Category Archives: Scottish Culture

A better nation…?

Scotland's FutureWhen I published Leaning Towards No, I expected reaction from Yes voters who’d been hoping I would come down on their side of the fence.

I wasn’t expecting the reaction to be so supportive of the SNP. From the reactions, [hardly anyone]* who plans to vote Yes intends to challenge the SNP’s plans to install devomax “currency union” in place of our present devolved system, and while some actively support the plan, many simply don’t see changing the SNP’s policy as possible.

*Not quite “no one”, as I initially wrote.

It therefore seems likely that – much to my annoyance and disappointment – I really don’t have any choice but to vote No. I don’t support devomax. I never did. I won’t vote Yes to have devomax replace status-quo devolution, and that’s what the Scottish Government’s White Paper says is going to happen.

Let me go through the various objections I’ve received to this, beginning with the silliest. (None of these are direct quotes from anyone, so if you recognise yourself in them, it’s purely coincidental.)
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Filed under Currency, Indyref White Paper, Scottish Constitution, Scottish Politics

Tolerance and politics

There were two big arguments going on in non-party-political politics the past two years: lifting the ban on same-sex marriage (England and Wales, 29th March: Scotland, sometime this autumn after the Commonwealth Games and this other thing: Northern Ireland as soon as they lose the court case).

Scotland: the 17th Country in the world to lift the ban on same-sex marriageMaking it legal for same-sex couples to marry, matters hugely to people in same-sex relationships, obviously, but to everyone else aside from a small number of seriously homophobic fanatics, it’s no big deal: two-thirds of the population of Scotland agreed that gay marriage should be made legal in a 2012 poll.

This other thing that is happening in Scottish politics: the referendum. In the US, where they have referendums whenever they can get enough voters to sign off on one, they went through a phase of holding referenda in which voters were invited to agree that “marriage is between a man and a woman”, which was then held to mean that marriage between a man and a man, or a man and a woman, was unlawful. In the UK we referend much more rarely, and only – so cynics say – when the government thinks they can get the public to vote the way they want.
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Filed under Currency, LGBT Equality, Scottish Politics

Does the SNP really want independence?

I know that sounds like a silly question.

Back a couple of years ago, one of the ideas being proposed about the referendum was that it should include a third option – devo-max or devo-plus. In July 2012 I noted the multiple reasons why – though undecided on the Yes/No question – I was against these options, and moved on: there seemed no reason to dwell on what was not going to be voted on.

Tom Gordon outlined the difference between the two, and who was supporting them, in the Herald:

Devo Max Devo Plus

Devo-plus was supported by LibDem Tavish Scott, Conservative MSP Alex Fergusson and Labour’s Duncan McNeil plus Reform Scotland, a think-tank based in Edinburgh that is, it says, independent of its parent think-tank Reform based in London:

devo plus could be a credible alternative to independence, if that option was rejected in the referendum.

Devo-max was floated as “full fiscal autonomy” and was supported primarily by the SNP:

Devo Max is intended to make Scotland more accountable for its spending. At present, Holyrood is responsible for 60% of all public spending in Scotland but has a say in setting and raising just 6% of it, through business rates and council tax.

Under Devo Max, Edinburgh would be responsible for raising, collecting, and administering the vast majority of taxes and benefits, and would receive a geographic share of North Sea oil revenue. EU rules mean VAT would stay the same across the UK, and financial regulation, employment, and competition law would also remain reserved.”

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Filed under Currency, Scottish Politics

Cameron in Aberdeen

David Cameron is bringing his Cabinet north to Aberdeen today “to highlight the importance to Scotland’s oil industry of staying in the UK.”

Presumably you have to be Scottish to understand why this is such a ludicrously bad idea. Or at least, not an English Conservative who was 25 and working for the Conservative Research Department in London in 1992.

In the 1992 general election, the Conservative Party won 5 seats in Scotland.

It’s been 22 years and that victory remains the highlight of their electoral achievements in the past quarter-century. (Yes, they do have 14 MSPs in the Scottish Parliament, but most of them are “list” MSPs – they represent a region, not a constituency.)

The most effective thing David Cameron could do to win a No vote for independence in Scotland is to stay in England and repeat some variation on “Of course the Scots have a right to hold a referendum on independence: naturally I want Scotland to remain part of the UK but we will respect the democratic will of the Scottish people whatever happens.”

I actually respected Cameron’s decision not to debate Alex Salmond; I assumed his advisors had let him know it would have done neither Cameron or the Better Together campaign any good in Scotland, however well the English Tory Prime Minister comes across in his own electoral territory.

The notion that a Conservative Prime Minister visiting Aberdeen to tell the Scottish people that we’d never be able to cope with our own oil industry if we were independent so we’d much better stay part of the UK…
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Offshore politics

When the SNP transited smoothly from “we’ll use to the Euro” to “we’ll use the pound” that was a campaign tactic.

When the Tories, LibDems, and Labour all bounced to their feet and said ha ha, we won’t let you use the pound, that was a campaign tactic.

I do not believe either the Yes Scotland or the Better Together campaigns have really thought this through: or at least, they are certainly not making a fact-based argument based on having thought this through.

Ian Bell writes in the Herald:

“Hardball” is the macho cliche being applied to the Chancellor’s fiat towards a currency union. Despite its protestations, Mr Darling’s team pursues the kind of negative campaigning that never goes out of style in Westminster. No compunction is involved. The referendum must be won at all costs. But what might that cost be, exactly, if the prize is a united kingdom in the aftermath?

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Filed under Currency, Economics, Scottish Politics

Bears and woods

There in a scene described in the New Testament where Jesus, having been asked who will be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, calls a small child to him, and tells his disciples “This kid is, and you guys need to become more like little kids, and furthermore, anyone who hurts little kids should have a big stone hung round his neck and dropped into the deepest part of the sea, am I clear?”

(I’m paraphrasing.)

Pope FrancisNo one knows how many priests in the Roman Catholic Church have abused children and are still active as priests in their communities. In each diocese, there are files on the priests who worked there which would make that clear if all of them were opened up, but the Catholic Church has steadily refused to do that.

Four hundred priests who have been accused of child molestation by the secular law authorities have been defrocked. I know of no instance where the Church has defrocked a priest and turned him and the evidence they had uncovered of his abuse of children over to the secular law authorities so that the legal authorities could act.
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Filed under Human Rights, LGBT Equality, Religion, Women

Creeping fascism

England: subdivisions Muslim populationThe population of the UK is about 63 million, and fewer than 5% of the population are Muslim. (In Scotland, 1.4%.) Muslims are slightly more likely to express pride in being British than non-Muslims; are more likely to want to live in diverse, mixed neighbourhoods: and much more likely to identify themselves with Britain. (From a recent study carried out by the University of Essex.)

Muslims are not a majority religion in the UK, and mosques are more likely to be firebombed than churches. The most powerful and dangerous country in the world, whose religious extremism has caused more deaths than any other nation’s, has Christian conservatism at the heart of power, not Islam. The right-wing domestic terrorists of the EDL and SDL march against Islam: the BNP occasionally takes up pickets outside KFCs that provide halal chicken: we see a BBC Question Time panel debate veiled Muslim nurses for 20 minutes without ever asking themselves or the audience “has it ever happened that a nurse wanted to wear hijab on a ward”? Right-wing men go on rants claiming it’s a big feminist deal how Muslim women dress. (It is.) An anti-Islamic pressure group masquerading as a “student rights” organisation is funded by a neocon thinktank. And heavyweights like the Daily Mail and the Telegraph run media campaigns trying to convince people that it’s a very big deal if a shop assistant who prefers not to deal with wine or pork, has her religious preferences met with flexibility by her employer. Right-wingers who wouldn’t support LGBT rights or feminism against any Christian institution get all worked up over the hazards of “Islamic extremism” to women and to gay people.

When you have a right-wing political movement trying to blame all the ills of the country on “immigration”, and presenting a persecuted minority as if they were a huge danger, what does this look like to you?

Because I know what it looks like to me.

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Filed under In The Media, Racism, Religion

Undecided Leith

Undecided About ReferendumAt the beginning of October someone tweeted me a link to Yes Edinburgh North & Leith‘s first public meeting, on 3rd October in the Halls on Henderson Street.

Unlike most Yes events, this one was billed explicitly, both in the header and in the text, as for undecided voters – so, unlike with most events organised by Yes Scotland, I felt free to go along. When I got there, about five minutes before the start, I found some Yes activists who’d come anyway were leaving, and people identifying themselves as undecided were being let in on a one-for-one basis (the hall was packed). I got a seat at the front that had been vacated by a Yes voter and was sitting next to two Yes voters who weren’t budging and who didn’t know Leith votes Labour.

Undecided voters in the audience will have the opportunity to ask a top panel – including Nicola Sturgeon and leading human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar – why they should vote Yes on September 18th next year.

Yes LeithThere were four speakers: Nicola Sturgeon for the SNP, Aamer Anwar for Labour – the only speaker who wasn’t a politician, Margo MacDonald – the woman the SNP tried to get rid of in 2003, still being elected as an Independent MSP for the Lothians – and Chas Booth, the Scottish Green councillor for Leith.

I didn’t know how I was going to vote on the 18th of September when I got there, and when I left I still didn’t know, and six weeks later I still don’t know – but I’d been convinced all over again by the event that I’ll have to make up my mind on my own – because nothing the Yes Scotland campaign or the Better Together campaign say is likely to be helpful.

Lesley Riddoch, though herself a solid Yes voter, puts it bluntly:

the thinking Scot does not want to hear “Just say yes” or “Independence is the normal condition for a country” (tell that to the happily and highly devolved Lander of Germany or the federal states of Canada) or “Independence gives us the chance to decide Scotland’s future” (it does, but devolution’s already given us a stack of choices we haven’t had the courage to use) or “Decisions made in Scotland are better than those made in Westminster” (the trams debacle and Holyrood Parliament scandal spring all too quickly to mind).

It’s not that these bald assertions are untrue. They just aren’t enough. Repeating formulaic arguments won’t cut it in this debate. “Heart” supporters of independence are already signed up. The gullible are least likely to vote. The majority of Scots want grown-up, credible reasons to up-end the constitutional arrangements of several lifetimes.

This, none of the speakers provided, though Chas Booth came closest: unsurprisingly, since the Scottish Greens have spent years of party time thinking about how Scotland could do better. And will continue to do so, I have no doubt, whichever way the referendum next September goes.

You can see for yourself what they all said: Yes Leith had organised a video record.

Chas Booth presented independence as the chance to create a better nation in Scotland. He mentioned a Leither who’d come to him for help, and presented a solid case that she was in less trouble than she might have been had she lived in England, because of Scottish legislation that was keeping the more vulnerable better protected.

And then he said: “Decisions that affect Scotland should be made in Scotland.”

Well yes: but why? Decisions that affect Scotland are also made in Westminster, in Brussels, in Strasbourg, in Geneva, in New York, in Vienna. Independence will not get rid of any of those other external-to-Scotland decisionmakers, nor, I assume, would Chas Booth wish it to – except, presumably, OPEC in Vienna.

Margo MacDonald presented the purely nationalist case for independence: fair enough, until the SNP were foolish enough to think they could drop her from the ballot in 2003 and replace her with someone more in the party mould (stale, pale, male….) she was a member of the Scottish National Party.

I will admit that Margo MacDonald put my back up almost immediately by arguing that she didn’t see why people who planned to vote “no” wanted to call themselves Scots. I have called myself Scottish, British, and European for decades: whichever way I vote in 2014 won’t change that.

By the nationalist argument, I mean the argument for voting yes that rests on the idea that things will magically become better because we are Scottish. We have as much capacity to screw things up as any other nation: I don’t believe in arguments that rest on the idea that Scots are kinder or more just or more socially conscious than the English. Nor do I believe that Scots will necessarily keep voting for left-wing governments, just because we mostly have so far.

Aamer Anwar presented the negative case for independence. Perhaps that’s too a negative a way of putting it. Kenny Farquarson calls it the “I’m not a Nat, but – “ I find it strongly compelling, but it is a negative argument, and one based strongly on the current political situation.

David Cameron’s Tory/LibDem coalition are doing a terrible job running the country. The great institutions – the Royal Mail, the BBC, the NHS, the welfare state itself – that might have been a fine argument for a “No” vote, are being destroyed; broken up and sold off. If the Conservatives win in 2015, or even scrape in with the LibDems to support them, the only way Scotland will keep a national mail service or retain our NHS or keep welfare intact is to go independent. That is an honestly compelling argument, but it’s an argument that depends on David Cameron, Nick Clegg, George Osborne, and the rest of the sorry crew to make it for Yes Scotland.

Even if Labour wins in 2015, it’s fair to say that Ed Miliband and Rachel Reeves and Ed Balls have none of them convinced me that they intend to try to undo what the Tories and LibDems have done. The argument that we need to take the drastic step of independence merely to ensure we’re rid of the Tories lessens in force the better chance there seems to be of Labour getting in – but it doesn’t go away, because Ed Miliband and the rest of his crew aren’t standing up and committing themselves to ensure the Royal Mail is re-nationalised, the NHS is re-founded, the welfare state is re-formed: still less to undoing the damage done by Tony Blair’s New Labour government.

So, that’s an argument. But, it’s not a good argument. It doesn’t present voting Yes as a positive choice, merely as a desperate manoeuvre to destroy the bridge in order to stymie the pursuing wolves. The wolves are still there, still hungry, still rabid: all we’ve done is cut ourselves off from them while leaving them loose just across the Border, with allies north of the Border.

Are we justified in doing that? If the Conservatives – or the Tories/LibDems – look likely to get into government again in 2015, yes we are: that would be self-preservation. But it doesn’t look likely that they will: so far Labour is well ahead in the polls.

And then Nicola Sturgeon spoke.

Nicola Sturgeon is a good speaker and an admirable politician. She spoke about putting the levers of government into our hands. And primarily because of that, I thought I’d wait til the White Paper came out today to post about the Yes Leith event, because I didn’t want to be told “oh, wait for the SNP to publish Scotland’s Future!” Well, they have, and it confirms what Sturgeon told me in response to my question about these “levers of government”.

The plan from the White Paper, which is much as Nicola Sturgeon described it briefly on that night in October, is that if Scotland votes a definite Yes* in 2014, then on Thursday 26th March 2016 Scotland becomes independent and six weeks later on Thursday 5th May 2016 the first election for a Scottish Parliament will be held, elected under the current system of Regional party lists and constituency first-past-the-post, and this new Parliament will be responsible from Friday 6th May onwards for creating a Constitutional Convention to determine how newly-independent Scotland will be governed.

The next General Election in Scotland after 2016 would be in 2020 if, by that time, the 129 MSPs have decided Scotland will continue to follow the four-yearly general elections laid out in “Scotland’s Parliament: Scotland’s Right”.

The development of a constitutional government for devolved Scotland took seven years to work out, from the initial decision in 1988 to the publication in 1995: and it was not implemented until 1999. If we assume that the Constitutional Convention envisaged by the SNP as being set up some time in 2016 proceeds at about the same pace, probably there will be a Scottish Constitution published for us to think about by 2023 – a year before the second general election of the independent Scotland.

I have said for over a year now, and at this point it’s far too late: the time to think about presenting a Constitution to Scottish voters would have been before the referendum. I think Yes will lose: it will be interesting to see if one of the follow-on effects of a lost Yes vote will be a renewal of interest in developing a Constitution. This would be easier to do across party lines and with real effort to be inclusive, if it were not happening under pressure to get it done in time for a referendum or a general election. (I suspect, supposing Yes were to win, that the Constitutional Convention would be instructed to hurry up and get it done in time for campaigning, well before 2020.)

The Constitution for an independent Scotland would be far more important than any stagey TV “debate” between David Cameron and Alex Salmond. (Which will never happen, because Cameron and his advisers know perfectly well it would win them no votes in Scotland, no matter how well Cameron presented himself and his arguments for voting No.)

North Pole lake

There is the red herring of whether Scotland would be in the EU, the important but not particularly debatable question of what currency Scotland would have, human rights questions – we are not magically less racist or less homophobic or less sexist than other nations – questions about Scotland’s oil and our territorial waters and global warming.

But what was my question to Nicola Sturgeon?

I asked what would change about Scotland’s governance if we voted Yes.

Nicola Sturgeon had said the SNP wanted to “put the levers of government into our hands”. That should mean, if it means anything, that the centralisation of powers to the Parliament in Holyrood would be reversed: a campaign for real local government, for an increase in the number of local authorities, for an end to the practice of instructing local government what their policies will be and forbidding them from raising their own funds from local taxation: an end to siding with billionaires over locals.

We will lose 59 Scottish MPs. The 129 MSPs will find their workload double or triple, as they must do what Westminster MPs do, what they now do, and also are responsible for setting up the Constitutional Convention. Either their funding for personal staff increases, or don’t expect a good response time if you’ve got a problem you want your MSP to help with.

Nothing below that level will change. We will continue a system of local government that is quite literally the least democratic in Europe, until or unless the Scottish Constitutional Convention, appointed by MSPs, proposes a change.

Simon Brookes notes the state of Scottish local democracy today compared to the smaller countries that the SNP are so fond of citing:

Iceland is an extreme case, of course; a nation of proud and independent people with an ancient history of democratic organisation, and strong civil society. But Denmark, with a population roughly equal to Scotland’s, has three times as many local authorities. Norway, with three quarters our population, has 400 more local authorities than Scotland has.

Put it differently: Dumfries and Galloway has three times the population of the average Danish local authority; four times of the average Swedish or Dutch; twelve times the average for Norway; thirty six times the average for Iceland. I said Iceland was an extreme case, didn’t I? Get this. Dumfries and Galloway has eighty four times the population of the average – the average – French commune.

To say this system will continue until further notice is not “putting the levers of government into our hands”: it is ensuring the levers of government stay centralised and far away from us, our only access to them much what it is now: except that we lose 59 MPs at Westminster.

What struck me about the evening at Yes Leith was that even though the evening had been billed as for undecided voters (and I do appreciate the Yes voters who went back out into a cold and rainy night to let those of us undecided have a seat – thank you!) there appeared to be no thought by any of the four speakers or by most of the audience that one could listen to Yes speakers evangelising for independence, and still not be convinced, because nothing new has been said and nothing definite offered, to give me a reason to vote Yes beyond the negative reason “The others are worse”. So, I remain undecided.

Yes Scotland are talking to themselves. They don’t want to hear from the undecided. The same is true of Better Together, but the status quo does have an advantage: it’s Yes Scotland that needed to pay attention to the undecided, and hasn’t and doesn’t.

*Note: I would say for a definite Yes they need a 60% turnout and a clear majority from those who voted. The last time Scottish voters had a 60%+ turnout was for the Scottish devolution referendum in 1997. I know that the SNP got the Tories to agree to a simple Yes/No vote and a simple majority of those who voted, but if turnout for the independence referendum is below 50%, I do believe that’s an answer: not enough people care about the issue for constitutional change. Low turnout is itself an answer, just not one that politicians want.

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Filed under Elections, Scottish Culture, Scottish Politics

Scotland’s for marriage

Elaine Smith MSPElaine Smith MSP, deputy presiding officer in the Scottish Parliament, argued for polygamy in her written evidence to the Equal Opportunities Committee last year, as the Scotland on Sunday anti-gay marriage story this morning quotes:

“Whilst the government has said that it has no intention of allowing polygamous marriages as part of this legislation which changes the essential nature of marriage, it has not explained in any detail and with research analysis its reasons for taking that position.

“Further, if the government is sincere about its support for ‘equal love’ then it appears to have a contradiction on its hands.”

There is “no logical reason” for discriminating against more than two people getting married if the redefinition of marriage is driven by love, Ms Smith adds.

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Shouting in the street

Josh WilliamsonJosh Williamson is from Brisbane, Australia: he now lives in Perth. Nothing wrong with that: Perth is nice. He’s the new pastor at the Craigie Reformed Baptist Church, induction speaker from Grace Baptist Partnership “Helping Christians Plant Churches”.

The Grace Baptist Partnership doesn’t think much of Scotland:

Those witnessing to urban Scots will be struck by the ‘No Religious Callers’ signs they see at people’s doors. The poor, living on rough housing schemes, refuse to answer. The rich live in apartments with secure entry systems. The elderly reside in care homes where matronly managers prohibit religious visits or literature. The young are predictably fearful of strangers. Many open their doors clutching a phone to their ear; too techno-connected to interface with a person. We live in an isolated society.

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Filed under Police, Religion, Scottish Culture