Scrum Down

It’s nearly the Rugby World Cup (I use italics because it’s Very Important to me, OK?). Our team is improving a bit at a time and I’m pretty sure will overcome the easier teams in their group. They will at least give a good account of themselves because they’ve learned to believe in their abilities. They’ve realised I think that the acceptance of defeat in which failure is a kind of learned behaviour, is not good enough and has led to an embarrassingly bad set of results season on season.

Rugby has found leaders recently, notably Gregor Townsend at Glasgow and now Vern Cotter at Murrayfield (sorry – BT Murrayfield) who have opened the way to a new approach. The players responded by rising to the challenge, trying harder, running faster, doing the basic things well and, critically, defending furiously. In fact, for all the appropriate chat about how enterprising and entertaining Glasgow Warriors are, I believe it is the quality of their defence that is the platform for their attacking play. Their tackling is definitive, so much so that it is in itself a form of attack. The players are comfortable defending, rarely look panicked and as a result are constantly eyeing the long-range attack option when the ball becomes free. As boys we were always told to do the simple things well, don’t make mistakes and let the rest take care of itself.

There is about Scottish rugby teams today self-assurance, mutual trust, enjoyment in the task and the early signs of a more successful era ahead. It doesn’t guarantee anything but it gives you a start and, you know what? It makes you feel good – good about the game, about yourself and about Scotland.

Don’t care about the rugby? Well this is my crude analogy for Scotland the country, not just our rugby team.

There is a different feel about the place, one that says the improbable is possible. Scotland winning the World Cup may be going too far just as creating our own fair and prosperous democracy any time soon is unlikely. But we have the leaders who brought a British Prime Minister to Edinburgh to sign the agreement for an official referendum; we got close; we learned how it feels to sniff success and we re-wrote the rules by ridding almost all of Scotland of the Labour Party, the Liberals and the Tories. We signed up the missing voters, engaged whole sections of our society to a political dream, got them to change generations of voting behaviour and asked them to consider the most radical act of their lives or the life of our nation since 1707 – to step outside the threadbare comfort blanket of relative failure and become a nation again…small, successful, sovereign Scotland.

The last two years did change Scotland and one thing we learned was how fragile our opponents and long-time masters really were. We confronted them with vigour, went toe to toe and pushed them hard. That’s when we found out that they lied to us about just about any aspect of our lives. They connived with foreign governments and international institutions to undermine us, resorted to threatening big business to scare us. They ridiculed our ambitions, even our ability or desire to defend ourselves, and conspired to withdraw access to our own currency. (The proud Scot behind this chicanery is now heading, hilariously, to the Lords where he undoubtedly belongs).

But we defended ourselves well. We met in the halls and marched on the streets. We took to social media to laugh at their assertions and point out to silent Labour voters who was bankrolling their campaign and what that said about them. In the near clean sweep since last September, we have been vindicated as ever more voters dessert Labour and the voice of those remaining is bitter and recriminatory, encapsulated by the new leader, unable to define herself until she knows who the real leader will be in London.

Like the rugby players, we have been flexible, imaginative and content within ourselves with the knowledge that, continuing to win the argument, the great day will come yet.

I’m responding too to those who argue that the SNP somehow isn’t doing enough, isn’t radical and is conning us all when its record is poor. I’ve addressed all this before so won’t go over old ground but Gerry Hassan is writing again on how we’re all somehow missing a bigger picture that only he can see. Continuing to attack Labour for example is ‘displacement activity.’

They are easy and obvious targets for those so minded, and more simple than assessing why the indyref was won for the forces of the union, or getting down to more serious, long term political activities. Much easier and attractive to continue to seek revenge against the Labour Party and BBC.

This isn’t exactly the embodiment of the best of the democratic spirit of the indyref, and masks the exact opposite: an age of conformity and anger which hides a strange noisy passivity: of waiting for the next wave of change to come along after the SNP win in 2016, which begs the question: then what?

The first obvious response is that, as my rugby metaphor displays, most of us aren’t quite as intellectually sophisticated as Gerry and deal in imagery and ideas that are easier to understand. (And I think you’ll find are, as a result, more likely to be digested by ordinary voters wrestling with complex issues. A friend told me how Yes canvassers on her doorstep suggested further reading by visiting Wings Over Scotland or Derek Bateman. I’ve yet to hear any activist recommend to a floating voter reading Gerry’s collected essays…at least not without translation). But then that’s the job of a Professor, to be Google Earth to us Earthlings, circling overhead with an unblinking eye, acting ethereal and celestial. He thinks nobody is working out the next independence offer, just wishfully thinking our way into ‘Pot Noodle radicalism: just add water, and hey presto, you can have your own Nordic designed Scottish social democracy.’ Insulting, no?

I think he wants us to find ‘new spaces’ in which to discuss how to run society and it has been his abiding wish for years to destroy the neo liberal consensus.

We need to identify “the official future” – the mantra of globalisation wherever it is – nationally, internationally, in the public and private realms, and critique it, defeat it and supplant it according to a Compass paper he wrote with Anthony Barnett.

Policy literalism is increasingly recognised as a problematic way of doing politics. There is a direct link between the micro-policy and management of the Blair-Brown years – legislation “overload” and command and control – and the suffocating consensus of the mainstream, which shuts down open discussion of the macro-questions about the economy and society.

Now I kind of see where he’s going and he has a point. But are we supposed not to challenge Labour assertions in the mainstream media, because from where I’m sitting that’s precisely why so many have been forced to see the truth and make the switch. It’s called politics. He wants us to stop standing up to the insults and manufactured complaints of opponents? I’ve heard Gerry in hostile debate and he does exactly that. Maybe that was before he became Professor. But does he honestly not see that so much of the Yes movement and its aftermath is asking the questions? Never has the British state had its raison d’etre so ruthlessly and microscopically scrutinised. It is true that that the SNP isn’t the Marxist reforming machine it might be but that’s at least partly due to an old fashioned desire to win elections – without which all of the airy sentiments evaporate. I always end up sounding like the Pub Bore when the torrent of (recent) complaint starts about the Nats being so successful and yet somehow not achieving very much. But the judge of that isn’t me, or Gerry, but Mr and Mrs Scotland and – oh, look – they’re really happy with the SNP, they’re proud of Nicola and they can’t stand the Labour Party. Yet so many of the commentators can’t wait for them to ride their various hobby horses or, to return to the sporting start, try and play fancy rugby without first winning a scrum or making a tackle. Do the basics well. Keep it simple.

It isn’t just that Scotland changed…it continues to change and as it does so, we’ll find our own solutions to blockages. Isn’t that what New Media does – challenges the corporate and the institutional?

I’m sorry for those who don’t feel good about Scotland and its journey and I have to conclude they’re either professional critics – with a living to make – or folk who’ll never be happy.

Whatever the limitations, and there are many under this regime, I can live with it. I like the government, see no comparison between them and their opponents in terms of quality and I enjoy being a winner for a change. I used to worry ahead of a big tournament but I don’t now. Scotland will do just fine.

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28 thoughts on “Scrum Down

  1. Well said, Derek. The Yes movement did a fantastic job in getting from 30-something percent to the eventual result in the face of such a media blackout. Nonetheless there were still 55% of Scots that didn’t see it. Even with a wee swing to Yes and a narrow majority, that’s still a very divided country and a tough slog going forward from that point. There are still today a lot of people who’re not convinced, and a huge number who haven’t yet engaged with the issues, having followed the BBC’s “don’t wanna know” lead and remained information-light.

    It’s great to have places like this, Bella and WoS for a dose of sanity, but they’re not where you’ll meet those unconvinced. I’ve been holding my nose and mixing occasionally with the howling mob in The Scotsman’s comment sections (these are the ‘winners’?). It’s almost bizarre, but today we’ve managed a semi-intelligent discussion:

    Err… all welcome!

    • I’m sorry blather, but that Hootsmon piece nearly made me vomit – the ensuing storm of bile in the comments was worse. That was yet another attempt to discredit Nicola and excuse AM, tossing in another dig at Alex Salmond. Mr McColm deserves no credit for introducing logical discussion.

      • Didn’t think much of the Hoots’s piece either, and didn’t really expect to, but Blether is right- it’s worth going onto these sites to makes logical case, and make it calmly. These are theropod we have to convince, and a well made, bile free, argument is our best weapon. The contrast between that and some of the swivel eyed contributions on these sites is a powerful weapon. Personally, I tend to inflict my version on Labourlist and Progress Online, and even the Daily Fail, where the World Is Going To Hell! Hell I Tell You,

      • I hear you, Phil. My thoughts are twofold:

        Just as Heidstaethefire (I like this online world, it’s like being a Red Indian) says, a calm, confidently opposing argument that doesn’t rise to the constant baiting, if it appears consistently enough, is the only counter to that sort of rabble-rousing. If you look at any of the articles directly on independence or economics, the unrelenting chorus of anti-SNP howling is unbelievable. Yet SNP support is at 50% or more. It’s important just being present there to destroy their delusion that they are any sort of majority. We’re all aware of the tired old recycling of already-disproven lies by unionism. If “Scotland’s leading newspaper” is bold enough to leave those lies open to public comment, that’s the place to rebut them.

        Secondly, whether independence takes another 20 months or another 20,000 years, mostly the Scotsman commenters are fellow Scots we need to live together with. Allowing the divisive No campaign’s legacy to stand helps none of us. I’ll stand for independence to my dying breath, but I won’t let the British establishment make my fellow Scots my enemy because of it.

  2. I find that Mr Hassan overthinks.

    I can only speak for myself, but I didn’t swallow a dictionary and study the collected works of social philosophers of the past two centuries. I don’t do or like party politics and the first Herbert who seeks to place me in some ist or ism is likely to find themselves on the receiving end of a short, but brisk reply.

    I simply want my country to govern itself. I want those who govern in my name to do so with transparency, honesty and empathy. I want them to care for every strata, every member of the population in their care. I want a government that is reflective of that electorate, mindful of their needs and aspirations and is capable of evolving and adapting to suit with the passage of time. I want that government to look outward and be a friend in the world. In point of fact a government and system that is the exact polar opposite of everything Westminster government stands for.

    Not too big an ask I’d have thought and I didn’t need a degree in modern politics, sociology and/or macro economics to reach these conclusions.

  3. It’s often been said that No won the Referendum but lost the argument. Well that’s probably true, but I think the biggest thing that happened is that, like the Thatcherite revolution, the two year indyref conversation has served to shifted the tectonic plates of Scottish politics.

    Everything, every issue is now seen by the Scottish people in terms of the constitution. In my time I’ve seen independence go from being viewed as the wild ramblings of lunatics (e.g. Wendy Wood and co.) to the lens through which all politics is refracted.

    Tom Nairn said that that independence would be achieved when the last minister was strangled with the last copy of the Sunday Post and we’re getting close to that point, at least metaphorically. The churches both Protestant and Catholic are husks and the media has been exposed as hopelessly Unionist with sales and viewing figures falling relentlessly.

    Scotland is starting to behave as if it is already independent and poltics will soon catch up with that reality.

    PS I’d just like to make clear that I don’t think that Wendy Wood was a lunatic. :o)

  4. …. first class analysis, Derek, and I totally agree. In my view the SNP’s political success in the GE was down to engagement at the street level with voters and a recognition by folk that in Nicola Sturgeon we have a FM who REALLY will stand up for Scotland. As you say, there are those who are deviating off at a tangent questioning why this or that is not underway but failing to grasp that the primary principals of NS and the SNP administration is the welfare and well being of all Scottish Citizens. It is a simple mantra but it is key to proving to our Citizens (especially the frightened NO’s) that this Country can run it’s own affairs and the people best suited to this task are ourselves, where Scotland’s needs & priorities are addressed and actioned by those answerable only to the Scottish electorate. The sea change in belief is there and as Alex Salmond recently stated “Independence is inevitable” ….. why ?, because the belief in ourselves has been nurtured slowly but consistently and is very close to reaping the ultimate prize. Keep it simple and keep improving.

  5. Excellent piece Derek.

    My problem with Gerry is that he occupies a rarified atmosphere – he’s the cirrus to our bread and butter nimbostratus.

    He has good things to say but too often comes across as “I am clever and you are not so I know what’s best”.

    As Macart says, those of us who pushed for Yes wanted very simple things – simple to comprehend at least if not simple to enact. We wanted truth, honesty, justice, equality, egality, fairness, decency. We wanted a country that serves the many not the few. We wanted decent healthcare and education free from the grasping hands of the privatising multi-nationals. We wanted essential utilities like water, power and public transport to serve the needs of ordinary people not the avarice of shareholders. We wanted to be compassionate – to see people like the Syrian refugees as people worthy of our compassion not our scorn. We wanted a military that defends not attacks.

    It’s may sounds like 18th century French idealism but so what? Why should we aspire to an ideal if if we constantly struggle to reach it? Isn’t that how most of us try to live our individual lives every day? I know I do.

    Attacking (Not) Labour is not displacement activity. They sold out their principles and the very people they claimed to stand for and protect in a mad rush to embrace neo-liberalsim and all that that entails. The unpleasant state of the UK as it is today has their grubby paw prints all over it but we’re just supposed to ignore that are we?

    The SNP Government is not perfect – no government is. An independent Scotland would not be perfect – no country ever is. But in both cases they are better bets than what the alternatives would be and, indeed, are.

    In the end, having read lots of Gerry’s pieces I still don’t know what he really wants or what he believes in other than himself, his ideas and the sound of his won voice.

    But there are over 5 million other Scottish voices who may have equally valid things to say if given half a chance.

  6. This is becoming a standard meme among commentators on Scottish politics that the SNP are not radical or left wing enough. You get it in heavy doses from the likes of David Torrance, who has been barking at the moon about that very subject for months on end. Derek, something gives me the distinct impression Torrance has not been handling the 2015 Scottish general election results at all well. 😀 😀

    As far as I am aware the SNP have never claimed to be a radical or a particularly left wing party. They are a centre left, moderately social democratic party. It is not as if there are not any right wingers in the SNP either, Fergus Ewing etc. I actually think the SNP are more a movement than a political party. I wish Gerry Hassan would explain the redistributive powers the SNP have failed to use in his opinion. As another poster has mentioned it is virtually impossible to say what Hassan actually believes in.

    • I have always thought of the SNP as The Management neither left nor right not even centre but the impossible all things to all (Persons) they just try to do the right thing for the country and they do it efficiently given the constraints and the lack of political co-operation from all sides. Their success, apart from Nicola is, everybody gets something, and you can’t do better than that

      • That, I think, is the perfect analogy.

        The management.

        They don’t behave like politicians, more like caretakers or managers of a large business. I suppose that’s basically why neither political opposition or the media can get a handle on them. They simply don’t do politics.

  7. I can’t believe that Gerry has become a professor. I always find his writing fact free and a bit of a pointless windbag. I don’t recognise the Scotland that he writes about.

  8. Lots of nails being hit on head here, both in the article and comments. This blog is always a breath of fresh air and thoughtful commentary.

    I do worry a little about a re-emergent (doctrinaire) left rising to cling on to the coat-tails of the Yes movement, throwing in a bit of SNP bashing and diverting energy away from the project – which is to achieve Independence. (and I consider myself to be well to the left) If we must have Party Politics, and it causes me despair, because Party comes first, along with political dogma and kow-towing to the monied classes and the people a distant fourth, then let battle commence after we achieve independence.

    I just wish the Parties could work together for the good of Scotland.

    • The SNP at both Holyrood and Westminster, have made that plea; to deaf ears.

    • Parties born of need and ideology which then becomes, as you so rightly identify, dogma. Which then in its most extreme form becomes, as we are only too familiar with in Scotland, a tribal stooshie. All pretence of government and politics thrown oot the windae in favour of clubbing, name calling, smearing, dirty tricks, hand bags at ten paces and the throwing of pooh like demented chimps on crack.

      The only true victims in all of this is us, the public. Its why it needs to change and only we can change it.

      As and when that parly of ours is fully empowered and finally in our hands, one of the top things on that ‘to do’ list has to be a written constitution. Since the party political weans can’t behave without public oversight, then I’d suggest a code of conduct with teeth written into said constitution. If they play nice and get along under our watchful gaze, they’ll get milk an crisps at break time. If they still continue to act like selfish, snotty brats having a raging diva tantrum, then they’ll be sent out to the naughty step for a loooooooong time out.

      No more tribal bullshit, because we’ve had enough. We’ve suffered enough because of it and its time we put a stop to it.

  9. I’ve tried reading both Hassan and Torrance, but gave up some time ago simply because I couldn’t understand what they were going on about. Going around the doors talking to people, and we start our campaign again tomorrow, I find that in general, the electorate want, as Derek says, for matters to be kept as simple and straightforward as possible. They are concerned about the basics, jobs, education, housing, etc, and not some grand strategies put about by those who have seemingly to fill column inches with their theories.

  10. Keep possesion of the ball. Form a tight ruck and deliberately advance towards the goal line. Don’t let the opposition kick the ball into touch. Make sure the referee is impartial.

  11. I am not much given to elevating politicians onto a platform. But I will make an exception for Nichola Sturgeon.

    I am heart felt sick of the ‘first worlders’ who can rationalise a drowned child on a beach as ‘just one of those things’. Her call to compassion is the exact opposite of Westminsters call to the wallet.

    I’d rather she led our country than an Eton toff.

    Who’s with me?

    • Well, in fact, she, Nicola, leads our country, Scotland, douglas, but I get your drift. I just wish we were completely independent, then we could formulate our own immigration policy, which I hope would be vastly different from the inhumane treatment being dished out by Westminster.

      • Alex,


        The problem I was trying to identify, was twofold. That Nichola Sturgeon speaks eloquently for me and Westminster does not.

        I think Nichola Sturgeon represents the good in this country

        That is not something I would say lightly about any politician.

        Yet she does it for me.

        It is ‘interesting’ to see the opposite point of view. They come across as petty, vindictive, racist, narrow minded bigots. It is refreshing to have a politician that is willing to stand up against that.

        Given the option of a humane approach, I know which side of the fence I am on. I also know, more importantly, which side of the fence the government of Scotland is on. And they are amongst the good guys.

        Who’d have thought that a ‘nationalist’ movement would be more caring than a centrist money grabbing shower of Etonians? I look forward to the debate.

        I too, wish that we were independent. I think we will be sometime soon. It is things like this that suggest that the Union hasn’t got much supporting it.

        Best Wishes


  12. Thanks Dougie, my very thoughts on Nicola. I am very proud she is our leader and thought her words on the refugee crisis and especially the wee boy, were very moving.

    PS Just watching the Andrew Marr show and still the BBC can’t come to terms with the SNP as the third largest party at Westminster. No sign of them, but Vince Cable was interviewed!!!!!!

  13. Enjoyable read – esp the rugby bit! Comments too are good. ” Gerry over thinks” Ha! I’ve stopped reading his articles, I get the impression he rises each morning and muses “what will I write about today?”.

    Complex issues are best explained simply, not dressed up in lengthy multi-syllable words.

    And yes, when canvassing I too recommended WOS and Derek Bateman for informative reading.

  14. Scotland men’s rugby team? Don’t you mean the ‘North Britain’ team? I suspect any male rugby players daft enough to admit publicly they voted ‘YES’, would not be re-selected; such is ‘class’ so entrenched in the North Britain team & its team selectors & coaches.

    The women Scots rugby team is an entirely different story!

    The lassies actually believe they come from a nation called ‘Scotland’ & they have a (terribly common) tendency not to be ex-public school or tory or (rich) farmers or investment bankers or lawyers.

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