Thursday, 2 October 2014

What A State to Get Yourself Into.

Let's just take it as read that I was heartbroken by Scotland's NO vote to independence in the referendum last week. Take it as read because it's true and it's taken me till now to sit down and write even a few lines without wanting to slip into tears or throw my computer at the nearest wall.  Now, having wallowed in as much disbelief and despair as I can take, maybe - just maybe - it's time to try and take some positives from a ten point defeat. 55% to 45% in favour of staying part of the UK, a union that has existed since 1707.

Ten points eh? That might sound like a lot but it's not really. Just two hundred and forty thousand votes from a voting population of 4.5 million would have changed it. Careful Alistair, don't start greetin'** already laddie!

I keep thinking of the British national anthem. Few people know the second verse. It's not considered politically correct to sing it any more - officially at least. To be fair it was written in the aftermath of an armed uprising.

'May he sedition crush, and like a torrent rush,
Rebellious Scots to crush
God save the king!'

No change there then.

The political, media and business establishments threw everything - and I do mean everything - at us in the last week of the referendum campaign, triggered by just one poll that showed that the YES side might have taken the narrowest of leads. There had been two years of patronising, dismissive complacency as Westminster, or the three main UK political parties, had previously disdained any thought of getting involved or even talking about potential independence as 'an issue just for the  Scots people alone' so far was it from even the merest possibility in their minds. Perhaps they were entitled to that opinion because the referendum started with a poll that showed those in favour of independence as around 27% of the population and anyway, voter apathy would be in their favour as those most likely to vote - the older generations - would be against it. And - they had played it smart in refusing the Scottish Government's demand for a question on the ballot papers asking if voters would simply want more power devolved instead of full independence. So in their minds they had it well sown up from the start: No obvious voter appetite, the most-likely-to-be-favoured-option denied and the starkest of questions to make all but the most fervent nationalist baulk at the ballot box. Simply: Should Scotland be an independent country? YES or NO. Finally a defence campaign called 'Better Together' led by the most prominent of the three main Westminster parties in Scotland: The Scottish Labour party who had dominated Scottish voting for generations until a majority government for the Scottish National Party just in 2011 - and that must have been a minor blip, an aberration mustn't it?

A done deal. They could ignore it as an irrelevance while they got on with all that important stuff that goes on in London and the South East and once those nippy Scots had played in the corner for a while it would all be 'Rule Britannia' and 'Land Of Hope and Glory' break out the champers all round and those nasty splittists could be put firmly back in their box again for the foreseeable future.

So it started. There was two years of campaigning ahead before the voting date. That's a long time. Long enough perhaps for voters to weary, become disenchanted. Politics can be heavy stuff and as Johanne Lamont, leader of the Labour Party in Scotland and a key figure in the NO campaign said,  'Scots are not genetically programmed to make political decisions'. Yes really. That's what she said - ON CAMERA. Ruth Davidson, Leader of the Conservative Party in Scotland and another key figure in the NO campaign, has previously stated in a speech to the Conservative UK conference in 2012, that '9 out of 10 Scots are a burden on the state' It puts into perspective  some of the opinions of the political class and the high regard they have for the electorate they want to represent doesn't it?

It's often said that Westminster has been captured by a professional political class. This Scottish campaign has shown how amateurish these professionals can be, so badly did they misjudge us. Many people seemed keen to reduce yes voters in Scotland to bitter caricatures, motivated by a hatred of the English. A tiny minority of the country is indeed this crude, atavistic, small‑minded and prejudiced. But for the most part, our frustration is not directed at “the English” but at London, which dominates the UK so comprehensively, so complacently and so carelessly.

What started a so unlikely a proposition walked on slowly: talking, explaining, challenging. It was a collaborative coalition of groups across a wide political spectrum who shared many common aspects in wanting a fairer, more equal society and who saw that could not or would not be delivered by a political class who were not invested in change. The largest of these groups and who would become the focus of the anti-independence campaign, was the Scottish National Party which also had a majority in The Scottish Government. Their leader, Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister would become a focal point for interviewing and especially for targeting of attacks against the wider movement. It is far easier to demonise one person than a whole movement, Shamefully he -  oddly more popular in polls than any other UK party leader - would be demonised as a 'dictator' a 'Hitler', a 'Robert Mugabe', a 'charlatan' amongst other things by mainstream politicians and newspapers.

  It was obvious from the start that  Scottish newspapers were against independence. The disparity between positive and negative leaning articles was starkly in favour of The Union. Articles led and closed with pro-union statements leaving the YES campaign as a defensive centre segment Ultimately every Scottish daily newspaper came out against independence but that was obvious long before any statements were issued. The English press remained silent and probably unaware for at least the first year, slowly gaining awareness over the course of the second year of the campaign but also were overwhelmingly pro-union, although a few lone journalistic, usually left-leaning, voices spoke out, seeing something unexpected happening, hearing something worthwhile that could cause potential for a revisioning of wider UK politics. Those who watched, saw a burgeoning political awakening across the breadth of Scots society. People were talking politics - at home, at work, in bars, clubs and in public meetings people came together to discuss the kind of society we are and the kind of society we could be. This spread like wildfire into social media as groups without any representation of their voice in print or broadcast found ways to get their message and views out there. Pro-independence media outlets sprang up in radio and in broadcasting podcasts etc. A few Scottish journalists were avidly for independence and voices like Leslie Riddoch and Derek Bateman began to be heard as they used their professional background to lever points of view out. A left wing movement called 'The Common Weal' became a platform for many other groups. Bloggers too were important and influential. Sites like ' Wings over Scotland', Bella Caledonia' and others grew in popularity. 'Women for Independence' appeared and proved to be a fantastically energised, vocal and thought provoking group of campaigners. While mainstream media stuck firmly to establishment messages and refused wider  access other groups set up 'Newsnetscotland' to try and provide access to opinions opposing establishment viewpoints. A group of more than 3000 business people became 'Business for Scotland' and tried to represent business views other than large conglomerates and to clarify some of the confusing and downright deceitful messages that were being put about. The BBC became the focus of anger by campaigners who felt that the organisation - with some exceptions -had lost its ability to distinguish between what was a Public Service and State Broadcaster.

Southern and world journalists slowly awoke to the massive energy of what was happening up here in Scotland but many English scribblers simply appeared not to grasp the implication or political reality of anything of magnitude happening so far away from Westminster.

Despite the poor starting point the YES campaign had slowly reduced the lead of the 'Better Together' campaign. They had a positive view of a possible future while their opposition focussed almost exclusively on negatives. Many people were uneasy that all three UK parties had banded together despite huge ideological differences and didn't believe this was for anything other than purely self-seeking motives. Many found that constantly being told that they couldn't do something made them feel  even more determined to do just that. Polls narrowed and the gap slowly got closer and closer. The closer they got the more desperate became the negatives, more dire the warnings. Despite this YES still grew in popularity as again and again the establishment, business and media interests were blatantly shown to collude against democracy.

And then. That bloody poll!

One poll showed YES had taken the lead 51% to 49%.

Suddenly - no longer 'an issue just for the Scots people alone'.

'May he sedition crush, and like a torrent rush,
Rebellious Scots to crush
God save the Queen!'

The three UK party leaders absented themselves from Prime Ministers Questions - a key Westminster sitting - to come to Scotland the very next day, a whole train load of MP's a couple of days after that. The 'Better Together campaign was effectively told to step aside, they would take it from here. Speeches were made in safe locations, amply covered by every media medium around. A desperate, pleading, disbelieving tone showed they could not believe it had come to this point where a potential majority of Scots wanted out of the UK. Desperate times require desperate solutions and so the PM went back home and held meetings with business leaders and banks who then obediently trotted to the media and pronounced doom and gloom for all above the Tweed should there be a YES vote. Prices up, pensions already guaranteed suddenly no longer affordable, collapse of the National Health Service, finance industry headquarters leaving en-mass {including one already based in London for more than 30 years!}The oil industry came out against independence {for tax purposes}, An army General was quoted in all mainstream media that voting for independence would 'shame the memory of Scots servicemen who gave their lives for Queen and Country' On and on and on. The Queen stated discretely but tellingly {against protocol} she 'hoped people would think very carefully'. It could almost have been funny - if it hadn't worked. And last gasp a couple of days before the vote a renewed, energised, cast-iron guaranteed promise of ' Even more 'more powers for the Scottish Parliament' {Remember those extra devolution powers originally refused to be on the ballot paper way back at the start of all this?} A vow of 'significantly more powers, almost federalism'  absolutely guaranteed again and again {and again} Every newspaper, every TV station, every radio news bulletin. Faster, better, safer change.......

But what was in the promise? We have never been told precisely – because they didn’t have time to work it out in any detail fast enough to save their skins – and now in the warm afterglow of victory they are jostling to turn it into something to suit their own petty party agendas and particularly to protect themselves from the wrath of English MP's and public opinion, especially as UK elections loom large ahead.

I wanted rid of the British state for this very reason – you simply  can’t trust them. Not ever. We are now their mouse to be toyed with, allowed to escape for a moment, then trapped and reeled in again. What fun.

It was all so depressingly predictable.

It is all so predictably depressing.


Come on Alistair this was supposed to be looking for positives!

The independence movement is still there. It's growing in multiple ways .
SNP membership has trebled since the referendum result.
Scottish Labour look likely to fall apart at the seams and are being predicted to be wiped out at the elections next year.

We have the most politically educated and aware population in the world right now.
We turned out to vote en-masse. 85% of us.
A politically aware and energised electorate who are going to vote?
Now that's any politicians worst nightmare.

Politically energised certainly, but to do what? Win 20 seats in the 650-seat Commons in a few months time? Haud me back. There will be ferocious campaigns to come but the harder we all work the larger will loom the question:

Why didn’t we take all the power when we had the chance and get rid of this bastard chimps’ tea party that is British politics?

This huge YES vote ensures that Scotland will remain central on the UK agenda. I believe the union is on death row and the no vote  has simply earned it a stay of execution.The establishment parties are now in the process of organising their appeal. That has to involve real decentralisation of power and an end to regional inequities. They never wanted this. It was the very last thing they expected to have to offer. They will grudge every inch, every ounce of power given to The Scottish Government with every fibre of their unionist bodies no matter how positive a spin they put on it. Do the political classes have the stomach and the spine for this?

A devo max that gives Scotland the power to raise taxes to pay for welfare programmes, but not reduce them by opting out of Trident and other defence spending, while maintaining the oil flow south of the border, without even an investment or poverty alleviation fund, is a sham, especially as it was denied at the ballot box. It may be perceived as setting up the Scottish parliament to fail, and undermining devolution. That is a huge risk to store up for the future.

However, it's probably the case that anything more than that would be unlikely to be palatable to the major parties or the broader UK electorate. The biggest problem for the Westminster elites now is not just to decide what to do about Scotland but, crucially, how to do it without antagonising English people – who might feel even more that the tail of 10% is now starting to wag the dog of the rest of the UK. The sentiment has come quickly to the front of some politicians arguments. Getting any agreed powers through English dominated Westminster and into law is far from certain

Many (including quite a few in the no camp) became uneasy by the negative, desperate campaign orchestrated from Westminster, and if the yes campaign excited us to the possibilities of people power, the opposition one showed the political classes, their establishment masters and metropolitan groupies in the most cynical, opportunistic light. From the empty, manipulative celebrity "love-bombing" to the crass threats and smears issued by the press, around half of Scotland might now justifiably feel classified as the "enemy within", that stock designation for all those who resist the dictates of the elites' centralised power.

The YES movement hit such heights because the UK state is widely seen here as failed; elitist, antiquated, hierarchical, centralist, discriminatory, out of touch and acting against the people. This referendum has done nothing to diminish that impression. Against this shabbiness the Scots struck a blow for democracy, with an unprecedented 97% voter registration for an election the establishment had wearily declared nobody wanted. It turns out that it was the only one people wanted. Whether this Scottish assertiveness kick-starts an unlikely UK-wide reform, or, through the ballot box at general elections, we decide to go the whole hog of our own accord; the old imperialist-based union is bust.

Us Scots, so often a regarded as a thrawn** tribe with their best years behind them, have shown the western world that the corporate-led, neo-liberal model for the development of this planet, through G7 'sphere of influence' states on bloated military budgets, has a limited appeal.

Any politician or party who disregards the 45 per cent {and rising} or tries to manoeuvre it into a flimsy deal will truly create huge political waves in Scotland. There is a passion that could easily organise into civil disobedience if its aspiration is flouted through hasty promises being recanted or redacted at leisure. 

I hope it doesn't come to that. That would be a shameful end to the wonderful democratic process that put Scotland on the world's lips and in their minds.

In 1707 English gold sweetened the deal when offered to those privileged few aristocrats who had the power of the vote on a Union. It carried the day. Robert Burns wrote,

" We are bought and sold for English Gold,
   Such a parcel of rogues in a nation."

With this promise we were bribed to stay in The Union. Ironically, shamefully, since they merely 'vowed' us more control of our own taxes and own resources, they bribed us with our own gold.

Alex Salmond, leader of the SNP and Scotland's First Minister resigned, stating "We lost the referendum vote but Scotland can still carry the political initiative. For me as leader my time is nearly over but for Scotland the campaign continues and the dream shall never die."

It's time to wipe our eyes, get back on our feet and start again.

** To 'greet' - lowland Scots 'to cry'
** 'Thrawn' - stubborn


Yamini MacLean said...

Hari Om
A considered and well-paced offering Alastair! I agree that the point about this being more than "English-bashing" was largely missed; the fact that it was about RESIDENTS of Scotland who love this country and identify with it was also a casualty of the 'sexy' nationalistic take which the media et al loved to beat up.

Which also raises the fact that to be nationalistic means simply to love one's nation. That it has developed connotations of something sinister and confining is depressing indeed.

Leading on to the matter of all the Unionist posturing. That wasn't nationalism. Apparently...

This is the sort of emotional rot which has to be demolished, along with the imperialistic tendencies which were still to be found amongst all this. True democracy must always come down to the individuals within that governmental system. Empowering the individual is what will provide the best available ruling tenure. It will never be perfect. However, as was seen recently, when folk are engaged and educated they will find their voice.

What is disappointing is that 15% chose not to vote - which is 12% if you consider the registrations. Why did they not turn out?

Knowing that would be valuable. Is it fear of change, plain and simple? Was it apathy? What was the demographic of the non-vote? As mentioned in my previous comment - and picked up well in your post here - the need to decentralise and reform politics is the 'real elephant' and anyone who thinks this has died a death would be naive.

Not least by virtue of an impending general election, this tail will indeed continue to wag! All the best to you my friend and thank you for taking the time over this! YAM xx

Anonymous said...

I wanted to write something about this too, but could not think of the words to say. You have written this so well and I feel I do not have to write my own thing now. I did wonder what you had hidden yourself away for but now I know. Well done, sweetp. x
I like your comment YAM.

DB Stewart said...

Don't despair Alistair. You are a very smart man with wide influence thanks to your gentle and articulate manner. Change will come. A new generation is awake.

Alistair said...

Thank you very much guys,

Rebecca S. said...

What dbs said.
You can't keep a good man (or movement) down for long.

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