Thursday, January 12, 2012

Citizens for Love, and other thoughts of ardour

A few miscellaneous thoughts on the momentous events of the last few days...

I see that Johann Lamont has taken a leaf out of the 'Scotland for Marriage' strategy book by campaigning to 'save' something that her opponents are actually in favour of, ie. devolution. Of course in a very pedantic sense the logic of 'Save Devolution' can be justified, because independence would mean that the Scottish Parliament was no longer a devolved body. But 99.999% of the public would interpret Lamont's slogan as meaning that there must be some threat of the Tories abolishing the Scottish Parliament and reimposing direct rule from London, which by extension would lead people to wonder why on earth Lamont, Curran and Miliband are busy cosying up to Cameron at the moment. So I'm not sure it's such a winner, but if by any chance it gains any traction, the pro-independence side shouldn't be too proud to learn from it, and rebrand themselves as "Citizens for Love" or something of the kind.

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I watched part of The Daily Politics yesterday for the first time in an eternity, and it really brought home to me how the London broadcasters are going to have to urgently rethink how they handle discussion about Scottish independence in the run-up to the referendum. OK, it sounded like they'd had Bruce Crawford on before I switched on, but nevertheless it's hard to justify the cosy four-way chat almost exclusively from a unionist perspective that unfolded between Andrew Neil, Damien Green, Douglas Alexander and Nick Robinson. At one point an email was read out from a viewer, who pointed out that the British people would be up in arms if the European Parliament told them that proposals for a UK referendum on EU membership were illegal, and that the terms of any referendum would instead have to be determined by the European Parliament. Andrew Neil instantly cut in to haughtily insist "that isn't the point, actually", because no-one in London was trying to stop a referendum. Cue nods of approval from his highly objective panel of guests - but no, Andrew. It's you that wasn't listening. The viewer was not talking about a referendum being blocked altogether, but about the terms of the vote being externally-imposed. In that sense it could hardly have been a more pertinent analogy, because there's absolutely no way the British people (far less the London tabloid press) would put up with such interference in an exercise in national self-determination. Neil would almost certainly have been set straight had there been a pro-independence voice on the panel - but there wasn't.

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There was an article in the Guardian yesterday from Martin Kettle, which seeks to gloat about the 'setback' Alex Salmond has recently suffered (I must have missed that bit). As you'd expect, it's riddled with logical holes and factual inaccuracies, starting with the invention of a party called the 'Scottish Nationalist Party' (although we can probably blame the sub-editor for that one).

"And he [Salmond] backs away on popular UK issue after popular issue – the crown, the pound, the British army, the BBC and the NHS among them. Anything, in short, rather than a simple yes/no on separation."

Tell me, Martin, in exactly what sense have the SNP "backed away" on the NHS? When have they ever suggested that it would be abolished in an independent Scotland? Would it be too cynical of me to suggest that you tacked that on because you were struggling to think of a fifth example of a "UK institution" the SNP are in favour of retaining, and thought no-one would notice that you had ceased to make sense? The reason that the SNP have never had any difficulty in supporting the NHS (indeed they support its founding principles to a far greater extent than the three London parties do at the moment) is that it's not an institution that is tied in any way to the United Kingdom's existence as a nation state. The "national" in the title is really shorthand for "public" or "state-administered", not for "British". If it does refer to a nation, that nation can only really be Scotland, because since devolution the four health systems in the UK have diverged so comprehensively as to make any suggestion that we are talking about a UK-wide institution utterly risible. And while there may have been more conformity before devolution, even then the Scottish NHS was administered by the Scottish Office, not the Department of Health.

As for the crown, that's also a red herring, because a) the SNP have been broadly in favour of retaining the monarchy for as long as I can remember, and b) the crown was a Scottish institution long before it was a UK one in any case. Queen Anne was the monarch of Scotland every bit as much the day before the Act of Union took effect in 1707 as she was the day after.

"All polls show that Scotland is not pro-independence."

Really, Martin? All polls? Did I dream the TNS poll in September that showed a narrow plurality in favour of independence? The London media do seem to be terribly fond of this "polls show Scotland is not ready for independence" meme - it's as if they've decided in advance that's going to be the narrative, and their brains filter out all inconvenient contrary information.

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Has anyone else noticed that when London politicians talk about their commitment to the United Kingdom, they use language of devotion, ardour and passion that most Scottish nationalists would never dream of using about Scotland? Cameron referring to "the country I love" always reminds me of Edward VIII declaring in his abdication broadcast that Wallis Simpson is "the woman I love" - although that might just be because both men pronounce the word "love" in the same way.

It's probably a sign of just how synthetic the sentiment is, and in any case someone has to compensate for the fact that no real people in London, Birmingham or Manchester would ever dream of talking about "loving the United Kingdom". Some of them might "love" Britain, but most of them would probably regard England and Britain as interchangeable terms in any case.

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What with this flurry of activity relating to Scotland, my New Year's Resolution to keep away from PB lasted all of nine days (pretty good by my standards). Richard Nabavi, runner-up in the Poster of the Year poll (how?) has been prattling on in this broken record fashion : "What are they moaning about now? Isn't London giving the SNP exactly what they want? What is the problem?" When I pointed out to him a list of ways in which London are in fact proposing to block the SNP's plans, for instance by denying the right of young adults to vote, he sneeringly replied that the SNP surely would have realised that "no-one" would ever take seriously the "demand" that "children" should have a vote. Hmmm. I wonder how 'amused' he will be by the suggestion in today's Scotsman that there may indeed be room for a compromise on this topic - but only because Labour are pondering the possibility of backing the SNP's proposal for giving 16 and 17-year-olds the vote!

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Apologies for the problem with the font in the comments section. I think it's a fault with Blogger, because I experimented with switching to a pop-up form and that resolved the issue. I might make that a permanent change if it hasn't cleared itself up after a few days.


  1. I like the new font... Call me weird if you like!

    As for political betting, perhaps it would be cogent to point out that people in Scotland become adults at 16 under Scots law and not 18 like in English law. It would merely be harmonising that fact.

    Secondly, it's always as good an opportunity as any to use that fantastic EU referendum analogy. The reason I say fantastic is that nI've already used it on my pro and anti-independence friends and not one of them has disagreed. I'm assuming that it would be an even better analogy for political betting due to their no-doubt Euro-sceptic views.

    As for the BBC, they're standard of reporting on all issues Scottish is absolutely disgraceful. BBC Scotland is like a tabloid, reporting only crime and the old firm. The UK-wide BBC has not been balanced on independence, reporting it as a 3v1 fight, rather than a 1v1 fight. Hopefully as the referendum gets under way this will change.

    If anyone else brings up the NHS argument again, it should be pointed out that the Scottish NHS has been separate since 1947 - when the NHS was founded. I quote from the first paragraph of the NHS wiki page:

    "The National Health Service (NHS) is the shared name of three of the four publicly funded healthcare systems in the United Kingdom. They provide a comprehensive range of health services, the vast majority of which are free at the point of use to residents of the United Kingdom. Only the English NHS is officially called the National Health Service, the others being NHS Scotland and NHS Wales. Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland is called the HSC rather than the NHS. Each system operates independently, and is politically accountable to the relevant government: the Scottish Government, Welsh Government, the Northern Ireland Executive, or the UK government."

    ...and the first paragraph of the NHS Scotland wiki page:

    "NHS Scotland is the publicly funded healthcare systems in Scotland. It was founded by the National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1947 (since repealed by the National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1978) and was launched on May 5th, 1948, under the control of the Secretary of State for Scotland As a result of the Scotland Act 1998, control over NHS Scotland transferred to the Scottish Government and Parliament in 1999."

    Secondly, in regards to the NHS - it is hardly uniquely British to have public healthcare. In fact, we weren't even first, that honour would fall to Germany in 1883. When Britain was imposing imperialism and work-houses on its citizens (something so many unionists seem to hark back to), the Germany of an authoritarian leader - Otto von Bismark - was actually providing social security to its citizens.

    Finally! The talk of 'love for the UK' makes me cringe. I don't talk about love for Scotland, and I don't see the SNP leadership doing it either. Instead they talk about doing what they believe to be best for the Scottish people. Whether they are doing what is best is a different question entirely, but at least they talk about it, rather than displaying one's love for an abstract concept.

  2. The NHS being a 'UK institution' reminds me a little of morals being 'Christian'.