31 December 2012

My top 10 of 2012...

2012 has been a queer, busy old year. Council Elections in May.  Months of legal and political wrangling on the independence referendum, finally resolved in October, with the publication of a draft section 30 order to put the legality of the referendum beyond down, and to kill devo-something stone dead.  In parallel, an often bilious and occasionally bitter argument about introducing same-sex marriage.  The launches of both YesScotland and BetterTogether, neither event exactly capturing the imagination. 

Outwith formal politics, thousands gathered to march in support of independence under a cyan Edinburgh sky, while in Glasgow in November, just shy of a thousand leftie activists assembled for a Radical Independence Conference (a sketch of which, written by yours truly, should be appearing in the next edition of the Drouth magazine).

In a first for me, I was also denounced by a Labour MP as a Nationalist stooge, in cahoots with Isabel Fraser in an anti-Labour conspiracy on BBC "Newsnat".  In the second part of the year, Michael Greenwell and I embarked on our For A' That series of podcasts, which we hope will mature into a constructive space for conversation and arguments about the issues, in the lead up to 2014.  In a gesture towards things to come, we're conscious that a pro-nationalist echo-chamber does not an interesting podcast make, and the inclusion of folk hostile to independence (Ian Smart) and folk who remain undecided but persuadable (Alex Massie) will be the stamp of things to come. All suggestions for guests you'd like to hear more from, and neglected or interesting issues worth discussing, gratefully received. We'll do our best to bend arms and tempt folk into our liberally-stocked green room.

In anticipation of tonight's revels to usher in 2013, I thought I'd take a wee look back, over the most popular top ten posts of 2012.

1.  I don't know if Anderstonians, Partickians, and Hillheadists are particularly interested in their local politics, but coming in in first place, is this post from May on the Glasgow Council Election results in Anderston Hillhead and Partick.  The post fell in one of a series, covering all of the wards in Glasgow, condensing the results into graphs in an effort to make the STV election we use comprehensible, and afford a better insight than is usually available into the closeness of the races. 

2.  In second place, February thoughts on On Labour's Cybernat Problem, tracing the genealogy of this now-familiar, frumious persona, and the psychological compensations for those, desperate to find the "dark heart" of Scottish nationalism.

3. Thirdly, from July, we had Labour for Independence? How can it be that a party of soi-dissant non-nationalists, non-unionists, instrumental socialists(ish), all agree that the status quo is the only practicable mechanism to realise their political convictions. Isn't that just a little queer?

4.  Ecclefechan Mackay will be delighted.  In at number four, in the balmy Olympic days of June,a cross-post from the Kinlochberviee Chronicle, reporting on the forces drafted in by Theresa May to supplement G4S's bungling security provision. A serious bit of analysis, in Crack Womble Squad Drafted in to protect Olympics.

5.  We're back to Labour at number five, with a close reading of an important speech in June, articulating a defence of the Union in England.  Arguably the most interesting quality of Miliband's pro-union analysis was its shift in gear from the usual Labour fare.  We're used to hearing about solidarity between "hard-working families" on both sides of the border, and the rhetoric of shared resistance against perfidious Conservatism.  Historian Colin Kidd has described this as an argument from "instrumental Unionism" - the mirror image of Nicola Sturgeon's recent invocation of a "utilitarian nationalism", driven not so much by considerations of national identity or culture, but a desire for power to be reclaimed by Scottish institutions to shape a particular kind of politics and society.  Interestingly, Miliband's speech took an entirely different tack, and focussed instead on affective British identity, or in Nicola's terms, "existential nationalist" reasons to maintain the union. His message: feel British? Vote no. A clear case, for me, of Ed Miliband: British nationalist.

6) At number six, an untimely little story. 2011 was the year for controversy about the UK Supreme Court, but 2012 arguably presented opportunities which the SNP in Holyrood neglected. In May, I asked, Can Holyrood repudiate the UK Supreme Court's civil jurisdiction? The interesting - and for some, probably surprising - answer is that there is a strong argument that they could, and it lies within the SNP's power unilaterally to cut the centuries old appeal to the House of Lords as was, now the UK Court. One has to wonder, why the inactivity? Why not exert your majority? Concern not to revive the damaging ugliness of 2011's overheated critique? Caution? 

7.  A second entry for the Kinlochbervie Chronicle at number seven.   Ecclefechan Mackay (MA) applies himself to the findings of Professor Mitchell and Lynn Bennie's recent study into the profile of the SNP membership: Study reveals average SNP member is "stunted Jacobite bogle". 

8.  Swithering at number eight. Others regard this year's referendum negotiations as an exercise in arid formalism and shadowboxing, but for me, the critical decision of 2012 was the elimination of any devo-something question from the referendum ballot.  It was always going to be difficult to frame the question, but even for this nationalist-with-regrets, the prospect of asking a devolutionary question was not unattractive.  "Better Together" is not a political maxim I live by, but I suspect many who now support an independent Scotland will vote yes in 2014, mourning Britain's unrealised better history. "A nationalist liferaft, but who is it for?"

9.  2012 was the first full year in which the Offensive Behaviour at Football etc (Scotland) Act 2011 was in force. September threw up this interesting case from the sheriff court, where the new legislation seemed to frustrate a prosecution for disorderly, allegedly sectarian conduct aboard a train, while an old-fashioned breach of the peace charge might well have done the trick. The first peep from a deflating political football?

10. And lastly, in tenth place, the Edinburgh Agreement, which eased years of palpitations on my part about the independence referendum being waylaid in la, and ending up before the UK Supreme Court.  I was particularly struck by how far David Cameron was drawn into the semiotics of the occasion, with all the ritual, bells and whistles, rather than ratifying a memo of ministerial agreement by a more informal exchange of emails, or letters. A little thing, perhaps, but it gave us a compelling, concrete image of what an independent Scottish diplomacy might look like. Cameron: a willing actor in Salmond's drama.

And that, as they say, is that for 2012. Enjoy a dram or two tonight, and a fortifying slab of black bun. Happy New Year!

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