A few reflections on the Scottish Referendum

September 20, 2014

The Scottish Referendum ended with a win for the Better Together campaign and devastation for the devolutionists and its leader Alex Salmond. Here are a few unedited impressions of the end-game

September 18th 2014

An emotional roller-coaster of a final day of campaigning and a night waiting as the results were counted. The process is hailed as a template for democratic elections. The commitment was impressive, the over ninety percent registration, over eighty percent turn-out.

Hope and denial

Hope in bucketfuls from the Independent Scotland ranks. For that dreamed-for freedom.

Freedom from the auld enemy, reborn as ‘the politicians in Whitehall’. Denial in bucketfuls, too. Denial that Scottish leaders were of a similar moral standing and competence to Whitehall’s toffs and scoundrels. The anger of one old-school socialist brought memories of an earlier age of fire-breathing working-class Scottish Union leaders with a long rehearsed loathing of his class enemies.

The pain of loss

The expressions of a lost dream in which a free Scotland would have been free from Trident -that was often mentioned. Free from perceived unjust laws imposed from Whitehall. For some, free from fears of what might happen, for example to the NHS [National Health Service].

From under a duvet

A distraught and inconsolable young caller to a phone-in. Upset after campaigning all day, staying up all night. Polls show the Better Together win. More questioning. She is nineteen. Tearful. In bed. I imagine her curled up, foetal position, under a duvet, clutching her I-phone.

Whitehall. It’s politics as usual

Early morning. A prepared statement from David Cameron confirming concessions to Scotland but also to the other constitutive parts of the [still] United Kingdom. Seized on as an electioneering ploy.

The agony of Alex

Alex Salmond, indefatigable leader of the Yes campaign for two years. Final speech had been as confident as ever. Within hours of the result, he announces he will step down as first Minister of the Scottish Parliament. The mask of command had been wearily taken off.

World reaction

Excellent International review from BBC Scotland.

Local reaction

Just heard two Labour politicians in deeply-divided discussion [BBC Radio 5] much easier for the Better Together camp to seek reconciliation. Sad.


The Sottish Referendum: from the sidelines

August 25, 2014

Like two heroic leaders of a bygone age, Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling prepare for battle. The symbolic War of independence in Scotland is reaching a crucial stage

Have no doubt of the symbolic nature of the war. The matter is to be decided through votes cast for or against a single six word question by those edible by rights of age and location. No voting rights for exiled Scots.

The six word question

“Should Scotland be an independent country?”

Numerous polls have shown roughly 50% of eligible voters disposed to vote NO, 40% YES,, and around 10% DON’T KNOW. The shifts in voting intention have shown enough of a drift to the YES vote to keep those involved anxious and willing to keep on campaigning.

The dilemma of intervention and MRDA

There seems to be a dilemma for interventions from what is seen as beyond-the-border vested interests. These have tended to be from those offering reasons why the Scots should vote No. These have been most most effectively rebuffed years ago by the famous Mandy Rice-Davis retort .  When challenged in court that Lord Astor denied sleeping with her: ‘he would say that wouldn’t he’. I understand it is now found in tweets as MRDA , standing for Mandy Rice-Davis Applies.

Even if MRDA …

Mandy’s line is strong on dramatic force, but those with vested interests may still be making valid points.

Even if MRDA here, Is it significant that the final Yes No question was reduced to six words of blatant over-simplification? “Should Scotland be an independent country?”appears to be asking for some moral or universal rights assertion. It leaves open for debate whether the voters will benefit more from one outcome rather than the other. Not to mention that the outcome reaches into the haziest of futures. Further confusion is added by the dodgy nature of the statistical missiles deployed in the skirmishes.

Worse, as stated the question reveals the difficulties in laying out the decision by with a say in its phrasing. From the outside, I have not been convinced by the justifications offered for voting Yes or No. In that respect I would be among the 10% Don’t Knows.


Donald Trump’s Love-affair with Scottish Golf Courses takes a blow

April 24, 2012

Donald Trump American entrepreneur, TV reality show star, and wannabe Presidential candidate is a golf enthusiast who has invested heavily in the leisure industry of Scotland. But he appears to be having a tiff with Scottish politicians

Mr Trump claims that Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond had reassured him that proposals to build an off-shore wind farm close to his championship golf course would never win political approval.

The betrayal

But yesterday, [April 23rd 2012] according to the Scotsman:

Mr Trump said: “I feel totally betrayed and lied to by the Scottish Government. I was really misled and mistreated.”
The tycoon made it clear that, should the wind farm get the go-ahead, then the Menie [Aberdeenshire] development would end once the course is opened and construction on the planned clubhouse is completed. It will be a golf course and it will be a beautiful clubhouse and that will be it. That’s not what I want. We have a concept for a hotel which will blow everyone’s minds but I can’t have a hotel looking into those windmills.”

Another account of the turbulent meeting can be found in the Guardian.

Leaders we deserve have followed the Scottish business activities of Mr Trump for several years. His business style seems to have contributed to problems in implementing some of his cherished visions.

In 2010 we reported The Independent as saying:

The billionaire Donald Trump last week clashed with protesters opposed to his controversial plans to build the “world’s greatest golf course” near Aberdeen. Quarry worker Michael Forbes, who is refusing to sell his property which adjoins the £750m scheme, claims Mr Trump’s workers unlawfully annexed his land. The clash is the latest skirmish in an increasingly bitter battle to prevent Mr Trump from developing the site. More than 7,000 local people have signed up to join the “bunker”, co-owners of an acre of land sold by Mr Forbes [a local land-owner] to disrupt the US tycoon’s plans. The philanthropist and co-founder of the Body Shop (Gordon Roddick) and Green MP Caroline Lucas are the latest to join the campaign.

Wind Farms OK, Donald Trump not OK?

It will be interesting to see whether Mr Trump is succeeding in his dilemma of winning over regional opposition to his business interests while achieving his business goals.

Acknowledgement

Image from Ecohooks website and the pithily titled post: Donald Trump Pissed about Offshore Wind Farms


Brown v Salmond was the undercard to the Obama McCain fight

November 11, 2008

don-king-wikimedia

As Obama cruised to his historic victory last week, little attention was paid internationally to the fight between Alex Salmond and Gordon Brown in the Glenrothes by-election in Scotland. The pre-match posturing suggested Alex was supremely confident. But the voters marked their cards rather differently

To be precise, Alex Salmond and Gordon Brown were the fight promoters. Lindsay Roy (the eventual victor) and Peter Grant of the Scottish Nationalists were not exactly billed as crowd-pleasing performers.

That was partly why I began to think of Alex Salmond as a fight promoter such as the legendary Don King. He has this way of dominating a press conference with his creative imagery. And sometimes happened with Don King, Alex Salmond was also grabbing more headlines than his fighter. When the bout was lost, it was Alex Salmond who retained the headlines. The vaunted clunking fist of Gordon Brown had done some damage. And Alex Salmond didn’t just hit the headlines, he hit the canvas.

The BBC reported it as follows:

The by-election was a result of death of Labour MP John MacDougall. He had held a majority of over 10,000 votes in 2005, but Labour’s decline and the upsurge of support in Scotland for Salmond’s nationalists have put them favourites. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, MP for the neighbouring constituency of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, had departed from the tradition of a PM staying away from such by-elections. Mr Salmond said it was “clear” the SNP could win the by-election.
“Just as Americans voted for hope over fear, people in Glenrothes can choose between the positive record of the SNP and the negativity and scaremongering of Labour”

Polls seemed to back up this claim until a few hours of the polling booths closing. The seriousness of another defeat for Brown was the main topic of the closing days of the campaign.

What happened next?

Within hours of polling ending, rather like the Obama battle, the grapevine was indicating a clear victor. But it wasn’t the ante-Post favorite.

The BBC again:

Lindsay Roy [Labour] was elected the new MP with a majority of 6,737 over the SNP’s Peter Grant …BBC Scotland political correspondent Brian Taylor said: “Labour attacked the Nationalists day and daily over claims that the SNP-led administration in Fife Council had cut home care services for the most vulnerable.
“In vain did the SNP protest that this was driven by externally imposed exigencies, that they were doing nothing different from several other councils (including Labour ones) and that they had increased the budget in key areas of expenditure.”

Down, but is he out?

So we can say Alex even from the ringside ended up on the canvas. But even if it’s been a knockout, is it such a blow as to be the end of the victory which his party is scenting in the longer term? Above the political battle, the vision of the SDP is for a free Scotland away from the shackles of the Union, and with a new poliical relationship between Scotland and England.

In the week of Obama’s triumph, it would be a bold person to predict that such an outcome will never happen. Obama’s was victory for the originally oppressed minority. We might also remember Mandela’s victory in South Africa. But in each of these cases, there was one big difference: the direction of change was towards integration not differentiation.


The Fate of The Scottish One: A Metaphor for Alex Salmond?

September 20, 2008
The first Scottish Numberplace

The first Scottish Numberplace

Scotland faces job losses in the wake of the tsunami in the world’s financial markets. Alex Salmond leaps into action. But the fate of a Scottish car number plate may be a salutary metaphor for the SNP and its leader

This will be remembered as the week as memorable of the Wall Street Crash in 1929. The upheavals in stock markets around the world were matched by the personal tragedies of countless individuals fearing job losses, pension and savings wipe-ups.

It was hardly worth trying to write a topical blog post, as the big issue moved on in the space of hours, from one story to the next.

One of the stories of the week was the takeover of HBOS by Lloyds TSB. Jobs in Edinburgh were under threat, as Scottish politicians and trade-union leaders were quick to point out.

Alex Salmond was among the most vociferous voices to be heard, as he denounced the bunch of spivs who had effectively stealing Scottish jobs.

A light-hearted diversion

A light-hearted diversion in the middle of the bleakest of weeks was news of the fate of another bit of Scotland’s heritage. S1, the first Scottish car number plate, was flogged off for around £400,000. By the English of course. By a bunch of spivs as Alex might have said.

The winning bidder from the company Bold Registrations, who declined to be named, agreed to pay £397,500, inclusive of buyer’s premium.
He said: “I believe that number plates in general are a good investment, even at this price.
“The registration number will remain in the UK and will be going on an old red Skoda which will be seen around the Midlands.”

I couldn’t help noting the irony of the old red Skoda.

Postscript:

As the week ended, a glimmer of hope reported in the Telegraph
Since Sunday two of the world’s biggest investment banks have collapsed while an emergency takeover had to be arranged for HBOS, Britain’s biggest mortgage and savings bank. The partial recovery came after the US government unveiled a rescue package to take on bad bank debts

Is this a dove bearing a sprig of Scottish heather?


It should be Team Scotland for London2012. Or should it be Team GB again?

August 26, 2008

Scotland honours its Olympic athletes, and the SNP raises more political questions. Alex Salmond argues for a Team Scotland for the London Olympics, and for an independent Scottish Football team at the Games

In the wake of the Beijing Olympics, Gordon Brown returns to the old story of a UK football team for London 2012. But the issue is complex. The story runs simultaneously with the wider story of whether team GB should be dismantled, so that the home nations can perform in their own identities, as happens in the Commonwealth Games.

The BBC reported [August 24th 2008] that

The Scottish Government has repeated its calls for Scotland to have its own, separate team at the Olympics. Ministers said it would be good for Scottish sport. The SNP wants to hold an independence referendum in 2010 – two years before the Games in London.

The case for a GB football team at the London Olympics is believed to put at risk the benefits of the national teams competing individually in other competitions, and particularly the World and European Cups. For Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, these internationals are pragmatically the sole rationale for their survival.

Gordon Brown sees the benefits to the 2012 games of an Olympics team GB, and of a football team GB as well. Rather audaciously, he would like to see Sir Alex Ferguson in charge of said team.

Alex Salmond sees it differently.
He tells the BBC

Mr Brown must be “seriously out of touch with Scotland”.
“The whole concept’s ridiculous and only could be put forward by somebody who’s seriously out of touch with Scotland,” he said.
There has been no British Olympic team since 1960, partly because of fears it could jeopardize individual sides.

The Prime Minister, who has suggested that Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson could manage the side, has been speaking with World Football’s governing body, Fifa, to reach an agreement on establishing British football teams. He said he would be surprised if there was not a team from the country which invented football competing on home turf in 2012.

Mr Salmond is remarkable shrewd in judging a popular cause. Maybe he continues to strengthen his political aspirations over this issue.

Maybe.

It is hard to assess the implications of his proposals. The rights of the four home countries to autonomy in world football is subject to the political machinations within Fifa, and the European football authority UEFA.

The concerns of the home nations are not without justification. That Prince among diplomats, Sepp Blatter offered one of his headline catching statements recently. His remarks hinted at a view that maybe indicated troubles ahead for the four home football unions:

Fifa president Sepp Blatter says a Great Britain football team at the 2012 Olympic Games should feature only English players.

“If you start to put together a combined team for the Olympic Games, the question will automatically come up that there are four different associations so how can they play in one team… If this is the case then why the hell do they have four associations and four votes and their own vice-presidency? “This will put into question all the privileges that the British associations have been given by the [Fifa] Congress in 1946.”

Unpopular but not without merit

My own views are those of someone of Welsh origins long domiciled in England. As in Scotland, the media in Wales have been keeping a proud count of the athletes of Welsh origin in team GB.

On balance, I rather like the idea of a supporting an Olympics Team GB. Despite reservations about obsessing over gold medal counts I was swept up into the counting game. I don’t feel that in 2012 I would have as much enjoyment keeping track of the overall Welsh medal tally.

That is a relatively trivial point but the feel-good factor this time around does seem a lot to do with the metrics showing Team GB had done better than might have been expected, and as an added bonus for some, outperformed that yardstick of sporting envy, The Australians.

But suppose Mr Salmond has to position his party as rejecting involvement in building on the achievements of Team GB in 2012, seeking an independent Team Scotland, foiling efforts at competing for football medals?

If so, Mr Salmond for once may be backing an idea that is likely to be unappealing to a proportion of his target electorate. Not too damaging of itself perhaps, but it may offer political opponents opportunities to cast doubt on Mr Salmond’s growing reputation as an agile and sure-footed leader.

In general, I found commentaries in the English press which largely supported the view that Alex has perhaps been less sure-footed than usual. A similar view could be found in Scotland on Sunday in which Kenny Farquharson described the First Minister’s position as churlish and petty.

On the other hand, the respondents to Farquharson were overwhelmingly on the side of Alex (Salmond not Ferguson). So who is to say whether Salmond has once again been able to deep-dive into regions where other politicians do not go?

Acknowledgement:

Image from emsee Bristol


Leadership Implications of The Glasgow East by-Election

July 25, 2008

The SNP snatches a victory in Glasgow East. There are leadership implications reaching far beyond the constituency. However, a call-in programme suggests that Gordon Brown’s problems do not reveal widespread acceptance for David Cameron

John Mason’s triumph deserves more comment than I can give it, without closer acquaintance with the local (and complex) issues. Bryan Taylor points out, for example, that the newly elected MP is a fierce supporter of Scottish independence.

Consensus from the outset was that Glasgow East by-election would be very bad for Labour. Their campaign was rocky from the start, while Salmond continued to rock for the SDP. There are important implications for Scotland which are also significant for both Gordon Brown and David Cameron, and their parties in faraway Westminster.

And so it came to pass.

Labour voters administered a kicking.

A phone-in on BBC’s five live [25th July, 2008] invited comments on the result. After about an hour, host Steven Nolan began issuing requests to hear from someone prepared to defend Gordon Brown.

Eventually, the first Labour party loyalist came on-air. I am assuming the phone-lines to viewers were primed to welcome any such a call and to rush it on-air lest someone somewhere would accuse the programme of utterly biased presentation.

What, the caller asked, should Brown have done differently. And more to the point, if not Brown as leader, who else would do better?

His challenge was put to subsequent callers. There were many suggestions of what should have been done differently:

not funding Blair’s [Iraq] war
calling a national election on his succession after Blair
not spending £50 billion on rescuing Northern Rock
not penalizing the poor through the abolition of the 10% tax rate changing the Government’s fuel taxation policies
not ruining the economy during his time as Chancellor …

The list is understandable, even if Gordon seems to have been the recipient of collective anger that might just have been shared around a bit more widely.

But the replies to the second question were even more surprising. I expected mention to be made of Alan Johnson by former Labour supporters. Or maybe David Miliband?

About the Five-Live phone-in

Before taking the story further, here is a little context. Radio Five Live phone-ins in the UK are a well-established tradition through which callers are encouraged to ‘make a point’.

In practice ‘the point’ seems often about the unfair way in which the caller has been treated by more powerful institutions or individuals. A secondary theme is that of courage in the face of adversity. In search for something extra, the story is sometimes literally of someone in extremis, demonstrating the courage of a terminally-ill person.

What’s my point? Just that the format and respondents match pretty well, providing a window into a world of individual courage, sorrow, and intensely held beliefs. The views while sometimes fascinating, sometimes painful may be thought-provoking, although unreliable material for assessing voting intentions of the wider electorate.

So ‘Who Else’ ?

Getting back to the ‘who else as leader?’ question, Salmond was mentioned as a major influence behind the SDP success.

But the phone-in was targeted at Gordon Brown. The question was who else could do a better job as PM?

Callers seemed unprepared for this. Brown? Rubbish. But who else? Duh!

Strange, don’t you think?

There was a few ‘who not’ suggestions (David Milliband, Jack Straw).

More prompting from Nolan. How about David Cameron? This produced another response I had not expected. Cameron was no more in favour from the callers than was Gordon Brown.

‘Brown’s a worm’, one lady spat out, recounting her post-budget tax burden.

How about Cameron? [slight pause].

‘He’s a worm too.’

This was a view that had remained uncontested when I exercised my democratic rights by switching off.

‘They are all the same’

What I was hearing was a collective howl of frustration against a personal enemy. Brown, New Labour, The labour party, and even politicians. ‘They’ are all the same.

Meanwhile

Meanwhile, In Germany, the crowds that turned out to hear Barack Obama yesterday had demonstrated the mirror-image of despair. They roared approval of his beautifully executed charismatic style, and his offer of audacious hope. They were young and old, black and white, in search of a politician who ‘wasn’t the same as the rest’.

But don’t ask me what they would have told Stephen Nolan about the experience.