Can they really make June the end of May?: The Sound of Far Off Shouting From Way Down South…

I have tried to avoid the day-to-day poll fascination that has occupied this blog in previous years, but in the wake of the attack in Manchester an interesting trend has appeared regarding voter intention across the UK for the General Election on June 8th. What makes it interesting, is firstly that it was conducted by YouGov, and we have a regular record of the vote going back to just before May called the vote in April, so a good means of direct comparison. Secondly there is the timing: it was held over Wednesday and Thursday of this week – in other words, clear of the Manchester attack and the first day of response to it, so it can be used as a means of assessing if the predicted ‘Manchester Attack Effect’ has taken place…or what the nature of it might be.

When YouGov polled in April, they showed the Conservatives with a 24 point lead over Labour. As of 25/5 (see above), it was down to 5 points – apparently the damage was even greater on Monday before the Manchester attack, so the 5 points was a ‘recovery’ for May.

Conservatives 43% (-5)
Labour 38% (+14)
Liberal Democrats 10% (-2)
SNP / Plaid Cymru 5% (n/c)
UKIP 4% (-3)
Greens 1%

The collapse in May’s support is testament to what one observer described as the Conservatives trying to erect a personality cult around someone with absolutely no personality – it also reflects how increasingly mocked she has become, the more she has tried to stage manage her rare appearances, and consistently fails to answer any questions that are actually asked of her…to nothing less than a comedic degree. The footage of her abyssmal performances now fill a not insignificant chunk of YouTube.

More seriously, the juxtaposition with the Manchester attack (and the subsequent London Bridge follow-up only a couple of days ago) has had an impact on Theresa May that is likely the opposite of what the attackers had hoped. I remember seeing a similar manoeuvre, made by those who supported violence in the hope of radicalising Muslims for jihad, on October 29th 2004, four days prior to the election between John Kerry and George Dubya Bush. I had just got off the flight from Glasgow at Logan Airport in Boston, and was walking through a narrow corridor towards passport control. At one particular dog-leg in the passageway, there was a huge widescreen television present, and it was broadcasting a hot news item: Osama bin Laden had just delivered a message (via Al-Jazeera) urging the American people not to vote for Bush, criticising him for negligence and his subsequent response. I was arriving to campaign for Kerry, but as soon as I saw that, I knew that the election was over – the US public would likely react predictably to being told what to do by a non-American. Sure enough, Dubya won a few days later – which was almost certainly bin Laden’s objective: it was more in his interest to have someone likely to react aggressively abroad, than an intelligent diplomat in the Whitehouse. I felt the same way with the Manchester attack – scheduled just before the election, with the aim of provoking a radicalising response from a right wing foreign interventionist government.

And yet, that was not what happened.

Instead, the attack called into question May’s competency as Home Secretary in cutting 19,000 police from England and Wales – so that she needed to deploy troops on the streets as replacement police officers during the subsequent emergency. [In contrast, in Scotland – where police numbers have been maintained by the Scottish Government – this was not necessary.] One senior advisor to David Cameron commented that in the light of this Theresa May should be resigning for her failure as Home Secretary, rather than seeking election as Prime Minister. A harsh judgement indeed from one’s ‘own side’ (if such a concept actually exists within the Conservative Party).

So instead of the perhaps hoped-for boost to her ratings that the attackers may have planned for – and that any Conservative Government would have expected in the wake of a terrorist attack – Theresa May’s rating and lead plummeted. Desperate to defend their chosen anointed one, the Telegraph and Mail ran stories trying to attack the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn when he pointed out that foreign intervention in Iraq by the UK had made the UK a more likely target for terrorists (this should not have been contentious, as it had been publicly confirmed by two previous heads of MI5 – but this is an election campaign, when the journalistic memory grows more desperately selective with the approach of polling day)…yet Corbyn’s support (particularly amongst the more resolutely cynical of his party’s supporters, and the 18-24 year old demographic) continued to rise.

Now, only a couple of days before the vote on Thursday, a poll has emerged showing a Conservative lead of only 1% over Labour. In the mix with a load of ‘final final’ polls from the disparate group of companies trying to redeem their tarnished reputations from the 2015 General Election, it now becomes simply a question of decibels: as ever, the closer to polling day, the more loudly the different parties shout their narrative, supported by polls that show everything from a 1 to 12 point lead for the Conservatives, and consequences ranging from hung parliament to Conservative landslide respectively, and all becomes a noise. The louder you shout, the more chance you have of selling your narrative, and convincing the public that yours is the winning side that they want to be on. James Kelly has noted a seeming disconnect between the high level Conservative ‘message’ (which, lest we forget, is supported by the huge majority of current Labour MPs who actively oppose their own leader – because he is not a New Labour Blairite) that Labour is about to be hammered into oblivion, and the lack of ANY polling supporting this narrative from ANY of the companies. In 2015, a few wise observers (take a bow, Wings Over Scotland) had been predicting for well over a year that regardless of how well Labour was polling, they would never be elected to government, simply because the number of people that thought Ed Milliband could be Prime Minister was way too low…especially against Cameron’s incumbency effect. In contrast this time, as much as Corbyn still has not great ratings in this regard, he is against an incumbent Prime Minister who has laughably unravelled since the launch of the campaign. It is a different proposition – if people can hear that, above the shouting…

In 24 hours the polls will have closed – but the bulk of the results are merely about defining the context within which the second independence referendum will take place. Hardline Conservative – likely to refuse and therefore provoke the Scottish Government to call one anyway – or heavily chastened by Labour inroads, and the possibility of horsetrading. The starting pistol fires soon…

“ So the European Broadcasting Union [@EBU_HQ] has found the UK press the least trusted out of 33 countries. Again. This wouldn’t matter much, we’re used to it, it’s not a surprise. …the failure of the British press is a dire cultural and political problem we’ve just become used to. …Now Corbyn is neatly aligned with terrorism and Theresa May is steadfast and strong. The election is over. There are soldiers on the streets and propaganda in your newspapers. There is little more to say.” (Mike Small, ‘Media, Terrorism, Democracy’, 25/5/2017)

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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)

 

 

 

 

 

Tales from BrExitLand: Repucalypse Now – An Ill Wind and a Little Local Trouble in the Colonies

The son of an illegal Scottish immigrant to the US (Mary Ann MacLeod from Lewis, see May 21st 2016 article in The National  http://www.thenational.scot/news/the-mysterious-mary-trump-the-full-untold-story-of-how-a-young-scotswoman-escaped-to-new-york-and-raised-a-us-presidential-candidate.17824 ) won the US election this morning and is scheduled to become the 45th President of the USA on January 20th 2017, the oldest (at 70) first term president that the country has ever had.

Springburn-born Craig Ferguson (now a naturalised US citizen during his ten year stint presenting The Late Late Show on CBS) apparently made much political capital on his show out of pointing out that to ‘trump’ in Scots meant to fart. This was a surprise to me, as I had only come across the expression in some districts in England during my life (and a search on Google reveals only references to its use in Wales, Norfolk and the north of England). And it is indeed hard not to see his election as a wind of ill omen for the world.

Like the Scottish Independence Referendum of September 2014 and the June 2016 EU Referendum, this was an essentially binary vote, with only two real choices. Perhaps another similarity between the two other political choices was that the two main options were not the choice that many people wanted to have – the unusually high number of 6 million ‘Other’ votes that did not go the way of Trump or Clinton would seem to testify to that. At the end, Hillary emphatically won all the ethnic demographics – except for the white one, which formed 70% of the voters, where she only had 37% support. Was it perhaps an unjustifiable fear of feminism and female leaders (see http://wp.me/p4SdYV-6Y ) that drove this section of the electorate, especially when one sees that Trump won 7 out of every 10 non-college-educated male white vote. Exit polls also indicated that women voted Democrat in much higher numbers than they voted Republican…as one might expect, given the prevalence of Trump’s misogyny the last weeks of the campaign.

All three of these binary votes in as many years were negative votes, against openness, inclusion, hope and progressives, the decisive mass vote of the over 45s overwhelming the wishes of the younger electorate. All three were also characterised by a remarkable disregard for checking facts – or more a disinterest, either by the media or the majority of the voting public, in those same facts.

The Scottish Independence Referendum had a barrage of unchecked facts – but in a very polarised sense: Better Together’s howlers went almost universally ignored, as they were in keeping with the narrative that the press wished to present, whereas the Scottish Government’s 670 page White Paper ‘Scotland’s Future’ was attacked in microscopic (and ludicrous) detail. (Yet note the contrast in level of detail offered between the Yes campaign for an independent Scotland and the Leave campaign to exit the EU, where they did not even have a Plan ‘A’.)

Interestingly, the media’s polarity did have the unexpected effect of triggering a rapid drift away of its clients, as members of the public became increasingly disillusioned by what they were being told by the mainstream news outlets: the subsequent engagement of people in Scotland with online and independent news media to get an alternative perspective that felt (a little) less biased, resulted in a plunge in newspaper sales (except for the Sunday Herald, which doubled its previous year’s sales, in the 4 months after it declared for Scottish independence) in parallel with an emergence of online sources as the most-trusted sources of news. [This dimension will be explored separately within the forthcoming instalment of the review of modern Scotland’s Thrie/Four Estaits ‘The Death of Scotland’s Post-War Dream, Part 3’.]

The two plebiscites of 2016 effectively went to the core of the identity of former imperial powers (see Gore Vidal if you want to contest that), they harken to the power of a bygone mythical age of greatness, and a garden of plenty which the advocates can restore you to. Well…that’s not exactly unusual in politics. But with BrExit and the US election, there was more of a rejection of analysis of any fact-checking (whether by TV stations or other media sources) in favour of empty jingoistic slogans – no matter how much Trump was fact-checked and shown to be lying on a grand scale with his fragments of sentences, his fatuously dismissive behaviour and salvation slogans carried greater force. BrExit’s ‘Leave’ campaign leaders went further, resorting to casual dismissal of expert opinions in the face of their absurd claims: “People in this country have had enough of experts” quoth Michael Gove (somewhat ironically, given that as a former education secretary, he should have had some faith in the products of the education system that he was overseeing…unless he felt that the EU were in some magical way forcing his education system to produce unreliable experts, perhaps?).

This dismissal is an insidious one of anti-intellectualism, whereby instinct and anecdote is endowed with greater (inevitably mystical) power than facts, data, or authorities that have the education and specialist training in a field that allows them to consider it objectively – so that you don’t have to go through all that training to do that for yourself. Stephen Colbert went so far as to coin the term ‘truthiness’ – Wikipedia defines this as “a quality characterising a ‘truth’ that a person making an argument or assertion claims to know intuitively ‘from the gut’ or because it ‘feels right’ without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.” In other words, it presents you with a legitimate licence to disregard everything you wish – spirituality and religion sweep away facts: the final triumph of Magic over Science. It brooks no argument against it – because it does not come from reason.

Fear is invariably invoked in politics – which is rarely helpful, as it leads to irrational decisions, and that is one of the reasons that the Yes campaign avoided utilising it even in the face of their opponents relentless use of nothing else. But fear multiplied by nonsense just creates chaos which is socially destabilising – it creates a level of frustration which (as Yoda might point out in sentences Trump can only listen to with envy for their coherence) leads to hate, and then violence. England in particular has seen the rise of this phenomenon in the wake of the BrExit result seemingly ‘legitimising’ racism as part of mainstream political discourse.

Will misogyny similarly rise in the USA in response to the role model that has been elected to their highest political office? One can only hope not – but with much less certainty than yesterday morning.

 

“…it’s an ill wind blaws naebody gude.” (Rob Roy, Sir Walter Scott)

A Croatian Commemoration: Bleiburg and the Mare Nostrum

A month ago, I spent the weekend attending a ceremony in the intense afternoon heat of the Bleiburg field in Austria. It was a 70th anniversary commemoration for the forced repatriations of 200,000 surrendered, disarmed ex-combatants and 500,000 civilians (figures estimated by the British Army at the time) from Croatia. A forced repatriation, by the British Army, to Tito’s partisans. In May 1945, after the end of the second world war, it was known exactly what fate awaited those people, which was one of the reasons that Churchill opposed the policy. Yet it was done under the direct advice of the later British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.

The events are well recorded in Nikolai Tolstoy’s 1986 book ‘The Minister and the Massacres’, as well as many subsequent publications. The Croatians (other smaller groups such as Serbs, Hungarians, Slovenes were also attempting to flee the partisans at the time) were fleeing from the advancing partisans, who were supported by the Red Army, because the partisans’ policy had become one of killing anyone who had not supported them during the war. Tito intended to create a new political order for his philosophy across Yugoslavia – and the best way to secure that was by removing all political opponents to do so. Where ‘opponent’ translated as ‘non-supporter’…using the American Civil War parlance, ‘if you were not for us, then you are against us’.

The Croatians knew that the partisans were likely to kill anyone who had not supported them during the war, so hence the mass exodus as the partisans swept forward. They had the option of standing to fight and hold Zagreb, but with so many women and children, they knew that it would become a bloodbath, as well as the destruction of their capital. Nonetheless, with the curse of hindsight we can look back and see their decision to surrender to the British Army in Austria, through a misguided sense that the British Army would treat them honorably as prisoners of war, as fatally naive. Instead of sending them to refugee camps to await resettlement, Harold Macmillan’s officers circumvented the agreed policy arranged between the US and Churchill, and arranged for them to be sent back into the waiting hands of their pursuers.

The accounts of the treatment of the surrendered and unarmed are harrowing tales of barbarism in what was – technically – peacetime. Hands were pierced with knives so that two people could be wired together through their flesh, making it that much more difficult for them to escape before they reached the point where they would be executed. Gold fillings were removed from the living on the edge of pits and tank trenches before they were shot. The graves were then mined to cover the mountains of corpses. Furthermore, since Croatia and Slovenia again won their independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, there has been the opportunity to uncover more than 1,200 mass graves throughout those two countries, which have been identified as the direct consequences of that act of allied betrayal. For death marches commenced from Austria across the length and breadth of the country, the dying falling as they were starved and left behind, with intermittent stops wherever suitable geological features allowed for the creation of another mass grave for the unfortunates. As an example, these 1,200 sites include two pits in the forest of Kočevski Rog, that contain the skeletal remains of over 30,000 victims ‘generated’ in a mere 8 days (figures come from a partisan participant, as only a handful have ever been completely excavated to be thoroughly documented).

Although this event had had recognition from emigre Croatians in publications dating as far back as 1947, actually attending the site had been a dangerous thing, some mourners being attacked and even killed by Yugoslav state police. (The Yugoslav state police appear to have operated with some impunity throughout Europe, if the current trial in Munich of a former head of Yugoslav state police – UDBA – for the deaths of 68 Croatian emigres in Germany alone is anything to go by.) Things have changed with Croatian independence – for a start, people are allowed to discuss the fact that Bleiburg and the ensuing massacre happened now, where they could not have under Yugoslavia. According to Austrian police, 61,300 people attended the public memorial mass with me this year, at the site of where a population fleeing the advance of Tito’s partisans surrendered, before being systematically slaughtered by the very enemy that they sought to evade through surrendering to Allied Forces.

In court, some years after Tolstoy’s book was published, the only justification presented by Lord Aldington (then Brigadier Austin Low) for knowingly handing the surrendered – predominantly civilian – masses over to certain death at the hands of the partisans’ execution squads, was one of logistical problems in incarcerating and maintaining camps containing such a quantity of political refugees. During reflection on that Austrian field on the 16th May, I was struck by the resonance of this callous decision with recent pronouncements by Theresa May on the ‘Mare Nostrum’ question, where refugees were knowingly left to die in the Mediterranean, through a policy of deliberately cutting funding to the pan-European safety net, on the spurious grounds that it would ‘only encourage’ people already attempting to avoid Islamic State kidnap (and, ultimately, death) squads in order to escape through Libya. Many of those migrants of today have been displaced as a result of the US/British invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the subsequent unplanned endgames that ultimately left chaos in the wake of the departing troops. It seems that there are some shameful attitudes in British foreign policy in Europe that have changed tragically little despite the lessons of the ensuing 70 years: a humanitarian crisis is merely an administrative burden – and not a moral responsibility – that can be easily shirked.

In his final article of 2014, reviewing the last epic year in Scotland, Ian Bell argued that in his opinion the Referendum was lost “because too many of us were afraid to say why a Scot would not want to be British.” The cynicism of the British participation in the Bleiburg tragedy is certainly something that makes me profoundly ashamed to be identified in such a way – and it seems that that attitude is still alive and well with regards to the Mediterranean.

 

“We have an absolute moral obligation in the interests of humanity to do our share in a European effort to help people in extremity. If you look at many of the places these people are fleeing from, this country – and others – had a substantial role in the destabilization of those countries.” (Alex Salmond)

David Cameron, a Pro-Poverty PM for an Anti-Vulnerable Age: or, The Walrus and the Carpentier

Around two years ago, I read Alejo Carpentier’s ‘Explosion in a Cathedral’ (original title ‘El siglo de las luces’, which translates as the Age of Enlightenment). The Cuban writer and musicologist’s 1962 novel deals with the ‘exporting’ of the revolution to France’s Caribbean colonies, and was recommended by a friend as a ‘mood-setter’, before we went to Cuba. Its opening line is haunting and chilling in equal measure: “I saw them erect the guillotine again tonight. It stood in the bows, like a doorway opening on to the immense sky…” The book records the transmutation from Enlightenment to Terror and the mirroring of the wholesale executions on both sides of the Atlantic. Inasmuch as some have argued that Scotland’s Enlightenment role was one of seed to its equivalent in France (rather than simple recipient as elsewhere int he world), I think that is a legacy that most of would want some distance from.

I found myself prompted to think of this by David Cameron’s speech yesterday. Emboldened by his unexpected electoral success, he has increased his austerity target to £12 billion in welfare cuts, but will not say where they will come from.  It is planned to cut Personal Independence Payments – the replacement for the Disability Living Allowance  – by 20%, as apparently the list of disabled deaths resulting from the welfare cuts to that sector (see calumslist.org) as a direct result of the implementation of the austerity measures is not long enough already. As Frances Ryan notes in today’s The Guardian, Iain Duncan Smith and his Department of Work & Pensions is in conflict with the Information Commissioner’s Office over figures showing how many individuals have died within 6 weeks of having their benefits stopped. As has been noted elsewhere, this is not exclusively a Conservative problem, as half of the deaths resulted under Labour, the other half under the coalition government. (Journalists such as The Telegraph’s Brendan O’Neill conveniently dismiss this toll as merely a ‘problem of suicidal people’, thus neatly sidestepping any need for responsibility to be taken. Stay classy, Brendan.)

Yeah, maybe it gets boring, dealing with that old idea that austerity is predominantly hitting the wealthy, when of course Dave told us that “we are all in this together”. Here was Dave’s new message, yesterday: the poor, he says, will be hit much harder, if the deficit is not brought under control. This is the myth of trickle-down economics for a new age – once the economy is stable again, then we can look after the poor….but, if we are still ‘in it together’, is austerity hitting the wealthy? Well…since the 2010 General Election, the wealth of the top 1000 has grown by £212 billion (to reach £547 billion), so I’m not sure how much traction that idea really has. This is not trickle down: this is sucking up.

And with the UK’s debt now at over £1.5 trillion (one correspondent suggested Cameron’s promise to ‘look at Holyrood’s books’ was because he was desperately trying to find handy hints on ‘how not to increase your national debt’ for his Chancellor), and the deficit reduction targets consistently being missed by Osborne since he became Chancellor (see https://50daysofyes.wordpress.com/2014/12/18/a-post-autumn-statement-of-the-obvious-using-a-crisis-as-a-pretext-for-an-ideological-opportunity/ ), it seems unlikely that that aspired to ‘stable economy’ is going to be showing up anytime soon to stop the position of the poor getting worse.

Purely in Scotland, there were 510,000 people in severe (with an £11.5K household income, equivalent to 50% of the UK average, or less) or extreme poverty (on a £9.2K household income, equivalent to 40%), in 2012-2013, with 410,000 the year before. With the forthcoming introduction of Universal Credit (the ‘super-benefit’, replacing six others: including Job Seeker’s Allowance, tax credits, income support, housing benefit – see https://50daysofyes.wordpress.com/2015/03/25/the-labour-conservative-alliance-two-sides-of-the-same-coin/), rent payments will go direct to the household, rather than the landlord, despite the outspoken opposition of many charities: as Social Work Scotland said in their submission to Holyrood’s Welfare Reform Committee, “Increased  homelessness is widely anticipated as a result of Universal Credit being paid directly to individuals.” The recent drop in relative poverty (60% of the UK average) not only is a reflection of the general cross-the-board drop in living standards: it was also reflected in the increased numbers of those in severe and extreme poverty. These people aren’t leaving poverty by being ‘upcycled’: currently, there is no way but down, once you get to that income level.

But more than that, as I have said, there are a further £12 billion in cuts coming, meaning that the current proportion of 1 in 10 in Scotland living in severe poverty is scheduled to rise, with a further 100,000 children in Scotland projected to be in poverty by 2020. Audaciously, Cameron attempted to morally justify this move yesterday, by accusing welfare of being a “veneer of fairness”, papering over the cracks of poverty, as opposed to “extending opportunity”…although quite how opportunity will be extending by precipitating more people into the poverty trap of the ‘in-work poor’ in full-time working austerity is currently unclear. More sinisterly, this speech heralded a move to make a significant legislative change, as The Times reported: “The Child Poverty Act, one of the final pieces of legislation passed by the last Labour government, commits the government to ensuring that, by 2020, fewer than a tenth of children live in relative poverty. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the latest figure is 2.3 million, or 17.4 per cent of children in Britain. Cutting child tax credits, one option under consideration by ministers preparing to cut a further £12 billion from the benefits bill, could add 300,000 children to the total living in poverty, according to the IFS. The prime minister said that the definition of relative poverty enshrined in law meant that even a small rise in the state pension led to an increase in average income and, consequently, the number of children living in relative poverty.” A familiar pattern of goalpost-moving for those who remember the modifications of definitions of being ‘unemployed’ under the last Conservative Government, in order to cosmetically reduce the numbers.

Pensions will supposedly be protected in this new round of cuts. One might cynically say that this is because the demographic that will be recipients are traditionally a core Conservative-supporting group, but in reality (if looked at by share of average earnings) the UK pension ranks 23rd out of 27 in the European Union. Instead, tax credits are widely viewed to being in the frame for a significant part of the cuts…as Alison Garnham of the Child Poverty Action Group put it: “No moral mission involves taking away tax credits for our poorest children. No serious plan for the low-paid begins with making them poorer by cutting their tax credits.”

Mike Danson, Professor of Enterprise Policy at Heriot Watt University, warned us before the General Election that the remaining austerity cuts would be implemented regardless of the impact on the poor, because they were ideologically-driven – and this was reinforced by Osborne not backing away from further austerity in his last budget 50 days before the General Election (https://50daysofyes.wordpress.com/2015/03/25/the-labour-conservative-alliance-two-sides-of-the-same-coin/), as well as the recent noises that they will go even further. Other than meeting purely ideological objectives, these cuts achieve nothing…in fact, they further contribute to low growth and extend the life of this (increasingly-localised) recession. Simon Wren-Lewis, Professor of Economics and fellow of Merton College University of Oxford, criticised the austerity ‘strategy’ for this very reason before the General Election: “The main impact of lower growth – including that caused by fiscal austerity – has been on living standards.” Lower growth caused by fiscal austerity would normally mean higher unemployment or lower living standards: “Austerity in itself has increased child poverty…Nicola Sturgeon’s statement on the economic impact of austerity on the UK is correct, with no qualifications.”

It is scenarios like this that start to give one a glimpse of the anger of the people that simmered under the former European aristocracies, eventually causing the people to take to the streets and later execute those aristocrats. Working in China during the last couple of years, I saw the gauche evidence of China’s new rich, driving their Maseratis past the subsistence farmers, who were struggling with their donkeys along the same stretch of motorway. Culturally, rural China might well have been long indoctrinated through the Cultural Revolution into believing in their inherent agrarian nobility – but how long can you expect such flaunted wealth to not provoke a reaction? Perhaps the most powerful – and most likely the least-intended – lesson that I derived from Carpentier’s novel was that, bloody as the Terror was, at least the aristocrats did not smoothly slip back into their previous roles within a short space of time, restoring the status quo that had been so comfortable for them at other’s expense. True, others eventually did – but it took much longer than in France, and at least was not the originals.

Cameron states the continued existence of the deficit would harm the poor in the long-run – that, in effect, the increased poverty (and – inevitably – deaths) are ‘for their own good’: he plays the part of Lewis Carroll’s Walrus to Ian Duncan Smith’s Carpenter…sobbing crocodile tears and feigning sadness, while keeping right on eating. Except the lives affected are not oysters, but those of real people, successively demonised by the press since the recession began, and now ripe for victimhood. The difference being that, by the end of Cameron’s gluttonous meal, there will be far more impoverished and suffering than at the start of his ill-advised walk upon the sand. Does Cameron really understand the keg of nitroglycerine that he is kicking around? Does he see the abyss, or is he too drunk on the heady intoxication of his unanticipated electoral majority to remember to care?

Perhaps he can act with complete impunity. But he would do well to heed the warning: Sands shift.

 

“It has been astonishing, from a US perspective, to witness the limpness of Labour’s response to the austerity push. Britain’s opposition has been amazingly willing to accept claims that budget deficits are the biggest economic issue facing the nation, and has made hardly any effort to challenge the extremely dubious proposition that fiscal policy under Blair and Brown was deeply irresponsible – or even the nonsensical proposition that this supposed fiscal irresponsibility caused the crisis of 2008-2009.” (Paul Krugman, Nobel economist 2008, The Guardian, 29/4/2015)

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)

‘Thick and Fast They Came at Last’: Labour Unhinged in the Incoherent End of Days for the 2015 General Election

And as panic rises on the streets of London, we have the BBC reporting chaos on the streets of Glasgow. Once again, Jim Murphy’s cynical attempts to orchestrate and stage manage an ‘incident’ have yielded the result that he was looking for, with the certainty of a flying egg. You can see his complicity in the broad grin as he faces the opponent shouting in his face: that is exactly the money-shot’ that he was looking for…although his smugness might be a trifle close to the surface.

It is a depressingly familiar story from the Referendum experience: faux outrage emitted by the unionist press at the slightest scrap that can be used against campaigners for more autonomy for Scotland, while doggedly blind eyes are turned to regular attacks by unionists on those same supporters. Double page spreads that Nicola Sturgeon cut the hair from her sister’s Cindy doll, Neil Hay for Edinburgh South three years ago linked to an article on the spoof BBC Scotlandshire website and commented sympathetically on an academic report looking at the abilities of some pensioners to vote, when it was being disputed that 16 and 17 year olds should have the franchise for the Referendum. In contrast we have the barely reported assaults on ‘Yes’ supporters and ignored death threats to prominent members of the Scottish Government. One aspect fits the official narrative, the other doesn’t, so is blanked.

The frenzy mounts as polling day approaches, with counter claims rendering the air incoherent – Cameron makes a speech in a London market and is heckled by someone for anti-Scottish racism; Miliband has a spinal tap moment with his ‘EdStone’ as a cenotaph memorial to his chances of a majority government; Kezia Dugdale reveals on ‘Good Morning Scotland’ that she has no clue what Ed’s 6 policies are on the ‘Milistone’; in a clear attempt to get a sympathy vote at the last minute, leaked rumours of discussions emerge about making Labour in Scotland completely independent (lol) from London; Labour discusses moves to cut the Barnet formula, which Labour swore to protect in the event of a ‘No’ vote – but I guess it was ‘in the event of a ‘No’ vote – AND provided you kept voting for us alone’ (they should be clearer in their gun-to-the-head politics…); David Cameron announces that “Behind the economy are real issues, such as lifting children out of poverty”. I couldn’t help but read that with a tone as though he had recently discovered this to his great personal surprise – although I suspect that I was actually supposed to read it as the birth statement of all new cuddly Dave (vote for him – he IS friendly, after all!), when it appeared in the Independent on Sunday; Gordon Brown hoarsely proclaims that ‘Yes’ voters should vote Labour if they “want real change” – because, of course, that is what they got under you as Prime Minister, isn’t it, Gordon? I confess that I am relieved to see that he finally appears to be running out of steam, energy and voice and perhaps this will be the last ‘shock intervention’ from the ex-politician in this particular campaign.

Miliband left the ‘Question Time’ stage of his political misstep, where he publicly refused any sort of relationship with the SNP – thus opening himself to the accusation that he would rather let the Conservatives back in for 5 years, than take the controlling role himself. This opened up the End of Days situation of Labour’s arch SNP hater (and former pro-independence armed struggle psychopath) Brian Wilson criticising Miliband for ruling out any sort of deal with the SNP that he loathes (but wouldn’t a Conservative-run government be preferable to you anyway, Brian?). Miliband’s reasons for refusing such a deal were wonderfully hypocritical, and based on everyone forgetting how many constituent countries there are in the UK: Ed won’t do any deal wait Plaid Cymru or the SNP, because they want to break up the UK. But…Labour has a ‘sister party’ in Northern Ireland – the SDLP – whose electoral aim is the unification of Ireland…and, just to be clear, that is unification OUTside of the UK, not in. What does this ‘sister party’ relationship mean – shared birthdays, exchanging lipstick, joint visits to MacDonalds and taking turns on the swing at the playpark together? No…it actually means that Labour will not put candidates up in Northern Ireland’s 18 seats, even when the head of the Labour Party there asked to do so last spring. Funny how Labour are selective about that ‘breaking up Britain’ business’…perhaps it is only because there are only 3 SDLP Westminster MPs, so not exactly representing a mandate for change across all of that region’s constituencies? Maybe that is why Labour were never so vocal about refusing to work with the SNP when there were only 6-11 of their MPs in Scotland…

But even more than the rationale for Miliband’s justification of his decisions, the consequences of his rejection of the SNP are even more surprising. As noted by the Labour-supporting Sunday People a few days back, “Ms Sturgeon is likely to muster more anti-Tory MPs in Scotland than Labour ever could.” Actually, there is some justification for this, as the SNP have the potential to take LibDem (pro-Tory) seats that Labour never could, even before Labour were mortally weakened by the Referendum. The maths works out like this – 1 Conservative plus 11 LibDem pro-Tory MPs against 41 Labour plus 6 SNP anti-Tory MPs, gives a net 35 anti-Tory MPs from Scotland in 2010. If the SNP manage to increase their take of MPs, then it will not only be Labour, but LibDem seats that will fall – remember, for each Labour seat that falls to the SNP, there is no net change in the pro/anti-Tory numbers – but there is for each LibDem that goes. So potentially, by removing 12 proTory MPs and replacing them with antiTory MPs, there is a net 24 vote shift against the coalition continuing. You would think that would be welcomed by a Labour prime minister in waiting, wouldn’t you?

Labour’s leadership has retreated in the face of the Conservative-orchestrated right wing press, to a position that would make them a lame duck government, seen to be weakly backtracking on their commitments if they subsequently do any deal with the SNP, even although it is Cameron who should look the weaker, in failing to win a majority twice running. One can understand that Labour would lose a double-digit lead as the incumbency effect starts to kick in close to the date of the election, one can also understand the loud noises of nonsense made by both Cameron and Miliband as they proclaim that they are looking to win, even though everyone knows that that ship has sailed for both of them long ago. But the systematic erosion by Miliband of his potential post-vote allies has been an act of madness and weakness, giving away ground and positions of strength under elementary intimidation from the press. Perhaps Miliband thinks he looks stronger to shut out all prospects of a deal – he looks more like a fool to have gone as far as he has, especially as those who were espousing a fear that he would do a deal with the SNP, now do not even believe him when he has categorically ruled it out. He has capitulated on his position – to no advantage whatsoever.

The ‘EdStone’, intended for the Rose Garden at Downing Street (although apparently there would be a whole swathe of planning permissions required to install it there) may yet prove to be both his ‘spinal tap’ moment, and his political obituary by Friday morning.

 

“Right now our political cup is running over. Let us hold it with a steady hand and get this done for the country.” (Alex Salmond, 5/5/2015)