Las Tres Amigas: An Alliance for Progress Against Diluted DevoNano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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The Spirit of the 45 Rebellion: Continuing the Inclusiveness

Saturday was a very late start for me – the product of an inconveniently late Friday night until 4am, when I knew that I had (for one last time) to be at the Marchmont stall for 11 the following morning. Instead, I woke at half eleven, groaned, rolled out of bed, and was at the bus stop just after midday – but some bizarre bus delays (I choose to blame the Edinburgh trams…for no good reason) meant that all trace of the stall was gone by the time I reached the Meadows just before 1pm. It was disappointing to miss it (even before I heard about the quantity of cakes that had been on offer) as it was an opportunity for a last ‘thank you’ party for those who had helped at the Marchmont Stall over the year (and sometimes longer), with the table covered this time not with leaflets, badges and stickers, but instead with membership registration forms for the Scottish Socialist Party, the Green Party and the SNP.

This idea, to offer people the membership forms if they wanted to sustain their political engagement, had been conceived on Tuesday night at the mobbed meeting in the Argyll Bar cellar – and of course that was long before the true scale of the post-result membership expansion had become clear: all the Yes political parties had doubled in size. But we all know about gym memberships – you pay your membership fee and sign up, then feel morally vindicated that ‘you could’ participate if you got the time, but will probably not do so for several years. As much as many of these people had been non-party Yes activists like myself, is there not a danger that these new recruits are just padding?

Well, later in the afternoon on Saturday I went to the Newington Yes Shop, for (another) ‘thank you’ party. A variety of Yes activists (over 40 at any one time) crowding into the tiny shop for a last gathering. (Fortunately I arrived a little less late for that event – sandwiches, if not cakes, were consumed aplenty.) It was anything but a wake. There I talked with Sally and Alison of the Greens/English Scots for Yes, and asked how things had been going: they had had their regular Green Party meeting on the Thursday night, where they normally had about 35 people turning up. Instead, they had had to move to a larger venue…and even then there was not enough room for the more than 400 people that had come along. So these new party members (as someone said ‘it is unlikely that they believe in ‘No’ if they just joined the Greens) seem to have got past the first ‘gym membership’ stage: they have actually gone along and tried out the weights.

But the SNP’s gain in membership since the announcement of the result has, of course, eclipsed everything. On the day of the Referendum, they had 25,000 members – which meant that at that point they already had more members than all the Scottish political party memberships combined. But SINCE the result was announced, an additional 40,000+ members have pushed them over 69,000, making them larger than the whole UK-wide LibDem party membership – so the SNP is now the third largest UK political party.

There is a sense of agitation since the 19th September, a rising power, looking for a new direction and outlet – but will it find one in time, before it starts to dissipate? In addition to the two events on Saturday that I had known about, there had apparently been a further one, spontaneously organised through Twitter (damn it, I’m probably going to have to get on that last social media horse after all…): between 1 and 3pm a party of a couple of thousand had taken place outside Holyrood. As has become standard, a wag observed ‘The BBC – of course – were not in attendance.’ And part of that disillusionment is manifesting in the surge to consolidate the pro-Indy social media (including the wonderful Dateline Scotland – see them on YouTube) as permanent fixtures, with crowd-funding activities that no doubt bring a warm glow to the heart of Wings Over Scotland’s Stuart Campbell. asa variation on Jello Biafra, Don’t Bemoan the Media – OWN the Media.

The media are an important component in providing an environment within which the Yes attitude and philosophy can thrive – the only newspaper to come out for Yes, the Sunday Herald, has just this weekend reported that their sales are up 111% on last year, in sharp contrast to all other newsprint. (The historian Tom Nairn once said “Scotland will never be free until the last minister is strangled by the last copy of the Sunday Post.” – so it is perhaps unsurprising that this publication was one of only three – with the Scotsman and the Financial Times – that actually came out in open support of a No vote..and it is somewhat bitterly appropriate that this week it is celebrating a century in print.) So alternative media outlets are required to help sustain and grow that community – it would be hard to maintain a Yes perspective against the grinding day-to-day onslaught of BBC Scotland’s Winston Smith-type output. But within these media, there has to be a direction – short-term realisable objectives. Clearly, the Daily Record’s front page ‘Vow’ of the three Westminster leaders for ‘more powers’ for Scotland two days before the Referendum, fell apart within 24 hours of the result being declared, and there needs to be a regular holding to account for each date that fails on Gordon Brown’s ‘exciting timetable’. Also, there is a gearing up towards the Westminster general election…but that is almost 9 months away, and that is a long time to sustain people’s energy or anger at betrayal.

And there does seem to be some anger and disappointment – most particularly from No voters. There has been a surprising number of encounters with what are being referred to as ‘hangover Nos’ – they vote No then the next day they feel sick and realise with the victory that it was not the result that they wanted and that they have done the wrong thing (sometimes even before ‘The Vow’ started to come apart at the seams). Frustrating though that may be for those of us who wanted a Yes and therefore voted Yes (as opposed to No – there is a clue in there), we have to build something that includes them for the future. Going down the Referendum line, we need almost another 5% in order to win – and beginning with hangover Nos and incorporating them is a good place to start.

Back to Sally at the Newington Yes Shop: she is fingering her ‘45’ badge, saying she is not so comfortable with it – she had originally been very glad to have that badge of identity as being part of the 45%, but now feels that it was like a stage in grieving, and now it is time to move on. For one thing, she felt that the ‘45’ identity alienates those who did not vote Yes but want to be part of the future of the group that did. We agreed ‘45+’ might be much better (if less catchy and punchy), and maybe that was the way to go. It is a fair point – the branding of the post-Referendum Yes identity has to be done carefully, and as inclusively as possible. As I wrote before on an earlier post, some of the No voters (many of whom were taken in by the Daily Record) just don’t know they are Yes voters yet – and a taste of that post-1979 disillusionment will do them a world of good.

Towards the end of the party at the Newington Yes Shop, I was stunned to see a familiar figure on the far side of the room: my old friend (former Scottish History Professor at the University of Edinburgh) Owen Dudley Edwards. Back when I was president at the students’ union in Edinburgh, Owen and I had gone on anti poll tax demonstrations, where he had shared some of his personal stories about Gore Vidal and many others (see also my earlier Jim Sillars post for his perspective on possible routes to independence). To my great and pleasant surprise, he had apparently been regularly staffing the Newington Yes Shop, just as I had regularly been staffing the Marchmont stall (albeit in my case for only the last couple of months, during my 50 Days).

Suddenly, it all fell into place – Irene on the Marchmont stall had turned up one day wearing a ‘Scottish Academics for Yes’ design t-shirt, which I was very keen to acquire a copy of. The next day she came back from the Newington Shop bearing one for me, and said she had asked an academic there if it was Ok for her to wear such a t-shirt, as she was not an academic herself. The academic in question had replied that of course it was OK: just because one wore a Black Sabbath t-shirt, did not mean you were a member of the band. Suddenly, the wit of that academic’s response – even though we had not spoken for some twenty years – was recognisable as pure, unadulterated Owen.

I asked him about attacks on the Newington Yes Shop, and he told me of the ‘Nazi’ graffiti that had been sprayed upon it from its opening day. As we talked, and the wine flowed, there had been some intermittent flute music, prior to an acapella rendition of Hamish Henderson’s 1960 Writers Against Apartheid protest song ‘Freedom Come All Ye’ (which seems to be emerging as the post-Referendum Yes anthem, after its international tour de force by the South African soprano Pumeza Matshikiza at the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony a couple of months ago). After a lull, the music started up again with a piper, and Owen made to leave, but grabbed my forearm as I was turning away and pulled me close so that I could hear his words over the bagpipes: “I’m SO glad you’re involved in this.”

I was touched, and genuinely felt the same to hear that he had been involved so deeply in the campaign – but instead of reciprocating, I said only one thing as a farewell.

 

“Owen, I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”

Coming out of the Attic: Rejoining the Family of Nations, or Putting Scotland Back in its Box?

I’ve stopped watching the television. I’ve even stopped reading some of the blogs. I am now four weeks behind on even Referendum TV, and Derek Bateman seems to have become about as incoherent a blogger as myself, having similarly run out of ‘big issues’ to write out as essays, and instead using kneejerk reactions to individual small developments. I confess – he probably has similar issues of sleep deprivation, exacerbated by coffee, excitement and anxiety. So forgive this mess of a fiftieth post – I have half-finished posts on the ‘Economic Dangers of Dependence’ (cool title, huh?) and the scorched earth legacy for the Union from the ‘No’ campaign. But it seems that I have run out of time…and posts.

Yesterday was a slow start. Not so much cumulative fatigue, as a foray into the darkness of an unlit, soot-filled 1870’s attic. Peering into the gloom, balancing on joists barely detectable underneath the (regulation) two layers of loft insulation, like an entry level X-Files episode. Boxes piled and scattered across the fibreglass, vestiges and an archive of a former life…at first I could find nothing, old primary school books, boxes of university political campaigns, and I retired back downstairs. You see, there was an international assembly for Yes on The Meadows scheduled last night after the legend that is the Marchmont Yes stall closes for the last time, and we were encouraged to bring international flags along. A fellow undergrad at Edinburgh, Monika, had first got me involved in politics, and I had campaigned with her for Croatian self-determination back in the late eighties, seeing (as I have mentioned before in this blog) a lot of parallels with Scotland’s situation. Monika has always been a staunch supporter of Scottish independence, and although now based in Brighton, I know she would love to be here right now.

So I had gone into the attic in the morning – that filthy, unlit 1870s attic – to look through the mass of boxes accumulated throughout my life, to try and find the Croatian flag that we used to use together for campaigns. Frustrated in my first attempt, I went back up, armed with a more powerful torch (iPhone illumination is not perfect) and tried again, arranging long planks in the space in order to move the boxes around, to sort them as they were checked. The second attempt worked, after going through Primary 3 jotters and far too many Edinburgh University Students’ Association files: with much stoor, the large Croatian self-determination box appeared, and there was the flag, stuffed down the side. I grabbed it and headed out for the bus, Monika’s proxy presence assured.

The bus went up past Elm Row, and I spotted a lone Better Together supporter, attempting (unsuccessfully) to thrust leaflets into the hands of those sitting at the bus stop. Then, my eyes refocused on the background: the entire length of black railing at the interchange had been covered with little red ‘End Tory Rule Forever Vote Yes’ leaflets neatly impaled along its length. It looked spectacular – as so often during this campaign, the bus took me past before I had the chance to take a record shot through the window. Then I was getting off at Princes Street, and heading up towards The Meadows. Several international TV crews were filming down the side of the National Gallery of Scotland and the Royal Scottish Academy – one BT supporter was stammering as he declaimed to one camera ‘well, in terms of scaremongering, I think Yes have been at LEAST as bad as No’, and I failed to stifle a laugh as I went past. It was noteworthy that the only people with No badges that morning were in front of cameras – every member of the public that I passed wearing a badge was a Yes.

Arriving at the stall for the last time, a 4-way ‘crossfire of Yes’ developed at the foot of Middle Meadow Walk: Yes Marchmont, next to English Scots for Yes and Green Yes stalls, later joined by National Collective with Amy & Jamie. The previous afternoon, a Yes supporting masseuse (Valaska, Caribbean) had come along with her massage chair and offered us all free massages. Unusually (honest) I was first in the queue then – my incessant whining on this blog about my back and joints perhaps means that is not so surprising to you – and she was great…and was back for the last hours of the final day, as we counted down to the International Yes event.

Slowly, the flags started to assemble, as the media began to throng around the media (only RTE – of course – being English language): although the abstract international ramifications of a possible Yes vote had been discussed before, the reality appears to be dawning around the world. I had been Skyping with a good friend in Portugal – she was so excited about how many of her political friends were discussing it, and in the context of it being a profoundly positive message for the world: that there is Another Way, that does not involve the NeoLiberal Consensus (that must be what George Robertson meant by ‘the Forces of Darkness rejoicing’…). Scotland – right now – is the single most politically literate country on this planet. How bizarre is that? Maybe that whole ‘Enlightenment 2.0’ post was not so out there, after all…

And then it began…a Russian photographer was there: “I am here for the moment from Berlin – really hope it is Yes”.

A Cuban friend e-mailed me quoting Che Guevara in the subject line ‘Hasta la victoria’ – and applying to move to Scotland from England if there is a Yes.

A Swiss friend sent me a message that he would be delighted if we would vote for independence on his birthday.

A Polish woman from the University of Edinburgh approached the stall: “I have been here for 23 years, and this is the first time in 25 years that I have experienced anything like Solidarnost”.

A fervent Englishman who regularly dismissed Scots and their independence for decades told me this morning that we would be deluded fools to vote No.

Today more messages, from Chile, France – even two from China hoping for a Yes vote.

And yesterday, just before the crowds built to 4,000 on The Meadows (not bad for something only advertised by Twitter), an English student approached the stall. She had her two friends with her – all three of them had come to Yes from No. She was so fired up and enthused, demanding a last Wee Blue Book from the stall, in order to go out and convince more Undecideds. “I know I’m English, but I feel so much a part of this, that now I feel I’m more Scottish than English.” That really got me – and I had to turn away, or I knew I would just start crying.

Because she GOT it. And she was the perfect example of what we have built here, and how it is NOTHING to do with this mythical ‘anti-Englishness’. (However, you can easily check out the reverse attitude, directed at Scots, by looking at the below the line comments on almost any online version of a mainstream newspaper. Lovin’ those lovebombs, Guys…) Her brief, beautiful, glorious enthusing at the stall just made me so profoundly happy – and in a way said so much more than the many messages of support we took during the celebration, from speakers from Wales, Eire, Galicia, Basque, Catalan, Quebec… I watched the sun go down, and felt that something really special was about to dawn.

Have we moved comfortably into the lead? Are we (or am I, more accurately) deluding myself? Apparently Jim Sillars reckons its 55:45. I don’t know anymore. I’m too tired to process information – too long on polling station duty today (4 hours), with too little sleep last night. I don’t know what is going to happen anymore – despite the fact that I have no reason whatsoever to doubt my previous calculations in the earlier posts. I just need to sleep.

I just keep hearing Peter Gabriel’s ‘Come Talk to Me’, the glorious opening track on his ‘Us’ album – with that bagpipe opening effect (so sue me for being a cliche). It’s the song of victory…and then the lyrics for negotiations starting. Right now I just need to sleep.

Oh, yeah…and remember to vote.

 

“When the people fear the government you have tyranny. When the government fear the people you have liberty.” (Thomas Jefferson)

“The greatest awakening of political thought in our lifetime” (Derek Bateman, Broadcaster)

“Not since Iraq have I seen BBC News working at propaganda strength like this. So glad I’m out of there” (Paul Mason, former Newsnight correspondent)

“There are 250,000 children living in poverty in Scotland. That’s a moral outrage and economic stupidity.” (Jim Sillars)

Marchmont and Market Penetration

This bizarre electoral experience continues…ever heard of ‘redding cards’ (spelling?)? Me neither – until I was called to deliver them on Monday night… Apparently you give them out to your supporters (as determined through canvassing) for them to hand to your representative at the polling station – it serves as a way of checking if all of our supporters have voted, by the time 7pm comes, so we know who we need to chase up in the evening. Slightly bizarre – maybe even antiquated – but I got on with it, getting down to Spottiswoode Street and ignoring the drizzle. I had had an unexpected break during the day anyway, as the rain had made it impractical to set up the stall, so I had got some respite from standing behind the table, which seemed to be affecting my back and legs.

A lot of high buildings in that street – and it seems (from my direct experience) that most Yes voters do indeed live on the 4th floor. [sigh] As one has to hand the addressed card over directly to the individual concerned, there was a lot of opportunity for conversation…even though this was not a canvassing exercise. In one flat, a woman received the card for her husband with a slight smile, quietly declaring herself to be undecided. She commented on how politically informed her 8 year old daughter had become, and we discussed how positive that was for the future – then she confessed that she had actually been thinking about voting ‘Yes’, after the Orange Order march on Saturday, but said we had missed a trick by not clearing up their mess after them. I was slightly stunned – given our apparently highly successful media coup via Twitter – and suggested she look it up. This seemed to make a positive impression (as, indeed, it should have done) – but I still think she was not won over. So apparently it is not just me that does not do Twitter.

Then I met Walter. I guess I could tell the way things were about to go, when he took the card from me, and said ‘Aye, so…’  Receiving the card, for him, was merely a perfunctory introductory formality – a prelude. He needed to talk – and his sister Liz (through to see him from Glasgow for the day) was there too with a west coast perspective on what was happening through there. Without a pause for breath, he launched into an attack on the BBC’s presentation (he may have used the ‘B’ word, it is true…) – his disgust at their coverage was that of someone who wasn’t going back. He asked me how I thought it would be on Thursday – and I gave what has become my usual answer (see previous post) on the result. He asked if that was because of Tommy – I had not realised Sheridan had quoted exactly the same figures when he was taking Andrew Neil apart on the Sunday Politics Show, but I know he has been travelling extensively, and has done more than enough election campaigns, for me to take some confidence from that.

The degree of excitement was palpable – Mark said to me that he would have assumed Marchmont would be SOLID ‘No’, based on the profile of those who live there, and yet looking around the dominance of ‘Yes’ posters in the window (bearing in mind all the caveats that I used in my ‘Badges’ post), it was clear that there had been a massive penetration into the area by the Yes campaign. It was certainly true – there were far more Yes windows in Spottiswoode Street than my pack of card recipients would suggest. It looks like – although I can’t swear to it – a lot of people have committed heavily to Yes even in the month since the last canvassing. I left him, slightly bemused by his informed perspective on his environment, and trying to square that with my experience around The Meadows.

Another recipient of a card – Roy, I think his name was – told me also about how he felt we were making inroads in the area – an 18 month ‘embittered No voter’ had finally told him last week that he was going to vote Yes because of the negativity of the ‘No’ campaign. This made me realise that there had also been a change in character at the stall since I came back a couple of weeks ago. Before, one or two ‘No’s might turn up, with what Kaye referred to as the ‘Borg’ approach – completely scripted, ‘tell me why you are voting Yes’, in an attempt to sideline us from engaging with actual undecideds for hours, if necessary. But the strength of numbers on the stall now, meant that that was an impossible strategy to successfully deliver – there were always plenty of Yes people to deal with ‘passing trade’, and there simply aren’t the committed ‘No’s present to swamp us. Instead, we actually have time to work on ‘No’s…it is not what they are expecting, but you can see sometimes when a point goes home, and their confidence is – ever so slightly – shaken. I won’t deny that it isn’t satisfying. But the thing is that we actually have the resources to indulge in such tactics, and start to undermine the people sent to thwart us. That speaks volumes. And that was why, in the run-up to last weekend, when Blair Jenkins announced there were 35,000 volunteers going out on the streets, I laughed for so long when the BBC reporter said ‘and of course we can be sure that there will be just as many ‘No supporters out there, too…’  Really?  I mean – you can add all the people in the Orange Order march (many from England and Northern Ireland) in, if you want, but even then that is just not a credible statement. Regardless of the result, there is only one side that has had a grass roots campaign, and it isn’t ‘No’.

Anyway, back to those cards: inasmuch as it may be a traditional campaigning technique, I am not convinced that these cards are that useful – or, at least, not so much as where you have a small constituency of party political supporters to ‘get out the vote’. The numbers now for this are huge – and I feel that people will feel less part of a campaign that is offering to help them, than they might feel intruded on…but I know that the people that I met when I was giving those cards out enjoyed the opportunity to excitedly engage with the debate.

And I got a huge amount out of it, too, on the eve of the vote – just another kick and buzz to keep going, and remember who else is out there, willing us on.

 

“Those who say ‘It can’t be done’ should not interrupt those who are busy doing it.” (Roddy MacDonald)

The Sunday Herald, Selfies and Supermarkets: The Last Weekend of the Campaign

Sunday – the day of ‘OpenAirYes’ on the Meadows. I can feel that I am becoming more and more run-down as the last days start to take their toll, (even one large zit starting to appear on my face – sorry for the TMI) and even after a solid 8 hours sleep, my legs are becoming solid girders, and I want another 8 hours sleep to follow. But it is up to the stall for ‘OpenAirYes’, the stall being moved to Middle Meadow Walk for the day, to give room for National Collective.

On the way, I grab a Sunday Herald, then sit on the bus, scanning the ‘indy selfies’ front page double spread…until, with a guffaw, I find myself, 7 across and 17 down (if you are interested). I have gained some weird ‘credentials’ for having been a part of this thing – just through that one image, that one act of vanity (taken before I had the zits, I am pleased to note).

Striding with a bit more confidence, I make it to the site, a band playing ‘Children of the Revolution’ a la Moulin Rouge as I approach – Kaye is there, and the stall is on its way. Down towards Sainsbury’s, about halfway between us and the crowd for National collective, a Better Together stall has appeared. It seems appropriate that they are down there – Cameron’s summoning of the supermarket bosses to Downing Street (possibly with an offer of even more tax breaks?), followed by the announcements an hour later that ‘prices may go up or down in an independent Scotland – then filtered through the magical filter of the BBC to become ‘prices may go up in an independent Scotland’….well. Given what we have been told for years, about costs for Scottish produce being elevated in Scotland because they have to be sent down south to a distribution centre before being sent back up again…it kind of flies a little in the face of that. But hey ho – that won’t make much difference when the asteroid strikes us for being independent, will it?

The onslaught of supermarket announcements following on from the (formerly) great and the good of the failed banks pronouncing their own end of the world scenario…countered only by Tim Martin, Chairman of Wetherspoons, saying there is no problem, and dismissing the claims of politicians and businessmen “who should know better” of an independent Scotland’s economic prospects. It is hard to say, but there is a real reaction that is palpable against this onslaught. Of course, these ideas have traction – they are basic (if not also baseless) fears, therefore will have an impact – but you can sense a degree of disillusionment even beyond committed ‘Yes’s…that it is even starting to repulse the undecided, and drive some of them into our arms. It will probably affect the percentage of undecided that come to Yes at the end – our ratio of 2:1 has been excellent, and would be enough to win the day comfortably on the polls for some time, but that is going to drive it down to 50:50 transformation, I would say. Of course, the last undecided are going to be the hardest to win over – some of them have only recently shifted from soft ‘No’s and will be frightened back there again – but it is always sad when something reinforces that sense that ‘if we lose this, then Scotland will have been robbed through lies’. Some of us have felt that way about BBC Scotland for a while…then there was the spectacular own goal of Nick Robinson last week. Allegedly, the comparative videos from that press conference (the one from the live BBC news Channel with Alex Salmond’s complete 3 minute answer to Nick’s question and Nick’s annoyed heckling, and the one that Nick put out on BBC news saying Salmond ‘did not answer’) have had traction with some ‘No’ voters, who have started to realize that perhaps you don’t need to own a tinfoil hat (or be a university academic) to believe that the BBC exhibits overt political bias.

We stretch bunting between a tree and a lamppost (as ‘designated tall person’ I get that job – finally, something that I can – almost – uniquely contribute!), and set up. Margaret, Kathryn, Frances, James and Jamie is there with his National-ly Collective smoothness, and soon we are getting deluged by people – there is music, the adjacent ‘Ninja Buns’ stall (not an exercise programme, but a food dispensary) is doing a brisk trade. The badges are vanishing, balloons zooming off the stall to indy bairns, the posters slowly eroding, but as ever, the one commodity that is the most sought after, is…the legend that is the Wee Blue Book. It doesn’t ‘cure’ everyone of ‘Nawness’, but its hit rate is unbelievably high, with over a quarter of a million in circulation around Scotland in just a month since Wings Over Scotland’s Stuart Campbell finished the most tightly referenced piece of literature on the Referendum. ‘Yes’ campaigners desperately try to find stashes of them to get out to the undecided – we are even running out of ‘Don’t Knows’ and starting to hit ‘No’s with it. Marco appears at the stall – he had 20,000 copies, and his stock is now entirely gone – we went through loads in the past week, and I have taken to hiding them. People come up asking for them, and I ask if they ACTUALLY have people that they can try to persuade with them. There will be a souvenir edition if we win – but hoard the copy and you take it out of circulation, potentially losing votes in the process.

And some ‘Wingers’ turned up at the stall – the Major (again) and the legend that is Morag. Morag had some Plaid Cymru helpers out working the rural villages (note – they may have come up, but they are NOT being paid – contrast that with Better Together…), and it was good to meet them on the stall. They asked me about the polls – as most people do now, these days. I gave him my caveats – polling companies using Westminster voting intention rather than Holyrood voting intention, 16/17 year olds, the voter registration drive – and the potential for postal vote fraud (still not heard anything more about that missing bag of Dunbartonshire postal votes). All things being even (I say) I am still quietly confident, and would not be surprised at a final 60:40. I realize within that that we may well not get Edinburgh – but the information from Glasgow seems extremely positive, and they are almost five times the population: if we win Glasgow, Edinburgh becomes irrelevant.

Of course, it is a matter of personal pride and shame if my home city does not ‘vote the correct way’ (lol – sounding like the Simpsons video of Groundskeeper Wullie), but one has to be realistic, and Edinburgh is the city in Scotland least likely to go for ‘Yes’. I know this as I look around the hordes going up and down the Meadows – even when I see that the ‘Better Together’ stall halfway down the hill only has people with Yes badges at it, mobbing them with questions as to why they are not voting ‘Yes’. We send some people down there, just to make sure it does not get out of hand – there is no need for anything uglier than an Orange march at the meadows this weekend. Occasionally we see a couple of individuals with No badges or t-shirts start to walk down Middle Meadow Walk…only to suddenly realize there is a sea of Yes badges walking up the hill towards them, and you can see a realization dawn on their faces. That maybe they are not quite the dominant majority that they thought they were.

I meet Will Macleod, the US correspondent who did that brilliant summary on a US radio station of all the material that was not getting covered at all on the BBC, and we walk down to the National Collective assembly, passing the crowd of ‘Yes’ people around the ‘No’ stall, where everything still seems well under control. At National Collective, Hue and Cry’s ‘Labour of Love’ kicks in, and a man with a huge Alastair Darling papier mache head starts bustin’ some dance moves, much to everyone’s delight. The party feel continues – people are happy, people are smiling. People believing that we are going to Win.

Soon enough it is 6pm, and we start to pack up as people begin to disperse. If this is the best that Edinburgh can do, then – good though it is – it is not what we have seen on videos from Glasgow and Perth this weekend. It is sobering, but not entirely disappointing. I head for home with my Sunday Herald – wondering when I am going to get time to read it.

Because…well, can I tell you a secret? I should probably confess something to you: my fears for ‘The Last Weekend’. You see, we have had something of a shortage of media ‘support’ up here. All newspapers vigorously (and unquestioningly) opposed to a Yes vote. Until 2 months ago. The Sunday Herald came out for ‘Yes’ – alone amongst all press (and with television coverage that has produced fascinating academic studies revealing political media bias in a western state). Some thought – it’s just a cynical commercial stunt. To be fair, if so, then it was well-calculated – their sales have increased 25% in two months, when their nearest competitor lost 11% over 6 months. But their daily sister paper, The Herald, had some of the most venomous opposition to Yes, from their political editor, Magnus Gardham. So cynicism was justified. And now I come to my secret fear. That the Sunday Herald would perform a volte-face akin to a matador, and stab ‘Yes’ in the heart with a ‘change of mind’ on the last Sunday before the vote. But here’s the thing – they didn’t. Admittedly, there was the comedy story about Alan Magee’s opinion piece (see previous post) – but the Sunday Herald is still behind ‘Yes’.

So, not an emotional ‘trap’ for ‘Yes’ supporters after all.

Which is ‘Nice’.

 

“I think there’s been a massive amount of nonsense talked, especially by businessmen, about Scottish independence. There’s no reason why Scotland shouldn’t thrive as an independent economy.” (Tim Martin, Chairman of Wetherspoons)

The Future is Bright, The Past is Orange: The Last Weekend of the Campaign

It has been a vigorous, if somewhat tense, last few days on the stall. My legs are aching from too many hours standing behind the Yes Marchmont table…don’t get me wrong, I’m not professing to be one of those Great Persuaders, I’m merely secondary occasional small-scale (if frequently long haul conversations) stuff, and I view my primary contribution as one of making stupid jokes to keep everyone’s spirits up.

And actually, that has not been terribly difficult, as confidence has continued to build since last weekend. Although there was a (not altogether unexpected) swathe of polls (after The Big One in the Sunday Times that showed Yes ahead) showing ‘no, you are losing…even if just by a little bit!!’, the sense that we are continuing to gain ground has only increased. That has been good, as I had a slight concern that premature optimism from one poll might lead to some complacency. Margaret introduced me to the Wings Over Scotland legend that is Major Bloodnok (surprised to see how young and good looking he was – but then I guess a Terry Thomas avatar lowers expectations), and the quantity of people mobbing the stall for copies of the (equally legendary) Wee Blue Book so that they could run away and convince their friends, has been inspiring. I am so proud to have been a (small) part of that project, and to see the way that EVERYONE knows about it, with nothing but word-of-mouth promoting it, is absolutely stunning.

But we had the occasional cloud, as there was the Orange Order march for No on Saturday. Yes Scotland (rightly) advised us to stay away from the city centre and avoid contact with the march, so that there were no incidents that could be spun to fit the preordained BBC narrative. This is why Edinburgh didn’t have examples of the ‘feelgood festival feeling’ shown by videos on FaceBook from Glasgow and Perth that same day, and I did feel slightly robbed of that, as a result. Anyway, this meant that we decided to set up our stall at Cameron Toll for the 11am-2pm duration of the Orange march, which was starting on our patch (The Meadows).

The stall had a good turnout – but Cameron Toll is a modern shopping mall, with most people arriving by car, so we fairly quickly were getting restless, and began to discuss the possibility of where we could move to. At the same time, there was some confusion – Wings had posted a link to the online version of Magnus Gardham’s column, and it appeared that this creator of venomous anti-Yes diatribes had suddenly come out for Yes with a staggeringly eloquent piece. I checked the hard copy version in Cameron Toll’s mall, and realized that, beyond the headline, there was no resemblance.  An hour later, the Herald were admitting they had mistakenly put a piece by Alan Magee (Creation Records founder) under Magnus’ name.  The structure of the universe was restored.

By 1pm we had made our decision – we were going back to retake The Meadows.

As we packed up, a most bizarre sight drove by the Toll – a huge biker chapter bearing ‘Masonic Sons of Scotland’ banners…and with so many of their mighty hogs covered in ‘Yes’ stickers. Grins, horns and friendly waves – even – from some of the gang as they went past…presumably they were on the Orange march, but maybe they didn’t get the memo about it being a ‘No’ event?
A couple of cars dropped us at the top of Middle Meadow Walk, and – with more than a little apprehension – we went down the slope towards our regular patch. There had been a rise in ‘combative confrontations’ recently, with a graffiti/swastika attack on the Yes Newington shop, so we had some reason to be cautious…but when we got there, the main thing to greet us was the sea of plastic bottle garbage stretching across the grass, glinting in the sun. I was slightly taken aback – not only by the striking scenes of litter desolation across The Meadows, but also the dozen or so portaloos being loaded on to t a truck for disposal, when that site was supposedly only their rallying point for half an hour before the march started.  Whenever I have attended a march starting there, that has never been an issue – but, as one of the council workers said to me later, a lot of them had come from England and Northern Ireland, and had been drinking heavily on the coaches.

Frances had the idea. As soon as she saw the rubbish, she suggested that some of us should go and help the two council workers there who were starting to clear up. Her idea was that we could then use that as a photo opportunity for social media. Personally, I really liked the metaphor about cleaning up the garbage of the Union, and went across to confirm with council workers that it was Ok to help and that we wouldn’t be treading on anyone’s toes. Surprised, they happily accepted our help (as they had to be finished by 5), warning us that they didn’t have gloves or litter pickers.  Not a problem, I said. I went back and recruited James from the stall, as he had the smartphone necessary to deliver images to Twitter, and we got to work. Thirty to forty five minutes later, as other council workers arrived to aid their colleagues, we were done – the council workers were pleased as they had been out early that day (someone had been painting ‘Yes’ as a welcome for the marchers on some of the buildings there). 24 hours later, we had had over 500 retweets and 170 favourites (he said, typing it as though he knew what it meant…). Apparently (as a non-Tweeter) that is ‘good’. It was only later that I realised the power of appropriating someone else’s publicity stunt for one’s own ends…

We went on to have a good afternoon and evening on the stall, finishing around 7pm, as has become standard.  The longer hours are really starting to go for my legs, thighs protesting whenever I stop and try to sit down, but we are getting an early evening footfall that we have not engaged with before. There were stragglers drifting around with Union flags or Rangers jerseys about their person, but noone tried to hassle us (as a group, we don’t exactly look like much of a physical challenge!). After we had closed up, a retreat to the Argyll Bar provided an opportunity (for me, at any rate) to collapse with a Williams Brothers Seven Giraffes, and kick back with Jamie (National Collective) and Ronan – a member of the group who had funded over a thousand of the Wee Blue Books himself.

We might have experienced a false dawn that day with Magnus Gardham seeming to have had the most Damascine of conversions by publishing the most damning indictment of the week’s Westminster trips in The Herald, and coming out for Yes. But even putting that editorial hiccup to one side, it had been good. In the morning, I had been concerned about getting across the heart of Edinburgh to Cameron Toll, before the Orange Order march bisected my city and cut me off from the stall. On the way, I saw SO many ‘Yes’ stalls out across the streets, with only one cluster of ‘No’ nearby, and a handful of ten people with vote No placards strewn across the Royal Mile (where else?) in an attempted blockade.

In contrast, a young woman with a life-limiting illness called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency climbed the face of Edinburgh Castle with oxygen strapped to her back and tubes up her nose, to place a giant ‘Yes’ sign there in protest at Gordon Brown’s lies about transplants (the only cure for A1AD is a double lung transplant). It was a stunningly heroic action, and she apparently spoke at the BBC Pacific Quay protest. That kind of courage is humbling.

You can feel it in the air. We are rising. Will it be enough? Will Scottish Labour’s famous sleight of hand with postal votes (already one bag of them seems to have gone missing in Dunbartonshire) instead carry the day? Who knows? But we might just make it.

 

“The Yes campaign isn’t about politicians, it’s a grassroots movement of ordinary people like you and I, it’s about change, it’s about taking ownership of our future and our children’s future in Scotland and it’s about overwhelming exhilarating hope.” (Michelle McManus)

Old School Horsetrading, and Putting out your Stall: ‘It’s all kicking off now, Prue…’

Well, the weather forecast yesterday in Edinburgh was officially ‘excited’ – I watched as the titular heads of the Scottish branches of the Westminster parties trooped out despondently in front of Holyrood to warmly celebrate what the Daily Mash referred to as ‘Gordon Brown’s exciting timetable’. After the obligatory turn-about speeches, with a sea of cloned ‘best of both worlds’ placards behind them, someone started heckling about ‘a realistic timetable?’, the press call was swiftly closed down and they moved to pressing the placard-holding flesh. Johann Lamont continues to look increasingly unwell, and I genuinely feel sorry for what is evidently an ongoing decline in health due to her position. I’m pretty sure she will be glad to leave office if there is a Yes vote, or even to succumb to the vagaries of an internal party leadership contest after a ‘No’.

Back in the BBC News channel’s studio, Dr Duncan Ross, a social history and politics academic from the University of Glasgow was asked for his opinion of what was being offered by this unified…um…timetable. After dismissing the powers as nothing that had not been already presented back in the spring, he was pressed on the timetable – but wasn’t this a good addition to the debate? His answer was choice, and a tad Matthew Perry from ‘Friends’: “It takes in St. Andrews Day and Burns Night – I mean, could they be any more patronising to us?”

Then it was time for the guffaws to end, and to head back up to the ‘Yes’ stall on the Meadows for the afternoon.

At the bus stop across from Trinity Academy (my sister’s old school), a group of older secondary pupils got on. I heard some of their banter on the top deck during the journey, then, when we all got off the bus at the same stop on Princes Street, I was somewhat surprised to notice that my old mate Callum was the teacher with them. Callum had been Science Students Council Convenor when I was on the Students’ Representative Council at the University of Edinburgh, and it must be more than twenty years since I saw him. We exchanged brief biographical catch-up pleasantries, then, as I showed them round to the Royal Society of Edinburgh rooms, I challenged the group of pupils: ‘So I overheard you were 5 Yes to 1 No?’ They pointed at the unfortunate anomaly, who grinned as he noted that he had agreed to vote No purely for a box of Smarties.

I told him that this haggling (even if not directly for ballot papers on eBay, as last week) was not uncommon – one individual who is swithering has said to me that he would vote Yes if I converted my computer’s operating system to Linux. He then stepped up this relentless barrage of temptation, by sending a video of his (suddenly adorable) 4 year old son saying ‘Yes’ to Scottish independence. These are, indeed, the times that try a man’s soul.

Some brief Referendum conversations with the schoolgroup later, I continued my journey on up towards the Meadows, to join up with the ‘Yes’ stall there. I was feeling kind of guilty for abandoning the people on it for almost 3 weeks – at that point, there had been a rolling turnover of helpers, but generally around 4 from Frances (from the Western Isles – she had been away in Detroit for a few weeks), Kaye (primary liaison for campaign materials), Margaret (left Ayrshire for London for her working life, only returning in the last couple of years), Ishbel (from Orkney), Irene (a seasoned SNP activist), Paddy (seemed to be the organiser, maybe a Green), Steve (staffed the stall for English Scots for Yes – the adjoining table), and Colin (a bit more withdrawn). As I walked up through the city centre, I saw a couple of No badges – unsurprising, given the morning’s ‘No’ stunt at Holyrood, and indeed very much to be expected, in the last weeks of this campaign (and especially after the weekend poll result) that they would become more visible. When I got to the stall, I was surprised to see that rather than 4 helpers, there were 12. And rather than two tables…there were three: the third featuring the legend that is the Wee Blue Book – copies stacked high across the table, we went through a shedload. This Wings Over Scotland publication (which I am proud to say I helped crowd-fund) has been the most thoroughly referenced piece of work put out during the campaign. We were out in force, and in buoyant mood – people coming up for information, conversations, posters and stickers (badges we were almost completely out of – scarcely a few Green for Yes, and a bunch of English Scots for Yes remaining).

There was a lot of traffic through the area – Freshers’ Week helpers milling around the area (even with their own ‘Yes’ stall, barely 400 yards away towards Potterrow) – it really seems to be all kicking off, for these charming older ladies as the stalwarts on the stall. As the afternoon drew on, the schools came out, and an 8 year old kid from my old school cycled up. ‘What are the benefits of independence?’ he said, as he fixed me with a steely gaze. I gave him a short spiel, watching his combative gaze soften, and at the end he smiled ‘thank you!’, then cycled away. Even though he did not have a vote, I was relieved to have apparently managed to give him some answers that satisfied him…for now.

Schoolkids can be tough to satisfy, whether young or secondary, but I seemed to hold my own with both yesterday. And they were wanting information, as part of the constant flow of people to the stall for posters and badges.

The level of engagement is escalating exponentially, and of course just as much as there seems to be a torrent for ‘Yes’ advertising after the weekend, there are one or two ‘No’s also appearing: walking home in my own small street last night, the first timid ‘No Thanks’ poster was up in an upper window. I had been expecting it, and after the shock that ‘the system’ appears to have got at the weekend, it was inevitably going to ‘smoke’ a few of the determined ‘No’s into the open, as the narrative of the ‘foregone conclusion’ win for Better Together fell apart.

These levels of engagement have been climbing steadily for a while, though. Three weeks ago, I was getting ‘Suggested Pages’ from FaceBook, for Alex Salmond (23,000 likes) and Nicola Sturgeon (19,000 likes). As I type, Alex is now at 52,000 with Nicola at 37,000. Even John Swinney, who was languishing on 3,000, has just broken through the 10,000 barrier!

At the end of the night, I watched the BBC News Channel again, with Peter Haine and Jonathan Redwood arguing over what form the enhanced devolution package for the rest of the UK would look like after a ‘No’ vote – and arguing quite intensely, too. It seems that suddenly the fight for the revamped UK got real.
Which makes me think that – although it may, or may not, have had an impact in Scotland – Gordon Brown’s timetable has certainly been exciting for the rest of the UK.

 

“Devolution, the Calman Commission, the Scotland Bill, the Edinburgh Agreement, all of this and more you have…because Westminster parties are scared of the SNP. If you vote ‘No’ you massively change the balance of power and they will not only give you nothing, but will probably take powers away from the Scottish Parliament.” (Andrew Neil, 2012)