Hello Good Evening and Welcome

I’ve just been interviewed by BBC Scotland for their new digital channel.

‘So, Derek. What do you think of our plans for a dedicated nightly channel with a full bulletin of international news?’

‘Well, Jackie, I’m overwhelmed. Frankly, I didn’t think they’d have the guts to do it. But I was wrong. This will definitely settle the Nationalists’ hash.’

‘Have you seen the running order?’

‘I certainly have and I’m delighted to see that three of the five hours will be filmed in your lovely home interviewing celebrity guests like Lulu and John Barrowman under the title At Home with Jackie. I also think it’s a real media coup to get David Mundell to present the news hour so we can get his unique take on current affairs. I hear his first exclusive is how he shared an office suite with Alistair Carmichael for all those months but never heard a word about a plan to leak a memo claiming Sturgeon wanted the Tories to win the last election. Apparently Mundell used to dive into cupboards when he saw him coming and locked himself in the loo shouting la la la when Carmichael tried to tell him. Amazing story…’

‘Critics have said it will be parochial and will be used to project a British Unionist view of the country. That can’t be true, can it?’

‘Certainly not. If you can extrapolate the price of oil into an international story affecting Scotland, you can do the same with the price of mince in Auchtermuchty which I understand is £2 a kilo at the Co-op but only £1.75 at Lidl – and they’re German so the Brexit equation looms large there, Jackie.’

‘Eh…I see. But will it do enough to silence SNP critics?’

‘Absolutely, especially the interactive idea. I think fastening GA Ponsonby into an electric chair and asking viewers to press the Red Button to send 300 volts through him will be a ratings hit. And, of course, it will also engage the European Court of Human Rights and possibly the Geneva Convention so there’s an international angle right there.’

‘Are there any drawbacks?’

‘Well, I think naming the channel the Queen Elizabeth Memorial BBC North British BBC One will alienate some and not everyone will wait to hear God Save the Queen played out at midnight but then people said that late night show with Sarah Smith wouldn’t last and look at it now…’

‘I must say, it’s great to have you back in the studio, Derek.’

‘Thanks, Jackie. You don’t think the Union Jack waistcoat is too much then…?’

 

Now, if the BBC really did ask me I’d say what we have here is a platform to launch a whole new look at current affairs, not just Scottish-related news. The danger of the Scottish Six was that it would necessarily follow a certain low-key, hum drum path well worn over the years because it’s tea-time (families!) and the tone has to fit broadly with the UK news which proceeds it. In other words, international or not, it would, if it did its job, merely reflect the normal BBC news agenda – and repeat stories you’d already seen if you watched both.

But starting at 7pm and with news not on air until 9pm when children are abed – well, certainly mine are – there is a chance for some proper grown-up broadcasting. It could even be edgy, you know, challenging and eye-opening. There could even be adult themes which right now are regarded as taboo in BBC land unless handled by an ironic London presenter. If you have a blank page which this pretty much is apart from the news itself, you have space for the stories that lie outwith the diary-led, PR company, corporate spin machine – and you can get indy people to make them. (That’s independent producers, not freedom fighters). The BBC blurb wants to work with the creative sector. Well here is the chance to commission a whole panorama (pun, there) of ideas from budding film makers who can use today’s accessible technology to tell stories that fall outside the predictable purview of the BBC tram tracks.

They needn’t be 30 minutes but maybe seven minute injects or quarter hours. When you’ve got time to use, you don’t need to be tied down to standard durations.

I do hope they don’t rely on too many existing staff who will bring that deadly sense of familiarity. This is a chance to break with the past and uncover new talent, to take a different approach. The charter will demand balance (ahem) but that doesn’t mean that people with opinions shouldn’t be commissioned to make programmes from their standpoint – so long as someone with an alternative view also has access.

This excites me like the year of the indyref did. I wanted BBC Scotland to step up and project our broadcasters as the best there is. We should have produced the gold standard in reporting in 2014 and made the BBC the must-go place for what was an international story. It didn’t happen that way but here is another opportunity that really can’t be allowed to have the BBC’s corporate chloroform clamped over its mouth.

Let’s start firing in ideas for programmes. Demand access. Insist on new formats and proper budgets. If it’s our BBC channel, let’s claim it. And I’d like it to dovetail closely with Alba because it is through an overlap between the two that a sustained renaissance in Gaelic can grow right across the Scottish media and find its way into every home and laptop.

I know, I know. I’m going to be disappointed. Bound to be. But there can be no excuses for Donalda Mackinnon now. She has the basic kit with which to win back an audience and, with such a low budget compared to Scotland’s licence fee take, plenty of scope for claiming more resources – if she an make a success of it. Come on, Donalda. ‘S urrainn dhut a dhèanamh!

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Don’t mention the….

I’ve been trying not to write anything for a week or so in case I become obsessed with referendums.

It’s a condition all us separatists suffer, unlike sensible people from Unionist parties who never mention the subject.

It does get a bit repetitive, though, doesn’t it? I do think a lot of the public resistance to the idea of indyref2 is just an expression of ennui rather than opposition to independence itself. People just don’t want another any time soon and would probably prefer if nobody talked about it at all to give them a break.

The first one didn’t resolve anything – not for long. And the EU version has brought the worst cataclysm on the country since the financial crash – and will have longer lasting consequences.

Whichever way a second indyref goes, the fall-out is going to be spectacular. Either we enter a prolonged period of readjustment to statehood with attendant dilemmas over debt, currency, EU membership and extrication from England or we go down as an emasculated province of isolationist, cut-price Britain. You can hear the public inquiring: Are there any other choices?

And the answer I’m afraid is No. That is the stark choice, the unavoidable reality that looms. No wonder so many recoil at the thought. You’ll need a full stomach when the time comes because, whatever your preference, the vote is only the beginning. Best to treat the intervening months as a really long downie day.

Perhaps that’s why there is mounting talk of ditching the referendum idea and going back to the original basis of the democratic case – the election of a majority of MPs. Wouldn’t that be sweet? We’d be there already – with a stonking majority. With the MPs returned, the SNP government declares the country independent. For those of us frustrated and not a little humiliated by lectures from sub-Trump pipsqueaks who give every impression of despising the country they serve, the prospect of a quick dash to freedom is tempting. It has an ideological basis that is hard to dispute (putting aside pro and anti preferences). Among its flaws though are that there was no specific claim made by the SNP prior to the 2015 election. Sturgeon said: A vote for the SNP is not a vote for another referendum. It is a vote to have Scotland’s voice heard at Westminster.

I’m not sure withdrawal of MPs would constitute our voice being heard. The supposition behind an SNP vote of course is always going to independence but you’d still need to declare in advance that withdrawal was possible depending on circumstance – many non-indy Scots vote SNP and deserve to be represented.

But beyond all these nuanced issues there is one overarching matter that can’t be willed away. An independent state only really exists insofar as it is recognised as such by other nations.

If governments elsewhere don’t accept your mandate to be a sovereign state, it doesn’t matter how loud you shout or how many flags you fly. Throughout the modern independence claim period the world community – including Spain – has made clear that if the existing state –the UK – acknowledges the existence of Scotland as a separate state (presumably after an agreed democratic formula) then they too would follow suit. Other countries look to the existing state and government – the British government in London – for their lead. Unless London makes clear that part of the UK territory has gone through a proper process to turn itself into an autonomous entity, it is most unlikely any partner nations would recognise the new status. A breakaway province unilaterally asserting nationhood would be a bastard creature which many would see as symbolizing a threat to the world order. The first thing Washington, for example, would do, is phone London for clarification. Without getting the nod, the US would sit on its hands. Most of the rest of world opinion would follow that lead. Only in extremis, such as London breaking with international norms of state behavior, would the international community look more favourably – in other words, after a recognized democratic process such as a referendum, when London refused to accept a Yes majority.

This scenario would hardly be helped by street protests by Unionists provoked to action and refusing to accept the decision.

All of which adds to the sense of being caught in a trap while the doors to escape are nailed down. I have yet to hear a coherent explanation of what the Unionists expect to happen to Scotland after Brexit. In their scenario, we are fixed in a straightjacket with London and, never mind how we voted, heading out into the depths of space, destination uncertain. Are we to believe that, whatever the London Brexiteers decide, there is no Scottish solution. We must trust the Tories and accept whatever they bring back and lump it? Our destiny is forever in their hands and, if the universal view of the forecasters is correct, accept reduced circumstances, curtailed travel and isolation – the end of our shared European social democracy as we are ripped out of union with our partners to become a free-booting, low tax entrepot?

The first referendum was for many Can we afford to be independent? The second will be Can we afford not to? In the first we were told we had too much to lose, the future was uncertain. It was safer with sensible Westminster in charge wrapped within the comfort blanket of the EU. Look at us now. This isn’t just a threat to the idea of Scotland the nation which so many are happy to dismiss. It is a direct attack on jobs and prospects, living standards, university education, public services sustained by immigrants, the environment, food safety – even air safety. The very things that middle class Scots held more dearly than their country in 2014 are now at risk, according, not to Nationalists, but the New York Times, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Resolution Foundation, the European Commission and every recognized commentator outside the loony Leavers.

This is where voting No has got us. Repeating the mistake would be an act of economic suicide for ourselves and our children.

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New Referendum Plans

I hear the government’s war planning for indyref2 has come up with some new ideas.

Voting will take place during the Glasgow Fairs fortnight on a Sunday between 7 and 7.30 am.

Voters will be required to provide a current income tax statement. Higher-rate payers will qualify for two votes.

All those in receipt of state benefits will be permitted to mark a ballot paper with a cross and must hand it to the to the polling staff to have it torn up in front of them and dropped into a basket.

Jimmy Shand records will played while voters wait their turn. Any sign of foot tapping will lead to disqualification.

Anyone admitting they voted Yes last time will be told their original vote still counts in the new referendum.

The question will be tweaked to read: Do you want to rip Scotland out of civilisation to become a broken down, mendicant nonentity and eat seaweed until rising sea levels drown you in oil-polluted waters?

Answer A: I would rather wash Murdo Fraser’s underpants. Count me out. Twice.

Answer B: As I’m suffering from a mental illness I have given it a nanosecond of thought but still decided against.

The Electoral Commission will insist that all organisations registering to campaign must attend a mandatory sherry evening with Jill Stephenson, Archie MacPherson and Tom Gallagher.

Polling stations will be policed by the Gallowgate Loyal Bears to ensure good order with Orange Order customer care consultants on hand with advice.

As this is a significant constitutional issue a voting threshold will be deemed appropriate. The government believes the case of Eritrea is relevant. It voted to become independent of Ethiopia in 1993 with 99.8 per cent of the vote. This should be the model followed.

Although the ballot itself will be secret, papers will be given ultra violet scans and the names and addresses of Yes voters published in the Daily Record who will put posters of Jim Murphy through their door.

There will be nightly broadcasts of Gordon Brown in place of Reporting Scotland throughout the campaign.

Confident of success, the government is planning a national celebration including a new Mount Rushmore-style monument to famous Scots – those selected so far John Barrowman, Neil Oliver and Susan Calman – whose profiles will be carved into Salisbury Crags.

(That enough for now. I’ve just realised some of this might come true)

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Bateman on the Box

I was interviewed by Kurdish television about Scottish independence (they’re not exactly disinterested in the subject themselves) and found myself articulating ideas I hadn’t really thought through. No surprise there, then. It’s when you’re confronted by questions, a mic is thrust under your nose and a camera lens is widening to get in your plooks, that you tend to come up with stuff. Idea after idea pops into your head and you try gamely to connect them into a coherent whole. All the time you’re wondering if this makes any sense in Kirkuk.

The crew were happy and I know why, having done the same job myself. I gave them four complete answers they could use without an edit, each no longer than 90 seconds. There’s nothing like getting useable material in the can, even if you don’t believe a single word of it. So I’m going to be big in Erbil, top item on Reporting Kurdistan, I shouldn’t wonder. I picture Jackie Bird in a headscarf.

My argument boiled down to basics – that this was no longer about nationalism struggling for expression through independence. That was kind of the point in indyref1.

Rather it was the failure of London and unionism to adapt to Scottish demands in a changing world. Scotland had expressed itself pretty clearly both in 45 per cent Yes (while losing) and then by electing SNP members to almost all the Westminster seats. A rational and proportionate response to those results would have been an offer of substantial powers to meet the national aspiration. That, I said, would have satisfied many Scots even those who longer term wanted independence. Instead severely limited areas were devolved, notably a single, and politically toxic tax power.

The mandate was ignored while the loss of the SNP’s Holyrood majority was welcomed as a sign of failure and was used to justify retention of real power in London. They will only concede as little as they can get away with it and only after threats. There is no sense of mutual respect or mature politics at play.

Now the very basis on which the original referendum was mostly settled – EU membership and economic stability – has been destroyed. Where once the choice, put simply, had been between a known entity and the unknown, now it was between two unknowns.

Britain’s future, in foreign relations, international influence, security, social protection, environmental safeguards, quality of goods, workers’ rights, European travel and residency, was now uncertain after the EU vote. What is certain, and is still to a degree unquantifiable, is the blow awaiting the economy in lost jobs, future prospects, markets, investment, inward migration and our likely subjugation to more powerful mercantile forces in the US and China. Our national output will fall and as the IFS makes clear today, the national accounts will be hit further on top of Osborne’s still-to-come spending reductions which will heap higher debt on the Exchequer leading to more savage service and benefit cuts.

The union’s broad shoulders are sagging. Its deep pockets have holes in them. Yet the vainglorious message of British superiority trumpets on. The UK – the Ragged Trousered Propagandist.

Just last night in the Commons the voice of Scotland’s MPs was closed down in favour of government mouthpieces in the debate on Article 50. Hardly anyone actually cares what happens in the Great Hall of Westminster Public School for Privileged Boys but it’s another sign, if you need it, of institutional contempt – not to the SNP but to Scotland. And it may be that the announcement of a date for the next referendum will signal the return of the 56. For what is the point of retaining membership of a club that disdains us, one whose snobbery overrides any concept of representative democracy?

We are ignored and must learn to follow where the wise of Westminster will lead. We are being hauled out of our markets despite the European birthright we earned as early travellers long before the creation of a spatchcock United Kingdom. We, along with sparsely-educated UKIP voters and English fundamentalists, now have an international reputation as xenophobes and anti-Europeans. We are incorporated into the British image of intolerant isolationists and buddies of Trump.

The decision now is which uncertain future do we choose? Are we to join Kezia and Ruth’s suicide embrace of Brexit Britain or are we brave enough to believe in ourselves and take the hand of our European partners? A retreat from cooperation and collectivism into Little Britain dominated by global powers? Is that who we are?

Or does this more closely meet your idea of Scotland: This thoroughly modern market economy features high-tech agriculture, up-to-date small-scale and corporate industry, extensive government welfare measures, comfortable living standards, and high dependence on foreign trade. It is a net exporter of food.

That’s the basic info box from Wikipedia if you Google Denmark. The UK the majority voted for last time is fading fast and it’s clear the Tories will take us down with them. They have no interest in our fate and believe, as I do, we handed all the power over us back to them in September 2014. Our last chance is approaching. The choice is no longer independence or status quo, it’s a modern, supported society integrated with our neighbours versus a frontier scramble for work and security in a declining economy.

How the Kurds wish they had our opportunities. Writing in the Independent Gary Kent says: It is evident to me that, after a century of misery and a decade of failed federalism in Iraq, Kurds in Iraq need sovereignty. It is seen as fundamental to their survival in allowing them to borrow on international markets, buy arms, and attract investment to rejuvenate their economy and to turn quantity into quality in everything from education to governance.

The time to fear the future is passing. The really worrying thing is the willful catastrophe that MPs vote for, even those who realize the damage it will do to the national interest. When the talks begin in a few weeks it will quickly become apparent that Scotland has no voice and no interest to be protected as far as the UK is concerned. The question is just how much of this can soft Nos take before they see the game is up?

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