Category Archives: Political witterings
The burd’s views on the hot potatoes of the day/week/month
So, the Sabbatical has begun and officially entered day two. Time to get down to some serious blogging then.
I had intended to add my tuppence worth of perspective to the Gunn show or Lallygate – why has no one named it yet? But frankly it’s all been said. I’m on the Sillars’ side of things here, right down to believing in the conspiracy theories of infiltration: I am nothing if not my mother’s daughter. We oldies in this campaign might induce eye-rolling from younger activists as a result but to dismiss the role that we can and do play is pushing it a little. But then that was always the arrogance of youth and long may it continue.
Hugh Wallace makes some fair points in his riposte but he is wrong on the idea that the “leadership” should be urging us over the barricades on the flotsam and jetsam of this campaign. The media was always going to be biased against independence: it is an entirely conservative institution which is part of the problem not the solution to Scotland’s democratic deficit. To pour resources into fighting it would be futile and counter-intuitive. As the last week has shown, everyone trying to do this on the Yes campaign’s behalf sucks up energy, people and time – crucially, time when the clock is ticking down to 18 September – of those left to clear up the mess.
And as to others’ involvement in it all, well Edinburgh Eye does a majestic take down which is both comprehensive and brave. Because of anyone has been guilty of creating a climate in which critics are to be silenced (after being abused and insulted of course) it is that blog. Those wordles are mighty interesting and worth a look, if only to determine which blogsites are spending more of their time talking about the cause, the campaign and reasons to vote yes and which are not.
There are three things to add to it all. First, an oldie but a goodie: when the storymaker becomes the story or the messenger becomes the message, it is time for those individuals to go and find something more interesting and useful to do instead. The First Minister’s loyalty was admirable but misplaced. He should have allowed Campbell Gunn to resign and accepted it with the usual equanimity which accompanies such setpieces. Now, the thing plays on. How can a media advisor advise if he can no longer engage with everyone he is expected to advise without having the credibility of his advice questioned? The same rule of thumb applies for Wings over Scotland.
Secondly, a much wiser burd than me suggested a litmus test for any engagement on any issue in the run up to September. Does what you are about to say, write, tweet, post, share, ask, posit or pronounce help deliver a Yes vote in September? Will it help those who are currently undecided but interested edge towards voting yes? Go on, try it yourself. Look at anything written about Clare Lally or J K Rowling by some supporters on the Yes side in the last week and then ask yourself how those utterings might convince someone to vote Yes. And then go and read Andrew Wilson’s brilliant piece on J K Rowling and contrast and compare.
Thirdly, morale counts in this campaign more than any other, just as impressions do in all campaigns. Thankfully, few beyond the anoraks tune in every week to First Minister’s Questions but it is a key arena in the battle for morale. The First Minister last Thursday was in the trenches, on the backfoot, being made to defend a situation not of his own making nor choosing, having to answer issues that weren’t in the script for the week. And every week, he is seen to be rocking and reeling not only drains his energy and saps life from the narrative arc around him and his leadership role, but it puts a spring in the step of the No camp. He is pivotal to this campaign and it is one reason why the other side is so keen, week in week out, to make the campaign about him and not about the issue. We really shouldn’t be helping them do so.
Finally, every time the Scottish Government and the Yes campaign are having to rebut, the good news, the news we want people in Scotland and especially, the undecideds, to hear and take on board, is buried. Yes, the media would try to do it anyway but why would we want to make that job an easier one to achieve? If we are all talking about stushies – and we are – then no one is talking about the positives.
Which allows us at last to arrive at the point of this blogpost. To shine a light on good news stories wiped off the headlines and the schedules last week, which No and the media are happy to bury but which we should all be shouting from the rooftops.
Drilling is about to begin in a new North Sea oil field with potential to produce 96 million barrels of oil. And no, the story isn’t that the UK Energy Minister misappropriates the term country but that here is evidence that there is plenty more oil in the sea yet and that is good news for the future economic prosperity of an independent Scotland.
Statistics show that there are now more women than ever in Scotland in employment. There are 1.2 million now employed, the highest since records began in 1992 and an increase of 35,000 since last year. Now there might well be issues with pay, with job security and even the nature of these jobs if we scratch below the headline figures. Yet, some of the levers we need to address these things currently sit with Westminster. Look at what we have achieved – are achieving – for the women of Scotland with the powers we currently have and think about what more we could do with independence.
It’s not every day the Daily Record would describe a poll as a bombshell but that is indeed what happened this week. Its latest Survation poll found that the gap between Yes and No continues to narrow, with Yes up to 39% (up 2 points on the previous month) and No down to 44% (down 3 points). Better still, the survey findings suggest the gender gap is also narrowing and also that young people are now more likely to vote yes than no. That in itself is a major turnaround. The poll also shows that the SNP and Yes’s instincts right at the start of this long campaign were right – the risk of more Tory governments Scotland did not vote for in the current constitutional set-up is a key consideration for many. A majority would vote yes (44 to 38%) if they thought the Conservatives would win the 2015 General Election and form the next UK Government.
So, if you want to be saying anything negative at all or having swipe at anyone anytime soon, feel free to unleash your worst on the Tories and the fact that the Union gives us governments we neither vote for nor want. I find highlighting the devastating impact of austerity on the incomes and quality of life of women and children goes down well.
So, dear blog, it’s been a while. What can I say? It’s been a bit busy recently.
As ever, I’m arriving fashionably late to the party. The #100daystogo milestone has been and gone. But only if you subscribe to the fact that 101 days actually equals 100.
What have I been up to? This and that. Public meetings. Edinburgh Women for Independence stuff. Politics but not how I or you might know it. Writing (just not here). And talking, aye talking.
To groups, to individuals, to colleagues, to friends, to neighbours and even to strangers. And all about the same thing. It’s as though Scotland has emerged from a centuries old vow of silence and now that the nation has found its voice, it can’t stop. Conversations are happening everywhere, all of the time and mostly about the same, singular thing. The referendum.
It’s one hundred days to go until we choose our future. To trust ourselves enough to be bold and brave and vote yes. Or to be found wanting at the last, too timid, scared into submission, beaten down by all those stories, all that mongering and fail to grasp what is tantalisingly within reach. A country, a sovereign state, a nation to call our own, to make of as we will. The normalcy of being just like any other people, standing on our own two feet, taking and making all our own resources, all our own decisions for better and for worse, just the same as every other country.
I met a young Polish couple last weekend, keen to know if they could vote. They came here three years ago. Met here, fell in love here. Waiting for voter registration forms, they asked, “Would Scotland be better if it was independent?”. I answered with a question of my own. “Is Poland better independent?” They exchanged a glance and nodded, realisation dawning what this vote is about. Of course it is, they replied. Not always good, but better. We remember, just, what it was like before. The old ones, though, never forget and don’t let us forget either. Then and there, they said they’d be voting yes to Scottish independence. They will stay and make their lives here, together, but haven’t ruled out going back either. We like that we live in a continent without borders, they beamed. I’d like to live there too, I beamed back.
Mostly, I’ve been blethering with women. And more often than not, listening. Remarkable as it might seem, I can keep quiet some of the time. I’m keen to know what furrows their brow when they think about Scotland being independent. The money. Jobs. Can we afford it? Often, their hearts tell them yes but their heads persist with niggling doubts. As it should be, it’s a big decision with far-reaching consequences. Why shouldn’t they take their time, mull it over and seek out as much information as they can find?
There is an economic case for independence but we are not making it clearly enough, in language and in numbers which seem real to these women. Never mind the billions, tell them about their sixty pences and what they could buy. So I have and I am. You’ll see it shortly on the Aye Talks website. I won’t be winning any Nobel Prizes for economics anytime soon but all those sixty pences are beginning to drop.
On Saturday, I chatted with a woman born and bred and scarcely travelled much beyond Craigmillar. Hard to when you’re on a mobility scooter. She had that hard worn look of ground down poverty, ill health and inequality. Of a hand badly dealt. With all her cares creased into her threadbare anorak. With a lifetime of poverty comes a practised effort of shrinkage, of wearing greys and browns, of trying to be inconspicuous. “Ah’m voting naw” she said. Can I ask why? “Cos things would only get worse.”
This from a woman bequeathed poverty and inadequacy and scarcely enough from her mother, whose only legacy to her own children will be more of the same. Who was trundling past boarded up shops and a wasteland where promised new housing has yet to materialise nearly a decade after the old stock was demolished. Where jobs are few and bookies thrive. Where the post office is the busiest store in the street, but only on Mondays and Thursdays. Where the only shiny new buildings are cooncil ones and she sticks firmly to the other side of the street, finding comfort in the shabbiness of her surroundings.
Worse. Things could only get worse when everything has been bad for generations. Through nothing she ever did but by everything that has been done to her, her family, her neighbours and her community.
That’s what decades of being telt, of being kept in your place, of being denied dreams, of being served a diet of want results in. The poorest in our society thinking independence would deliver worse.
So, a pledge then that has been a long time in the hatching. Nearly two years ago, when Scotland was still doing its best to ignore the referendum, I told a sceptical journalist type that Scotland would vote yes. That the yes side would win. Because it had people who believed, who had spent a lifetime believing in a cause and a purpose and who would spend every hour they could convincing others to believe too. Because this meant so much to supporters of independence that they would do all they could, make sacrifices big and small to make the time to get out there and engage. The SNP had long years of practice of mustering an army of foot soldiers because for long enough, that was all it had to call on to make progress, to win elections. When it had no money, no status, no elected representatives, what it had was people who shared a common cause and belief. And when the time came, those people would do all that they could to make sure they could give all that they could to make this happen. Folk like me who would try to find a way to give over all my time to working for a yes vote.
He scoffed. Well he kens noo.
For the last six months, I’ve been saving furiously to see if I could make it happen. With the blessing of an understanding employer, to whom I will be forever grateful, for taking the time to appreciate my dilemma, of the need to answer what one friend referred to as the calling, I am making it happen. On Friday, I stop work for three months. And instead I’ll be giving over as many days and evenings as can be managed to working for a yes vote. There will be more meetings. A little blogging. A lot of canvassing – even a canvassing holiday. Mostly, there will be talking. And there will be precious little bevvying. That can wait. Everything except keeping the chicklet hale and hearty can wait.
For 100 days, I pledge to work til I drop. To devote every waking hour to persuading more people to vote yes. I’ve set myself a target of 100 people a week to talk to, to convince at least half of them every week to at least consider the possibilities offered by independence. Talking until I’m hoarse, listening to my ears are burning.
We’ll be on beans on toast come September but it will be worth it. I might even manage to banish my pot belly and rediscover my slim self from all the walking and leafleting. Best of all, I’ll be spending time with the parents who are also back on the campaign trail with a vengeance. If this is their and mine last big hurrah then I want to spend some of it with them, so that at least we all wake up on 19 September knowing that we gave all that we could, that we did all that we could. And we couldn’t have given any more.
There are some who have been doing so for nearly two years. Out every Saturday and Sunday, and on Mondays and Thursdays too. I am definitely unfashionably late to their party but better late than never. I know I’m not the only one: I have friends and acquaintances saving up all their holidays for the last big push in August and into September. I know folk who have jacked in their jobs altogether, others who haven’t bothered looking for a proper one, to give over as much time as they can to this. If we fail it won’t be because we didn’t try hard enough.
We have this one chance in my lifetime to change Scotland forever. To have better, not worse. And for the next 100 days I pledge to do all that I can to make it so.
I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Robin McAlpine speak about the Common Weal twice in recent weeks. And I hope he’ll forgive me for borrowing his Heroic Granny for this blogpost.
Heroic Granny is a wee wumman he met at one of the many public meetings on the independence referendum he’s been speaking at. Possibly only Colin Fox and Jim Sillars have covered more miles in the last few months. Anyway, this wumman approached him at the end and told of how the referendum had sparked her interest and enthusiasm. For the first time in her life, she’s become a political activist, delivering leaflets, chapping doors and holding conversations with friends and family. She’s having the time of her life, she said, and after the vote? “I’m not going back to my sofa“.
This desire encapsulates the motivation behind the campaign for a National Council for Scotland launched today. Neither pro nor anti independence, it is instead the beginnings of a movement for a more participatory approach to democracy in Scotland. Should there be a yes vote and negotiations required for independence to become a reality, ordinary people should be involved in Team Scotland to agree the division of the assets. Should there be a no vote and moves begin in earnest to devolve more powers – we can only hope – then ordinary people should have a say in what they might be.
As the campaign’s press release says, “Scotland cannot be allowed to revert to the closed-shop, behind-closed-doors politics that has left the UK as the European nation with
the lowest level of trust in its government and in its political processes.” Amen to that.
Instead, it is proposed that a National Council for Scotland is established, involving all citizens and organisations in a “wide-ranging but tightly timetabled debate on all
of the relevant issues.” The process would be conducted physically and virtually, through public meetings, citizens’ juries, hearings and other engagement activity. It would conclude with a “Citizens’ Assembly” in which a group of individuals would be selected in a randomised way to represent a cross-section of Scottish society. The Assembly would consider the conclusions and recommendations from the National Council, as well as gather its own evidence, before setting out a series of proposals to be presented to the team negotiating whatever constitutional powers the vote in September results in.
The intention is to avoid the future of Scotland being carved up by a handful of un-mandated people, handpicked to fulfil the role from the narrow ranks of Scotland’s elected and corporate elites. It aims instead to give all of us a stake – an active, real stake – in determining our future.
The proposals for a National Council and a Citizen’s Assembly have been developed by academics who have looked at what works elsewhere in the world. And they are proposals I support.
I’ve long advocated the role and use of Citizen’s Assemblies and similar participative mechanisms. Through my day job, I regularly get to spend time with people whose voice is not encouraged, who are rarely heard and even less likely to be listened to. They are as every bit as expert as the rest of us, and often more so, having first hand experience of some of the social issues that vex our influencers and decision-makers. With the right support and environment, people – ordinary people – are just as capable of giving their views as the great and the good, and often they come up with better and more pragmatic solutions. We all have assets to contribute, if the determination is there to enable them. And what better purpose to seek to put all the assets of the people of Scotland to work than in determining our future?
As Lesley Riddoch, one of the original co-signatories to the campaign, puts it :
“The referendum has stimulated discussion about more than just the constitutional arrangements with rUK. Town and village hall meetings have been full to overflowing, all sorts of “hard to reach” people have been organising, social media is alive and all manner of subjects from local democracy to land reform are being discussed on a daily basis. Business as usual after the indyref is now unthinkable – whichever way the vote goes.
“This National Council proposal provides a launching pad for transformational change in a topdown democracy which is well past its sell by date. There should be no more tablets of stone delivered from on high, no long term arrangements made behind closed doors, no more “politician and invited guests only” forums for debate. The people of Scotland have untapped capacity to participate in the remoulding of their own society. Now is the time to make that happen.”
I couldn’t agree more. And if you agree too and want to make sure your future – our future, and that of our children and grandchildren – isn’t determined by the few instead of the many, support the campaign. Get off your sofa now and sign the petition at www.nationalcouncilscotland.org And don’t go back.