29 September 2014

Crumbs

An aftermath of scones. The butter pat monstered, jam jars emptied, coffees slurped and plates lightly speckled with crumbs and the odd stray sultana making a bid for freedom: two days before the referendum. 

The conversation around the table takes an earnest turn, as Agnes dabs her mouth daintily and Mary executes the backsliding currant with extreme prejudice.  They are, I'd guess, some kind of church party, a regular coffee morning, who have been demolishing scones together in these parts for more than a decade. Today, the conversation is all about the referendum, and like a great many of the older cohort of society, the tone is almost uniformly skeptical.

"Did you hear about that- about the social media?" (Quotation marks in the original.) "Oh aye," another blue riser adds, with the piteous attitude of the commiserating gossip, on hearing that Magrit from up the close has been struck down with alopecia. "Seems anybody who speaks up  - anyone who is voting No - gets shouted down." "Oh aye," the chorus goes up. The grey heads nod as one. "It's a disgrace," one adds with feeling, taking a sour pull at a cold coffee.

None are, you might hazard, mustard keen pioneers in the digital revolution.  I'm sure Agnes rustles up a cracking Victoria sponge, but I doubt she tweets her way vigorously through the Great British Bake Off (#GBBO), slating Paul Hollywood for being a pompous doughball who has confused the art of bashing up a decent enriched dough with brain surgery. But they all nod gravely, uniform if unempirical in their sense that the referendum is an altogether disagreeable process, producing monsters.

"Did you see them up there? Last weekend. They were all out, up there."  "Oh, aye. I saw that, aye."  A reference to the corner of Queen's Park in the Southside, which over the course of the weekend had sprouted a clutch of cheery and unself-conscious Yes-voters, with kids and dogs and flags and fiddles. The church circle didn't really approve. "What were they up to, anyway?" 

"I just walked by," one adds, with glorious sangfroid. I'm sure she toddled past, unnoticed, with majestic disdain. From the firm set of her upper lip, and the fizz of pride with which she related her great cold march by, she clearly felt it was some kind of triumph for personal dignity over the mob. "They were in town and all. George Square," another chips in. More nods of quiet disapproval. Though none of the ladies quite said it, the unspoken phrase making a scene hovered about these overheard remarks.

As it happened, I'd spent about 20 civilised minutes the previous day talking to one of these church ladies, and clearly hadn't prospered. She was anxious about Romanians, liked Poles, but went in fear of the Tories and felt exhausted by the Labour Party. She gave us a fair crack of the whip, but I dare say she voted No along with her coffee circle.

More than ever, I'm confirmed in the thought that the referendum has revealed - in a generationally differentiated way - a Scottish discomfort with public political disagreement and a more overtly expressive and visible approach to the performance of politics. Some time ago, I questioned that familiar but "hackneyed account of Scotland sees us as a belligerent, in-your-face nation, at home in a habitat of conflict. A flyting tribe of impatient Groundskeeper Willies, bubbling over with antipathies, irreverent, thrawn and not feart to fall into controversy." The referendum result blows this fond thought to bits. There was something to the silent majority.

Older folk will have voted No for a number of reasons, but if my coffee morning was anything to go by, the aesthetics of politics, and generational differences, may have played a significant part in that.  It is all a bit late now. But it is a little referendum crumb, a tiny window into the part of Scottish society who most decisively rejected the idea of self-government.  While those in George Square felt galvanised, full of energy, comradely and celebratory - these ladies surveyed these uncharacteristically lively displays of politics -- and found it disturbing.

They didn't see the "carnival of democracy" warmer spirits have identified, but the unfamiliar, disagreeable outburst of symbols, activity, declarations, politics in the public realm. I'm sure they hadn't the nearest foggiest clue what was or was not happening online, and happens everywhere where folk with strong opinions have access to a keyboard and the internet - but they felt quietly besieged in Scotland by an alien and unwelcome approach to politics.

For them, Jim Murphy's egg was emblematic of a much deeper, more shapeless sense of unease about the whole process, the enthusiasm, the vitality. The bottom line: they didn't like it. Didn't like the occupation of public space. Didn't like the big, overwhelmingly ruly Yes assemblies. Didn't like the flags and the badges and the signs. Didn't like a politics that wasn't quiet, and orderly, and unenthused, and conducted discreetly only in the secure privacy of the voting booth.

They reminded me a bit of folk like Kenneth Roy, who in feebler moments seem to long for the 1950s and the happy days when the guid folk kept their heads down, and in quiet unison voted Labour for the Glasgow Corporation. Where you knew where you were, and the young folk had the decency to wear the plain flat browns and caps of their elders, and not cut up rough. 

As a youngish man, still clinging to the edges of his youth, this strikes me as the gloomy, unambitious politics of nostalgia. I don't doubt it is sincere. It was certainly conclusive. The church party felt it keenly over the wreckages of their scones and voted according to their own lights. But it is the politics of managed decline, a politics of the kirk minister and the Sunday Post, a colourless politics of conformity, and apathy and deference, which relegates the political to the private sphere, fenced in from ordinary life, unsympathetic, unambitious -- and deeply, deeply uninspiring.

26 comments :

  1. "Older folk will have voted No for a number of reasons"

    Because they were lied to, simple as that. Better Together went around their houses telling them that if it was a Yes vote, their pensions would be stopped on the 19th of September. They were told that the NHS would be broken up. They were told a bewildering array of lies by canvassers, and because they've been raised in an era where you could "trust" the BBC, where you could "trust" the government, asking them not to believe what the media or government were saying was too much of a leap after decades of having that particular worldview. It was easier for them to believe the lie than acknowledge the truth. I know this from scores of elderly individuals I've met, be it at the Yes Inverclyde shop, or when out canvassing.

    But frankly, I've lost sympathy with that "keep your head down" demographic of their generation. If you keep that level of disengagement and refuse to change, then you lose any right to complain about it. Then again, they probably won't be complaining about losing their winter fuel allowance if Labour get in, or another illegal war, or seeing their grandchildren's benefits taken from them.

    Apathy and deference after all we've done trying to engage them has made me mightily tempted to abandon them to their misery. The quarter-or-so of their generation who HAVE seen the light deserve all the help they can get.

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  2. If your strategists didn't realise that egg-throwing and flag-waving and houses covered in Nationalist bunting and nutters screaming "Tories Tories in Dunday" over and over again to drown out any rational discussion and generally alarming the populace in a variety of ways would frighten old ladies then they must be quite a bit stupider than is strictly necessary to do the job.

    Anyways.

    That wasn't the nub of the matter. People worried that serious questions about the economy, the currency, the EU and pensions were unanswered, And WHY? What was the overwhelming justification for cutting the island in half? And that was a surrogate for the lack of intellectual rigour at the heart of the SNP's campaign.

    Too many questions not answered and too many risks dismissed as "scaremongering", too much noisy enthusiasm unrestrained by straightforward answers to honest questions.

    And now the Yessers, encouraged by Eck, have become resisters and deniers.

    Not a good look IMO.

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    1. "If your strategists didn't realise that egg-throwing and flag-waving and houses covered in Nationalist bunting and nutters screaming "Tories Tories in Dunday" over and over again to drown out any rational discussion and generally alarming the populace in a variety of ways would frighten old ladies then they must be quite a bit stupider than is strictly necessary to do the job. "

      The vast majority of the things you cite were not from "our strategists," but from grassroots campaigners unbeholden to Yes Scotland. Or are you seriously arguing that Blair Jenkins was responsible for throwing an egg at Jim Murphy?

      "People worried that serious questions about the economy, the currency, the EU and pensions were unanswered"

      Or they were answered, but the media and government conspired to say otherwise. The pensions and currency questions have been decisively and unequivocably answered in exhaustive and painstaking detail by both pro-independence and pro-union sources, yet you wouldn't know it from the BBC. Or does the Scottish Affairs Committee, the Department of Work and Pensions, and the Secretary for Pensions saying "your pensions will continue to be paid just as they are now in the event of independence" somehow too ambiguous and problematic?

      Questions on the economy and EU could have been answered if Westminster had any interest in dispelling uncertainty, but for some reason they weren't.

      "And WHY? What was the overwhelming justification for cutting the island in half?"

      We're already "cut in half." Scotland is a distinct nation from England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with a border that's been in place for hundreds of years, with separate health services, law, education, etc. Perhaps now that the referendum is over, we can start asking the union what the overwhelming justification for remaining in Westminster rule?

      "Too many questions not answered and too many risks dismissed as "scaremongering", too much noisy enthusiasm unrestrained by straightforward answers to honest questions. "

      Tell you what: you ask the UK the exact same "unanswered questions," see how you do. Will the UK remain in the EU in the foreseeable future? What currency will we use? Will the economy thrive? Will we still receive pensions as we do now? Will we still have an NHS? You can't answer a single one of those questions with any degree of certainty because it is impossible to be certain about such things. Case in point, do you think even 10 years ago we thought we'd be seeing Gulf War 3, the destruction of the NHS, and tens of thousands of people in a supposedly 1st world country dying of hypothermia and malnutrition?

      "And now the Yessers, encouraged by Eck, have become resisters and deniers."

      Come now, the biggest refrain I've heard from No voters is "it's over, get over it, just move on with your lives." Talk about resistance and denial.

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    2. Taranaich, thanks for a structured and reasoned response. Extremely unusual from Nats as you can see from the other responses.

      You say:

      "The vast majority of the things you cite were not from "our strategists," but from grassroots campaigners unbeholden to Yes Scotland. Or are you seriously arguing that Blair Jenkins was responsible for throwing an egg at Jim Murphy?"

      If you read LPW's blog you would see that he bemoans "little old ladies" concerns at thuggish behaviour from the Yes campaign and seems to dismiss it as unfounded. But you seem to agree with me that this concern was well founded only saying that "they're nuthin' to do with me guv". Not convincing IMO.

      "The pensions and currency questions have been decisively and unequivocably answered in exhaustive and painstaking detail by both pro-independence and pro-union sources, "

      The pensions question was answered by John Swinney when he told the SNP Cabinet (but not the Scottish people) that it would be difficult to keep current levels of state pensions in an independent Scotland. Occupational pensions in a possibly independent Scotland were also under threat from EU rules about cross-border pension funds which stray into deficit.

      So the SNP's assurance to current state pensioners that "your pension is safe" was correct, but only because those people's pension would be guaranteed by the continuing UK. Younger people still in work and occupational pensioners were right to be concerned. Not to tell them so would be lying.

      "Questions on the economy and EU could have been answered if Westminster had any interest in dispelling uncertainty"

      Who started the uncertainty?

      Questions on the economy were clearly outlined by the vast majority of economists and economic commentators and think tanks, 99% of whom agreed that there would have been severe economic problems if a Yes vote. SNP could provide no real arguments nor weight of educated opinion on their side.They kept quoting their own commission. But it was their own (not an independent) commission, it had at least 50% identified nats and it was not clear if it was ever asked the clear question: "what would be the consequences of breaking up the UK?".

      I note you provide no real justification, apart from wanting it, for dividing our small and currently united island. Scotland is not really that different from the rest of the UK. There's no oppression or suppression. Britain is a small island. Solidarity is a good idea. Why destroy it? Haven't heard any compelling reason or argument.

      If there are uncertainties about the UK in the EU, why add to that uncertainty? It's silly.

      Will we stay in the EU? I believe we will. I will fight for it.

      We will continue to use the £UK. Why wouldn't we?

      The economy will thrive or not. Why add uncertainty to the mix?

      Pensions guaranteed by the UK government will continue. Why wouldn't they?

      We will still have an NHS, particularly if we vote Labour next year.

      "any degree of certainty" ... nothing is 100% (unless you're a Nat when you seem to believe that everything would be roses, if only...), it's all about the facts, the evidence and judgement based on these factors. My judgement is based on the facts and the evidence. I think I'm right.

      Yessers are in denial. The Scottish people voted No. Which part of No is ambiguous? No means No. Not Yes. Not Maybe. I don't expect diehard Nats to agree that independence is absolutely dead.

      I do expect them to agree with their leader Alex Salmond that a No vote kills it off for a generation.

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    3. Did you have wee polish of your brass neck before replying?

      Of course, if egg related YES thuggery is a joint responsibility of all, then ungentlemanly stomach-kicking is down to all NO supporters too?

      The boot remains on the NO camp's foot...

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    4. I see I missed the currency question. You say it was answered. It was, but only in the sense that an answer to 2+2 is =22.

      The £ was a millstone round our necks until the Euro became an even bigger potential millstone (note these categories are electoral, not economic) and so the £ became "SCOTLANDS! Pound". and we would use it whatever the circumstances and who would dare stop us? Eh?

      Plan A, a currency union like the one we are already in but after we had left and then asked to rejoin with less influence than we currently have was the "best" of all options. Aye right.

      Plan B: there is no Plan B.


      Or.....there are three Plan Bs. You pays your money (currency undefined) and you takes your choice (choice undefined).

      It was a total shambles. A disgrace actually. No serious party would present such a vacuum as policy.

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  3. "Too many questions unanswered"

    Jesus wept.

    They were answered in full, or as full as Westminster would allow, and the answers ignored.

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  4. Braveheart, are you one of these church ladies?

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    1. Could be Kenneth Roy channeling Miss Jean Brodie?

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  5. One woman I canvassed several weeks ago bemoaned the fact that people no longer just did what the head of the household told them to do. All that thinking for yourself was just too much for her.

    She also self-identified as a Tory.

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  6. On the button, Andrew. My good lady and I were ruminating on exactly this unease a few weeks back. Our discussion was prompted by me being berated on facebook by a former Labour councillor. My crime? - daring to attempt to debate with a 'No' person who had offered nothing other than a flat negatory.
    "She doesn't have to explain or justify her vote to you or anyone else," the ex-cooncillor sniped.
    I agreed but expressed the opinion that surely political debate leads to clarification of our own as well as others thoughts and isn't that a good thing?
    Apparently it's not.
    For me it's indicative of a crisis of confidence / lack of self worth. Know your place - and your place is a dark, discreet corner.

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  7. Oh, and please forgive my flattery, but that is an exceptionally elegant and perceptive piece of writing. The ticklish social observation of Saki with a soupcon of Pratchett whimsy. Delicious.

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  8. What was it, about the last copy of the Sunday Post?

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  9. Brave heart is, I believe, a councillor for Labour. His party have courted and given money to the Orange Order. His Party stood campaigning beside fascist candidates and sectarians

    If we believe Breveheart's line of thought, we would assume he helped orchestrate the beating up of people in George Square

    Being an adult, as opposed to a placeman on a Council, we accept he did not. Pity he is only a placemen

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    1. "His Party stood campaigning beside fascist candidates and sectarians" Source for this claim please and remember the Lodge in Glasgow has supported the SNP since 2011 at local level, they are a bit opportunistic like that.
      I wonder why the successors of Militant Tendency and and their allies of the Socialist Workers Party were allowed such a prominent role at meetings within the SNP organised YES campaign in Fife, so do a few local SNP members also want to know. Didn't get round to voting, having listened to the politicaly bankrupt and opportunistic arguements from both sides I switched from Don't Know to Don't Want to Know.

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    2. Since the Lodge campaigned AGAINST the SNP ("Home Rule is Rome Rule" that claim is bollocks

      Dame Anne Begg was pictured campaigning and laughing beside a National Front Candidate. A Britain First Supporter and Orange woman featured in a Better Together broad at. Labour gave money to the ode in 2012 and relaxed the restrictions on marches in Glasgow.

      Orangemen put up Vote No Labour signs for the Party and carried them to George square

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    3. You seem not to have a clue about what the Lodge does, they always support the right minded candidate no matter what party since they broke with the Tories. Those of us old enough to remember Monklands remember the irony of cars flying the Union Flag with SNP stickers. The only Vote No signs made available to the public on a large scale were Vote No Labour, such was the shambles of BT they forgot to print them. Funnily enough my concerns over the SNP have always been they are too protestant fundamentalist. There is great scope for discussion for lets face it nobody won the argument during the referendum. As for the 27% of Glasgow Labour supporters who voted YES, they will vote Labour still. The saddest thing is that the poor and disengaged who re-registered to vote are now being hunted down by local councils for poll tax debts from the past. A lot of suffering is going to be heaped on the poor sods with 30 years interest bumped on their debt. So lets see who defends them best.

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  10. Do you think we could get Her Majesty to send some Bishops up from down south and introduce a new prayer book?



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  11. My sister was picking up her six yr old son from school in a part of the south side of Glasgow that thinks it's posh. One of his classmates came over and asked her "why are you wearing that badge". She explained that there was to be a referendum soon, and the badge showed her support for voting Yes. "I know that, but voting is a private matter" he said very priggishly

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  12. While it is true that we old bastards voted No by the largest margin it is surely more interesting to look at why only one age group voted Yes, and it wasn't the youngest voters. They seem - contra Eck - to have mostly voted No -

    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/09/30/scottish-independence-young-vote_n_5882160.html

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  13. Matter of interest, what of the Ulster Scots? They do not see themselves as Irish or English and if the UK splits up surely they would look to Scotland as their natural ally when the legitimacy and validity of the statelet is put to the test. With over 25000 people leaving the 6 counties every year would the steady stream become a flood? YES supporter Tom Devine once indicated the Union of the Presbyterian Peoples may be harder to break than the Union of Crown or Parliament.

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  14. Now the Debt collectors are trawling through the newly registered or reregistered people on the electoral role along with the local councils, shite people in this wee country really, and the great and good and political parties will turn their backs on the disenfrachised once more. Who will defend the poor, none of the above.

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  15. I met plenty of elderly people on the doorsteps and the street who were happily voting Yes for their grandkids, who 'got it'. Though this is Dundee, the Yes City and many cited they had been 'got at' by children and grandchildren.

    In a similar way I found in canvassing that large families (more than 3 kids) were more likely to vote Yes, en mass or nearly so.

    It seems therefore that those who speak to their families more or have more family are more likely to have had civilised and respectful discussions including having their preconceptions challenged. Sadly though I suspect much of the elderly No vote was a symptom of our more atomised society and of course the Scottish and Irish disease of children long moved away out of Scotland so out of touch both with the Indy issues and their elders.

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  16. I'm not convinced that Kenneth Roy stands for the politics of nostalgia; or at least, if he does, nostalgia can sometimes be progressive. He is currently bashing away at the "named person" gambit, for example, which is a bit too modern for me.

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