Outraged, Tunbridge Wells

If you have the stomach you might want to dip into the Daily Telegraph readers’ threads on Scottish issues to discover the cesspit of Scottophobia, defined by Tom Devine as: ‘the irrational aversion among the English establishment to Scots who, through the Union of 1707, achieved high political office.’ It has morphed into something deeper and uglier – a vicious, quasi-racist loathing for friends and neighbours by people convinced self-determination is designed to spite them.

From politics these English bigots jump seamlessly into sneering diatribes about poverty-stricken, useless Scots whose companies and institutions only exist courtesy of their Britain and will leave if the tartan hordes ever get control. Today there is a contribution from, presumably, a sane, educated Telegraph type claiming London has a superior IQ to Scotland and it is our collective lack of developed intelligence that blights our future. Wasn’t that the Boer’s argument against the blacks? Are we heading not into separate political systems but into apartheid?*

The slurry of unresearched accusation and demonic delight at the idea of a failed Scotland is clearly a psychological outlet for their hatred of us and, I suspect, a personal manifestation of what the UK Government is undergoing now – a crisis of confidence and identity. Without wishing to overplay the metaphor, there is something of the cornered rat at play here. The veneer of mutual respect is torn away as soon as they don’t get their way and in return for making them feel the fear, they fall upon us with teeth bared.

In this online underworld of acrimony can be found the seeds of resentment sown by the Unionists who never correct impressions that Scots are subsidised and therefore dependent, never stand up for their country in public and are blind to the crying need for Britain’s economic and democratic imbalances to be corrected. To English voters, there is only contempt for people who appear to win concessions unavailable to them. When do you hear any Unionist politicians explain how Scotland’s budget is set at Westminster, where there is an overwhelming majority of English MPs?

And does it help that a Cabinet minister, the Highland MP Danny Alexander starts talking about businesses leaving Scotland?  I find it irresponsible for someone tasked with defending the economy to deliberately undermine confidence by reckless and unsubstantiated remarks. He is in the Telegraph claiming that Alex Salmond had made a dramatic shift in policy when all Salmond said was that sterling was tradable. Such was Danny’s excitement at Phase Two of Currency Wars that, instead of waiting for Salmond to deliver a Plan B, he just blew off anyway saying that thousands of jobs were at risk, the banks would leave and business would follow…what an irresponsible, knuckle-dragging position for the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to take. Has Britain ever had such an inexperienced, unskilled, juvenile, student politician in the Treasury team? As for defending Scotland’s interests…that concept seems never to have occurred to him. This is a democratic process in which there are two sides, neither of which wishes to destroy the economy either of Scotland or Britain. It may require a degree of intelligence or, heaven help me, subtlety, but the UK really has to try for a higher standard of contribution. I have tired before to explain that there are nuanced ways of putting over a message while maintaining one’s integrity and the dignity of office, but I’m afraid Danny is falling well short on both.

Here’s his argument: ‘We’re able to have that scale of financial sector in Scotland because we’re part of the United Kingdom, because we have access to the Bank of England, the deep pockets fiscally of the UK Government as well, which helped to bail out RBS and Bank of Scotland.’ That means – we only have a financial sector because we’re in the UK. Scots themselves couldn’t have created this because they don’t have the nous. You may have read about 300-year-old banks and the first trustee savings banks and the Co-op and Adam Smith and Jardine and Matheson but Danny was off school that day. ‘I think it’s very hard to see how major financial institutions could keep their headquarters in an independent Scotland if there was no central bank and no lender of last resort.’ And even harder if you don’t know what you’re talking about.

The use of a currency board is a perfectly logical concept which uses its funds to maintain the level of the currency, as far as I can see. It works elsewhere without London’s financial genius which, as you’ll recall made such a spectacular success of the meltdown, aided by Gordon and Alistair’s regulatory system.

And the lender of last resort argument was disproved in Scotland’s case by the banking crash when the brass plaque was found to be all but meaningless. The bail-out money came from the central banks in the countries where the Scottish banks operated. That’s why London paid in £65bn to RBS and HBOS and would have done so if Scotland had been independent. However the US Federal Reserve made emergency loans available to RBS of £285bn and to HBOS of £115bn and bailed out Barclays with $550bn, because they were operating in the USA.

The same principle would apply to banks in an independent Scotland. Most of their trade would be abroad and that’s where the bail-out would take place.

Danny is heaping ammunition into the English bigots’ tray with this latest rant against any logical solution for his countrymen. They are the same ones who said it was wrong for a Scot to be Prime Minister, misunderstanding what their own country is meant to be about. The very fact that Brown as a Scot could be PM was confirmation that the Union worked but they are blinded by their prejudice. Which is what I have always believed about the Union. It is an artifice built on a myth. It only ever worked when everything suited the larger neighbor and now that they are being challenged any concept of “British fair play” and stiff upper lip has evaporated in a vapour of barely-concealed hatred.

One of the legacies of this referendum episode is that it has exposed once and for all that the Union was a con – it was a takeover as confirmed in the UK’s legal advice – and British meant English and if we go along with it we are demeaning Scotland. That’s what the English Scot-baiters expect of us, that we acquiesce and acknowledge their generosity and charity. Their ignorance about their own country, let alone Scotland, has been presented to the world and underlined by Cameron’s fear of debate. And the true nature of our “family of nations” is now out there, not just on the internet but buttressed by the state – Civil Service, ALL the main parties, big business and the media. That won’t go away after September’s vote, whichever way it turns out.

*2 hours ago 
The greatest threat to the future success of an independent Scotland
has nothing to do with oil, nor business’s exodus, nor Scotland’s other physical resources, which are indeed enviable. 
The greatest threat to Scotland’s success is the intellectual paucity of Scotland’s human capital.
It is not widely appreciated that as a consequence of so many 
intelligent Scots having, since the Union of the Crowns, left Scotland 
to make their lives elsewhere, the residual population presently has the
lowest average IQ in Europe outside of the ‘Boratland’ countries of the
former Soviet bloc and France.
The Scottish average IQ of 97 is well below the England and Wales 
average of 100.5 and about level with the IQ of citizens of the Republic
of Ireland; not a very high bar to jump.
As one would expect, London and the south-east of England scored top in the UK, with an average IQ of 102. 
Scotland – when differentiated from the rest of the UK – comes 
two-thirds down the table of European average intelligence, beating 
Russia by only one percentage point, but France by three. 
I’m not at all sure that anything can be done about this as the trend
looks set to accelerate in a post-Independence Day Scotland, which is a
sad thing indeed.




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Quick! Before it’s too late…

I was enjoying my Times of London this morning when I came across a story that made me frown. It was a mother from England complaining that her daughter had been bullied at school in Fife by someone telling her to go back to her own country. Gordon Brown was involved and it was linked to the referendum. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/uk/scotland/article3992554.ece

I groaned. Here we go again, some idiot with an attitude is stirring up feelings of anti-English hatred. There is no question that some ignorant Scots will use any difference to insult and abuse others, be it colour, religion or origin. But in my personal experience this is the antithesis of the approach taken by anyone directly involved in the Yes campaign where there is a total lack of tolerance of anti-English sentiment. This is I think representative of a kind of journalism which contains just enough truth to make it editorially viable – if you add a few bells and whistles – and brings into the public gaze the idea that there is something nasty and sinister about a political campaign. So I read it again. Something puzzled me.

First of all the headline described it as “bullying” which is intimidating through violence or threat thereof, usually habitual or repeated.

Yet what the 13-year-old’s mother describes is a single incident in class when a another 13-year-old becomes angry and sweary and tells her to “fuck off back to your own country”. Disgusting and aggressive…but bullying? The incident was sparked it seems by the diametrically opposite approach from another boy who “told her he was glad to have her in his team because she had won several Burns poetry competitions…she had achieved this without even being Scottish…” One classmate commends her, the other insults her.

Isn’t this is the type of scene repeated in schools across Britain every day, I wondered? An adolescent row breaks out and children call each other names – specky, ginger, skinny and, yes, no doubt paki, chinky, bluenose and tim as well. Is a 13-year-old of an age that makes him capable of an adult intention to racially abuse?

I don’t blame any parent for defending their child if he or she is upset by unacceptable behaviour at school and the nature of this boy’s attitude is unacceptable.

Then I stopped reading as a journalist and read as a parent. What would I do in the same circumstances?

I would start by naming the offender to the school and asking them to confront him. I would suggest they contact the family. This is a matter for the school authorities as it happened on their premises in school hours and is a breach of the behaviour code laid down by teaching staff. Only if it was a repeat offence that the school had failed to deal with would I consider taking it further. Why would I as a parent contact my MP? I might, in despair at lack of action by school and education authority if they had ignored me, which they didn’t, want to raise it with an elected representative but since it is an education matter which is devolved, I would in any case approach the MSP (David Torrance SNP Kirkcaldy) rather than the MP (Gordon Brown Labour).

The mother contacted Brown’s office to complain and he called her back. The quotes attributed to him are exactly what you’d expect from a constituency MP doing his job. He offered apologies and sympathy and said he would call the education authorities. I wondered at first if his office was the conduit for getting this into the newspapers but there is nothing there to indicate that Gordon’s people did anything other deal appropriately with a constituent’s issue. No MP or MSP would in any case go to the media with an individual’s story without their permission. The story makes an issue of and puts in the headline the fact that Brown is part of the story which is puzzling since he is just acting as constituency MP, not drawing conclusions or judgments about any political implications.  We read – in a story about a row between teenagers in a classroom – that Gordon has “kept a low profile” so far in the referendum campaign. The referendum campaign! What has this to do with the referendum? Were the kids arguing in class about the Barnet Formula, did they get mad about Governor Carney’s loss of sovereignty remarks on the currency? This phone call to the mum and to Fife Council is described as Brown’s “latest intervention”, although done by him totally without publicity, and we are told, comes “amid increasing fears that internet abuse of pro-Union supporters which has become commonplace in the run-up to this year’s referendum on Scotland’s future, is starting to become more mainstream.”

This wasn’t internet abuse, it was a classroom stushie…and how does that tie into increasing fears of abuse(?) becoming mainstream. The only way it is becoming mainstream is by the publication of hyperbolic fear stories like this.

The mother contacted the school and she confirms they dealt with it. “They were extremely apologetic and they have been really good at sorting this out”, she says. So why is a classroom incident dealt with professionally by school and by MP in the news and how is it linked to the referendum and by implication the Yes campaign?

Inside the story it describes the mum as a pro-Union supporter…fair enough and good luck to her. Her Facebook site has a like link to a page entitled “Alex Salmond is a deluded wanker.” Well, we all use the net to have a laugh and scoff and make fun and who wants to censor anyway – not me.

But as a dad I did wonder how a parent can be so upset by a child using revolting language to my daughter when I publicly declare my approval of terms like Wanker. The girl was so upset by events, she stayed off school a day. Maybe she’d stay off again if she saw mum’s Facebook entries. And when you think about it, if there is internet abuse, isn’t it the mum who is engaging in it, not the daft laddie who berated her daughter?

This woman is right to complain about her daughter’s treatment and in a way it seems unkind to imply criticism of her. But hold on. She is quoted as saying she is afraid to put a pro Union sticker in her window…in case of what? Are there mobs of nationalist loonies prowling Kirkcaldy checking for windows to cave in? Is she serious? Yes. She is. “My concern is that the situation could possibly get totally out of control if nothing is done now before the referendum…” What events? Children fighting in class? “The authorities and even the politicians must do something immediately to try to defuse the whole situation before it gets out of hand”. Round up SNP voters? Jail the MSPs? Censor the media? Put Jackie Baillie in the classroom? This stuff is quoted without any reference to perspective. What evidence does she have of widespread, violent anti-English abuse?

Here’s my other concern. This lady is photographed with her lassie both looking suitably victimised. What do you think, as a parent, is likely to be the result of this upfront publicity with a picture of the girl? Am I wrong or will it just encourage other kids to make an issue out of something only one or two would have known anything about? Every pupil at Balwearie High will now know of her celebrity and is that likely to lead to respect or is it more likely other kids will ridicule and jeer? And what about the parents of other children at Balwearie? I would understand why a parent was upset but I would be dismayed that my school was brought into disrepute this way. If I had a son I’d know that some parents would wonder if it was my boy who did it. If I was on the teaching staff, I’d be furious that my school had been dragged into the public domain and somehow smeared with this taint. And make no mistake, this story is now out there on the internet. The next time a Daily Mail reporter wants to vilify the Yes campaign he can sit in London and Google “anti-English abuse” and there it is. He wont read all the detail, just write: “Gordon Brown had to step in when an English schoolgirl was told to F**k off to her own country in a Scottish classroom”.

And so another grisly ingredient is dropped into the bubbling soup of bile and grievance artificially associated with the independence cause. Yet where and from which side of the debate did it come? Not from Yes. But guess to where the stink will be traced.

This mum is quite right to stand up for her girl but I think she has done the school, Kirkcaldy and her adoptive country a disservice by promoting a crude and disappointing incident of childhood into a political smear.

The really revolting intervention  this week came from Ian Lang telling us that if we voted for our country’s independence we defiled the memory of the British war dead. It doesn’t get any lower than that and I suspect a lot of Scots, Unionist or not, bridled at that presumptuous display of bigotry. There are almost daily signs of hysteria from No sources and still eight months to go…still time for them to find some dignity even if they can’t find the truth.

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I’m an economist…let me through!

Some of Britain’s most respected economists have delivered a damning indictment on Alex Salmond’s plans for independence, I read in the papers. And quite right too, if that’s their view, delivered in the FT’s predictions poll for 2014. You may not be overly surprised that 100 economists, none of them with any direct Scottish link I could see (bar one employed at RBS), and heavily concentrated in the City of London, should harbour doubts about the economic effects of independence.

It usually takes people with an unorthodox or even lateral thinking mentality to perceive opportunities in smaller, compact economies outside the Land of Giants in New York, Frankfurt and London.

But sometimes it’s worth doing the journalist’s job for them by asking just how respected some of these experts are and by whom.

Let’s start with Ruth Porter of the Policy Exchange, described as a British Conservative think tank loved by the Daily Telegraph as “the largest, but also the most influential think tank on the right” and David Cameron’s favourite. The Political Editor of the Evening Standard referred to it as “the intellectual boot camp of the Tory modernisers”.

Ruth’s quote is: “The raft of economically incoherent policies (which ones?) proposed by Alex Salmond would be disastrous for Scotland…” Well, so far they’ve kept Scotland in second place in output, employment and inward investment in the UK but I suppose they haven’t beaten the place that matters most  to Ruth, the beast that is London. Previously Ruth burnished her credentials at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said to be a natural feeder for the Tory Party and which refuses to publish its funding sources. The Guardian reported that it was sometimes paid by the tobacco lobby. Here are some of Ruth’s published ideas from the august think tank for tackling Britain’s economic problems.

Do not increase foreign aid to 0.7 per cent of GDP, stop ring fencing health, abolish the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, force families to move by reducing housing benefit, scrap free travel, TV licences and winter feul allowance for OAPs, ditch funding for low carbon technology and abolish the Green Investment Bank, limit early years education, end national pay bargaining and bin regional development.

Not sure how respected those views actually are here in the frozen north.

There is a sort of Scottish link here because for the last few years a “policy consultant” called Tom Miers moved to the Borders and operated as an opinion-former. (I filmed him myself for Newsnight). He worked for the same Institute of Economic Affairs and produced papers including the Devolution Distraction, arguing that we didn’t need all this constitutional tosh, just some good old market reforms. Interestingly, Tom also worked for the tobacco industry and believes in a free society. He is now director of the Foundation for European Reform in Brussels which works for free enterprise, small government and individual freedom in Europe…you may recognize a few code words for right-wing nuttery in there. They really get about these think tank wonks, don’t they?

Another contributor from the IEA is Philip Booth who has no doubt what Scotland’s problem is….how to deal with debt of nearly 100 per cent of income. Funny that because the latest figures from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research puts it at 86% of national income, significantly lower than the 101% calculated for the rest of the UK. Luckily I’m not an economist like Philip. But where did that debt come from, however large it is? Was it run up by Mr Salmond and his socialist band or was it run up by out-of-control Westminster Unionists of Labour and Tory colours?  And when asked about the sustainability of the recovery, he gives another side to this equation that Scots would do well to consider. “Though I do not expect the recovery to end in tears, I do not believe that there will be the rapid increase in living standards that we would normally expect after such a long period of slow growth.” Thank you, Philip. At least we can balance your two statements and think for ourselves.

Another contributor who gives independence the thumbs down is Erik Neilsen of  UniCredit. He says independence would cause massive uncertainty as the parties worked out how to separate assets and revenue streams. So is Erik very certain about the Unionist recovery? Eh, no. “Oh dear! – very lopsided recovery,” he says, “ driven predominantly by housing and household consumption, financed by lower savings. The current account deficit is now the largest in Europe and widening. There is a chance, of course, that the recovery spreads and becomes sustainable, but the odds are clearly suggesting an unpleasant end.” So again he sees a looming crisis in the UK but doesn’t connect it to Scotland’s situation.

One of the other experts quoted in the piece is Tony Dolphin of the Institute for Public Policy Research…makes you wonder what an institute actually is, doesn’t it?

IPPR of course is synonymous with New Labour and laid the ground work for Labour’s election victory in 1997. Tony Blair said of its social justice report: ‘it will provide the basis for a vital national debate about the future of work and welfare. It is essential reading for everyone who wants a new way forward for our country.” As Wikipedia points out, the secretary of that commission was David Miliband, one of many distinguished alumni of IPPR, who also include former Labour cabinet minister Patricia Hewitt, whom you may remember from the Channel 4 Dispatches programme, in which she appeared to claim that she was paid £3,000 a day to help a client obtain a key seat on a Government advisory group. Along with Geoff Hoon and Stephen Byers she was suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party over the allegations.

There’s not much doubt where Tony Dolphin’s constitutional loyalties reside. And I’m not sure he is balancing his opposition to independence with an overly optimistic vision of the UK’s economic future, thus: “We might be – in fact I’m sure we are – doing less well than we could in a long-run perspective (there must ultimately be a price to pay for selling UK assets and building up all those overseas debts) but we seem able to paper over the cracks for now. What would bring the house of cards tumbling down is a big fall in house prices – but until we start building a lot more of them, that’s very unlikely to happen.”

I offer these thumbnails as a brushstroke of perspective on those whose first reaction is to talk us down and assume we can’t possibly be as good as Britain, the same Britain they go on to express deep misgivings about. We must listen to all voices but not all voices are worth listening to.

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No Change Please…We’re British

Here’s a happy thought for Yes campaigners. They have already won the argument against the Union…the problem is they still haven’t convinced the Scots. It may be that this formulation of apparently contradictory effects is the reason the polls so far are stuck in neutral and a sense of gradual movement is hard to detect.

Take the first part of the equation. Is there a rational person – as opposed to the determinedly committed – who still says Scotland can’t do it? It isn’t so long ago, in the pre devolution age, that a belief in Scotland’s almost total ineptitude was the conventional view. We were totally and hopelessly dependent – and weirdly untroubled by it – on the British Establishment whose agents we respected in the shape of a Scottish Office, often including unelected pantomime toffs – Lords  Glenarthur, Mansfield, Sanderson or Strathclyde, anyone? Devolutionists were a rag tag of ne’er-do-wells and the disenfranchised fed up with opposition. As for the dangerous dreamers of the SNP…

But since Scotland has demonstrated, rather than postulated a confident capacity to legislate in it’s own interests and move in a divergent direction, it is only flat-earth ears who say it can’t be done today. Largely unnoticed the official line has been changed by the facts and is now a completely different formulation that says: Of course Scotland can do it but is it worth it? That’s a completely different proposition based on reality. A binding agreement (on the face of it) is signed by the British state to guarantee that independence if there is a simple majority.

All that is left to the No Change brigade is to show how devoid they are imagination, inspiration, belief and pride by running down Scotland’s prospects to make independence appear too risky. For me the proof that they are finished in terms of argument is two-fold. One, they are now reduced to hiding the truth. This comes in the form of allowing their leader to duck out of the one major head-to-head event of the entire three-year campaign which could have commanded total national attention and revealed the true divide between the sides…Cameron versus Salmond live on television across the United Kingdom. I still find it jaw-dropping that this has been dismissed as not being the role for the leader of the United Kingdom, a man who will fight tooth and nail for Union and whose sole political skill is presentational. Editors have allowed him to slip out of this in another demonstration of supine complicity by a media still exhibiting 1950s deference to the British state.  I suspect this may become unsustainable though as the polls tighten and the London media which does have the balls to take on Downing Street starts to get frightened of the outcome. Backed by hysterical backbenchers, it is entirely possible that cowardly Cameron will be pleading for a pop at Salmond before voting day.

Second, London’s refusal to take up Brussel’s invitation for clarification on the attitude the institutions will take and the approach we can expect to our membership is the kind of sleight of hand the same brave Scottish media would have lambasted Salmond for. They did after all make a mockery of Salmond not having asked about membership when the freedom of information row was filling their pages. But now when there is a clear course of action to enlighten the voters, they shrug with indifference. Where is Catherine Stihler when you need her?

Taken together these two denials of openness and democratic choice, along with the unsubtle failure to be honest about currency union, demonstrate they have nothing to gain from revealing the truth while protesting it is Salmond who won’t give answers. That hypocritical ruse is their only cover left.

While the uncritical media dutifully report the remarks of a self interest player in Spain, knowledgeable voices are getting through to offer clarity on the real story of EU membership, the latest the unrivalled EU expert John Palmer.

Even the much vaunted, by Unionists, IFS figures confirmed that Scotland was in a better economic position than Britain and it is only looking years ahead and only if all British government estimates are accurate that a budgetary squeeze kicks in by which time Scotland can act to step up economic activity and head off demographic changes.

I know many will believe the claims that Scotland still can’t make a success of independence but where are those arguments convincingly made? Increasingly it is the Alistairs who make wild assertions and unsubstantiated claims, not their opponents who now point to the Independence Bible (it’s Sunday) to make their case in the knowledge the Nos have nothing to counter it with. Do you hear cogent arguments made by ordinary Scots apart from a weak and generalized: We’re probably better together?

But why isn’t opinion turning? I think the problem is a large percentage of Scots who aren’t applying logic at all. It isn’t that they are following the detailed debate as such, it is that they have no concept of their country as anything other than what is has been throughout their lifetime, a part of Britain that used to be something special and with plenty of off-the-shelf history but not a place that could conceivably equal other countries. They see Scotland as not a country at all but the way it is seen from London, as a region with history and some differences but, like all subsidiary units, not an equal for the founding nation. It leads to disbelieving outbursts accompanied by furrowed foreheads about “Scotland…a nation. Don’t be ridiculous” sometimes followed with “I’ll emigrate if that happens”.  They have been consumed by the British message and have allowed it to demolish what remained of their separate sense of national worth. It is the total success of Britishness which has supplanted their national identity, reduced it to a leisure activity (sport) and rendered them unable to envisage Scotland for what historically and legally it is, a nation like all others which merged in alliance with a bigger neighbour and now may want to rearrange that relationship to suit modern needs. They are not listening to the argument, as is their right, and they probably don’t listen at election time either preferring to believe nothing will change so why bother.

I doubt if many people really do believe the argument that Scotland is better off in Britain, a point daily being dismantled by reports showing personal debt approaching £1.5 trillion – equalling sovereign debt. Families are borrowing to pay utility bills while bankers earn 35 per cent pay rises to £1.6m a year. The government subsidises mortgages for the rich and has to be stopped by the Bank of England before another bubble is created – guess where?

But my No cohort doesn’t connect any of this to their own country or their own vote. It is something that happens to them and they can’t change.  They won’t see either the desperate Tory and Lib Dem moves to begin campaigning for continued EU membership because the polls show a real possibility of the UK voting us out.

Yes campaigners can argue all they like but I wonder how many of the Don’t Knows are actually Don’t Cares and Won’t Cares, people for whom there is no political message that gets through and for whom the idea of Scotland as their country is as relevant a flight to Mars.

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