Damned If I Know

I don’t know if your antennae are twitching and what messages they’re picking up. I’m best known for my protruding proboscis – honest. It sniffs out what is happening in the dark corners of public life to keep me informed. Then turns out to be completely wrong…

The bouquets floating in the air right now are sweet and sour. The fragrant aroma with the fresh zing is the small but discernible drift from No to Yes wafted on a wave of amazement over Brexit. The familiar fetid pong is the unchanging wall of No – mutually exclusive at first but mingling over time in an intriguing medley suggesting something’s afoot. Call it Essence of Maybe.

Brexit hasn’t crashed the economy. Like all percussive events, it blasts through the economic landscape bouncing off the walls, destroying masonry here yet opening up unseen corners there. The pound fell. Foreign currency increased in value as a result and overseas visitors come and spend more.

Shocked we may be but nothing short of a nuclear strike can stop the British consumer from shopping – even with money we don’t actually have. So the high street looks buoyant. In fact quite a few of those sectoral indicators are facing in the right direction despite the Brexit threat, a bit like London shops open as usual after the Blitz.

So far the fear is all forecasting and prediction and we know how clever economists are at that. However it stands to reason that apart from the familiar moan about uncertainty, the damage, if it is to come, will follow first, the Article 50 trigger and second, the deals that can be struck on international trade. What markets will we have access to and what are the tariffs?

It’s clear from the desperate recruitment going on in Whitehall that the UK is unequipped for the scale and depth of the talks to come. It will be months before we are even staffed up to begin a process. Expect stories to emerge of massive deals for private contractors like McKinseys and KPMG called in to plug gaps.

There appears to be no agreement yet on what Britain wants to get out of this. (Now we’ve got our country back). Single market access? A special deal for services? Will we accept full-on immigration? It isn’t clear if Theresa May is plotting silently or simply hiding from difficult decisions.

I understand Sturgeon’s frustration. She’s talking up the future damage but we don’t know if that will come to pass. Until she has firm evidence she can’t plan her way to a referendum. She does though have an assurance from the Prime Minister that Scotland will listen to options on Scotland which suggests there is wriggle room within a UK deal to accommodate some Scottish preferences. But independence is not likely among them. Should there be a Scotland-only EU referendum first? A strong positive result in a second EU vote would pile pressure on both London and Brussels to recognise a separate Scottish status in keeping with the UK’s devolved structure and the EU’s now-forgotten mantra of subsidiarity. That would be jumping up and down and shouting at them: Look at me! Don’t abandon me!

The continuing inaction is delaying any substantial movement in public opinion. Scots seem to be waiting for the outline of a plan before linking Brexit with indy. One does not automatically lead to the other, it appears.

Unless that is, you are a committed European who doesn’t feel at home in a UK which rejects the 27. That instinct is part of your worldview and your innate rejection of any hint of racism, a sense that outside the EU lies isolation or that it’s just nudging us towards the US. Europe, despite its neo liberal policies and expansionist impulses, is built on a concept of solidarity and internationalism which appeals to the left. Leaving it feels counter intuitive, even a little mad and leaves us in the hands of a generation of Tory politicians hungry for TTIP, for their own form of unregulated labour and ready to shred the human rights convention.

Even if the gloomy forecasts of the single currency-led demise of the EU itself are right, many would rather go down with our partners and begin the search for a new European agreement than turn into a northern Singapore.

That sense of impending loss through Brexit is peeling away previous No voters. Simon Pia and Eric Joyce won’t be the only ones. But the mass huddle of No’s isn’t for turning, I fear. It’s impossible to know what, if anything, would eventually convince them. Probably national necessity of some kind like the EU itself offering a one-off take-it-or-leave-it choice of remaining with the departing UK or the definite promise of assuming the UK’s membership (supported by the bulk of sources they respect like business and voices within the Unionist parties).

My suspicion is that much of their continuing obduracy is a straight reaction to a second referendum. And I reckon Sturgeon is miscalculating here. However it came about there is no doubt the No side wanted to believe the idea that indyref was a once-in-a-lifetime event – a ground-shaking challenge that had to be faced down and never repeated. We forget that while we were enervated and enriched by it, to many it was an end-of-time experience. They will do anything to avoid a second…even voting Tory to keep the SNP out as some Labour people did.

I’m worried by FM talk of impending referendum legislation and plans being laid, not because we shouldn’t be ready but because it seems to run counter to public mood. Of course on the Yes side there is impatience and it’s true the ground has changed justifying a new tilt, yet there is a canny Scot ambivalence at work. Another referendum? Two years after the last? Can’t we just accept we lost?

People are unimpressed by arguments about broken promises made to keep the Union. Popular scepticism expects politicians to break promises. Like the markets anticipating a fall, they build that in to their belief system.

So care is needed not to distribute the pitchforks too early. The peasants get restless. If nothing happens they look for someone to blame. It is a classic political error to let loose the hounds before the prey is in sight. It proved costly for Gordon Brown (and Douglas Alexander)

I met a government minister this week and gleaned the idea that we are in Donald Rumsfeld territory with some known knowns and too many unknown knowns. At the risk of depressing enthusiasm, it is conceivable that this will take us beyond a second general election – May could even try a quickie this year – and perhaps beyond the Scottish vote in 2021. The implication there is that Scotland might actually come out of the EU first which means a totally different kind of legal and political challenge.

At the risk of sounding like Rumsfeld, we are where we are. Robin McAlpine is right about groundwork being needed just in case and next week the stirrings of a revived Yes will swell it back into an organisation. But forcing the pace on a confused electorate which can’t see the downside of Brexit yet and is still coming to terms with a new British leader, is a gamble with the potential to backfire.

Sometimes it’s nerves of steel you need and the strength to stay your hand. Meanwhile keep sniffing the air and be ready for the moment the scent gets hot.

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25 thoughts on “Damned If I Know

  1. Alasdair Macdonald

    I think you are right that the uncertainty of what leaving the EU actually entails is causing many people to be cautious. The markets, as they always do, reacted quickly and exaggeratedly to the EU result, but, as they always do they begin to settle. Also, despite the unwelcome (to me) result, the sun rose the following morning and people just continued to do what they had done the day before, because what else could most of us do? We are still part of the EU and will be for a few years yet, so, in a substantial way, things are still pretty much the same. However, gradually, things will change because the major parameters have changed. Whether the change will be for better of worse for the majority of us remains to be seen. There are ‘unknown unknowns’. And it is the possibility of these becoming visible that induces people to ca canny.

    The dilemma for most of us at the moment is ‘seize the time’ or ‘wait and see’. However, I do not think think it is a dichotomy. We can do both. We can prepare the arguments and preparations for independence, but within a changing context. We have to build dynamic and responsive models.

  2. Barbara McKenzie

    1) Every idiot should have been able to see that a weakened pound would be good for the economy. Why do you think China keeps its currency artificially low?
    2) Scots don’t really want independence, else they would support Brexit, a republic and their own currency.
    3) I thought an independent Scotland would be a force for good in the world, but actually you’d just be run from Tel Aviv, and happy about it, particularly under Sturgeon
    https://barbaramckenzie.wordpress.com/2016/07/12/scottish-nationalists-the-yinon-plan/

    • See that sneery attitude, that really helps!

      Try telling us about how you know what decisions an Independent Scotland will take and why.

      I bet you saw the economy tanking in 2008…

      • Barbara McKenzie

        You are right, my comment is hardly constructive, and not particularly relevant, and I am happy to have had it removed. I have been following the Scottish referendum since a few months before, which does not make me an expert by any means, but did make me a sympathiser. It is perhaps inevitable that when one follows politicians and commentators over a single issue, one is likely to be disappointed sometimes. As I have been over the support for Israel, the lack of support for Palestine and Syria. I am still reeling over the fact of the SNP sending three SMPs to what was basically a ‘destroy Iran for Israel’ conference. (I won’t put in a whole lot of links but the information is available and conclusive).

        I appreciate that Campbell has wisely avoided getting involved in foreign affairs but anyone who has closely followed @WingsScotland should have picked up on the infatuation with Daisley, whose blog was linked for a long time on the blog site. People have attacked Campbell viciously on a number of other grounds, which I could have raised but chose not to, nor will I here. (On some of these issues I believe Campbell to have been misguided to say the least, while, just to be clear, I am sympathetic to his questioning Sturgeon’s campaign for artificially engineered gender equality)

        The SNP campaigned vigorously and successfully to Remain in the EU and I believe got the result it wanted, which was to give it a justification for holding another independence referendum, should Brexit actually go ahead – I saw a lot of happy faces at the Scottish demonstration after the Brexit referendum. Maybe this will work, but it could rebound long term. So, while both the SNP and the Brexit position could be essential ingredients for independence, they both could be millstones round the neck of an independent Scotland.

        • The Daisley issue is that he changed. To begin with he seemed vaguely pro-indy in a sceptical sort of way that was often funny. Then he just seemed to get wilder and wilder, basing his comments on fewer facts. I used to read him but stopped.

          Re the Israeli thing, thanks for posting those links. Interesting to know. The SNP is a national party, the national party of Scotland, not a nationalist party. It’s more like a national liberation movement, as was recently noted by an ex-communist. As such it is a broad based party, which has always contained a spectrum of opinion, left and right, pro- and anti-EU. It has to in order to gain sufficient traction with the voting public in order to build a consensus towards independence. It tries to avoid extremes and steer a middle ground, a bit to the left. In the past it has been accused of cosying up to Islamists, and gave funding for the setting up of the Scottish Islamic Foundation some years ago, and that organisation had all sorts of dodgy links with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. So if there is now a segment interested in looking at the other side, then that seems like balance to me. Myself, I used to live in Palestine long ago, just after the Yom Kippur war. I feel heartily sick of the suffering in Gaza and the West Bank, the settler movements, and the right wing Netenyahu government. But there are two sides, and the leaders on the Palestinian side are quite a shower too. I am on the side of the suffering people. But the politicians on either side are all as bad as each other.

    • Do you honestly think that “idiots” are capable of assessing the impact of a weakened pound? Do you really, honestly think that a large percentage of Scots do not genuinely want independence or are you just indulging yourself with shameless self-promotion using DB’s blog?

      • It appears that blogging from NZ on Scotland is the latest thing! How inciteful it can be is obvious by Barabara’s comment…

        • Jings. Poor Barbara hasn’t a clue. Britnat Project Fear has obviously spread its rancid tentacles to the other side of the planet.

          • Steve Asaneilean

            She clearly hasn’t got a clue of the true view of Rev Stu about Daisley.

            And the nippy wee anti-Semitic dig at the end – are you really going to leave it up Derek?

  3. May is playing for time. It’s running out fast. Britnats won’t forget her promise of “brexit means brexit”. Neither will the rest of the EU. IndyRef2 will take place well before 2020.

  4. One thing is pretty sure though Derek, the next Referendum campaign will not be over 2 years. We wont’ have 2 years. Which is why Yes, RIC and others are moving now. We have to get out there and campaign and canvass, have those doorstep conversations with Don’t Knows and Soft Noes in advance of a referendum being called.

    And of course if we manage to shift the polls and/or uncover definite movement the pollsters are missing then that might just embolden our very cautious FM that we can win this one and to call a quick referendum before the mood can shift again.

    We have to present an alternative narrative to the Brexit project or we risk people getting too engaged in the prospects, good as well as bad, hopes as well as fears and there isn’t space for other stories and options.

    Our atrocious media sure as hell aren’t going to do it, are they? So it has to be done one conversation at a time, like last time. We still have our canvass returns from last time to compare and contrast. Don’t fear, don’t wait, Independence is tangible, let’s reach out and take hold of it. Hold it up, squalling and struggling like all newborns and let folk dream again of an old song, sung anew.

  5. Any chance there will be a second BREXIT referendum in order to determine whether the terms obtained are the terms the exiteers wanted?

    • No. I don’t agree with it, but all politicians and all parties seem to have accepted the result. A faint civic movement to reverse the result quickly petered out.

  6. Autumn budget and Hammond’s ‘fiscal reset’ hoving into view.

    That should begin to focus some minds.

  7. Brexit hasn’t actually happened. That’s why the markets have settled. It won’t happen until Teresa May launches Article 50. This will not be until spring 2017 at the very earliest. The real fireworks have not begun.

    My antennae are telling me that the hard Noes are like those trapped on the Titanic. They do not believe the vessel is sinking, or sinkable, and the band plays on. I do not believe they will under any circumstances back Scottish independence. They would rather go down with the sinking ship, largely because they believe and will never cease to believe, that it is holed below the water. I reckon these folk are 25% of the electorate.

    Attention must therefore be focused on those Noes who entertain reasonable doubt in 1) the possibility that the UK is seriously f****d, politically and economically, and 2) that an independent Scotland’s chances are at least fair on both those counts.

    • Couldn’t agree more.

      They have set in motion an almost inevitable series of events with their cack handed EU referendum.

      The result of the EU referendum is constitutionally incompatible with the result of the independence referendum as far as the Scottish electorate are concerned. If no middle ground can be found, it will require a second independence referendum to square the constitutional circle.

      Worth considering that there are between a 130-150K EU born residents living in Scotland. (Last census I could find the number was 134K) Depending on how brexit talks progress, and we appear to be looking at hard brexit, that is a LOT of potential pro YES votes.

      I agree, the economic effects of Brexit have yet to hit. Mainly because brexit hasn’t been triggered and no one knows how the UKs trade and international political standing will be affected as yet. Probably ‘not good’ is a safe bet. That WILL be passed on to every household the length and breadth of these islands.

      Finally, as it was, HMGs record on delivery regarding pledges and assurances from indyref 1 left them with a hard hill to climb for any possible future indyref. That is to say a 100% failure rate to date, highlighting a complete betrayal of the result of 2014. Not to mention their media’s ongoing treatment of both the Scottish electorate and our representatives. Now that hill is looking a bit more mountainous.

      It appears that after everything they’ve invested, the harm they’ve casually dished out to their own electorate and readerships? The best they have to offer currently is ‘your country is so shite it couldn’t survive without aid, but stay because we love your whinging, subsidy junkie, quaint little ways’. Super argument they have there.

      I’d be worried too if I were them.

  8. Steve Asaneilean

    I think most No voters still remain that way. People are, by nature, prone to conservatism and don’t like change or anything they regard as uncertainty.

    Until we see the draft of the Brexit agreement between Westminster and the EU we really don’t know how potentially catastrophic it might be for us here in Scotland.

    And until THAT is clear it’s hard to see more than a handful of NOs turning.

    So yes it’s time to regenerate and reinvigorate Yes. All the points that were perceived as weak last time need to be rock solid. If we wants Nos to become Yes we must offer them as little uncertainty as possible.

    Our arguments need to be strong, positive and robust – and absolutely water-tight. Because if we lose a second time…

    • The problem is that we really only have a two year window in which to exit the UK whilst still remaining part of the EU.

      This would save us having to re-apply and risking being blocked by France or Spain, who are worried about seperatist movements.

      The advice Sturgeon received in Brussels was that once Article 50 was triggered, Brussels would regard a potentially independent Scotland as being in a sort of holding pen, still technically part of the EU until Brexit happened, but not actually an independent state until we had achieved independence, that is.

      My feeling is that it would be very destabilising and worrying fo be undergoing two sets of negotiations at once, to the effect that people are unlikely to want to risk leaving the UK.

    • I am rather pessimistic right now for reasons that you touched on there. My main worry is that the negotiated settlement with the EU will not be clear until it is complete. And by then it is too late to do anything about it because Scotland will have left the EU. Imagine the UK government attempt a Swiss-style solution of treaties with the EU. Each treaty is a bargaining position for the next (the Swiss government are 2.5 years into trying to unpick a single treaty right now). I would imagine that UK negotiators are not going to reveal their hand until they need to. Even if the UK negotiators plan for a specific outcome we all know that will be quickly derailed as the EU negotiators incrementally reveal their hand. There are going to be must-have objectives and diversionary tactics from each side. Unless we aim for a Norway-style solution that invokes minimum possible change and has a predictable template, we will all be guessing at the final outcome through the whole process.

      With all of this in mind I’m not sure there will ever be an optimal timing for a second indyref. I mean, waiting for a time when the EU situation is clearer is pure folly. Nicola Sturgeon might as well just call one as soon as Article 50 is triggered so it can happen before we close the door on the EU. In my view, that is the only rational course of action if the aim is to keep Scotland in the EU. I’m just not seeing evidence of the decisiveness required to do that.

  9. One thing that is running through my mind is that Teresa May will be thinking about the 2020 election.

    If Article 50 is launched in spring 2017 (committing us to a two year cut off date) then that means our economy will be in the throes of Brexit in the year leading up to GE 2020.

    Apparently though over 40% of UK trade is with the EU, in Scotland only about 16% of our trade is. The bulk of our trade is with England, and the Republic of Ireland is in a similar situation. If the English economy tanks, so will ours.

  10. “I met a government minister this week and gleaned the idea that we are in Donald Rumsfeld territory with some known knowns and too many unknown knowns”

    I nearly met a Government Minister this week. Hope you didn’t forget to take the messages, sorry minutes. 🙂

  11. “…a generation of Tory politicians hungry for TTIP, for their own form of unregulated labour and ready to shred the human rights convention.”

    It’s investor rights and to hell with the rest of us.

    As Adam Smith put it, “All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.” They’ll happily destroy us all, still sticking to this principal.

  12. “I met a government minister this week and gleaned the idea that we are in Donald Rumsfeld territory with some known knowns and too many unknown knowns”

    SURELY SHIRLEY ii is some known UNknowns and too many unknown UNknowns”

  13. OOOPS IT is NOT ii is – predictive text drives me potty

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