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.