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.