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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Advertisements

Gordon Brown’s New Vow: It’s Double Plus Good…

In the wake of the recent scandals surrounding the sting on Conservative Malcolm Rifkind and Labour’s former Defense Secretary Jack Straw, attention has once again focused on MPs’ incomes. Not overblown expenses claims this time (we dealt with Jim Murphy’s remarkable £1 million expenses achievement the other day in Murphy Madonna: Reinvent yourself until you fall on you’re a**e), or cash for questions. No, this time it is in connection with Rifkind’s comments about how much time he has to spend doing crosswords because he has so little to do as an MP – therefore it is quite legitimate to take on a couple of other ‘outside jobs’ (let us leave to one side the possibility that they may or may not compromise your role as an MP…that is another issue). This caused some press interest in what other MPs did as far as ‘pin money’ – George Galloway, the MP for Bradford West, is number three in the hit parade, with not just his £67K salary, but a grand total of £265,350 over 18 months for outside work. But way up there at the top of the pops, was Gordon Brown, the outgoing MP for Kirkcaldy, with £962,516. He set up a private company as a pseudo-charity, but only £1 million of the £3.6 million has actually made it to its charitable destination. The rest? Well, half a million a year is set aside for tax-free expenses for him and his wife Sarah.

But hasn’t this minister’s son described himself (some time ago) as a former politician? Well, in some ways you could argue so: he was present for only 7% of the votes in the Commons last year – and before you question whether or not that is normal for that slack bunch, the attendance at votes for the rest of the members of the House averaged 74%.

Gordon Brown has become a byword for Labour making promises it has neither the intention nor the ability to keep. Last year he waded in as a backbencher opposition MP, pretending to speak for the coalition government – a situation that (agreed in advance with Cameron) was so laughable, that Cameron must have been hardly able to control his voice during the conversation, let alone believe his luck. “You are going to act as the PR representative for the three Westminster leaders, who will digitally provide their signatures for some vacuous piece of paper – and you are going to tell the Scots that it represents Keir Hardie’s Home Rule dream??? Sure, Gordon – I just sent the e-mail with the signature attachment, knock yourself out…yes, I’m sure it will facilitate your entry to the Lords, and I’ll see if I can have a word with the CIA about those unfortunate Iraq e-mails…”

Brown set up ‘The Vow’, stating that the Scottish Parliament would be given extensive new powers, and be made permanent. Within minutes of the result of the Referendum being declared, Cameron was at the microphone in front of 10 Downing Street declaring that English Votes for English Laws was now on. Cue Gordon bleating with disbelief that it was ‘a Tory trap’ – yes, Gordon, one that you set up all by yourself, because you are THE Gordon Brown, who has the ego to believe he could go on a rock star tour as extensive as Nicola Sturgeon…. In July 1978 Jilted John presciently sang ‘Gordon is a Moron’, and truly, the gullibility of Labour in not seeing that this was going to be the outcome (EVEL was predicted as the consequences of a ‘no’ vote for months before the Referendum date by many ‘Yes’ websites), is breathtaking.

Gordon’s extensive powers were filleted down by the Smith Commission, before being gutted of welfare control by Ian Duncan Smith at the eleventh hour, and then watered down to a homeopathic extent by a Commons command paper that offered…..the ability to alter speed limit signage on roads. And what was hilarious was seeing Gordon joining the usual suspects of Danny Alexander and Alistair Carmichael in the chorus of ‘that will be the Vow delivered in full, then!!’ Extensive powers indeed, Gordon – and his wee plan for permanence for Holyrood? That only took Alistair Carmichael to knock it on the head, rejecting a proposed effective safeguard to prevent dissolution of the Scottish Parliament by requiring a super-majority of two thirds in Commons, Lords and Holyrood.

But, you see, Gordon is their go-to, emergency, break the glass, ‘aw naw wir stuffed anyway’, guy – how many times does he paradoxically get press headlines as ‘Labour’s Secret Weapon’ in whatever political campaign is floundering? So when Jim Murphy’s failure to reignite Labour poll support in Scotland started perplexing them, back they went to Gordon, who – despite saying ‘The Vow’ was such an ace deal, and honest, they really delivered it – now had to offer ‘The Vow Plus’.

It is so hard to take seriously. Not only with (noted ‘No’ campaigner) Professor Adam Tomkins pointing out that ‘The Vow Plus’ is Labour’s 5th position on devolution since 2010, but also because it sounds like something from the Trey Parker & Matt Stone film ‘Team America, World Police’: “why…that’s like 9-11….times 34 and a half.” And yet game old Gordon comes out, prepared to spout anything. This last week he was out on the campaign trail again, promising to disburse £800 million wealth (again from the infinite number of mansions down south that are waiting to offer up money to Scotland, apparently….) from a budget that is already fixed for the coming year so cannot be altered. As Paul Kavanagh pointed out, if Jim Murphy was promising £1 billion to Scotland from the same source the week before, then where did the other 20% go – Gordon’s speaking tour fees, for getting him to come out on the road one last time?

Perhaps it is worth taking a few moments to consider the realities of the ‘Mansion Tax’, and why so many people in London get upset at the idea of Scots getting any money from it. The so-called Mansion Tax is a tax based on properties valued at over £2 million. There are 895 of these in Scotland. But there are 85,461 of them in London – out of an estimated UK total of 108,477. In fact, over 78% of the liable UK properties for this tax – calculated to yield £1.2 billion – comes from London, giving some credence to Diane Abbott MP’s criticism that this is a tax on London. Jim and Gordon are not the only ones to promise the Earth on this tax: Andy Burnham has also promised to spend £2.5 billion from it on the NHS in England and Wales, to recruit 20,000 more nurses and 8,000 more GPs, so that appointments can be guaranteed within 48 hours. Mansion Tax or mythical horn of plenty? Maybe a bit of both….

But politics is a cruel arena – the same week that Gordon Brown’s last constituency campaign (to save the Tescos in Kirkcaldy) ended in failure, research was being produced to say that actually his efforts with ‘The Vow’ were irrelevant. The Adam Smith professor at Glasgow University attempted to assess the impact of ‘The Vow’ on voting intentions…using Google Search data. Unsurprisingly, this has been criticised as a somewhat ‘flawed methodology’. A survey released by the Centre for Constitutional Change purported to show that only 3.4% of ‘No’ voters voted that way because they wanted extra powers for Scotland, therefore dismisses the impact of ‘The Vow’ in those last hours – other answers in that survey were that just under a third of ‘No’ voters did so because they felt British, 28.5% said too many unanswered questions, 26.3% believed independence would make Scotland worse off, 5.3% wanted to vote Yes but it seemed too risky, 5.2% didn’t trust ‘that Alex Salmond’.

But don’t worry, Gordon – your reputation for delivering the electorate on the back of a donkey called ‘The Vow’ can be saved…thanks – perhaps appropriately – to a Tory peer of the realm. On the night of the vote, Lord Ashcroft conducted an extensive post-referendum poll, where 25% of ‘No’ voters gave their most important reason for voting ‘No’ was that a ‘No’ vote would still secure extra powers for the Scottish Parliament, as enunciated in ‘The Vow’. It is important to notice that this was done at the time of the vote, and before the result was known – and not after the months of media coverage that watched the material substance of Gordon’s Vow fall apart. How happy would you be to admit to it, if you had been tempted from ‘Yes’ to ‘No’ at the last minute by the promise of more powers, and then realised you had been taken for a mug – just like those irritating ‘Yes’ campaigners said you would be at the time? Perhaps being a fresher recollection – and less subject to repenting at leisure – this is the survey that more attention should be paid to…rather than HangOver Nos, slowly going into denial.

Even Peter Kellner, the President of YouGov, acknowledged that ‘The Vow’ was pivotal, in a January article where he scolded the Conservative Government for its panic in the last week of the Referendum campaign: “our poll [Yes 51, No 49] led to panic, the panic led to the Vow, and the Vow led to the SNP’s biggest ever boost”. The Vow DID matter, not just because of Kellner, or Ashcroft’s recognition – or even because that is how we who were there experienced it in that last week. Ashcroft saying it was the main reason for 25% of people voting ‘No’ of course does not take into account where it might have been a contributory factor for other voters. As Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp of Business for Scotland notes from YouGov polls, “This means it created the single largest weekly fluctuation in the campaign, stopping the Yes momentum dead in the last week, and suggests that without it the result would have been even closer.”

Dr. W. Elliot Bulmer, author of ‘A Model Constitution for Scotland: Making Democracy work in an Independent State’ (2011) and ‘A Constitution for the Common Good: Strengthening Scottish Democracy after 2014’ (2014), notes the direct impact of ‘The Vow’ – much as with Peter Carty [see Beyond ‘Conditional No’s: The Ongoing Political Uncertainty of What the ‘No’ Vote Actually Meant…]: “The referendum was emphatically not, however, an endorsement of the Union as currently constituted. Scotland was asked to give the Union a second chance. We were told it would change, that it would become what it had always pretended to be – a family of nations based on equality and mutuality.”

It is important to recognise why unrepresentative research might be pushed at this time, and other conclusions conveniently ignored – that that there are strong political motivations for people to argue that ‘The Vow’ did not make a difference, specifically in the run-up to this General Election. Destroying the argument for more powers, say Labour, will stop what is keeping the SNP high – and if you produce research that says that ‘The Vow’ did not make a difference, then ‘weaponise’ more powers with fear so that people start to be afraid of what might happen, then not only are you clearly not under any obligation to deliver those much-promised powers – in fact, you will be ‘doing them a favour’ by not delivering them. More powers is NOT about the Conservative doctrine of fiscal accountability, although, of course, that accountability comes along with them, but the important thing is that is not WHY they are needed: economy-growing and job-creating powers are needed because of Westminster’s abject negligence in management, that has Scotland paying so heavily every year to service Westminster’s debts for services that Scotland does not benefit from.

So yes – Gordon is still in the frame for delivering that ‘No’ vote. And those early days when – even against the backdrop of the rise of the SNP and the decline of Labour – he was still regarded as having done good things as leader of moves to ensure the UK leaders’ promises on devolved powers were kept…those days are gone. From an enclave of his being one of 4 Labour seats projected to survive the coming SNP onslaught next month, Lord Ashcroft has now polled his constituency to find a 28 point swing to the SNP from Labour in Kirkcaldy, the largest swing in any constituency that Ashcroft has polled, for it to prospectively change colour with much of the rest of the map of Scotland.

I wonder what it is like being Gordon Brown, staring at the mirror in the morning – or perhaps as the light fades and he prepares for bed at night. ‘Why did I believe Tony over that deal in the café? Doh! Why did I say as Chancellor I had ended ‘boom and bust’? Doh! Why did I support the war in Iraq? Doh! Why did I sell the state’s gilts off cheap, and rob national pension funds? Dohdoh! Why did I say I was going to deliver Keir Hardie’s ‘home rule’? Doh! Why did I think I could make a commitment for a government that I wasn’t even part of? Doh! Why have my repeated failures led to the death of the Labour Party in Scotland?’ For the price of Brown’s complicity (if not that of the rest of the Labour Party during the Referendum campaign, as often speculated in the press) may now be virtual extinction in Scotland for his party. The latest YouGov poll that gave the SNP a record 49% high in voting intentions for Westminster, also indicated that 41% of Labour 2010 voters (approximately 400,000 voters) plan to vote SNP next month – and 71% of those same former Labour voters think Nicola Sturgeon is doing a good job as First Minister.

So, given the consequences of his intervention for his party, how will Gordon intervene one last time to save the Labour Party in Scotland? A new Vow perhaps? Perhaps just to shut up? Because a vow of silence might just be ‘The Vow Double Plus Good’ that we have been looking for him to make….

 

“I have spoken to firm no voters across the party political spectrum, from my own constituents to prominent Scots elsewhere, and there is no doubt in my mind that if this parliament kicks the vow beyond the next election, and therefore into the long grass, it will be Labour – not the Conservatives – that will be held responsible. Such a failure to legislate would be a moral hazard of such a scale as to confirm, even to many unionists, that the UK government has indeed become corrupted, and that the referendum was won on a lie.” (Eric Joyce, Labour MP, 22/9/2014)

(Still) Living in Interesting Times: Reinventing 2014 And All That?

I have taken some unintended time out since the last post – a couple of writing deadlines that got in the way while I was stuck out in China, and only really getting my head back above water now I am back in Scotland, at the time of the Chinese New Year.

This means that I will have missed both new year in Scotland and in China, which was not exactly my intention. The truth is, that when I was planning my 2014, I had not intended to be in China for Xmas. As with many – although not in any way regarding a Yes victory as a foregone conclusion – I had thought about the sort of Hogmanay that we would have had as one huge ‘New Yes 2015’ party, ringing out joyously across a land set for a new beginning. When the result came in, it was clear that not only was that not going to happen, but the reality of the poverty of the smaller regular celebrations in contrast to what could have been, would be a somewhat sad celebration to witness.

My friend Antonio stopped me with a grin as I was in mid-flow in Kunming at the start of February, trying to explain something to him about new year in Scotland: “Hey, Man – c’mon – you guys voted to be English, remember?” I hesitate, then grin back – it is hard not to agree with his perspective. It reminded me of my friend, who joined the SNP after the Referendum, as the only party with any chance of making a real difference: ‘I was there the day the strength of Albannach failed…’, he proclaimed on the 19th. (As a scientist, he has since left the SNP because of the issue of creationism teaching.)

That said, although the days of the festive season passed fairly anonymously in China, it was not entirely possible to avoid the reality of what was happening in the outside world. The shops more and more gear up for Xmas, just like any western city, and for two weeks beforehand, the university where I work was playing an arrangement of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ on the tannoy. Naturally, they knew nothing of the roots of the music – ‘it is Scottish? We know the title as something like ‘The Snowflower’….’. Well, I guess Scots was never going to be that easy to translate into Mandarin.

The traditional New Year question holds true, in any language: what, if anything, has changed, as 2014 recedes? Where do we stand now in this Year of the Goat or the Sheep (depending which region of China you are in)?

There were many ‘Review of the Year’ articles that I looked over at the end of 2014, that attempted as usual to answer just that question, all of which had some degree of resonance to them. But the most striking for me was a short paragraph by Stuart Campbell – still the press’s favourite ‘demon of choice’ in the absence of Alex Salmond – which I reproduce in full as my ‘quote du jour’ below: “As far as the wider goal of independence goes, we’re persuaded by the argument that Yes had to lose this time round.” Whoa. Really? The ‘Great Satan of Unionism’ says that?

The ‘need to lose’ seems a harsh conclusion from Campbell…were we the example to the others who come after our own struggle – so that they could see how we were bullied and lied to, as a warning that they might experience the same if they foolishly trusted their establishment governments? I would like to think that our example has thus encouraged the vote for Syriza, maybe even boosted Podemos support, through our sacrifice – going first, like the elder sibling, to endure the worst travails, so that the younger siblings can follow them in an easier trodden path.

That doesn’t mean that I would not prefer that we had reaped the rewards of that struggle ourselves, rather than merely serving as a cautionary tale to others.

I am not denying that I can see some benefits to the movement for Scottish self-determination in losing – as predicted, ‘Yes’ turned into the smug movement of ‘I told you so’ (The Party of I Told You So, or ‘Too Late to the Party’), as the Smith Commission unveiled its feeble offerings, with the usual suspects being pushed into the limelight to assert that the Vow had been delivered, and that being able to redesign the speed limit signs on Scottish roads had been EXACTLY the sort of sweeping new powers that the majority of the electorate had been seeking.

The wake of the result has of course seen SNP support (for both parliaments) and membership rise to fever-dream levels, with a combination of Yes voters becoming politicised into traditional activism, and I suspect more than a few Hangover and Conditional No voters becoming annoyed that they were so arrogantly and blatantly deceived. (Well, we did warn you…) This means that the base of agreement for independence has risen, with support for independence polling at its largest levels ever (up to 60%) – I am aware of course that people feel comfortable saying that now, when there is no threat of another Referendum, but bear in mind that is also true for the vast majority of the figures on support for independence going back to 1978 with IPSOS-MORI, so these numbers today are still perfectly valid and comparable.

In contrast, if we had scraped a win, the communications that have surfaced since the end of the campaign from Whitehall about Scottish independence not being allowed regardless of the result, play to the paranoid conspiracist in me – that we would not have been permitted, despite the vote, to achieve statehood. The oil prices (regardless of how irrelevant they are, as a mere sweetener to the Scottish economy that makes it healthier than the UK’s, and as something that could well have recovered by March 2016) would have been an excellent basis for a black media campaign – yup, even worse than the last one – designed to destabilise the Scottish Government. And if all else failed, and opinion polls started to see a waivering in public support…well, did we just avoid a repeat of January 1919, when the Westminster government sent in tanks to Glasgow and closed the local barracks?

Yeah, I know – hysteria on a par with ‘but you CAN’T have the pound!!’ – but as we appear to be such an invaluable resource, and Britain has a (contemporary) habit of sending in armies to countries with oil, I do not think that the scenario is too unthinkable, even (or especially) in this day and age.

I remember grimly deciding a few months before the vote that we would need a win of at least 5% – knowing the media odds were stacked against us, we could have added an effective additional 5-10% on to our ‘natural’ support base, once the propaganda campaign stopped after the vote. Except, of course – as we have seen – the propaganda would not have stopped – it would just have stepped up. Uncertain people would have had barrel loads of anxiety heaped upon them – they would have felt that ‘Yes’ had strongarmed the nation into a decision before it was ‘really’ ready to do so, and agree to any policy from Westminster that would have headed off the responsibility of independence. As Eddi Reader pointed out, everybody has to make their own journey themselves to get to the conclusion that self-determination will be what makes the difference.

I am always wary of reinvention – sometimes that psychological need to reprocess and represent seems more like pathological denial, a form of callus to grow over an open wound: your heart may be broken, and your mind is thrashing around, desperately trying to find factors about which it can say ‘ah, y’know? We’d never have worked out anyway…’ Sometimes it is too easy to give in to that as a justification for failure – to persuade yourself that you never really wanted to succeed in that after all – and you just had a narrow escape. The thing that makes me fear that I am doing that, is that I am unsure that we will ever be ‘permitted’ a second referendum – and that was almost certainly our one chance (which we were never supposed to have in the first place)…so subsequently building voter support in such a scenario becomes meaningless. Were we politically educated enough before as a people to see through the transparent fiction of the Vow? Is that embittering experience what it takes to build the consensual move forward towards a new Scotland – the recent memory of being blatantly lied to like children? Perhaps…and to an extent, I hope that that is really the case, as it is hard to otherwise find a silver lining from the cloud of September 19th.

So, ‘Kung hei fat choi’ – and we continue to live in ‘Interesting Times’. I myself am somewhat comforted by the words of one correspondent: “It will all be OK in the end. If it’s not OK it’s not the end.”

 

“As far as the wider goal of independence goes, we’re persuaded by the argument that Yes had to lose this time round. A 51% victory followed by the collapse in the oil price – irrelevant as it actually is, as the factors causing it won’t be applicable by the time Scotland would actually have been independent – would have unleashed unholy chaos and the prospect of some truly dark events. As it stands, things are set fair for the subject to be revisited sooner than anyone would have thought this time last year.” (Rev Stuart Campbell, 31/12/2014)

Powering Down the Parliament?: Putting on a Brave Face in the Wake of Smith

It is said that if Scotland had declared for independence, it would have done so as the only country in the world that derives more than 50% of its energy from renewables. Last month, wind turbines in Scotland produced 107% of the electricity required to power all the homes in Scotland. Therefore it comes as no surprise that – to make a crassly obvious link – there has been a large quantity of hot air billowing backwards and forwards regarding the wake of the Smith Report in the last week, and some of its consequences.

The union parties obligingly stood in line to hit all the buzzwords for the press, in yet another attempt to look like the winners of the Referendum that they supposedly were: most of these buzzwords were clearly designed for use on people who did not know what they meant. Otherwise, it could be said that Charles Kennedy and Michael Moore had no clue what they were saying when they described Smith’s proposals as ‘tantamount to Home Rule’. Ah, yes…that great Liberal aspiration. Although it becomes hard to imagine that control of raising such a modest proportion of income tax and the ability to change speed limits and road signs was quite what the great Liberal minds of former ages were so dreamy-eyed about.

A ‘powerhouse parliament’ was Labour’s Ian Gray’s take on it – in contrast to Gordon ‘The Vow’ Brown’s description of the outcome as a “Tory trap” (and as he initiated this whole process, it is perhaps telling that that is his conclusion). Then Robert Smith himself (ex. Morgan Grenfell) mentioning in passing that yes, of course Holyrood could be taken out of existence at any time in the future by Westminster. So perhaps not the empowered, nearly DevoMax, embedding-it-as-a-permanent-fixture settlement that was advertised.

The Smith Commission’s outcomes are far less about delivering change to the Scottish Parliament, than they are about helping the parties suffering in the wake of the Referendum to be able to pretend (in the run-up to the very near General Election) that they have achieved something positive by thwarting independence. The LibDems and Labour once more have common cause – now to attempt to spin the Smith recommendations into a hard-fought win, in the face of polling that darkly predicts their near-annihilation in an apparent backlash against their Better Together complicity. If the LibDems want to have more than the predicted Orkneys and Shetland, and Labour want to avoid the doom-laden halving of their representation of Scottish MPs (especially when Labour as a whole look to be struggling to get a majority for Westminster next year), then they have to try and make noises as though they have achieved a great victory…despite the difficulties in making Smith look or sound like a powerful set of proposals (having been heavily watered down by the Cabinet in London already, in terms of the varying of Universal Credit already having been vetoed, for example). And those parties know that they have to make those noises NOW – because those proposals are likely to get severely mauled and stripped down even further as they encounter hostile opposition in both Houses. For the purposes of Labour and the LibDems – arguably the two biggest losers from the Referendum process – it is vital that they can stand in front of cameras and be able to say (preferably with a straight face) that ‘successful delivery of The Vow has occurred’, whilst knowing that they are facing the prospect of severe electoral losses. It is their only chance of survival in Scotland.

In a sense, Smith is designed as a winding up of ‘the Scottish Question’, so that everyone can happily return to General Election mode – filler to some, a bridge between political events to others.

It also – Labour hopes – gives soft Yes-voting traditional Labour supporters enough of a sop for them to return to supporting the Party in May. In this way, we can view the Smith Report as something that is aimed (or is being aimed) very much at the Labour voters that defected (for it certainly was not aimed at the Labour Party, who have widely moaned about some of the outcomes, including the devolution of even a small portion of income tax, and air passenger duty), in the hope of winning them back, as well as reassuring ‘Hangover Nos’ or even some ‘Conditional Nos’.

It is unlikely that some of the more apocalyptic predictions for Labour will come to pass, in terms of the SNP taking 40 seats in the House of Commons. But Labour have been damaged by their willingness to stand on a Conservative-sponsored platform, spouting a message that came across as very far from a positive vision of why Scotland should remain in the Union. I listened to Stephen Purcell over the weekend, as he made the point that Labour’s demographic was aging in Scotland – and the last party that that happened to in Scotland was the Conservatives in the sixties and seventies. If they continue to be bound to London, Labour – like the Conservatives – will grow increasingly irrelevant to Scots, and their core base will continue to shrink with the passing years.

If the Labour Party wants to have a serious presence in Westminster from Scotland, then they have to do more than chant ‘The Vow Honoured’ as they praise the Emperor’s dazzling New Tax Powers. And they cannot rely on the old lie of ‘Vote SNP, Get Conservative Government’: given their recent activities, the quite legitimate reply would come back ‘Vote Labour, Get Red Tories’.

 

“The Smith process is purely about politics – the Smith process is nothing to do with governance.” (Peter Arnott)

The Bran Seer at the Sunday Herald: A Thousand Days of Yes?

I admit that it is a difficult time for me: I have to get my attention back to my work, and away from referendum-related issues – and yet the vibrancy of the Referendum 6 weeks on just keeps building, in a way that makes it very hard to walk away from: as someone put it, you would think that Yes had won, especially given the week we have just had.

Ok, the Sunday Herald did not have to have the Bran Seer working for them in order for them to put out last week’s front page of ‘Lamont in Freefall’ in order to see that one coming. Perhaps that image was only emphasised to Johann with the Google Executive’s free jump from space this week, achieving 822 miles per hour during his freefall of almost 26 miles. Has Labour in Scotland deployed the chutes yet? Or is it still in gravitational denial as it heads towards the ground in May next year? I guess that comes down to their prospective leader choice – and from their supposed shortlist, it looks like a masterstroke, with central office going for a Westminster Labour MP (perm one from Murphy, Sarwar and Brown) to lead Scottish Labour, just after their leader has resigned over too much London control of Labour in Scotland. (Good luck selling that one on the doorsteps, guys.)

Certainly Johann’s sonic boom on Friday evening was heard in Westminster and Holyrood very clearly indeed, and the usual frenzy of Labour leaks as the Special Advisors brief and counter-brief against each other’s candidates for the coming leadership contest ensued. Leak: Margaret Curran briefed against Johann, as one of her oldest friends for decades. Counter-leak: Miliband told Johann not to say anything against the Bedroom Tax while he ‘had a bit of a think’ about it (for a year). McConnell and McLeish, both generating column inches last weekend for the woeful condition of Scottish Labour and its lost direction, were back out again this weekend, in the wake of Johann’s resignation, criticising the failure of London to respect Labour’s autonomy in Scotland. Sarwar is an intellectual lightweight and stupid, so not really a threat of any kind as a leader, except to himself. Murphy is aggressive and bullying and I would think that he would have the instinct to try and poison the Scottish political scene with his attitude, which might make it a more comfortable playing field for him. Brown is a slightly unknown quantity – he may have the highest trust ratings of anyone in Labour in Scotland right now, but whether people will see him as egotistical, arrogant and someone who blocked Scotland’s future for reasons of utter personal conceit by the time of next year’s general election, is another matter. He was hugely unpopular in Scotland by the time he left office (Iraq being the biggest slap in the face to Labour’s core supporters, with their membership now rumoured to be down to 8,000), which was one of the reasons that Labour support dropped the following year for the Holyrood election – he may well have done enough in the last months to ‘rehabilitate’ himself in the eyes of enough of the Labour electorate…especially those ‘Hangover Nos’ who wondered if they had done the right thing with a No vote, the morning after.

Elsewhere, I was reminded of the fabulous Dateline Scotland’s item with Briony Laing reporting on the ‘Nuclear Submariners for Yes’ group launch ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ee0VUW1laRo ) saying that nuclear weapons kept the world safe, therefore the west coast of Scotland was the safest place in the UK. And yet – less satirically – the Sunday Herald reports this morning that Faslane has apparently had 316 ‘nuclear safety events’ in the last 5 years, making it sound as though there is plenty of scope for nuclear disaster around Coulport, without the need for the base to sustain a direct attack.

And then there was the EU story of the week, which had Nigel Farage so relaxed in Andrew Neil’s BBC studio a week before the Rochester by-election, that he did not even have to smile. (Well…not much.) It seems that Barroso had a final kiss goodbye for David Cameron, as a consequence of the Prime Minister not backing his candidacy for NATO Secretary-General (in spite of Barroso happily coming on the Andrew Marr show to declare that Scotland would be in the same position as Kosovo when it came to being a member state of the EU, as part of his side of the bargain – a shame did not quite deliver his side). Firstly, he rubbished the idea that the free movement of people could be abandoned as a UK exception in the EU, and then left behind a 1.7 billion pound bill for Osborne to stump up, as part of backdated dues (apparently a consequence of the UK’s burgeoning black market including prostitution – who knew it was doing more to make the economy recover than the housing bubble?). It is of course a gift to UKIP – Farage said that he was fairly confident about winning Rochester before this announcement came out, but clearly sitting next to Andrew Neil he is way beyond that position now.

Whether that is a bad thing for the Prime Minister or not is arguable. UKIP drives the electorate’s agenda further to the right, making Labour look even more desperate to catch-up, at a time when they are looking to be yet again failing to find the plot in Scotland. If Labour is weakened, Cameron’s chances of retaining the reins of power (whether in a coalition or not) look even more convincing, and stapling ‘extended devolution’ on to the back of English votes for English laws (the hilariously abbreviated EVEL – if only he was a doctor…) again looks like reducing the number of MPs in Westminster from Scotland that he would have to contend with. But I do get the feeling that as much as he might gain support from the electorate by posturing as the defender of ‘Little England’ against those Bad Foreign People on the continent, that this whole charade might be starting to get away from him a little bit. If he is not writing the script, and control is elsewhere, then it becomes highly risky to hold that referendum on EU in/out – as much as you can phrase the question in such a way that people would vote to stay in the EU, if you make it a fast and thoughtless campaign, then that syntax just might not have enough attention paid to it, and accidentally deliver an Out vote: Farage a week ago was saying a condition of his support for the Conservatives in May would be a referendum in July – a snap poll, effectively, and in such contrast to a considered decision. Operate on that timescale, and you can poll for a knee-jerk reaction that stops the question becoming ‘fogged’ by such tiny details as economic collapse if the UK leaves the EU.

Which brings me back to my problems with this blog. I had been thinking about slowing it up, as I said, as it is a little difficult right now to get the time to consume the amount of output necessary for these words (believe it or not, a modicum of research does go into it…). In the context of the 3 year timetable until the next independence referendum (i.e. following the previously-expected timetable with a 2017 EU referendum), I had thought of renaming the blog as ‘A Thousand Days of Yes’ – a bit Arabian Nights, but then, that was hardly a failure on the bestseller list, so steal from the best, I thought.

But now I find myself wondering…is it really a thousand days to go? If Farage gets his July honeymoon wish, it could be an awful lot sooner than that.

So. Should I give up the blog, Dennis?

 

“Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation” (Dennis Beynon Lee, Canadian Poet)

 

Oh. Ok, then…