This Is Not A
An Important Message To The People Of Scotland...
"If ye vote "Aye", ye'll mak' wee Davie greet!" (*)
(This piece could have gone in either the Rants or Raves sections, so it's here instead).
I have been a nationalist in my own country's cause since I was old enough to formulate an informed opinion on politics (fifteen, if you really want to know), and although the nuances of my views have changed down the years, I still cleave to the fundamental principle that every nation on this little ball of rock has the inalienable right to determine its own future, whether that future is to be subsumed into someone else's future to the point of effectively vanishing as an entity in its own right, or to take the route of controlling its own affairs, for better or for worse. It's an essential adjunct to the whole idea of democracy in my book, and one which can only be argued against by those who either believe in the notion of empires - be they acknowledged or unacknowledged - or by those peculiar creatures who style themselves as being on the left who nevertheless have the same thing in mind, only calling it by some sonorous but vacuous phrase such as, "the solidarity of the International Working Class™", or some such twaddle.
That this, in the case of my own land, has become a position of decreasing likelihood and increasing despair in recent years is a subject I might return to at some point, along with the reasons for my disillusionment not so much with the principle but the probability of it happening in my lifetime (or simply in time to make any appreciable difference for the better).
I therefore have great cause to envy our near neighbours to the north. There in Scotland, where civic nationalism has grown from untidy (and, at times, misdirected) roots to become a major force in the political and psychological life of the nation right up to the point of forming a government with an outright majority, even though the electoral system was deliberately designed to seek to prevent that ever happening; there, as I say, they are leading up to what is perhaps the most fateful vote taken on this island since the coming of the universal franchise. For the consequences of that vote - whichever way it goes - will be immense both in terms of immediate extent and long-term ramifications for all residents of this misgoverned archipelago.
Not that you would necessarily know it from the way the 'debate' has been conducted so far, and not just in the Scotland-based media.
(Why have I used the term 'Scotland-based' rather than 'Scottish'? Read on...dot...dot...dot...).
That the London media and the power structure in which it is firmly embedded as a stenographic service seem unable (that word 'seem' is important) to get a grip on what the debate is really about would at first glance appear to be as unsurprising as the religious allegiance of the Vicar of Rome, or ursine defecatory habits; after all, all of those media are based in one, inward-looking and increasingly incestuous city in one equally self-absorbed and inbred political culture. But far more is going on; they know what is at stake in September's referendum. It is the real possibility of a wave of change eroding - or even washing away - the comfortable and comforting assumptions which have underpinned and protected their ways of doing things for so long, thus making them countenance the enforced necessity of real change, allied with their having finally to come to terms with the fact that the Hope and the Glory have - even if they were ever for a moment really there - vanished from the face of the earth, and making them finally adjust to the loss of Empire and its attendant delusions of significance.
And so, the embedded media bring the full force of their weapons of fear and distraction to bear. In their more subtle moments, it is by the deliberate use of certain words - 'separation' is one of them (always to be used in preference to 'independence') - to encourage only one form of thought on the issue. In their less studied (but no less cynical) moods, we find the eructations of hired columnists - many of them claiming an attachment to Scotland, whilst being happily and very gainfully employed in London - who obey the old dictum of the American lawyers, in that when their argument is weak on fact, they emphasise the law, when it's weak on law, they emphasise the facts, and when it's weak on both, they just bang the table. Thus much of what comes out of their columns on this issue (and on many another, truth be told) places them in the 'banger' category, leading to assertions that an independent Scotland would be an economic basket case, that the razor wire and guntowers would spring up across the Cheviots overnight and the gauntlet of these would be run both by those Scots who aspired to following Dr. Johnson's catty remark about "the high road to England" and by the poor English residents of Caledonia who would be streaming away from the pogroms which would inevitably result from giving any nationalism on this island which didn't involve the Union Flag its head for a split second.
This hyperbole carries on to the extent of seeking to personalise the debate. No matter that the First Minister of the government of Scotland has been democratically elected to that post, in the same way that his party has been chosen via secret ballot to govern Scotland as far is Scotland is currently permitted to be governed; to the simian shit-hurlers of London, Alex Salmond is in turns, Mugabe, Stalin, Kim, Mussolini and Hitler (and as the desperation grows in the coming months, no doubt Wee Eck will be characterised as 'all of the above', possibly even simultaneously).
So far, so much par for the course. One might have expected a bit more clarity, a touch more balance and a bit less ignorance from the media in Scotland. One might, but only by being ignorant of the nature of those media. Bear in mind that the press in Scotland is - when it is not owned and therefore controlled outright by interests outside the country's borders - as intrinsic and embedded a part of the pro-Union establishment as its London confrères. So we have the spectacle of a supposedly 'Scottish' media peddling in extenso and con amore the same manufactured 'talking points', the same obscurantist 'arguments' and the same hysteria against the so-called 'Cybernats' as emanate from UKHQ.
In addition, the conduct of the British Broadcasting Corporation (the clue's in the name, folks!) has been rather less than glorious; so much so that, when a noted academic recently published the results of his research which showed that the BBC had leaned very substantially towards the 'No' campaign in both the extent and tone of its coverage, their first response (and the second and third, for that matter) was to seek to discredit the research and traduce the man who had carried it out. But then, one has to remember not only that the BBC in Scotland is still directly ruled from London, but also that most of those who work in it would do this even if it weren't, and for the same reasons as the print media.
That any form of debate might be deemed possible when the weight of media coverage is shifted strongly in one direction - irrespective of which direction - is to yield to symptoms of delusion which are one part Mr. Micawber to three parts Pollyanna. When you throw in the fact that the one thing the 'No' campaign does not seem to want to do is actually, y'know, debate, then it's a wonder that the poll figures show the 'Yes' campaign having any support at all, let alone that the gap between 'Yes' and 'No' seems to be narrowing by the week.
The contrast between the two campaigns could scarcely be more acute. On the 'No' side we see ranged the full spectrum of the three Unionist parties, able to rely on the media to get their message across, and get it across for the most part in the way in which they would like it; on the 'Yes' side, we observe a grass-roots campaign using the internet and social media to expand the message. Whereas the 'No's deploy a batallion of Yesterday's Men, has-beens and never-weres from the senior ranks of Labour, Tory and LibDem alike, the pro-independence campaigners take it to the streets with leaflets (which has led to the odd contretemps involving some mad Rangers supporter or other, the only clear incidents of physical intimidation to have been logged in the campaign, for all the Daily Mail's revolting attempts to claim the contrary), holding fully-open public meetings, forming branches in cities and towns all over, and even staging a fine rally on Edinburgh's Calton Hill back in September.
These are the people who want a proper debate. The 'No' camp quite clearly do not. Time and again, the self-styled 'Better Together' campaign has been invited to send one of its prominent people - Alistair Darling, for example - to debate in a public forum with Dennis Canavan (who is the lead man of the 'Yes' campaign, by the way, not Alex Salmond, although you couldn't be blamed for not knowing that if you rely on the coverage of the official media), and time and again, the 'No's have declined.
It's scarcely to be wondered at, I suppose. After all, over a year into the campaign, and they have yet to provide the people of Scotland with that "positive case for the Union" which they promised from the outset would be their trump card, relying instead on stoking unease in people by claiming that Scotland would be thrown out of the EU the moment it voted 'Yes' (baloney - the only 'evidence' they have for this is a statement from that jumped-up Francoist Mariano Rajoy, whose remarks were strictly for domestic consumption); that Scotland wouldn't be able to use Sterling (crap - it's a fully-tradable currency and the North Koreans, Tajiks and Angolans could use it if they chose); that the oil and gas would run out within ten years and leave Scotland begging for re-admittance to the Glorious Union upon which The Sun never shits (in the same way that an abusive husband would claim that the victim of his spite would soon come back once she missed having her hair pulled out in clumps and regularly raped); or that London would make jolly sure that the uppity natives would have to apply for visas to visit their Uncle Tam in Macclesfield (if Scotland joined Schengen, it would be the remaining Brits who be marginally more likely to have to queue at border control at Gretna or Berwick). No 'positive case' has yet been made, nor is it likely to given that the 'No' campaign even refers to its own efforts as 'Project Fear' with as little sense of shame as they have of irony.
At the same time as refusing to be drawn - at least in what little public debate they so self-effacingly permit themselves - on what would happen to the devolution process (hint: it would stop altogether, or even go into reverse) or the Barnett Formula in the aftermath of a 'No' next September (answer: it would be scrapped, and its replacement - if there were to be one - would be less advantageous to Scotland), they try at the same time to claim that independence would be a busted flush because the 'Yes' camp (which they identify solely with their detested enemy, the SNP, when the 'Yes' campaign is far, far broader than one party - hell, there are even Labour people in it!) can't give a definite statement of what an independent Scottish government's policy would be on off-street parking in Girvan (I exaggerate, but not by that much).
With that level of argument, then it is scarcely to be wondered at that 'Better Together' are reluctant to put even their top talent on the line in public against their opponents, preferring instead to have their cartoon version of the issues mediated by a willing press and television corps.
Which leads me to today's example of Unionist Low Farce, the 'impassioned' speech of one David Cameron (who has, of course, Scottish roots in that his forebears include generations of absentee Highland landlords) begging the people of Scotland not to leave, and telling them how much he cares about them.
It's a bit difficult to work out what he may have been intending by the-intervention-he-promised-he-wouldn't-make-because-it's-a-matter-for-the-people-of-Scotland. Not only was it largely content-free, confining itself to a parade of appeals to sentiment (something which the 'Yes' campaign has been accused of, largely without foundation) but, if it was designed to win the hearts of that substantial proportion of the people of Scotland who say that they haven't yet made their minds up, it has to rank as the most spectacular strategic own-goal since Suez. Of all the people to whom the inhabitants of Scotland would bend an attentive ear when spouting such emotive drivel, David Cameron must be somewhere towards the bottom of the list, just above Donald Trump and just below Jimmy Greaves.
So, why did he do it? And why did he do it from the sanctuary of the former Olympic velodrome in the East End of London rather than in Edinburgh (where his words, indeed his very presence, would have been lapped up by the tame hacks there)?
It could be that, as someone who first rose to any degree of prominence as a flack for a down-market television station, he really does have such a combination of neo-Blairean self-regard allied with a tin ear for communication that he actually does believe that he would be taken as being in earnest in his supplication to the Jockos that he truly, with all of his might, has their interests deep within his soul (which is to make another assumption, of course, but let it pass for now).
Or it could be that today's outpourings of lurve were solely for internal use, to say to the increasingly restive Home And Colonials in his own party (especially those likely to decamp to the Kippers in the European elections coming up), "Look, don't undermine me with your balls about Europe when you can see that I'm fighting so hard to Save The Union, rah, rah!"
Or maybe, just maybe, we have underestimated his tactical nous. Perhaps he actually wants Scotland to go its own way. After all, that would mean it would be easier for him and his chums to claim power in Westminster for evermore without all those Sweat (†) Labour MPs getting in the way (although that is another myth; the only time in the post-war era that Labour has needed its Scottish MPs to govern was between the two knife-edge elections of 1974). How better, then, than today's canting effusions on the bike track to all but encourage a 'Yes' vote whilst appearing to be doing the precise opposite?
This has to be counted as unlikely; if Cameron had any strategic acumen, it would have become apparent some time ago. This is the man, remember, who faced with a deeply unpopular Labour government which had been in power for far too long for any good it might have done, led by a man with negative charisma, and in the middle of an economic depression which was being blamed on said régime, still couldn't win an outright majority under an electoral system rigged to produce one.
So what do I think right now that the result will be in September? There's a long way to go, many battles still to be fought, and plenty of time for mis-steps on both sides. I would like to think that there is still the possibility of a 'Yes' victory, what with the polls narrowing and all. But I am aware of two things: firstly that the 'No' camp have all the levers of formal power under their control, and will not hesitate to use them; and secondly that the 'ties that bind' may actually be chains in the mind, and such chains may be too strong for the people of Scotland to break, whatever consequences of a failure to break them may be demonstrated. It'll be pretty close, in any event.
And, 'Yes' or 'No', the result will have its repercussions across these islands, a subject to which I may return shortly. In the meantime, if you feel you aren't getting the full picture, might I recommend that you check out Wings Over Scotland for a necessary balance to the 'official version' of events?
* "If you vote "Yes", you'll make little Dave cry!"
† Rhyming slang: 'Sweat' = 'Sweaty socks' = 'Jocks'