Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Unionist Pact

The following letter was published, with slightly different editing, in today's Scotsman.

In July the Yes campaign won 45% of votes cast, a figure which represents no more than 38% of those eligible to vote. The newly inflated SNP membership of 85,000 still represents only 2% of the electorate.

These figures make it highly unlikely that the SNP will gather more than 50% of the vote in more than a handful of constituencies in the upcoming general election. Nevertheless, recent opinion polls suggest that the first-past-the-post system may grant them more than 30 seats at Westminster. In that case, a minority of Scottish voters may end up dictating the future policies of the British government - a government that the majority of Scots want, but which the SNP only wishes to destroy.

It therefore seems logical that for the 2015 general election the Unionist parties should form a pact to stand down in constituencies where they might divide the vote and allow the SNP to win by default. If voters were given a choice between the Unionist and separatist candidates, it is highly unlikely that the SNP would win more than a handful of seats.

The initial reaction of Tories might be to spurn an electoral pact that would benefit Labour and the Liberal Democrats at their expense. However, since they are officially the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, wiser heads should realise that a short-term loss of seats is much preferable to the long-term loss of their country.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Heading home

On referendum night (18th September) I switched off my computer and radio before 10pm and got into bed with a good book. When a friend called from Germany in a state of inebriation and excitement, I coldly told her that I wasn't discussing or thinking about the referendum until the result was in, and put the phone down.

I was up the next morning at 7. I didn't switch on the radio until 7.50 and caught the tail end of a discussion on the Today programme. Something about it being a bad night for Ed Miliband. That means we've lost, I thought, but almost immediately afterwards the news update confirmed that the No vote had won by 55% to 45%. Uncharacteristically, and with unwitting irony, I punched the air "Yes!". Disaster had been averted. Scots had decided to back the Union with a clear margin. I would not find myself a foreigner in my own country. My as-yet-to-receive citizenship partner would be blessed with a British passport that allowed access to the European Union, rather than cursed with travel documents that continued his alienation from the EU. Scotland would not throw itself into financial limbo and I would not need to divide my assets between the surety of British pounds and the gamble of an unknown Scots currency. Three hundred years of history, of unimpeded travel, marriage, co-operation and unity that brought together almost all the inhabitants of these islands would not be thrown away.  I could return to London safe in the knowledge that it was still part of my country and without crossing the shadow of a future border. 

For me and most people I knew, Edinburgh and Scotland was not a pleasant place to be in the fortnight of September. Scots, English and others alike, we saw no reason to break up the UK. Our hearts stretched from Shetland to the Scillies; centuries of history had created one strong nation. Separation would have cut a deep wound into our psyches that could never be healed. Those of us who were - and are - Scots take great pride in our identity and our heritage, but that identity and heritage stretches far beyond the river Tweed. For us, to be Scots means also to be British; we cannot conceive of ourselves being one and not the other. We had no wish to deny Nationalists their right to be Scottish and we could not understand why they were so insistent on denying us our right to be British?

Our emotional argument was strong, our intellectual argument even stronger. We looked at the case for independence put forward by the Scottish government, while windering how much time and money had been wasted on reams of documents by bureaucrats whose energies would surely have been better spent in bettering the lives of Scots today rather than fantasising about the lives of Scots tomorrow. All we saw was vague statistics and unfounded assertions - assertions that were often denied or belied by the very authorities on whom the separatists were basing their arguments. £250 million to set up all the trappings of a new state? How could we respect a finance minister that put forward such a figure? We were assured automatic membership of the EU - yet the EU itself and even Scots lawyers in favour of independence said it would not happen. A currency union? What part of No from London did the separatists not understand? Why did they think that the rest of the UK would want to support a country that had rejected them and which could not organise its own finances decently?

Yet despite heart and head shouting loudly, "separation would be madness", we, the silent majority, found ourselves uncertain and alone. We were surrounded by Yes posters, afraid to display our own opinions because of threats against those who had the courage to speak out against the fantasy and damage to property that dared to carry posters saying "No thanks". Opinion polls unnerved us, suggesting that the result was on a knife-edge. We could not see beyond 19th, half-suspecting that it would herald the start of a long Arctic night. With joy we realised we had merely experienced a brief eclipse. "Am I dreaming?" a relative asked when she called at eight on the morning of the 19th; no, I reassured her; the nightmare is over.

But while I, and millions like me, were relieved at the outcome, there were 1.6 million voters (37.8% of the electorate - 44.7% of those who voted) whose disappointment was as palpable as my relief. The media showed that many were in tears, the same tears I might have shed if the result had gone the other way. Many had voted for the sake of a better Scotland, deluded by the Nationalists into believing that independence would make Scotland a fairer society. A few were aware of the risks, but many who voted Yes were motivated by little more than deep prejudice against Westminster - the convenient fall-guy for any politician seeking to divert scrutiny away from the weaknesses in their own policies and behaviour. Like true believers who had seen Paradise, they could not conceive that their vision was an illusion.

Blame for their predicament lies partly at the feet of Alex Salmond and the many in the Yes leadership who refused to let reality confuse their campaign. Blame also lies firmly at the feet of the incompeent No campaign, who failed to address the Scottish people with the same empathy that oozed from Alex Salmond. For most of the campaign only George Galloway - a man for whom I have little respect - was occasionally heard arguing the Unionist cause with the same passion as the Yes campaign. At the last moment we got Gordon Brown, and then we wondered where he had been for the last two years? If instead of the stiff and unapproachable Alistair Darling and the incompetent Blair McDougall the No campaign had had someone of Salmond's stature who could respond to the SNP leader's bullying and lies, the result might have been closer to 25% Yes and 75% No. More importantly, the intimidation and violence (mostly broken windows, but even one broken window is too many) might been curtailed, instead flourishing as it did under Salmond's Putin-like denials that it was happening.

The damage is done. Scotland has been divided. Two hours after receiving that welcome news I was on a train back to London, where I have lived half my life and where I still have business and a relationship to take my time and attention. Today, however, I return to Edinburgh wondering whether the 37.8% will respect the decision of the Scottish electorate or whether we face year after year of a neverendum, as those who cannot see further than Carlisle and Berwick, those for whom an English accent is an excuse for xenophobia, those who want to be big fish in a small pond, continue to stir p division and to sow disunity in our still United Kingdom. I want to be Scottish again; I want to have as much pride in my identity as a Scot and Brit as I have always had; I want to feel equally at home in Lerwick, Llandudno in London. I hope that those of narrower vision have learnt their lesson - we Scots are much greater nation than the land which gave us birth.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

I’m one of a big family living in a large house that we have shared for hundreds of years. I enjoy moving around our home and have spent many years living in both the South Wing and Northern Suite.

Now some of my relatives in the Northern Suite want to divide the house. They tell me we’ll then be able to decorate the Northern Suite the way we want it and spend our money without consulting the rest of the family. I point out that we do most of that already. We have our own budget and our own set of rules; we decide how our children are educated, what medical care we all get, and we’re even in charge of the local policeman who tells them off if they misbehave.

That’s not enough, they say. By cutting ourselves off from the rest of the family, we’ll be able to spend our money more fairly, make sure everyone has enough to live off. I remind them we have the resources and ability to do this already, but they ignore me. Some admit that after the divorce we are going to be poorer and it is going to be difficult to get credit. But that doesn’t matter, they say. Life will be better for all of us in the Northern Suite if we turn our backs on the rest of the family. Only then will we regain our self-respect – a statement that confuses me, because I have never lost my self-respect as a member of both my immediate and broader family. 

I now face the prospect of a poorer life in a smaller home and most of my relatives will become strangers. I expect those relatives will react negatively if we reject them and we will lose many privileges that were once our birthright. Our former relatives will charge us more for business transactions as they place us on an equal footing with the rest of the world. Many of our favourite radio and television programmes will disappear. Without the support of our broader family we will find it more difficult to travel abroad – and when the rest of the world accepts us, it will be on their terms, not ours.

I am disheartened that many of my close relatives have such a narrow vision that they cannot see how much they gain from being part of such an old, strong and tolerant family and how much we will lose if we turn our backs on them. They are full of optimism, but I am more hard-headed. I know that if there is a divorce both sides will lose and the long-term legacy will be intolerance and resentment on both sides of the divide that will last for generations. 

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Still here

These are the powers Scotland already has
The fact that I haven't posted here for almost a month is not a sign that my interest in the upcoming referendum is waning. The primary reason why I haven't written anything is because I have several ongoing business and personal obligations that leave me little free time; the second reason is because news coverage in recent weeks has so significantly undermined what was left of the YeSNP's argument for independence made many of the points that I would have made - and made them much better than I could.

However, at a well-attended Better Together meeting in Leith tonight, I was reminded of the importance of bringing out the No Vote. We have reason - and level-headed emotion - on our side, but the Yes campaign is driven by sentiment and that sentiment is more likely to drive voters to the polls.

The three speakers included Alan Tomkins of Glasgow University, who writes trenchant analysis of the legal implications of separation, Ronald MacDonald, an economic expert and a businesswoman whose name I did not catch. All three spoke clearly and informatively and it was especially heartening to see, in answer to questions, Tomkins becoming passionate about the issue - a passion shared by several speakers, and non-speakers from the audience. Of course we are passionate: we want to save this country that we love - these countries that we love - from being destroyed by ignorance and greed for power.

Several  points came up that I will probably come back to in later posts, but the two that struck me most notably were (a) the absence of any SNP representative to answer some of the economic and business questions about independence that many in the audience had and (b) among the many contradictions of YeSNP policy was the fact that the country could not have the mass immigration that it now (since last week, that is) says it wants) together with an open border with the rest of the UK.

We will win this debate, but we will not win it through reason alone. We have to show the same passion for our cause as the Yes campaign. Nothing can overcome passion and reason.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Independence through an independent tribunal?

I've always thought that the legal process was the best method of resolving any dispute. In criminal law an impartial jury decides guilt or innocence. In civil law where two sides are in conflict (libel, divorce, whatever), a judge with no connection with either party makes a decision based on the evidence presented. In practice the system has its flaws – some criminals are found not guilty, a rich person is more likely to get a good lawyer than a poor one etc – but the theory is good; the fairest decisions come from arbiters with an overall view and no emotional attachment to the case.

Three to five countries all claim sovereignty
over these uninhabited specks of land
In an ideal world, all international disputes from the Israel-Palestine conflict through the Ukraine to the ownership of the Spratly Islands would be resolved in the same way. With few exceptions, such conflicts arise because the public and political leaders on one or both sides are driven by emotion more than reason – and their objective is more often to fight for the best result for their own side rather than work together for the fairest result for everybody involved.

We needn’t hold our breath waiting for an independent adjuticator to resolve most of the other disputes that plague many nations across the world. Occasionally the weaker side in a dispute proposes such a measure, but the stronger side, with more to lose, generally opposes it. The closest the Israeli-Palestine issue came to being resolved was the 1993 Oslo accord, when Norway acted as an independent referee, but that brief moment of hope quickly faded.

Which brings me to the Scottish referendum. The idea that this conflict – and yes, it is a conflict although one which, thankfully, the Scots and other Brits are content to limit to words – can be resolved by democratic vote is problematic. Problematic firstly, because the apparently democratic idea of 2 million Scots deciding the fact of Scotland becames very much less democratic when seen as 2 million Britons deciding the fate of the United Kingdom.

Problematic also because so much of the debate is driven by emotion, with many of those involved (particularly on the internet) being much less interested in serious debate and exchange of ideas than with drumming their opinions into the heads of their opponents. The broader public, influenced at least partly by the strong emotions engendered and with restricted understanding of the likely advantages and disadvantages of independence, are therefore more likely to vote according to what they feel and believe rather than what they understand and know.

Ideally, therefore, I'd prefer the decision as to whether Scotland should become independent to be settled not by voters, whose judgement – including my own – I trust either partially or not at all, but by independent experts. Organisations and individuals with no connection with Scotland or the rest of the UK would consider the whole picture - historical, economic, linguistic, legal etc etc - and come to a fair conclusion as to whether Scotland as a whole would be better off as part of the UK or independent. If their verdict was independence, I'd say great, let’s go for it. After all, if people wiser than me tell me that independence is best for us all, then of course, independence it should be.

Regrettably, that international tribunal will not take place. And so the burden of deciding Scotland’s fate falls upon the shoulders of fallible, ignorant voters like myself. All I can do in such circumstances is gather what evidence I can to make my decision. Much of that evidence will come from Scotland and the rest of the UK, from individuals and organisations professing interest in one or neither side. The most important evidence, however, will be the analysis that comes from independent institutions that are based outside the United Kingdom.

And so, taking into consideration all the evidence that I have come across, and – yes, this is where emotion comes in – the many family, social, economic and cultural links that have been forged over the last thousand* years between Scotland and the rest of the union, the best conclusion I can come to is that separation would be pointless and stupid for most people living north and south of the Solway and Tweed. For the sake of all Brits, I have to vote No.

* Anyone who knows their history knows that Scots and English have been inter-marrying and traveling and doing business across these islands since long before either Scotland or England became a nation.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

SNP and UKIP - how similar?

Surely the United Kingdom Independence Party and the Scottish National Party have nothing in common? UKIP fervently defends the United Kingdom; the SNP wants to destroy it. UKIP wants to get out of Europe; the SNP begs to stay in. UKIP is against gay marriage; the SNP has legislated in favour. The SNP leans to the left, UKIP to the right. And so on and so on. Policy wonks from Lerwick to Land's End can point out the many other differences that exist between the two parties, so why do I think that the SNP and UKIP have much more in common than either party would admit?

Smiles and Steel

Alex Farage and Nigel Salmond
Start at the top. The two parties are led by men who combine a public persona of affability with ruthless ambition. Nigel Farage and Alex Salmond both come across as relaxed, cheerful and friendly, the kind of man with whom we would happily down a dram or a pint at the local pub. There would be laughter and good conversation and all would seem right with the world.

For both men, their bonhomie is a rare and important political asset that engenders sympathy for their cause. Peel away the masks, however, and it is clear that both men have a determined and single-minded drive to overcome all obstacles and bypass all individuals in their way.

Most politicians combine empathy with ego - it's what attracts them to politics in the first place - but few have these qualities to same extent as Farage and Salmond. Even fewer have consummate political skill, in particular, the ability to create a clear message which appeals to a wide public irrespective of its basic flaws. In comparison, Cameron, Miliband and Clegg fall short on all three counts - empathy, ego and political skill - which partly explains their failure to counter the rise of the SNP/UKIP duopoly. One cannot imagine Dave, Ed or Nick repeating Alex's and Nigel's trick of leading their party, giving way to others when tactics demanded it, and returning to the top when those who replaced them proved less able

Of course there are differences between the two. Farage is prone to irritation while the SNP leader never seems to lose his cool. The Englishman is also unusual in that he often gives direct answers to questions, although his statistics cannot always be relied on; Salmond, like most politicians, is a dab hand at ignoring inconvenient questions and offering platitudes instead of hard facts. And Farage it seems, prefers local pubs while the Dear Leader lounges in luxury hotels.

One Party, One Policy

SNP / UKIP policy
Personalities aside, what links the parties is their common policy – Get Us Out!! It doesn't matter whether the target is the UK or the EU; the basic message is the same - Our Nation Is Weakened By The Union. If Brussels / London did not hamper us, we could be free, we could fulfil our potential and paradise would come.

Get Us Out!! is a powerful, appealing message. It reduces a complex situation to a simple answer. It suggests that the Gordian knot can be cut and all will be well. Get Us Out!! takes people's frustrations and unhappiness and allows them to place the blame for their problems on someone else. There's nothing wrong with (Scotland/the UK - fill in the blank); it's the all fault of those people (over the border/across the Channel - fill in the blank); as soon as we break the shackles we will prosper.


The single issue of Get Us Out!! is not enough to win over an electorate. Which leads us to the third similarity between UKIP and the SNP: populism - responding not to principle, but to the people's whims. The goal of the party is to leave the (British/European - fill in the blank) Union; the means to achieve that goal is populism. And so policies are adopted or abandoned only if they will win votes to reach the Get Us Out!! goal. If middle England is against gay marriage, then so is UKIP. If middle Scotland wants to keep the pound, then the SNP will happily jettison its policy of the euro. If middle England doesn’t accept climate change, then neither will UKIP. If middle Scotland wants to stay in NATO, then the SNP will abandon its long-standing opposition. And so on. Whatever policy the electorate wants, SNP/UKIP will promote it as long as it gets them closer to Get Us Out!!

Come Together?

So there you have it – a strong, charismatic leader, Get Us Out!!  and populism. They may be poles apart on specific policies may differ, but the differences between UKIP and the SNP are more superficial than deep. Let’s hope the two don’t come together in an electoral pact, because if they do, we Scots and other Brits really will be in trouble....

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Little Scotlanders and Great Scots

David Hume - a great Scot who flourished under the Union
One of the insidious impacts of SNP propaganda has been to deny wherever possible our double heritage as Scots and Brits. There is a difference between Great Scots - those who of us who not only acknowledge the wealth of Scottish history and the tremendous contribution that we, as artists and engineers, as philosophers and politicians, as soldiers and salesmen, and so on, have made to life in Scotland, the UK and beyond - and Little Scotlanders - those who look inwards, who view the world beyond the Solway and the Tweed with suspicion, who are blind to the many contributions we have made to our fellow Briton and the rest of the world and who can see nothing but insult and lies in even the blandest of statements made with an English accent.

Great Scots do not have an inferiority complex. We do not need to build our own army or establish embassies across the world to be proud of ourselves as Scots, to see ourselves as equal with our nations or to build ourselves a better nation. Little Scotlanders are constantly nurturing grudges, blaming all Scotland's shortcomings on their English neighbours, reassuring themselves that they can go it alone. Little Scotlanders want independence not because they feel strong, but because they feel weak.

There will be a high price to pay if the Little Scotlanders win the referendum. Of course there will be winners - Salmond and Sturgeon will achieve their dream of international status and the SNP apparatchiks will get plum posts in Washington, Paris, Beijing and London. The rest of us will have a high price to pay. Many of us will be made foreigners in the country we grew up in. Those of us whose lives are divided between Scotland and the rest of the UK will be confronted by dual taxes and bureaucracies. Those of us who are based in Scotland will find a hollow victory - entry into the EU, NATO and hundreds of international organisations costly and delayed, the social democractic paradise promised by the SNP an illusion as they fail to raise the high taxes that such a paradise demands (as Denmark and Sweden know well).

We have a choice in the coming referendum. Inward-looking, chip-on-their-shoulder Little Scotlanders who vote Yes to shake off imaginary shackles, or confident Great Scots who vote No and prove to the world that we