CBBye Bye

In news which was as big a surprise as the revelations that Davie Cameron is a posh Tory, Johann Lamont hates alicsammin, and Danny Alexander is on work release from the Muppet Show, the CBI’s North Britain branch has come out as an official supporter of the No campaign. Stunned yes supporters the length and breadth of the land who had hitherto looked to the CBI’s colonial governor Scotlandshire for words of wisdom and pats on the head for pro-indy puppies were shocked, shocked I tell you. Who knew?

In 1979 during the Home Rule referendum campaign, the CBI described the very limited powers on offer as the greatest threat to Scottish industry since the Luftwaffe – because in the 70s no one had heard of Godwin’s Law and hysterical comparisons with the Nazis were still a novelty. The CBI has continued in a similar vein ever since. In the 80s they hailing Thatcher as the best thing since square slice. In the 90s they warned that devolution would bring about the end of civilisation as Michael Forsyth knows it – and said that like it was a bad thing. Finding that civilisation hadn’t ended after all, they spent the naughties trading alicsammin insult pokemon cards with Labour and the Tories. So absolutely no one expected the CBI to oppose independence this time round. Except the 4 million people in Scotland registered on the electoral roll and everyone who has ever met, heard of, or read a press quote from, Iain McMillan, the heidbummer of CBI Scotlandshire.

The CBI did not consult its members before announcing its decision. Which was a bit rich coming from an organisation which has severely criticised trades union leaders for not balloting their membership. And even richer if the rumours are true, and CBI’s North Britain branch membership consists of just a handful of companies. There wouldn’t have been any need for a ballot. It wouldn’t have taken Iain that long to visit them all personally and ask.

Miffed that Iain didn’t pop round with a packet of Peek Freans empire biscuits to ask them over a cuppa what they thought about indy, a succession of companies have announced that they will be leaving the CBI.

First out the door was Balhousie Care Group, but since its chairman is Tony Banks, a leading light in the pro-independence Business for Scotland, the resignation was about as shocking as learning the CBI supported the No campaign. Colour us unsurprised. However Business for Scotland has been pushing for months for the CBI to fess up and either put its No credentials where its mooth is and drop the hypocritical pretence that it’s a neutral body – or keep its nose out. As an organisation BfS are in the same business as the CBI, and they’ve just given Iain McMillan a lesson in boardroom tactics. Business for Scotland weren’t engaging so much in a hostile takeover, as being hostile undertakers. They handed the CBI a loaded gun and helpfully showed Iain how to shoot his own foot off. He pulled the trigger.

But the real blast was the way the CBI went about it. It’s supposed to be a members’ organisation. It represents the views and interests of its members. But it’s never been arsed enough about those views and interests to ask its members what they are. Since a goodly number of Scottish businesses are either in favour of independence, or believe that commercial organisations have no business trying to influence democratic decisions, Iain’s now finding out the hard way. He’s not just shot himself in the foot, he’s blown his legs off.

The resignation of the Balhousie Care Group was immediately followed by Aquamarine Power, and yesterday STV also announced it would be leaving the CBI with immediate effect. Both companies stated that they wished to remain neutral – Aquamarine Power said that it was for individuals to decide how they wish to vote in a democratic ballot, as a company Aquamarine Power is obliged to respect their decision. STV issued a statement saying that as a broadcaster, they are obliged to remain politically neutral. This is not possible if they are members of an organisation which has explictly affiliated itself to a political position.

By today the Sunday Herald revealed that the dam was bursting, as one public body after another resigned from the CBI. Public bodies must also maintain political neutrality. You know, like the BBC … oh. Try again. Public bodies can’t be overtly associated with political bodies, and by registering as a No campaign supporter, the CBI has become a political body. Difficult legal questions may arise if funds from public bodies are used for a political campaign.

The Herald reports that other businesses will leave the CBI as a result of its decision to decide on their behalf. And yet others are rapidly trying to distance themselves from the CBI as fast as the legs of their pinstripe troosers will carry them.

The CBI has just proven Business for Scotland’s point for them, in what is, when you think about it, a beautifully elegant fuck you to Iain McMillan. The companies leaving the CBI are not doing so because they’re overt supporters of independence. They’re leaving because of legal and commercial considerations. If the CBI had bothered to consult its members, they might have found that out. Yet amongst the first rules in any successful business is know your market, and be aware of potential legal pitfalls. If Iain was appearing on Dragons Den, even Duncan Bannatyne – who thinks pointing out the advantages of independence is just the same as racism - would be telling him he’s out.

Business for Scotland have just made the CBI demonstrate that the CBI has no business sense – it’s not even capable of doing what’s in the interests of the CBI, never mind its members, and the wider interests of Scotland don’t enter into their calculations.

What business wants to be represented by an organisation that doesn’t know what good business practice is? Answers on a postcard to Iain McMillan.

And in new news, and further confirmation that the No campaign is increasingly living up to its name, and is no campaign at all – a new poll shows that when undecideds are excluded Yes is just 4% behind No. There’s a lot more work to do, but thanks to folk like Iain McMillan, it’s getting easier for the Yes campaign every day.


No’s problem with men

There’s been a lot of discussion in the media recently about the supposed problem that the Yes campaign has attracting the support of women. All opinion polls have consistently shown that men are considerably more likely to support independence than women are, and this has been discussed in the media as “the Yes campaign’s problem with women”. But the logically equal question is never asked, and doesn’t get explored in Newsnicht Scotland specials – why does the No campaign have a problem with men?

There are 2 reasons for the media’s peculiarly one sided way of looking at things. Only one is specific to Scotland.

The more general reason is sexism. In the media, as in society at large, men are more likely to occupy positions of power and influence than women, although this is not because men are genetically programmed to seek positions of power and influence and women are not – otherwise we wouldn’t have Johann Lamont making an arse of herself on a regular basis.

It is true however that there are differences between men and women – however the behavioural and attitudinal differences between men and women as groups are typically far smaller than the differences between any two random individuals. What this means is that you can’t use a person’s status as female or male as a predictor of that individual’s behaviour.

But the preponderence of men in politics leads to a mind set where the position of men is seen as the “norm” against which that of women is compared, and this is especially true in matters such as politics which were traditionally regarded as a male preserve. It could be argued then, that by putting the focus on “the Yes campaign’s problem with women” the Scottish media is reinforcing sexist stereotypes. And it wouldn’t be the first time they’d done that.

But there’s also the Scottish specific dimension. Framing the question as the Yes campaign’s problem with women puts the Yes campaign on the defensive. It’s the Yes campaign which has the problem, not the No campaign. The No campaign’s position is seen as the norm against which Yes is compared. The media doesn’t focus on the equally big problem that the No campaign has persuading men to vote its way.

Yet because the media outlet will trot out a pair of talking heads supporting Yes and a pair of talking heads supporting No, a heavily slanted report biased against the Yes campaign falls squarely into the box marked “balanced and neutral” in the BBC’s checklist. As a bonus, it subtlely reinforces sexist stereotyping while at the same time posing as an examination of it.

But it gets worse. For the purposes of argument let’s accept the media’s premise that men are more likely to be interested in politics than women. However if that’s true, then the real issue cannot be that “Yes has a problem with women”. It’s got to be “No has a problem with men”, because after all the media is touting the view that men are more likely to be politically engaged than women are. And if this is the case, then the No campaign is failing spectacularly to convince the group which is more likely to to pay attention to political messages. That’s a much bigger and more serious problem for a political campaign.

Men, it’s probably safe to say, are more prone to anorakish behaviours than women. Although you’ll find plenty of women in anoraks as well – often more stylish ones. However this being the case, it follows that men are more likely than women to follow politics as a hobby. When the referendum was a distant prospect, political hobbyists were those most likely to have engaged with the issues and arrived at an early decision, and those politics geeks were more likely to be male.

And that’s why it is the No campaign’s problem with men which is the real issue. The current pattern of higher support for Yes amongst men in the polls reinforces what the yes campaign has been saying. Once people start to engage with the issues around independence, they tend to see the advantages of independence and the weakness of the No campaign’s case. As the referendum becomes imminent, that pattern will repeat itself with the rest of the population.

So where are all the Newsnicht Scotland specials exploring No’s problem with men?



The Great British Bake Off

sconeIt’s going to be easy, everyone says so. You’re a top chef, you’re pals with the owners of the TV channel and the owners of the newspapers. They’re all on your side. The food critics agree to pick holes in the other side’s offerings or leave them ignored on the side of the plate. You can’t lose.

So you get together with some other TV cooks and you come up with a recipe that can’t fail. You test it round the dinner table with Nigella’s friends.  The metrofoodies love it. You’ll win the Great British Bake Off, and you’ll be everyone’s favourite contestant. You’ll be loved. You’ll get your own series. And it’s as easy as boil in the bag.

So you carefully measure out the heavily refined starch from which you’ve removed any specks of uncomfortable truth, a generous helping of sour cream, a liberal helping of E numbers, add a dash of bitter and lavish topping of froth. Stir it vigorously to mix things. You whang it into an oven that your friends have carefully preheated to the correct accusatory temperature. Sorted.

You’ve followed the recipe to the letter, it’s looking great. You’re cruising to victory and it feels so good. The food critics have already started printing their stories of your mastery of the art of cooking. You’re the saviour of the Great British dish, you’ve created a masterpiece from the crumbs off the table to offer the Scots.

But your Positive Cake for the Union refuses to rise, it’s an indigestible mess. You test it on some polling panels. But however much you stuff it down their throats, it only gets vomited up back in your face. Some tweaks must be needed. Nothing to worry about. Just a hiccup.

You carry on regardless, but the results don’t change. The hiccups get worse. It’s puzzling, it should have been an easy gig. You want a make a dish that gives Scottish voters salmonella, so they’ll never be able to face a referendum again without feeling queasy, but you’ve got to make something they’ll swallow first. And they’re not swallowing it.

You go over the steps in your mind again, and again, and you just know you did everything exactly according to the recipe. It ought to have worked. Why isn’t it working? Everyone said it would work. Proper serious big city people.  People you thought were experts said it would be a piece of cake. Yet something’s missing, something’s not right. Something’s gone wrong, but you don’t know what. The kitchen clock is ticking.

You try again. You redouble your efforts and you put everything into it. You add extra bitter, try a dash of bile. You call on Phil Hammond for some alien ingredients. You get George Roberston to cook up a cataclysm. But now the judges are sniggering and looking at you with a mixture of disgust and pity. They won’t even touch the plate.

The harder you try the worse it gets. So you scream, and wail, but no matter how much you hurl abuse and shout and swear, you’re still no closer to finding out why the supposedly sure fire recipe went so badly wrong.

And time is running out. Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins are hovering in the background getting ready for their piece to the camera, ready to show the world how idiotic you’ve been. You can see your reputation before you, a sugar spun confection arching gracefully through the air on a trajectory for the floor.

The judges are assembling and they look in your direction. Some of them are laughing.

But it can’t be right. Don’t they know who you are? Have they no respect for your reputation? The judges can’t really choose a granny from Anstruther with her home baked offerings over you. How can people prefer those? You can’t charge £120 per serving in a posh London restaurant for that amateur stuff.  You won’t get into a French restaurant with that, you say, and the Spanish will veto it.

The granny must be lying. She must be deceiving. Her scones must be full of a nasty addictive chemical that causes cancer and everyone will die a horrible lingering death while you sit smugly by. If people eat them they’ll probably turn violent. After all, those scones are explosive, they’re blowing you out the water.

The cameras are on you and you feel that it’s all a bad dream. The one when you were giving a speech to a crowd and you didn’t realise you were naked apart from your socks.  How can you possibly be beaten by an amateur? She must really be in the pay of Alicsammin Inc, the evil international pie conglomerate. They’ve contrived all this in a kitchen buried deep within a secret underground lair.

The judges must be a bunch of provincials. They’re just acting emotionally. It just takes time for the subtlety and nuance of the bitterness to be replaced by common sense. Give it a bit longer and the revolting taste of your puke inducing offering will be forgotten, and the judges will realise that you are after all a chef with an international reputation and this is punch above your weight cuisine.  They love it in the expensive restaurants in London.

But there isn’t much longer left. The kitchen clock is ticking.

People are going to mock, and you know it. You’ll never make a soufle again. You’re the triple A rated chef who’s going to be stuffed by a granny from Anstruther with her home made scones of destiny. They’re just so moreish.

Tick tock. Time’s up. You lose.

The bastards have put real jam in them. And they did it deliberately. Why didn’t you think of that?


The Great British Mortality Race

New statistics have shown that Glasgow continues to sit at the top of British league tables, the city’s residents have the shortest life expectancy in the UK. It’s about the only competition Scotland gets to win under the Union, although the Great British Mortality Race – the team who can cough up enough Great British phlegm win a union flag bedecked coffin – isn’t a programme you can expect to see on the BBC any time soon.

Scotland’s health indicators are an indictment of the Greatest Partnership of Nations Ever TM.  We’re unhealthy. We die young – and not in a glamorous Jim Morrison sort of way. 307 years of Better Together and we’re not getting any better. We die of diseases of poverty and the stress it causes. We die from self medicating on alcohol or drugs.

In Glasgow, average life expectancy for males is 72 years, the lowest anywhere in the UK. A quarter of men in the city will not survive to the age of 65. Women typically live longer than men, women in Glasgow can expect to live 78 years, the lowest life expectancy for females in the UK.

Scottish health statistics are on a par with those of some of the poorest communities in the developed world. In the USA, Native American people confront appalling problems of social exclusion, racist abuse, the trivialisation of their cultures, an epidemic of alcoholism and drug abuse, unemployment, and poor housing – on top of issues of loss of sovereignty, broken treaties, land rights, mineral wealth which does not benefit local communities, the destruction of traditional ways of life and the loss of their languages. All of which sounds unsettlingly familiar in Scotland.

Native American people typically have lower life expectancy than other Americans. And in another familiar Scottish echo, the average life expectancy of Native American men in the USA is 72 years, and that of Native American women is 78.

In 2012, the UN published a report severely criticising US policies towards its Native American population. The report, writen by Professor James Anaya, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, noted : “Along with poverty, Native Americans suffer poor health conditions, with low life expectancy and high rates of disease, illness, alcoholism and suicide.” Which could just as easily be a description of the situation in some of Scotland’s housing schemes.

Calling on the US to address the problems faced by Native American communities, Prof Anaya and the UN urged the USA to take “determined action to secure their rights, within a model of respect for their self-determination and distinctive cultural identities”.  So devo max then, although Native American reservations do have more tax raising powers than Holyrood already.

The report also cited US government statistics showing that Native American life expectancy is 5.2 years lower than the national average, a smaller gap than the 7 years between average male life expectancy in Glasgow and the UK average of 79. Despite 307 years of what is supposedly the greatest and most successful union in the history of unions, relatively speaking the people of Glasgow have poorer life expectancy than Native Americans.

That is the product of the choices and priorities of successive Westminster governments which have treated Scotland and her people as resources to exploit. The outcome is systemic ill health, disease, disability, and shortened lives. Our hearts are being buried in the wounds of a knee to the groin.

But it’s an even sicker joke. In some parts of the city, life expectancy is lower than in India, and lower than that recorded for some of the poorest and most marginalised Native American communities. By quite some margin. Calton in the East End, just up the road from the Commonwealth Games jamboree, was reported to have a male life expectancy of just 54.

Devolution has helped. Scottish health statistics are showing signs of improvement. But as long as Westminster retains control of the fiscal and economic powers which can bring about the structural and systemic changes necessary to remedy the deep rooted reasons for Scottish ill health and shortened lifespans, all devolution can do is cover the wounds with a slightly bigger plaster. It can’t protect us from the cuts of an axe wielding Tory Government or a Labour party that’s equally hell bent on austerity. It’s like saying that the answer to air pollution is a better gas mask instead of taking action to prevent the pollution.

Of course Scots are not descended from genocide survivors, like modern Native Americans. We are not an oppressed people who are greatly outnumbered by colonists in our traditional land. Scotland’s problems are largely the product of a minority of other Scots. But that’s no argument against independence. The Scots who have dispossessed and exploited other Scots have been operating under the rules of the Union and with its protection and blessing. If we were independent that minority would not have a remote and unrepresentative parliament to fix the game for them, and the rest of us would have the voting strength to ensure that they could not continue to abuse and exploit us in the same ways. We could parcel up the rogues in our nation once and for all.

Scots are dying to be part of the Union, but we don’t have to. Scotland can make its sovereignty real and meaningful. We can take the future into our own hands, and seek solutions to the long standing problems of Union which are killing us. Because if these problems have not been addressed in 307 years of the Union which created them, they never will be. We’ll continue to die young, we’ll continue to suffer ill health. And we will never get better together with Westminster.

Vote yes, it’s good for your health.


Rum, sodomy, and the lash

It’s another of Project Fear’s carefully coordinated frightnights. It’s another drive-by Tory. This time it’s Tory Defence Minister Philip Hammond, again. Phil has come to Scotland to make a positive case for the Union, which consists of positively telling defence workers in Glasgow that they’re positively going to lose their jobs. Phil represents a Parliament which has already cost Scotland some 10,000 defence jobs. 40% of UK defence cuts have hit Scotland. But these were positive unionist cuts, so don’t really count and it’s just negative nationalist scaremongering to call attention to damage which has already happened.

Phil was supported in his headlong retreat from answering questions by covering fire from First Lord of the Admiralty Admiral Sir George Zambellas, who’s been needing something to do as he’s one of the 40 admirals in a navy which efficiently has half that number of warships and he keeps getting his socks wet when he sets sail on a desk. So George decided that it was a jolly roger of an idea to stick his oar into a political debate, and to tell the people who pay his wages and who therefore outrank him – that would be us – how to vote. Admiral George warned that Scottish independence would “weaken the effectiveness” of the Royal Navy, possibly by creating a situation where the navy’s 40 admirals have only 18 ships which would be ridiculously inefficient because then they don’t even get a half a boat each. And to make matters worse the cost overruns and delays on the MoD’s Amphibious Desk project are horrendous, but there are plans to use a couple of aircraft carriers they can’t afford planes for.

You can be certain that a military man didn’t invade a subject outside his job description without orders, or at the very least some strongly supportive suggestions nods and winks, from someone higher up the foodchain.

Many of us on the pro-independence side had already accused the No campaign of politicising the armed forces with their celebrations of D-Day and WW1 flag waving jamboree only to be told that we were being insane conspiracy theorists or deeply cynical miserabilists. And that last part would be true, because we’ve seen plenty in the way of cynical miserabilism from Westminster, so we’ve learned on the lap of the masters. But they can’t deny it now. With Admiral George’s intervention, there can be no argument that the British Goverment and Better Together will cheerfully politicise and subvert any institution in an effort to keep Westminster’s gravy boat afloat, up to and included the armed forces. And as such, it’s yet another reason why Scotland needs independence. I don’t want my public institutions perverted in this way.

Admiral George said Scottish independence wouldn’t be good for the rest of the UK although they’d get over it just as soon as the desk was watertight – but it would be dire for Scotland with the protection of no naval patrol vessels at all until the Scottish government could acquire some. Though how this would be worse than the situation we have under the Union where there are no naval patrol vessels based in Scotland and little prospect of getting any, George didn’t elucidate.

George thinks that Scotland’s independence would be a direct threat to the Royal Navy, which the First Lord of the Admiralty assures us has an unparalleled reputation and tradition. You won’t get that anywhere else apparently. Although Winston Churchill, who was also once First Lord of the Admiralty, reputedly once summed up these traditions as rum, sodomy, and the lash, which aren’t really that hard to find at all. As I recall, all are freely available on bondage nights in a number of the more niche market clubs and bars.

But in the case of Scotland, the equivalent would be taking our whisky revenues, shafting us, and threatening us with abuse if we try to leave. Now we know where Better Together got its navigation skills from, which explains why their campaign is now going full steam ahead like an Astute class submarine stuck on a rock off Skye.

Phil Hammond, who’s on drive-by duty this week, and who is looking more and more like the anonymous clype who shot his mouth off to a Guardian reporter and holed Better Together’s currency threat below the waterline, wanted to assure us that if there is a yes vote, absolutely nothing would be off the table in subsequent negotiations. Which was a not so coded way of saying “Please please please don’t do a bedroom tax on Trident, because we’ll pay more rent so it can stay. Look, here’s a shiny currency union.” Although he later swore blind that he didn’t mention a currency union as he was away in America at the time. And Alistair Darling had been on the phone again.

Naturally, being a Tory and a Unionist, Phil thinks any negotiations with Scotland would be immensely complex and difficult. We shouldn’t be surprised by that, Tories find everything to do with Scotland complex and difficult, as they are demonstrating with their ham fisted attempts to reach out to a Scottish electorate. Phil, who wasn’t scaremongering at all, said:

“Because if they insist that [Trident] has to go, there would have to be complex talks about the costs and timescales involved. Any notion that it would be quick and easy is just plain wrong.”

Saying it would not be quick or easy is a half truth, as Phil knows all too well because he may be many things, but he’s not that stupid. Spain negotiated the removal of the US Polaris nuclear missiles and subs from the American naval base at Rota in Andalusia. Agreement on removal was reached in 1976, not long after the death of Franco, and the nukes were adios by 1979. It took just 3 years from the opening of negotiations with the USA to the removal of weapons of mass destruction from Spain. So the process of removal is indeed relatively quick and easy, or at least it will be for Scotland.

Of course the USA had somewhere else to put their nuclear strap on dildoes, sorry, defence assets, the rUK doesn’t. So it’s not actually going to be quick and easy after all. It’s just that it’s the rUK that’s it’s not going to be quick and easy for, not Scotland. Scotland’s negotiating stance is easy to articulate. It’s: “That’s your problem pal”.

Talks about the costs are equally quick and easy for Scotland. They’re Westminster’s nukes, and if Westminster wants to keep them then Westminster can pay the removal costs. Otherwise we just make a wee call to the UN’s version of the cooncil binmen, and tell them we’ve got some nukes we’d like collected on Thursday. They were left behind by an antisocial lodger who we evicted.

The cost of a new base comes under “that’s your problem pal” too. Although no doubt a Unionist politician will pop up sooner or later to insist that Scotland has a moral duty to contribute financially to the most immoral weapon in the history of humanity. They don’t really do self awareness in Westminster.

However notionally some 8.4% of Trident belongs to Scotland, so theoretically Scotland could offset its share of any removal costs by giving Westminster the 8.4% share. But there will be the costs of cleaning up the mess the MoD will leave behind at Faslane and Coulport, so we’ll be expecting some compensation. Our 8.4% share of Trident may cover it, but it may not. The clean up afterwards may take years, but that depends on just how much radioactive contamination the MoD will leave behind. Currently they’re not for telling.

After independence we’ll find out just how much damage they’ve done. Since the MoD managed to contaminate a beach in Dalgety Bay for hundreds of years to come with just some glow in the dark paint, it’s sobering to consider just how much dangerous waste they may have spilled or lost track of when they’ve been dealing with yer actual nuclear warheads and nuclear powered submarines.

The current anger over Trident will be a wee tsk and an indulgent “och whit are you like” compared to the particle-storm of gamma rayed fury which will explode against the MoD when Scotland finds out just how much glow in the dark crap they’ve left in our land and our seas. The present bunch of Westminster incompetents are in no small part motivated by a desire to keep Trident in Scotland at least until they’ve safely retired to a seat in the Lords and some cushy directorships. Then they can escape the fall out.

So it’s not Scotland that’s been got over the barrel of a Trident missile Phil, that would be you. What dirty little career ending embarrassments is the MoD hiding under the cover of national security? Independence means they’ll be found out.

That said, there may be the glimmerings of a deal. But it’s not a question of how much Scotland is going to have to pay Westminster for the removal of Trident, it’s a question of how much Westminster is going to have to pay Scotland. For starters, Westminster can stop pissing us around with currency union threats, EU threats and Eurovision threats, see sense on debts and assets, and Scotland might just give Westminster a short, limited, and tightly supervised period of grace in which to move its WMDs. But only if they start acting like grown ups and not like petulant pettit lipped weans who’ve been too used to getting their own way. Or we can get rid of the nukes the day after independence. It’s your call Phil.

But there are very many in Scotland who would not be at all happy with even the shortest period of grace – like me for starters – so Phil and Admiral George can rest assured a Scottish Government will be expected to extract a very high price for it. Because it will be the people of Scotland who are holding the lash. Won’t that be a novelty.



Hysterical history

Rory Stewart’s unionist propaganda thinly disguised as a BBC history documentary has provoked the ire of SNP MSP Stewart Maxwell, who has attacked the BBC for yet another of its exercises in compulsory Britishness. But we all know that’s the BBC’s bread and Scottish butter. He ought to have attacked the programme for being risible history, a melange of cherry picked factoids whipped up into the wrong conclusion by a Tory MP who kept reminding us that he is Scottish. He didn’t actually say he was a Proud Scot. But you know he wanted to.

Being interested in ancient history, I watched the first episode, expecting it to be propaganda seeing as how it was made by a Tory MP, but even propaganda can be done with art and a sense of style. Instead we got Rory, who wanted us to know he was Scottish, mugging his way through a series of interviews with ordinary folk and posh folk and the occasional nutter, mixed with the usual long shots of Great British Scenery. Rory, who’s actually Scottish, was telling the story of the “lost middleland”, the Uhu of the UK.  Which seemed to be mostly Welsh, or Danish.  But that bit was sort of glossed over.

His thesis, as far as I could tell, was that Scotland only wants independence because we’ve been seduced by a transient and tribal identity. That would be the Scottish one. Britishness encompasses all in Rory’s view, and everything else is a temporary aberration in the glorious march through history of a single British people. And he’s Scottish so he wouldn’t just make stuff like that up. But as history goes, it’s still bollocks. It’s Britishness which is the temporary aberration in the story. Rory chooses to confuse what anthropologists call a cultural province with a single national identity.

A cultural province is a region where neighbouring political, social, linguistic and ethnic groups share many aspects of their culture in common. Cultural provinces are not home to single national identities, quite the reverse. One of the best defined and distinctive cultural provinces in the anthropological and linguistic literature is that of the native peoples of the Pacific North West, the coastal area of Washington state in the USA, British Columbia, and the Alaskan Panhandle. The people of this region shared a distinctive art style and religion, they had similar economies, and many cultural practices in common. But it was also home to many different nations and languages – and just as many identities – which were shifting, kaleidoscopic and ever changing.

The islands of Britain and Ireland and their associated islands are a cultural province within Europe. And just like Pacific North West, this group of islands in North West Europe has always been home to diverse peoples, cultures, languages, and traditions and a shifting kaleidoscope of identities. It’s the ever changing and dynamic relationships between these groups which creates the cultural province. And whatever you care to call the cultural province they’ve created, it’s not the same as a modern British identity – however that’s defined.  It can’t be called British, because it encompasses Ireland too.

Rory, did he tell you he was Scottish, was attempting the classic appeal of nationalism in the name of the British nationalism which is trying to persuade us it isn’t nationalism at all. Validation by appeal to an ancient past. My Britishness is older than your Scottishness, and therefore it’s more authentic. It’s a highly dubious argument for many reasons.  Not the least of which is that a sense of Britishness is historically a very recent development. Its seeds were sown with the Union of Crowns in 1603, but it wasn’t until the Scottish bourgeoise enthusiastically adopted the English language and North Britishness in the 18th century that it really caught on, yet even then it was just a plug in. We kept using the Caledonian browser. In England it never caught on at all, British merely became a synonym for English.

The ancient Britons didn’t have any concept of themselves as Britons. Their allegience was to their tribe. However it is true that before the arrival of the Romans it’s likely that a single language was spoken throughout the island of Britain, and that language is known to linguists as Brittonic. The problem for Rory, who even has a Scottish name, is that Brittonic is merely a convenient term for those parts of a pan-European Celtic dialect chain that were spoken on the island of Britain.

Dialects forming a part of the same Celtic language complex were also found in Ireland, France, Germany, Spain… all the way across Europe into modern Turkey. Roman historians make it clear that Britons and Gauls understood one another without the need for translators, and some Celtic tribes had lands in both Britain and Gaul. Including tribes living in the supposed “Middleland” like the Parisi of Yorkshire, who also held lands around the city of Paris which was named after them.

So really it was a European identity then, not a British one. We spoke the same language as people in Paris.  We’re really French, or possibly Belgian.  Only that probably won’t go down so well with the more Eurosceptic party colleagues of Rory the Tory, who’s Scottish you know.

Not that the antiquity of a national identity is relevant anyway. The modern Macedonian national identity dates to the late 19th century and the early parts of the 20th. Previously the Macedonians had been considered Bulgarian. But in the 19th century as the Christian Orthodox Slavic speakers of the Balkans gained independence from Ottoman Turkey, the new Bulgarian literary language became established on the basis of the eastern dialect of the city of Tarnovo. Western dialect speakers found this too far removed from their own speech, and created their own Macedonian literary language based on the usage of the region south of Skopje. Macedonia then found itself a part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and the combination of a distinct literary dialect and the political history of the 20th century created a Macedonian national identity. It’s not any less valid just because it’s historically recent.

It’s really stupid arguing with people about their identity anyway. Because the thing about personal identity is that it’s personal, which means another individual is far more of an expert in their own identity than you can ever be. Otherwise you end up like a German lassie I met on holiday on my first foray into properly furren pairts, who when hearing I was from Scotland assured me: “I’m sure you’ll find you are in fact English.” And I was just as sure that she would find she was talking shite.

So Rory’s attempts were doomed to failure even before he began, even if he is Scottish, because this isn’t a debate about identity at all, never mind one about whose identity is the oldest. Although it is definitely the Scottish one. The Scottish national identity dates to – at the very latest – the Scottish Wars of Independence and arguably a lot earlier. So it predates a British national identity by a good few hundred years, just to rub it in and go nyah nyah nyah. Because if that’s how David Starkey and Rory the Tory, who’s Scottish you know, can do history then so can the rest of us.

Scotland exists as a nation, a nation with a distinctive political culture and national institutions. We already know what our identity is, and we don’t need to be told we’re victims of false consciousness by an Eton educated Tory. Because however Scottish he considers himself to be, he’s still doesn’t understand what this independence debate is all about. And you don’t even need to be Scottish to understand it Rory. You just need to live here and listen to what people are talking about.

It’s not even a debate about nationalism. Accepting the existence of a distinct polity known as Scotland and recognising it is a nation doesn’t make you a nationalist any more than visiting Las Vegas makes you a vegan.  The debate is about what to do with Scotland’s distinctive political culture. It’s about achieving the means and methods of tackling the serious problems Scotland faces - land reform, Trident missiles, inequality, social exclusion, an ageing population. It’s about whether we trust in Westminster to use the resources of Scotland’s land and the talents and skills of her people to make a better future for Scotland and to tackle these problems – and its track record in that department does not inspire confidence – or whether we trust a Scottish Parliament with the full powers of the parliament of any normal nation.  A parliament that’s beholden to the voters of Scotland and no one else.

It’s about the future Rory, not the past. If you hadn’t been too busy planning a torchlit human chain the length of Hadrian’s Wall you might have had a lightbulb moment and worked that out for yourself.

But ask a Unionist for a positive case for the Union, and the past is all you get. Independence offers a positive case for the future Rory, where’s yours?











Project Fear’s gumsy midgie

Another day, another scare story. Now we’re told (copyright Justine Greening the Tory International Development Secretary) that Scottish independence will rip the bread from the mouths of the poorest people in the world. See those starving babies in the charity campaign advert? That’s alicsammin’s fault that is.

Justine says Scottish independence will reduce the UK’s aid budget. Won’t anyone think of the children? Justine thinks Scotland won’t be giving anyone any aid of course, on account of us needing UN food parcels full of mars bars and lard.

Och, I cannae be arsed. Can you be arsed? Sometimes Better Together’s scare stories are just so needledicked they’re less consequential than a gumsy midgie. Let’s just file this one under “too poor” and move on. Project Fear’s embarrassed itself enough for the time being. Ignoring it is an act of kindness. And just to demonstrate that people in Scotland are in fact deeply charitable, more and more of them are ignoring Project Fear every day.

Instead, I’m going to list some of my top reasons for independence, just to prove that cynical auld gits can do positive too. Or at least as positive as some of us can get, which, to be honest, isn’t very. So in no particular order …

1. Getting rid of Trident

A weapon which can evaporate a city is worse than an obscenity. But it’s not enough for some power crazy weapons fetishists to have the ability to wipe out the entire human race, oh no, they want to have the ability to wipe out everything that’s more evolved than bacteria. Possibly because that’s the only way they won’t feel threatened by any intellectual superiors.

Trident has no redeeming features. It’s not even a weapon of mass destruction that serves any purpose, other than allowing British politicians to make like they’re important. They can’t even use it without US permission. Trident is the viagra of the decrepit ruins of the British Empire, and we’re all being screwed. We’re going to have to pay hundreds of billions for the privilege.

I want it gone. Westminster governments have shown not the slightest inclination to get rid of Trident. Instead they want to spend vast sums on a new version, so British governments can have viagra with go-faster stripes and join in circle jerks with the Pentagon.

Independence means Scotland will be rid of Trident. I’d vote yes for that reason alone.

2. Politicians cannae be trusted

People who want to make a career out of making laws for other people to follow are people who need to be kept on a short leash. Scotland’s Westminster masters are not on a short leash. They’re on an infinitely long elastic which passes with ease through wormholes in the fabric of space and time. They call it the UK’s unwritten constitution. What it really means is that the Westminster Parliament can do whatever suits itself, and that’s exactly what it does, and is exactly the way the Unionist parties like it. Vote yes and we snap the elastic, leaving Westminster’s knickers around its ankles.

Independence would give Scotland a written constitution. There would be rules, there would be checks and balances. There would be no infinitely long elastic. There would be a short leash. I want people with power close enough so my foot can reach their arses, metaphorically speaking, of course.

3. Did I mention that politicians really cannae be trusted

They never do what they say. Aye right, hordes of SNP supporters are going to tell me that the SNP Government has done what it said it would do in its manifesto – but being a cynic I’d just say that’s what I’d do too if I was trying to persuade people I was responsible, even though I’m basically an irresponsible person who’s only responsible when it suits me. Which is pretty much the same as the rest of the human species.

Anyway the point is you can’t always rely on it suiting people to be responsible. So you need some means of showing them your displeasure when they aren’t. Being able to vote them out of power would be a nice start. Under Westminster, we can’t vote them out of power. We have to hope that our neighbours vote them out of power. The neighbours don’t always oblige. But even when the neighbours vote out a government, the individuals in the party sail on regardless. If they’ve got their bum on a safe seat they’re there for life.

And when we do manage to get rid of them at the ballot box, like in 1997 when Scotland put a stake through the heart of Michael Forsyth, his manifesto, and his entire Scottish Tory party they only get bitten by their fellow vampires and get a coffin in the House of Lords along with thon Labour guy whose Native American name is Dances-With-Polis.

There are no consequences for failure in the Westminster system. Voting yes shows them that there are consequences. Then we can replace Westminster with a Parliament whose representatives the electorate of Scotland can get rid of all by themselves. And some garlic for Michael Forsyth.

4. Broadband or modem?

There ye go, wanting to Skype with your cousin in Waiwhakamukau in New Zealand. Would you like a shiny new superfast broadband connecting you directly to the world wide webbies, or would you settle for one of those whirrbuzzksheeetttttwhangtwang thingies that blocks up your phone line and takes 4 days to download a 20 second video of a cute kitten that you’re desperate to see because they never ever show that sort of thing on Reporting Scotland?

As far as Scotland’s communications with the wider world are concerned, we don’t even have the creaky old modem. Scotland is represented on the world stage by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Government. Naturally they represent the interests of the UK, which is most commonly interpreted as the interests of the UK Government, which in turn is the interests of whichever bunch of unaccountable politicians happens to have the biggest gang in Westminster. They’ll quite happily sell out Scottish interests if it suits them, and all too often that’s what they do. Fishery quotas anyone?

Scotland has no international voice. We do not punch above our weight as part of the UK, because being part of the UK makes Scotland invisible. The unfortunate truth for Better Together’s grandiose claims of vast Scottish influence is that Scotland is part of a Union which is usually known abroad as Inglaterra. Folk like former NATO Secretary General George Roberston confuse their own public profile with that of Scotland’s. And we really wish he’d stop, because he’s a total embarrassment. When my Spanish speaking friends refer to him as a político inglés I don’t want to correct them any more, and that makes me a cataclysmicly bad person.

We need our own broadband connection to the world. Our own representation in international bodies. It’s not like I expect Scotland to have a massive influence in world affairs. I’d be content with the rest of the world realising we exist.

4. A normal country

It would be nice to live in normal country, where people had normal political arguments about the kind of stuff that Johann Lamont keeps saying she wants to have a debate about, just as soon as she’s finished working her way through the 36000 long list of Chinese character insults for alicsammin, because the 26 letters of an A-Z just aren’t enough for her. But we can’t have that, because Scotland is not a normal country. Johann’s patter is proof of that.

More precisely, Scotland is a normal country stuck in an abnormal situation. Scotland is a normal country which isn’t allowed to act like a normal country. Normal countries get the governments they vote for who implement the policies the electorate preferred, and if they don’t they get voted out. Normal countries have a national broadcaster. Normal countries, at least the democratic ones, have a press and media that reflects the diversity of voices and opinions in that country. Normal countries forge ties and alliances with other countries according to their own national interests. Normal countries are able to take steps to tackle their own problems – and Scotland has a lot of those.

But Scotland can’t do any of the things a normal country can do. Being a part of the UK condemns Scotland to an eternity of devo navel gazing while the inequalities remain unchallenged and more food banks open. And Scotland’s sense of itself gets battered into the Cringe.

The remedy, if you are truly fortunate, is to remove yourself from the abnormal situation. We can do that by voting yes to a question which really ought to read “Do you want Scotland to be a normal country?”

Then we can concentrate on solving our problems and making Scotland a better place for everyone who lives here. Even grumpy auld sods, who will, if we screw things up, have no one else to blame – though that probably won’t stop them trying. And no one is going to have interminable discussions about whether Scotland really needs the power to vary one tax band or two and by 10p or 15p.

5. A referendum on the monarchy

We’re not voting to abolish the monarchy in September. More’s the pity. Even worse it’s not a referendum on whether to abolish Nicholas Witchell from the telly. He does for the Royals what George Osborne does for the Better Together campaign.

This is not the opinion of the current Scottish Government, which wants to keep Liz as head of state and refuses to make jokes in public about Nicholas Witchell. If Liz is head of state in an independent Scotland then they can insist that she’s to be Elizabeth I and not Elizabeth II, although there are very many in Scotland who’d prefer she was known as Elizabeth the Last. However there are also those who love the romance and drama of fancy costumes and the whole ruler and ruled schtick, even though there are nightclubs for that sort of thing.

I’m not a gambling man. In my drug fuelled youth I once put a bet on a horse called Roll A Joint, thinking oh that’s the nag for me. Only it fell at a fence and they had to shoot it. I took that as A Sign. It is however a safe bet that a stoned dead horse with a broken leg has a better chance of winning a steeplechase than there is of the Westminster Parliament ever offering us a referendum on the monarchy.

There are very different odds with an independent Scottish Parliament. It’s far more likely that there could be a majority in a Scottish Parliament in favour of a referendum on the subject. It’s a question which is definitely going to come up when we’re faced with King Charles and Queen Camilla. Or WillnKate, the AntnDec of monarchy. I’ll be making it come up, and I strongly suspect I won’t be alone.

So I’m voting yes in September for the possibility that one day we can get rid of the monarchy. Vote no and it’s a vote to keep it forever.

6. A Labour party

It would be nice to have a Labour party wouldn’t it? A Labour party that didn’t want to privatise things, and developed policies aimed at meeting the needs of ordinary working class people, one that was opposed to nuclear weapons, and kept equality of opportunity and access for all as its central goal. You know, an actual Labour party. The kind that the current Labour party mythologises, but for real. The kind of Labour party that George Galloway says he wants only if it really was that kind of Labour party it wouldn’t let George Galloway in. That kind of Labour party. The one we were promised but never got.

Labour won’t change itself. It can’t change itself. Independence will change it. It’s Labour in Scotland’s only chance to become the party it was supposed to be, the party it claimed to be. A party which is actually a Scottish Labour party. Then it might even become worth voting for.

So there’s six of my own reasons. There are many many more. And every single yes voter has a list of reasons of their own. Few of which involve ancient history or caring about currency unions. No doubt I’ll get round to the rest of mine in due course. The best response to a Unionist politician like Justine Greening grabbing a cheap headline with irrelevant pap is to ignore them and talk about more important things instead.