The Bran Seer at the Sunday Herald: A Thousand Days of Yes?

I admit that it is a difficult time for me: I have to get my attention back to my work, and away from referendum-related issues – and yet the vibrancy of the Referendum 6 weeks on just keeps building, in a way that makes it very hard to walk away from: as someone put it, you would think that Yes had won, especially given the week we have just had.

Ok, the Sunday Herald did not have to have the Bran Seer working for them in order for them to put out last week’s front page of ‘Lamont in Freefall’ in order to see that one coming. Perhaps that image was only emphasised to Johann with the Google Executive’s free jump from space this week, achieving 822 miles per hour during his freefall of almost 26 miles. Has Labour in Scotland deployed the chutes yet? Or is it still in gravitational denial as it heads towards the ground in May next year? I guess that comes down to their prospective leader choice – and from their supposed shortlist, it looks like a masterstroke, with central office going for a Westminster Labour MP (perm one from Murphy, Sarwar and Brown) to lead Scottish Labour, just after their leader has resigned over too much London control of Labour in Scotland. (Good luck selling that one on the doorsteps, guys.)

Certainly Johann’s sonic boom on Friday evening was heard in Westminster and Holyrood very clearly indeed, and the usual frenzy of Labour leaks as the Special Advisors brief and counter-brief against each other’s candidates for the coming leadership contest ensued. Leak: Margaret Curran briefed against Johann, as one of her oldest friends for decades. Counter-leak: Miliband told Johann not to say anything against the Bedroom Tax while he ‘had a bit of a think’ about it (for a year). McConnell and McLeish, both generating column inches last weekend for the woeful condition of Scottish Labour and its lost direction, were back out again this weekend, in the wake of Johann’s resignation, criticising the failure of London to respect Labour’s autonomy in Scotland. Sarwar is an intellectual lightweight and stupid, so not really a threat of any kind as a leader, except to himself. Murphy is aggressive and bullying and I would think that he would have the instinct to try and poison the Scottish political scene with his attitude, which might make it a more comfortable playing field for him. Brown is a slightly unknown quantity – he may have the highest trust ratings of anyone in Labour in Scotland right now, but whether people will see him as egotistical, arrogant and someone who blocked Scotland’s future for reasons of utter personal conceit by the time of next year’s general election, is another matter. He was hugely unpopular in Scotland by the time he left office (Iraq being the biggest slap in the face to Labour’s core supporters, with their membership now rumoured to be down to 8,000), which was one of the reasons that Labour support dropped the following year for the Holyrood election – he may well have done enough in the last months to ‘rehabilitate’ himself in the eyes of enough of the Labour electorate…especially those ‘Hangover Nos’ who wondered if they had done the right thing with a No vote, the morning after.

Elsewhere, I was reminded of the fabulous Dateline Scotland’s item with Briony Laing reporting on the ‘Nuclear Submariners for Yes’ group launch ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ee0VUW1laRo ) saying that nuclear weapons kept the world safe, therefore the west coast of Scotland was the safest place in the UK. And yet – less satirically – the Sunday Herald reports this morning that Faslane has apparently had 316 ‘nuclear safety events’ in the last 5 years, making it sound as though there is plenty of scope for nuclear disaster around Coulport, without the need for the base to sustain a direct attack.

And then there was the EU story of the week, which had Nigel Farage so relaxed in Andrew Neil’s BBC studio a week before the Rochester by-election, that he did not even have to smile. (Well…not much.) It seems that Barroso had a final kiss goodbye for David Cameron, as a consequence of the Prime Minister not backing his candidacy for NATO Secretary-General (in spite of Barroso happily coming on the Andrew Marr show to declare that Scotland would be in the same position as Kosovo when it came to being a member state of the EU, as part of his side of the bargain – a shame did not quite deliver his side). Firstly, he rubbished the idea that the free movement of people could be abandoned as a UK exception in the EU, and then left behind a 1.7 billion pound bill for Osborne to stump up, as part of backdated dues (apparently a consequence of the UK’s burgeoning black market including prostitution – who knew it was doing more to make the economy recover than the housing bubble?). It is of course a gift to UKIP – Farage said that he was fairly confident about winning Rochester before this announcement came out, but clearly sitting next to Andrew Neil he is way beyond that position now.

Whether that is a bad thing for the Prime Minister or not is arguable. UKIP drives the electorate’s agenda further to the right, making Labour look even more desperate to catch-up, at a time when they are looking to be yet again failing to find the plot in Scotland. If Labour is weakened, Cameron’s chances of retaining the reins of power (whether in a coalition or not) look even more convincing, and stapling ‘extended devolution’ on to the back of English votes for English laws (the hilariously abbreviated EVEL – if only he was a doctor…) again looks like reducing the number of MPs in Westminster from Scotland that he would have to contend with. But I do get the feeling that as much as he might gain support from the electorate by posturing as the defender of ‘Little England’ against those Bad Foreign People on the continent, that this whole charade might be starting to get away from him a little bit. If he is not writing the script, and control is elsewhere, then it becomes highly risky to hold that referendum on EU in/out – as much as you can phrase the question in such a way that people would vote to stay in the EU, if you make it a fast and thoughtless campaign, then that syntax just might not have enough attention paid to it, and accidentally deliver an Out vote: Farage a week ago was saying a condition of his support for the Conservatives in May would be a referendum in July – a snap poll, effectively, and in such contrast to a considered decision. Operate on that timescale, and you can poll for a knee-jerk reaction that stops the question becoming ‘fogged’ by such tiny details as economic collapse if the UK leaves the EU.

Which brings me back to my problems with this blog. I had been thinking about slowing it up, as I said, as it is a little difficult right now to get the time to consume the amount of output necessary for these words (believe it or not, a modicum of research does go into it…). In the context of the 3 year timetable until the next independence referendum (i.e. following the previously-expected timetable with a 2017 EU referendum), I had thought of renaming the blog as ‘A Thousand Days of Yes’ – a bit Arabian Nights, but then, that was hardly a failure on the bestseller list, so steal from the best, I thought.

But now I find myself wondering…is it really a thousand days to go? If Farage gets his July honeymoon wish, it could be an awful lot sooner than that.

So. Should I give up the blog, Dennis?

 

“Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation” (Dennis Beynon Lee, Canadian Poet)

 

Oh. Ok, then…

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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)

Unwelcome Honesty in Westminster: The Quebec 1995 PlayBook Revisited

No secret has been made of the fact that Westminster has closely modeled the ‘No’ campaign on the campaign run by the Canadian government against the Quebec movement in 1995. There are, of course, a lot of differences in situations – inasmuch as that campaign appeared tohave a much stronger ethnic/francophone/cultural component, Quebec had never before been an independent country as opposed to a region. Quebec already has something approaching what people referred to as DevoMax a year ago – with significant autonomy in taxation and revenues, and only really wanting to expand their authority to encompass defense and foreign affairs. In contrast, Scotland is well short of that position and level of control, and some might draw parallels in the degree to which taxation and revenue are retained by Westminster (with politicians with very different priorities) being functionally similar to what one might term a ‘colony’.

Promises of more powers and money, lovebombs…all were deployed immediately before the 1995 vote in Quebec. Even a parade. Subsequently, powers were taken away, health and education funding have declined or stalled, and centralist priorities of military spending and industrial investment elsewhere in Canada have dominated. After the hollow promises, as Sol Zanetti, leader of pro-independence Quebecois party Option Nationale puts it, they now have the “worst of both worlds”.

But of course, you may cry – that could not happen here. Could it?

Well, for those who think that Yes supporters are disingenuous when they bring up the 1979 failed promise of devolution by Hume and Thatcher, and perhaps a bit too paranoid, it was enlightening to hear William Hague in charge at Prime Minister’s Questions while the three party leaders were on their ‘private audiences only, no public meetings’ flying trip to Scotland the other day. In response to a question about the ‘promises of more powers’ that were being made by Cameron and the others, William Hague candidly declared that these were just campaign manifesto promises, not government policy commitments.

Of course, you then go back and see how often the Westminster parties have made promises that strangely were the absolute reverse of what they actually did in power.

In 1997, Labour declared they had no plans to introduce tuition fees, and that they would reform the electoral system. Instead, they introduced tuition fees and failed to reform the electoral system.

In 2001, Labour promised not to introduce top-up fees. Which they then did.

In 2005, Labour promised not to raise the basic or higher rates of income tax, and that they would hold a referendum on the European Union constitution. They raised the higher rate, and did not hold a referendum on the EU constitution.

Too far into the past? Well, in 2010 the Conservatives declared they had no plans to increase VAT or abolish the Education Maintenance Allowance. They also pledged no top-down reorganisation of the NHS and no cuts to front-line services. They then increased VAT to 20%, abolished the Education Maintenance Allowance, instigated massive top-down reorganisation and privatisation of the NHS (England) and brought in the biggest peacetime cuts to front-line services.

And then, of course, there is the one so obvious that it seems cruel to mention – the Lib Dems famous promise to vote against any increase in tuition fees. Before they voted to triple them.

To have grounds of concern as to whether or not these ‘promised powers’ that the three parties cannot agree on, and will face political opposition to in Westminster, may not materialise, one does not have to believe any intent to deceive…any more than perhaps in the above examples. One merely has to note that despite the undertakings of individuals in campaigns that seemed completely black and white, the promises did not translate into reality. It simply might have been because it seemed impractical, because they ran out of time.

Or impractical because they never had any intention of holding to those particular promises in the first place. Potayto potahto.

The point is, you shouldn’t be surprised if they don’t come to pass – in any shape whatsoever.

And get worried if a last minute ‘love’ parade gets announced next week for Edinburgh or Glasgow.

 

“The statements by the party leaders made on this in the last few days are statements by party leaders in a campaign – not a statement of Government policy today, but a statement of commitment from the three main political parties, akin to statements by party leaders in a general election campaign of what they intend to do afterwards. It is on that basis that they have made those statements.” (William Hague, 11th September, 2014)