Tales from BrExitLand: More than One Shade of Grey with BrExit and Generation WW

There have been so many strands arising from the EU Referendum vote, that my related blog-post promised to not only be several thousand words long, but as likely to be finished as George RR Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice before Game of Thrones completes its broadcast version on HBO.

One of the reasons is time is a lot more difficult to find these days (hence the comparative silence these last months), and the last few months have been particularly problematic in this regard. My mother died just over 2 months ago, and that has entailed the usual catastrophic impacts that many of you will be familiar with, when ‘Major Life Changes’ need to be suddenly shoehorned into an already over-stuffed schedule. The last time I saw my mother in anything remotely passing for good health was in fact on the day of the EU Referendum vote, when I (unusually) was down at the polling booths for the opening of the polls, as I had a flight to catch for Munich later that morning. Unlike the Scottish Independence Referendum, I had not engaged mum in any conversation on the matter (in part because I had very little inclination to do so in the preceding year), but I had assumed that she would be an instinctive ‘Leave’ voter. Her EU (and other foreign policy) attitudes seemed largely to have been formed through latent wartime jingoism (“Why are they bossing us about when we knocked seven bells out of them during the war??”), having been 11-17 years old over the period of 1939-1945. This was confirmed secondarily by my sister, while we were starting to sort through the house contents earlier this month, and she recounted attempting to talk to her on the issue (‘would you still rather we were at war with Germany, then?’ ‘Well…’).

Demographically, her choice was – of course – depressingly unsurprising – she was well into the 65 and over category, 60% of whom voted to leave. Similarly she was part of the 73% of over 55s that voted ‘No’ two years ago (see https://50daysofyes.wordpress.com/2014/09/21/morguetown-a-velvet-revolution-smothered-or-failing-to-get-into-the-second-round-of-a-tournament-on-goal-difference-again). (As a sidebar, it is interesting to note that the ‘pivot age’ in the Scottish Independence Referendum was 55 – the majority of those below voting Yes, the majority of those above voting No – whereas the ‘pivot age’ for BrExit was 45.)

Yet it is – of course – not as simple as a stark generational difference, a simple attitude that defines the World War Generation (or ‘Generation WW’, perhaps) on the basis of their date of birth, with an immutability akin to a geological age. My father, broadly of the same age-group, died just over ten years ago, but seemed to be very much at odds with my mother’s views on such issues of national identity. Perhaps this divergence was because although he lived through the same war, he had done so training in the Royal Air Force, so had seen the reality behind the marketing veneer of the ‘Britain’ that was being peddled to the populace back home. After the war, he had trained in finance – and that also might have influenced his views on issues not solely restricted to Scottish independence. For example, in the 1975 vote to ratify the UK membership of the EEC, father was shocked to discover that mother had voted against ratification. (Incidentally, for that vote, Scots voted 58:42 to ratify, which was dwarfed by England’s 69:31. As George Kerevan recently noted, times, it would seem, have very much changed since those days…) Similarly, as a lifelong proponent of independence (he once told me that he knew he wouldn’t see it in his lifetime, but hoped that I would see it in mine – fingers crossed, Dad, fingers crossed…), it is more than highly unlikely that Dad would have voted ‘No’ in September 2014, as she did. Given what Mum might have described as his ‘contrary’ nature to her, one might be tempted to predict that Dad would also have voted against BrExit: although he was no fan of how Europe had developed, I can see that he would have voted to stay in Europe if for no other reason than it clearly advanced the cause of Scottish independence.

Sadly, my mother would probably have enjoyed the now ‘socially-acceptable’ BritNat racism that is becoming as widespread as it is legitimised by being presented as part of today’s post-BrExit vote political mainstream: her declaration (after visiting South Africa in 1989) that apartheid was “a good thing, and they should have it in Britain, too” gives us little cause to think otherwise. I can imagine, if she had lived long enough to hear it, that she would have been smiling with satisfaction as the new Home Secretary’s speech was reported from the Conservative Party conference barely a fortnight ago – and it is unlikely that she would have even blinked when it was pointed out to her that registering foreign workers was re-enacting Chapter 2 of Mein Kampf. [Thanks, Amber Rudd.] To an extent that reflects that she is part of a somewhat lost generation, who grew up during wartime, when that form of racism was actively encouraged: it is after all far simpler for a government to sell an idea of being at war with an entire people, than with something as abstract as an ideology. But that is not to say – by any stretch of the imagination – that her attitude is universal within her demographic, and we should not therefore regard Generation WW as either impregnable or unsalvageable. Plenty of her age group did not buy into the xenophobic rhetoric of ‘Leave’ with such enthusiasm, are not off the social media grid (see https://50daysofyes.wordpress.com/2014/09/25/greys-psychology-inside-the-mindset-of-a-defeated-demographic/ ), and have allowed their attitudes to develop with the passing years, growing away from kneejerk, imperial-based BritNat racism.

So what lessons are there here for us for the future – if any? As much as it is clear that it is far from that entire demographic group that voted against independence two years ago, we can still see that the percentages show that it was the retired demographic whose emphatic ‘No’ vote overwhelmed the ‘Yes’ vote of all the younger demographics – ironically dictating a future for others that they themselves would have little to do with. I pointed this out to my mother when she started to object to the idea that 16-17 year olds would have the vote for September 2014: she grudgingly conceded my point, using her best ‘Kevin and Perry’ sulk impression.

In the 1979 devolution referendum, the Dead were infamously counted as ‘No’ voters (a Labour amendment, which Jim Callaghan later denounced as the reason for his government falling, had required that it was 40% of the entire registered electorate in Scotland – including those deceased who had not yet been removed from the register – that would need to vote Yes for a Scottish Assembly to come into being). In the event of the 2nd independence referendum, provided that the terms are the same as 2014, this will not be the case. In this connection, one rather harsh analyst observed in the aftermath of the 2014 referendum that with the passage of but a few years, the demographic that had opposed Yes so emphatically would become significantly reduced in number…as represented by people such as my mother: one less future ‘No’ voter to worry about, as it were. Those of the 2014 electorate who die before the next referendum are much more likely to be No voters than Yes supporters. But this does not mean that the resistance of that demographic to change will be in any way undermined: as you get older, you tend to be more susceptible to fear – and just as surely as the older ‘No’ voters will disappear with time, a new section of the population will start to enter that stage in their lives when – even although the Government’s pensions office made clear that a UK pension was secure in the event of an independent Scotland – they will still be vulnerable to the likes of Gordon Brown telling them that it will be at risk. Project Fear focused relentlessly in on Project Pension Fear in the last days…and won through, in no small part due to securing the (often postal) votes of the retired demographic.

Away from past wartime conditioning, we must do all that we can to ensure that next time the Scottish Independence Referendum comes around, Project Pension Fear is fought hard and bitterly, and not allowed to achieve anything like the kind of traction that it did in 2014.


“If Scotland does become independent this will have no effect on your State Pension…anyone who is in receipt or entitled to claim State Pension can still receive this when they live abroad, if this is a European country or a country where Britain has a reciprocal agreement they will continue to receive annual increases as if they stayed in Great Britain. If the country does not fall into the above criteria then the rate of State Pension remains payable at the rate it was when they left Britain and no annual increases will be applied until such times they come back to live in Britain permanently.” (Department for Work and Pensions, UK Government, January 2013)


InSturgeoncy 2: Watch Any Good Telly Last Night?

Well, how was your night? An early one? Or did you stay up to watch ITV?

I confess that I had to wait and start to see the reports coming in this morning. So I have been (alternately) smiling and laughing throughout the day – with maybe the odd attempt to stifle tears pricking in the eyes with pride, relief, joy…whatever.

You see, apparently Nicola did quite well last night on the live Leaders’ Debate. Up there with Cameron (Conservative, Prime Minister), Miliband (Labour), Clegg (LibDem, Deputy Prime Minister), Nigel Farage (UKIP), Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru), Natalie Bennett (Greens)…she apparently did ‘no’ bad’.

The first report that I saw quoted the after show ‘whowunnit?’ polls, with the average of the three main polls (YouGov, ComRes, Guardian/ICM) showing: Sturgeon 21.7%, Cameron 21.0%, Miliband 20.3%, Farage 20.0%, Clegg 9.3%, Bennett 4.3%, Wood 2.7%. Yep – Sturgeon not just beating out the PM, but all the other Westminster party leaders.

That does not mean it was universal – and, indeed, one has to wonder about the difference in the results between the three polls (shades of that mysterious ‘emphatic win for Darling’ first poll that very few people seem to have witnessed on television): ComRes gave victory to Cameron/Miliband/Farage, the Guardian/ICM gave it to Miliband…but YouGov so emphatically gave it to Sturgeon (28%, with Farage 20%, Cameron on 18, Miliband 15, Clegg 10, Green 5, Leanne 4%), and Nicola did well enough in the others, that she still came out on top over the three polls.

The Daily Telegraph also conducted a satisfaction poll, which gave the top places to the three female leaders.

As someone who did not see the debate (the ITV feed to Beijing must have been down), I was particularly interested by analysis conducted by IPSOS-MORI throughout the actual television programme, noting levels of boos and cheers for each candidate over the two hours. The graph is very pretty – and there is a spiky gold line riding high above all the rest from within ten minutes of the start: Nicola Sturgeon obtained 83% cheers and 17% boos, winning hands-down in both those categories (Leanne Wood and Natalie Bennett nearly tied next on 65/35 and 64/36 respectively, with Cameron a clear last on 31/69 – he must be regretting coming out so emphatically to state that he would ‘refuse to work with the SNP’ during the week – gosh, we’re real hurt by that, Dave). What interests me most about the IPSOS-MORI figures, is a consensus between those in the studio, and those polled outside the studio, in terms of how well Nicola comported herself and got the point across. And maybe how much the more general UK public started to understand a little bit about what the ‘Caledonian Spring’ had REALLY been about. In that sense, it is quite telling that another UK-wide poll – Opinium, for The Observer – found 20% of respondents believed Nicola Sturgeon won the debate, compared to 17% David Cameron and 15% Ed Miliband. She was judged to have performed well by 63% of respondents – a higher percentage than for any of the other leaders, and exceeded expectations to a greater degree (51%) than any other leader.

‘Exceeded expectations’ is perhaps the key phrase from Opinium: I don’t want to read too much into the slew of Tweets flying around afterwards (if you want a laugh, then you can go to worse places on your browser than Wings Over Scotland and look up their ‘New Friends’ sample – some crackers in there…) – but they seem to agree with the polls and studio analysis…that basically UK audiences ‘got’ what she was saying. And the myth in the press of the mad-eyed nationalists that eat the first-born from the wrong side of Berwick was left hopelessly exposed for the nonsense that it was. The ‘Othering’ of Scotland, which was so prevalent during the ‘Better Together – as long as you remember your place’ Campaign, has restarted with a vengeance as the polls surge in support for the SNP this year. Not just some of the ignorant (and overtly sexist) portrayals of Nicola, but the presentation of the electoral preferences of this ‘beloved part of the Union’ as making it an alien force to be defeated at all costs – with one misguided journalist even going as far as invoking Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, making it clear that however much they said they did not want us to BECOME foreigners during the Referendum campaign – to them, we already very much are.

Part of me (a small one) is slightly saddened by even the possibility of this renaissance in how the SNP might be viewed down south. It is such a shame that Alex (the outstanding politician of his generation in the UK, bar none – IMHO) did not get the chance to experience it, rather than his most worthy successor. However, that is politics. Maybe he can be somewhat rehabilitated by Nicola’s reflected glory…

And more than slaying some demons that infest the xenophobic media down south, I think it is possible that some progressives last night – particularly down south – might just have started to realize that maybe there IS a way to get an opposition that stands for something worthwhile – that there IS a party that can get enough influence in the forthcoming elections that remembers what Labour used to stand for…that might be able to remind Labour of what it used to stand for, too.

For years before the Referendum, I read plenty of articles that said that Scots were the smartest electorate in Europe, because of how they voted between councils and Westminster…and, latterly, Holyrood. That all seemed to look somewhat pale after the even greater electoral literacy of the Referendum…but if, in particular, the voters in England can see a ‘deal’, provided they vote Labour, and we’ll give them the SNP, then we might have ‘game on’ for May.

If they want to see ‘LabourMax’ (as opposed to ConnyLabour) – then we look awfully like by-and-large refusing to vote for them in Scotland, as long as they vote for Labour in England, giving what seems to be the increasingly preferred option of the Labour-SNP Deal.

What do you say? ‘GameChanger’?

Oh, and not only was what Nicola saying apparently resonating with the general UK audience – the SNP reported 1,200 new members signed up during the broadcast of the programme. Not bad for two hours work, Nicks.

So, if my anxiety attack over the weekend’s conference events was my ‘First Referendum Debate’ wobble, maybe last night brought the equivalent of my ‘Second Referendum Debate’ confidence surge. Although that scenario was always going to be a tug of war backwards and forwards all the way up to Referendum Day, last night was the one opportunity that the electorate outside Scotland are going to get to see Nicola on a par with her Westminster peers.

No’ bad, hen – no’ bad.


“The party which can muster the most support in the House of Commons will get first crack at forming a government. That doesn’t mean the largest single party – it means the largest single posse.” (Lesley Riddoch, 26/3/2015)

Wings Over Bonn: Waiting for ‘Project Red’…

I spent the last week of February attending a training course in Bonn. Come the last Friday afternoon, and I had some time to kill before going to the Airport for the flight back to Edinburgh. As the internet had been a little erratic to access for the preceding day or two, I managed to find an office in the department I had been studying in, and logged in – Gmail (a forbidden pleasure in so much of China) the inevitable first port of call.

I saw the notification that the year’s ‘Wings Over Scotland’ fundraiser had started at 10am that very morning, and my interest was piqued right away. Their first fundraiser in 2013 had set a precedent for a political website, and last year’s had been legendary: launched 6 months out from the Referendum, with a target of £50,000 (+£3,000 for the fund-raising site’s commission) to try to reach in 34 days, it had hit the total in under 8 and a half hours, had gone over £80,000 in 24 hours, and finished the 34 days at £110,717. A stunned and outraged unionist twitterati (note: no capital ‘t’…) mumbled incoherently that the fiendish editor of ‘Wings Over Scotland’ must be taking the same money out and resubmitting it, under a variety of fake accounts, to produce such a large sum (as clearly there could not possibly be so many people believing in independence and the service that he provided)…despite the fact that the commission would erode the money each time….and the amount of work to generate over 1,710 donor accounts would have been quite impressive.

‘Wings Over Scotland’ might not – as their fundraiser positively declared – have ‘finished the job’ last year, but their impact was massive, and in a war against a decidedly partisan and all-pervasive media (coming soon, The Death of Scotland’s Post-War Dream Pt.4), as much underground promotion of the case for independence as possible was necessary: the legend that is The Wee Blue Book had a massive penetration of literally hundreds of thousands of copies, and won many minds (and, perhaps, hearts) over to ‘Yes’. For Rory Bremner, in his BBC review show of the Referendum campaign, to say that Wings was the unofficial propaganda outlet of ‘Yes’, in the same way as the BBC was for ‘No’, was a high plaudit indeed. I certainly don’t regret the two week’s salary donation one bit – I only wish that I could have given more. Undoubtedly, ‘Wings Over Scotland’ are a huge part of the reason why The National exists today, where before there was no equivalent media outlet (Ok, the Sunday Herald came late to the party…) before September 18th: it demonstrated an appetite for news that was not coloured by an overriding hatred of the idea of an independent Scotland.

But back to Bonn. I clicked the link from the Wings e-mail that led to the IndieGogo page, to see how things were doing. I think my biggest post-Referendum interest has been on how much of the surge in support for ‘Yes’ (in a broad sense – full fiscal autonomy, as a path ultimately to independence) would be retained by the time May 7th‘s General Election comes, so anything that gives an indicator of change, or weakening resolve, interests me. Is the hope for self-determination being crushed and eroded by the increasingly contradictory nonsense coming out of the ‘No’ camp parties?

The page started to load: it was just after 4pm in Germany, so that meant the fund-raiser had been running for five hours. I looked at the figure, and my heart fell slightly…the only figure up on the page was the target – £48,356. It did not appear that there had been any donations at all yet. Still, people would be getting home from work soon, and…no, this was not right. £45K plus £3K for indieGogo’s commission was fine, but that £356 was…just weird.

On an impulse, I refreshed the page. £48,501. And I started to laugh…

‘Wings Over Scotland’ had hit their target in 5 hours – a slightly lower target than the previous year, admittedly, but still: the difference between £105 per minute last year, and £160 per minute this year.

Around two weeks later, on the 14th March, the fund-raiser broke through the £100K mark. So far it has over 2,700 donors, and still gets several hundred pounds each day. I have a feeling that, if it was running through the end of March, there would have been yet a further surge when another payday came through.

And what, might you ask, does all this mean?

Firstly, I would contend that the faster rate of donation, across more individual donations, suggests that despite the Referendum focus being absent, that this is a mark of people’s ongoing revived engagement with politics in Scotland. It is also – clearly – a massive endorsement of Campbell’s character (the editor), to inspire such belief through his posts on the website AND what he delivered during the Referendum campaign, The Wee Blue Book in particular being outstanding [http://theweebluebook.com/]: this is not just based on some wild promises, then the proceeds disappear as he runs off to the Bahamas – this is a vote of confidence, based on what he actually delivered last time. People have confidence in him, believe in and trust him to do well for them with their money.

And what – I may hear you ask – is this money for? Well, in addition to the (compared to mainstream media) thoroughly referenced and researched articles, and a (small) salary for the man to do it, he commissions a large amount of leftfield polls, asking alternative questions…which reluctantly the mainstream polls slowly drift towards asking in his wake. And something hinted at for this year’s fundraiser is ‘Project Red’: “After last year’s Wee Blue Book, we’re currently working on another sizeable and significant undertaking in time for the general election. We can’t give away too much about it at the moment…” Project Red: a book of handy referenced Scottish Labour lies, perchance? Well, that would be my guess, anyway…but whatever it turns out to be, I am pretty sure it will repeatedly nail the lie that ‘the biggest party gets to form the government’ (only true if you get a majority…otherwise it is the incumbent’s job).


“Wings are the ‘No’ campaign’s biggest nightmare: they were expecting Alex Salmond and the SNP. They were expecting Blair Jenkins and Yes Scotland. They were NOT expecting Stuart Campbell and Wings Over Scotland.” (Dr. Morag Kerr)

No ‘Cold Turkey’ on Scottish Politics with Bitter ‘McPravda’ Nuggets, or Dinner with the ‘No’ Advocates:2

I am back in China for a while, and I have used this as a chance to subscribe to my first ever newspaper…I feel almost grown up now. First, it was getting into the routine of buying a Sunday paper at my local shop regularly once the Sunday Herald came out for Yes on May 3rd, and now a digital subscription for 6 months to a daily (and yes – it gets under the Great FireWall of China very nicely, thank you). Yeah, okay – predictably, it is The National that I am referring to, the new paper produced from the Sunday Herald stable, proudly stating that it is ‘The Newspaper’ [note: singular] ‘That Supports An Independent Scotland’ under its masthead. A clear response to the market opportunity represented by both the 1.6 million ‘Yes’ voters and by the 110% increase in sales that the Sunday Herald witnessed after it declared its support for ‘Yes’, it comes with a short-term aim of resolving the print media’s political deficit in Scotland, and the longer term aim of providing the more balanced voice that was missing from any future referendum campaign, it is to be welcomed, encouraged and criticised to strengthen it.

Naturally, this has led to bitter howls of protest from the unionist side, who (regardless of what the referendum result says, appear to have been thoroughly routed by the campaign itself) bitterly referred to it as ‘McPravda’ for the Scottish National Party, an accusation that does not really seem warranted, given the diversity of voices as columnists within from Women for Independence, Business for Scotland, the Scottish Greens and others (in fact, a somewhat noticeable – and probably deliberate – lack of SNP voices). Unsurprisingly, the uptake during its 5 day trial week was huge (despite it apparently being banned by a number of large supermarket chains – but more on that another time), selling out over 100,000 copies on its second day (it took me until Day 3 before I could grab my first copy, from the local shop). The 5-day trial was an unsurprising success and this has just seen the end of its first full week as a regular fixture. Although unlikely to reach those figures again with regular sales, it has a voice and a refreshing psychology: it considers options leading to independence without instinctively barring its gates and throwing up its hands in horror at the very thought of such a dreadful thing.

This diversity of media voices is a healthy thing (do I really need to say that – apart from to those bitter ‘McPravda’ nuggets?), and it came up recently in the context of moving to China. This gave me an opportunity to catch up with one of those would-be north of England ‘No’ voters that I spoke about before (Having a Say, and Eating It: Or, what I actually DID say before dessert at the dinner with ‘No’ advocates…(with grateful apologies to Peter Arnott)), Derek. This time, his twin brother David was part of the conversation. Far more loquacious, David may have travelled slightly more than Derek, but both have really clocked up the miles over the years, going into Russia regularly since the seventies and China since 1986. So they have certainly been seeing the world, with all its political systems and changes for many decades. As academics, they have engaged with university departments globally (for example facilitating students to leave China so that they could undertake postgraduate study with them), and so know political issues from the perspectives of their hosts as higher education institutions. Which perhaps made what follows a little surprising.

Once again we were out at dinner (bizarrely, David and Derek wanted to have pizza) – which is a really big thing here in China, by the way: university departments lavish hospitality on their guests in a quite astonishing way, with banquets every night, and the host department picks up the tab. One could contrast this with the poverty of those working in the paddy fields and villages, but…anyway, the department representative (i.e. the guy with the cheque book for the evening) was my colleague Peiyun, way at the end of the table on the left. Peiyun has been a good friend to me, and has helped a lot, and I watched him as David brought the conversation round to what was happening in Hong Kong. We talked about the desire of the Hong Kong citizens to select their own slate of political candidates, rather than have them vetted by Beijing, and how incredibly modest this was, compared to the student demonstrations of 1989 in Tiananmen Square, which I had watched live on the BBC, when democratisation of their government was what they were calling for. But the premier then was Deng Xiaoping, a veteran of Mao’s Long March, and as much as he modernised the country by implementing a vast road-building programme, changes to the political culture of the country were not at all on his agenda. I might now say that what happened next is history…except it is not, really, in China itself, where a blanket ban on discussions of ‘the June 6th incident’ has resulted in a large part of the population being entirely ignorant of – and resistant to the idea of – the People’s Army attacking the people. It is an astonishingly successful suppression of a huge event from China’s recent political history, and a chilling reminder of what is possible when (as Orwell noted – allegedly from his time at the BBC) you control the past.

The conversation organically grew, and I started to notice a definite patronising tone in David’s discourse opposite me, as he talked about it being such a shame that there was so much money vested in the top of the Chinese government, which inevitably caused corruption. Peiyun was being calm and politely quiet, and maybe I felt the need to step in on my host’s behalf, as I said with a laugh ‘Just like Westminster’. “What?!!” Someone had evidently passed an electric current through Derek, sitting on my immediate right. David looked at me curiously across the table (it is true, I was wearing the new saltire hoodie that night) and continued onward. As he bemoaned the situation of how the media were reporting Hong Kong protests in China, Peiyun finally stirred.

“But you have protests in your own country, too, which are not reported.”

“So you are saying, it is not our business what happens in Hong Kong, and we should just look after our own issues?” I realised that David had misunderstood what Peiyun was saying when he said ‘not reported’ – he was not talking about it not being reported in China, as David assumed. His point was quite different.

“I think Peiyun is talking about the protests that the BBC refuse to report in Britain itself.” I interjected, and Peiyun asserted that this was correct – he had been noting that China was at least reporting its own protests, which was more than could be said for the BBC in Britain. “What protests?” said Derek disbelievingly. “There was a huge one where 50,000 people went through London over the summer and there was no mention of it” I said – referring to the infamous blanket ban on coverage of the anti-austerity march on Saturday 21st June. The BBC has seemed far happier to follow a government line since the Hutton Report and the resignation of Greg Dyke – one might guess that their enthusiasm to run stories inflating the idea of ‘benefit scroungers’ and not reporting marches against austerity cuts, played well with the narrative that the coalition government are currently trying to sell – but the observation that they selectively blanked such a huge public protest didn’t go down well with the brothers. “But the degree of media manipulation that you get here” wailed David…..”But you forget” I interrupted, “that people in traditional communist bloc countries like China or Russia have such obvious propaganda, that large quantities of the people just ignore them completely”.

“In contrast”, I continued “western democracies are taught to believe that what the media tells them is true, and therefore they are far far easier to manipulate politically.” David started to protest and I continued “and it is utterly naive not to recognize that vulnerability.” I paused, then noted that although China’s ranking in global freedom of journalism statistics was appalling, the UK was one of the worst in Europe. The conversation went silent again, as they eyed me darkly across the table…I had the impression that these razor-sharp fine intellectual minds conceded the points – but still rejected the conclusion completely that there was anything rotten in the British state.

Later, Peiyun and I bid our guests farewell at the hotel, then walked back to the department together, laughing about the evening’s conversation. He thanked me for backing him up: “You know,” he said “I think it is because you have lived for some time in China that you understand a little better the situation of the media.” “No, Peiyun”, I said, a little sadly, “it’s not because I have lived in China – it’s because I live in Scotland.”

The beginning of a daily newsprint voice that might stand against the one-sided wall of unionist opprobrium against independence is an important development, and a welcome advance on the social media that flowered over the past three years of political debate surrounding the Referendum, to fill the gap left by such low mainstream coverage of pro-Yes stories. But it takes a lot more money to support the much-needed alternative broadcast equivalent – and (although Dateline Scotland are working on it) that seems both far more significant, and very much further away.


“I like the Chinese people – they are smarter than us. I asked them what they thought of the Ukraine, and they said ‘we don’t know because we don’t believe the media.’” (Antonio, from Bergamo, Italy, resident in China)

Rising Powers: Post-Referendum Expectations with a Non-Compliant Media

I am still struck by the number of ‘Yes’ posters resolutely and proudly displayed in windows as one walks around Edinburgh on a sunny Saturday afternoon. The statue of Victoria at the Foot of the Walk might have lost her post-result ‘Yes’ saltire cape, but a resolute quiet presence remains. As one commentator put it: “after 1979 [the Scottish Assembly referendum], we were on our knees for what seemed like a decade – this time, it felt like only 24 hours”. In contrast, even the local Scotland For Marriage car-owner has now removed the ‘No Thanks’ sticker (perhaps more disturbingly, the ‘Scotland for Marriage’ sticker has been left) and the union flag with lights art installation has gone from the bay window. In part, this persistence of Yes is unsurprising, given what Blair Jenkins referred to as the (deep breath) anarcho-syndicalist nature of the Yes movement: because Yes consisted of some 350 different campaign groups that spontaneously sprang up and did their own thing under a very broad umbrella, that devolved vitality is not so easy to switch off with a single central defeat. The online presence of Yes also gained a high profile, which like other indy websites seem to surprisingly be continuing. For the month of September, Wings Over Scotland received over 910,000 unique visitors, despite a radical fall off in new material being produced before the polling day, and it will be interesting to see how this flagship site of the independence movement fares. The expansion of its readership had been felt for a long time, simply through the number of comments on a given story – I remember a year ago I could turn up at the end of a working day and flick through the less than a hundred comments comfortably on any given story. For much of this year, that has simply been impractical, and by August comments were regularly over 800 for a given story.

On and offline, that level of engagement just does not go meekly away overnight.

But is this activity just a form of denial, an insistence that ‘we wuz robbed’? This brings me to the conspiracy theories about the rigging of the election. The videos online that appear to show malpractice have been largely debunked (see Doug Daniel’s piece on Wings Over Scotland for this), the apocryphal bag of ‘Yes’ votes found on a dump in Glasgow has a lot of questions attached to its veracity, the rumour of a bag going missing from Dumbarton a few weeks before the count, the non-numbered ballot papers…sure. The establishment would be capable of organizing something large-scale, and would be incentivised to do so, but it seems that anything like that would have to be done long before anything arrived at the count – and, even so, it does not seem to take into account the numbers involved, in terms of making an actual difference to the final result. Many of us felt that – although we would have taken one vote as enough to secure a win, in the face of the deluge of corporate media opposition that we had to deal with – in order to avoid any real threat of Westminster disputing or discounting the result (they had, after all, flouted enough terms of the Edinburgh Agreement and ignored the recommendations of the Electoral Commission already) or refusing to be bound by it, that we would really have had to win by more than 5%. The MoD were certainly keen to propose the annexation of Faslane earlier in the campaign – and it is hard to be confident that some similar intervention might not have occurred after a ‘Yes’ vote, with the (no matter how historical) precedent of the tanks being sent into Glasgow in January 1919. So – although I am not ruling out that there may have been malpractice, or that we might find something out in future years – there is a commendably strong urge in the ‘Yes’ movement to just get past the result, not dwell on it, and take things forward.

But surely in accepting the result, there is a concomitant disillusionment with the Yes leadership after a ‘No’, reflected in a fall-off in their esteem? In a previous post (see A Binary Mess of a Decision: Salmond’s Trust & The Social Media War) I referred to a poll conducted in August 2013 that examined how much the public (regardless of whether or not they agreed with the individuals concerned) felt that a variety of Referendum-related leaders were acting in the best interests of Scotland. Last week (two weeks after the Referendum), a poll was conducted asking how much the individuals were trusted to stand up for Scotland’s interests. In both polls, a net trust index was produced, and although the wording is different, the thrust is very similar, and I thought it might be interesting to compare the figures to see what kind of hit was taken in the trust ratings of those same individuals after the loss of the Referendum. The figures from last August are repeated in brackets after the figures from a fortnight ago:
On the Yes side: Alex Salmond +18(+15), Nicola Sturgeon +21(+12), Patrick Harvie -1(-14)
On the No side: Willie Rennie -28(-13), Ruth Davidson -20(-18), Johann Lamont -5(-19), David Cameron -41(-42)

From the Yes perspective, being on ‘the losing side’ hardly seems to have done them any harm (even allowing for a 3% margin of error) with Nicola and Patrick rising and Alex staying the same (if not improving). Again, it is worth noting that this is a SNP leadership now midway through its second term in government, so should be at a nadir, rather than still rising in popular trust. In contrast, the leaders on the No side have not done quite so well, Willie Rennie falling heavily, the two Conservative leaders with no significant change. Johann Lamont’s rise is noteworthy, although she was perhaps the least visible of all those figures as part of the last months of the No campaign. (It is also worth noting, albeit without comparative data from last year, that of the other signatories to ‘The Vow’, Ed Miliband was on -38, and Nick Clegg was on -58.)

So, fair enough, party political membership and trust ratings are increasing, most emphatically for the Yes side. But how else is this persistence manifesting? One of those 350 different Yes campaign groups mentioned above, Women for Indy, met in Perth last week for a thousand person energised meeting about the way forward. This seems to be one of the first of a series of meetings of such component groups (including Radical Independence and National Collective), and these are an essential focus for that energy to drive the way forward.

And it is essential to have such outlets – not just to harness the energy and prevent it from dissipating, but also to stop it from transforming into frustration. A major post-referendum concern of mine (although I tried hard not to express it before polling day) was the risk of civil disobedience in the wake of what was likely to be a small (if they won) ‘No’ majority. In that sense, with over 45% of the 85% turnout voting for a complete change of how government is conducted in Scotland, Westminster has a ticking clock before patience runs out on waiting for large-scale change. In fact, one can go a little further: one post-Referendum poll reported that around 25% of ‘No’ voters said that ‘The Vow’ printed on the front page of the Daily Record was what swayed them to cast their vote the way that they did, so that is more than a majority of the electorate (even including those registered, that did not vote) expressing their desire for large-scale change. Remembering that (after what Blair Jenkins referred to as the last ‘Project Fear Fortnight’, where everything but the kitchen sink was thrown at ‘Yes’ via a compliant media) there was still more than 45% of the vote that said “we do not believe you”, that is a big hill for Westminster to climb, if they truly want to ‘save the Union’ (whatever that means anymore) and not risk it destabilising. There is a limit to which this patience will endure, and after which frustration will grow and seek other outlets. In that sense, if Westminster continues to vacillate for six months up to the general election, then I would be truly astonished if mass protests or other civil disobedience were to be avoided. And when I say mass protests, this is not in the sense of the boorish intimidating behaviour of some loyalist FaceBook group arriving in Glasgow’s George Square to try to pick a fight with peaceful family groups of Yes supporters playing guitars (as happened on the day of the result, reminding everyone of the darker side of the Union), but the possibility of something far more.

For now, Westminster is on notice – they have bought themselves some months of time in order to cobble together something that goes a significant way to meeting the aspirations for large-scale change of the electorate. But the attitudes of that electorate seem to have hardened over the past year of the debate – it appears that they want more than they did at the start. A recent poll in the Sunday Herald asked what further powers Scotland wanted devolved, and I have included the figures for a comparable poll asking the same questions last year (see previous post, Not taking ‘No’ for an answer: When all tomorrow’s jams seem bitter together, what way forward for ‘No’?), in brackets: 71% (52%) want control over all tax revenues, 68% (53%) control over oil and gas revenues, 68% want state pensions devolved (the most comparable response to last year’s poll is that 60% wanted control of welfare devolved).

Westminster will be thankful that expressions of support for political change are manifesting in ways other than civil disobedience since the vote (although that would probably serve their ends in discrediting the Yes movement). Apart from the regular demonstrations outside Holyrood (fast becoming what Donald Dewar would have referred to as the ‘new nationalist shibboleth’), there have been a variety of other signs of a determination to continue. Most widely reported has been the trebling of political memberships for ‘Yes’ parties: impressive though this is for all three parties (while the No parties harrumph in an irritated fashion and whine that their memberships have ‘increased, too’), the rise in the Scottish National Party’s membership from 25,000 to over 76,000 members in less than two weeks since the Referendum result (and still rising) is the most breathtaking of all – especially as the SNP were already larger than all the Scottish memberships of the Westminster parties combined.

This is not a sign of people licking their wounds, this is people saying ‘next time, I need to be doing MORE to make this really happen’. Bayoneting the wounded, Mr Davidson? “Gonnae need some more bayonets, ‘big man’.”

There has also been a coalescing of online media projects from the Yes side – for example Bateman Broadcasting coupling with NewsNet Scotland. In this regard, I ‘noted with interest’ the enthusiasm for devolving media to the Scottish Government as picked up in the poll results published in the Sunday Herald at the weekend: that 54% would like to see that devolution does seem to put some meat on the otherwise apocryphal stories of people increasingly cancelling their TV licences, and perhaps acts as some kind of indicator of the disillusionment of so many thousands of people that were driven online in search of information during (and perhaps after?) the campaign.

With 36 out of 37 newspapers opposed to independence (the one that supported independence having doubled its readership in the process), and people such as former BBC Scotland presenter Derek Bateman and Professor John Robertson (a fascinating hour long interview with him on RefTV the other night – part of the new regular online media – find it on YouTube) arguing that the BBC are institutionally but not systematically biased, it is perhaps understandable that the BBC (and other regular media) are not speaking with a voice that reflects a majority of the Scottish people, and so those people are looking elsewhere. BBC Radio Scotland experienced an 8.9% loss of its audience in the 3 months running up to the Referendum. (Incidentally, the BBC may not be systematically biased, but I wonder how many press releases from both campaigns went untouched by outlets such as them. The scale of omission of news stories for both sides would, I think, be fascinating to see the hard numbers for.)

Professor Robertson commented during the interview that the success of the capitalist western democracies was that the people believe that their media are telling them the truth, whereas in Soviet Russia it was widely known by the public to be lies, and therefore ignored. Thus the media has greater traction in these western democracies – and therefore the wake-up call is a long and painful one, with a wrenching that is involved in accepting that we may have been repeatedly lied to by an information source we have trusted since childhood. The trouble is for Yes, that people can rarely be led to that most odious conclusion, without having already at least formulated their own suspicions – they have to take that journey, and come to that conclusion, by themselves, otherwise they will resist such calls and interpret them as solely from the tinfoil hat brigade. Again, it is worth invoking that tired old relationship metaphor that featured so often in the independence debate, where you suddenly wake up and realise that your partner seems to have been systematically lying to you for many years: if there is even the slightest possibility, no matter how preposterous or outlandish, that you could be wrong, you will cling to it until the very last moment.

Because the alternative is just too horrible to contemplate.

We have two to three years until a possible rerun on the referendum. The key to getting a different result will lie in both Westminster’s response to the result of September 18th, and the increased engagement of people with independent media.


“The debate will go on in the sense there is a large number of wounded still to be bayoneted” (Ian Davidson, MP for Glasgow West and Chair of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, October 2013)
“…all that will be required is mopping up and bayoneting of the wounded.” (Ian Davidson, MP for Glasgow West and Chair of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, May 2014)

The Spirit of the 45 Rebellion: Continuing the Inclusiveness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“Owen, I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”

Greys’ Psychology: Inside the Mindset of a Defeated Demographic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inappropriate for one narrative, perhaps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IF we manage it.


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