553 Days Later – Stateless with Books of Many Colours

Today I received my new passport. It is fair to say that it was not the one that I had been hoping to receive in March 2016, way back when I cast my vote in the Referendum 18 months ago.

A month ago, I was travelling back from Munich. At passport control in Edinburgh Airport, I watched wearily as the queues diverged into biometric and ‘old school’ streams. I smiled as I saw the congestion at the biometric turnstyles, where the queues were far, far longer – three years ago, when I first started working in China, those with biometric passports zoomed through passport control while those with older passports watched enviously in their interminable snaking line. Now the positions were reversed…but not for very much longer: I knew this would be the last time that I benefited from this advantage, as my passport would expire on the 10th March – ten years after I had to get an emergency one for a dear friend’s wedding in Southampton – then I too would be transferred over to the automated herd congested behind the biometric turnstyles. Things change.

I cannot say that I viewed the passport renewal with any great enthusiasm: I drifted for two weeks, in denial myself about the necessity of taking on yet another ten year passport for this state. ‘Statelessness’ was undeniably attractive, but ultimately impractical in a world where flights are booked, and work is international. In one of a series of moronic empty threats during the Referendum campaign, Theresa May said in June 2013  that Scots would not be allowed to have dual nationality and retain their British passport in the event of a Yes vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum. Apart from not being true (the basis of international law, the Declaration of Human Rights, states in Article 15 that noone can be deprived of their nationality – Britain has been a signatory to this since 1948…although of course David Cameron does now have plans to withdraw from that agreement, as he revealed after the Referendum result was declared), it seemed as observed by playwright Peter Arnott to be an example of nothing more than simple petty vindictiveness by our neighbour in this supposed ‘Family of Nations’ if we did not ‘do what we were told’. (see http://peterarnott.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/why-dont-british-nationalists-like.html for the full context)

So on the 16th of this month, with heavy heart, I started the process of renewing the passport. It had expired 6 days earlier, and I had been putting off renewing it, reluctant to reengage with my obligatory ‘British identity’ (the union flag – unsurprisingly – leaves me similarly cold). With 173 countries that it gives access to, it may be the equal of a German passport – but that access comes with a cost attached. Sure enough, the news broke that day that Britain had committed to sending troops to Libya without seeking Westminster approval beforehand. Fabulous – yet another reason to wish to eschew British citizenship, to distance oneself from the things done ‘in my name’ by governments elected by a neighbouring country, to its own citizens, as well as all the shameful historical baggage that comes with being British, and part of a deluded post-imperial state still in denial over losing its empire. Britain’s remarkable record for being continuously at war with another country for every day since 1914 continues – making not just the lands that our military ‘visits’, but also where we ourselves live, more dangerous with the passage of every day.

The symbolism of the passport is undeniably powerful. In the eighties there were blue and black novelty passport covers for a ‘Scottish Passport’ – all treated as an amusing joke, for sale in tourist tat shops. Then in August 1988 the Glasgow passport office became the first in the UK to issue the EU burgundy passport, surplanting those overblown dark blue hard-covered British passports. My mother was outraged – a typical ‘No’ voter in the Scottish independence referendum, she lived through the war and is in her late eighties (in the Referendum, the under-55s voted Yes, but the over-55 No vote was emphatic enough to cancel that out). Her objection to EU membership?: ‘I don’t understand why if we knocked seven bells out of them during the war they are running us now!’ Ah, bless. (We’ll draw a discrete veil over her even less palatable views on apartheid…) So she bought blue passport covers, proclaiming ‘British Passport’ in large anxiety-ridden gold letters – remarkably similar to the novelty ones previously sold for ‘Scottish’ passports some years earlier – within which to hide the EU passport’s true burgundy cover. Suddenly, it seemed that it was the British passport that had become the joke.

The EU passport is not something I personally have any problem with. Like the previous blue one, it still bears the usual gold heraldic crest (‘Honi soit qui mal y pense, Everybody’s out to lunch’ as a comedy band once sang at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe) with the representative animal of Scotland – the Unicorn – in symbolic chains, but – as you may have surmised from the preceding text – I prefer the burgundy to the previous blue option. Similarly, most people in Scotland – regardless of whether or not they advocate independence – wish to remain part of the EU, in strong variance to much of the rest of the UK. And, as discussed many times before on this blog (e.g. https://50daysofyes.wordpress.com/2014/10/17/from-nicola-sturgeon-to-nigel-farage-proud-parents-to-be-haggling-over-3-years-or-9-months-gestation-for-referendum-rerun/ ), the advent of the EU referendum has now come to pass, with Cameron going for the short campaign with the snap-vote, ensuring minimal education opportunities for the electorate, leading to as uninformed and rushed a decision as possible, leaving few chances for the Out camp to build their arguments to counter his. It did not come ten months after the Scottish Referendum, as was anticipated before May last year, when there seemed to be a real prospect of Farage being kingmaker in Westminster, but the predicted abbreviated campaign has nonetheless been delivered.

There is a bitter contrast in the confluence of these concepts and colours at this time, mixed with the anti-EU rhetoric from those same politicians who so venomously descried any in Scotland who desired to return to self-government. In this regard, Michael Gove’s recent quote is particularly apposite (and you’ll find it at the bottom of this piece). Uncertainty over EU membership was deliberately sown by Westminster as part of the No campaign in Scotland, as noted before (https://50daysofyes.wordpress.com/2014/09/08/uncertainty-in-the-drop-zone-on-a-gibbet-of-their-own-making/), and Gove did actively support that campaign. Yet now, as someone who claimed that a Yes vote would ‘reinvigorate Vladimir Putin’, he seems surprisingly to be downplaying a similar consequence to the UK leaving the EU. Funny how things change.

Some seem surprised that support for staying in the EU is so much stronger in Scotland than England, but this is not really so surprising: even in December 2014, polls were showing clear water in this regard (https://50daysofyes.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/eu-exit-secret-treasury-advice-states-its-madness/). Over time, this has only increased: while in England the polling figures show a 49%/47% support for leaving, support for staying has grown over a year to now be consistently 60% and above in Scotland. This is not difficult to explain – one can provocatively say the centre of any empire generally is more xenophobic than its colonies, or one can less emotively observe that government in Britain has become so geared towards servicing London and the needs of its finance industry at all costs since the eighties, that all else in the supposed UK is pretty much expendable.

Harsh though that sounds, in purely political terms, it is something of a ‘no-brainer’: if such a large chunk of your population lives in London and the southeast, then it is highly unlikely – however much you wish to use the rhetoric of ‘pooling and sharing of resources’ – that any government is going to make choices that favour anything other than that geographical section of the state. Scotland may be the third most productive part of the UK after London and SE England, and more than pays for itself, but fundamentally it is still at the ‘wrong end’ of the UK. As a result, in a posited choice between ‘governed from London or Brussels’, Brussels wins every time for me – and apparently for an increasing number of residents of Scotland as well as Wales. London government has no motive to ever act in interests other than its own – to do otherwise would be political suicide. At least via Brussels you can have a chance of that being different as a separate sovereign member on your own terms.

That said, no matter how much I may agree with the sentiments of staying in the EU, I find myself uncomfortable about showing support for any specific campaign that utilises the union flag, with all its unpleasant BritNat associations that arose so clearly during the Scottish referendum campaign, particularly with what happened on the day of the result in Glasgow’s George Square. And the EU referendum does of course have a distinctive significance for the issue of Scottish independence.

To start another campaign for such a vote in Scotland, the Yes side would want clear indications that there was enough support to win before the campaign was initiated. Certainly we live in very different times compared to those at the start of September 2014. The Yes movement not only nearly doubled support for independence in Scotland during that campaign, but apparently also resulted in an SNP landslide with the sudden virtual removal of all other political parties from Scottish seats in Westminster, and prospective polls also seem to indicate that they will even retain their (statistically almost impossible to achieve) Holyrood majority. 58% of those polled favour a referendum again within 5 years of the last one, 66% within ten years. This enthusiasm seems unlikely to come from a perceived need to vote No a second time.

There have been other signs of growing support for the Yes camp. A legal case against the sole remaining Scottish LibDem MP, Alistair Carmichael, was raised by four of his would-be Orkney and Shetland constituents under the Representation of the People Act, gaining over £210,000 of crowd-funded public donations in the process (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-people-versus-carmichael#/), resulting in Carmichael’s ‘FrenchGate’-related actions being criticised in a court of law, and him being forced to pay his own £150K legal expenses (the Scottish judges declared that he had lied and was an unreliable witness in court, and that only his motive for lying was in question – the lack of clarity over whether he lied for personal or professional reasons provided the reasonable doubt with which the last part of the petition failed, enabling him to narrowly escape a rerun of his Westminster constituency election).

In other crowd-funding related Yes news, the annual Wings Over Scotland fundraiser has once again raised its 30 day total (this time for £40,000) inside 24 hours, and as I type it is now close to raising fully double that by the time it ends in five days (personally, I have donated in the hope of receiving a stylish and fetching ‘Vile Cybernat’ bag… 🙂  https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-great-leap-forward#/). Amongst the financial outcomes from last year’s Wings fundraiser, are the ‘Wee Black Book’ (http://wingsoverscotland.com/the-wee-black-book/) released this week, which documents how the reality of the 18 months from the Referendum result up to the anticipated day of independence (24th March 2016) starkly contrasts with what the No side promised Scotland during the campaign. Within this book, therefore, is not only the looming danger of Scotland being dragged out of the EU against its wishes (remember how we were repeatedly told that the only way to stay in the EU was to vote No?), but also the true weakness of the paltry and insignificantly tokenist tax powers resulting from the infamous pre-Referendum ‘Vow’ is spelled out. Add that to a backdrop of unpalatable acts by the British state both domestically and internationally  – going back to the anti-war march in Glasgow in 2003, attitudes to immigration, ideological implementation of the ‘bedroom tax’ and general welfare attacks, decriminalising of bankers, lack of tax pursuance for large businesses, the inherent corruption of a state whose representatives are paid for by those same corporations – and the unpopularity of a seat of government can slip seamlessly from ‘Not In My Name’to ‘There Is Another Way’…and thence to ‘Let’s Do This Ourselves’. Still proud to be British?

Perhaps unsurprisingly against this backdrop, support for Scottish independence has risen to a new high, polls indicating that 60% of people in Scotland would vote for independence in the scenario of the UK voting to leave the EU against the wishes of the Scottish electorate.  This means, of course, that I have a personal dichotomy about this forthcoming EU referendum – yes, I would (despite grave reservations over how Europe has dealt with Greece and other nations) prefer the UK to vote to stay in the EU…except that I know that an Out vote in England would be the most likely and speediest way to get a Referendum Rerun in Scotland. I talked about this with a friend in Bradford this week who shares the same dilemma – neither of us wants to see either the rest of the UK or Scotland suffering on the back of an EU exit vote, as we believe it definitely will. But – as David Cameron acknowledged last week – on the back of public opinion in Scotland appalled at being taken out of Europe against their will, it would be entirely predictable that this prospect would form the required change of circumstances for people in Scotland to vote for another independence referendum to be called. Even without that, the sovereignty of that decision always rests with the people living in Scotland, and it has always been up to them to decide that, and no politician can tell them otherwise.

Eighteen months on from that grey morning on 18th September 2014, I am disappointed to not be picking up my first actual ‘non-tourist shop’ Scottish passport. I heartily hope that I will not soon be compelled to rescind my EU one. But it would also be nice to think that one might just come bearing a Unicorn for once devoid of its traditional metal ‘decorations’.

 

“In my opinion, the referendum was lost because too many of us were afraid to say why a Scot would not want to be British.” (the late Ian Bell)

“Laws which govern citizens in this country are decided by politicians from other nations who we never elected and can’t throw out. But by leaving… we can take control. Instead of grumbling and complaining about the things we can’t change and growing resentful and bitter, we can shape an optimistic, forward-looking and genuinely internationalist alternative.” (Michael Gove, Edinburgh-born – therefore unlikely to have been entirely unaware of the Scottish parallel to his comments – politician, 20/2/2016)

“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, 23/6/2014)

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Galloway and Salmond: An Unlikely Unified Chorus

Alex Massie in The Spectator has noted that there are now more members of the Scottish National Party than there are soldiers in the British Army. Which is all well and good (unless he is actually proposing a direct ‘contest’ between the two?) – but that means little compared to actual electoral success. Despite that simple statement, lots of external commentators have taken very different meanings from the result of the General Election in Scotland. The SNP winning 56 out of 59 seats was, for example, presented by Vladimir Churov, the head of the Russian electoral commission, as clear evidence that the Referendum last year was rigged – but that is (to say the least) a simplistic analysis, that ignores the focused media impact in a binary plebiscite, compared with a multi-party election.

Writing provocatively for The Telegraph within 24 hours of the General Election results being finalised, Bruce Anderson had a hilarious piece harrumphing away at the presence of the Scottish electoral choice in Westminster, declaring that Scotland needs time to “calm down”, that Westminster should “stop appeasing the Scots”, and the wonderfully insulting “when the Nats launched their offensive the Labour high command found out that their party was almost extinct. Some Glasgow constituencies had a nominal membership role of a hundred, half of whom turned out to be dead: another quarter, in Barlinnie Gaol. The rest were often some of the most primitive socialists ever known. As no-one had told them that the Warsaw Pact was also extinct, some of them were still hoping for the arrival of Stalinism”. So, no stereotypes or cliches there, then: with such a grasp for politics (and the Labour Party) in Scotland, it is a wonder that Anderson is not considering running for First Minister next year.

In another interpretation, you can also say that in May pro-independence parties secured 51.3% of the vote in Scotland, but – as much as there is an increasing receptivity to the idea – the majority of people understood that the General Election was not a rerun of the Referendum, that this was about opening up a new front in the campaign for Scotland to take charge of its own future. I would argue that this is demonstrated in a number of ways – and not merely by the SNP saying it, because, well ‘they would wouldn’t they?’ What is telling is not the numbers of independence supporters that voted for the SNP, but the ones who are not yet convinced by independence, yet know that the SNP has that long-term objective, and still saw a good reason to support them going to Westminster. In a way, supporting the SNP in spite of – not because of – the longer term goal.

I have referred before to the October 2013 poll that indicated how much Labour support in Holyrood was projected to fall in the event of a ‘No’ vote in the Referendum (47% of their 2011 voters, see https://50daysofyes.wordpress.com/2014/08/20/all-those-wee-things-the-loss-to-labour/ ), and the latest TNS poll of 1,031 makes even gloomier reading for them: 60% of those planning to vote next May would now vote SNP (45% in 2011), Labour would get 19% (32% in 2011, so 59% of that vote rather than the 47% predicted two years ago), which would leave them only marginally ahead of the Conservatives on 15%…and then there would be the LibDems on 3%. This result would mean zero Holyrood Constituency seats for Labour (they currently have 15). For the Holyrood List section vote, the results are lower at 50% for the SNP (which actually might, through the PR system, lead to them losing their majority in Holyrood), with Labour still on 19%, Conservatives 14%, Greens 10%, LibDems 5%, UKIP 2%. Also, the TNS poll (from the end of May, therefore predating Charles Kennedy’s death) shows that among under 35s, 80% say that they will be voting for the SNP, with only 6% going for Labour.

Poll results like this, the successful crowdfunding of the Carmichael money, the continuing popularity of the First Minister as well as sites like Wings Over Scotland, all suggest that the appetite for change is not restricted to elections…and it has not gone away after returning 56 SNP MPs out of 59 possible constituencies, no matter how much the enemies of change might wish to rationalise it otherwise – or be unwilling to countenance the result in other terms such as ‘a political sea change’.

As much as these figures all seem to show that support for the SNP – and trust in them, even from ‘No’ voters – is strong, the bigger question remains what this may or may not mean for the question of independence. Arch-Unionist George Galloway, launching his campaign for London Mayor a week ago, declared that he thought independence could probably ONLY have been stopped from happening within the next five years by a Labour government winning last month. Not exactly the most credible of political commentators, Galloway’s expressed view echoes Salmond’s comment just after the General Election, that (when asked directly) he thought the result in May had brought independence closer for Scotland. At the time, this was seized on with howls by the media in an attempt to show a ‘split’ between him and Sturgeon (who had clearly said that a vote for the SNP was not a vote for independence at this General Election), his successor – in much the same way as they have tried to misrepresent the SNP MPs Sheppard and Kerevan as descrying Full Fiscal Autonomy, when they were very explicitly criticising the idea that FFA could happen overnight as opposed to being a phased process, and supporting the argument that it would take time to change over. After all, we have just seen how badly botched a rushed constitutional modification can be, with the Smith Commission translating into the limp rag of the Scotland Bill. Nobody would be arguing for FFA of all proposals to happen swiftly, without negotiation…but I digress.

When Alex Salmond says that this Westminster result brings independence closer – of course it does: just not in the way that some of the southern commentariat appear to be thinking, not as part of some plan to achieve it through a devious plot enacted by a Westminster bloc of SNPs orchestrating some dastardly scheme. In a post-election poll, almost 50% said that last month’s Westminster success for the SNP made independence more likely, with 39% saying that it made no difference. It brings independence closer in exactly the same way as the SNP becoming the largest party in Holyrood in 2007 brought independence closer, as it led to them subsequently gaining a majority government in Holyrood in 2011 – which again brought independence closer, as that has (along with their performance in the Referendum) in its turn brought this Westminster landslide. Each of these stages is symptomatic of the people in Scotland placing more representational responsibility with the Scottish National Party as their trust in them slowly grew, in the absence of any credible alternative in the wake of Iraq. Last month was another stage in that growth. After a while, there will be few other ways in which the people in Scotland can invest further trust in the SNP – apart from voting for independence. According to a recent poll, 80.4% of Scots want another Referendum on independence, with 58.6% wanting it within the next ten years. It may not be the EU referendum that provides the ‘material change in circumstances’ that warrants another independence referendum within 5 years rather than 10, but perhaps in that regard Galloway might yet prove to be unexpectedly prescient after all.

 

“I think independence is probably nigh. The only way it could have been stopped is if we had got a Labour government last month and if that Labour government had begun to make a difference. But these next five Tory years are going to be very cold, and the SNP leadership seems to have the ball at their feet and know what to do with it. So I’d be very surprised if there wasn’t another referendum in the course of this next five years, and I’d be very surprised if we managed to repeat the result we got last year. I’d take the same stand that I did last year. But I wouldn’t be expecting to win.” (George Galloway, 14/6/2015)

Of Vetoes and Slaves: Living in an Age of Empire

I remember hearing Stephen Noon of Yes Scotland speaking during last year’s Edinburgh Festival, referring to the ‘charm offensive’ of the UK Government:” ‘we love you, please stay, if you go we’ll wreck your economy’…sometimes we’re treated very colonially.”(see ‘The Party of I Told You So’ at http://wp.me/p4SdYV-2r ) This got me wondering at the time – to what extent was Scotland’s relationship with England – or, perhaps more precisely, London – a mirror of an empire with a colony? Intrigued by the question, I scribbled a few notes down to investigate for the Blog…but by that stage we were entering the last days of the campaign, and it seemed a somewhat esoteric issue to be researching, when everything was entering the Referendum equivalent of a gameshow’s final decider ‘quickfire round’….then promptly the result seemed to make such a question somewhat less relevant and a lot less immediate.

I’m not trying to overstate the subsidiarity, or pretend that there is some directly analogous situation between what happened during European colonialism and what has happened here in any literal way – of course not: such an approach would trivialise the experiences of Africa and Asia…perhaps in a similar way to David Starkey attacking the saltire as being some kind of swastika over the weekend (classy). But to remove some of the extremity of the situation, and those emotive terms (as I’ve said before, “We don’t need assassinations, internment, or abuse through interrogation, to make the claim of self-determination legitimate” – see ‘What price legitimacy?: The beautiful, shining example’ at http://wp.me/p4SdYV-4 ) and look at it purely in a power and commodification sense – is there any legitimacy to such a comparison?

Firstly, let us look to basic definitions, without the extremity of any examples: an ’empire’ is defined as ‘an extensive group of states or countries ruled over by a single monarch, an oligarchy, or a sovereign state’. Or, alternatively, ‘Supreme political power over several countries when exercised by a single authority’. Well, however you want to cut the arithmetic, those arguments can certainly be made for definitions of the United Kingdom – and perhaps is underlined by the howls of outrage at the very idea that the Scottish bloc vote was going to have a direct influence in the heart of government, as widely believed immediately prior to the General Election last month. This was no ‘family of nations’, in terms of the response from the centre – this was an outrage born of ‘but they are not supposed to be able to do that – not even ONCE’. Imperialist?

Colony – well, that is different. Most definitions rely less on reflections of the power structure and more on the importing of a minority ethnic component to define a colonial approach, whereas this is an attitude based outwith that. Stripping it down a little, as definitions we can have ‘A country or area under the full or partial political control of another country’, or even a definition of colonies as ‘All the foreign countries or areas formally under another nation’s political control’. The ethnic introduction is tacitly assumed as going along with a style of government that would be regarded as colonial. Within this, one can talk about ‘a colonial approach’ without talking about a ‘colony’ in the sense of people imported to live there, so that it is dealing more with where power and decision-making resides.

Which, of course, brings us to Lucy Fraser QC, with her maiden speech to the Commons last week, where she celebrated her constituency’s historical links to Cromwell, and what Cromwell did to the Scots, to ribald guffaws from her benchmates: “”[South East Cambridgeshire] is the home of Oliver Cromwell, who defeated the Scots at Dunbar, incorporated Scotland into his protectorate and transported the Scots as slaves to the colonies…Now there is an answer to the West Lothian question.” The fact that she was responding to a Queen’s Speech which was underlining the importance of extending the powers of the Scottish Parliament (whether or not there is any intention to do that is quite another matter) in the wake of an ongoing constitutional crisis that might require a little bit of sensitivity, clearly did not occur to her.

Dr Tanja Bueltmann makes a far better analysis of this faux pas than I am able to do (see http://thescottishdiaspora.co.uk/?p=2152 ) particularly with relevance to more recent forms of slavery (if it had been a Japanese politician joking about use of British prisoners of war to constructing the Burma railway, would there have been the same perception of it as acceptable, do you think?), but her comments on inappropriateness in terms of slavery, prisoners of war and death marches do raise the question as to whether simply number of years makes such abuse of people acceptable to laugh about – or is it being laughed about because it would always be seen as acceptable by a particular mindset? This, also, is a persistence of imperialism – whether an attitude to invading other countries, or retaining ultimate control over Scots…and not even thinking for a moment that such remarks might be the sort of thing that pushes more people towards independence, just a few more inches at a time – a bit like the Osbornian ‘Sermon on the Pound’ did, for example.

Perhaps, also, this imperial ‘attitude’ is also relevant in other ways – the way that the UK government sees itself is by the shadows of the possessions of its former empire: this is also why such an absurd GDP expenditure on nuclear weapons per capita occurs in the UK, that is entirely out of proportion to the size of the country or its economic productivity. And in that sense it is one of the reasons why Westminster was willing to fight so hard (the Westminster spending in Whitehall on the Referendum vastly outstripped the Scottish Government, and yet also was more poorly argued and researched) to try and win the Referendum. The potential loss of Scotland would (somewhat belatedly) confirm the disappearance of the British Empire, in a very close-to-home fashion: actually, whether one dates that from the mishandling of the Suez crisis, or the rush of former colonies to independence that was completed by the early sixties, this has been over for some time – but that does not prevent the UK being very much in denial.  This denial means that the ‘imperial factor’ continues to be one of the main drivers for independence, as Scots are increasingly repulsed by the participation of Westminster in the illegal wars of the USA, in some sad attempt to prove that ‘they still matter’ on the world stage – and this, of course, led to the first terrorist attack on Scottish soil as a direct result of us being associated with Westminster’s activity against Iraq and Afghanistan.

Of course, comparisons are often drawn with Ireland. Ireland was fortunate enough to leave prior to the second world war, and the collapse of the British empire’s global dominion, when ceding something so near to London might have seemed trivial – and an acceptable loss – in the broader global picture of Britannia über alles. Perhaps that is why there has been such a bitter cultural excoriation of the Irish in the post-war years, and that they regularly are used by London as an example of a bad economy (although they are still doing much better than the UK, in terms of recovery). As much as the ‘No’ campaign would trot out ‘do you want to end up like Ireland?‘ with all the scorn in their voice, they never raised the question if, for Ireland, they would prefer to be back in the Union than ‘where they are’ right now. Noone believes for a second that they would under any circumstances vote to rejoin a union that still tries to mock them so bitterly, even today, almost 100 years after they left. In this context, I was struck by how a distinction was noted between those two countries with the weekend’s football match: an advert displayed in Dublin by the Irish bookmakers Paddy Power, showed Roy Keane mocked up as Mel Gibson in ‘that Scottish film’ (see Holding the Line: ‘That Scottish Film’… at http://wp.me/p4SdYV-2W ), and pointedly paraphrased a quote from that film in advance of the qualifying game: “You may take our points – but at least we have our freedom.”

There was a certain chilling resonance to that line – and it is hard not to concede that it is true. It is there in the draft Scotland Bill: “The UK Parliament will not normally legislate in devolved areas without the consent of the Scottish Parliament, whilst retaining the sovereignty to do so.” In addition, the requirement to have the agreement of the Secretary of State of Scotland for changes in the areas proposed to be ‘devolved’ in the draft bill is an additional micromanager’s veto – a sign of some panic, if nothing else, at what Holyrood might possibly come up with – but nonetheless, as George Kerevan puts it, a “subordination” of the Scottish Parliament. So much for making Holyrood an enshrined legislature, with real powers, that could not ever be removed by Westminster, as per ‘The Vow’ – power devolved is very much power retained…especially when there is a refusal to actually relinquish a veto: those powers are not even being devolved, they are simply allowing Holyrood to propose changes, which will only get through if Westminster would have come up with them (assuming Scotland would ever have such priority for them to spend time coming up with such proposals for that territory) itself.

With this apparently being the limit to which Westminster is willing to relinquish powers to Scotland – in the wake of a General Election defeat for them in Scotland (for that is what last month was) that makes it clear that the best way to neuter the rising demand for such powers is to swiftly make a significant offer of real devolved powers – then it seems clear that they see us as part of their empire, with all the limited autonomy of a controlled colonial territory.

And here we will stay, in the powerless austerity of the dregs of the British Empire – until we finally decide otherwise.

 

“…pleading with us to stay because they loved us – apparently – but now we are going further and actually voting to be part of the government, they treat us like immigrants from the sub continent. Britain took over India, ran it, exploited it, made Indians work for them through enslavement and violent threat and got rich off the back of the Indians. In return the Indians got passports but encountered discrimination and obstacles when they got to Britain. Oh, we didn’t expect you to actually come to live here…” (Derek Bateman, 22/3/2015)

Conservative Apocalypse – the Meaning of the 2015 Result for the UK

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

As much as we can celebrate such a wholesale rejection of Labour in Scotland, by a people consistently a second (at best) priority in the plans of the Labour Project, we can only look with dismay south of the border at the party’s failure to win the favour of an electorate that was absolutely its priority to win. The striking yellow of hope clothing one electoral map, the striking blue of despair cloaking the other.

This contrast was brought into sharp focus by my return to FaceBook on the morning of the results, where so many of my friends were bemoaning the Conservative majority. Lots of people are criticising the supposed ‘polls failure’ – with no real reason, as they were showing the result within the margins of error on the average of the last 25 polls. From the stats, Miliband was never perceived as convincing prime ministerial material, and the contrast between his and Cameron’s ratings told that story for years, even when Labour’s lead in the polls was double digits. Perhaps this ultimately explains the reluctance (or paucity of numbers?) of the English left to support Miliband – because he was less convincing than Blair had been as a prospective statesman: that Conservative-incubus looked ministerial, at least, before the Scooby Doo reveal of his true nature.

One friend in particular commented about how many selfish people there were in the country – and I know that she was not talking about Scotland voting for an anti-austerity agenda en masse.  People like to talk about that ‘shy Tory’ phenomenon – perhaps ‘ashamed Tory’ would be more accurate this time around – with people reluctant to divulge their true voting preference when asked…and one can easily imagine that in a time of economic pressure, the incentive to seriously place yourself and your family’s direct financial interests first might well be much greater. So, in the same way as likelihood to commit crimes increases with poverty and economic threats to one’s family, perhaps – if one really buys into the vanishing myth of Conservative fiscal prudency with their current ideologically-motivated incompetence – one also is more likely to commit as similarly selfish and destructive an act as voting Conservative.

Certainly, according to Ashcroft’s post-election poll, 49% of Conservative voters believe they are already feeling the benefits of an economic recovery. Most LibDem voters said they weren’t feeling an economic recovery yet, but were expecting to…and then we have voters of all the other parties. The majority of Labour, UKIP, Green and SNP voters all declared they were not feeling any sign of the economic recovery, and were not expecting to do so – and that is hardly surprising: in the last year, in Edinburgh alone, the referrals to foodbanks have increased from 35 a month to 350 a month. That threat is increasingly present within people’s circle of experience, and likely to be an influence – yet something seemed to speak louder than accelerating social decline to those that returned a majority Conservative government last week.

One wonders if there is a darker reason – maybe in some of the lashing out of Scottish Labour after Thursday’s rejection by their taken-for-granted electorate. Perhaps this is predictable: despite the SNP offering to be a genuine force for social justice and moral conscience for a Labour Party with a track record of being rather good at losing its way once in government, there have been attempts by the remnants of Scottish Labour to blame the SNP for Labour failing to get enough seats to form the government. A first cursory analysis dismisses this argument – even if all 59 seats in Scotland had gone to Labour, they would still only have had 291, still far away from the required majority, or even capable of making a significant coalition with anyone else. But there is another narrative that argues for the rise in the Scottish bloc vote as a repellant to Labour voters in England.

Put simply, is the decline in the Labour vote in England since 2010 a direct response to ‘anti-Scottish xenophobia’? That was the language that The Venerable Gordon Brown used to condemn Cameron’s campaign in the last two weeks. In that time the SNP was compared to the Third Reich, Salmond presented on giant posters as the stereotypical Scot pickpocketing an English voter… One important point is that criticising the SNP surge without evidence that they have actually lied to the electorate (because a clearly deceived electorate – as we were with Blair in 1997 – is not culpable) means directly criticising the electorate that is planning to vote for them, rather than the party itself. At the best of times, this is a dangerous move for any politician, as exemplified by Farage attacking one of his studio audiences during the debates – but a Scottish audience is likely to react even more contrarily to such an attack. ‘Thrawn’, as they say. ‘Oh, you bluddy think so, do ye?’ as Billy Connolly puts it.

It is true that this may simply have been a strategy by Cameron for immediate post-election gain: as Lesley Riddoch noted on polling day “English voters are being primed to overreact hysterically should Labour try to form a minority government on Friday – whether it’s a formal deal that includes the SNP, discreet dialogue or semaphore signals at dusk.” But the Conservative-supporting press campaigned to vilify the people of Scotland (by virtue of their electoral choice), making clear that when the Conservatives talk about ‘OneNation Britain’, we now know exactly which ‘one nation’ they are talking about. It is unclear whether this campaign had traction by bringing underlying chauvinisms to the surface, or created those chauvinisms anew, but one reporter from Nuneaton made clear that benefits claimants, immigrants and Scots were now seen as the three undesirables – perhaps because Scots fulfil stereotypes of the first two groups perfectly adequately down in the shires…

Paul Kavanagh neatly summed up the inherent genius of Labour embracing this strategy on results day: “Labour blames the SNP for its defeat. The Unionist parties went around screaming to anyone who would listen – which would be the BBC and Fleet Street – that the SNP would eat your babies. Labour smiled indulgently on the antics of Ian Smart when he called the SNP fascists and supporters of the Nazis. Labour looked upon a mildly left of centre social democratic party and it saw a scary monster. Then they blamed the SNP because voters in England were afraid of the imaginary monster that Labour had invented.”So Scottish Labour contends that even the possibility of SNP influence was sufficient to scare voters in England from Labour – and if that is the case, then perhaps the Union is more finished in the hearts of England than we previously thought. As Ian Bell put it yesterday: “If true, what does it mean? That Scottish voters should have declined the choice of a lawful party and declared themselves subordinate to the prejudices of English voters? If that’s the case, there’s no place for us within the UK. Does it mean, equally that voters in England will simply not countenance the participation of properly elected Scottish MPs within a government they regard as theirs alone? If so, the road is the same and it leads in one direction only.”

That Labour failed to contest the narrative of a ‘threat’ from Scotland, thereby falling neatly into a Conservative trap, is perhaps the saddest aspect of this. It is not hard to dismantle the argument of the ‘Scottish threat’: England has 82% of the MPs, therefore an automatic veto with a ‘majority’ of 533 votes. This was an obfuscation of a constitutional issue/problem as a political issue/problem: English MPs have total control of Parliament, and always have had – no vote counter to that would happen without 219 MPs in England choosing to vote with Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs. One of the very reasons why there is such widespread support for English Votes for English Laws in Scotland, is not because of widespread support for Scottish Conservatives (at this general election, despite a strong campaign by Ruth Davidson, their vote share fell to 14.9% – its lowest ever since they were founded in 1965): as Neal Ascherson put it yesterday in The Guardian “I think most Scots feel their MPs should not decide purely English issues. After all, before devolution they had 292 years’ experience of English MPs outvoting the Scots on Scottish issues.” Surely, given his arguments for the Union in the run-up to last September, Miliband could have come out fighting AGAINST the ‘othering’ of Scots, pointing out the basic arithmetic that undermines the portrayal of Scottish electoral choices as an ‘external threat’, and making Labour the party of an actual United Kingdom. During the Referendum campaign we were told ‘Scotland should lead the UK – not leave it’. Apparently that leadership is very much not wanted – and indeed any idea even of influence is to be shunned.

Personally, I prefer not to think that ‘fear of a Scottish vote’ was really a strong motivating force, as I would rather not think that we were so reviled by an electorally significant portion of England. Because if so – why is there still a Union? And – as an equally logical corollary – can we stop referring to it as a Union, and just say it is an Empire? (The definition being, ‘Supreme political power over several countries when exercised by a single authority’. A contentious question for another post, I think…)

As McWhirter put it “the entire post-war edifice of Scottish politics was pulverised into dust” last week. Nor were Labour and the Conservatives the only parties punished in Scotland: with less than 5% of the vote, LibDems paid out £170K due to lost deposits in 340 seats (my sister was apparently one of those candidates, when none of us knew she was even standing: ‘shy LibDem’ syndrome, perhaps?). Ascherson, again: “the meaning of last week is that the SNP has been adopted as ‘Scotland’s party’, not least because it has no strings to London.” If parties were smart, they would reconstruct themselves as autonomous units, in order to produce the required clear water for the electorate in Scotland to trust them again. If they simply don’t care, they won’t. Which will send its own message.

Does this election, as some have said, truly mean the launch of a trajectory towards a federal UK? Unlikely – as noone is interested in federalising England. Is it really so ‘impossible’ that Scotland’s vote for home rule will be ignored? Yes, of course – regardless of how much this vote was a clear mandated call for more powers for the Scottish Parliament than Smith was offering, the arithmetic is clearly on the side of the Conservative government. But such a strategy of turning a blind eye is somewhat fraught, if you truly are intent on preserving that Union, as opposed to consolidating short-term political advantage, creating, as it does, many avenues that fast-track independence.

As Alan Bissett noted, Scotland having to suffer another five years of Conservative-led government is a direct consequence of the ‘No’ vote – I don’t think that is an unfair observation, as one of the most resonant arguments in the Referendum campaign was that independence was the only way that Scotland could guarantee having no more Conservative governments dictating to it from London without a Scottish mandate. With a ‘No’ vote in place, it was only a matter of time before it happened – but what I find particularly distressing is that the left vote seemed to take a vacation in England, when the incumbent government had such a poor record on the economy (massively increasing the debt, failing to get the deficit down to 65% over the time period that it originally said it would completely eliminate it), and was promising to continue its savage cuts to a welfare state that were ideological and irrelevant (if not actively counter-productive) to getting the economy to recover. The positive attributes to what Eddy Robson dubbed “The best crisis since the abdication” were body-swerved in favour of Austerity Max.

A week before the Referendum was lost last year, Robin McAlpine of the Common Weal wrote the following on Bella Caledonia: “A butterfly rebellion is coming close to winning Scotland away from the forces of the British state. I think we’ll do it, but either way, they can’t beat us. We are already half of Scotland and we keep growing. They are weak and we are strong. When the people of Britain see their titans defeated by a rebel army who used infographics and humour, what is there to stop them following? England needs its butterfly rebellion as well.” That conclusion seems hauntingly prescient now, as we ask the question: is there any potent left remaining in England? Labour was hardly a radical left platform at this general election, but if an underlying xenophobia was really more powerful than the prospect of an unleashed Conservative government, indeed was strong enough not just for people to go to the Conservatives but to move straight to UKIP instead of a fundamentally right of centre Labour party, then what hope is there for any longevity for the concept of Britain?

Cameron can be bold – but it is hard to see how anything that he does is going to do other than pass the historical title of ‘Last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom’ to his successor.

 

“For the long dark decades of Tory rule, Scotland was told that getting a government we didn’t vote for was simply the price of the Union. Now the tartan high heels are on the other foot, England might get the government that Scotland votes for. Ed, Davie, Nick and Nige scream that Scotland’s choices are illegitimate and unwelcome. But to no avail, no one in Scotland is listening to the four hoarse men of the Jockalypse.” (Paul Kavanagh, 7/5/2015)

 

Disparate Thoughts from the Wee Sma’ Hours…a Troika of Pandas Coming Over the Hill

….5 hours sleep later, and leaving my bedroom I felt a little like Judy Garland approaching the doorway, wondering if it was going to be technicolor on the other side or not.

I checked my phone – a text from my brother gave me a small heads-up ‘Bye Jim Murphy, we won’t miss you’. Well, that was one scalp. But there were others on the list.

Putting on the television, and it was clear that the exit poll was looking pretty much spot-on, with the Conservatives heading towards a majority, as the SNP had cleared 50 seats in its own majority. Perhaps as part of the new realpolitik that his former classmate was not going to be deposed as Conservative leader in order to make way for his predicted ascendancy, Boris Johnson was making noises offstage that some kind of offer of ‘federalism’ had to be made to Scotland in the wake of his ‘Ajockalypse Now’ prediction.

Stats were being reeled off in the BBC studio, with the biggest single party vote in Scottish political history of 1.4 million for the SNP; Alex Salmond notes that the results in Scotland represented the biggest political swing in the UK since records began in 1835, with an average of 24% from Labour to SNP; within that, Willie Bain, architect of ‘The Bain Principle’ (The Bain Principle, the old Royal High School building on Calton Hill, and 30% of Labour Party Members going for Yes or http://wp.me/p4SdYV-1c ), predicted just over a week ago to be the last Labour MP standing in Glasgow NE, had fallen with a 39% swing to the SNP, producing Sturgeon’s ‘magnificent seven’ in a clean SNP sweep of all of Glasgow; Brian Taylor noted 60 years ago a 50.1% Scottish vote for the Scottish Unionist Party has now been eclipsed by a 50.2% vote for a pro-independence SNP.

6am saw a revision of the 10pm exit poll: Conservatives 325, Labour 232, SNP 56, LibDem 12, UKIP 2, Greens 1.

I scanned the results with some mixed feelings – although turnout was apparently up by 10% in some constituencies, figures of 70-74% turnout are disappointing after the Referendum turnout at 85%.

At the pundits table, Kevin McKenna of the Observer comments on the loss of very able Scottish MPs as part of this near-wipeout.

In the studio, Paul Sinclair (‘SpAd-U-Like’: Paul Sinclair Talks Openly of Labour’s Westminster Navel-Gazing or http://wp.me/p4SdYV-5L), former Labour adviser to Johann Lamont and Douglas Alexander (the Labour campaign manager beaten by a twenty year old student for the SNP) acknowledges that over the years the SNP had done two things very successfully: firstly, to convince Scots that Scottish Labour wasn’t Scottish, secondly to convince them that it wasn’t Labour either. Which was pretty much how the Conservatives were dismissed from Scotland in the past.

Eventually, there was only one seat still to call, as Berwickshire went to a recount. Michael Moore – the LibDem Secretary of State for Scotland – had acknowledged that he was no longer in the running for his seat, which was now being fought over between the Conservatives and SNP…and it fell, ending 50 years of liberalism in the area, begun with David Steel: Calum Kerr, the former chair of ‘Yes Borders’ wins the recount with 328 votes. [I noted Jessie Rae – eighties one hit wonder with ‘Over the Sea’, check it out on YouTube, it’s good for a laugh – if only to see how far Scottish identity has moved beyond this in 30 years: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOad0FU9zF8 – acquired 131 votes in that constituency.

With the final tally of 59 MPs in Scotland, 56 SNP, and one each of Labour, LibDem and Conservative, Carolyn Leckie (whose writing I do enjoy in The National) refers to the Troika of Pandas in Scotland, reflecting the old joke that Scoaltnad has more pandas than Conservative MPs. Except now, that honour can also be extended to two other parties: David Mundell remains the only Conservative Panda MP in Scotland, and Alistair Carmichael the incumbent LibDem Panda Secretary of State for Scotland retains his Orkney and Shetland seat. Perhaps, within that, the final irony or insult is that the last Labour MP standing is Ian Murray – in Edinburgh South, the constituency where I did most of my (admittedly limited – on this occasion) campaigning. Murray had the slimmest majority of any Labour MP (albeit not over the SNP), and retained his seat with an enhanced 2,500-odds majority. Despite the plethora of little tactical voting wheels (guides that told you who to ‘lend your vote to’ in order to keep the SNP out) distributed beforehand, it may only have been in Edinburgh South where they were actually employed, with the Conservatives appropriately propping up Murray’s seat for him to become the Labour Panda. That would be preferable to the idea that three year old misrepresented tweets (‘Thick and Fast They Came at Last’: Labour Unhinged in the Incoherent End of Days for the 2015 General Election or http://wp.me/p4SdYV-9e) might have swung anything against him.

All of which begs the question, with a Conservative majority government about to be confirmed, what does it all mean?

Before Holyrood, it was taken as gospel that if the SNP won a majority of Scottish MPs, then it had a mandate to call for a referendum on independence. With the Scottish Parliament in place, and the established process of 2011-2014, that is no longer the case, and the SNP can convincingly campaign for a stronger voice in Westminster without calling for a referendum. If you go along with that, and don’t accept this SNP surge as a ‘de facto’ declaration of independence or for a referendum (which, to be fair, has continuously been stated by Nicola throughout the campaign, when the other Scottish parties were trying to make it a general election issue) – then you have to accept that this vote is very far from an endorsement of what the Smith Commission came up with as proposals for ‘enhanced devolution’.

One can argue that it is a second chance for the Union – yet another one, after the botched Smith Commission proposals were watered down. It is the ‘feet to the fire’ that Alex Salmond called for before he stepped down as First Minister and party leader – a call for significant rather than token devolved powers. Of course, Westminster can ignore a Scottish voice, as always – but can it really afford to, if it truly genuinely does value the Union? Cameron has the arithmetic on his side for a Commons majority – but it means that his euroskeptic backbenchers are empowered by his majority being so marginal, and this hints at a more anti-Europe sentiment in the run-up to the promised EU in-out vote scheduled for 2017.

The scale of the Labour collapse in England, although regrettable, does make it clear that even if Scotland had given every seat to Labour, they would not have stopped a Conservative majority. Can one blame the SNP for this? Is the late Conservative surge very much part of a xenophobic anti-Scottish push, as orchestrated by Cameron with his poster campaigns featuring the SNP as pickpockets and thieves? Perhaps…but if that is the case, then Cameron has to think carefully over how to deal with those fears that he has stoked to win an election – does he maintain them, and risk alienating even more Scots in the process? With one poll saying that 54% of Scots had noticed a more hostile response from UK politicians and media towards Scotland SINCE the Referendum, Cameron will have an interesting balancing act to retain that fear in the public for his own support, yet ameliorate it for more practical government – and in the longer term interests of preserving the Union.

Labour has been rejected as ‘the party of Scotland’ as Miliband boldly claimed it to be barely 24 hours ago, when he made himself the only party leader not to visit Scotland the day before the election. Both Labour and the LibDems will have lost their leaders by lunchtime, I would guess – and even Jim Murphy should be gone over the weekend.

As ever, the UK gets the government that England votes for – the difference is that this time, Scottish MPs are not sunk within a party where the party comes before the constituents’ wishes. That is positive. In the meantime, a lot of new SNP MPs have to go to London and keep their noses clean, as part of the run-up to the (in many ways) far more important Holyrood elections next year. Their London stock is untried and therefore vulnerable, and as such critical for how the party will be viewed this time next year.

And yes, now we have to look to those Holyrood elections next year. A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times said that 1 in 8 ‘No’ voters intended to vote for the SNP yesterday – and they probably did. It also indicated Labour losing 7 seats at Holyrood next year, with the SNP taking 70 of the 129 MSP places available. Again, you have to look back to that October 2013 poll (All Those ‘Wee Things’: The Loss to Labour or http://wp.me/p4SdYV-1h), which suggested that only 47% of 2011 Labour voters would vote again for them in the next Holyrood election in the event of a ‘No’ vote in the Referendum, as opposed to 55% with a ‘Yes’ vote. Now that the old guard is well and truly gone, Labour have to move fast to start rebuilding – even although this morning Paul Sinclair was saying Labour has to effectively give upon Holyrood for next year.

If Labour were smart, they would devolve their party in Scotland to a similar relationship to the one that they have with the SDLP in Northern Ireland – a ‘sister party’ – and give them that clear water necessary for Scottish voters not to think that Labour have a ‘conflict of interest’ with regard to Scottish representation.

IF they were smart.

 

“English colleagues should consider the reasons why Scotland demanded a Scottish Parliament in the first place: it wasn’t for reasons of nationalism or national identity; it was because it was patently unfair that our contingent of MPs could easily be outvoted on any issue by even a small fraction of English MPs. England could never, ever be in the same position. Even if every Northern Irish, Welsh and Scottish MP wished to foist an unpopular policy on England, they could not do so unless they were joined by at least 209 English MPs. And the occasions when Scottish MPs have made the difference in policy areas affecting England have been so vanishingly rare [21 Commons votes out of 5,000 since 1997], they hardly justify such a constitutional upheaval.” (Tom Harris, Labour MP)

 

 

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))

The Hyperbole of Hatred, or, Slain in the Ratings (Again)

It has been yet another grim few days for Nicola Sturgeon. The day before she launched the SNP’s manifesto, Boris Johnson dedicated his Telegraph column to her. Whereas Piers Morgan could only come up with a depiction of her as a ‘mini-Godzilla’ (surely an oxymoron, Piers?), Johnson characteristically began by wishing to advertise his classical education, but – unusually for Boris – instead of Hector (the Greek hero, rather than the dog with the house from the BBC) he began with Herod. Sturgeon in charge of the SNP at Westminster would be like the venerable king left in charge of a baby farm – or Attila the Hun as doorkeeper to the Roman Senate. They would be the fox running the henhouse, weevils hired to protect the ageing timbers of a local church, the convicted jewel thief interviewed to be the custodian of the Tower of London, the temperance campaigner running a brewery. [A scorpion even made it in as a comparator.]

He overegged things a bit when he tried to invoke Shakespeare though, with his portrayal of Nicola as Lady Macbeth requiring him to present Ed Miliband as King of Scotland…um, maybe he has not seen the polling results in recent months? The latest TNS approval ratings for the UK’s political leaders came out a couple of days ago, showing that in Scotland Sturgeon is on +55%, whereas Miliband is on -2%. If sovereignty remains with the people in Scotland, then Ed is going to be nowhere near King of Scotland (let alone MacBeth – whose presentation by Bill Shakespeare is actually pretty similar in terms of accuracy and impartiality to the treatment reserved for the SNP by the press).

Ed wouldn’t make King of the UK either, if he is wondering – fair enough, he does best of the Westminster leaders in Scotland compared to Cameron (-7%), Farage (-15%) and Clegg (-34%, remember him?) – but UK-wide Cameron is on +7% compared to Miliband on -8%.

But all of these are kind of irrelevant, when it is noted that Nicola Sturgeon, UK-wide, with the vigorous hate campaign targeting her through the press in these last weeks, is polling at +33%. That is +33% across the WHOLE UK. She is being presented (if I can go to a less classical comparison, with the new TV series starting on Sky) as Lizzie Borden getting ready for her Xmas family reunion, leading a party standing in only 59 seats, and yet she is the highest rated party  leader across the UK, uniquely even running her own Twitter account. It is not for nothing that one journalist noted she is the only party leader to appear on a manifesto – at a time when some candidates of other parties in Scotland (solo Tory David Mundell and the leader of something called the Labour Party in Scotland, Jim Murphy) actually fail to mention their parties at all on their election literature. Her linkage of herself with her party benefits both.

Also, as Lesley Riddoch has suggested, the attacks on Nicola may well have peaked too early: despite the hyperbole of hatred consistently leveled at her as this very exemplification of her party, and thus being the biggest perceived threat to establishment politics at Westminster since the rise of the Labour Party in the 1920s, her star continues to rise. [On that point, it is interesting to note that one correspondent recently compared the Scotland Office’s fabricated memo (referred to as “a piece of grubby espionage” by Martin Hannan, with Carmichael clearly encouraging spying on the Scottish Government) leaked by Alistair Carmichael, to the Grigory Zinoviev letter of September 1924. This letter, purporting to be written by a representative of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union was allegedly fabricated and released to the press by the Foreign Office, as it was intended to discredit the Labour Party in the run-up to an election…but I digress.]

‘Despite the hyperbole’….or, perhaps, because of it?

Home Secretary Theresa May declares that any SNP influence would create the worst constitutional crisis since the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936 – and yet 59% of voters in Scotland say that the current labelling of the SNP as ‘dangerous’ is putting the Union in danger, and one can sort of see where they are coming from. The ‘othering’ of Scots is astonishingly flagrant – the continued attacks on the SNP as some rabid group, verging on terrorists, who simply should not be permitted within the hallowed halls of Westminster, seems to spectacularly fail to realise that rather than persuading the rather substantial numbers of voters who have expressed that preference of the error of their ways, it is alienating them further from Westminster, consolidating their choice…and also making it seem the more logical choice for others.

And it is not just the bizarre future leader of the Conservatives that seems deranged in his writings on the subject (although deranged has to be relative for Boris), but the current incumbent, as well. When David Cameron, normally calm and controlled, starts going beyond words like “nightmare” to using phrases like “a match made in hell”, he starts to sound like he is actually starting to lose control for the first time. The idea of him losing the plot like this, with a little naked venom openly leaking out, is something I really do not recall seeing before…and when it brings former Thatcher cabinet Lords Michael Forsyth and Norman Tebbit out seeking to temper the Conservative campaign, saying it is too negative and could endanger the Union, that really is something new.

We’ve been here before, of course, from representatives other than the PM. This pretty much reflected the often-hysterical tone in the run-up to the Referendum last year – with the Westminster mob only pulling back from the brink 48 hours from the end, by trying to position the question of independence resulting in a ‘No’ vote being a vote for DevoMax.

But they’ve kind of used that option up. With apparently 25% of ‘No’ voters being bought or persuaded at the last by Banquo’s ghost (to torture Boris’s metaphor some more) of DevoMax turning up to be offered at the 11th hour of the electoral banquet provided that the electorate only voted ‘No’, the subsequent failure of the Emperor’s new tax raising powers to look anything like the more powers that those voters were allegedly looking for with their use of the franchise, and noises from both Lords and Commons that make it sound as though they fully intend to water the final Smith proposals down even further, it would be rather difficult for them to turn around and say ‘No, don’t vote SNP, because now we are REALLY offering you DevoMax – the last time doesn’t count – Gordon Brown, Jackie Bird and Alistair Darling didn’t know what they were talking about, we’re serious this time.’ That ship has sailed. But they don’t really have another fallback position to go to – they broke the glass in case of emergency, and did not have time to replace it with anything else for the next crisis just over 7 months later.

And now we witness the result. William Hills revised its odds on the SNP taking all 59 of the Scottish Westminster seats from 1,000 to 1 in 2010, to 3 to 1 this week – which was before today’s 30th April results from IPSOS-MORI for STV showing SNP 54% (+2), Labour 20% (-4), Conservatives 17% (+5), LibDems 5% (+1), Greens 2%, UKIP unchanged at 1%. The key thing about that, is 54% means that the Electoral Calculus tool predicts all 59 Scottish seats falling to the SNP for the first time – whereas other sites more conservatively put the figure at a mere 58 seats resulting from that percentage of the vote.

Voters across the UK were taught by the press over a number of years to hate and fear Alex Salmond, to generate that kneejerk unthinking ‘ah dae like that Alex Salmond’ response to his name. With seven days campaigning to go, the media seems to be learning that they are running out of time to do the same to Nicola Sturgeon before May 7th.

 

 “People in Scotland should think that anything that is a nightmare for David Cameron is a good thing for most other people.” (Nicola Sturgeon, 23/2/2015)