Alistair’s My Darling

I was sitting in Nardini’s Café on Byres Road having an Americano and a pastry when I laughed out loud and turned heads. I was browsing on the iphone and read this on the BBC website.

Mr Darling added: “I’m always careful about what language I use because I think it’s important that we conduct this debate in a civilised manner and I do not use inflammatory language.”

Oh Alistair, how pride makes a fool of a man. Was it your self-denying ordinance on inflammatory language that led to this remark in Haddington at the John P Mackintosh lecture?  “With independence Scotland’s budget would have to be approved beyond the border.  That’s not freedom.  That’s not independence.  That’s serfdom. Serfdom! Scots in bearskins hewing at the unyielding soil to provide a meagre harvest for the tithe-owning master?  That’s not just inflammatory, it’s pantomime ludicrous, downright stupid for a man always careful with his language.

Or how about  this: “Your friends in Wales, your family in England and your workmates from Northern Ireland will, effectively and overnight, become foreigners”

A quasi-racist contrivance that defies all human logic. People, as opposed to emotionally-neutered politicians, decide who they regard as foreign and it makes no difference what the technical legalities say. Any person who can regard their own children as foreign needs counselling. This canard displays the Union at its vicious worse. Instead of the benign presence it likes to portray, it reveals instead a casual rejection of the entire concept of a family of nations as soon as one member decides to change the rules. (Also, why does the legislation approving the departure of Ireland from the UK specifically declare the Irish to be “not foreign”?)

Or on the careful use of language, this: “British music will no longer be our music.  British art, dance and drama will no longer be ours. British sporting success will be someone else’s to celebrate. 

Time for your tablets, Alistair. The idea that you and your political pals dictate what we listen to or enjoy or how we define it is the worst kind of nasty nationalism. Perhaps we should equally reject you too on the same basis – that you presumably will deem yourself British rather than Scottish.

I liked this from the same speech: “It is incumbent on both sides to present the people of Scotland with cold hard facts alongside the powerful cultural and emotional ties that bind. This cannot be about opinion or assertion.  Only the facts will do.”

At last, the civilized debate. Therefore will you now ask Cameron to request from Brussels the “facts” on Scotland’s EU membership so we can make our mind in a civilized manner? Will you ask Osborne to rule out absolutely before voting day a currency arrangement? (Better tell the bank governor too before he opens talks with Salmond). Today the UK parliament passed the legislation for an In/out referendum on Britain’s EU membership. I wonder if that’s causing Alistair any confusion over our future position?

Then we come to this: “Scotland’s banks were on the brink of collapse.  A calamity made in Edinburgh, not in London. The cost to the UK of supporting the banks during the financial crisis has been about 21% of our GDP.  The comparative figure for Scotland would have been 211% of GDP.”

Our old friend the Great British Bank Bail-out showing how only Mighty Blighty could save the day. Note how Alistair – in a civilized manner of course – blithely washes his hands of all responsibility. He wasn’t Chancellor. He didn’t along with Brown devise the soft-touch tripartite regulatory system that failed catastrophically by encouraging dangerous lending, massive profits and bonuses, didn’t scrutinize the RBS takeover of ABM and didn’t fail to act quickly enough. But here’s what the National Audit Office says about the bail-out. “Actual money is the smallest part, £123.93 billion provided in the form of loans or share purchases which required a transfer of cash from the government to the banks.” So this wasn’t a giveaway, it was buying the shares from which in due course the taxpayer should get a return and it was also in loans now being repaid. And that was the amount covering all the relevant banks not just the Scottish ones. The rest of the money – over £300billion was a guarantee, never actually paid out, so that if the banks get into trouble again – any bets? – they will have a second guarantee of bail-out. For this insurance policy the government charges the banks money, £16billion so far since 2008. The suggestion that vast sums were paid out to the banks is flatly wrong. They were underwritten with notional money for which they pay a big premium, and the actual money used bought their shares or was given as repayable loans. And the money from the government was borrowed on the markets at historically low rates of interest. Add in the hard fact that Scottish banks would only be responsible for about 10 per cent of  rescue as that reflects the amount of business done here, and it’s hard to rationalize Alistair’s scary picture as careful use of language.

Remember too that when Brown turned against him Alistair didn’t stick to the civilized front he is claiming today. “The forces of hell were unleashed”, he said.  Oh aye, that’ll be more of that non-inflammatory language, Alistair.

Non, mes amis

The good thing about forcing an issue is that you find out who your friends are. Mariano Rajoy appears to be using us as a way of beating his own people with self government aspirations in Catalonia and is relying on the agreed line that Brussels doesn’t want people who vote against the big states. And it is now painfully obvious that the European Union which has enjoyed sustained popularity in Scotland is not among them either. The wilful silence of the institutions on the real legal situation of an independent Scotland is threatening to become a cause celebre of failed democracy and contempt for the rights of European citizens.

Journalists in Brussels were first told after the SNP election win that there would be no statements from the Commission on possible future arrangements because that would be a form on interference in the domestic affairs of a Member State.

It soon became unavoidable though when the pro-EU nationalists declared a smooth transfer to full membership and those same journalists kept on asking the question.

The Commission couldn’t hold the line and had to say something to satisfy demand but as the natural ally of the Member States who are after all the club membership, it couldn’t indicate anything that would contradict the governmental view. Then in September last year after meeting Mario Monti, then the Italian Prime Minister in Rome, Jose Manuel Barroso tried to ride two horses at once, claiming he wouldn’t speak out but then did.

“ I am not going to speculate now about possible secessions, it is not my job. But I can tell you that to join the European Union, yes, we have a procedure. It is a procedure of international law,” he said.

“A state has to be a democracy first of all, and that state has to apply to become a member of the European Union and all the other member states have to give their consent.”

Pressed on whether all new countries were regarded as new states by the EU, Barroso said: “A new state, if it wants to join the European Union, has to apply to become a member like any state. In fact, I see no country leaving and I see many countries wanting to join.”

Clear? Yes, to every Unionist desperate to hear their country would be thrown out of the club of nations but to Brussels observers who read the spaces between the words, no, definitely not clear. He was speaking about existing EU rules for admitting new applicant states whereas the Scotland question relates to part of a state already in membership. No rules cover that eventuality but as the boss, he could hardly admit it, could he? Some observers think it significant that he was meeting Monti because the troublesome Lega Nord in the north of Italy is agitating for greater powers and their  members include secessionists. This pattern is repeated in other countries where sub-state demands threaten the hegemony of the big states – an historically established phenomenon which the EU has markedly failed to recognize and react to, resulting in a mushrooming problem across the continent, one Scotland is currently leading.

So this isn’t just a matter of EU rules and what Barroso calls vaguely “international law”, it is also very much a matter of internal EU politics in which the role of the leadership is to represent the interests of the governments.

Simultaneously though the myriad lawyers of the EU were working away on what might actually happen if the Scots defied the choreographed warnings and voted yes. For these purposes they did not begin with the fundamentalist position that part of a member state voting to extricate itself from a larger entity while remaining committed to Europe would automatically be rejecting continued membership. First, there is nothing in the treaties to indicate that course of action and nothing to say how a country or part of a country could be ejected against its will. In fact leaving the EU voluntarily is now allowed by treaty but they don’t make it easy. You must negotiate withdrawal and it’s subject to a vote in the Parliament.  As the former EU judge Sir David Edward says it is question of negotiating an amendment to the treaties to form the basis of Scotland’s continuing membership, a point recently confirmed by a Commission official, Mario-Paulo Tenreiro, as reported by Newsnet. He said Scotland can legally negotiate a continuation of its current membership from within the European Union following a Yes vote.

The orthodoxy also assumes that you go to the end of a queue of applicant countries who are only in a queue because they are converging their systems of government to comply with the EU requirements, while in Scotland’s case that happened 40 years ago. If there was a way of removing Scotland from membership – without any objection from any of the 28 states, including the rUK with whom Scotland will be negotiating at the time  – what would happen to the transfer of funds? Would Scotland get its money back? Would all programmes with EU funding stop overnight….for example on business and innovation alone there are currently 44 successful applications across  the highlands and island and the lowlands and uplands worth £23m. Do they just stop…do European students pack up and go…farmers hand back subsidies…companies get blocked from the single market? And, if the rUK remains in, there will be no freedom of movement between England and Scotland and, of course, Ireland.

If this fantasy of confusion ever happened what do you think would be the stock of the EU in the eyes, not just of the Scots, but of the world? An organization already notorious for its complex undemocratic institutions would be a laughing stock. I doubt if any Scot would bother applying to their Heath Robinson club after such an insult.

Which is why the little piece of analysis by Professor Robert Wright in today’s Scotsman

(see the bottom of the item) is laughably simplistic. The idea that there are strict rules covering Scotland’s case and they would be ruthlessly enforced even when it was counter productive to do so shows a lack of understanding of the pragmatism on which the EU thrives.

Wright takes the Old Guard view that Scotland has nothing to offer Europe. What an astonishing statement by an academic because, as Murray Pittock points out in the Herald, Scotland has a world-leading position in university provision and is third in the world in terms of influence of its research. And how do you grow your economy? By producing graduates who drive the next stage of development.

Put to one side the growing importance of renewables (25 per cent of EU tidal power) to Europe and the status of largest oil producing nation, does he think there is no interest in Spain in our fisheries?  Clearly not. Whereas, in fact, it is a key reason why Spain will think long and hard about any attempt to exclude Scotland because it would cause riots among its own fleet, the largest in the EU, which uses quotas in Scottish waters off both coasts. On a wider scale, the whole thrust of the EU – its very DNA – is expansion and inclusion which any move to deny Scotland would flatly contradict, causing internal EU division and global scorn. Also would Washington happily see Scotland excluded when it is desperate not only to deal with Edinburgh as a partner but to have Scotland in NATO? Any rejection by Brussels would precipitate a backlash that could mean us staying out of EU influence with a knock-on effect on NATO membership and public demands for immediate Trident removal.

Professor Wright seems to think the EU rules are hard and fast so Scotland will join the Euro because it won’t have an opt-out. Yet only 17 out of 28 EU nations are in the currency and only three have opt-outs. He is a professor of economics who can’t count. Nobody is forced to join the Euro. Again there is no such demand on membership, simply an acknowledgement that it is an EU aim.

He ends with the common presumption – that Spain, or anyone else, will have a veto. Which brings me back to the work of those lawyers in Brussels. They know the veto offers potentially a threat but it only apples to new member states. If Scotland’s accession is presented as something other than enlargement, the lawyers say the veto need not apply. Can they get round the rules? Well they did when 16 million generally impoverished East Germans joined the EU in one of the biggest “enlargements” in EU history.  They got round the problems associated with so many new citizens with genuine needs by allowing them entry under the existing West German Republic which was renamed Germany. So, despite a massive influx, as if by magic, no enlargement. Or look at Kosovo which still isn’t recognized as a legitimate democratic state by some EU countries. It is negotiating its way in to the EU and has active encouragement from the institutions which have a permanent presence in the country. Only this month EU prosecutors indicted 15 former rebels for war crimes, some of them from the party of the prime minister Hashim Thaci, in a sign of how raw the brutal past still is.  Kosovo is being nursed to meet basic standards including the critical rule of law to prepare it for joining. Compare that picture with modern, democratic, peaceful, uncorrupt, trouble-free wealthy, already-a-member Scotland. Would any organization gently nurture such a fragile fledgling as Kosovo and yet reject Scotland, brimming with rude democratic health?

The arguments against Scotland come down to politicking on one hand and strict reading of rules on the other as if there were no alternatives. I’m told the EU lawyers have found a formulation to aid Scotland’s accession but the reason we won’t hear it is that there is a contrived campaign to deny the Scots the information they need. Brussels would prefer a No vote, so would the members of the European club and we know London’s view. As a result, the EU institutions, aided by our own taxpayer-funded MEPs and assorted Unionists, are determined you won’t know the truth before you vote. This week a Commission spokesman confirmed the view that they will inform London as Member State if it presents a “precise scenario” which means in effect Scotland voting yes and London accepting the decision as per the Edinburgh Agreement.  I expect little better from the champions of limp democracy in London and their Scottish allies who refuse to ask Brussels for clarification which the Commission has promised to deliver if asked. But senior EU officials are now deliberately pretending not to hear a Member State Prime Minister make public assertions about another Member’s domestic affairs. For the EU itself to remain quiet against the interests of its own citizens is threatening to become a symbol of all that is wrong with the great project launched in the post war period by Schumann and Monnet as a vehicle for peace and prosperity in a rebuilt Europe. To knowingly deny its own citizens the information that already exits to make an informed democratic choice is a denial of democracy itself.  I’ve been pro-European all my adult life and, although I favour reform, I have remained committed in the belief that it offered a better vision than the British state…until now. Even if this produces a negative outcome for the Yes campaign, we have a right to know how the EU would treat us before we vote. To find Brussels now conniving with London against the interests of the Scots is transmitting the clearest signal that not all Europe’s citizens are equal.

It’s normal!

The White Paper is being tossed about on the frothing seas of partisanship, lurching to port where George Kerevan hails it “game-changing” then heaving to starboard where Brian Wilson buffets it as “nothing of substance” – 670 pages of it! Meanwhile the decks are awash with streams of “fantasy” and “wish list”, all enough to make you seasick.

So what is it in reality? Well, it’s a tangible sign that independence is becoming entrenched in the popular mind as a conventional and feasible option for running the country. And I think that is the most telling point of all. The release of such a detailed report became an unavoidable item of UK national news – unless you read the Star – in which Scots saw their government and fellow Scots, in a sense themselves, sensibly discussing independence as a rational, everyday political idea on the television news. This is normalisation. For many, mostly beyond the reach of Newsnight and the Politics Show or the comment pages, independence as a concept has retained a White Heather Club quality that allows outsiders to laugh at us as celtic eccentrics. It is not uncommon for the urban working class to offer only sneers at Salmond as some kind of sheep-shagging salesman, as opposed to a true Labour artisan politician, while at the same time welcoming his policies and berating Labour’s failure. If they can’t accept the messenger, they won’t get the message.

The breadth of the media coverage of the White Paper showed a different perspective. It brought the “Big News” from London to our doorstep where Hew Edwards respectfully interviewed Salmond at length. It led the network bulletins. It produced disharmony and acrimony as all normal political issues do. It proved the SNP government’s plans were both serious, as in profound, and important, as in a matter for London to cover on location.

The day after it is spread throughout the press, with its merits and shortcomings dissected with forensic scrutiny and across the land thousands of voters whose cynicism inclines them habitually to dismiss new and challenging ideas, will be made to think. “What do I think about this? I’m not sure about full independence but this looks really serious and makes some points I agree with. I don’t usually bother with the political news but I can’t ignore this, it’s everywhere. Salmond really has an impact, doesn’t he? He does things that get London jumping. And why shouldn’t we use the pound? It isn’t England’s. Who do they think they are…”

This event has moved independence out of the speciality lane in the political supermarket and placed it in household essentials. And it does, at last, provide a searchable source of answers – whether you accept them or not – and it has created another awkward moment for Better Together because they have nothing to offer in reply. From now on, not only are specific “answers” at hand, the White Paper itself IS an answer to the constantly demanding How will this work? How can we afford it? The reply is they’ve produced an entire document in answer. The follow-up challenge of course is: “Where is the Unionist alternative?” And it’s true, to engage in a proper debate, each side is duty bound to produce its case. That has now been done by the Yes side so when do we see the agreed manifesto for Union?

I also think this document and the coverage will force people elsewhere in the UK to come to terms with a simple fact – that Scotland has cards to play. Hitherto, the impression has been apparent from London that they dictate events, they say Yes or No and they hold the assets and can block Scotland’s progress. Yesterday demonstrated that isn’t so. There is a strong economic case for independence, there is a widening gulf in political culture (certainly with London but I doubt if it applies across the rest of the rUK) and grudgingly many will now realise that it does make sense to share some services. I suspect the English view broadly is that independence means going it completely alone and they can imagine that happening but it makes some uncomfortable that the logic is to share a border, a currency, the DVLA etc because that requires a more nuanced mind-set. This is a profound change in the government of Britain, one of the most politically backward of all industrialised states, deeply conservative in its attitudes to democracy and resistant to change and social mobility. For English people in general, devolution was a disturbing concept that hinted at disharmony and a cloaked rejection, so independence is like betrayal. Then to find that, actually the Scots have a good case and it involves still sharing with them will take time to digest and come to terms with. Many won’t. The Little Englanders – Tory Right, UKIP, EDL, Telegraph – will voice their opposition to all association with a new Scottish state which will only serve to incline the fair-minded who take time to rationalise it into accepting a new deal. Indeed, because the Civil Service – and big business – will spell out the advantages to London of continued association and joint working with Edinburgh, senior Unionist politicians may be pushed into giving it a careful endorsement to prepare the ground for post-independent arrangements.

In the next 10 months this document and a wider knowledge of it will come up time and again in public debate across Britain, further normalising the idea of an independent Scotland in the minds of millions. It may even excite the wider British Left in politics and the media who could find something to salute here in a social democratic model rejecting, as they do, the rule of the bankers, the austerity burden on the poor and a London-centric economy. Do they really have such faith in the outdated and fading British state that they believe it trumps all attempts at fair pay, civil rights, equality, and self-determination? After yesterday’s Scottish announcement taking top billing, the first two items on this morning’s BBC news were Cameron’s plans to deny benefits to fellow EU citizens – a racist move also against the rules and principles of the EU – and nine million people are in serious debt in the UK. What a country to be proud of. Would we really want to join in Union if we were asked today? With all its caveats – hydrocarbon exploitation, lower business rates – Scotland’s independence agenda is offering more than Miliband’s Labour for those seeking to transform unequal, geographically-deformed Britain.

Many southern eyes will look north in the next year and some of them will be understanding. Some might even be envious.

Plan B, UK?

I woke this morning and found myself in bed with Alastair Darling and Jim Naughtie and decided to vote No if only they’d leave me alone. Alastair is now heavily into gabbling mode where every question is an excuse to launch into a tirade of slaisters which goes on incoherently until he dries up. Somebody should tell him he sounds increasingly desperate, as if he’s pleading a forlorn case when surely the drill is that he should be the statesmanlike voice of the runaway winners. I’m going to stop making this point from now on because I think it is helping the Yes campaign that the leader of the opposition sounds like a loser.

I’m also beginning to think the thick layer of complacency may also be working to the Yes advantage. I did my duty listening to Radio 4 and while I enjoyed Jim Naughtie’s forays into our wee homeland it was striking to me that he didn’t seem to find anybody in the entire north east who wanted independence. This seemed to be underlining his thesis that the area – from whence he came – is “different”. Therefore while it is the centre of the oil industry which is representative of the nationalist movement, the “reality” seemed to be contradictory because when it comes to independence, the locals aren’t having it, despite voting SNP. This maybe bolstering Jim’s own thesis about the debate and that, in a campaigning way, is all to the good. The more airily relaxed they are in assuming they know the mind of the Scots, the less observant they will be of what appearing on the radar.

But what has been emerging recently is the major flaw in the No campaign argument over currency. They have chosen this ground because they believe it is a weakness, obviously, but they have based their case on the UK saying no to currency union. The trouble is – they haven’t. And it is becoming clearer by the day that they won’t say it. Interviewing Darling, Jim ended with the killer question. Why don’t you just say No?

Alastair dodged it and said something about it being  “a decision for the Scots”. Eh?!  I think that’s what he said and quickly moved on into his stream-of-slurry mode which Jim allowed to spray the airwaves until he dried up. Why didn’t Naughtie stop him and demand an answer: What credibility can you have on this topic without ruling out a currency union? We all know the answer – they will want a shared currency if the Scots vote Yes and will look stupid if the say no now. I also think a definitive statement would shake the currency markets. If the polls begin to pick up so independence becomes more likely AND the UK government clearly states Scotland will be excluded from sterling, they will immediately begin factoring in the consequences, i.e. a fall in the pound’s value. It would also encourage business leaders with revenue to lose in the Scottish market – not to mention Scottish businesses exporting south – to speak up and express worries for their business costs  and employment. They might begin to blame the Treasury not the Nats.

So next Jim interviewed Nicola and while it was a perfectly acceptable effort, he followed throughout a Better Together agenda, namely doubts over currency union and finally the apparent need for a Plan B – straight out of Alistair Carmichael’s mouth. When she said effectively there wasn’t a Plan B because there was no realistic chance of Plan A failing, he went on demanding until she said the flip side of being denied access to our own currency would mean no requirement to take a share of UK national debt which is the real dog in the Scottish economic case. Oh! Oh! yelped Jim, refusing to pay your debts, eh? when all she was saying was that, if refused by London, there was a response at Edinburgh’s disposal. I followed her logic but would an English audience? I’m not sure. They would think she had no follow up for refusal of sterling except cheating on paying Scotland’s share of the bills. (I think London should be careful what they wish for as turning down a currency union means Scotland starts its own and leaves them in a mess).

What a shame Jim didn’t take the opportunity to put the Plan B question to Alastair. If it were me, I’d take the gist of one side’s argument and turn it round on them. It is common journalistic practice. “You say the SNP has no Plan B, Mr Darling. What’s yours? If the Scots vote yes, what’s your Plan B?” To which he would say there is no need for Plan B because No will win which the interviewer points  out  is exactly the same answer as his opponent gave.

And what is Plan B? The UK government is not making any contingency plans, despite being criticised by Westminster committees. It has no readiness plans despite the imminent vote. It will not enter talks despite the Electoral Commission urging it to do so. Whole sections of industry and commerce want clarity but the government won’t provide it. The people demand answers to questions on EU membership – and indeed on currency – the government refuses to give it. What Naughtie should have pointed out is that the UK has no Plan B and is sleepwalking into catastrophe. If the vote is Yes, it won’t just be that Cameron lost Scotland, he didn’t even have a strategy to deal with the loss and didn’t have the guts even to stand up for Britain against the nationalist leader on television. As the opinion polls begin to rise, that will become the pressing issue and then we’ll see how Dave – and Jim – react.

Objective One

At the heart of a campaign is the common cause. When all else can be qualified, debated, amended or dropped, the core objective must be inviolate. Whatever the disagreements on preparation tactics and post-event consequences, there can be no debate about objective. The ultimate aim is an inspiration to all and is the focus for all, wherever else they find points of difference.

I was wondering about this as I took part on the Radical Independence gathering on Saturday and heard uplifting contributions about re-making our society as an egalitarian community, creating a genuine democracy uncorrupted by corporate power and rejecting the neoliberalism of a market economy.

This is a powerful and intellectually-driven agenda which Scotland has been lacking since Labour shuffled off its radical skin and, more recently, socialist votes were hoovered up by the SNP – aided by internecine implosion.

I personally engage with the message and think it has echoes throughout Scottish society. I have deep admiration for those who have been carefully crafting it and who have the chutzpah to promote it to a growing audience. So why do I hesitate?

One reason is a recent communication from one of the originators of the New Scotland who was worried that my own wish for independence was identity-based and therefore exclusive and could be used by the No campaigners as a sign of division – that is, you’re either one of us or you’re not, in which case, we reject you.

As I said at the time, it isn’t individual identity I’m talking about, rather it is  allegiance to nation because the referendum offers a choice between two national entities – Scotland and Britain. So my argument is that you have to choose which you prefer to run the government, either the nascent Scottish state or the existing UK and the choice indicates your preference. That leads to a question for No voters: If you think of yourself as a Scot, why do you choose Britain as your governing country? If nationhood is the benchmark for all the other nations on earth, why do you accord a lesser status to your own country?

So my correspondent wanted the choice to be between how the country should be run rather than which country you preferred because that was potentially divisive. So as I listened at the conference I imagined myself to be a different kind of Scot, rather than, as I am, a member of the liberal-minded media city set – a shopkeeper from Forfar perhaps, a fisherman from Fraserburgh or a farmhand from the Borders. I still want change, I know society isn’t equitable and I do believe in the Scots but do I readily grasp that Scotland – despite my vote electing the SNP, despite the referendum itself – is “not a democracy” as one speaker said or that “corporations run the country” as did another?

If I have a few thousand in the bank, if I’m a promoted teacher on a professional salary, if I’m comfortably off in retirement with no mortgage, am I one of the “rich that is voting No?” If I am one of that constituency – a baby boomer maybe – and I’ve done alright and I’m seriously toying with a Yes vote, will I find that language engaging or will I shy away from being told I’m a capitalist pariah in a class war? Part of the problem with casting No people as the privileged is that, if it were true, it seems they are in the majority, according to the polls, so tactically that is a self-harming assessment likely to damage your prospects of winning them over.

We are immediately into classification of course. Who is rich?  We know that in Scotland they are getting richer, no doubt, but the figures show there are only 25,000 people known to be earning over £120,000 a year. If they are the rich who are voting No then the Yes campaign has little to worry about even if they all back Better Together. My point is that that there is a thick layer of Scottish society which is gainfully employed on a good income or retired (ditto), home-owning, investment-holding, car-polishing and holiday-going. Are they the target of the class war?

Now I’m not being disingenuous. I know the real target is multi nationals and party funding, lobbyists and greasy handed politicians and a global corporate structure shaping our affairs to their own advantage, not that of the people of the world. But I think a campaign strategy has to be subtle enough to include all possible support and the genuine danger here is that those respectable Scots who love their country and are thinking maybe the time has come to cut her free to flourish will recoil if they get a sense – via the media – their vote is to create a socialist republic.

For many out there I suspect it is already a personal struggle to rationalise to others more sceptical why they are planning to vote for independence. Challenged on questions many Yes campaigners take for granted, – How can we afford it? What happens when the oil runs out? – switchers remain unsure and lacking in the confidence to articulate their views. The last thing they need is to be asked if they are now socialists opposed to the corporations who bring up the oil, who export the fish, beef and lamb, provide their pensions and employ their family.

Applying my earlier correspondent’s test to the conference, I see a real danger that the whole Yes movement can be dressed as a divisive class war with, as its target, not the rich of which there are vanishing few, but middle Scotland, playing into the hands of Better Together and their narrative of keeping things as they are because of fear of what may lie ahead – a message designed for respectable, deferential Scotland which also happens to be Most-Likely-to-Vote-Scotland.

I subscribe to the demand for radical change and believe Scotland can be a beacon for others, but in the beginning, in the first few days of a new nation the real risk isn’t globalisation, it is disinvestment – of people, companies, investment funds and economic credibility. I don’t believe that will happen in any significant way but we have to guard against a rocky start so the transition can be smooth as there are no guarantees. And this leads to the key point: None of these dreams of change will have meaning without a Yes vote. It is only then that the hopes of a nation can fly and everything must be focussed on the one aim – the common cause. No one should be told – or allowed to think – they are not wanted in the new nation because every one of their votes counts the same. It is one thing Better Together have never wavered from. Their content and tone is often offensive but they are not interested in nuance or morality, only in winning. That mentality – however unattractive to dreamers among us – has to be replicated by Yes. It is the core objective without which everything else turns to dust.

I’m not criticising the ideals and the inspiration behind the movement and I accept fully that some idea of what the new country can be like is needed as a guide and to give a reason for voting. But we are entering the difficult phase when all views and attitudes will come into play and I worry that there is a tendency to be too prescriptive about the country after Yes which can repel as many as it attracts. My personal approach is to focus on what no one can dispute or deny – my right to vote Yes because Scotland is my country and my home and deserves to fulfil itself through joining with the other nations of the world and there we will find our feet as an independent people forging the country we want.

I’m unanimous about this

By the way…I know EU membership rules have to be unanimous. See Rule Britannia below. But that’s under existing accession rules which relate to new states. My source says that there is a case for Scottish exceptionalism in that Scotland is already in and therefore not an accession state. It will  be treated differently and the lawyers – in the Council – have a draft agreement worked out for Scotland which they say meets the legal criteria. This formulation does not require unanimity because of Scotland’s existing status. All this could be thrown out by the member states after a Scottish application but in the meantime they have devised a clever and effective route for Scottish inclusion which should meet everybody’s requirements – even Spain’s if it decides to vote against as a warning to Catalonia. (This is not coming from an SNP source but from a senior EU figure. Obviously not Barroso.)

Do As I Say…Not As I Do

I don’t normally respond to articles by other writers because we’re all contributing to the babel (although I see some actually get paid for it).  But I had a few thoughts on the Brian Wilson column in the Scotsman which continued the Shona Robison-as- Goebbels theme. I’m not sure this is at all fruitful for unionists as I don’t think anybody actually believes it. If you see what she was questioning – an academic leading a politically neutral university research programme while helping to set up a campaign group backing one side of the same programme, any sensible person would think she has a point. I imagine the manufactured mushroom cloud of outrage is what really puzzles the public. No wonder they turn off when the best the combined brains of |Better Together can come up with is an hysterical claim that Nationalists want to bully people into shutting up. (Perhaps Brian could talk to his chum Ian Taylor about threatening those revealing the truth).

Nevertheless the public will also note that all governments are notorious for trying to get their way and try very hard to influence opinion. I was trying to remember who started that. Oh yes, it’s coming back now…New Labour. Wasn’t Brian part of that?

Who remembers Alistair Campbell intimidating journalists not on message…refusing to give stories to reporters who didn’t write what he wanted…humiliating Nick Jones of the BBC who refused to bow to his bullying…as Jones reflects: “Perhaps it was no surprise that among Campbell’s many boasts he did not repeat the line from his diaries, The Blair Years, about not minding if journalists were fearful of falling out his favour because he “wanted to undermine them, divide and rule”.

Perhaps if the British Unionists had the interests of openness and transparency at heart, they’d like to explain why they refuse to open the Cabinet papers from 1997 dealing with Labour’s internal disagreements on Scottish devolution. Brian could write himself and encourage his friend Alastair Darling to do the same asking that the Scots be allowed to see those discussions before voting in the referendum. (It was the SNP which cut the embargo on government papers from 30 to 15 years – obviously the act of a secrecy-mad administration.)

While he’s at it, why not ask the British government to stop preventing release of papers which would allow the Chilcott Inquiry finally to complete its work investigating the war in Iraq? The documents revealing Labour leader Tony Blair’s private talks with George Bush are being kept back so the public – that’s the voters – don’t find out what was said. Who cares about lost lives when reputations are at stake?

Why aren’t Labour calling for detainees of the War on Terror to be put on trial rather than bought off with millions in compensation? Is it because the detainees can prove that British agents attended torture sessions and that authorization for that reached all the way up to…where?  Jack Straw?

If it’s bullying to hide the facts you’re after, you might shine a light on Falkirk where, it seems, Ed Miliband, a Labour leader, is now believed to have been previously informed of Unite’s recruitment campaign for Labour members but chooses not to admit it in the light of events. That is why the report won’t be published, to hide Ed’s blushes. Pressure is applied to those who want to speak up and their complaints made to disappear.

I recall even more explicit Labour bullying. According to Murray Ritchie of the Herald, Gordon Brown was so incensed at the paper’s failure to stamp on nationalism that he threatened to have public sector advertising withheld from the paper – a major source of revenue.

On a more recent note, who recalls the Howat Report? The Labour/Lib Dem devolved government commissioned Bill Howat to assess its spending and to report back on how effective it was. He did. They didn’t publish. They put it in a drawer because what it showed embarrassed them. It was only when the SNP took over that a publicly-funded document was brought to light.

Or how about this from 1999….A UK Government minister is to appear in the High Court over his decision not to release information on a controversial dam.
Trade Minister Brian Wilson faces the court next week to answer claims that he is breaching environmental information regulations by refusing to release details about the impact the Ilisu dam in Turkey will have. Friends of the Earth allege that the environmental impact assessment – upon which the scheme is based – was not done properly and want to obtain access to it. The group will argue in court that under 1992 environmental information regulations, Mr Wilson is obliged to publish details of the report. He has so far refused, saying the documents are not the government’s to release.”Mr Wilson seems to regard freedom of information as a question of news management rather than a fundamental right,” said FoE policy and campaigns director Tony Juniper.

All these fall into the category of suppression of information against a wider public interest, either through refusal to release or through enforcement, official or otherwise.

We’re all guilty of hypocrisy. Me too. But I think of all the voices out there, some that should consider self-restraint are those of former politicians with a traceable record in office to set  beside their current views.

Rule Britannia

Diplomatic incident in the Med! Enemy vessels threatens British enclave! Dive…dive…dive!!

Yes a wee Spanish survey boat came cheekily close to the sovereign waters of Gibraltar and – damn those siesta-lovers – didn’t they refuse to clear off under orders from Her Imperial Majesty’s Royal Navy. The brave Brit tars had to send out what looked like a pleasure craft, a kind of high-powered pedallo, to shadow the impudent imposters. Actually the RN pedallo may be all Britain’s got left as it downgrades its naval capacity by building aircraft carriers without aircraft.

Such was the storm of indignation from the British that the Spanish Ambassador was summoned for a telling off in London which I imagined to be a bit like Basil Fawlty slapping Manuel across the head.

What imaginings the Establishment conjures to bolster its self-imposed air of importance. How on earth could Spain which I think is still a member of the EU and of NATO be remotely threatening to Britain? If they are doing subsea surveys in the Med, so what? If they aren’t but are spoiling for trouble, why play their game? It really does sound like one of those affairs that require the teacher to come out and separate the wee boys.

What on earth do the Brits think they are protecting in Gibraltar in any case, apart from some 19th century concept of being a naval power policing the Straights where they used to plunder the vessels of Spain, France, Italy and Malta as they did when Nelson was in his pomp.

Gibraltar appears to be a kind of tax haven, although cleared of any toxic associations, in which companies operate remotely – for example betting companies which supply 15 per cent of GDP – paying no tax in Britain, something the Revenue and Customs is trying to clamp down on. There is no sales tax despite EU membership. What, one wonders, does Gibraltar actually do for Britain that justifies naval intervention anyway.

Is there any strategic military need to have British forces defending the Rock and from whom? The Spanish? Surely an historical anomaly involving a tiny area of coastal land within the EU could be solved by Madrid and London agreeing, perhaps with a joint sovereignty deal initially, a moderate idea rejected by Gibraltarians 10 years ago.  The rights of Gibraltarians are protected by the EU and retaining red pillar boxes hardly requires naval intervention. I don’t remember Britain threatening military action to prevent the Chinese retaking Hong Kong. I was there at the time and there was fury among the locals that their colonial overlord wouldn’t even give them passports to Britain. Why the difference with Gibraltar?

I ask because it seems to be there’s an opportunity for a bit of Scottish diplomacy here. If it’s the case that Madrid plans to veto Scottish membership of the EU, might their stance be softened by an indication from Edinburgh that it would support the opening of talks on the status of Gibraltar? This means a lot to Spain, it’s become a point of honour and I would imagine there would be barely suppressed glee if they found an ally within the British Isles with whom they could do business. It could really raise Scotland’s profile and, with many European countries uneasy at Britain’s carping and her colonial instincts, might change perceptions about the kind of EU neighbour Scotland could become.

Of course, we would be immediately branded disloyal and acting beyond our status by the same British government which I suspect would hit new heights of apoplexy but there’s nothing to stop an aspiring new state from forging its own external relations by flexing its nascent muscle. It would demonstrate to Europe that not everybody in these islands is tied to a faded glory.

Would it be appropriate for one small country seeking independence to act against what the local inhabitants would regard as another (relatively) independent nation?  One difference is that Gibraltar is actually part of the Spanish mainland entirely separate from the UK and is an historical anomaly from a time when we were regularly at war with Spain.  Scotland was regularly at war with England but did sign up to a treaty to come together. Scotland is not, like Gibraltar, seeking the protection of the UK and if Britain shared sovereignty with Spain or handed the Rock over, all that would actually change on the peninsula is the1000 Spanish workers not having to queue at a border to get to work.

I think it’s worth at least a preliminary discussion between the Scottish government and the Spanish authorities in Britain because that would put the wind up Whitehall – I presume they bug the FM’s phone.

(I don’t believe by the way that anybody will block Scotland’s EU membership by voting against. The only possibility is that, if my information is correct, there will be qualified majority voting which allows for example Spain to vote No in the knowledge it won’t prevent Scotland becoming a member).


On the media front, I watched recordings of Scotland Tonight and Newsnight Scotland on the IFS report and found both fair and balanced and, the big prize I look for as a reward for watching, I learned something.

Discounting the set up packages played out before the discussions which rarely add much to the subject, I thought both channels did their job. I watched Scottish first and enjoyed the debate with Simon Johnson and Lesley Riddoch. Johnson is with the dreaded Daily Telegraph, a paper that really has lost its soul from its halcyon days when it was a beacon of good journalism, now twisting news and comment into a single cord which it wraps daily round Scotland’s neck. He was truculent and triumphalist as only a Unionist toady can be when there’s a chance to scoff at Scotland. On the other hand he gave as clear and coherent an exposition of unionism’s response to the report as you could expect, neatly combining the top-line facts with undisguised glee and leaving nobody in any doubt that the last place they would look for objective analysis is his paper.

He summed up the conventional view, that if you are stuck in the Westminster mode of thinking, this report puts the tin lid on independence. It plays perfectly to the idea, assumed before it was released, that Scotland is too poor. I noted the lack of any attempt to place responsibility for that – if it were to be true – in any of the output. The old question returns: If this is the most successful union in history, why are we still poor after 300 years? If the UK’s national debt is crippling Scotland, whose fault would that be? The message seems to be: We’ve made you so poor, you can’t afford to escape…Britain, the payday lender of the United Nations. In fact, Wonga would be a great name for the UK, as it’s composed almost entirely of moneylending, crippling itself with debt and keeping people under the thumb. Henceforth, the UK is known here as Wonga.

So we got a smirking Unionist view which was countered by the legendary Riddoch, surely Scotland’s own Joan of Arc*. She can be, as they say, feisty, can Lesley, so when she is totally calm and controlled she is magnificent…a thing of beauty. What she represents to me is a different way of thinking, a whole different intellectual approach to being a country and a community. She has developed a depth of understanding of how society can be made to work which reaches beyond the sterile Left and Right and which leaves a hack like Mr Johnson stranded in the shallows, gasping. I loved her reference to the way Norway added to its economy by making it easier for women to work and now their contribution exceeds that of oil. Fantastic.

This kind of thinking exceeds even Stewart Hosie who was locked in mortal combat with Iain Gray. Hosie did a fine job considering what he was up against as the simplicity of a headline like Scotland’s black hole makes it an uphill task. But what I love about Lesley is her scorn for the old thinking, that things can never change and nothing can get better, that there is only one way and it’s the Union.

The best single interview was Gary Robertson with Paul Johnson, director of the IFS because fair questions were put succinctly and enough time was given for the answers which were illuminating. I never felt it was being rushed or that the presenter was gagging to get in to interrupt. It is the simplest form of broadcast journalism – ask an informed interviewee sensible questions and let him answer. Rocket science it ain’t. It provided a depth of understanding and allowed some light into the findings that didn’t make it sound nearly as apocalyptic as the Unionist adherents painted it. In fact, Robertson, whom I have maligned previously, didn’t get in the way at all last night and judged his interviews and to-camera remarks really well, even managing what looked to me like a genuine smile or two, always a sign of confidence.

I remain though of the view that independence is about belief and that if we see ourselves as just pawns of the London-centric system, they will treat us that way. This report offers an immediate prospect of a sustainable Scotland, a period of years, if they’re right, before the squeeze begins to be felt and that time can be used to good effect preparing our country by sorting out our own priorities, our tax system and our own immigration policy. Other questions won’t go away…will the UK be in the EU…will fracking reduce energy costs…will there be a housing bubble in the South east and will we all pay higher interest to combat it…will the banks need to be bailed out again. And as for 50 years hence…fifty years ago we didn’t know there was North Sea oil and gas…50 years ago we didn’t think of renewables…and 50 years ago we didn’t know there would be a new Scotland with its own parliament making laws we can be proud of and we had no idea that the British Prime Minister would come to Edinburgh and sign a document confirming a referendum on our independence. We didn’t know our destiny really would be in our own hands. In 50 years time our children might look back and thank us for seizing the moment and transforming our country for them.

*Don’t send me messages saying: I’ve got the matches!

Plus ca change

I have to say that the Institute for Fiscal Studies has always been respected and the only time I remember doubts about its work was when it reported on Scotland’s economy and happily quoted oil statistics from the Office of Budget Responsibility which had already been questioned as unduly pessimistic. The money for this latest effort comes from the Economic and Social Research Council which is in fact a non departmental government body with funding from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, so make up your own mind about motivation. Any thoughts on its publication the day before the Scottish government’s financial report…obviously coincidental. No?

I can’t argue with any of their figures but as ever it is the conclusions they draw which cause concern. The reason is that they don’t appear able to take account of any variation in their modelling, as the call it. It means, like all of these reports it bases everything on what we know now and presume there will no change in anything much after independence. In fact, as Swinney pointed out, further into the report, they concede that it is the case by saying that…there are “alternative assumptions about inward migration, future productivity growth, the change in revenues from North Sea activity, the initial allocation of accumulated debt between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK, and the interest rate payable on public debt. These factors are inherently uncertain and could also evolve differently if Scotland were independent rather than part of the UK; in addition, they could be substantially affected by the policies chosen by the government of an independent Scotland.”

So you can’t dispute, I think, the report on Scotland’s budget shortfall as far it goes but, like all these think tank efforts, it doesn’t – can’t – say what will actually happen.

Why shouldn’t Scotland negotiate a better deal on its share of national debt for example? It’s even suggested that could lead to a deal on Trident for a period of years. Will Scotland’s economy never grow any bigger…will there be no entrepreneurs…no boom in business…no savings in budgets, some of which we know are already unfairly attributed to Scotland? To read the report and to listen to an increasingly shrill Alastair Darling, you’d think the future is set in stone. Is that how Alastair saw the crash coming and averted financial disaster?

The IFS should have subtitled its report: If Everything Remains the Same After Independence and All Future Projections Prove –Against All the Odds – To Be Accurate. Anyway, if they imagine a tax hike or a service cut would prevent me from voting Yes they really are lost in space. Whatever the initial costs, there can be no doubt in the mind of any Scot that we will make a better long-term fist of our country than the Unionists have. The main reason why the figures are so god-awful is our share of the ballooning national debt of the UK, heading for £1.5 TRILLION. Whose fault was that, Alastair? Who was in charge over all those years when the money was rolling in, when the oil was in its heyday, how much was invested? Don’t you find it rich for Darling, the man who was asleep at the wheel in 2007-08 and contributed massively to this obscene economic mess, to be lecturing us on prudence. In a tirade without punctuation on Radio Four he sounded like an out-of-control local councillor desperate to get the last word, a long way from the mighty statesman we were promised. He even said we were trying to base an economy entirely on oil! Eh? Does he never to stop to think what a dreary picture he paints of his own country. I accept he has a point to make about finances and is justified in using the IFS report but for him and Alexander to suggest as they do that their own countrymen couldn’t punch their way out of paper bag is one way to not to get folk onside. There is a hint, a growing one, in all this of desperation creeping in. I wonder why.