As we watched the remarkable events of last month at Abertay University in Dundee, we were struck by something about the speech from Labour peer Lord Robertson, who was speaking against the motion “It is time for Scotland to become an independent nation state”. (Click image below for audio.)
His 15-minute address to the audience of 200+ students, we gradually realised, was a sort of compact distillation of the entire argument that’s been put forward by the No camp over the entire last year-and-a-bit.
If you ever needed to direct an undecided voter to the complete case for the Union, in the words of its own advocates, you couldn’t do much better than the couple of thousand words that Robertson put to the young people of Dundee.
To that end, it seemed worthwhile to get it down in writing for posterity and reference purposes, and to break it down into its constituent parts in the process.
“Thank you very much for the invitation, thank you all for coming here today – I understand that this is the first day of teaching in your course, so I wish you well in the studying that will be ahead of you.
It’ll be a tough grind but it opens your mind, it opens your futures very much and this university, which in my day as well as in Stewart Hosie’s day was the technical college Bell Street Tech, now a full university with its own great reputation, it’s a good place for you to be.
It was, I have to tell you, 50 years ago next year that I came to Dundee as a student. I lived in digs just up at the top of Constitution Road, and I well remember what it was like to be in first year as a student in Dundee. I thought Dundee was a great place, I graduated in 1968, my wife, who previously worked in this college, comes from Dundee, and it was a rich student experience that I must say that I had, and I still have great memories of the time that I was here.
“Hello [venue name]! [venue name] crowds are the best crowds of all!”
I believe passionately that this debate, that is now going to take place over the next year, and in which you will have a vote, is really more than just about a vote on the 18th of September next year. It’s about the future of this country – your future, and your children’s future, and your children’s children’s future. You have a vote and you’re not just voting for yourself, you’re voting for future generations, so it is an immense responsibility that is in your hands.
This is pretty much where the true stuff ends.
There won’t be any going back if people vote to make Scotland an independent nation state, a separate state.
There won’t be any going back from it, 51 to 49 is, can be a vote that will determine the rest of your life and of your future generations as well, so bear that in mind – that we’re not simply talking about the economy of today, or the government, Scottish or national government of today.
Whatever their benefits, whatever their attributes, however much you feel strongly about it, you’re talking about the constitution of your country and whether we become a separate state and we break up the United Kingdom as we actually know it.
Now I want to say it right at the very beginning, because Stewart eloquently has give you the case for breaking up the United Kingdom, but he’s done it on the basis of a number of assertions that I don’t accept.”
COMMANDMENT 1: KEEP IT PEJORATIVE
Always use negative terms like “separation” and “break up” rather than “independence”. It’s vital to imply isolation and/or xenophobia, rather than positive feelings like self-determination and taking responsibility for yourself.
“I’m a proud and patriotic Scot”
COMMANDMENT 2: TAKE PRIDE IN NOT BEING PROUD
Unionists should always point out their “pride” in being Scottish, something you never hear advocates of independence proclaiming. This is because if your political view is that another country should control all the important aspects of your own country’s management, most people would regard that as neither proud nor patriotic.
At least, not patriotic towards Scotland.
“For four years I was the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, the leader of the Scottish Labour Party, and during my four years we put together the component parts of what was to be the Scottish Parliament.
[We’re a bit confused by this. Robertson was Scottish Labour chairman, not leader. Wikipedia’s entry for the structure of the Labour Party in Scotland names as the current chair someone we’ve never heard of – a Victoria Jamieson – and on further investigation even that information turned out to be five months out of date.
So we have to assume it’s not a very important or prominent role, and certainly not one that could in any meaningful sense be described as “leader”. The Scottish Labour website doesn’t, as far as we can ascertain, mention the position at all.
Indeed, Labour in Scotland didn’t actually have anything called a “leader” until Johann Lamont took on the job at the end of 2011. Previously its public face was denoted as the leader merely of its group of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament, not its Scottish MPs or councillors or party workers.]
“The first Parliament in Scotland for 300 years. There’s nobody who can accuse me of being “anti-Scottish”, or not being patriotic enough, and Stewart Hosie, who I know is a decent man and represents constituents in this great city of Dundee, says he’s going to be temperate in his language, and won’t use some of the words that have been used.
Well, I’ve had some rough times in my political life, which started at the age of 15 – actually in the SNP, would you believe, for a year. And one of the current members of the Scottish Cabinet once called me a ‘Quisling’.”
COMMANDMENT 3: ALWAYS PLAY THE VICTIM
Pesky cybernats spend a lot of time documenting the astonishing hypocrisy of Labour (in particular) with regard to smears and abuse. The party’s elected members continually make outrageously offensive comments about (mainly) the SNP, with its most senior officials regularly throwing around words like “fascist”, “dictatorship” and “virus”, yet never fail to act like fainting violets if some anonymous internet loony says something mildly rude back to them.
Provocative political bruisers like Tom Harris should suddenly become as sensitive as a maiden aunt and cry “bullying!” if anyone delivers the mildest dose of their own medicine. Lord Robertson, then, should still affect to nurse the dreadful wounds of something a political opponent said to him in 1996.
“The guy called Quisling was a Nazi traitor in Norway during the war, Lord Haw-Haw, who broadcast to the British people on behalf of the Nazis at that time.”
“And that member, that current member of the Scottish Cabinet, has not in any way apologised to me for what he said at the time, although I believe that he regrets it now.
But I believe that we need to argue this case on the basis of fact, not of the basis of assertions. I don’t believe that Scotland is too small. I don’t believe that Scotland is too weak. I don’t believe that Scotland is welfare-dependent.
I’ve seen countries – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Montenegro, Serbia – countries that have all become, in the last few years, independent nation states. If they can survive, of course my country can survive.”
COMMANDMENT 4: CONCEDE INDEFENSIBLE GROUND
It’s vital, when you’re about to argue why Scotland couldn’t possibly be a successful nation, that you pretend you believe it could. Your job is to make people think that we’re too wee, too poor and too stupid, but without actually saying so.
The effect of this tactic is seen in polls – despite both sides being adamant in public that an independent Scotland would thrive, a staggering 37% of Scots still don’t believe they’re as good as the people of the nations Lord Robertson lists.
“Of course we’ve got the economic vitality, and we’ve got the people and we’ve got the resources. But why do we want to make a separate nation state at this point?”
[One might more logically say that if we’ve got all those things, why on Earth WOULDN’T we vote to be a nation state? Why would we condemn ourselves to being ruled needlessly by brutal governments we didn’t vote for, six years out of every ten, if we’ve got everything we need to make a go of things?]
“The case that has been made, you will hear, is that actually our economy is stronger than most of the United Kingdom, and indeed it is. Recent surveys have shown that this Scotland of ours is actually the second-richest part of the United Kingdom after the south-east of England. That’s inside the United Kingdom, not as a separate state.
So I don’t take any of these assertions at face value, but I believe that the argument can be made for a better Scotland once we’ve got rid of this preoccupation with the separatism that the present government is obsessed with.”
COMMANDMENT 5: UNDERMINE YOUR ENEMY’S LEGITIMACY
The SNP won an unprecedented majority at the last election on the absolutely unambiguous manifesto promise to hold an independence referendum. But a government openly pursuing its manifesto commitments is too “normal”, and it’s crucial that independence is not seen in that light.
You must present it as an “obsession”, something unnatural that they shouldn’t really be doing. Implicitly and explicity deny their mandate whenever possible.
“I want the Scottish Parliament to focus its mind on education. I want them to look at how our education is going to be fitted for the 21st century, how you and your children will get the skills that will actually go on and take you through into the difficulties and challenges of the world that’s ahead. I want a better health system.
Couple of weeks ago we found out that there were a record number of complaints against the NHS in Scotland. That’s a devolved matter, and I want more attention to be paid to that. I want more attention paid to transport. At the weekend I was in the Western Isles, one of the remotest parts of the United Kingdom. I want those areas, like my native island of Islay, to be given a bit more attention than they get at the present moment.
I want to see successful agriculture – that’s what I studied when I was at university in Dundee. I want to see a fairer legal system and I want to see a better, an improved local government system that works, and works for the people of Scotland.
All of these areas are in the province of the Scottish Parliament, but yet we’re obsessed, and we seem consumed at the moment, solely and simply with this constitutional issue.”
COMMANDMENT 6: UNDERMINE SCOTLAND’S COMPETENCE
Imply that the Scottish Parliament is incapable of handling even the limited areas it already controls, let alone the much more important ones it might be charged with.
(NB A helpful strategy in this area is to ensure that the voting public has as little confidence as possible in any of the potential alternatives to the current administration. So when selecting an opposition, send in your biggest diddies.)
“There are huge issues out there that you will have to face in this world – an ageing population with a diminishing workforce, the mixture between the private and the public sector, incentives for people to grow companies and entrepreneurships. How are we going to give people the skills and the talent that will fit them to deal with emerging markets?”
COMMANDMENT 7: WE CANNAE DAE IT
Education has of course been independent for centuries. So however we give people skills and talent, it won’t be affected by the referendum outcome. But that doesn’t mean you can’t plant a few seeds of doubt and fear along the way.
“These are all big issues that will affect you and the future generations on whose behalf you’re going to make a decision – an irrevocable decision – on the 18th of September next year.”
COMMANDMENT 8: NO WAY BACK
While no nationalist we’ve ever met would ever want to return to the UK after independence, and no country on the planet that we know of has ever sought to go back to its “parent” after achieving self-determination, it’s nevertheless crucial to the maintenance of fear, uncertainty and doubt that we insist it simply wouldn’t be possible, even though that proposition doesn’t stand up to a moment’s scrutiny.
After all, if we’re better together, and Scotland is a valued and important member of the Union, then it must follow that that would still be the case post-independence. If the rest of the UK doesn’t want Scotland to leave, why wouldn’t it want to take it back if Scots decided independence was all a terrible mistake?
(And since the UK’s infrastructure currently includes Scotland, the blueprint for any such “re-absorption” would be already written.)
NOTE: It’s important to get our story straight on this one.
“So I resent those of us who say ‘Don’t break up Britain’ being called ‘anti-Scottish’ as I have been. Every time we ask a question, we’re told we’re talking down Scotland. I think that’s wrong, and it’s unfair.
It’s not anti-Scottish to keep the country that we know together and working together and not fragmented. It’s not anti-Scottish to see the waste involving, involved in creating new embassies and new ministries, the Ministry of Defence, new social security institutions, as well as the DVLA, the BBC, the CAA – a whole host of organisations that will have to be created.
It’s not, it’s not anti-Scottish to highlight the transition cost, the huge transition cost, of going from being part of the United Kingdom to being a separate state with stamps and uniforms and anthems and all of the rest of these things that would have to come with separation.”
COMMANDMENT 9: THERE’LL BE FORMS TO FILL IN
The next best thing to telling Scots that they’re too inept and hopeless to run their own affairs is to tell them that they could do it if they wanted to, but that it simply wouldn’t be worth all the hassle and paperwork.
(That Lord Robertson appears to believe the Scottish people will be frightened away from independence by the need for new “stamps and uniforms and anthems” is as telling a glimpse of the Unionist mindset as you’ll ever get.)
“It’s not anti-Scottish to ask the basic question about what currency would we have in an independent Scotland.
10 years ago the leader of the SNP said that Sterling was a millstone round Scotland’s neck, but now he wants a fiscal union with the Bank of England taking the decisions on behalf of the independent Scottish state. But of course, in between he was in favour of the Euro.”
COMMANDMENT 10: REACTION IS WEAKNESS
Any change in SNP policy – because the SNP and the entire wider independence movement must at all times be depicted as one and the same – is prima facie evidence of untrustworthiness and unreliability, rather than the sensible and rational response to altered circumstances that characterises all good governance.
“When I debated with him in 1996, he said the Euro was the way through, that was the way in which a Scotland would go, but suddenly after the Eurozone crisis it’s not there, so we don’t know whether it’ll be a currency union that would depend on the rest of the UK agreeing, or whether the pound would be used unilaterally, or whether it would be the Euro that we would be obliged to sign up to, and some people say if we were to be part of the European Union, or whether it would be a separate Scottish currency.
A fundamental issue, and we don’t know the answer to it.”
Disclaimer: throughout this transcription, we regret that we cannot accept any responsibility for Lord Robertson’s garbled and sometimes incomprehensible script.
“It’s not anti-Scottish to ask about the thousands of Scottish jobs that are, the Scottish people employed, in for instance the defence industry, when most of the market is going to be down south. Hundreds of thousand of jobs involved in financial services, when we would have to have a separate financial services regime applying in different parts of the United Kingdom.”
COMMANDMENT 11: FOR THE MILLIONTH TIME, KEEP EXAGGERATING
“It’s not anti-Scottish to ask whether we would automatically be in the European Union, as is sometimes asserted, because practically everybody in the European Union says no, a new separate state would have to apply for membership, and the SNP say we would have to negotiate anyway, because we want better terms.
But a negotiation implies gains and losses. What would we lose – the British rebate, perhaps our fishing limits. What would we gain in the process of these negotiations? We don’t know, and we won’t know until after you’ve cast your vote on the 18th of September next year.
It’s not anti-Scottish, indeed it’s quite patriotic, to ask whether Scotland would be a member of NATO, the organisation I as a Scot led for four years. The self-defence alliance, the pillar, the, the cornerstone of our security and that of 25 other nations in Europe, when it’s been made clear by the SNP that Trident would go, the British independent nuclear deterrent would go, which is part and parcel of NATO’s policy, irrespective, so they make that a condition of membership, knowing that that condition would not be acceptable to the other members.”
COMMANDMENT 12: MISREPRESENT THE VIEWS OF OTHERS
In fact there’s no reasonable doubt whatsoever that NATO would be extremely keen to have Scotland as a member, for what are mostly startlingly obvious reasons, and politicians from existing member states have repeatedly made that clear.
This, however, is an area where the Scottish and UK media can be relied on to have the No camp’s back, and any coverage of their comments to that effect will usually be restricted to small regional newspapers.
Indeed, the media can often be relied on to distort such comments out of all recognition, rather than merely suppress them.
“And of course, it’s not anti-Scottish to ask about pensions. Now that’s in the distance from you, but not of your parents, and certainly not of your grandparents, and that’s a big issue that’s being talked about today because they’ve made a promise, it would appear, that the retirement age would not go up to 67 – in 2026, remember – in an independent Scotland.
Another, another uncosted promise that’s been made in the run-up to this referendum campaign, and frankly, you know, you’re going to hear a lot more of these promises. There is no doubt at all about that.”
COMMANDMENT 13: MAKE LIKE A MONKEY
In fact the Scottish Government’s pension proposals have been costed at some length and in some detail. But when your campaign hinges on endlessly demanding answers to literally hundreds of questions, it’s understandable that you don’t have time to listen when those answers are given over and over again.
Short version: Hear no truth, see no truth, speak no truth.
“So why should we create an independent Scottish state? We’re not a colony. Most of the countries that have become independent since the war were colonies. We’re not oppressed.
Nobody believes that we’re oppressed – I’m sure there are, there are people here from other countries other than Scotland here, this, is, Scot, uh, you are, Scotland’s not oppressed inside the United Kingdom.
[Nope, sorry, us either.]
We’re not discriminated against. You turn on your radio in the morning, you get the voice of Jim Naughtie. if you’re interested in current in current affairs you go to bed listening to Kirsty Wark on Newsnight. Every Sunday morning, the main starting point for the week, you’ve got Andrew Marr, who came from Invergowrie just outside of Dundee.
There are Scots at every level of government, on public and private sector in the United Kingdom, all of them, few of them, perhaps, going to have a vote in this referendum, but all of them proud Scots who’ve never been held back by the fact that they were Scots inside the United Kingdom.”
COMMANDMENT 14: IT COULD BE YOU!
…although most of them had to leave Scotland and make their careers in London. If you have to emigrate from your homeland to be a success, that’s probably not a very compelling argument that your homeland is doing well from the Union, so puff ’em up for all you’re worth and hope nobody notices.
“We’re not disadvantaged inside the United Kingdom. For whatever, for ever statistics we hear, um, we hear from ah, from, from the nationalists, actually what Stewart said was Scotland’s economy’s actually doing quite well. Lowest level of youth unemployment, you said. You’ve highest level of employment.
We’re the richest part of the United Kingdom outside of the southeast, and we’re in the United Kingdom, so, we’re not being disadvantaged by being part of a single market, part of a single country, and that’s really worth your bearing in mind when it comes to any decision that you take.”
COMMANDMENT 15: CORRELATION IS CAUSATION
It is of course axiomatic that any successes of Scotland must be attributable to it being in the UK, not to the efforts of Scots within the country, and that it could not possibly have done any better were it to have been independent.
It’s inconceivable under any circumstances that any positive aspects of Scottish life might be DESPITE Westminster rule, rather than BECAUSE of it.
“There’s no linguistic differentiation, no great cultural, eh, discrimination that might argue for it, like it does in some other countries, you know, in Flanders in Belgium they say “Why can’t we become an independent state?”, or Catalonia and Spain, where a million and a quarter people marched in the streets. They say they want to become an independent state, but they’ve got language, and culture, and all these sort of things. We don’t have any of that.”
COMMANDMENT 16: SCOTLAND WAS EXTINGUISHED IN 1707
Did you hear that? Read it again, just to make sure. “Catalonia and Flanders have language and culture. We don’t have any of that.” He really said those words. Ooft!
Media commentators, particularly those on the right, diligently attack any notion that the Scottish people are unlike those in the rest of One Nation Britain, cherry-picking snippets of poll data to try to cover up the massive elephant in the room that is Scotland’s unbroken sixty-year electoral opposition to the Conservatives.
Scots must not be allowed to believe that they’re different, because if they were different they might demand to be governed in accordance with their democratically-expressed desire at every election, rather than just during the minority of the time when England’s wishes happened to coincide with theirs. The Scottish identity, therefore, must be denied and belittled at every turn.
“And we’ve got, in addition, in Scotland, a Parliament of our own, handling all those domestic arrangements that matter to us and to the people of Scotland.
Education from nurseries to universities. Health, housing, local government, transport, tourism, agriculture, fisheries and more. And indeed, next year, under the Calman reforms, more powers will come to the Scottish Parliament.
And not only that, we’ll have power over income tax – a big chunk of income tax, and stamp duty, and extra powers to legislate in areas like the licensing of airguns.”
COMMANDMENT 17: LET THEM BE IN CHARGE OF THE PAPERCLIPS
Seriously. Our research suggests that we should be able to buy them off with airguns and speed limits. Yep, that’s what they’ll settle for! Man, those old missionaries who actually gave away perfectly good shiny glass beads were fools to themselves.
“The Scottish Parliament after the Calman reforms coming will raise 30 percent – 30 percent – of its own revenue in Scotland. All of these things have happened as well.”
Vote No and we’ll give you a lot more busy-work, but no more power.
“Now Stewart and the nationalists keep going on, and you’ll hear it relentlessly repeated, that we don’t, we wouldn’t get the government we want. That we don’t get the government that we voted for. And that’s perfectly true, because the votes are spread throughout the United Kingdom. It’s not always true – the English sometimes resent the fact that they get governments voted on Scottish members of Parliament.”
COMMANDMENT 18: LIE BIG AND LIE OFTEN
The assertion above, as well as being a grammatical car-crash, is of course untrue. Since World War 2, Scottish votes have only once – for a handful of months – imposed a government England voted against.
But if we make it sound like the system’s unfair to everyone, who can complain?
[Lord Robertson would go on to repeat this falsehood in more detail later in the debate, asserting that Labour’s 2005 majority depended on Scottish MPs. But Scottish seats in fact contributed just 23 to Labour’s majority of 66 that year.]
“But bear this in mind – at the last election Stewart’s party got 45 percent of the vote in the Scottish Parliament elections. Only 50.1 percent – a whisker more than half the Scottish electorate – voted in these elections. So that means that 23 percent of the Scottish people voted for the SNP, only 23 percent of those eligible to vote in Scotland voted for the SNP.
And if you actually take the ones – heh! – the ones who voted, 55 percent of us who voted in the Scottish Parliament elections didn’t get the government we wanted. We got an SNP government that more than half the Scottish people didn’t get the government that they chose.”
COMMANDMENT 19: THERE IS NO BEAM IN OUR EYE
The Scottish Parliament is vastly more representative and democratic than the UK one. Parties have secured huge working majorities at Westminster on as little as 35% of the vote, something that would be completely impossible at Holyrood, and UK election turnout isn’t THAT much higher than Scottish, despite UK elections being far more important in terms of the powers being determined.
(Labour’s 2001 victory, for example, came courtesy of just 59% of the electorate.)
In a multi-party system, it’s almost unheard of for a single party to secure over 50% of the popular vote. The SNP’s 2011 vote share was higher even than that of Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide. So the “percentage of the total possible electorate” gambit really is the last refuge of the desperate. Deploy only if all else fails.
“Now that’s the way the electoral system works. I helped to construct the electoral system for the Scottish Parliament, so I least of all can complain about it, that’s the way it works. But let nobody tell you that we’ve get the government that the overwhelming majority of the Scottish people voted for.”
COMMANDMENT 20: NEED A FISHY SMELL? TRY A RED HERRING
If you don’t care enough to go out and mark a ballot paper, even in a proportional electoral system where every vote counts, then you’ve implicitly agreed to go along with whatever everyone else chooses. So in reality, the SNP government of 2011 was accepted by around 73% of the electorate – almost three in four, and more than any UK government in living memory.
Again, this line is for last-resort use only, because it only works on people who don’t look even a micron below the surface.
“So when you come to cast your vote on the 18th of September next year, I hope you will spend your time interrogating those who say it’s a simple, easy step for Scotland to go from part of the United Kingdom to being an independent nation state. It’s not risk-free, it’s not going to be easy, and it certainly isn’t going to be cheap.”
COMMANDMENT 21: STRAW MEN DON’T FIGHT BACK
As far as we’re aware, nobody in the Yes movement has ever suggested that independence would be “risk-free”. It isn’t. But then nor, by any stretch of the imagination, is staying in the UK. There’s no such thing as a risk-free future. That’s the nature of the future.
But if you can’t handle your opponent’s actual arguments, it’s always worth shooting down the ones you wish they’d made, in the hope that the unwary won’t check.
“But the decision, at the end of the day, will be yours. Ask the questions by all means, take a sober decision, and remember all the time that you’re not just deciding for yourself, you’re deciding for the future as well. Thank you very much for your attention.”
“I salute any of you who actually made it to the end of this cobblers still awake.”