It’s my birthday – is it too much to ask for a little peace to enjoy it?

On Friday morning, I decided to give myself four birthday presents.

First, to retire from active politics – again.  More on that in a minute.

Second, to give up being a media commentator.  Third, to give up smoking.  And fourth, to retire the blog.

The last pledge lasted about 20 minutes and half way through David Cameron’s speech on the #indyref result.  When he got to the part about it being time to answer the West Lothian question as well as provide more powers for Scotland, clearly I had made a rash decision.  Politics is going to be far too interesting in the next while to do without my wittering on it all.  So the blog stays.  No cheering at the back there.

The giving up smoking starts tomorrow.  If Alex Massie can manage it on those electronic cigarette things, so can I.  Whether I can manage it without putting on all the weight that three months of campaigning has just removed, we’ll see.  Still, I’ll live until I’m 95 and become one of those irascible, instinctive conservative voters who sets their face against any change.  It will probably take that long for me to make that transition.

On the second, well frankly, my experience at the hands of the media around the #indyref means this one is set in stone.  For the entire duration of the campaign, women have had to shout and demand some representation (we gave up on equal as clearly a concept too far for most) as commentators on political issues.  We were all booked to the hilt to do stuff over the last week of the campaign and especially, around the results programmes.  With only a handful of exceptions, we were all bumped in favour of more luminary commentators.  Mostly politicians, mostly men.  Without any consideration for the efforts any of us had made in order to try and contribute – childcare, lack of sleep, travelling miles at our own expense.  Me?  I’m done with it all.  We don’t get the media we deserve, we get the media they are prepared to provide for us.  And the mainstream media by and large is intrinsically and institutionally sexist.  I will return to this theme in later blogs.

So you can all remove me from your contacts lists.  I will not be available for any media work but I have during this campaign, worked to create and support a greater, wider pool of articulate women commentators who speak from a pro-independence perspective. Just because they are not “names” does not mean their views are not worth hearing.  I hope you continue to approach them and I will do my best to continue to grow the group and support it wider still.  Because enabling women to join the ranks of political commentators is clearly not on any of your agendas.

The first is more complicated.  I may or may not retire. But can I make a plea to everyone tweeting, facebooking, joining and organising in the aftermath of defeat for Yes?  Please calm down.  There is time.  We do not need to do this – all of it – in the first post-defeat weekend.  In fact, decisions and moves made now are likely to be reached in the euphoria of sleeplessness and grief.  And that is never a good basis for strategising.

Some of us have been in this game a very long time.  Some of us have been on this journey for much of our lifetimes.  Some of us are trying to get a semblance of normalcy back in our lives.  We need time to lick our wounds, to slob in our pyjamas, to clear the clutter and detritus from the last campaign before embarking on the next stage.  I am not nearly as bereft as I thought I would be:  I share the sense that this isn’t finished yet, not by a long chalk.

But I am also mindful of listening to what the Scottish people said on Thursday.  More powers is what they want, not full independence.  Not yet anyway. I’m with the First Minister here – we cannot trust Westminster to deliver this on its own and I do think that if we want to arrive at a destination called devo-max then we need to work with the grain not against it. But how to do that without selling out the 45% who voted yes and without having to climb into bed with the establishment – Scottish and UK – who want to put all this democracy and appetite for ideas away in a box in the political loft and get back to business as usual?  That is the thorny issue which we must work out how to address – to keep the 45% on board while reaching out to the soft, reluctant Nos that represent at least 20% of the 55% who voted so.

And thorny issues take time to get our heads around. We do not need to set our course for the next year and beyond this week. Good decisions require space, time and proper consideration.

We do need to be having chats and reflections and sharing commiserations and indeed, celebrations at all that we have achieved.  But bouncing into the next phase – and trying to bounce others into it – won’t work.  As John Swinney himself just said on the Sunday Politics show, there is a need even for the SNP to have a discussion and debate about the “tactics” for where we find ourselves and the way ahead.  And if the party that has been doing this for decades thinks it needs such an approach, then we should all take a lead from that.

But things are moving fast, even in the SNP.  Yet, the party does need to have a fairly honest and frank appraisal about its future direction.  I’ll blog on that in due course.

It would appear that there will be no leadership contest and that Nicola Sturgeon – who has not yet declared her hand but is doing the canny thing of allowing all potential rivals to count themselves out this weekend – will be elected unopposed.  That would be a fine testament to how she has grown and prepared for the role in this last year in particular.  But the party does still need to create space for a venting and to hear how Nicola intends to take the party forward.  Shutting down the opportunity for a greetin’ meeting at conference in November wouldn’t be wise nor even respectful.  A lot of SNP folk put their all into this campaign – they deserve to be heard on what worked and what could have been done differently.  Constructive criticism is nothing to be afraid of.

But it seems that the real contest will be for deputy leader.  Names are being bandied about.  So, here’s my choice.  Shona Robison, MSP for Dundee East and Minister for Commonwealth Games and Sport, who also has the equalities brief.

Tomorrow’s blog will explain why.

That’s not a cop out.  It’s my birthday today and I have a house and a garden like a coup.  I’d like to spend some of the day in the sunshine, righting some of that.  And trying to get back a little normalcy in my life.  Before my nerves are shredded by giving up smoking tomorrow.

And just in case anyone is listening, I’d advise a little normalcy for us all.  Step away from the social media.  Stop promulgating conspiracy theories.  Stop planning the next stage of our nation’s political evoluation/revolution.  Go for a walk.  Watch a movie.  Sleep. Read. Drink and be merry.  But leave the politics alone for a day.  It will do us all good.

 

Independence is definitely a generational thing

Some of you may know that I have written a book.  Most of you don’t, because I’ve not done very much about promoting it or talking about it.  And yet, how relevant it all seems – even after the big vote.

The book examines Generation ScotY, Scotland’s 20somethings, who they are, what influences them, how they responded to the referendum and what their voting intentions were.  At the time I finished writing it, it wasn’t clear how they would vote but the book does burst a few myths about what matters to this crucial generation.

So having failed miserably to get out on the circuit and talk it up, and having not bothered anyone at any time for funding for this blog or to feed me and my weans while I took three months off work to campaign for independence, I’m hoping a few of you might be inclined to buy the book.  Even if you never bother to read it, put a smile on Luath Press’s face and buy it please.  It’s not even a tenner.

It’s available here, mostly I think as an e-edition.  But also from here.

generation_scot_y

I’d given up political predictions (I was rubbish at them) but it seems I had a prescient moment or two with the book.

First, that Scotland’s 20somethings would largely vote for independence – and that even within that generation, there was a divide in voting intentions, with the older 25 to 29 year olds being more likely to vote Yes.  Richard Ashcroft’s polling after voting appears to bear that out:  a narrow margin of 4% for No among 18 to 24 year olds but a much wider 18% in the 25 to 34 year old group.

Second, this:

“…there could be trouble ahead if Generation ScotY feels resentful of older generations if they bequeath them a future they neither wanted nor voted for.  Indeed, if as some polls suggest, the older cohort in Generation ScotY (those aged 25 – 34) votes Yes to independence and the outcome is a No vote, then that result will most likely have been achieved throught the votes of those over 45 and particularly, those aged over 60. In other words, Generation ScotY could be denied the future they want by the votes of their parents and grandparents.  Such a situation might foment societal discord, particularly given the outlook for Generation ScotY in terms of their incomes and economic wellbeing…

The book concludes that far from being the generation that wants it all, Generation ScotY wants but a little of all that we – Generation X and Baby Boomers – have had.  “The only thing we have left behind for Generation ScotY is a morass that its members are going to have to spend their lifetimes sorting.”

And this is exactly what Ashcroft’s poll suggests has happened. Only 43% of people in Scotland aged 55 to 64 voted Yes and a staggering 73% of those over 65 voted No.

Pensioners and those about to become so voted to keep all that they have gained in their lifetimes.  They opted for keeping things just as they are, not wanting the bother of upheaval at their time of life. Shame on them.

They are the generation which by their hard work and effort, built the great British institutions – the welfare state, the NHS, comprehensive education.  Throughout my lifetime, the dismantling of those institutions has grown apace, coupled with severe economic dislocation, not once but twice.  Yet, Baby Boomers have been largely protected from the impact of this, by dint of their age distancing their experience of some, such as the education system and because governments and politicans have worked hard to protect them from that impact.

The ones most affected by all the change, economic, political and societal, since 2008 are those in their 20s and 30s.  And they will continue to be so throughout their lifetimes.  There are £5 billion of cuts coming in the next two years to the Scottish block grant;  the Tories have promised to limit public spending as a percentage of GDP through legislation; Labour is pledging to remove under 25s from benefit entitlement completely; inequality is growing exponentially and poverty among young single adults in work is rising rapidly.

Generation ScotY got that in this referendum.  They could look forward and see the misery before them, if Scotland opted to stay within the UK.  When I looked at what issues matter to our 20somethings for the book, I was surprised at what they listed.  They are caricatured as frivolous and flippant and they are anything but.  Generation ScotY took this referendum seriously – far more seriously in terms of the country’s and its people’s future than their parents and grandparents, who largely voted for themselves. Thatcher’s children, indeed.

If Scotland voted Yes, they would still have been all right.  Little would have changed in their lifetimes.  The changes needed to create a wealthier economy and a fairer society would have barely begun by the time they shuffled off to their resting places – something they failed to get.  And they refused to listen to their children and grandchildren, who in opting for independence, were prepared to put up with short-term, even medium term, dislocation, in order to have a chance of their lives – and their children’s – being different.

Baby Boomers opted for a present which only exists in their rose-tinted view of the past, rather than a future which was not theirs to design.  If I was in my twenties, I’d be pretty pissed off with my grandparents right now. And I’d be tempted to call them up and tell them why I won’t be visiting this Christmas.  In fact, the next time a pensioner coming on to the bus gives me a hard stare to get up from my seat, they’ll be given a hard stare right back.  After all, who’s paying the fares here?  Petty, yes. But no protest is ever futile.

But there is also hope. This generation of 20somethings is a sunshine one: despite the hand dealt them by the current state of things, they are optimistic and positive in the outlook for the future. They will make the best of things.

And I don’t think they will give up.  They get that power and control needs to belong in their hands and not given away to sit with a tiny political elite.  They get that equality, justice and fairness matter as key building blocks in society and indeed, the economy.  They are prepared to work hard, to use their talents and skills to believe in and indeed, create a better future for themselves and their communities.  If you buy the book, you’ll find out why I am making such assertions.

So while fear triumphed on Thursday, because of the sheer numbers of Baby Boomers who refused to lift their eyes and vote for the future, hope still remains.  Not least because Generation ScotY voted for it.

The Unionists have written off the possibility of another independence referendum for a lifetime or even a generation.  They’re wrong.  I don’t think Generation ScotY will allow Westminster and the political class to put it back in a box.  The referendum allowed them to discover the thrill of political activisim: 20somethings organised themselves in this campaign and learned skills and enjoyed experiences they won’t want to lose.

The question of independence for Scotland will be back on the table within ten years at most, possibly even five, if the Unionist parties renege – as they already seem to be doing – on the more, new powers vow.  When that happens and all those cuts still to come bite further into the forbearance of Generation ScotY, they will demand the chance – again – to opt for different.  And this time, they’ll win.

For as Alex Salmond said, the dream shall never die.  Not when Generation ScotY – over 53% of it – already voted for it.  Not when they already demonstrated hope, aspiration, belief and crucially, Yes votes that their future lies in an independent Scotland.  Next time, thanks to them and the generation still to reach voting age, the dream will become a reality.

First Minister’s resignation is a measure of the man

It’s been a long 36 hours with only 4 hours sleep.  And six hours in the 48 hours before that.

Forgive me then for being a little tired and emotional.  But I didn’t expect the tears that have been held back, to start to flow, listening to the First Minister’s own emotional but pitch-perfect resignation speech and press conference.

And for me to feel so sad and not just a little disappointed.

Everyone is exhausted on the Yes side. We gave it our all – as we would. And I’m not sure the immediate aftermath is the right point for all this to be unfolding.  A period of reflection over the weekend, enabling response rather than reaction would have been my preferred option.

But if anything proved just how different the First Minister is in reality from the gross caricature of him which has been painted by political and media opponents, and allowed to lodge in the minds of voters, it has been this action.  (Though not without his mischievous side still coming to the fore – he couldn’t help sticking two fingers up to the Unionist cheerleading papers by excluding from this press conference. Good for him.) He is taking full responsibility for the failure to win this campaign and doing the decent and honourable thing. There are few politicians these days willing to fall on their swords when they lead from the front and fail to deliver. Membership of the SNP not only requires supporting independence but a commitment to put the interests of the Scottish people and Scotland first.  On the latter, the First Minister is doing what he thinks is in his country’s interests. There is much more to this man in terms of his measure than has often been portrayed.

And yet, he has not failed, not completely. Independence for Scotland was voted for by a significant minority of the Scottish population.  Many more were nearly persuaded – the yes buts who decided instead to opt for the promises made by the Unionists on more powers. As the First Minister himself warned in the media conference several times, there are many No voters who will be angry if they now find they have been sold a pup. His leadership of the SNP has been key to enabling Scotland to arrive here, where we currently stand in terms of the power and control wrestled from Westminster’s grasp.

So in some ways, the First Minister’s resignation is entirely understandable and honourable.  He feels he has done what he can in terms of that journey and can do no more.

It also makes sense in terms of where we are in the Scottish parliamentary calendar and also, internally for the SNP.

Standing down now allows his successor eighteen months in which to make the role their own, to lead the Scottish Government and prepare a platform for 2016.  The SNP’s annual conference has been pushed back as a result of the referendum to November.  His resignation now allows for a leadership contest to be held meeting the internal constitutional niceties, but not so long that it involves a blood-letting in the party.  Crucially, it allows Nicola Sturgeon to put herself forward as the contender to replace him without attracting much more than a potential stalking horse – there has to be a venting at some point – rather than a more serious challenge.  It allows the changeover of leadership to be managed, dignified and some might say, stage managed.

But I am still disappointed.

Yes, Alex Salmond has led his party now for 20 years in total – he clearly has a thing about bundles of ten – and yes, he will be 60 in a few months’ time.  But I think he still had something to give and indeed, I rather think Scotland needs him and his tactical nous in these early days of a not quite better nation, but at least a somewhat improved model.

Firstly, there are eighteen months to go until the next Scottish Parliamentary elections.  Time then, for a re-energised First Minister to lead a radical programme of action within the powers the Scottish Parliament holds to show that the SNP is more than a one trick pony.  This administration has indeed been dominated by the constitutional debate, to the extent that real scrutiny of legislation, proper challenge of change-making and indeed, the introduction of big new ideas absent from the Programme for Government has been lacking.  Eighteen months of activity would set the SNP fair for fighting the next Scottish elections to win.  Again.

Secondly, Scotland needs him.  His resignation remarks identified the indecent haste in which the Vow is unravelling – which did so much to persuade the undecideds to stick rather than twist.  And it is happening.  Boris Johnson has said today that he’s not bound by the Vow.  The Prime Minister has inserted the issue – rightly – of wider devolution across these isles into the process:  some are arguing this makes conditional new powers for Scotland on answering the long-standing West Lothian question.  Ed Miliband has resiled from his part in the deal on the flimsy basis that this now changes things.

Already this process of new powers for Scotland is a tangled mess and it remains to be seen if anything meaningful will be delivered before the General Election.  We were promised by Gordon Brown a paper, today, setting out what those powers would be.  Time is ticking, Gordon.  And Scotland is waiting and watching.

So the First Minister is right that a careful watch on this process is required.  And who better to do it than him?  No one understands the tactics of such processes better.  No one knows how to push their buttons more effectively.  No one knows how they tick like he does.  Scotland needs him at his wily best, to hold them to account, to keep them in line, to ensure Scotland gets what we were promised.

Finally, for all that he has been demonised and raised as a doorstep issue during this campaign, no one is more surefooted at gauging the mood, needs and wants of the Scottish people.  Under Alex Salmond, the SNP has moved to be much more in tune with the mood of the Scottish people.  He has carefully intertwined leading and following, moving forward in the constitutional journey at a pace Scotland is comfortable with.  He, more than anyone else, in the party has brought us to this stage, whereby 45% of the Scottish electorate voted for independence.  We need him as our proxy in this new powers’ process.

Or rather needed him.  Because now he has gone.  Or at least is going.

And for all that I am saddened at his decision, it is to be respected for what it is.  An honest, emotional and well-meant reaction to the events of yesterday.  It is a measure of the man who history will show as having been a rather fine First Minister for Scotland and absolutely key to us as a country and a people taking more control of the decisions and powers which affect our lives.  His position in Scottish political history is assured.  And he is right.  The dream does live on.  And it will live on, without him. He has achieved much and clearly thinks he has no more to give.

I just wish he’d taken the weekend to rest up, reflect and then respond.

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