I’m getting nothing done

I’ll have to go shopping soon. There’s nothing in the house.

I realise the way this works is that you read the last bit first, as it were. So if you’re interested enough you probably have to go back to I Didn’t Mean To Do This to get the main thrust. Otherwise I’ll try to make this self-standing if you haven’t the time.

 

I’m picking up on Douglas Alexander who is the last thing approaching a political thinker in Scottish Labour. I’ll gloss over the Damien McBride claims he was ready to jettison his sister in the wider cause – which may have included his own advancement. Frankly, I’d have done the same. In fact I have done, many a time when she threatened to get what I wanted. Come on. That’s what sisters are for.

 

Douglas Alexander is promoting the idea of a national all-party convention if there’s a No vote, and he’s right. It is exactly the right thing to do. When there is a national disagreement about how to proceed, the needs of all, but especially the majority, have to be respectfully treated. All parties, all opinions and representative groups should take part, just as they did in Iceland to find a new constitution.

I never dismiss any idea from any source out of hand. The foundation of my political belief is that I am a democrat. I am one among many. All views are relevant. I am not always right. And Douglas is never less than worth listening to.

At the same time Douglas is Labour’s election strategist, a man given to longer-term thinking and clever calculation.  He has mastered the arts of statecraft and can take credit for wrong-footing opponents. He is one of that breed of political exponents you can’t take your eye off and every time I hear him, I listen between the lines, if you see what I mean. We all learn not to take at face value the words of salesmen and manipulators even – especially – when they are offering something attractive. To put it another way, Douglas has earned our scepticism.

So, apart from a good inclusive idea what does Douglas’s convention tell us? First, if he is truly interested in the views of all, why didn’t he argue that the views of the known majority be placed on the referendum ballot paper? If we are genuinely trying to find a consensus way forward why deliberately deny the single largest group of voters – call them Devo Max – their choice in this great event of democratic history-making? It seems the views of the many only count when Douglas’s tribal enemy is first eliminated, then we can get down to democracy. I find that unconvincing.

My second thought is that Labour will struggle to produce anything credible on more powers before next September. This is partly because Johann has no devolutionary impulse of her own. She is not driven by it the way Dewar eventually was. It is not her cause. She is suspicious of what she calls the politics of boundaries. Her commission is motivated more by necessity than desire and will reflect that. I predict more powers to local government than to parliament. I’m also doubtful that Miliband will sanction whatever she produces in the face of a deeply sceptical English electorate furious at Scottish spending. (It’s a pity then the Scottish Unionists haven’t bothered to correct misleading impressions).

In that case, to get Labour off the hook, Douglas’s Convention is the perfect diversion. We don’t need too much detail on new powers or too much commitment to implement because we will all get into a big tent after a No vote and sort it out there.

That has the added advantage of suggesting the detail will have to wait for civic Scotland and others to thrash out because it’s only fair and democratic to do it that way. And if the Nationalists say No they won’t be interested in the people’s option because they were beaten.

Then there is the post referendum reaction. Enough Scots may well not be convinced of the case for independence yet but it would be a gross error to believe they will stop voting SNP. On the contrary, the polls indicate the opposite, that Scots will express their appreciation of Salmond’s gallant fight for what he believes in and, assuming he hams his way through a humble concession speech, I think there will be a sympathy vote thrown in. There will be no return to power for Labour.

In that same loser’s address I expect Salmond to thank the Scots for their thoughtful and trouble-free constitutional debate unmarred by violence or any of the nasty conflict Johann Lamont ascribes to their nationalism and then to point in her direction and demand: “It’s over to you now, Johann. You said Vote No. You promised something better. You’ve had plenty time to come up with it. In fact you said you were fed up waiting for the referendum vote. Well, we’re waiting now. The Scots are waiting. And they won’t wait much longer.”

All the pressure will transfer overnight to Labour. Instead of Unionist demands on Yes for detail after detail, it will be nationalists demanding detail and action from a Labour party unable to deliver and very possibly unable to win at Westminster. The tables will be turned and I suspect there will little support from the media who will also begin a relentless pursuit of Ms Lamont, producing a pressure she shows little sign of being able to handle.

How to reduce such scrutiny? By pointing to Douglas’s big tent, of course. You take the heat off by simply saying that this needs us all to decide together. It’s not just up to Labour. It is Scotland’s issue to solve. In that scenario Johann is just one of the contributors who will all be in it together. She doesn’t need to lead, doesn’t need to innovate or inspire. She only has to sit nice and let others do the work.

Is Douglas Alexander capable of devising such a plan? Sorry, that is rhetorical.

I’m away for the messages now. Next, I’ll layout what Johann should really have done to win the referendum for Labour all on its own without the Tories and hand oor Alex a bloody nose…

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please…somebody stop me….

If you are looking for the kind of insidious, nasty nationalism Johann ascribes to the Scots, try Simon Heffer in the Daily Mail. I hesitate to put up a link as there is something repellent about it but he contrives to make a case for all the myths about Scotland that have shored up the London elite’s scorn since the Thatcher years.

You know, subsidised by English taxpayers – happily for them, not the Welsh nor the Irish – being ungrateful feckless junkies living in a dump with workshy unhealthy shirkers who are so stupid they want to leave the mothership until their oil runs out and then they’ll be back with the begging bowl. Nice, eh? To say this is wrong on so many levels, even hardened Unionists would agree. The subsidy part is disproved systematically by the official figures. The irony here is that the subsidy junkie myth originated in the late 80’s when Scotland’s oil was flowing at its fullest, gushing cash into the London coffers and paying Mrs Thatcher’s unemployment bill. Self- awareness isn’t a strength of the British elite.

The piece is not so much journalism as an incitement to hate. I try to test this sometimes by substituting, so that Scot is removed and replaced with Black, Jew or Woman. It can be revealing as to the author’s real intent. I’m not sure that legally you can be racist towards Scots if you are English and vice versa although it is an aggravating factor in a case of criminal violence. At any rate, this article smelled like anti Scottish racism to me, designed to be gratuitously and viciously offensive.

Similarly, Andrew Gilligan, for whom many of us in the BBC were ready to go to the barricades years ago, works very hard in the Telegraph – headline: Hatred at the heart of Scotland’s struggle to be free – to link the Yes Campaign to European neo-fascists and anglophobia, picking up on the somewhat discredited Vicky Featherstone claims that her professional problems were down to discrimination and then applying the same tag to Alasdair Gray’s call for arts administrators to understand the Scottish tradition before taking influential appointments. (Jonathan Mills, anyone?)

Even the Observer had Catherine Bennett saying she was in favour of independence but warning Scots not to descend into tartan, Bannockburn and anglophobia.

Is there a common trend here?

Well, there is one I can detect. It is an irresistible temptation to English-based writers to think the independence movement is all about them. In trying to write for a largely English audience they frame the discussion around themselves, rather than the Scots. So independence is a rejection of the English. It is a snub, a slight against well-intentioned Unionists who have agreed to share their wealth and allow Scots into the upper reaches of their society. It seems to be the only way they can interpret what is happening. We are essentially irrational quasi racists. So that explains it then. Is it asking too much that our neighbours give us credit for independent thought, for having a separate history and cultural tradition, distinctive politics, and ambition? Why on earth is self-determination – part of the preamble to the United Nations charter – only comprehensible if it’s seen as rejection of someone else? Rather stunted, petty nationalistic thinking, wouldn’t you say?

Which brings up another point, best represented by Heffer. (I know you can dismiss his rantings as bigotry best ignored but if you add the circulations of the Mail, the Telegraph and Observer you have a few million readers.) It is this. He writes with such sadistic relish in trashing the Scots – and it is all Scots by the way, not just Nats…no escape here for Unionists – that he reveals what I think is a deeper truth. I think Heffer and his tribe actually enjoy the idea of subsidising the Scots. They derive real satisfaction from feeling they lord it over us and brush crumbs from their table. A characteristic of the self-selecting British elite is an effortless assumption of superiority and an epic sense of entitlement, so that even when Britain is mired in one of the world’s worst debt crises – public and private – even when it is deeply uncompetitive, hopelessly unequal, dependent on one main income source, with a medieval parliament, they still believe – utterly – that they know best. Anything else is to be disparaged and derided and if you can add in a dash of ethnic inferiority you further bolster their self-esteem as the Chosen Ones.

Here’s a thought. Why do Scottish Unionists never stand up and condemn this kind of anti-Scottish and indeed, anti-Union, ranting? Douglas Alexander is in the papers warning of the dangers of nationalism. I know. He means Scottish nationalism but is it acceptable for those like Douglas who present themselves as thinkers and leaders to stay silent when those who pretend to be on his side damage his cause and insult his constituents with their British nationalism? Wouldn’t it do him a lot of good in the eyes of all Scots to condemn anyone who writes off his nation and accuses a movement which contains a fair number of his own natural supporters of being racists? Where are you, Douglas? Do you agree with Heffer and Gilligan?

One of the unreported moments from our day on the hill was the speaker who said explicitly that anyone of any nationality was one of us, a fellow Scot, that all were welcome. It got one of the biggest cheers of the day.

Here’s a challenge, Douglas. Could you stand up at the Labour conference and say the same. Could you say people of all backgrounds are welcome in our country – Britain – as equals with equal rights? Would delegates cheer as they did on the hill or would you be met by silence, then whispering from the advisers and hysterical, racist headlines followed by demotion?

The rise of UKIP and a glance at the rapidly developing anti immigrant agenda of the Coalition and Labour points an accusing finger at the real petty nationalists and quasi racists in modern Britain.

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I didn’t mean to do this

I do want to draw my own agenda in blogging not merely respond to what others say but when the belief of the largest section of the voting public at the last election is described by a constitutional politician as a virus, it’s difficult not to get side-tracked.

 

Vilifying opponents is stock-in-trade in politics and stuff like: Letting down the people, misleading them and getting priorities wrong is fine. It may even be right! I also think barbed and biting is good when anger is required but the insinuation that one creed is insidious, spreading among people who don’t want it, and is like an illness eating away at the collective psyche is quite a charge. It makes it sound as the voters are too stupid to be aware of what they’re doing.

 

Even the racial hatred of the BNP is unlikely to be considered a virus since it seems to be identifiable and contained, hardly spreading unseen throughout the land.

 

But nationalism – supported by the majority of voters in Scotland last time round – in the hands of Unionists becomes a sickness sneakily associated with…with what? After all a virus is a contagion that transforms those it touches even, in its political form, against their better judgment. Isn’t that what historians say happened to the German people in the 30s and 40s? Didn’t nationalisms erupt among the state-lets of the Balkans in the 90’s, a model beloved of George Robertson?

 

What did run through both these examples was hatred and an embedded and long-concealed drive for revenge for the wrongs of history. A warped version of common interest was imposed on those sentiments by the unscrupulous to give wings to the hate.

 

That nationalism can be abused is like saying socialism was distorted to justify Soviet communism, that capitalism can be turned from freedom of choice for the individual into a vehicle for the enrichment of a few at the expense of the many.  Any common force or ideology falls prey to the unprincipled. Some even think that may have happened to Labour.

 

But what is nationalism? Is it Gordon Brown telling us all to run a Union Jack up the flagpole? Is it David Cameron telling us Britain is great during the Olympics? When British politicians talk of a history of fair play as a national characteristic, is that nationalism?

 

Just consider modern Germany as the best example of the transforming effects of this virus. During the national election this week there was a lot of talk about how the Germans organise their economy. A key element is the mittelstand, the vast array of small and middle-sized companies, many of them family concerns, generations old, often funded with equally long-term loans from regional banks, concentrating on quality manufacturing in niche markets. They provide local employment and stability in the community and healthy exports. It is a pan-German phenomenon for which there is no British equivalent. This system is an expression of German collective philosophy to which they all subscribe, a nationally agreed method of business which enriches all Germans, which is specific to them and from which they derive national pride. This is nationalism.

 

Over the border to the North is Denmark which has a century-old tradition of design in furniture, household goods, architecture and accessories. The people of Denmark embraced a functional design philosophy which still exits today and is supported by the government. Collectively, the Danes invested in an identifiable model of design which is an international badge of national identity. They take pride in it. It expresses something about who they are to the world and helps their economy. This too is nationalism.

 

 

Were you on the hill? (We’ll be asking that for a long time to come after the independence rally). When I was there I heard Elaine C Smith describe with blinding clarity what modern Scottish nationalism is about and she told the story of her family, of their aspirations, of the people of the east end of Glasgow with a barely-controlled fury.  I realised as she spoke that there isn’t a single Labour woman I can think of who could have made that speech. She described a Scottish way of doing things which used to be owned by Labour but to which they have lost any rights. It was of a collective, a shared knowledge of need for all, a refusal to be dominated by the self-aggrandizing which first made its appearance in 1320 in the Declaration of Arbroath which warned that even the king would be overthrown if he defied the people. The concept of the people’s sovereignty was born. That is nationalism.

 

The only hatred I see is that – synthetic or not – generated by Johann Lamont and the British supremacists in the media whose cartoon bile this week showed how the Unionist image of a family of nations is a sick joke for a section of British society. I need to get on with the day now and I’ll come back to this later but don’t you wonder if Johann really believes this hate-filled claptrap? Or is it another example of someone perennially unsure of her own underlying beliefs searching for a way of getting media attention? If any of this really is her world view, rather than machine politics, you have to feel for her.

 

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Generation X

There was an eccentric bloke at the Glasgow Herald many years ago who confused me by changing his style every time I saw him. Collar and tie one day then tee shirt to work; one day pony tail, next day not. One of the hacks summed him up: “He opens the wardrobe in the morning, looks along the hangers and selects a persona for the day.”

 

He came to mind when I heard a Yes voter say the referendum isn’t about identity, a view supported by the No side who complain about a false choice between Scottish and British.

 

What do they mean? I get the bit about inclusion…that your place of birth, antecedents, colour, culture and beliefs are no exclusion. I live in Kelvinbridge  which is one of the most multi cultural places I’ve known. The connections of people I meet, excluding other Brits…. NO! Sorry…NOT excluding other Brits. That’s not what I meant. I’ll rephrase. Counting all nationalities, with English, Welsh and Irish folk – North and South – included, there is a constantly changing United Nations of North Africa, West Africa, South Africa, Kosovo, the sub continent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh), Germany, France, Iceland, Canada, Spain, Korea, Iran, Iraq and Govan. That’s before we count the Polish contingent and the annual influx of foreign students.

 

Not only do I not exclude them from my view of my country, I wholeheartedly embrace them being here. Immigrants, asylum seeks, refugees – welcome. Few things make me as proud as knowing that when persecution gets intolerable, a beaten-down and crushed human thinks of my country as a refuge. If they are here and their heart is here, then they are Scots like me.

 

That means they have invested in this place, brought their skills, humanity and commitment and put them at the service of all. They are doing their bit. Just like me.

So I don’t worry that in being Scottish I am somehow against others. I don’t resent anyone from England. Well, not because they’re English! I am English on my mother’s side and a childhood spent partly in the Newcastle area has ingrained in me a love of the working class warmth and camaraderie of the North. And oh those accents.

 

But I’m a Scot. Whatever my feelings towards others, I’m not confused about my identity. I am Scottish. Yes, I know I’m a British subject with a passport but I can’t avoid that. It was inherited.  As many have said before, whatever it says on my UK records, I am a Scot where it matters – in my heart.

 

And that’s where it ties in to the immigrant community because that is their option too, to regard themselves as Scots and their home as Scotland. As my mother came here with her accent, her Methodism, her different ways and Yorkshire puddings (family tradition), so new arrivals bring their distinct self-image and traditions too.

It just isn’t an issue, having a multiple identity as countless Irish folk in Scotland can testify. You can have both if that’s your choice – Pakistani and Scottish.

 

But the question in the referendum does require a choice. It is in essence asking who you are because it is inherent in the preference of status you choose for your country. When presented with the option, it is the clearest expression of nationality to choose statehood. To deliberately decline to do so is to downgrade your nationality.

 

The question asks, assuming you see yourself as a Scot, if you want your country to have the full range of government powers to run its own affairs and acquire the internationally acknowledged status of independence. In other words, do you aspire to be like every other member in the United Nations where all nationalities take their place as normal sovereign countries? Or, do you prefer to think of your country as Britain in which Scotland plays a subsidiary part as a regionally-administered  province subject to policies largely decided for the needs of a  majority based elsewhere? (By a parliamentary system in which Scotland now has 4 per cent representation)

 

A No vote accepts Scotland has subservient status in a larger entity and while there may be advantages to that arrangement, in order to receive those benefits, it is necessary to concede secondary status to your own country. By doing so, you acknowledge the superior status of Britain over Scotland. By voting No you make Britain, not Scotland, your country of choice.

 

No other people do this. It would be unthinkable for, let’s say, an Australian to spend more than a nano second on it. A politician in Canberra suggesting Australia couldn’t handle its own affairs and should let London decide monetary policy, defence and foreign affairs would be a laughing stock. Would a Frenchman or German put European government ahead of their own? I am a European first and a Frenchman second would be ridiculed even in pro Europe France.

 

Your double identity may be confirmed by a No vote but for the first time in our lifetimes and in the existence of the Union we will have been confronted with the choice and you will have chosen the UK over Scotland. In a No voter’s mind, the UK is the preferred country. Of course you retain a Scottish identity but only within the context of the UK.

 

It surely means your belief in Scotland and the Scots is compromised. Your Scottishness is expressed in limited terms. You are saying you are Scottish but only up to the point where you have to choose between Scotland and Britain. Then you opt for the UK.

 

So in terms of identity, that decision makes you a Brit first and a Scot second. How could it be otherwise? Asked to endorse the globally accepted credentials of nationhood, you will have declined, downgrading your country – Scotland – to provincial status.

 

In Scotland we have muddled along seemingly forever fudging the issue of who we are and what our country is. We say to ourselves we are Scottish and British – best of both worlds – and we’ve got away with it, although I suspect it has engendered in us a dispiriting inferiority complex or at least a cringe-worthy confusion alien to every other nationality.

 

In a year’s time that fudge, that awkward compromise, won’t do. We are the generation who get to choose. We are Generation X. And choose we must. There is no hiding place.

 

The national pride, the easily summoned passion for the icons and history, your genuine love of Scotland, won’t be enough. This is the moment of truth for every Scot. How much do you believe in Scotland, even at cost to yourself? If the answer is: Not enough to accord it the rightful status of every other country, then vote No. Vote for Britain. But remember that the next time a blue jersey or a pipe band or a nostalgic journey home or a Hebridean ferry stirs that familiar deep feeling in your heart.

 

You, alone among the Scots over 300 years, had the chance in your hands to do for Scotland what generations in the past gave their lives for and you said No….

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