Rehearsal Over

A lot of thoughtful and varied responses. Sorry for the awful quality, probably shouldn’t have bothered, but I think a lot of politically-minded people would listen with interest for the messages contained therein. Steven Purcell, whatever your own politics, is a very well informed observer who knows how to get votes in Glasgow, knows what motivates Labour people and how they relate to the issue of independence. One Yes-minded person who worked with him described him to me as “political genius”. You may laugh but what that means is that if you want Scotland’s largest electorate to vote for you, arguably no one knows better how that is done.

I didn’t interview him in any BBC style because that’s not what I’m doing…I want to do the reverse of a standard BBC devil’s advocate challenging discussion in order to get someone to open up and expand on their thoughts, let ideas develop in a way that hardly ever happens on the airwaves because of time constraints and, yes, the dreaded balance. It is only through listening I believe that we learn what our opponents and others really think and why.

I’m not trying to justify anything in Steven’s record in office, but to probe him on what he thinks, how that opens doors to Labour voters and how and why Labour may be making mistakes – or even what they are getting right. I’ll do the same with a Tory. It is a long listen if you’re used to conventional radio but if you want to learn something new, sometimes it requires patience. I allowed Steven to talk about his personal issues because he’s entitled to that. Many people “enjoyed” his trials but whatever errors he made, and he doesn’t deny them, he proved to be fallible, as am I. This is about what we, as people who need Labour votes to win independence, can learn from an expert. That he agreed to share his thoughts shows I think that he’s not stuck in the Labour mind-set.

You can disagree with him but I think he represents an intriguing cusp in Labour thinking. I don’t believe he’s at all afraid of independence, just not convinced it’s necessary, like the hundreds of thousands Yes needs to turn. But he does passionately want major reform and wants it across Britain. If there’s isn’t independence, I agree with him. If you listen closely, there is the clear dilemma of many of our fellow Scots who don’t support the SNP but want major change and have been denied by their own party their favoured option and are hovering, ready for one last push to Yes. Steven Purcell may only represent the failed Labour Party to you, but to me, and I suggest to seekers after independence, he embodies the agonising choice of those whose votes will determine our nation’s future. And after speaking to him, I really couldn’t tell if he’ll vote No or Yes. Imagine the impact if he declared before September 18. (I’ll have to ask him back).

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Free at Last…?!

If the  Tim Reid’s  (BBC) briefing by the Treasury is correct and the British Chancellor officially rules out a currency union this week, we move into a different phase of the debate. It would be confirmation that they recognise that the current position is unsustainable and it isn’t convincing the Scots or the rest of the country who are making it clear they believe it will and should happen.

So in one way, that is good news. It is forcing them to go further than they wish and puts them in a dangerous position. First because it means the markets have to work out a position and decide if this makes the pound more or less attractive. If they think independence is possible and if they buy Osborne’s line, they may decide to bet against the value of sterling. In fact, if that gained traction he might be forced to reverse his statement in order to save the currency. The other danger is that big business gets alarmed and someone steps out of line and challenges his claim to refuse a union. Also, if there is a Yes and he eventually concedes a union he looks like a liar and a conman. The British state at work.

This is a dangerous game for the British state in which they cannot be certain of winning so we can deduce from that there are, as Allan Little said the other night, panicky people in Whitehall. After all, if the strategy is working why risk anything by going to the point of denial of a union? In that sense, we can assume things are looking up for a Yes.

It also means that the game changes for the Yes side. We DO have to think of an alternative but we will do so in the knowledge that we will begin independence with no sovereign debt. The implicit linking of national debt with the currency is exactly right by Salmond who has made a reasonable offer of taking some debt as a quid pro quo. Just as they turned down a second question it looks like the Neanderthals are blundering again.

I know it makes the cross-border issue potentially trickier but what a bonus to say No Thanks to £150b of British debt….I hear voices saying it would morally wrong to refuse but isn’t it morally wrong to deny us access to our own currency? And when they say no one will respect us, what drivel. There will be many neighbours cheering our ability to get out debt-free from burdens we didn’t run up and don’t tell me international lenders will refuse us credit. They won’t look at the morality if that’s what is it…they are profiteers and only  will look at our credit worthiness….£1.5 trillion in oil assets, a highly developed successful economy, a highly educated workforce, renewables, exports including whisky and food and to cap it all – NO SOVEREIGN DEBT.

No debt hanging over us and constraining what we can do and how much we borrow and at what rate of interest. In today’s market they will love us. And Britain will be stuck with ALL of the debt and 10 per cent less of its economy to help pay it back, a crippling overload which rises by the second and which will threaten further their credit rating.

This isn’t the perfect solution because it severs a link many wanted to keep with Britain and in the short term with conversion charges it is bad for cross-border trade but it means we have our own currency with no British Treasury interference and constraint and we start out with no debt. We have a Scottish pound and, I think, begin long-term moves to converge with the Euro so in time we join the Euro currency just as it comes out of its crisis, this time stronger,  and takes over from the dollar as the world’s strongest tradable currency – it’s already overtaking the dollar in oil transactions.

If this story is true, it is not a reason to be despondent…just think – no more Osborne, no more arrogant lectures from the London supremacists, real economic flexibility and real independence.

It is a reason to climb your nearest Munro and shout…Freedom…! 

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Seeing the Light

The next nine months will concentrate minds on Scotland’s chances post independence but it must surely mean a similar scrutiny of the developing UK after a No vote. I say “developing” but that contains an irony because on a battery of comparisons it seems Britain may actually be in the category of developing nation. That term we normally apply to primitive economies struggling to put themselves on an upward curve aided by financial transfers from richer countries so a more appropriate phrase might be undeveloping country since in the UK’s case it has been developed but is now showing signs of unravelling into a threadbare and worn out curiosity.

And simultaneously research shows how this relative decline in the British state presents an opportunity to draw Labour voters away from a traditional affiliation to the UK and to express their real feelings about the possibilities opened up by Scottish independence. If the research is accurate, many Labour voters are already eyeing independence as an appealing prospect but can’t get over the mind-set that it is a concept owned by the SNP, a party to whom they don’t owe allegiance.

We’ll return to that. But first, the emerging critique of Britain as it crawls, slowly and painfully from recession – at least on some measures – is that it is inflexible and therefore lacking the ability to do anything other than genuflect to the City of London, is class-ridden so that social mobility is blocked (witness even John Major) and mercilessly pursuing a cuts agenda targeted on the low paid and the vulnerable.

Education is a key monitor of national performance and lays the foundation for so much else in society yet the latest PISA  results http://www.oecd.org/pisa/  show Britain stagnating as a mid range  nation with teenagers lagging  behind their peers across the world as improvements stall in reading, maths and science with no improvement recorded in the basics of learning. Among those moving further ahead despite spending less than Britain are Slovenia and Estonia, two newly independent small nations. The UK was in 26th place for maths, 23rd for reading and 21st for science. Ambitious countries should not be scrambling to stay mid table.

Or there is the World Economic Forum report on competitiveness has Britain doing well in some categories but what about the balance as of the national budget as a percentage of GDP at 140 out of 144 nations…of gross national savings at 123…government debt at 136…national imports at 107…soundness of banks at 97…. ease of access to loans at 82? And does the UK sitting at number 55 for women in the labour market strike you as progressive?  For more on this read the Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/09/britain-now-developing-country-foodbanks-growth.

Meanwhile food banks, as clear an indicator to poverty and stress as can be imagined are a growing feature of society. In July, the welfare minister Lord Freud said: “The provision of food-bank support has grown from provision to 70,000 individuals two years ago to 347,000. All that predates the [welfare] reforms. As I say, there is no evidence of a causal link.” Yet an inquiry into the growth of food banks by the government has been delayed. Why? And when Alistair Carmichael spoke to MSPs he said there was a link between benefits cuts and food banks but also claimed it was simplistic to say the cuts led to them multiplying. (This sounds like the same tortured responses he gave to Nicola Sturgeon in the STV debate). Now household debt is rivaling sovereign debt and heading for £1.5 trillion.

So Britain, although by no means a basket case and with most of the features of a safe and modern nation compared to most others, is far from the gleaming model of prosperity and opportunity the government would like to present when held up against a possibly independent Scotland. And it may be that the point is being consumed by Scots yet to decide their vote in the referendum.

Work by two Scotland-based academics and published by the London School of Economics http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/archives/38240 finds that the referendum result is more uncertain than opinion polls may suggest. They say: Labour affiliates are an important component with regards to the referendum result, and there appears to be a noticeable discrepancy between the party’s message and those who identify with it. Labour affiliates are not negative about the performance of an independent Scotland on the whole, but these assessments are not translating into actual constitutional preferences, perhaps partly because they see the term ‘independence’ as one that belongs to the SNP.

The suggestion is that far from believing the relentless message from the leadership about failure and doubt, Labour supporters have a different and more positive outlook for their country as a separate nation but haven’t equated that with a Yes vote yet because they regard it as something SNP people do, not them. If that’s true we are entering different territory in which there potentially is a majority for independence but it is being blocked by a traditional way of thinking about party allegiance. It may also explain why Labour is so dogmatically averse to rational debate about the possibilities of independence to the extent that they cannot bring themselves to use the word and have a policy vacuum on what they would do after a Yes vote. But it also means there is a prize awaiting Yes campaigners who can inch Labour doubters away from historical resistance to the SNP and who can be brought to recognize change as the wish of a much wider front across society, not just of Salmond and his party.

The point is reinforced by another finding that only 14% of Labour affiliates were in favour of independence in 2012, but 26% believed that ‘all decisions’ should be made in Scotland. This is not a new phenomenon in opinion polling and shows that the term independence is a loaded one. These voters are effectively calling for independence of their country’s government but they don’t want to call it that. That could mean they are only a paper wall away from becoming Yes voters.

|Then this: Labour identifiers have become more positive about independence on average between 2011 and 2012, taking up a position just below the neutral point. This is potentially significant to the outcome of the referendum as almost 38% of Scots identified themselves with the Labour party in 2012.

I am selecting from the report so best you read it yourself for your own analysis but I think it’s also interesting that many Scots don’t differentiate in their minds (greatly) between independence and devo max which to me confirms the historic mistake of the Unionists to block a second question on more powers. Even if they do now come up with some formulation for powers, their case is immediately shaky because they turned down the chance to put it directly to the people in the referendum. The problem they now have is convincing Scots that whatever they say, either separately or collectively, we will still be at the mercy of a British general election and a hostile English electorate after a No vote.

 

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It’s normal!

The White Paper is being tossed about on the frothing seas of partisanship, lurching to port where George Kerevan hails it “game-changing” then heaving to starboard where Brian Wilson buffets it as “nothing of substance” – 670 pages of it! Meanwhile the decks are awash with streams of “fantasy” and “wish list”, all enough to make you seasick.

So what is it in reality? Well, it’s a tangible sign that independence is becoming entrenched in the popular mind as a conventional and feasible option for running the country. And I think that is the most telling point of all. The release of such a detailed report became an unavoidable item of UK national news – unless you read the Star – in which Scots saw their government and fellow Scots, in a sense themselves, sensibly discussing independence as a rational, everyday political idea on the television news. This is normalisation. For many, mostly beyond the reach of Newsnight and the Politics Show or the comment pages, independence as a concept has retained a White Heather Club quality that allows outsiders to laugh at us as celtic eccentrics. It is not uncommon for the urban working class to offer only sneers at Salmond as some kind of sheep-shagging salesman, as opposed to a true Labour artisan politician, while at the same time welcoming his policies and berating Labour’s failure. If they can’t accept the messenger, they won’t get the message.

The breadth of the media coverage of the White Paper showed a different perspective. It brought the “Big News” from London to our doorstep where Hew Edwards respectfully interviewed Salmond at length. It led the network bulletins. It produced disharmony and acrimony as all normal political issues do. It proved the SNP government’s plans were both serious, as in profound, and important, as in a matter for London to cover on location.

The day after it is spread throughout the press, with its merits and shortcomings dissected with forensic scrutiny and across the land thousands of voters whose cynicism inclines them habitually to dismiss new and challenging ideas, will be made to think. “What do I think about this? I’m not sure about full independence but this looks really serious and makes some points I agree with. I don’t usually bother with the political news but I can’t ignore this, it’s everywhere. Salmond really has an impact, doesn’t he? He does things that get London jumping. And why shouldn’t we use the pound? It isn’t England’s. Who do they think they are…”

This event has moved independence out of the speciality lane in the political supermarket and placed it in household essentials. And it does, at last, provide a searchable source of answers – whether you accept them or not – and it has created another awkward moment for Better Together because they have nothing to offer in reply. From now on, not only are specific “answers” at hand, the White Paper itself IS an answer to the constantly demanding How will this work? How can we afford it? The reply is they’ve produced an entire document in answer. The follow-up challenge of course is: “Where is the Unionist alternative?” And it’s true, to engage in a proper debate, each side is duty bound to produce its case. That has now been done by the Yes side so when do we see the agreed manifesto for Union?

I also think this document and the coverage will force people elsewhere in the UK to come to terms with a simple fact – that Scotland has cards to play. Hitherto, the impression has been apparent from London that they dictate events, they say Yes or No and they hold the assets and can block Scotland’s progress. Yesterday demonstrated that isn’t so. There is a strong economic case for independence, there is a widening gulf in political culture (certainly with London but I doubt if it applies across the rest of the rUK) and grudgingly many will now realise that it does make sense to share some services. I suspect the English view broadly is that independence means going it completely alone and they can imagine that happening but it makes some uncomfortable that the logic is to share a border, a currency, the DVLA etc because that requires a more nuanced mind-set. This is a profound change in the government of Britain, one of the most politically backward of all industrialised states, deeply conservative in its attitudes to democracy and resistant to change and social mobility. For English people in general, devolution was a disturbing concept that hinted at disharmony and a cloaked rejection, so independence is like betrayal. Then to find that, actually the Scots have a good case and it involves still sharing with them will take time to digest and come to terms with. Many won’t. The Little Englanders – Tory Right, UKIP, EDL, Telegraph – will voice their opposition to all association with a new Scottish state which will only serve to incline the fair-minded who take time to rationalise it into accepting a new deal. Indeed, because the Civil Service – and big business – will spell out the advantages to London of continued association and joint working with Edinburgh, senior Unionist politicians may be pushed into giving it a careful endorsement to prepare the ground for post-independent arrangements.

In the next 10 months this document and a wider knowledge of it will come up time and again in public debate across Britain, further normalising the idea of an independent Scotland in the minds of millions. It may even excite the wider British Left in politics and the media who could find something to salute here in a social democratic model rejecting, as they do, the rule of the bankers, the austerity burden on the poor and a London-centric economy. Do they really have such faith in the outdated and fading British state that they believe it trumps all attempts at fair pay, civil rights, equality, and self-determination? After yesterday’s Scottish announcement taking top billing, the first two items on this morning’s BBC news were Cameron’s plans to deny benefits to fellow EU citizens – a racist move also against the rules and principles of the EU – and nine million people are in serious debt in the UK. What a country to be proud of. Would we really want to join in Union if we were asked today? With all its caveats – hydrocarbon exploitation, lower business rates – Scotland’s independence agenda is offering more than Miliband’s Labour for those seeking to transform unequal, geographically-deformed Britain.

Many southern eyes will look north in the next year and some of them will be understanding. Some might even be envious.

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