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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Advertisements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

553 Days Later – Stateless with Books of Many Colours

Today I received my new passport. It is fair to say that it was not the one that I had been hoping to receive in March 2016, way back when I cast my vote in the Referendum 18 months ago.

A month ago, I was travelling back from Munich. At passport control in Edinburgh Airport, I watched wearily as the queues diverged into biometric and ‘old school’ streams. I smiled as I saw the congestion at the biometric turnstyles, where the queues were far, far longer – three years ago, when I first started working in China, those with biometric passports zoomed through passport control while those with older passports watched enviously in their interminable snaking line. Now the positions were reversed…but not for very much longer: I knew this would be the last time that I benefited from this advantage, as my passport would expire on the 10th March – ten years after I had to get an emergency one for a dear friend’s wedding in Southampton – then I too would be transferred over to the automated herd congested behind the biometric turnstyles. Things change.

I cannot say that I viewed the passport renewal with any great enthusiasm: I drifted for two weeks, in denial myself about the necessity of taking on yet another ten year passport for this state. ‘Statelessness’ was undeniably attractive, but ultimately impractical in a world where flights are booked, and work is international. In one of a series of moronic empty threats during the Referendum campaign, Theresa May said in June 2013  that Scots would not be allowed to have dual nationality and retain their British passport in the event of a Yes vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum. Apart from not being true (the basis of international law, the Declaration of Human Rights, states in Article 15 that noone can be deprived of their nationality – Britain has been a signatory to this since 1948…although of course David Cameron does now have plans to withdraw from that agreement, as he revealed after the Referendum result was declared), it seemed as observed by playwright Peter Arnott to be an example of nothing more than simple petty vindictiveness by our neighbour in this supposed ‘Family of Nations’ if we did not ‘do what we were told’. (see http://peterarnott.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/why-dont-british-nationalists-like.html for the full context)

So on the 16th of this month, with heavy heart, I started the process of renewing the passport. It had expired 6 days earlier, and I had been putting off renewing it, reluctant to reengage with my obligatory ‘British identity’ (the union flag – unsurprisingly – leaves me similarly cold). With 173 countries that it gives access to, it may be the equal of a German passport – but that access comes with a cost attached. Sure enough, the news broke that day that Britain had committed to sending troops to Libya without seeking Westminster approval beforehand. Fabulous – yet another reason to wish to eschew British citizenship, to distance oneself from the things done ‘in my name’ by governments elected by a neighbouring country, to its own citizens, as well as all the shameful historical baggage that comes with being British, and part of a deluded post-imperial state still in denial over losing its empire. Britain’s remarkable record for being continuously at war with another country for every day since 1914 continues – making not just the lands that our military ‘visits’, but also where we ourselves live, more dangerous with the passage of every day.

The symbolism of the passport is undeniably powerful. In the eighties there were blue and black novelty passport covers for a ‘Scottish Passport’ – all treated as an amusing joke, for sale in tourist tat shops. Then in August 1988 the Glasgow passport office became the first in the UK to issue the EU burgundy passport, surplanting those overblown dark blue hard-covered British passports. My mother was outraged – a typical ‘No’ voter in the Scottish independence referendum, she lived through the war and is in her late eighties (in the Referendum, the under-55s voted Yes, but the over-55 No vote was emphatic enough to cancel that out). Her objection to EU membership?: ‘I don’t understand why if we knocked seven bells out of them during the war they are running us now!’ Ah, bless. (We’ll draw a discrete veil over her even less palatable views on apartheid…) So she bought blue passport covers, proclaiming ‘British Passport’ in large anxiety-ridden gold letters – remarkably similar to the novelty ones previously sold for ‘Scottish’ passports some years earlier – within which to hide the EU passport’s true burgundy cover. Suddenly, it seemed that it was the British passport that had become the joke.

The EU passport is not something I personally have any problem with. Like the previous blue one, it still bears the usual gold heraldic crest (‘Honi soit qui mal y pense, Everybody’s out to lunch’ as a comedy band once sang at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe) with the representative animal of Scotland – the Unicorn – in symbolic chains, but – as you may have surmised from the preceding text – I prefer the burgundy to the previous blue option. Similarly, most people in Scotland – regardless of whether or not they advocate independence – wish to remain part of the EU, in strong variance to much of the rest of the UK. And, as discussed many times before on this blog (e.g. https://50daysofyes.wordpress.com/2014/10/17/from-nicola-sturgeon-to-nigel-farage-proud-parents-to-be-haggling-over-3-years-or-9-months-gestation-for-referendum-rerun/ ), the advent of the EU referendum has now come to pass, with Cameron going for the short campaign with the snap-vote, ensuring minimal education opportunities for the electorate, leading to as uninformed and rushed a decision as possible, leaving few chances for the Out camp to build their arguments to counter his. It did not come ten months after the Scottish Referendum, as was anticipated before May last year, when there seemed to be a real prospect of Farage being kingmaker in Westminster, but the predicted abbreviated campaign has nonetheless been delivered.

There is a bitter contrast in the confluence of these concepts and colours at this time, mixed with the anti-EU rhetoric from those same politicians who so venomously descried any in Scotland who desired to return to self-government. In this regard, Michael Gove’s recent quote is particularly apposite (and you’ll find it at the bottom of this piece). Uncertainty over EU membership was deliberately sown by Westminster as part of the No campaign in Scotland, as noted before (https://50daysofyes.wordpress.com/2014/09/08/uncertainty-in-the-drop-zone-on-a-gibbet-of-their-own-making/), and Gove did actively support that campaign. Yet now, as someone who claimed that a Yes vote would ‘reinvigorate Vladimir Putin’, he seems surprisingly to be downplaying a similar consequence to the UK leaving the EU. Funny how things change.

Some seem surprised that support for staying in the EU is so much stronger in Scotland than England, but this is not really so surprising: even in December 2014, polls were showing clear water in this regard (https://50daysofyes.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/eu-exit-secret-treasury-advice-states-its-madness/). Over time, this has only increased: while in England the polling figures show a 49%/47% support for leaving, support for staying has grown over a year to now be consistently 60% and above in Scotland. This is not difficult to explain – one can provocatively say the centre of any empire generally is more xenophobic than its colonies, or one can less emotively observe that government in Britain has become so geared towards servicing London and the needs of its finance industry at all costs since the eighties, that all else in the supposed UK is pretty much expendable.

Harsh though that sounds, in purely political terms, it is something of a ‘no-brainer’: if such a large chunk of your population lives in London and the southeast, then it is highly unlikely – however much you wish to use the rhetoric of ‘pooling and sharing of resources’ – that any government is going to make choices that favour anything other than that geographical section of the state. Scotland may be the third most productive part of the UK after London and SE England, and more than pays for itself, but fundamentally it is still at the ‘wrong end’ of the UK. As a result, in a posited choice between ‘governed from London or Brussels’, Brussels wins every time for me – and apparently for an increasing number of residents of Scotland as well as Wales. London government has no motive to ever act in interests other than its own – to do otherwise would be political suicide. At least via Brussels you can have a chance of that being different as a separate sovereign member on your own terms.

That said, no matter how much I may agree with the sentiments of staying in the EU, I find myself uncomfortable about showing support for any specific campaign that utilises the union flag, with all its unpleasant BritNat associations that arose so clearly during the Scottish referendum campaign, particularly with what happened on the day of the result in Glasgow’s George Square. And the EU referendum does of course have a distinctive significance for the issue of Scottish independence.

To start another campaign for such a vote in Scotland, the Yes side would want clear indications that there was enough support to win before the campaign was initiated. Certainly we live in very different times compared to those at the start of September 2014. The Yes movement not only nearly doubled support for independence in Scotland during that campaign, but apparently also resulted in an SNP landslide with the sudden virtual removal of all other political parties from Scottish seats in Westminster, and prospective polls also seem to indicate that they will even retain their (statistically almost impossible to achieve) Holyrood majority. 58% of those polled favour a referendum again within 5 years of the last one, 66% within ten years. This enthusiasm seems unlikely to come from a perceived need to vote No a second time.

There have been other signs of growing support for the Yes camp. A legal case against the sole remaining Scottish LibDem MP, Alistair Carmichael, was raised by four of his would-be Orkney and Shetland constituents under the Representation of the People Act, gaining over £210,000 of crowd-funded public donations in the process (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-people-versus-carmichael#/), resulting in Carmichael’s ‘FrenchGate’-related actions being criticised in a court of law, and him being forced to pay his own £150K legal expenses (the Scottish judges declared that he had lied and was an unreliable witness in court, and that only his motive for lying was in question – the lack of clarity over whether he lied for personal or professional reasons provided the reasonable doubt with which the last part of the petition failed, enabling him to narrowly escape a rerun of his Westminster constituency election).

In other crowd-funding related Yes news, the annual Wings Over Scotland fundraiser has once again raised its 30 day total (this time for £40,000) inside 24 hours, and as I type it is now close to raising fully double that by the time it ends in five days (personally, I have donated in the hope of receiving a stylish and fetching ‘Vile Cybernat’ bag… 🙂  https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-great-leap-forward#/). Amongst the financial outcomes from last year’s Wings fundraiser, are the ‘Wee Black Book’ (http://wingsoverscotland.com/the-wee-black-book/) released this week, which documents how the reality of the 18 months from the Referendum result up to the anticipated day of independence (24th March 2016) starkly contrasts with what the No side promised Scotland during the campaign. Within this book, therefore, is not only the looming danger of Scotland being dragged out of the EU against its wishes (remember how we were repeatedly told that the only way to stay in the EU was to vote No?), but also the true weakness of the paltry and insignificantly tokenist tax powers resulting from the infamous pre-Referendum ‘Vow’ is spelled out. Add that to a backdrop of unpalatable acts by the British state both domestically and internationally  – going back to the anti-war march in Glasgow in 2003, attitudes to immigration, ideological implementation of the ‘bedroom tax’ and general welfare attacks, decriminalising of bankers, lack of tax pursuance for large businesses, the inherent corruption of a state whose representatives are paid for by those same corporations – and the unpopularity of a seat of government can slip seamlessly from ‘Not In My Name’to ‘There Is Another Way’…and thence to ‘Let’s Do This Ourselves’. Still proud to be British?

Perhaps unsurprisingly against this backdrop, support for Scottish independence has risen to a new high, polls indicating that 60% of people in Scotland would vote for independence in the scenario of the UK voting to leave the EU against the wishes of the Scottish electorate.  This means, of course, that I have a personal dichotomy about this forthcoming EU referendum – yes, I would (despite grave reservations over how Europe has dealt with Greece and other nations) prefer the UK to vote to stay in the EU…except that I know that an Out vote in England would be the most likely and speediest way to get a Referendum Rerun in Scotland. I talked about this with a friend in Bradford this week who shares the same dilemma – neither of us wants to see either the rest of the UK or Scotland suffering on the back of an EU exit vote, as we believe it definitely will. But – as David Cameron acknowledged last week – on the back of public opinion in Scotland appalled at being taken out of Europe against their will, it would be entirely predictable that this prospect would form the required change of circumstances for people in Scotland to vote for another independence referendum to be called. Even without that, the sovereignty of that decision always rests with the people living in Scotland, and it has always been up to them to decide that, and no politician can tell them otherwise.

Eighteen months on from that grey morning on 18th September 2014, I am disappointed to not be picking up my first actual ‘non-tourist shop’ Scottish passport. I heartily hope that I will not soon be compelled to rescind my EU one. But it would also be nice to think that one might just come bearing a Unicorn for once devoid of its traditional metal ‘decorations’.

 

“In my opinion, the referendum was lost because too many of us were afraid to say why a Scot would not want to be British.” (the late Ian Bell)

“Laws which govern citizens in this country are decided by politicians from other nations who we never elected and can’t throw out. But by leaving… we can take control. Instead of grumbling and complaining about the things we can’t change and growing resentful and bitter, we can shape an optimistic, forward-looking and genuinely internationalist alternative.” (Michael Gove, Edinburgh-born – therefore unlikely to have been entirely unaware of the Scottish parallel to his comments – politician, 20/2/2016)

“The very core of the fear in ‘Project Fear’ is fear of English vengeance. All the stuff about trade barriers and borders and passports and no one ever buying whisky again are predicated on the same thing: on the apparently inevitable consequence that they will hurt us if we dare. This expectation which informs all the dire prognostications of economic boycotts and general administrative bloody mindedness, even of proper fisticuffs over the assets – is based on an image of the English as petty, spiteful, nasty and vengeful. The No campaign seem certain that the majority stakeholders in the ‘greatest multinational family’ in history will react like vindictive children.” (Peter Arnott, Playwright, 23/6/2014)

Galloway and Salmond: An Unlikely Unified Chorus

Alex Massie in The Spectator has noted that there are now more members of the Scottish National Party than there are soldiers in the British Army. Which is all well and good (unless he is actually proposing a direct ‘contest’ between the two?) – but that means little compared to actual electoral success. Despite that simple statement, lots of external commentators have taken very different meanings from the result of the General Election in Scotland. The SNP winning 56 out of 59 seats was, for example, presented by Vladimir Churov, the head of the Russian electoral commission, as clear evidence that the Referendum last year was rigged – but that is (to say the least) a simplistic analysis, that ignores the focused media impact in a binary plebiscite, compared with a multi-party election.

Writing provocatively for The Telegraph within 24 hours of the General Election results being finalised, Bruce Anderson had a hilarious piece harrumphing away at the presence of the Scottish electoral choice in Westminster, declaring that Scotland needs time to “calm down”, that Westminster should “stop appeasing the Scots”, and the wonderfully insulting “when the Nats launched their offensive the Labour high command found out that their party was almost extinct. Some Glasgow constituencies had a nominal membership role of a hundred, half of whom turned out to be dead: another quarter, in Barlinnie Gaol. The rest were often some of the most primitive socialists ever known. As no-one had told them that the Warsaw Pact was also extinct, some of them were still hoping for the arrival of Stalinism”. So, no stereotypes or cliches there, then: with such a grasp for politics (and the Labour Party) in Scotland, it is a wonder that Anderson is not considering running for First Minister next year.

In another interpretation, you can also say that in May pro-independence parties secured 51.3% of the vote in Scotland, but – as much as there is an increasing receptivity to the idea – the majority of people understood that the General Election was not a rerun of the Referendum, that this was about opening up a new front in the campaign for Scotland to take charge of its own future. I would argue that this is demonstrated in a number of ways – and not merely by the SNP saying it, because, well ‘they would wouldn’t they?’ What is telling is not the numbers of independence supporters that voted for the SNP, but the ones who are not yet convinced by independence, yet know that the SNP has that long-term objective, and still saw a good reason to support them going to Westminster. In a way, supporting the SNP in spite of – not because of – the longer term goal.

I have referred before to the October 2013 poll that indicated how much Labour support in Holyrood was projected to fall in the event of a ‘No’ vote in the Referendum (47% of their 2011 voters, see https://50daysofyes.wordpress.com/2014/08/20/all-those-wee-things-the-loss-to-labour/ ), and the latest TNS poll of 1,031 makes even gloomier reading for them: 60% of those planning to vote next May would now vote SNP (45% in 2011), Labour would get 19% (32% in 2011, so 59% of that vote rather than the 47% predicted two years ago), which would leave them only marginally ahead of the Conservatives on 15%…and then there would be the LibDems on 3%. This result would mean zero Holyrood Constituency seats for Labour (they currently have 15). For the Holyrood List section vote, the results are lower at 50% for the SNP (which actually might, through the PR system, lead to them losing their majority in Holyrood), with Labour still on 19%, Conservatives 14%, Greens 10%, LibDems 5%, UKIP 2%. Also, the TNS poll (from the end of May, therefore predating Charles Kennedy’s death) shows that among under 35s, 80% say that they will be voting for the SNP, with only 6% going for Labour.

Poll results like this, the successful crowdfunding of the Carmichael money, the continuing popularity of the First Minister as well as sites like Wings Over Scotland, all suggest that the appetite for change is not restricted to elections…and it has not gone away after returning 56 SNP MPs out of 59 possible constituencies, no matter how much the enemies of change might wish to rationalise it otherwise – or be unwilling to countenance the result in other terms such as ‘a political sea change’.

As much as these figures all seem to show that support for the SNP – and trust in them, even from ‘No’ voters – is strong, the bigger question remains what this may or may not mean for the question of independence. Arch-Unionist George Galloway, launching his campaign for London Mayor a week ago, declared that he thought independence could probably ONLY have been stopped from happening within the next five years by a Labour government winning last month. Not exactly the most credible of political commentators, Galloway’s expressed view echoes Salmond’s comment just after the General Election, that (when asked directly) he thought the result in May had brought independence closer for Scotland. At the time, this was seized on with howls by the media in an attempt to show a ‘split’ between him and Sturgeon (who had clearly said that a vote for the SNP was not a vote for independence at this General Election), his successor – in much the same way as they have tried to misrepresent the SNP MPs Sheppard and Kerevan as descrying Full Fiscal Autonomy, when they were very explicitly criticising the idea that FFA could happen overnight as opposed to being a phased process, and supporting the argument that it would take time to change over. After all, we have just seen how badly botched a rushed constitutional modification can be, with the Smith Commission translating into the limp rag of the Scotland Bill. Nobody would be arguing for FFA of all proposals to happen swiftly, without negotiation…but I digress.

When Alex Salmond says that this Westminster result brings independence closer – of course it does: just not in the way that some of the southern commentariat appear to be thinking, not as part of some plan to achieve it through a devious plot enacted by a Westminster bloc of SNPs orchestrating some dastardly scheme. In a post-election poll, almost 50% said that last month’s Westminster success for the SNP made independence more likely, with 39% saying that it made no difference. It brings independence closer in exactly the same way as the SNP becoming the largest party in Holyrood in 2007 brought independence closer, as it led to them subsequently gaining a majority government in Holyrood in 2011 – which again brought independence closer, as that has (along with their performance in the Referendum) in its turn brought this Westminster landslide. Each of these stages is symptomatic of the people in Scotland placing more representational responsibility with the Scottish National Party as their trust in them slowly grew, in the absence of any credible alternative in the wake of Iraq. Last month was another stage in that growth. After a while, there will be few other ways in which the people in Scotland can invest further trust in the SNP – apart from voting for independence. According to a recent poll, 80.4% of Scots want another Referendum on independence, with 58.6% wanting it within the next ten years. It may not be the EU referendum that provides the ‘material change in circumstances’ that warrants another independence referendum within 5 years rather than 10, but perhaps in that regard Galloway might yet prove to be unexpectedly prescient after all.

 

“I think independence is probably nigh. The only way it could have been stopped is if we had got a Labour government last month and if that Labour government had begun to make a difference. But these next five Tory years are going to be very cold, and the SNP leadership seems to have the ball at their feet and know what to do with it. So I’d be very surprised if there wasn’t another referendum in the course of this next five years, and I’d be very surprised if we managed to repeat the result we got last year. I’d take the same stand that I did last year. But I wouldn’t be expecting to win.” (George Galloway, 14/6/2015)

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)

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))

May the Fourth Referendum Be With You: Stall Wars, and the Return of the Rebel Alliance

I flew back from working in China over the weekend, getting into Edinburgh Airport early Saturday evening. A day to chill on Sunday (and briefly adjourn to BrewDog), and I was checking if the Stall was back on Monday.

Yes, the Stall – the one on the Meadows for ‘Yes Marchmont’ that I had helped staff throughout August in the run-up to the Referendum last year. I knew that there were plans to get something in place regularly for the run-up to the election, but was unsure how well those plans had been realised. Sure enough I got a response back – it was running in the afternoon, 2 till 4.

So I went back to The Meadows with some trepidation as to what I would find.

The Yes stall was always staffed by a disparate group from different parties. Last year, following the result, there had been talk of parties standing under a Yes Alliance banner in this General Election – but that was before Johann Lamont became the story with her stinging departure as head of Scottish Labour at the end of October, and launched the SNP’s stratospheric rise to switch its 20-odd% position in the polls with Labour’s 40+% in Scotland. (It is somewhat ironic that Lamont’s departure was allegedly precipitated by Murphy – who ironically now holds the poisoned chalice to his own shouting and protesting lips.) At that point, with such a clear leading party, the idea of an alliance seemed less obvious – in particular for the SNP. It was no longer as though they were a minor party in the run-up to Westminster that could help others in a similar position, and vice versa, as proposed by the tactical voting Unionist advocates: suddenly they were the clear and logical primary ‘Yes’ party in every seat in Scotland, to which votes should be lent.

So, in the absence of an a-party ‘Yes’ stall, were the same faces still there?

Reassuringly – ‘Yes’. A couple of Green activists were not only in evidence, but one of them was actually organising the stall…which was 50% SNP, 50% Green/Scottish Socialists/CND. Non-aligned Kay was there, retired ‘Faslane Frances’ from the Western Isles, Paddy – it was good to see. I felt all fingers and thumbs – all those valuable ‘skills’ of responding to individual questions while deploying badges and asking if any children wanted balloons…those assets needed to be renurtured, and it does not look like there will be time to do that. Rain scheduled for Tuesday, meant only Wednesday remained as a stall option before the day.

Amongst the encouraging numbers of visitors regularly coming to take and display material – stickers to adorn a ‘Revolution’ brand bike, a balloon and badge for the kid riding pillion behind its mother – there was an interesting issue that raised itself, perhaps relevant for that initial broader question of the proposed ‘Yes Alliance’ platform for the vote. It was raised by one somewhat aggressive (?)student individual who approached the older women on the table to challenge the presence of ‘Yes’ imagery as an indicator that there was a secret agenda for a second referendum. As his targets began to answer, he interrupted (in classic troll, Murphy-aping style) with other questions – what about the ‘decision for a generation?’ Was that a lie? I started to answer that I did not believe that it was Nicola that had said that, but Alex – and I understood that was the reason why he had resigned after the result, to free up the possibility of as many further referenda as were necessary. The troll looked confused – I don’t think he expected to be challenged about Nicola, let alone have Alex’s resignation presented in that fashion – then an SNP man moved in to start insistently offering him a leaflet, which he kept refusing, until he moved on.

Of course, it isn’t really a ‘second’ referendum – it would be the fourth one on constitutional change in a generation. The first was in 1978 for the Scottish Assembly, the second the 1997 one for the Scottish Parliament, the third was last September on independence. And perhaps that is a more realistic way to look at it.

In the wake of this encounter, it became evident that there had been a couple of similar (if less aggressive) queries earlier that day. We debated, and decided that it might be simpler – if the presence of ‘Yes’ symbolism was being deliberately misconstrued as a sign of a (poorly) hidden agenda – simply not to display such iconography. But this particular species of attack relies on criticism of ‘the neverendum’, that idea of ‘oh how terrible it is’ that the question was ever asked once in over 300 years, just think how it paralyses the Scottish Government while that happens. It is predicated on the idea that any Scottish Government so committed to such a referendum would just be doing that and nothing else…when actually the reverse appears to be true. While the majority government preparing for the Referendum, the SNP were an extremely dynamic government in office, very much showing how Labour and the LibDems should have been doing it in the first years, and effective and efficient in governance and legislation. Perhaps actually being in office to fight for a single imagination-capturing political issue as the main focus of your time in government should actually be obligatory, if not mandatory, because it is a concrete reminder of why you are in office – and it stops holding office being simply power for its own sake, a lesson that Labour have failed to learn during their stewardship of Scotland.

But it did make me reflect on how problematic it might have been, had the SNP not become such an emphatic frontrunner, and the Yes Alliance had indeed been launched for the General Election: it would have been impossible to deflect the accusation of a hidden agenda – although in the immediate wake of September’s result, many of us were admittedly fired up for exactly that – a second independence one straight away. Under Nicola, we keep the powder dry, and restrict the question to manifestoes for Holyrood only – and if support then delivers a system-beating majority for the SNP again, then a second referendum will happen. In contrast, for Westminster, Nicola Sturgeon is now – following her astonishing individual success on the televised leaders’ debates – campaigning credibly as a UK politician, talking about policies for the whole UK as a result of the potential influence of the SNP on a Labour government – not just Scotland. Even the Labour-supporting Sunday Mail and Sunday People delicately came out in support of Nicola at the weekend….That all builds a perception that does much to ameliorate the anti-SNP (arguably anti-Scottish) propaganda distributed south of the border during the Referendum by the press. It also hints at the possibility of SNP-allied candidates standing in England in the future. Previously unthinkable, that is indeed an exciting prospect.

The Fourth Referendum spectre might well have been the negative aspect of the Yes alliance concept, and certainly for where we have got to now – without at all disputing that we would welcome another one as soon as practicable – it would be a distraction. We have other more immediate fish to fry. I took two new campaign badges from the stall, one in ironically UKIP purple saying ‘Hey, where’s my powers?’ The other one was in Labour red – ‘Labour No More’.

I’m keeping that one – with crossed fingers – in hope for Friday morning.

 

“Scotland reloaded appears to be a nation prepared to challenge the establishment in all its guises, to shine a light, to demand and to do different, to call for and create change, seemingly content to create uncertainty in doing so. We are a country suddenly confident in our choices and challenges. Gaun wirsels.” (Kate Higgins, Women for Independence, 20/3/2015)