8 September 2014

Tackety boot Unionism

“What Scots have got to realise is this isn’t a general election.” “This is one poll, but people in Scotland have to recognise that this is forever, the break up of Britain.” “I wonder if that’s really sunk in.” “I don’t think they’ve fully understood the implications of this.” Etcetera, etcetera. Over the last couple of days, the UK media has crackled with sentences of this kind as, as the Daily Mash put it, the UK media rouse themselves to the fact that “Scotland having some sort of referendum, apparently.” What a difference a poll makes. 

Cue a jungle column of political explorers, wending their way north from London, to prognosticate on the future of the Union and the chances of victory. In their train, we can also apparently expect a band of UK “heavyweights”, in the political patois, to press home the case against independence. Both enterprises, the commentary and the campaigning, are fraught with a kind of peril. On the media side, some pieces of writing have been much better than others. Folk like Paul Mason have shown a real interest and sensitivity to their subject. Others rather less so, like the pith-helmeted imperial anthropologists, who gain a superficial knowledge of their subjects, and trump off to pen the authoritative tome, shot through with their own problematic assumptions and cultural blind spots. 

The strange inarticulacy of the rash of tin-eared UK paper reviews and columns on Scotland tells its own story. Do you think, after three years, anybody with half a brain in this country is in danger of conflating the referendum with a general election? Do you think anybody earnestly considering putting their cross in the Yes box can’t countenance the idea that independence means independence? Why assume, on the basis of no real information on the poll, that for the Yes campaign to have run Better Together close means that the punters are nitwits who haven’t been applying themselves in a serious-minded, considered way to the range of alternatives, facts, arguments and uncertainties which have been presented to them? “I know nothing much about the referendum, but if you are inclined to vote Yes, you must have neglected the homework that I’ve… um… never done on the subject.” 

This is a reheated version of an auld sang we’ve heard many times before. Independence is bonkers and unthinkable, and if close to a majority of folk living in Scotland are willing to countenance it, they must either be in the grip of a childish and petulant “anti-politics sentiment”, have been beguiled by that mischievous peddler of villainy, Alex Salmond, or have failed really to understand what they’ve been asked. All of which might be more impressive, had the incredulous scribbler composing it shown any interest or sensitivity to the Scottish question these last many years, or a decent level of respect for the intelligence and responsibility of the public. 

Casting the Scottish electorate as ignorant saps is just another way of avoiding the interesting and significant implications of the referendum for the whole of the UK, whether Yes or No carry the day. It is an expression of a serious lack of self-reflection and self-analysis which has characterised the astonishing complacency and indifference with which the referendum has elicited in the circles of convention British power. In more prosaic terms, it also presents significant potential hazards for Better Together, in making their case in the final ten days of the campaign. I wrote this during the first big Union wobble of the campaign. If anything, it is truer this morning than it was back in May. 

Crumbling certainties confuse and they upset. And the No campaign across the UK doesn't have the luxury of much time to recalibrate its emotional and intellectual resources. The imaginative gap, alluded to by both Massie and Rifkind, separating the Westminster-dominated politics and the debate in Scotland, remains one of the Yes campaign's most significant structural advantages. 

The best advocates always understand their audience, its quirks and assumptions and reactions. They know which levers to pull, which switches to turn and which to leave well alone. Now and then, the talented amateur may get lucky, but it is a risky business. For the increasingly-anxious political actor, steeped in London-centric politics and hoping to have an impact on how Scots vote in September, the prevailing disunities within the UK make the job that much harder. For Better Together's supporters, they can but hope that none of their fretful, tinkering amateurs presses any big red buttons before September. 

The good news for the No campaign is that the United Kingdom has finally woken up to the Scottish problem: that’s also the bad news. In the wake of yesterday’s panic, many, many more people will be hovering around the big red buttons of the campaign, wanting "to do their bit," but deaf to the years and months of conversations and arguments which have gone before. 

If you can’t begin understand your opponent, can’t empathise with where they’re coming from, you are hobbled from the get-go. Tackety boot unionism is the last thing Better Together need at this stage of the campaign, but if the last few days are anything to go by, our late constitutional visitors and observers have few resources of experience to make an informed, sensitive case to an informed, sensitive public. Like yesterday's collapsing federalism shtick, the late renewed interest in Scotland is at best a mixed blessing for the No campaign, and potentially a whole new petard to be hoist by.


  1. Forget tackety boots, its all bowler hats and jackboots next weekend with Farage's goon squad in Glasgow and the Orange Lodge in Edinburgh. The last hurrah for the British state, put on by bigots and idiots

  2. Good comment, but that's not a picture of a tackety boot. If unionists have forgotten what a tacket looks like they've really lost their way.

  3. The Westminster establishment and London media elite will, no doubt, try to perform some utterly maladroit 'interventions' in the coming days. But they consider Scotland, Scottish politics and the people of Scotland simply infra dig - totally 'beneath' them. Thus the smorgasbord of ignorance and arrogance that assumes Scots are low IQ morons that cannot 'possibly' know what they are doing in voting yes. Such fundamental ignorance is a function of power and privilege. If you're in the position of 'top dog' why even consider other alternative points of view? To do so would take a pro-active attempt to muster empathy, imagination and intellectual curiosity. Qualities in very short supply in Westminster or the editorial offices of the BBC or other London based media outlets. Structurally their collective tone deafness on this subject reminds me of the socio-cultural phenomenon of 'white privilege' (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_privilege) in which includes the 'luxury' of ignorance. The concept of white privilege also implies the right to assume the universality of one's own experiences, marking others as different or exceptional while perceiving oneself as normal. Any form of power inequality can produce this lazy sense of normativity within those on the dominant side of the asymmetry. Obviously in the case of the Scottish referendum race is the not the axis of variation with regard to this form of privilege but rather a more subtle blend of class, geography and culture. London and its elites really do think they are at the 'centre' of everything and anyone on the 'periphery' is some lesser form of yahoo. The 'Home Counties' indeed - home to whom? Their radical ignorance shields them from even considering that their assumptions about the world might not actually represent the views or experiences of 'everyone'. They are about to experience a very rude awakening.

  4. We can only hope that all kinds of red button responses and tackety boot policies hit the fan in the next few days - it will make a Yes result even more certain, and make the next 10 days even more fun. Bring it on, and bring your shovel.

  5. I am bored already with the lot of them. they have no idea what they are saying or doing. Talk about getting it wrong. Well who am I to stop them.


  6. Here's a couple of songs, my wife Nicky and I have placed this afternoon on Youtube after quite a few months of work. The videos are well worth watching in themselves!

    Peat Warrior has been a great motivator to us and many Yes supporters and we hope we can share something back in return.

    Out of interest, the Saltire flag you'll see rising in the Saltire song is being raised by David Cameron above Downing St in July 2012 to celebrate Murray getting to his first Wimbledon final, which he lost. Incidentally, I had to fight the BBC for months to get the video reinstated on the BBC website, they never replied to me but a friend of mine eventually went further .... and the link got restored! (you don't think David Cameron might have asked for it to be removed?) The Stone of Destiny, you may recall was returned by PM John Major in 1996. The prophecy of the stone is that whoever possesses it will be victorious - it certainly proved correct for Major as he lost every seat in Scotland in the 1997 general election!

    Anyone, type in the following into youtube and enjoy!

    Sunrise over Scotland

    Saltire of Scotland

  7. It is an extraordinary sight - suddenly there's only 10 days to save the Union (from what? asks Wings, from democracy?!).

    Joe, I like your expanding on "If you can’t begin understand your opponent, can’t empathise with where they’re coming from, you are hobbled from the get-go."

    . . . when you add:
    "If you're in the position of 'top dog' why even consider other alternative points of view? To do so would take a pro-active attempt to muster empathy, imagination and intellectual curiosity"

    Just posted on this theme on ScotgoesPop referring to Tom Crompton's excellent article on page 14 of the latest Transition Free Press ("the what?!") where he outlines how social processes are based on values, and how focusing on currency and accumulation takes us down a completely different pathway - as a society and as individuals - compared to focusing on care and social justice. His point is that each choice brings a range of other values with them - the currency, foreigners, fear, inadequacy come as a package . . . as does care, social justice, being willing to take responsibility and - I should add - Winning!


  8. @Justin Kenrick

    Well I wasn't saying it for effect I happen to think it's true - the London based elite (in politics and the media) really suffer from an extraordinarily attenuated form of myopia come ignorance that only stands unchallenged due to their power and privilege . Hence traditionally they have always had the ability to ideologically police the boundaries of 'official' or 'acceptable' discourse. Hence the trope of today "don't these yokels know what there are doing?"

    And I think it also feeds into the unbelievable personal animosity directed towards Alex Salmond.

    The cultural politics/ideological subtext is this "how dare an obviously intelligent, articulate and unquestionably smart political figure dare to challenge - let alone successfully challenge - our ideological 'common sense', our establishment orthodoxy, our indubitably correct world-view?" On top of that "how dare these untermenschen back him - against our wisdom - shock horror!" Witness the Guardian – a so-called progressive and intelligent newspaper – publish an overwhelming number of anti-independence articles. And not even remotely intelligent or coherent articles but the typical British establishment dreadful 'talking points' come propaganda.

    I'll check out the link with interest.

  9. Heard you on NPR today and thought you were great. I'm not Scottish, but I've been following the referendum from across the pond and I am hoping for a big Yes win. Although I am a YES supporter, I hope iScotland does not get in a currency union, because the risks to sovereignty are so great in the event of financial calamity. I just published a law review article explaining this argument. Its called Lessons for an Independent Scotland from Greece's Euro Tragedy and I would be honored if you'd read it. Although I am a law prof, I wrote the article so lawyers, economists and humans would be able to understand it :) Here it is: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2487338

    1. Scotland and Greece are in no way compatible.

      1. Scotland is already in a CU with England. See our three clearing banks and their issuance of banknotes.

      2. The Scottish government already have borrowing powers, the new Forth Crossing is not being built with revenue. So there's a risk right there, right now.

      3. Greece came unstuck because it cooked the books on the requirements for entry, with Goldman's connivance. To suggest that rUK will be similarly ignorant of Scotland's fiscal position is ludicrous.

      To compare Scotland and Greece on this issue is to make a category error right at the start. Also an insulting one. Scotland has a positive balance of payments for a start.

      And finally in case it has escaped you, a CU is not forever, as Crawford Beveridge has pointed out if we were to mint a ScotPound in March 2016 Soros and Co would attack it and we would be without reserves to fight them. After several years in a CU and then with a pegged ScotPound, our positive current account will have yielded sufficient reserves to float it. Sterling simply offers a temporary safe harbour while we test our ship's seaworthiness after 300years in semi dry dock and kit it out with the latest modern gear. Then it's a trial sail in sheltered waters before we will be ready for the bracing international waters. I grew up in little NZ, which would kill for Scotland's resources (though pass at the climate and landmass) but is not going to give up the NZ$ anytime soon, regardless of blandishments from Canberra.

  10. All very good about tackety boots, but when Ed Miliband was told that he was being sent off out of London, he assumed that there had been a flood. He turned up in Wellington boots.

  11. I find comments in newspapers a shame,or it hurts me in a strange way.People who presume that we cant run our own country,people who just say it wont work ,it'll be a shambles how can a nation be reduced to such thoughts from its people.I asked my wife to get the Record today,so I could see how they were turning the campaign.I was not disappointed back to normal,they still put it up like its Labour versus SNP.They have no faith in us Scots to run our country and put it out to the people that we are not good enough I feel shame and anger.