Thursday, June 26, 2014

Letter to No Voters or "Will Scotland's Turkeys Vote for Cameron's Christmas?"

Warning.  This one's a polemic. Addressed to No voters  Maybe they're all polemics addressed to No voters. Maybe it's even a little...angry. But I'm scared of what you guys are thinking...or maybe not thinking clearly enough...about doing. I'm scared of who you're trusting.  Of what and who is controlling the future you're voting for.
I really hope...I really hope I'm wrong about all of this...But here goes.
The Yes campaign are constantly being told that a vote for Yes is a vote for uncertainty. George Galloway used the word "havoc" the other day, as he addressed a rapturous audience of Edinburgh lawyers and bankers.
Those people who really don't see the need for democracy in Scotland as they've been getting on very nicely indeed for 300 years without it, thank you! 
Don't Rock the Boat!
Constant demands are made of us to look into a crystal ball and see stability...only to be rubbished. You can't guarantee any of that, we're told.  Currency, borders, the just don't know.
And of course, we don't.  All these things are negotiable.  The future is like that.
So the intrinsic uncertainty of the future is used as a rhetorical weapon by people arguing in favour of their "guarantee" of continuity, their promise that things will stay the same, only with a wee bit more democracy, just to keep the weans happy and amused.
My question to No Voters is, what kind of negotiations are you expecting after we Vote No?
Underneath the whole Better Together campaign is the "guarantee" that a Yes vote means "havoc" and a No vote means normality. I am here to tell you, and so is Professor David Heald of Aberdeen University, the World Bank and the United Nations, that it ain't gonna be like that.
The outcome of this referendum is going to change things.  Either way.  The status quo may be on the ballot paper.  It is not on the cards.
I've attached Scott McNab's piece on the Professor's testimony to Holyrood below and  I urge you to read it, and think very seriously through what it means.
If the Professor is even half right, there is already a barely suppressed head of angry, resentful steam building up at Westminster from all those MPs who look at Scotland and see only "subsidy junkies", who look at the figures the Treasury produces to "prove" that Scotland is the only energy rich country on earth that is a economic basket case...and believe them.  
And see a level of public spending that makes them determined, not to raise public spending on the poor, on the old, and on students and the sick in the UK, but to cut those whining Jock's down to size,
And if we Vote No in September, that's who we will be handing our asses to.  With no backsies, no comebacks, and no leverage.  We will be, and I'm sorry to use the offensive terminology, turkeys voting for Christmas.
Hang on, you mad, negative, insulting cybernat...what about the new powers they've guaranteed?
Okay...who has guaranteed these powers?.  MSPs.  Scottish MSPs. People who weren't good enough for Westminster.  From the Labour Party, the Tory Party...and the Liberal Democrats. 
Do you think, that even if the Labour and Tory leaderships have given a casual half-interested nod to this "power package", that they've really signed these off, line by line, with their backbenchers?  The backbenchers who are standing for election to the "real" parliament  9 months after the referendum?  Have the PLP and the 1922 Committee really said..."Yes...good old Scotland, we'll give them anything they ask...only please don't let them go!"
Or do those leaders know that if we vote No, any amount of "powers" can be promised, because power will stay exactly where it is.  Any legislation will have to get through Westminster.  because Holyrood...Ruth, Johann, Willie...won't matter any more.
And tell me, you're all experienced you really think that the UK electorate - angry and confused at austerity - will really give their MPs prizes for sending "their" money to Scotland? 
Pull the other one.
"But forget Ruth and Willie, the polls say that Labour will win in 2015.  Ed Milliband seems like a nice guy!" 
I agree, on both points.  The polls do say that. Mostly.  And he does seem like a nice guy. And I deeply hope for the sake of my Brothers and Sisters in the UK that Labour DOES win Westminster in 2015.
But a) they might not.  And b) can anyone from the No campaign give me a "guarantee" against Boris in 2020?  
Or Teresa?  
Against the Tories being in power for three terms - till 2035 -  after a fractious, exhausted,unconvinced and unconvincing Labour Government ( possibly propped up by Nick Clegg).makes a pig's ear of the recovery?  
When said Labour government will be undermined at every turn by the vested interests who did "bloody well, actually" out of the crash?  When the Labour Party remain indissolubly wedded to keeping the political centre of gravity on these islands exactly where the financial centre is.  Is that the stability a No vote is supposed to promise? Are these the "powers" we're expecting from those in power?
Well...let's be fair.  Let's take a look a look at the most important element of those powers, pick out the biggest plum, the one that we are supposed to find comprehensible,  novices in democracy that we are. 
Let's forget about VAT, National Insurance ,Corporation Tax, Customs Duty, Energy Policy and the Crown Estates off shore where all the oil and wind and wave power is...let's look at what's actually on offer.
The power to vary income tax.  The politically untouchable tax. The one no one ever raises  any more because somebody might notice.  That one
The "new powers" will mean that Scotland's income tax will be cut by 10p in the pound...and then Holyrood will be "made responsible" for raising it, bringing it up to the SAME level as the UK government dictates ..or a wee bit higher, maybe! Imagine how popular that will be!
Or alternatively, slashing public spending even closer to the bone that we're going to have to do already with all the tax powers we WON'T be given.
Nothing else. Nothing will change in terms of spending.
Largely symbolic, I'm sure you'll agree, something shiny for the weans to look at. And something that will support the austerity agenda that has already been agreed upon (read the papers) by all of the Westminster Parties.
Appetizing! And we'll have voted for it! 
Caveat Emptor!
Except, we're not finished yet.
"In return" for this "gift", they will slash the Barnett formula.
Remember, they think we're whining subsidy junkies that they indulge because we "threaten" them with separation, with taking their stuff away. They don't believe that in this Perfect Union we own anything or earn anything.  The only political capital we hold in London... for the moment Independence.
And we will have thrown it away. Because we were scared. And all that oil and wind and wave power that isn't worth anything, on which we can't depend...which we'd be much better off not controlling for ourselves? 
Let's just wrap all that up and hand it over.  Forever. When we go round for dinner, we'll put it on a plate.
And Westminster will say:
 "Independence is off the table?  Voluntarily.  Good.  Thanks.  (pause) What? Sorry...remind me...who are you guys? "
Deep breath...
"You were expecting a PRESENT??? You think they'll give us a PRIZE???? For loyalty??? THESE people?? Who would sell their grannies for a headline?
A Vote for No is a vote to give the Tories permission to do whatever they like. Why do you think Cameron agreed to the referendum?. Because he and his people calculated it was time to call our bluff. Because the cuts agenda, the austerity agenda, that drives EVERYTHING...the whole war against the welfare state...demands that Scotland submit, like it demanded that the Unions submit, local government, submit. David Cameron thought he could trust the Scottish turkeys to vote for Christmas. And we DID!!!"
And breathe normally!
And when we awake, after a No vote, on September 19th...powerless in a way we haven't been powerless since we awake to the monumental stupidity of playing Happy Families in the "greatest Union the world has ever known", and as Cameron and Osborne laugh like drains at our expense for as long as it takes them to forget that we exist...roughly September the 20th...we will rub our eyes and say: "What the hell did we just do?"
Does anyone really think that that is the path to "stability?" That a No vote is a vote for "Normality?" When we will come very quickly to understand that there is nothing we can do. Nothing. That it won't matter who Scotland votes for in 2015 or 2020. 
We will have to take whatever we are given because we will have declared we don't exist. 
If you vote No, my friends, my brothers and sisters, whoever you think is going to be in charge of your future, it isn't going to be you. To Vote No means either that Scotland is not a real country, or that if it is, democracy is too good for it. 
Time to get real.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Why Don't British Nationalists Like the English?

This is more of an observation than an essay.  But the tone of recent No Campaign propaganda has reminded me that when I was growing up in a fairy conventionally loyal and unequivocally Unionist Scottish middle class milieu in Glasgow and Perthshire, I often heard pretty insulting things about the character, morality, and general masculinity of Englishmen which would count as being pretty shocking nowadays. Even now, I'd argue, there is something deeply anti-English about Scottish Unionism.

Like lots of things about this whole campaign, this seems innately counter intuitive.  Surely Scottish Nationalism is anti English?  Actually,'s the opposite, Empire Loyalism is anti English.  Always was.

Habitual denigration of the English, in my childhood,  came from our deep dyed Unionist/Scottish pride in running the Empire in our wearily superior Scottish way, on behalf of what seemed to be, if military and business anecdote could be trusted, effete snobs who would clearly have been quite incapable of painting the globe pink without our manly, practical, down to earth - and of course, modest - assistance.  We may have only been the Sergeant's mess, but heaven help the Colonel without us, we seemed to say.

Ignoring all the Taffs, Paddys , Scousers, Geordies and Cockneys (inter alia) that we must have come across from time to time in the Punjab, It was almost as though the only Englishmen we were conscious of were the high Tory grandees who used to enrich our grouse moors once upon a time - and the only kind of Scotland we could imagine being was primarily to be reliably on hand to load the guns for them. With a doff of the cap and surly mockery in the bar afterwards.

All the markers we think of as being "Scottish" from tartan to the work ethic, from pragmatism to insane bravery in the trenches, from inventing everything useful to the skirl of the kilt and the swing of the bagpipes were tied to our seeing ourselves as the other ranks without whom the entire affair would have gone repeatedly tits up from Waterloo onwards.  Our self image as well as our surface badges as Scots were all pretty self-evidently Unionist in history and practice.  We marked ourselves out as being "better" Britons because we were Scottish. Scottishness was Unionist and it was better than being English.

This kind of thinking permeates the least attractive side of us from Guy Mannering to James Bond. It is also the a reason why to some genuine Scottish patriots, especially of the old fashioned patrician variety,  self government somehow seems intrinsically un-Scottish,  independence seems abnormal, a superfluous aberration from our good senses. Below stairs, meanwhile, too,  it is the source of our comfortable irresponsibility, and what is probably our very irritating moaning about everything while never taking any chance of changing it.

It is also why, to a Scot of my generation, "Scottishness" retains faint whiffs of embarrassment, of the second rate; of shit TV and anodyne kitsch folk culture, of rotten comedians and cringing deference to anyone with the right kind of accent. It is also why, later, on the left, I moved in an atmosphere where all things nationalist (or Scottish Nationalist anyway) were thought of as childish and regressive, as symbols of Tartan Toryism. The British Road to Socialism was our  received route planning back then.

This has all changed of course.  Within the useful correctives offered by Gerry Hassan among others, there is now a kind of civic consensus in Scotland around a numinous set of vaguely  left/liberal values which are thought of as an alternative civic set of markers of "Scottishness" On the surface, this Civic Identity" is carelessly shared largely, by both the Yes and No camps, at least in Scotland.  And to me it has an unpleasantly familiar whiff of Caledonian superiority in a new and more caring guise, as if Richard Hannay were opening the best damned crèche in the colonies.

What is not shared, I don't think, and not just in my childhood experience of Scots Empire Loyalists going on about English Nancy Boys,  is the deep seated mistrust and maybe even dislike of the neighbours at the heart of the No campaign.

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 and deny us access to any of the joint assets in terms of property and currency and EU membership at the very least.

What must Scottish Unionists think of English people that they really expect so petty a reaction? On the one hand they talk about partnership and family and community, and in the next breath they seem to picture our neighbours as a bunch of people who will want to hurt us so badly that they will hurt themselves in order to punish us. They are arguing for fellowship on the grounds that the "other fellows" are dangerous.  They are arguing for family solidarity on the basis that Daddy is a psychopath.

The British value of tolerance (copyright M. Gove) will not be extended to us. The English have never been proper Britons, apparently.

Like I say, this is more of an observation than an essay, but I do think in the meanwhile that it is strangely telling that those who are most keen to maintain our "family of nations" are the same people who expect nothing but economic and political violence from one of its members if we dare to disagree with them.

 How happy a family they are expecting after a No vote is anybody's guess.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Treason, or, What Are Project Fear (London Branch) So Afraid of? (pt 3)

 “In Scotland , the People are sovereign” says the top line of the new Scottish Constitution proposed this week by Nicola Sturgeon.  Well, I’ve looked it up.  And in Scotland, in England in Wales and Northern Ireland, Elizabeth Windsor Saxe-Coburg Battenburg is sovereign.  

To say otherwise is treason, I’m delighted to report.

The word “sovereign” is not just a word in a constitutional monarchy.  It is the origin and principle of every authority in war making and law making, tax raising and spending. Our politicians are fond of describing Britain as a democracy. But Britain HAS democracy.  Not IS a democracy. Democracy is just a way of administering.  The crown exercises sovereignty through parliament.  Parliament is a conduit of power, not the source of it.

Now some will say this is pedantry, that the Royal Family are just window dressing for the tourists, and they’d be right about that.  The living individual members of the brood are incidental.  What matters is that power in this country, by which I mean the UK, is ultimately unaccountable to the people. The people are not sovereign in the UK.  Let alone the Scots in Scotland! The people are subject. You ask a lawyer.

Scotland, with its paradoxes of a powerful bourgeois culture with no aspiration to take charge of their own destiny, can stand for the whole for which it is, again paradoxically, the most representative historical constituent. It is a constituent part of the whole, under the crown, but it is just a bunch of constituencies under the Crown in Parliament at Westminster.  In exists as an administrative unit.  It does not exist, as such, in democratic terms at all. Let alone as a sovereignty.

(Glasgow Cathcart exists, as a parliamentary constituency. Scotland, like England, Wales and Northern Ireland, doesn't. The parliament in Holyrood exists as democratic window dressing to the administrative devolution of powers that existed before 1999. These powers are loaned, not sovereign in themselves.  Again, ask a lawyer.)

Unwritten results of old wars and horse-trading aside, the deeper crisis afflicting this pre-democratic polity of ours is the decision by its rulers that democracy, in the sense we have understood it, has rather had its day. Among those in the know, ever since Alan Greenspan, architect of the nineties and noughties speculative boom and bust, went into Bill Clinton’s office the day after his inauguration in 1993 and told him to forget everything he had promised by way of state action to improve the lives of the population during the campaign, the world’s elite have operated their casino on a post-democratic basis.

The market, Greenspan told Clinton, has replaced the polity as the arena of free choice.  Extend participation in the market place and you serve freedom better than any occasional plebiscite.  Wealth will accumulate hugely for the elite, while the extension of credit will mean that everybody can play within limits set by the rule makers of the market.  The rule makers of the market will in every case outrank the rule makers who have been elected in the frankly antique exercise of “democracy.” There are laws in draft and about to come into place that will enshrine the interests and legal status of transnational corporations so that they will forever be able to ignore the merely voted for laws in the localities in which they happen to find themselves and sanction any government who attempt to stand up to them. 

Underpinning this bleak enthronement of the dismal science, this sovereignty of the market, is the exhaustion and corruption of the Enlightenment Project.  Smart people don’t believe in anything anymore.  They talk about the Wisdom of Crowds, they talk about the money markets.  They don’t talk about freedom and justice and truth.  I should feel embarrassed even to type the words.  Such ideas are fine for the public prints, but proper grown up folk only ever talk about power.

And it is this power, as ever, in its modern, weary guise, that guides the flow of what Kurt Vonnegut called “The Great Money River”, with that flow of capital being the only good, the only value that anyone believes in.  Everything else is dust and ashes.  

In this weary atmosphere of nihilism and wealth accumulation, the words “In Scotland, the People are sovereign” are not only treasonable, they are revolutionary.  In six words, they potentially upset everything, like the five words from the beginning of the democratic era : “all men are created equal.” They are a throwback, an absurdity, a joke.  A slogan.  Aren't they?

If we vote for them, on September the 18th, then we are not merely upsetting the apple-cart of our local elite, we are denying the very structure on which the glorious revolution of 1688 was founded, and of which the Treaty of Union was the capstone.  We are fatally undermining the deal that built the Empire and that sustains the unrepresentative exercise of power in these islands and well beyond.  

We are darting at the heart of the elite everywhere.  What’s not to like about that?

Monday, June 16, 2014

What Are Project Fear (Scotland Branch) So Afraid Of? part two

Scotland has been governed since the Union in 1707 by a series of locally unaccountable local elites each with their power derived from subservience to the bigger, wider, British elite of which they form the cadet branch, deriving satisfaction from being effective servants of that wider unaccountable interest..  On the most banal level, this explains why our devolved politics at Holyrood have been both quietly efficient behind the scenes in private while resembling a screechy playground fight in public. “It's Oor Baw!” they all cry, as if Scotland was a single piece of property to be screeched over in public and efficiently controlled in secret.

As indeed, in some senses, under the stewardships of successive hegemonies, it always has been run and screeched over. It is this pre-democratic sphere of privilege, safe from London because un-regarded by London, and still effectively unaccountable in Scotland, that is now seriously threatened.

The question in the referendum can be ultimately rephrased as: Do You Think that Political Power in Scotland should be in the gift of a sovereign Scottish People, or remain in the gift of sovereign power invested in the Westminster parliament?  Put the question that way and you understand why they will move heaven and earth to stop us.

It is also why the anti-nationalist Scottish National Establishment is so steadfastly and paradoxically running away from power and responsibility.  They are used to power without responsibility, is the explanation.  They’ve come to prefer it that way.  It is not power they fear, or even nationalism they oppose, ultimately.  It is effective democratic oversight.  It is democracy itself they’re afraid of.

There is something finally rather primitive at the base of our democratic under-development. The Scottish Middle Class, which includes the Labour-voting, publicly employed middle class, tends to support the Union because, ultimately, they don’t trust the people in the next street.

This is why from the Scottish Law Society to the BBC and CBI as well as Labour dominated local government, the powers that be in Scotland are in the No camp. Devolution has already exposed them and made them vulnerable and scrutinized in way they’re not used to, and they fear that independence might finish them. But "the people" was the fiefdom from which first the Scottish Unionists and then Labour drew their “deliverable” vote, once upon a time.  And while first the Protestant Ascendancy, then the welfare state and mass employment and housing lasted, they did indeed deliver a stream of MPs and real leaders through their passive, un-consulted, barely visible and slavishly reliable electoral base.  That this political base began to disintegrate, along with the collective provision and mass employment on which it was founded, was an obvious sequel, and it seems curious that Labour, for example, should have been taken so much by surprise.  But they were.  Even having lost two elections in a row they barely seem to credit it and act as if some terrible mistake will soon be corrected and everything will return to normal.

A return to normality is what they are gambling on in September.  They only took the gamble because they were certain that our fearfulness, our inexperience of self-rule, would still slavishly deliver the vote they wanted.  They are not so sure now.  They will move heaven and earth to stop us. By contrast, if the Yes side can persuade the people of Scotland that it’s “Independence” that is “normal”, and the only real expression of sovereignty and of democracy, then heaven and earth can’t stop us.

The Ruling Class in Scotland or What Are Project Fear Really Afraid Of? pt one

The deep and historic paradox of the "Independence Question"  is that the ruling class in Scotland  have always actually been in favour of independence from UK control- from 1707 to the present day. They think they've already got it.  This, it may seem strange to say, is why they're so overwhelmingly against our voting for it now.
Let me unpick the history of this very Scottish paradox.
The terms of the Treaty of Union that Our Ruling Class negotiated in 1707 meant that from the outset, the law, the kirk, the schools and Universities retained their functional distinctiveness and indeed, "independence" from the amalgamation of merely political power that happened when the Parliament voted itself out of existence.  So, throughout the18th Century, while the Kirk provided universal schooling against the wiles of the Papacy, the land owners, crucially,  kept right on owning the land, indeed kept a very tight hold of it indeed with the help of the rather more stringently feudal character of distinctive Scottish law. 
Between them, these institutions fostered the growth of an argumentative, egalitarian, enlightened and yet sheepishly unambitious bourgeoisie, overwhelmingly loyal to the Empire and the broader culture offered by British trade and the English language. In the 19th century, this middle class was added to by the bureaucratic, mercantile and military employment prospects of the Empire and its civil service, so eagerly sought and filled by comparatively well educated Scottish " lads o pairts" – Scots at less than a tenth of the population of the UK provided fully a third of the colonial bureaucracy.
In the twentieth century, the secretariat of the welfare state, local government, nationalized industry and industrial scale education was a similar pool of opportunity for the advancement of a new clean-collared echelon of Scottish Labour Aristocracy.

Thus evolved a succession of unelected and anti-nationalist national hegemonies within an unsupervised outpost of a British state that granted functional independence to this succession of Scottish elites, who remained aloof from democratic oversight both from Westminster, which didn't care that much, and, more importantly, from an electorate in Scotland which didn't count for anything.
As a matter of the exercise of practical power, then, the Scottish Ruling Class are already "independent."  They are independent of an indifferent London, but also, crucially, they are independent of us.  This is why, for them, political Independence is unnecessary.  They already have "independence."

That's  how they know so well it is far too good for the rest of us.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

They Think It's All Over.

How was it for you?

Maybe it's because I didn't get in till nearly half time when the game was already at one all. Maybe it was because I was really tired. But there was something different about watching the England game last night. When Balotelli got the winner I didn't mourn, I didn't celebrate. I didn't really react much at all. What was weird was that neither did anybody else.

The BBC's pundit and play by play team can usually be relied upon for some sense of outrage at an England defeat. This can take the form of vitriolic and quite alarming loathing being heaped upon the manager. This can take the form of lament for a lost national "spirit", the perfidy of referees or there being something awry with the universe.

We invented the game. We won the war. We won in 1966. What's gone wrong? That was the anguished cry.

And rather amusing it was too, I have to unworthily report, the ritual lamenting having been preceded by ritual hubris of the silliest and most irritating variety, usually culminating in yet another grainy replay of "They Think it's All Over"

Geoff Hurst's last goal in the 66 final, accompanied as it was by the finest moment of televisual commentary imaginable from Kenneth Wolstenhome (how many names from TV commentary even, have that ring to them any more?!) haunts...maybe haunted...the imagination of football culture in England, at least as it was expressed on television. England fans outwith the media bubble of longing for THAT moment to be repeated have usually been less hysterical, and slightly embarrassed by first the hyperbole of expectation, nay, almost of by the succeeding exaggerated tragedy of not doing all that well in World Cup after World Cup.

Last night? Nothing like it. The build up this time...nothing like it. I'm even missing Geoff Hurst. What's going on? has the ghost of expectation first raised fifty years ago finally been laid to rest?

Well, as Scots,  with our own iconic goal being Archie Gemmel's brilliant but too late winner against Holland in 1978, perhaps we can help. First of all, an England team unaccompanied by imperial ballyhoo are a damn sight easier for us to feel positive about, but more importantly, after 1978, Scottish football fans (and commentators) decided on a strategy of no longer being chippy and resentful imitations of our larger and more successful football neighbour...but of being different from them. Our fans started to dress in clown if to deflect disappointment in advance by not taking themselves too seriously - at least in terms of public display. And the commentators did the same. We were pleasantly surprised when we weren't really shit. And honestly, it feels much better. We got far less wound up and could enjoy the games.

While for England fans, everything seemed to become agony. All the time. Every friendly against everybody became a test of national manhood. And World Cups a bitter repeated horror of tension and moments of frankly sometimes ugly joy. And the fans too became notorious, sullen, violent - feared across Europe -.while the Scots were a wacky sideshow of tartan no hopers, secretly enormously pleased by the comparison.

Someone better informed than me should probably go into the semiotics of that. Meanwhile, last night, England lost and England shrugged. "What do you expect?" And not bitterly. Soberly.

Maybe the change that has always been identified as emanating from everywhere but the centre is finally being, on this superficial level, felt if not acknowledged. Maybe Scotland isn't the only country on these islands that, at the level of football anyway, is growing up. Maybe the other changes to the economic and cultural life of all the countries and all of the islands, are coming home.

Then again. It's only a game.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Politics in the Nursery

Why are we playing Nursery politics all of a sudden.  How did the crocodile tears of brave Anas Sarwar become so newsworthy?

Only some of this, it occurs to me this morning, is mere politics  - as if, as my colleague Dan Rebatallo commented from London, someone in press strategy at Better Together was finally getting their act together - some of this infantile stuff is happening because we're obviously still infants.

We must be.  How else to explain the crass reverse psychology of the first BT leaflet I've had that dropped on my mat yesterday at the same time as they've had their best media week since Osborne delivered the Sermon of the Pound.

"We are stronger when we work together" is the not at all written in a PR company quote from "an ordinary person" on the cover.

"You are weak. You are children." is the message, reinforced by Facts bulletpointed alongside more Ordinary People Quotes.

(By God, the sickly success enjoyed by the Nay Sayers this week ensures that we're doomed to an endless sludgy flood of "ordinary people" from now on. The great thing about using PR companies using "ordinary people" is that any argument with the ill informed, queasily self doubting tosh they come out with - and that gets selected as a common-sense soundbyte by the focus groups from interviews -  is going to be instantly dismissed as abuse and bullying by mind control directed Cybernats from the Salmond Supercomputer Underneath Edinburgh Castle.)

To return to the "facts", these are a shameless litany of individually easily refuted distortions - all of which have already been refuted many times, some by NHS England and the UK Treasury - but which add up to a Yes vote in September instantly thrusting our economy, health, education, defence, energy policy, employment, happiness and entire existences, actually, into outer darkness and despair.

None of the "facts" have to be true, of course.  The fact that we will still be entitled to health care in England and Wales (as we are in Europe) or that our Universities get international funding cos they're, like really good, like...that we could still have an army if we want one - that no one is talking about trade barriers with England except the No campaign and that while some small countries have struggled in the financial crisis, most have always done better than the UK and they are all now recovering is of no consequence to the apparent "fact" of the Osborne economic miracle.

Oh - and the lead "fact" is the lie that they have known is a lie since they first uttered it - the old one about the UK bailing out Scottish banks - when the entire basis of the bail out designed by Alastair Darling (in case he's forgotten) was that the bailouts came from the places where the debts were incurred, not the places named on the bank's writing paper.  Barclays was bailed out in America and Quatar, not London.

So, aside from their being being crass and despicable -creating fear and then printing leaflets about how people are frightened - what can we learn from these nursery politics?

Well - that we are still in the nursery, I guess. Because they still seem to be working.

The underlying assumption of the nicely printed excrescence that came through my door yesterday is that Scottish people really believe that no one in this country has ever paid tax, that nothing in this country is here because we earned it. That everything - the pound, the armed forces, health, childcare everything - is a gift to us from the masters.  That it all belongs to someone else.  Nothing belongs to us.  That we are in a Union, a partnership in which we have no rights, no say, no share. We are in the nursery being allowed to play with master's toys, but only if we play nicely and keep our mouths shut. All of the privileges we would lose, apparently, derive from our being in a subservient position where we had better behave or else.  Everything belongs to someone else.  Any "powers" we may get gifted reinforce the model of gift giving and deepen the neurosis we obviously still exhibit in our focus groups. And leave "power" exactly where it was.

They wouldn't dare treat adults with this contempt.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Reply to a Worried Chum

No worries, matey.

On the point of logic first, no, I really don't think if you concede that Scotland is a real country in which the people are sovereign, that leaves any wriggle room for devo anything...except, perhaps, if we, once independent, chose to pool sovereignty (with the EU as you say)  and resources.

As a trading nation on the same island, we would actually do that anyway - with energy, fish and whisky.  As for social solidarity, I think the biggest favour we could do Grimsby is to break Old Corruption into tiny bits...

Your pooling sovereignty question did set me back for a moment - till I recognised what a gift it was - returning to the logic that you questioned.

My answer is:  it would be possible to pool sovereignty...if we had sovereignty.  We don't have it. Any number of "powers" will they grant - in exchange for slashing the Barnett formula - as long as they keep the "power".  I want the power here.  Including the power to pool sovereignty with the other peoples of this island, Europeans, NATO etc etc.  But I want the decision made here , where we might pay some attention to what we ourselves need - and not there, where they notice us only intermittently, like a moany version of Brigadoon.

I still suspect that the real (an positive) outcome of the current stooshie, is that sovereignty will be established as a matter of practical and impractical/psychological  fact by the campaign...even in the event of a Narrow No result.

As for internet nastiness, and the worry it causes you - The Cybernat trap is a clever one, I grant you.  We have our fair share of knob-heads on social media.  What we don't have is a well financed machine to find, expose, and manufacture them as a campaign issue.  The No side actively call attention to angry idiots living in Mum's basement because it serves them to blame Salmond for nasally implanting a brain probe that sends us Nasties out to do his Voldemorty bidding.  (see FMQ later today) As for the abuse online, this is going to get dirtier, dear fellow.  Just remember whose interests an atmosphere of ugliness serves.

As for JKR herself, yeah, her text was well worked and reasonable...focussing on shared anxieties aboput Independence rather than hostility.  But everything she said was filtered through the same propaganda machine, and on the specific worries, each one of which is arguable, all of them are going to be negotiable. Once there's a Yes vote, then Independence becomes normal...and everyone will have to deal with a new normality.  The North Korea scenario doesn't really hold water if you imagine Sept 19th with any rigour.

All of these realities will be negotiable - but only after a Yes vote.  After a NO vote, we'll need to take what we're given with no arguments, no comebacks, no backsies. We will have given them permission to do whatever they want. Just think Tory majority in 2015.  Or even the Labour Party doing a Tory imitation to end up in a coalition with the LibDems...and there being NOTHING we can do to influence it.

It is possible, given our Archie Gemmelist history, that it is only after a No vote that our lack of democratic control will be properly dramatised...Unless you imagine, like JKR they'll send us prezzies when we've taken our best hand from the pack and burned it.

Last, we must always remember, that the real problems we have in Scotland are the divisions of power and privilege in Scotland.  And that these cannot be shifted till we break away from Ukania's sustaining embrace of those privileges.

The Scottish ruling class (Labour aristocracy included) are a client offshoot of real power...They own everything and what to keep their fiefdom just the way it is.  They, in a sense, are all already independent...of scrutiny from WM, which doesn't care, and from us, who don't count...

They already know how good independence is.  Too good for the rest of us.

Pip pip!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Signal Rock

At the bottom end of Glencoe, a car journey down which in any weather partakes of both the sublime and the terrible, is an underdeveloped and underwhelming tourist attraction which goes by the name of Signal Rock.  You reach it by a cleared pathway down and into the Forestry Commission planted woods a mile or so from the Tourist Information Centre.
 It is only by a wee, white pointy sign that it is singled out for your attention at all.
An explanatory notice tells you that the rock derives its current name from a legend, undoubtedly untrue, that it was from here that the signal was given to begin the massacre of the MacDonalds in the nearby village in 1692…the name probably came about in the 19th century, when, along with the rest of Scottish history, the Jacobite resistance to the Hanoverian Succession had been safely relegated beyond dangerous memory into picturesque and sentimental myth.
The Gaelic name of the stone, by contrast, Tom a’ Ghrianain, or Hill of the Sun, suggests ancient sun worship…which, given that the trees weren’t there back then and the Glen faces East to the rising sun as well as West to the sea from which the Gaels arrived on this island, certainly seems more plausible ...if a wee bit of a scandal to my Presbyterian sensibilities. 
The different names and significances that history, including its most recent and ecologically sacramental version, has given to this hopefully “one day to be fully appreciated as really quite interesting” chunk of Highland Landscape can stand, I think, for the incoherences and half -truths of the recent conduct of the Rising of 2014. 
Anyway, I fancy a geological metaphor this morning. ie That there are sedimentary layers of mutual incomprehension, miscalling, misspeaking and mishearing going on in this campaign -despite Janet Street Porter trying to be reasonable last night-  that reveal the "built in and soon to be noticed" EVEN IN LONDON  dysfunction in the political geology of Ukania
The tectonic plates are only moving one way.  But is geology moving fast enough for Sept 18th? Can we see past the trees and wave from the top of Signal Rock?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Doing the Dumb-Ass Thing

I've woken up in the damn morning thinking about that damn Taxi driver.

Alan Bisset and I had just been on the radio punting the monologues we've written for Perth Theatre's "Cross- Country Stories"...Damn, there I go again...where obediently we had neither of us mentioned the referendum, though we had talked ten to dozen about nothing else before going on air...

Anyway, the BBC got me a taxi home...I don't feel entirely corrupted, it was raining...and though I wasn't even wearing a YES badge, the driver asks me "Do you work for the BBC?  What do you think about the referendum?"  And I went into my spiel about democracy and all that...

And he stops me and says..."We'll be back in the Stone Age, I hope you know that?"

And I say, "Whit?" or words to that effect.

And he says : "We won't have any money"...and I go into a currency union bluff and bluster bit of patter about how a Yes vote means negotiations and a No vote means "We take whatever we're given once they've got no reason to give us anything"...and he stops me again...

"We'll have no MONEY. They won't let use the Euro."

And I don't get it, and the rest of the journey is blathered on some stuff about how thankfully he knows that the SNP aren't like the BNP...which I suppose is progress.  (He's a young Muslim guy)

And I write a wee piece where I mention this conversation last night, and retire to bed happy that I've made, I think, some reasonable points...been my usual smart-ass self...then I wake up this morning at 5am and say:

"Christ, he thinks that if we vote YES we won't have any bank notes..."

And I wish I had him back so I could shake him: "Jeepers, man, you're right! If only we had things in this country called...maybe we could call them...BANKS...who do things like PRINT BANK NOTES!  Oh wait...we've got three.  Most countries, like China and Germany, have only got one...we've got a two hundred per cent surplus of the fucking things..."

I think it's worth a broadcast.  See if we lose this vote because people think there won't be any currency at all...

Got to do the dumb-ass thing.

Talking to the Nay Sayers

Talking to the Nay Sayers

Is Scotland a real country?  Is democracy the best form of government?  Answer “Yes” to both of these questions? Then you have to vote Yes on September 18th.

In case that wording is problematic, let us ask the same questions again less emotively.   Is Scotland a distinct political unit?  Is the best way to run a political unit to have the people within that unit agree between them how it should be run?

See?  The game’s a bogie. There is no logical way to vote No unless you answer No to at least one of those questions.  There is no coherent argument for a No vote that does not question either our political reality or our fitness for democracy or both.
So who is still saying No? Why is “NoThanks” or whatever they are calling themselves this week still ahead in the polls? When even Gordon Brown is saying publically that their campaign is patronising?  When even No voters of all of our acquaintances wince at the crass promises of the Armageddon that we will bring on our own heads if we decide that meaningful self- government might be worth a shot?

If the argument in principle for Yes turns out to be logically unanswerable, the appeal of No, if you can call it that, must be entirely to the lower organs of intelligence. ? How do you ensure that having won the argument, and won the campaign, the Yes side doesn't go on to lose the vote? How do you engage with a mind-set that depends on not engaging with argument?

I’m personally not persuaded of the utility of the appeal to individual economic self-interest that political wisdom dictates is decisive in all votes.  I don’t think that’s ever been true of any election, and especially don’t think it’s true of this referendum.  Just because the consumer based electoral model is based on a market place of spurious certainties, I don’t think that’s what will work for us now. It certainly doesn’t seem to have done the trick yet. This is because no one believes in guarantees about the future, which in turn is for the very good reason that experience tells us that all guarantees are always bogus. Things going to shit always seems intrinsically more likely.  Change leading to negative consequences is what we have come to expect. For instance, a taxi driver today said to me today: “ A Yes vote will send us back to the stone age.  There won’t be any money.” I didn’t want to alarm him by reminding him that we will also be a haven for Al Qaida and prevent a cure for cancer, apparently.

But if it is true to say that the crystal ball gazing indulged in by the Yes side is questionable, then so surely is prognostication of economic and political warfare promised us from the EU, the US and the rUK should we have the temerity to get above ourselves. The crystal ball arguments should cancel each other out.  If both arguments in practice come down to the truism that the future is an uncertain place, which is, of course, uncontroversial, that scarcely constitutes an argument against democratic control of our own affairs. Rather the reverse, I should have thought.  

So why does the intrinsic uncertainty of the future play so well for the No side, and so badly for the Yes?  Why is it that the No side are clearly right to persist with their negative campaign, other than that there is apparently no positive case they can make? The dwindling but significant lead that the Nay-sayers maintain in the polls makes it easy to see that the relentless torrent of threats doesn’t need actual evidence to be effective.  The climate of fear is far more important than any realistic prospect of individual outcomes coming about. And while the daily storm of lies and half-truths still needs to be resisted, to actually change the weather we need to achieve a change in climate. We need to look harder, I think, not just at the head, (which turns out to favour independence – who knew?), but also at the lower organs, perhaps the heart included.

One has to examine the roots of doubt.  And plant them firmly in the No campaign’s garden. While it is all very well simply to point out that a Union whose continuation is based entirely on fear is scarcely likely to be stable, let alone liveable, let alone happy, do we need to go harder if we hope to actually win the vote rather than just be smug about it afterwards when everything goes to shit?  In short, how does the Yes side turn the intrinsic uncertainty of the future to face the other way.

Might part of an answer be for the Yes side to go strongly negative on the possible consequences of a No vote? Maybe go in for a blizzard of scare stories of our own?  To ask the nay-sayersquestions about the future as aggressively as they ask us?  They are in a better position to answer those questions, after all.  While democracy is an experiment Scotland hasn’t tried yet, the evidence for the efficacy of putting our trust in democracy in the unitary UK is all around us.  We know what that future looks like.  We’re already in it.

Might we ask of No campaigners, Do you really think the status quo so wonderful that you think some more of the same (but getting incrementally worse) is a good idea? Also, if you think they might punish us for voting Yes, what do you think is going to happen if we give them permission? If we say, ‘Do whatever you like…it’s fine by us!’ do you really think they’ll give us a reward?  Do you really think it is better to trust in governments we don’t elect and cannot remove no matter what they do to us? Do you really expect to get better off by throwing away thje only negotiating card we’ve got? Can’t you see that this referendum was only agreed to by David Cameron because he thought it was a trap he could set for the turkeys to vote for Christmas? Can’t you see that any negotiations we enter into over revisions to the Barnett formula or our representation in Westminster will be fatally undermined by a No vote? Are you really sure you want to tell the world that you are happy to store somebody else’s nuclear weapons thirty miles from our biggest city? Can you imagine what the world will think of us if we Vote No?  That we got the chance to peacefully and democratically take control of our own affairs and that we said, No thanks, we’d rather not think for ourselves?  We’d rather not be adults?  We’d rather not make our own decisions in our own country? That we decided we weren’t normal?  That we decided we weren’t like other people?  That we were less than a real country?  That we agree we are too weak too poor and too stupid to face the future in our own name?  That we think democracy is too good for the likes of us?  Surely anyone can see, we can say, that “guarantees” being offered by the No campaign are only being offered under the threat of a Yes vote, and they will vanish like morn’s mist, just as they did in 1979 if we voluntarily vote that threat away? 
Do you really agree that Scotland should be a dependent country? Do you really want to be that much of a weirdo?

In 1979, as now, there was an exciting and close campaign for a Yes vote that came from behind and actually won…just not by enough…in 1979. What is instructive is that our rejection of home rule was not just a product of the notorious 40% rule. It was a product of obedience, of our not “feeling” autonomous.  If we had really wanted it, we could have had constitutional change then…by the extra parliamentary means of making Scotland ungovernable.  What we did, in slow motion, was take a parliamentary route to making Scotland ungovernable by Tories we’d elected…which is not quite the same thing.  The difference between 1979 and 1997 was that what seemed like a dangerous novelty, a devolved Scottish Parliament in 1979, was a stone no brainer in 1997. The referendum of 1997 was an enormously dull foregone conclusion…which is the way referenda should be, probably.

Today feels more like 1979 than 1997 in terms of excitement and uncertainty. What also feels the same, at least to those of us on the Yes side (and probably to a lot of potential No voters), is just how bad, how dispiriting, how awful it will be to wake up on the morning of September 19th knowing that we blew it. That, right now, this close to the decision, the living heart of the nightmare scenario we can credibly start to paint is just how shitty that will feel.  Everybody knows it. It will feel like in fear of life we had voted for death. That’s how it felt in 1979.  God forbid it takes eighteen years (ten of them at least with Boris Johnson as Prime Minister) for us to recover enough to have another referendum which we will be boringly certain to win… in 2032!

One might ask a No voter if they’re happy to keep having these arguments for that long?  They might change their voting intentions out of anticipatory ennui.

What feels decidedly different now, I think to voters on both sides of the referendum argument, is that the autonomy we never really believed in in 1979 feels much less controversial now. It feels very close to a done deal. Even a No vote will be, in a sense, a sovereign decision.  Even a No vote, in a way, will be an exercise undertaken by an already independent electorate.  It’s really not such a big jump, culturally and psychologically, as was the change between 1979 and 1997. After all, we’re now used to the practical fact of there being distinctively Scottish elections to a distinctively Scottish parliament. We are already a functioning demi-democracy, with all the trimmings and ten percent of the powers.  It’s not so much of a shift.  To use old fashioned language, it feels like the people are already sovereign, whether they vote for sovereignty or not.

Autonomy, self-rule, for reasons both democratic and cultural, is beginning to feel normal, I think.  The question is whether that sense of normality can be translated into political self-expression in time to deliver the Yes vote which is its logical concomitant.  Can we make the link in time between how people feel and how they will vote?

Maybe it’s as simple as a thought experiment.

So, in 2014, imagine we were having a vote now to abolish the Scottish parliament and revert to the status quo pre 1999? It seems like a lunatic suggestion. I confidently predict that if we were to find ourselves voting for an Independent Scottish Government in 2016, it is equally pretty much unthinkable that this democratic parliament would make its first order of business to vote to abolish itself, as, under a very strange set of threats and promises, did the pre-democratic Scottish parliament of 1706. Independence will seem like normality almost as soon as we have it, just as quickly as the democratisation and extension of already existing devolution did only 15 years ago. Anything other than a Yes vote should, logically, seem as bizarre as Norway voting to put itself back under the control of Sweden.  A Yes vote after independence would be obvious to the point being dull.

That’s the mindset we need to inhabit, and invite our brothers and sister to join, only we need to do it before the vote.  I don’t know if there is a magical form of words that can normalise change and make the status quo seem like a leap in the dark, but that is surely the form of words we should be looking for with a hundred days to go.

Can we make that leap in advance?  Can we make the idea of independence “normal” by September, and ask, as we should be able to, of the No campaign: ”You’re voting AGAINST national autonomy?  Against elected self-government?  Against democratic control of taxation and expenditure?  Why on earth would you think of doing anything so ludicrous?”

Voting No will need to look unthinkable, if we are to be confident of voting Yes.