Saturday, June 30, 2012

An important message from a Real Brit

My name's James. I'm a light-working father-of-none from North-Central-East Eaglesham-shire. And I'm a Real Brit.

When I drink from the tap, I know I'm drinking British water.

When I step outside my front door, I know I'm breathing British air.

When I touch the soil in my garden, I know I'm touching British earth.

I know these things because I'm the proud owner of a (British) pocket atlas, which reveals that North-Central-East Eaglesham-shire is, always has been, and always will be part of an island called Great Britain.

I feel British because I'm a lifelong Doctor Who fan.

I feel British because Jude the Obscure is my favourite novel.

I feel British because I think Me and My Imagination by Sophie Ellis-Bextor is a passable piece of popular music.

Hell, I've even been to Great Yarmouth.

But, you see, feeling British is not the same thing as wanting to be ruled by Tories, or by Tory-lites in the Labour party forever chasing after right-wing votes in the Home Counties.

It's not the same thing as being part of whichever political state London happens to be capital city of at any given moment.

Being British isn't about passports, it's about people.

Real Brits who live in Scotland want independence.

Because we know that our part of Britain can be better than this.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

More incisive reporting of Scotland from the London media

This is surely the London media's problem with reporting the independence referendum in a nutshell - the Spectator organises a debate in London on whether "it is time to let Scotland go", gets two Tory MPs and one Tory journalist to speak against the motion, gets Kelvin MacKenzie (seriously!) to speak in favour, and then declares on the basis of the result that "the union is safe".

Memo to Fraser Nelson : Scotland's constitutional future is not going to be decided by how impressed London-based Spectator readers are by Kelvin MacKenzie's latest rant about the tiresomeness of the Jocks.

(And before anyone prays in aid the fact that Fraser Nelson himself is Scottish, I'd invite you to recall that he earnestly penned an approving introduction to Laurance Reed's barking mad piece about Shetland and the Hebrides a few months ago.)

On a similar theme, Chris Moncrieff in the Mail seems convinced in an even more literal sense that the independence referendum is going to be decided by London voters, among others. Yes, folks, he still thinks there's going to be a UK-wide referendum, and that the arguments for this happening are 'irresistible'. He's going to be a very baffled man before long.

But this is the kind of nonsensical analysis we're stuck with for as long as London editors remain locked in the mindset that if you want political analysis, you go to someone who knows the Westminster village inside out. It doesn't matter that the political issue at hand will be settled hundreds of miles away from London - a Westminster insider will still understand it far better than the locals. So poor old Moncrieff is left to look a bit of a fool as he gamely makes a wild guess on a subject he plainly knows virtually nothing about - and unsurprisingly gets it totally wrong. The good news is that he does finally concede that there are some gaps in his knowledge about Scottish politics. The bad news is that he then turns to Bernard Ingham to fill in the gaps for him.

" question remains unanswered. Why did Tony Blair, an opponent of separation, take the Nationalists halfway to their goal by giving Scotland its own Parliament? I put this question to Sir Bernard Ingham, who was Margaret Thatcher's press secretary at 10, Downing Street. His answer: "Stupidity"."

Hmmm. So nothing to do with the fact that there would have been civil war in the Scottish Labour Party if Blair had betrayed them on devolution, and that Scotland might already be independent by now if he had. No, it can't possibly be that. Bernard Ingham would have noticed.

* * *

John Rentoul has spotted the latest Ipsos-Mori Scottish poll, but only because he saw the post about it on PB (and you can probably guess the slant he's taken from that) -

"SNP down, Scottish Labour up. Ipsos-MORI could have captured a turning point"

I must say I'm fairly unconcerned by the warped analysis this time. Anyone who follows Rentoul's link to PB will be confronted by the hard figures. While there is such a thing as conflicting cognitions, it's going to be hard for most people (even in the Westminster village) to square a narrative of "SNP setback" with the reality of a double-digit poll lead for the SNP - especially as the fieldwork took place several weeks after the fictional outcome of the local elections was reported.

I'm reminded of what Tony Blair himself said when the Tories tried to crow about their 'progress' in the 1999 Scottish Parliament elections - "the better you think these results are, the better it is for us". If a 45%-32% deficit is now considered good for Scottish Labour, expectations must have sunk very, very low.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A plea for more pedestrian signposting

When I was a young child, I moved with my family to Cumbernauld. It's hard to believe now, but once upon a time the town was worshipped as a masterpiece of modern planning. One of the reasons for that was the very simple idea of keeping pedestrians well away from the roads. In fact there are hardly any pavements next to the roads at all, because in theory everyone is supposed to use the impressive network of footpaths instead. But even at the age of seven, it didn't take me long to spot the slight flaw in this otherwise ingenious reasoning - namely that everyone was getting hopelessly lost. Even people who had lived in the town all their lives didn't have a clue how to walk to a destination beyond their immediate vicinity, and if you asked them for directions they would tell you how to get there by road, not footpath. Essentially the whole system is rendered largely redundant for want of some decent pedestrian signposts - and incredibly that's a lesson that the local council still seem unable to learn.

But it's not just the special case of Cumbernauld. I was on the train from Edinburgh to Glasgow a few hours ago, and the guy sitting opposite me asked how to get from Queen Street Station to Central Station. I tried to explain to him that it wasn't possible to get a connecting train, but that it was a very short and easy walk. But unfortunately he didn't speak English very well, and when I told him the details of that very short and easy walk I could see the panic in his eyes. And it suddenly struck me that it's only an easy walk if you know exactly where you're going - there may only be a couple of turns along the way, but they're not signposted for pedestrians. So I gave in to the inevitable and walked him the whole way there. I imagine little incidents like that must happen day in, day out.

Is it really too much to ask for the city council to erect a few signs to allow visitors to traverse the short distance between the two major railway stations without unnecessary hassle and worry?

Ipsos-Mori poll : SNP retain huge Holyrood lead

Thanks to Marcia on the previous thread for alerting me to the fact that Ipsos-Mori have now released their Holyrood voting intention figures. The party leaders' satisfaction ratings were published a few days ago at the same time as the independence referendum poll, and the slippage in Alex Salmond's figures did lead me to fear that there might be some kind of feed-through to voting intention (although of course he was still ahead of all his Scottish rivals, and light-years ahead of the Westminster leaders).

I needn't have worried.

Holyrood constituency vote :

SNP 45% (-4)
Labour 32% (+9)
Conservatives 12% (-1)
Liberal Democrats 6% (-4)
Others 5% (-)

Ipsos-Mori's own report suggests that these figure are good news for Johann Lamont, which in one sense is an understandable interpretation, given Labour's nine-point increase. But all that really does is illustrate just how mind-bogglingly awful the previous poll was for Labour, because they're now essentially back to where they started in the May 2011 landslide defeat.

One slight note of caution : these figures are based only on the respondents who say they are certain to vote. The SNP's lead is a more modest four points among all respondents who offered a voting intention. However, the latter is not used as the headline figure for a good reason - there tends to be a very strong correlation between the percentage who tell pollsters they are certain to vote, and the actual turnout in elections.

In case you're wondering, there are no figures for the regional list vote.

* * *

I tend to view the Twitter spat between Caron Lindsay and Rev Stu over a spoof 'Better Together' poster as a culture clash, rather than a question of right and wrong. Admittedly, I know only too well that photos can have an emotional power that words cannot match. Long-term readers of this blog will remember how incensed I was in 2009 when Kevin Baker used a photo of an elderly woman who had been practically beaten to a pulp, and accompanied it with a caption along the lines of "this is what James Kelly regards as mere bumps and bruises". But my complaint was that he had demonstrably used the power of the photo to distort the truth - by contrast Rev Stu's point is indisputably accurate, namely that being part of the United Kingdom ensures that Scottish servicemen and women will inevitably fight and die in British wars. The other, more important criticism that could have been levelled at Baker is that he was "appropriating" the suffering of the clearly identifiable woman in the photo, even though for all he knew she might have had no truck whatever with the point he was trying to make. Again, that doesn't really apply to what Rev Stu did, because the picture he used is in long-shot, and is therefore representative rather than specific and intrusive.

I suspect that if a photo like that had accompanied a sober article making much the same point as Rev Stu's, nobody would have batted an eyelid. And it goes without saying that if the photo had accompanied a piece glorifying war, and insisting that we "must go on" in order to ensure that the deaths "were not in vain", that would have been deemed absolutely fine, even though the bereaved families in the photo might not have shared the sentiment. The complaints in this case really just boil down to personal distaste for an edgy blogging style, rather than a legitimate objection to the point actually being made (which I imagine caused a degree of discomfort). Whether Rev Stu went too far is thus in the eye of the beholder, but I certainly feel strongly that we should never allow ourselves to be browbeaten into regarding the reality of war and its human cost as off-limits for normal, robust political debate - the notion that certain things are unsayable, and that certain platitudes are unchallengeable, is one of the factors that lead to pointless military and civilian deaths in the first place.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Political Betting guest post on the Yes campaign

I happened to mention on PB yesterday that I was vaguely planning to write a blogpost on the reported 'divisions' within the Yes campaign, and someone challenged me to submit it to Mike Smithson as a potential guest post instead. You can see the results HERE.

As a disclaimer, I should point out that James Mackenzie has just told me that I've got the Greens' position all wrong (although I probably would have been disappointed if he hadn't). If that's correct, it might be because the Greens' use of language on this subject is so frustratingly elliptical at times. James claims the Greens' objections have nothing whatever to do with 'policy' - but am I the only person who can recall Patrick Harvie insisting that the Yes campaign needed to inspire people with a much more radical prospectus for independence?

Monday, June 25, 2012

The No campaign set the ethnic purity bar high

This is from the Record. Can we chalk it down as further confirmation that the most parochial Scots are often the most fervent Brit Nats, or is it merely a rather distasteful affectation?

"Alistair Darling says Better Together campaign will be led by real Scots...Darling said: “I don’t think people are impressed when you line up actors, no matter how good they may be, who have flown in from the other side of the Atlantic to tell us what to do.""

"Real Scots" only need apply : so presumably the hundreds of thousands of Scottish residents who came here from England and other countries can forget any presumptuous notions they may have entertained about having their voices heard and valued during the referendum campaign. And it appears you also cease to be a 'real Scot' the moment you stray further than Gretna Green. As Alan Cumming himself pointed out, it's one thing to say that non-residents shouldn't have a vote in the referendum (and indeed they shouldn't), but if they're not even allowed to express an opinion then clearly we can look forward to hearing a good deal less on the subject from the likes of Cameron, Osborne, Clegg, Miliband and Balls.

I'm also rather puzzled as to why the No campaign are lending such helpful support to the Yes side's USP, namely that we don't like being told what to do by people outside Scotland. Or is it OK to be told what to do just so long as the culprits don't actually "fly in", ie. if they do it all by remote control from Downing Street, just as Mr Darling himself did as Chancellor?

* * *

The first thing that strikes me about the name 'Better Together' is that it's a brave decision not to use the word 'Scotland' at all. OK, 'No Scotland' probably wouldn't have been a winner, and nor would 'Keep Scotland British', but even so. An even braver call has been made in respect of the campaign's official Twitter account, which has 'UK' in its username, but not 'Scotland'. In case you're wondering why they couldn't simply use 'Better_Together', it's because that name has already been snapped up by Zach and Holly, a "couple in love sharing their lives together". Just like Scotland's relationship with David Cameron, really - why are we even having this referendum?

Enigmatic PB Nat-bashing troll "Devo Max" (who a leading Cornish sex memoirist insists is not Tom Harris, but I still have my doubts) stunned the nation last night by revealing that he has signed the No declaration, and said that he had done so to "keep Scotland strong". Which at least makes marginally more logical sense than the official strapline of the campaign - "Ensure a Stronger Scotland, a United Kingdom". How precisely do you make something "stronger" by keeping it exactly as it is?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Scottish Social Attitudes Survey : contrasting fortunes for what Michael Moore presumes to call "Scotland's two governments"

The latest Scottish Social Attitudes Survey has delivered a crushing blow to the coalition government's claim to be one of "Scotland's two governments", with 71% of respondents saying they trust the Scottish government to act in Scotland's best interests, compared to a mere 18% who say the same about the London administration. In my view, Cameron's relationship with Scotland is now in a kind of "Thatcher death-spiral", and if those figures change much between now and 2014, it's likely to be for the worse (for him). So this is great news with a view to the independence referendum - the Yes side can again and again pose the question "who do you trust to take the right decisions for Scotland's economy/military/welfare system?", and if the answer is the Scottish government rather than London, the conclusion for voters to draw will be obvious.

Unless, of course, Labour start looking like the kings over the water, who can provide an alternative to Toryism without independence. That perception would naturally be an illusion - either because Labour would go on to lose the election as they did in 1992, or because they would win and then rule in a Tory-lite way as they did between 1997 and 2010. But the mere perception of a meaningful Labour alternative has been enough to trap Scots in the 'one more heave' mentality many times before, so as much as it pains me to say it, the chances of a Yes vote may well hinge on a Tory recovery in the UK-wide polls. It also pains me to say that will probably happen.

Intriguingly, for the first time respondents were evenly split on which administration has the most influence on how Scotland is run right now - in the past Westminster has always come out on top on that question. But this could be something of a mixed blessing. As a pro-independence English academic said to Eddie Mair the other week, it's possible that if Scots overestimate the extent to which key powers have already been devolved, they might not fully appreciate that much more progress needs to be made to protect the country from the excesses of right-wing Tory/Lib Dem rule.