UK: Living Hell

I’ve had a sneek preview of the McWhirter book – Disunited Kingdom, how Westminster won a referendum but lost Scotland – which will start appearing in the Sunday Herald today. Iain emailed it to me in advance of tomorrow’s formal launch – probably to humiliate me with the quality of his writing…


I started reading it in Living Hell, which is what I call the kids’ soft play area in Maryhill where my two birthday girls joined the rest of the demented chimpanzees. Even in the din, I was engrossed and raced through the early stuff. He does write with alacrity, marrying insight and narrative to drag you along and provides a depth often missing from thinner and often more pompous offerings. You kind of know, whether he’s on your side or not, that he’s still on the side of the angels – not a sense you get from, say, John McTernan, however relevant his scribblings.


Iain reminded me of the emotional white water ride that we’ve just been through, the gripping anticipation, the total involvement, the astonishment at the mushrooming of support and the sense of national purpose that bound us. I haven’t felt like that before and it was contagious. He captures the sense that we were all in it together (sorry, Mr Cameron) and it created a shared sense of self and community to know you were part of the great movement. Every Yes badge was your side, every window sticker was with your cause, every single one of us was doing our bit. And losing did hurt. He brings it all back and I had a wee greet, more out of pride in the Scots than in regret.

I gave the David Torrance book on Salmond to an American relative last year to educate him so I think I’ll follow up this year by giving the McWhirter.

Talking of Scots to be proud of, I was speaking to the Edinburgh Central branch of the SNP on Friday and was struck by the quality of people who are now politically active. They have rooms in North St Andrew Street that were the hub of Yes in Edinburgh but have to relocate to hold their meetings because there are so many of them. My event had to be ticketed to keep down the numbers for safety reasons – response was so high. It’s all a bit scary.

But it’s the breadth of people who are stepping forward in the national cause that is inspiring – it isn’t just special interest groups or the ambitious. Here is middle Scotland, the educated, the qualified, the concerned and the polite. (The nuttier Unionists in the divisive mainstream papers are still peddling the myth of Nationalist mobs and of intolerance to demonise Scotland’s democratic movement. To me this is a form of denial in keeping with their inability to grasp their own failings).

We discussed the media and I apologised for the trade of journalism which let down the Scots at a crucial time – but which of course also spawned the new media which is now part of our daily lives. I find it impossible to say where this creative spring will lead except that there will be consolidation of outlets as the market takes effect and the objective is not to replace the mainstream – that is neither possible nor desirable – but to supplement with alternatives. We are trying not to compete against each other but to find room for all.

This blog and Newsnet aren’t trying to make money in the normal sense but to generate an income which makes continuing possible. Money pays for office space, admin, studios, equipment and, to a limited extent, professional fees for contributors. It is shoestring and it shows but my objective is to make it sustainable rather than ‘successful’ and the short-term plan is raise enough to get us through to the General Election when Scotland’s future will again be a major feature.

I thought Steven Purcell was interesting on in saying Labour aren’t doing enough to change the political scene and electing a Jim Murphy isn’t in itself the answer. They don’t need more Blairite machine politics and empty mantras, they need a new story and a re-engagement with people – yet where are the members able to do that? The age profile is increasing and without new blood will go the way of the Tories. The sad and predictable Margaret Curran line is that you vote SNP to get a Tory government. And you can understand why this is what is left of a threadbare position. Vote Labour, not because we can do anything for you but because we’re not the other lot. Inspiring, it ain’t. It reminds me of the French presidential election when Chirac was up against Le Pen and people went on to the streets with signs reading: Vote for the Crook, not the Fascist…

In their thousands Scots did return to Labour last time in 2010, having put the SNP into power in Scotland and what did we get? A Tory government. We returned 41 Labour MPs – including my own – and it’s unlikely the party could win more of our 59 seats than that and still it wasn’t enough.

And if you do want rid of the class war Tories, do you honestly believe Miliband is the man to transform the country? There is no denying that across Britain, voters are sick of the whole Westminster circus and have lost faith and while we have a progressive alternative, in England they have only the right wing loonies posing as anti Establishment rebels that is UKIP.

The Autumn Statement has been exposed as the last throw of the dice for Osborne with OBR and the IFS challenging him and even the BBC taking flak for its reporting. The underlying truth is that Britain is bankrupt, living on sovereign debt and personal credit cards, buying imported goods instead of equipment for industry, creating low paid jobs which need benefits to eke them out, still borrowing massively because tax receipts are too low while opposing the immigration that can boost economic activity and dividing the country by stripping away the benefits that are the glue of British society.

I’d like to see a paper on how much of this can be changed if all the existing powers at Holyrood were fully used and supplemented by the Vow promises. How much could we really change out society with those powers and what would it cost us? Most of it seems to be predicated on raising your own revenue – hurrah – while your funding is cut accordingly and if income tax is the main cash generator, isn’t it bad politics just to take more from voters without being able to increase economic activity and take the additional revenue in business tax?

This was the Union’s chance to trump the nationalist case by delivering true Devo Max and making the Scots sit up and be impressed. Most of us can’t tell what is and isn’t devolved in an incoherent, piecemeal offering which shows just how much our Lords and Masters trust us with our own affairs. (I spoke to a Tory who expresses a widespread worry that Cameron panicked two weeks before voting because without the silly Vow and Brown’s mad meanderings, they really would have won and Scots would have no case to make for additional powers today. We’d have to take what we were given. They blew that by promising the earth in desperation).

This guarantees that our demands stay fresh and relevant and provides the campaigning platform for the next big push – in May next year. McWhirter concludes that independence is inevitable. I’m not so sure but I do think Devo Max will be realised eventually as the sinews that bind us weaken under the strain of inept London administration and social unrest which leads to a realisation that there must be a better way.

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23 thoughts on “UK: Living Hell

  1. Good read again Derek,I just wonder what you thought of your FRIEND Cochrane on the DP with his drinking buddie Andrew Neil,a rught pair that.

  2. Well said, Derek. I agree that Cameron panicked one that poll showing Yes in the lead appeared – but panicking is what he does all the time. I agree with iain MacWhirter that independence is inevitable but I also know the British State will do everything to stop it happening and kill it off when it does.

  3. Lovely piece of writing, Derek; perhaps Iain McWhirter sent you his book to encourage you to write something longer than usual.

    I thought that your most interesting observations were the summary of Stephen Purcell’s argument about the Labour Party; and your description of the Edinburgh Central SNP branch meeting. But this merely emphasises the continuity between the Better Together and the Yes campaigns. All the banners – perfectly reasonable for Better Together not to wrap itself in the Union Flag, given the associations – all the energy, and all the self deprecating cheerfulness were not sufficient to overcome the grim determination of the other side.

    Were we to live in a world where a clear, optimistic message was all that is needed to win a political campaign, of course there would have been a Yes victory.

    Margaret Curran is of course wrong to argue “Vote SNP, let the Tories in.” I can’t believe that her understanding of Parliamentary arithmetic can do is so weak. Every seat that the SNP takes from Labour means that the Labour Party has to win another one in England and Wales (probably from the Conservatives) to obtain an overall majority. Returning a large group of SNP MPs can can only stop Labour forming a majority government. Perhaps Ms Curran is representative of that part of the Labour tribe, which considers anything other than a Labour majority an affront to decency and the overthrow of the natural order of society; an instinct that effectively marks her out as a natural Tory.

    I know people who were frustrated by the 2010 General Election because no one party won. It seems to me that this once again showed the sophistication of the electorate. Faced with the government that had presided over the descent into recession, and a group of very entitled young men who seemed to think that membership of the Bullingdon Club was preparation for running the country, they carefully avoided giving power to either group. Going back to 1997, the skill with which voters selected the party that would defeat the Conservative candidates in Scottish constituencies showed particularly clearly the electorate’s ability to use the ballot box to deliver a precise and nuanced message to political parties: that the Conservatives are still struggling to find a response to that message probably reflects the extent to which they have chosen to represent the interests of a small, but privileged, group of Scottish voters. Stephen Purcell is suggesting that there is something very similar happening within the Labour Party. I have yet to hear any of the current candidates for it Scottish leadership suggest that they actually understand how the concersn

    Nonetheless, I remain very sceptical of opinion polls saying that there will be a large swing to the SNP in the General Election. “Vote SNP, get the Tories,” will not have much traction. But the Labour Party will have years of voter identification records on which to draw: and unless it has become so hollowed out that it can no longer run an effective campaign, I expect it to be able to have an effective ‘Get out the Vote’ strategy in place. The challenge for the SNP will be much greater – although the current opinion polls suggest that many people who would previously have voted for another party in a UK election, but for the SNP in Scottish elections, may be willing to vote SNP in both.

    So, no matter how engaging political debate might be for the participants, it will not win many votes at the General Election. Remember that by the time the New Town was built, the energy of the Scottish Enlightenment had been dissipated by the corrupt and repressive regime of Henry Dundas. Challenging entrenched authority is never easy, and to succeed needs organisation welded on to enthusiasm.

    If Iain McWhirter thinks that there is anything inevitable about independence, he has been spending too much time with like-minded ‘bien pensants;’ but at least he is only a scribbler.

  4. Really enjoyed your talk on Friday Derek but as far as the BBC goes,until Holyrood has responsibility for senior appointments within Scotland (i.e. making the BBC in Scotland accountable to Scots tax payers) nothing much will change.
    Next May is another opportunity for Scots to bring about the changes we require to improve life for all of us living here but should we fail at that hurdle as well,nothing much will happen.
    We need to get the message across that a vote for Labour will not stop a Tory but more importantly,will not bring about the necessary devolution of fiscal powers that are required for greater social equality.
    Thanks Derek.

  5. I think Derek your statement is spot on , but I think people are now more aware after the referendum, that if we want real change we really have to get involved .It is now about building a country that the majority
    of people in Scotland want. Please excuse my language but we have had enough of the (bullshit ) from Westminster .

  6. Margaret Curran frames the ‘vote labour to avoid tory’ argument as a straightforward choice between Cameron or Milliband. While this may represent a Westminster-centric view of the approaching election, the unpopularity of both men in Scotland opens up a completely different perspective here. I can’t remember who described one American presidential election as a choice between the ‘evil of two lessers’, but for many Scottish voters that now rings true.

    In a real sense now, the Yes supporters, having lost the referendum, have nothing more to lose. Neither party, Labour or Conservative, has shown any enthusiasm for constitutional development which enhances the democratic engagement of the electorate. The parsimonious and begrudging handing out of crumbs in the Smith process has shown clearly how jealously the Westminster machine guards its power, so when Margaret Curran et al tell us they want to ‘listen’ and ‘reconnect’ they will be judged by their actions and demeanour rather than their words. Voters in Scotland are looking elsewhere for a new kind of politics.

  7. I think the only thing which will put off inevitable independence is FFA, but I don’t think Westminster will give way to true federalism. I believe that independence therefore be the more likely outcome. The intransigence and overt deceitful public manipulation displayed throughout the campaign has already resulted in a near tectonic shift in political attitude in Scotland amongst those who voted YES. As those who voted no in good faith feel the effects of pledges not kept and draconian austerity measures enacted, their response to those they placed their faith in may be a little more than some wry disappointment.

    I agree with Mr McWhirter, independence does seem the most likely outcome with the genie well and truly out of the bottle.

  8. Katrine Paterson

    You shouldn’t be scared of the people who want to hear what you have to say. You have helped to pull many of us through the stresses of the referendum and beyond. I thank you for that.

    The ‘National’ is a refreshing read. It’s even available now in my village corner shop.
    I wouldn’t be seen dead reading the other ‘rags.’

    The Westminster brigade will not be satisfied till we are on our knees. Just like Thatcher, but so much worse.

    They are now throwing everything they can at us to demoralise ordinary people.
    Today I came past a school playing field in Kincardine on Forth, where a drilling rig was being set up. Half expected, but where kids play football?
    We are now fighting a major battle to prevent unconventional coal gassification all along the north shore, and Fracking on the southern shore of the Forth.

    David cameron couldn’t wait to dish out licencies after the 18th September, from coast to coast in the central belt. Fossil fuel, to give Cameron more taxes to cover his and Osborn’s shortfalls? I don’t think so.

  9. Love this blog.

    Don’t be too hard on yourself Derek, your writing hits the spot with many here. I will hopefully get a chance to read the book.

    Xmas is most minds but come spring we will see if all the work put in bears fruit.

    Demolish labour and we’re half way there.

    Don’t expect any favors from WM . They will use the MSM to vilify the Nats and YESSERS out there. Have we woken from the slumber?

    2015 GE will tell .

    But it certainly looks rosier than the 19th Sept. So there’s hope for us yet. 🙂

  10. smiling vulture

    I still don’t trust opinion polls,and I think SNP are over egging(sorry for labour pun)percentage GE 2015.

    It might be a watershed moment in UK politics 2015,wait & see

    • Been there done that and got the tee shirt SV, I do think though that the fact that so many people have been moved to join the SNP, one doesn’t join something to become less involved. Having met some of the newer members, I do not consider myself new, but nowadays I am not an old member either. I think that the new members have experiences and ideas which will influence the Party for the good. Many angry people out there who watched Democracy vanish in Scotland and want to see it back.
      How we counter the lack of Broadcastiing and the continual bias of the BBC and others I do not know. We can only try.

  11. Your article here had the same effect on me as you describe McWhirter’s book had on you.
    The prospect of Independence, so real prior to 18 Sept, is still alive and well, but will need nurturing and encouragement between the stepping stones of General and Scottish elections. BLOGs like this are a huge help.. I am 66 years old now. To hell with Bucket Lists. Independence will do fine.

  12. The truth is simple – If Scottish labour wants to keep the tories out, labour need to get the English to stop voting for them. But UK Labour needs Scotland’s votes to keep Scotland in the union. Sturgeon was right, it is a con. For Curran to say Sturgeons position about this is an endorsement for Scots to keep voting labour, frankly it beggars belief. I thought purcell made a lot of sense in that interview, but its clear that Scottish labour are hell bent on doing all the mistakes the conservatives made, and in so doing become increasingly irrelevant. To turn it around, labour would have to honestly have a long hard look at what they have been doing and how it is turning of the electorate. But no, they’d rather spend time slagging off Nicola and dishonestly representing her views.

    Hassan is going to have to do a massive rewrite of the not so strange death of Scottish labour.

    Looking forward to McWhirters book.

  13. Do sub-editors ever check the claimed statements by politicians, in the articles their journalists submit for publication in their papers? Especially when the claimed quote is by as prominent politician as First Minister Sturgeon? We expect the likes of Curran to lie, prevaricate and obfuscate to misinform and influence would-be voters, but surely editorial staff of newspapers have a duty to check the claims of their journalists and columnists.

  14. Glad you mentioned NNS, Derek. Some of us were getting a bit worried about that site.

    Sometimes there are no articles for days and I was wondering if it had a future.

  15. As the great Johnny Rotten once asked, rhetorically, “Ever get the feelin’ you’ve been cheated?”
    I believe most people in Scotland feel cheated at the lack of powers listed in the Smith report.
    The best, most logical way to redress that feeling is to vote SNP in May.
    Scottish politics will still be at the forefront of uk politics. Unionists, especially in England and Westminster, will not be pleased at Scotland wanting more – they are already demanding EVEL – and further dispute between Holyrood and Westminster will further weaken the union.

  16. Do we have a name for the book, and a publishing date? Would really like to read it, and unfortunately didn’t manage to get a herald today?

  17. Don’t forget G A Ponsonby’s book, still to be published, covering the BBC’s role in the Referendum. Have read the first part and it’s fascinating. Meantime, looking forward to reading Iain MacWhirter’s book.

  18. Steve Asaneilean

    Excellent synopsis of where we are and a super post Derek – thank you.
    We’re “no dun yet”

  19. My issue here is that even if we get 59 pro-indy MPs out of a possible 59 into Westminster next May, how on earth do our MPs get 591 non-indy MPs in the House of Commons to deal? What incentive or interest would rUK have in ceding anything if there were no Labour or Tory MPs left in Scotland, and the unionist parties concluded that Scotland was an electoral graveyard for them? Especially in the midst of austerity and a widening deficit?

    We need to continue with the Yes movement, perhaps under a new name, and create extra-parliamentary pressure to demonstrate our determination.

  20. @MBC

    If the unionist parties refuse to deal then we have a Sinn Fein moment building and there may well come a point where the Scottish majority MPs stand up en mass and declare UDI before walking out. We MUST NOT ever take the idea of UDI out of our possible armoury. Yes it would be terribly messy but as much for rUK as us. If they feared an orderly move to Independence how much must they fear a UDI? The oil companies will come on board or their licenses to operate or even fly to and from the rigs are under threat so that tax income will come onstream pretty quickly. Company bosses and prominent rich people who decline to move their tax affairs can be put into Barlinnie pour encourage les autres. We can blockade Faslane with hulks and deny road access too unless they deal on itEtc. etc.

  21. […] that’s exactly what Hassan says he does, and because the title of Bateman’s article (UK: Living Hell) makes it sound that […]

  22. Hi Derek,

    I mentioned Gerry Hassan’s misinterpretation of this article in a blog piece replying to his ‘part two’ of ‘message to the messengers’. You may find it entertaining if you’ve time for an excessively long longread blog. It’s the most recent post on:

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