Monday, March 24, 2014

It's where the water flows, it's where the wind blows

In his notorious "Mount Olympus" address to Scotland from the safe distance of the London Velodrome, David Cameron made clear he was hoping that English people would pick up the phone and beseech their Scottish friends and relatives to "stay" (on the apparent assumption that independence would for some reason involve Scotland "going" somewhere). This was always a risky strategy at best – the catastrophic failure of the Guardian’s ‘write-to-an-Ohioan’ wheeze during the 2004 US Presidential election was a useful reminder that voters often deeply resent outside interference in their own local democratic process, particularly if it’s condescending in tone. At an absolute minimum, the theory that Scotland could be love-bombed into submission surely depended on the London establishment first of all taking some urgent steps to turn around the current perception of Scots that the English don’t really like or respect them very much.

A YouGov poll conducted at the end of February found that 46% of Scottish voters feel that their country is viewed in a negative light by English people, compared to just 23% who think that the English have a positive opinion of Scotland. Such stark numbers shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, given the daily diet of ugly Jock-bashing that is served up by the right-wing London media. However, until a few weeks ago, there was at least some evidence that ordinary English people didn't swallow the media propaganda whole, and were open to taking a much more mature attitude towards Scotland’s exercise in self-determination. A Panelbase poll conducted for the SNP at the turn of the year found that, if they were first reminded that Scotland is one of England’s largest trading partners, English voters backed a post-independence currency union by an enormous margin of 71% to 12%. Here was a reservoir of goodwill that the UK government could have tapped into to plausibly say to Scots – "there you go, English people are respectful of your democratic process, and see you as desirable partners regardless of the referendum outcome". That at least would have been some kind of basis for a successful love-bombing campaign.

What did government ministers do instead? The polar opposite. As a result of them consciously whipping up synthetic outrage among London commentators at the idea of Scotland staking any sort of claim in the shared asset of sterling, the opinion poll numbers have turned on their head in the space of a few short weeks. It’s now abundantly clear to Scots that English people by and large agree with their media that Scotland is not a desirable partner, let alone an equal one. And yet, bizarrely, every time a new poll is published showing a further drop in English support for a currency union, the anti-independence campaign trumpet it from the rooftops. What precisely do they think they have achieved? They've permanently squandered what could have been one of their greatest strengths – authentic respect from south of the border for Scotland’s democratic aspirations.

You see, whatever happens in September, Scots will expect serious negotiations to follow. As a country we may still be divided on the desirability of sovereign statehood, but one thing there is a broad consensus on is that the constitutional status quo isn't an option, and that a new dispensation needs to be negotiated with the UK government. However, the difference is that a Yes vote would force London to the negotiating table, whereas a No vote would leave us entirely at the mercy of London's whim. Given the spectacle we’re now seeing of English voters apparently egging on their political representatives to be as intransigent as possible in any post-independence negotiations, why on Earth should any Scot have the slightest confidence that London will act in good faith in the event of a No vote? If anything, English people now seem to want their government to act vengefully in that circumstance. YouGov suggest that a full 58% of English and Welsh voters think Scotland should be denied any further devolved powers after a No vote, with almost a quarter thinking the powers of the Scottish Parliament should actually be reduced. It seems the narrative that Scottish self-government is somehow a "problem" that must be "contained" or "solved" has firmly taken root south of the border – and it's a view that is utterly irreconcilable with the prevailing mood in Scotland.

And yet, the anti-independence camp will object, the polls also show that English voters do genuinely think Scotland should “stay". True, but what do they want us to stay for? Is it for the chance to put us back in our place – to castrate our parliament and to reduce our mythological "subsidy"? Or is it simply to maintain London’s control over as wide a geographical area as possible, so that no "prestige" is lost internationally? Either way, there's not a lot of room left for "love", is there? And that's entirely the product of the UK government's handiwork. There’s certainly very little prospect of English public opinion ever again coalescing around the view that Scotland is so highly valued that true Home Rule powers should be transferred to the devolved parliament in Edinburgh, thus ensuring that we never again have to suffer Tory rule we didn't vote for as the price for remaining in the UK.

I suspect that if any 'love-bombing' phone calls are ever actually made, Scots will simply hear voices that are totally incomprehending of our aspirations. I won’t be alone in feeling tempted to respond with four simple words: "True love isn't possessive".

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(Note : I wrote this piece two-and-a-half weeks ago. It was intended for publication on another website, hence the slightly different tone.)

34 comments:

  1. I think the problem here is the realisation of quite how much the Scots feel about us is now being reciprocated in the way we feel about the Scots. It's a shame but anti Scots feeling in England doesn't even begin to approach the sullen anti English hate north of the border

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  2. Marty : When I read your first sentence, I must admit that I assumed you were Scottish and that you had intended to write 'English' instead of 'Scots'. I still wouldn't have agreed, although I would at least have understood where you coming from. I'd be interested to know if you have any experience of this supposed "sullen anti-English hate" or if you're just repeating Daily Mail mythology?

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  3. Yes I do. Doubtless some of your best friends are English though which makes it all ok.

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  4. That's a pathetic comment that will do you few favours. Instead of insinuating that I am personally anti-English on the basis of zero evidence, let's hear some examples of your personal experiences.

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  5. I have many. The most recent being in a restaurant in Ediburgh with my wife, who is American, being subjected to some choice and highly creative anti-English invective from the waiter, who doubtless assumed I was too when she ordered, along the lines of how we should visit a part of Scotland where there were not quite so many of my compatriots.

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  6. I thought that was an interesting and perceptive post, James. Four or five years ago I couldn't have imagined that things would come to this. But the way the debate has been handled from Westminster makes it clear now that this relationship is over if there is a No vote.

    I lived in England for 25 years, and my friends were sympathetic of my desire for Scottish independence. I often heard people say they wished they had a party like the SNP to vote for in England, or that they envied the Scots the possibility of getting out and doing something different.

    Now that it's looking like a practical reality, though, these same people have changed. I'm getting challenges and hostility and scaremongering where I used to get support. It's a worry. It seems it was all fine when it was just a pipe dream we could all talk about, but now it's likely to happen they've discovered they feel differently about it. We just don't discus it now.

    Westminster coped with Irish independence, even after a shooting war. We have a road map in front of us from that example. Even if the politicians want to be vindictive, their civil servants will sort them out. The civil service has been sorting this out all over the world, and it has plenty experience. I don't think it will take too long for our two countries to be on a "closest friends and allies" basis - on the basis of mutual respect as equals.

    If it's a No vote, they are going to screw us over, finestkind.

    And it's a shame the comments thread started the way it did. Your article deserved better.

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  7. What on earth were you doing in an Edinburgh restaurant of all places that resulted in you being subjected to anti-English invective from a waiter as you claim? Also did you complain to the restaurant's management if you were really the innocent party as you imply?

    I have many English friends who have lived for decades in Scotland and have never experienced any anti-Englishness and some of them are even voting YES in the referendum, yet you claim to have many examples of personal experiences of anti-English sentiment.

    You claim is very hard to believe.


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  8. The mutual antipathy between Scotland and England precludes any form of meaningful cooperation post Indy. That's why currency union is a non starter. The hatred is too great.

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  10. So, Anonymous, the fact that I was mistaken for an American and thus the staff felt able to insult the English with impunity was in some way my fault? Is that your implication?

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  11. Good to see the amusing anecdote peddlers have moved off from the stormfront lite policalbetting for a change.

    In fact I seem to recall one of their 'luminaries' peddling the same kind of laughable restaurant anecdote as 'proof' of their pathetic witless smearing not that long ago.

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  12. It's something yet to be grasped by the anti-independence lot, the BritNats, if you will. Support for devolution/Scottish Parliament, what have you, is at something approaching Crimean referendum levels. The degree of power that the Scottish Parliament should have is up for debate but that the Scottish Parliament is functional and should, certainly, have no less power is absolute. It makes harsh reading for many Labourites, such as Michael Kelly, who'd much rather the devolution "experiment" came to an end. See also http://fairfurth.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/winning-the-peace-part-deux/

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  13. I was invited by the blog host for my experience so I gave it. If I had not been so invited I would not have given given it. I'm not sure that "pathetic witless smearing" is helping either.

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  14. Given the number of people in Edinburgh with English accents, any waiter with that sort of attitude would be looking at a P45 within a couple of days, tops.

    I don't believe it. I don't believe a bloody word of it.

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  15. It was the fact that there are so many people with English accents in Edinburgh he was complaining about Rolfe. He didn't realise I was English because my wife was doing the talking.

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  16. Just another liar spreading their vile propaganda. blair mcliar must be getting desperate if he's reduced to sending out such pathetic liars to spread their lies.

    You MartyP are a liar. get back to Stormfront where you belong.

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  17. MartyP,

    Have you and your good lady been insulted elsewhere?Though the actual nature of the insult passes me bye somewhat.

    The waiter, according to you said:

    "my wife, who is American, being subjected to some choice and highly creative anti-English invective from the waiter, who doubtless assumed I was too when she ordered, along the lines of how we should visit a part of Scotland where there were not quite so many of my compatriots."

    It might be an insult if you have a particularily thin skin, and I am reminded that the 'victim'of an insult is invariably right in measuring the strength of offence registered.

    In any event you should perhaps watch this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gWlnk75CTzo

    I think that that is a standing ovation at the end?

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  18. Given I'm in favour of a 'yes' vote I hardly think that anyone is sending me here from the 'No' camp.

    And I'm not a liar.

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  19. Douglas, I'm not a self-hating Englishman like that chap, and as for the football riots, clearly he has few memories of Heysel of Rangers visit to Manchester in 2008

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  20. I have been around the world and the ONLY place I have been treated negatively because of my accent is Scotland. Look at the pasty faced Scottish football team compared to the multi-ethnic English team to see the difference between monocultural Scotland and multicultural England

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  21. Mick : I've been meaning to ask you - did you see Mike Smithson clearly implying the other day in a "humorous" comment that Stuart Dickson has Asperger's? I know I shouldn't be surprised by anything on PB anymore, but my jaw dropped to the floor. What a classy website, and what a classy editor.

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  22. "Look at the pasty faced Scottish football team compared to the multi-ethnic English team to see the difference between monocultural Scotland and multicultural England"

    That comment is ringing a bell - we've had an exchange before, haven't we? Was it here, or elsewhere? Scottish national sporting teams can only reflect the ethnic mix we actually have. I trust you've noticed that the Scottish government want to increase levels of immigration, but unfortunately the power to do so is currently reserved to Westminster. That defect will hopefully be remedied shortly.

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  23. MartyP,

    Never said you were a liar. Just asking you in a roundabout way how, generally, 'sensitive' you are to that sort of comment? I'd imagine I could go through my life conflating a jolly 'Hurrah!'as cultural imperialism. Funnily enough, if one is looking to be offended then the opportunities to take offence are endless.

    To me, and I have been subjected to casual accent abuse too, it seems a pretty trivial incident,hurtful as it obviously was.

    Yet you conflate it as 'evidence'!

    No, it was just a silly man who failed to see you as English which entitled him to 'talk down' to a stereotype.

    Being English these days can be a bit tough. Are these pesky Scots subsidy junkies or valued chums? And, perhaps more to your point, 'what do they think of us"?

    The correct answer to that is probably as little as your average Englishman thinks about us, beyond a stereotypical 'Jock'.

    Who knows, and frankly very few of you actually care.

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  24. I missed that one James as I was a bit busy over the weekend. If I had seen it needless to say I would not have been silent. No doubt the revolting bet-welcher TSE would have removed my comments anyway but I would have had the satisfaction of watching him do so and thus proving the point yet again about PB's incredible unconcealed bias and hypocrisy.

    I'm afraid it's par for the course for the far-right friendly site that politicalbetting has become. When the hate-filled right-wingers aren't shrieking about 'ethnics' and muslims they have lunatic far-right posters making death threats and maliciously revealing the details of a posters wife and children with no lasting consequences.

    But the words "twit" and "herd" are still banned of course because THAT'S a step too far on PB.

    LOL

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  25. MartyP @ 11:31,

    I, kind of, fail to see why you are responding to me? I have had nothing to say about football hooliganism. Please address your concerns about that to whoever you are debating it with.

    Anyway.

    You obviously watched a different video from me. What evidence did you take from it that he was 'self hating' Englishman? The 'fact' that the world doesn't appear, according to him, to be as enamoured with "being English"?

    If he is to be believed then it says as much about the cultural dichotomy within England. It is going through a process of redefining itself - via the media - without it noticing it. An osmotic process if you will. It is again defining itself through what it is against rather than what it is for.

    It is like all propoganda devoid of any facts to support it.

    Returning, briefly, to the opinion piece the volatility in the people suggests something other than a 'settled will'. It suggests to me that it is a matter of little concern to them and that the answers given have been groomed by a powerful elite.

    Your mileage may vary.

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  26. You posted it as part of your argument, approvingly, I responded to it accordingly.

    I must go. We simple minded inferior English must go and have our minds groomed by our "powerful elite" to whom we are beholden. We are simple folk, easily led, unlike you Scots who can make your own genetically superior Celtic minds up without media influence.

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  27. Cheers, Marty, you've certainly raised the tone of the debate this evening.

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  28. MartyP,

    " We simple minded inferior English must go and have our minds groomed by our "powerful elite" to whom we are beholden. We are simple folk, easily led,...

    I really shouldn't comment on that, but it is nowhere either in print nor in my mind that 'the English'exist as a homogeneous lump.

    It would like to know whether or not these opinions were obtained after leading questions or not. Given that the matter is not very high on the agenda down South and the continuing nonsense about cross border subsidies? It is important to admit that a swing of that extent is, at the very least, 'interesting'?

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  29. You know us "Lord Snooties" - we just can't be rational.

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  30. Lord Snooty was a wee Scots boy who happened to live in a castle but went out and played and got dirty with the local ruffians.

    Endearing, good-hearted, generous wee chap.

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  31. You haven't read the comic for a while clearly. What you say about the original incarnation is true but the current version, Lord Snooty III, the one the First Minister had in mind doubtless when describing the English, is a repulsive boy who wallows in wealth, hits his butler and says things like “I was watching Who Wants to be a Millionaire? to laugh at the poor.”

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  32. Someone else can tell me if this lying liar is lying to me.

    And since the FM is the same age as I am, then no, anyway.

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  34. Third paragraph down -

    http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2008/nov/13/beano-lord-snooty-comics

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