Up In Lights

The Yes movement at war…or is it handbags? The billboards campaign again exposes that we don’t all think alike. There’s a surprise. The fundraiser to mount hoardings across the country accusing the BBC of ‘misreporting Scotland’ has run into headwinds from those who don’t like the message.

And I’m one of them.

The clear message conveyed is that all this is deliberate. And organised. It is part of a plan to tilt opinion against the SNP and independence. BBC journalists are willing participants or perhaps convenient stooges implementing a master plan. In short it is a conspiracy. In this he is backed by other members of the infromscotland group.

The trouble with this analysis is simple. It’s not true. It’s not true and it’s not possible. Anyone with common sense or any experience inside an organisation understands there is a collective ethos or corporate mindset and subconsciously follows it – which does happen at the BBC whose origins, management configuration and internal protocols tend towards reflecting a status quo. In this case that means Britain. This idea of conveying the coherence of the UK is now written into the new charter settlement. It means that when there is a threat to the status quo, as there was in the 90’s over a Scottish Six, the Director General went to the Prime Minister to move jointly against it in case it threatened the Union. Which makes you think about the indyref…

But that’s not the same thing as journalists conspiring to twist announcements to read like criticisms of the SNP. That needs a structure in which word comes down through layers of staff to the journalists. It means telling a journalist what to say or what to write even against his better judgment. It means over 200 staff keeping quiet and never spilling the beans. It suggests all staff are party to an undeclared plan and word doesn’t leak out. Nobody complains. Everybody is malleable or has no political views of their own. (I take some responsibility here having revealed the doubtful dealings of the head of news with the Labour Party but the point was to ensure that contact stopped. In other words a BBC journalist objecting to any possible interference.)

The anti BBC outlook is insulting to the people working there and I’m always uncomfortable about the demonisation of individuals. Jackie Bird for example is one of the most professional presenters of an early evening news programme the BBC has ever had. For 20 years and more she has anchored the show and read the cues and occasional questions written for her. She does not determine content let alone political direction. She doesn’t arch her eyebrow or spit out Sturgeon’s name as some suggest in order to imply criticism. But just writing those words will send some into apoplexy.

On-air people love the recognition (oh yes they do) and are normally handsomely remunerated so they can take the flak. But it’s an unattractive trait to blame presenters and reporters as individuals for failings that can be institutional and – in my experience – caused by poor management, resourcing and staff cuts. I know that will never cover every questionable slice of output and when I listen I still hear stuff that makes my hair stand on end. Mostly it’s poor journalism from people who should know better and as soon as I hear it, I know what the BBC critics will make of it. The corporation is its own worst enemy and its unending silent response to criticism doesn’t work in the modern social media forum.

So scrutiny of the BBC as the main information source and the one we are obliged to pay for, is legitimate and appropriate. But do we need a hoardings campaign to reinforce it?

I share the view that the next stage of the indy campaign will have to learn lessens from the past. It will need refinement and radical change. Some things we cherish may have to be re-thought. For example? Well, if you speak to No folk now in doubt and toying with transferring over, you’ll find they are uncomfortable with the flag-waving and kilty apparel of demos. But surely that’s who we are! That’s true and we shouldn’t pretend to be what we are not. Yet it remains true that doubters are put off by blatant nationalist signalling because they want to feel they make a rational choice not a crude, saltire-faced one. They don’t want to be associated with anything that’s easily mocked. So do we tell them to get lost or do we reconsider? (I know there are bigger considerations like the oil price but never underestimate the importance of detail).

I think the anti-BBC case has been exhausted. My heart fell when I say the campaign because it sounds like beating a drum to death. People have got the message and those who are suspicious of the BBC will carry on being so. But for many, it remains trusted and respected and when they see the giant hoardings questioning their judgment it tells them this is the work of obsessives. That’s how it’s seen and it won’t convince anyone to switch their vote.

Also, if we are to win, a day will come when the BBC will report how opinions are moving and how impressive Sturgeon is in Brussels and Berlin. Programmes will be made showing us how Scotland might become the 28th member instead of the UK. What do we say then about the journalists telling us a story that suits our narrative? Are they still distorting the truth or are they now to be trusted? The seeds of suspicion are firmly rooted.

Still, I think we should all do what we think is the best thing and I probably wouldn’t have mentioned the billboards except I was somehow linked to it. So to be clear, I don’t support the idea and have asked not to be mentioned as a site author or source as that is clearly taken as endorsement. (Links I don’t mind since all my material is out there and open to all). But nor do I disrespect people for doing it.  Actually, I might put that on a billboard

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‘Tea and Two Sugars Dave’

I caught part of the STV programme last night assessing the success of the SNP and the two years since the referendum. It had relaxed and self-effacing contributions from Alex Salmond – who seemed to be seated in front of his rooftop pool in Aberdeen – Elaine C Smith and Tom Harris. On a box on the wall looking like a demented owl, was David Mundell in Westminster.

The others gave perspective to recent history and analysed more or less fairly. Most of Mundell’s effort was straight from media training – forget the question and keep giving out the message in each answer. With growing low-level hysteria he ranted about the dangers of a second referendum – ‘divisive and dangerous’ etc. Watching him it set my gas at a peep to think this one man embodies the British state in our country. Westminster still retains all of the power encompassed by Crown in Parliament. He outranks everybody else except the Queen (no, I don’t mean Elaine C).

He is a man whom nobody would promote in a normal legislature except as a bag carrier. His sole status guarantees him a job. That job always required balance, integrity and a measure of genuine statecraft to do properly – one reason George Younger and Malcom Rifkind did it so well while Helen Liddell and John Reid didn’t. Balancing the interests of London and Scotland requires clout in Cabinet. That means ministers listen and never automatically discount what is said. It means they recognise that real concessions, not just gestures, are required. It also means that, out of respect for the incumbent, ministers will do their best to accommodate his demands. It doesn’t mean you always win, far from it. Younger fought against the closure of Ravenscraig, made sure the Press knew about it, and threatened to resign. It was reported that he had a secret deal with Thatcher to contest industrial closures. Now I know this looks devious – and he did misjudge the poll tax – but it shows he had clout with Thatcher, was trusted and went on to stay in Cabinet as Defence Secretary. Gentleman George gave the impression of fighting Scotland’s corner which is at least one of the tools of politics.

What of Mundell? What corner does he contest? Who gives the merest hint of respect for him? He is told he will only attend Cabinet Brexit meetings when required. (Thank you, Dave. Tea and two sugars.) That alone should be the cause of a resignation threat appearing in the media. Isn’t that what even Tories would want?

He is a token presence speaking to the desperate lack of talent in parties in decline. Twenty years ago the SNP was blessed with an upper layer of good performers and a base element of street-pounders. But a middle management echelon of busy creatives with ambition was absent – they were all joining Labour. Now, when you look at who is standing against the SNP, you can see why they do so poorly. It isn’t just the party brands that are in retreat. A shrinking party gets smaller talent.

So here we have a man scraping through on an 800 majority, bought by diverting party funds away from other seats. He spent three times his SNP rival and more than all the other candidates put together. He spent 90 per cent of the legal maximum and was bankrolled by party HQ in their desperation to keep a single seat in Scotland.

Since 1997 the Tories have had either no MP at all or a solitary representative in Scotland and yet the democratic deficit delivers them all the control over the Scots that the British state bestows.

That the government’s man cuts such an unimpressive figure is a constant reminder of how slender the British mandate is. Asked by Smith if the Tories hadn’t fought against a parliament in the first place, he replied that it was a sign of their willingness to accept the election result that they played their part now. But that hides the central point – that the Tories made a monumental mistake in opposing devolution, a mistake endorsed by history. If they can misread the country so badly once, what stops them doing so again? The reality is that if the Tories had their way, there would be no Holyrood at all. In fact, there would be no Tory Party as such either since the PR system gave them oxygen and resources to save their skin.

And so we were treated to another mealy-mouthed performance insisting there should be no referendum. What I wanted to ask was: If we forget about that option and if Scotland as whole really doesn’t fancy the May Brexit deal, what does he propose we do? It is entirely possible that business, public sector, third sector, civil and collective Scotland combine with four out of five political parties in opposing the British Brexit deal. What does the man with all the power in Scotland suggest we do?

The Scottish input is clearly going to be marginal and the acceptance of our ideas limited. Brexit will not reflect our views – does not reflect our views. It is already a measure the nation has decisively voted against.

I repeat. How does the British government’s man advise us to proceed?

The answer is as it has always been. We must do as we are told. There is no escape route for, of course the Scots voted to stay in the UK and that must be respected (even if the Remain in the EU vote isn’t). The limit of Mundell’s vision is a suicide pact with England. At any cost, we remain united – until death us do part. That’s his recommendation. Take what you’re given and shut up. That’s what he’s here for – to convey the Brit message. The bag carrier delivers.

Remember David will be fine. There’s always a gilded life for retired politicians via the burgeoning Lords, directorships and grace-and-favour. No income cuts for him. No job loss. No problems with higher interest rates. That’ll be for the rest of us to bear.

How this represents protecting Scotland’s interest, I’m at a loss to say. In truth, no sane Scot claims it is in our national interest. Mundell is doing as he’s told. He has no separate vision for Scotland, no sense of responsibility beyond saving his job. This is not a good look for British interests in Scotland which doesn’t even have a normal shadow secretary of state either. It’s as if reality was mimicking the satire we have made of our UK government. Where once we had comparative giants in the shape of Younger and Dewar speaking for Scotland as leadership figures, now we have a makeweight jobsworth and a Northern MP nobody’s heard of. This is all heading in one direction…

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I Agree with Bateman

Consensus is breaking out all over. According to some, we all agree we need a federal solution for Scotland. According to others, a second indyref is inevitable. And according to me, there are straws in the wind that outright resistance to independence is slowly melting. OK, it may not be a consensus yet, but at least I agree with me. And I’ve got as strong grounds as any of the others for my claim.

I’m going to make a nuanced distinction here. I know – not my strong point. It’s that the opinion polls are finding maybe a one in 10 switch to Yes because of Brexit, not a lot, although mathematically it might be enough to swing the result. Now it looks as if this is a canny calculation by doubters who want to see the colour of the Brexit money first. Classically: What’s in it for me?

But I think this may be hiding a deeper question which is eating into the psyche of resistant Scots who have been happy to regard their dual nationality as a comfortable fit – Scottish and British (although in reality, if a No voter, then Britain first).

For them it is becoming increasingly difficult to dismiss criticism of the British government as rabble-rousing, grievance-stirring or point-scoring. The language and decision-making which would previously have been excused on the grounds that everyone makes an occasional mistake, is no longer acceptable to them. In other words, the sensible, compliant, middle-of-the-road Scots who have been the backbone of No, are eyeing London suspiciously. They are asking: What the hell are they doing now?

Because sensible, compliant, middle-of-the-road Scots know which side their bread is buttered. Their professional lives have been spent inside the EU. Their jobs regularly abut EU conventions and protocols. They and their colleagues travel to Europe or they meet European colleagues here. If they’re in the Edinburgh financial sector which voted convincingly No, they see unfolding a corporate nightmare threatening not just some vague slice of GDP, but their own job and prospects. Arriving in London, they feel a new sensation of estrangement. Every other face and voice is non-indigenous. What are they all thinking and what will happen to them? They wonder: Which idiot is responsible for this?

The university staff who bought the line that an indy Scotland wouldn’t get research funding now know of people and projects losing exactly that. There is a growing sense that coming out of Europe is a more cataclysmic leap than independence. They hadn’t realised just how tied we were to Europe and how comfortable they had become with that extra layer of identity that made them Europeans.

They listen with increasing horror to the bluster and bravado of Brexit ministers exposed as both hypocrites in the case of Johnson and flat-earth adventurers in that of Fox. All three of the Leave Musketeers are wreathed in smiles to disguise their confusion – a trio of political narcissists as the national interest is jeopardised.

Sensible people do not see sure-footedness, let alone competence. There is nothing reassuring about the months of delay in working out a negotiating position as the better-informed Press reveals the back-biting and deep disagreements at the heart of May’s government.

And there is something else. They are acutely aware of how their own country – the UK – is now viewed across the continent. The focus on immigrants as the defining issue is understood at one level because people know uncontrolled immigration cannot be sustained but what are they supposed to feel about Francois in Personnel and Stanislaw in Accounts? The government they have supported has refused to guarantee them the lives they have made here – the homes, the social scene, the partners and – my God – the children. How can they doubt that the vicious rhetoric unleashed during the campaign gave a green light to the thugs and bigots? There is the repellent rage on Question Time which boos a Polish woman resident for 23 years. There is the football hooligan tone of working class Brits demanding: Let’s just get out now, to cheers. Weren’t they the people of Hartlepool, as damned an outpost of dysfunctional Britain as any, who will be the same community to suffer most when GDP falls and budget cuts have to be made? Is the government making a special case for low earners in Hartlepool to remain in the single market or is that for the bankers?

Many voters have taken for granted that Britain was what the Whitehall elite claimed, a power broker embedded at the heart of western culture. So why was the Prime Minister quietly sidelined in Brussels, leading UK diplomats to complain of her treatment when given five minutes at 1 am to speak and then listened to in silence?

The sense is that Britain really has done it this time. We’ve gone too far. That airy contempt for Brussels and the casual superiority that is the stamp of leadership Brits has led us over the cliff edge. The No voter scoffed at the door-stop indyref white paper but where is even the A4 of the Leavers to show us their plan? For probably the first time in their lives, those who viewed the British government and parliament as automatically superior in content and competence have it revealed to them as nothing of the kind. And it may well be themselves who pay the price.

You don’t have to switch to Yes to smell the stench of xenophobia emanating from sections of society in the south…from lists of foreign workers (gastarbeiters) to replacing doctors with ‘our own’ – and from checking incomers’ teeth (after demanding to see their papers) to obstructing the entry of a mere 70 orphans from a squalid campsite. New arrivals are humiliated by a baying crowd of tabloid hacks waiting to photograph their faces and guess at their age. Sensible Scotland may not appreciate all immigration and may think Sturgeon is virtue signalling on inclusion, but it sure doesn’t like to be branded racist. Thank goodness, it says, that some politicians in Europe understand that we are different.

Making foreigners pay for health care, preventing students working and rejecting employee rights and citizen benefits to make way for a Fortress Britain is taking the British Tories from the outer edges of UKIP to the fringe of National Front when it is combined with naked xenophobia and the coincidental anti-gay filibuster to stop the pardons of historical homosexual ‘crimes’.

This is not the Conservatism I grew up observing. Tories were respectable, for sure, but they were considerate of the less fortunate, they upheld British traditions without denigrating others (that’s why Powell was sacked) and, as the name implies, they were cautious of change that threatened the things they held dear. They also believed in thrift when Scots had the best savings ratio in the UK. None of that applies to today’s febrile neo cons whose hallmark is demonisation of the poor and the foreign, the accumulation of mountainous debt, both sovereign and personal, with an irresponsible lack of concern for the national interest.

It is, I agree, a leap from all this to independence and one does not lead easily to the other although I find it informative that the Tories in Scotland now have a single theme – apart from promoting Ruth’s light entertainment career. It is to stop another referendum. You can smell the fear. But surely my sensible Scot will also be asking what then is the Tory response to Brexit? Does anyone in Scotland think Ruth has any influence over the process? Or does Mundell (we’ll call you when we need you, David)? Are we to cling to London when the parachute fails to open and hope for the best?

They write off Labour as useless and find nowhere to turn. So they conclude a decision can wait. And those canny Scots may be right. The (for me) irrational terror of independence is a powerful motivator leading to a frantic search for an alternative. It won’t be federalism because a) it makes too much sense and this government is light on the stuff, and b) they could have offered this at any time in the last 20 years and settled the constitutional question for a generation. The only time federalism will be offered to the Scots is after they have voted for independence.

No, I think the best hope lies in Europe’s reaction to Brexit. So far it looks as though the UK’s rejection has strengthened the institutions by reminding them of what they are for and bringing them together in a united front against our departure. The talks will throw up hard choices and among the strong advocates for continued formal association will be the City, big business, academia, Scotland and Northern Ireland, not forgetting the Republic. These lobbies will be closer to the EU negotiating stance than the UK’s allowing the Brussels team to play them off. It will become clear just how narrow a view the official UK position is and May’s team will be inclined in any case to back single market involvement of some of these sectors.

A loud and vociferous campaign in Scotland running alongside the talks will focus minds in European capitals on how they got into this mess in the first place – by ignoring the people. A side effect will be a return to what used to be a guiding principle – subsidiarity – and nothing could symbolise that better than separate recognition of Scotland (and Ulster). The argument against that kind of domestic ‘interference’ is that the EU has to respect the national government but I fear there will be little enough of that for a country causing so much division and upset mainly for internal party political purposes.

And I’m glad Sturgeon has taken time to mention the critical reason for our EU membership, at least for me. It is solidarity with Europe. We aren’t in just because it’s a market, that’s a Tory re-writing of history. We’re in because we share a continent and a worldview. We’re in because we care about each other. Setting standards benefits us all, let’s us share more equally. We redistribute wealth to the poorer. It floats all boats. It blurs the lines of independence but retains individual national traditions. It lets different people share the advantages. It builds in peace to a continent once scarred by conflict. The EU is one of mankind’s great achievements.

I expect this to become clearer to the British as the talks proceed because our political class has failed to make the case and always resented the shift in power (MEPs have no right of access to Westminster) while the media has failed in its duty to inform, instead making a pantomime villain out of a Brussels that never existed.

If enough is offered to Remainers like Scotland it will be both tricky and undemocratic of May’s side to resist – single market access for goods coming out of Scotland (the re-opening of ferry ports) and access for financial services in Edinburgh. There would be surrenders like farming and fishing but staying in would allow Scotland to operate more closely like a de facto EU country. Would it mean a hard border? In theory it would, but if there isn’t one with the Republic, it shows what can be done. It becomes possible to imagine a fully engaged statelet with direct channels to Brussels in which Scotland does its own thing in conjunction with the EU on all areas of competence. Over time, the idea of a separate entity seems natural, however complex the threads linking back to London. After all there are likely to be different arrangements, as there are now, for Gibraltar and Crown dependencies like Isle of Man and Jersey. And, who knows, it may accelerate the acceptance of Scotland as a well-run, viable country worthy of support. It is competence in government rather than nationalism which has driven the SNP to heights of popularity and proving we can do it for ourselves in the EU could be the way finally to convince the doubters (perhaps in contrast to the UK).

I think the sensible Scots are waiting to see and this time they are open to a fundamental shift simply because the UK has generated its own black hole of uncertainty. One way or another, the country is about to undergo existential change. Let’s get on the right side of the argument.

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Behind Enemy Lines

I do wish you Scottish Nationalists would learn to accept the result of a referendum. You’ve lost twice now. So what’s your problem? Still bleating about a re-run of September 2014 and now you can’t live with the Brexit result. It’s called D.E.M.O.C.R.I.S.Y.

The people of our united island voted to kick out the foreigners and the scroungers and send them back where they came from. Next time they’ll be met by the strong arm of the British bobby demanding to see their papers. No blue passport? Sorry, matey. It’s back to the garlic fields for you.

Honestly, you’d think Britain was a charity for the rest of the world. We’re supposed to offer the hospitality of our sound economy to every queue-jumping chancer escaping their own failed countries – Germany, Sweden and Bulgaria. It’s bad enough having to bail out the Scots.

There’s a limit to our patience. We’ve been tolerant for too long and where’s it got us? Our communities flooded with strange faces and voices, a changed culture – multi-culture something or other – and our national wealth feather-bedding them all.

It’s possible that re-negotiating with trading partners will come at a cost, maybe £66 billion or so. But isn’t it worth lost jobs and lower incomes to win our freedom and take our country back? And when I say OUR country, I mean the United Kingdom because the defeated Celts, the Picts and the Shovels, are ours whether they like it or not. We won. And we’ll go on winning. We built a mercantile nation, conquered half the globe and it’s time we reminded the world of it.

Gosh. That feels better.

Just trying to imagine what Tories are telling themselves as the doubts over Brexit mass on the border of reason and new alliances of cross-party interests are heard challenging what is beginning to look like at least the silhouette of a coup. The referendum went for Leave but did it mean demonising Europeans already living here and working in essential jobs? Did Leave mean stopping all formal agreements with the 27 including the single market? Did the Leavers endorse the loss of nine per cent of the economy? Did they vote to hand over to a Prime Minister with no personal mandate the absolute power to shape our relations with our continental partners without parliamentary scrutiny?

Did Scots, including those who support independence outwith the EU, believe their country would have no say in the deals done on their behalf?

Now I have to admit that not much of this comes as a surprise because, as a Scottish Nationalist, I’ve never thought a Westminster government would go out of its way to accommodate the Scots. Whatever warm words you hear – and you could fill your bath with them during the indyref – there is at base an institutional belief that we are appended to England borne under sufferance. In every dark corner the message emerges…from the memoir of Liberal MP David Laws on Cameron speaking about Scotland after indyref (‘I just don’t care. We’ve only got one Conservative MP north of the Border. Let Labour sort it out. It’s now their problem.’) From the frothing mouth below-the-line comments in the Press to, yes, the instinctive slur of John Cleese. We mattered when Blair realized that failure, again, to deliver devolution would bury his party in Scotland and we mattered when the threat of us leaving became real two years ago. Contrast Cameron’s ‘We want you to stay’ then with his words afterwards. The pattern couldn’t be clearer. You’re welcome so long as you behave.

I’m not sure when in our shared history things went wrong. Although antagonised at first by the loss of sovereignty, Scots made the most of the first century of Union and we still revel today in the enlightenment that emerged. We took to empire with military relish and exploited the international trading opportunities in tobacco and slaves. As Murray Pittock points out, for many years it was the educated, competent Scots who adopted a patronising air of superiority over the English. The collective endeavour and sacrifice of two wars united us more powerfully than ever. But it seems to me that something lay dormant throughout the Union years, a sense rather than an argument, struggling to find form. I credit Margaret Thatcher with igniting a common sense of resistance among all non-Tory Scots which inflated Labour’s vote and led in time to devolution. And it was the collective cross-party effort required to produce the new parliament that showed the people what could be – progressive leadership shaping home-grown policies with an indigenous voice. Was it identity or just pride that made us feel good about ourselves? Devolution opened the door of possibility. But I still don’t think more than a clear minority – 30 per cent? – thought in terms of independence 15 years ago. I see how a steady release of powers and responsibilities to Holyrood could have contained the movement and stilled the resistance. I don’t mean the silly hoo-ha of Calman and Smith with their grudging, heavily qualified concessions (‘we’ll throw in control of road sings’) but an agreed, staged hand over through the years until Scots felt they had as much as they could handle and accepted that to function effectively the British state needed to command the levers of macro economics, most foreign affairs and defence. The most corrosive force in the Union isn’t nationalism or antagonism but intransigence. It is the continual sense of denial, the refusal to surrender wilfully; that everything is in London’s control and will only be conceded if you prove you’re a good boy first. I still fume at the three stooges denying us the pound. We are not equals. Not in their mind. We are barely worthy and can be bought off with baubles and smiles.

Not the UK you recognise? Well, I may be going a bit far but from my side I look today at the headwinds confronting the economy two years before Brexit and wonder at the airy dismissal of concern. There is nothing to worry about as our European partners plan our punishment, the currency bombs, the Treasury warns of tens of billions in lost earnings leading to tax rises and spending cuts with price rises hitting the poorest. But what did the same people say to Scots when independence loomed? Dire consequences were predicted in rising supermarket prices, the value of shares falling, the pound dipped (crisis!), our European place would be lost and the markets closed to us. Now the very thing – uncertainty and rising costs – we were warned against by taking control of our own affairs is blighting the whole UK. Where is Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown? Oh yes, working in international finance.

Scots were bought off with threats that they now have to confront regardless. No wonder many in England think we are gormless. We never learn the lesson.

Britain isn’t equipped for Brexit. We don’t have a sound economy broadly based earning its way. If London becomes less attractive for overseas investment – a real possibility – the inflow of money that keeps the UK afloat will start to run out.

Even the most basic part of the Brexit vote, immigration, is in trouble because the Tories have so decimated the Border Force that it can barely process people movement today. When everybody from the EU has to undergo checks at ports and airports, it will reach breaking point. Four thousand high-risk flights already come in without any checks.

None of them seemed to think in advance about Ireland and the risk to the peace settlement posed by removal of EU law.

To be told now that another bid for independence would just cause more disruption is about as insulting a remark as any that Mundell has conjured. He really is London’s agent, preparing for his humiliation in the history books. (The man who said Scotland no longer existed)

I don’t know how strong the bonds still are that tie Unionists to the UK but I’m suspicious that they are suffering an internal struggle. The signs to look for are references to extremism which they use as a kind of rhetorical shield to hold logic at bay. Thus, when Sturgeon said there was a higher point to independence than the economy, there were immediate references from Unionist opinion to blood and soil. This is deeply offensive and plays no part in modern Scottish nationalism whose template contradicts that of most European nationalisms in being based on civil society irrespective of ethnicity.

The other one I’ve noticed is the claim of Anglophobia. This seems to be logical at one level because of history but never stands up in reality. I know of no one who can be so described and can recall no discussion with any nationalist I know who has said anything racist about English people. Seriously. Never. It isn’t even something which anyone is ‘careful’ about. I don’t feel it and never have. But it is true that England is different in key ways from Scotland as a look at the Guardian today will confirm.


People writing about blood and soil and Anglophobia know it not to be true, much as they’d like it to be. But they project it as a way of saying words to the effect of… ‘no matter how much I loathe what’s happening in England right now and I want to distance myself from it, I can still push away independence by pretending it’s too loathesome for me to contemplate. They’re bigots, you know. So I can maintain my distance and deny the logic of what they’re saying.’

The pretence of extremism is the disguise they wear to deflect from the Brexit mess the Union has made.

It’s not easy, or pleasant, getting into the mind of your opponent. But sometimes it’s worth a try. Just remember, however it goes in the end, we’re all still Scots together.

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Degrees of Estrangement

I thought I knew what we were dealing with. The British state in my lifetime has retained a privileged place for the few, lived off a centuries old legend of global reach and kept transformative powers locked in the Whitehall safe. But it could ratchet up the paternalism when things got too bad, it would worry about its fair-play reputation in the world and remained essentially permissive to social change.

What I didn’t expect and could never have imagined was the outpouring of brute xenophobia unleashed by a vote to leave the EU. Whatever private misgivings some politicians had about the numbers of foreign re-locators and workers arriving from Europe, the rhetoric for public consumption has been placatory, welcoming and inclusive. Anyone in the mainstream and especially those with ambition for high office knew the rules. All European arrivals were here by right, were our equals in every way, contributed to the economy and added flavour to white Britain. They were the symbol of a new, internationalist Britain and were happy to seek a new life in our society. Their presence made the reciprocal arrangement possible – of thrusting young UK citizens heading for jobs in Milan and Amsterdam and retirees opting for a life in the sun in Spain and France.

The baser motivation was that freedom of people underpinned Britain’s (and specifically Tory Britain’s) project of the Single Market. Goods, services and people interchanging seamlessly in the world’s biggest trading space.

Of course there were extremes which fostered racism. There was also the crime of omission. The Blair government ignored rising numbers and in his first four years in office net immigration quadrupled. At times Labour had no idea who was coming nor who was going. It was an error which led ultimately to Brexit as first the British National Party tuned in to dissent winning over half a million votes in 2010 and getting two MEPs elected. Migration Watch began appearing in the media and was treated as an impartial source of research and analysis instead of a right-wing anti immigration lobby group whose director is quoted today saying that naming and shaming companies with foreign workers brings ‘daylight’ to the issue and firms doing their best to hire UK workers, ominously, ‘ have nothing to fear’. This was all leapt upon by the vicious tabloids and turned into a long campaign to vilify incomers. With no pre-planned government message to the public to explain why foreigners were coming and how they contributed, the supporters of immigration were left defenceless. UKIP was the political wing of the xenophobes.

And they have won.

Imagine – David Coburn is right. He is on the winning side. He and Farage have beaten the left and the mainstream and they are turning Britain into an overtly anti-foreigner society with plans to restrict overseas staff from working in our hospitals, forcing landlords to check tenants’ papers, examining taxi drivers’ passports, singling out employers who don’t keep up their quotas of British staff and blocking students from studying here. Only it isn’t just Farage who is now saying this, it’s the mainstream Conservatives who are wallowing in bashing our European friends, using them as negotiating hostages over Brexit and employing language that plays into the hands of the ignorant.

Tory financiers are eyeing profits in an unregulated market. Without EU standards and protocols, the bankers and the Tories can change the rules on your pension, ending the need to balance deficits and reducing defined benefits. As one, Lord Flight, said: ‘My vision is for London to be what I call a super Singapore.’ (He also thinks if we cut benefits it will discourage claimants from breeding).

I say it’s the Tories who are doing it but what has been Labour’s response? The Labour Press Office put out a statement objecting that the Tories had failed to cut net migration. Words fail me. Where has Labour been over this British tragedy? Corbyn has been, like Blair, asleep at the wheel and Kezia…? She has been forced to denounce Labour’s press release but she has led nothing, challenged nothing and acquiesced as the Britain she swears to maintain undermines and threatens immigrants and promises to take Scotland out of Europe with them. Rachel Reeves, one of the most fearsomely right wing voices in politics, yet a Labour MP, has been warning of violence if immigration isn’t checked. She talked of an explosion over the issue, in a reference reminiscent of Enoch Powell.

It is difficult not to grow fearful of where this is all leading. The too-easy metaphor is 1930’s Germany and it is clearly absurd to seek comparisons between modern MPs and the Sturmabteilung. But…the world’s calamities all start somewhere and we already have a recorded rise in race crime as thugs read a green light in Brexit. Where did this intolerance in the British come from? What has happened? It’s only two years ago they were telling us we were the divisive ones, our driving force was hatred of England, we wanted to put up borders, we would be thrown out of Europe, be isolated. We were parochial and inward-looking. May was still doing it in her speech while she engineers a racist crackdown on European migrants and glories in small-minded English chauvinism.

Look, I’m a democrat. I know what the referendum decision was. And while I’m not part of an elite (another classic May irony there) I think we are making an egregious error both in coming out of the EU and in the approach taken. I’m not alone. I hear Tory MPs, Labour backbenchers, business people, all kinds of sane voices who are both disgusted at what this woman is doing without any parliamentary mandate – nor any plan to get one – and how Britain is now looking to the rest of the world.

We may be Scots and may be or not be nationalists but in the eyes of the world we are part of this revolting charade. This is beyond independence for Scotland, although that looms ever larger. This is something that must be repelled and reversed before we become not the buccaneering power of Brexiteers’ dreams but a shrunken, unwelcoming, xenophobic shadow of ourselves. I am reduced to wishing for an exit deal so bad and a ride so rough from the international markets and WTO that a re-run referendum is called. Once the detail emerges of the Brexit deal, it’s possible a general election could rid us of the anti-European zealots but Labour will need to up its game immeasurably for that to happen.

I am open to the accusation of anti-democrat but this is too important. We were told lies in the campaign. There was no detailed exposition of the case. The media was a disgrace and the entire process of democracy was abused. The views of the Leavers have changed since the vote. They are concentrating all on curbing immigration to the exclusion of single market access. A poll this week showed most people want to stay in the market even if that means compromising on immigration.

This is madness. I am ashamed. The treatment of democratic impulses in Scotland is bad enough but the racism and relish for severing our links of solidarity with Europe take this country into a different realm of intolerance. This is the age of the little Englander.

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