Fri 19 Sept 18:46: and a couple of myths.
There have been three stories of the referendum which the media keep coming back to but which, to be blunt, are utter bollocks.
Lie number one: has been characterised by intimidation, violence, etc.
The Scottish Police Federation has now issued two statements criticising those (the press and Better Together) perpetuating this narrative. As they put it:
It was inevitable that the closer we came to the 18th of September passions would increase but that does not justify the exaggerated rhetoric that is being deployed with increased frequency. Any neutral observer could be led to believe Scotland is on the verge of societal disintegration yet nothing could be further from the truth.
Lie number 2: yes voters were voting with their heart. No voters were voting with their head
In fact, research from Edinburgh University showed the opposite - that the more informed people were, the more likely they were to vote yes.
Lie number 3: yes voters are nationalists
I've written about this before, but the ICM poll before the referemdum found that the main reason people voted yes was anger with the Westminster system. The main reason for voting no was feeling of Britishness.
Fri 19 Sept 18:33, a few notes from the count last night
I was at the count at Edinburgh last night, here are three notes:
1) the class divide was starker than I've ever seen it. In one very working class area, Yes won 3:1. In one of the wealthier areas, no won 5:1, for example.
2) Yes campaigners tended to be in normal clothes. No folks tended to be in suits. It felt more than ever like a scruffy movement vs the regime. At the end of the count, half of the yes campaign folks had a group hug, some of them singing "I'd rather be a hippy than a suit".
3) The person in the room looking saddest was a West Papuan activist, who was there because he hoped Scotland would show the way forward.
Fri 19th Sept, 16:32 the morning after
Well, the yes campaign has lost the referendum, and Salmond has resigned. Here are a quick few things:
1) The majority of people under the age of 55 voted yes. The union hasn't really so much been saved, as put on life support.
2) In Salmond's resignation statement he says that Cameron told him on the phone this morning that he won't stick to Gordon Brown's promised timetable. Salmond notes that he suspects that Cameron cannot hang onto his back benches. It's not surprise to see Westminster breaking promises. It is a surprise that they have started so early.
3) As Anthony Barnett has pointed out, it seems pretty likely that the Better Together scare campaigning influenced at least 5% of people to vote no. If it did, the majority of Scottish people would like independence. They just don't think it's "worth the risk", as the Labour slogan went. something is only "not worth the risk" if you'd like it in the first place.
4) The UK now governs without the consent of 45% of one of its constituent nations, the non-pensioned population of Scotland, or of the cities of Glasgow and Dundee. This is a profound constitutional problem.
Thurs 18 Sept 09:45 some notes on the coverage
Last night's Newsnight had a relatively inarticulate panel of experts and a fantastically informed and articulate audience. Whilst they were asking relationship counsellors for advice on Scotland and the rest of the UK "breaking up", they failed to cover the detailed plans and debate of the Radical Independence Campaign, the Common Weal, etc.
Worth thinking about.
Thurs 18 Sept 08:57 it's today
Thurs 18 Sept 00:43am - the day before
I got up this morning and went with my mum and with openDemocracy's founder, Anthony Barnett, to Glasgow. The city was at its best: chatty, fun, excited. It seemed that everyone had declared their allegiance on a badge or sticker – lots of yeses, and certainly some noes.
More importantly, the streets were overflowing with emotion. Not the anger and hatred that you'd believe if you read the pages of the Telegraph, something much, much more positive than that. At one point on Buchanan Street, a man shouted, as he walked down the road, to everyone and to no one, about how each of the countries of the UK is a great nation, and how we should stay together. A slack rope walker symbolised how close the vote is, and played Scots fiddle songs as he walked his line, yes sticker on his lapel.
I took Anthony to the Yes office which is, appropriately, on Hope Street. It was quieter than usual – in part because many of the staff were out of the office. But I sensed another reason too. The staff team was so overwhelmed with emotion as to be speechless. I found an old university friend who works there and told them they've done a fantastic job. Because they have.
Outside in the streets, groups of yes campaigners darted around with bundles of leaflets, off to deliver a final message to voters. At the door to the No office, I ran into another university contemporary who works there. He seemed much more relaxed. In the street, the no side were giving out leaflets encouraging people not to risk the NHS. I asked why a yes vote was a risk to the NHS, and they told me that, as things are, the SNP are doing some bad things to the NHS - as though problems with the status quo are an argument for the status quo. I left more certain than ever that the case they, the formal No campaign, have made, is pathetic.
Down the road, there was a Green Yes stall. Patrick Harvie, co-convener of the Scottish Greens was stood by it, and a stream of young Glaswegians recognised him and got selfies with him. As we chatted, Robin McAlpine, founder of the Common Weal Project, appeared and we shared another massive hug. Robin is a man so full of passion that it often spills out. He told us there was a rally in George Square, round the corner, so we went and joined in, running into a giant “ban the bomb” man on the way.
At the rally, there were more saltires than I've ever seen in the campaign, and my mum went round asking people what this symbolised for them. Most said they weren't entirely comfortable carrying a flag, but that it felt appropriate for the day – that they were voting yes because it offered hope of an escape from Westminster politics. People spoke about the outrage of poverty and the belief that another Scotland is possible.
We returned to Edinburgh, then drove up, through the mist, to rural Perthshire, to my parents home. tomorrow, we'll be on the doorsteps in Blairgowrie – an old mill town now full of “yes” signs and hope.
Predictions? I'll only say this. There is a chance Scotland will vote yes tomorrow. And if it does, it will do so in the face of the full force of the British state. That fact alone, that chance, is a remarkable thing.
Weds 17 Sept, 11:35am the referendum and the movement
Today, we have a fantastic piece from Olly Huitson, my co-editor, on why Scotland should leave the sinking ship Britannia, Caroline Molloy, editor of OurNHS on why Scots do have to vote yes to save the NHS, and David Elstein, media expert, on why a yes vote needn't be a problem for Scottish public broadcasting. We also have a piece from no supporter James McAsh on why he thinks a yes vote is a vote for Scottish nationalism, but a no vote isn't a vote for British nationalism.
Finally, a quick reflection on why the social movement in Scotland is so powerful - because what's little reported is that it fits into a story across the world.
Across the world, millions of young people got involved in politics
during the Iraq war - in part recruited by the anti-globalisation movement. These people then helped recruit and train up
those five years younger than them after the financial crisis, leading
to the Uncut movement, the Occupy Movement, the and so on.
In most places, at some point around 2012/3, this movement was petering out. In Scotland, though, it was presented at just the right moment with the most exciting political opportunity it could be given - the chance to win and to build a new country. If we win tomorrow, this is the movement that will have secured victory.
Weds 17 Sept, 02:00am there are (almost) no English only laws - what Cameron is proposing is worse for Scotland.
The BBC are reporting that:
"David Cameron has ruled out creating an English Parliament but hinted that English MPs could get the final say on laws affecting England only."
It's worth reflecting on this for a second. Because it would be a disaster for Scotland. In practice, as long as the Barnett formula exists, there is almost no such thing as a law which impacts only on England, but not Scotland.
Let's take the example of the trebbling of tuition fees for English universities. Now, on the surface, higher education is devolved. So I am certain that a new provision such as that proposed by Cameron would mean Scottish MPs wouldn't get to vote on it. But the effect of this legislation in 2010 was to cut the amount of money that the Treasury pays to English universities, and replace it with money from the student loans company. Because a pound spent on HE from the treasury automatically triggers 9p or so going to Holyrood, which it can then spend as it pleases, the changes to university funding in England in 2010 meant a significant cut in Holyrood's budget.
And it's not just HE. This is true of any legislation that Westminster might pass on any "English" issue which has any funding implication at all - and, in some way or another, most things have some kind of funding implication. In other words, we're being asked to cede significant control over our budget to a Westminster over which we would have little say. This isn't better than the current situation. It's worse.
I wrote in my e-book "42 Reasons to Support Scottish Independence" that increases in devolution come with a price. And we will be told the ups before the referendum, but the downsides will only come later. It seems we are starting to glimpse them - and I would expect more to follow if we vote no this week.
Tue 16 Sept: 11:09 Giving Tom Nairn the final word
Last night, in Edinburgh's New College - where the Scottish Parliament was re-convened in 1999, where Thatcher gave her Sermon on the Mound, where John Knox towers over the tiny quad, the old New Left gathered, and gave the last word in the referendum, appropriately, to Tom Nairn. Anthony Barnett opened proceedings with a note of thanks from England. Isobel Lindsay admonished those on the left who distance ourselves from nationalism without truly understanding it. Tariq Ali spoke of the power of social movements. Neal Ascherson spoke movingly about the influence of Tom Nairn on his own thinking, and unveiled a magnificant portrait of the man he called "the greatest Scottish philosopher of the 20th century". And Tom himself, visibly touched, briefly addressed the room, before joking that he could hear his now departed friend and neighbour, Hamish Henderson, whispering in his "shut up and let them get on with it".
When, in 1977, the former student radical Tom Nairn wrote "the break up of Britain", many dismissed him as crazy. Whatever the result this week, his writings have been shown for what they are: astounding insights into the future based on an understanding of the past and then present unmatched by any of his peers.
The event was a launch of a collection of Nairn's essays over the years, compiled by Pete Ramand and Jamie Maxwell. The book, with an introduction from Anthony Barnett, is available from Luath Press. I've not read it yet, but I can be certain that it will be vital reading for anyone anywhere who wants to understand modern Britain.
And what was his final word? A yes vote on Thursday, he told us, would give Scotland the chance to "build Anthony Barnett's open democracy". We will do our best.
Mon 15 Sept: 16:14 a night for Scotland
Sarah Beattie Smith, who has been running the Green Yes Tardis for 12 hours a day for more than a week now (the Green Party has been given an old police box on Leith Walk for the last two weeks of the campaign) just sent this over about the "a night for Scotland" gig last night, which she was at.
When I got home from A Night for Scotland at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall just four days before the referendum, my ears were ringing and I could hardly feel my feet after a day of campaigning. Yet I felt utterly exhilarated.
Exhilarated because I get to be part of the most incredible movement of people grafting to build a better future. It’s a movement which genuinely sets my heart a flutter and which gives me reason to cry with joy and pride on a pretty regular basis. Last night’s event was no different.
The gig sold out almost immediately after organiser Tommy Shepherd (the man behind The Stand comedy club) brought together an amazing array of home grown talent to gee up Scotland for the last week of Yes campaigning. Franz Ferdinand, Frightened Rabbit and Mogwai all played sets, as did Amy MacDonald, Eddi Reader and Stanley Odd amongst others.
I stood in the stalls, surrounded by Saltires and smiles on the faces of people who had probably been out campaigning all weekend, whether chapping doors, persuading grannies to say aye for #YesGenerations or joining in the rallies in cities across the country. These were people who’ve given every ounce of energy they have to build a fairer, greener, more democratic Scotland and they deserved the party they got.
From an utterly electrifying set from Franz Ferdinand (oh my god it’s Franz Ferdinand and they’re right there!) to Frightened Rabbit’s chant worthy set (we were still singing when Elaine C Smith had to shut us up at the end of the night), the songs somehow took on a new meaning in the context of the campaign. Both Alex Kapranos and Scott Hutchison from the bands commented on how every word now felt more poignant.
For example, Frightened Rabbit sang of being “Struck dumb by the hand of fear” – something few in the crowd were guilty of, despite the best efforts of the No campaign and the overwhelming majority of the media. Similarly, their huge hit Swim Until You Can’t See Land takes on new meaning with lyrics like “let's call me a baptist, call this a drowning of the past; she is there on the shoreline throwing stones at my back”.
At times, the gig felt like any other with folk jumping about to Mogwai or singing Amy MacDonald’s lyrics back to her. But we all knew we were there to come together one last time before the day which will decide all our futures. A nervous tension was tangible in the crowd, mixed with huge pride at what we’ve already achieved. As Elaine C Smith put it, if we win, it won’t be thanks to the banks or big business, but it’ll be down to the people of Craigmillar, of Pilton, Easterhouse and so many more long neglected communities across Scotland. Whatever the outcome on Friday morning, we’ve seen a reawakening, an empowerment like never before of the working class, of the poorest, most forgotten about, most ignored people in this nation. Now we’ve got to channel that energy and the joy of events like A Night for Scotland and make sure that the promise of “this time it’s different” holds true. As the slogan of the night goes, let’s do it Scotland!
Mon 15 Sept 10:40am a note on our coverage
We have a few pieces for you today:
- SNP MEP Alyn Smith makes the case that the real threat to Scotland's place in Europe comes from Westminster, the Tories, and UKIP.
- Anthony Barnett's introduction to a new collection of Tom Nairn essays - the launch of which, with a superb line up, is at New College in Edinburgh tonight (see details below).
- a write up of how Wales is being sidelined.
- a call from Rebecca Johnson and Rupert Read for a proper constitutional debate across the UK.
Also, I thought I'd write a quick note about our coverage of the referendum.
It was almost exactly a year ago now that I started co-editing OurKingdom. Almost as soon as I did, I had a meeting with Olly Huitson, my co-editor, in which he suggested that we break with our usual refusal to take a line on any issue, and support a yes vote in the Scottish referendum. As he put it to me "we're a site that's about democracy. A yes vote is obviously more democratic. I don't see how we can not support it."
Olly has never lived in Scotland, and at the time I was impressed at his instinctive understanding of the debate. I've come to get used to it. We discussed the idea further, and concluded that, on an issue on which almost all of the local, Scottish and UK press is aligned on one side, the way in which to provide balance is not to sit on the fence, but to go to the other end of the see-saw from them. The fact that, a few days before the referendum, the only London based publication other than us to back a Yes vote that I know of is Red Pepper magazine, whilst many of the biggest papers have backed a no, vindicates that choice, we feel.
We've had a few comments from loyal readers understandably questioning why what we publish leans so much in one direction. Our conclusion in that meeting is the answer. We will be running a couple of pieces from those hoping for a no vote in the coming days, and if you want to read more, then you'll find acres of column space making that case taken up by many of the most brilliant minds of the London media. Many of their arguments are good and should be taken seriously. But we will continue to be unashamed in leaning heavily in our publishing towards yes supporting articles, because that is the more democratic option, and that is the best way to provide balance in our otherwise wonky world.
Mon 15 Sept, 09:15am they build an economy on gambling then warn us about risk
I am not sure how long I'll be able to work at openDemocracy – I could very easily lose my job in a few months. We rely for our funding on a mixture of trusts and foundations and individuals, and if we don't raise enough, I don't know how I'll pay my rent. That's not a plea for donations (well, go on then, you can chip in here). It's an important point about the referendum. And it isn't unusual. It's been the case each of the six years since I left university. With the previous organisation I worked at, though I was there for four years, I never knew for sure that I'd have a job for more than 12 months. I can barely think of any of my friends who aren't in the same position.
When the Better Together campaign talks about uncertainty, it's important to remember this. For a huge chunk of the population, including a significant portion of young people, our whole lives are uncertain. We are expected in a Westminster-style neoliberalism-on-steroids economy to walk a tightrope to work every day. Gordon Brown, back when he was Chancellor, said that he was all about “rewarding the risk takers”. Amongst my generation, that's pretty much all of us, but we don't see much reward.
It's not just each of us, individually, who lives a precarious life. The whole British economy is teetering on the edge. It's built on a housing bubble in the South East of England which could burst any time and on a financial sector which magics up billions by gambling with debt. As Peter McColl has pointed out, the deep irony of the British State lecturing the Scottish people about risk is that they run one of the riskiest economies in Europe.
They've done nothing serious to prevent another credit crunch, and they expect young people to start families without any certainty we'll have a job in six months time. They do almost nothing to plan for the future – they have no industrial strategy and no real labour market strategy – it's for the whim of global capital to decide out fate.
As they make us walk across this tightrope economy, they are rapidly cutting the social safety net beneath us. Extending the period before you get JSA, a bizarre regime of sanctions which leaves people starving, no benefits for the under 25s – they are at war with social security, and yet tell us that if we stick with them, we'll be more secure.
Yesterday, in the street, I met a man who I would guess is, like me, in his late twenties. I asked him if he knew how he was voting. “I realised in the shower the other day” he replied “that hope is too valuable a commodity to throw away”. For my generation, Westminster has built a world of risks and uncertainties. A no vote leaves us with all of those. A yes vote, on the other hand, at least gives us some power to start planning out our future together.
Sun 14 Sept, 17:20 - tomorrow: Tom Nairn and the New Left have their say
Quick plug for an event that looks to be excellent in Edinburgh tomorrow. The giants of what I think of as the old New Left were, looking back, astounding in their success in predicting the future. When Stuart Hall died, many of us young(er)-uns were reminded, or learnt for the first time, how many of the events of our lifetimes he had predicted before we were born.
The other person of whom we've heard too little is Tom Nairn, who predicted current events many years ago. Tomorrow (Monday) at 6pm in New College, Edinburgh, a collection of his essays will be launched. As one of the editors, Jamie Maxwell, wrote in the Scotsman recently, Tom isn't just one of the great predictors of his generation. He's also one of the great non-fiction writers - so the collection should be a joy.
Just as important, though, is the event. The panel includes Anthony Barnett, co-founder of Charter 88 and openDemocracy, Tariq Ali, and Isobel Lindsay: the giants of that old New Left, coming to Scotland the week of the referendum to have their say.
Full details are here. It's not to be missed.
Sun 14 Sept: 16:45 on music and movements
Today, I walked across Edinburgh, from where I'm staying in the West End to a police bax, half way down Leith Walk, which is the Green Yes HQ for the campaign. On my way there, I passed four referendum stalls - three from the Yes campaign, and one from the Socialist Equality Party, who are campaigning for a No vote and a united state of Europe.
All three Yes campaign stalls had live music. Last weekend, on the stall I was at on Princess Street, there was a full ceilidh band. I have no idea who will win this referendum. I do know who is having the most fun.
Sun 14 Sept, 11:50am the Scottish nationalists
I've written before about how polls show nationalism is more of a motivation for no voters than it is for yes voters. But it's important to recognise that it is a motivation for yes voters too. With this in mind, I thought I'd share the below video of a case study example of an outbreak of Scottish nationalism on the streets of Perth this week.
I don't particularly see why feelings of love towards the land I was born in are the basis for a political decision, and I do worry that they could at some point be co-opted by darker forces, but is this really the vile, nasty, dangerous ideology that we're sometimes told? Compare this to the Orange Order bands yesterday playing sectarian tunes in central Edinburgh, and I know which nationalists I'd rather have on my side.
Sun 14 Sept, 10:50am who are the real bullies?
I got the below email from a relative.I think it expresses pretty well the attitude lots of Scots will have to recent events.
"When I read this http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-29181989,
I realised whose side I was on once and for all. When the No campaign
describe this article as "The Yes Campaign's Gloves are Off".... excuse
me, but whose gloves are off exactly? The working class man in the
street with the rough manner, or the board room director with a smooth
one, trying to scare the (rough spoken) voters into backing his
comfortable position by voting No to retain a status quo that favours
his continued advantage.
If there was any justice ....."
Sun 14 Dec 10:30am
I've just posted a lovely piece from Robin McAlpine - "butterfly rebellion". Do have a read. Likewise, Paul Mason, economics editor of Channel 4 News puts the Deutsche Bank warning in context (ie, they didn't really say what the papers told you they'd said).
Also, if you're just checking in for the morning, see below for a post from late last night on the Orange Order march yesterday.
Sat 13 Sept, 11:50pm racism and the No campaign
My friend Mike (who, for context, grew up in Merseyside and lives in Edinburgh) just posted this on Facebook. It's worth a read.
I'm really pissed off and need to vent. I spent most of today campaigning up and down Leith Walk with Green Yes.
On the way down there I saw a group of about 10 men with union jacks and the old NI flags with the red hand in the middle tied around their necks, walking in the street near the Wellington Statue singing "The famine's over, why don't you go home?" I shook my head and carried on.
I arrived at the Green Yes police box on Leith Walk and was struck by the positive atmosphere, everyone full of smiles having conversations with passers-by. I mentioned what I'd just seen, and was told "oh yeah, some of them just told John he deserves to be hanged." [name changed in case he doesn't want me mentioning he was out campaigning for Yes].
A bit of context - John is black. I don't care if they said it because he's black or not, if you talk about lynching a black guy you're the scum of the earth.
Later I was leafletting a bit further up Leith Walk and some more Orangemen in uniform walked by, told a woman who was there with her baby that she was gambling with her child's future, and then started shouting at two of our campaigners because they weren't from Scotland, telling them to fuck off back to their own country and saying "how dare you come here and make a decision for my country when you're not even from here?". As far as I know these two people have lived in Scotland most of their lives, they even had Scottish accents, but even if they hadn't Scotland is as much theirs as anyone else's, and it's mine too. It was the first time in a long while I've felt unsafe because of my accent.
I'd be happy to shrug off these incidents if I thought they were just a tiny extreme fringe, but I don't think that's true! Today, over a thousand members of the Orange Order marched in uniform through our streets campaigning for No (which is illegal btw). And that's the largest gathering there has ever been for a no vote! I don't think you can write that off as a tiny fringe.
When I was younger and living in England, I thought the SNP was a Scottish version of the BNP - a bigoted party that hated English people. It's an impression that is happily taken advantage of by their opponents. Alistair Darling called the SNP a blood and soil nationalist party, and compared Salmond to Kim Jong Il. I've had one person (a no voter) on the doors telling me that I'll be put on the first train across the border if there's a Yes vote, and another telling me that I'll be 'sent to the camps'. I've spoken to Spanish people who have been told (by Better Together canvassers) if there's a Yes vote they'll be deported. But I've been welcomed with open arms by the Yes campaign and noone has ever had anything bad to say about where I'm from. On the contrary, they're actively campaigning for independence in part because they want nothing to do with a state and media apparatus which treats immigrants like scum. An apparatus presumably supported by those Orangemen.
Independence won't bring socialism but I know whose side I'm on, and it sure as hell isn't theirs.
1) As the marchers set off, I saw a Sikh police officer with a turban on walk into the crowd. One man (with a skin head) sneered at him in a mocking way. The rest of the people around him laughed.
2) An estimated 15,000 people from a sectarian and frequently racist organisation marched through the streets of Scotland's capital today. The UK media, who call the SNP "nationalists", posted cute pictures of children.
Sat 13 Sept: on the UK media.
I just ran into one of the many journalists wandering round Edinburgh at the moment. He worked for a London based paper, and was lovely, so I won't name and shame. I asked him my standard questions for London journalists:
- what's the name of the First Minister of Wales?
- what's the fourth biggest party in the Houses of Parliament?
- what's the name of the Mayor of London?
Like almost everyone I've ever asked these questions, he didn't know the answers to the first two (Carwyn Jones, and the DUP). He did know the last. When I asked him why he, and every other UK journalist I have asked, knew the name of the Mayor who has few powers and has done little with those he does have, but not the name of the First Minister with legislative powers who has changed lots in Wales - including the Welsh constitution, and is the most powerful man in the Labour party, he accepted the point. The UK's media has utterly failed to understand politics in most of the UK.
It is with this in mind that we should read the Guardian's editorial today endorsing a no vote. The Guardian is an important space for debate on the left, but we can't expect it to engage sensibly in such discussions. As far as I know, it only has two journalists based up here, and it certainly used to be the case that 10% of the copies of the paper sold in Scotland are sold by the Edinburgh University Students' Association.
To put it bluntly, the standfirst of the article says that "nationalism is not the answer to social injustice". Yet, as I wrote below, nationalism is the main motivation, according to the Guardian's own poll, for no voters, but not for yes voters. For yesers, it's the way Westminster does politics. And other than weakly calling for reforms which people have been asking for for a century, and which no party with any chance of power is proposing, it utterly fails to address this question.
The Guardian has provided a good platform for people on both sides of this debate, and respect to them for that, but it's important to understand that this is a London based paper, with little understanding (beyond its excellent but over-stretched Scottish staff) of what's going on here.
Sat 13 Sept, 15:58 - a note re the FT
Anthony Barnett just emailed this over.
The ‘Chief Political Commentator’ of the Financial Times, Philip Stephens, dedicated his column today to gathering and amplifying leading opinion from around the world against independence. He accuses Salmond of becoming a Farage in his cynical and bewildering game, who has “remade himself as the leader of an insurgency”. “As the vote approaches”, Stephens writes, “the SNP has stripped off the veneer of civic nationalism to play the darker game of identity politics”. Could this be the same Philip Stephens who wrote a few months back on 6 February this year, wrote in the FT, "Whatever the vote in September, Scotland cannot indefinitely be cowed. The long-term answer is a looser partnership – a federation, for want of a better word – that respects the wish of the Scots to hold sway over their domestic affairs yet embraces the reciprocal gains from the union. In the absence of such an offer, were I a Scot I would cast my vote for Mr Salmond.”
Sat 13 Sept, 15:52 - update re the Orange Order
I wrote about the Orange march today below. One of the features I missed out was that, as I had a morning coffee in a cafe near the gathering point, various marchers came in, and had their morning beer - or two. Those watching the parade were, well, putting a few away. After the march, a friend ran into a group of them, staggering down the middle of the street, singing the Famine Song ("why don't you go home? why don't you go home? The famine's over, why won't you go home"). They also told a a yes supporter that he ought to be hanged.
Sat 13 Sept 13:50 the Orange Order, fascists, and the ugly side of unionism
Most No campaigners are in the Labour party. Most are as passionately anti-racist and anti-sectarian as are most yes campaigners. It's important to say that, because it's not the impression you'd get if you were on the streets of Edinburgh today. Tens of thousands of Orange Order marchers descended on the city centre from across Scotland and from Northern Ireland, and were joined by a managerie of skinheadism and fascism, including Britain's fastest growing far right party.
I had a quick chat with Britain First's leader, Paul Golding, as he stood outside the Scottish Parliament. He told me he'd brought a group of his cluster of racists up from England to defend the union. They were giving out leaflets 'honouring' Lee Rigby - something the dead soldiers' parents have specifically asked them to stop doing. The sentiment was somewhat undermined by another man I ran into as we walked along "I fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. I don't see why you'd vote for a union which leaves its solidiers to die". He was wearing a yes badge, and wasn't taking part in the march.
The Orange march was, apart from that, subtler in its divisiveness. As they set off, one of the bands played "the Billy Boys" - a song which includes the line "up to our knees is fenian blood". Later on, they played the anti-Catholic tune "The Sash" and a couple of by-standers sung along, excited. International journalists looking on had no indication of the cultural meaning of these sectarian tunes. It could have been worse - I didn't, for example, hear the deeply racist "famine song".
The whole affair, as far as I saw, was peaceful. No one is surprised to discover that "Imperial FB, Bells Hill" is against Scottish independence; that "blackskull Glasgow" says no; or that the Caldercrux defenders are against the break up of the UK. What it does do, however, is highlight a structural difficulty the No campaign has.
The poll I highlighted yesterday showed that the biggest reason for voting Yes is "the way Westminster does politics". The radical wing of the Yes movement is socialists, Greens, and the anti-globalisation movement. The biggest reason people are voting no is British identity - British nationalism. Now, most British nationalists aren't of the Orange Lodge flavour. But this is its radical edge. And whilst the Yes campaign can comfortably seen with people who want global peace and an end to poverty, the no campaign can't really be seen with sectarians. And so they can't work with those who would otherwise be their most passionate activists on the ground.
One final note. In order to write this, I settled down in a pub on Easter Road and, whilst here, asked a couple of locals what they thought of the whole thing. A group of three old men were very enthusiastic - they said it had been "bonnie" to see the flutes, etc - they'd all treated it as a day out. "So I assume you're all voting no?" I asked. "Oh, no" replied one of them "I am. But my friend here's a yes" he said, indicating the man who had given the most enthusiasic endorsement of the marching bands.
Sat 13 Sept 10:20 questions of turnout
First, a couple of lovely pieces for you today, one from Barcellona, from a friend who was previously in Kurdish Turkey, has written about those movements for autonomy in a neoliberal world. The other is a letter from a student in England, urging his Scottish peers to vote yes.
With the polls so tight, it seems likely that the referendum could be resolved by turnout - which side turns out their vote. There are two opposing arguments here. I'm not sure which I believe, so I thought I'd just briefly lay them out for you, and let you judge.
1) why turnout will be better for no:
No voters tend to be older, and wealthier. In other words, every normal rule of politics says that they are much more likely to turn out. The yes campaign, on the other hand, is relying on huge numbers of votes from people who will have never seen a ballot box in their life - who won't know where their polling station is, or who think they need their polling card but have lost it (you don't need it).
2) why turnout will be higher for yes:
Yes voters are, on the whole, much much more enthused. After 2 years of campaigning, I've spoken to a number of people who are pissed off with the whole thing and wish it would just go away. I am certain most of these people would report to pollsters that they are voting no. But will they really all show up?
Thoughts from everyone welcome.
Fri 12 Sept 14:20: Labour in Scotland
Another quick thing, about the ICM poll (see also below). The poll showed 42% of Labour's 2010 voters are yesers, but only 29% of 2011 Labour voters are yeses. Labour did pretty well in Scotland in the 2010 UK General Election, holding onto all of their seats. In 2011, Labour did much worse than that. So the 2010 voter base is the people they need to win back if they are going to succeed in Scottish politics in future.
A couple of weeks ago, that 29% would have been considered big - when a previous poll showed 30% of Labour voters supporting independence, staff at the yes campaign were delighted. The 42% is a huge figure. And here's the problem. Labour have been astonishingly rude towards and dismissive of anyone voting yes with Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont famously discribing nationalism as "a virus". In a few short months, in May 2015, particularly if it's a no vote, Labour will have to go back to all of thise people who put a cross in their box in 2010 and ask them to do so again. And if 41% of them feel like Labour has treated them badly, that'll be a tough job.
For me, there's an interesting counterpoint here. Greens suffered, at least at the start of the campaign, a similar risk: Green voters were split down the middle on independence. But the result was that the party took the opposite approach - passionately campaigning for independence, but always being clear that it empathised with no voters, and doing its best to support them. Perhaps if Labour had taken a similar approach, they wouldn't be in so much trouble. But, as has long been the case, they are so blinded by their hatred of the SNP, they probably can't see that.
Fri 12 Sept, 14:11 - Poll confirms UK nationalism the main reason people vote no
So, there's another poll out, again, confirming, to use the metaphor in vogue, that it's a knife edge. 51% no, 49% yes. It also confirms other things we'd expect to hear – predictions of a huge turnout, men and younger people more in favour, women and older people more against.
What's new (or, at least, I don't
remember seeing before) is a set of questions about why
people are voting how they are. Those polled were asked for up to three reasons why they are voting as they are. Here's why people who are voting no
are voting no (from the Guardian):
And here's why yes voters are voting yes - again, the graphic is taken from the Guardian.
This confirms a clear impression I've had for a long time: there are nationalist feelings on both sides ('feelings about Scotland' and 'feelings about the UK'). But among no voters, it's the primary reason by quite a long way, and is given by a majority as why, or, at least, one of two or three reasons they are voting yes. Among yes voters, it's the secondary reason, and only 41% gave it as one of their choices at all.
Too often, people on the No side of this debate say that they dislike nationalism. It's time for them to recognise that there are more nationalists on their side than there are among yes voters. And perhaps, when they do, they'll recognise that not all nationalists are fascists or chauvanists.
Friday 12 Sept, 12:10 - the barbarism of Scottishness and fear of mob rule
Fortunately, the whole discussion about violence and cybernats seems to have died down for now. I always assumed it was the no campaign sitting on a lead – doing everything they could to distract from debating independence for as long as they were in the lead, running down the clock. And, of course, now they aren't so sure of their lead anymore, they are back to their scare stories.
Of course, this isn't to say they were inventing incidents, nor that those incidents weren't nasty. In the past week or so, I've had people threaten violence against me and spit at my friend because we were campaigning for a yes vote. I am sure that the other side has similar experiences, and I'm sorry about that. What's interesting is that one side put these horrible happenings in their press releases and made them front page news - for a while. Despite repeated similar incidents, the other side didn't shout about it, preferring to discuss the actual decision in front of us.
As I say, my analysis of this in the past has always been that it's about buying time while they're ahead – about shutting down debate. And I still think that's in part true. But Gary Dunion made an interesting point last night, which I'd not considered.
A part of the Scottish national pathology is a self-belief that we are violent, that we are barbarians. This is sometimes articulated in what is seen as a positive way – we're tough warriors, caber tossers, “Scotch Beef”. At other times, it's used in a negative way: jokes about the risk of being knifed in Glasgow come to mind. The flip side of this is that Anglicisation/Britishness is civilising. This story runs through the way we are taught almost all of our history, and much of how we understand ourselves today.
This belief is tied into a broader sense of barbarism. And barbarism is tied up with self-rule – it's a good reason to believe that a group of people couldn't govern themselves – that Scots can't govern ourselves. I don't think this is a conscious message of the no campaign. But I do think, now Gary points it out, it's a story they've been subtly telling throughout the referendum.
Of course, the sense of barbarism isn't just about national identity. It's also about class. Middle class people tend to think of working class people as violent, dangerous, etc. And so if you're making the case that we should defend a system which has long ensured that middle and upper class people are elected, then it's a good idea to point out how terrifying it would be if the yobs were in charge.
And that, ultimately, is the argument against almost all democracy – that it's mob rule. That people are brutes, violent, nasty, stupid, can't be trusted. This is the argument implicit in the no camp's choice to publicise those nasty incidents there have been rather than to do what Yes Scotland did, and quietly ignore attacks on their activists and discuss the actual issues. In other words, the “Scots are violent” story may not have been a distraction from the Better Together narrative. Whether intentionally or not, it's a key part of their campaign story.
Friday 12 Sept - some things for you
I've a few wee things for you this morning:
- first, I interviewed Leanne Wood, the leader of Plaid Cymru. If we're going to manage to spread the rebellion against the British State, she's going to be an absolutely key figure.
- second, Michael Chessum, a prominent figure on the student left, has a piece arguing that the left in the rest of the UK should spend less time telling Scots what to do one way or the other, and more time shaping the narrative in the England and ensuring people see this as a rebellion against neoliberalism, not a petty nationalism.
- third, Peter Hill expresses a feeling I've heard more and more of from people across the left in the rest of the UK - that having been previously ambivilent about independence, he's now excited by it.
- fourth, I went on Derek Bateman's show with Andrew Anderson and chatted about what's going on - and blamed Philip Gould and Peter Mandleson for the plight of the British State this week. You can listen here.
Thurs 11th Sept, 21:00 - I found the No campaign
Out for a drink with some friends tonight in Edinburgh's Voodoo Rooms, I heard a rumour that Labour had an event in the next room. On the stage, there's Elaine Murray, a senior Labour MSP; someone I don't know; Andrew Burns, leader of the City of Edinburgh Council; Margaret Curran, the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland; and Sarah Boyack, the Labour MSP for Edinburgh.
Now, I vaguely know both Andrew and Sarah, and they're good folks, and I have no criticism of them. The event was about the arts and the referendum, and I'm sure they made some interesting arguments. But, here's the two relevant things. First, a friend was meant to be speaking at a debate on independence last night. He was pulled from the panel at the last minute because the organiser could only find one speaker from the no side. This has frequently been the experience of yes campaigners - that Better Together refuse to attend debates. Is this the sort of thing they're doing instead?
Second, there were perhaps 30 people in the room. As you can see from the photo, it certainly wasn't full. I've been to yes campaign events across the country. They were all rammed. The people in the audience at this Labour event included prominent local Tory Ian McGill, and when they took questions in the brief moment I was in the room, the chair knew the names of the people asking questions.
One of the stories of this campaign has been how yes has included a vast, transformational movement. No hasn't. This meeting is a little piece of evidence of the latter.
Thurs 11th Sept: Salmond, banks and the BBC
One of the things that has been a joy of this referendum is watching the often arrogant British establishment get a little red-in-cheek. Here, Salmond puts the BBC and the media more generally in the spotlight (and thanks to Bella Caledonia, who drew this to my attention). Highlights include:
- Salmond explaining to Nick Robinson the basics of how corporation tax works - ie, it relates to the amount of activity a company has in a country, not where its legal headquarters are. Because RBS has said it will not move jobs, just its legal HQ, there will be no fall in corporation tax.
- Salmond explaining to the BBC that, despite widespread reports that Lloyds will move its HQ to London, Lloyds Banking Group Head Office is already in London.
- Salmond pointing out that, in leaking market sensitive information, the Treasury was breaking the law.
Thurs 11 Sept, 14:50 - the power is not theirs to offer. It's ours.
This week, the pathetic rulers of what remains of a once ferocious empire got on their knees, and begged. They pleaded with the people of Scotland to leave them in charge. They still like to con themselves that their place is in the centre of the world stage. And nothing terrifies them more than reality. Well, one thing does. Their own people.
When it was clear that their begging didn't work, they called in their masters, those who really call the shots these days. And so it was that the banks picked a side in the Scottish independence referendum.
Never mind that what RBS actually suggested is probably good for Scotland – leaving jobs in Edinburgh, but transferring the responsibility for a future bailout to London. Westminster's front men know that their scare stories have no purchase anymore. And so they must ask the big boys to say “boo” for them.
But that is not what was most pathetic about their behaviour this week. The first sign of their weakness was their offer to give Scotland more power. Partly, this conceded the premise of the argument of the yes campaign: Holyrood is better at managing the affairs of Scotland than they are. They just want us to leave them ultimately in charge. And if we don't, they'll cry. But it was more profoundly misplaced than that.
What these politicians, used to the fiction of Westminster sovereignty, seem to have forgotten is that the power is not theirs to give. Power, as they are rapidly discovering in Scotland, belongs to the people. It is we who giveth, we who taketh away.
And, ultimately, this is what is wrong with devolution, whether devo-max or devo-min or devo-plus or devo-panic. In a devolved system, the power is devolved from Westminster. It flows not from the people to the centre, but from the centre to the people. They may dain to let us manage some of our own affairs. But ultimately, it is they who are in charge. We are just having our leash extended a little. And ultimately, if push comes to shove, they can yank the chain back in. And you can be sure that if we used our power in any way which seriously threatened theirs, they would.
No. As long as all they offer is devolution, they are asking us to get back on our knees, to leave them ultimately in charge so they can continue to strut the world, arming Saudi murderers, training Bahraini torturers, and feeling ever so important. As long as they think that power is theirs to offer, not ours to pool, they have no role in the politics of a genuinely democratic state.
week the rulers of a one ferocious empire got on their knees before
the people of Scotland, and begged. Then they called in their masters,
because they know they have lost their true power. The people of Scotland
may well vote no because of latent British nationalism, or misplaced
solidarity, or because they're alright-jack, or because of fear of the unknown or because they have been cowed by
the banks and the global markets. But they have shown the world that
the rulers of a once mighty Westminster are weak. And across the UK, people are beginning to wake up, and smell blood.
Thurs 11 Sept, 11:20am: A note to friends in the rest of the UK - get ready
A few things. First, none of what I say below is a prediction of the outcome of this vote. It's absolutely clear that something unprecedented is happening in Scotland right now in terms of mass citizen engagement in the context set by the modern world.
On the train from Edinburgh to Glasgow yesterday, the men next to me were discussing how to persuade one of their mums to vote yes. When I arrived, in the cafe next to me, they were talking about how they'd been out convincing their neighbours the night before. I then got on the subway, and ran into a bunch of young activists with cardboard placards about why they're voting yes, on the way to a Yes flashmob. On the underground back, the other guy on the platform was an activist with Generation Yes. On the other hand, the British State and its friends in big finance are throwing everything they have at us, and people may flinch.
The fact this is all unprecedented means, by definition, that it's impossible to know what's going to happen. I will say this. There is a very real possibility of a Yes vote. And that means that you need to be ready for that – and for a no.
In April, I went to a number of meetings in Edinburgh at which members of the Radical Independence Campaign got together, in impressive numbers, and discussed what was going to happen next. They understood that, if it was a yes vote, the first few weeks would be vital in the building of the new country. They knew that it would be their job to hold to account the people alongside whom they would have just won the greatest political victory of their lives.
The discussions were detailed. I went to one public meeting where activists sat a Cabinet Secretary on stage and spent the evening trying to secure from him a commitment that none of the big five accountancy firms would have any role in designing the new Scotland. It was made very clear to him the scale of the protests which would be organised if he bent to the iron will of global capital.
The message was clear: “You're going to be put under a lot of pressure by big finance. And they will threaten you. But understand that the people you represent are more powerful than them, we are more powerful than you can possibly imagine, and if you capitulate, it's to us that you'll have to answer. So you should be more afraid of us.” That's just one detail. There are many, many more which have been thought through, discussed by activists and academics alike.
And many of these things are about the immediate negotiations. The Scottish left has a plan to do its best to ensure that the people of Scotland aren't screwed over. But here's the important thing. It's equally important that you guys have a plan to make sure that you aren't.. Because you can be sure your government will try something, and I doubt our government's going to stand up for you. The left in Scotland has written lengthy reports and looked at examples all over the world and even set up think-tanks to discuss what we do next. The left in the rest of the UK has some catching up to do.
A yes vote would also offer a huge opportunity for constitutional reform in the rest of the UK. The Westminster bubble will have been burst. Change doesn't come gradually, it comes not at all, then all at once. Ride that wave carefully, and you could secure some real wins. But only if you move fast.
If it's a no vote, Westminster has promised Scotland a huge increase in powers. This will potentially be a big problem for you. Scottish Labour MPs who have for too long dragged their party even further to the right will become even more of an irrelevance to the daily lives of their constituents, and so will be even freer to climb the greasy poll. It's also an opportunity for you – people in Wales have been waiting for the Silk Commission recommendations to be delivered. People in Cornwall are waiting for their assembly. Work with them, mobilise, keep up the pressure, and you might win some serious reforms. The centre left think-tank IPPR has put some thought into what they want, and I've just published a blog from their director, here. I'd suggest people have a peak at that, and figure out what it is that you want. You never know, you might just get some of it.
Either way, the point is this. People in Scotland have got the ball of change rolling. Westminster will do its best to stop it, or to use it to crush you. But if you're alert and organised, then you have a huge amount to gain from this – you have a chance to remake your constitution. But on Friday, Scots are going to be exhausted. And so it'll be your turn to lead the charge for a bit.
Thurs 11 Sept 10:50 a note on identity
I am writing most of this from a wee cafe in Edinburgh. The owner of the cafe speaks in broken English, it isn't his first language. I don't know what is. Yesterday, he said to me "my daughter says 'why not independence?' I think yes". I went to one of Edinburgh's Gurdwara's yesterday. Most people there, or certainly a lot of them, were voting yes.My brother just posted on Facebook that the Scots-Asian running his corner shop is voting yes.
Of course, lots of people of all ethnicities are voting no too. It's easy to take it for granted that we've had this whole debate with very little ethnic nationalism on either side. But as the world's media arrives in Scotland, I've spoken to lots of international journalists over the last couple of days. And they've been astounded. And that's something we can all be proud of.
Thurs 11 Sept, 10:30am: TTIP, BUPA, independence and healthcare
There have been two developments in the old "is a yes vote the best way to save the NHS in Scotland" debate. The first is that the chair of the private healthcare company BUPA is supporting a no vote. It's pretty hard for the no campaign to argue that the best way to protect the NHS from him when they have him in their corner.
More significantly, the Lancet has published the below, which repeats an important point various people have been making. Without independence, Scotland remains a part of the UK for the purpose of international treaties. The current EU/US trade deal means that if a service hasn't been excemted "in a country", then tendering must take place on the open market - in other words, services must be privatised.
Because the NHS in England is being privatised and hasn't been excempted from the treaty, and because Scotland is treated as the same country (as are Wales and Northern Ireland), NHS Scotland isn't exempt from the treaty either. As the good doctors point out in the most esteemed medical journal of all, without independence, it will be very hard to stop NHS Scotland from being privatised.
You can see the full text of their letter here. This comes on the back, of course, of leading NHS expert and anti-privatisation guru Allyson Pollock backing a yes vote as the best way to save the NHS in Scotland. People have accused the Yes campaign of fearmongering over this. The Lancet doesn't print fearmongering. What's happening to the NHS is England is scary. As is explained today, a yes vote is the best way for Scotland to escape that.
Thurs 11 Sept, 09:35 Cornwall, and reassurance from thinktankers
A few quick things. First, there are two new essays up on OourKingdom re the referendum. One is a piece from Kirsty Hughes, who has worked at a number of European thinktanks including Chatham House, Friends of Europe, and the Centre for European Policy Studies, and was until recently CEO of Index on Censorship. In it, she explains why Scotland isn't going to have problems with EU membership.
The other is an interview I did with Dick Cole, the leader of Mebyon Kernow, the Party of Cornwall, when I was down there a few weeks ago. He talks about how the referendum is opening up opportunities for more democracy in the rest of the UK - and how, at the moment, that democracy is being eroded...
Finally, here's what James Meadway, who's chief economist at the New Economics Foundation, has to say about the announcements today re Edinburgh's banks.
Weds 10 Sept: 08:10pm - polls polls polls
I've been in Glasgow today doing various things - including currently attending an event organised by the excellent Jubilee Debt Campaign on global economics and a fairer Scotland. It's one of many examples of how the debate has broadened hugely, and thousands of people have engaged in the sorts of politics they may well not have otherwise.
In the meantime, a Survation poll is out today.
Obviously this is a bit of a downer for Yes campaigners, in that the poll had been heavily trailed, and many thought this meant yes was ahead. But it does show, in effect, that the race is incredibly close.
On the train to Glasgow, the men next to me were discussing how they were going to convince one of their mums to vote yes. When I got there and sat in a cafe, the people on the table next to me were discussing how they'd been out canvassing for yes the night before. It's clear that yes is still the underdog, but it has a phenomenal movement behind it. This is going to go down to the wire, in a way that Westminster just never thought possible.
Weds 10 Sept, 14:10 on identity
There are a lot of conversations which have been going on in Scotland for a while now, but which people in the rest of the UK are only just catching up with. One of these if about identity and nationhood. For the benefit of those just catching up with all of this, I'd l just like to outline a few key ideas about this.
1) a nation is usually defined as an imagained community.
2) a state is, basically, a government.
3) nationalism is often seen as something along the lines of the idea that the borders of a state should be coterminus with - should correlate to - nations - to imagined communities.
I'm kind of skeptical of nationalism, partly because I don't particuarly see why imagined communities should have much to do with practical questions of governance, and also because I don't think it's possible to have one imagined community in one area - what, for example, about Scotland's traveller communities - often, travellers identify with their own nation. Etc.
Here's what worries me: many people who should know better are expressing that they feel an emotional need to be in the same state as someone in order to be in the same community as them. They don't want to be "divided" from their friends and family. My imagined community, and that of most of my friends, includes university colleagues now scattered around the globe. It includes activists I have Skype meetings with on the other side of the planet. It isn't bounded by geography, and it certainly isn't defined by the sharing of a state. The idea that someone needs to have the same Prime Minister as me in order to be a part of my community, in order for me to feel bonds of solidarity or love with them, is utterly absurd.
And yet it is this emotion, this soft British nationalism, which much of the No campaign, and particularly the "Let's Stay Together" movement trades on. Usually, it's inoffensive muddled thinking. But once in a while, people say things like "I don't want my friends/relatives to be foreigners". And that's just xenophobic. And I've seen too many good people who aren't xenophobes spreading this offensive claptrap in recent days.
Let's be clear. "Foreigner" is a construt of xenophobes and has no place in modern political discourse. There is nothing about having a different government from someone that makes them less loveable or less friendly. Any attempt to claim that there is should be given the short shrift that it deserves.
Anyone who feels a genuine saddness at the loss of their Britishness, on the other hand, should be calmly reassured that identities don't depend on your government, Scotland will still be a part of the island that is Britain just as Norway has remained a part of Scandanavia. It's understandable that people worry about how the change will impact on their sense of who they are, but the identity is theirs, and nothing needs to be taken from them.
Weds 10 Sept, 13:44 Standard Life and the effing Tories
I said yesterday that Cameron would presumably use his pulpit well while he's up here. So far, he seems to have communicated two messages: Standard Life's worries (tied up with a jittery stock market), and that we shouldn't use this as an excuse to "kick the effing Tories".
On the first - it now seems that fear of the financial markets is more likely to deliver a no vote than is the no campaign. Of course there are many people who genuinely think we're better together. But it also seems reasonable to assume, given the closeness of the polls, that there are many people who would rather vote yes, but who are voting no out of fear for their savings.
They shouldn't worry to much. Stock markets fell after Obama was elected. Investors don't like uncertainty. They tend to rally afterwards, once people know what's happening. Because, good investors see opportunity in everything, once they know what it is. I'm much more concerned about how many people will see investment opportunities in a new country being set up, and the need to fight them off when their ideas are bad for the rest of us, than I am about the flight of capital. Likewise, Standard Life threatened before the 79 and 97 referendums that they would leave. They never did.
On the second, it seems an odd PR strategy. Like, if someone in a school yard fight said "don't kick me there, it won't hurt at all if you don't kick me there". Of course, he's right. Kicking the Tories isn't a great reason to vote yes. But understanding that we have a system which consistantly puts a particular sort of person in charge, and that the name for that kind of person is "Tory" does make sense. And anyway, many more are voting yes for the chance to build a better country, not just to tell Cameron and his palls where to get off.
Weds 10 Sept, 08:30: On the saltire and satire.
First, we've a couple of great pieces on the referendum today - first, from Anthony Barnett, co-founder of openDemocracy and of Charter 88, we have a thank you letter to Scotland. Second, we have a great article by life-long peace activist Molly Harvey and her husband, the former leader of the Iona Community, John Harvey. Do check them out.
Also, I just wanted to write another quick note about the saltire incident. For those who missed it, Cameron announced that he'd fly the Scottish flag over Downing Street. Much to everyone's mirth, as they raised the flag, live on Sky TV, it fell down. I popped into an office building, and was giggling at all of this. The guy in reception asked what I was laughing about, so I told him the first half - that they'd announced that they were going to fly the Saltire over number ten.
He didn't believe me. He laughed. He said "um, really..?" He still didn't believe me. I then told him about the falling down. He laughed even louder, but doubted even more. Then he watched the video.
The saltire on Downing Street is a powerful symbol in this campaign. It's a flapping sign that they don't have a clue what we're talking about. The no campaign has long been obsessed with nationalism and identity - how they feel "British" or how they're proud to be "Scottish" (why? as a diehard SNP activist said to me last night, how can you be proud of an accident of birth?). The yes campaign has focussed, as the SNP has for decades now, on the failures of the British State and of London rule. Sometimes, the Saltire has been clumsily used to represent that. But all of that meaning is lost when it flutters above Downing Street. It becomes a blue and white signpost, which reads "our democracy has failed us so much, that we have no idea what you people are talking about". It is a perfect piece of satire on the no campaign. No. Not quite. One thing would be funnier... if they had tried to raise the saltire, and it had refused to go up... oh, yes.
Tue 9th Sept - the Saltire over Downing Street
I have nothing to add to Alys' analysis of the important announcement today that Cameron will fly the Saltire over 10 Downing Street.
Tue 9th Sept, 12:46 - the no campaigners line up
David Cameron has announced he's cancelled PMQs and is coming up to Scotland to campaign. In a sense, this isn't as good for the yes campaign as you might imagine (and the obvious reaction is that it's bloody brilliant) in that a statement from Cameron will be carried by all of the newspapers, and presumably he'll use that power wisely, trying to whip up some fear or other. Other people coming to Scotland to campaign for a no over the next week are the Orange Order from Northern Ireland, and Nigel Farage.
This all matters. It matters because, with 9 days to go till the referendum, the No campaign have 9 potential hits at front page stories, and so do the yes campaign. So far, we are beginning to get a picture of what Better Together and their supporters have lined up. It's not yet clear what yes have lined up, but it seems likely that Dennis Canavan and crew have a trick or two up their sleeve. Is former Labour FM Henry McLeish going to come out as a yes voter, as many have speculated? Will there be some announcement on pensions (hard, because of purdah rules)? etc.
Many people - including me - have been assuming for a while now that no must have something we haven't thought of up their sleeve for the final few weeks. So far, the reaction seems to be "is this the best you can do?".
Tue 9th Sept, 12:20 - reaction to powers promises...
Andy Myles is a former Scottish Lib Dem Chief Executive and was a key Lib Dem negotiator in the Constitutional Convention that drew up the proposals for devolution. He was part of the team which negotiated the first Scottish Executive Labour-Lib Dem coalition agreement in 1999, and again in 2003, and is one of the major advocates in Scotland of a federal UK. He came out for independence earlier this year, on the grounds that, of the two options, it was closer to what he wanted. He is, therefore, somewhat of a litmus test for what Brown et al are trying to do in their attempts to offer some last minute powers.
Here's what he has to say:
It's not scientific, but that echoes the reaction I've had from lots of my more federal-leaning undecided friends/relations on Facebook.
Tue 9th Sept, 11:00am - quick note - as I wrote the below post, the women at the next table in the cafe were talking about how there are border posts between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and we'd have to have them too. I leaned over to tell them that I travelled 3 weeks ago from Dublin to Belfast and there are no passport controls. They were astonished. One of the stories of the referendum is that people are paying attention enough to find out how much Westminster lies to them. They don't like it.
Tue 9th Sept, 11:00am - telling new stories, singing new songs...
A friend once told me that, in politics, you can tell the difference between a bureaucrat and an organiser. A bureaucrat is worried when they find out that one of their supporters is doing something they don't know about. An organiser is delighted.
Last week, I ran into a friend who works for Yes Scotland. In the course of our conversation, I mentioned that the Proclaimers' pro-independence song, “Cap in Hand” (“I can't understand why we let someone else rule our land - cap in hand”) was at number one in the UK singles' chart. Someone had run a wee campaign, and succeeded. My friend chuckled “I had no idea. It's great how different people like to show their support for the campaign”. He passed the organisers' test. Ultimately, if the yes campaign does win, it will in part be because of that attitude – because it has allowed space for the blooming of many flowers – or at least has been forced to accept them.
This week, people are aiming to make it a double, and get Dougie Maclean's somewhat cheesy classic “Caledonia” to number one. It's become an anthem for Scots emigrants who've been away for a long time, and it starts with “I don't know, if you can see, the changes that have come over me?”. It's a line that's been going round in my head for days now. As a Scot who's lived in Oxford for five years, the song expresses a sentimentality I try to crush, but I must confess I can understand: the faint longing of homesickness. Specifically, for me, it's geological. I grew up on the edge of the highlands, and I miss the hills. It's not that it's prettier, or better, it's just that it's familiar.
But that's not why that line, in particular, keeps bubbling up. It's because, invert it, and it sums up my experience of coming back home for a couple of months. The implication of the lyric is that the singer has gone away, and they've grown up, and they've returned to a never changing Scotland. What I've found is the opposite. I've mostly been away for five years, and in that time, Scotland has utterly transformed itself.
When I left, much of civil society was run by cynical Blairites who'd internalised their disempowerment so much that they sneered at the idea that any real change was possible. As in much of the UK, the vast majority of people were disengaged from politics. Among those who were interested, they understood that Holyrood was the only real forum through which they could change anything, so they'd spend a lot of time working out how they could take its limited powers and use them to do something useful for the wider world.
It was all rather like the student politics I was engaged in – where we would get the university to buy Fairtrade coffee even though we knew that what really needed to happen was a change in global trade laws. Likewise, we'd campaign for Holyrood to do what it could, in the full knowledge that on some things, its spending power was limited by Westminster, so we couldn't demand that they tax the rich more (or whatever) and on others, it simply wasn't in their purview.
At the time, it reminded me very much of Chomsky's adage that, if you want to control a population, allow it to debate vigorously, but limit the scope of the debate to a very narrow field. The Holyrood powers were the narrow field, and we fought about how they should be used. It didn't create an inspiring politics, and for the most part, people didn't bother to engage. On the day that tuition fees were scrapped, NUS Scotland, still run by Labour hacks, opposed the change. No one noticed them.
Once in a while we would engage in things beyond Holyrood's scope. One year, at the start of term, some friends organised a coach and we took students off to Faslane nuclear weapons base to blockade the road, and 200 or so of us were arrested. But it was symbolic. We knew deep down that we didn't really have the power to get rid of Trident.
The change that has come over the Scotland I've come back to is utterly extraordinary. The cynics are largely are gone from civil society – swept away or swept up in a wave of engagement. In the world I knew best, student politics, the Blairites, who once had absolute control, have almost entirely disappeared. The NUS Scotland president is a radical, who believes change is possible and, as a result, has won genuine victories from the Scottish government. He's not the exception, but representative of a new generation.
Most importantly, this new generation is not made up of political bureaucrats and spin doctors, but of organisers. And along with them – perhaps the cause, perhaps the effect – comes a newly empowered population. Hundreds of thousands of Scots are actively engaged in the conversation about how we can build a better society. That cynicism has been washed away, and people have started not just to believe that another Scotland is possible, but also that they have a role in building it.
The first verse of “Caledonia” goes on: “I've been telling old stories, singing old songs, that make me think where I came from”. Whatever the result in the referendum, the country I've come back to is utterly transformed. The old stories are for the history books – people are busy writing new ones.
Tue 9th Sept: 8:50am
I've seen various Labour members in England say that they're getting emails asking them to phone canvass for a no vote. If anyone wants to help out the other side, they can sign up for phone canvassing for yes here. A few people have suggested that this might be counterproductive - I don't think so. The "solidarity with England, Wales & Northern Ireland" is one of the most powerful messages the no campaign has, and, likewise, people in the rest of the UK ringing up to say "if we had the chance to escape Westminster, we'd jump at it - this is a chance to shake things up for all of us" is very powerful.
The latest poll - a face to face TNS poll - put the vote at exactly 50:50. It couldn't be closer.
8th Sept, 3:30pm: it's not yes voters attacking Labour, it's old Labour voters voting yes
There is an implication in this tweet from Laura Kuennssberg which, I think, profoundly misses the point of what's happening in Scotland right now. The story that Murphy et al like to pedal is that they get abuse from "yes supporters" - or "nats". It seems implicit in the tweet is that he is being called a "red Tory" for opposing independence. At the very least, this is what Labour would like us to believe about the reception that Murphy has received across Scotland.
My suspicion is that it's often the other way around. I spent a lot of time back during the Euro elections knocking on doors in some of the poorest council estates in Scotland. People often didn't yet know which way they were voting in the referendum. But they did know this - they hated Labour. They hated them with a rage reserved only for ex-lovers. Particularly, they hated people like Jm Murphy, who they thought of as having abandoned them - not by opposing independence, but by veering off to the right, by supporting the benefits cap and austerity.
I have little doubt that the people calling Murphy a "Red Tory" will often be voting yes. But that's not the best way to discribe their politics. It would be more accurate to say "accused of being Red Tory by former Labour voters". And this, ultimately, is why he's getting the reception he is. Whilst some of it, I am sure, is genuine nasty nationalism, largely, he's meeting the rage I found on the doorstep a few months ago.
Mon 8th Sept: leading economists produce factfile on how the UK benefits system is failing Scotland
Jim Cuthbert is an economist and statistician who was formerly Scottish Office Chief Statistician. Margaret Cuthbert is also an economist and statistician who among other things lectured in econometrics at Glasgow University. They have just sent over a fact file on the labour market and social security in Scotland which, they say, shows how the UK benefits system has been failing Scotland for a long time. Do check it out, if you're interested.
8th Sept, 11:00am On Devo Max
As the British State has gone into meltdown, it's started begging the Scots to vote no with promises of some kind of devo max.
I wrote in my recent series/e-book on reasons to support Scottish independence about why devo-max isn't what it's cracked up to be. But here's a few things:
these are promises made by desperate people in the last days of a campaign. If it's a no vote, they won't be desperate, and it won't be the last days of the campaign.
Even if the current leaders are honest, can you really be sure that they will have their jobs in a years time? And will their successors stick to their word? Certainly, Boris has made it clear he wouldn't, and lots in the Labour party won't be at all keen on the idea.
There are likely to be some serious down sides to devo-max. It creates a group of MPs voting on policies even fewer of which impact on their constituents. You can be sure that some English MPs, from all sides of the house, will start complaining about this, and Scotland will be expected to give something up – maybe fewer MPs? Who knows.
There's an important point Peter McColl makes: there is a world of difference between more power and more powers. Holyrood was set up by the Labour party at Westminster in the assumption that Scottish Labour would run it, so it was set up to succeed. It's entirely possible to give more powers, but in a sort of messy kind of a way which makes it very hard to exercise them effectively – to set Holyrood up to fail.
For example, if you devolve income tax and so exclude that portion of spending from the Barnett formula, but you don't devolve borrowing powers, then it becomes very hard to cope with a recession. Westminster would borrow to replace the income tax loss, but Holyrood wouldn't be able to, and wouldn't get that portion of income, as it has been excluded.
Of course, it's possible to design a Parliament with more powers within the UK that would work. But the question is, do we trust Westminster to do that? Or is there a risk they'd rather see it struggle, to pour water on the case for a yes vote? Ultimately, it's up to them.
The SNP proposed having a second option on the ballot. Cameron refused him. If we had had it there, with a definition of what it meant, then it might just have been something good. As it is, I'm not at all sure it is.
The logical conclusion of devo-max would be Scotland deciding everything for itself but foreign policy and border controls – whether or not to send our troops into imperialist adventures, whether or not to get rid of trident, whether to end Westminster's brutal migration policies which are undermining Scotland's economy. I don't see why we'd go for that.
This is all clearly in breach of purdah rules, which ban governments from making announcements in the run up to an election (and this referendum). They had agreed in the Edinburgh agreement not to do this. But hey, they British State never plays by the rules. Or sticks to its agreements. Wait, what was that I was saying about whether we could trust them to stick to their word or not?
The basic point, I suppose, is that an actual federal Britain would be one thing, but an a-symmetric devo-max in one part of a UK otherwise largely run from Westminster is messy as hell. It would need a lot of thinking through if you wanted to make it work, and I'm not at all convinced that you could, or that the current government would even want to allow it to succeed.
8th Sept, 8:00am: some background
Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party of England and Wales came to Scotland last week. Walking round Edinburgh, she said, you could tell that something very special was happening – something she had only experienced once before: the feeling that she had sensed when visiting Prague, quarter of a century ago, right after the fall of the Berlin wall.
She's right. It's not at all clear that Scotland will vote yes in the referendum this month – though the polls have swung significantly in that direction. What is clear is that something utterly extraordinary is taking place.
You could hear it in the excitement of the Edinburgh cabbie “I'd never been to a political meeting before. I've been to three recently. I loved all of them”. Before I get out, he turns to me and says, with a hint of thrill in his voice: “We're being invited to run our own country... it's very exciting.”
Sat in an Edinburgh cafe, every conversation around me was about the independence referendum. The waiter was worried about the implications for EU membership. The woman he was serving explained that she was voting yes because Westminster is making the poverty of the children she works with worse. Another woman chimed in that she was voting yes because she's fed up with Westminster's wars - “I think we could have stopped Holyrood from taking us into Iraq”.
This is remarkable not because it's abnormal, but because it's ubiquitous. In the pub the night before, the conversations on every table were about the referendum – how an independent country might manage its foreign policy, what it would mean for jobs, what it would mean for housing. Walk down the street outside, and you are rarely out of sight of a “yes” poster in the window of a tenement flat: more people might vote no, but few will do it with little enthusiasm, and you rarely see their signs.
At the bus stop up the road from the cafe, though, I did see an elderly woman with a “no” badge on. This is no coincidence. The latest polls confirm a trend which has been clear for a while: the majority of under 60s now support Scottish independence. If it's a no, it will be the pensioners who have swung it, putting the UK on life support rather than saving it.
It's not clear what the result of the referendum will be. What is clear is that, over the last two years, in the course of the most informed and intense political conversation in a country anyone I know has come across since the wall fell, a huge number of people have been convinced to vote yes. These people are not the nationalists. Polls at the start of the campaign were clear. There were around 20% on either side who would vote either way come what may. 20% of the country are clear Scottish nationalists, 20% are British nationalists. Each identifies with one or the other as their sole nation and believes that it should be their state too, irrespective of anything else.
Of course, that doesn't mean that they are chauvinistic nationalists. The best way to understand this is to realise that the SNP is probably the most popular party among the Scots-Asian community and it was they who provided Holyrood with its first non-white MSP and minister.
But these genuine Scottish nationalists were never enough to swing the vote for yes any more than the genuine British nationalists were enough to guarantee a no. Everyone else was persuadable. And, at the outset, a significant majority just assumed they'd vote for the status quo, with the yes vote starting out with perhaps 35%. Over the course of the debate, though, four separate things have happened, and it's important to understand each of these in order to properly understand what's going on on Scotland.
First, the radicals backed the yes campaign. Greens, the various socialist parties, the vast majority of the artistic community and most the staff of the various campaigning NGOs (though the organisations they work for have usually maintained a cautious neutrality) have all swung behind yes. The latter isn't surprising. People who work every day with both the Scottish Parliament and the Westminster Parliament see that whilst the former is no more perfect than an average Northern European legislature, the latter has one of the least democratic set-ups of any Western state, and as a result has been more captured by global corporate power, turning Britain into the most unequal country in Europe.
Whilst the Scottish Green Party and most of Scotland's socialist parties have long backed independence, their voters didn't always concur. Now, it seems, that both in their own right and through the Radical Independence Campaign (the biggest alignment of the Scottish left in my lifetime), the Common Weal project, National Collective (artists for independence), CND (who are handing out 'how to disarm a nuclear bomb' manuals: 'tools: one pencil'), they have largely enthused their own supporters of the case for independence not as an end in itself, but as a path away from the prison of Westminster politics and towards possible better futures.
There is perhaps 15% of the population in Scotland who lean towards these sorts of radical politics, and whose votes have swung between Greens, the Scottish Socialists, Labour and the SNP over the years, depending on the election. These people coming on board didn't just boost the yes vote. It also brought an army of activists, adding a new flavour to the campaign – it forced the SNP to tack to the left, and it meant the footsoldiers were now not just those who made dead-end “Scotland's a nation, nations should be independent” arguments, but those who had made up their mind because of broader concerns for justice, who see independence as the opportunity of a lifetime to build the kind of country that the post-imperial British State, which has delivered the most unequal country in Europe, will never permit. And footsoldiers is the wrong metaphor. Because these people set up the own organisations, designed their own messaging, and changed the campaign absolutely.
These two groups are the coalition which has, largely, made up the yes campaign for two years, though the simplification excludes a huge number of other stories which run in parallel. This coalition of voters isn't, though, quite sufficient to deliver victory. And so the result this month will rest on another two groups. The first is Labour voters.
There are significant swaths of the Scottish electorate who will always back the Labour party, and the vast majority of them have told pollsters for years that, like their party, they are against independence. In the last few weeks, it is this demographic which has started to shift – started to swing towards voting yes. The portion now seems to be as much as 1/3 of this group of previously loyal unionist voters. If that figure holds, and I expect it will, it will take the yes campaign very close to their winning margin.
But it is the fourth group whose actions will decide the day. This is the demographic dubbed by Gerry Hassan as the “missing million” - the excluded working class who have been so alienated by politics that they haven't voted in years, people on housing schemes where political parties stopped knocking on the doors years ago, young people who have never been registered to vote, never mind turning up on the day. In a country of 5 million, the fact that this group is perhaps a fifth of the population tells you all you need to know about the shocking inequality in one of the richest nations on earth.
Opinion polls are absolutely clear that the less you have invested in the system, the more likely you are to support it. In other words, that if the missing million show up, then it will not be the voters for any one party who decide Scotland's fate. It will be those who haven't voted for any party for years.
All across the country, activists, particularly from the Radical Independence Campaign have been standing outside job centres and touring the colleges in deprived areas and have registered thousands upon thousands of people, many of whom will never have seen a ballot box in their life. I bumped into a friend who had under his arm a pile of 101 forms that Radical Independence activists had just got filled out by 16 and 17 year olds at a local college in a less well-off area of Edinburgh. He said “they just assumed we were yes campaigners – of course they were voting yes”. The night before the deadline for registering to vote City council offices across the country stayed open till midnight to allow queues of people to line up and fill out the forms so that their voices could be heard.
The reaction from the no campaign to this mass political engagement is dismissive “people with mattresses in their garden do not win elections”, one Better Together adviser said to the Daily Telegraph a few days ago. Apart from being an offensive stereotype of working class people, it demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding. This isn't an election. It is a referendum on an existential issue. People who have for too long been alienated by politics may well not bother to show up to chose which neoliberal party attacks them next. That doesn't mean that they won't vote on the 18th of September. And if the missing million does show up, then it'll be game over for the UK.
It's ten days to the referendum. I'll be running a rolling blog here, where I'll try to capture something of the feeling, and any quick thoughts on what's going on from me and anyone else. I hope you enjoy it.
You can buy Adam Ramsay's e-book '42 reasons to support Scottish independence' here.
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