Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Joy of Sects

It was once observed, not entirely frivolously, that the Scottish Labour Party has got more factions than it has got members.

It can't be denied that the Leader of the Labour Group on Glasgow City Council is a man (or very occasionally woman) who survives at all only by virtue of sleeping with one eye open. Sinilarly, no sooner had we gained control of the first Scottish Parliament and with no inkling on anybody's part of the tragedy to follow, manoeuvring started as to would be best placed to be Donald's successor, even though that eventuality was, then, anticipated to be at least six years away. Then Henry won by virtue of being willing to stand and not being Jack; Henry fell as it quickly became apparent that his only qualification for the position was "not being Jack"; Jack took his revenge; then he fell; then Wendy did finally stand but was then brought down by a leak which could only have come from within the Labour Party itself; then Iain Gray did the decent thing and most recently we have had Johann, although even she is not immune from mutterings that she "Won't do" for May 2016. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.

But there is something that I think was overlooked in the anticipation of the Independence referendum. When the chips are down, Scottish Labour knows, firstly, if not what it is for then certainly what it is against and secondly than when it's very existence is under threat then even the joy of sects must be put to one side (at least temporarily).

We've been there three times in my lifetime: with the first SNP surge of the seventies; with the SDP split and most recently since 2011. (No harm to the Nats but at the time 2007 was regarded very much as temporary aberration).

In each of these three potentially terminal situations the Party has rallied; the ground troops have actually got on the ground and the threat has been seen off.

Those who thought Scottish Labour would fight the referendum divided on tactics and unmotivated on effort must now surely concede that hope to have been unfounded. And that's not going to change in the next three weeks.

But that's not my main topic tonight.

The SNP themselves are no strangers to factionalism. Labour has never got to the point where we expelled a future Party leader or more recently deselected our most high profile and popular elected representative!

But it has to be conceded that since Salmond's return to the leadership the Party has shown a remarkable discipline. It is inconceivable that the numerous republicans in SNP ranks are all now content to be loyal subjects of the Queen; or that more than a few are truly convinced of Salmond's currency strategy; or indeed that intellectually many can truly reconcile "British unity bad" with "European Unity good".

But silence has prevailed for good reason. Firstly, Mr Salmond is entitled to their loyalty. On any view he has been electorally a  remarkably successful leader. Anyway, he is the best leader they've got. Secondly, whether they like it or not, the Salmond way is the only way. It is only his proposition which is on the ballot paper on 18th September. No point in arguing about things before then. On any view his Yes is still better than any conceivable No.

So recent developments are worth considering.

Firstly, the Nats have started to leak over internal disagreements on strategy, most recently in Fife. Eighteen months back it is inconceivable that no-one in the SNP was unconcerned as to how Bill Walker had become a candidate in light of what the leadership knew about him. But not a whisper appeared publicly. This week the fact that their leading remaining Fife MSP has fallen out with their local convenor over referendum tactics is suddenly all over the Dundee Courier.

Then we have the strange case of Mr Alex Bell and the serialisation of his diary in (of all places) the Daily Mail. For what it is worth I agree with much of his criticism of the Yes campaign, I have said as much on this blog. That's not the point. Patently the Nationalists can't change their pitch now, even more so as if it was seen to be in response to articles in..... the Daily Mail! So what is the point of publishing this book now? Mr Bell's views would surely be of as much interest on September 20th. Unless of course Yes win when he would be saved a considerable embarrassment by quietly binning the manuscript.

But most tellingly of all we have the activities of Mr Jim Sillars. I've spoken to a few people who have attended Mr Sillars evangelical events, some of them committed Yes voters. They have all expressed the same curiosity as to what transpires. Mr Sillars expends almost as much of his oratory attacking Mr Salmond than he does advocating Scottish Independence.

Now, let us for the moment assume that the purpose of these meetings is truly to persuade genuinely undecided voters of the virtues of a Yes vote. Does anybody really think that an undecided voter is likely to be persuaded to vote Yes by a Yes platform that proceeds on the basis that the leader of the Yes campaign is a man who doesn't have a clue what he is doing?

No. That's indeed why my Yes voting informants found the whole thing so curious.

Nor is it any more likely that Mr Bell truly thinks that he is offering last minute helpful guidance or indeed that the Fife SNP are truly fighting like cats in a sack over the best way to win.

The fight now taking place is not about September 18th. It is about framing the terms of the debate on September 19th. About who takes the blame for the defeat and, since it is clear that is to be Mr Salmond, more importantly who is to absolved of blame. For the prize at stake is not now Scottish Independence but rather the future leadership of the SNP.

So that's what is really going on at Mr Sillars "public" meetings. The important audience is not the unconverted. It is too late for them to exist in sufficient numbers for them to be important. Rather, the important people in the hall (the vast majority anyway) are the true believers seeking an explanation as to why they have lost and who might, at some future date, secure a different outcome. In that regard it is of interest to note who regularly sits next to Mr Sillars at these public meetings, demurring at no point from Sillars' rhetorical assault on the First Minister and his strategy.  I mean not the miscellaneous Trots or Greens rolled out to make up the numbers but rather the other reasonably well known face on the platform. The most prominent figure at the Cabinet table around whom the venn diagram of nationalist fundamentalism and infantile leftism intersects.

I mean Mr Alex Neil.



Thursday, 21 August 2014

Off to War.

In the Spring of 1992, as it does every Spring, the Scottish Labour Party held a conference.

That Spring it was in Edinburgh and was a curtailed event for we knew that within two months there was to be a General Election. The faithful were rallied but little more was achieved. A mood of both anticipation and apprehension was in the air.

We'd been out of power for thirteen years but we had come through the darkest days of 1983 and the holding exercise of 1987. There was every chance that we were on the verge of returning to power.

On the last night of the conference Mo and I went for dinner with a big group of similarly minded comrades and a few discreet journalistic sympathisers.  The centre of attention however was one man, Neil Stewart.

Neil had been President of NUS Scotland and someone most of us had already known for fifteen years. But while we were still "on the ground" activists based in seats that, win or lose, would remain resolutely Labour, Neil was now at the centre of the high command. Working directly with Neil Kinnock in London as his deputy Chief of Staff.

Unsurprisingly, while he clearly just wanted a night off, the rest of us wanted to know Neil's real thoughts. Not "could we win", we all believed that, but rather "would we win", a matter on which he would surely have a better insight than the rest of us. In the end however, he admitted he had no more idea than we did. We had got to the point where we had a chance. That was all.

At the end of the night we all individually shook his hand and wished him all the best. And we then all went off to the war.

That was the last General Election about which I had any doubt, at the start, about the outcome.

In 1997, it was as clear as day that, by the time the election was called, we were going to win. As indeed it was in 2001 and 2005.

Just as it was clear in 2010 that we were going to lose, although not perhaps quite as clear as it had been in 1983 or 1987.

Margins of victory can have a strategic significance. Labour still being second in 1983 was important, as was Cameron's failure to win outright the last time round. But, immediately, all that matters is who has won and who has lost. And if you know that in advance it does rather take off the edge.

My side is clearly going to win the Referendum. All this "some Labour voters will vote Yes" (true) and "people who have never voted before will vote this time" (less true), can't disguise the fact that even areas that have consistently returned SNP members of Parliament and local authorities for the best part of twenty years; patently, even there, voters have no intention of endorsing Independence.

Once the dust settles the margin will be important but that is not how it will feel for either side in the early hours of 19th September.

And you got that distinct impression today, as the Scottish Parliament broke up.  Older Nats were coming to terms that this is probably the only attempt in their political lifetime. Younger ones to the years of non ideological but competent occupation of public office that might form their only possible consolation prize.

For the unionists Parties there remained the slight irritation that we are going through this at all but at the same time the realisation that, no matter what spoils will fall to us (mainly, I suspect, to the Tories) in May 2015, we are still some way come the May 2016 elections in having a coherent platform that will ensure political nationalism is put to bed forever.

But neither side really doubted the result in four weeks time.

Not that a lot of heat, if not light, will be generated in the meantime. Or that the ultimate margin won't be of a longer term significance.

For that reason at least there is no room for complacency




Sunday, 17 August 2014

All aboard the Independence Convoy


So, five more weekend blogs until polling day.

I quite like politics so I’m not really one to complain about the length of the campaign. What however is undeniable is that, despite its length, some of those saying that they intend to vote Yes simply have no idea what they are voting for.

The obvious example is the currency. I’ve pointed out before that when Eck declares that “there will be a currency union” he never for a moment goes on to say “and if there isn’t we’ll call the whole thing off” but it is clear that some at least of those telling pollsters they will vote Yes do so assuming we  would keep the Pound. They won’t however be offered the chance to vote again if/when we are not.

Then again, many voting Yes openly state they don’t want to keep the Pound. That this would, at best, be a temporary expedient. A future Scottish Government of their preferred political complexion would pursue a different policy. This fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the Currency Union Eck (even fancifully) proposes. This would be an international treaty that bound future Governments on both sides for at least a prescribed fixed period. Indeed, insofar as I understand Eck’s proposal, in perpetuity. If the treaty read instead that “there will be a Currency Union but only so long as one side and the other wants it” then it would be worthless. The markets would smash it in five minutes by simply being unwilling to trade Scottish issued Pounds and British issued Pounds on the same basis since the issuers themselves would, at the point of issue, have conceded that the two currencies might, at some future point, have different values. That is what destroyed the Czech/Slovak currency union so quickly.

So, although the” Vote Yes means we’ll keep  the Pounders” and the “Vote Yes and we’ll ditch the Pounders” are both voting Yes they are patently voting for quite different things.

Quite who gets to “interpret” their vote is something I’ll come back to.

I do however want to make a point that it seems to date my own team have failed insufficiently to articulate. A separate Scottish Currency is potentially disastrous for the poor. There is no point in the Scottish Government simply stating that “A Scottish Pound is worth the same as an English Pound.” Assuming that it was an internationally convertible currency that parity would not be their decision. And it is inconceivable that initially at least the new currency of a Country with no economic track record would stand the test against that of a currency with three hundred and more years of international tradability. I’ve pointed out that this is specifically the reason that the Scottish Government’s own Council of Economic advisers specifically recommended against this option.

But let’s assume that the Scottish Government went ahead anyway (in my view it would be their only viable option)  and then paid Scottish Social Security benefits  on the basis of their assertion that the two Currencies “are” worth the same. That assertion would be worthless when the recipients of these benefits tried to spend their Scottish Pounds in the shops. For the prices in the shops, not least for imported FOOD, (and that is an awful lot of our food) would reflect the International value of the Pound Scots. And the option of paying out more Pounds Scots in Social Security Benefits to compensate for the reduced value of the currency, even setting aside which taxes  would be raised to fund this, would, in any event, simply lead to an inflationary spiral that devalued the currency even further.

And just in case you think it would only be those directly dependent on the state who would be affected, so would anybody with a Scottish House and a Sterling mortgage. Not only would their house be instantly worth less, in real term;  unless they hade been foresighted enough to renegotiate its terms, any mortgage obligation to a British Bank would continue to be payable, by them, in Sterling while they themselves were only being paid in Pounds Scots. I joked in the past, but it was not entirely a joke, that if my only consideration in voting was the interests of lawyers I would be as enthusiastic for Yes as Alex Salmond. For the potential emergency remortgage work and later repossession litigation would be enormous.

And finally, just in case the public sector salariat think themselves immune, they might have contributed to their pensions in Sterling but the Scottish Government can “honour” them in whatever currency they wish.

When a currency is devalued it always impacts on domestic living standards but this is usually disguised by the diversity of foreign trade and the feature that since the abandonment of fixed exchange rates (modern) devaluation takes place gradually. Here we are talking about instant devaluation of our currency against that of the Country with which 70% of our trade is conducted. Think that through. Although, to be fair, it would be good for exporters. And, as I say, lawyers.

It seems to me however that, to date, my team have allowed the impression that whatever currency we use is a matter of grand economics and possibly sentiment but actually of little day to day significance. Tell that to the Greeks.

But,  and here is my central point. If you vote Yes you are voting for whatever you get and the arbiter of what you get will be Alex Salmond. The express proposition in the White Paper is that the current Scottish Government be given a mandate to negotiate the terms of Independence and that Independence take place before any opportunity arises  to replace that Government. And no matter whether I,  or Jim Sillars or Patrick Harvie, like it, the current Scottish Government enjoys an absolute majority at Holyrood. So to those who suggest that “The wider Yes movement” (setting aside for the moment whether such a thing actually exists) would have a say, I reply “how”? Mr Harvie leads a minority opposition Party with two MSPs. Mr Sillars isn’t elected to anything and it is unclear to me how he ever would be.

But I close with perhaps a question possibly even more important than currency. Membership of the EU.

A good number of those voting Yes assert they are doing so for fear that otherwise “The English” might, at some future date vote to take us all out of the EU. Setting aside the frankly ludicrous proposition that we could remain in the EU if the rest of Britain, with whom we do 70% of our trade and with whom we wish to maintain an open border, opted to leave, I will take these Europhile nationalists at their word.

The shortest ever negotiations to join the EU involved  Finland and took 31 months from start to finish. Now, let’s just take from that that there is a possibility, at least, that negotiations for Scottish membership would not be concluded in the 18 months between September 2014 and March 2016, the future date we would putatively, on 18th September 2014, have voted for Scottish Independence to take place. Who would decide what objective was given priority? The current Holyrood Administration. That is expressly what the White Paper says is authorised by a Yes vote.

So, if you want to remain in the EU and nonetheless intend to vote Yes you are expressly delegating that decision to Alex Salmond and, in March 2016, trusting him to prioritise your desire for EU membership over his desire to achieve his life long ambition of Independence. And to do so knowing he faced an election in May 2016.

So long as you vote Yes on that understanding, and are fully aware of what you are doing, fair enough. But don’t complain after the event. For the First Minister will be in possession of “The Sovereign will of the Scottish people” and you will have given it to him.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Two changes of tactic

It may have passed you by this week but in the aftermath of the debate both sides have changed tactics.

It has been one of the assertions of the Yessers to maintain that a Yes vote is not just (in some cases not even) a vote against the United Kingdom, it is rather a vote against "austerity". Even in his opening remarks on Tuesday, Salmond spoke more about the evils of current government policy than about the case for Independence. Not only did this ignore the fact that his Party had advocated separation just as strongly when Clement Attlee was Prime Minister, when, as I have previously pointed out they objected to the formation of the NHS because they didn't believe in the "N" bit, it also effectively ignored reality.

Almost all independent commentators suggest that the current account position of an Independent Scotland (dictating "affordable" public spending) would be worse than that faced if we continued in the UK. I appreciate however that Eck doesn't normally proceed on the weight of opinion but on the few exceptions who support his side. So I will as well.

The Scottish Government's own hand picked Council of economic advisers admit that an Independent Scotland would face a choice between cuts in public spending and higher taxes. To be honest that is hardly rocket science since it is the choice that faces pretty much every country in the world. But since SNP policy favours lower taxes we know where Salmond stands on that choice.

So even on his own premise the idea that a Yes vote means an end to austerity is a dishonest proposition.

But it is one that to date has gone largely unchallenged by my own Party.

There is a reason for this.

Both campaigns focus group. The objective is not to identify what best fires up the respective faithful but rather to find out what influences the undecided or persuadable.

And here our side found out something really interesting about this group. There is a potential message from Yes that we struggle to counter and it is essentially this.

"Independence might be hard economically, at least initially, but Scotland is a Country and most Countries have their own Government. Nobody is suggesting we would starve, so surely it is worth a bit of hardship for us to be a normal Country? Is it not a bit unpatriotic to think otherwise?"

Except, as we all know, that hasn't been the message.

And the alternative line from the Yessers, the one they have gone with, that  "There is no downside at all" is met from the same key audience with the response it would get if advanced for any other proposition. "If something sounds too good to be true that is probably because it is too good to be true."

From there it is not difficult to lead them to the conclusion that "If they are lying about this, what else are they lying about?"

So, to date, we've largely let this "milk AND honey" stuff go unchallenged for fear that the Nats might change tack. But with five weeks to go it is too late for that now on their part and like Zhukov at Stalingrad we have concluded we can close the trap.

So from Ed on Friday, Douglas Alexander in today's Scotland and Sunday and Johann's speech this afternoon you will have noticed a distinct change of tone. The Nats might be suggesting to those on the bottom rung of society that "those with nothing to lose have nothing to lose from independence".

We however will from now till 18th September be countering that, thanks to the Welfare State built by (British) Labour, very, very few have literally nothing to lose. But if they take the chance on Independence they risk losing even that. For a flag. And you can't eat a flag,

One day, the Nats will wonder how their supply line got so extended and to reflect how, to continue my Stalingrad analogy, the various Trots on their extended flanks suddenly proved as reliable as the Romanians proved to Von Paulus' 6th Army. But that day will be after 18th September.

So that is the first change of tactic. But there has been a change too on the other side. Eck and the disciplined centre around him have been badly wounded by Tuesday's debate and as a result the bonkers brigade never far from Scottish Nationalism have felt free to slip their leash.

This group have discovered that there is apparently a "secret oil field" that would transform the economic prospects of an independent Scotland but which is to be kept a secret until 19th September. Don't take my word for that. ask Newsnet, Jim Sillars or any number of cybernats. They know this because, back in July, David Cameron paid a secret visit to it. It is west of Shetland (or maybe not, I'll come back to that) and it is "the biggest oilfield in the world".

They know that Mr Cameron paid this secret visit since it was discovered by them through....................................................Twitter, where Mr Cameron foolishly revealed to them his secret mission by tweeting a picture of himself alongside a message saying "Here I am in Shetland". And just in case you thought he might be trying to throw them off the scent and was actually somewhere else (like Ayrshire, I'll come back to that) he followed this up by another tweet saying "Here is a picture of me with a Shetland Pony on Shetland."

Now, as you know, any Prime Minister on being told there was a secret oilfield would not just be prepared to take that on trust. He would demand to view it with his own eyes. Just like the discovery of, for example, the biggest sunflower field in the world , he would want to see it himself and observe, "Gosh, that's a lot of sunflowers" So, the cybernats have discovered, Cameron wanted to go to Shetland and look out to sea and go "Gosh, that's a lot of oil." Before of course observing that they had best keep this a secret from the Scottish Nationalists. And then tweeting his whereabouts.

But that is not the only secret oilfield! There is another one! In Ayrshire! Really. Well really according to Jim Sillars. It is in the Firth of Clyde and everybody has known about it for years. Well, Mr Sillars has. Since he's from Ayrshire originally and one can only assume no-one else has been let out since.  But apparently this oilfield has been kept a secret because if you built any rigs to extract the oil it would prevent Trident submarines sailing up and down the Clyde (I'm not making this up).

Now, anybody familiar with the relative size of submarines, oil rigs and the Firth of Clyde might think that peaceful coexistence was possible but apparently not! The submarines might collide with the oil rigs! Whether this is because the Royal Navy is not very good at steering or whether it is because the oil rigs might move about when nobody is looking hasn't yet been fully explained. I have no doubt however that this will be exclusively revealed in Newsnet next week. And then shamefully not reported in the Main Stream Media.

Now, you might say, this is a strange change of tactic by Yes Scotland. It might just lead some people to conclude that a significant element among the nationalists' support is made up of wide eyed conspiracy theorists. It might also lead others to doubt the competence of the SNP Government at Holyrood if, after seven years in power, they haven't noticed any of these secret oilfields apparently dotted about left, right and centre off our coastline.

But no. This is apparently a gamechanger. Even as we speak 20,000 secret oil field leaflets have been produced by Yes and, if twitter is anything to go by, demand will way exceed supply.

And so, I finish with this observation. Eck will debate again with Alistair on 25th August. The last time the killer question was "What currency will we use"? This time I think it might be "Are there any secret oil fields"? Difficult choice for him between "No" (i.e. "many of my supporters are lunatics") and....................och, I don't want to add to the man's troubles.

Off to wait for tonight's poll. I look forward to Blair Jenkins observing that the polling was conducted before the discovery of the secret oil fields. And possibly to disclosing that there's another one now been found in Strathclyde Park.



Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Watershed


So, Eck didn’t do as well as most people, myself included, expected.

There has been acres of analysis today as to why.  Some of it on the more cerebral Nationalist side has been dedicated to asserting Eck had actually won. It was just that the rest of us hadn’t realised that.

I could spend time demolishing that but in some ways it would be unimportant. Eck lost because the consensus is that he lost.

Of much more interest is whether it was important. And it was.

It was important in three ways.

Firstly an awful lot of people were watching. Far more than I anticipated. Kind of restores your faith in politics to engage. Enough said.

Secondly, it legitimised the No argument. In his closing argument Eck tried, too late, to roll out what has been an underlying theme of the SNP campaign. To vote Yes was to be brave.

It didn’t matter if that was “true”. This wasn’t a matter of truth or lie. It was the articulation of a state of mind.  And it had a considerable traction.

I spoke recently to a Labour politician who had spoken at a public debate at a highland venue. He felt that his side had had the better of the platform speeches but had been rather taken aback as to the strength of Yes sentiment in the body of the hall. And the absence of support on his side. His location was sufficiently remote to rule out this being bussed in support for the Yessers. Perhaps Nationalist support was stronger (at least in this part of Scotland) than my friend had anticipated?

Except that, this being an attractive location, politics aside, my friend didn’t depart the next day but rather stayed on for a few days holiday. During which he was repeatedly approached by people privately, some of whom who had even been at the meeting, to confess their loyalty to the Union. “But you know how it is, you don’t want to speak up.”

Before yesterday, if to vote Yes was brave then, by implication at least, to vote No was cowardly. And nobody wants to admit cowardice, even if that is the entirely sensible option. That has changed.

I was out and about today. I spoke to various people in my own office and at the Court.  For good or ill my own loyalties are well known so people do engage me in conversation about the Referendum.

I would like to say that previous Yessers confessed second thoughts but they didn’t. What however did happen was that people who had clearly always been on my side but had felt it appropriate to keep their own counsel suddenly felt emboldened to speak up. I might have always thought Salmond to be a charlatan but suddenly they felt willing to say so as well.

Argument from anecdote is always dangerous but it is my feeling that this is a wider sentiment today. Not a gamechanger but rather a watershed.

The third reason last night was important is because Eck didn’t lose on style, he lost on substance.

When the “Westminster Parties” ruled out a currency union it was badly mis-handled. One of the rules of a democracy is that a politician must not appear to be an arrogant bastard. Even if he or she is an arrogant bastard. Although many politicians (mostly but not exclusively men) undoubtedly are.

But if there was a textbook example of arrongant bastardy then it must surely have been George Osborne’s visit to Scotland in February to rule out a currency union. Turn up, make a speech, take no questions, give no interviews, just dictate terms and then head off back to London.

And so the Nats could respond at the time by doing little more than saying “What an arrogant bastard”.

And that kind of worked. Except that it ignored the fact that, combined with the statements of Ed Balls and Danny Alexander, the idea of a currency union had been taken off the table.

It might well have led to an easy cheer at the various “public” meetings of the faithful that they are holding across the Country for the Nats to announce “George Osborne says we can’t have a currency union. What an arrogant bastard!” Except that this ignored that, even if he was an arrogant bastard, it was nonetheless his (elected) privilege to be so. And rejection of a currency union would be his (or any possible successor’s) decision. For no matter what an Independent Scotland might mean it would not conceivably involve the right to appoint the Government of England and Wales.

Last night the chickens came home to roost on the Nats forgetting that the converted are not the audience they need to....(eh)......convert.

Be in no doubt, this was not a one off. Every time Eck or Nicola now put their heads above the parapet the same question will be shot at them. What is your currency Plan B? Of course, if there was any answer that might increase their support then one or other would give it. Except that they know that there is no such answer. That is their problem.

And just before Eck thinks that he might as well get back into the ring here is another question Alistair might as well have put in a similar format. If we vote yes and negotiations to join the EU are not concluded by Independence Day on 24th March 2016, what happens then?
Twelve minutes of cross examination is too long to evade answering and hope to run out the clock. As the First Minister discovered last night.
Although, in a different way, the clock is now running out on him.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Not a gamechanger


So, unsurprisingly, the Commonwealth Games have not proved to be a gamechanger for the Nats.

In the Spring, against the background of the polls stubbornly failing to move, the Nationalists briefed that they expected three things to change in their favour before September 18th.

The first was that Scotland would vote differently from the rest of the UK at the Euro elections and would clearly reject UKIP. Well, we all know how that ended up. Despite the Scottish Nationalists having already hovered up much of the potential UKIP vote North of the Border

The second was that the UK opinion polls would move decisively in favour of the Tories. Who knows, that might somehow still happen over the dog days of August and early September but somehow I doubt it. The real battle between Labour and the Tories will only begin to be joined at the Party Conferences and these are scheduled to post date the Referendum. And it is to be joined with Labour ahead.

The third was to be the Commonwealth Games which were apparently to show that Scotland was capable of putting on a World class sporting event. Taken at face value this was a bit strange since nobody but the Nationalists ever doubted that we were. What they really meant was that they hoped that Scotland and England competing separately at the event would transmute the anglophobia of the SNP into the wider population.

Suffice to say that hasn’t happened. English competitors have not just been welcomed in Glasgow on the same terms as those of other nations. They (and the Welsh and Northern Irish) have enjoyed partisan support at a level only one small notch down from that extended to our own home team. You don’t need to take my word for that.  It was said by no greater authority than Lynsey Sharp on Radio Five Live this morning. And, without for a moment straying into overt politics, Scotland’s other medallists in the Olympic disciplines have then, over and over again, reflected in victory as to how much, while they had enjoyed the experience of competing in the “Friendly Games” against those more commonly their team mates, for tougher challenges ahead they looked forward to returning to the combined resources of Team GB.

And then of course we have the BBC. One really does wonder what possessed the Nationalists, while the national broadcaster was bringing us all this world class coverage, much of it fronted by Scottish presenters sitting alongside Scottish sporting legends, to respond by complaining about the prominent roles of Gary Lineker and Clare Balding on the grounds that they were English (“bastards”). That however paled into insignificance beside the rabble they mustered outside Pacific Quay on the middle Sunday of the games to demand that the BBC be banned altogether in Scotland!

Suffice to say I suspect that, one day, this latter event will be acknowledged to be misconceived in its timing.  At the very least.

So, so far, the proposed gamechangers have not changed the game. Don’t believe me, just look at the opinion polls.

And, thus, the Nats are now left with one last desperate play.

Having avoided doing so for months, Alex Salmond himself has graciously agreed to debate (on one occasion only) with Alistair Darling. He had of course already agreed to this back in July before running away (again) and he has yet failed to confirm whether he will ever do so again. But nonetheless, saving a mystery illness striking down the First Minister, this is to happen on Tuesday.

Well, here I am going to say something that might surprise you. Eck shouldn’t have been so scared. I think he will do alright.

There is a certain section of the nationalist movement who credit Eck with messianic properties. I suspect for some at least that flows from the assumption that if only one Party speaks for “the Nation” then the Leader of that Party must be beyond criticism. For to criticise the leader is to criticise the nation itself.  That has certainly been my experience on twitter this past week but it is more generally the pattern of nationalist politics the world over.

I’m obviously not in that camp but, to paraphrase the Pythons, while Eck might not be the messiah he is certainly a very able boy.

STV are understandably “bigging up” this event but, even as somebody immersed in the constitutional debate, I am not exactly looking forward to two hours of engagement  in various different formats, about an issue on which I have heard every possible argument. I will nonetheless watch it. So will lots of committed partisans on both sides. But, let’s be honest, the vast majority of still undecided voters are people who are not that interested in politics.

So the chances of many of the don’t knows sitting through all one hundred and twenty minutes of politics in preference to River City or watching Celtic in the Champions League Qualifier is, shall we say, improbable. And that is before you consider that the (generally) good weather appears predicted to continue on the evening.

Thus the outcome of the debate is unlikely to be called by those who have sat it out all the way.  For those who will, I confidently predict now that I will call it for Alistair while Stephen Noon will call it for Eck.

But the more important outcome will be called by the journalists watching. And here they would have to declare an interest. Although they won’t.  “Already losing side fails to convince” is not a story, whereas “Eck gives Yes a fighting chance” undoubtedly is.

And it will also turn on soundbites. While I have the greatest regard for Comrade Alistair and have no doubt all the facts are on his side...... if I was choosing between him and Eck in a soundbite competition.....

So expect the press to call it for Eck and STV (at least) then to replay his soundbites interminably.

But, as Southey had it, “What good came of it at last?”

Not very much is my prediction. We’ve had three years of this. My side has been ahead throughout. As indeed it has been for the entire period since Scotland has had a universal franchise.  Because, as we have seen this last ten days, most Scottish people don’t hate English people.  Mibbee that will all be turned round in the next six weeks.  But altogether more likely, mibbees naw.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Greenock Morton: My role in their survival.


As many of you will know, I am a great partisan of, as the song has it, “Saint Mirren from Pais-a-lee”.

About fifteen, indeed on reflection more like twenty, years ago, our great rivals, Greenock  Morton, were threatened with going out of business. Some cowboy, whose details now have faded in my memory, had gained a significant shareholding in the Greenock Club and was threatening to put them down so that he could sell off Crappielow (as we in Paisley know it) for redevelopment.

Anyway, this was an eventuality we Saints could not contemplate. So a “friendly” St Mirren against Morton match was arranged at the self same stadium to raise funds for those  trying to save the Greenock side.

I went with one of my nephews who was just reaching the age that he was not prepared to do something without at least some rationale being given. So as we drove down the M8 I was subject to some interrogation.

“Why are we going to this?”

“To try to help save the Morton”

“But we hate the Morton, don’t we?”

“Of course we do, but we wouldn’t want to see them going out of business.”

“Why?”

“Because then we’d have nobody to hate”

“Couldn’t we just hate somebody else.....I don’t know, Kilmarnock or somebody?”

“It wouldn’t be the same. Anyway, it is Ayr United who hate Kilmarnock. St Mirren hate Morton. That is the natural order of things.”

“Why?”

“Look, stop asking silly questions. It just is.”

As history now records, Morton were saved and, as a result, still, on the darkest of February Saturdays, as Saints fans  troop out of New Greenhill Road even after the most miserable of defeats, our fans will fall silent as one particular result  from the lower leagues is announced over the Tannoy. And if Morton have lost as well we will muster a ragged cheer and console ourselves that the day could have been worse.

Sporting rivalries are in the very nature of Team sports. And in their pursuit much heat can be generated. In the real world, nobody from Paisley thinks the “soapdodgers” from Greenock have a problem with their personal hygiene, any more than those from the Arse of the Bank truly believe the entire population of my own home town are addicted to Heroin.  Mind you, these are surely mild insults compared to the revelation, as Tim parks reported in his book about Italian football followers,  that the supporters of Hellas Verona refer to their rivals from Vicenza as mangi gatti  (cat eaters) in memory of a Sixteenth Century siege during which the residents of that latter city were indeed reduced to that sad condition.

But it is a mistake to assume that sporting rivalry has a wider resonance.  I readily confess to being in the “anybody but England” camp when it comes to team sports. Earlier today, while watching the Rugby Sevens,  I discovered, alongside many other Scots I suspect,  a previously unrecognised enthusiasm for Samoa.  So what? That is hardly the basis for a system of Government. And anybody who does surely needs to have a long think about themselves.

And anyway, team sports are quite different from individual events. Whoever a great athlete competes for in an individual contest, I am happy to give them my support. I might choose a favourite and I readily recognise that one reason for greater favouritism might be greater familiarity with one competitor over another .  But the idea that i would be hostile to any competitor because of their nationality seems to me to be bizarre.  And for what it is worth I believe that is a sentiment shared by the great mass of the population, whether dedicated sports watchers or otherwise.

Yet in their belief that the Commonwealth Games might represent a change in their fortunes the Nationalists seem to have ignored this relatively obvious observation.

To support Scotland and Scottish competitors comes naturally to all of us who live here because we are, or at least become, familiar with them.  Even if they are from Greenock.

I am as surprised and pleased as anybody to learn that we appear to be some sort of Commonwealth superpower when it comes to Judo. I say that even while being less than clear while watching it who is winning and why. But it has surely nothing to do with Scottish Independence to be enthusiastic about Scotland, or Scottish competitors, in a sporting context. As with so much else, it is also necessary to be antipathetic to England.  And to believe anyway that what happens in the sporting field,  particularly in the “Friendly Games”,  is capable of having any political significance.

I have no idea what the Nats expected here. That Greg Rutherford or Laura Trott or Nicola Adams would found themselves booed as bearing the hated colours of our oppressors?  Really?

Well, if they did they are as deluded as they appear to be about everything else.

Indeed, I suspect that if the Games have any impact at all on the Referendum it will be the exact opposite of Nationalist  hopes. The Games have brought an awful  lot of English people to Scotland. And contrary to Nationalist stereotype they have not spent their time here treating the local population with little concealed disdain while talking loudly in upmarket hotels about their indifference to the poor. Rather they have proved to be remarkably like.....us.

Except perhaps that when it came to the Rugby sevens they did not share our enthusiasm for Samoa.