From Holyrood to Hollywood: sitting back and watching the movie of the day unfold, and the distraction of the Yes/No interlude

It starts the same way as September 18th did: good luck wishes coming in from around the world. Fewer than before, and less galvanised by the reflected energy that we emitted to the world last year, less excited, less envious of our moment. I feel similarly: there is a curious, slightly depressed sense of anxiety about today, despite the bright sunny blue sky contrast to last year’s overcast grey day… The feelings of today put me in mind of a Sylvester Stallone film, where he is sent back to Vietnam to rescue US prisoners. Having been given the briefing details (and while still behind prison bars) John Rambo asks: ‘Do we get to win this time?’ I guess that nothing can hope to take the place of a win last September – in practical as well as emotional terms, this election is NOT a rerun of the Referendum.

Because our moment has passed – at least for now. But, surprisingly, it seems that the ones that have the greatest difficulty getting over it are not the ‘Yes’ people. Nicola Sturgeon drew warm applause during the last leaders’ debate, when she pointed out that the people going on about a second (‘Fourth, surely?’ Ed.) referendum were not the SNP, but the Unionist parties – in particular, Labour. And out on the stump, that perspective is replicated: Conservative candidate for Danny Alexander’s Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey constituency, Edward Mountain, says that Inverness and Scotland need to ‘move on’ from the Referendum. Would this be because that was one of the 15 Westminster constituencies that actually voted ‘Yes’, perhaps?

So – as I began my first post, back in July last year…why are we doing this, again?

This reminded me of a truly bizarre letter sent into The National on the eve of Xmas last year, by one Sandy Wilkie. Again, he wanted the world to ‘move on’ from the Referendum, to deal with ‘real issues instead’. To be fair, at the time, Wilkie – although couching his hubris in some pomposity regarding ‘Nicola Sturgeon has yet to reply to my e-mails offering her an olive branch’ – was merely echoing the increasing clamour from those victorious No campaigners, as the polls began to look disturbingly solid for the exchange between Labour and the SNP in terms of polling percentage for Westminster. There was, at the time, a desperation with which people were urged to ‘move on’ as though this was an overnight situation that had suddenly arisen and could be as easily dismissed, like a fire in a flat, that once dowsed could be forgotten about with little consequence…rather than something 60 years in the making.

I read his letter at the time with some disbelief – he simply seemed incapable of grasping that the desire for independence was not a way of putting off discussing solving the problems of the day: that decision for independence came from the long, painful dawning realisation that it was the only way that we were going to GET to address those issues, as the great ‘family of nations’ of the Union was a lie. Change has not come from the Westminster system over many decades – and clearly will not, because Scotland’s problems will never be any kind of priority (electoral arithmetic proves this – just listen how easily the prospect of even a full 59 SNP MPs has been dismissed as ignorable in the last couple of weeks by the two main parties) in the Westminster structure, certainly not to the degree that means it requires attention. Hence independence.

And so the problem that the Referendum was supposed to resolve still exists – indeed, is clearer than ever before. The answer and resolution to the problems that Wilkie cites {dear god he even invoked Braveheart…I’ll bet he calls himself a ‘proud scot’ as well} of foodbanks, poverty, NHS funding, the environment and the democratic process still comes back to what he called ‘Yes/No’ – solved by the natty hashtag #OneScotland, which began to sound suspiciously equivalent to #OneNation Labour. Those individual problems ARE what the collective ‘Yes/No’ was supposed to solve. You can talk about these problems as much as you want – the solution to them is entirely within ‘Yes/No’ – and nowhere else: any other ‘solution’ is merely robbing another part of our society and impoverishing it at the expense of other areas, simply because another solution will not be permitted because of the representational obstacle that ‘Yes/No’ was meant to remove. In case Wilkie hadn’t noticed, the best political and cultural minds in the country already had the conversation – and it was considerably longer than the one day that he reckoned would bring together a ‘unified force’ to deal with these issues – and by and large they came out on the same side for September (clue: not that of the 55%).

Ultimately, I found myself rather sad from reading Wilkie’s letter, as it made me feel that I had personally failed him – the fact that, even after 3 years of the campaign, he still had not noticed exactly what the Referendum was about – as though, maybe, it didn’t go on long enough for him to get it? (How much longer does a campaign need to be??) It made me wonder if at that stage he was simply a Hangover ‘No’ that after 3 months was only at the beginning of understanding the mistake that he had made.

So this General Election is NOT a rerun of the Referendum, and is not ‘rerunning old battles’. As Lesley Riddoch noted 3 weeks ago, rather than this being a Referendum rerun, it looks like GE2015 will be a referendum on Home Rule – and gaining an emphatic ‘Yes’ in the process. A demand for the substance contained in the rhetoric of The Vow, not the homeopathic Emperor Smith’s new tax powers. A calling in of that ‘second chance’ given to the Union.

Labour are keen to say that they are the only ones that have brought the necessary changes in the past to Scotland…but they omit, of course, to mention that having abandoned their Home Rule roots as they were assimilated into the Westminster establishment, they have only made subsequent moves – such as establishing Holyrood – when under the duress of the SNP gaining political ground from them. Even when Labour’s executive have been pushing for change in Scotland, as in 1978, the votes of 34 Labour MPs against their party rendered a devolution vote for Scotland effectively impossible. The ‘Party of Devolution’? Only when they are given no choice.

So the SNP drives that political and constitutional change – as much as Labour have thus far been able to take the credit for something they were being forced into – as a simple strategy to emasculate the support for independence. Which is why the astonishing lack of any serious moves towards further devolution in the wake of the Referendum, as a means to again neuter the rising calls for more powers, is an amazing piece of arrogance. But yet again, it underlines my initial point – the mass move towards independence last year was not based on some romanticised historical whim, but on the modern post-war political reality of Britain, that there is no other way forward any more: if Labour have traditionally been the party of ‘giving Scotland concessions but only under duress’ – and the most they would do this time under Smith after the Referendum is token tax powers and road sign design, then the well is truly dry. This is why ‘DevoMax’ – everything except defense and foreign affairs – is a unicorn that does not exist as an option for Scotland, and never will: they ain’t giving any more. (Perhaps the reality of Michael Forsyth’s recent point in the House of Lords has finally dawned on them.) So the only way forward is self-determination.

The move towards independence was not a flash-in-the-pan, not a distraction from ‘real issues’, but a practical realization that Westminster has no interest whatsoever in the issues affecting Scotland, unless they are so bad that they affect the south of England. And why should we have to wait until that point for this broken system? The Referendum is part of a continuous mounting resistance to the old order, which only stops when that order is gone – ‘Keep Calm & Dismantle the British State’ shall be my t-shirt (we always need a t-shirt – or a nice shiny new campaign badge).

Will the result tonight – even if it WAS the highly unlikely 59 seater ‘wipeout’ – really compensate for losing last September? I remember 1973’s ‘The Sting’, wherein Robert Redford and Paul Newman play two 1930s con artists, avenging themselves on Robert Shaw for killing their con partner Luther Coleman. At the start, Newman warns Redford that he doesn’t want him turning round at the end, having beaten Robert Shaw, and saying ‘it’s not enough’ to make up for Luther’s murder. Sure enough, by the end of the con, Shaw has been beaten – and Redford turns to Newman: ‘You’re right, it’s not enough.’ Then, as Newman’s character tenses for a fight, Redford’s starts to laugh – ‘but it’s close!’ Even though we will probably ‘win’ tonight, I suspect that the revenge will not be enough for what we lost. But this is about more than revenge, and expunging the self-interested that are fraudulently posing as our representatives – we still have to work forward, towards independence.  And wayposts on the way are a solidarity and consensus of argument for more autonomy and powers, with which it can be demonstrated to the Scottish people that we can govern ourselves perfectly well enough to be independent – and perhaps to demonstrate to the rest of the UK that maybe they should be looking to the North for ideas for how to run their patches, too.

 

“Sovereignty in Scotland lies with the people. If Westminster elites say No to a reasonable plan for exercising that sovereignty within a loose federal Union, the people might say Yes to independence next time.” (Dr. W. Elliot Bulmer, author of ‘A Model Constitution for Scotland: Making Democracy work in an Independent State’ (2011) and ‘A Constitution for the Common Good: Strengthening Scottish Democracy after 2014’ (2014))

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May the Fourth Referendum Be With You: Stall Wars, and the Return of the Rebel Alliance

I flew back from working in China over the weekend, getting into Edinburgh Airport early Saturday evening. A day to chill on Sunday (and briefly adjourn to BrewDog), and I was checking if the Stall was back on Monday.

Yes, the Stall – the one on the Meadows for ‘Yes Marchmont’ that I had helped staff throughout August in the run-up to the Referendum last year. I knew that there were plans to get something in place regularly for the run-up to the election, but was unsure how well those plans had been realised. Sure enough I got a response back – it was running in the afternoon, 2 till 4.

So I went back to The Meadows with some trepidation as to what I would find.

The Yes stall was always staffed by a disparate group from different parties. Last year, following the result, there had been talk of parties standing under a Yes Alliance banner in this General Election – but that was before Johann Lamont became the story with her stinging departure as head of Scottish Labour at the end of October, and launched the SNP’s stratospheric rise to switch its 20-odd% position in the polls with Labour’s 40+% in Scotland. (It is somewhat ironic that Lamont’s departure was allegedly precipitated by Murphy – who ironically now holds the poisoned chalice to his own shouting and protesting lips.) At that point, with such a clear leading party, the idea of an alliance seemed less obvious – in particular for the SNP. It was no longer as though they were a minor party in the run-up to Westminster that could help others in a similar position, and vice versa, as proposed by the tactical voting Unionist advocates: suddenly they were the clear and logical primary ‘Yes’ party in every seat in Scotland, to which votes should be lent.

So, in the absence of an a-party ‘Yes’ stall, were the same faces still there?

Reassuringly – ‘Yes’. A couple of Green activists were not only in evidence, but one of them was actually organising the stall…which was 50% SNP, 50% Green/Scottish Socialists/CND. Non-aligned Kay was there, retired ‘Faslane Frances’ from the Western Isles, Paddy – it was good to see. I felt all fingers and thumbs – all those valuable ‘skills’ of responding to individual questions while deploying badges and asking if any children wanted balloons…those assets needed to be renurtured, and it does not look like there will be time to do that. Rain scheduled for Tuesday, meant only Wednesday remained as a stall option before the day.

Amongst the encouraging numbers of visitors regularly coming to take and display material – stickers to adorn a ‘Revolution’ brand bike, a balloon and badge for the kid riding pillion behind its mother – there was an interesting issue that raised itself, perhaps relevant for that initial broader question of the proposed ‘Yes Alliance’ platform for the vote. It was raised by one somewhat aggressive (?)student individual who approached the older women on the table to challenge the presence of ‘Yes’ imagery as an indicator that there was a secret agenda for a second referendum. As his targets began to answer, he interrupted (in classic troll, Murphy-aping style) with other questions – what about the ‘decision for a generation?’ Was that a lie? I started to answer that I did not believe that it was Nicola that had said that, but Alex – and I understood that was the reason why he had resigned after the result, to free up the possibility of as many further referenda as were necessary. The troll looked confused – I don’t think he expected to be challenged about Nicola, let alone have Alex’s resignation presented in that fashion – then an SNP man moved in to start insistently offering him a leaflet, which he kept refusing, until he moved on.

Of course, it isn’t really a ‘second’ referendum – it would be the fourth one on constitutional change in a generation. The first was in 1978 for the Scottish Assembly, the second the 1997 one for the Scottish Parliament, the third was last September on independence. And perhaps that is a more realistic way to look at it.

In the wake of this encounter, it became evident that there had been a couple of similar (if less aggressive) queries earlier that day. We debated, and decided that it might be simpler – if the presence of ‘Yes’ symbolism was being deliberately misconstrued as a sign of a (poorly) hidden agenda – simply not to display such iconography. But this particular species of attack relies on criticism of ‘the neverendum’, that idea of ‘oh how terrible it is’ that the question was ever asked once in over 300 years, just think how it paralyses the Scottish Government while that happens. It is predicated on the idea that any Scottish Government so committed to such a referendum would just be doing that and nothing else…when actually the reverse appears to be true. While the majority government preparing for the Referendum, the SNP were an extremely dynamic government in office, very much showing how Labour and the LibDems should have been doing it in the first years, and effective and efficient in governance and legislation. Perhaps actually being in office to fight for a single imagination-capturing political issue as the main focus of your time in government should actually be obligatory, if not mandatory, because it is a concrete reminder of why you are in office – and it stops holding office being simply power for its own sake, a lesson that Labour have failed to learn during their stewardship of Scotland.

But it did make me reflect on how problematic it might have been, had the SNP not become such an emphatic frontrunner, and the Yes Alliance had indeed been launched for the General Election: it would have been impossible to deflect the accusation of a hidden agenda – although in the immediate wake of September’s result, many of us were admittedly fired up for exactly that – a second independence one straight away. Under Nicola, we keep the powder dry, and restrict the question to manifestoes for Holyrood only – and if support then delivers a system-beating majority for the SNP again, then a second referendum will happen. In contrast, for Westminster, Nicola Sturgeon is now – following her astonishing individual success on the televised leaders’ debates – campaigning credibly as a UK politician, talking about policies for the whole UK as a result of the potential influence of the SNP on a Labour government – not just Scotland. Even the Labour-supporting Sunday Mail and Sunday People delicately came out in support of Nicola at the weekend….That all builds a perception that does much to ameliorate the anti-SNP (arguably anti-Scottish) propaganda distributed south of the border during the Referendum by the press. It also hints at the possibility of SNP-allied candidates standing in England in the future. Previously unthinkable, that is indeed an exciting prospect.

The Fourth Referendum spectre might well have been the negative aspect of the Yes alliance concept, and certainly for where we have got to now – without at all disputing that we would welcome another one as soon as practicable – it would be a distraction. We have other more immediate fish to fry. I took two new campaign badges from the stall, one in ironically UKIP purple saying ‘Hey, where’s my powers?’ The other one was in Labour red – ‘Labour No More’.

I’m keeping that one – with crossed fingers – in hope for Friday morning.

 

“Scotland reloaded appears to be a nation prepared to challenge the establishment in all its guises, to shine a light, to demand and to do different, to call for and create change, seemingly content to create uncertainty in doing so. We are a country suddenly confident in our choices and challenges. Gaun wirsels.” (Kate Higgins, Women for Independence, 20/3/2015)

Ruthie Says ‘No Thanks’, while (Jim) Frankie (Murphy) struggles to Say ‘Yes’

Michelle Stanistreet, the General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists, last week criticised the proliferation of stage-managed political events where members of the public are kept away from politicians. This has become the norm for party leaders, as indicated by Jim Murphy’s recent ‘dawn raid’ events, where his early starts for his pretend ‘public rallies’ in front of his own activists are designed to help control access, as well as photo-opportunities.

But before the age of such managed rallies, there was an earlier iteration of this form of controlled photo opportunity. This was where, rather than spend a lot of campaign money on a series of posters around a constituency, the campaign would instead have one poster made up and put on a billboard, with the appropriate party candidate standing smiling in front of it. The idea being that rather than produce many hundreds of ads with the huge associated costs of renting the advertising space, one picture in a newspaper would achieve a far greater effect. I saw a promotional photograph from just such a Scottish Conservative event recently. Ruth Davidson was standing grinning in front of a new billboard poster with the Referendum campaign’s ‘No Thanks’ poster sitting below a ‘do a deal with the SNP?’ text. I couldn’t help but wonder whether it was either an ill-thought out idea – or something consummately brilliant.

The image is designed to resurrect the key ‘No’ emblem from the last months of the Referendum campaign, when the ‘No’ campaign had decided that ‘Better Together’ was not working as a brand identity slogan. So instead (and perhaps to rebrand themselves as polite, rather than somewhat thuggish and bullying, as they had been increasingly appearing) along came ‘No Thanks’. It seems a slightly odd move – is Ruth trying to convince the Scottish electorate that the Conservatives were opposed to the SNP and wanted to keep the Union – therefore vote for them again? I am not exactly sure that that was something that the electorate would ever have got confused about – until comparatively recently, the Conservatives were the only political party that carped on about the Union, wrapping themselves in flags at every opportunity to boast about involvement in any military conflict they could barge their way into. In short, I do not think that their position viz a viz the Union would have been forgotten.

And yet – conversely – think of the key ‘No’ party in the Referendum campaign – the one that did all the work: Cameron’s little helpers who were at the forefront of ‘No’ recently tried to rebrand themselves as a party of ‘Yes’ with their short-lived ‘Yes for Labour’ campaign – before it was ridiculed widely in the press, and quietly taken outside to a distant paddock and disposed off. They were clearly very far from being a ‘Yes’ party during the Referendum, and indeed were happy to tell everyone that…until after the vote, when the polls started moving away from them at a rate of knots. Now, they certainly seem convinced that they have to somehow distance themselves from their leading role last year, as their best damage limitation strategy.

And yet not so Ruth and her Conservatives: happy, and very much at home with the message that they were a part of that campaign. More than that – by embracing the logo, they take OWNERSHIP of the ‘No’ campaign – and remind everyone for whom Scottish Labour were working throughout that campaign. I think that ‘No Thanks’ poster sends exactly the right message – the close association with a Conservative campaign, kind of underlines who the ‘No’ vote was really for.

But to whom? In that sense, I wonder how much Ruth’s photo opportunity – and her big cheesy grin – are actually aimed at the Scottish public, as opposed to Scottish Labour. The ‘No Thanks’ image sends a very clear message from the Conservatives, to Jim Murphy’s mob: ‘we owned you – and you fell for it.’

As long as the Scottish public don’t get the impression that that message is aimed at them, I think she could do quite well out of this election.

 

“Ever since the modern SNP was created, around 1974, opinion polls have shown that Scottish people have a positive view of the SNP. They think the SNP stand up for Scotland’s interests. The Labour Party doesn’t understand that.” (Gerry Hassan)

Marchmont and Market Penetration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is ‘Nice’.

 

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

Old School Horsetrading, and Putting out your Stall: ‘It’s all kicking off now, Prue…’

Well, the weather forecast yesterday in Edinburgh was officially ‘excited’ – I watched as the titular heads of the Scottish branches of the Westminster parties trooped out despondently in front of Holyrood to warmly celebrate what the Daily Mash referred to as ‘Gordon Brown’s exciting timetable’. After the obligatory turn-about speeches, with a sea of cloned ‘best of both worlds’ placards behind them, someone started heckling about ‘a realistic timetable?’, the press call was swiftly closed down and they moved to pressing the placard-holding flesh. Johann Lamont continues to look increasingly unwell, and I genuinely feel sorry for what is evidently an ongoing decline in health due to her position. I’m pretty sure she will be glad to leave office if there is a Yes vote, or even to succumb to the vagaries of an internal party leadership contest after a ‘No’.

Back in the BBC News channel’s studio, Dr Duncan Ross, a social history and politics academic from the University of Glasgow was asked for his opinion of what was being offered by this unified…um…timetable. After dismissing the powers as nothing that had not been already presented back in the spring, he was pressed on the timetable – but wasn’t this a good addition to the debate? His answer was choice, and a tad Matthew Perry from ‘Friends’: “It takes in St. Andrews Day and Burns Night – I mean, could they be any more patronising to us?”

Then it was time for the guffaws to end, and to head back up to the ‘Yes’ stall on the Meadows for the afternoon.

At the bus stop across from Trinity Academy (my sister’s old school), a group of older secondary pupils got on. I heard some of their banter on the top deck during the journey, then, when we all got off the bus at the same stop on Princes Street, I was somewhat surprised to notice that my old mate Callum was the teacher with them. Callum had been Science Students Council Convenor when I was on the Students’ Representative Council at the University of Edinburgh, and it must be more than twenty years since I saw him. We exchanged brief biographical catch-up pleasantries, then, as I showed them round to the Royal Society of Edinburgh rooms, I challenged the group of pupils: ‘So I overheard you were 5 Yes to 1 No?’ They pointed at the unfortunate anomaly, who grinned as he noted that he had agreed to vote No purely for a box of Smarties.

I told him that this haggling (even if not directly for ballot papers on eBay, as last week) was not uncommon – one individual who is swithering has said to me that he would vote Yes if I converted my computer’s operating system to Linux. He then stepped up this relentless barrage of temptation, by sending a video of his (suddenly adorable) 4 year old son saying ‘Yes’ to Scottish independence. These are, indeed, the times that try a man’s soul.

Some brief Referendum conversations with the schoolgroup later, I continued my journey on up towards the Meadows, to join up with the ‘Yes’ stall there. I was feeling kind of guilty for abandoning the people on it for almost 3 weeks – at that point, there had been a rolling turnover of helpers, but generally around 4 from Frances (from the Western Isles – she had been away in Detroit for a few weeks), Kaye (primary liaison for campaign materials), Margaret (left Ayrshire for London for her working life, only returning in the last couple of years), Ishbel (from Orkney), Irene (a seasoned SNP activist), Paddy (seemed to be the organiser, maybe a Green), Steve (staffed the stall for English Scots for Yes – the adjoining table), and Colin (a bit more withdrawn). As I walked up through the city centre, I saw a couple of No badges – unsurprising, given the morning’s ‘No’ stunt at Holyrood, and indeed very much to be expected, in the last weeks of this campaign (and especially after the weekend poll result) that they would become more visible. When I got to the stall, I was surprised to see that rather than 4 helpers, there were 12. And rather than two tables…there were three: the third featuring the legend that is the Wee Blue Book – copies stacked high across the table, we went through a shedload. This Wings Over Scotland publication (which I am proud to say I helped crowd-fund) has been the most thoroughly referenced piece of work put out during the campaign. We were out in force, and in buoyant mood – people coming up for information, conversations, posters and stickers (badges we were almost completely out of – scarcely a few Green for Yes, and a bunch of English Scots for Yes remaining).

There was a lot of traffic through the area – Freshers’ Week helpers milling around the area (even with their own ‘Yes’ stall, barely 400 yards away towards Potterrow) – it really seems to be all kicking off, for these charming older ladies as the stalwarts on the stall. As the afternoon drew on, the schools came out, and an 8 year old kid from my old school cycled up. ‘What are the benefits of independence?’ he said, as he fixed me with a steely gaze. I gave him a short spiel, watching his combative gaze soften, and at the end he smiled ‘thank you!’, then cycled away. Even though he did not have a vote, I was relieved to have apparently managed to give him some answers that satisfied him…for now.

Schoolkids can be tough to satisfy, whether young or secondary, but I seemed to hold my own with both yesterday. And they were wanting information, as part of the constant flow of people to the stall for posters and badges.

The level of engagement is escalating exponentially, and of course just as much as there seems to be a torrent for ‘Yes’ advertising after the weekend, there are one or two ‘No’s also appearing: walking home in my own small street last night, the first timid ‘No Thanks’ poster was up in an upper window. I had been expecting it, and after the shock that ‘the system’ appears to have got at the weekend, it was inevitably going to ‘smoke’ a few of the determined ‘No’s into the open, as the narrative of the ‘foregone conclusion’ win for Better Together fell apart.

These levels of engagement have been climbing steadily for a while, though. Three weeks ago, I was getting ‘Suggested Pages’ from FaceBook, for Alex Salmond (23,000 likes) and Nicola Sturgeon (19,000 likes). As I type, Alex is now at 52,000 with Nicola at 37,000. Even John Swinney, who was languishing on 3,000, has just broken through the 10,000 barrier!

At the end of the night, I watched the BBC News Channel again, with Peter Haine and Jonathan Redwood arguing over what form the enhanced devolution package for the rest of the UK would look like after a ‘No’ vote – and arguing quite intensely, too. It seems that suddenly the fight for the revamped UK got real.
Which makes me think that – although it may, or may not, have had an impact in Scotland – Gordon Brown’s timetable has certainly been exciting for the rest of the UK.

 

“Devolution, the Calman Commission, the Scotland Bill, the Edinburgh Agreement, all of this and more you have…because Westminster parties are scared of the SNP. If you vote ‘No’ you massively change the balance of power and they will not only give you nothing, but will probably take powers away from the Scottish Parliament.” (Andrew Neil, 2012)

Normalisation Achieved: Counting the Xmas Trees

When I was a lot younger – I mean, before I was even at school – my mum used to take me to the local supermarket. I was the youngest of three, so the weekly shop involved a large buggy – kind of like an enormous collapsible pram, that could carry a giant cardboard box (the type that carried lots of boxes of eggs). We would leave home, and go along a winding way through Dudley, to get to the Leith Fort supermarket. On the way back, during the winter months, we would play a game: counting the Christmas trees in the windows of Dudley Avenue. As the days grew shorter, and the weeks remaining grew fewer, the number of trees would increase, until you had to be quite sharp to notice them all on both sides of the street.

I’ve found that I’ve been playing that game – or one very similar – recently. This time, it is with Yes posters or stickers. Day by day, and week by week, they have been building in number. I went down today to a newer larger supermarket than I used to go to with my mum, going a long way round, just to see out of interest how things were going over a wider area. Yes, there were indeed more up in the windows around Newhaven and Leith – spreading like a virus, as Johann Lamont might say…but I have still only seen the one ‘No’ property that I mentioned some weeks ago – that belonging to the Scotland For Marriage car owner. That upper window has been turned into something of a shrine now – with even a special light show on it last night. Fancy stuff.

I confess that the reason why I went out today was to buy a copy of the Sunday Herald, with its cover recording the YouGov poll putting Yes ahead by two points at 51-49. It was very satisfying to see – it has been a long time since PanelBase showed a similar 1 point lead for Yes last year, and as a polling company that has been strongly resistant to the ‘charms’ of Yes, for this to have come from YouGov is sweet indeed. This does not mean that I take anything as read in terms of a result from this – or from any other poll. Complacency can kill a campaign all too easily. But what it does signify is that with a headline poll commissioned by a highly respected London newspaper – in the blink of an eye – a ‘Yes’ win is suddenly a realistic prospect for the first time for many people.

This is part of the process that I talked about some weeks ago, when I spoke of badges and posters as being about ‘normalisation’ – a poll ‘win’ also very effectively normalises the idea of a Yes result. You only have to see the running and panicked response across Westminster this morning, George Osborne beating a trail to Andrew Marr’s studio door, to see that impact.

The process of normalisation for me, I guess, has been something that the online movement provided. As much as there is a danger in such conceptual environments to indulge in unhelpful ‘groupthink’, instead it has expanded the dialogue and enriched and invigorated people, making them committed campaigners and articulate advocates as to why Yes is important and indeed essential for the future. Although I’ve believed in the possibility of such a win since the SNP obtained their majority, I know that I initially thought it might only happen in a second referendum. But that belief has grown in confidence, particularly over the last year as I sensed the tide turning and the confidence quietly growing around me. The Normalisation of Yes – firstly amongst ourselves.

But many people need something like this to validate the idea of deciding to vote Yes – to normalise it for them – before they would seriously consider it. This morning, Gordon Brewer on Sunday Politics Scotland talked to some representatives of the 16 and 17 year old voters, and the one that declared himself ‘unconvinced’ enthusiastically observed that the poll influenced him…although, when challenged by Brewer, he backed away from the suggestion that it made him more likely to vote Yes as a direct influence. But I think his response was indicative of that ‘you know – I guess I could vote for that after all’ sense that comes from the perception that there are actually TWO real possibilities as ‘winning sides’. Its part of that subliminal need that many of us have, if not deeply and passionately committed to one outcome or the other – simply to be on the side of the winners.

It doesn’t mean that we are going to win because of it – of course. There are far too many ways that No could still derail Yes. But it means that people who would have found it difficult to vote Yes before, now find it a lot easier to consider doing so. And are more receptive to listening to the Yes message than they were two days ago. Of course, the drawback is that it may well also galvanise a new phenomenon – ‘No’ activists that don’t have to be paid or shipped in from across the border. In contrast, I don’t think that Yes supporters by and large are daft enough to become complacent after one poll result. We’ll see. In particular, we’ll see what appears in the next few days in terms of the garbled ‘additional offers’ that Osborne has mentioned this morning (although apparently without bringing Carmichael and Alexander into his ‘loop’, hilariously enough), in a textbook move from the 1995 Quebec playbook.

So. ‘Yes’ has been normalized – job done. Now let’s see how many of those newly receptive ears we can speak to in the last ten days. Will we get to enough of them? Well, to paraphrase Game of Thrones: Christmas is Coming.

Watch the Windows.

 

“The greatest awakening of political thought in our lifetime” (Derek Bateman, former BBC Scotland broadcaster)