It was inevitable that there would be at least one spat over donations in the independence referendum and that it would be nasty.
We have all been treated to, what I have decided to call the Tom and Jerry episode of the campaign, with each side whacking the other over the head with a frying pan. When the frying pan has no effect, they simply reach for a bigger one. Slam, bam, dunk, thunk. And a nation switches off.
If we’re really lucky, a few lessons will have been learned from this spat. Firstly, that the two sides are not going to agree on who amounts to an acceptable donor. Agreement on basic rules on who should be allowed to give what would have been nice but it was always a long shot. Secondly, we should all just agree that some of the people donating to the campaigns aren’t the sort of folk we’d want to invite over for tea. Some of them will have done things to make their money which make us want to hold our nose; others will have dodgy beliefs that we shudder at the thought of. Reaching for the figurative frying pans on social media sites when a donor we disapprove of is unveiled ain’t going to change a thing. Finally, this episode and a cursory glance at the historical fundraising powers of our mainstream political parties should remind those on the yes side of a basic fact – the naysayers have more money and more sources from which to raise it. And always have.
Simple arithmetic dictates this: in party terms, there are more of them than there are of political parties supporting independence. By definition, they are all part of UK wide accounting units, so can tap into as much of that funding as their UK bosses will allow. But even in purely Scottish terms, the combined funds raised by Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are at least going to equal if not surpass what the SNP can generate. In 2012, the Scottish Green party had two donations that needed to be declared, both of them coming from their MSPs. The SSP had none. Better Together seems to think that the dominance of SNP funding sources in Yes Scotland is an issue for the Scottish people. Good luck with that.
Despite being in government, the SNP has no big business bankrolling it: it might accrue in an election year a few substantial donations from SME type businesses, but these tend to be run by longstanding party supporters and members. Only Brian Souter comes into big business category and his donations are personal. Nor does it have annual declarable union contributions at branch, constituency and national level, the way the Labour party has. One or two disaffected unions might make local donations to MSP candidates but little else; there is no sign of trades unions which have disaffiliated from Labour switching allegiance to the SNP, sadly.
The only difference to the SNP’s financial backbone has been the contribution from public sources in recognition of its significant parliamentary presence, particularly at Holyrood. But this is money paid for a specific purpose, to enable MSPs to do the job they were elected to do (though it might be pertinent to ask how the parliamentarians are making that money and what it buys in terms of payroll, work cohesively alongside the party’s and Yes Scotland’s campaign objectives towards achieving a yes vote.)
But aside from this, the SNP continues to rely almost exclusively on its people to fund its existence: either in death or life, most of its declarable donations come from members or supporters. Yes Scotland is probably beginning to realise this and wishing there were more record-breaking Euro lottery winners like Chris and Colin Weir.
So, everyone on the Yes side might care to reflect on what last week’s Tom and Jerry episode taught some and reminded others. The pro-independence movement cannot and will not out-fundraise and out-spend the antis. So what is required is for people to think how best to make the resources that can be mustered work to best effect. Allow me to make a few suggestions.
The SNP might care to desist from sending its usual fundraising appeal letters to members and supporters; what it is raising funds for, in a non-election year, other than to keep an already well-oiled machine well-oiled is beyond me. Re-learning a little parsimony might be in order and the only appeal that should continue is the ring-fenced one for the sixteen week campaign.
All the blogs and grassroots movements in the mix of the Yes camp need to stop seeking funds to support their aims, which for some appear to be to turn a hobby into paid employment. Each might be able to muster a respectable five-figure return from such efforts but think how much more effective all those small pots could be if turned into a six figure sum located in one place. Economies of scale matter and no amount of crowd-sourced funding is going to enable blogs and online news outlets to compete with the mainstream media. In any event, they are all largely raising money from the same small pool of potential donors: this isn’t sustainable.
Yes Scotland is the only game in town: griping and gurning about it is wasted energy; withholding cash is misguided folly; trying to establish an alternative is pointless. If you are a supporter of independence and have means at your disposal, and have not already contributed an ongoing tithe to it, why not. If you want to win in 2014, then give until you cannot give anymore.
And for all its capacity to raise easy money and much larger amounts of it, there is one way in which the No camp can never hope to compete: people power. The SNP got where it is today by investing its limited resources wisely in national campaigns while relying heavily on the efforts of its people on the ground, who from economic necessity, worked out that successful campaigns can be won on a shoestring, ingenuity and shoe leather. Not everything which works costs money: indeed, no amount of money makes up for a dearth of activists prepared to put everything into campaigning for the attainment of a cause. Those campaigning for a Yes vote should remember this, put the frying pans down and just get on with it.
The endless media loop recording tributes and opprobrium in equal measure on the death of Margaret Thatcher has thrown up few surprises. Except for the number of women, high-profile and ordinary, remarking, often tearfully and proudly on her role as the UK’s first, and to date, only, woman to occupy the highest political office. This I find astonishing, given how frequently harmful her policies and ideological convictions were to women.
We’ll leave aside the impact of her systematic dismantling of key industries on communities all across Scotland and the UK. Women, directly and indirectly, paid a high price for the unemployment created in the 80s. And while many engendered a renewed resilience in facing a common foe and in standing with their menfolk on picket lines, the havoc wreaked resulted in absolute poverty, homelessness and hunger. I remember giving over my pocket-money regularly to appeals for various communities enduring real hardship and hunger as a result of her economic policies.
But a glance at specific measures and indicators show how well the Iron Lady pulled the ladder up behind her: her becoming Prime Minister might have been expected to herald a rush of women entering parliament but far from it. When she came to power, there were only 19 female MPs and by the time she resigned, that number had increased to only 41. Worse, no women were promoted under her premiership to a full Cabinet role and only a handful were deemed worthy of a Ministerial portfolio.
She presided over the dismantling of the wages councils: somewhat ironically, these had been established in 1909 by one of her political heroes, Winston Churchill. And while some argue that the councils’ role in establishing minimum rates of pay and holiday entitlement for a wide range of trades artificially suppressed earnings, there is no doubt that they provided protection for workers in sectors where women often predominated, such as hairdressing, retailing and clothing manufacture. Her antipathy was driven by ideology, believing that market forces should determine what employers might pay their workers.
The fight to win equal pay also stalled under Thatcher. In 1979, the gap in full time hourly earnings was 28.7% – by 1990, it had reduced by just over 5%. But the gap in part time earnings actually widened. Moreover, on her watch, the concept of equal value was added to the legislation, adding to the test which had to be satisfied. While this has undoubtedly helped many women in recent years receive the same salary as colleagues, it is worth noting that it took until 1988 for the first equal value case to be won by a woman, after ten years of fighting through tribunals and the courts. In the early days, it stymied women’s rightful ambitions to earn the same as men – as Thatcher’s government intended.
Thatcher also did little to further women’s maternity rights. While Iraqi women were entitled to full pay on maternity leave from the 1970s and enjoyed extensive workplace nursery benefits, in Thatcher’s Britain, women had very little rights. Employers could allow as little maternity leave as they liked, with entitlement linked to length of service and workplace nurseries were treated as a taxable benefit, deducted from earnings. In 1987, the universal maternity grant was abolished, state paid maternity allowance was restricted and a woman lost a landmark case against her employer which singled her out for redundancy because she was pregnant.
Women might have been entitled to expect that a female Prime Minister might have resulted in gains for women economically, socially and in public life. But the opposite was true. So many of her policies either hurt women directly or disdainfully treated them as collateral damage. This lady did little for the lot of women in the UK despite having the power to improve our lives in so many ways. We have little to lament on her passing.
I’m looking forward to reading Gavin Bowd’s book. He’s right that Scotland has been reluctant to acknowledge the dalliance of fringe elements with fascism, before, during and after World War Two. And knowing and understanding more of our social and political history is always a good thing: it explains who we are, how we got to being who we are, and where we might end up if we’re not careful.
As Bowd points out in his article for Scotland on Sunday, we’re overly fond of revelling in our left-leaning credentials, of a kailyard revisionism in establishing our reputation for open, inclusive internationalism and of working very hard to hide stains on our social psyche by effectively moving our political furniture to keep them hidden from view. It doesn’t do us any good. For nations, read families. Everyone has embarrassing relatives, the sort that everyone rolls their eyes about, but when it comes to it, even they get invited to the family gatherings. Everyone might hope they’ll be a no-show but not only do they always show up, they insist on behaving in a way which cements their reputation.
Every nation has episodes and elements in its history they’d rather not own up to and it takes a certain level of maturity to acknowledge all aspects of past and present political culture. Interestingly, Bowd alludes to the fact that Scotland had – has – far greater home-grown demons in the form of sectarianism, with only some of its sects embracing the opportunity fascism afforded. That bit of the book will make for particularly fascinating reading, given that sectarianism is endemic still in our culture and in many communities.
And while the publication of this book might trouble the SNP in terms of being reminded of the less than fragrant opinions and actions of those associated with the nascent nationalist movement in Scotland, I for one, am more perturbed at the role played by our aristocracy. We conveniently forget that Scotland has an indigent aristocracy, which is largely unreconstructed and still has huge control and sway over land ownership and the creation and holding of wealth in this country. The SNP might have found a way to move beyond the narrow confines of ethnic nationalism (which dogged it as late as the 1980s) to become outstanding proponents of an expansive and internationalist form of civic nationalism, but there is little evidence of a similar transformation among them what continue to rule our roost. The aristocracy’s continuing influence on everyday life – and the belief systems which inform how they conduct themselves – are definitely worthy of more poking with a sharp academic stick.
But interesting, timely and useful as this study might be, that does not excuse how it has been presented for our delectation by Scotland on Sunday’s editors. The front page of its “The Week” supplement has created a social media storm; there is a petition against it designed to generate multiple complaints to the press commission; remarkably, when there’s lots of interesting news this weekend on referendum-related matters, it has managed to push the quality journalism on offer from the paper down the agenda. All anyone wants to talk about is the image and the headline. And rightly so.
This front page is a travesty and a disgrace. It appropriates an aspirational image [update: apparently, it is the Scotsman's own image so it can photoshop it as much as it likes though you have got to question why it would want to diminish its genuine association with Tom Devine's work] from a quite different historical book for nefarious purposes, suggesting that the Saltire – the cross of St Andrew which for many has legitimate faith-based connotations as much as patriotic ones – could well be replaced by the Nazi symbol. The image created gives the impression that what is discussed in its pages is a modern-day phenomenon threatening our current political culture, rather than the content of a book which is largely historical in content. The words on the front page mislead further. They’re not even very good.
This is poor and shoddy editing designed to create shock and awe. Those responsible might well consider it a job well done – everyone, after all, is talking about it, but those in the newspaper industry, after everything Leveson-related in recent times, should know better. There is such a thing as bad publicity, with the potential to damage both reputation and circulation. They should take heed, at the very least, that not all those complaining loudly on social media networks or signing the petition can be considered to be usual cybernat suspects.
It’s worth noting that the usual editor of the Scotland on Sunday was on holiday this week. He might appear to have the creation and publication of weekly headlines designed simply to wind the Yes camp up in his job description these days, but this front page smacks more of stand-in editing at the last minute. It is a bad idea poorly executed, cobbled together without thinking of the consequences.
It’s also worth noting the irony of such an offensive cover appearing in the week when Johnston Press announced significant editorial job losses at its Scottish titles. In future, we will have fewer editors, which means fewer in conference making decisions on what and how to run with in key sections of the papers and fewer creating coherence across sections and supplements. Fewer is likely to result in more appalling editorial decisions like this.
The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday are already practically running on empty – if this is how editorial decisions are shaped under the threat of job losses, think how much worse it is going to be when those jobs have gone. Such misguided decisions on how to generate operational efficiencies are not the way to create the press Scotland needs or deserves.