Shake It All About

No sign of a grassroots Remain movement yet, I see. If anything defines the EU’s predicament, it’s the absence of people power to sustain it. How many of us In voters do you reckon would turn up on Calton Hill for the EU rally? You could get more Hibs fans for a pitch invasion.

What would our banners say – Embrace the Autocracy! Vote Remain for an Outside Possibility of Democratic Reform! We Love the EU…Except for TTIP!

It reminds me of our march along Princes Street, up the Mound and on to the Meadows in 1992 when the European Council met in Edinburgh. We hijacked it for a pro-assembly devolution protest complete with genteel Edinburgh chants…

What Do We Want?

A Measure of Devolved Administration!

When Do We Want It?

As Soon as it’s Convenient!

It was a demo with its pinkie raised. But I did get to hear Hamish Henderson sing Freedom Come A’ Ye from the open top bus. And I had a pint with Willie McIllvanney. From that time, as we digested the scorched earth effect of a shock Tory election win, the determination grew that we must create our own political culture and find a forum to express it. The doubters – and there were many among Labour and the Lib Dems – wanted the opposite. They argued the constitutional argument had failed and we should step off the gas. For the rest, including Scottish Labour Action, it proved the case for aggressive campaigning, civil disobedience and placing self-determination at the heart of politics. We already had the Claim of Right and the movement was broadening at the time with the argument, philosophically at least, winning. But it was the early nineties when the vision took hold that there was nothing to protect us from Tory governments and it certainly wasn’t 50 Labour MPs.

John Major fought his Maastricht rebels and resisted Scotland’s demands all of which helped crystalise in our minds an idea of a modern self-governing Scotland within a community of European democracies.

So from our effete amble through Edinburgh something did grow. Today it is a Holyrood Parliament, more powers than we dared dream of back then and a national mindset accustomed to thinking, if not actually embracing, national independence.

Maybe, just maybe, the shock that comes from a narrow win in the UK accompanied by a glance around the festering insurgency in other member states, will propel the EU institutions into a frenzy of introspection. It would be a mistake to imagine this can be dismissed as a British problem. There is a deep trench in opinion now as we saw this week in Austria – not so much Left v Right as Permissive v Intolerant.

This is discontent that only a supra national organisation can address but are there signs that the EU is doing so beyond the predictable mewling?

We all have our doubts and fears – no one is immune from asking questions about the flow of immigration and its implication for public services, for employment, and, yes, in some areas, for crime too. Is it a surprise that a population confronted daily by media messages about medieval self-styled Islamists grows afraid?

The first reaction is self-protection and withdrawal, double-locking the door behind us. But if there is an answer it surely lies in a communal approach and a systematic organised process for deciding numbers, treatment and distribution of those seeking a new life. It is a testament to European success that others would risk life and family to share in what we have created. Many of us are proud that asylum seekers, refugees and economic immigrants see our country as a promised land. We must admit too that we have also played our part in creating the mayhem from which many of them escape.

Britain’s referendum is a monster of a thing – if Cameron’s relentless indyref style fear-mongering were sincere you’d have to ask if he isn’t some kind of idiot for holding a vote on an issue he claims could be catastrophic for the country. As it is, it’s now so toxic among the Tories that even a win might not save Cameron from defenestration and the Tory Party from splitting.

On the other hand it might just be the kind of event that snaps people into reality. It might reach down into their inner self and rekindle what for many was the cathartic experience of facing total destruction in war with a sense of togetherness they had never previously known.

The moans about bureaucratic interference are the chaff that surrounds everyday life anywhere. The unloved politicians of Brussels are the same as unloved politicians in Britain. The problems they face are sometimes too big for anyone to solve. We as voters need something and someone to complain about.

But we also need someone who can manage a complex and inter-connected world on our behalf. That is the EU’s role and it depends on us believing that it acts in our best interests, even if incompetently at times. The shame is that for many of us, the custom of granting Brussels the benefit of the doubt on such matters has become harder.

The UK’s may not be the last referendum on membership and, assuming we survive this one, the EU will need a plan of action if it isn’t to be splintered from within. There is an element of Last Chance about the British vote.

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Listing To Port

Some of you will have noticed I haven’t been blogging much of late –n o cheering at the back. There are a few reasons for this. First, the weather has been lovely and the chance to make the most of it when I no longer go to work is overwhelming – you should see my legs.

Second, I’ve spent the last week on jury duty at Glasgow Sheriff Court. This is known as hingin’ aboot. Fifty good citizens and true turn up every day expecting to sentence a miscreant (in my case a Unionist) to death. While we wait around looking glum the fiscal negotiates with defence lawyers to see if a trial will proceed. Why they can’t do this before we give up our time, nobody explains. On Thursday we waited two hours in the morning and had to take a lunch break before they actually tracked down the defence lawyer who hadn’t bothered to turn up. Then we were sent home. Heaven help any accused who goes to trial on a Friday after a week of this…

Then, instead of writing, I opted to bite my lip. So much misdirected bile has been spilling out since the election that I couldn’t write without expressing some of my own. So I kept a lid on it. There is a wider interest in shared objectives in the long term that is worth sustaining. Nor am I going to rehearse old arguments now. I stick by the case I made before voting – that everybody should vote the way they wish and do it with pride. That’s what I did and I am proud. I have no regrets about supporting the party that encapsulates my priorities best.

What I truly can’t stand is hearing anyone say a vote was wasted. No democrat can make that claim. Every vote counts and every vote is equal. The only vote that is wasted is the vote that isn’t cast.

Anyone who doesn’t get elected failed by not getting enough votes – just like the indyref. Blaming the voters is facile.

It’s clear there are interesting things going on at Holyrood while the boys and girls settle in. I laughed at the irony of the old guard who can’t get used to change. The SNP were rightly criticised last time for appointing their own Presiding Officer. Yet when they back a Labour candidate, it’s a Nat conspiracy. Well, maybe it is. Like the ferry contract going to Cal Mac because the SNP were intimidated by Torquil Crichton into breaching EU law and discriminating against Serco. (Who were of course their preferred bidders because the Nats are Hell-bent on privatising ferry services, as everybody who reads Brian Wilson knows.)

This is an extraordinary story which says so much about our small country and the influence of a handful of extremists whose hostility to the elected government is obsessive. From what I saw, the ferry row was started by Brian Wilson and taken up by his mini-me’s at the Record and Kevin McGuire of the Mirror who seems to simply copy down and reproduce what Wilson says.

Wilson is highly regarded by the remaining Labour diehards searching desperately for something to campaign on. The myth of privatisation was pushed as if it were an SNP policy position instead of a bidding competition demanded as an EU legal requirement and confirmed by the previous Labour/Lib Dem Executive which got clarification from Brussels (against SNP objections). It was still being reported that way today across the old newspapers and even given credence by Common Space which headlined it as Victory for the Campaigners. Technically, it is. It’s a ‘victory’ for all of us who prefer Cal Mac. But the implication that a campaign swung the decision is as inaccurate as it’s insulting. The law demands, among other things, transparency and absence of discrimination in public contract bidding. Any evidence – as opposed to emissions of lie-infested hot air from Crichton and Wilson – that sentiment or politics played a part in denying Serco a fair hearing could provide grounds for an appeal. It won’t happen of course, as Serco knew their bid was ruled incompetent in any case – the real and openly-declared reason they lost – but the outpouring of mendacity by the unions and Labour praising themselves for their campaign theoretically threatened the Cal Mac success…a success achieved by Cal Mac staff who were the last to be congratulated by the Labour drones.

Serco failed because their bid was non compliant. They sought changes to commercial terms aimed at striking a balance between the risks and rewards involved. It seems they couldn’t make the numbers work to squeeze enough profit out of the deal prepared by the Transport Scotland – the very opposite of Wilson’s windy claim that the government’s plan was to privatise.

Labour voices are now claiming it shouldn’t have gone to tender at all – relying on the short memories of a public sick of lying politicians. It is also clear that the very fact of competition helped to drive up the quality of the Cal Mac bid resulting in a better deal for the customer and the taxpayer.

Within this scabrous little affair we see how damaging to the public interest and how corrosive to the body politic the scheming and destructive anti-Nats can be. A straightforward tender process is subverted by unprincipled politicos and a complaint media.

There is no reason why a campaign in favour of Cal Mac should not be run to make clear public opinion – although care is needed not to assume there is 100 per cent approval in the Western Isles for MacBraynes. Like so much else with the defeated Left, this turned out to be a false flag campaign with dishonesty at its heart.

When we look at Labour and try to divine what went wrong for them, this case offers evidence. There is a bitter resentment at unending defeat, a curdled sense of entitlement, belief that the bigger the lie the more chance of success and contempt for the people…yet with tentacles reaching across civic Scotland that are still capable of doing damage.

I am very happy Cal Mac won and can’t wait for my next trip but I will never associate the red funnel with the red rose of the corrupted Labour party. Cal Mac belongs to Scotland.

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Rievers of Blood

Here’s a talking point from history for you as a weekend treat…it comes from an academic whose identity I will shield (careers can be ruined by appearing here – look what happened to John Boothman). My correspondent is worried about the approach of Ruth Davidson who said on the BBC that only 16 per cent of Scotland’s trade is with the EU but 60 per cent is with England. 

‘This reminded me of the trap that was sprung in 1707, when as a result of the War of the Spanish Succession (which didn’t end until 1712) and other anti-Europe trade measures enacted by the Crown, Scotland’s trade with Europe (which was then substantial – more than 16%, I would have thought, but no figures are available that I’m aware of) was greatly curtailed.

However cross-Border trade had steadily bloomed since 1603. One of James VI’s key objective on becoming joint monarch was to settle the Anglo-Scottish Border wars and crack down on the Border rievers on both sides – Scottish and English monarchs had not succeeded in co-operating sufficiently to stamp this out.

Anyway, the gist of it was that there was a large amount of trade with England by 1707 which went overland, across the Borders, at a time when trade with Europe and overseas was severely curtailed. When England threatened Scotland in 1706 with the Aliens Act, whereby this trade would also be severely curtailed unless Scotland agreed to the Union, they played a blinder.

It was one of the key threats to Scotland that ensured the passage of the Acts of Union. It is notable that (then as now) that there was a compelling economic logic to this, (the logic of blackmail, that is) that so many were willing to vote against the Union irrespective of the fact that as a result of the Aliens Act coming into force we would almost certainly have been worse off in the short to medium term.

Davidson didn’t quite say it, but I think she was issuing a similar threat, that if we voted for independence, England would threaten to, and probably carry out, under a Tory government, tariff restrictions on our English trade. And if we had already been brought out of Europe by England, we would have lost our European trade to, or at least it would be hampered by being outside of the EU.

History repeats itself….many who accepted the union in 1707 were not enthusiastic for it. They simply felt it was catch 22 and there was a compelling logic to it given the situation Scotland was placed in. But, on the plus side, at least the union offered global opportunities through the nascent British Empire not so available in an independent Scotland. Scots became ardent British expansionists. In a weird way, it became a badge of Scottish pride and a compensation for our national humiliation in 1707 to out-British the English in the UK’s global expansion.’

Could it all happen again?

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Compare the Market!

Save! Save! Save! Vote Remain for the best deal in Europe! Make your money go further. Compare the Market and see for yourself – Outside the EU means higher costs, less security and national weakness. Vote for Dave and George not Boris and Iain – back your favourite brand of Tory…

And if that isn’t enough, remember, there’s always the threat of Hitler if we stay in and isolation if we go out.

What a choice and what a mess. The EU referendum is showing modern Britain at its shallow worst – all self-interest and money-obsessed – the country that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, right enough. And look at the champions on either side. They are the power elite of the UK, the very people voters have been rejecting across the continent as a kleptocracy, grasping and greedy while ensnaring the rest of us in never ending austerity. Millionaire business bosses and unelected Lords are hardly regarded today as the voices of reason. There is a cross-party membership but in Scotland the public face of Remain is mostly Ming Campbell, devout Europhile and all, who is seeing out the end of his political career in the gilt splendour of the Lords and is now more enriched grandee than people’s campaigner.

Mona Siddiqui of the hypnotic voice, is from the Great and Good Register of Public Appointments with establishment credentials burnished on middle class Radio Four’s Thought for the Day. (I think I’m right in saying both the highly intelligent Mona and patrician Ming were declared No voters which doesn’t speak much to a changed Scotland). I suppose on the other side Tom Harris is a man of the people. Or was.

There I go. I wanted to write a positive piece on the EU referendum and can hardly get started without being led down the path of criticism. In fact, the truth is there is nothing you can say about the unloved EU that doesn’t carry the sense of either failure or at best qualified success.

To most people it is a faceless thingy that does stuff they don’t understand…and it’s run by foreigners.

From the inside (I speak as an observer) it is an infuriating rabbit warren of subterranean complexity, of decisions that turn to dust on the keyboard as you try to explain them, of groups of suited, middle-aged men referring details from one ‘institution’ to another. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had to ask after a committee meeting: What just happened there? Only to find that whatever it was, it isn’t binding, it contradicts existing legislation and will come before the plenary in Strasbourg next month where it will be vetoed by Spain anyway.

If you talk to the insiders they will laugh and say: Not at all. It’s really quite simple. And in a sense it is. It’s simple in the way a map of London Underground is easy to understand when it’s laid out in a stylised graphic on a poster. But get on the Tube and try to get around without knowledge and you’ll find it anything but simple. So I’ll stop this and think positive. Forget the EU we know and remember why it was born.

Until recently I used to think the story of post war Europe searching for a binding pact that would save the people from the unimaginable horror of another war was now officially categorised under Whiskery Old Tales. But I’ve changed my mind. First I still struggle to come to terms with the crushing of Greece by an EU led by Germany which, I’m afraid, acted in a bullying manner echoing earlier times. The relentless demands for repayments that will squeeze the life out of a European neighbour and set back for generations the social provision the EU was supposed to guarantee with higher living standards, benefits and pensions, painted a picture of a greedy powerbase blind to its impact. The behaviour towards Greece ignited a political insurgency that at times was revolutionary in its zeal. So far the rage has been contained.

Blame for the runaway borrowing and non-existent accountancy was laid at the feet of the Greek people but it was years of corruption by PASOK politicians and the pilfering of taxes by the rich sheltered by other European nations, that was the cause. The borrowing came largely from Germany whose lenders profited. The money bought goods from Germany whose manufacturers profited. The winner was the economy and jobs from which Germans profited. This is a Germany that never paid enough in reparation for the devastation of war. The episode was for me a distant reminder of how one-eyed and cruel one nation can be in dealing with another.

Then there is the refugee problem. This is what an organised group of nations exits to do – coordinate and cope, finding ways of working together on a shared programme to solve an issue. In this case, it is literally the lives of others fleeing from conflicts the EU itself, with its foreign affairs role, has done little to mitigate. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (now there’s a title) is the face of the Union’s relations with other nations. And it’s led by (quiz question coming up). No? By Federica Mogherini, of course. She replaced Blair’s Babe Baroness Ashton. Remember her? Still no?

Not only are these leading European politicians virtual non-entities, they appear to be little more than ventriloquist dummies on the arm of the American Secretary of State. Have you heard Mogherini berate the US for its Syrian policy? Or even the Russian Syrian policy?

The result is that one of the foundations of EU policy, open borders, has been swiftly and unapologetically wound up by countries who prefer razor wire to reason. When people risk their children’s lives in flimsy boats, when they are tearing down fences, trooping along the highways with their world in a carrier bag, we witness again the symbols of conflict last seen in the Balkans and before that in the 1940s.

Damn. I’m doing it again. So let me put aside the people and practicalities, the errors and omissions.

I wrote last year about my visit to Oradour in Haut Vienne, the village left untouched as a reminder after the Nazis executed the population. There, in the church where the women and children died and in the garage with its rusty Citroen where men and boys were mown down – there you confront the birth of the EU.

Because at the heart of the EU lies an ideal. It is shared humanity. It says that rights to safety, peace and prosperity cannot be guaranteed by one nation alone. History shows that route leads eventually to war – war of ideas, of trade and war of arms. It says that richer nations should share with poorer to improve all…that we all benefit from raising the standards of the lowest. We do it by redistributing our wealth – be it money, expertise or care for others. The ideal is that the people of Europe, from Greece to Galway, have a common cause and shared interest. The ideal is solidarity.That’s what I believe.

I agree it’s badly run. It is past time it underwent internal reform. It screams out for a PR and marketing overhaul. It desperately needs a human face – not men in suits running from limo to glass fortress. It expanded too fast. It fails to consult the people it represents. It has lost any sense of why it was created. It can do so much better.

Yet the EU is much more than a market. It is an idea, born at the same time and with the same meaning as the UN. It isn’t a plan to destroy nations but to free them to do what they do best. It has brought protection of rights, the raising of standards and freedom of movement. It has made us better people by looking outward, embracing difference yet still standing together. Whatever errors there are and no matter the level of hubris, the bedrock of the EU remains the shared interest of the people of the 28 member states, their peace and their prosperity. Even if the leaders have forgotten it.

Sentimental it may be but it goes to the heart of the referendum – ask which way the people of Oradour would vote if they had the chance today. And ask the Germans who executed them…






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Are You Crazy or Somethin’?

It’s like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Observing Labour grapple with the awful truth that we’ve all seen coming is like watching the asylum inmates queuing up for their pills. Maybe we’ll have to revisit our approach to the constitution. The people won’t listen to us until we do. We’ve been slow to understand…

Poor buggers, the rest of us think. Imagine being so out of touch and so deep in denial. Labour activist Scott Arthur tweets: As SNP enter their 10th year of Gov, what have they achieved? 1. Divided Scotland.2. Moved Scots to right.3. Boosted the Tories.

As Alan Bissett points out, nowhere does he take responsibility. It’s always someone else’s fault. This is classic denial and deflection which has afflicted Labour for a decade. They’re like an amateur boxer getting skelped rigid, telling himself after every punch that he’s still standing and it’ll stop soon. But it doesn’t, until he’s carted off to the infirmary. The stupidity is staggering. They haven’t even learned to duck. When you combine it with their disbelief and resentment at others, it fuels a poisonous gas that the whole of Scotland can smell. We shut our windows and call the children in.

Here’s Jamie Kinlochan in Labour Hame: I don’t believe that constitutional politics gets many Labour members out of bed in the morning. It is clear now, however, that we can’t just lie in because we don’t want to have the conversation. So we might need to set our alarms half an hour earlier. As long as independence is the single issue that dominates Scottish politics, social justice will not be. Kez’s plan to challenge that and continue to fight for those who are being ignored is the right one. We will rebuild and we will restore our party in the pursuit of equality.

Again, Jamie needs to take his tablets. He totally misses what Yes was about – realizing that self-determination for the Scots is the platform from which equality and social justice can be attained. It’s true there are old Nats like me with a deeper, more historical yearning for independence but I too believe that Scots governing Scots will always trump the efforts of the British state. Look at the inequality the British have wreaked on this country yet Jamie and Scott blame the Nats! How much easier would it be to win in Scotland and nudge left-leaning Scots to more radical policies than trying to convince the essentially right-wing English electorate and the public school neo liberal Brit establishment? (Which the two of them campaigned to keep in control with Better Together).

It’s Labour’s failure to present a coherent programme that has encouraged anti-Nats to vote Tory. Blaming the SNP for winning, convincing Scots and raising expectations is psychotic in the circumstances. (Sorry, getting caught up in the Cuckoo’s Nest analogy).

You might as well say it’s a pity Scotland had it’s political reawakening. We should have stayed cowed and unengaged. We should have shut up and voted for woodentop Labour backbenchers with limited ability, no power and a sense of entitlement that makes them think socialists and democrats have a natural home in the Lords.

The more you hear this stuff, the more you realize that it isn’t Nats who are locked into nationalistic thinking but the Unionists themselves. Even when Scotland is shouting in their face to wake up, they check their watch and turn away. Today Anas Sarwar talks of revisiting powers for Holyrood yet, as Michael Stewart reminds us, they’ve just finished telling us we already have the most powerful devolved government in the world. Which is it?

My only conclusion is that Labour aren’t really radicals, or socialists, or proud Scots at all, although some will be. Essentially they are what we said two years ago – Britnats who can see no future outside their beloved Union and whose self-loathing transfers to fellow Scots who want to move on.

Too many Labour voices now sound like grudge and grievance – the very charge they laid at the SNP who at least had a plan. What’s Labour’s plan now? Their dismal failure has lost them even opposition status, trapped between the bogeyman Tories and the bogle they themselves made of the SNP. Yet they will now have to choose every week whose side they are on, stumbling on for a year until the final cataclysm – local government wipe out.

On which point can I go against the grain and say I don’t think Kezia is a good leader. I know there is sympathy for her and I feel it myself. I know she’s attractive in a presentational sense. I’m sure she’s intellectually honest…heart in the right place and all that. But her few months in office have been appalling. Her attempts at reforming the party to get rid of the duds is mocked by the return of Sarwar, Gray, Baillie and the others who are themselves responsible for lack of vision and wider voter appeal.

Her policy positions have been patchwork and reversible. Her commitments have been elastic and her messages the equivalent of political morse code. She can’t sell an idea or a policy. The lack of any capacity to punch through the effect of limited resources and still command respect rather than acquire a general likeability has been glaring. You can reasonably argue she had little chance but what she can’t do is go backwards which is what has dramatically happened on her watch. First impressions count. The view I heard in Glasgow – from an older Labour woman – ‘Is that lassie really running Labour?’ sums it up. The answer is Yes, she is and she’s the best they’ve got. The sad part is she is now a diminished presence in a beleaguered group, carrying the burden of ridicule as the Labour leader who lost to the Tories. Personally, I don’t think that’s sustainable. Nor is it good for her self-esteem and dignity.

Am I right that the normally voluble Blair MacDougall, the brain behind Scottish Labour’s last few years of triumph, is remarkably quiet? Why would that be? And where is the ever sneery Lord George Foulkes, never knowingly undersold? Kezia will be on the front line taking the flak while those with the real responsibility take the Gordon Brown route of impersonating Macavity the Cat and disappearing. Isn’t that the truth?

In Cuckoo’s Nest the patients are divided into Acutes who can be cured and Chronics who can’t. In Labour’s case, you decide.

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