of choice on that occasion – a lot safer than using ‘the Darling’). Cameron also knows that framing the question carefully could also make him appear to partially satisfy both sides to an extent that would defuse the passion for an exit, and thus give him the result that he almost certainly wants.

And all that is before even considering how he would run the campaign – but one would imagine that he would use it to try to eviscerate Labour in England and Wales in a similar way to the neat filleting he just gave them in Scotland.

 

‘[Britain] is a coopted democracy, it’s an aristocratic class aligned with big business, industry, the upper middle class…who control this whole society and manipulate it for their own interests and while it is called a democracy…- nominally it is a democracy but in practice it is a very successful totalitarian paternalistic system, where the government is for the interests of a very tiny minority, and the majority of the people… in my view are not politically mature and have no real idea of what is happening to them.’ (Professor Tony Carty, Professor of Public Law & International Law, Aberdeen University)

Electoral Registration Forms & Sassenachs: Ideals and Identity

It has been a much argued point over how much the Referendum was about identity. It was not the primary driver of the independence campaign, although identity undoubtedly had that role in earlier decades. The ‘No’ campaign very much tried to pretend that it was about identity, in an ethnic sense, Alistair Darling even going so far as to support the idea that it was ‘blood and soil’ nationalism (i.e. next-of-kin to national socialism in Germany – thanks, Al). On the ‘Yes’ side, one particular polling analyst very much expected that there would be a direct correlation between the census figures showing 62% of those living in Scotland solely identifying themselves as Scottish (with no element of ‘Britishness’ in how they self-identified), and the numbers who would vote ‘Yes’ – on the grounds of how could anyone think of voting against their self-identified country’s existence. Although this made perfect sense to me as a perspective, it is clear from the eventual 45% vote in September that he – like dear Alistair – was wrong.

Interestingly, within a couple of weeks of the vote, many of us were again challenged on how we self-identify, with requests to confirm our registration on the electoral role by the end of that month. One thing that was interesting was that there was a hefty fine involved if you failed to respond – and I could not help but think of Aberdeen Council’s apparent attempts to punish supposed ‘Yes’ voters who had avoided council tax payments for decades, yet had come back on the register for the Referendum. Not everyone on the register was asked to confirm our registration – my mother got a standard ‘you do not need to do anything about this’, presumably because her voting address has been unchanged for some 50 years. But I, as someone who recently moved their registered address from Glasgow to Edinburgh, was asked to confirm. (I recently found that I had had a similar letter to my mother sent to my former Glasgow address – and indeed  a second polling card had been sent to me there, as well, despite me deregistering from that address.) The registration process was straightforward, asking for a very few answers to supplement the details held. As sending something by post seems such an involved process these days (I’ve clearly sent too many e-mails in my life), I opted to complete the form online. As I clicked through the options, I came to the identity question. But the options were British, Irish, or other nationality. No Scottish option was available.

Identity is of course a very personal issue, in terms of how we engage with the concept, so this post has to be a very personal viewpoint – perhaps even more so than the others. Everybody defines their interface with culture, origins and living space in a unique way, very much weighted by the significance or impact that those individual factors have made on that given person both currently and in their development. In that regard, I confess that I have never seen or identified myself as British, and have always endeavoured to find other options to select, when confronted by tick-boxes and pull-down menus that mad such an assumption about me, treasuring those few that offered ‘Scottish’ or ‘Scotland’ as options. Indeed, it was an online discussion with a colleague in the north of England back in February-March, which dealt with just such issues as the Scottish experience or identity within the British Empire and thereafter, that convinced me that I should start this political blog (so blame Mike Boyd). I think that as much as Scots ended up being the engine of the British Empire, and therefore were complicit in its many appalling acts, I recognize that it was not necessarily the case that they had a great deal of choice in their overall participation, given the very deliberate restrictions on their opportunities at home, and perhaps as a result I feel far more shame than any sense of pride at being associated with the concept of Britain. I realise – of course – that that is far from many people’s experience on the ‘Yes’ (let alone the ‘No’) side, and was very proud to work alongside those with very differing senses of identity who recognised the common cause of the need for independence to make Scotland (and, perhaps, the world) a much better place.

That said, I am hardly a flag-waver, painting my face blue and white at every chance to attend a sporting event. My need to promote a sense of Scottish-ness within Scotland has never been that strong. Identity is a complex weave, interacting with place and culture, ramifications of language, music and – particularly in Scotland’s case – aspects of textiles. Musically, I am hardly a folk music fan (although in primary school we were all taught ‘Flower of Scotland’), but then again I also like popular music that varyingly displays its Scottish roots, whether Big Country’s skirls, the Proclaimers, Simple Minds or the bagpipes in some early AC/DC tracks. As a ‘lowlander’ from the central belt (and not even from Glasgow, but Edinburgh – the shame!!), perhaps it was some vague sense of ‘not being that Scottish’ that led me to learn Gaelic some years ago, in some quest to embrace a concept of identity. Nor do I wear the kilt at every opportunity. This is partly because I have never felt that comfortable with this aspect – my family does not have an ‘automatic’ tartan and yes, I know (as my Auntie Sheena, a former kiltmaker, has on many occasion been at pains to try and impress on me) one can be entitled to wear whichever tartan one likes, as the ‘family tartan’ idea is very much a 19th century confection. Nonetheless…the once-modern myth of the family tartan entitlement does now feel old enough (to me, at least) and comfortable enough to be a ‘genuine’ tradition – so I am happy to buy into it.

Therefore, I have not had a kilt of my own since I was around 7 years old – save for rentals when I was acting as best man or usher at weddings, when the choice of tartan was up to those who were headlining the ceremony.

Until this year.

When I saw that a tartan had been produced for the ‘Yes’ Campaign, I knew that this was finally a tartan that I could wear feeling complete entitlement. More than that – (and even better) it was a political statement. My brother married again in May, and for that event I finally bought my first kilt, and was able to wear the ‘Yes’ kilt for a wide array of international guests (many from down south) as an usher. It was really good to do.

The strange thing is, that my dynamic with these badges of identity has changed with the Referendum – perhaps because of the result, although I feel that the incidents that I am about to relay would probably have happened with a ‘Yes’ result as well. Firstly, I attended a conference in Berlin a few weeks ago, presenting two posters on some research I had been doing. Needing a blue and white background for one of them, I suddenly found myself importing an image of a saltire…and printed it, so that it resembled a large flag in the middle of the poster session (it worked well with the rest of the design too, by the way – at least, that’s my story). What was this? The only flag I had ever owned in my life was the Croatian one (see earlier posts for tha story), so this was slightly strange behaviour. On my regular bus journeys to the centre of Edinburgh in order to help staff the Marchmont stall, I passed many souvenir tat shops presenting overpriced tacky Scottish garments…yet, on those trips I began to be drawn to a saltire hoodie, of all things. As I saw it each day from the bus, I made a deal with myself that if there was a ‘Yes’ vote, I would buy one – perhaps to wear at the inevitable Hogmanay Party to end them all at the close of 2014. There was no ‘Yes’ vote – but I bought it today, for some work I am about to do out in China. Again – I believe this is quite uncharacteristic.

Back to the electoral registration form. When, in my frustration at an online form that seemed to smugly want to present me as British when I had just been part of a campaign trying to mark a separate, cleaner identity on this country, I had ended up putting myself down as a Chinese national from Ireland, as a result of refusing the mantle of the British identity, I abandoned the online process. I went back to the printed form that had been sent to me in the post, as I did not have a memory of it being so polarizing when I had first scanned it. Sure enough – the handwritten form allowed you to define yourself however you wished in an empty white box. I wrote ‘Scottish’ (as with all my visa application forms, to whichever embassy), signed the form, and sent it off.

So, what have we learned – if anything – from this mish-mash of identity-related experiences? I certainly regard myself as Scottish – not as some ‘pure-bred’ sense of identity, but as part of a relaxed acknowledgement of our joyously mongrel nation. I take that identity to mean what I want and need it to – as everyone else does – but that has somehow changed for me during this year. I feel more uncompromising in my sense of a Scottish identity than ever before, particularly within Scotland itself – perhaps because it represents the Nation of Yes, just as much as any older idea of Scotland – a place where it does not matter where you were born or where your parents were from, or if you are from the Lowlands instead of the Highlands or – heaven forfend!! – from Edinburgh instead of Glasgow. I think there are a lot of things to be proud of in the idea of how an independent Scotland can be – and the simple possibility of being different to what we were – and what we have historically been part of – is reason enough for optimism. And I think also that that is a part of why so many more saltires are on display around Scotland, than there were before the Referendum. That symbol has become more important to people than it was before.

Scotland can be something greater than what it would leave behind it. Much of the rest of the UK either has a longer way to go – or is on a very, very different journey of identity to a very different destination.

 

“The men and women of Yes should live and work as if they already belonged to an independent country. And perhaps, in a sense, that is what Scotland has now become.” (Neal Ascherson, 21st September 2014)

Conditional Yes and Conditional No: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Unconditionally Love ‘The Vow’…

‘The Vow’ put together by Gordon Brown and promulgated by the Daily Record in the 48 hours prior to the Referendum allegedly was responsible for 25% of No voters casting their vote the way that they did. This intangible ‘guarantee’ would seem therefore to have made the election result a ‘Conditional No’, according to some observers (although see George’s comments in yesterday’s post for a perfectly valid alternative interpretation). A condition which – if not fulfilled – legitimises a rerun of the Referendum in extremely short order, given that the leaders that made it will have signed up for new promises and priorities by the time of the general election in May next year. In other words, the terms and conditions of their vow will have expired.

So is there an inherent hypocrisy in Yes campaigners arguing that a ‘No’ vote’ was a conditional one? I mean, could you not argue that a Yes vote would have been ‘conditional’ as well? I guess the main difference is the nature of what each side was ‘offering’…if that is not too strong a word. The No campaign was very much predicated on not offering anything at all – that everything was fine and dandy in the garden, and that any ‘wee things’ that needed changing could easily – oh, SO easily – be done within a continuing Union. Project Fear delivered what it promised to – a deterrent to change, without arguing a positive reason to not change. That only changed within the last week of the campaign, when a blustered pretense at extended devolution (shamefully packaged by the BBC’s Jackie Bird as ‘DevoMax’) emerged at the last minute – supposedly subscribed to by all parties. This became the ‘condition’ – voting No had ceased to be about the mythical retention of any status quo, and now was muddied with a promise to fundamentally reform the existing arrangement for the betterment of Scotland.

In contrast, ‘Yes’ were always keen to avoid promises beyond the most conservative (with a small ‘c’) – an end to Trident and protecting the NHS as a public service. Everything else was about what would be possible, what could be done – and a series of very different visions emerged from the different political parties that were a part of ‘Yes’. Noone argued that there would be any land of milk and honey at the end of a Yes vote (although No were keen to use the phrase as though people from Yes at some point had said that) – indeed ‘it will be hard work’ was the most common phrase about what would be entailed by making such a decision for change. Bluntly, as we would be taking responsibility for our own actions, we would be creating that new nation ourselves, therefore responsible for it. In that sense we would not be able to blame the SNP or anyone else in that context. As multiple groups agreeing on little beyond ‘we should be independent’, it is more difficult to assert a ‘conditional’ Yes vote that could be ‘defaulted’ on, beyond a new administration in an independent Scotland making moves to retain Trident or privatise the health service – which would have been so directly antithetical to the core of a Yes vote, that it would stand as a betrayal.

In this regard, No had a distinct advantage. Having insisted that there be no extended devolution option on the ballot paper, they were not obliged to define an offer at any stage in the campaign, let alone 2 days before the vote (sigh – so much for the purdah period…). Therefore they have to do very little now in order to have ‘claimed’ to deliver what they said they would – because the substance of their statements was so vacuous, that they could claim to have delivered them with a minimum of action…even if the bulk of the No-voting electorate might have understood that they were voting for something very much more substantial when they gave their conditional vote. Or – as Ian Bell more succinctly puts it in today’s Sunday Herald – “By promising more while failing to say what more might mean, they promised nothing.” The waters were nicely muddied, it appears, by Gordon Brown attempting to upstage his nemesis Alistair Darling at the eleventh hour, through posing as a representative for all three main parties, and supposedly getting them to agree to ‘effectively federalism’. Pity Nick, Dave and Ed didn’t get that memo, Gordon – as they seem to feel strangely unbound by your superbly brokered deal.

One final thought. It was noted that by the time of the vote, not only had support for independence risen when placed next to ‘no change’, but support for DevoMax had also fallen as the preferred option over the period of the campaign. This would seem to indicate a falling trend in support for extended devolution during the campaign, with those that began as its supporters, not just embracing independence as the closest thing to DevoMax that was on offer, but actually starting to reject DevoMax in favour of independence as a better way of delivering what they wanted. It remains to be seen whether, in a post-Referendum Scotland with expectations greatly raised by Brown’s verbiage and hyperbole, that trend continues over the next 6 months – or beyond.

 

“The party leaders puzzle as to why their support slips away to a new bunch of parties. Maybe one way they can reverse this is to try a more forthright approach, and to start with they could say: ‘If the Scottish are so daft as to believe our vow, maybe that proves they’re not fit to run their own country anyway, the idiots.’” (Mark Steel in The Independent, 17/10/2014)

Greys’ Psychology: Inside the Mindset of a Defeated Demographic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is ‘Nice’.

 

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