Better Together No Thanks, shortly to be rerebranded as BeTNoTh because the perfect brand image for the Union is casino capitalism presented by a BBC weather announcer, are in a spot of betterbother, again. This time it’s so egregious that even the Scotsman is having a hard time putting a positive spin on it. So it must be really bad then. Because that’s like your doting granny admitting on national TV that you are, in fact, just a wee bastert.
It turns out that Better Together – remember when it was still Better Together, ah the nostalgia – made their annoying cinema advert in BBC Scotland studios with a BBC crew. Oh what a tangled web they weave when they’re politically neutral at the Beeb. The advert, the Scotsman primly tells us, was “divisive” amongst cinema audiences, which is apparently how booing, cat-calling and throwing popcorn at the screen are described in the doucer parts of Edinburgh. So another quality production from BBC Scotland then. Actually that’s unfair, it was all very professionally done. It was the content that was shite, and that was entirely down to Better Together.
The nice wee deal between Better Together and the BBC was, we are assured, a perfectly normal commercial transaction of the sort that the BBC often negotiates with film production companies. A film production company pays the BBC commercial rates to make use of BBC studios and crew and it’s all perfectly legitimate and above board. Or in layperson’s terms, Better Together used money raised to finance the production of pro-Unionist propaganda, which was paid to the BBC so it could finance the production of its own pro-Unionist propaganda, and pay its membership subs to the CBI. So that’s alright then.
The BBC’s own guidelines don’t just say the Corporation has to remain neutral. They also say that the Corporation must not do anything which might look as though it is not neutral. This looks like it comes as perilously close to breaking the BBC’s obligation to remain politically neutral as setting your Honda Civic on fire, dropping a 15 tonne block of concrete on the smouldering remains, and recycling the wreckage into a crackly radio receiver that can only pick up Kaye Adams, looks like it comes perilously close to scratching your car’s paintwork.
It’s all looking to be as big a flustercluck as the launch of Scotland 2014. BBC Scotland has been teetering on the brink of strike action for weeks, demoralised staff are deeply unhappy at the damage being done to the BBC’s reputation by their own bosses. This latest episode in the Pacific Quay soap opera may lead staff to take strike action. Ken MacQuarrie and John Boothman are about as popular as JR Ewing with the cast of Dallas. They’re hoping that once the referendum is over they will wake up and discover the events of the past 12 months have all been a dream. It used to be speculated that BBC Scotland might fall apart after the independence referendum, now it’s looking increasingly likely that it will fall apart beforehand.
Better Together, or is it No Thanks? Or is it Acanchi’s Vote Nob Orders or have they died a death like United with Gordon? Still think Vote Nob Orders was a good brand name then? And what happened to that Vote Nob Orders supergroup? Did anyone ever actually listen to that song all the way through? It’s hard to keep up with the rebranding and the relaunches. What is the No campaign called this week? No Campaign, No Name. At least that’s kind of snappy and alliterative. And they’re led by a bunch of no-marks, so there’s a sort of cosmic balance about it – don’t chi think? Someone ought to tell them that it’s hard to take uncertainty warnings seriously from people who’re uncertain what their own name is.
But then it’s hard to take any sort of warning seriously when it comes out of the mouth of Alistair Darling. Alistair’s got a special way with words. In his own mind he’s quite right to say that the Scottish independence campaign isn’t civic nationalism at all, because Alistair’s got a neighbour who votes SNP and he definitely doesn’t drive a Honda. It’s a German car, although it does have very badly damaged paintwork. And he can’t understand why people are getting upset over the blood and soil reference. Yes supporters are up to their elbows in soil and blood. It’s well known that SNP Falkirk maintain a crack squad of Beechgrove garden fans who terrify innocent Labour party committee members with displays of nationalist nasturtiums. And just the other weekend at Yes in the Park, evil followers of that even eviller website, the one with a logo that looks just like a German eagle if you take your glasses off and scrunch your eyes up, were making rolls and black sausage. Black sausage, made from blood that is. In German it’s called Blutwurst – blood sausage. You need more proof than that? And they were flaunting their nationalist rolls and black sausage quite shamelessly. Some people even got accused of being related by marriage to a former Lord Provost of Glasgow. It’s carnage out there.
Anyway, in other news, the No-whitever-they-call-themselves-this-week campaign have now also got the very tough sell to the Orange Order that they’re marching behind the Pope. And just before marching season too. So that’s … eh … a blessing.
Or at least the Pope is against Scottish independence if you pay heed to Unionist politicians, which isn’t the same as the real world. Project I’m Afraid I Can’t Remember My Own Name are clearly praying that the news can be spun into a deffo threat of excommunication if you dare to vote yes. They’ve already got the fire and brimstone courtesy of George Cataclysm NoCulture Robertson, now they want the eternal damnation as well.
However Pope Francis didn’t actually say that he thought Scottish independence was a terrible idea, he just pointed out that independence campaigns tend to be somewhat fraught, and that each country is unique and deals with different issues. Both of which are what you might call rational and sensible observations, and not exactly revelations from God that voting for independence will result in plagues of boils and toads. Danny Alexander is a one man plague of boils, so at least Westminster’s already got that one covered.
However when you go and read the original interview, given in his native Spanish to the Barcelona newspaper La Vanguardia, the Pope hasn’t actually said anything in support of Nob Orders No Thanks.
La Vanguardia, although published in Barcelona, is a Spanish language publication owned by commercial interests in Madrid. Intriguingly, three Catalan newspapers owned by non-Catalan commercial interests have recently had new editors appointed by their owners, all of whom are opposed to Catalan independence, one of whom is the new editor of La Vanguardia. Possibly that’s a miracle, but the Pope wasn’t asked to comment. But it’s interesting to note that the reporter on La Vanguardia asked the Pope a very leading question of the sort usually found in Better Together sponsored opinion polls. The exact question to which Pope Francis was replying was “Does the conflict between Catalonia and Spain worry you?” To which the expected answer was naturally “Oh God yes.”
But that’s not what the Pope said. Here is his reply in the original Spanish, followed by my translation.
Toda división me preocupa. Hay independencia por emancipación y hay independencia por secesión. Las independencias por emancipación, por ejemplo, son las americanas, que se emanciparon de los estados europeos. Las independencias de pueblos por secesión es un desmembramiento, a veces es muy obvio. Pensemos en la antigua Yugoslavia. Obviamente, hay pueblos con culturas tan diversas que ni con cola se podían pegar. El caso yugoslavo es muy claro, pero yo me pregunto si es tan claro en otros casos, en otros pueblos que hasta ahora han estado juntos. Hay que estudiar caso por caso. Escocia, la Padania, Catalunya Habrán casos que serán justos y casos que no serán justos, pero la secesión de una nación sin un antecedente de unidad forzosa hay que tomarla con muchas pinzas y analizarla caso por caso.
“All division worries me. There is independence by emancipation, and there is independence by secession. Examples of independence by emancipation are the Americas, which emancipated themselves from European states. The independence of a people by secession is a break up, sometimes it’s very obvious. Let us think about the old Yugoslavia. Obviously, there are peoples and cultures which are so diverse that they cannot be stuck together even with glue. The Yugoslav case is very clear, but I ask myself if it is so clear in other cases, in other peoples which until now have been joined. They must be studied case by case. Scotland, Padania, Catalonia. There will be cases which will be just and cases which will not be just, but the secession of a nation without a prior history of forced union must be handled very carefully [the Spanish idiom is 'taken with many clips/tweezers'] and analysed case by case.”
This is scarcely a Papal Bull ruling in favour of Westminster. It is a bit of a shame that the interviewer didn’t think to ask the Pope about Las Malvinas, because it would have been fun to watch the UK media spinning that one. However it may be worthwhile to point out at this juncture that the Catholic church in Scotland is entirely independent in its organisation from the Catholic church in England and Wales.
The independence of the Catholic church in Scotland was assured in 1189, when a Papal Bull was issued recognising the Church in Scotland as a “special daughter of the See of Rome”, meaning that Catholic bishops in Scotland were directly answerable to the Pope alone, and not to the Archbishop of York as was asserted by the Norman monarchs of England. It was an affirmation that the Kingdom of Scotland was not subject to the Kingdom of England. The Catholic clergy were outlawed in Scotland during the Reformation, but in 1878 the Catholic hierarchy was re-established as a special daughter of the See of Rome. In the eyes of the Catholic church and Canon Law, Scotland is an independent nation already. Which is an interesting Osservatore Romano on Pope’s comments on the Scottish independence campaign.
If they were looking for a miracle to raise their cremated campaign from the dead, the Pope has not obliged. It’s looking more and more as though Scotland will excommunicate Westminster.
But not to worry, God himself will shortly intervene directly on behalf of the No Really You Need To Tell Us What To Call You Campaign – just as soon as Tony Blair gets back from his speaking engagements on the directorship lunch circuit.
Update: I’ve been asked for a clarification of the Spanish phrase ‘tomar con pinzas’ the Pope used in his interview with La Vanguardia. Its literal translation is “to take with tweezers”, and in the Spanish of Spain it can be used as an equivalent of “to take with a pinch of salt”, however it lacks the same negative implications found in the English phrase. This is the choice of translation used in the Scotsman, and it gives the incorrect impression that the Pope believes that Scottish or Catalan independence are in some sense unbelievable or unacceptable. That’s not what he meant at all. In Latin American Spanish (and the Pope is, remember, Argentinian) the sense of ‘tomar con pinzas’ is better expressed by the English idiom “to handle with kid gloves” – in other words it means that the topic must be handled with great care and sensitivity. I translated it as “to handle very carefully” as I thought this was the most neutral translation.
Update 2: Since there’s a wee bit of linguistic pedantry hoo-ha going on about what the Pope did or didn’t say, and whether the Scotsman’s Spanish translator is or is not a bit rubbish (I’m siding with rubbish here. What did they use – Google Translate?), I’ve made a slight alteration to my translation, although not one that alters the meaning significantly and which isn’t the phrase that’s being questioned. Where the Pope said Pensemos en la antigua Yugoslavia I’d originally put We think about the old Yugoslavia. But I didn’t see the second e and read pensamos instead. Pensamos is “We think”, pensemos is “let’s think”. The translation has been corrected accordingly. I’ll go and write it out 100 times now. And I need better glasses.