Of Vetoes and Slaves: Living in an Age of Empire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

(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)

Las Tres Amigas: An Alliance for Progress Against Diluted DevoNano

Yesterday’s declaration by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Natalie Bennett (Leader of the Greens in England and Wales) and Leanne Wood (leader of Plaid Cymru) of a progressive anti-austerity alliance continues the SNP’s moves to frame a strong alternative narrative for the General Election, to the tired (and increasingly hard to justify, even on UK-terms) argument of ‘Vote Labour to Keep the (Blue) Tories Out’. With the possibility of perhaps a combined block vote of more than 30 Westminster seats, their chances of playing an alternative ‘kingmaker’ to Nigel Farage – and possibly be Labour’s only way of getting back into Downing Street in May – could give them a strong hand to set conditions for ending austerity, cancelling Trident, introduction of the living wage, and putting some teeth into Smith’s recommendations (rather than the rollback of Smith being hinted at yesterday in Westminster by William Hague, with Scottish MPs being blocked from voting on the budget).

Of course, the potential for a greener agenda for Westminster would not be far away from the negotiating table for any ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement – although I was slightly surprised at the lack of emphasis on more environmentally green policies from the alliance announcement – beyond restrictions on fracking. With the close of the climate summit in Lima last week, this is of course becoming an ever more urgent agenda, with the developed and industrialised nations wanting to postpone any serious decision until 2020. While Scotland’s leading role was acknowledged in Peru – Mary Church of Friends of the Earth Scotland describing Scotland’s Climate Act as “the most ambitious domestic legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions in the industrialised world”, and has largely been responsible for producing the bulk of the UK’s contribution to meeting climate change targets – there were also concerns at the three missed climate change targets. Church noted that given “the totally inadequate pledges on the table in Lima, it is more important than ever that Scotland starts to live up to its leadership role by putting in place further serious, practical measures to curb emissions”, and Lang Banks of WWF Scotland added that “at least the same amount of effort [has to be put] into reducing emissions from transport, housing and other sectors as is successfully being put in to harnessing clean energy from renewables.”

It made me reflect on two friends (both geologists) – one from Cumbria, the other from Glasgow, both of whom identified their politics as closest to the Green Party…and their experience of the Referendum. The Cumbrian was a fairly late convert to ‘Yes’, admitting that his politics were very close to the Greens, except for their backing for independence. Conversely, the Glaswegian was very much for independence from the start. Although most closely aligned with Green politics, he told me that his biggest reservation over that party was the advocacy of homeopathic first aid-kits: scientists have long been critical of homeopathy, as it relies in some cases on dilutions of materials to the extent that mathematically there is simply not even one molecule of the original material left in the mixture…which makes it challenging to understand what the source of their supposed medical potency as liquids would be. In spite of this, he felt the only way to actually see politics happening to a green agenda in Scotland was first of all through independence – so joined the SNP within a week of the Referendum result.

I suspect – given Westminster’s tacit abandonment of green policies as their ideological drive to the Right takes hold – that he is probably absolutely correct. And perhaps that explains the lack of overt traditional environmental policies at the head of any new alliance between the three progressive parties. Any other approach, in terms of trying to convince Westminster of a green agenda first and foremost, might resemble the 4th International Committee members (see earlier post: ‘Sheridan. Charlatan.’: Socialist Equality Party, myopic pawns of Empire and Capitalism)…still holding out for that coming workers’ revolution, like soldiers on a Pacific island who do not know the war is long, long over.

Last week’s YouGov poll indicated the level of dissatisfaction of Scots for the Smith’s recommendations, with 51% saying it did not go far enough (even 21% of ‘No’ voters), against 37% who thought Smith got the balance of powers right, or went too far. Interestingly, this belief was held across genders age and social groups polled – so there is a definite appetite across Scotland for more than Smith. I have noted before (see earlier post: BarnettMax, Fishfood & DevoCon 2014: Sins of ComMission) that the real asset of having the Smith Commission is that it has shown that the middle ground of DevoMax simply will never happen – that is a boon that can only be granted by Westminster, and they have shown how light they are on ‘boons’ for the granting. That will not change. Because they have shown that they are utterly unwilling to give DevoMax – even with the incentive of using it to defuse the threat of a rising call for significantly more powers that, while increasingly ignored, is beginning to translate smoothly into calls for Scotland to be independent. The electorate appear to be coming round to the idea that the only way Scotland gets anything approaching DevoMax, is by taking it – without hoping for grace and favour from Westminster.

And the only way that we can take DevoMax, as has now been demonstrated, is by independence…which is the closest thing we are ever going to get to DevoMax. (Which is somewhat ironic, given that DevoMax was always regarded as the one thing that would stop Scotland wishing to become independent.)

In the meantime, this does increase the pressure to get something more than Smith’s recommendations through Westminster after the May election. The current proposals are closest to what was called ‘DevoNano’ back in February, and are already at risk from even further dilution as they pass through the two openly hostile chambers at Westminster. In Scotland, only voting for the SNP or the Greens has any chance of strengthening those proposals (or even getting the existing ones through). Otherwise, we risk getting an ‘enhanced devolution’ so diluted that it is verging on the homeopathic in its concentration.

‘Vote Labour, Get Watered Down Smith’, could be the (perhaps too cerebral) campaign cry…


“DevoMax is like unicorns; it just does not exist.” (Craig Murray, Former British Ambassador, in conversation with Derek Bateman, 13/12/2014)

The Longest Suicide Vote Ever Given?, or, is Scottish Labour now all Right, with no Left left?

…and its Big Jim Murphy as the new Scottish Labour leader, with 55% of first round votes, and (like the South Kintyre council by-election for the SNP last week) there was no need to redistribute the second choice votes, as a majority had already been won.

And he has a battle on his hands: his party is outnumbered 10 to 1 for membership compared with the SNP (I am pretty sure that there is a way to calculate the individual voting membership from the percentage figures given for leader and deputy leader as two simultaneous equations, but I cannot quite remember how to do that, beyond the principle…); the latest poll from YouGov in The Sun hints at judgement having been passed by the Scottish electorate on the Smith Commission recommendations as inadequate (after discounting the 12% who did not express an opinion, 58% say Smith doesn’t go far enough, 26% says it gets the balance right, 16% say that it goes too far); and – just to top it all – there is also a (further) rise in support for the SNP in Westminster voting intentions.

I know I made the point previously that all this rise in support has been through a time when Scottish Labour was leaderless, ergo during a form of unexpected honeymoon period for the new-look Scottish Government…but it has also been noted that Murphy has been continually feted by the media, often to the exclusion of the other candidates – particularly the BBC – as the already anointed leader ever since he announced he was standing at the end of October…which was when that cataclysmic IPSOS-MORI poll gave 52% of Westminster voting intentions to the SNP. As a comparison for how things have changed during this Scottish Labour leader ‘period of uncertainty’, it is worth noting that the same week as the IPSOS-MORI poll, YouGov gave Westminster voting intentions as 43% SNP to 27% Labour – this week they say 47% SNP, 27% Labour. So…you can argue whether or not Jim has already been treated as de facto leader since he announced his candidacy, as far as everyone else (i.e. the electorate) is concerned, so now there will not be a discernible difference in how people regard his party – or whether it is only now that we start the clocks, to start to measure his impact on opinion.

What was always going to be most interesting about the leadership vote was less the predictability of the outcome, and more the breakdown of this three part electoral college vote – to get an idea of whether Scottish Labour’s ‘soul’ was still intact (if clearly badly damaged). Well, the accurate headline predictions were correct in terms of Sarah Boyack kind of making up the numbers (for all that she was an experienced cabinet minister), Neil Findlay winning the trade union vote (by 52% to Murphy’s 40%, with subsequent rumblings about disaffiliations by trade unions resulting since the declaration) and Jim Murphy winning the parliamentarians’ vote (67% to Findlay’s 20%). I confess that I would be really interested to see the individual votes of those parliamentarians – allegedly they will be declared, at some stage – to see what the split was amongst MSPs, as that might give an indication of just how welcomed the new leader fresh up from the Big Smoke is among their ranks.

But the key thing for us small band of ‘Scottish Labour Soul Spotters’ was always going to be the members’ vote. Between Murphy and Findlay, the split amongst them was 60% to 33%. So, a third of the remaining party membership voted a very different way to one that could be described as consistent with the Labour Party’s recent political trajectory (despite Findlay’s deference to Gordon Brown). How do we interpret this level of support for Jim? Have so many traditional left wing Scottish Labour members left the party since Iraq that there is hardly any Left left, and the remaining party is virtually all Blair’s children of the Right? Or is it that the vote was instead for a perceived ‘candidate of strength’?

Murphy will not bring people back – either the left wing members or voters deserting since Iraq – but viewed dimly from distant Westminster he probably seems like ‘the right man’. Because he will be anti-SNP, spouting the right wing Labour message that they understand – a ‘safe pair of hands’ to show the Scots why they were fools to follow ‘Yes’ – and none of this trade union candidate nonsense like Johann (or Ed himself) was…which right now (if polls such as the one quoted above are anything to go by) looks to be about as toxic a message as you could try to sell in Scotland.

So, is the election of Jim Murphy as Scottish Labour leader the longest suicide vote ever given (if I can paraphrase the famously unkind description of the Labour manifesto under Michael Foot)? Murphy has to oppose the SNP, argue that ‘The Vow’ has been delivered (despite all evidence to the contrary), and send his Deputy in to fight for him every week at FMQs. I have no doubt that he will be combative (‘Male and Pale’ he may be, but he sure ain’t ‘Stale’) in order to convey that image of a strong leader, when given the opportunity – but he is probably going to be relying primarily on smooth set pieces from Jackie Bird, much like Alistair Darling did, in the absence of actually being able to go head-to-head in person with his direct opponent.

People have argued that a pro-Trident, pro-Iraq War Scottish Labour leader is exactly what Nicola Sturgeon could want to go up against, and that from the SNP perspective Murphy is a gift of an opposition leader. However, Nicola (arguably, like Salmond – although you won’t hear a ‘No’ voter admitting it) has an integrity and commitment to principles and social change which Murphy significantly lacks, so they will not be competing on the same battlefield. BBC Scotland will present him as the hero of the No Campaign (now that Gordon’s deliverance of ‘The Vow’ is starting to look a little shaky, they want to draw a little less attention to him), gloss over policy flips and inconsistencies, and soundbite him to the max: they have had all the practice they could want at this over the last couple of years, and have just been waiting for someone to rinse and repeat with, once Johann departed in her famed bean-spilling strop. In that sense, for most of us, it will be back to the pre-September uphill struggle against the mainstream media (albeit this time we will have The National, so let us see if that makes a difference) – remember how journalists used to report with a straight face that Johann was tearing strips off Alex at FMQs every week?
Derek Bateman (http://www.newsnetscotland.scot/index.php/scottish-politics/9874-welcome-to-the-fray-mr-murphy) makes the point about the easy ride from the mainstream media that Murphy will get – that everything will be framed to sell the Labour narrative (as during the Referendum campaign) of reconciliation and learning from mistakes, and – yes – Smith is the Vow of DevoMax and (near)Federalism and Home Rule incarnate delivered. Murphy is also a reassuring voice in the ear of the Unionist left, telling them that their world still exists and never mind those nasty ‘Yes’ people, in a way that Better Together did not attempt to be. Bateman’s perspective is that the baseline message from the members’ vote is not that there is no Left left – but that their primary desire right now is for someone to resist and repel the ‘Yes’ movement and (hopefully) destroy the SNP, both of whom have totally dismissed – even exposed – their paradigm of the kindly Union as utter nonsense.

If that is true – that Scottish Labour has not simply become an exclusively post-Blair branch office, and that their hatred of the SNP and ‘Yes’ overcomes their political preferences for social change – then they have voted for the most tribal candidate possible – whilst he makes all the appropriate noises of platitudes of ‘reuniting a nation’.

Although, so far, it looks like that nation appears to be increasingly uniting in a rather different alignment to the Labour Party’s.


“We can laugh at [Murphy’s] overnight discovery of Scottish politics and his duplicity over tuition fees and his endless recycling of old policy positions but because he can flip-flop shamelessly, he is also a chameleon – last week displaying the red, white and blue and this week, the blue and white. He can be whatever Labour voters want him to be.” (Derek Bateman, 13/12/2014)

Beyond ‘Conditional No’s: The Ongoing Political Uncertainty of What the ‘No’ Vote Actually Meant…

I listened with interest to Professor Tony Carty (Public Law and International Law) the other day as he was interviewed by Derek Bateman (listen here about 35 minutes in, after the also interesting Steven Purcell: http://batemanbroadcasting.com/episode-25-stark-choices-facing-labour-scotland/ ). Tony works in both Aberdeen University and Hong Kong University, and in lieu of my argument with the would-be ‘No’ voters the other night, his interpretation of the real nature of the states of China and the UK was very interesting. We are used to thinking of China as a totalitarian state and Britain as a democracy, but Tony’s assessment, based on the actual political structures and the degrees to which freedom of expression is allowed, is very, very different:

“China is not a totalitarian state – I think the political scientists call it an authoritarian state, where there is a very large if not complete freedom of expression and opinion in China, and that is terribly important in terms of intellectual creativity and dynamism, and it is a part of the world which is on the way up financially and economically. And Britain is in a very serious structural bind….it is virtually a kind of museum, a kind of antiquated structure which  is entertaining to observe and to find amusing, but I have very dark views about where Britain is going to go…its economic and social situation can only get worse…. While its called a democracy…in practice it’s a very successful authoritarian paternalistic system where the government is for the interests of a very tiny minority. …Britain [having lost its Empire] is still fundamentally suffering from massively reduced abilities to earn and to compete at the global level and all the social and economic problems are really within that frame. And Britain, as a whole, is not coming up with a solution.”

All very fascinating – if not chilling – and his distinction between ‘Britain as a whole’ and Scotland was quite deliberate. But Professor Carty’s assessment of ‘The Vow’ and its consequences for the Referendum were even more interesting.

First of all, let’s have a bit of a recap of the little that we know of how ‘The Vow’ came about, based on various investigations so far. Trying to track back the evolution of ‘The Vow’ has been an oddly empty journey, with no paper or E-trail apparently there (according to Freedom of Information requests) to show the development and refining of the wording between the different parties. This is kind of odd. Did the party leaders really just give it to a marketing or PR firm (perhaps one of the many based in London that sponsored the hoax astroturf ‘No’campaigns?) to come up with, and say ‘do something sexy-looking – but ultimately vacuous so we cannot be pinned down on it – for a tabloid front page’? In the absence of any sign of dialogue between the supposed signatories (although according to other FoI requests there is actually no signed piece of paper by the party leaders either – so referring to them as signatories of something that they did not actually sign is probably inappropriate), perhaps that is not such an outlandish suggestion.

Be that as it may, when ‘The Vow’ emerged (perhaps via immaculate conception between the three?), many people cried ‘Purdah violation’ – that one month period immediately prior to the vote, within which no new proposals were supposed to be made. Unfortunately, ‘purdah’ appears to be little more than just a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’, without any legal binding nature, even though mentioned in the Edinburgh Agreement.

But what Professor Carty, as a specialist in international and public law says, is that ‘The Vow’ actually invalidates the Referendum.

“A No against independence would have meant the status quo – and what ‘The Vow’ amounted to was very substantially increased powers as an alternative option. And so that makes it very difficult to know what people were voting for – I think the Ashcroft poll analysis shows that at least I think 27% of the Nos – something like that – were influenced by this ‘Vow’, and they would have voted the other way if it hadn’t been for ‘The Vow’. I think it does really muddy the waters. If the government had kept its nerve and the unionist parties had kept their nerve, and done nothing, kept their mouths shut, and there had still been a ‘No’ vote, no matter how small, they would have had much more authority.”

He distinguishes very clearly between ‘The Vow’ and the proposals that each of the political parties had brought forward in the early spring for more powers for Holyrood, stating that ‘The Vow’ was altogether different: “The small number of polls that were coming out with a majority for ‘Yes’ produced a panic and this was a pretty formal solemn undertaking and not merely a speculative discussion.”

“These promises made at the last moment on the Tuesday of the week of the Referendum, two days beforehand are a changing of the goalposts and invalidate the Referendum, because they change the question, or try to change the question, just before the people voted, and consequently its virtually impossible to say what it is people actually voted for.”

This is a far more succinct explanation than I have been able to employ with regard to the term ‘Conditional No’, although that group is certainly immersed within the electorate that day, in terms of people who thought they were getting a significantly enhanced set of powers by voting ‘No’ – maybe even DevoMax – purely because ‘Yes’ looked like winning and had forced Westminster to finally offer it. It’s hard to measure, of course (although one can certainly use the Ashcroft analysis), and that is where the uncertainty comes in, and David Cameron’s use of the phrase the ‘settled will of the Scottish people’ becomes utterly laughable. His sleight of hand gave the illusion of an offer, but when the ‘No’ voters turned over the cup, they found not even a bean.

But Professor Carty does not finish there. He sums up the Referendum process, disrupted at the eleventh hour by ‘The Vow’, as inconclusive, not just because of the muddying of the waters of what people were actually voting for, but also, as he puts it, “the political uncertainty in England that makes it unlikely that there will be anybody there, a negotiating partner on the English side, who will honour this vow.”

In a sense, that ‘get out of jail free’ card that the Westminster parties have, with no legislation being now required before May, makes it all the more important that a cadre of MPs are sent to London then with a very clear agenda to ensure that they DON’T get out of jail…perhaps even spend a bit longer in the Tower of London, getting their tootsies burned as they are held to the fire for as long as possible. Because otherwise, the ‘No’ voters, blinded with promises of magic beans, really will have thrown away our one moment of strength and sovereignty entirely.

“These promises made at the last moment on the Tuesday of the week of the Referendum, two days beforehand, are a changing of the goalposts and invalidate the Referendum, because they change the question, or try to change the question, just before the people voted” (Professor Tony Carty, Professor of Public Law & International Law, Aberdeen University)

Winding Up Westminster: Alex Salmond and the EVEL SNP

The howling backlash against Alex Salmond announcing that he will stand for the Westminster constituency of Gordon (about to be vacated by long-term occupant LibDem Malcolm Bruce), has been enlightening. Not so much as an indication of how much animosity there is towards him (we kind of got that idea already), but as to how much fear the Establishment has of him: he came so unexpectedly close to winning the Referendum that they were sure they could not lose, that they panicked and were forced to throw in a faux devolution soundbite package at the last minute (which is now something of a headache for them)…when they really didn’t want to. So…they must be wondering what exactly he will have in store for them – if elected.

Well, to be fair, he made it quite clear within 9 hours of the Referendum result on the 19th September, when during his speech announcing his intention to stand down as both First Minister and party leader, he said the following: “We now have the opportunity to hold Westminster’s feet to the fire on the “vow” that they have made to devolve further meaningful power to Scotland. This places Scotland in a very strong position.” Holding Westminster’s feet to the fire…so I find it surprising that the SNP are subsequently criticised for saying that Smith’s recommendations are not nearly enough: isn’t that their job? I mean, they are clearly going to push for more powers for Scotland wherever possible, with every single one a step closer to independence, and anything less is not going to be satisfactory. That is the obvious starting point – based on their reason to exist. [It could – however, be argued as more bizarre that Labour is so critical of the outcomes of Smith – they have no similar raison d’etre to guide such an opinion, outwith their participation on the Commission, especially if they are still trying to pretend that they are truly ‘the party of devolution’.]

But going even beyond those fundamental underlying philosophical principles that should have them arguing for more, the Scottish National Party have a far more current and immediate need to criticise how far short those recommendations fall from people’s expectations. The SNP know that the Smith Commission, in representing Westminster’s initial act to supposedly ‘deliver the Vow’, has to be held sharply to account for its final utterances: is this the promised ‘near Federalism’, DevoMax, Home Rule, all those phrases that were bandied about as consequences of a ‘No’ result in the last hours before the vote? If not, then the SNP have a responsibility to say it loud and clear – hold Westminster’s feet to the fire, indeed – because none of the union-supporting parties have any interest whatsoever in drawing attention to any shortcomings in Smith (I dealt with the vested interests of Labour and the LibDems in portraying the outcome as positively as possible in ‘Powering Down the Parliament?’), when held up to compare with the expectations deliberately raised of what would come from a ‘No’ vote because of ‘The Vow’.

And everyone knows that the likelihood is that from the initial starting point of Smith’s recommendations, the proposals are liable to become progressively more and more diluted – heavily – in their passage through Westminster. So…fight early, fight often, and draw attention to the feeble offer to buy off Scotland’s aspirations for greater self-government.

But back to some of those faux outraged reactions to Alex Salmond’s announcement as candidate for the Westminster constituency of Gordon. His standing seems to be regarded, by some, as an act of great temerity. Why? An individual, who was previously an extremely successful MP, standing again for Westminster?

‘Gordon is not a consolation prize for losing the Referendum!’, squeals the 14 year old Labour candidate for Gordon (ex Northumbrian nationalist, now OneNation Labour bootboy). In what way is it a consolation prize, if it is a seat (albeit of somewhat different constituency boundaries) that he held as an MSP, and when he has been a successful MP elsewhere before?
“I don’t want him to make decisions about England” said the wonderfully uninformed Petrie Hosken on the BBC’s newspaper review. As the SNP have always steadfastly refused to vote on legislation that does not affect Scotland (and have similarly declined to nominate individuals for the House of Lords), and there is no prospect of that changing, this seems a straw man at best. The SNP has never had any interest in voting on matters that do not affect Scotland – because they pioneered the policy of English Votes for English Laws a long time before anyone came up with EVEL as an acronym. It is the MPs from other parties in Scotland that you need to direct your wrath towards, Ms. Hosken. Do please try and keep up.

(Incidentally – do you know how big an impact EVEL would have? A report just released in the House of Commons Library ran the numbers, to see how many of 3,600 parliamentary divisions between June 2001 and September 2014 would have had an altered outcome with Scottish MPs excluded. Answer? 22. That is an impact on 0.6% of the votes in the House of Commons. Remember that, when it is held up as a ‘major concession’ for Scottish MPs to either vote or not vote on Westminster policy…)

But – perhaps inevitably – it is a Labour Party representative (Tim Stanley stood as a candidate in the 2005 General Election), on that same BBC newspaper review, who perhaps gets to the nub of the issue: “I actually find him pretty hateful.” Whoa, strong emotive words indeed! But why this strong reaction? Perhaps the part that they really dislike is that – far from Alex Salmond neatly heading into the sunset as though (according to the dreary unionist narrative) he had lost some big personal gamble, his return is consistent with the perhaps more unexpected outcome of the Referendum campaign – as an affirmation of the national rise in support for more powers for Scotland up to and including independence. The polls showing 54% Yes that slipped to 45% on the day, have been the biggest endorsement of Salmond’s strategy of the long consultation process of the Referendum (before it was sidetracked in the last 48 hours by that ‘Vow’ – on which more later). Even a substantial chunk of those that voted ‘No’ wanted substantially more powers devolved to Holyrood (see earlier posts on Conditional No). Far from being ‘one man’s obsession’ as the unionists have continually tried to argue, ignoring the 50 year rise of the SNP and the 45% that voted ‘Yes’ in the face of stiff media intimidation, this is now a very popular mandate for change. Far from killing independence ‘stone dead’, this Referendum campaign has made its support far more solid and over a far greater section of the population than could previously have been hoped for. Everybody knew that DevoMax was the most popular option at the start of the campaign – but now people don’t just like the idea of that option – they actively WANT it, and are perhaps even politicised enough to go for it, too…maybe even as a stepping stone to something far bigger and better.

More than this, the prospect of the election of more SNP MPs this time around than ever before (including the experienced Mr. Salmond) also serves as a renewal of the popular mandate that he had to keep fighting for as much for Scotland as he possibly can. And – potentially – for the SNP to have the numbers in Westminster to be able to improve on Smith’s paltry offering. This, my dear friend Tim, is the consequence of holding us within that Union that you fought so hard to retain. Perhaps – just once – Scotland might be the determining influence on the final complexion of the Westminster Government, as opposed to regularly looking south and not recognising anything of what it voted for, in the party(ies) in power in London. The boot on the other foot – for once – one might say. And – unless you want to come clean and say that you feel Britain is in reality ‘the English Empire’, therefore all other regions are subject to that centralist perspective (and not just through numerical advantage), then your attitude towards Westminster democracy is quite unbecoming for the supposed ‘Mother of Parliaments’. A friend of mine, discussing Salmond stepping down in BrewDog Edinburgh with me, a couple of days after the event, reminded me that ‘all political careers end in failure’. You are, of course, entirely right, Neal. I just suspect that Alex Salmond has not yet reached that particular ‘failure’ – not just yet.

So, Westminster. You wanted us – you got us. Now, take your medicine…and, please, can you smile while you do so?


“Alex Salmond’s announcement yesterday is a double win for Scotland. More wide-ranging powers…and more entertainment while we wait for them. Westminster won’t know what has hit it.” (Richard Walker, Editorial in ‘The National’, 8/12/2014)

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)