5 July 2012

A nationalist liferaft, but who is it for?

By nature, I'm something of a switherer.  I could try to paint this as a virtue, suspicious of the verities of one side and open to alternative arguments, but it makes for a damn predicament when critical moments of choice come along.  And for a nationalist, the question whether or not we should incorporate a second, devo-something question into the independence referendum is one of those moments of choice.  A few months back, I felt flatly in favour of a yeah or nay vote, independence or not, and then I wobbled. 

I’ve been trying to discern why.  Not, of course, that my say so or nay so matters a jot, but it’d be nice to see clearly through the constitutional fog, for my own sake.  The polls are obviously part of the calculation.  On the best evidence we have before us, most Scots do not currently favour independence, being partial instead to a reformed Union which nobody is offering, and a Scottish Parliament with extensive new powers over taxation and welfare which hitherto, all of the UK parties have stridently resisted devolving. As someone with democratic sensibilities, it would be churlish to ignore those demands, whatever your political persuasion. As Duncan Hamilton recently wrote in the Scotland on Sunday, in a significant piece from the former MSP and Salmond aide:

“The campaign is clearly for independence but, as gradualists, most independence supporters (like me) also see the merit in working with the majority opinion, which is currently overwhelmingly in favour of a second question on the maximum devolution short of independence.  We want Scotland to move forward united, and if that means accepting a slower pace towards independence, so be it.”

On the other hand, the polls show that we’ll be accepting “a slower pace towards independence” by significantly diminishing support for independence in the process.  Of course, the polls may yet change before 2014 – upward or downward for either side – but we’re in the process of framing this referendum now.  Its legal basis will have to be in place at the very latest in the first quarter of 2013.  While it is a fond thought that come 2014, Cameron may find himself pitched into panic as YesScotland succeed in aligning mistrust of Westminster and political suspicion of Tories into support for independence, no late changes to the number of questions posed in the referendum will follow.  This just wouldn’t be practicable. No, we’ve got to decide on the final formal shape of the poll over the next few months, on the current best evidence about the state of public opinion.  So what’s to do and why to do it?

The calculating nationalist might consider recent political parallels. Take the abortive reform of the electoral system.  In 2011, the Alternative Vote referendum was defeated by a margin of 32.1% to 67.9%.  While we may debate whether the whole process represented a set-back or a knee-up for the causes of electoral reform in the longer run, in the short and the medium, it has largely been construed as a triumphant reaffirmation of the first past the post system, a fillip for comforting Britannic narratives of parliamentary sovereignty, “strong” government, and the solidity of Westminster’s creaking edifice.  The idea that the referendum presages a shift towards a more proportional electoral system deserves a black laugh.

Now consider the national question.  Imagine you are a nationalist who is pessimistic about the likelihood that Scots will embrace independence by 2014.  You are understandably keen to secure the best outcome possible in terms of Scottish self government, and the greatest reign of power for Scots institutions.  What do you do? A hefty “yes” vote in the referendum might do the trick, but if the dominant story is “independence defeated”, with no alternative tale to tell about Scots’ dissatisfaction with the status quo, why should one expect that the Unionist parties will be minded to make concessions to a defeated Scottish Nationalist party?

For those who favour a single question, and who are pessimistic about the consequences of a “no” vote, the vista is simply bleak.  No obvious route to more devolution. No independence.  Nowt.  For folk like Gerry Hassan, we’re putting it all to the touch, to win or lose it all.  He’s written supportively of a single, crisp referendum question.  In a recent discussion on twitter, Gerry was also critical about unilateral federation in these islands. Can it be legitimate for Scotland to try to use concepts of national self-determination to enforce a more federal structure on the rest of the United Kingdom? Surely you cannot unilaterally seize federation, but have to come together, all of your constituent parts, properly to constitute one? Constitutional buccaneers are likely to be impatient with this, and to dismiss it as an unnecessarily abstract council of woe or an excess of political scrupulousness, whose upshot is nothing less than self-denying political paralysis. 

If unilateral Scottish action – through a devo-something question in a referendum, for example – seems the only way to secure what the majority of Scots seem to want, and a powerful pan-UK campaign for federalism cannot be expected and will not materialise, then damn the niceties and confound the cavils! Press on with a campaign to secure devolution by employing nationalist language and arguments.  The outcome will crown the work, and if some folk find that conceptually messy, I’m sure they’ll get over it come the day Holyrood takes over its taxing and welfare powers.  That’s the argument, anyway.

For the Devo-Buccaneer, a second question is absolutely necessary.  For him, it won’t answer that Holyrood hasn’t the power unilaterally to deliver a much-enhanced devolutionary package of powers: this is politics, the stuff of persuasion – and putting the fear of God into your enemies.  If this is the only conceivable way to make the slack British political establishment snap to, and deliver further, substantive powers – so be it.  Critically, these picaresque devolutionary adventurers are likely to be sceptical about Westminster’s reaction to a “no” vote in Holyrood, absent a strongly-endorsed alternative answer to the question of Scotland’s powers.  If independence is posed alone, loses, and loses big – say the order of defeat the AV vote went down under – the political impetus will be away from more devolution, not towards it without another question.  It is not in Britain’s nature to reform its centre.  In the absence of a clear, noisy, democratic endorsement of change, its servants and politicians may be expected to kick against the pricks, advance at best at a brisk Calman dawdle, and do everything in its power to compromise and equivocate, to avoid change.

For my part, I suspect my ambivalence and equivocation on the second question is partly due to my ‘federal nationalist’ inclinations.  Biographically, there are plenty of reasons why the concept of sovereignty and even independence isn’t one which particularly fires my imagination. I am a Scottish nationalist, currently live and work in England, and study the greater Europe encompassed by the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights.  For nationalists, it seems to me essential that the independence debate focuses not on question of national identities, Scottish-and-or-equally-British, but instead on political powers. Who do you wish to make decisions affecting your lives, on taxation, on welfare, on war?  By including a devo-something option on the ballot, we tilt the debate more in that direction.  Against this, folk tend to argue that devolution and independence are fundamentally different, and to suggest that the two are on some sort of spectrum of Scottish self-government is bunkum, a category error.  As the polls show, that is simply not how most Scots currently see the constitutional debate. As a nationalist who will on some level regret Britain’s failure to save itself come independence, I sympathise. 

Most of my friends are flown here from every corner of the earth, but many are locals. I do not see myself as a “narrow nationalist” of any persuasion.  As someone with a background in critical sociology, I cannot but approach ideas of ethnicity, of nation and nationality gingerly, with a hefty dose of suspicion.  Even hailing from what has been a nationalist-leaning family for some generations now, and not identifying as British at all, I’m not immune to the sort of feelings of cross-border connection and solidarity which I’d hazard many of those opposed to independence feel, albeit unburdened with the idea that these are “British” connections, and imply views on Westminster’s jurisdiction to make political decisions effecting Scotland.

I’ve recently completed a long-term theatre project with a brilliant, cheerful, personable group of folk, most of them Oxford natives: decidedly town not gown.  It was a marvellous experience for a range of reasons which I needn’t go into here – but as we all sat down together after much work and laughter shared, with food, drink and convivial chatter – a familiar question formed, though not one which regularly suggests itself to me.  Wouldn’t we lose something between us if we split, an ineffable tie, difficult to articulate, but indubitably there? The thought hastily qualified itself: we counted an Australian chap and an Irishman amongst the glad company, and the separate statehood of the lands from which they hailed interceded not a jot, to exclude them from the rest of the troupe.  Interesting, though, how such thoughts can steal up on you, even when your position on the constitutional question is clear and decisive.  A timely reminder – and we often need reminding – that the hard binaries of Unionist and nationalist fail to capture the much more nuanced and compromised spectrum of feelings this debate stirs. 

If the UK adopted a radical scheme to de-centre the British state, re-coining a vision of a stable, federal United Kingdom, empowering Scottish institutions, excising its worm-eaten political core, and exorcised the bloody imperial ghosts which haunt its imagination, I can easily envision myself abandoning the independence project altogether.  Yet survey Westminster.  Note its dominant spirits, their political preoccupations and their rhetoric.  Only a fantasist could inspect those green and scarlet benches and see the germinal seeds of an imminent revolution in the way UK politics is imagined and conducted. 

Mine is a nationalism more in sorrow than in anger.  If I thought it practicable to reform the British constitution better to accommodate Scottish demands for self-government, I’d cheerful adopt it.  Hence, I think, Scottish Labour’s rhetoric is essentially “form up for another forlorn hope”. I say it sympathetically, but how many more of the glorious dead must choke the ditches of the Union before we recognise that this is a failed political strategy? I’d rather be cracking on with creating a more just republic for our people, than singing constant requiems for departed hopes, distracting us from the hopelessness of our situation. There is nothing inevitable about independence, but if it transpires, I firmly believe it will be attributable in large part to the unbending sclerosis which paralyses the British political imagination.  My feeling is that independence shouldn’t be necessary, but has become so.  In some sense, ironic though it is, devolution-max isn’t just a lifebelt cannily packed by the vanquished nationalist to keep them afloat during the coming squall, but can be seen too as raft flung to a floundering, waterlogged Britannia.  It appeals to the undecided, and to nationalist folk like me, who cannot but seriously entertain the idea of independence with a pang of regret.  Not for the end of Westminster rule, mind you, or abandoning the dismal British political consensus, but for the alternative, unrealised possibility of a better British polity that never materialised, and brought us to this pass.

I began swithering.  I hoped by scribbling this up, I’d have hacked my way through this intertwining thicket of sensibilities – and cleared some space in my head – but I swither still.  Does it come to this, that in some corner of my mind, I’ve not entirely given up on finding a way out of our predicament without resorting to the radical measure of independence? For a nationalist, this is an uncomfortable, niggling thought.  And yet, you don’t throw a life-belt to a drowned man, do you?    


  1. I've often thought that the only chance the NO campaign have of winning a single question referendum is by turning "No" into "More powers". Until now they've resolutely refused to take this stance by denying they have a responsibility to define what further devolution they would back in the event of a NO vote, but it suddenly occurred to me while reading your piece that, if they do indeed come to this realisation and decide to proceed in that manner, it won't be until the number of questions has been decided first.

  2. This is a great piece Andrew.

    It seems that any politicians i hear speaking on independence (and increasingly SNP ones with their 'independence but moderate independence' sentiment) are almost beginning to miss the point. A disaffection with the British state, and the chance of political and greater (economic, social etc..) change is what really interests a lot of us about independence.

    So often the debate is centered around the almost meaningless concept of national identity...something which politicians are finding themselves increasingly having to entertain and engage with...

    Writers like yourself, Gerry Hassan, Lesley Riddoch, Rory Scothorne and some of the folk at Bella Caledonia are helping to keep this debate afloat.

    Imagine if we had only the SNP and Labour to listen to for the next two years?

  3. Like you I would prefer a federal settlement but having been given the scope to define and bring forward such a concept over the next two years Westminster is instead entering a period of entrenchment, This referendum is now being seen as Westminster's Verdun - Ils ne passeron pas!

    This is occuring at the same time as the very state they claim to be upholding is collapsing about their ears, riven with dissent over the intertwinning corruption and veniality between Westminster and neoliberalist capitalism.

    Increasingly Westminster is behaving as an autocratic dictatorship, setting itself above the laws and constitutional realities of the UK and its seperate democratic traditions and the growing conflict between the Scots who are bound in representative democracy where the people are sovereign and Westminster where parliament is sovereign. The increasing surge in support for Scottish sovereignty whether either styled Devo-max or independence, as Micheal Ignatiff stated, is not going away and failure by Westminster to address this real and deep set ambition of the people of Scotland for greater autonomy can have only one outcome - the end of the Union.

    The Scots did not buy jam tomorrow in 1979 - the majority who exercised their vote, voted for independence - it was only the dubious shifting of the bar by Hamilton and Douglas-Home that kept the UK together. This time there will be no such luxury.

    If the choice comes to one between a social democratic Scotland or a neoliberal UK - I think I know here my money will be going.

  4. Thought provoking article.

    However, my view is that embracing the "devo max" (or whatever you want to call it) option, the nationalist campaign will effectively admitting defeat.

    I understand that a third option is a lifeboat for all sides, but the political damage to the nationalists is a real threat.

    But let's keep things simple: most voters understand what a simple Yes/No question means, but a third option of additional powers clutters the debate. What additional powers? What will that mean? BOTH sides will have to respond and there is a danger that the fundamental reason for the Referendum will be lost as politicians and activists on both sides ignore the electorate as they descend into name calling.

    I've been in favour of a third option, but I'm now wondering if it will simply make things for the nationalist campaign worse.

  5. The first problem with a second question is that no-one wishing to offer it can actually deliver.
    On past form, Westminster is highly unlikely to "allow" Scots to have more powers of any kind.
    The second problem of the Devo-whatever question is that it will still leave the population of Scotland with Trident and the prospect of further illegal wars for our sons and daughters to die in.
    Thirdly, a second question still leaves Scotland's resources being plundered while we are artificially impoverished by Westminster governments of all shades.
    Finally, vote Labour get Tory remains a problem into the far future, and who can guarantee that a future Westminster government won't decide to take back all powers and dissolve the Scottish Parliament?
    The only way to guarantee Scotland's future prosperity is undoubtedly to vote Yes for independence.

  6. It is not solely up to the Unionists to determine what a second question would mean.

    This is the SNPs referendum. If they want to add a second question to the ballot paper - why should they not be suggesting what a second question would mean? WM would need to grant the further powers but would they go against a majority vote in Scotland? I do not think that would happen.

    I can see the appeal for Nationalists with a second question. If they lose a one question referendum the chance will be lost for a considerable time. Further, I cannot see Salmond not standing down if he were to lose a one question referendum. Salmond is head and shoulders above any other politician in the UK at the moment.

    The fact remains though, that one of the SNPs biggest sellers for Independence is the removal of Trident. A second question may as well be called Devo-Trident.

    Unless things change quite dramatically a one question referendum will be lost by the Independence movement. The ball is in their court.

  7. Groundskeeper Willie5 July 2012 at 21:09

    Salmond gambled that if he postponed the referendum for as long as possible the Scots would vote yes just to get away from the Tories ('we didn't mind the economic side so much').

    Instead it looks increasingly likely that by 2014 Labour will be odds on to win the general election in 2015.

    Salmond and the SNP know they're almost certainly going to lose the referendum. A one question referendum means that Salmond's political career will be over, and it will have ended in failure. He's too old to see another referendum. There's no one any where near his stature to replace him. All the disagreements within the party which have been simmering away for years and have been kept under control for fear of jeopardising the referendum will boil up.

    They need a second question to save face.

    That's all there is to it, however you try to spin it.

  8. "A timely reminder – and we often need reminding – that the hard binaries of Unionist and nationalist fail to capture the much more nuanced and compromised spectrum of feelings this debate stirs."

    Well said sir.

    Gradualism is better than schismatic trauma.

    I find it hard to countenance either.

    Devo Max/Whatever offers a suitable compromise.

  9. A brilliant exposition of the nationalist dilemma re. the second question. Unionists also have a dilemma, I think, which is, roughly put: if 'devo more' would save the Union, would you vote for it?

    The research, such as it is, suggests most people would vote not for the status quo or independence but 'something in the middle'. Not, in my opinion, because they've made a fine calculation about what the middle should be, but rather a (very British fudge) of something (anything) between two extremes being the reasonable place to put yourself. It's the way we (i.e. non political activists) are.

    Alex Salmond quite rightly wants a second question because he is moved by Quebec's advice - at all costs, don't lose a referendum. What's stopping the Unionist side embracing this apparently winning strategy is...well, I'm not sure.

    I have the distinct impression that they've grown so used to NEVER giving Alex Salmond a win, even on things they'd likely agree with (Scottish Labour on min. alcohol pricing?) that the idea of letting him have what he appears to want just sticks in their craw.

    Perhaps they calculate (a la Mr. Cameron?) that they can save some form of 'devo more' until the eve of poll, and us regular voters will simply forget (or forgive) their obstruction up to the 'court room door'.

    Maybe they are right, and thoughts of independence should be given no succour, the better to eradicate them for good. (Though that approach hasn't been conspicuously successful in the past.) I fear for our wee nation if they adopt that approach (and are successful with it), because in consequence we will be split from top to bottom for many years to come.

    A nationalist purist would no doubt say the chance to vote a straight yes/no on independence should not be lightly given up, for when will it come again? They may be right, but what a game of poker that strategy entails. Some folk will no doubt vote yes because the idea of 'no more' upsets them. But can it really be enough to swing the vote? I doubt it.

    Perhaps we should take a leaf out of the playbook on the Rangers debacle and simply try to do what the people appear to want? That way the indyref wouldn't be about the status quo v. independence, but which form of 'devo more' the people might actually prefer.

  10. And for a nationalist, the question whether or not we should incorporate a second, devo-something question into the independence referendum is one of those moments of choice.

    There are problems with the SNP unilaterally incorporating a devo question into the referendum paper.

    The first is that, as Doug Daniel has pointed out, any devo option will be part of the No campaign. It would be very strange for the SNP as the party of independence and the main party of the Yes campaign to offer a leg-up to the No campaign by offering the electorate the false promise of more devolved powers on the ballot paper as an alternative to independence.

    Why do I say false promise? Because the only parties who can define more devolved powers for the Scottish Parliament and put a question based on these powers on the ballot paper are those who can pass a devo bill which contains these powers through Westminster.

    The SNP are also up against the second problem of unilaterally putting a devo option on the ballot paper. What happens if the devo option wins and Westminster says no? The answer is of course nothing.

    What are Scots going to do? Threaten independence? They had their chance and they bottled it and they won't get another. I suspect the first act of the Westminster Parliament after a failed independence referendum will be to make referendums a reserved power.

    With the threat of independence gone devo-max, devo-mid or devo-min will be a pipedream.

    You may not have entirely given up on finding a way out of (y)our predicament without resorting to the radical measure of independence but it's a forlorn hope. A strong devolved parliament in Scotland which has extensive executive, legislative and financial powers is not going to be in any UK party manifesto, ever, and whether you want the SNP to ask the devo question or for the Unionists to ask the devo question doesn't matter.

    It can't be asked because the SNP they aren't in the business of helping the No campaign or promising the electorate what they can't deliver and for the Unionists giving extensive powers to Scotland which may help it on its journey to independence is against their most basic instincts.

  11. Much Ado About Nothing

  12. Had a wee think about a second option, and I don't believe either side really wants it in.

    Simple reason - how do you sell it?

    "Yes" camp want independence. So why would they also try to promote a "Devo Max"?

    The same applies for the "No" camp.

    Anyone care to have a go?
    Bear in mind you still have to sell your primary choice as well.

  13. Anon

    'The fact remains though, that one of the SNPs biggest sellers for Independence is the removal of Trident.'

    I'm not sure - I want the wretched things gone as well, but find it weird how little interest there is in the issue - back in the 70s I know loads of people in CND, now I know one. I don't why that is so.

    Groundskeeper Willie on Eck:

    'There's no one any where near his stature to replace him.'

    Do you really think so? I find him an embarrassing figure, all bluster and braggadacio. Watching him rave about Brave the other night, I thought god he's going to jinx Pixar now. As a unionist, I suppose I should celebrate him heading up the SNP as I see him as very much an increasing liability for his party - however, as a Scot who want Scotland to work for all i would much prefer Nicola Sturgeon.

    On the point at issue, agree with Barbarian that no one really wants the second option. Come 1214, two things are likely to have happened: (a) we will all be bored rigid by the debate and many of the more intense posters (even at Newsnet Scotland) may have found boyfriends or girlfriends; (b) the world may well have changed dramatically.

    Whatever 2014 brings, the nats are going to lose on the Big Question - but also we unionists are not going to gain much.

    We are all looking for metaphors and analogies from the Rangers debacle - the stupidest argument I have seen is that because HMRC sunk the club Gers fans will now flock to the nats; the most convincing, that all the other clubs are bound to Rangers and will fall in turn ie its all very well Celtic saying they are a global brand but if all they can play against is the likes of Falkirk then the game's a bogie.

  14. GrassyKnollington6 July 2012 at 08:47

    Oh I don't know if "We'll all be bored rigid by the debate". I found the roll'n'sausage arguments from the No side as articulated by Ryan absolutely riveting and Donald the social worker's entreaty that we should "vote no for our ancestors" is indeed difficult to counter.

    Edwin Moore's side have plenty to feel bullish about with arguments of this calibre.

    As for Lallands and Devo max, well he might as well be inclined to opt for a 2012 BMW convertible and 6 months in the Maldives.

    I'd fancy either of those options myself and suspect a majority of Scots would too but regrettably no-one is offering them.

    Salmond has invited the unionists to demonstrate that they have nothing to offer Scots except empty promises. They are complying exactly as expected so far.

  15. Edwin: you're quite right that it's ridiculous to suggest Rangers fans will flock to the SNP in protest against HMRC. There is an interesting parallel between the two situations, though. The establishment in Scottish football are determined not to let Rangers go down to division 3. We've seen all manner of financial scare stories about how Scottish football is sunk without Rangers in the top flight, or at least essentially guaranteed to be back after one season. The diddy teams are too wee, too poor and too stupid to survive without Rangers at the helm.

    The problem is, people aren't listening. Fans have forced the hands of chairmen, and it's now odds-on that Rangers will indeed be made to start again from the bottom (although even putting them in division 3 is kind, considering Gretna 2008 were denied automatic entry to the SFL in favour of Annan Athletic). The scaremongering looks to have failed, despite Rangers having the full weight of the Scottish media on their side.

    I'm sure you can see my point. Even as a unionist, you'd surely admit that many (you might think just some) of the stories we see about what will happen if Scotland becomes independent are nothing but scaremongering nonsense. The Rangers scenario does not give us any insight into how people will end up voting, but it certainly shows us that people ARE capable of smelling a rat, especially as the scaremongering gets ramped up, which is exactly what will happen the closer the referendum gets. Not only that, but once people recognise they're being fed crap, they become increasingly annoyed by it - if Rangers had just been relegated in the first place, most folk would probably have been satisfied, but as it's dragged on and the claims have become more outlandish, increasing numbers of people have started thinking that Rangers shouldn't even be allowed back in the SFL at all, never mind which division.

    Of course, in saying all that, you appear to be one of the minority that actually finds the "no Rangers, no football" argument convincing, going by your last line...

  16. Groundskeeper Willie - quite apart from the fact that the referendum is not going to end in failure regardless, of how many questions are on the ballot, I think you're kidding yourself if you think a dork like Ed Miliband is capable of winning a general election. Ed Miliband will be the next Neil Kinnock.

    It's interesting how so many people view the referendum as being Alex Salmond's referendum, and thus that his career hangs on the result of it. By all means, continue to focus all attention on what the referendum will mean for Alex Salmond, but it completely misses the point of the whole exercise. This is very much the kind of blinkered, cynical political posturing that Jim Fraser is describing when he talks of unionist politicians being so used to opposing anything Salmond wants, even when they agree with it.

    If unionists are going to treat the referendum as just another political point scoring exercise, they're going to find it pretty difficult to enthuse people to vote against independence. This is about Scotland's future, not Salmond's. It would be wise for certain people to wake up to this fact.

  17. GrassyKnollington6 July 2012 at 10:13

    The idea that "Devo Max is a nationalist life raft" surely has to be filed alongside "cybernats are ruining the blogosphere with their aggressive posts".

    They are both themes heavily promoted by unionists. In fact belief in the first indicates a failure to understand that Westminster will never offer Devo Max and belief in the second is an attempt to close down online debate which is increasingly harmful to the unionist cause with it's inconvenient facts, figures and near instant refutations of scaremongering.

    There are no "cybernats" and there will never be "Devo Max".

  18. Hi Doug

    'you appear to be one of the minority that actually finds the "no Rangers, no football" argument convincing, going by your last line...'

    No!!! I was brought up in an Orange family but actually am a (rather lapsed in truth) Jags man and was involved in the Save the Jags campaign - indeed got Bill Tidy to donate a cartoon and my name is among the 100 donors.

    The only other Scottish fans I can think of who were sympatico were a bunch of jambos who greeted me with much joy when through for their final that year. Celtic fans weren't interested nor were Rangers.

    Of course Scottish football can survive without Rangers but it will be a much diminished game. I don't mean that as an analogy for Scotland and the UK though - I suspect Scotland may do very well federally actually. I fully expect that whatever happens most of us will be unhappy alas. I just want us to be able to talk to each other in a civil manner!

  19. GrassyKnollington6 July 2012 at 11:08

    Edwin Moore wrote "I just want us to be able to talk to each other in a civil manner!"

    Can't argue with that. I find Johann Lamont an embarrassing figure with her inane FMQ script and watching her rave about the union and her grinding "as a mother" narrative. I think she's a liability. Surely too some of the more shrill unionists on the blogosphere will have found a boyfriend or girlfriend before long.

    This civil debate business could catch on.

  20. Groundskeeper Willie6 July 2012 at 11:17

    Doug Daniel said...
    ''Groundskeeper Willie - quite apart from the fact that the referendum is not going to end in failure regardless, of how many questions are on the ballot, I think you're kidding yourself if you think a dork like Ed Miliband is capable of winning a general election. Ed Miliband will be the next Neil Kinnock''

    By 2014 the polls will show Labour with a substantial lead and on track to win a general election.

    That will be the political background against which the referendum will be held.

    So Salmond's tactic of postponing the referendum for as long as possible in the hope that people will vote yes out of desperation seeing a yes vote as the only hope of escaping Tory rule will have failed.

    Salmond said a referendum can only be held once in a generation. He'll be dead by the time another one can be held. He needs something to save face. That something is a second question.

    We all know that's the case. The nats just can't bring themselves to admit it.

  21. GrassyKnollington6 July 2012 at 11:26

    I'm just imagining Ed Milliband doing a Party Political Broadcast for the union reading Ryan's roll'n sausage'n'wee dugs script verbatim....

  22. Grassy -

    Oh I'm very happy with Johann Lamont - she gave one of the best speeches I've heard in recent times at the Janey Buchan evening. Eck however gave one of the best of all Scottish speeches after winning his majority - inclusive and gracious and calmly delivered - sadly it didn't last.

    Groundskeeper Willie

    By 2014 the polls will show Labour with a substantial lead and on track to win a general election.

    Yes - one of the strange political myths of modern times is that England doesn't vote Labour majorities - despite the evidence of 1997, 2001 and 2005.

  23. LPW, Like you I didn't feel that independence was inevitable but now it has become so. We need to get out before this sclerotic Westminster parliament does anymore damage to the thing that it professes to love.

    I want Scotland protected from unfeeling and regressive politics. I want it protected from politician's who seek to keep us tied to the Union, so as to allow them to have a career in London. I want Scotland protected from a Westminster parliament that is slowly transforming into a self licking lollipop.

    I am going to take a small liberty here and paraphrase Abraham Lincoln when he wrote to Horace Greely: My paramount wish in this debate and upcoming referendum is to protect Scotland. If Scotland's interests could be protected without leaving the Union, I would vote to stay, if it could saved it by leaving the Union entirely, I will vote for that, and if it could be saved by acquiring more powers to manage it's affairs but ultimately still part of the Union, I would vote for that also. What I do in the upcoming debates and when it comes time to cast my vote, I do because I believe it helps to safeguard my Nation which is part of the British isles; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save Scotland. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts this cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.

    I want Scotland protected because I simply do not trust Labour to act in the best interests of Scotland and Scottish people. I don't trust them on health, education, and investment. I am beginning to view them with the same wary gaze I normally reserved for the conservatives. I see independence as the best means to reform Government and reset it to something that governs, not simply there to provide "jobs for the boys" or support a culture that rewards mediocrity and then sells off the levers of power to private vested interests. Interests that no one voted for and is subsequently unaccountable to the voter, leaving us all at the mercy and whims of the "market".

    And frankly as to why I switched to the SNP in 2011 and amended my views as to Scotland's position in the Union, is that unionist parties in their opposition to the SNP from 2007 onwards has been both childish and foolish.

  24. Oh and Grassy, Eck crossed over the frontiers of civil discourse in allowing an atmosphere in which Joan McAlpine could call non-nats unpatriotic Scots. Bollocks to that.

    Shame about Joanie - she was a brave campaigning journalist and risked her (quite literal) neck over Labour corruption and gangsterism. I actually looked forward to her being in Holyrood and would have been tempted to vote for her - courage is a virtue lacking in Scottish public life.

    As for energetic cyber-debate, a bit of flyting is healthy - but good Scots tradition requires the use of real names.

  25. GrassyKnollington6 July 2012 at 14:56

    Actually Joan didn't say any such thing as I'm quite sure you know.

    The response to the unionist manufactured version of what she did say was illuminating though.

    British nationalists accuse the SNP of being anti English on an almost daily basis. They seem to have absorbed that meme in the womb.

    But accusing their parties behaviour towards Scotland of being anti-Scottish? Why that was an absolute outrage, a repellent step too far....no right thinking person could tolerate such a thing.

    It uncovered rage and indignation in people who view the routine depiction of independence supporters as anti-English racists as perfectly acceptable.

    Luckily intelligent people see through all the huffing and puffing for the arrant hypocrisy it is.

  26. Grassy

    'Actually Joan didn't say any such thing as I'm quite sure you know.'

    Actually she did say it plain as day -


    ''I absolutely make no apology for saying that the Liberals, the Labour Party and the Tories are anti-Scottish ... in coming together to defy the will of the Scottish people, the democratic mandate the Scottish people gave us to hold a referendum at a time of our choosing.''

    And of course her invocation of 'the will of the Scottish people' is itself problematic - half the electorate turned out to vote - of those who voted most voted for unionist parties. The really sad thing is that Salmond recognised this in his speech - his magnificent speech - after the election. Why the f""K he then did not continue in that vein I don't know and I expect many of your party don't know.

  27. GrassyKnollington6 July 2012 at 15:52

    "Eck crossed over the frontiers of civil discourse in allowing an atmosphere in which Joan McAlpine could call non-nats unpatriotic Scots."

    do you have a link to where Joan calls non nats unpatriotic Scots?

    I'm well aware of what she said about the stance of these political parties regarding the referendum timing.

  28. The difference is Joan was referring to their actions, which she saw as actively deceiving the expressed will of Scottish voters. On the other hand, when nationalists get accused of being anti-English, it's about trying to paint Scottish nationalism as being nothing more than hatred of the English. Of course, it soon transpired that Labour had been more than happy to call the Tories anti-Scottish previously - the reaction looked very much like a case of "they don't like it up 'em, sir!"

    (Having said that, I really wish she just hadn't bothered making the remark in the first place - people really need to watch what they're not saying things which are so easily twisted out of context. "Anti-democratic" would have more than sufficed.)

  29. Grassy

    'do you have a link to where Joan calls non nats unpatriotic Scots?

    I'm well aware of what she said about the stance of these political parties regarding the referendum timing.'

    God man I am not going to google every Joanie outburst, this one is sufficient.

    She called the non-nat parties and their MSPs 'anti-Scottish'- not just uncovenanted but actively anti-Scottish - she is saying they are unpatriotic. There can be no other interpretation of her words.

    Look, I still have a soft spot for her - she deserves some slack for her bravery in the past, but her flare ups are too common - comparing Scotland to an abused partner was the most eyepopping.

    She should have apologised - and her words are not defendable. The unionist parties had every right to come back with their opposition without being called 'anti-Scottish'.

  30. Doug

    'Of course, it soon transpired that Labour had been more than happy to call the Tories anti-Scottish previously - the reaction looked very much like a case of "they don't like it up 'em, sir!"'

    Fair enuff. We are not and never will be governed by saints.

  31. GrassyKnollington6 July 2012 at 16:52

    Edwin Moore the unionist spin on what Joan actually said was taken apart at the time and the hypocritical faux outrage was exposed as so much hot air.

    You are still running with it and in truth I can't fault you for that. The roll'n'sausage campaign needs all the help it can get.

  32. Grassy

    'Edwin Moore the unionist spin on what Joan actually said was taken apart at the time and the hypocritical faux outrage was exposed as so much hot air.'

    You are still running with it and in truth I can't fault you for that. The roll'n'sausage campaign needs all the help it can get.

    Well Grassy, this has been a fairly pointless exchange, a not uncommon feature of Scottish cyberspace. But I wish you well and I wish Joanie well - you put up a stout defence.

    But I must decline the roll n' sausage - I am a veggie.

  33. There is a way to embrace the "devo max" option, without effectively admitting defeat.

    Have two separate referenda.

    1. "Devo max" referendum, say 2013. Give Westminster a couple of years to enact this (or not) then

    2. Independence referendum in 2015.

    Just a thought!

  34. GrassyKnollington6 July 2012 at 17:42

    Thanks for your good wishes Edwin. I know you are sincere as anyone who could stomach Trident, the Iraq War, Tony Blair, Glesca cooncil graft to name but four and still walk into a polling station to vote Labour couldn't teach me anything about the stout defence of a party.

    I'm defeated.

  35. To James Morton @ 6 Jul 13:33

    Thank you for the Jefferson "quote" especially. However, I suggest "Union" should be read as "UK" in our case to make a clear distinction between the motive cause – whether defended or cloaked to be used thereafter as euphemism - and the effect that was and remains unitary state in essence.

    To LPW - or whoever has the definitive answer to hand - before proceeding further, I must first in shame ask when does the question(s) have to be settled by: ie how many months before the Referendum?

    Meantime, it’s Federer v Murray in the final. The Swiss from a confederal union within a state. The Scot from what soon could be a confederal union between the states of Scotland and rUK.

    Martin Keith

  36. Why dither over what could have been.

    The question is not whether Scotland's independence is good, bad or indifferent for the Union but why Westminster and its political cabal choose to ignore the possibility.

    Was, and is, it primarily because they choose to treat democracy with contempt?

    As for the second question - can you ask a question based on a fairy tale of could be's where demand hasn't got the power and supply hasn't made an offer.

    Surely that turns swither into fudge.

  37. GrassyKnollington6 July 2012 at 21:32

    "As for the second question - can you ask a question based on a fairy tale of could be's where demand hasn't got the power and supply hasn't made an offer.

    Surely that turns swither into fudge."

    Well said.

    Mr. Lallands you are swithering over a fairy tale.

  38. Well written article. I think we need one question since its simpler and we need to settle this argument once and for all. The unionist side have never denied that the current status quo is set in stone and indeed Scotland is getting more powers in 2016? There is a suspicion on our side that is about saving Salmond's skin and we could a yes to both questions. About mixed identity this is one thing the SNP don't get I have English, Irish and Cornish blood in me.

    Lastly I would prefer federal system, but probably stronger national (UK) powers than you. With defence and macroeconomics, some NHS matters, pensions and some social security at UK level. After all people have got to be able to move easily from one place to another. Problem with this view is it requires a referendum in all four nations...

  39. Doug,

    You are correct that some of the uniionist arguments are simple scaremongering, and that people can smell a rat.

    But some of the nationalist arguments are utopian bullshit as well.

  40. GrassyKnollington6 July 2012 at 22:26

    Barbarian wrote,"But some of the nationalist arguments are utopian bullshit as well."

    Can you give me an example of a utopian bullshit nationalist argument?

  41. Sometimes I think people analyse every twist and turn of this until they can’t see the wood for the trees.

    I also think the mistake people make sometimes is imagining that the SNP hierarchy somehow controls everything and it is all carefully calculated. It isn’t. In politics people play the hand they are dealt – you rarely get to choose your hand, only how to play it.

    The SNP will keep Devo Max in play for as long as possible for obvious reasons but campaign for independence, not Devo Max. The distance between Devo Max and independence is smaller than the distance between Devo Max and the status quo. That’s the key point. And it is something that people are talking about anyway so why would the SNP want to block that? Leaving every door open makes sense. On or off the ballot paper – off is much more likely – it still has to be part of the debate.

    The UK context is also important. I don’t agree that Labour can win the next UK election. Certainly not under Ed Milliband. My impression is that they still have a mountain to climb to get back any semblance of economic credibility and that will be hard. Essentially to get into that position they would have to play the Tories at their own game, which to a certain extent they have started to do with the immigration stuff. I don’t believe they will make any commitments on reversing some of the worst stuff the Tories are doing – welfare reform for example. I would guess their main plank will be the NHS. They will not undo other things because those other things are actually quite popular down south.

    Which brings us back to why the SNP exists and is in government in the first place. For whatever reason, Scotland and England are diverging politically at an ever increasing rate which is why – over the next few years – it is going to become more and more difficult for Labour to answer the question why do you prefer Tory rule to home rule? That pressure will build and build.

  42. Groundskeeper Willie7 July 2012 at 09:15

    ''For whatever reason, Scotland and England are diverging politically at an ever increasing rate''

    The most recent local government results in England suggest that's nonsense.

    The main difference between Scotland and England is that in Scotland over a genertaion the tory vote has switched to the SNP.

    The whole 'we didn't might the economic side so much' element in Scottish society finds its political expression through the SNP.

  43. GW I read LPW because I can get some considered and balanced comment on this debate. I am disappointed to see britnats now infesting the comments section and dredging up old Labour press releases hoping we would all forget they were discredited at the time.

    If you think council elections are an indicator of English voting intentions in 2015 you are indulging in some real wishful thinking.

    If you are going to misquote someone at least get it right. Salmond and the SNP opposed Thatcher's economic and social policies and are still doing so. Nu Labour on the other hand embraced and developed them as Blairism / Brownism during 13 years in power - we are all now paying the price. PFI risks off the public sector books? not likely! Non-doms encouraged to take up residence in order to evade tax (and make massive donations to Labour for the privilege). Trickle down economics - with the City of London as the top of the pile - and see where that got us.

    Your suggestion that Scotland's Tories shifted to the SNP rather than to Nu Labour is another delusion - just ask Sam Galbraith or Jim Murphy. The interesting question is whether Labour members are happy to see their party as an exclusively unionist party; that certainly seems to be the assumption made by the leadership.

  44. Groundskeeper Willie7 July 2012 at 14:06

    'If you are going to misquote someone at least get it right'

    'We didn't mind the economic side so much'.

    That's the quote, word for word.

  45. @GW

    No that's not the quote, word for word - this is the quote word for word:

    Mr Salmond also accused David Cameron's Conservatives of being anti-Scottish, dismissing all speculation that the party had talks to form a coalition with the Tories after the next Westminster election.

    In remarks that will fuel criticism that the SNP has adopted a free-market, tax-cutting agenda more in tune with the Thatcher legacy, Mr Salmond said: "The SNP has a strong social conscience, which is very Scottish in itself.

    "One of the reasons Scotland didn't take to Lady Thatcher was because of that. We didn't mind the economic side so much. But we didn't like the social side at all."

  46. Groundskeeper Willie8 July 2012 at 11:09

    'We didn't mind the economic side so much'.

    That's the quote, word for word.

    7 July 2012 14:06
    James Morton said...

    No that's not the quote, word for word - this is the quote word for word:.........

    ''We didn't mind the economic side so much.''


    Word for word the quote was 'we didn't mind the economic side so much.'

    I'm glad we've cleared that up.

    Now, tell me, what was 'the economic side' we 'didn't mind so much'?

    And who is Salmond speaking for when he uses the word 'we'?

  47. @GW

    Now now - don't be silly - you don't get to truncate a quote and pass it off as the quote - the full quote: That's the statement within the " "


    "One of the reasons Scotland didn't take to Lady Thatcher was because of that. We didn't mind the economic side so much. But we didn't like the social side at all"

    That is the full quote - so stop being a silly billy, Willy.

    The economic side would be the free market, tax cutting agenda. The we would mean in context of the article the SNP.

    So the gist of the article is that he is for the market, but not where it attacks communities or pisses down on peoples heads...you know...like the Tories did way back then and are doing now. The sort of reckless free market agenda new labour adopted, which was heedless of the social consequences.

    You know, I think you would do better if you played the ball not the man. You concentrate on Salmond so much you blind yourself to everything else that matters, and consequently you fail in your duty as a politician.

  48. Groundskeeper Willie8 July 2012 at 15:22

    So Salmond, the greatest Scottish economist since Adam Smith, doesn't appreciate that economic policies have social consequences.

    That's a bit like him saying he is in favour of stuffing his face with pakora but is against being morbidly obese.

  49. @GW

    I think he does, that's the whole point of the quote. Play the ball GW, Play the ball.

    Your obsession with Salmond is going to drive you potty.

  50. GW the facts are against you on this.

    England has abolished comprehensive eduction. Scotland hasn't.

    England has brought in tuition fees for undergraduates. Scotland hasn't.

    The English NHS is being systematically dismantled. The Scottish NHS isn't.

    In England police numbers are being cut and privatisation of at least elements of the service is underway. In Scotland police numbers haven't been cut and there is no privatisation.

    In Scotland pensioners get free personal & nursing care. In England they don't.

    In Scotland right to buy for new social housing tenants has been abolished and incentives are in place for council house building. Not so in England.

    In Scotland (and Wales) prescription charges have been abolished. In England prescription charges are going up.

    Etc etc. It is unarguable that Scotland and England are becoming more and more different. Whether that will lead to independence or whether it will lead to a re-negotiated place for Scotland in the Union is what we are debating. But it is factually beyond doubt that in many policy areas Scotland and England are going their separate ways. And that started well before the Tories were re-elected.

  51. Much obliged for all of the responses to this. As a piece, it has provoked more correspondence than anything else I've yet written.

    To pick up a particular question from Martin Keith, who asked about the legislative timetable for the referendum, if it is to take place in 2014. This is outlined on page 14 of the Scottish Government consultation document published earlier this year. They intend to finalise the Referendum Bill this Autumn/Winter and introduce it to Holyrood in "early 2013". Realistically, the s30 order will have to be passed by then. As the Scottish Government explicitly recognised in the same document, if they don't agree a s30 with Westminster, that'll have an impact on the questions they'll be able to pose.

  52. For me, the foreign policy of Washington/Westminster is more than enough to settle my will.
    No dithering, no swithering ,no analysing to obscurity.
    I need my country to step away from these gung-ho warmongerers.

    P.S Is groundskeeper Willie Alan Cochrane?- seems to have the same ridiculous obsession with the First Minister.

  53. GW's weakness is that Nu Labour didn't mind the economic side AT ALL - indeed they adopted it.

    As Indy points out, you can scrabble about for words like sifting through goat's entrails, but if you simply look at what the SNP does in power compared to Nu Labour, you can tell who are the real inheritors of Thatcherism.

    Gordon Brown had Thatcher in to Number 10 as his personal guest on more than one occasion - yet he never once set foot in the Scottish Parliament while he was in government. Says everything about the twisted perspective he developed in his thirst for Number 10 - a true Westminster worshipping North Briton.

    I can't wait to read the self-serving memoirs that are his current obsession - but only once they reach Bargain Books (give it two months from publication).