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)

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‘Conditional Nos’, and the Rougher Wooing of a Second Honeymoon: The Extreme Economic Risk of Scottish Dependence, with a London Set on Expansion

I cannot claim – as many male commentators have done – to have wept since the result, in either minor or major fashion. But I do have ‘moments’ – times when that sense of loss drifts unbidden into my mind, and I drift quietly into reflections on how different things could be right now. In extremely short order after the result was declared, Cameron announced slashing cuts to Scottish public funding, Osborne announced an even higher level of welfare cuts than had previously been declared, and the glorious British Empire announced it was flying off to bomb yet another country, yet again increasing our priority as a target for would-be terrorist attacks. And we are dragged along with it: Scotland’s own Velvet Revolution – withheld; Robin McAlpine’s Butterfly Rebellion (http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2014/09/14/the-butterfly-rebellion/) ‘denied’. No matter how inevitable independence for Scotland may well now be, it is galling and depressing to see The Path Not Chosen diverging further and further from our increasingly bleak immediate future – albeit on lines that were entirely predicted (see previous posts) – and I wonder how emaciated and husk-like the eventually discarded Scotland will finally be. With each new announcement, I catch myself drifting off to the thought of ‘we could have been heading out of this incompetent mess by now’.

Some Scottish voters (allegedly 25% of those that voted No) may have thought that they were giving a ‘conditional No’, on the basis of some enhanced devolution option being touted as ‘The Vow’ – however elsewhere, in strict interpretation of the answer to the question ‘Should Scotland be an independent country’, the No vote is tantamount to a centuries-late, retrospective democratic validation of the Union: to continue the tired metaphor of the relationship or marriage in trouble, a ‘renewal of vows’, as it were. And although the ‘rough wooing’ with political and trade sanctions against Scotland that coerced the Union into originally taking place meant Scotland went through a grim time with its sociopathic and hostile neighbour, the prospects for what follows now (a ‘second honeymoon’ perchance?) looks to be even grimmer.

And it seems that – for one party in this marriage at least – a Retail Therapy Binge is called for. We all knew the ongoing costs that Scotland was having to subsidise Westminster for – apart from the more than £120 million every 5 years that Scotland pays to support both chambers of the Westminster Parliament itself, the London costs to Scotland also include the London Supersewer (£500 million); the M25 upgrade (£600 million); London Crossrail (£1.6 billion); HS2 phase 1 London-Birmingham (£5 billion). In the offing were a further £22 billion that Scotland was due to pay, with HS2 phase 2 Leeds-Manchester (£1.7 billion) and a London Orbital Railway costing a further twenty. The latter element was part of the London Infrastructure Plan 2050, and a few days before the Referendum, London announced its shopping list for the other elements.

In an overall projection that argues that London will need to double the amount that it spends on its infrastructure by 2025, the range of additional train systems including the South London Metro and the Outer London Orbital, replaced water and electricity networks, extra green space, houses, schools, colleges and rolling out 5G mobile all come to a grand total of £1.3 trillion. On past form, that would mean Scotland paying over £100 billion to deliver these projects…at the same time as Scottish public funding is slashed, and (the most likely outcome of any Westminster ‘deal’) the Scottish Government has to start paying for an extra tier of civil servants in order to collect some tax revenues.

That ‘No’ vote will cost us financially, and cost us severely: with poverty levelsin Scotland already around 20%, the UK deficit continues to be over £100 billion year on year, and tax receipts (outside of the housing bubble) are not increasing, so it is to be expected that the projected cuts will increase in savagery if some real economic recovery does not miraculously turn up soon.

We may be heading for a Caledonian Winter, but let us hope that the opportunity and chance of that Caledonian Spring will come again.

 

“When you put all of these together, there’s very little left in the union except sentiment, history and family.” (Sir Tom Devine, historian)

‘Sheridan. Charlatan.’: Socialist Equality Party, myopic pawns of Empire and Capitalism

Last week, while on my way to the Marchmont stall, I saw a woman being harassed by another stallholder at the top of the Meadows, by the medical school.  He was tall, with an aggressive style and a north of England accent – she was much shorter…and had 3 children with her in a pushchair. He was trying to tell her that voting Yes was a betrayal of the working class, she told him how he was effectively supporting the establishment elites.  He did not like that – I suspect he rarely encounters that in his regular constituency. (You will see why I believe that he was not an Edinburgh resident later…it is not just the accent.) I didn’t recognize the name on the stall that he was orbiting, and moved in to comfort the woman as she left him distressed, and continued her journey towards the Meadows with pushchair. After reassuring that I was ‘with the other lot’ she declared herself as a Yes, and we talked (somewhat emotionally) of the joy of living in these times, and both gripped each other as we laughed with eyes pricking.  She went on her way happy – a childcare worker, and I took position on the Marchmont stall at the bottom of the slope.

I was slightly disturbed by what appeared to be an intervention by a group that I did not recognize.  Well – stylistically I recognized them – I used to know a lot of people in the Revolutionary Communists and the Socialist Workers parties when I was at the University of Edinburgh. There was a strident voice, and a very combative approach often when on stalls, and an insistence (which, understandably, comes with the territory) on seeing everything through the prism of the workers’ struggle. Surprise surprise, many of them were human beings underneath, and you could chat quite civilly with them without a problem.

I thought about it over the course of the day, and decided that I would try to engage them the following day. (I confess, I thought it might produce something interesting for this blog…) I was curious as to what this new beast was, and some of the others on the stall had told me that he was arguing for a British-wide socialism.  This slightly confused me – had he not heard of the 1990s? Did he not realize that the major party hope for this to happen had sold out some time ago, and was now fairly indistinguishable from the Conservatives…determined to pander even more to the ‘Hate the Poor’ sentiments of a right wing electorate?

I found two representatives with a stall a couple of days later – they were in George Square, trying to talk to Freshers’ Week students. I made no secret of my perspective, with Yes and Wings badges prominently displayed as I approached. Initially, I waited for one student from Spain to finish with a representative on the stall, before talking to Danny from Liverpool, a relaxed and quietly spoken former seaman, with an easy style – maybe even a little hesitant.  But after a few moments, another individual jumped in to release him to talk to other passing trade.  He didn’t give me his name, but said he worked on the London underground as a ticketing clerk, and had taken time off work to come up and do this.

I asked him for his pitch, explaining that I was genuinely curious as to where he was coming from, and why he was arguing for a ‘No’. The Socialist Equality Party were in Edinburgh campaigning for a No vote, he explained, because all ‘nationalism’ was bad. What needed to happen was that the whole working class of Britain should unite together, not regionally factionalise. The Yes campaign was led by the right wing, and would simply create a separate version of the same unfair Westminster model, which exploited the working class – when there needed to be a pan-European movement.  I started to engage with that point when (for the first time producing his stabby finger to underline his words…rather than his point) he said that he also wanted an end to the European Union, as it was run by big business. Well, that meant that no argument of ‘this way we stay in Europe, whereas a No vote means risk of being out after the EU referendum in a couple of years’ was going to work with him.

So I started to ask him about how, given that corporations were so heavily investing in a No vote, did he not think that he was actually supporting Empire and just the big business control that he professed to dislike so much?

Yeah.  That didn’t go down so well.  Stabby finger – with added caffeine. Edinburgh, he declared,that Empire (I’m not going to deny aspects of that…) – indeed, he started to lengthily decry the involvement of Scots in the atrocities across the world as the footsoldiers of the Empire. (In retrospect, he may not like Scots very much – despite how much he wanted us to ‘stay’ – in fact, it was a similar vibe to David Cameron, in that sense.) I accepted his point, then started to talk about reasons, including loss of land, agricultural prospects etc as to why more Scots entered the armed forces (even having family traditions of military service), as a metric of disadvantage, along with our high levels of emigration due to lack of opportunities – that perhaps this indicated that we had been treated as something less than the ‘partner’ we had understood ourselves to be, and more like a colony.

Again, he did not like that – and was not prepared to accept that Scotland had been disadvantaged at all. I raised the issues of denuclearization, foodbanks, rising poverty…no, none of that worked.  And one thing that he kept coming back to – more than anything else – was how much he despised Tommy Sheridan. The mantra that he kept coming back to – more so even than hating big business – was ‘Sheridan, charlatan’…I had to admit, it was kind of catchy.

Seriously.  The SEP were so virulently opposed to Tommy, they could have been the Sheridan Execution Party – a familiar reek of old-school Trotsky-related division and factionalisation suddenly filled the air, from almost twenty five years in my past. I asked him why, if this was going to be a more social democratic country, why should we not try to have a better future, for all workers in Scotland, rather than continue to be impoverished and attacked across the UK, delicately trying to raise the point that the Labour Party, as it might have been under Michael Foot or Neil Kinnock, as a group within which such ideals of working class unity might actually have flourished – was so long dead, how could he expect to effect this political change? That, under 13 years of Labour, not a single one of the pieces of Conservative’s anti-trade union legislation had been repealed – including the act that made strike action of solidarity illegal in Britain?

The workers uniting in revolution.  Of course. ‘Don’t Vote Yes – Salvation is coming – for Everyone! Just hang on.  It’ll be along…any minute now. Really.’

Eventually he moved away, seeming to decide that he was getting too angry or frustrated, and wanted to talk to others…not seeming to realize that the Freshers that he was engaging with would not have a vote, as they had arrived several days too late to register for the vote.  Not accepting that by arguing for a No (no matter how deaf the ears) he was supporting the Empire and state that he claimed to revile, and was acting against the chance of betterment of this group of workers. That maybe we have a lifeboat – and instead of going down with everyone else, that maybe it is time for us to stop propping up the 4th most unequal society in the developed world, and try to make something better.

‘Sheridan. Charlatan.’ I walked away from the stall, thanking him for his time, somewhat saddened by his crushing naivete, that seemed to blind him to all but a utopian revolution of the working class…when the time for that had long passed.  Tony Blair had taken the party far away from the point at which they could have cradled that radicalism – indeed, the failure of Neil Kinnock to be elected (some might argue because his voice was not ethnically ‘English’ enough – I have seen enough politicians arguing that Gordon Brown should not have become PM for exactly the same reason) probably signaled the rise of the right in Labour and the end of that possibility.

And now, these supposed socialists were acting for big business and supporting Empire, so blinded by their ignorance that they were willing to be imported to a campaign that they had as little understanding of (or interest in learning to understand) as London-based BBC journalists.

It seemed a sad fall for the radical left, to have come to this. England needs a Yes vote to revitalize its politics as much as Scotland needs it address social inequality.

 

“Hope has two beautiful daughters. Anger, at the way things are, and Courage, to try and change them.” (Saint Augustine of Hippo, 5th Century)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The No Narrative 2: Portraying Pippi Longstocking as an Ethnic-Cleanser

About a month ago, I noted the increasing number of less-than-veiled allusions to ‘Yes’ campaigners being the equivalent of National Socialists in Germany (really? a family friendly day out with kids at BBC Pacific Quay is ‘just like the Hitler Youth’??) and am both repulsed by the comparison and bewildered. As a hypothesis, it is completely at odds with the Yes campaign’s advocacy of increasing net migration into Scotland in order to sustain and let the economy grow, the commitment to staying within the EU (I recall the SNP campaigning under the banner of ‘independent in Europe’ as far back as 1993 – so hardly insular or xenophobic), and – most tellingly of all – the fact that the electorate for the Referendum is not based on any nonsensical ideas of place of birth or determining relative Scottish ancestry, but entirely on the basis of where you live, regardless of where you came from, or how recently.

Although I can have a certain sympathy with ex-patriat Scots who wish to participate, if they are not in Scotland, then their commitment to being part of the future of Scotland becomes more vague. I entirely appreciate that many of them may well be ex-pats as a direct result of a lack of opportunities in Scotland in the past, forcing their families overseas, and that probably a lot of these people would wish to return after a Yes vote, and be part of building that new country, but (harsh though it may seem) the decision should belong to those that are actually here, and will have to deal most immediately with the consequences of their collective decision.

But away from the franchise, and back to the supposed ‘ethnic nationalism’ that is hiding beneath this movement for self-determination, to address the democratic deficit and return power to the people best-placed to make decisions about their future. The current Westminster government, with its dalliance with UKIP, advocacy of an in/out referendum on the EU, aggressive approach to immigrants…well, couple that with the ‘No’ campaigns continued insistence that ‘becoming foreign’ is such a bad thing, and suddenly Alistair Darling’s endorsement of ‘Yes’ as ‘blood and soil nationalism’ seems suddenly more like psychological projection of the shortfalls of his own side, rather than any form of serious assessment of what is going on in Scotland in the Yes campaign right now. British Nationalism has not looked as dark as this for many a year.

Of course, one can quite understand why they would want to make such comparisons, however unworthy. All one has to do to discredit a self-determination movement is to plant the idea of some similarity to Nazi Germany, and people are naturally – even without any evidence being offered – a little more hesitant to embrace a political movement tarnished with such an association. It’s the cheapest, easiest thing to do – if you want to win, no matter the cost.

But I do have some concerns about the very real long-lasting legacy of this. In the event of a Yes vote, such associations poison the future – not so much of how the Yes vote is understood in Scotland, but how it is presented to the rest of the world – in particular the rest of the UK and especially England. For the No campaign or Westminster to so casually and happily sacrifice the future relationship socially between a future independent Scotland and England as part of the remaining UK, reveals how little they care about damage. They reject the presentation of this as a civic movement, and instead adopt a scorched earth policy towards future relations, by deliberately misrepresenting this as somehow ethnically driven. No – it’s because Westminster isn’t working – and has not worked for a long time for a considerable extent of the UK. The centralisation in London, as exemplified by Vince Cable’s frustration at London as a large suction machine for the resources of the rest of the UK, increasingly impoverishes the rest of the UK, to the benefit of the de facto city state of London.

What makes Scotland different to, say, NE England in this regard, is that having voted for (and not against) devolved government, we can say and do something about this problem of gross imbalance. Also, our natural resources mean that – uniquely in the UK (apart from the SE England and London) – we have contributed more than the average contribution of the UK in tax per head and GDP for over 30 years…and yet as a nation we continue to be impoverished, a further 30,000 children entering poverty in Scotland last year. In a country of 5-6 million, the fact that 19% of the population qualified as being in poverty in 2011 (CPAG) represents a horrific scale of social decline. The natural resources that mean we are naturally a wealthy country, is a bitter counterpoint to our increasing poverty, and insistently asks the question as to why one should continue in a union that is so detrimental to the health and welfare of its people.

The idea of ‘sharing and pooling of resources’ is clearly not working, when it so disadvantages the people, in order to support vanity wars, aircraft carriers that can afford neither planes nor a defence against ballistic missile attack (expected combat life 12 minutes, apparently), a billion pounds to retain Trident (Scotland’s share only, that) and a variety of London-centric projects (including HS2, for which Scotland will pay 7.92 billion for, even although it stops over 150 miles short of the border) for which we derive marginal – if any – benefits. Remember how we were told that Scottish tourism would benefit from the London Olympics? And strangely in 2012 there was a dip in Scottish tourism (almost a 5% drop in the number of trips, as well as in the length of those trips, compared to 2011), rather than any knock-on benefits. The variety of ‘trickle down benefits’ to elsewhere in the UK resulting from centralized expenditure in London, so beloved a model of Boris Johnson, are indeed thin on the ground.

So please – stop this nonsensical portrayal of the campaign for Yes in this negative light. Although one can understand that it does not fit with their narrative for either the No campaign or Westminster to admit that Westminster is not working and that Britain is indeed (as David Cameron used to so loudly declaim) broken, that does not change the fact that that is where the support for the Yes campaign is coming from. To pretend that it is otherwise is lazy, simplistic, offensive – and, frankly, more indicative of the No campaign’s view of politics.

We’re looking at transformational political change here. Bringing priorities back to people. While the supporters of ‘No’ are trying to present it as an ‘ethnically-driven’ movement, we are talking about the social benefits of what a constitution might contain, and the ways in which we can move our country forward, in visions both conservative (e.g. Wealthy Nation) and socialist. ‘Enlightenment 2.0’, as someone very cogently put it.

The political dialogue and vistas that people are discussing now are opening up worlds of possibilities, in a country that has effectively been disenfranchised for over 50 years (in terms of having strikingly different voting intentions amongst the limited Westminster parties – in real terms, of course, the period has been very much longer than 50 years). You can – of course – try to demean this movement (because that may well be the only chance that ‘No’ has to win) – but it is truly an exciting time to be alive in Scotland, and to be a part of this, after such entrenched political disillusionment for so long.

 

“We have the opportunity to make our nation a better place to live, for this and future generations. We can build a greener, fairer and more prosperous society that is stronger and more successful than it is today.” (The Yes Declaration, signed by over 1 million Scots)

David Cameron: ‘Excused’ debating.

Well, of course, one should never take social media terribly seriously, but I just read something on FaceBook that enraged me.

I know, it’s the day of the second (and likely to be the last) Referendum debate, and I should be focusing on slightly higher things – but it was – loosely – related. You see, there was some coverage of Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon doing the ‘ice bucket challenge’ for charity over the weekend, and (as with anything referring to Alex) there was a raft of comments…including one in particular. You see, you are apparently supposed to ‘nominate’ three individuals to carry your challenge forward, so after declaring that he was fund-raising for motor neurone disease, Alex had understandably (and predictably) put David Cameron’s name forward. Someone had commented on the amount of stick that Cameron was receiving for not participating, saying that he was quite right not to, and people wanting to criticise him “should perhaps remember his son Ivan”.

Ivan Cameron died at the age of 6, having been born with cerebral palsy and an extreme form of epilepsy known as Ohtahara Syndrome – famously on the occasion of his son’s death, David Cameron thanked everyone in the health service who had helped, and that he would cut the deficit and not the health service. It seems to have been a human moment that won him a lot of compassion and support, a moment where in tragedy he stated his commitment to protect the most sacred part of British society.

Except, of course, things haven’t really turned out that way, have they? With the increasing cuts and privatisation of the NHS (England and Wales) which have a direct knock-on effect to the budget of the Scottish Government’s block grant (and hence to the standards of provision in NHS Scotland), that promise of protection is starting to look hollow. And with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal between the European Union and the US leaving state services wide open to competition from US based multinationals, it begins to look like a shockingly cynical, and tasteless exercise. As Derek Bateman has noted, David Cameron made the decision to being his son into the political arena once dead, then linked him directly to the future of the NHS. This inevitably meant that if Cameron failed to stand by his pledge to protect the health service, then this would be viewed as something of a rather opportunistic stunt.

Perhaps – unlikely though it seems – Cameron genuinely believes that in some curious way he IS ‘protecting’ the NHS. But I find it rather hard to empathise with the FaceBook poster, who sought to protect David Cameron using the name of his dead son in much the same way that Cameron used his dead son to say that he would protect the health service. The story of David Cameron’s son is of course a tragedy – but Cameron is the one that now looks to have been trying to make political capital out of it. As such, people cannot use his son as a shield to protect his father from ever being criticised for not facing up to his responsibilities, and the fact that someone would use Cameron’s tragedy in such a way did, I confess, make me rather angry.

Unfortunately, this also makes me reflect rather negatively on David Cameron’s absence with regard to the debate tonight. His protectors have sought to argue that it is ‘not his place’ to be involved in the Referendum debate. Which would be fair enough – except that by arranging regular visits from Conservative Cabinet Ministers to argue against independence, directing the Westminister civil service to pour its resources (though refusing to divulge how much they have actually spent) into producing reports arguing against independence, using the Foreign Office to lobby internationally against Scottish independence and request external interventions form the external community, as well as utilising the London political press officers to do so, the Prime Minister and his government are hardly ‘leaving it to the Scots’. Of course, as David Cameron realises, Westminister’s policies are the absolute heart of why independence is an issue today, and therefore it is most appropriate for the current leader there to defend the record of that system. And that is why Cameron will not debate with the First Minister, because he does not want this to be Westminster’s record of governance being put on public trial – especially if this starts to show others in the UK that the independence debate is not about ‘anti-Englishness’ at all, but about a problem of government that many of them will all too readily recognise.

Contrary to what he has publicly stated, David Cameron is very obviously very directly involved in the Referendum debate. What he doesn’t want, is to be accountable for that involvement.

 

“When a political system has alienated you and the people around you so thoroughly and for so long, wanting to rip it up and start again is a perfectly reasonable response.” (Kieran Hurley, Playwright)

The Pitiless Storm and the Unequal Union

In ‘The Pitiless Storm’, one of the highest profile Referendum shows in this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, David Hayman portrays a trade union leader on the eve of accepting an OBE. In composing his speech, he is caught between the critical gaze of his memories of his father, his 17 year old idealist self, and his departed ex-wife’s abandonment of New Labour in the wake of the February 2003 80, 000 anti Iraq war march in Glasgow. Cornered in the nexus of his founding principles, Hayman capitulates to the inevitable acceptance that Labour have abandoned their values, and for the hope of any social justice for his people, that he has to go against his traditional party’s line and vote Yes in the independence referendum. The transformation of the character is hardly a subtle metaphor: the character is committed to the Union and the ideal of the benefits that it should – yet has failed – to bring, and undergoes a Damascine conversion on the night before his Knighthood (which I think an OBE is?). Yet Hayman’s personal commitment to Radical Independence makes him eloquent in his embracing of the character in both aspects – as well as somewhat impatient with questioners during the informal post-production conversation that he conducts with his audience while sitting on the edge of the stage. Perhaps that is why Argyll Council appears to have been systematically suppressing advertising for Hayman’s one-man show, although it still seems a massive overreaction, that on balance is more likely to provoke a ‘Streisand Effect’ (where an attempt to suppress information actually has the reverse of the intended result) in response.

Labour’s underpinning argument for the Union – that of collectivising, of uniting together and sharing effort helps working people – although a fine principle – is not supported by the evidential experience. The idea that a million families with children were lifted out of poverty in the ten years following their 1997 election is somewhat shaky grounds for justification of maintaining the Union, following the consequences of the next 3 years of that same government.

One argument I see from ‘No’ advocates along the ‘stronger together’ thread, is that the United Kingdom is ‘greater than the sum of its parts’. Is it? Frankly, I’m not sure that currently it is equal to the sum of its parts, never mind greater than them. The majority of the UK is held back from fulfilling its potential as more is poured into the city state of London – London is probably fulfilling its potential, but the rest certainly is not. Much of that is due to simple realpolitik: the Westminster Government (whether acting in the EU or elsewhere) will understandably fight for the interests of the majority of their population – which is the south-east of England. Scotland’s different needs with regards to population dispersal, fishing and farming, re-industrialisation and immigration are often argued against because they simply do not suit the agenda of the rest of the country – indeed those needs are diametrically opposed with regard to reindustrialization and immigration.
We are told the Union is ‘the most successful union in history’ (although it is hardly that, given a fair chunk of it left in 1922 – essentially the state that went to war in 1914, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, no longer exists to commemorate that hundred year anniversary), but if the ‘No’ campaign is to be believed as sincere in making this statement, then it has a romanticised view of how well the Union has actually worked for Scotland: it hasn’t, and the centralisation in London noted by Vince Cable is also making it a bad experience for the NE of England (and frankly other parts of the UK) as well.

In economic terms, we regularly hear that Scotland has been financially supporting the Union (in the sense of putting far more in than it gets out) for 33 years. Business for Scotland has argued that this is likely to have gone on for much longer, the former civil servant John Jappy noted figures in 1968 (before the oil boom) that showed that Scotland was paying disproportionately more per head even then. This is supported by figures showing that in 1952-1953 Scotland paid 410 million in revenues, and received only 207 million back in expenditure. Even more damningly, government figures for income and expenditure from 1900-1922 (recorded in HJ Paton’s book The Claim of Scotland) show that Scotland was receiving between 21% and 40% of its taxes in expenditure (I’ve excluded 1914-1918 for obvious reasons). Records seem to have been stopped in 1922 at the time of Ireland’s departure, perhaps in some trepidation that these figures might fuel ideas that Scotland was getting a ‘raw deal’, and give them similar ideas about secession (a harbinger of McCrone, in some ways). We may be the wealthy cousin in terms of supporting the Union, but we have not had the economic benefits of the Union that the other two regions (SE England and London) have had that so fundamentally sponsor the Union – and in that sense we appear to have been very much left as the ‘poor relation’ in terms of what is received back.

And this lack of economic distribution has resulted in a lack of opportunity – which can be indicated quite effectively by looking at figures of population growth and emigration from Scotland (either to London or further afield):-
– Between the 1981 and 1991 censuses, over a quarter of a million Scots left Lanarkshire and the former Strathclyde region alone.
– Between 1971 and 2011, England’s population grew from 45.9 million to 53.0 million, whereas
Scotland’s rose from 5.2 million to 5.3 million. That is a contrast between 15.5% and 1.9% growth over 40 years;
– Going back further, between 1952 and 1965, 345,000 people left Scotland;
– From 1901 to 2001, England’s population increased by 60%, whereas Scotland’s increased by 10%.

Armed conflict, of course, will take a proportion of these figures – and others have argued elsewhere over (for example) the higher per capita cost to Scotland of the First World War (although 53 parishes in England and Wales had all their servicemen returned from this conflict, there were no such settlements in Scotland or Ireland that achieved this). Although a family tradition of military service is an important factor, one has to remember that families rarely opt for such careers, when there are other opportunities (such as agriculture) which would enable people to stay at home.

Beyond the lack of population growth, the statistic of 19% of the population of Scotland being in poverty (this should be the country with the 14th highest GDP per head in the world, remember), and the burgeoning of foodbanks after 307 years of Union, are also not great indicators that there has either been a Union dividend, or that we are indeed ‘in it together’. In Westminster, the Labour Party failed to get a full turnout to pass their own motion to end the Bedroom Tax (the absentees would have been enough to secure the vote), yet enthusiastically voted for a welfare cap. In addition, they have promised to go even further on welfare cuts than the current government – cuts with an implementation deadline of 2016, that the Child Poverty Action Group has said will push a further 100,000 children in Scotland directly into poverty by 2020, following the 30,000 children pushed into poverty in 2013 alone. In health terms, this is further reflected: in particular, the correlation between long-term Labour wards and low life expectancy in Glasgow is striking. Life expectancy for males in Glasgow’s East End is lower than some warzones (including the Gaza Strip): Labour may espouse that it cares about the worker in Grimsby as much as in Glasgow – but that doesn’t mean that they are going to do damn all for either of them.

This picture of a donor sector of the UK, that has suffered disproportionately as a result, becoming historically poorer than elsewhere in the UK, is not a pretty one: in particular, the squandering of oil resources (at the same time as the possible benefits to an independent Scotland were kept secret in the suppressed McCrone Report of 1975) means that the UK is one of only two oil-producing territories in the world NOT to form an Oil Fund. And this is not an exclusively one party problem: this fiscal recklessness has been repeated by Westminster governments of all colours, and is not simply the domain/devoir of Conservative or Labour Governments, but of Westminster governments as a whole. This has resulted (as the old joke goes) in Scotland being the only country in history to discover oil – and become poor.

“If you agree that society’s ills transcend borders – of course they do – then you should wish to eliminate the influence of these elites from as many people as quickly as possible. The fastest way to do that is to vote Yes. Voting Yes removes the Lords’ power over Scotland forever in one fell swoop, and sends the unmistakable message that we won’t tolerate such injustice any longer. We can stand as equals with our friends in England, Norway, Iceland, Ireland, and beyond, and start building not just a better country, but a better world. It will also be the biggest slap in the face the British establishment has ever faced; a wholesale rejection of austerity; a rejection of weapons of mass destruction and reckless environmental policy; a rejection of centralisation and neoliberalism. This majestic act of defiance could be just what the left in England, Wales and Northern Ireland needs. A single act of defiance can inspire revolutionary movements.” (Magnus Jamieson, National Collective)