Thursday, August 28, 2014

September 19th

Well, I'm writing this on the train to Coventry early on the the morning after what will probably prove to be the highlight of the campaign - if you consider it in terms of men in expensive suits talking over each other on the telly.

Don't get me wrong, I am heartily glad, as a Yes campaigner, that Alec Salmond brought his A game this time. To the extent of wondering whether he deliberately fluffed the first debate with Alastair Darling as a way of lowering expectations so that he could emerge, Martin Sheen like, under the TV lights...

But that is the part of my brain that engages with politics of vital concern like it was a game, like it was a ritual, like it was, frankly, an episode of The West Wing.

And while I am second to none in my devotion to that oeuvre that revolutionised what it was possible to expect to see written on American TV (alas, not British), there has been a whole other campaign happening in Scotland that I have been privileged to be part of that has been moving its feet to a different beat..

And this campaign, cultural, web based and performance based - this cultural campaign, this expression of energy and hope and wit and passion as campaign issues in and of themselves, this argument for More Life in the face of the general cultural death of market nihilism and the dictatorship of the commentariat...this is the one I'm thinking about on the train down today.

I was at a meeting the other day of various Yes folk - bloggers, talkers, organisers - most of whom were too exhausted to speak. Most of whom were impatient at being taken away from the ploughing of their own furrow. The campaign is deadly serious right now.

But these were the fun people too, and we were and are all concerned and agreed that the creative space for proper participation and engagement in the stuff that matters. The making of a better society has already started through this campaign and cannot and will not find itself closed down on September 19th...when the idiot binary question that has prompted the opening up of this interesting and exciting analogue world of possibilities...will be gone.

How do we sustain the energy?

Well first of all - take it from an old man - we won't. Every campaign, successful or otherwise, exists within a paradigm for as long as it lasts, and victory or defeat, everything changes. To attempt to cling to what isn't there anymore is energy sapping and dispiriting.

You have to translate and re-apply the energy with the awareness that it ain't going to be the same focus.

Besides, we are dealing here with a whole bunch of numerically determined scenario situations here, not just with a Yes or a No. How big or small the margin is will... materially and culturally..and dare I say, spiritually...define the territory where we'll need to focus that energy.

A sixty percent victory for a very different thing from a 52% victory. The same is true of the margins of a victory for No. If a No vote won big, if the referendum worked out as being a reflection of where we stated this campaign (with Yes around 30% where it's been for YEARS) and all this had been , apparently, fort NOTHING...well, we'd all of us, I think, be very depressed...including a lot of people who'd voted No. We'd be ashamed, politically neutralised and helpless, like in 1979. (I told you I was old)

We'd find it hard to organise a cabaret. And I wouldn't go to a party unless they were handing out heroin.

But given that this scenario is unlikely...and a narrow win for Yes or No is what we're expecting as of typing this on the 26th of August (not having seen the “Eat your Cereal” advert!) there are practical and spiritual questions to think about when it comes to how to maintain and develop this new civic and cultural democracy we've just invented.

If it's a Yes vote, we want to be part of the conversation about the constitution and design of the new nation. That's what we've already been doing all this time. We'rve been acting, consciously or not, AS IF the future were already here. AS IF WE ALREADY HAD a real participatory democracy in this country. There will be stuff to talk about, meetings to go to, and we will need all the poets and singers we can get to both inform the national conversation and give form to making that future real. And having a few chuckles and tears on the way.

The weirsd thing is, if iot's a narrow No, we have to doi EXACTLY the same.

We have to keep acting AS IF. We have to keep behaving as if we arfe in the early days of a better nation.

For two reasons ; first, because we will be, even with a No vote, living in a changed country. We have already come a long way, but we know now that we are lucky enough to live in a place that we KNOW can change for the better, because we've already seen it.

And secondly, because no one has ever made a better world without acting as if it were already here. No one has ever become free or equal without acting AS IF they already were.

This referendum campaign has all been about ways of seeing. Ways of Thinking. Ways of Being in a present tense that carries the promise of the future, the promise of more life. None of that will change on September 19th. We will still be involved in inventing a future for ourselves...there will be no guarantees about ANYthing, no matter which way it goes...It's just that a YES vote, in ,my opinion will embrace that difficult yet hopeful reality, and a No vote will attempt ( delusionally) to postpone facing reality till the day after tomorrow.

Either way, we need to have a space, physically and on-line, where that energy and invention and talk that we've been doing with National Collective, Bella Caledonia, All Back to Bowie's and in halls up and down the country that have been hosting debates and speeches...can keep happening. There's already some practical chat about how we might do that...plans afoot...and I'm confident there will be enough of us with enough energy not to just "keep it going" but keep inventing it as we go.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Why I'm voting Yes or What is "a nation'? What might it be?

I value people in different ways at different times, ways that reflect who I am and what I'm doing.  My family, my friends, people I work with, people who live next door, people who live the the next street. And it's not that these relationships have a ranking's just that at different times they are of differing importance to me. Mostly that's just accidental...whether I'm at work or not.  Or on Facebook.

My identity, or identities, are made out of how I am related to other people. There's no PRINCIPLE involved. I haven't got a fixed hierarchy of "relationships." I am part of the subset of "things that are alive" which is in turn a subset of "things that exist" if you want to get cosmic about it.  I am also Tom and Gregor's Dad. One relationship I have, one identity I have, doesn't cancel out all the others.  We're all allowed more than one.

It depends on circumstance which one happens to matter most at that moment.

My circumstance on September the 18th this year is that I am one of the Scottish electorate who get to make a really important decision. A decision that I and the rest of the people voting that day have never been able to take before. And that a peculiar set of historical circumstances that seem unlikely to recur in the immediate future have accidentally conspired to afford me and everyone else I am voting with that day.

So what are "we" - that day's accidental, contingent "we" going to do about it? Are we going to collectively decide to be "a nation" ? Not again, like in the song, but a functional, sovereign democracy for the very first time? Are we really going to reinvent ourselves and our relationships with our families, our neighbours and the wider voting Yes?

What do we mean by "nation"?

For me, a nation is not a flag or an anthem or an accent.  A nation is a way of thinking about ourselves and then organising ourselves. Most of all, a nation is a way of valuing people. And I think we need new ways to do that. I think we can do that better if we decide to be a nation, and decide that a nation is a way of organising things for the good of the people who live there.

Oh, we can value people by how much they spend or how much they earn.  Or how much they inherit. Or how much they manage to avoid paying in tax.

But a "nation" is a way of valuing people as people, just because they happen to be people.

It's not the only way to do it, it's not even the best way to do it, philosophically.  But it is a way of valuing people practically, on an organisable scale. On a practical scale that is democratically accountable, for example.

Now, Scotland is no worse or no better than anywhere else.  It's just another place, probably more fortunate than most in terms of it's economic and human potential, but not intrinsically or essentially different from our neighbours. I'm not voting Yes because I think we're anything special. But I do think we're a nation.  Or, to be more precise, I do think that we could be.

I think that we might be offering ourselves the chance...just the chance...of re-designing the society we live in on the basis of a principle of human value. That if I value my autonomy, my health, my work, my place in my society, then I cannot logically deny that same valuation to anyone else.  And that if i choose to pool my autonomy with those of others in  order to get things done, then what those things are should be decided by those who will benefit from those things.

It's not rocket science.  It only sounds like a daydream because that is not the kind of country I live in now.

I think the country we'd be unilaterally breaking (which is another story), the UK, I think that was a nation once.  I think that when we all together elected the Labour Government of 1945 and set in train the reforms we are all so familiar with - the welfare state, the nationalisation of essential industry and the NHS - that that was Britain's national moment.  Perhaps its most important democratic national moment when we collectively decided that the dreadful poverty of the 1930s and the war of the 1940s were telling us that we had to re-organise "Britain" on the principle of the welfare and security of its people, on banishing the evil;s of ignorance and want.  I think that was a moment of national solidarity.

I absolutely defy anyone to identify anything like that in the country we live in now.  I defy anyone to describe it to me anything as like a nation.  Scotland or Britain.

If Margaret Thatcher came to power to cancel everything that Harold Wilson ever did (as a clever and dear friend of mine in London said once) then this lot are in power to cancel 1945, to return us to the pre-democratic Downton Abbey world of the 1914 they seem so curiously keen on celebrating.

(Perhaps because it was in the war of 1914 to 18 that the Britain "they" cherish began to be taken from them, by, among others, the Labour Government of 1945.)

"UK plc"  really is a place of flags and parades. It is hardly a place where the welfare of the people just because they are people is a defining value of government or economy or dominant culture. And Scotland is locked into a distorted relationship with it, anomalous and clumsy.

I really believe that if we vote Yes we will be at least starting the project of the "nation"  with an assertion of human value and of democratic participation as being the root of that value.  Of the supreme autonomy of the individual, with all his or her complex of identities and relationships, being pooled for practical purposes with those same complexities and richness in everyone we meet.

This is not to deny anything to anyone else on these islands or this earth.  It is just that, it seems to me, an independent Scotland is an exciting place to start a project of renewal of values that seem lost and even absurd in the country we live in now.

We used to call them British values.  I'd prefer to call them human values.  I will continue to share those values, as values, with my dear and clever friends everywhere else on earth

But I would like to stop dreaming about them as values and help to invent and organise a nation where they can at least aspire to becoming real. Where human value can be the principled basis of all policies, all political decisions.  If that's a leap in the dark, so be it.

That's what George Washington called an Independent USA.  I think we'll be fine

Who's with me?

Don't take my word for it!

See if there's a No Vote - this is what happens next, as written by Conservative home supremo Tim Montgomerie in the Times today.


" In 1951 Scotland was a divided nation — not, as now, between unionists and separatists but between Conservatives and Labour. Scotland elected 35 Tory and 35 Labour MPs. But a rot started to set in, a rot that has lasted for six decades and has made it hard for any Conservative leader to win a majority of MPs in the House of Commons.
By 1966 Scotland was electing twice as many Labour MPs as Tory MPs. Even in the 1980s when Mrs Thatcher was winning landslide victories in England she was going backwards in Scotland. By 1997 the very foundations of the Scottish Conservative party were riddled with rot; north of the border became a Tory-free zone. Even now there’s only one Scottish Tory MP.
If the Conservatives were the heartless, self-interested bogeymen of Alex Salmond’s imaginings the prospect of Scotland leaving the UK would have been irresistible, but every single Tory MP has resisted it. Moreover, David Cameron has worked with the other unionist parties to offer Scotland even more devolution if it votes to stay. Tory donors have helped to bankroll the Better Together campaign. Most credit for the likely defeat of the nationalists shouldn’t go to Alistair Darling but to one of Scotland’s least favourite politicians. George Osborne’s strategy of insisting that an independent Scotland couldn’t keep the pound has probably done more than anything else to torpedo the nationalist dream.
But if the battle for Scotland is nearly over, the battle for England might be about to begin. Today’s Future of England survey finds that most English voters want the UK to survive, but they want the terms of the relationship to change. Most think Scottish MPs should be prevented from voting on laws that apply only in England and also want Scotland to lose its budget subsidy. The average Scot currently receives about £1,400 more than the average English voter from the UK Treasury. Wales’s most disadvantaged communities are particular losers from the current spending settlement.
Until now the Conservatives haven’t felt it necessary to respond to the English awakening. It is not, after all, in the interests of Mr Miliband or Mr Clegg to empower an England leaning to the right. But I know a man who would benefit from tickling England’s tummy. He smokes. He drinks pints. And he’s called Nigel. He does even less well in Scotland than the Tories. He’s got nothing to lose by wrapping himself in the St George’s cross and I predict he will."

Okay?  Got that?

What happens after that is that Montgomerie and UKIP push the Tories..and then everyone else in the UK into a bidding war as to who can fuck up Scotland the most.  The 2015 election is won on a "Kill Scotland" mandate.

Don't take my word for it.  It's right here in black and white.

The end game of course is that we end up independent Scotland in about 2025, having been battered to shit in the meantime...

Wouldn't it be easier and quicker to just  vote Yes?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Will the British ride to the rescue of a Yes vote?

Whatever way you look at it, at this moment, the referendum result looks like it is going to be uncomfortably close for everyone. It's going to be, if you average out roughly equal weightings of Yes and No Votes...a decided "Maybe" - in terms of consensus if not arithmetic.
A No vote will be an unstable temporary No...if it is any less than decisive. A Yes vote that barely scrapes a majority will be a less than thrilling mandate for such a major constitutional change.
So are we doomed to more instability? More uncertainty? A constitutional crisis every ten minutes as the losing side in this referendum, whichever it is falls to automatically blaming everything that can possibly go wrong on any issue on our having voted the "wrong way" whichever way that is?
Is there any escape from our own indecision? In 1979, who knew that it would take 18 years (till the second devolution referendum in 1997) to transform a hair-raising, breath taking, inspiring and ultimately indecisive campaign into a boring constitutional inevitability.
(Boring constitutional inevitabilities are not fun, but they do work. A 75% vote for or against independence is beyond challenge and has a mandate to do anything it wants. A 55/45 split either way?...not so much.)
So if it's a narrow No will we really be waiting till an inevitable and tedious Yes in 2032? If a Narrow Yes...will we come to our senses in a second referendum where we promise to be quiet and good? Or will the British State come riding to the rescue of its enemies, as it has historically, in America, Ireland and India, and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?
In 1775, there was every chance that with care and negotiation, the British Empire could have kept America. In 1916, there was every chance that with care and respect, the British could have negotiated a peaceful settlement in an Ireland horrified by the events of the Easter Rising. After World War I, the British might have gradually recognised the need for fundamental change in the relationship with India and its growing secular nationalist middle class.
Instead, they opened fire at Concord, shot James Connelly propped up in a chair and massacred the Sikhs at Amritsar. Someone somewhere in the British establishment could always be relied upon to do exactly the wrong thing to turn uncertain and conflicted discontent into a settled and irresistible movement for change.
And it just might be that the vengeful resentment currently being stirred South of the Border against us whining subsidy junkie sweaties...could just be it.
If there is a narrow No vote, as the polls seem to predict, what better way to ignite full blown constitutional crisis than to vengefully slash public spending in Scotland now that the threat of independence is off the table? What more tempting, crowd pleasing and utterly idiotic option might appeal more to the Tory backwoodsmen who are fed up to the back teeth with us - for whom the option we have chosen with a No Vote means shutting our mouths forever about everything - than to give the Jocks a bloody good kicking? To abolish the Barnett formula and solidify direct Westminster control over the concrete assets of energy and defence while throwing the idiot haggis munchers a shiny bone of a few extra powers on taxes that are impossible to use without strategic freedom?
And what more misguided tactic can one possibly imagine than to threaten to do just that, to say that the UK will punish us either way - not for voting Yes but for having the bloody temerity to have the referendum in the first place? A few weeks before the referendum?
Well here it is. Here too is a link to statements that have already been made threatening and promising to do exactly that.

This isn't over yet...and it isn't over when it's over either. The knee jerk desire for revenge within the UK establishment will see to it. In the next few weeks, we should not under-estimate the possibility that we get a decisive swing to a Yes vote not because of something clever someone says or does in Scotland, but because of something cloth-headed said or done by some halfwit in Westminster.
They've got form on this one. Watch this space.

ps.  As if by Magic, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Tim Montgomerie of Conservative Home.