When the Dykes Held Firm: the Dutch withstand the onslaught of the Alt-Right Tidal Wave from the West…this time

There is a narrative about the last 12 months in western politics, whereby (without going into the realms of tinfoil-hatted conspiracy theories), BrExit and Trump’s election are part of a global phenomenon – a wave across the world, a rise of right wing politics. (Indeed, within Scottish politics, many of us in Yes, would add the ‘No’ vote in the 2014 referendum to this trend, as it bears the same hallmarks of support and funding by the same groups that delivered the Leave vote as well as Trump’s victory – see here and here). Under the terms of this narrative, Trump’s victory sweeps east across the Atlantic like an Alt-Tsunami, sweeping BrExit to the hard right, and thunders towards mainland continental Europe, where a series of right wing parties are poised with forthcoming elections to sweep back civil rights, demonise immigrants and generally move towards the door out of the European Union. Graphic image, isn’t it? I can almost see Roland Emmerich applying for the right to make the movie.

Within the narrative of this political catastrophe, March 15th 2017 was the first real test of how the wave was going to strike, with the parliamentary elections in the Netherlands, followed by France in just under two weeks time in April, and Germany in September. And in February, it seemed that the rumoured apocalypse was going to happen: the far right PVV (Partij voor de Vrijheid, or Party for Freedom) was on course to become the largest political party in the new Dutch parliament, standing to win 35 seats in a parliament with a 75 majority. In the wake of a coalition between the conservative People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie – VVD) and the Labour Party (Partij van de Arbeid – PvdA), in which the Labour Party was disappearing in the polls (as did the LibDems in the UK, after their similarly disastrous coalition with the Conservatives), this was a significant problem, with the PVV led by Geert Wilders (who is, indeed the only member of this party) looking to take much of VVD’s political support. All the political parties that were running for the Dutch Parliament vowed not to work with Wilders even if he was successful…but many are the political parties who have espoused fine values until the ballot stations are closed, then will do a deal with whomever is necessary, in order to be a part of government.

The conservative VVD had been less outspokenly xenophobic in its rhetoric than the PVV – and opposed PVV’s advocacy of the Netherlands leaving the EU (‘Auf Niedersehen’ – or ‘NExit’ – as it was less imaginatively dubbed) – but in the final run-up to the vote, the VVD’s leader, the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte looked to try to take the fight to the PVV…by beginning to ape their language. This is a similar scenario to the recent one faced by London’s Conservative Party, who in late 2014-early 2015 moved to disempower UKIP by occupying a similar anti-EU and anti-immigration position. (And we all know how that brilliant strategy is currently working out.) Rutte launched an advertising campaign touting supposedly ‘Dutch values’, with ‘Doe normaal of Ga weg’ (‘Act normal or Go home’, reminiscent of Theresa May’s advertising campaign during her time as Home Secretary) as the strapline. Then, as a further move to triangulate on PVV’s electoral support in the week running up to the election, he engineered a confrontation with Turkish government officials visiting the Netherlands to speak to Turkish voters there. In the high-profile statements and expulsions of diplomats from the country, Wilders was all but absent, only able to stand by while Prime Minister Rutte used his position in government to ‘act tough on foreigners’, clearly positioning himself as a crypto-Wilders to the PVV’s would-be supporters. By this final week, the polls were already showing a slide from the PVV’s high water mark the previous month, but after the confrontation between Rutte and Erdogan,  it seemed that the VVD had consolidated their position to be the largest party.

I was watching the election coverage with an apprehensive group of Dutch academics at Munich University on the night (the picture above shows the whiteboard in the common room, with predictions and the exit poll figures in black), and sure enough, the exit polls came through as the polling stations were closing (a few had to remain open as they had had an unexpectedly high demand and so had run out of ballot papers), and PVV were projected to be equal second with two other parties (Democrats 66 and the Christian Democrats) on 19 (only gaining 4 new seats, instead of the previously predicted 20), and the VVD remaining the largest party on 31 (losing 10 seats). There was some relief…but over the next couple of days, the final tallies came through, and VVD finished on 33 seats, with Wilders’ Party on 20 – the second largest in the Dutch Parliament.

Tom – a friend in Amsterdam – had made a schoolboy error, arguing that everyone in his extended family should vote for the VVD to keep Wilders out (the VVD were weak in Amsterdam, so it is debatable how much this strategy would have worked anyway – at a time when the Greens were in the ascendancy, a vote for them would have been a more effective use of his franchise). But more than a wasted vote, the approach of voting for the VVD as an attempt to undermine the PVV, is of course counter-productive – it reinforces the support for a party espousing overtly right wing mantras – effectively borrowing PVV’s political ‘clothes’ – and thus validating that rhetoric and keeping the ground free politically for the continued expansion of the VVD to the right. Such a vote validates VVD’s xenophobic approach (ironically, Tom has a Polish wife, so this may well lead to a problematic position for his family if the VVD goes further down the PVV or UK Conservative Party’s path, in terms of foreign residence and right to remain), and sets their agenda: the existence of Wilders’ political support means that they know that they always have room to expand to the right to consolidate their power – and the moment they start to look ‘weaker’ on xenophobic policies than PVV’s hectoring, they know that that same support will return to Wilders, so they are unlikely to abandon their rhetoric. It depends how much of an influence the final coalition (which currently looks to contain the more left of centre Democrat 66 and the Greens) can devise to keep the most right wing of VVD under control. In a political system where coalition is the norm (rather than the UK’s first past the post, where coalition is an unusual anomaly), there is not a single party of government (as the UK Conservatives had, making their EU referendum obligatory), so less opportunity for the government to be forced to move to the right to disempower the far right, thus legitimising far right xenophobic viewpoints as mainstream Dutch politics. In addition to giving the far right more prominence, the VVD’s climate change denial agenda is liable to pressurise any of the Green policies that they wish to enact.

So, is that it? Emergency over, Fortress Europe’s western seaboard flood defences held, everyone stand down? Well, not really – there is still a bloc of 33 seats of the right wing VVD, whose leader Mark Rutte (likely to continue as PM, regardless of the final coalition agreement), had recently talked about people who were not ‘normal-acting Dutch’ that should leave the country (even if they were born in the Netherlands). Then there is the second largest party with 20 seats, the anti-EU membership PVV.  The PVV drove the VVD to the right, making the right wing perspectives normalised, and sustains the problem presented by the PVV. Unless the VVD can work back from their current position, they are in danger of being nudged further each time by the presence of a farther right group such as the PVV.

In terms of the broader European question, perhaps there is cause for more hope: the expected boost to Marine Le Pen in advance of April 23rd’s first round of the French Presidential elections that would have come from Wilders having the largest party in the Dutch parliament, has not happened.  The day after the Dutch election, the IFOP survey indicated that public support for the EU had increased by double digits in Germany (18%), France (19%) and Belgium (11%), having seen the mess that the UK was making of leaving the European Union. But Marine may yet succeed politically through expressing anti-immigration sentiments, even if not (yet) advocating a French exit from the EU. She is, after all, the second most influential MEP after Martin Schulz, and under her leadership the Front National won 24.9% of the vote in the European elections in France – personally winning over 33% of the vote in her own constituency: she is clever – more so than her father (the previous Front National leader) or Wilders, and may win office without the right wing wave of xenophobia from the Netherlands that she might have been hoping for.

Under Angela Merkel, Germany currently looks unlikely to fall prey to the far right or anti-EU movements – as indeed its neighbour Austria rebuffed such approaches from Norbert Hofer in its October 2016 presidential election.

The results for the Dutch Parliament – however the coalition turns out – still shows that there has been an accommodation towards a ‘normalisation’ of immigrant-hatred, which is close-kin to a more general hatred of foreigners, and its affiliated suspicion of all things ‘European’. There will not be grounds to feel safer until that tide of the right starts to recede from mainstream politics.

So, yes, this time the flood defences held, but the move of Dutch politics to the right means that there may yet come a ‘NExit’ time.


“Nobody in their right minds has faith in [the PM getting ‘the right deal’ for the UK] as the Conservative government stumble and stagger towards negotiations in a European community now strengthened by the Dutch election results.” (Mike Small, ‘Citizens of Nowhere’, 16/3/2017)


[For a more in-depth review of the political background to the Dutch election, I commend you to Bella Caledonia’s article on the Dutch election result: http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2017/03/20/dutch-elections-curb-your-enthusiasm/ ]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Let’s see, shall we?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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)

Slain in the Ratings: The death of another Kennedy, and yet another assassination attempt

There has been a – deliberate, naturally – obfuscation regarding what is so objectionable about Alastair Carmichael, sole remaining Scottish LibDem MP, and former Scottish Secretary.

True, he comes across as a buffoon. He is also an audacious hypocrite, calling for the abolition of the position of Secretary of State for Scotland, because he regarded it as pointless, before taking the ministerial salary for himself…and allegedly having forced dismissal of his LibDem predecessor Michael Moore in order to achieve that end. And as for Carmichael’s cynical leak of a note alleging that David Cameron was Nicola’s preferred choice of Prime Minister to Ed Miliband? He did not even realise that saying ‘I did not read the memo’ does not give him plausible deniability – it instead adds to his buffoonery, giving him a generous helping of incompetence.

The subsequent ethics investigation launched by Kathryn Hudson, the parliamentary standards commissioner, seemed to be a surprise to many, and perhaps raises some doubts as to whether a further police inquiry might also go ahead. Defenders of the Union have been desperate to tie Alex Salmond into this argument – ‘but Salmond lied about advice over EU status, so it is no different’, they say – omitting to note that Salmond submitted himself to a standards investigation into the matter, was fully exonerated, and did so BEFORE he stood as an MP for Gordon…with a 14% swing to the SNP in that constituency delivering him as their MP. A little different, in terms of openness and transparency, then…indeed, some might argue that the fact that the swing was 14% as opposed to in the twenties or thirties, is an indication that he suffered a setback in the polls, in comparison to the bulk of the seats taken by the SNP on Charles Kennedy’s “Night of the Long Sgian Dubhs”.

Carmichael not only authorized the release of a memo to happen within the purdah period of the election campaign, but he denied knowing anything about it, allowing the idea to grow that it was some junior civil servant that had done it…similar to the CBI’s excuses for accidentally coming out as campaigning for a ‘No’ vote in the Referendum last year. Except, as with the CBI, under closer scrutiny it became clear that that decision was authorised by several senior members as opposed to the office coffee-gopher. Alastair personally authorised the memo being sent out, so willingly not only tried to damage another political party’s campaign (by saying they would quite like his coalition prime minister to stay in power), but then refused to be honest and take the consequences of possible damage himself before he defended his own seat in the election. Orkney and Shetland had noted a swing towards the SNP amongst council places, and Shetland voted SNP last month, leaving Orkney to vote Carmichael back with a majority in the 800s, down from over 10,000 at the previous general election in 2010. Validation – yet again – of how willing the LibDems have been, to lie while in government (the memo which he read before authorising the leak was dated March 6th, some weeks before parliament dissolved and he effectively ceased to be a minister), not just for tuition fees.

The ‘FrenchGate’ memo was discredited within hours, and seen as a desperate kneejerk response to Nicola Sturgeon’s tour-de-force the previous evening on the Leaders’ Debate, where UK-wide audiences voted her as the winner of all seven parties…including the incumbent prime minister and the leader of the opposition. And one cannot but help see that same desperation to attack opponents of the Union at all costs, in the willingness for critics to attack Alex Salmond yesterday over his generous comments about Charles Kennedy in the wake of his sad demise. Any opportunity for a bitter attempt to character assassinate Salmond is not to be missed by the general press, and so his observations that Kennedy’s heart was not really in the Better Together campaign are not presented as an attempt to rehabilitate a man so fondly regarded by the electorate, so that history does not consign him to being behind the curve of Scottish politics, but an attempt to ‘appropriate’ him as an independence advocate (see the actual quotes below). In truth, Salmond’s remarks may be over-generous, to those of us who remember Charles Kennedy being quoted some months ago as saying that no politician, journalist or academic had any clue as to why the losing ‘Yes’ parties were on a roll since the Referendum result – he may well have recognized that Better Together was damaging the support for the Union, but his bewilderment does not really fit with a man who was in touch any longer, and perceived what had happened over the previous 12 months in Scotland.

Accusations have been shamelessly hurled that Kennedy died because of something called ‘SNP Greed’ (I wonder, do they countenance the existence of the idea of ‘LibDem Greed’? Say, being prepared to lie as a Cabinet Minister in order to hold on to your own constituency salary?), therefore desperately trying to make the party that was the people’s choice in not just last month’s General Election, but also the 2011 Holyrood election, and even won the popular vote for the first time in the Scottish council elections, somehow responsible for his demise….except that who you are blaming with that attack is clearly that same electorate. The voters chose – and you cannot blame the other political parties for being a more palatable choice. Masquerading your attack on the electorate’s choice under the guise of it being an attack on ‘the party’ that defeated him still damns the voters: if anyone, Kennedy was executed by his constituents. Still determined to be behind that political curve, in the face of these three plebiscites, Unionists should take greater care of whom they launch attacks on – and whose death they attempt to bitterly exploit in an attempt to give their existence meaning.

And I cannot but think that the venom of their comments are yet another attempt to distract and deflect from their own wounded compatriot – Carmichael, the LibDem Scottish panda, still trying to limp out of the harsh and unrelenting limelight.


“In terms of the independence campaign, I don’t think his heart was in the Better Together campaign…His heart would have been in a pro-European campaign – that’s the campaign that Charles would have engaged in heart and soul… As early as the beginning of last year, Charles was one of the first unionist politicians to realise that the result [in the Referendum] would be close and said publicly that he felt that the actions of the No campaign were contributing to this.” (excerpted from Alex Salmond’s tribute to Charles Kennedy)
“Don’t hate the media; become the media.” (Jello Biafra, Dead Kennedys)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

From Nicola Sturgeon to Nigel Farage: Proud Parents-to-be Haggling Over 3 Years or 9 Months Gestation for Referendum Rerun

Well, it appears that my old list MSP is to be the next First Minister. Nicola Sturgeon could not be a more striking contrast with the MP that serves part of her ward (Ian ‘bayoneting the wounded’ Davidson), and not just because of her commitment to preserve shipyard jobs when Ian was arguing (along with Alistair Carmichael) that Glasgow’s yards should lose contracts in the event of a Yes vote.

I can remember first seeing her about twenty years ago, before the 1997 general election. I was getting a bus back from the city centre to Shawlands at night, and this figure got on board just across the road from Glasgow Central station. She was carrying a huge duffelbag, wearing a large padded anorak and jeans, and looked exhausted, as though from a long journey after tiring days. We made eye contact, and she saw the recognition in my eyes as she hauled her bag into the storage area. Subsequently she became my MSP through the regional list, and with one exquisite letter managed to get a commercial property to contribute to the costs of tenement roof repairs that were around twenty years overdue (if you have ever lived in a tenement with a commercial unit, you will know how impossible a feat this actually is).

I remember going to see her in her surgery, and the quiet, focused and efficient woman seemed far away from the exhausted figure on the 38 bus. She knew exactly what she was doing, and deftly resolved the logjam of years with the Bolton based owner of the pub that was causing such a problem.

Fast forward a few years, and she is about to become First Minister – and at a toxic time. The Holyrood branch officers of the Westminster parties are trying hard to urge her to distance herself from Alex Salmond and independence – something of a tall order since she has been his deputy for 7 years, and leads a party committed to (guess what?) Scottish independence, at a time when support has never been greater. Mixed in with this are some familiar slights – the Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone referring to her ‘coronation’, recalls those bizarre claims that the other Alex wanted to be King of Scotland…trying again to make that connection between grandiosity as a dimension of leadership, rather than any legitimate democratic mandate. How long before the more explicit suggestions that she wants to become ‘Queen Nicola’ start being made, as the predictable repeat of the demonization of an SNP First Minister starts up again?

Nicola – like the other Alex – is not daft. She knows what they will try to do, and as watched Salmond endure the fire and scorn of an implacably opposed media for these 7 years. She has also worked as a leader in the rainbow coalition of the Yes movement. Yes, she has the opportunity to distance herself – slightly – from Alex, but that is hardly likely to be substantive. I would suggest that the greatest thing that she is likely to distance herself from, is Alex’s statement that September 18th will settle the issue for a generation, if not a lifetime. She knows (if polling is to be believed) the degree to which the No vote was conditional on ‘more powers’ (around a quarter of No voters giving the nebulous ‘promises’ in ‘The Vow’ as their reason). She also knows that acting to secure as great a degree of powers as possible in any extension to devolution, in the process showing the shortfall between what is delivered as opposed to what should be, is the best way to demonstrate to conditional Nos that they were conned. Which is also the best way to persuade them that they should vote differently next time.

And the next time might not be so far away. The 3 year plan for a rerun of the referendum, which I have heard people earnestly discussing, was predicated on an EU in/out vote, whereby Scotland votes to stay in the EU, against the wishes of the rest of the UK, which prompts an emergency referendum in Scotland. Only this week, Farage (ever keen to offer new column inches to those voracious journalists)argued that his condition for supporting a Conservative government following the general election next year would be the holding of an EU referendum in July. Not the 2017 July – the one that is 2 months after the general election. As in…9 months from now.

The first thing that strikes one about this is the contrast with the Scottish Government’s approach: they knew they had to take the best part of 3 years to try to inform and persuade the population that independence was the best course. Farage wants no informed decision (which I think was reflected in the Westminster desire to hold the Scottish Referendum swiftly without any long campaign) – he just wants a kneejerk reaction. You may argue as to whether he actually wants to come out of Europe, or just to be able to posture as the man that gave ‘the British people’ the choice – but certainly the best way to get an ‘out’ vote would be a short emotive and insubstantive ‘content-lite’ campaign.

I confess that I had been toying with the idea of issuing referendum ballots along with the EU ones – so that actually a clear picture would come through on both issues at the same time…AND it would save time and organizational issues – sort of a second ‘Yes Yes’ to mirror the 1997 referendum on a Scottish Parliament and tax-varying powers. The other argument would be to hold the independence referendum afterwards, so that people in Scotland would be aware of the form of the UK that they were voting to be part of – an EU-free one.

One can certainly envisage the nightmare scenario that could result from such a combined poll – that of Scots voting Yes to being in Europe and No to being out of the other union – voting effectively for a country and concept that did not exist outwith the ballot paper (as one would assume that the UK would vote to leave Europe). But with two staggered polls, and in the aftermath of a No vote to Europe, when faced with the cold sobering reality of a UK heading for the exit door from Brussels, it is easy to imagine that many more Scots opposed to independence would choose to cast their lot with a Scotland independent within Europe, than joined only to the British union.

And in the wake of such a UK vote, who knows – perhaps even the EU would give slightly more clarity on the possibilities of parts of the UK being able to remain in Europe if they vote to become independent. After all, by that stage, Europe will no longer have vested interests in appeasing a member state that has just decided to leave – so might just be a little bit more open.


“Alex Salmond was essentially a right-wing populist, posing as social democrat. Nicola Sturgeon is a social democrat. So, if we’ve had a challenge over the last few years…Scottish Labour needs to be very aware of the scale of the challenge it now faces.” (Jack McConnell)

Uncertainty in the Drop Zone: On a Gibbet of Their Own Making

I was watching the BBC News Channel this morning, in the wake of the weekend’s YouGov poll bombshell. Suddenly, everyone was talking about it – ‘serious concern’ was being reported at Westminster. David Cameron had had to make a flying visit to Balmoral to update the Queen, with different newspapers reporting that she was either concerned, or determined to leave it up to the people of Scotland to decide.

But the most interesting was the business news. There was a 1% drop in the value of Sterling next to the US Dollar and the Euro, which was being directly linked to the announcement of the ‘Yes’ lead in the YouGov poll late on Saturday night. All well and good – this showed most of all a lack of confidence in the value of that currency if Scotland leaves, taking its oil revenues with it – a welcome rebuff of the notion that we are ‘subsidy junkies’ whose departure will be nothing but a plus for the UK exchequer. But it’s hard to know what to do in such a situation, from a Westminster perspective, if that trend continues. In January, Westminster supposedly made the statement that it would take on all responsibility for debt (which it had, in essence, already done by taking on that debt in the first place), in response to supposed ‘market jitters’ that Scotland were not going to offer to contribute to that burden, as a consequence of being denied currency union with Sterling.

So how far would things have to go this time around, for Westminster to intervene again? It is a difficult decision: if you offer to calm market fears before the Referendum date – perhaps by making reassuring noises about currency union, for example, as the swiftest way to restore market confidence – then you discredit your previous position since February of ‘no CU whatsoever’, demonstrate that Alex Salmond was absolutely right on the money from the start when he said it was a bluff, which might well be Referendum suicide for Westminster as part of the ‘No’ campaign.

Conversely, you could say ‘well, there are only ten days to go – let’s weather the storm until the Referendum, then move very swiftly to calm the markets immediately afterwards’. That probably makes the most sense – after all, as equity trader Alpesh Patel noted on the BBC News Channel this morning, the fall in Sterling is a trend that has been occurring since July – it is just that this poll result has accelerated the drop.

So, I guess, if I was Westminster, then rather than handing the Referendum straight to ‘Yes’ before the (non postal) votes are cast, by admitting that you were not being ‘entirely honest’ in saying that there would never be a currency union with an independent Scotland, it probably makes the most sense to try to continue onwards on the set course of action of ‘no currency union’. But keep it really quiet – don’t draw so much attention to it anymore.

And, of course, that means, that if I was ‘Yes’, I would be getting Alex Salmond to talk about it at every opportunity, to draw more market attention to it. This is the consequence of Westminster trying to pull a fast one by ‘prenegotiating’ on this issue – so let them dig their way out of their own hole. Hell mend them, as they say – with a bit of luck, they would be forced into conceding a currency union before the voting day to restore market confidence, as a suitable penance for their posturing on this issue.

Because the thing is, Westminster has always needed the reserves of Scotland to keep its balance of payments deficit even moderately under control. Otherwise the UK deficit gets horribly close to 100% of GDP…and that is not a good place to be.

So you can sort of see why that drop in Sterling has been happening…and it makes me reflect on how actively the ‘No’ campaign have promoted – and, indeed, created – the commodity of ‘uncertainty’ which they have then tried to exploit. For example, only Westminster as the government of the member state of the European Union that is the UK, can ask the European Commission for a ruling on the legal status of Scotland as a continuing member of the EU. The Commission has made it clear that they will make a statement following such a request. The UK government have deliberately refused to make such a request…thus creating ‘uncertainty’…which they then present as being manufactured by the Referendum itself. Perhaps it also suits their purposes in another way – because they have a fair idea that the answer that they would get back from the EC would not fit their strategy to keep Scotland within the UK.

In this context, it seems highly appropriate that a campaign that has tried to sow so much false uncertainty in order to win the vote, is now having the uncertainty that they created come back and bite them.

Is that ‘Schadenfreude’?


“There’s certainly no sign of investors being deterred from coming to Scotland; if anything, the reverse appears to be true.” (Ernst & Young’s 2013 UK attractiveness survey – Scotland)