Not settling for less

bbc_union_at_any_costIt’s like being promised a new house only to find that what you’re actually getting is a garden shed. Not a top-of-the-range garden shed, but the smallest, cheapest, flimsiest, most low-spec garden shed on the market. It looks great in the brochure. But the one you’re getting isn’t painted. And, if you look closely just below that image in microscopic lettering are the words “Not shown actual size”. The attractive young lady in the bikini pictured gazing up in delighted wonder at the imposing edifice is actually only four foot three inches tall. You feel disappointed. You feel cheated. You feel Scottish.

Even if you don’t fully comprehend all the stuff about budgets and production costs and all the jargon of the TV industry, it’s easy to understand the difference between standard definition (SD) and high definition (HD). Anybody who has a fairly modern TV can appreciate the fact that HD is very much better than SD. For most of us, I suspect, HD is now the standard. It’s what we expect. SD actually stands for sub-standard definition. What the BBC is offering us is sub-standard. That crappy wee garden shed isn’t even made out of real wood.

But there’s more! Belatedly realising that the uppityness of the Jocks has now reached such a level that the ingrates decline to be fobbed-off with factory rejects, the BBC amended its offer. On 14 March 2018, Chris Roswell (Head of Regulation & Economics – a BBC title if ever I heard one) wrote to Ofcom (PDF) advising that the new BBC Scotland channel would only be broadcast in sub-standard definition part of the time. The great news was that the BBC had graciously deigned to provide the quality of picture viewers in Scotland pay for a few hours in the evening. The letter was (not really) signed, yours in anticipation of some grateful forelock-tugging from those pestilential provincials.

It has to be said that Mr Roswell (HoRE) took some of the shine off this grand new offering when he gleefully proclaimed that it didn’t involve spending any more of Scottish licence fee-payers’ money in Scotland. Due to “recent technology changes” the shabby little garden shed could be equipped with the luxury of a fourth wall (part-time only) at no additional cost.

We’re told nothing about the nature of those “technology changes”, and whether they are anything to do with the fact that the HD for the new BBC Scotland channel is being provided by taking it from the children’s channel, CBBC (in Scotland only). Will we, I wonder, be able to truly enjoy that glorious HD knowing it’s been stolen from our own bairns?

Am I the only one struck by the apparent effort the BBC puts into avoiding viewers in Scotland with the services we pay for? It’s almost as in there was something in the corporation’s charter about ensuring Scotland is always relatively worse off. The attitude seems to be that the BBC may grudgingly make some kind of gesture if we make a big enough fuss, but on no account must this amount to anything approximating the kind of public service broadcasting provision a real nation might enjoy.

It’s not about the money. We know that licence fee revenues raised in Scotland are sufficient to pay for a full broadcasting service. It’s as if the service provided by the British state broadcaster is being purposefully curtailed and diminished. It’s as if we are being deliberately short-changed. And not necessarily or entirely for financial reasons.

We swim in a media sea. We are immersed in it. There is no part of our lives that is not touched by the media. We view the world and ourselves through a media lens. Increasingly, we interact with others only through media. Our culture evolves in and is conveyed by the media. Our political discourse conforms to the demands of the media. It is baffling that people scoff at the idea of media studies as a ‘serious’ academic subject when the media looms so massively in all our lives. We live in a world made of media. So it stands to reason that established power will seek to control the media. And to use the media as a means of control.

Whether anyone in the BBC would admit it, or even be aware of it, that is what lies behind the extraordinary effort to detract from broadcasting in Scotland – even as they try to look as if they’re providing shiny new services. The British state requires that Scotland must be less than it might be. Therefore, the media in Scotland must be less than it might be. It is not a question of resources. The BBC’s stranglehold on Scotland’s media is both practical and symbolic. In practical terms, it prevents Scotland from either perceiving or presenting itself in they way we would choose were we permitted to do so. Symbolically, the BBC’s dominance of Scotland’s media represents the supremacy of the British state; while the paucity of the service provided by the BBC reinforces Scotland’s subordinate status within the UK.

Some in Scotland are content to settle for a dilapidated garden shed, so long as it has a Union flag flying above it. Others want the house we’re paying for.


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Vive la difference!

jackie_baillieThe deal to save BiFab is, of course, wonderful news for the communities that would have been severely affected by closure. It is also a bright day for Scottish politics. There is no doubt at all that this deal would not have happened without the intervention by the Scottish Government. And every reason to suppose that it would not have been achieved, or even attempted, by the British parties. The Tories would have shrugged off the suffering of people and families, insisting that their lives were a necessary sacrifice on the altar of ‘market forces’.

British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) would have been paralysed with indecision and riven by internal squabbling. One faction would want to throw taxpayers’ money at the problem. Another faction would quietly relish the closures and ensuing devastation of communities as a useful example of capitalist failure. They’d have held lots of meetings and marches and rallies at which career politicians would jostle for media attention. Once the media lost interest, so would BLiS. The yards would have closed. livelihoods would have been lost. BBC Scotland would find a way to blame the SNP.

So, what is it that allows the SNP to succeed in these situations where the British parties have a record of inaction or failure? I would suggest that it largely comes down to a question of attitude. Where Tories would look at the BiFab situation and see it in terms of economics and BLiS would see it only as a political difficulty (or opportunity), the SNP tends to see a problem affecting people that needs a practical solution.

Where Tories ask how the situation can be rationalised and BLiS ask how the situation can be exploited, the SNP ask only how it can be sorted.

In an article for the January issue of iScot Magazine I wrote,

“What is significant is that the SNP administration seems to have been intent on finding the measures which might be effective regardless of dogma or popularity. No ‘focus groups’. Just expert panels. And no ‘Big Fix!” hype. No suggestion of simple solutions. No suggestions of solutions at all. Just the idea of progressive change – over time-scales that pay scant regard to the kind of electoral imperatives that drive other parties.”

I get annoyed at people who make facile generalisations about politicians and political parties being ‘all the same’. Clearly, they aren’t. Quite evidently, there is something different about the way successive SNP administrations go about the job of running Scotland’s affairs. Something that allows them to achieve things that British parties couldn’t.

In that iScot Magazine article I put this difference down to Scotland’s electoral system and the way it has facilitated the emergence of a distinctive political culture. I argue that the SNP is different because it was better placed to adapt to, and take advantage of, the new political climate in a way that the ‘old’ parties aren’t.

“The SNP has enjoyed electoral success – winning every election for ten years – because, as a party new to government, it is open to a new political culture in a way that the British parties cannot be – due to historical factors and the intrinsic nature of the British political system within which they are embedded.”

The SNP is attuned to Scotland’s political culture in a way the the British parties are not. The party is embedded in that political culture in a way the British parties can’t be. We see the evidence of this, not only in major achievements such as saving BiFab, but also in relatively small things that nonetheless represent a more progressive politics than we’d previously been accustomed to. Baby boxes are one example. And the changes to the tax system which, while small in terms of their impact on people’s pockets, are highly significant in that they are a break with the old ways.

Not that Scotland’s politics has totally rid itself of the old ways. Difference is relative. As much as we see the difference between the SNP and the British parties in the actions of the former, that difference is also evident in the way the latter behave.

Look at the reactions from the British parties to the news announcement of the deal to rescue BiFab that was so skillfully brokered by the SNP administration. Neither Willie Rennie nor Jackie Baillie so much as acknowledge the efforts of the Scottish Government.

But that kind of bitter, partisan pettiness is the old politics. Now is a time to celebrate Scotland’s new politics. Just don’t expect that any of the British politicians squatting in Scotland’s Parliament will join in the celebration.


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Doubts are traitors

doubts_traitorsHow gratifying it is to hear Carolyn Leckie speak out for a new referendum “sooner rather than later”. It’s a pity she regards “sooner” as fully a year away. It’s perplexing that she doesn’t seem to think a two-year delay is “later”. But at least she’s showing some of the sense of urgency that has been so pitifully lacking in others.

Of course, Carolyn doesn’t identify the reasons for urgency. She writes of the need to “get the show back on the road”. Which is fine, as far as it goes. But there is no mention of the threat to Scotland from ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism which is what actually makes “sooner rather than later” an absolute and pressing necessity, rather than merely a personal preference.

It is possible, I suppose, that she is oblivious to this threat. After all, most SNP politicians who have offered their views on the timing of our new referendum give the impression of being blissfully unaware that moves are already being made to strip powers from the Scottish Parliament and roll back devolution. Carolyn Leckie would be in exalted company if she failed to recognise what is implied by talk of ‘UK-wide common frameworks’ or warnings that ‘discrepancies’ would not be tolerated in this new ‘One Nation’ British state.

Alternatively, it may be that Carolyn is fully aware of this threat but, again like all those SNP politicians, reluctant to address the issue of how the threat might be dealt with during the two years she is prepared to allow the British political elite to go about locking Scotland into their ‘precious, precious Union’. By not acknowledging the jeopardy facing Scotland, she avoids the need to explain how she would defend against the threat.

Some might be a bit perplexed by this blinkered attitude. And, if they are somewhat concerned that Carolyn Leckie is content to disregard the threat to Scotland’s democracy, then they will surely be profoundly disturbed to find this lackadaisical approach shared by prominent figures in the party which is the de facto political arm of the Yes movement and which is supposed to provide the effective political power that the independence project requires.

But we have to wonder whether Carolyn actually understands the SNP or the role it plays. She’s still talking about providing a “guarantee that voters will be given a post-independence multi-option referendum on our relationship with Europe”. So, either she thinks that the SNP leadership might nonchalantly ignore party policy repeatedly and decisively endorsed by the membership and approved by the electorate, or she imagines some unidentified agency other than the SNP is going to be providing the effective political power for the independence campaign.

Time for a bit of realpolitik. There is no alternative to the SNP. If we don’t have an SNP administration at Holyrood, there will be no referendum and no progress for the independence campaign. It is Nicola Sturgeon who will be sitting across the table from the British Prime Minister when it comes to negotiating the dissolution of the Union. It is politically impossible for the SNP to campaign and negotiate on the basis of a position that is the antithesis of the position adopted by the party by way of its democratic internal processes.

If Carolyn Leckie wants to change the SNP’s position on EU membership then she is free to join the party and work through those same internal democratic processes. What she doesn’t get to do is stand outside the party demanding the same rights as members to participate in policy formulation.

In practical terms, of course, there is no time to do this. Because there is a real and imminent threat to Scotland’s democracy which must be addressed.

Gratifying as it may be to hear Carolyn Leckie speak out for a new referendum “sooner rather than later”, it is desperately unfortunate that she then chooses to turn a blind eye to the political realities of Scotland’s situation.


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From outside the soundproof room

Julie Hepburn
Julie Hepburn

I’m not sure why Julie Hepburn has called for calm in the “row” over the timing of the next independence referendum. I wasn’t even aware that it was a “row”. I was under the impression there was an attempt to have a discussion. And that discussion is not just calm, but becalmed. It’s going nowhere. Because the different perspectives on the issue are being debated in quite separate spaces.

The only ones who appear other than calm are those frantically trying to close down the debate altogether. Or, at least, to close down that part of it which going on in the space marked ‘Public’. The attitude seems to be that it’s OK for politicians and prominent figures to express a view on the matter of when the new referendum should be held, but that anybody else doing so is ‘divisive’ and ‘damaging’.

I have been called a “hysterical agitator” for presuming to disagree with Pete Wishart. Apparently, getting elected bestows omniscience. Simply being an MSP or MP implies possession of profound knowledge and great wisdom. (We have to wonder what went wrong in the case of Richard Leonard.) To question the pronouncements of our political leaders is, it seems, an act of heresy. Pete Wishart is fantastic. He shits fantastic pearls of fantastic wisdom that the rest of us swine aren’t equipped to appreciate. We should all just shut up and stop asking awkward questions about the emperor’s fantastic new clothes.

Pete Wishart’s fine. As I’ve said elsewhere, he’s an excellent constituency MP and has been doing a damn fine job as chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee. But he is about as all-knowing and all-wise as the Wizard of Oz. There is something rather ridiculous about idea that his is the ultimate word on anything. His opinion on the matter of when the next independence referendum should be held is no more valid that anybody else’s. Like any opinion, it is only as good as the evidence and reasoning on which it is based. Like any opinion which has been publicly stated, it is there to be challenged. Like any opinion which is genuinely held and openly expressed, the person holding and expressing it should be willing and able to defend it.

But that’s not what’s happening. It’s as if Pete Wishart and Chris McEleny and Keith Brown and the rest are talking at us from inside a sealed and soundproofed room. Everything being said outside that room is being widely represented as an irrelevant and unwelcome intrusion. If we are not being told to shut up, we’re being told to calm down. Which is no more appropriate.

Julie Hepburn says,

We undoubtedly have a mandate for an independence referendum, and I trust our First Minister to make the right judgement when the time comes and have every confidence our views as SNP members will greatly inform that decision.

There is absolutely no question about the mandate. And we have every reason to trust Nicola Sturgeon’s judgement. But we have to wonder how the views of SNP members – or the wider Yes movement – might “greatly inform” the decision on the date of the new referendum if those voices are silenced or dismissed, as some very evidently want. And we have to wonder how anybody can become aware of the pros and cons of the various positions if there is no debate in which the arguments are comprehensively rehearsed.

Julie Hepburn goes on to say,

But if we continually focus on the when, then I believe we risk neglecting the more fundamental question of how – how to do we win an independence referendum?

In this, we see again a disturbing failure to appreciate or acknowledge why the issue of timing is critical. If we do not focus on the when then we risk neglecting the fundamental issue of what the British political elite will be doing while Julie Hepburn is busy trying to “build a renewed case for independence” – whatever that might mean. If it actually means anything at all.

The “case for independence” is like one of those Lego kits that has all the parts for building a particular thing – a moon buggy, for example. You can dismantle it and put the bits back together in all manner of different ways. But you’re never going to end up with anything better than the moon buggy. Once you’ve built the moon buggy, you have your moon buggy. There is no extra super moon buggy that can be built from the available parts.

British Nationalists are, of course, perfectly content that the Yes movement should devote all its resources and energies to endlessly reconfiguring the case for independence. They’re always going to demand a better moon buggy. That process is potentially infinite. It takes us precisely nowhere. They, meanwhile, sit there with a grotesque, dysfunctional contraption of randomly assembled Lego parts feeling no need at all to explain what it’s meant to be. They just stick a Union flag on it and it gets to be whatever they want it to be.

At the risk of stretching the analogy beyond breaking point, the timing of the referendum is crucial because British Nationalists have already started stealing our Lego parts. Some of us are warning about this process of attrition. We’re doing so calmly. Maybe Julie Hepburn and her colleagues should consider opening the door of that soundproof room so they can hear us. They might even think about coming out and actually talking to us.


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The options

procrastinationI am aware that many in the SNP and the wider Yes movement want this debate about the timing of a new independence referendum to just stop. Pete Wishart may be one of those who wish it had never started. Or so it would seem from his flat refusal to answer questions about his own highly controversial position or to engage in any way with those responding to his call for indefinite postponement of the referendum. On Twitter, there has been a steady drip of people urging an end to the discussion. Apparently, we’re not supposed to entertain any difference of opinion. Pretty much everybody agrees that timing of the referendum is critical. So critical that we must avoid talking about it. No, I don’t get it either.

Personally, I’m glad the issue has come to the fore. Unlike Pete Wishart, I am more than happy to have an open and frank debate. I don’t see how this debate might be avoided. It’s the elephant in the room. And it’s not easy to sweep an elephant under the carpet. If the discussion gets heated, that’s a measure of its importance. It’s not a reason for closing down the debate, as some wish to do.

If people don’t want to participate in the debate, that’s OK. But don’t tell me or anybody else that we should shut up about the matter just because it makes you uncomfortable. Your comfort is not my concern. And don’t tell me or anybody else to shut up because the debate is ‘damaging the Yes movement’. If the Yes movement isn’t robust and resilient enough to cope with vigorous debate than it’s unlikely to be fit to go up against the might of the British state.

Discussion of the timing of the referendum has been valuable, not least on account of the way it has revealed the attitudes of some of our elected representatives. The British parties, needless to say, have no role in the debate. We are all aware of British Nationalists’ fervent, anti-democratic opposition to the exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination.

We can safely discount the British politicians who exhibit such disdain for democracy, not to mention contempt for the people of Scotland and their Parliament. But what of the others?

Pete Wishart has nailed his colours unequivocally to the spectral mast of a ghost ship called ‘Optimum Time’. Others, such as Chris McEleny, have exhibited a greater sense of urgency. Which, to be frank, was hardly difficult. Now we have Keith Brown, who seems to be telling us that it doesn’t matter how urgent the situation may be, the SNP isn’t ready. Here’s a senior figure in Scotland’s independence party; the de facto political arm of the independence movement, telling us that putting a timescale on the referendum is the wrong priority. Groping for a term to apply to that attitude, the (printable) one that comes most readily to mind is ’lackadaisical’.

It seems Keith Brown expects the tides and currents of politics to cease and desist while the SNP gets its act together. Which makes him a bit of a Cnut. (Note to historians: Cut me some slack, eh! It’s a good line.)

The most sensible comment I’ve heard so far from any SNP politician is Angus MacNeil’s observation.

Some people think you can only ever have two referendums ever. And when you’ve got that into your heads, then you become afraid of having it in case you lose it.

Pete Wishart’s afraid of losing because he thinks the country isn’t ready. Keith Brown’s afraid of losing because the SNP’s not ready. I’m afraid of losing because of what will then happen to Scotland. But I’m just as afraid of what will happen to Scotland if we delay the referendum. Because it’s the same fate either way.

The thing that’s missing from comments about timing of the referendum made by SNP politicians is any acknowledgement of what the British government is likely to be doing while we procrastinate. We have British politicians openly talking about unilaterally rewriting the devolution settlement and powers being stripped from the Scottish Parliament with the threat of further rolling back of devolution. We hear them state their intention to impose “UK-wide common frameworks” that only the terminally naive suppose will be limited to the likes of food standards and animal welfare – although that would be bad enough.

We are told that, in the new ‘One Nation’ British state, “discrepancies” across the four nations will not be tolerated.

We are warned that the British political elite will not allow anything to damage their “precious, precious Union”.

Even if we couldn’t work it out for ourselves, we are now being explicitly told what fate awaits Scotland if the monstrous ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project is not halted.

And yet our politicians seem oblivious. Not once have I heard any of them address this threat to Scotland’s democracy. I have been deeply immersed in the debate about when we should hold the referendum. I have yet to find any Postponer who is willing to even acknowledge that the British government will be doing something while the SNP sorts out it’s internal organisation and Pete Wishart waits for a burning bush to tell him of the coming ‘Optimum Time’. (Note to Biblical scholars: Give me a break, eh! It’s a nice image.)

It’s as if, in the scenarios they consider, the British government ceases to exist. The British political elite is simply disregarded. The British state’s pressing imperative to lock Scotland into a ‘reformed’ Union is just ignored. The ongoing ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project isn’t a factor. It doesn’t figure in the Postponers’ calculations when they’re considering timing of the new referendum.

Caution may be advisable in certain circumstances. Nobody can sensibly contest the fact that the SNP’s ‘gradualist’ strategy has been successful to date. But the gradual approach has no defined end-point – unless and until you create one. At some juncture, you have to make the final leap. You have to do something bold. You have to act.

All this talk of waiting for ‘optimal conditions’ to spontaneously emerge from the political ether and stopping the political roller-coaster so the SNP can change it’s underpants totally misses the point. The choice is not between going now (September) and losing, or going at some later date (defined only vaguely or not at all) and winning. The choice is between the absolute certainty of the British Nationalist project relentlessly eroding Scotland’s democracy at an accelerating pace, or the possibility of stopping that project in it’s tracks before it can do irreversible damage.

Of course, it’s just a possibility. But it’s the only chance we have. There’s a good reason the Postponers are reluctant to discuss their alternative plan for stopping, or even slowing, the British Nationalist juggernaut. They don’t have one!


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The shackles are ready

shackles_by_gengen35-d50v113I suppose eighteen months is, at least superficially, better than the indefinite postponement of a new independence referendum being proposed by Pete Wishart. And I know Pete Wishart will protest that indefinite postponement is not what he is proposing. But the “optimum” time cannot be defined – not even by Mr Wishart or any of his supporters – and it most certainly can’t be predicted months or, if some have their way, years in advance. If the time-frame lack any identifiable fixed point then the timescale is, by definition, indefinite. Pete Wishart’s protestation won’t change that, no matter how engorged with indignation they are.

Another thing those advocating this indefinite, or protracted, delay are unable or unwilling to explain is how they intend to deal with the actions of the British government during this period of procrastination. The British Nationalist ‘One Nation’ project is not going to be put on hold while Scotland dithers at the behest of Pete and The Postponers. That project will proceed regardless. And no part of that project is concerned with presenting Scotland’s independence movement with the “optimum conditions for success”. On the contrary, it’s all about preventing the people of Scotland from exercising their democratic right of self-determination – ever!

A document came to my attention today. It purports to be an outline of the main provisions of a “New Act of Union” being drafted by a group calling itself the Constitutional Reform Group. Readers can visit this group’s website and judge for themselves the extent to which those involved represent anything other than the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.

I cannot testify as to the provenance or authenticity of this document. What I can say is that it is a true and accurate representation of the British Nationalist dream. And Scotland’s nightmare.

  • Part of a nation could decide to remain in the UK.
  • UK Parliament is sovereign.
  • UK Parliament permission required for independence referenda.
  • UK Parliament MPs form the upper chamber for the Parliaments of Scotland, Northern Ireland & Wales.
  • Monarch can amend an Act of Parliament.
  • Life peerages continue.
  • UK parliament controls public borrowing of all nations.
  • “Central taxes” controlled by UK Parliament.
  • Barnett formula abandoned.
  • New Public Borrowing Board controls public spending of the nations’ Parliaments.
  • New “Bank of the UK” controls UK central banking.
  • Duty of all public authorities to “protect the UK as a whole”.
  • Legal systems of the nations legislated for by the UK Parliament.
  • Unified Civil Service for the whole UK.
  • Gaelic excluded from the new Act of Union referendum.
  • 16 and 17-year olds excluded from the referendum.
  • Reserved or “Central” matters include the Crown, UK constitution, Devolution Legislation, Foreign Affairs, EU membership, treaties & conventions, Defence, NATO, Human Rights, Economy, Tax, Currency, Law & Order, National Security, Immigration, Emergency Powers, Political Parties, Civil Service.
  • UK Parliament can add areas to list of “Central Powers”.

Are you worried yet?

The Postponers aren’t. They seem oblivious to the very existence of a project to realise all or any of the above. They appear unaware that locking Scotland into this nightmarish new Union is a major imperative for the British state. They behave as if the British state is benign. They want us to behave as if Scotland’s democracy isn’t under real and imminent threat. They us to disregard the fact that everything we value in our nation is in serious jeopardy.

Even a delay of eighteen months gives the British state time to implement, in part if not in whole, its plans to constitutionally redefine the UK, and the status of the ‘peripheral’ nations, within a ‘reformed’ political union devised without any reference to the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland or our elected representatives.

Are you angry yet?

You should be. But we must not let that anger dissipate in a pointless and ineffectual outburst of rage. We must use that anger to energise demands for a referendum in September 2018. Then we must set about creating the “optimum conditions for success”, rather than waiting in the hope that, if we wait long enough, they will arise spontaneously.

We must use that anger to overcome the paralysis induced by fear of losing by ‘going too soon’. Fear which blinds some to the fact that waiting too long has precisely the same consequences, but makes them a certainty.

We must direct that anger where it belongs; aimed at those who would impose on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland their repugnant, grotesque, horrifying vision of ‘Greater England’.

We must demand that the Scottish Government act to defend Scotland’s democratic institutions, distinctive political culture and essential public services against a British Nationalist onslaught which is already in progress.

We must stand united. We must be as one in our determination to stop this onslaught. We must give our full support to Nicola Sturgeon and her ministers as they confront the might of jealous Britannia.

Even eighteen months is a potentially fatal delay. We must not wait!


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Open goal missed

The question over what currency an independent Scotland would use dominated the campaign in the run-up to the 2014 referendum. – The National

pexels-photo-358643And that was the problem. It was the wrong question. It was the British state’s question. It was posed in order to create a particular narrative. A narrative which followed the pattern of grinding negativity which characterised Project Fear. A narrative of doubt. And arguably the greatest mistake made by the Yes campaign was allowing the narrative to be controlled by the British state and its propaganda machine. The so-called ‘currency issue’ exemplifies this failure to seize the agenda perhaps more depressingly well than any other aspect of the first independence referendum campaign.

What currency? The very act of responding to this question validated it. By accepting that it was a pertinent question, the Yes movement gave the British media an opening to foster the notion that there was a risk of independent Scotland being bereft of a functioning currency. The idea is ridiculous, of course. Simply stating explicitly the proposition that a modern Western European democracy with a healthy mixed economy would have no functioning currency reveals just how preposterous the idea is. But that is what is implied by the question. An implication then reinforced by media lies about nobody on the Yes side being able to answer the question.

And, of course, a large part of the Yes movement opted to run with the British Nationalist narrative. Instead of pointing out that it was the wrong question, they embraced the fallacious notion behind it – that there was some serious uncertainty regarding Scotland’s currency affairs post-independence. At any given time, as much as a third of the Yes movement, mainly on the left, was to be found attacking the SNP and the Scottish Government and the white paper (Scotland’s Future) rather than challenging the British Nationalist propaganda. Often, the rhetoric deployed in these attacks was indistinguishable from the language used by the British media.

One of the most sickening sights I’ve ever seen was in the early hours of Friday 19 September when I was at the referendum count in Perth. As the No results came in, I watch representatives of the British Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties hug and ‘high-five’ and kiss one another in a stomach-churning orgy of triumphalism; metaphorically popping the champagne as they celebrated Scotland’s humbling at the hands of their precious, precious British state. It was a revolting spectacle. I wish No voters could have seen it. Although I not wish on my worst enemy the soul-rending, spirit-crushing guilt this sight would surely have occasioned in any No voter with a shred of conscience.

Almost as repugnant was witnessing people I knew to be both intelligent individuals and genuine independence supporters as they allowed themselves to be manipulated into undermining the very cause they were supposed to be fighting for. Smart, politically aware people behaving like puppets. It was disturbing to watch. And distressing to recognise the opportunity that was being missed.

The No campaign was, arguably, nowhere weaker than on the ‘currency issue’. The declaration that, should Scotland vote Yes, the rUK would unilaterally abolish the currency union was not an act of economic calculation, it was an act of political desperation. It was the empty threat of a bully facing humiliation. It was the abusive partner in a failed relationship threatening mutually destructive retaliation should their spouse leave. Their house would be burned down. Their children would be harmed. They would suffer appalling physical violence. Should they refuse to submit, they would be destroyed.

Bullies tend to resort to such extreme threats when they are at their most vulnerable. George Osborne’s ‘Sermon on the Pound’ signalled weakness disguised as strength. It was bluster made to look like boldness. It was exasperation dressed up as decisiveness.

And the Yes movement failed to exploit this moment of great weakness. Worse! Much of the Yes movement gave impetus to the British propaganda by unthinkingly parroting whatever line was being peddled by the BBC and the Unionist press. Those on the left – the righteous radicals and the ‘Byres Road cappuccino commies’ and the fractious fractions of fractured factions – were more concerned with flaunting their non-SNP credentials than with fighting an effective campaign. Others simply thought attacking their own side lent them an air of sophisticated even-handedness.

I say all this, not in a spirit of angry recrimination (OK! Maybe just a bit!) but in the sadly diminishing hope that lessons might be learned. Many of those who got it so tragically wrong are, I am regretfully aware, far too self-regarding to ever admit that Alex Salmond was right. They will never allow that the Scottish Government’s position on currency was the correct one at the time. They will never acknowledge that they passed-up an opportunity to tear a huge hole in the anti-independence propaganda edifice. They will never recognise that they, not only missed an open goal, but scored a possibly decisive own-goal.

But some might have the strength of character to take responsibility for an unfortunate error. And that may better arm them for the ongoing fight to save Scotland from the onslaught of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism.

You’ll easily be able to identify those who have learned from past mistakes. They’re the ones who are now responding to the ‘what currency?’ question with the only sensible answer there ever was – it doesn’t matter! It is of little or no consequence what the currency is called or whose picture is on it or what colour it is… well.. OK! the colour matters. But the rest doesn’t. It never did. What matters is how a nation’s currency affairs are managed.

Is Scotland capable of managing its own currency affairs?

That is the only pertinent and important question. That is the meaningful question. That is the question the British political elite didn’t want asked. Because that is the awkward question. The kind of awkward question the Yes movement should have been asking when, instead, it was berating and hectoring and harassing Alex Salmond on behalf of Project Fear and at the behest of the British media.

Is Scotland capable of managing its own currency affairs?

The British political elite didn’t want this question asked for the simple and glaringly obvious reason that they cannot answer it without undermining their own propaganda. If they say Scotland is capable of managing its own currency, that undermines the effort to portray Scotland as utterly dependent on the beneficent and paternalistic British state. If the say Scotland isn’t capable of managing its own currency, they face immediate angry demands to explain this slight.

Is Scotland capable of managing its own currency affairs?

If you weren’t asking that question of Unionists during the first independence referendum campaign then you were missing a perfect opportunity to turn the tables on Project Fear.

That’s not the only question that should have been asked of the British state on its threat to unilaterally abolish the currency union. (I’m not listing them again here. Think of them for yourself.) That position was so vulnerable it would have disintegrated under even mild scrutiny. It was never going to be subjected to that scrutiny by the British media. It was up to the Yes movement to do that. And we failed! Yes, ‘we’! Because there is only one Yes movement and I am part of that movement as surely as I am part of the human species. We failed abysmally!

Some maintain that this failure to properly address the British state’s threat to end the currency union was the single biggest factor in the outcome of the 2014 referendum. What is certain is that it is representative of the failings which rendered the Yes movement less effective than it might have been. We need to do better next time. As I’ve said elsewhere, we need to approach the coming referendum campaign with a totally new mindset. We need a change of attitude within the Yes movement.

We need to ensure that we never again allow our Yes movement to be manipulated and divided by British propaganda. We must not allow the British media to control the agenda.

We must rid ourselves of the idea that it is our aspiration which must be justified and recognise that it is the denial of that aspiration which has to be vindicated.

We must reject absolutely the notion that ‘British’ is the standard by which everything must be judged.

We must stop explaining and start demanding explanations.

We must stop searching for better answers to the wrong question and start asking the awkward questions.

We need to know that power is not given. Power is taken.


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