Time To Grow Up

With one short phrase a blonde-haired legend from the 80’s said more than all the hysteria of the No side put together. Forget Bowie; it was Jackson Carlaw who made the ground-breaking remark that brings sanity and the Scottish national interest to the front of the debate.

When the Tory deputy promised to “man the barricades” to get Scotland the best deal he could from London after a Yes vote, he stepped out of the laager and dared to speak the truth about what will happen after September 18. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-26296632

But he wasn’t letting any cat out of any bag on how the British government will behave, as the nationalists claimed. The West of Scotland MSP, however elevated in Scottish Tory ranks, will not be formulating policy for the British Treasury any time soon. What he was expressing was the democrat’s view – that this is a campaign we all fight to win and after the people have spoken we implement their wish. In the case of Scottish MSPs, all of them, that would be to wrest the best deal achievable for the Scots. If you believe, as he does, that means currency union and EU membership, then his shoulder will behind Bill Kid’s (fellow panellist on the Radio Scotland programme) and Alex Salmond’s.


That this rudimentary statement became news – and was predictably hijacked by sections of Yes claiming it meant more than it actually did – provides an insight into the conduct of the national debate so far. To me it is axiomatic that the politicians exist to serve the people so long as they find their demands within their conscience – otherwise they resign. Anybody actually questioned on this point in the No side will surely say Of course they will abide by the democratic decision. It’s just that the tone of their approach says the opposite, not helped by an honest declaration designed to clarify being turned against him. If, for once, a politician tells the truth, how helpful is it that his opponent jeers as if it’s a slip and his own side tut in despair? These reactions typify the Twitter age where grown men – no names – bitch and snarl in tweets like schoolgirls.

I think the Carlaw Doctrine is one of the most sensible interventions so far, at a stroke opening up a new vista in which all Scots come together in a common cause whatever the outcome. It shouldn’t be a revelation, but it is. It sounds almost statesman-like against the shrill relish of his own leader whenever an obstruction is placed in front of independence. Her delight is evident in her latest “massive tax bombshell” – that VAT will be levied on all goods and services by the EU. “It’s not just Scottish families that would be affected, but Scottish business too. Thousands of people in Scotland are employed across the construction sector in areas like shipbuilding and aircraft repair – areas which benefit enormously from VAT exemption and would be hit hard by such tax breaks being taken away under independence. No ifs, no buts – those are the rules for any new member.”

Actually there are If and Buts, the first being that it only applies to “new Members”, a category the treaties could not ascribe to Scots, even new Members negotiate their own exemptions and the principle that a Member shouldn’t suffer detriment through EU membership. She conveniently forgets David Cameron’s pre-election statement (before raising VAT to 20 per cent): “We have absolutely no plans to raise VAT.”

In May 2009, said that he would never raise a tax that “hits the poorest the hardest”.

He said: “You could try to put it on VAT, sales tax, but again if you look at the effect of sales tax, it’s very regressive, it hits the poorest the hardest. It does, I absolutely promise you. Any sales tax, anything that goes on purchases that you make in shops tends to . . . if you look at it, where VAT goes now it doesn’t go on food, obviously, but it goes very, very widely and VAT is a more regressive tax than income tax or council tax.” And then he put it up. Ifs and Buts, Ruth?

Apply the Carlaw Doctrine to the above and instead of hysteria which even at a human non-political level turns people off, you get instead: Has the first Minister considered how EU VAT rules will apply? Without exemptions the cost to families and businesses could be severe. Which exemptions does he propose retaining and has he, for example, spoken to the building industry? If not, will we have to step in to help him fight the European Commission on Scotland’s behalf to save the exemptions?

That way you get out two messages. One, you’ve flagged up a potential problem for Yes which fits your campaign and two, you’ve also informed the voter that whatever the outcome you stand ready to serve the country’s need. Isn’t it simple?

It also makes it harder for your opponent to criticise, since in a way, you’re standing with him, albeit with a different outlook. Maybe it’s too complicated, after all.

What has become complicated is the other fair-haired superstar in the debate, David Bowie who made a delicate intervention which I thought was sweet but said nothing…only that he was engaged with it, which I like. In fact, what’s not to like? To me this is a sign that our debate is reaching out way beyond Scotland and making all kinds of people think. It’s a lot better than being ignored. It also puts Bowie in the same category as Jimmy Krankie and I like that too having never understood what his music was about or who Captain Tom was. Bowie also managed to unleash yet more ill-informed metropolitan moaning from the Guardian stable. The Observer actually wrote a leader on it bemoaning the childish abuse Bowie had – apparently – received. (Does anyone ever see this abuse? Did anyone ever get sight of Susan Calman’s offensive epistles or did we take her word for it?) Frankly, if you enter the debate – and Bowie did, you take what’s coming. We all do. It’s part of the game so grow up. Which is why I was astonished at the Observer characterising this as indicative of our campaign which is like saying all football should be stopped because of 10 thugs on a terracing. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/23/scottish-independence-proper-debate-david-bowie-twitter

“The subsequent outpourings on Twitter were mostly negative, puerile and cumulatively underlined the message that, without a sharp reversal of course, the Scotland debate that ought to be an important platform for a modern, informed and progressive exchange of views on the meaning of national identity, the value (or otherwise) of the union, and the possible development of a more positive form of nationalism, will prove elusive.”

Really? Is that what you think in London? For years now we have been having erudite and intellectual debates in our country covering all those areas and more, we have think tanks, forums of academics, Nobel Laureates, and entire online community and two huge campaigns running, the Royal Society, the David Hume Society and the National Institute for Economic and Social Research have weighed in along with the Institute for Fiscal Studies and in case you don’t receive television down there, even Richard Madeley has given his Einstein opinion. There are public meetings all over our country. We are debating nuclear weapons and their worth, a new Nordic model for tax and welfare, how to live off renewables without nuclear to save the planet, how to end poverty, ditching the neo-liberal economic model, how nationalism fits with social reform, should education be free? We are having a debate in Scotland that you couldn’t begin to have in London where your only obsession is house price inflation and bankers’ bonuses. If anybody needs to grow up, it is you supremely cocky, ignorant M25 media luvvies who know nothing about the country you write about. This is more condescending drivel which inches us further away from those who claim to be the bright and conscientious and who increasingly display just how far apart we now are in Britain.

Feel the Fear

Frightened yet? You should be. They’re all piling in now – assertion upon allegation, horror upon hazard, claim upon calumny – from Brussels and London and even from the heart of our democracy at Holyrood where Danny Alexander opened his maths jotter and pointed to the page where the teacher had written Mortgages UP…

(This appeared to be a lick-the-pencil-tip exercise where you add suggestion to supposition – remember to carry the one – add it all up and add a nought…devised by a bank no-one’s heard of. Happily, it means we will all pay a nice round £5000 more for our mortgage, said Danny proudly, winking at the reporters – there’s your headline, boys. )


The heat is being turned up, if you think Hermann von Rompuy qualifies as a heat source. Even an unrelated decision by a bank, which used to be Scottish, to base a division in London, is interpreted by the Telegraph propagandists as a snub to independence. Who’d want to base a bank in a small, independent, out-of-the-way country with funny habits…like Switzerland…or Monaco…or Hong Kong…Singapore…or Malta…or the Caymen and Bermuda…or…I give up. No, wait. I count 31 non-indigenous banks operating in Ireland – remember the basket-case economy that Jim Murphy laughed at in the Commons? GDP per head 2012: Ireland – Euros 35,700…UK- Euros 30,300 (source countryeconomy.com).  I make that one of Danny’s nice round 5000 numbers that makes a good headline. So here is one I made earlier.


It rather depends who and what you want to believe, does it not? Danny’s Treasury-written composition paper was based on how lenders would treat a country that failed to pay its debts. (Flaw alert incoming). Lenders – our altruistic, morally-minded “markets” are gentlemen to a fault, apart from the ones who are ladies and are regularly treated like Page Three slappers in City firms. Therefore they would view anyone with a bad credit history as a bad risk. But what if you didn’t default? What if you had no debts in the first place and someone else had publicly declared their intention to pay off those debts which they, not you, had incurred and to do so in all circumstances? If a lender sees a profit opportunity with low risk, sees a gleaming and industry-approved asset backing up the loan and a borrower with a low annual deficit, a net exporter, does he a) decide it isn’t fair that the borrower’s offer to help with someone else’s debt had been spurned and he should be punished for his audacity by being sent packing or b) give him the cash at a reasonable rate and watch how he performs?

If, on the other hand, another borrower appears with debt more than 100 per cent higher than income putting it 13th from the bottom of the world league table with the debt rising at £7000 a second, whose borrowing capacity is stretched to breaking point and buying in more products than it sells, shouldn’t it be liable for an interest risk surcharge, if it deserves any loan at all?

And, if you’re minded to believe the European Commission, (antidote pills are available), their estimate is that for the UK to come out of the EU, the cost would be £3000 each, proving that when it comes to scaring people, Westminster may have met its match.

But don’t think this kind of stuff doesn’t have an effect. In the Guardian today Martin  Kettle  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/19/alex-salmond-acting-spoilt-children turns what is a reasonable swipe at the SNP’s failure to quell doubts about currency into a rant ranging over the EU and pensions. His starting point has validity because, whatever the misgivings, a convincing alternative must find its way into the minds of the voters or a water-line leak will expand and lead to a flood. SNP protestations about synthetic politics from the Unionists are genuine and, as soon as an alternative emerges, will be revealed for what they are – a campaign gambit devoid of honesty. But there is no disguising the need for something definitive, otherwise the gambit wins. Kettle stretches the point beyond the reasonable, or even the logical, but the fact that he has given up on what little respect he had for the independence tactics, is a straw in the wind. He repeats the McTernan line about the SNP response. “It felt like a reputation destroying performance. For if anyone is guilty of bluff, bluster and bullying with which Salmond loudly charged his much better argued critics, it is Salmond himself. I’d be pretty confident that voters would see it that way too.”

Salmond can’t afford to let this caricature take hold because the trick of politics isn’t really what you say, it’s what people want to believe. If they’re minded to back independence, they will listen sympathetically to the case and if you tell them you have been obliged to seek an alternative because your opponent has acted unreasonably, they will understand. Don’t Knows who are weighing it up will appreciate the dilemma and perceive a pragmatic response – and will be much less sympathetic to a second round of attack from the opponents. In the course of the change, Salmond is seen as reasonable and accommodating in the face of intransigence and if he pulls off a clever trick with a neat solution, such as using the pound regardless, he wins again. But these decisions must be made within days, if not hours. The idea that there is no alternative takes hold quickly and an eventual reply looks grudging.

(This is where I diverge from Kettle whose lack of detailed understanding is betrayed by his unquestioning acceptance of the Barroso (latest) intervention. There simply are no independent observers who take this seriously and a journalist can’t complain when the SNP don’t either. Barrosos’s assertions are so far off the wall there is only one answer which is that he is taking us and the EU for fools. The same goes for Kettle’s belief that Gordon Brown has raised important questions on pensions. There IS clarity on pensions in the White Paper but there are remaining questions over the EU requirement on funding cross-border schemes but this is exactly where the civil service comes in – to engineer solutions, perhaps by negotiating a 10-year period over which full funding can be achieved. As this was raised initially by the Chartered Institute of Accountants, you’d think they would propose an answer – isn’t that what we pay them for? I’m afraid Kettle can’t get away with blaming the SNP for going for the man not the ball in the case of Brown. As I said yesterday he is responsible for destroying the pension value for millions of people, despite being warned of the consequences and if you don’t have a final salary scheme today, blame Gordon. Whatever the arguments over pensions, Brown has brass neck pretending to have a solution. Kettle may respect Brown, but he is in a minority).

Kettle uses a phrase that made me gape wide-eyed at the ipad. “I know a serious argument when I hear one, and Osborne and the others have been making serious arguments in the past few days. It is simply mischievous to pretend that they are not dealing with major issues which, if mishandled, could be seriously destructive to ordinary lives, communities and standards of living. Yet, faced with genuine intellectual and political challenges on big subjects, Salmond and his colleagues act like children who scream as loudly as possible in order to avoid listening to a message they do not want to hear.”

Destructive to ordinary lives? I was listening to the news on Radio Four at the time. Here are two stories run one after the other. One: “An increasing number of under-18s with mental health problems in England are being treated on adult psychiatric wards, it has emerged. And many children are having to travel hundreds of miles across the country to receive hospital treatment. Treating young people in such units should happen only in exceptional circumstances. The Department of Health had promised this would stop by 2010….‘Sometimes we have to make 50 to 100 phone calls around the country looking for a bed. They [young people] shouldn’t be shunted around into inappropriate facilities, however much the staff there try to help them,’ said Dr McClure.It may be the first time they’ve had a breakdown. They need to stay in touch with the people they know and love, and if they’re having to move 200 or 300 miles, it’s very difficult for the family to stay in touch.’ He said funding for mental health services had been cut, particularly for child and adolescent services in the community.”

A mother told of having her daughter dragged out of her arms and hearing her screaming out of a window: “Mummy, don’t leave me…”

Two: “Forty-three Christian leaders, including 27 Anglican bishops, have signed a letter urging David Cameron to ensure people get enough to eat. They argue that cutbacks and failures in the benefits system are forcing thousands of people to use food banks. The End Hunger Fast campaign called the situation “truly shocking”. It wants a national day of fasting on 4 April. But the government said it wanted to help people “stand on their own two feet” by cutting welfare dependency.

The letter comes after Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, warned last weekend that welfare reform was leaving people in “destitution” and labelled it a “disgrace”.

Those two routine items on the UK national news are what I call destructive to ordinary lives and if Martin Kettle imagines an independent Scottish society would permit those offences when money was available, he isn’t keeping up. It is exactly that kind of brutish, despicable, community-shredding blindness that we want to escape. People across Britain are recognizing that they don’t want to live in a society that has lost its heart and only counts money not blessings. What is the Guardian’s solution? Vote Labour? Back Ed Balls? Or is Kettle the one  putting his fingers in his ears and humming?

Our currency will be sorted out, and the debt, as will the EU, and we will keep our pensions. Britain and Scotland will never prosper by listening to Brown, Balls and Osborne. The truth is that, no matter how hard it is for southern commentators to take on board, Britain is finished. It may run on in London and the grab-it-all south east but even there insane house prices are killing communities, and everywhere else there is a powerful sense of abandonment and imprisonment in a Britain we don’t remember ever voting for. It may be at the other end of Britain but it is difficult not to feel real pain for the flooded people in the south west whose homes are ruined, who face uncertain futures and limits to insurance and whose flood defences were never rebuilt as they were promised. Three hundred of them were meant to be replaced but weren’t. This too is a symptom of a top-down, cynical political system to whom people are customers to be lured, hoodwinked and fleeced. This is from an item in Social Europe by Simon Wren-Lewis: “Cuts in flood prevention are a small part of austerity, but there are close parallels with the macroeconomic case… Just as some in government never believed in all this climate change stuff, others thought that this Keynesian idea that austerity might be a bad idea…was fanciful. (Some, like George Osborne, appear to have thought both.) When these mistakes became evident it was, with the floods, the Environment Agency’s fault, and also the last government, while with the recession it was all down to those Goddam Europeans, and of course the last government. Yet whereas the links between austerity and prolonged recessions may appear mysterious to many, the links between lack of flood prevention and flooding are all too obvious. And the real danger for the government is that perhaps others may begin to see these parallels.”

What is being called the SNP’s fit of pique is partly an expression of this deep frustration, that when you come up with promising solutions, perhaps a way out, a better way forward, the forces of authority and a complaint media work their hardest to destroy it. They are currently in full defence mode, backs pressed against the wall, realizing that they have gone for broke by legalizing the referendum and refusing a second question and are now in the hands of the Scots. As is their economic future. A decision to split would be a severe blow to hopes of closing the deficit, of shifting some of the mountainous debt, of keeping their borrowing costs low, avoiding an almighty nuclear weapons headache and diminishing them in the eyes of the world. And still the polls tighten. http://newsnetscotland.com/index.php/scottish-news/8765-worries-for-no-campaign-as-currency-threat-halves-lead

The latest thistle in their pants is the game-changing warning that liabilities are equated with assets, a fine principle in law, and the reason they are now working overtime to suggest Scotland will suffer if it declines their invitation to load up the national credit card with their borrowings. I don’t see it. Salmond has offered to pay. They have in effect declined the offer. They are stuck with it, palms getting sweaty.

There is of course now no easy solution, they having painted themselves into an ever-reducing box. The offer should be to negotiate but they’ve thrown that one away. They can’t make soothing noises because they blew that one too. All that’s left is what they’re good at – threatening and warning…assuming you are intimidated by Danny. But a deal will be needed. London must acknowledge an agreed deal and Scotland’s negotiated departure before most of the world will accept us. So it may be that some share of debt is accepted even if they stick to the refusal to share sterling and we will begin our new relationship as we began it all those years ago, in resentful and grudging acceptance of our one-sided relationship with the grabby neighbor.

Knees up, knees up…

Maybe its because I’m a scrounger, that I love London town…

“The Capital” is back in business, big time. Business is booming, mortgages are pouring out and debts are building, bubbles are forming and people are spending. Tax receipts are zinging into the Exchequer and without them, Britain would be in an even worse state than we are. So thank you, London. I think that is the expected response from those already accustomed to falling on their knees and imploring our benefactors for the hand-out. The gap between Them and Us is getting wider so we’d better practice doffing our cap as well as we kneel and proffer the begging bowl – not easy but we’ll manage.

It’s one thing to observe the surge and splurge in a place so feather-bedded that you’ll hear her professionals say they missed out on the bankers’ austerity-driven recession. “Never noticed it, mate.” But what I find galling is the coke-line of subsidy on which so much of this wealth is predicated. (What follows is a classic example of nationalist grudge and grievance).

There is famously £14.8billion for Crossrail with £4.7b directly from central government. While the Greater London Authority provides over £7b, the authority itself is 75 per cent funded by British taxpayers. Another investment arm, Transport for London, is also taxpayer-supported. There is business investment too but unscrabbling the Crossrail mosaic of partners reveals a hefty transfer of general taxation from all Britons to bankroll 21 kilometers of rail track for those travelling on an east-west axis in one British city. Crossrail is costing four times the annual budget of Birmingham. It is just under half of the entire government budget for the whole of Scotland…for a railway line.

This being London, the pathological obsession with property tracks the construction of each kilometre of rail. We read of houses near the line spiralling in value by 27, or 35 or even 57 per cent. London is a hub of economic activity, but it is also a hothouse of inflation because as costs increase, so demands for higher incomes produce another distortion – London Weighting.

Nothing characterises the disfigurement of Britain’s economy so crudely as a straight subsidy into the pockets of earners in one geographical area. Adding tax pounds raised by low earners in Glasgow or Huddersfield to the pay packets of higher earning professionals, many of them economic migrants to London, adds insult to injury to the North-South divide. To create an entrepot in one corner of the country and stand by as it draws in talent and resources from places in dire need of more not less energy is now a sad fact of non-metropolitan Britain. But to ask the rest of us to subsidise directly its excesses with a bank account bung is asking too much. The subsidy underwrites inflation, ensures that everything will be dearer and adds another notch on the ratchet easing Britain apart.

The public aspect of the subsidy to Londoners has been revealed as £110m a year, with a whopping £45m spent in the Department of Work and Pensions alone, this the department trying to save money for the nation from benefits claimants.

One of the highest recipients of the additional payments is the £6600 to each member of the Metropolitan Police, £4200 in the prison service and £2700 in the Ministry of Defence.  In the private sector it is less generous, ranging up to just under £5000. London derives huge benefit from the efforts of its people but it is a mistake to think it isn’t based on the collective foundation of general taxation provided by all.

Remember it is the Scots, in Daily Mail World, who are the scroungers, benefiting from taxes raised in England and sent north because we can’t provide for ourselves.

London has done imperiously well and every single taxpayer down there deserves to reap the benefits of their work. But they should pay for themselves as well as take top dollar in salary.

To be fair, the Mayor is on the case and is seeking improved tax powers so he can raise and keep more of London’s revenue. Good for Boris. I hope he succeeds and to help him Mr Salmond should be pointing out how this is exactly how Britain should operate with a series of powerful regions and city states setting their own standards and taxing accordingly, just as Scotland should if there should be a No vote. Salmond should seek common ground with the Mayor for a re-writing of the tax and spend rules of the UK and instead of allowing the screw-tighteners at the Treasury to dictate our fiscal policy, set the new units free to compete for investment and jobs through their own different tax structures. As part of the alliance Salmond should demand the phasing out of London Weighting to bring prices down and force realistic pay rates. If pay needs to rise let London’s own taxes fund it, not ours. Is Boris the free marketeer he likes to pretend or is he the scraggy-haired scrounger reliant on shovelfuls of Olympic gold and Crossrail subsidy? We could find out.

Didn’t He Do Well?

Dr John Robertson of UWS acquitted himself rather well on Radio Scotland this morning in defending his Fairness in the First Year report on broadcasting and in the process made the BBC look small.

After listening to Dr Robertson, whom I’ve never met, I was left wondering what the BBC was afraid of. He didn’t rant. He didn’t accuse. He appreciated the pressures of newsgathering. He isn’t a Nat. He sounded surprised at his own findings and had expected them to be viewed as helpful. Not a bit of it. As we saw, his work, according to Newsnet, was first ignored by the Herald, then by BBC news and finally lambasted by the corporation’s management who overplayed their weak hand and have been left looking like bullies.

How could a massive taxpayer-funded organisation with, in Scotland, people earning at executive level from £100,000 a year up to nearly £200,000 make such elementary mistakes? My only answer is that, as I have pointed out from the outset when I began blogging last September, the quality of the senior managers at Pacific Quay simply isn’t good enough. They each have individual skills but collectively they amount to less than the sum of their parts. There is weak leadership, poor appointments, ill-considered decision-making, lack of communication with staff and audiences and they have developed an anti-news mentality where journalism is viewed as an expensive luxury when London is really interested in television production for the UK network.

With such endemic shortcomings, BBC Scotland badly needs a public-facing strategy to alleviate its declining credibility. If you run a business strategy company, start pitching today.

They could start by redefining what a separate BBC is for in Scotland because the tenor of executive utterings on this front are ambivalent. My view is that it exists to serve the Scots with news, current affairs, sport, culture, education, childrens, topical issues and drama designed by and aimed at the Scots. On top of that they earn extra income and kudos by producing programmes for London – as an extra. Instead what has happened in recent years is that Scotland has concentrated on producing output for London and diverted its energies into that sector which I think should come secondary to Scottish programming. The management have taken their eye off the ball and instead of breaking sweat to make sure the Scots are serviced first, they take domestic output for granted. By so doing, they allow the standard to reduce even when the staff – and especially the journalists – are screaming at them that the quality is suffering. This is dismissed as yet more moaning from the feather-bedded journalists so they miss what the audiences are experiencing which is questionable quality.

Ruthless budget pruning in news has had a deleterious impact. Newsnight is an example. It used to have two presenters over four nights, it had an editor and a team of programme producers, a film archivist, dedicated correspondents as well as programme director, a full-scale editing suit with editor and its own assigned film crew with a budget allowing for two-day shoots. Today, there is a single presenter, the editor doubles up as output producer, also doing Scottish Questions, there is no archivist, no dedicated correspondents, just staff off the reporter’s rota, the cameraman doubles up as editor in a news cupboard edit suite and almost every film is pulled together on the day. To cap it all, the last editor was so scunnered, he walked. The editorial chief of a top BBC brand news programme months before the biggest story of a journalist’s life and he slung his hook and left. Are you getting the message? Meanwhile, if you ask McQuarrie he will tell you there has been no impact on the quality of BBC journalism.

Kenny McQuarrie argues with me about this emphasis. When I say: You are making too many programmes for London, he retorts: No, we are making programmes for the BBC. In that answer lies the problem. He pretends that doing London’s bidding and making programmes for them is fine as it is one BBC, but the reality is that more money is spent on network (London) productions than Scottish ones, often the staff are flown up to make them – the joke is Made in Scotland, Wrap party in Islington –and the whole purpose of a BBC Scotland is to make programming for…well, think about it…the clue’s in the name. They have lost their focus on their core business – Scottish quality programming.

Another example is Jeff Zycinski as head of radio addressing a roomful of presenters (and pretending to tell them how to do their job) and showing a graph of how Radio Four’s Today programme is running neck-and-neck for audience with Radio Scotland’s GMS when everybody knows GMS should be miles ahead of London-based news output.  He then says it’s alright that so many Scots are listening to Radio Four so long as they are all listening to the BBC! No, no, no. If Scots start listening as much to Radio Four as they do to Radio Scotland, it begs the obvious question – what is a separate BBC Scotland for? Up until he was appointed head of radio we lived by the credo that GMS commanded a much larger audience in Scotland than Today and we had a higher share of AB’s, the decision-makers. His attempts at “popularising” the programme I believe drove listeners away to what they regard as a genuine BBC sound – that is the quality tone of Radio Four. In the endless search for new and younger audiences, they sacrificed the bedrock which is professionals aged over 50 interested in their own country and its place in the world. They were weaned on a quality BBC radio experience which many of them feel they don’t get any more in Scotland at crucial news junctures.

The letters and emails I received over those years confirmed this with listeners bemused as to what had gone wrong. One stat I recall was that in the final year of the GMS team I belonged to, we had the highest audience ever recorded over 12 months, according to Blair Jenkins, head of news. (What happened to him?) That has never been repeated since to my knowledge after Zycinski took over. But, like the ditching of Newsweek, this is a management which doesn’t listen to critics, internal or external, and doesn’t recant when found out to be wrong.

This week’s sordid little tale about the reaction to some academic research is part of a long-term trend in dismal decision-making. Don’t expect it to end soon.

No Change Please…We’re British

Here’s a happy thought for Yes campaigners. They have already won the argument against the Union…the problem is they still haven’t convinced the Scots. It may be that this formulation of apparently contradictory effects is the reason the polls so far are stuck in neutral and a sense of gradual movement is hard to detect.

Take the first part of the equation. Is there a rational person – as opposed to the determinedly committed – who still says Scotland can’t do it? It isn’t so long ago, in the pre devolution age, that a belief in Scotland’s almost total ineptitude was the conventional view. We were totally and hopelessly dependent – and weirdly untroubled by it – on the British Establishment whose agents we respected in the shape of a Scottish Office, often including unelected pantomime toffs – Lords  Glenarthur, Mansfield, Sanderson or Strathclyde, anyone? Devolutionists were a rag tag of ne’er-do-wells and the disenfranchised fed up with opposition. As for the dangerous dreamers of the SNP…

But since Scotland has demonstrated, rather than postulated a confident capacity to legislate in it’s own interests and move in a divergent direction, it is only flat-earth ears who say it can’t be done today. Largely unnoticed the official line has been changed by the facts and is now a completely different formulation that says: Of course Scotland can do it but is it worth it? That’s a completely different proposition based on reality. A binding agreement (on the face of it) is signed by the British state to guarantee that independence if there is a simple majority.

All that is left to the No Change brigade is to show how devoid they are imagination, inspiration, belief and pride by running down Scotland’s prospects to make independence appear too risky. For me the proof that they are finished in terms of argument is two-fold. One, they are now reduced to hiding the truth. This comes in the form of allowing their leader to duck out of the one major head-to-head event of the entire three-year campaign which could have commanded total national attention and revealed the true divide between the sides…Cameron versus Salmond live on television across the United Kingdom. I still find it jaw-dropping that this has been dismissed as not being the role for the leader of the United Kingdom, a man who will fight tooth and nail for Union and whose sole political skill is presentational. Editors have allowed him to slip out of this in another demonstration of supine complicity by a media still exhibiting 1950s deference to the British state.  I suspect this may become unsustainable though as the polls tighten and the London media which does have the balls to take on Downing Street starts to get frightened of the outcome. Backed by hysterical backbenchers, it is entirely possible that cowardly Cameron will be pleading for a pop at Salmond before voting day.

Second, London’s refusal to take up Brussel’s invitation for clarification on the attitude the institutions will take and the approach we can expect to our membership is the kind of sleight of hand the same brave Scottish media would have lambasted Salmond for. They did after all make a mockery of Salmond not having asked about membership when the freedom of information row was filling their pages. But now when there is a clear course of action to enlighten the voters, they shrug with indifference. Where is Catherine Stihler when you need her?

Taken together these two denials of openness and democratic choice, along with the unsubtle failure to be honest about currency union, demonstrate they have nothing to gain from revealing the truth while protesting it is Salmond who won’t give answers. That hypocritical ruse is their only cover left.

While the uncritical media dutifully report the remarks of a self interest player in Spain, knowledgeable voices are getting through to offer clarity on the real story of EU membership, the latest the unrivalled EU expert John Palmer.

Even the much vaunted, by Unionists, IFS figures confirmed that Scotland was in a better economic position than Britain and it is only looking years ahead and only if all British government estimates are accurate that a budgetary squeeze kicks in by which time Scotland can act to step up economic activity and head off demographic changes.

I know many will believe the claims that Scotland still can’t make a success of independence but where are those arguments convincingly made? Increasingly it is the Alistairs who make wild assertions and unsubstantiated claims, not their opponents who now point to the Independence Bible (it’s Sunday) to make their case in the knowledge the Nos have nothing to counter it with. Do you hear cogent arguments made by ordinary Scots apart from a weak and generalized: We’re probably better together?

But why isn’t opinion turning? I think the problem is a large percentage of Scots who aren’t applying logic at all. It isn’t that they are following the detailed debate as such, it is that they have no concept of their country as anything other than what is has been throughout their lifetime, a part of Britain that used to be something special and with plenty of off-the-shelf history but not a place that could conceivably equal other countries. They see Scotland as not a country at all but the way it is seen from London, as a region with history and some differences but, like all subsidiary units, not an equal for the founding nation. It leads to disbelieving outbursts accompanied by furrowed foreheads about “Scotland…a nation. Don’t be ridiculous” sometimes followed with “I’ll emigrate if that happens”.  They have been consumed by the British message and have allowed it to demolish what remained of their separate sense of national worth. It is the total success of Britishness which has supplanted their national identity, reduced it to a leisure activity (sport) and rendered them unable to envisage Scotland for what historically and legally it is, a nation like all others which merged in alliance with a bigger neighbour and now may want to rearrange that relationship to suit modern needs. They are not listening to the argument, as is their right, and they probably don’t listen at election time either preferring to believe nothing will change so why bother.

I doubt if many people really do believe the argument that Scotland is better off in Britain, a point daily being dismantled by reports showing personal debt approaching £1.5 trillion – equalling sovereign debt. Families are borrowing to pay utility bills while bankers earn 35 per cent pay rises to £1.6m a year. The government subsidises mortgages for the rich and has to be stopped by the Bank of England before another bubble is created – guess where?

But my No cohort doesn’t connect any of this to their own country or their own vote. It is something that happens to them and they can’t change.  They won’t see either the desperate Tory and Lib Dem moves to begin campaigning for continued EU membership because the polls show a real possibility of the UK voting us out.

Yes campaigners can argue all they like but I wonder how many of the Don’t Knows are actually Don’t Cares and Won’t Cares, people for whom there is no political message that gets through and for whom the idea of Scotland as their country is as relevant a flight to Mars.

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.