Sunday 7 September 2014

Politics Before and After the Referendum

Some sense impressions about the Scottish referendum and its consequences.

If no wins on the 18th, it will be of the slimmest of margins and in spite of the politics of Better Together. The two debates between Salmond and Darling illustrated BT's problem perfectly. The first round went to Darling. He does technical detail very well, and took a scalpel to Salmond's bombast. Uncertainty was the First Minister's undoing, and he was duly skewered. Yet in the second round it was Darling who got crushed. He was like a broken record  mumbling about currency and pensions as Salmond gave believable answers on the nuts and bolts, and championed a vision of what an independent Scotland could look like. This isn't a fault of Darling's per se, he is the product of a Westminster culture in thrall to managerial politics. When the battle is about ideas, sticking to the so-called wisdom of 'it's the economy, stupid' without bothering about the politics is a recipe for defeat. These people are supposed to be professionals, would you believe.

Still on the referendum, why have the three main parties been shy about their commitment to devo-max? It's curious. According to The Scotsman poll back in February this year some 61% of Scots would prefer it to independence. Small wonder the SNP wanted it being kept off the referendum paper, as that's what is already on offer. Voting no isn't for the status quo, it is for the extension of significant powers to the Scottish parliament. Finally, the Westminster parties have woken up to their commitments - but to begin talking about it 11 days before the referendum typifies their lackadaisical approach to independence. Just like a student who leaves their 12,000 word dissertation unwritten until the night before, it's panic stations. Truly we are governed by fools.

What will happen to the yes campaign, win or lose? Anecdotal evidence is that it has mobilised "ordinary" people and drawn them into activity. It may well be a mile wide, and such coalitions of convenience tend to be but an inch deep. Nevertheless a real social movement it is. Does this make for an immediate radical democratic for Scotland? If I thought that was the case, I'd be supporting the yes camp. Yet I'd broadly concur with this piece, also from The Scotsman. The SNP showed how deep their commitment to social justice ran by failing to turn its MPs out to join Labour and the LibDems for Friday's bedroom tax vote. But more significantly, Yes is firmly under the SNP's leadership. There has been no challenge to it. Differences have been papered over. Even Trotskyists, hardly a significant constituency, are deferring their criticisms to the never-never with their 'yes, but fight for socialism!' sloganising. There are real grass roots organisations involved, but they have allowed themselves to be adjuncts to the SNP. In the event of victory, when the celebrations have settled they will demobilise and go home with few, if any, feeding in to wider activism. I say this not because I'm a misery, but by looking at the mobilisation of analogous movements in liberal democracies. Remember the mass movement against Le Pen in 2002? That worked out well. Or what about the no less real mobilisation of the grassroots for Obama's 2008 presidential campaign? What happened to that movement? As the election committees disbanded the movement dissipated, and the overwhelming bulk of people involved returned to private life. Such is the fate awaiting Yes as their raison d'etre expires.

What about Yes in the event of no? I'd like to think that the experience of frustrated ambitions might, perversely, drive more engagement as disappointment spurs radicalism and more activism. On the other hand, defeat might impoverish civic culture as people become deeply affected by it. The continuing fall-out from the miners' strike 30 years on is testament to that. But, again, America can teach us a thing or two. The sort of mass mobilisation seen for Obama was there for John Kerry in 2004. Okay, not as extensive or enthusiastic but the Democrats had the troops and the organisation. No doubt the loss to Dubya was keenly felt, but they bounced back, precisely because the movement was a shallow adjunct of an elite project. Scottish civic culture isn't going to implode in the event of a no. From an activists point of view, it is likely to return to 'as you were'.

Ah, England. Politics can never be the same thanks to the devolution commitment. All the main parties will have to offer more to address the absurd anomalies of the unwritten constitution, and the relationship between the UK's constituent nations. Perhaps, just perhaps, it will be a shock enough to have the kind of popular discussion all the people of the UK state needs. That conversation would have to be had in the event of a Yes too, but I fear that in the present context the forces of reaction will be strengthened. A carnival of the right in which every ugly facet of English nationalism is dredged up and celebrated as a positive, one where the values of collectivism and solidarity which, in a way, the union has come to represent will be eroded even further. The price of "freedom" for five million people is another likely round of misery and social regression for 58 million. Worth it?


Chris said...

Two points really,

If there is a No vote and then the Tories win there will be a lot of Yes voters saying I told you so.

And then if on top of that we leave the EU, that could trigger the mother of all crises in British politics!

Lastly, this shows deep divisions in Scotland, I haven't seen that mentioned anywhere but whatever way the vote goes Scotland seems a divided nation. I suspect the no voters would take losing worse than the yes voters.

PS I am holding you to account if the Tories win next year, seen as you have told us they definitely won't!

Speedy said...

As i have been saying even when it was unfashionable to do so, yes look likely to in.

Expect the worst - the political numptees to baton down the hatches. There will be no constitutional convention, etc.

The falcon cannot hear the falconer!

Cameron will go. Davis will come. The Coaltion will not collapse as rthe Lib Dems draw out their pay day to the end. The Scots will be hammered and the Toriies will blame the break up (rightly) on Labour. There will be a new Tory government and England will become like little America. But maybe... When it has seen what has happened to Scotland... It will not vote to leave the EU. Just a hunch.

Scotland meanwhile will be ruined - economics will do what the Tories couldnt, which is partly what makes me so annoyed about this narcissistic act of self (and mutual) destruction. Cretins.

crantara said...

Your article is wrong in so many areas.The S.N.P. did not want devo max kept off the ballot the three unionist parties ensured that happened because,in their arrogance they thought Yes would never win.
There are no "significant"powers on offer.If Westminster was serious these would have been detailed in the last Queen,s speech.
Radical Independence,Labour for Independence and Women for Indy are only 3 of the many groups and organisations involved.None of which is controlled by the S.N.P.On the no side we have Labour hand in hand with UKIP,BNP,Brittanica,Tories and Lib Dems.What wonderful bedfellows.Milliband has informed us that 100 English Labour M.Ps will be arriving in Scotland to tell us how to vote.Guess how that will play up here.If in fact they do arrive have them spend their time in the large estates that Labour had held as MPs for over 50 years and then ponder why in some of them average life expectancy is 58 years.That is lower than Gaza.It is thr lowest in the whole of Europe.The Yes campaign in its many forms have been working these areas for 2 years now while Labour did nothing and expected in its arrogance that the vote was theirs by right.If the English M.P.s do turn up please ask them to demand of their Scottish pals what they have been doing for 50 years.
This movement,for that is what it is,will not go away regardless of the vote.If however the vote is a no there is a general election next year and by that time the Yes side will have swallowed its defeat.The No side will crow long and loud of its victory,a certain amount of the dirty tricks and electoral frauds will have surfaced and a very large number of people will feel angry enough to demand of their politicians that in the event of a victory by the Yes side in whatever guise that they declare independence.
As for us having the gall to vote for our freedom to the possible disadvantage of the rest of you,this is not about you.
Some small thoughts before I finish.
I started work in 1965 as an apprentice gas engineer with Scottish Gas and have had a long and varied career all over the U.K.with various firms and I am seeing levels of poverty and deprivation over the last 2 years I had not seen since the seventies.I see people working 7 days a week to live for 6.Most of my most recent work has been in social housing throughout the West of Scotland and I have on occasion been unable to carry out testing and safety work because the tenant has not had any money for gas or electric.I,ve seen young women in tears.Sometimes its anger,sometimes despair,other times its deep burning shame at the situation they find themselves in.
So you see I could not be comfortable,no,I could not live myself if I voted no.

Gary Elsby said...

Independence means Scotland leaves the EU.
It should (should) mean that England no longer guarantees their economy via the Pound.

Scotland tells us it will (must) keep the Pound.
They want English people to back up their 'free everything' social services across the board by guaranteeing their economy.

Why should English people do this?
Why are they adamant of retaining the security of our Pound?

Scotland wants to remain part of the EU (are you listening Great Britain?)
As membership of the EU is guaranteed via the UK, Independence means out and any formal application to join secures the EU of one new member accepting the Euro currency.

It's a shambles all round for Scottish Independence and serious MPs know that English/Welsh/Irish people will not countenance a free loading Scotland while we pay top whack.
If Scotland goes, that is when the fun starts this side of the border.

Anonymous said...

"Scotland meanwhile will be ruined - economics will do what the Tories couldnt"

Total and utter rubbish. You heard it here first.

Robert said...

I have been saying to anyone who would listen for weeks that the Westminster's elite's certainty that the opponents of independence would win by a landslide was wildly complacent and was further evidence of how out of touch the elite has become and how ignorant it is of its own unpopularity. For the record as someone who still has a strong attachment to Britain I hope Scotland votes to remain part of Britain but I will fully understand why it might choose to vote for independence.

If Scotland does vote for independence the effect will be profound. It is very difficult to see how the rump country that will be left (England?) will carry anything like the same weight internationally that Britain did. That will be something the Westminster establishment will find exceptionally difficult to come to terms with.

Beyond Scotland the spirit of revolt is brewing in England too with UKIP looking like it might win its first by election in Clacton. The combination of the two events: an independence vote in Scotland and a UKIP victory in Clacton, could push the whole political system into crisis. There's already talk that Cameron might be forced to resign.

PS: I have one question. What becomes of the BBC? Does it stop being the British Broadcasting Corporation? Does it become the English Broadcasting Corporation ("ECB"). If so it would lose its brand name but I can't imagine an independent Scotland would happy to see the BBC continuing with its present name. I doubt by the way that there are any plans to deal with this.

jimboo said...

STV stopped buying major ITV productions like Doc Martin, it was like Rutland Weekend Television without the Humour. I watched it on London ITV through cable and still watch the English Version of BBC's Newsnight. Will be a bit like Cold War Czechoslovakia, all the antennas pointed towards the West. Polls swinging back to No at the rumour mill. The insanity of it all is it could be decided by the two largest ethnic minorities in Scotland, will the pro independence Poles out vote the Pro Union English