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Wings Over Scotland


With friends like these

Posted on May 25, 2012 by

We had a brief and dispiriting Twitter exchange this week with a prominent Scottish Green activist (if there can strictly be said to be such a thing), in the shape of the party’s former head of media James Mackenzie. The discussion was sparked by a piece in the Guardian reporting the Green leader (sorry, “co-convenor”) Patrick Harvie’s dire warning to Alex Salmond against a “bland, middle-of-the-road” prospectus for independence, which he suggested would risk “alienating” the left-leaning section of the Scottish public (ie most of it) and thereby losing the referendum.

Wading in with our trademark gentle, reasoned tact, we recited our well-worn observation that referenda are for deciding single precisely-defined issues – in this case, who gets to elect the future governments of Scotland – rather than the fine details of multiple policies, and that starting the Yes campaign off by emphasising our differences perhaps wasn’t the smartest move.

To this Mr Mackenzie accused us of having “confused policy with constitution”, and while we won’t bore you with the he-said-we-said in too much depth (you can go and track it for yourself if you really want to), the conversation took in the comradely and left-wing-solidarity-building, if somewhat distant from reality, assertion that the Green Party make Salmond look like Thatcher before culminating in this rather huffy tweet:

Now, the obvious thing that might strike a passer-by would be that the Greens appear to be massively overplaying their hand from the off. They might claim their complaints are about a “democratic” process, but they speak for just 4% of the Scottish electorate, and even among those backing independence they’re a tiny (9%) minority. Democracy has spoken already, and it wasn’t for the policies of the Greens.

(Nor those of the Scottish Socialist Party, who have also offered the media a chance to portray division in the Yes camp over their policies that an independent Scotland must be a republic rather than a monarchy, and be outside of NATO – although the latter in fact remains SNP policy too anyway.)

Clearly, none of that means that they need to shut up and just go along with what the SNP says – the whole point of independence is to give us the chance to debate every aspect of Scotland’s future. But demanding to have all these fights now is wrong in principle as well as pragmatically. We’ll come to the pragmatic part in a moment, but let’s take the moral high ground and examine the principle first.

It’s a pretty straightforward one. Having the proposed constitution for an independent Scotland in place in advance of the referendum obviously requires it to be discussed, debated and agreed beforehand. But how can you write a constitution and ask people to vote for it when around half the population will refuse point-blank to participate in the process at that point, because they don’t want independence at all?

Excluding a vast swathe of voters (even if technically they’ve excluded themselves) makes a mockery of Green claims of “democracy” guiding the process, and will turn that group of people off even further – because they’ll have had no part in shaping the constitution the referendum will ask them to bring into effect. But if instead you wait until after any Yes vote, independence will be a fait accompli and those who voted No will no longer have anything to gain from remaining aloof. They’ll have a meaningful stake in the debate over how the newly-independent nation should be constructed, and therefore every reason to join in positively.

We need, in other words, to ask ourselves what’s more likely to produce a healthy and constructive consensus to take the new Scotland forward with the minimum of bitterness and recrimination, after what’s likely to have been a viciously-fought campaign: a constitution built by everyone, or one created solely by the victors and imposed by them on the defeated?

What the Greens call “open, democratic and ambitious” will likely be viewed by anti-independence Labour, Lib Dem and Tory voters (independence isn’t, of course, as simple as a straight division down party-political lines, and not all SNP and Green voters are in favour of it either, but we’ll come to that in a moment) as something more akin to the Treaty Of Versailles, and resented for generations.

The pragmatism aspect is perhaps even more obvious. Firstly, everything the Yes camp can be seen to disagree on will be eagerly seized and enthusiastically used as ammunition by the No camp – “Look, they can’t even agree amongst themselves on what independence is! How can they possibly expect you to vote for it?”

Even the mild preliminary jousting of the Guardian piece was gleefully and wildly exaggerated (“Salmond and SNP looking increasingly isolated ahead of launch – massive splits within pro-separation camp”) by members of the Scottish Labour spin team – it can barely be imagined what hay they’d make from a real gloves-off fight between the leaders of the Yes campaign.

And there’s a second factor too. SNP and Green voters who don’t support independence are logically less likely to object, in the event of a Yes vote, to a constitution that was drawn up by their own parties – with less to fear they may at least be less likely to go out and actively cast a No vote.

Conversely, the significant minorities of those in the three London-based parties who ARE open to independence will be much less inclined to vote for it if a “Yes” will explicitly mean subjecting themselves to a constitution already dictated by the SNP and Greens. Elections are temporary things. Constitutions are much more permanent, especially if they’re created by a once-in-a-lifetime referendum.

(Not to mention that producing a constitution before the vote will come across as incredibly arrogant and presumptuous. Voters don’t like being taken for granted.)

There is only one premise on which you can legitimately seek independence, and certainly only one way in which there’s a chance of winning it – get people to agree the fundamental principle that Scotland should govern itself, and subsequently determine by democratic means what exact form that self-government should take. Any other policy is a surefire recipe for that most Scottish of traits – the “moral victory”, disguised all too convincingly as a crushing defeat.

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30 to “With friends like these”

  1. Longshanker says:

    Any other policy is a surefire recipe for that most Scottish of traits – the “moral victory”, disguised all too convincingly as a crushing defeat.


    If I didn’t know better I would say you were beginning to sound defeatist regarding the inevitability of the referendum outcome.

    I  woud genuinely like to see it be a bit more exciting. The idea of only one question and a crushing defeat – if indeed the referendum even takes place – fills me with dread.

    I don’t care if you believe me,  but it’s why I wanted to see Labour lose Glasgow in the council elections.

    The fact they didn’t is a weighty indicator that independence has got virtually no chance of succeeding.

    I thought that Damocles Cameron had lost interest in the timing of the referendum because Leveson will kill him off anyway. But the more I thought about it, it seems more likely, as some commenters have been saying elsewhere, that the outcome is an inevitable defeat and that’s why he’s now so casual about the date.

    There are even some SNP members blogging that the referendum wont even take place in 2014.      

    NB: Incidentally. My blog yesterday used a pic from the Life of Brian –  The blog. entitled ‘What has the Union ever done for us’ outlines an in-depth and positive case for the Union which I’m sure will tempt you and your readers into the Unionist fold if you or they deign to read it.   

     

  2. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

    “If I didn’t know better I would say you were beginning to sound defeatist regarding the inevitability of the referendum outcome.”

    Not in the least. I’ve never regarded either result as even remotely “inevitable”, and I haven’t changed my view any in the last year. I have no idea what the result will be, nor do I think there’s been any discernible swing in either direction in recent months. My opinion is that it’s absolutely up for grabs. Anyone making any predictions now (eg “independence has got virtually no chance of succeeding”) is a complete fool.

  3. Erchie says:

    It’s weird

    Now, i think a lot of this is occasioned by Green Party members spitting the dummy when, contrary to expectations, they were not kingmakers after the 2011 election. This explains some of the cosying up to Labour Patrick Harvie was up to at the time.

    Here we have them saying, on one hand “The Independece referendum is not an SNP only affair” (a point of view most of us would see as axiomatic) BUT they want the SNP to set everything out before hand, principally, as far as I can see, so they can object to it.

    I’ve seen Greens say that “If it is a Monarchy I won’t vote for it”

    However, as Rev Stu points out, that is not what Independence is for, It is to allows the scots to decide for themselves as they evolve their nation. I prefer a Republic, but if I don’t get an instant Republic on the day after a Referendum that suits 45 criteria I have for the perfect society that is to be expected

    The perfect Scotland I envisage might not be the same as that of Mr Mackenzie, or Patrick Harvie, or Stuart Campbell or Bamber Boozler or whoever

    The referendum on Independence is just that, on Independence. what happens after that is down to us!

  4. Erchie says:

    I read Longshanker’s blog. It’s bollocks. Giving credit to the union for social improvements and technology that happened all over the world at that time and, in part, in scotland prior to either Union, Crown or Parliament

  5. Doug Daniel says:

    What I find really baffling is this: the Greens and SSP are being given a massive opportunity here. The SNP are keen to highlight that they’re not the only pro-independence party, and as a result both these parties can expect to receive the kind of media coverage they usually only dream about. It’s really quite unique for a party to be trying to encourage opposition parties to get more prominence – this is a golden opportunity for the SSP and Greens to get their message across to people who might ordinarily barely even realise either party exists. And I’m not talking about grubbily trying to increase their chances of election – both parties are promoting specific ideals, ideals which they want others to latch on to but which require people to hear about them first.

    But what do we get? Soundbites dangerously close to “if X and Y don’t happen, there’s no point in me voting yes.” In fact, in some cases that IS what is being said.

    It’s unfortunate. I think the breadth of ideas for post-indy Scotland can be one of the yes campaign’s most potent weapons; but it risks back-firing on us if they are articulated in a way that makes them sound like demands, rather than options. With the monarchy, for example, not every independence supporter is a republican… And not every republican is a nationalist. By conflating the two, you’re forcing pro-monarchy nationalists and republican unionists to make a choice between their two ideals. By it’s very nature, this excludes people.

    Try turning the question on it’s head – what if we have a referendum on the monarchy, but say “oh, if you vote for a republic, you’re also voting for independence; and a vote for the monarchy is a vote for the union.” Republicans would be up in arms – “that’s not fair! You can’t force people to decide both at once!” That scenario just wouldn’t happen, and for a very simple reason – because for all its faults, the fact is the monarchy is not nearly as big an issue as independence.

    It actually kind of pisses me off when it’s stated that if we leave the monarchy out of it, anyone who votes “yes” is ACTIVELY voting for the monarchy. Err, no, I’m nae – I’m ACTIVELY voting for independence.

  6. Doug Daniel says:

    “The perfect Scotland I envisage might not be the same as that of Mr Mackenzie, or Patrick Harvie, or Stuart Campbell or Bamber Boozler or whoever”

    In fact, I would expect the first post-indy election to focus mainly on the issue of bringing Bamboozle back to our screens. If that means re-implementing analogue Teletext, then so be it.

  7. Erchie says:

    So then, if the recreation of Teletext is not made a strong Independence issue, with Independence meaning thre restoration of the service you will vote NO”

    It is as I feared

  8. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

    “In fact, I would expect the first post-indy election to focus mainly on the issue of bringing Bamboozle back to our screens. If that means re-implementing analogue Teletext, then so be it.”

    Not necessary:

    http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/bamboozle!-classic-teletext/id384407005?mt=8

  9. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

    “Try turning the question on it’s head – what if we have a referendum on the monarchy, but say “oh, if you vote for a republic, you’re also voting for independence; and a vote for the monarchy is a vote for the union.””

    That’s an excellent point. I’ll be stealing that one.

  10. Bugger (the Panda) says:

    The vote is about Indpendence.
     
    Everything else will follow after that when the People chose, not the SNP alone, what they want,
     
    The ballot box, Holyrood and whatever government is in place after the referendum will be the medium.
     
    It is all very simple.
     
    I am not a member of the SNP and am puzzled by the short sighted embodiment of the No argument in the person of Alex Salmond and the current entity that is the SNP.
     
    Willful blindness?

  11. Dál Riata says:

    Sorry, slightly OT, but the Guardian starts off its ‘No’ campaigning by promoting a Severin Carrell piece entitled, laughingly, “Scottish independence has stalled, says Alister Darling” to its second top story online. The following paragraph gives a gist of the article and its motives:

    “In a deliberate attempt to undermine Friday’s launch, Darling said that even though Salmond had held power for five years, the YouGov poll – paid for by the soon-to-be-launched anti-independence campaign [!!!] – had confirmed that leaving the UK still appealed to a minority of voters.”

    And so the mis-/disinformation, smearing, falsehoods and outright lying begins. (Actually, it’s been going on for ages already, of course, but it’s now on its way to becoming ligitimised official policy by those in the Unionist ‘No’ camp and done with the collusion of the UK’s MSM.) They will fight dirty, there is no doubt about that.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/may/25/scottish-independence-stalled-alistair-darling
     

  12. Don McC says:

    The Greens and the SSP seem determined to make the Yes campaign all about the SNP.  You only have to look at them on last night’s Newsnight, especially Harvie, to see that.  Harvie strikes me as a natural Labour supporter who would be lured back to the fold if only Labour would drop nuclear from their energy and defence policies.

    Despite his assurances last night, I will still not be surprised if Harvie is a no-show today.  The last time he overplayed his hand was in regards to the Scottish Government’s budget, over the issue of grants for loft insulation.  He ended up with nothing, the proverbial cutting his nose off to spite his face.  At the time, this was put down to his inexperience.  Now I’m not so sure.  There’s every chance he’ll do the same again, with the same result.  His insistence that appealing to the political middle will alienate the political left and that the independence on offer has to be a complete package and not just a beginning/end shows that he just doesn’t get the SNP’s strategy in all this, and the divisions this will inevitably cause will be exploited by our Unionist opponents (with the aid of the ever helpful MSM).

    As before, I hope I’m wrong on all of this but I can see Harvie doing the campaign more harm than good if he doesn’t get his way. 

  13. TYRAN says:

    Darling’s “Yes London” campaign

  14. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

    “the Guardian starts off its ‘No’ campaigning by promoting a Severin Carrell piece entitled, laughingly, “Scottish independence has stalled, says Alister Darling” to its second top story online.”

    Have you noticed that the media is using the loaded word “separation” more and more in headlines and articles too? The Guardian piece does it, and the Herald in particular has also started sneaking it into its own copy (rather than just using it in quotes from Unionist politicians), beginning the process of gradually “normalising” it.

    http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/political-news/mps-are-told-of-separation-risk-to-scots-defence-force.17666168 (headline)

    http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/salmond-draws-battle-lines-for-the-yes-campaign.17600240 (“With opinion polls consistently showing most voters remain unimpressed by his party’s core policy on separation, Salmond will unveil…”)

    You’ll struggle to find the word used outside of quotes in any paper prior to this month, because it’s clearly a heavily charged term – I’ll happily wager that you’ll never hear them refer to the Unionist parties as being the “dependence” campaign. It’s a significant and rather sinister development.

  15. dcomerf says:

    Don McC – a very unhelpful comment. Whilst I agree with this post that a narrow view of what the independence referendum is asking is logical and democratic, I don’t think personal abuse of allies is smart and it gives truth to Guardian article on splits in the yes camp.

    I’m convinced that Patrick Harvie supports independence, and I know that green activists aren’t anti-nuclear labour supporters: they are genuinely far to the left of labour. The SGP has many members who are deeply uncomfortable with the nationalist label, and does not regard thdefinitions of the nations of Scotland and UK as part of its core beliefs. Nevertheless it has collectively considered the independence issue and come to an intellectual conclusion that green policies and principles are best served in an independent Scotland. This decision and the process by which this decision was reached, should be respected.

    I am frustrated and dismayed by the rather equivocal tone of SGP support for the referendum, but arguing about why Scottish independence best serves the cause of green politics is the only way Harvie and other SGP spokespeople will keep a partially skeptical party/activist base onside. People approaching the referendum from an SNP point of view should be glad of the opportunity to portray the yes camp as a broad church rather than sniping at others in the yes camp who have arrived at this position from a different starting point.

  16. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

    I’m glad that Don turned out to be wrong and that Patrick Harvie was front and centre of a launch with only one SNP politician to be seen.

  17. YesYesYes says:

    I see that Twitter is alive with greetin-faced unionists trying to cheer us all down on this historic day, as only they can (bless).
     
    Reminds me of the old joke that I just made up:
     
    How many greetin-faced unionists does it take to change a light bulb? Two. One to change the bulb and the other  to keep telling him, ‘That’ll never work’.

  18. NorthBrit says:

    To your separation point – yes.  

    They appear to have decided that “separatist” – sounds a bit like Basque separatist (hint of terrorism) is better that “Nats” sounds a bit like nasty Nazi (hint of fascist).  

    Lots of lovely “ists”.  Nationalist, Separatist, terrorist, extremist.

    Unpleasant stuff.   

  19. Steve says:

    I’m an SSP member and I don’t recognise the accusations being thrown at my party.  I thought Colin Fox on Newsnight was pretty open and up for working together with the SNP, Greens and anyone else who is pro indy.

    The SSP has been active in the independence convention right from the start, and although we want a socialist republic, I really don’t think we’ve been spitting the dummy at all.

    It’s true that the media will seek to exploit and exaggerate any potential differences between the pro indy camps, but we should know better than to fall for that!

  20. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

    “The SSP has been active in the independence convention right from the start, and although we want a socialist republic, I really don’t think we’ve been spitting the dummy at all.”

    Yeah, on reflection I’m maybe a teeny bit harsh on the SSP there. Will see if I can think of a better rewording of the paragraph.

    EDIT: Done.

  21. Doug Daniel says:

    Steve’s right, you only have to look at the way the Telegraph is hyping up a disagreement in vision as a “split” today. Then observe Severin Carrell from the Guardian nailing his colours to the unionist mast by revelling in it on Twitter.

    Fuck the media. We don’t need them.

    (Well, we do, but… Erm.. Hey, look over there! *runs*) 

  22. Arbroath1320 says:

    Peeps. Hold the horses there! Let’s not all go and lose the heid at the first sign of differing opinions from anyone who is signed up to Scottish Independence, in my humble opinion this is actually a bonus.

    By having people publically airing their different opinions show the world that the YES campaign is not just a bunch of nodding “yes” men, they are people with individual thoughts, unlike the Dependence campaign, whenever it gets off the ground, which will undoubtedly be full of nothing but “yes” men.

    So the question really is would you vote for a group of free thinking individuals with a variety of views about Scotlands future or would you rather vote for a bunch of Dependence puppets who are denied to have any free thoughts?

    First off lets all remember that everyone who has signed up to Independence is coming into the YES campaign from different angles so therefore by its very nature they will all have different agendas. That is without doubt an open goal gimme.

    Secondly, there is a long way to go so let’s just accept that there will be different “wants” from different people. Lets just accept that they have a wish list, much the same as we all have a wish list and that there will be times when these “wish lists” will come to the front. Can we not accept that these lists exist and move on. We must never forget what the end goal of this campaign is all about :SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE.

    Next. Always remember that because the YES campaign is made up from people from the SNP,Greens, SSP,Solidarity, Conservatives, Labour and no doubt Lib/Dems we have a broad catchment of political opinion. This point on its own is enough to give the most ardent politician, of whatever persuasion, nightmares every night between now and referendum day. 

    We can use this fact to our advantage. Whenever anyone from the MSM tries to pick holes in the YES campaign just remind them that we have politicians of all persuasion sitting comfortably together on the same platform. The Dependence campaign does not have this. Hell some Dependence supporters will no even share a platform with other Dependence supporters. Just an aside here, how many will share the platform with Tony Blair when he starts putting his input into the Dependence campaign I wonder?

    Finally, just sen Andrew Neil do his usual gutter best interview and discussion about Scottish Independence. I still can’t believe he gets paid to say such utter tripe. I guess after his show he’ll return to Dependence central for further programming.

    Apologies for the verbal diahorrea there! 😀

  23. Longshanker says:

    @RevStu

    Anyone making any predictions now (eg “independence has got virtually no chance of succeeding”) is a complete fool.
    Anyone taking that partial sentence out of context is being completely disingenuous and ‘uncivic’. Some might even say militantly myopic.

    But hey, in keeping with expectations.

    Sighs at the tedious inevitability.   

     

  24. Longshanker says:

    @Erchie says:
    I read Longshanker’s blog. It’s bollocks.

    Thanks Erchie. I always welcome articulate, incisive and justified criticism which completely miss the point of the blog.

    That’s the second time, in relation to this pseudo-political site, you’ve fulfilled a Nationalist stereotype which I’d rather wasn’t true.

    Well done. I salute your insight.      

  25. Andrew Haddow says:

    I didn’t read Longshanker’s blog. It’s bollocks. You can tell from his bollocks above.

  26. pa_broon says:

    I read your blog longshanker, out of interest, what was it you were trying to say? I fear I may have missed some satirical point cunningly disguised as bollocks.

    I should probably say something about this blog entry too, it would be daft to comment on the blog of another in the comments section of the umm, wrong blog… (I know what I mean.)

    So, I fully expect there to be differences between the political parties coming together for the Yes Campaign (something I’m trying to brand as Yes-2014, like the olympics but it isn’t catching on… If it does, I own it!)

    Its a bit of a NSS moment really, the point is, in order for them all to pursue their particular agendas, an independent Scotland is best.

    So, I’m left thinking, ‘so what?’ when commentators try to highlight differences between the Greens, SSP and SNP etc.

  27. Doug Daniel says:

    Arbroath1320: 
    “unlike the Dependence campaign, whenever it gets off the ground, which will undoubtedly be full of nothing but “yes” men”

    You mean “no” men, surely?

  28. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

    “I fear I may have missed some satirical point cunningly disguised as bollocks.”

    To be fair, it’s a hell of a convincing disguise.

  29. Arbroath1320 says:

    Aye Doug your right they will all be NO men, NO men to the INDEPENDENCE of Scotland.
    When I called them YES men I meant that they were all YES sir, NO sir, three bags full sir, puppets to the “Leaders” of the NO campaign, if and when it gets off the ground. They will all be regurgitating the same garbage. In effect, it will make not one iota of a difference who speaks for the Dependence campaign they will regurgitate the same trash word for word as laid down by their “leaders”. They are therefore, in my view, all YES men. All behaving like the little nodding dogs you see on the parcel shelves of cars. Unlike the YES campaign where the politocrats are free to have their own opinion the Dependence campaign politocrats will not be allowed to stray from the Dependence campaign line of “we’re better together”. Hence we end up with the Dependence politocrats behaving as yes men, terrified of upsetting their “leaders” in any way shape or form.
    Thinking about my diahorretic piece 😀 earlier, I was wondering who, if any one will be “proud” enough to share the Dependence campaign platform with our Tony, the one the only Tony “we’re 45 minutes away from Armageddon” Blair!

  30. Scott Minto (Aka Sneekyboy) says:

    @Longshanker – I read your blog and it wasnt a positive case for the union.

    Roads – From Rome and transferred to britannia and caledonia

    Sanitation from Scotland –  31st century BC: Scotlands oldest neolithic village, Skara Brae in Orkney used neolithic hydraulic technology.The village’s design used a river and connecting drainage system to wash waste away.

    Steam Engine – Invented by an englishman but made viable by a Scot – James Watt

    Canals – Have been around for millenium

    Trade – The union provided the means for access to the empire, the empire is gone and trade is now global.

    Military Protection – From what these days exactly? The only wars we are involved in are ones we instigate. Scotland is vurtually defencless after asset stripping and we are target number one because of our housing of the UK nuclear deterrent.

    Safe to walk the streets at night – Are there teams of unionist vigilanties keeping us safe? Or is it just the police.

    And the final one… Brought peace! Tell that to Iraq, and soon to be Iran.

    No I’m afraid that there is not one positive case for the union in that mixed bag of an article.             



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