Race to the Bottom: Scarecrows, Straw Men and the Murder of Axmed Abuukar Sheekh

Last week was marked by the fallout from the Labour Party’s Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, use of a speech at a party conference to equate the movement for Scottish independence with racism, as well as the volatile comment pieces that sprang up as a result.  (See http://www.ericjoyce.co.uk/2017/03/the-claire-heuchan-episode-is-an-early-warning-to-independence-supporters/ for a timeline of the most significant contributions.) The resulting field of commentary resembles less one of battle, than one of agriculture, because it is so filled with ‘straw men’ that you cannot see the crops for the scarecrows.

The Mayor of London had been invited to speak at the Scottish Labour Party’s spring conference in Perth last Saturday, which was serving as a final rallying cry before May 2017’s Scottish council elections, in which Labour are expected to lose heavily (a projected drop of 12 points on 2012’s results, where they lost the popular vote to the SNP for the first time). Khan apparently penned his speech in conjunction with Anas Sarwar (former MP and deputy leader of Labour in Scotland – rumours were rife over that weekend that Khan was somewhat annoyed at Sarwar for messing up his pitch, perhaps as an attempt to break Khan’s erstwhile close relationship with Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon). Much of his oration was trailed in advance on the Friday in the Daily Record – an understandable preview platform, as it is the Scottish Labour Party’s pet tabloid (infamously responsible for the empty ‘Vow’ that swung the September 2014 Independence Referendum vote at the 11th hour), but it caused such a backlash that his speech as delivered the following day seemed to back off from the stridency of some of his more contentious statements as they had been promoted in print. “There’s no difference between those who try to divide us on the basis of whether we’re English or Scottish and those who try to divide us on the basis of our background, race or religion” had the caveats of “in this respect” and “of course I’m not saying the SNP are racist” inserted, to slightly distance himself from his own previewed text.

The take-home message from his speech was easy, his comments parsed down to the shorthand version of ‘if you vote for Scottish self-determination, then you are a racist – so stop supporting independence and back the Labour Party’…which unsurprisingly drew a somewhat negative response from the Yes movement: many of them were former Labour voters, and this strategy may not have been the wisest to ‘woo them back to the fold’ in advance of the May council elections. (People don’t like being called racists.)

In the immediate aftermath, with Khan’s speech doing more to damage his reputation than to encourage a resurgence for the ailing Labour Party, enter Claire Heuchan, a PhD student from Stirling University, who penned a comment piece for The Guardian newspaper, endorsing the interpretation that Scottish nationalism relied on ‘othering’ and issues of belonging:”both perspectives are reliant on a clear distinction being made between those who belong and those who are rejected on the basis of difference”. Inherent in Heuchan’s article is the assumption of a belief on the part of the Yes movement that Scottish society has somehow already achieved an egalitarian nirvana, which is a fallacy of presupposition, often presented as Scotland believing itself ‘racism-free’. This reminded me of my time as a student in Edinburgh in the 1980s, when a 28 year old Somali refugee student called Axmed Abuukar Sheekh was murdered in the Cowgate in Edinburgh on January 15th 1989 by a group of white youths. Firstly, it is depressing to recognise just how long the Somali refugee crisis has been ongoing. But beyond that, although there had been racist killings in Scotland before, this brutal act more than any other publicly killed the lie of Scotland being free of racist violence, and led to a coming together of a group of us, to form Edinburgh Students Against Racism. Our aims swiftly coalesced around a campaign to have the murder classified as racist: there was a determination on the side of the authorities not to prosecute it as a racist killing, in spite of correspondence composed by the suspect (while incarcerated) bearing National Front and swastika symbols…along with the Union Flag.

The association of the Union Flag with such sentiments should not come as any great surprise, even before the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox by Britain First supporter Thomas Mair last year – after all, it is unlikely that any country will grow to become a major imperial power if it is ‘burdened by inclusive attitudes’ – and the well-recorded support for racist groups in the UK (the British National Party, the KKK, the Orange Order, the English Defense League, the Scottish Defense League) for a ‘No’ vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum of September 2014 was emphatic. Beyond campaigning groups, this pattern was also reflected in the attitudes of those who actually voted. Last September, a YouGov poll correlated responses to questions about what people regarded as making someone ‘Scottish’ with their vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum: place of birth, parental heritage, where one grew up, time period of residency, even simple personal belief of ‘Scottishness’ were all assessed by the sample. In all categories (save for ‘two parents Scottish’), Yes voters were more receptive and welcoming to those who considered themselves to be Scottish – for whatever reason.

This was further supported by a Panelbase poll in February of this year, where a question was asked about the level of immigration: with Scotland having one of the lowest immigrant population shares in the First World (at less than 7%), it is not unreasonable to use this question as a proxy for racism. (People don’t tend to like being asked directly if they are racist.) The results were quite stark, with No voters, Leave voters and supporters of the two main unionist parties (Conservative and Labour) polling as significantly more racist than Yes voters, Remain voters and supporters of the LibDems and SNP. (Similarly, the over 55 part of those sampled, which famously voted ‘No’ in contrast to the younger demographics, also came out with more than 50% agreeing that there was ‘too much immigration’.)

Sadiq may have unwittingly stumbled into this, without realising it, but …the idea that Scottish independence is about anti-English racism is old and redundant: it is demonstrably not, and is very far away from that. Scottish self-determination has not been about ‘anti-Englishness’ for a very, very long time, and only a failure to conduct adequate research might lead him to say otherwise. Such a statement is at best lazy or ‘late to the party’, at worst deliberately provocative…and, indeed, an attempt at divisiveness.

With Sadiq’s apparent starting point intrinsically flawed regarding the Yes movement, the first Straw Man appears. Khan was fundamentally wrong about Scottish independence being about dividing Scots and English – apart from the fact that I can remember vocal English SNP members back in the 1980s, the self-determination movement exists because people who live in Scotland recognise that UK governments systematically and repeatedly fail, disparage and ignore them and their needs (simply look at the power structures involved). This has often been reflected by Westminster outrage when Scotland decides to similarly ignore the agents of those Westminster governments – and begins to vote en masse for an alternative. Straw Man #1 is the premise that ‘Scottish independence is about being anti-English’ – and one might surmise from Khan’s modifications on the day of his conference presentation that he had started to realise that this might not be a safe argument, and that he perhaps had to some degree been set up by his hosts as a comparatively uninformed stooge. But this is a standard British nationalist/unionist error, or trope, and I cannot help feel (having seen British nationalism unfold over many years) that the narrative that we hear from that side telling us that Scottish self-determination is identity politics, is simply because they cannot themselves imagine any other reason why someone would want to be independent from Britain (because, why else could you ever wish to leave such an oh-so-perfect union?) – except for despising the dominant and controlling nation of the UK.

But whereas Khan set the first hare running, the rest of the Straw Men from last week were planted by Claire Heuchan.

Claire presents Straw Man #2 by attacking the concept of  “a fairer Scotland”, a commonly cited aspiration for the Yes movement.  Through her myopic prism of ‘othering’, she can only interpret this as being a statement about being ‘fairer than England’ – the more obvious conclusion that the aspiration is for a Scotland fairer than it is just now, simply does not occur to her…or perhaps does not fit with her argument, as such an aspiration is not an unreasonable ambition for any country. (It seems too obvious to go into the idea that perhaps the current lack of fairness in our society might in some way at least in part be due to the actions of the controlling partner of the Union over the preceding 300 plus years – but I digress.)

Straw Man #3, however, may be the most offensive – that those who campaign for Scottish independence are white and therefore have never experienced racism. Putting aside the very clear racism deployed against Catholics in Scotland, as elaborated on by Paul Kavanagh (see https://weegingerdug.wordpress.com/2017/02/28/lets-talk-about-racism-in-scotland/), which affected a great deal of supporters of Scottish self-determination, that assertion is simply not true, either. It follows Heuchan’s wry yet smug (and more than a little patronising) comment that “there is a certain irony to white people with progressive politics rubbishing what an Asian man has to say about racism”.

When Heuchan’s opinion piece initially came out in The Guardian, I was shocked by the vociferous criticism it received by dignified and respected journalist Ian McWhirter as “pig ignorant…piss poor”. But having read – and reread – it, I began to understand why he reacted that way. From initially thinking that the writer was simply well-intentioned but hapless, I began to believe that her piece was fundamentally racist or discriminatory in and of itself. For a long time, Scots complaints against discrimination within the UK were dismissed – ‘it cannot be racist because you are not a race’ was the laughing response – and yet now we have the insinuation that as a group we can ourselves be racist to English people? One rule for one and another for another? Well, that would be consistent with our experience in the Union thus far, I guess…and the silencing of people in Scotland as ‘others’ who can have no legitimate reason for protest is furthermore extended within the accusation of Claire’s article: if you are white, you cannot contest this, because you lack a common frame of reference. (Again, Paul Kavanagh gives the lie to that observation in his blog referenced above on anti-Irish racism.) Maybe it was all just a light piece of PhD thesis task avoidance behaviour  by Claire, to troll using The Guardian and (as one observer put it) call the best part of 2 million Scots racist, then disappear off Twitter for 5 days – but she cannot expect to give her opinion without it going unchallenged. Playing the race card in this cynical way is nothing but an attempt to gain exceptionalism and exclusivity from criticism: the naivete of the statement “white SNP supporters and allies have never been subject to racism” is hackneyed and rings hollow. Heuchan listens only to her own prejudices, rather than objectively commenting on the Yes movement itself, and her remarkably thoughtless article has, however unwittingly, done more to silence discussion about racism in Scotland, than to enable a discussion about it – despite perhaps purporting to do exactly the reverse. But then, as we will see, enabling discussion and resolution may very well not be her demonstrable agenda behind writing the piece after all.

But before that, let us look at Straw Man #4, equating national self-determination – a movement for all who live in Scotland – as being one of exclusion (an argument that could only be made for a nationalist movement in a controlling position within an already existing state – which Scotland most certainly is not). Here, Claire goes beyond the ‘standard’ error of describing self-determination as an issue of identity: her contention of the ‘othering’ of difference is precariously and utterly reliant on being able to describe Scottish self-determination as being about identity in the first place. She expresses it in terms of the fear of differentiation as a means to argue against self-determination…but I cannot help wonder if she would have the same reservations when speaking to those in the United States, India and much of Africa about making the same decision to determine their own future and leave the rule of a government based in London. Surely she does not give legitimacy to one and not the other…because of skin colour, or religious differences? Or…does she think that the case for Scottish self-determination has some fundamental reason why it – as opposed to the many other self-determination movements that have led to the diminution of the British (and other) empires – lacks legitimacy? Why would it be so exceptional?

After Heuchan’s comment piece was published, her past tweets (as Sister Outrider) and the nature of her political activism began to emerge during the following days: not only had she been a ‘Better Together’ activist (you will see her at the very start of this BetterTogether advert https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxbAu3LphYM – as the first of ten ‘students and young people’), but also repeatedly using the phrase ‘British and Proud’ for her observations – including rebuffing an approach from the Afro-Caribbean community. This phrase is a somewhat typically British Nationalist mantra. Shortly after these tweets began to be publicised, Heuchan went off Twitter, citing abuse and threats.

As I have said, as much as I wanted to believe that Heuchan’s piece was well-intentioned, I came to wonder more and more about whether it was fundamentally racist in and of itself. Khan is no political novice, and definitely no backroom student keen to take part in activist videos – he is a clever and savvy politician, and had to be to get to the office of Mayor of London. As such, it is profoundly depressing to think of how much his remarks demonstrate his ignorance of broad discrimination – and how much it validates the perspective that the London commentariat really have neither the first clue about, nor any interest in, what happens in Scotland. To appropriate Theresa May’s terminology, he is only capable of understanding a simplistic “narrow idea of” racism, and struggles to imagine anything beyond that (in spite of the plethora of evidence to the contrary), revealing his dearth of understanding of discrimination where it is on a non-colour basis. To an extent, Sadiq Khan looks like he was simply used to deliver someone else’s message, and has come out of it looking a trifle gullible and more than a little foolish. In contrast, I cannot find Claire Heuchan to be such a victim: she very clearly appears to have intended to exploit Khan’s error in order to make political capital to further her ‘Better Together’ agenda.

Eric Joyce notes that Heuchan (as an apparently committed unionist) ignores any context of unionists ‘othering’ outsiders to give any comparisons (much as she woefully fails to present any substantive evidence or examples for her argument – which is somewhat concerning in a would-be academic). We have already looked at the statistics of voting patterns with regard to racism and immigration for both Scottish Independence Referendum and EU positions, to show that Yes and Remain were positions very much against ‘othering’, in stark contrast to those favouring BrExit and ‘No’. Even beyond that, taking the way the Scottish and the UK governments – symbolising the Yes and the unionist movements, respectively – approached the constituencies to which they put the questions in those two referenda is enlightening: the openness of the Scottish Independence Referendum (where the franchise was not determined by where you were born, but simply if you lived in Scotland, without question of time of residency), was without any question a far more inclusive stance than that taken for the EU referendum, where EU nationals were simply denied the vote. Evidence and polling data aplenty was available – but Heuchan was not making a critical analysis, solely wishing to focus on Scottish independence supporters, without context of their opponents, lest the Yes movement start to look a lot more pleasant in comparison.

At Edinburgh Students Against Racism, like most student groups, we had invited speakers. Local MP  Alistair Darling was (perhaps ironically, now) one, back in the day when he did not feel that he had to remove his beard if he wanted to rise to power and ermine. Another was the broadcaster Muriel Gray, who was then Rector of the University of Edinburgh, and she came to one of our early meetings. I remember one anecdote she related to us there, about riding the London Underground, watching a black man reading the Daily Express, and wanting to shake him and shout “why are you reading that, that paper HATES you!!”. Labour campaigned against Scottish self-determination on the basis of its xenophobic ‘fear of becoming foreigners’, with the inherent underlying exceptionalism that nothing could be worse than waking up one day and ‘not being British’. Since then they have emphatically endorsed immigration control, and echoed the most discriminatory policies of the Conservative government. Even the UK government’s approach to permanent residency applications comes across as significantly more discriminatory than most other EU member states: in Europe, under the same EU law, the UK government requires an 85 page form to be completed, at a cost of £65 for such an application – whereas in Germany, it is 2 pages for €8 and in Eire it is 5 pages and free. These barriers to migrants are all anathemas to Scotland, a country that is utterly dependent on increasing immigration in order to survive and thrive, and it makes me seriously question why Claire advocates a Union that speaks – not just through the rise of UKIP ‘values’ in the Conservative government, but also through a Labour opposition that comfortably embraces the terminology and tropes of ‘blood and soil nationalism’ – of foreigners in such negative terms. Her premise that Scottish self-determination is driven by ‘anti-Englishness’ may be delusional, but the UK Government and opposition seem to be remarkably at home with ‘othering’ – and perhaps that is worth her while reflecting a little more soberly on.

Within a couple of days of her comment piece being published in The Guardian, Robert Sommyne (a supporter of Scottish independence from a London Afro-Caribbean family) had responded to contradict her, using his experience with the Yes movement, and Claire Heuchan had left Twitter, citing online abuse. This posting is very deliberately not about abuse (which will be dealt with in another piece, as part of the new information-political landscape that we live in), and clearly deals with the assertions in the person’s writing, rather than criticism of the person themselves. Abuse should not be tolerated, and regardless of how insultingly your political movement may have been trolled in The Guardian to an audience of three quarters of a million people, it simply should not be done: any ad hominem comments or attacks simply look as though you cannot rebut the argument itself – so play the ball, not the player. But if you publish opinions and comments, you have to be prepared to be held to account for what you publish – someone studying for a PhD in particular should know that. Criticism of your published work is not abuse, and such not be conflated to be such – holding someone to account is not abuse – as Eric Joyce has noted, if you do genuinely suffer online abuse and threats, then that has no part in political debate, and you should report it to the police. As with the experience of the 2014 independence referendum, the Yes side is the only one which receives any scrutiny or examination – never the one representing the vested interests of the British establishment….and given Heuchan’s avowed unionist agenda, I would have been less bothered by her article if she or The Guardian had made it clear that her comment was coming from a far from neutral standpoint, but one with a very real axe to grind. But it was left for others to discover that through research, and to disseminate the hidden broader context of her opinions, and how her words played directly to her own very specific political agenda, rather than actually coming from a more balanced perspective, as they purported to.

As I have said, Scottish independence – in and of itself, by its very definition – relies on the idea of increasing immigration, as Scotland (inside or outside of the Union) will not survive and thrive without it. Indeed, the journalist Stephen Daisley once made a key distinction between the two ‘anti-establishment’ political parties at Westminster: “Reduced to its simplest terms, UKIP wants fewer people to be English while the SNP wants more people to be Scottish.” And yet somehow ‘anti-Englishness’ is bizarrely supposed to be the driver of the inclusive movement of Scottish self-determination. The audacity of taking a movement that demands higher levels of immigration and paradoxically trying to equate it with a “narrow nationalism” where there are those who belong and those who are rejected, is as bold as it is ludicrous. This is simply not the profile of a country that is ‘othering’. Scottish nationalism is described by its most poisonous critics as the “worst kind of nationalism”- one might ironically presume that this is because it welcomes immigrants, so does not really fit into the more common definitions of nationalism that the British state can more comfortably relate to. Therefore, in comparison with British nationalism, Scottish self-determination does not ‘tick the correct xenophobic boxes’. To use Claire’s own vocabulary, “purism” currently governs British identity, as evinced by ascendant politics in England, reinforced and ‘validated’ by the BrExit vote. “British and proud” is becoming less and less a phrase that one can utter without irony.

This incident may well be an early preview of how the next Scottish Independence Referendum will be fought: in the context of a likely wasteland where the UK is destroying its economy in parallel to ideological dismantling of the health service and the welfare state (which the Scottish government will not be able to stretch its budget to protect forever), thus undermining the previously-deployed empty arguments in the First Referendum about sticking with the UK for economic reasons, the fight to kill Scottish independence will have to move, to this time be an attempt to portray an anti-imperialist self-determination movement as nothing more than racism. This straw man in particular may be the first scarecrow of the new Project Fear. If that is how they want to win it, with all the implied damage that such a scorched earth policy will inflict, as a rerun of what Sadiq Khan himself described as the Leave campaign’s ‘Project Hate’, then that is a choice that shows how little they value the constituent parts of their “precious Union”. So be it – it avoids dealing with the issues, and the inherently difficult approach of making the mythical positive case for the Union, so one can see why it would attract a new ‘No’ campaign looking for a new bottle of snake oil in the bottom of its almost empty bag.

It is of course possible that Claire Heuchan stumbled unwittingly into this, not realising that she was effectively resurrecting this age-old refuted simplistic argument (although her previous activism for Better Together would lead me to question her veracity in that regard, if she were to make that argument…as does her selective deletion of over 16,000 tweets from her account before she came back online today), but regardless of that it is unlikely that the Yes movement is going to simply accept being tarnished as racists – and it is entirely unreasonable to expect them to do otherwise – as a way of trying to invalidate a movement for self-determination against a fundamentally imperial-style of control. Because it is anti-imperialism – not racism – that is closer to the character of Scottish self-determination.

In this light, it seems beyond credulity that Sadiq Khan – who warmly congratulated Pakistan and India on their independence days after his speech last week – could have come to Scotland and made such an ill-thought out comment on Scottish self-determination, and one cannot help but wonder how much he feels he was poorly-advised. Khan reportedly believes that nationalism as a concept is divisive by definition because it stresses differences, implies superiority and erects barriers to other people. I beg to suggest – and believe that the arguments above demonstrate – that the campaign for Scottish independence fulfils precisely none of these three criteria.

But British nationalism? Now that is a whole different story.

 

“It isn’t important where you come from, what matters is where we are going together as a nation.” (the late SNP MSP Bashir Ahmad (1940-2009) speaking in 1995)

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Ex-Pats and Outdated Perspectives: Banks instead of Tanks, and Propping Up Status Quos Worldwide?

The hot political topic for this weekend is of course the Greek referendum on whether or not to accept the latest terms for further international aid. No debt restructuring is on offer, so no hope of any improvement in the lives of Greeks (as the money will not go anywhere near them, merely to consolidate the profits of many French and German banks), simply more for them of the same pain from the last deal in 2010. Alex Andreou (http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/07/03/how-europe-played-greece) notes the statistics of that pain: “In the last five years, we have made adjustments which reduced a 15% deficit to zero, while the economy contracted by a quarter. Incomes fell by over a third. Pensions were slashed by 40%. 18,000 people are sleeping rough in Athens alone today. 11,000 are estimated to have committed suicide explicitly because of financial worries. The Church is raising thousands of children in orphanages. Almost a third of the population are living below the poverty line.” Of the £180 billion that has been lent to Greece, more than 90% was simply used to bail out international banks (predominantly French and German, which were heavily exposed) who should never have lent the money in the first place – yet another part of the global banking incompetence phenomenon that has become self-evident since 2008.

During the last couple of weeks, it has been difficult to avoid the conclusion that as soon as Greece agreed to one set of terms, the goalposts seemed to get moved again – that package conditions that were happily agreed to for other countries in the past were not being allowed for Greece. In these circumstances, it’s hard not to admire Alexis Tsipras – when faced with ultimata from Europe that seem designed to shift him each time further and further from his original electoral manifesto mandate, he has the courage of going to the country. And this does take courage – although SYRIZA holds 149 out of 300 parliamentary seats, it only received 36% of the vote. When you know that it is not a majority vote that elected you, and that people’s beliefs might be failing rather than hardening under the pressure and intransigence from international creditors, it takes courage to recognise that you still need to ask for a mandate from the people to go further – especially as some of his supporters in January felt that he had already gone too far in concessions to appease the ‘troika’ of the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank. 

People in Greece are dying as a result of debt repayment schedules designed entirely for creditors, and doing absolutely nothing to alleviate social and economic conditions brought on by the austerity that is not working (Greek debt relative to GDP has actually increased as a consequence of austerity). That is a good enough reason for Greece to vote No. But the recent games between the ECB and the IMF have shown that there seems to be a preparedness to externally provoke regime change – to behave like the USA and bring down a democratically-elected government that inconveniently puts the health and life of its people above external economic interests. On that basis alone, Greece should vote No, or they are agreeing that that kind of subjugation is legitimate, and that elected governments are a mere façade in front of corporate financial control. And you thought the Transatlantic Trade agreement (TTIP) was bad…

These European loan sharks gave out debts that they knew were unrepayable, and sat back to watch the money roll in as the country’s infrastructure began to collapse. And yes, a lot of this comes from the degree of US military presence in Greece, which traditionally will involve large sums of money in defense contract spending, and therefore encourages local governmental corruption (similarly, the UK government’s major international corruption scandal was over arms sales to Saudi Arabia, involving BAE). In that context, Europe’s priorities seem somewhat cynical, when they begin to make noises about hoping that the SYRIZA government will collapse as a result of this referendum. Andreou again: “Everyone agrees that corruption at the highest levels and chronic tax evasion were Greece‘s downfall. And yet, instead of cheering a government that, despite ideological differences, is prepared to tackle those things, they have employed any unconstitutional and undemocratic means necessary to overthrow it. They are actively trying to install a government formed of the very corrupt entities that stripped the country like locusts for four decades…A coup d’état in anything but name, using banks instead of tanks and a corrupt media as the occupiers’ broadcaster.” Well, that mention of a corrupt media certainly rings some familiar bells from the recent Scottish experience…

The Greeks were promised that they would be protected when forced to take out the loans in 2010, but they have now been abandoned by Europe – and even the IMF refuses to sanction another programme of cuts without debt restructuring, which the ECB is currently insisting on. And this is the IMF baulking – hardly an organisation with a great record on humanitarianism, as the famous resignation letter of Davison Budhoo (a senior economist with them for almost 12 years) recorded in May 1988: “Today I resigned from the staff of the International Monetary Fund after over 12 years, and after 1000 days of official fund work in the field, hawking your medicine and your bag of tricks to governments and to peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean and Africa. To me, resignation is a priceless liberation, for with it I have taken the first big step to that place where I may hope to wash my hands of what in my mind’s eye is the blood of millions of poor and starving peoples. Mr. Camdessus [IMF Managing Director], the blood is so much, you know, it runs in rivers. It dries up too; it cakes all over me; sometimes I feel that there is not enough soap in the whole world to cleanse me from the things that I did do in your name and in the name of your predecessors, and under your official seal.”

The current international aid offer to Greece will not solve anything, except further allow the European loan sharks to get fatter on their infinite loan repayment schedule. As Andreou says, this is “economic waterboarding being administered to a country on its knees”. Fundamentally, the people paying the price for this economic crisis are not the ones who caused the problem, and once again we have an example, as with the UK, of irresponsible banks escaping unpunished, and the poor of the country picking up their tab, while the country’s rich get richer. Where is the inspirational example of Iceland and its jailed bankers when we need more of it? 

But it was another aspect of the Greek story that spiked some resonant feelings in me this morning. Reuters reports many citizens are flying back to Greece for the vote on Sunday, supposedly mainly to vote Yes to accept the terms that will not (directly at least) affect them. This obviously has some parallels with the Referendum last year, where it was instead decided that it should only be residents in Scotland that had the vote. I had been working in China for a year, but ended up spending 8 months of 2014 in Edinburgh, so had no problem with my entitlement to exercise my franchise. Conversely (for example) the musician Fish argued that, as he had already planned to move to Germany with his wife, he (despite being a longstanding campaigner for Scottish independence) would not campaign for a Yes vote, as he felt it would be hypocritical if he knew that he would not be staying in Scotland to live with the consequences either way. In the Greek case, Reuters presented one management consultant from Singapore as an example of this phenomenon, with an understandable experience of reflecting on how many opportunities he had received because of being a part of the European Union, therefore Greece should vote Yes and remain within. My first reaction to this is ‘whoop-de-doo, lucky you’. My second is, doesn’t the fact that you are working abroad potentially give some indication that maybe there are not the opportunities at home that you might wish for?

People who leave their homes to work abroad often have little choice – in a way, it is a good metric of a lack of opportunities at home, and therefore a negative reflection of the opportunities that their country’s status quo has brought them. As much as we have a globalised economy and ability to move country to work is far greater than before, there is still that old chestnut of ‘you move city because you want a better job, you move country because you have no choice’. Just ask those refugees risking everything to try to get across the Mediterranean. Historically, Scotland’s diaspora has reflected this: my museum in Edinburgh notes in its displays that from the 1820s to the 1920s over 2 million Scots left for America, Australia etc (the ‘other’ colonies). That’s a pretty huge proportion, given the current population only hovers around 5 million. And that trend did not go away: in the 40 years from 1971 to 2011, the population of England went up 15.5% (7.1 million, from 45.9 million to 53.0 million), while Scotland’s rose by 1.9% (100,000, from 5.2 million to 5.3 million). In other words, in the last 40 years, England’s percentage population growth has been some eight times that of Scotland (and 71 times higher in numerical terms). I am unsure that many of those who formed part of Scotland’s haemorrhaging population (sufficient to almost eliminate population growth from birth) were doing it merely because they ‘fancied a bit of a change’.

So what of these people, flying back for a weekend to vote for the status quo, then return to their homes abroad comparatively devoid of the social collapse afflicting their fellow-citizens? This would be similar to people being able to fly back for the Referendum last September just to vote No. I recall colleagues who were polling station monitors that day, with stories of taxis drawing up, then asking ‘back to the airport now, then?’ after waiting for their customers to vote and return to the cab. Urban myths to a degree, perhaps – but a vote for maintaining the status quo – in both scenarios – seems to me ludicrously unfair. We are familiar with a lot of the London ‘celebScots’ (many on lucrative contracts with the BBC) that were wheeled out to advocate voting for the Union during the Referendum campaign, and – like our Singapore management consultant, you could see why: ‘This union’s worked out fine for me, so what’s the problem?’ No doubt if you got your opportunities elsewhere and were doing fine, thank you very much, then the point of change seems abstract, at best. Or perhaps this was also just them buying into the London-centred press narrative of stay-at-home Scots being ‘spongers and parasites’, rather than accepting the idea that just maybe London-rule might not be working out for those they left behind, in either Greece or Scotland?

It may seem gloriously hypocritical, but perhaps as ex-pats they should only be permitted to exercise their franchise if – despite having left, they recognise that things are not working back home. Where is the sense in voting for a status quo that compels you to leave your home? Are you simply voting for a more idyllic social political reality that you imagine you remember, but has in reality long since gone…if it was ever in fact there?

And back to the Greek referendum tomorrow. It is hard not to get a sense of outrage from European institutions that Greece dared to elect a party with such opposing views to their comfortable status quo – I find myself remembering the playwright Peter Arnott writing about the No campaign during the Referendum campaign in July last year: “The very core of the fear in ‘Project Fear’ is fear of English vengeance.  All the stuff about trade barriers and borders and passports and no one ever buying whisky again are predicated on the same thing: on the apparently inevitable consequence that they will hurt us if we dare. This expectation which informs all the dire prognostications of economic boycotts and general administrative bloody mindedness, even of proper fisticuffs over the assets – is based on an image of the English as petty, spiteful, nasty and vengeful. The No campaign seem certain that the majority stakeholders in the ‘greatest multinational family’ in history will react like vindictive children.” (http://peterarnott.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/why-dont-british-nationalists-like.html) So, similarly, recent behaviour seems to reflect on the perception of that other family of nations that welcomed Greece – as Andreou puts it: “ ‘Come be part of the European Family’, they said. Many are now realising that the family in question were The Borgias.

Which way should Greece vote, having come so far? I remember the irate London taxi driver shouting to Scotland on the day of Cameron’s speech imploring Scotland to stay…from London’s Olympic stadium (lots of ‘bad’ language, but watch to the end – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjbuTckpcDI): ‘Run for your lives’, he said. Given that this may have even more literal truth for the Greeks, I fervently hope that the people of Greece follow his advice better than we did in Scotland.

 

“The fundamental question at stake in the Greek election, and in the Scottish referendum, and in the rise of UKIP is actually exactly the same: who governs a country? Is it the people who live in it, or a government chosen by them, or is it an international elite of financial interests and the institutions which serve them?” (Jeremy Gilbert, Professor of Cultural and Political Theory at the University of East London)

Having a Say, and Eating It: Or, what I actually DID say before dessert at the dinner with ‘No’ advocates…(with grateful apologies to Peter Arnott)

“We should have a say, too.”

“Excuse me?”

I was having dinner at a Chinese restaurant (literal, rather than in Scotland) with two colleagues in May last year. They were both originally from the north of England, now at Oxford University, one freshly retired, the other a postdoc. One of them was very clearly an old-style Conservative, from the generation for whom the Labour Party being seen as capable of fiscally competent government was as ludicrous as the idea of Scotland becoming independent (and to be treated with as much light, patronising derision). In contrast to that, Johnny was a Labour supporter, and his opposition was knee-jerk and unthinking, paradoxically espousing ‘internationalism’ as though it were limited by national boundaries (which many others besides myself have dealt with elsewhere). That can sometimes be symptomatic of underlying (and probably unrecognised) British Nationalism.

I guess that it had all really started when he had tried to urge me that the only way to get rid of the Tories in Westminster was to vote Labour. ‘Really?’, I smiled: ‘where I come from, we call them Red Tories’. I admit that I may have then riled him when, after moving on to a doomed attempt to convince me that there was ‘no distinct political identity’ in Scotland (I cited polls on retaining the monarchy: Game Over), he expressed how appalled he was that the Referendum was even taking place.

‘And I think it’s so wrong that we don’t have a say in that decision’. I guess that my mistake was to be overwhelmed at the audacity of such a suggestion, and the blindness of arguing such a position without acknowledging its insincerity: given the vastly disproportionate numbers involved (and that any likely weighting system would have favoured the Westminster preference), their desire to ‘have a say’ equated to MAKING the decision themselves.

Johnny was hardly unique in his perspective, either. Five days before the Referendum, the Herald published a survey showing 70% of English voters opposed independence, and 56% of them felt that they should have a had a vote too. Let’s just leave aside the argument that the government dominantly run by those elected by those same English voters was having something more than ‘a say’ in matters, as it was actively throwing tens of millions into funding the campaign to obstruct independence…the decision to leave a union because it is not working having to be unanimous, is tantamount to saying ‘it does not matter if it does not work for you – it has to no longer be working for us, too, before it is over’.

The standard baseline metaphor used throughout the Referendum, was that of a relationship breaking down – if someone does not believe a relationship is working anymore, and wants out, how can you morally justify a position of wishing to overrule them? That is not a partnership. When it is between nations, that is called something very different.

But earlier this week, a better – and perhaps more obvious – comparison hoved clearly into view.

On Wednesday, Nicola Sturgeon announced the intention to table an amendment to any EU In/Out Referendum bill, to give any separate one of the UK’s ‘family of nations’ an opt-out, so that the vote in England would not overrule differing attitudes to EU membership in Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland. Unsurprisingly, it was not a viewpoint that either David Cameron or Bill Cash supported – some saying that it was even hypocritical, given that those elsewhere in the UK were not allowed a say in Scotland’s independence referendum.

But – wait – back up there. Have they not missed the point? Surely the comparable situation in that proposal, where an individual nation is trying to leave a union that was not working, but having to be voted on by all members of that union…would mean that all EU member states would get to decide whether the UK could leave in an EU In/Out vote?

I felt a fool for not having deployed that argument – not only in the restaurant in May last year, but since then when campaigning. It seems so obvious now (and I am sure that others were using it), but I just failed to pick up on it. It took Nicola to make that point, for it to register with me.

And I am pretty sure that it will not just be me that gets it, as it sets up the ‘Referendum Rerun’ nicely. There are three pieces that need to fall into place: a Conservative (with or without UKIP) government in May 2015, a majority for ‘Yes’ political parties at Holyrood in 2016, then an EU vote that splits with England saying ‘Out’ while Scotland says ‘In’ (and let us note the YouGov poll this week, that indicated that 57% of people in Scotland would vote to stay in the EU if a referendum were held, compared with 37% of people across the UK, 28% in Scotland wanting to leave compared with 47% across the UK).

That leads to the emergency consultative independence referendum, where the reprise is framed within the context of ‘the only way that we stay in Europe’ – ‘Better Together in Europe’, anyone? – with suddenly large businesses and banks perhaps less interested in the departure option. Of course, we can expect them to be campaigning for an European ‘In’ vote, and, as with Scotland’s independence referendum, their money and voice will make a significant impact. Possibly even a decisive one.

One fly in the ointment, of course, is if Farage gets his July referendum next year, as that means a Scottish ‘Yes’ Government will not have had the opportunity to be reelected (never mind BE reelected) with a renewed mandate for a referendum. However, if a majority of MPs from Scotland are SNP, that could be taken as a proxy for that.

All other things being equal (and certainly the polling evidence strongly supports SNP dominance for both Westminster and Holyrood, even if they do not get an outright majority there again), that leaves it up to how xenophobic England is becoming, as to whether all three of these pieces fall into place. Clacton and Heywood/Middleton are fairly strong indicators that they probably are, but it remains to be seen whether the Rochester by-election on 20th November follows the same pattern of huge advances for UKIP.

While Westminster may well be congratulating itself on winning the Scottish Referendum war, they may be about to lose the peace.

 

“The results of academic research suggest that an in/out referendum on EU membership would generate a different result on either side of the border” (The Times, 23/10/2014)

‘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)