Jocks Away?

According to a recent poll, if achieving Brexit meant that Scotland left the UK, then 63percent of Conservative Party members would consider that a price worth paying. This is of course good news for independence. The Unionist narrative for the last decade has consistently been that Scotland lives off England’s £14bn annual subsidy, a fiction that GERS was designed to support. In that case, you might ask, why does the UK not just get rid of the scroungers and used the saved cash to paint another slogan on a bus? The reason is in The Answer That Dare Not Speak Its Name: that Scotland in fact contributes so much to the UK economy in natural resources and human skills that, without it, the UK Battleship Galactica would be holed below the waterline and bound for the deep glug-glug. A call to kick out the scrounging Jocks exposes this Unionist hypocrisy, and leaves Unionists with no message.

Wee Ginger Dug puts this far more forcefully than I can, so I give you his words:

What British nationalists thought was their greatest strength has turned into their greatest weakness. This poll is actually a victory for all those people who have been constantly producing graphs telling Scotland and the world that Scotland is a financial basket case which relies upon the goodwill and largesse of the rest of the UK in order to stop it turning into an even more impoverished form of Greece, only without the nice weather. It’s a victory for those who never question the methodology or politics of the annual GERS figures because they are eager to use those figures as a weapon. It’s a victory for those who think that the supposed financial and economic weakness of Scotland, a land blessed with an embarrassment of wealth, talent, and natural resources, is an argument for the UK instead of an indictment of generations of Westminster’s rapacious financial mismanagement. – Wee Ginger Dug, 19th June 2019.

Do read the rest of his post.

Mozart on Debates

The memory-failing spouse and I attended a dementia-friendly performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, by Scottish Opera, a few days ago. It was a matinee, sparsely attended, disappointing no doubt for the singers, but for the audience it meant that there was no audience-intrusion to distract us from the top-notch performance, and the unpretentious simplicity of the occasion was overwhelming.

Readers will remember that there are three strands to this opera – the heroic couple Tamino and Pamina, who undergo ordeals, and summon up their courage by playing a magic flute; the nasty flim-flammerie of the Queen Night, whose aim is to plunge all other characters into such despair that they kill themselves; and the earthy clowns Papageno and Papagena, who just want to shack up together and have a million kids.

It’s all underpinned by a fourth strand in the person of the sorcerer Sarastro, who runs what can only be called a think-tank. This is an institution that promotes the same equality-and-brotherhood ideals as those of Robert Burns’ “A Man’s a Man for A’ That”, and more broadly those of the French Revolution (the opera premiered in 1791, two years after the storming of the Bastille). Sarastro’s think-tank holds everything together, brings about the happy ending, and gives us to understand that the other three strands are nothing more than a top-dressing of frivolity.

Sarastro’ aria, “In diesen heil’gen Hallen” is the crunch-point in this fourth strand: the lyrics say, more or less, that in these holy halls we think clearly, and respect each other’s views, and do not turn our opponents into enemies. In this performance our Sarastro delivered the aria with no stage-business, standing more or less still. (You can see a similarly understated performance of it here.) As the melody unfolded, I found myself gasping and snuffling, unable to catch my breath, choking, with surprising tears running down my cheeks. The ideals that you believe in can be complete buggers when they catch you unawares.

Think about that.

Soldiers of the Queen

If you think this post is going to be a rant about unredeemable bigotry among those that fought under the butcher’s apron, think again. We need to be more nuanced than that.

My wife and I had an encounter with a non-indy person after the march, two Saturdays ago, as we were coming out of the Mitchell Library (ah, the arcane leisure pursuits of the Byres Road glitterati!). He’d been leaning on the balustrade by the kerb opposite the outside door, smoking, and walked across the pavement to speak to us, a bearded and tidily turned-out man in his twenties. “See this march,” he said, making eye contact. No doubt he’d noticed the SNP badge throbbing yellow on my lapel. “Ah don’t haud wi’ a’ that.”

We raised an eyebrow.

“See me, Ah’m a soldier,” he said. “Ah wiz sent by Blair and Bush to Iraq, and when I came back, there was no help of any kind for me. Naethin, not from the British Government nor from the Scottish Government. So these politicians, Ah don’t believe anything they say. That’s why I think this Home Rule is a’ mince.”

Home Rule is an endearingly old-fashioned way of describing what we campaign for (is that really what the British Army calls it?), but this wasn’t the moment to take up that point.

“They should have helped you,” I said. “Whether they’re Scottish or British, they’re the government, and they should have helped you.”

“Helped me!… Helped me!!!…..” He roasted them for their failure by producing a content-free stream of expletives, sullying the ears of my public-school-educated octogenarian partner. And with each expletive he reached out and touched her, apologetically, reassuringly, on the arm. “Sorry…sorry…” He really was contrite; they teach you manners in the British Army, and deference towards the posh elderly. “See, Ah fought for Britain. And this Union – it ain’t broke, so don’t fix it.”

My answer needed some thought. This Union is broken – England has exploited Scotland for more than 300 years, sucked the lifeblood out of it, and is still sucking benefit from the husk. But being a soldier is no joke, and someone who’s shown that level of commitment is not going to react positively when told they’re talking nonsense by some toffee-nosed tosser with an Oxford accent. So I discarded, “We never get the government we voted for,” and, “They’ve stolen all our oil,” and settled for, “This is a rich country. We have renewables, oil, water, agriculture. We could be much more prosperous that we are.”

He didn’t look convinced.

“It’s England that’s holding us back,” I went on, “because we don’t have the powers to develop our potential.”

That sounded vague and unconvincing to me even while I was saying it, and not surprisingly he still looked sceptical. But he hadn’t interrupted, so I went for the jugular. “Norway has a one-trillion-dollar oil fund. We could have had that.”

There was a lot of harrumphing, and objections I didn’t quite get, and more streams of expletives – all with the obligatory apologetic touches to the arm, of course. When it subsided, out came his summing-up. “See this SNP.” he said, “If we did this, would they be a good government?”

Gobsmacked, I tried to show no emotion. “Yes, of course.”

We parted on good terms.

A Quiet Word about the Debate

Last Sunday, on the day after the AUOB march in Glasgow, the Herald gathered and published comments by three SNP politicians about the conduct of the independence debate. This was a remarkably unprincipled piece of journalism. A four-page front spread, it did two things: it crowded out any mention in that day’s Herald of the joyous and sensationally good-natured 100,000-strong march, and it manipulated the three politicans’ comments into a narrative where Yes-supporters were portrayed as vigorous abusers of their own side. It’s also thrown commentators on Wings Over Scotland (the seriously outspoken pro-independence blog, which Unionists hate and fear in equal measure) into a fury. Fantastic smack in the eye for indy! Herald’s job done!

However, under the fury with and the contempt for the various participants, there’s a serious point which indy-supporters need to consider, namely that our goal is to win the coming referendum. It’s true that our goal is independence, but, as we stand now, we’re not going to reach that goal by declaring UDI, or using the entrails of Michael Gove to strangle Boris Johnson, or by telling the UN that we really, really want it: the only way we’re going to get independence is by winning a referendum. And that means winning over to our side a proportion — a small and manageable proportion — of those who voted No last time. (Even if we went UDI, we’d still have to ratify it by a vote, so that goal would still be there – we’d still have to persuade enough people that it was the right decision.) Think about that for a moment, and think about how you would persuade someone who disagrees with you to change their view. Clearly you wouldn’t shout at them that they’re a lying fascist scum-bag, or a piece of zombiefied Unionist maggot-feed; you’d suggest to them – gently – that Scotland could be more prosperous if England had less say in its development, and you’d do this in a quiet, friendly one-to-one conversation. That’s how we’re going to win the referendum – by a million such conversations.

Wings Over Scotland would be a more effective promoter of such conversations if its comment forums were less strident. At the moment, the forums are unpersuasive – they’re talking only to the Yes side, and participants shout and holler. My guess is that the only non-Yessers who read the forums are Unionist trolls wanting to undermine them, and that Undecideds won’t bother to brave the onslaught of violent opinions. This is a pity, because the Rev Stu Campbell, who runs the site, has created a runaway success in terms of visibility – his readership is awesome, and the sheer quantity of comments on his forums is to die for. More than that, with his political acumen and his formidable research skills, he exposes on a daily basis the untruths spread about by the lying toads who oppose us. The Rev Stu is cantankerous and outspoken, and not easily deflected from his chosen path. But could he be gently nudged to move the forums in a more positive direction, so that they influence more people?

Stu already has form on this – his Wee Blue Book, published one month before the 2014 vote, looks as though it shifted opinion by about 10 percentage points, and it was (as one would expect) abuse-free. So he’ll readily understand how an abuse-free forum could positively influence the debate. The steps that he could take towards this are, shall we say, (KLAXON: PUN AHEAD!) fairly pedestrian: establish a ‘play the ball, not the person’ rule (contravening posts get bombed), ditto for foul language, ditto for posts without substance, spread the workload among a team of moderators, close comments after 24 hours, etc., etc. – and these could be implemented incrementally, so as to make the workload manageable, and to gently nudge the participants towards a more productive engagement.

This is what we need to do to win. Could you give it some thought, Stu?

Success comes from Success

Had an interesting conversation a couple of days ago with an undecided voter. He was behind the counter when I went in to get my monthly top-up of gut-rot spicy proteins, in the shop that his father, a Muslim from Pakistan, set up twenty or thirty years ago, with a strong unique selling proposition that has turned it into a Glasgow landmark. Spotting the SNP badge that’s welded to my left shoulder, he said, “Can I ask you about independence?”

“Absolutely! In fact, I can overwhelm you with opinionated bludgeoning before you’ve even got to your first pause!” I said. Or rather, thought. I didn’t say that. But I gave a sort of indication.

“Breaking up a country is a really serious thing to do,” he said.

“Heard that one before,” I suggested, disappointed that he’d swallowed whole the toxic Yoon slogan of “breaking up the country”.

“We’ve been in the UK now for three hundred years,” he went on, “and it’s always better to be together than to be apart. We should co-operate, and seek a common solution to the problem. Co-operative solutions are what we Muslims always look for.”

Oh, bugger, that’s all too sensible, I thought. The triconsonantal Arabic root s-l-m (all Arabic roots are made up of three consonants) means ‘peace’, so ‘iSLaM’ (in Arabic, you sprinkle vowels about like aniseed) is ‘the religion of peace’, ‘SaLaM aleykum’ means ‘peace be with you’, and ‘mu-SLiM’ means ‘one who pursues peace’ (‘mu-‘ meaning ‘pursuer of’, as in ‘mu-jihad-in’: ‘-in’ is the plural suffix, and J-H-D is ‘jihad’). So yes, there’s a strong Muslim tradition that disputes are best settled by negotiation, leading to an agreed solution. All this I thought. I also thought, “Don’t go there.”

“The flaws in the union are too serious to be fixed by negotiation,” I said. “Scotland’s population is one-tenth that of England – Scotland will never have power, or be an equal partner.”

“It’s still a risk,” he said. “Are we economically secure enough to survive alone in a hostile and fragmented world?” What a question! – look at agriculture, food and drink, renewables – wind and wave power – tourism, whiskey – and we still have the best-educated workforce in the western world. I forgot to mention the five Scottish universities in the world’s top 200: Scotland has more world-class universities per head of population than any other country worldwide. But I seemed to have said enough to de-fuse the objection. He nodded, and moved the debate on.

“Politics is changing,” he said, “radically. The Labour party under Corbyn has broken the mould. All his support comes from younger people, and that’s going to change the way politics works. So we have a good chance, by supporting Labour, of reaching a co-operative solution.”

I indicated scepticism. The Union of 1707 had been greeted with riots in Glasgow and Edinburgh and the imposition of martial law; according to the spy Daniel Defoe, nine out of ten Scots opposed it. After the defeat of the ’45 rebellion, the English needed to maintain a garrison of 13,500 soldiers across Scotland. Yes, the Union brought great prosperity to Scotland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but it also brought the Highland Clearances, in which up to 100,000 people were summarily evicted and saw their houses and possessions burned behind them, and a sucking out of resources and population. You can’t negotiate with the English, I said. The entire history of the Empire shows that the English don’t understand negotiation, they only understand winning.

“Well, that may be one view of the English, but Toryism isn’t necessarily like that,” he said. He’d been to hear the philosopher Roger Scruton recently. Scruton said you must look behind conservative policies to the real meaning of conservatism. It was left unclear what the real meaning of conservatism is – presumably it means changing only what is necessary, and only with a specific goal in mind – but the policies we’re now subjected to (I said) – austerity, demonisation of the poor and, of course Brexit – are not to be tolerated, and we have no way of changing them except through independence.

“But if we do go for it,” he said, “we could bring very ugly scenes upon ourselves. Soldiers in the streets, civil war. The same as the Troubles in Northern Ireland, here in Scotland.” I agreed. We need to be careful, and above all we need to be disciplined. But that doesn’t mean we can’t succeed.

And then he made a surprisingly positive move. “Are you a member of the SNP?” he said. “Are you an activist? Can you recommend any books, and how can I get more involved in this?” Gosh, easy-peasy! “The local SNP branch meets two streets away from where we are, you join on the internet for £3 per month and turn up at meetings and just talk. They’ll give you things to do if you simply open your mouth a bit!”

Looking back, I don’t think I brought about about a change in his thinking: I think he had already set out in his mind the quick sight-seeing tour of the reasons against independence so as to settle his fears and reassure himself. What he really wanted to know was just how to get more involved. Still, another saved soul is another saved soul, and the more we talk to one another, the more we can get successs to beget success.

Cracks in the ice…?

RECENT CONVERSATIONS and internet posts have left me with the feeling that the independence argument is in fact won, and the ice-sheet of No that’s been stifling the hopes of younger generations is beginning to crack and break up. First up is the dog-walker, whom I reported on earlier, who had a visceral hatred of nationalists because of what they were doing to the country he loved. Leaving aside the question of why loving one’s country isn’t nationalism, this man is trapped in circular, content-free thinking:

– I love my country.

– How do we know you love your country?

– Because I want it to stay in the UK. That’s where it belongs.

– How do you know it belongs there?

– Because it does. And I love my country.

This isn’t political or social thinking, this is emotional masturbation. And the problem for these people at the high end of the No scale is that, when faced with facts or concrete thinking, they have nowhere to go: they can only retreat into vitriol. There’s a glorious instance of this in the comments to an article by Lesley Riddoch – surely the least vituperative of commentators – in today’s Scotsman , where the level of vilification is beyond belief, and is a disgrace to any society claiming to have a tradition of constructive debate. We should take heart from this. When the campaign gets going, the No side’s only resource will be evidence-free fervour, and that’s not going to withstand the well-argued set of benefits that the Yes side is going to be promoting.

Overall, the more closely the more you look at the Unionist output, the less content you find. Chokka Blog’s latest post (to take an example) rests its case on “the bonds of moral solidarity that bind us”, but he doesn’t tell us what they are: for that we have to wait for Part II, and it’s now three months since Chokka Blog posted anything. Perhaps he lost confidence in the bonds of moral solidarity when he saw the UK Conservative Government hounding immigrants, sanctioning benefits, murdering spies with nerve-gas, bombing Yemenis, and breaking up families by deporting foreign wives and mothers. The Scottish popular press has taken a different approach, inexorably trivialising the debate, with attacks on minimum alcohol pricing, the baby box, and the cost of the First Minister’s temporary accommodation – all stories that were deconstructed by the independence website Wings Over Scotland. Wings has time and again shown how empty the Unionist anti-SNP claims are, and for this is of course vilified daily – “vicious underbelly to the independence campaign”, “scum”, “bastard”. But the only substantive accusation made against the site is that the blogger, Stuart Campbell (it’s a one-man show) lives in Bath. These are not arguments, and none of this is a threat to the case for independence. You would expect Unionists to start rebutting the main planks of the independence case – you’d expect them to say what’s wrong with using our own resources to deliver prosperity, with having our own immigration policy, with creating a fairer society embodying social democratic values, with deciding for ourselves whether to leave the EU or to keep Trident, and with not being the submerged one-tenth of a voice in the all-UK Parliament. But none of these gets an airing.

Of course, to say the argument is won doesn’t mean the vote is won, and there will be varied opinions on how best to do that. It will be unpleasant on the personal level, because the Unionists will scream and have tantrums. It may also become unpleasant on the political level, if the UK Government starts removing devolved powers and abolishes the Scottish Parliament. But there’s nothing like knowing how good your case is to keep you engaged and moving forward.

Smile and be a Villain

This claim turned up in comments on The National yesterday, from John Stuart Wilson. Since it’s based on data, it needs to be taken seriously:

Our largest on-shore private sector employer is the finance industry. It accounts for, directly and indirectly, 1 in 12 jobs. It doesn’t want to be located in a foreign country from 90% of its customers. (Ask yourself: how many local authorities and SMEs currently send their monthly pension scheme payments to Belgium to have them managed there?) And it will not accept the loss of a LOLR [lender of last resort] backstop. So independence will cause major job losses in Scotland, as these firms relocate to the rUK.

However, there are a few points in the above claim which are not clear:

– the Scottish finance industry employs 160,000 people, out of a labour force of 2.6m. This is 1 in 16. Where does the writer get his figure of 1 in 12 from?

– the UK-wide finance industry employs about 2m people, out of a labour force of 32m. So the Scottish economy is no more dependent on financial services than the UK-wide economy is.

– some financial institutions focus on customers in foreign countries, which is why the London financial sector is so keen to retain its access to the EU. How does this square with the writer’s claim that banks don’t want their customers to be in a different country?

– What’s meant by ‘located in a foreign country’? Many financial institutions have staff in one country and owners in another: HSBC, Santander, RCI, Clydesdale Bank (until 2016), to give a few household names. If the author means that banks which are currently headquartered in Scotland will move their headquarters after independence, that isn’t a big deal. And if he means that they’ll move their staff away and close up shop, that’s implausible – why would any businessman with a brain walk away from a 5.2m customer base that has a reputation for financial probity?

– the lender of last resort would not be the Scottish government; if the economy went pear-shaped, the lender of last resort would be the IMF, and the banks would stay. Thirty countries in the world have become independent since 1984, and they all have banks. Greece, ranking 24th among European economies in terms of per-capita GDP, still has banks. Why does the writer believe that banks would leave if the lender of last resort were the IMF?

A more plausible explanation of John Stuart Wilson’s post is that an independent Scotland would properly regulate its financial sector, squeezing out malpractice, and making it more difficult for the sector to make money. So, as far as financial operators with that mindset are concerned, Scottish independence is a lousy option. Arguing against independence on that basis is of course a thoroughly villainous activity, but until we get answers to the questions above, we can’t be sure that John Stuart Wilson’s claims are honest and believable. Can we please get sufficient clarification from him to show that his stance on this is an honourable one?