A story of Scotland’s independence referendum: ‘Mither’


From www.derekthomas.wordpress.com

From www.sodahead.com


Today, September 18th, is the first anniversary of 2014’s referendum on Scottish independence. 


That’s right – a year has now passed since the Scottish electorate voted, by a majority of 55% to 45%, in favour of remaining part of the United Kingdom.  A year has passed since the circuses of the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns were in full swing, which brought with them all manner of spectacles and happenings: interventions in support of the ‘no’ camp from personages as mighty as Barack Obama, the Pope, the Queen and J.K. Rowling; George Osborne threatening Scots that he wouldn’t let them continue using the pound if they voted ‘yes’; Alex Salmond losing his cool at Nick Robinson and the BBC; Jim Murphy getting struck by that dastardly egg; and the mainstream newspapers assuring us that a ‘yes’ vote would cause the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to gallop across Scotland spreading war, conquest, famine and death.


One narrative that the media peddled back then was that Scotland had become a divided country.  Families were in turmoil.  Parents and children, brothers and sisters, who’d previously lived together in harmony, had changed into rabid yes-sers and no-ers who were suddenly at each other’s throats.  For instance, last summer, the journalist Jenny Hjul wrote in the Daily Telegraph: “In Scotland… politics has become deeply personal.  We might have friends who are nationalists but they aren’t speaking to us at the moment…  The coming referendum has rendered such cross-party camaraderie inconceivable and it’s hard to see the day when things will return to normal.”  To be honest, considering the anti-independence poison and bile secreted by Hjul and her husband, the Telegraph’s Scottish editor Alan Cochrane, into their writings over the years, I’m amazed that they ever had nationalist friends in the first place.


Anyway, the Scottish-families-divided-by-independence theme inspired me a while ago to write a short story that took the idea to its logical extreme.  And seeing as it’s September 18th again, I thought I’d take this opportunity to post the story here.  So I now give you…  Mither.




I must have dozed while I sat in the office and read the literature that’d landed on our porch floor that morning.  I hadn’t heard her go out.  I only heard the porch door scrape open and shut as she came back.


‘Mither,’ I said when she entered the office.  ‘You were outside.’


She settled into the armchair with the tartan-patterned cushions that’d been her seat – her throne, we called it – when she ran the business by herself.  Now that I was mostly in charge, I had my own seat in the office but I kept the throne there should she want to use it.  She smoothed her skirt across her knees.  She was a modern-minded woman – at times too modern-minded because she had some ideas you’d expect more in a giddy teenager – but she avoided trousers and stuck to old-fashioned long skirts.  ‘Aye, Norrie.  I’ve been out and about.’


I didn’t like the sound of that but before I could quiz her she leaned forward from the throne and took the leaflet out of my hand.  ‘What’s this you’re reading?  Don’t say they’ve shovelled more shite through our door.’


It pained me to hear her genteel voice soiled by coarse language.  But I stayed patient.  ‘It’s actually interesting, Mither.  It’s an interview with a normal young couple, a professional young couple, about what might happen if the referendum result is…’  I searched for a word that’d cause minimum offence.  ‘Unexpected.’


Mither sighed and her eyes swivelled up in their sockets.


‘Now I ken you’re sceptical, Mither.  But they seem decent.  He’s called Kenneth and she’s called Gina.  And they’re worried about the effect independence would have on them.’


Mither’s eyes swivelled down again.  Then I saw them twitch from side to side while they scanned the text on the leaflet.


I pressed on.  ‘It wouldn’t have a good effect, Mither.  It’d be bad for them.’  Why did my voice tremble?  Why was I afraid?  ‘The financial uncertainty. How would decent hardworking people like them – like me – cope if all the business fled south and the prices shot up?  And the banks…  Why, I read in the paper the other day about an expert who said the bank machines would stop dispensing cash if the vote was yes!’


‘Does,’ asked Mither, ‘this say what Kenneth does for a living?’


‘And even if we still have cash, Mither, what would our currency be?  We won’t have the pound – George Osborne and Ed Balls down in Westminster won’t allow it!  We’ll have to make do with some banana-republic-type currency.  Or worse, the euro!’


From mairnorarochwind.wordpress.com


‘Norrie,’ said Mither, ‘calm down.  Does this leaflet actually say what Kenneth’s job is?’


‘Aye, of course it does.’  I faltered.  ‘Well, no. Maybe it doesn’t.’


She sighed.  ‘It certainly doesn’t, Norrie.  And I’ll tell you why.’  She raised the leaflet so that I could see a picture of Kenneth, Gina and their children on it.  She placed a fingertip against Kenneth.  ‘It’s because he’s Kenneth Braithwaite, who’s one of our local councillors.  One of our Conservative Party councillors.  But that fact isn’t mentioned here.  It pretends that he’s an ordinary unbiased person like you or me.’


I chuckled nervously.  ‘Now Mither.  I wouldn’t say you were unbiased.’


Mither rose from her throne.  ‘I am unbiased.  My mind’s open to facts and I form opinions and make decisions based on those facts.  Facts, mind you.  Not the propaganda and smears and scaremongering that’s poured out of the political and business and media establishments during the last year.  Not the drivel that’s clogged and befuddled your impressionable young mind!’


Before I could reply, she tore the leaflet down the middle and returned it to my hands in two pieces.  Then she hustled out of the office and shut the door behind her with enough force to make a stuffed owl wobble and almost fall off a nearby shelf.  I heard her shoes go clacking up the stairs and then another door slam, presumably the one leading into her room.


I seethed.  How I hated, how I loathed this referendum!  Setting family members against one another day after day!  I looked at the leaflet again and realised that by a creepy coincidence Mither had ripped it down the middle of the family-picture.  Now Kenneth and a little boy occupied one half of it while Gina and a little girl were sundered and apart in the other half.


And they seemed such a nice family.




I hated the referendum but I couldn’t wait for the day of it, September 18th, to come – and take place and be over with.  The problem was that the time until then seemed to pass very slowly.  And during this time it felt like a war of attrition was being waged against me.  I grew more tired and depressed the longer those separatists raved in the media and on the streets and from the literature they popped through the slot in our porch door.  A rash of yes stickers and posters spread along the windows in the street-fronts of our neighbourhood.  Some of them even appeared on the houses of people I’d thought were decent and sensible.


I began to panic.  God, could it happen?  I had visions of the doors padlocked and the windows boarded up on the old family business and Mither and I living in poverty alongside hundreds of thousands of other suddenly-penniless Scots.  While around us, food prices and fuel prices skyrocketed, the banks and financial companies whisked all their offices away to London, the housing market disappeared into a giant hole, the hospitals became like those in the developing world, and terrorist cells congregated in Glasgow and Edinburgh and prepared to attack England across the new border.


But worst of all was the madness this referendum campaign inspired in Mither.


She sensed when I was worn out.  While I was napping, or dozing off behind the desk in the office, or slumped in a stupor in front of the TV, she’d leave her room and creep down the stairs and do things.


These might be wee things.  If I wasn’t in the office, she might use the computer and I’d discover hours later that it was open at frightful separatist websites like Bella Caledonia or National Collective or Wings over Scotland.  The day’s Scottish Daily Mail might disappear from the kitchen table and turn up, scrunched into a ball, in the recycling bin in the corner.  Or if the Mail was left on the table, any photographs in it of Alistair Darling or George Osborne might have shocking words like tosser or bampot graffiti-ed across them in Mither’s curly handwriting.


More worrying was her tendency sometimes to sneak outdoors.  It would’ve been bad enough in normal times because she was too old and frail to be wandering the streets alone.  But in these dangerous times – who knew what she was up to and who she was associating with?


The evidence disturbed me.  When I visited her room I found a growing collection of things that she could only have acquired during trips outside – little Scottish saltire and lion-rampant flags, booklets of essays and poems written in support of independence, brochures for events with sinister titles like Imagi-Nation and Yestival, posters where the word can’t had the t scrawled out so that they read can instead.  She’d amassed badges, stickers and flyers with the word yes emblazoned on them.  What a disgusting-sounding word yes had become to me.  I’d contemplate Mither and imagine that horrible word spurting from her lips –


‘Yes!  Yes!  Yes – !’


And she’d argue.  Goodness me, what had got into the woman to make her so bloody-minded?  In between quoting names of people I’d never heard of, but who were undoubtedly up to no good, like Gerry Hassan and David Greig and Lesley Riddoch, she’d taunt me mercilessly.


‘So go on.  Tell me.  Explain.  Why can we not be independent?’


‘Because… We can’t!  We just can’t!  We’re too… too…’


‘Too wee?’


‘Aye!  Well, no.  Not that, not only that.  We’re also…’


‘Too poor?’


‘Aye, that’s true, Scotland’s too poor to be independent.  But the main reason is that we’re…’


‘Too stupid?’


‘Och stop it, Mither!  Stop!  You’re putting words in my mouth!’


‘But you agree with that basic proposition?  Scotland can’t be independent because it’s too small, its economy’s too weak and its people aren’t educated enough?’  She sighed.  ‘That’s what we’re up against.  A mass of our fellow Scots, yourself included, brainwashed by the establishment into believing their own inferiority!’


I stormed out of the room at that point.  What horrible people had she been talking to?


(c) The Independent

From www.yeshighland.net


A few weeks before the referendum-day, her madness reached what I assumed was its peak.  After the last guests had left the premises and after I’d washed and put away the breakfast things, I took the vacuum cleaner into the porch and started on the carpet there.  It took me a minute to notice something odd about the rack on the porch wall where I stored leaflets about local attractions that our guests might be interested in: Rosslyn Chapel, Abbotsford, Traquair House, Melrose Abbey and so on.  The leaflets in the rack had changed.  The tourist ones had disappeared.  In their place were different ones.  Political ones.


I put down the vacuum-hose and approached the rack.  Crammed into it now were leaflets I’d seen in her room advertising those sinister-sounding events like Imagi-Nation and Yestival and other ones promoting the unsavoury websites she’d consulted on the computer like National Collective, Bella Caledonia and Wings over Scotland.  Also there were leaflets for organisations with different but strangely-repetitive names: Women for Independence, Liberals for Independence, Polish for Independence, Asians for Independence, English for Independence, Farmers for Independence…  One organisation, whose leaflets were merely sheets of A4 paper that’d been photocopied on and folded, was even called Hoteliers for Independence.


I couldn’t help reading that Hoteliers for Independence leaflet.  It ended with the exhortation, ‘Please contact Hoteliers for Independence for more information at…’ and gave an address.  My insides turned cold as I read the address.  I found myself pivoting around inside the porch and facing different internal doors that led to different parts of the guesthouse.  I half-expected one door to have hanging on it a sign that said HOTELIERS FOR INDEPENDENCE – THIS WAY.


Then I peered up towards where a certain bedroom was located on the first floor and lamented, ‘Oh, Mither!’




One afternoon, close to September 18th, I woke from an unplanned doze at the desk in the office.  I’d been dreaming.  A voice in the dream had droned about – what else? – that ghastly referendum.  Disconcertingly, back in the conscious world, the voice continued to talk to me.  I realised it came from a shelf above me, where the radio was positioned between a stuffed gull and a stuffed pheasant.  The radio was tuned in to a local station and the voice belonged to a newsreader.  He was explaining that a politician, a Labour Party MP, was visiting our region today.


This MP had toured the high streets and town centres of Scotland lately.  To get people’s attention he’d place a crate on the pavement, stand on top of the crate and deliver a speech from it.  He’d speak bravely in favour of Great Britain and the Union of Parliaments and denounce the separatists and their vile foolish notions of independence.  And I’d heard from recent news reports that the separatists hadn’t taken kindly to his tour – well, as bullies, they wouldn’t.  They’d gone to his speaking appearances with the purpose of heckling him and shouting him down.


(c) BBC


Then the newsreader named the town the MP was due to speak in this afternoon.  It was our town.


And immediately I felt uneasy because I realised I hadn’t seen or heard anything of Mither for the past while.  I went upstairs and knocked on her door.  There was no reply.  The guesthouse was empty that afternoon and so I hung the BACK SOON sign in the porch-window, went out and locked the door after me.  Then I headed for the middle of town.


It wasn’t hard to find where the Labour MP was speaking because of the hubbub.  The MP seemed to have turned his microphone to maximum volume so that he could drown out the heckling and shouting from the separatists in his audience.  I emerged from a vennel and onto the high street and saw the crowd ahead of me.  It contained fewer people than I’d expected.  Some of them wore no badges and carried no placards – among them, I thought I glimpsed Kenneth and Gina from the brochure that Mither had ripped up – and some had badges and placards saying yes.  Looming above everyone was the MP on his crate.


The separatists present were trying to make themselves heard – without success, thanks to the MP’s bellowing voice and the amplification provided by the microphone.  It wasn’t until I reached the edge of the small crowd that I could understand what they were saying.


‘Answer the question, Murphy!’


‘He won’t answer the question!’


‘Quit shouting, man, and answer the question for God’s sake!’


Then I saw a figure standing at the back of the crowd a few yards along from me.  The figure wore a long flowing skirt, a woollen cardigan and a lacy Sunday bonnet that obscured its face.  A handbag dangled from one of its elbows and a small egg carton was clasped in its hands.  As I watched, the figure prised the lid off the carton,  lifted one of the six eggs inside and stretched back an arm in readiness to throw it –


I rushed at her and shouted, ‘Mither! Oh my God!’


(c) STV


What happened next is confusing.  I remember reaching her and knocking the carton from her hands so that eggs flew in all directions.  I remember not being able to halt myself in time and crashing into her so that she fell and I fell too, on top of her.  But then, somehow, I found myself lying alone on the ground.  Mither had disappeared.  She must’ve been sprightlier than I’d thought.  She’d gathered herself up and hurried away and left me there.


One of the eggs had made its way into my right hand.  Now it was a ruin of flattened broken shell.  Meanwhile, the yolk, white and shell-pieces of other eggs formed a gelatinous mess on the front of my woollen cardigan.


Then I was being helped to my feet.  Around me, I heard voices:


‘Who is it?’


‘Some auld lady.’


‘No, wait… Christ!  It’s a man!’


‘It’s young Bates.  You ken, Norrie Bates?  Him that runs the Bates Bed and Breakfast?’


‘Why’s he togged out like that?’


Someone took my arm and led me away.  Behind us, the MP, who seemed not to have noticed the commotion with Mither and me, kept roaring into his microphone.  We turned a corner into a side-street and paused there.  I identified the man steering me as Charlie Massie, who was the proprietor of another B and B in the town, a few streets away from ours.  He’d always seemed a gentle friendly type and it surprised me to see a yes badge stuck to his jacket lapel.


Charlie looked perplexed.  He scanned me up and down as if my appearance was a puzzle he wanted to solve.  ‘Norrie,’ he said at last.  ‘I think you need to go home.  As fast as you can manage.’


My head ached.  Something was squeezing my skull, which in turn was squeezing my brain.  I raised a hand and found my head enclosed in a lady’s bonnet.  It exuded two ribbons that were knotted under my chin.  In a final gesture of spite Mither must’ve fastened it on my head before she’d escaped.  ‘Aye,’ I whispered.  ‘I’ll go home.’


‘By the way,’ added Charlie, who seemed greatly troubled now.  ‘How’s your mither?  I haven’t seen her for a while.’




It was the morning of September 19th.  The radio had disappeared from the office and I guessed it’d travelled upstairs to Mither’s room and informed her of the result.  Still, in case she hadn’t heard, I felt obliged to go to her room and let her know.


She looked very small, thin and frail as she huddled there amid the paraphernalia she’d acquired, the flags, placards, badges, posters, leaflets and booklets.  On the floor around her, in a serpentine coil, there even lay a blue-and-white woollen scarf with a pair of knitting needles embedded in one unfinished end of it.  That was another lark she’d been up to.  Knitting for independence.


Because she looked so weak and unwell now, I understood that she knew.  The result seemed to have drained the life from her, leaving her a husk.


But I repeated the news.  ‘Mither.  It’s a no.’


She didn’t answer.  No sound came from her mouth, which was stretched back in a rictus – if I hadn’t known she was grimacing in pain and dismay, I’d have thought she was grinning.  I looked into her eyes, trying to find a glimmer of acknowledgement for me, a spark of recognition that I was standing before her.  But the eyes were blank and gaping, almost like they weren’t eyes at all but two dark holes.


And although I was relieved and delighted about the result, I suddenly and inexplicably felt as though a part of me was dead.


(c) Paramount

(c) Paramount

(c) Paramount


Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?


From 3.bp.blogspot.com


Well, the day has arrived.  Today, September 18th, is when the people of Scotland go to the polls and vote on whether or not their country should become independent again.


Nothing would make me happier than if a majority voted ‘yes’ to independence, but I’m afraid that – habitual pessimist that I am – I’ll have to stick by the predictions I’ve made in earlier blog-posts and say that I don’t think it’s going to happen: this time.  I know that recent opinion polls have said it’ll be close and one or two have even put the ‘yes’ vote in front; but I think the lead shown by the ‘no’ campaign in most opinion polls will translate itself into a majority when the votes are counted.


Considering the massive number of apocalyptic threats on one hand and massive number of wild promises on the other that’ve been flung at the Scottish electorate by the British political, business and media establishments over the past two years, it’s amazing that anyone is minded to vote for independence at all – never mind a proportion that could be close to half the population.  However, I think the sheer volume of pro-UK propaganda will, ultimately, have a decisive effect on how the vote goes.


Ever since the polls suggested a fortnight ago that the gap between the sides was narrowing, there’s been a non-stop bombardment of it: Unionist party leaders like David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg (plus a woken-from-hibernation Gordon Brown) seemingly promising Scots the earth if they stay in the UK, without giving much detail about what’s on offer; and simultaneous tales of horror about how every business in Scotland, from RBS and Standard Life down to the wee sweetie-shop at the foot of Cockburn Street in Edinburgh, will relocate to England in the event of a ‘yes’ vote.  Why, it sounds like even Visit Scotland will have to move operations to London and rename itself Visit England if the Scots are stupid enough to vote for self-determination.


Also, what I think of as the ‘Gideon Mack’ factor – taken from the novel of the same name by James Robertson – may play a role in deciding the outcome.  In Gideon Mack-the-book, Gideon Mack-the-character steps into a polling booth on the day of the 1979 referendum on setting up a devolved Scottish assembly: he suddenly takes cold feet, his support for the assembly melts away and he finds himself against all his expectations putting a cross in the ‘no’ box.  The other day, hoping to inspire such last-moment jitters, David Cameron called on Scots to think carefully while they ‘stand in the stillness of the polling booth’.


However, I’m optimistic in the long term that Scotland will be independent.  Just as the failed devolution vote in 1979 didn’t prevent a devolved Scottish parliament being created in 1999, so I think a failed independence vote now won’t prevent it happening later.  One thing the referendum has succeeded in doing is making people aware of politics and making them listen to what politicians are saying.  And when they start seeing the promises made by the unionist leaders evaporate, and the threats about what’d happen in an independent Scotland materialize anyway in a Scotland that’s still part of the United Kingdom, opinions will change.


Here’s what I predict will happen if – as I strongly suspect – Scotland votes ‘no’.


Downing Street, September 19th, after the final result has been declared: David Cameron and George Osborne pop open the bottles of champagne while Cameron’s take-no-prisoners Australian spin-doctor Lynton Crosby starts planning his master’s campaign for the 2015 General Election.  In the 2015 campaign, the old Etonian will be proudly rebranded as ‘the Prime Minister who saved Britain’.  Already, Alistair Darling begins to look like the Tories’ useful idiot.


Led by the Daily Mail, the press begins a vociferous campaign to force Alex Salmond’s resignation as Scottish First Minister now that the independence cause he’s championed has been defeated.  Many London-based tabloids publish sneering pieces mocking the Scots as whining subsidy-junkies who’ve finally realized what side their bread is buttered on.  These pieces, strangely, don’t appear in the same newspapers’ Scottish editions.


This subsides after two or three weeks as Scotland disappears off Westminster’s radar again and the press hunkers down for the next big story – the 2015 General Election.  The Mail, Express, Telegraph and Sun re-align their artillery, away from Salmond and towards Ed Miliband, whom they spend the next months portraying as a weak, out-of-touch socialist bumbler who’ll run Britain into the ground if he gets the keys to number ten.  Labour Party politicians start complaining about ‘bias’ in the media.  This provokes great Schadenfreude from certain people north of the border.


2014 comes to an end and the New Year’s Honours List is announced.  Certain individuals are rewarded with knighthoods, OBEs, CBEs, MBEs, etc., for their services in keeping the United Kingdom united.  There’s a gong for Keith Skeoch, Executive Director of Standard Life, the company that threatens to leave Scotland every time there’s talk of constitutional tinkering that might give the place more autonomy.  (He’s also a member of the Board of Reform Scotland, which according to author and former ambassador Craig Murray is a ‘neo-conservative lobby group which wants to abolish the minimum wage, privatise the NHS and pensions, and further restrict trade unions’.)  Lord George Roberson of Port Ellon KT GCMG FRSA FRSE PC is awarded a further medal for his tireless struggle against the international ‘forces of darkness’, which would’ve undoubtedly been bolstered by a Scottish ‘yes’ vote.  Should this medal be the Grand Order of Britain (GOB) or should it be the Supreme Honour for Integrity, Tenacity and Excellence (SHITE)?  Perhaps he should get both – George Robertson GOB SHITE has an appropriate ring to it.


Elsewhere, Gordon Brown becomes Lord Brown of Shrek’s Swamp.  Alastair Darling becomes Lord Darling of Tracy Island.  And will that supposed socialist firebrand George Galloway, who’s spent the past months warning that an independent Scotland would be a hellhole of racism and sectarianism, abandon his left-wing principles and accept a peerage?  I wouldn’t be surprised.  He’s shameless enough.  He could be Lord Galloway of Nonsense-on-Stilts.


Scots who’d assumed they’d get substantial new powers from Westminster after a ‘no’ vote are perplexed to discover that those powers are less spectacular than promised: a bit more say over social care here, a bit more say over the railways there, a few additional tweaks, nothing else.  This is hardly surprising.  The stuff promised by Gordon Brown was promised by somebody – an opposition backbench MP – in no position to promise anything.  Meanwhile, on the day that Cameron, Miliband and Clegg descended on Scotland en masse (following the shock of a sudden tightening in the opinion polls) and offered everyone the moon on a stick, William Hague – deputizing for Cameron in the House of Commons – reassured backbench Tories that these promises were merely the equivalent of electioneering promises.  There was no guarantee that they’d ever be passed into law.  At the time, oddly, Hague’s comments didn’t get much coverage in the newspapers.


Whichever party wins power in Westminster in 2015, Conservative or Labour, the brutal austerity measures continue.  They come hard and fast under Prime Minister Cameron, slightly less hard and slightly less fast but painfully longer under Prime Minister Miliband.  As the money-pot gets smaller, so the share of it allocated to Scotland shrivels up too.


The Scottish Rugby Union decides to stop playing Flower of Scotland as the Caledonian anthem before international rugby matches, because the line that goes, “…we can still rise now, and be a nation again!” is attracting too many embarrassing jeers from opposition fans.


Astonishingly, Alastair Darling’s prediction that North Sea oil would run out in 2017 proves to be wrong.  The black stuff, contrarily, keeps on flowing, through the 2020s and 2030s and beyond.  However, no complaints are heard coming from the UK Treasury.


A few years from now, the implementation of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) sees the National Health Service in Britain become a lucrative new market – a veritable smorgasbord of pickings – for transnational companies whose priority is profit rather than the care of patients.  North of the border, the NHS is supposedly the Scottish NHS, a distinct and separate entity.  But when the devolved administration in Edinburgh stresses its distinctness and separateness and tries to exempt it from TTIP, which is privatising / ravaging health services elsewhere in Britain, those private companies take the administration to court.  In court, the companies win their case by arguing that Scotland and its NHS aren’t distinct or separate.  Scotland’s merely a region of a country, the UK.  After all, didn’t its population vote to confirm that regional status back in 2014?


London keeps on expanding, sucking investment and talent out of the other parts of the UK, including Scotland.


Sooner or later, the day arrives when Nigel Farage’s greatest and wettest dream is fulfilled: a UK-wide referendum on continued membership of the European Union is held and it results in a UKIP / Tory majority in southern England voting to leave the EU.  A majority in Scotland vote to stay in it, but they’re outnumbered by the anti-European brigade down south.  All those old scare stories about an independent Scotland being booted out of the EU suddenly look hollow.


Boris Johnston, a man whose concept of British geography doesn’t extend beyond the M25, becomes British Prime Minister…  But no.  It’s time to abandon these predictions before they make me suicidal.


I suspect the constant refrain in a post-‘no’-vote Scotland will be the same question that Johnny Rotten – sick to the teeth of the manipulations of manager Malcolm McLaren – put to his audience at the end of the final concert by the original Sex Pistols at San Francisco Winterland in January 1978: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”  As people in Scotland realise they’ve been cheated, I think momentum will build again for independence.  I only hope that in the meantime the place doesn’t endure the sort of punishment it received, courtesy of Margaret Thatcher, between the two devolution referendums in 1979 and 1997.


But maybe all my pessimism will prove unfounded.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll be in a state of shocked euphoria.  We shall see.


Oh lordy


From www.acting-man.com


Everyone else who is based in Scotland and is capable of typing seems to have spent the last few days reacting to comments made by George Robertson, former Labour Party MP, former defence minister, former secretary general of NATO and now Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, regarding Scottish independence – should the referendum being held in September go that particular way.  A lot has been written in reaction to Lord Roberson, or to give him his full title, Lord Robertson KT, GCMG, FRSA, PC.  (He’s clearly a lord and a half, or even a lord onto himself.)  Little of it has been complimentary.  Even newspapers like the Scotsman and the Daily Record, which have deferentially toed the anti-independence line demanded by the Labour Party, Conservative Party and Liberal Democratic Party, have opined in their editorial columns that Robertson was talking mince.


So, really, there isn’t much point in me pitching in my tuppence-worth as well.  But as regular readers of this blog will know, there’s nothing I like better than pitching in my tuppence-worth.  So here I go.


Robertson declared during a speech in Washington DC on April 8th that a majority vote for Scottish independence would be ‘cataclysmic’.  NATO would see its mightiest member – well, one of its mightiest members – cut in two, into a puny independent Scotland and a diminished English / Welsh / Northern Irish ‘rump’ UK, which would cause much rejoicing among ‘our adversaries’, ‘our enemies’ and the general ‘forces of darkness’.  (Vladimir Putin, could he be talking about you?)  Equally bad, this would encourage separatist movements in volatile European countries like Spain and, er, Belgium to push for independence for their regions, provinces, cantons, counties and parishes too, which would see Europe becoming a seething, hate-filled, ethnic disaster area, like the 1990s Balkans, only on a continental scale.  Crumbs!


(At this point I would have said, ‘Jings!’, which is a common Scottish exclamation of surprise.  However, when Lord Robertson made a previous contribution to the debate a while back, he memorably dismissed Scottish independence as a nonsense because Scotland lacks its own ‘language and culture, and all these sort of things.’  So those Scots words I use from time to time are presumably figments of my own imagination.)


There has been much criticism of the no-to-independence campaign lately, with accusations that it’s indulged in over-the-top fear-mongering – claiming that an independent Scotland would be incapable of running its own affairs, and business, employment, education, savings, pensions, etc., would all disappear down a giant Caledonian toilet – and been ridiculously negative.  But Robertson’s speech ramps that negativity up to stellar, nay, interstellar levels.  In fact, it seems bafflingly paradoxical that a country that, we’ve been told, is way too small, poor and incompetent to have any prospect of making a go of independence should also, somehow, have responsibility for the future stability and security of the entire Western world resting in its hands.


Maybe the Scottish public should hold the West to ransom, like Ernst Stavros Blofeld in Thunderball or Doctor Evil in Austin Powers – The Spy Who Shagged Me.  They should demand that the United Nations pays them a ransom of 100 billion dollars.  Otherwise, in September, they’ll vote yes to independence and trigger off the cataclysmic chain of events that, Lord Robertson would have us believe, will result in the world blowing up.  That sum of 100 billion dollars could obviously be very useful in rebuilding Scotland’s industrial and manufacturing sector (decimated by Maggie Thatcher in the 1980s).  Although according to the no campaign’s claims about Caledonian inadequacy, the Scots would probably just blow it all in a gigantic weekend bender along Sauchiehall Street instead.


The real cataclysm that I suspect Lord Robertson (KT, GCMG, FRSA, PC) is worried might happen as a result of a yes vote is one that might threaten his continued tenure in the House of Lords.  Would he be entitled, as a citizen of a newly-independent Scotland, to claim membership of a British institution that, technically, no longer covered Scotland?  And he’s probably not the only former Scottish Labour politician who’s feeling some referendum-tinged unease at the moment.  You’ll find more former Scottish Labour politicians in the House of Lords than you’ll find moths in a very old wardrobe.


There’s former Labour First Minister of Scotland, Jack McConnell, now Baron McConnell of Glenscorrodale, ennobled for services to post-modern kilt-wearing; former Labour MP and speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, now Lord Martin of Springburn, ennobled for his finesse in coordinating debate in Westminster’s lower chamber – he occasionally managed to string sentences of more than three words together; former Labour MSP George Foulkes, now Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, ennobled for doing a perfect impersonation of a bladder on the end of a stick; and former Labour Scottish Secretary, Helen Liddell, now Baroness Lidell of Coatdyke, ennobled for something.  Or other.


If the Scots reject independence in September, those distinguished peers and peeresses will no doubt be joined soon by Lord Gordon Brown of Shrek’s Swamp and Baron Alastair Darling of Tracy Island, ennobled for their superb stewardship of the British economy during the boom years of the late noughties.


Only a nation of heartless brutes would consider voting for self-determination and depriving these wonderful people, all former members of the allegedly socialistic People’s Party, of the right to wrap themselves in ermine.


What happened to the love?


(c) BBC

From bullyscomic.blogspot.com


A week, it’s commonly said, is a long time in politics.  This has felt especially true with recent events in the build-up to the referendum on Scottish independence, which is being held this September.  Last week, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron gave a speech in London and did his best to impersonate Hugh Grant, who played the cuddly fictional prime minister in the Richard Curtis movie Love, Actually.  Cameron assured Scots that everybody in England, and Wales, and Northern Ireland loved them and begged them not to vote for independence and break up the big happy family that is the UK.  Please don’t go, he practically sang, we love you so.  He even told people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to text or email relatives and friends in Scotland, to urge them not to betray the great British love-in by voting ‘yes’.  (By the way, everyone I know who lives in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – I’m still waiting to hear from you.)


But this week – ironically one day before St Valentine’s Day – Cameron’s chancellor George Osborne gave a speech in Edinburgh and suddenly love was no longer in the air.  Instead, stark, blunt threats were the order of the day.  Osborne warned that if Scots voted for independence, there’d be no prospect of the remainder of the UK agreeing to a currency union with Scotland.  Having a currency union, whereby an independent Scotland would continue to use the British pound even if it meant the new country ceded a degree of fiscal control to London, was the Scottish National Party’s preferred policy.  It was also the policy recommended for an independent Scotland by Alistair Darling, who was chancellor in the last Labour government and is coincidentally the head of the anti-independence Better Together campaign.  Although having separate currencies on the island of Britain would damage the remaining UK as much as it would an independent Scotland – the cost to the UK balance of payments could be billions of pounds – Osborne made it plain that he was willing to cut off his nose to spite his face (or cut off his Union Jack-painted face to spite his wayward tartan nose) in order to stall an independent Scotland’s economy.


So within a couple of days the attitude of the Conservative government at Westminster towards its Scottish subjects has veered from being lovey-dovey to being shrill, wide-eyed and threatening.  Such extreme mood-swings are not characteristic of Hugh Grant in Love, Actually at all.  They’re more like the behaviour of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.  No wonder some people in Scotland want to vote for independence.  Who’d want to stay in a union with a government of bunny-boilers?


(c) The Spectator

From myhungergames.com


The currency issue has dominated the mainstream Scottish media this week.  That was predictable since none of the owners of the daily Scottish newspapers are actually based in Scotland and any sympathy for the SNP or for the cause of independence that appears in their pages is fleeting, to say the least.  So Osborne’s refusal to entertain the idea of a currency union became A GREAT BIG SCARY STORY INDEED.  None of the newspapers forecast that people in an independent Scotland would be reduced to using pebbles, seashells and coloured beads as currency, though I’m sure a couple of them (the Scottish Daily Mail, the Scottish Daily Express) came close.


I’ve worked and travelled in many countries and, from my experiences, the currency issue is not the be-all-and-end-all as Osborne and his admirers in the Scottish press would have us believe.  Currency is a tool that enables people to keep the wheels of commerce turning and get on with their lives and it’s amazing how adaptable they can be.  I spent two years, for example, living in a country a very long way from Europe where the euro was everyday currency.  Also, folk in the Republic of Ireland used their Irish version of the pound, the punt, for decades – and during my childhood in 1970s Northern Ireland, I remember southern Irish money being used north of the border alongside our official ‘British’ pounds and pence.  Frankly, an independent Scotland could use whatever currency it wanted and plenty of studies, conducted by bodies on both the right and the left of the political spectrum, have concluded that there’s no reason why the place shouldn’t thrive anyway.  But with Osborne expressing his willingness to stick up currency barriers between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK, he’s made administrative hassle in the movement of business, wealth, goods and people around these islands a real possibility.


What annoys me most about Osborne’s speech, though, is how Ed Balls, Labour’s shadow chancellor, immediately gave it his full backing.  If Labour were in power in Westminster, he said, they’d refuse a currency union with an independent Scotland too.  George Osborne, who is a millionaire thanks to his inherited wealth, is a prominent member of a regime that has necessitated the return of food-banks to Britain as a measure to save families from going hungry, and allowed utility companies to turn their customers into virtual serfs, and threatened half the public libraries in Newcastle-upon-Tyne with closure, and  introduced the Bedroom Tax – a tax that even the ultra-cautious wee middle-class Edinburgh rag The Scotsman has described as ‘Dickensian’.  And so on, and so forth.  Yet Ed Balls is more than happy to hold Osborne’s posh Tory coat for him while he bludgeons the Scots with threats about what might happen if they dare to exercise their democratic rights and vote for more autonomy.


(The Liberal Democrats have also given Osborne’s speech their backing, though what they think is irrelevant.  They cut their own throats by entering a coalition government with the Tories back in 2010 and will probably be extinct after the next general election.)


For the record, I doubt that the Scots will vote for independence later this year.  (That’s despite recent opinion polls showing an increase in support for the ‘yes’ option – something that no doubt prompted Osborne to issue his threat this week.)  To make a rash generalisation, the Scots are a careful, slightly pessimistic and not terribly confident lot and the anti-independence campaign, via the newspapers, has exploited these insecurities by banging on relentlessly about all the terrible things that might happen if they were stupid enough to vote for political autonomy – companies would relocate to England, prices would soar, pension plans would collapse, they’d be kicked out the European Union, they’d be threatened by terrorists, television in an independent Scotland would be rubbish because Scottish creativity is rubbish.  (That last argument was articulated both by the former Labour MP Brian Wilson and by the former Liberal Party leader David Steel, who nowadays calls himself Lord Steel of Aikwood.)  The currency scare has been the latest in a long line of scare stories designed to convince people that, unless they want their children to grow up in a Caledonian equivalent of Albania, circa 1970, they should vote ‘no’.  Sadly, it’s an approach that I think will work this time.


I say ‘this time’ because my opinion is that in the long run Scotland will become independent, perhaps one or two generations from now.  I think it will parallel what happened with the creation of a devolved Scottish parliament in the 20th century – a referendum on Scottish devolution in 1979 was a failure (although a narrow majority of Scots did vote for devolution, they didn’t get it thanks to the insertion of a sneaky last-minute qualification in the voting rules), but the Scots voted for it emphatically and overwhelmingly in 1997.  Scottish independence will eventually come, I suspect, because a couple of decades from now the United Kingdom will be an even less attractive place to be than it is now.  It wouldn’t surprise me if 2030 or 2040 sees the UK outside the European Union and outside the EU’s rules about minimum pay, working conditions and human rights, operating as a sort of giant, deregulated, offshore sweatshop-cum-McDonald’s branch that Rupert Murdoch, Nigel Farrage and the Daily Mail would have wet dreams about.  Also, thanks to the rise of the Internet and the decline of traditional newspapers, the flow of information will be less controlled than it is at the moment.  There will certainly be fewer old-style newspapers in Scotland to put a Unionist spin on things.  (The Scotsman, for instance, is on its last legs at the moment.)


What worries me, though, is that following the 2014 referendum Scotland will be a demoralised and dissatisfied place for a long time.  People who voted ‘yes’ will be angry at how the debate was distorted by the political, business and media establishments – indeed, I suspect that this week’s events, with the Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats aligning themselves to deny any prospect of a currency union happening, will become as notorious as the backroom politicking that cheated the Scots out of getting devolution in 1979 even though they’d voted for it.  Meanwhile, those people who voted ‘no’, and who consider themselves to be both ‘British’ and ‘Scottish’ simultaneously, are unlikely to feel brilliant, either.  By then the ‘Scottish’ part of their identity will have been subjected to two years of drip-drip-drip claims by unionist politicians and newspapers about how rubbish they are.  Even if you don’t particularly want to be independent, it can’t do much for your self-esteem to be continually told you’re incapable of being independent.


Furthermore, if – as I expect – a majority of Scots vote ‘no’ and the threat of Scottish independence recedes, Scotland will disappear off Westminster’s radar again, with unhappy consequences.  After all, following the devolution fiasco of 1979, Margaret Thatcher assumed that the Scots didn’t have the bottle to stand up to London and her incoming Tory government could do whatever they wanted with the place.  And we all know what happened to Scotland then.