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One year on

Well that anniversary certainly crept up fast. On the one hand it all feels like it was yesterday, yet on the other hand it might as well have been a lifetime ago.

There’s been a huge amount going on over this last year, both politically and personally. As you’ve probably guessed from the lack of activity on here I’ve scarcely even looked at this blog since the last post went up. I’m glad to say that the main reason for that is because all of my energy and efforts have been getting applied practically in attempting make a difference here in Liverpool.

As I was reading various retrospectives over the weekend it struck me that it might be interesting to go back and revisit what I’d written in the week immediately following the vote to see how it matched up with the reality of what’s come to pass.

As I said at the time, nothing in that post was solid enough to be called a prediction – it was all mere speculation. Nevertheless it’s been interesting to try and put myself back in that week, trying to recall what it was that prompted those thoughts.

The SNP

As we know the SNP membership continued to soar, with Nicola Sturgeon just having confirmed that they reached 112,208 members. However it seems as if, so far, most of those members are happy with sticking to the party line. In fact, if anything, the only thing that might be causing the leadership some difficulties is the pressure being applied to stage a re-run of the referendum as soon as possible.

I’m almost certainly going to get pelters for saying this, but I don’t think that’s been good for either the SNP or the wider ‘Yes movement’. In fact I’d even go so far as to say that many of the groups that made up that movement have become increasingly sidelined in the rush to try and bring about Indyref 2.

Rather than the SNP’s membership surge leading to an increasing level of debate within the party, it actually feels more like it’s led to a circling of the wagons. That makes it increasingly difficult to have a serious debate about the performance of the SNP government (with the performance of Police Scotland being at least one subject that ought to be up for grabs).

The feeling that I get from the Twittersphere is that the future of independence is now seen as being very much in the SNP’s hands, and if anyone has a problem with that then they can either like it or lump it.

Ironically the biggest headache that Nicola Sturgeon may face is being forced to ride the whirlwind of her own members desire to do the whole thing over again as soon as possible. Thus she is increasingly being bounced into outlining a plan for Indyref 2, even though no actual work has been done to fix the gaps and weaknesses of the first campaign.

Labour

Looking back over my original blog from last year the biggest irony that strikes me is that it’s actually Labour who have been rocked to the core by a surge in left-wing support. I’ll come back to that below – but first I should look back over what it was that I originally wrote.

The week after the referendum I was urging caution when it came to investing our hopes in a Labour rout. Looking back I think that this was a defensive reaction. Having invested all of our hopes in a ‘Yes’ vote I didn’t want to see people getting crushed a second time if the General Election didn’t go as expected.

In my defence I was always certain that Scottish Labour would get steamrollered (see my notes in ‘A letter to England’), it’s just that I didn’t want to jinx things by investing all my hopes in a false dawn. However come the event the actual result was never in doubt – the only question was whether Scottish Labour would struggle on with a handful of seats, or whether they would go the way of the Tories in ’97.

My comments at the time were also partly framed in the context of discussions that had suddenly sprung up about the possibility of a ‘Yes Alliance’. As attractive as the idea sounded to many people I simply couldn’t see how such a thing could work, and frankly I still don’t. I’ve yet to see anyone explain how such an alliance would work in practice, whether it’s in the case of a Yes Alliance or whether it’s a political pact between Labour and the Greens in England.

As soon as you start trying to work out how such an Alliance might work you immediately start coming up against the cold hard realities of what you would have to overcome.

Firstly, the largest party in any such grouping will have no interest in doing deals with other parties – it goes completely against their interest. Why hand away seats that you can potentially win outright to parties that you have no control over, and who may struggle to win a seat that you would have walked away with.

Secondly, you need to sit down and draw up a list of who’s not going to be allowed to stand where. How does that work when both the Scottish Greens and the SSP draw their strongest support from Glasgow? Were the SNP ever going to stand down their own candidates so that Patrick Harvie or Colin Fox or anyone else could have a clear run? Of course not.

And thirdly, even if such a deal could be agreed then try selling that to the party activists and voters across the country who now have no candidate of their own to support. People don’t like putting in years of work and effort, only to have all of that snatched away from them just as the big prize is coming into view.

The English Left

In the original blog I reserved my harshest criticism for the English Left, who I argued had completely failed to grasp the meaning, motivations and significance of what was going on in Scotland.

Someone must have been taking notice though, because since the General Election it seems like they’re starting to get their act together. However while I’m delighted that Corbyn has upset the apple-cart I still maintain a healthy dose of scepticism.

Labour may now have a left-wing leader, but it is still a long way from being a left-wing party. I also detect a bit of old-school nostalgia in claims that Corbyn can ‘win back Scotland’. Forget it – Scotland’s gone. It’s winning over England that you need to worry about now, and you’re going to have more than enough work on hands doing that.

A big question mark also hangs over Corbyn’s attitudes towards the constitution – what is his plan for Scotland? What does he think about devolution for the English Regions? And that’s before we even get on to the question of how enthusiastic he’s going to be about campaigning to stay in the EU.

Oh yeah – and one last thing. If you’re trying to win over all those voters that you lost during the referendum, posing with a copy of the Daily Record ain’t the way to do it. For independence supporters it means the same thing as Miliband posing with the Sun means to Merseysiders.

Not a good look

The Yes movement

This is one area where I feel my observations were pretty on the money. Written against a backdrop where ‘the 45%’ had suddenly emerged as a rallying point it was obvious that change was on the way.

Since then we’ve seen the dissolution of National Collective and the creation of RISE. Women for Independence still seems to be going strong, with no fewer than 13 Women for Indy elected as MPs.

Indeed it seems that desperately continuing to try and weld different forces together has been a hindrance for a number of groups. The 45% petered out after a few months, with most of that energy seemly poured into ensuring an outright SNP in the General Election. That was probably for the best, however it’s been sad to see Common Weal fading in prominence, partly losing ground following attempts to rehabilitate Tommy Sheridan back into the mainstream.

On a more positive note it is good to see some critical analysis starting to take place with Jim Sillar’s ‘In Place of Fear’ starting to open up a reflective space. It is essential that this process moves forward. If a second referendum is fought on the same grounds as the first it will be bound to lose again

Scotland’s Indymedia

In those days immediately following the referendum there were a few people trying to launch new Indymedia outlets. Apparently born more from hope than from experience none of these new projects went anywhere, although they may have helped to provide some impetus for the creation of ‘The National’.

Feeding off of the creative energy that came out of the vote The National quickly established a place for itself. It will be interesting to see how well it continues to fare over the next 18 months. If it looks like a second referendum is on the horizon then there’s the chance for the paper to really come to the fore. Of course, if that referendum was to result in a second ‘No’ vote then it’s hard to see how The National would continue.

In the meantime most of the key blogs and podcasts that flourished prior to the vote are still going on in some form. ‘Dateline Scotland’ has found a non-satirical outlet in Newsshaft. Bella, Wings, Lesley Riddoch, Derek Bateman Lalland’s Peat Worrier and Michael Greenwell are all still going strong, although in some cases there has been a natural and understandable drop in output.

With next year’s Scottish Parliament elections coming up fast there will hopefully be enough going to help maintain the energy and skills until the next independence vote comes round again. As it surely will.

Outside Greyfriar's Kirk, around 11pm 18th September 2014

Outside Greyfriar’s Kirk, around 11pm 18th September 2014

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One week on

So it’s now just over a week since the result of the referendum was declared and, if anything, we’re now in an even more confused and chaotic situation that we would have been if there had been a Yes vote.

The referendum has turned everything upside down and nothing can be taken for granted now. What follows is a series of fragmentary thoughts, observations and speculations in which I attempt to map out some of the features of this new landscape. Nothing here is concrete enough to describe as a prediction.

 

The SNP 

In the space of a week the SNP membership has soared to over 60,000, more than doubling it’s size and propelling the party into the position of 3rd largest political party in the whole of the UK (outstripping both the Lib Dems and UKIP). It’s a fair bet that many of those 35,000+ new members are keen to contribute as both funders and activists. The new subscription fees alone will provide a huge financial boost to the party.

But will this surge prove to be a double-edged sword for the SNP leadership? It seems reasonable to assume that all of those new members and activists will be working hell-for-leather to oust Labour, but are they willing to just passively take a back seat and toe existing party lines? Is it not more likely that they’ll be looking to make sure that the party starts making full use of all the powers available to the Scottish Government? Are they likely to be pushing for a more radical policy platform than the SNP have pursued recently?

It’s worth bearing in mind that the existing SNP membership (many of whom will have been party members for decades) are now outnumbered, and could potentially be outvoted, by new members keen to pursue a new agenda. We can probably expect to see some kind of battle over the party’s heart and soul emerging over the next few years.

This problem also exists for the Scottish Greens and Scottish Socialists (who have respectively trebled and doubled their memberships in the same period). I’m not sure that the impact will be quite so huge in their cases though. In part this is to do with the fact that both of those parties pursue more of a bottom-up approach to policy making, rather than the SNP’s top-down structure. This means that they (potentially) have a greater degree of resilience when it comes to adapting to such a huge expansion. At the same time both parties have pretty clear policy platforms that new members are likely to have consciously bought into before signing up. Meanwhile the ‘all things to all people’ approach adopted by the SNP may well be abandoned in favour of a sharp turn to the left.

 

Labour

Labour may have won the battle, but they needed last-minute reinforcements from the Tories to do it. They also had no qualms about ‘winning ugly’. The frankly disgraceful way in which they conducted themselves over the last two years will not be forgotten or forgiven – not least by the many disaffected Labour voters who are now vowing that they will never vote for the party again.

Attempts to claim the moral high ground after their victory only serve to reinforce the bitterness and resentment on the part of Yes campaigners. The surge in support for other parties is testament to the widespread desire to see Scottish Labour unseated and utterly destroyed.

But is that a realistic ambition? Certainly in the case of the Scottish Parliament it looks unlikely that Labour will be making a comeback any time soon. But if we look at the results of the last UK elections the scale of the challenge becomes apparent. In 2010 only 2 seats changed hands in the whole of Scotland, and in both cases those were seats that Labour were winning back having lost them in by-elections.

Out of the 59 Westminster seats in Scotland only a handful of them constitute marginals. In the rest of those seats it would require a vast swing to unseat the dominant party. This is as true of Lib-Dem and SNP seats as it is of Labour ones. In quite a few cases the SNP would require a swing of 40% or more from Labour in order to clinch those seats. Even in places currently held by the Lib-Dems swings of 20% or more might be required.

That also ignores the complications of tactical voting. For example, if Yes campaigners wanted to unseat Jim Murphy then the most likely means of doing that would be to convince the voters of East Renfrewshire to return a Tory candidate. How likely is it that those new SNP converts will be up for selling that message on the doors?

As attractive as a pro-Yes alliance of SNP/Greens/SSP may sound, the combined votes that it would attract across the country would scarcely be sufficient to swing a single result. In 2010 the Greens and SSP combined polled a grand total of 19,984 votes across the entire country.

While we’re likely to see both Labour and the Lib-Dems taking major hits to their share of the vote next year Yes activists shouldn’t be pinning their hopes on any kind of electoral wipe-out for either party. Bear in mind that the inflexibility and intransigence of the First Past the Post system is one of the things that we had been looking to reform – and there was a reason for that.

 

The English Left

For me the greatest disappointment of the campaign has been the widespread failure amongst the English Left to support the independence movement. Of course there were notable and honourable exceptions such as Billy Bragg and John Harris, who both seemed to get the idea from the start. A number of Guardian columnists including George Monbiot, Suzanne Moore and Deborah Orr all came over to Yes in the last few weeks of the campaign, but that was too late to have any major impact.

I have to say that a great deal of the resistance from the Left seemed to be powered by nothing more than pure self-interest. Time and again I heard people repeating the complete myth that Scottish Independence would lead to perpetual Tory government for England. Throughout this campaign I’ve consistently received more solidarity from the Green movement, from Welsh Nationalists and from the people of Catalonia than I’ve received from the socialist left. Faced with the possibility of dismantling the entire corporate power structure that is the British state large swathes of the left opted instead to leap into bed with the forces of conservatism. In doing so they also lined up alongside UKIP, the BNP, the National Front and the Orange Order.

In doing so they have largely consigned themselves to a position of complete and utter irrelevance when it comes to shaping the post-referendum landscape – as demonstrated by the constitutional Blitzkrieg that Cameron launched the moment that the result was declared.

 

The Yes movement

One of the most difficult aspects of the last week has been watching the ferment as people try and re-group and re-organise. On the one hand we have new groupings emerging, often built around a perceived sense of solidarity or maintaining a particular version of identity. I think that this can be seen as a largely defensive reaction as people fight to come to terms with the result.

On the other hand I’m also seeing some movements fragmenting and dissolving as people choose to park their hopes for independence in order to focus and concentrate on specific issue-based activism.

It’s really important for us to acknowledge that none of these reactions is right or wrong – they are simply the inevitable and natural unravelling of millions of distinct individual voices who, for a time, decided to unite in pursuit of a common goal. This is natural and we should allow it to happen. New ideas and movements will emerge, others will fall by the wayside.

The important thing right now is not to allow ourselves to get dragged down into doctrinal disputes that become so embittered that people don’t want to collaborate again in future. If you don’t agree with how other people are organising themselves then find a bunch of people who feel the same and start building something together. Right now we need to focus on what we can construct out of the situation, not set about tearing down the things that others are trying to build.

 

Scotland’s Indymedia

The last five years has seen an explosion in alternative media in Scotland, which is completely unparalleled anywhere else in the UK. Newsnet Scotland, Bella Caledonia, the Scottish Indyref Podcast, Lesley Riddoch, Derek Bateman, National Collective and Referendum Live TV all became valuable sources of ideas whilst a host of individual bloggers including the likes of Burdz Eye View, Lallands Peat Worrier and (yes) Wings over Scotland started to make regular appearances on mainstream radio and TV.

In the immediate aftermath of the No vote we’ve also seen a number of new groupings emerge, seemingly trying to create a Yes-focussed print press. Whilst it’s great that the enthusiasm is there I do have to ask – why? Print media is gradually on the way out as it is. Why establish a whole bunch of new titles to compete with each other, when we could be growing and strengthening the groups that already exist?

As I’m writing this Newsnet Scotland and Bateman Broadcasting have announced that they’ll be collaborating on new strands of work. Bella Caledonia have announced plans for expansion and Referendum Live TV and the people behind Dateline Scotland are now floating plans for alternative online news broadcasts.

To me this work is really important. Our existing Indymedia has been great when it comes to talking about history, economics. culture and so on. Where it’s been weaker has been in actual hard news reporting – where are still too reliant on disseminating news second-hand from the mainstream outlets.

What we could do with is a nationwide network of citizen journalists who are able to interrogate all aspects of a story – not just place an equally biased ‘Yes gloss’ on stories. If this is going to work then it’ll require an increasing degree of professionalism. By all means go ahead and cancel your TV licence. But if you do then don’t forget to set up a regular Direct Debit to the indymedia channels of your choice.

We also need to look at how we can expand our flowering digital documentary movement. In the last few years films such as You’ve been Trumped, Northern Lights and Scotland Yet have all shown that it’s possible to tell important stories with crowd-funded backing and minimal resources.

We really need to get out there and re-discover the many different faces of Scotland. If rural Scotland and the islands voted so heavily for No then why don’t we let the people there explain why they did that? Likewise let the people in the schemes of Glasgow and Dundee explain why they voted Yes. Scotland has a whole past, present and future that’s just out there waiting to be discovered.

 

 

So there we have it – a pretty confused and ever-shifting picture. There is one thing that we can say with certainty though. If anyone thought that they were voting No in order for things to remain just as they were they’re going to be sadly disappointed.

No-one that I know was ever campaigning for independence just for the sake of independence – they were campaigning for it as a means of changing our society. And they’re going to continue working towards that goal regardless of what the final result was.

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A letter to Labour voters

Dear Friends

Over the next few days you are going to have more people wanting to speak to you about politics that you could ever possibly have imagined, and yes – I’m one of them.

I want to talk about Labour’s history, about its origins and about how we’ve arrived in the position that we’re currently in with only a few days to go until the referendum.

You might have been hearing Keir Hardie’s name bandied about a fair bit by now. But I don’t want to talk about Keir Hardie – I want to talk about someone else. Someone who ought to be a household name among British socialists, but who most people have probably never heard of.

His name is Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham.

Cunninghame Graham

This guy was some character. Having enjoyed a privileged upbringing and an education at Harrow he moved to Argentina where he became a gaucho before travelling to Morocco, the US (where he befriended Buffalo Bill) and Mexico. He was a writer and journalist and he was friends with the likes of George Bernard Shaw, G. K. Chesterton and Joseph Conrad.

Following the death of his father he returned to the UK and, despite his wealthy upbringing became drawn to socialism. He demonstrated a flair for public speaking and in 1885 he stood as the Liberal candidate for North West Lanarkshire, running on a radical platform that called for the abolition of the House of Lords, universal suffrage, the nationalisation of major industries and the disestablishment of the Church of England.

He rapidly made a name for himself, becoming the first MP to ever be suspended for swearing in the House. In 1887 he was beaten and arrested by the police for attending a demonstration in Trafalgar Square, subsequently being sentenced to six weeks imprisonment.

As British socialism began to gather pace Cunninghame Graham took a place right at the forefront of the movement. His influence was major and lasting. Together with Keir Hardie he co-founded both the Scottish Labour Party and subsequently the Independent Labour Party.

Whenever people talk about the establishment of the Labour movement they always talk about Keir Hardie as the ‘co-founder’ of the Scottish Labour Party. But you’ll never hear them talk about the party’s other ‘co-founder’. R.B. Cunninghame Graham was a driving force in British socialism. So why have so few people today ever heard of him?

The answer is simple. Like Keir Hardie, Cunninghame Graham was a leading advocate of Scottish Home Rule. Together they wrote support for Home Rule into the founding principles of the British Labour movement.

And yet within 24 years of the Labour party being created Home Rule was already slipping off the party’s agenda. In 1918 Home Rule for Scotland was listed as the party’s 3rd highest priority, ahead of housing, pensions and education. By 1929 it had dropped to last place on a list of 63 priorities, and by 1945 it had vanished from their manifesto altogether.

Cunninghame Graham was a socialist, but he was never one to simply follow others blindly. Home Rule was fundamental to his socialist beliefs and so eventually he left the Labour Party, and embarked on the creation of the 3rd political party that he was to help found. It was called the National Party of Scotland. In 1934 it merged with the Scottish Party to become the Scottish National Party, at which point Cunninghame Graham was appointed as the first ever President of the SNP.

People will try and convince you of many things regarding the SNP and its founders, but in essence the origins of the SNP lie in a schism within British socialism. That left-wing outlook has continued to shape the party across the decades. Indeed many in the current leadership of the party, including Alex Salmond, were participants the in ’79 group that was expelled from the party for trying to move it from a ‘soclal-democratic’ party to an explicitly socialist one.

Meanwhile the Labour party had a problematic relationship with devolution from 1924 onwards. One might think that Home Rule had disappeared from the party’s policy commitments due to a lack on interest on the part of the Scottish electorate – far from it. In 1949 a former SNP politician by the name of John MacCormick started up a nationwide petition calling for Home Rule for Scotland. Between 1949 and 1951 almost 2 million Scots, virtually half of the entire electorate, signed up to the Scottish Covenant.

And what happened? Absolutely nothing. The Labour government took no notice of public demand for a parliament and any hope of Home Rule was shelved. That was, of course, up until the 1970s. By that time North Sea Oil had been discovered and the SNP were making serious headway in elections. In 1974 they picked up 30.4% of the vote, winning 11 MPs.

The result was enough to leave the Labour Party rattled. They began working on plans for a devolution proposal to put to the Scottish people. Not everything went to plan, however. As the Referendum Bill was passing through parliament a Scottish Labour MP called George Cunningham (who represented the London constituency of Islington South and Finsbury) managed to successfully table an amendment. His amendment stipulated that in order for the creation of the Assembly to be approved at least 40% of the entire Scottish electorate would have to vote in favour (regardless of the turnout).

In itself this threw up a number of anomalies – the most infamous of which was that anyone who died in the run up to the referendum, and whose name wasn’t removed from the electoral register in time, was effectively counted as having voted No.

People often talk about the 1979 being lost. But it was not lost. In 1979 the people of Scotland voted in favour of the creation of a Scottish Parliament by a margin of 51.6% for, to 48.4% against. However the Callaghan government stuck to its guns and refused to allow devolution, since the turnout meant that only 32.9% of the total electorate had voted in favour.

Outraged by this turn of events the SNP proposed a motion of no confidence in Callaghan’s government, which Labour narrowly lost. Weakened by the Winter of Discontent the Labour Party lost the subsequent General Election to Margaret Thatcher and the rest, as they say, is history.

It was only many years later, after a long period in the political wilderness that the Labour Party eventually saw fit to not only resurrect the idea of a Scottish Parliament, but to actually campaign in its favour as well.

Whenever anyone attempts to try and tell me that we have the Labour Party to thank for the Scottish Parliament I simply reply “No – we have the Labour Party to thank for the fact that it took 50 years longer than it should have done for us to achieve a Scottish Parliament”.

Don’t get me wrong – the Labour Party has achieved many great things over the course of its long history. The achievements of the Attlee government; creating the NHS, the Welfare State, establishing social housing and nationalising key industries, are things that we can scarcely aspire to today, and they are all the more impressive for having been achieved in the space of just 5 short years.

But the truth is that when it comes to the questions of Home Rule or of Scottish Independence the Labour Party has consistently placed itself on the wrong side of history. As far back as 1945 the Party had already abandoned its founding commitment to Home Rule, and for the majority of the Twentieth Century the Labour Party has acted as the biggest roadblock in the way of devolution.

And now we stand here in 2014 with a choice of two futures in front of us. Either we can decide to take control of our country into our own hands, or else we can continue to allow our future to be shaped by governments that we have little role in electing and hope that every so often they manage to remember that there is an entire other country out there beyond the bounds of the M25.

There is a tragedy to that choice. The tragedy is that if you were to take just about any Labour politician and ask them what sort of difference they would actually like to make to people’s lives then I imagine that their answers would match the answers of most SNP politicians pretty closely.

In Scotland we have two essentially centre-left parties both setting out to achieve similar things. Their main point of disagreement is around the best means by which those goals can be delivered. A lot of energy has been wasted on that fight over the decades.

As a demonstration of that I think it’s worthwhile to go back and take a look over these two videos from the 1990s. One is an edition of Question Time featuring John Smith and Alex Salmond, the other is ‘The Great Debate’ that took place between George Robertson and Alex Salmond.

As you watch these videos I want to ask yourself a question. With hindsight, whose predictions about devolution and the SNPs approach to it turned out to be correct?

The truth is that if the Scottish Labour party actually supported independence then we wouldn’t even be having this referendum. The public support would be so overwhelming that they would be weighing the votes instead of counting them.

Can you seriously look me in the eye and tell me that best hope for my child’s future (or for your child’s future) lies in the hands of a Tory government that neither of us supports and that the people of Scotland have manifestly rejected?

And before you say that you’re not putting your faith in the Tories, but in the British Labour party, then let me just ask you what that really means. Where is that party going?

As I’m sitting here writing this I’ve just been reading some tweets from an English colleague of mine who lives and works in Yorkshire. He was saying that he has been a Labour voter his entire life, but he is now so disgusted by the way in which the Labour Party has handled the independence campaign that he never intends to vote for them again.

You know that when someone who has no direct involvement in the referendum campaign says that then something is very, very wrong. You know that somewhere along the way something very important and precious died.

For me it died on a hillside in Sutherland when its heart gave out.

It died in a forest in Oxfordshire – it’s wrists opened with a rusty pen-knife that had been saved as a memento from childhood.

It died on the streets of Baghdad, broken in the heart and broken in the head.

I’ve had enough of fighting. I just want us to be able to move on. I want you to be able to take your party back so that you can try to restore it to what it once was. I’m sick of us revelling in our failures as a means of pretending that it doesn’t really hurt.

Please – let’s just allow ourselves to win something for once. We can win it together.

“Give us our parliament in Scotland. Set it up next year. We will start with no traditions. We will start with ideals. We will start with the aim and object that there will be 134 men and women, pledged to 134 Scottish constituencies, to spend their whole energy, their whole brain power, their whole courage and their whole soul in making Scotland into a country into which we can take people from all nations of the earth and say: This is our land, this is our Scotland, these are our people, these are our men, our works, our women and children: can you beat it?”

– James Maxton speaking in Glasgow in 1924

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A Letter to England

Dear England

I hope you’re keeping well. I’m sure it must be a bit of a shock waking up to your newspapers this morning and realising that all of this could be about to end.

That’s certainly the impression that your newspaper columnists give. If any of this is coming as a surprise then that is frankly because your media have served you pretty poorly over the last two years.

They’ve tried to convince you that somehow this is all about you and how much the Scots hate you. It’s not about you – it’s about us. It’s about how we wish ourselves to be governed and it’s about the kind of society we want to live in.

Here is the reality of what has been going on in Scotland for the last two years. You might have read a few people talking about it, but to the best of my knowledge they’ve never shown it to you, so here goes…

Yes Glasgow Debate

 

Radical Independence Conference 2013

 

BwJw2lgIcAAGFt-

This is just a miniscule sample of images that I pulled off Twitter as quickly as I could this morning. Events like these have been taking place on a weekly basis right across the whole length and breadth of Scotland for the last two years. And for every event with a turnout in the hundreds there has been a dozen events made up of just a few dozen, or even just a couple of people coming together to seriously discuss, in detail, the biggest political questions that we can possibly ask.

Just to put that in context I’ll remind you that all of this has been happening in a country with just two-thirds of the population of the North West of England. Can you imagine what England would be like if every single week crowds of 700 people or more were turning out in Manchester, in Liverpool, in Wigan, Preston, Blackburn, Bolton and Carlisle to discuss how they were going to change their country?

Don’t get me wrong. After all of this there is still a chance that Scotland might vote No on the 18th, but if it does nothing is ever going to be the same again. The people of Scotland have made themselves ungovernable.

That is going to be a big challenge for the SNP after independence, but right now it is an issue for the UK parties and for Labour in particular. Just minutes after last nights polling results were announced the Daily Mail ran this front page.

Mail Front Page

Make not mistake about it – just by itself that one headline will instantly have added about 5% to the Yes vote. After this I will be astonished if Ed Miliband can ever set foot in Scotland again.

That should worry you, especially if your hopes of improving your country are currently invested in the chance of returning a Labour government to power in 2015.

Even if the people of Scotland vote No the Scottish Labour party are done for after this campaign. The way in which they have conducted themselves over the last two years has been nothing short of a disgrace. I confidently predict that if there is a No vote then come next May many people in Scotland will be queing around the block to give the Scottish Labour party a kicking the likes of which it has never seen before. It’ll be driven by people who, in the space of just two years, will have gone from being completely disengaged in politics to being seasoned political campaigners. If Labour think they can continue relying on Scotland to provide them with lobby-fodder then they are very much mistaken.

I have sympathy for what you are going through right now. I can already see the reactions of the rest of the UK conforming to the classic 5 stages of grief model.

1 – Denial and isolation

Just yesterday I was talking to someone in Liverpool about the referendum. I told them that the rumour was that today’s newspapers were potentially going to show Yes in the lead. Even though they were supportive of the idea of Scotland becoming independent they still refused to believe that it was in any way likely.

After speaking to them I boarded and bus and drove through the centre of Liverpool watching the crowds out shopping. For me it was a moment of existential disconnection – watching all of these people going about their daily business with absolutely no idea of what is potentially about to hit them in under two weeks.

Over the last two years I have often spoken to friends and colleagues who work between both Scotland and England. In all of that time every single one of them has used the same word to describe the attitude that they encounter amongst people in England. That word is ‘sleepwalking’.

 

2 – Anger

Anger is a natural reaction and I don’t blame people for feeling it. Rejection hurts, but I’ll say it once again – this is not about you it’s about us. In the days that follow a Yes vote I fully expect to see huge anger coming from the British media and establishment. The right-wing press and the likes of UKIP will be goading people into venting their anger against the people of Scotland. I implore you to stand up and resist the bitterness and division that they will seek to create. Because after anger comes…

 

3 – Bargaining

Following a Yes vote there will be a huge amount that needs to be negotiated in a very short space of time. And you need to be on your toes at this stage – you cannot allow your political leaders to dictate this process, and you should not believe them when they try and goad you into taking your feelings out on others.

There is something that I believe that people in the rest of the UK need to get their heads around very quickly. Your leaders will attempt to convince you that Alex Salmond is either begging you to help him out or threatening you if you don’t agree to what he wants. The truth is that the negotiating position that the SNP have laid out in Scotland’s Future isn’t just the best deal for the people of Scotland – it is the best deal that the people of the rest of the UK could possibly expect in the event of Scotland’s departure.

I have done the reading and let me tell you – the currency union model that the SNP propose benefits the people of the UK far more than it is likely to benefit the people of Scotland. If the SNPs negotiating position was purely about winning the best deal that they could for the people of Scotland then they would not even be entertaining the idea of a formal currency union – they would simply go straight ahead and establish an independent Scottish currency with it’s own central bank and a fixed interest rate with Sterling, walking away from the UK’s national debts in the process.

Here is the most important thing that you need to understand right now. The idea that a newly independent Scotland would be walking away from a share of the UK’s debts is false. Scotland cannot agree to take on the UK’s debts because such a thing is legally impossible. The UK’s debt commitments are a legally binding contract that the UK government has entered into with the investors who have leant them money. Those contracts cannot be re-assigned to another third party and even it were possible the investors who issued the debt would not agree to it because to do so would go directly against their own interests. The reality is that we are not negotiating what share of the UK’s debts Scotland will be willing to take on. What is actually being negotiated is the level of foreign aid payments that a newly independent Scotland will be willing to make to the UK government in order to help it cover it’s debts.

That is not a threat. It is cold, hard reality. In February of this year George Osbourne, backed by Ed Balls and Danny Alexander, issued an announcement confirming that if Scotland votes for independence then the UK will continue to honour 100% of its existing debt obligations. Your government have already taken the unilateral decision that in the event of a breakup the rUK will be the sole continuator state, meaning that there is not a single thing that they can do to force the Scottish Government to accept any share of UK debt. That decision has already been taken on your behalf and that ought to worry you.

It ought to worry you because that triumvirate of Osbourne, Balls and Alexander have already proven themselves to be pretty poor negotiators. On the same day that they confirmed that the UK would continue to be liable for 100% of its debts they also announced that there is no way in which the rUK would agree to a formal currency union. Over the last week we have already seen the fallout of that decision, with Sterling sliding several points against both the US Dollar and the Euro. I can guarantee you that when we see the financial markets open tomorrow Sterling will start sliding even further. The financial press are already speculating that if Scotland votes Yes on the 18th then the minute that the markets open on the 19th Sterling will crash.

The reason for this is simple. What investor in their right mind is going to invest in a currency when the person in charge of running it has openly declared that he intends to slash his own economy by 10% overnight?

Right now Sterling is supported by the tax receipts from North Sea oil, meaning that in the event of a currency crisis the UK can back peoples investments by paying them back in oil instead of in cash. The minute that Scotland votes for independence 90% of the UK’s oil revenues disappear and the security that they provide disappears with it. I fully expect to see the rUK experiencing a further downgrading of its credit rating, meaning that it will face yet higher borrowing costs to continue financing its existing debt.

None of this has anything to do with Alex Salmond. It is already coming about thanks entirely to the outright incompetence of your own political leaders.

Which brings us on to the last two phases…

 

4 – Depression & 5 – Acceptance

I imagine that very rapidly people in the rest of the UK may well start to feel depressed about where things have wound up. This is understandable. Your lives will have been changed by a process that you have had very little control over. When people feel powerless and helpless it is natural to start feeling despondent and powerless.

This is something that you need to pass through really quickly. The truth is that the people have far, far more power than politicians will ever admit. The greatest trick that the British establishment have ever pulled is conning people into believing that they are powerless.

A Yes vote will almost certainly be the greatest opportunity that the people of the UK have ever had to try and re-shape their country. But you need to move fast. Really fast.

My political experience over the last few years has taught me that any movement or campaign has a natural lifespan of around 18 months, after which people start losing faith and losing interest. During this time anything is possible, but if you fail to force through a change before the clock runs out then things settle down, the establishment are able to paper over the cracks and everything goes back to the way it was before.

If you allow your politicians a free reign in dictating terms then they will screw you. You need to move fast and you need to move hard. In Scotland those people currently campaigning for independence will be doing exactly the same thing with the SNP.

This could be the greatest opportunity of all our lifetimes. Let’s support each other to make sure that it happens.

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Comment, Politics

A letter from Liverpool

On the 21st of August I presented the following ‘Letter from Liverpool as part of All Back to Bowies. You can access podcasts of all of the sessions at the All Back to Bowie’s website.

 

‘In England, but not of it’ – those were the first words that greeted my eyes when I walked out of the front of Lime Street Station about ten years ago. It was a slogan emblazoned on an advertising hoarding directly opposite the station that the Council was using to welcome visitors to the city. It was covered in sayings and quotes that tried to capture something of the city and its people. That phrase ‘In England, but not of it’ was the largest and most prominent.

I turned left out of the station and started walking along the road. Within about 200 yards I found myself thinking ‘Bloody hell – this place really reminds me of Glasgow roundabout 1988’. Pretty much there and then I resolved that if I ever wound up having to move out of Scotland then Liverpool would definitely be high on the list of places that I’d like to move to.

And sure enough, as fate would have it, that’s exactly what happened. I moved to Liverpool just over 5 years ago. I packed up my stuff, loaded it all in a van and set off. And of course on the day that I left I said ‘Cheerio’ to my family, I put on my best smile and I told them the lie. The big lie. The one that generations of Scots have been telling each other since as far back as the 15th Century. 

‘Wur no awa tae bide awa’.

I’m pretty sure that my aunts and uncles probably said something similar when they moved to England about 40 or 50 years ago. Perhaps my cousins said it when they emigrated to Australia and to Mexico more than 20 years ago.

And of course it doesn’t feel like a lie when we say it – we genuinely mean it. We genuinely want to come back some day, maybe once we’ve seen the world or made a bit of money. But fate makes liars of us. Within a few years we find ourselves putting down roots and suddenly it doesn’t seem so simple when you’ve got kids and a job and a mortgage to think about.

I wonder if Pete’s mum told her family the lie. Pete’s my next-door neighbour in Liverpool. A nicer guy you could not hope to meet. He’s an artist who still gets down to his studio everyday, determined not to let Parkinson’s get in the way of his painting. The two of us were chatting on our doorsteps last year, just before the Scotland – England friendly match and he says to me ‘I’ll be cheering for you mate. I’ve always supported Scotland over England – my mum was Scottish you know’.

‘In England, but not of it.’ It was only after I had lived in Liverpool for a few years that I really started to appreciate just how true that description is. One of the moments that I realized it was on an Anti-Rascism rally last year. I was walking along pushing the pram and I felt this sudden tug on my sleeve. I turned round and there was this woman, probably about my mother’s age, dragging her husband in tow.

‘I’m sorry to bother you’ she says ‘But we spotted the Yes badge on your bag and we just had to come running over to say hello. How are we going to win this referendum?

Turns out she had moved to Liverpool when she was about 3 years old. After retiring her and her husband bought a house up in Glencoe and since then they’ve split their time between Liverpool and Scotland, meaning they’re entitled to vote in a few weeks time. She couldn’t contain her excitement as she told me how, every time they were back, they would turn out and help with the Yes stall in Fort William.

And these people are not unusual. Pretty much everyone that I speak to in Liverpool is broadly supportive of Scottish Independence. Usually the only thing that anyone expresses any worries about is the fear that they’ll wind up with perpetual Tory governments as a result.

Of course I always explain to people that that’s not the case – that there only about 2 years out of the last 100 where Labour wouldn’t have been elected without its Scottish MPs. And a lot of the time that’s enough to convince them and that’ll be that.

But sometimes you get the sense that they’re still not quite buying it, that they’re worried and they’re frightened. And that can be really frustrating. Sometimes you feel like saying ‘For god’s sake – do you not realize that this is one of the biggest lies the people of England have been told right throughout this entire debate? Moreover do you not realize that it’s an explicitly xenophobic anti-Scottish lie that was first put about by a bunch of Tory backbenchers? You’re not doing me, or anyone else, any favours so why keep repeating this myth?’

For a long time I found it difficult to relate to where they were coming from, but recently I’ve been starting to find myself in a bit of a similar position. Now that it’s all coming down to the wire I’ve been finding myself getting a bit nervous – getting a wee bit of stage fright. A touch or pre-match nerves.

You see some time ago I started ticking the little box that says ‘Scottish not British’. And let’s just be clear here – I don’t support Scottish Independence because I view myself as ‘Scottish not British’. I chose to start describing myself as ‘Scottish not British’ because I support Scottish Independence.

But what if we wake up on September the 19th and there’s been a No vote? Where does that leave me – the stateless citizen of a country that exists only in our imaginations? The stateless citizen of a country that exists only in the lies that we tell each other.

Well I guess the only thing I can do is start taking heed of the advice that I give other people. Solidarity only has a meaning if each one of us is willing to stand up for ourselves. It’s no use looking on as an outsider and envying what others have been able to achieve, you need to make a stand wherever you happen to be at that moment in time. If you want it you need to fight for it.

That’s the reason why, back at the start of June, I signed up as a member of a political party for the first time in my life. It’s the reason why, come next May, I’ll be standing for election to Liverpool City Council as the Green Party candidate for the Greenbank Ward. And I’m not alone – others like me are flocking to join up every month.

And please, don’t let any survey pull the wool over your eyes. There are millions in England who understand exactly what we’re trying to achieve and they’re willing us on all the way. And some of those people will not thank us if we vote no, because in doing so we will have condemned them to another 20 or 30 years of more of the same.

I really feel that the people of these islands could be on the cusp of something great. A popular movement for change the likes of which we’ve not seen since the days of the Chartists. All it needs is for someone to light the spark and we could be on our way. Please don’t let us down.

 

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Comment, Politics

The Question | National Collective

National Collective Optimised Headshot

This is the story of my journey to Yes. I hope that it’ll reach a wide audience and if, by the end of it, you feel that it’s spoken to you then I’d encourage you to share it as widely as possible – not just online, but offline as well with your own families and friends, colleagues and neighbours.

My story starts with a confession – with something that I’ve never told anyone before. To be honest it’s a bit embarrassing, but given the importance of this Septembers vote I think it’s important to put it out there, so here goes.

In 1997 I voted ‘No’ to devolution and to the creation of a Scottish Parliament.

Isn’t that funny? Looking back now it seems almost impossible to believe that anyone could possibly have opposed the creation of something that has made such a difference to Scotland, and that has helped improve the lives of so many Scots.

And yet the truth is that I wasn’t alone in voting ‘No’ in 1997. I was joined by fully a quarter of Scottish voters who, for whatever reasons, voted against Devolution. It would be interesting to know how many of them, like me, look back and regret that decision. I imagine that plenty of them must do since, in the whole of the last 17 years, I’ve never met or heard a single other member of the public who has been willing to admit that they voted ‘No’.

The reason why I’m writing this piece is because a few months ago I tried casting my mind back to 1997 to try and recall why it was that I’d cast that vote. I was 21 at the time, well read, opinionated, pretty engaged in politics. There is no way that I would have made that decision without having a bunch of arguments prepared and rehearsed in order to back up and justify my stance. But when I came to look back over the course of 17 years I realised that I couldn’t for the life of me remember what a single one of those arguments might possibly have been.

Instead the only recollection that I was able to summon up was not an argument, or a thought, or a belief, but a feeling. A feeling that I can recollect every bit as vividly as if I was back there stood in that voting booth in 1997. That feeling was fear.

Fear of change. Fear of the unknown. Perhaps fear of failure.

So what can I put that down to? When I look back to my teenage years I guess that one of the main feelings that comes flooding back to me is an overwhelming feeling of uncertainty. From an early age lots of us are brought up to believe that those few years are likely to determine the whole course of our lives. There is an enormous amount of pressure on young people to make the ‘right’ choices. We’re told that making the ‘wrong’ decisions will most likely ruin the whole of our lives, forever. That we will never live down those decisions. That they can never be reversed.

Personally I was tremendously hung up on such choices. For years I desperately tried to cling on to anything in my life that felt comfortable, familiar and secure. And if that sounds weak-willed or pathetic then you should probably know that I consider myself pretty lucky. There are a whole bunch of guys that I grew up with who never managed to get past that phase of their lives. Who wound up stuck in a rut with no idea of where their lives were supposed to be heading. Guys who wound up dead by the age of 25 having pushed things too far on a weekend of partying, or who wound up dead by the age of 30 after their decade-long heroin habit finally took its toll.

Fortunately at some point in my early 20s I came to realise that that isn’t how life works. There are always new possibilities and new opportunities around every corner. And it doesn’t matter how hard you attempt to cling to what you currently have – the world will continue to change around you whether you like it or not. The moment that I came to accept that I was able to start letting go and before I knew it a whole new world of possibilities starting opening up to me.

While I was casting my mind back to 1997, attempting to come up with an explanation of why I had made the choices that I did back then, I was struck by a sudden realisation. I realised that no matter when Scotland regains its independence there is an experience that all of the people who lived through that time will encounter sooner or later.

It’ll happen sometime between 15 and 30 years after independence has been achieved. We’ll be sitting with our kids or grandkids, or with any of the people who make up that first generation that were born in the years immediately following independence. They’ll be asking us about what it was like to have lived through that moment, and at some point in that conversations we will be asked a question. It might be worded a bit differently from conversation to conversation, but it’s a question that we will all be asked. And that question will be:

“But why did you need to have a debate about that? In fact – why did you even have to bother having a vote to decide it? Wasn’t it just obvious?”

Now for some of us it may seem like an obvious decision. However there are still many people out there for whom independence is still far from an obvious choice. They have plenty of questions right here and now. Those people that I’ve spoken to who have yet to make their final decision usually tell me that they’d like to vote Yes, but that they’re just not sure. One thing that I keep hearing time and again is that people don’t feel that they’re getting ‘the facts’.

What that really means is that people don’t feel as if they have access to information that they can trust. When both sides of the debate have a vested interest in tearing down each other’s claims then it’s unlikely that anyone will ever get the answers that they’re looking for from that direction.

There’s also a deeper and more uncomfortable truth that we need to face here though. When it comes to the future there quite simply are no ‘facts’. I can tell you for a fact that Tony Blair was elected as Prime Minister on the 2nd of May 1997, because that event took place in the past. But no-one can tell you who is going to be elected as Prime Minister on the 7th of May 2015.

History only goes in one direction and that is forwards.

Very often these ‘factual’ questions revolve around the economy, usually expressed by asking whether or not people will be individually better off financially. When it comes to considering the economic question I always find myself asking ‘at what point is history over? When will we be able to sit down and tally up all of the figures so that we can pass a final judgement on whether or not Scotland was financially better off by being independent? Does that happen one year after independence, or five years, or ten? How about a hundred years? Or five hundred?’

Having thought about it I can only come up with one truly honest answer to that question. And that is: ‘it’ll vary. At some points of our future history we’ll be better off independent and at other points there’ll be times where we might have been better off staying in the union.’ Having studied all of the arguments I personally believe that, on balance, an independent Scotland will spend a great deal more of its future being financially better off than it is just now.

Why should you trust me? You shouldn’t. I don’t have a crystal ball, but then nor do Alasdair Darling, Alex Salmond or anyone else that you might care to mention. All I have to go is my own past experience of fearing the worst and being proven quite categorically wrong.

What’s the right answer? There is no right answer. There is only what we choose to do. If things start going wrong then we’ll do whatever it takes to fix them – and that’s true no matter what choice we make on the 18th of September.

If you wake up on that morning and you still haven’t made a final decision then don’t worry about it – simply go in there and do what your heart is telling you to do. Because if you do anything else you’ll only spend the rest of your life regretting it. And one day someone will ask you that question and you’re going to have to try and answer it.

 

Originally published at David Morgan: The Question | National Collective.

 

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Culture

Thought for the Day 3

The French Revolution as It Appeared to Enthusiasts at Its Commencement

By William Wordsworth



Oh! pleasant exercise of hope and joy!
For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood
Upon our side, we who were strong in love!
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!—Oh! times,
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!
When Reason seemed the most to assert her rights,
When most intent on making of herself
A prime Enchantress—to assist the work
Which then was going forward in her name!
Not favoured spots alone, but the whole earth,
The beauty wore of promise, that which sets
(As at some moment might not be unfelt
Among the bowers of paradise itself )
The budding rose above the rose full blown.
What temper at the prospect did not wake
To happiness unthought of? The inert
Were roused, and lively natures rapt away!
They who had fed their childhood upon dreams,
The playfellows of fancy, who had made
All powers of swiftness, subtilty, and strength
Their ministers,—who in lordly wise had stirred
Among the grandest objects of the sense,
And dealt with whatsoever they found there
As if they had within some lurking right
To wield it;—they, too, who, of gentle mood,
Had watched all gentle motions, and to these
Had fitted their own thoughts, schemers more wild,
And in the region of their peaceful selves;—
Now was it that both found, the meek and lofty
Did both find, helpers to their heart’s desire,
And stuff at hand, plastic as they could wish;
Were called upon to exercise their skill,
Not in Utopia, subterranean fields,
Or some secreted island, Heaven knows where!
But in the very world, which is the world
Of all of us,—the place where in the end
We find our happiness, or not at all!



 

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