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Showing posts with label the referendum. Show all posts
Showing posts with label the referendum. Show all posts

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Eight months from today – the birth of a new nation, or something else …?

Eight calendar months from today, Scotland will know if it’s going to be an independent country or remain a region of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Eight months from today, Scots will wake up either to the realisation that they have made history and are privileged to be present at the birth of a new nation -  one that they themselves have created - or to the realisation that a pivotal moment in history has passed, and they have decided to reject a unique opportunity, one that will not come again in the lifetimes of many of them.

Eight months from today, Scots parents and grandparents will know whether they have bequeathed to their children and grandchildren a new nation, with a chance to make a new and better future, or have left them in an old, tired, corrupt nation and in subordination to the last vestige of an old failed empire.

Eight months from today, the young will look at their elders and know whether they have given them autonomy and hope, or whether, driven by personal fear of change and selfish motives, they have denied them that autonomy, that hope, and have denied them their future.

Eight months from today, either the world’s nation will be beating a path to Scotland’s door, fascinated by the birth of a new world nation – in fact, the rebirth of an ancient nation – or will be shaking their heads in bewilderment and thinly-concealed contempt for a people that elected to reject their independence.

What happens eight months from today is in your hands, Scottish voters – you have the chance to make history or let that chance slip away like sand through your fingers, to be blown away for a generation, and perhaps for ever.

Make the right choice

The right choice is to vote YES

Friday, 3 February 2012

The butterfly emerges, flaps its wings and triggers – what?

Autumn 2014 starts on the 23rd of September, so  the earliest date for the referendum is 23rd September 2014, and the latest date before the winter solstice is 20th December 2014. Seasons calculator (Don’t ask me about the shortfall of two days 2012-2014 – ask an astronomer.) So we have between  32 months and 35 months to go until the most important decision facing Scots since 1707 arrives.

It will also be the most important event facing the United Kingdom, a highly significant event for the Republic of Ireland, an event of vital interest for the European Union, and an event major interest for the rest of the world. It may spell the end of Britain as a nuclear power, and therefore the end of the US/Britain links on the so-called ‘independent’ nuclear deterrent, it will have a fundamental and incalculable effect on NATO, and on the perception of the rest of the world of ‘Britain’, in the sense that it still exists, as a world power.

Is this responsibility one that is too great to bear for a little nation at the north end of Europe with a population of just over 5 million?

Chaos theory often uses the metaphor of the flapping of a butterfly’s wings, Lorenz having postulated that this tiny event could lead to a hurricane.

Already there are those in the UK - and on the right-wing of American politics - who are asking if this emergent butterfly should even be allowed out of the chrysalis, much less flap its wings.

A coalition of the British right-wing - that is the Labour Party allied to the Tory/LibDem Government - has formed to frustrate the efforts of Scotland to achieve self-determination as a nation.

But because of a highly inconvenient commitment to at least the semblance of democratic politics, in nations that have long since neutered the voice of the people in a conspiracy of wealth, privilege and power, this is proving hard to do.

And the global financial crisis, allied to the manifest failure and incompetence of the UK government, and the increasing tendency of the US government to retreat from international entanglements and put its own shaky house in order, not to mention the great upheaval of the Arab Spring haven’t helped. Confusion reigns in the corridors of power.

And so there is to be a great public debate. But behind the scenes, the profoundly undemocratic forces of patronage, threat and bribe, the military industrial complex and structurally undemocratic organisations and ad hoc groupings formed for this purpose alone, will exert an insidious influence on that debate.

What will counterbalance this? The crisis of capitalism has now arrived with a vengeance, and the brutal impact of the attempts of the rich to solve it by attacking the poor and vulnerable are just beginning to be felt, with the full horror yet to unfold. The UK Party that should have been poised to be the defenders of the ordinary people, the Labour Party, has for half a century or more instead been a fundamental part of the power structure, and is impotent because it has fundamentally and fatally compromised its core values.

England is left bereft of a political voice, and has only the trades unions, themselves compromised by their links to Labour, as their last best hope. There are some welcome signs that the trades unions recognise this, and are beginning the painful process of extricating themselves from the Labour Party’s dead grasp.

Scotland, in contrast, has a political voice, has a political party, and a vibrant new spirit is emerging, a new awareness, and a new resolve to embrace the spirit of the age - the zeitgeist -and make a new nation.

This butterfly will flap its wings, will fly freely, and its flight will not trigger a destructive hurricane, but a great, cleansing wind of positive change.

Saor Alba

Sunday, 31 July 2011

British and all that - The Prospect of Whitby and popular song

Pete Wishart’s remarks on Britishness were an example of something that is rare in Scottish politics - a controversial statement of a party-independent political view, or the floating of an idea, depending on how you viewed it. As I said yesterday in my piece on MSPs’ tweeting styles -

The political opinion tweet is regrettably as rare as hen’s teeth from MSPs, who seem to wish to demonstrate as much bland conformity as Blair’s Babes (male or female).

And of course, Pete Wishart’s statement was much more upfront and public than a mere ephemeral tweet. I did, for an ignoble moment, wonder if Pete was actually floating an idea on behalf of the Party, testing the water so to speak, with the First Minister and his team waiting anxiously for the public reaction, but I dismissed this quickly - I don’t think that’s his style at all.

My own initial reaction to the idea was shock, and bafflement, having recently spent more than a little time attacking the unionist argument that Britishness was one of the things the Scottish people would lose -and regret losing - after independence. I hoped that I was not alone in feeling that I could not lose my sense of Britishness, since I had never had one, having spent most of my life feeling that I was a Glaswegian, a member of the international brotherhood of man, and a Scot, more or less in that order.

But since my second reaction is usually more reliable than my first, and because I actually enjoy having my ideas challenged, Pete’s idea sent me hame again - tae think again …

Having read Andrew Davies’ monumental history, The Isles, twice -  1707 and a' that ...  - and now well into my third reading of it, the idea of the British Isles -or Britain - as a geographical entity as distinct from a political concept is well established in my head. I have lived on its main land mass all my life. Had this given me a sense of being British, a kind of locational identity?

I revisited the idea of identity derived from place, clearly a powerful force for many people, and also a happy memory from my consulting days. I had been running a week-long residential course in London, and the participants decided we should have a night out at The Prospect of Whitby pub in Wapping, arguably the most famous pub in London - named after a ship - dating from 1543, when it was a hangout for dockside smugglers and sundry criminal types. The huge bar, with its flagged stone floor, its pewter bar top resting on barrels, was packed to the rafters, with an indescribably vibrant atmosphere, and very soon a sing-song erupted spontaneously.

At first, it was mainly the old music hall songs which, in 1990, were still part of the consciousness of the population, sung in pubs and at parties - My Old Man said Follow the Van, Daisy, Daisy, Uncle Tom Cobleigh, Pack up Your Troubles, Three German Officers crossed the Rhine - parlez vous, Pack Up Your Troubles - the wonderful, vigorous, melodic popular songs from early in that century. They gave me a warm feeling - they reminded me of my National Service, of the NAAFI, of my mother’s parents round a piano, of my mother, of a generation beginning to disappear over the horizon then, and now almost totally gone.

But they were all indisputably and deeply English, albeit part of a common heritage, especially that of war and military comradeship. And I had another heritage of popular song - the auld Scots sangs and the Scottish popular theatre songs of Harry Lauder, Will Fyffe.

But then a voice emerged during a brief lull in the singing, a light tenor voice, heart-stopping in its purity. The singer was invisible in the throng - the song was Danny Boy - the Londonderry Air, a song claimed by two factions for partisan reasons, but truly international in its simple beauty. The crowd listened silently, with that kind of respect given  such moments by a boisterous crowd, sentimental and maudlin in the main, but with a core of true feeling. When the singer stopped, there was a great roar of approval, glasses were smashed on the floor (apparently an acceptable tradition at The Prospect of Whitby - when I left, the bar floor was carpeted with glass).

Then the old Yorkshire question rang out - “Wheear 'ast tha bin sin' ah saw thee, ah saw thee?”, instantly recognised, instantly responded to by the crowd - “On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at”. When it finished the new pattern was set - local songs, regional songs, national songs. Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner, I belong to Glasgow, If you’re Irish, Come into the Parlour rang out, initially by the protagonist group, but soon taken up by the mass. Waltzing Matilda was struck up by an Earl’s Court contingent, but that was a temporary bridge to more competitive and simultaneous repeats of Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner, On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at, Keep yer feet still, Geordie, hinny and I belong to Glasgow. Men of Harlech erupted, in all its powerful martial force.

Annie Laurie settled the crowd back into joint singing, one Scot attempted My Ain Folk, but it misjudged the mood: few recognised it, and it ended ignominiously with a stentorian voice cutting across it with Land of Hope and Glory, attracting enthusiastic support from most, but not all. Rule Britannia petered out - a bell was rung and time was called from the bar.

Was this an example of ‘Britishness’ in operation? Not to me, but perhaps to some. Is it replicated today in the The Prospect of Whitby? I suspect not - maybe a recent visitor to the pub can enlighten me. I would guess it has been replaced by a shared pop culture with no national or regional base

If it still exists, would any of it be lost by Scotland’s independence?

Very little, if any - after all, on that night in 1990, there were people from the Republic of Ireland present, from Australia, from America, from African countries and God knows how many more former British colonies. Yorkshire folk feel themselves to be a uniquely independent breed, as do the people of the North East of England. The city boys like me, from Glasgow, Liverpool, Newcastle and London probably still draw more of their identity from their urban culture than the national or UK version. The drinker whose attempt to sing The Red Flag was quickly aborted probably still feels an internationalist - and Scotland’s independence, when it come, will not make any real impact on those identities.

But it will make a huge, overwhelmingly positive impact on Scottish identity - and we’ll still love our neighbours on these Isles and sing most of their songs - but draw the line at “Land of Hope and Glory” and “Rule Brittania” .

If that’s what Pete Wishart’s remarks on Britishness meant I’m with him - and thanks for making me think, Pete!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Keep it simple - the arguments decoded


The unionists want a referendum now because the uncertainty is harming recovery in the economy.


The unionists want a referendum now because the polls indicate that Scots would say No to independence. They want the SNP to lose.

The SNP want a referendum later because the economy is a pressing priority, because the Scottish people must have time to hear and evaluate the arguments - and because that’s what they promised in their manifesto


The SNP want a referendum later because the polls indicate that Scots would say No if balloted now. They want the SNP to win at a later date.


The unionists say a UK Supreme Court is necessary to provide a final court of appeal across the UK and to relieve the pressure of human rights cases on the European Court of Human Rights, and to handle matters of constitutional significance.


The unionists set up the UK Supreme Court to keep the devolved Parliament of Scotland and the Assemblies of Wales and Northern Ireland in line, and to control any attempts by Scotland to secure independence by asserting the right of the Supreme Court to rule on constitutional matters, regardless of the law of Scotland and the Act of Union. A secondary motive was a deep distrust of our European partners and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.


The unionists claim that the SNP government was elected by a minority of Scots, given the share of the vote in relation to the percentage of the electorate voting. They also argue that Alex Salmond and the SNP  will abuse their mandate by riding roughshod over the unionist opposition.


The Scottish voting system, with the d’Hondt method of proportional representation, was deliberately set up to ensure that the Scottish Government would be ineffectual because no one party would have an overall majority, especially the SNP. Remember, this was set up by a Government elected by the first-past-the-post system, and is now supported by another Coalition government who mounted a successful vitriolic campaign to defend the first-part-the-post system, the antithesis of what was intended for Scotland. But most of all, the unionist attack on the SNP mandate is based on the fact that they are bad losers.


The unionist position is that Scotland can’t afford their generous social policies, that they are funded by Westminster, and that they must be retrenched in the light of the recession. Today, Frank Field, a former Labour Minister, has tabled an amendment to the Scotland Bill to limit Scotland’s public spending to within 5% of England’s public spending.


The British Government is engaged in an unwinnable war in Afghanistan and was engaged in an illegal war in Iraq. It is now engaged in a misconceived operation in Libya. All of these involve an enormous drain on the UK public purse. The Coalition Government is engaged in an attack on public services, on the NHS, and on the ordinary people of the UK in an attempt to make them pay for the folly of two British Governments and greedy irresponsible bankers.

The UK must have its wars and foreign entanglements to serve the military/industrial complex and its insatiable greed, fed by the M.O.D. and the Foreign Office.

They cannot afford to let the people of England look north to a country, Scotland, and to a government, the SNP Government, that cares about its people, about its poor, its old and vulnerable, its pensioners, its sick and disabled and about the public services that serve their needs, and make invidious comparisons and draw the obvious conclusions.

Least of all can they afford to let that country, Scotland, achieve its full independence from their corrupt, declining empire.