Tuesday, January 17, 2017
* The UK will leave the Single Market.
* The UK will leave the Customs Union (giving us a lesser status than Turkey).
* The jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice will no longer extend to the UK.
* The UK will not retain "partial membership" of the European Union.
* The UK will not accept anything that leaves it "half in, half out".
* The UK will not seek to "adopt a model already enjoyed by other countries" (ie. the Norway or Swiss models that are synonymous with a soft Brexit).
* The UK will not seek to retain "bits of EU membership" after Brexit.
Labour's mind-boggling response to that manifesto was "it is good that she has ruled that hard Brexit out at this stage". Which begs the obvious question - what exactly would qualify as hard Brexit in Labour's eyes? What would make them acknowledge that this is a plan that needs to be fought, rather than embraced or finessed? I'm beginning to think only a foreign policy akin to that of North Sentinel Island (breaking off all contact with the outside world and throwing spears at any boat or plane that approaches) would do the trick.
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Monday, January 16, 2017
Scottish Government don't blink on single market membership : independence referendum becomes even more likely
Sunday, January 15, 2017
Yes, I'd say that pretty much sums up every Alex Massie blogpost about Scotland for the last three years, and the latest one is no exception. The only difference this time is that the "but all the same" interludes take us even deeper into the realms of the fantastical than usual. First of all, Massie makes a truly mind-boggling implication about the short Jackie Kay poem that is included in each of the new baby boxes...
"I ask you to consider the reaction if the poet laureate agreed to write a poem celebrating – and therefore supporting – a new government policy (‘Ode to the Bedroom Tax‘ perhaps?)."
It's at moments like this you find yourself questioning your own sanity, but I have to report that having re-read the poem several times, I've completely failed to detect even the slightest hint that it 'celebrates' or 'supports' any government policy whatsoever. To my eyes, which admittedly are considerably less tutored than Mr Massie's eyes, every single line of the poem seems to be going on and on and on about how absolutely bloody marvellous some unspecified newborn baby is. He/she is extremely wise (seems improbable at that age, but who knows), has really bright eyes, a trustworthy hand, and a circular head (impressive). At no point are we invited to forget about babies, kneel in homage to the Dear Leader and chant "Material Change In Circumstances" forty-three times. Oh, and the poem is called Welcome Wee One, not The Box of Delights.
For his next trick, Massie attempts to brand Scotland a one-party state while gloating about the SNP only being a minority government, all in the space of one sentence. Unsurprisingly, he doesn't really pull it off, but you've got to admire his ambition.
"It is a reminder, if any were needed, that while talk of Scotland as a one-party state is overblown – the SNP is after all a minority government – Scotland is a country dominated by just one party. That has consequences, not the least of which is a realisation – commercial as well as political – that crossing the SNP may be unwise."
In other words Scotland isn't a one-party state but it really really is.
"a reminder that while much of the alt-Nat community thinks the mainstream press an irrelevance, sensible people know a little better"
Translation of 'alt-Nat' : exclusion from the mainstream media somehow makes left-wing Scottish civic nationalism a bit like the far-right groups that helped Trump into power. This makes perfect sense in spite of the fact that Massie himself is ideologically slightly closer to Trump than SNP supporters are.
"So just as there are idiots who think the BBC weather map a conspiracy to make Scotland seem awful small..."
Conspiracy or not, the undeniable point is that the BBC weather map does make Scotland look considerably smaller in relation to the rest of the UK than it actually is, and it's very hard to understand why right-wing Scots like Massie seem to glory in that fact. They could reasonably call it trivial, but why do they seem to think it's actually desirable? My own guess is that the map came about as the result of an unconscious bias - after all, if you were looking at the UK as if from space, it would be perfectly possible to centre the gaze on the heart of the country, with both the northern and southern extremes looking smaller than the area around Manchester. But no, it clearly just 'felt' more natural to centre the gaze on the far south, and to make Scotland look distant and tiny. That it might not have been a deliberate slight doesn't mean that it isn't extremely revealing.
"...so there are Unionists who think the use of the Scots vernacular – and the pretence the phonetic rendition of a Scots accent makes a language – the thin edge of the nationalist wedge"
For the love of God, someone buy the man a book. There may still be a lively debate over whether Scots is a dialect of English or a fully-fledged language in its own right, but the idea that it's no more than the phonetic rendering of an "accent" is such a preposterous post-truth claim that it might make even Trump himself blush.
Mind you, perhaps we've just solved the mystery of what government "policy" Massie thinks Jackie Kay's poem - written in Scots - was "celebrating".
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Saturday, January 14, 2017
Moment of truth for Indyref 2 as Sturgeon's red line is crossed : reports suggest Theresa May will pull the UK out of the single market
Several newspapers have reported in the last few minutes that Theresa May is now confirming that she will be prepared to withdraw the UK (and by extension Scotland) from the single market if the free movement of people is non-negotiable - which Angela Merkel and other European leaders have already stated is absolutely the case.
So this is the moment of truth for the unionist commentators who have spent months telling themselves that Nicola Sturgeon is bluffing about a second independence referendum. If they're right, Sturgeon will shortly abandon her red line that Scotland must stay in the single market, and will offer to settle for much more modest concessions.
I don't believe for one moment that she's going to do that. Deep down, I don't think her critics truly believe that she will either (except perhaps for a few based in London who are particularly poorly informed). Either way, it looks like we're about to find out.
Via Twitter, I've learned that Richard Walker said this at the Scottish Independence Convention earlier today -
"The National, the Sunday Herald, Bella Caledonia and CommonSpace all came under fire during the Holyrood election campaign for the sin of giving space to pro-indy parties such as RISE and the Greens, because we were accused of allegedly encouraging voters to give their second votes to those parties, and therefore eroding the SNP majority."
With all due respect to Richard, that gives a somewhat misleading impression of the nature of the criticisms that were levelled. It's true that some people had a general complaint that wildly disproportionate coverage was being given to RISE in particular, which was and remains a fringe party that never had any realistic hope of winning even one seat in parliament (the fact that they didn't come close even after the lavish coverage they received tells its own story). But there was also an entirely separate and much more specific criticism of Bella Caledonia and, for one weekend only, of the Sunday Herald - namely that they misled their readers about the workings of the voting system, giving the impression that SNP list votes were not required for a majority, and that SNP supporters would therefore be foolish not to give their list votes on a tactical basis to RISE or the Greens, with the pie-in-the-sky objective of simultaneously electing a majority pro-independence government and a pro-independence opposition.
It's disingenuous to imply that the latter type of criticism of Bella and the Sunday Herald amounted to an objection to RISE or the Greens being given any coverage, or even very generous coverage. It would have been perfectly possible to give those parties lots of space to pitch for list votes on the basis of their own policies, as opposed to the endless distortions about the voting system and the "tactical" possibilities it supposedly offered. It's impossible to know for sure whether the pro-tactical voting editorial line in Bella and the Sunday Herald contributed in any significant way to the loss of the SNP majority, but as the SNP actually made gains in the constituencies and lost their majority entirely on the list, the possibility self-evidently cannot be excluded.
Note that this criticism does not extend to The National - I can't recall them ever publishing anything misleading on the tactical voting issue, and indeed in the run-up to the election they splashed with a very fair piece by John Curtice that set out at least some of the arguments in both directions very clearly. Although CommonSpace were pushing RISE quite heavily, I can't clearly remember what line they were taking on tactical voting - I do recall that at one point they posted both the Phantom Power video I appeared in, and Stephen Paton's own pro-tactical voting video, to allow people to make up their own minds. So there was perhaps less of an all-out propaganda campaign going on at CommonSpace than there was at Bella.
Friday, January 13, 2017
YouGov poll reveals the chasm between Scottish and British public opinion on the EU is as wide as ever
I think if I was a Liberal Democrat, I'd be distinctly underwhelmed by the findings of the first two Britain-wide voting intention polls of 2017. Both YouGov and ICM have Tim Farron's party trailing in fourth place, behind UKIP by several points. The suggestions of a few weeks ago that 'normal service' had been resumed and that the broadcast media could safely revert to treating the Lib Dems as the 'real' third force of British politics now ring even more hollow than they did at the time. The very minor boost that YouGov reported for the party after Richmond Park appears to have been largely reversed, while ICM never really showed a boost in the first place. The most that can be said now is that the Lib Dems are at the higher end of what was their 'normal range' of support prior to Richmond Park. Unless they achieve a big headline success story at the local elections in May, the momentum from their by-election triumph may end up being squandered. It's the age-old story - for every by-election sensation like Hamilton that truly changes the course of history, there are ten other sensations that turn out to be one-hit wonders in retrospect.
Meanwhile, YouGov asked a long series of supplementary questions relating to Brexit, which allow us to make some sort of comparison between British public opinion and Scottish public opinion - and there's certainly quite a sharp contrast between the two. OK, we always have to bear in mind that Scottish subsamples of Britain-wide polls are small and not necessarily reliable - but for what it's worth, the Scottish voting intention figures intuitively 'feel' pretty close to the money. The SNP are on 51%, the Tories on 20%, Labour on 16% and the Lib Dems on 8%. Perhaps the SNP are a little too high and the Tories a touch too low, but the figures are certainly not far off from what we believe to be the true state of play. That adds a bit more credibility to what you're about to see.
How well or badly do you think the government are doing at negotiating Britain's exit from the European Union?
Britain-wide figures : Very or fairly well 20%, Very or fairly badly 57%
Scottish figures : Very or fairly well 8%, Very or fairly badly 69%
In hindsight, was Britain right or wrong to leave the European Union?
Britain-wide figures : Right 47%, Wrong 43%
Scottish figures : Right 31%, Wrong 60%
Do you think Britain will be economically better or worse off after we leave the European Union, or will it make no difference?
Britain-wide figures : Better off 29%, Worse off 37%
Scottish figures : Better off 14%, Worse off 55%
Do you think Britain will have more or less influence in the world after we leave the European Union, or will it make no difference?
Britain-wide figures : More influence 21%, Less influence 36%
Scottish figures : More influence 11%, Less influence 54%
Do you think leaving the EU will have a good or bad effect on British jobs, or will it make no difference?
Britain-wide figures : Good for jobs 28% , Bad for jobs 32%
Scottish figures : Good for jobs 15%, Bad for jobs 47%
Do you think leaving the EU will have a good or bad effect on the NHS, or will it make no difference?
Britain-wide figures : Good for the NHS 30%, Bad for the NHS 25%
Scottish figures : Good for the NHS 13%, Bad for the NHS 36%
Do you think leaving the EU will have a good or bad effect on people’s pensions, or will it make no difference?
Britain-wide figures : Good for pensions 10%, Bad for for pensions 25%
Scottish figures : Good for pensions 4% , Bad for pensions 41%
What I find most extraordinary about those numbers is that, even now, there seems to be a lingering faith south of the border in the Leave campaign's claim that Brexit would somehow magically make the NHS better. A nasty shock is coming to a country near you...
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Thursday, January 12, 2017
Co-belligerents rather than loved-up allies : a realistic view of how different parts of the alternative pro-indy media can complement each other as Indyref 2 approaches
With a localised crisis having been averted, this may be a useful moment to reflect on the broader state of the pro-independence alternative media as we approach a probable (admittedly not certain) independence referendum over the next couple of years. As you may remember me mentioning, about three months ago I was invited to a 'separatist dinner' along with a number of other Yes people who have a decent following on social media or in the blogosphere. One purpose of the event was to have a collective think about how we might go about neutralising the problem of what our opponents would describe as 'Cybernat abuse' during the next referendum. I don't think there was any intention to deny the fact that abuse from the unionist side is either equally bad or in some cases much worse. There was simply a feeling that if we could find a practical way of reducing the problem on our own side, it would be a good thing in itself and also helpful for the Yes campaign.
I was, I must admit, a wee bit sceptical about how effective a 'disapproval of community elders' approach can ever be. Really hardcore abusive trolls are not going to be impressed by that sort of thing, and may become even worse if they feel persecuted by both sides. But if it is to have any chance at all of working, there would have to be a reasonably united front, and that's where the idea really starts to fall down. Ironically, a few of the people who were at that dinner, including myself, have since ended up having bitter disputes with each other on social media - not necessarily abusive disputes, but certainly very unpleasant. So there's a part of me that's inclined to say : to hell with clearing out the nutter trolls, the first priority has got to be to stop ourselves from damaging the cause by knocking lumps out of each other. The disagreements are probably not doing any harm at the moment, but in the heat of battle it could be a very different story.
As a result of the Bella crisis, GA Ponsonby has reiterated a vision of a united pro-indy alternative media that he's outlined before - as I understand it, the proposal is that there should be a pan-Yes co-operative with a central fund to aid all writers who need to be compensated for their time and effort. I struggle to see how that would work in practice, because if absolutely anyone could access the fund for absolutely any form of writing, the money would often not go to the best use. But as soon as you bow to the inevitable and introduce editorial control, you're assuming that all parts of the Yes movement are capable of treating each other with mutual respect and tolerance, without trying to silence certain voices or shut down certain views. I have to say that I feel my own experiences over the last few days have tested that assumption to destruction.
As long-term readers know, I'm about as left-wing as they come, and when I fill out 'Political Compass'-type questionnaires, they often end up telling me that my own politics are actually closest to the Greens rather than to the SNP. So in theory at least, I should have a great deal of common ground with people involved at CommonSpace, or in the Greens, or in RISE. But one reason I'm not a Green, of course, is that I regard independence as an overriding objective on its own merits. No-one could ever reasonably dispute the authenticity of Patrick Harvie's commitment to independence, but it's not what brought him in to politics. Many people in the radical left parties are, quite understandably, most passionate about the environment, or about citizen's income, or about LGBT rights, or about radical feminism.
For the most part that needn't cause any flare-ups, because there's considerable shared ground on many of those issues across the Yes movement. But I think we have to be grown-up enough to recognise that there are some points of contention that 45% of the population (let alone 51%) are never going to be able to resolve amongst themselves or reach a shared view about. Radical feminist ideology is one obvious example. Please note that I'm using the term 'radical feminism' advisedly - I'm not referring to a belief in equality between the sexes, which in this day and age is a shared value across the vast bulk of the political left, and most of the political right as well. Radical feminism goes well beyond that, with some strains of the ideology regarding women as the inherently superior gender. (Even when that view is not expressed explictly, it's betrayed by the constant spitting out of words and phrases such as "mansplaining" and "what about teh menz", which frame the word "man" as if it's somehow derogatory. It would never be regarded as acceptable to use the word "woman" in the same way.) Self-evidently, that worldview is not one that's shared by the great mass of the population, either female or male. It is therefore totally unrealistic to expect the Yes movement, which ultimately is drawn from that population, to speak with a single voice on the issue.
So what is the test of tolerance and mutual respect here? I'd suggest there are two approaches that ought to allow people with diverging views to rub along with each other. One is just not to engage with each other at all on the subject, and the other is to engage in a comradely way that acknowledges the right of the other person to hold an alternative position. Several people involved with CommonSpace (belatedly including the editor herself) failed that test when I dared to express my own view on the John Mason episode the other day. Instead of debating or challenging my views in the normal way, they tried to shut those views down and pathologise them - and indeed to pathologise me. I was a mentally unstable, "weird", "creepy", "auld guy", who was "harassing younger women" simply by speaking to them as I would speak to anyone else, and who wasn't respecting their right to withhold "consent" (the latter being a cowardly way of implying that answering them back was somehow equivalent to sexual harassment or rape). I should have just "shut up". Make no mistake about it - I thought that use of language was disgraceful at the time, and with the benefit of having had plenty of time to reflect on it in the cold light of day, I still think it's disgraceful now. I know that quite a few other people received similar treatment. What I find disturbing is not so much that I will almost certainly never receive an apology, but that the people involved probably don't even privately have the first glimmer of understanding of why using those words about another human being, whether female or male, is dehumanising and profoundly hurtful.
Depressingly, I therefore see no prospect of there ever being sufficient mutual respect and tolerance across the Yes movement for it to be possible for particularly sensitive and contentious topics that don't directly relate to independence to be openly debated in a constructive and comradely way. So to avoid harmful disputes, perhaps what we need to do is just embrace the fact that in many cases we're in this game for very different reasons - in the terminology of warfare, we're 'co-belligerents' rather than 'allies', with independence being the common objective. As far as the alternative pro-indy media is concerned, we can certainly complement each other and make sure we don't tread on each other's toes as the referendum gets close - for example, the radical left can recognise that Wings reaches a great many people that CommonSpace and Bella never will, and vice versa. But even that will require a kind of grudging mutual respect - an acceptance, even if it's never spoken aloud, that the bits of the pro-indy media you personally dislike are nevertheless part of the solution in hard-headed electoral terms, rather than part of the problem. That more limited mutual respect isn't there yet (witness the latest attempts to brand the huge popularity of Wings as "problematic"), but it's a more realistic goal, and I think that's probably what we should be working towards.
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Starting position : Britain's decision to leave the EU has made an early Scottish independence referendum very likely, with the most probable dates being 2018 or 2019. Almost no-one is seriously talking about the possibility of a referendum in 2017.
First move : You'd really like a poll showing that Nicola Sturgeon is under pressure to drop the idea of a referendum, so you get on the blower to BMG.
Second move : You start to worry that you might not get the result you're looking for by honest means, so instead of simply asking the public whether they want a referendum, you ask a ludicrously narrow question about whether they want a referendum in 2017 - which everyone knows is not a realistic possibility anyway.
Third move : You get your hollow 'anti-referendum majority', and run a story about how it's a blow for Nicola Sturgeon that the public don't want her to do something she was never planning to do anyway.
Fourth move : You try to retain your composure as a bemused Nicola Sturgeon points out that the poll result is an irrelevance because, as everyone knows, she never had any intention of calling a referendum in 2017.
Fifth move : You run a hysterical headline pretending that Nicola Sturgeon's statement of the bleedin' obvious is a climbdown caused by the result of your own poll and the extreme pressure it put on her.
Sixth move : You try very, very hard to maintain that innocent look on your face.
Seventh move : Congratulations! You've turned into the Daily Express.
Monday, January 9, 2017
Some of the questions may initially look a bit daunting, because they cover fairly arcane and technical issues, but bear in mind that it's not necessary to respond to every question or to cover every aspect of an individual question. If all else fails, probably the easiest question to answer is number 2, which touches on the extent of the franchise. There's the opportunity to express approval for the automatic inclusion of 16 and 17 year olds (without any need for a separate register this time), and for the decision to continue basing the franchise on residency, rather than the 'birthright' principle that governed the Brexit referendum. It's always worth making the point that if the 2014 indyref had used the same principle as the Brexit vote (ie. excluding most people born outside Scotland), there's academic evidence to suggest that Yes might well have narrowly won. Conversely, if the Brexit vote had used the same principle as the indyref and allowed EU citizens living in the UK to vote, it's overwhelmingly likely that Remain would have won. So we're actually supporting a franchise that is against the best interests of the Yes campaign - but we're doing that because we have strong ideals about the type of country we want to live in, regardless of whether we are independent or not.
You can read the consultation paper, and respond to it online, by clicking HERE.