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…