From Our Own Correspondent

Good afternoon. You join me here in the blasted wastes of the remote Northern territory of Unthink, a place so doggedly one-dimensional that it is being studied by research teams and think tanks from twenty countries.

The people of Unthink have lost the power of individual thought and can only act collectively, following each other sheep-like in herds, their mouths hanging open and their eyes blank.

Unthinkers have, it seems, lost control of their personal faculties under the brain-washing of a powerful tribal sect that has captured their government.

‘We’ve haven’t seen anything like this in any other modern society’, said Rob McAlbyn, Professor of Neurological Existentialism at Common Place University. ‘North Korea gets close but then they don’t have any political choices available to them. In Unthink people can actually select a different option for one of their votes but choose not to do so.’

That part is true. All the evidence is that in Unthink one party dominates the voting and some academics think that may be because it’s very popular. ‘It’s the only explanation we can think of,’ said one researcher. ‘We really haven’t come across this phenomenon before. Normally people rely on being told by experts what to think and get confused by media reporting. Here they just get on with it and that threatens the jobs of academics and journalists.’

Particularly frustrated are a newly emerging minor tribe, the RISEN, who are trying to prod the Unthinkers into life by offering them radical new ideas. So far hardly anyone has heard of them and those who have complain of bitter in-fighting and internecine conflict in which some members are expelled and tribal laws are overturned without a vote. They are also often overshadowed by yet another tiny but noisy group who drown them out with beating drums and an ominous repetitive chant of ‘Tommy, Tommy, Tommy.’

Recently discovered papyrus documents known as the Panelbase Scrolls show that since ancient times the people of Unthink have roundly rejected the ideas of RISEN and are suspicious that they are using them to leapfrog to prominence.

The result is that Unthink will again cast all its votes for the same leaders for no better reason than they like their policies and trust them to get on with the job. ‘This is the real tragedy,’ said the professor. ‘Just because they want them in power, they refuse to be deflected from their chosen course instead of thinking it through carefully and then agreeing with me.’ Asked if Unthink wouldn’t judge that he himself was being ‘unthinking’ in patronising the citizens by suggesting they couldn’t think for themselves, he said: “That hadn’t occurred to me.’

Next week I’ll be reporting from the intellectually frozen bogland of the long-forgotten and fast-disappearing Tory tribe. Join me then.

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Print and Be Demeaned

Stand by your man. That was always the first response of editors when threats and warnings came in. At the Herald, where I worked from 1973 to 1987, it now seems Bend the Knee is the editor’s motto.

When thugs – be they individual or corporate – start dictating your policy, you’re finished. I suggest that while Magnus Llewellin remains editor the credibility of the Herald is zero.

Newspapers are more than a fistful of pages and a scattering of print. They are – the good ones – the messenger carrying the information gathered through a network of contacts, bringing to us all the intelligence that informs. Information makes us engaged citizens. The flow of information and ideas is the mortar that builds communities and collective ideals. Papers lead popular debate by raising issues and they challenge through scrutiny and interrogation. They earn respect as an essential tool of civilised society, or what the Americans are not too self-conscious still to call Freedom.

Digital media has ruthlessly exposed the weaknesses in the newspaper model by firing in volley after volley of correction, perspective and outright contradiction that can only be confronted through ever more intensive fact-checking and painstaking by the Press. Yet when the need for old-fashioned standards of reporting, writing and subbing is at its greatest, the unforgiving accountancy that demands inexorable budget cuts, hacks away at the roots of journalism. Draining resources from the main purpose of a paper – journalism – dilutes its effectiveness through second-rate appointments, corner-cutting and acceptance of mediocrity. When the budget is the bottom line rather than journalism, the door is open to corruption.

Bowing to boardroom braggadocio and threats of advertising withdrawal is the sign of an organisation in retreat. The squirming statement re Graham Spiers, arguably Scotland’s finest sports writer in the tradition of the Herald’s Ian Archer and the Scotsman’s John Rafferty, was a white flag. The peremptory dismissal of Angela Haggerty for the crime of re-tweeting in solidarity is falling on one’s knees.

This is the paper of Ian Bell (RIP), Iain Mcwhirter, David Pratt, recently released Robbie Dinwoodie and others but the gulf between the few and the generality of reporting and writing is widening. The coverage of the Twitter spat between Rowling and McGarry omitted, as far as I could see, mention of the trigger account whose holder was accused of mysogyny – an essential ingredient of the story and without which it becomes a vacuous bitch-fest between two celebs. Cursory reporting would reveal what the outside world knows – that the Spanner individual, barred two years ago by me, is the epitome of revolting misogyny. Is the Herald the only news outfit unaware of the truth? Or was it, more likely, simply afraid to print what it knows either because of the vile language he uses or because it feared getting on the wrong side of a powerful and rich personality? After this week’s cave-in, we can easily guess.

And that’s the problem, right there. You no longer trust them when you know they can be bought so cheaply. Who else does the Herald bow down to?

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Potato Head

A man in Croyden thought Ed Miliband was a potato but they didn’t need an internal inquiry to tell them that. It was clear from the reaction in the hall the moment he was elected and beat his brother David that this wasn’t meant to be. And that was just the Labour Party. Once the country realised Labour were serious, the Yugh factor kicked in. It isn’t always measurable because most people don’t want to be rude about someone to a stranger asking questions for a polling organisation. So they find euphemisms like ‘looks funny’, ‘unconvincing’ or ‘not strong’. What they really think is: ‘I wouldn’t vote for this twerp to run a Scout troop.’

But Labour’s leaked internal findings, strangely missing from Dame Beckett’s Pollyanna storyboard of an election report, show that Ed was the least of Labour’s problems. Or he was just the visible incarnation of a party that had lost its way and misplaced its ability to reach the voters.

The two dominant policy themes were that Labour blew the money and bust the country and wasn’t interested in ‘me’…Me being the ubiquitous hard working family person. The first is nonsense. Labour were only spending modestly above income until the Crash which blew everything off course – certainly no more than Thatcher did. The point is that, instead of ensuring the agenda stayed accurate, or at least debatable, Labour allowed the Tories and their chums in the media to write the history. Thus, Labour spent all the money. Where are you, Alistair Campbell?

Secondly, they did what the party’s Right was warning of – they tried to shore up support by focussing on those suffering the worst of Tory austerity. What’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing, so long as it is balanced by making an appealing offer to the in-work and the better off without whose support you can’t win (to quote that nice Mr Blair). When Labour – and any politicians – talk about helping those on benefits, even if it’s for all the right reasons, to a huge section of the population devouring British media pap every day, that means scroungers. Duncan Smith’s department deliberately put out distorted information to selected right wing papers, the Mail and Telegraph, with individual cases of scroungers which sets an agenda picked up for the broadcasters and accepted as the norm. Voters think the billions the government talks about saving from the welfare budget are caused by workshy cheats. The official figures show it to be 0.7 per cent of the welfare budget.

Anybody who’s had to get out the door by 6am on a cold morning and comes home in the dark with a flimsy pay packet is going to feel resentment at dysfunctional types lounging on sofas, playing with the dog and smoking fags on Benefits Street. Labour’s concern was interpreted as over wrought concern for ‘down and outs’ instead of balancing it with a vision for the people who think of themselves – and are encouraged to do so by the government – as the Doers and Workers. Labour lent too far Left for a centrist electorate.

The other touchstone issue was immigration which, ridiculously, the Tories won. Cameron has only talked tough and consistently failed to meet any target he’s set – the same as Osborne on the economy. But because he talked about crackdowns and made some crass – and sometimes counter productive – gestures, the reporting made him look tough and Labour late and soft.

The terrifying part of this is how it is information manipulation that lies at the heart of politics. To a degree, your policies can be just about anything, but so long as you have a compelling story which appeals to the media and gives the public what they want to hear, you still win. Well done, the Tories. And, let’s be honest here, well done the SNP. They’ve also learned the trick.

Reading the report

there were clear signs of what Labour has misjudged in Scotland, not just in the specific Scottish chapter. People felt Labour were obsessed with the past –all that How We Built the NHS etc – when they want to hear about the future, especially when the world has gone through a major financial upset. Labour looked and sounded historic and when your main comparison is with Tories yearning for a return to the 1950’s, you’re in trouble. Haven’t the SNP consistently talked about reindustrialising Scotland with renewables, imagining a new independent Scotland, taking the country forward – and have come up with new faces to mix in with the recognised. Indeed, wasn’t the resignation of Salmond a masterstroke?

But the cruncher for Labour in Scotland was surely the blindingly obvious – they might not be the SNP but why did they have to be so close to the Tories? The answer of course is that they aren’t really so far from them at all on too many questions and are side by side on the major issue of Scotland. How utterly out of touch could you be not to see the danger of that? (It amazes me that the man who drove that campaign, McDougall is still in place. How can you begin to start afresh when the man with the dirty hands is still gripping the wheel?)

I loved the idea that Labour were seen as indistinguishable from the Tories, only ‘not as competent.’ It isn’t Alistair Campbell they need. It’s Armando Iannucci.

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Hey, Hey, we’re the Monkeys

I’ve a few things to get through today having spent Friday recording and Saturday at swimming and rugby. First of all I want to thank all of you who responded so positively to my last blogs on what makes us nationalists committed to independence. The reaction was overwhelming with probably my biggest ever Twitter retweet count (I’ve no idea how to assess that). A number of you said I had put into words what you had felt all your life…that is really moving to hear and makes the hours in the Maryhill Bunker worthwhile. I said when I started two and a half years ago that I wanted to add my voice to the national movement and I was determined to be honest and, when necessary, fearless in expressing my views and commenting on others. That has led to cracks in relationships and an uncomfortable sense of being ‘out there’, open to criticism in return and, inevitably, to ridicule from those who don’t share my opinions. I know many of you understandably don’t want to be on the front line but express your appreciation for those of us who take the case forward. Given that we do it for nothing – the Wine Club notwithstanding – as opposed to the Unionist flag-bearers who are paid for opposing self-government, I think it tells you a lot about our motivation. As my pal Billy Kay puts it: It’s the Cause. Not a single email or tweet is wasted – they mean a lot to me.

Amid the messages, as you’ll see among the responses on the right, is one that adds pleasure to the warm glow. It tries to contradict my statement that we don’t want to be better than anyone else, rather we want to be just the same (as other nations) by quoting an old tract of Siol nan Gaidheal! When your opponent sinks to the level of the asinine, it tells you he has already lost the argument. To be fair, I had completely forgotten the fruitcakes of Siol who have fallen off everybody’s radar. SNG to my knowledge, were proscribed by the SNP 34 years ago and, according to Professor Murray Pittock, disbanded in 1985. “Some of these groups were probably riddled with agents provocateurs; the odd one was genuine though all seemed incompetent,’ he writes. There is still a website though if you’re interested with press cuttings back to the 80’s…Just google.

It does show that your organisation can always be defined by its weakest link, no matter how negligible or incongruous. (Didn’t the English Defence League, the National Front, the BNP and the Orange Order all back the Union?)

My reader quotes an STV blogger in his defence who describes you all as paranoid and aggrieved. I suggest there is a certain lack of self-awareness on display here. Read his effort and decide who exactly sounds paranoid and aggrieved? I apologise for this first ever mention of Stephen Daisley on the blog and hope to make it the last. I asked a friend who has spent his adult life in the Scottish media and has written and commented extensively on it what he thought. He said, in so many words, that ‘he was interesting when he started, a good addition to the debate and it was well written. Now it’s descended into the usual smear and agitprop to get more clicks. The trouble is that some of them just can’t sustain it.’ You see? It ain’t easy producing quality every few days over a sustained period. That’s why so much of the scribbling by ubiquitous columnists falls short. (They need something to believe in!)

Insulting someone’s followers isn’t the brightest either. Remember this is the official voice of STV and STV thinks you’ve got mental health problems. That’s your local independent TV news and current affairs station. I checked and Stephen is their digital political correspondent. What a rebuff to journalists like Bernard Ponsonby and John Mackay who’ve upheld real broadcast journalism for years. But if you want to see an example of what paranoia and grievance can do to you, read here.

The really funny part was that I saw this message immediately after reading an email to the blog from a female academic in New York who, as you’ll see on the right, uses her extensive historical constitutional knowledge to contradict me, very elegantly. That’s the kind of person who does contact me. I’ve just had an exchange with a Scottish university lecturer about my previous blog and an email conversation with someone else who reads me – on of our foremost academics with an international reputation (more later). I guess that’s what STV calls grievance monkeys. Or maybe it’s my Twitter account then? I suppose some among 12,000 will have a grievance. Let’s look through my list of followers. Oh, yes, there’s a Michelin-starred chef, a Hollywood film maker, government ministers (!?), best-selling authors and, wait for it…Jeremy Corbyn and Kezia Dugdale…both following me. I knew it! People with a grievance. (I think theirs is that the SNP keep winning.)

I think the message is: If you’re going to attack, get some ammo. Don’t march off to war behind the pipes and drums armed with a pea-shooter and a cocktail stick. Still, let’s be glad Stephen’s giving us the benefit of his maturity and experience – our debate needs all the help it can get.

Now…to the point of this blog. The above mentioned email conversation was with an expert on economics who doesn’t want his name appended (presumably worried Stephen think’s he’s paranoid). I asked him a simple question – If Scotland had voted Yes how would we have coped with the fall in the oil price?

His first point acknowledges the serious hit Scotland faces but contrasts it with the money we are losing through the Tories’ austerity programme.

‘At the time of the referendum oil tax revenues were priced into the budget calculations at about $100 per barrel to yield roughly 7bn pounds a year. Since then the price has fallen to $30 per barrel; that is a 70% drop since 2014. So you would expect, absent any other changes, the tax revenues to drop roughly 70% too: to about 2.1bn pounds now. However the implied loss of 4.9bn in tax revenues is about the same (and possibly a little smaller perhaps) than the austerity cuts which the UK government has imposed on us and which we could arguably have avoided had there been a Yes vote. In that sense we would have been no worse off than we are now, and in a real sense better off because the oil price will recover (increased revenues in the future) while it is fair to assume the austerity cuts will be here for the foreseeable future.’

He goes on: ‘Even if we had lost 4.9bn pounds in oil revenues, after a Yes vote we would have recovered the implicit subsidies that Scottish taxpayers pay to rUK (for pensions, housing benefit, bank levies, adjusted debt servicing costs etc). Those would be gains to the budget that could be set against the loss of oil revenues, leaving only a relatively small net loss.’

My economist contact is skeptical too about the accounting involved. ‘We are being told by the Treasury that the oil tax revenues are running at just 700m pounds currently. That is a 90% drop, and comes at a time when the quantities being pumped have actually risen over the past 2-3 years (presumably because the tax surcharge has been lifted, or because the specialist operators have come in to pump in the marginal fields). So where has the missing 20% gone? The fact that there seems to be 20% missing suggests (quite strongly) that the Treasury figures  are wrong, or at least reflect some other activities in the accounting system that would not have been there had we got a Yes vote.’

He concludes: ‘So could Scotland have survived as an independent economy? This view implies we could have, and probably rather more easily than most people suppose. And could we have borrowed? I don’t see why not. The net borrowing from above would be fairly small, perhaps 1% of GDP (it is easier to borrow against oil than against taxes, the collateral is better).

‘The danger I see that the need to borrow might now go on for much longer than we might have expected. I don’t think any of us expected Saudi Arabia to keep pumping and the prices go down for so long, and now Iraq and Iran are joining in. They will have to stop eventually because of the downward pressure on their own budgets, but if the low prices go on for another 5 years then it may become expensive. Diversification in the economy would help, but without independence we lack the powers.’

There you are. The loss of oil revenues would be partly offset by avoiding the Tory cuts, budget shortfalls are covered by borrowing and the oil price will rise in time. I add my own reminder, curiously missing from Unionist critiques. It is that if we have debts it is because they were accrued by the British government not by the Scottish one and virtually everything that can be said to be negative about our economy happened under the Union which keeps strategic economic control away from our hands. The First Minister told Marr this morning that  forecasts for our onshore economy showed it overtaking the loss in oil revenues. But then she’s a believer, like me.

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It’s Normal

A strength of Yes is that it is composed of different strands of opinion which all want better solutions for Scotland. I do too and put my faith in the Scots themselves to create the country we desire when we have the control to do so. We all have the right to our own nuanced version of political thought and to call it, and ourselves, whatever we choose and to be defined by that.

Each strand is interpreted according to our own education and attitudes. Therefore nationalism means different things to different folks. If you only think of it as an alien force, the chances are it means Irish Republicanism, any side you care name in the Bosnian conflict and, of course, to put the lid on it, Nazism.

If you see it as a natural state of mind, like me, you see nationalism in Mandela, Ghandi and Bolivar. In my personal experience, every time I’ve met people from other countries – usually asking them political questions in my role as reporter – their feelings for their home are painfully powerful, both in praise of, or in protest at, the state of their nation. In Russia or Finland. Czech Republic or Slovakia. The Basque Country. France. Germany. The USA. In Poland and Romania, it’s the same. It’s true people don’t tend to say I’m a Nationalist, or I’m a Patriot. They say, with feeling, I’m Russian or Finnish in the same way we say we’re Scots. But for almost all of the above they don’t differentiate between nationalism and patriotism. They don’t say: I love my country but I reject the idea of my national government. To everybody I’ve ever met, their country is the whole kit and caboodle, the land, the people, the state and, crucially the history. Or, as I think of it, the legends they have spun about their country without which no nation survives.

The Slovaks didn’t say: I love the country but I preferred the government to be in Prague. Whether it’s little Slovakia with the same size population as Scotland or giant Germany with many times more, acceptance of their country as one sovereign whole is a given. Sharing powers through the EU is one thing but surrendering their national independence to Brussels is another completely.

We have to remember that our position in Scotland as a nation without statehood is rare indeed. We have assumed the role of regional authority like a German land or krajov of Slovakia when our history shows us to be much more – a former fully independent, internationally recognised state, in so far as descriptions applied three centuries ago. It is only here in Scotland that we pirouette on the head of a pin over patriotism and nationalism. Who else have you ever met who boasted: I love my country but don’t want it to govern itself? I much prefer it to be in a minority in another parliament where it can always be outvoted and where parties we don’t support will dictate our budget and policies. I don’t think my country should have independence because it really wouldn’t be able to do the job properly (unlike Slovakia).

Most foreign listeners would reply: Then it’s not your country at all. You can’t care enough about it to call it your nation. You may call yourself Scottish but you are in fact British. Britain is your country.

The years of Union have so seduced us that we can brag about Scotland without noticing we aren’t actually a country at all. We have every trapping and trimming except the one that matters – political power. Nationalism in Scotland is the completion of the logic that applies to every country in the United Nations – self-government. I don’t say, and have never heard a Nationalist say – that we think we are better than everybody else with the dark hint of racial superiority. The demand is purely that we be the same as everybody else. It is that we think we are as good as every body else. If we suffer any national psychosis at all it is surely the opposite of triumphalism – it is self-doubt and lack of confidence. Isn’t that what the basis of Project Fear amounted to? We’ll remind them we hold the power and threaten them with withdrawal? And did it work? Well, yes.

The meaning of nationalism has moved on from the 18th century definition, even if Unionists haven’t. Modern nationalism – in countries where self-government is taken for granted – means finding ways of collective national expression. A classic example I always give is the German mittelstand, the high quality manufacturing companies with a strong community and family ethic which survive for generations through wise, usually regional, investment; tight-run management and investment in the workforce. They resist foreign takeover. It is a German speciality, a unique type of working that brings money in and makes people proud – a collective expression of the German national character. That to me is nationalism in action, taking the best a country has and nurturing it, using it as a beacon of national achievement. In its way it also does what Unionists claim to abhor – it ‘others’ Germany’s neighbours and says: Look. We do this really well and you don’t. Nationalists, eh?

Some of you may have spotted at this point a wee contradiction. Britain too likes to boast on the international stage. When a new warship was launched last February, the government and the media went bananas on how wonderful the HMS Queen Elizabeth was – ‘the engineering equivalent of the Olympics’ (itself a ‘British triumph’).

Britain is probably the world’s most vainglorious nationalist nation, cleverly building a reputation out of cardboard while pushing nationalism into the realms of imperialism by claiming the right to hold mass destruction weapons and currently bombing a country without any legal mandate. But, oddly, you’ll look a long time for the word nationalism ever to be attributed to the UK by Scottish Unionist pundits.

The world looks to the United Nations for peaceful leadership. The UN is composed entirely of nations. Every one of them is nationalistic. Try goading Russia from Ukraine. Try filming China ‘growing’ its country with islands in the South China Sea. Ask an American if he believes in the USA. What do you think is being expressed when the French spontaneously sing the Marseilles? Is it patriotism or nationalism when Paris insists on keeping the EP in Strasbourg whatever the cost?

The desperate scraping and journalistic wheedling by Scots to justify their dual stance as proud Scots and good Brits has poisoned the meaning of nationalism for many despite being the natural state of affairs for 99.9 per cent of the world’s population.

There is nothing wrong with being a Unionist. It just means you put Britain before Scotland. But please stop insulting those of us who put Scotland and the Scots at the centre of our interest by pretending we’re lesser humans. It’s Unionism that is exceptional. We are the norm.

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