So yesterday we marched and we rallied. We took to the streets of Edinburgh in celebration. A celebration of a campaign, a celebration of an opportunity to make our country all that it can be.
Despite a long interest in politics this was my first march and rally and what an experience it was. Although I wanted to attend I didn’t know for certain that I would head down until that morning. As is often the case life can get in the way. Sometimes we cannot always be where we would like and I know of many a keen supporter of Independence who was unable to make it for one reason or another.
I am so glad I made that effort though to turn up and march with my fellow Scots for a cause we all believe in. Listening to the speeches at the rally the diversity of opinions and ideas across the support was clear. SNP members, Green Party members, members of the Scottish Socialists, Solidarity and even Labour party members, members of all parties and of none united in a common cause, a common belief that decisions about a nation are best when they are made by those who care about that nation most, those who live there.
And yet, for all my effort, minimal though it was to get in the car and drive down from Perth there were others whose effort was significantly greater. Marching behind the Venetian nationalists I was struck by the international reach of this campaign. You could not fail to be impressed by the organisation, the chanting and the colours of this group who had come so far just to march with us in our own cause. The international reach extended further with a sizeable group over from Flanders and flags also in evidence from Ireland, from the Basque Country, and, of course from Catalonia where they so recently held a massive march for Independence, over 1.5 million strong.
By comparison this gathering in Edinburgh was much smaller. Official estimates from Lothian & Borders Police put the figure at 5000. Now I am not an expert in judging the size of a crowd but I would be lying if I didn’t say it seemed much larger than that to me, perhaps 10,000 to 15,000 strong all in. Naturally those who support the no campaign are keen to talk the numbers down and over the course of the day an initial figure of “less than 7000” had suddenly been downgraded to “a couple of thousand” by one keen critic.
I am sure the debate will rage on for those interested in such things. This was just the kick off for the campaign, a chance to come out in celebration and solidarity. With the First Minister announcing that 100,000 people have signed up to the Independence Declaration to date it is clear that the reach of this campaign extends far beyond those of us in Princes Street Gardens and, rather surprisingly there were still significant numbers at the rally signing the Declaration who had not yet done so. There were people there who have long championed the cause of Independence and there were those who are recent converts, people who, a year ago would not have been supporters.
Congratulations must go of course to Jeff Duncan and his small team of committed volunteers who organised this event themselves. It is worthwhile noting that this was not an event put together by Yes Scotland and it wasn’t an event devised by the SNP. It came about because a group of Independence supporters decided that it would be a good thing to do. There are plans for another two marches and rallies, one next year and one in 2014. One thing I can say for sure is that I will be at both of them.
Margo MacDonald made the excellent point in her speech that if each supporter of Independence convinces just one more person to vote yes then we would secure a comfortable majority. The same can be said for the march and rally. If everyone who was there comes back next year and brings just one friend then the next rally will be twice the size. If this campaign is to be won then it needs to extend beyond the reach of the political parties. Victory will be down to every supporter of Independence and the part we play in securing that victory. So go out and tell your friends. The vote on Independence is coming. Tell them that you support it, tell them why you support it and, in a year’s time bring them along and we can once again meet and celebrate together.
“I want to do so much more than lobby an unresponsive UK Government for a sane economic policy. I want to be in a Government with the power to make for ourselves the decisions we need to take to get our economy growing… I have believed for all of my adult life that Scotland should be an independent nation. For me it has never really been about flags or status symbols. It’s all about how we make this country of ours the best that it possibly can be. It is based on the fundamental belief that if we want a strong economy we must have access to all of Scotland’s resources, not just to that portion of Scotland’s resources that the UK Government chooses to give us. It is based on the inescapable reality that if we want to tackle, once and for all, the scandal of child poverty then we must be able to make our own decisions on tax and benefits and… we must be able to prioritise spending on the early years of our children’s lives over spending on weapons of mass destruction. And it’s based on the irrefutable logic that if it is right, and it is right, for this Parliament to take decisions on Health, Education, on Justice then how can it be anything other than right for this Parliament also to take decisions on the Economy, on Welfare and Defence?”
Nicola Sturgeon MSP, Deputy First Minister (Government strategy and the constitution) and Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities. Scottish Parliament, 5th September 2012
Fine words from the Deputy First Minister just a fortnight ago, and words that mark a shift in the debate on Scotland’s constitutional future. Since then we have seen a quickening of the pace of the discussions between the two Governments and there is the expectation of an agreement being reached soon. Once agreement on the process issues can be reached then the proper debate can begin, a debate on what Independence would mean for every one of Scotland’s citizens.
Independence is not an idea that lives in a vacuum. If the case for Independence is to be won then the argument needs to be more than just constitutional. For the people of Scotland to vote for Independence then the case needs to be clearly made that Scotland, and its people, would be better off outside the Union than in it. Last night on the most recent of Professor Curtice’s many appearances on both Newsnight Scotland and Scotland Tonight he summed it up on economic grounds. If Yes Scotland and the SNP win the argument on the economics then Independence will be won. If they don’t then it will be lost. Now to an extent I agree with him but I don’t think it is simple enough to be boiled down to a purely economic argument. There are many other issues, political and social, that will play on people’s minds when they cast their vote – questions about the sort of compassionate society Scotland could become; questions about the foreign policy and external outlook an Independent Scotland is likely to have; questions about our place in the World.
Make no mistake, the Scottish Government are well aware of this and it was to this debate that the Deputy First Minister was referring in her speech. The latest British Social Attitudes survey has just been released and when asked 72% of respondents said that they wanted more powers for the Scottish Parliament with 43% saying they wanted all decisions to be made by the Scottish Parliament. This last figure may seem a surprise when you compare it to the figure of 32% who provided a positive answer when asked if Scotland should become Independent. In reality though it frames the debate ahead. When asked about any number of issues, from currently devolved matters like the NHS, education or housing or currently reserved matters like pensions and benefits the overwhelming response is that people want these matters decided here in Scotland. There remains, however, some trepidation about the perceived finality of “Independence”, an uncertainty about what would lie ahead, an uncertainty which those in the “Better Together” campaign will attempt to exploit. In reality though Independence is exactly what those 43% of respondents are looking for, whether they realise it yet or not.
If the Scottish people are presented with a positive and clear vision of what Independence means and the difference that it could make to all our lives then I have no doubt that a yes vote will be forthcoming. It is rare for me to quote Tommy Sheridan but he was right in his excellent speech at Glasgow University Union this Saturday past when he said we should:
“…stand up and be counted and not listen to those who would have you feart to be a country, feart to be independent, feart to take decisions that affect our everyday lives ourselves.”
Over the last few days I have been trying to decide what to write my next blog post on and then, out of the blue and with a little help from a certain fresh-faced Labour MSP, there it was.
Now, as some of you will no doubt be aware, Neil Bibby MSP was running a poll on his website asking whether people thought that Scotland should be independent. He is certainly not the first person to run this poll. It is, after all, the question that is on everybody’s lips. What was special about this poll was that it showed absolutely overwhelming support for Independence. Now I am sure that everyone accepts that an online poll is not the most scientific means to measure support. Nevertheless, when faced with a result of around 94% in favour of Independence (in fact, when I looked it was 94.4%), instead of laughing it off Mr Bibby and the Labour Party rather embarrassingly decided to take the whole site down.
At the time of writing this post the site is still down:
I have therefore decided, in the spirit of democracy, to revive the poll and I would even encourage Neil Bibby to be one of the first to log on and cast his vote.
From Ian Davidson’s now infamous “Newsnat” spat to Willie Rennie’s bizarre claims that the SCVO and their Chief Executive, Martin Sime, are SNP stooges just because they happen to be in favour of a second question in the Independence Referendum it is clear that, with the end of the Olympics, the Unionist parties are trying to ramp up their attacks on those of us who support Independence for Scotland.
Joan McAlpine’s column in the Daily Record this week attracted the attention of Alex Massie in the Spectator who expressed discomfort at the language that Joan chose and her suggestion that Davidson and his fellow Labour MPs are delivering for the Tories with their opposition to Independence. When you examine the evidence though then it is hard not to reach the same conclusions as Joan.
Whilst I am 100% convinced that Independence would be the best option for Scotland I would never suggest that it is not possible to be a proud and patriotic Scot whilst at the same time arguing that Scotland is best off within the Union. Such a suggestion would be ridiculous and more than a little reminiscent of McCarthy. Scotland is a rich and diverse nation and it has a wide range of political views that are all valid. Indeed it is that very point that the Scottish Government acknowledged in their willingness to look at a 2nd question for the Referendum ballot paper, a recognition that there are those that would like to see constitutional reform for Scotland but who are not certain that Independence is the best way forward. Accepting the idea of a 2nd question doesn’t mean a lessening in the desire for Independence. It is a recognition that healthy debate is good and a sign of confidence that the case for Independence can be won.
When Scotland’s former First Minister, Henry McLeish, argued earlier this week that there was a danger that the Unionist parties could be seen as anti-Scottish he wasn’t doing so because they are arguing against Independence. What McLeish was warning about was a lack of vision from the Labour leadership and a lack of a willingness to engage on the constitutional question. Indeed there is an inability from any of the Unionist parties to provide a clear outline of what they think would be best for Scotland and why. This “vote no to Independence and then we may look at what other powers the Scottish Parliament could get” is simply not good enough.
If the Labour party wants to avoid the tag of being “Tory” or “in bed with the Tories” then they need to articulate a clear message of their own. They need to say why they believe in the Union and what their alternative to Independence would be. Gordon Brown’s vague statement this week in Edinburgh on being happy for “more powers” for the Scottish Parliament without articulating what these powers should be and why they should be transferred will just not cut it. The perception is that it means whatever powers they need to transfer in order to defeat the SNP, and nothing more. Therein lies the problem and that is why McLeish is arguing that Labour and the other Unionist parties are in danger of appearing anti-Scottish. They need to be putting forward a positive case based on actual political beliefs rather than just a panicked reaction to the SNP.
If they believe that things are best exactly they way they are then they should say so. If they believe that the latest Scotland Bill is the optimum solution for modern day Scotland then they should say that. If they think that Devolution was an error and power should be returned to Westminster then they should not be afraid to say that too.
Political beliefs should always be motivated by a positive vision of how you want the World to look. Each one of us should be interested in politics through a belief that we can make the world we live in a better place, that we can help those who need it and see our society and our culture thrive. That is not unique to Scotland. It is the same the World over. Politics is about making positive changes in society and arguing your own case. Unless the Labour Party regain a vision of their own then they will continue to risk being seen as “anti-Scottish”.
Just when it was thought that there could be a hiatus in domestic politics until the conclusion of the Olympics the tensions in the Coalition once again come to the fore.
It has always been an uneasy alliance between the Tories and the Liberals as much as, by all accounts, the leadership of both parties are really close. Going into the Coalition Nick Clegg sold the deal to his party with the promise of real constitutional reform – changes in the voting system for Westminster and reform of the House of Lords.
On the first count the compromise of a referendum on the Alternative Vote was no real compromise at all. It was the least hated option of all the ones available and the option that no side actually wanted. Now I will admit to voting yes to AV in the Referendum but you will forgive me if I wasn’t overly exorcised about the issue either way. Quite predictably neither were the British public at large and the referendum wasn’t just lost, it disappeared into the ether never to be heard from again.
That was ok for Clegg though because he still had the major promise of reform of the Lords, apparent agreement in the UK Government for a majority elected second chamber. At this point I suppose we are meant to conveniently forget that one of the first acts of the Coalition Government when taking office was to stuff the House of Lords with political appointees (123 up to June 2012) in order to balance out the stuffing of the Lords by the previous Labour Government. 422 new peerages were created in the Labour years, 386 of them under Tony Blair’s premiership. The result of all of this is that the House of Lords has expanded and expanded to a mammoth 775 members.
In contrast it is the mission of Cameron’s Government to reduce the size of the Commons from 650 to 600, a reduction of 10%. Now that the proposals to reform the House of Lords have collapsed, due to the inability to get sufficient agreement from the Tory members, it appears the Liberal Democrats have decided to go tit-for-tat in withdrawing their support for the boundary changes with Simon Hughes MP displaying a distinct lack of subtlety in arguing the case.
Now I am not against the idea of reducing the size of the House of Commons in and of itself. There may very well be a case to be made for bringing forward the proposals, although I do question the motivations of the Conservatives where the net effect appears to be making it easier for them to secure a majority in the future. Ever one for a pithy and apropos cartoon Steve Bell in the Guardian has provided this offering.
The current situation does raise two prominent questions though. Firstly, is the Westminster system reformable at all? Lords reform is not a new topic of discussion. Indeed the Labour Government had consultation after consultation on the issue and, other than a reduction in the number of hereditary peers that were able to sit in the House, intended only as a temporary measure, a starting point, very little has changed.
The second question is one predominantly for Scotland. The Scottish Government is planning to introduce the Referendum Bill to the Scottish Parliament early in 2013. It will contain a lot more detail about the look of an Independent Scotland. What model of Government would you like to see outlined in it given the opportunity to start afresh?
As I sit here starting my initial forays into the fraught world of blogging the sun is shining although, as should not be too great a surprise for a Scottish summer, some dark clouds are looming. The Olympics are on the television and whilst, it is early days, Team GB are showing a lot of promise although a medal is still to come their way.
The name for this blog is taken from the title of a Scottish song, the original version of which is largely attributed to James Hogg (1770-1835). The song was reworked and given a new tune by Dick Gaughan and featured on his Handful of Earth album. The song is both an attack on the 1707 Act of Union as well as a recognition of the bonds of friendship that should exist on both sides of the border.
There is currently an attempt from the Unionist camp to polarise people’s views in the Independence debate and to paint those campaigning for Independence as “separatists” and “isolationists”, “narrow nationalists” who want to bring an end to the centuries old bonds that link the peoples of these islands together. In truth though it is beyond the scope of politicians to dictate the social links that exist, many of which were around prior to the 1707 Act of Union and indeed prior to the 1603 Union of the Crowns as well.
The campaign for Scottish Independence is a campaign based on the political sovereignty of the Scottish people. It is, quite simply a belief that decisions on the future of Scotland are best taken by those who care most about Scotland, that is those who live in Scotland. It is a positive vision that recognises the great potential that is within Scotland to grow as a nation. Far from being “separatists” or “isolationists” most other Scottish Nationalists that I have met have a very outward looking vision for the future of Scotland and look forward to the day when Scotland can take its place as an equal in the community of Nations.
Scotland is a nation of limitless potential. We have the economic strength in our share of North Sea oil and gas that any country would crave but we are also blessed with great natural resources to develop our renewable energy sources for the future. Already the Scottish Government has shown great ambition in these areas and in tackling climate change. We have a highly educated and skilled populace and some of the world greatest inventions and discoveries have come at the hands of Scots. We have an opportunity, with Independence, to build a greener, fairer and more prosperous society.
Independence would also give us an opportunity to develop a new “social union” between the nations of the island of Britain, a partnership based on equality and on the strong social and cultural links that there already are between us. A new political settlement does not mean an ending to social ties. In the case of Ireland, for example, the Irish Free State was established in 1922 and this went on to become the Republic in 1937. There are still social ties between the Irish Republic and the UK however and, in particular with Scotland with has such a strong shared linguistic and musical history.
Today’s Scotland on Sunday front page carried a story where Douglas Alexander and other Unionist politicians argued that the Olympics, and in particular the opening ceremony, represented a threat to Independence. It argues that the success of the inspirational opening ceremony will drive support away from Independence. It does not need to be so though. I, as as a committed Scottish Nationalist, was very impressed by the opening ceremony and I am similarly cheering on Team GB over the competition whether the competitors are Scottish or not. Indeed, since I started writing this blog we now have our first medal, with Lizzie Armitstead getting silver in the Women’s cycling roadrace. Many congratulations to her.
Scotland’s Olympians, or Scolympians as the First Minister has christened them have also been making their mark and I am sure medals will be coming soon. Indeed Scotland’s Kim Little has been very impressive on the football field along with the rest of her team following some very scathing comments in the Daily Mail. Little’s personal choice not to sing God Save the Queen due to her own beliefs is, in my view, to be commended and demonstrates her strength of character. It does not, however, prevent her from feeling able to be a part of Team GB (or Team UK as they should more properly be called, given that they also include representatives from Northern Ireland). I look forward to 2016 when Scotland is able to field its own Olympics team.
Returning, briefly to the Olympics opening ceremony, Danny Boyle managed to create an impressive visual display highlighting some of the achievements and significant events within the history of these isles. One of the most obvious of these was his section on the National Health Service. This is an area that is already devolved to the Scottish Parliament and we can see, quite clearly, the different approach that is being taken here in contrast to that of Westminster. The NHS is an achievement to be rightly proud of. Angry conservative Americans seem to believe that the section was designed as a message to them about socialised medicine in the wake of Obamacare but it could equally have been a message to David Cameron and Andrew Lansley following the privatising reforms that are being introduced down south.
Given the current makeup of the UK Government it is little wonder that there are those who believe in Independence, myself included, that have argued that Independence will free us from Tory rule. It is indeed the case that Scotland has not voted for the Conservative Party in any great numbers for a very long time now and repeatedly Westminster elections highlight the differing political vision between Scotland and England and, in particular, the South East of England. Whether it is the NHS or Welfare reform or a host of other areas the difference in approach between the two Parliaments is stark.
The Unionist camp argues, and with some merit, that a decision on Independence should not just be based on a dislike of any individual government. It is certainly true that a vote for Independence should involve more long-term considerations than that. Where Johann Lamont and Scottish Labour’s case fails though is arguing that we would all be better served should a Labour government be re-elected to Westminster and that is a better option than Independence.
It is not simply the case that Tory rule is not in the interests of Scotland. It is that Westminster rule is not in its interest, regardless of what party is in charge. The UK political system is a very centre-driven set up, even post-Devolution. The economic levers of power are all still within the control of the UK Government and, as long as that is the case, the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government is constrained in what it can do to tackle financial crises such as the one we currently face.
I well remember the words of Eddie George in 1998 when, as Governor of the Bank of England, he said that job losses in the north were acceptable price to pay for prosperity in the south. As shocking has his comments were, he was right about one thing, that “monetary policy can only target the economy as a whole, not particular regions or sectors”. That highlights the very problem with the current set up. The UK economy is too reliant on the City of London and too much of the Union’s prosperity is dependent on prosperity in the South East, with the rest of us reliant on a “trickle-down” effect from the centre. This is a situation that needs to change. Scotland needs the financial controls in the Scottish Parliament that would allow us to tackle the economy directly and to tailor policy to better suit Scotland’s unique situation.
There is a strong financial case for Independence. The Government and Expenditure Revenue Scotland figures for 2010 – 11 (GERS), as released in March, demonstrate the relative financial strength of Scotland in contrast to the UK at large. Economic statistics only give a snapshot of where we are as a nation however. They can tell us whether we would or wouldn’t be better off as an Independent nation as things presently stand. When you are talking about the future of the nation for the next 20, 100 or 500 years however then your decision needs to be based on more than current economic trends. It has to be based on a vision of what you want Scotland to look like. Increasingly over the coming months the people of Scotland are going to be asking themselves a simple question – Where should decisions that affect the people of Scotland be made? Holyrood or Westminster?
Currently, on the Yes Scotland website, you can read a range of different reasons from people from across Scotland about why they are supporting Independence. I would certainly encourage you to log on and to submit your own views. If you have not yet signed up to the Independence Declaration you can do so here. As a nation we have grown in confidence and stature and we are ready to take our place at the top table.