Dear Scotland

Dear Scotland. . . Watching the Debate

It’s the day of polling in the Scottish Referendum, and here, our Senior Editor Gary Raymond, takes a look at the last week of the campaign.

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Having spent the last week-and-a-while ingesting political broadcasts about the Scottish Indy Referendum, subjecting myself to some of the most passionate (and sometimes ludicrous) debates I’ve seen in modern political theatre, here are my thoughts, inevitably delivered in bullet points.

1. The Divorce

Ever since what will become known as the most explosive poll in the UK’s history, (YouGov’s poll that gave the Yes Campaign a taste of the lead), the disbanding of the 300 year old union has been talked about in terms of divorce. Prime Minister Cameron has barely allowed a broadcast to go by without talking about how difficult divorces can be. It has become a solid line for the No Campaign. Even Cameron’s unlikely bed-fellow, George Galloway, has said every time he is asked to speak (and many other times, no doubt): ‘Anybody who has been through a divorce knows how acrimonious it can get.’ (Although I’d imagine visiting an animal sanctuary for particularly cute bunny rabbits would be an acrimonious day out with George Galloway for company, never mind breaking free of the conjugal duty of sitting opposite him at the breakfast table for twenty years.)

Let us forget for a moment the ugliness and idiocy of an argument that tries to convince you to stay in a marriage because breaking up is hard to do. Let us just stick with the analogy.

This divorce analogy is a particularly lousy one, and mainly because it highlights the very core of the reason why half of Scotland has decided to vote Yes, and many others are considering it.

This is how the analogy comes across to those of us who have no true, immediate vested interest in the outcome of the referendum:

The husband comes home from work…
His wife of 300 odd years is standing at the foot of the stairs with cases packed all around her. She tells her husband that she is leaving him. The husband hangs up his bowler hat, brolly and overcoat, the brandy and cigar buzz he had acquired from the few hours after work at his club, where all the waiters are called Charles, quickly evaporates. He cannot fully understand what is going on.

‘There must be another man?!’ he says, blinking wildly. ‘Perhaps you’re having a breakdown,’ he says.

‘There is no-one else,’ says his wife in a soft voice. ‘I know this is difficult for you to understand, because you think I only exist as part of your universe, defined by your strengths; but this is about me.’

The husband thinks for a moment. He cannot allow this to happen. What will they think of him at his club?

‘How will you survive? I will cut you off. You will starve to death!’ he says, a little shrill.

‘I’ll find a way,’ says his wife. ‘I’ll get a job – that thing you always stopped me from getting.’

And they always do. In fact, they often prosper.

This is the analogy; only in Scotland’s case it is not quite accurate, as this is not a divorce at all. In Scotland’s case the husband isn’t going home to his wife to find her bags packed, he’s going to one of his long time mistresses who has finally had enough of only being visited during the fumbled drunken fuck of a Thursday night (or ‘election time’, as it is in this analogy).

‘I don’t want to see you any more,’ she says. ‘I’m going to university and I’m going to make something of myself. You know, I’m not stupid, and I’m not less than you. I don’t need you.’

This is the point in the scenario where the man probably strikes her across the face, before realising what a spineless bloated cliché he has become and storms out, back to his actual wife, who is a gross growling battle-axe who roughly resembles the love child of Paul Dacre and Rupert Murdoch.

That is roughly the correct analogy here.

2. Operation Wildly Inappropriate

Something that has always deterred me from supporting the call for referenda in Wales has been the likelihood of sensible, informed, intelligent debate being something in the far distance, long past the signpost for ‘reason’. Westminster is utterly incapable of giving anything to you straight. And the Westminster brood have seeped out into all corners of politics land – not just the Assembly here, but to council seats and twitter. Information – any information – can be twisted to fit a viewpoint. It is a rare thing to see a viewpoint reached after the ingesting of information. So what chance did Scotland have?

Well, it seems like they were doing okay. Alex Salmond, very much one of the brood, and about as trustworthy as a spiv with a backlog of silk stockings the day before a war ends, was doing his thing, and the No Campaign were doing theirs. It seemed a fiery debate in which people were coming to reasoned conclusions. That is how the Yes Campaign had their bump in the polls. You see, most Scots see Salmond for exactly what he is – a Scottish version of a Westminster dickhead. Large parts of the Yes vote will be casting their ballots in his direction, not because they worship at his temple, but because his temple is closer to throw stones at every Sunday.

On Thursday, Krishnan Guru-Murthy reported from atop Edinburgh’s Mound that Channel 4 News had been told the No Campaign, now bringing the cavalry up from Westminster on the bullet train in the form of the main party leaders (and Nick Clegg), would be engaging in an operation of ‘Shock and Awe’ – a term first used by Stormin’ Normin’ Schwarzkopf in the early Nineties during the US invasion of Kuwait/Iraq. Perhaps something a little less confrontational and colonial may have been wiser, may have been in better taste, and perhaps would not have been wildly inappropriate (y’know, considering the slaughter and devastation of that war). But the use of the code name, of course, speaks volumes. ‘Shock and Awe’, more than anything else in the run up to the referendum, is proof that the concerns the Scottish people have about the way Westminster views them will not change in the slightest. It is the contempt of the GI for the enemy in the sand dunes.

3. Enter Stage Free Market Right: The Usual Suspects

On the same day, Guru-Murthy reported that the No Campaign would deliver one hammer blow for every day remaining. It began with a few banks stating they would change their addresses if Scotland left the union. But not only is this largely insignificant, but it could actually be useful, as the Scottish banking system would then reflect the size of its economy. No giant to bail out when the banks inevitably fuck up and come whining to the tax payer, from around a sucked thumb, ‘Give us your money or we drown you all.’

On Friday, a handful of businesses, undeniably puppetered by Downing Street, came out to say that they may have to put their prices up in Scottish stores. But prices, said a small chorus of economists, journalists, and people with brain cells, are just as likely to go down. The future of Scotland is uncertain, and so it is just as likely to be good as bad – it all depends on post-referendum negotiations. Most businesses should actually be excited by the prospect of getting better deals than they currently get. But that was not the message going out from the Vegas Mothership.

There is a visceral disconnect between the people on the street and business leaders, just as there clearly is with Westminster, and could prove to be with the media, who seem to think, because they control so much of what Westminster does, because they control so much of the narrative, they are allowed to control people’s lives. Waitrose were one such business who threatened the Scottish people, in an act of arrogant and petulant Victorianism that has been commonplace at the thin end of this debate. If the Scots vote No, they said, then they will surely have to put up food prices. Waitrose failed to appreciate, as activist and writer Eion Clarke pointed out on twitter, there are seven times as many foodbanks as Waitrose in Scotland.

The No Campaign, in what appeared to be a brief moment of clarity, aware of the toxicity of the Westminster voice in Scotland, began to call out: ‘Listen to the business leaders if you won’t listen to us!’ But soon they quickly realised just how totally out of touch they are when it comes to the feelings surrounding interest in independence – Yes voters appeared to have little interested in the views of people who would sooner close down a factory than lose shareholder profits. And the week careered on, a feeling grew, and the media began to debate the idea, that this really is the comeuppance of the ruling elite. It may be disastrous for Scotland if they break away, but could it be that the history books will write that that level of sacrifice is what was eventually needed to make the suits sit up and listen?

The reaction of the business community has been one of reluctance and panic. We are told time and time again that what the markets cannot handle is uncertainty – they are painfully conservative. And what Scotland has a chance to do is something wonderfully radical. So the business community would of course be against it. They are against any change, no matter what the colour (unless that change was deregulation) – but really, if you want to do anything whatsoever that will have any effect on anything that does not put share prices as the primary consideration, then there is no point in listening to the business community. They are a cabal, a cult, and although a cult that has inveigled its way into all walks of life, that does not necessarily mean they actually are the mouthpieces of God.

4. I hate to sound like I agree with Alex Salmond, but…

…the media has been demonstrably biased against the Yes Campaign. I have to admit, I have never quite been able to understand why media outlets feel the need to take an editorial standpoint on democratic matters anyway. I understand why rags like The Daily Mail and The Sun do it, but they are propaganda pamphlets for the purses of their proprietors, and not newspapers. (Frankly, a pox on this country for the sustaining of most of our country’s papers. But that is an argument for another time. Post union, maybe.)

But it is a fact that only one single media outlet, The Sunday Herald, has come out in favour of Scottish Independence. Every other paper that has made a declaration has made one in favour of the Union. That includes our own Western Mail.

I think the lifeblood of public debate nowadays is the space given over to sharp minds in the spaces of our national newspapers. But why those voices should be drowned out by an editorial policy that puts the Scottish flag on the front page and shouts for one side of a democratic argument, I do not know. Do I think that every single person working at The Western Mail is pro-Union? Well, I know that actually to not be the case, so The Western Mail’s declaration is even more bizarre, as it seems they have made this announcement without canvassing the opinions of its staff, whilst giving the impression it is a united front.

But is there a conspiracy in the media? Well, as George Monbiot wrote in The Guardian on Wednesday it is more likely that we are simply witnessing the ‘pathology of the corporate media’. He notes Dominic Lawson’s column from last week in The Daily Mail, where Lawson tells a particularly mephitic story which reveals John Simpson, BBC’s World Affair’s Editor, was staying at his house the night before he found himself rubbing shoulders with the likes of Sir David Attenborough at a ‘small gathering’ at a private invitation to the Proms.

Monbiot writes,

Those who are supposed to hold power to account live in a rarefied, self-referential world of power, circulating among people as exalted as themselves, the ‘small number of guests’ who receive the most charming invitations. That a senior journalist at the BBC should be the house guest of a columnist for The Daily Mail surprises me not one iota.

The thing is, sections of Scotland (and much of Wales and England that is not the South East) are sick unto death of the Westminster clique, and the corporate media are absolutely a part of this clique. They stand together on this matter as they do on the veracity of economic doctrine, and on the unwavering colours of what passes for democratic debate in this country.

The British media’s aggressive hatred of the idea of Scottish independence can be displayed most accurately (as so many things can) with a quick glance at the bile-spewing headlines of The Daily Mail any time this week. On Wednesday they decided to focus on just how FUCKING AWFUL the human beings involved in the Yes Campaign are. These sub-humans hurl abuses and paint and probably eat your babies and poison the water supply. One commentator regretted his decision to move from No to Yes – he had wanted to be involved in the debate that the Yes Campaign seemed to be having, but all they did was bully him into handing out leaflets. Imagine it! A campaign asking you to do some campaigning!

The Telegraph ran a headline, ‘No voters should not be afraid of defying the Yes Campaign’s pure bullying.’ The Telegraph cleverly cloaked its stance in the guise of a report, as they were quoting former UK Prime Minister Sir John Major, who, of course, knows a thing or two about belligerent in-fighting, having rescued Ireland from itself in ’94 and losing a kneecap in Biafra, not to mention the real struggle of having to chaperone the spotty pillow fights of the post-Thatcher Tory Party who eventually strung him up – so he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to Civil War.

These papers are never balanced, of course. And they are run by colossal egos who have attached themselves to rich white men. The attitude in the editorial offices of The Mail, Times, Express and Telegraph to the poll that put the Yes Campaign ahead last weekend, would almost certainly have been the same as the response to it in Downing Street: ‘Who the fuck do these people think they are?!?!’

And this is not just about newspapers, although there are insidious connections between the ultra-biased rags and the purportedly impartial television stations. Check out the headline to a column in The Daily Mail, written by the Political Editor of ITV News, Tom Bradby:

This Abuse is Worse Than Anything I Saw In Ulster

He is, of course, referring to the ‘bullying’ by the Yes Campaign upon the No Campaign (and the media, who have recently been dubbed as little more than the press office of the Unionists). Now, I don’t know if Mr Bradbury’s experience of Ulster was a couple of WI meetings and an inconvenient wait for tea at a Belfast service station, but regardless, the headline is repulsively antagonistic, equating a passionate and democratic debate about sovereignty with the strains and scars of those trying to end the brutal bloodshed of war. This may be a rather reprehensible step up (or down?) from more snotty comments, such as Simon Heffer in The Spectator writing that the Scots are ‘addicted to Welfare’, but it is cut from the same cloth, and it is all part of a clear siding against the Yes Campaign by the British Establishment, of which, sadly, the mainstream media is most definitely a part.

The language The Mail et al are using is extremely dark. They even printed a picture of Adolf Hitler as an inset to an article about Alex Salmond last week. It seems the right wing press have a very simple ethos in how to respond to things against which they are prejudiced, a tactic that has gone back as far as they have been in print, an ethos I like to call, ‘The Jewish Question’.

5. And Poor old Auntie Beeb?

The biggest fuss has been about the BBC’s perceived bias. Members of the Yes Campaign protested at a BBC office in Edinburgh against this perception, and I’d assume the lack of respect for the BBC up there has spread to journalists representing other outlets (hence Bradby weeping into his dry sherry in The Daily Mail offices). But the BBC’s bias is less clear.

A leaked document from the BBC’s complaints department (somebody tweeted it) showed that in a recent, typical week, the BBC received around 850 complaints about perceived right wing bias in their news programming, and around 820 complaints of left wing bias. So the BBC most definitely can’t win, it seems.

Andrew Neil, for instance, has been equally vituperative whether interviewing Alex Salmond or Alistair Darling. And he actually had the look of a man admiring a better swordsman when he came up against Scottish socialist Tommy Sheridan last Sunday. Newsnight has been a little less straight shooting, but this from a programme whose editor once responded to accusations that the programme’s panel debates were overpopulated with rich middle-aged white men by stating that it wasn’t easy to find women who were willing to come on the programme. Oh dear.

But it is Nick Robinson who was caught out and has become the symbol of BBC bias for the Yes Campaign. In a particularly bad editorial decision, Robinson decided to clip an 8 minute answer to one of his press conference questions from Alex Salmond down to 24 seconds. ‘Mr Salmond did not answer,’ Robinson said in voice over. But, my goodness, Mr Salmond most certainly did. Whether or not you agree that Mr Salmond gave an answer of substance is neither here nor there – Robinson gave the distinct impression that Salmond ignored the question. Salmond actually answered at length and confidently. There were calls for Robinson to be sacked. That would have been unfair, it was an isolated error of judgement (and one that many editors may disagree with me on) that ploughed down on top of a journalist who has a well-documented chummy relationship with Downing Street. It played straight into Salmond’s hands, and he had all the ammo he needed to build the battlements of his campaign’s new siege mentality, and the Scots have a proud history of fighting this way.

6. What is Scotland Voting For?

Self-determination, a more immediate democracy, and a social politics that more reflects the nation’s sensibilities. Yes, all of those things. But also, really, how all that can be summed up, particularly the last point, is that they want to put some distance between them and Westminster, and apart from Westminster and her cliquey satellites, who doesn’t?

David Cameron travelled to Scotland to plead, and he got all teary, and he called himself ‘an effing Tory’. Yes, ‘an effing Tory’.  Swearing-but-not-swearing is just so dreadfully, embarassingly posh of him, isn’t it? Especially as it makes him look to tentatively speak on the same terms of those ever-sweary Scots. It was like he had watched a DVD of Rab C Nesbitt on the train up to Edinburgh for research, but decided he couldn’t quite go the whole hog.

Picture the spike in his approval rating had he said in full Technicolor the word to which he had coyly alluded. Imagine it… the No Campaign would have sealed the deal there and then. But that’s the point, isn’t it? Cameron is utterly incapable of cracking the shell of his rarefied existence. And that is what Scotland wants to reject.

The Daily Mirror ran with the headline, next to a picture of the typically expressionless monarch, DON’T LET ME BE THE LAST QUEEN OF SCOTLAND, as if this was all about seeking London’s approval rather than dismissing it entirely. A few days later she issued a statement that ‘The Scottish People Have a Careful Decision to Make’, in a line that managed to be both totally meaningless and full of condescension all at the same time. Monarchsist, of course, treated it like a Delphic fortune cookie fallen from the golden throne.

What the surge toward the Yes Campaign has shown, not to mention the establishment’s panic in the wake of that surge, is that the ruling class was never going to listen. They made noises, through beige bugles, about change, about listening. But no bankers went to jail, MPs gave themselves a wage hike, facefarts like IDS and the bald guy who tried to privatise the parole board sneered in the face of facts that contradicted their lies. A Yes vote is what happens when you pretend you’re listening and you’re not. A Yes vote is what happens when you think the problems of the people you look down upon are problems that are beneath you.

7. But what will Scotland Get?

Voting Yes will not rid Scotland of the Westminster type, of course. Holyrood, just like Cardiff Bay, is full of people who understand only crude economic dogma, who are conservative in all ways, and whose point of deference is rooted in ego rather than character. When interviewed on The Daily Politics, the SNP’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson was as repugnant in his smugness over the Yes Campaign’s newly announced one point lead in the poll as the No Campaign were panic stricken. He was put up against a spokesperson for the No Campaign who, seeing Robertson on the Westminster common, asked him why he couldn’t be bothered to travel to Westminster for the vote on the Bedroom Tax, a tax the Scottish people have strong feelings about – as soon as there was a chance to appear on camera he couldn’t get on that train quick enough.

The type who Hogarth so accurately associated with flatulence is what Scotland will get whatever they vote on Thursday. It’s just that one direction may give them more options than the other.

And where does one begin with Alex Salmond? If ever there was a man benefiting from the need for change on the floor it is he. I have yet to hear anyone suggest they would trust him with their car keys, never mind the country. Yes Campaigners are continually having to remind No voters that they are not voting for Salmond, as they are accused of; they are voting for Scotland. Let us not forget, as just one example, that when 17-time bankrupted and all round cultural cancer, Donald Trump, flew his toupee into Aberdeen to decimate the landscape in order for his scrofulous mates to hit a golf ball, Alex Salmond was at his side, his unbearable grin – like Ralph Wiggum rolling in chocolate cake – welcoming the promise of oil tycoons and other trust fund 17 time bankrupts annexing the whole of Balmedie. So Scotland will have many more problems to overcome – but ejecting Westminster from the equation must be a very tempting first step. I know it would be if the prospect were waved over this border. So, I wish Scotland the very best of luck, whatever it decides. That the Yes Campaign has got this far, in the face of the powerful media/Westminster establishment, is a remarkable thing in itself.