Alexander Graham Bell’s revenge?

It is with some disbelief that I read the news that the ‘No’ campaign (anti-independence) seriously attempted to argue that people should reject a self-governing Scotland because if Scots ever visited England they would have to pay punitive mobile roaming charges. As the SNP have pointed out this morning, the UK government department that made this claim already approved a Europe-wide agreement to remove roaming charges some two weeks ago.

Not that that’s the point. What’s of more concern is the fact that it reinforces the entirely negative, fear-mongering of the unionists. We’ve had piles of these stories and the aim is not necessarily to win the argument on any one, but rather to create a more general belief that the whole project would be so complex and with so many repercussions for ordinary day-to-day life that it isn’t worth it. That’s the saddest part of all; that there is no positive case for maintaining the union. But of course, if the result of next year’s referendum is indeed ‘no’, then just wait for the triumphalism being used to dismantle what little self-government (and self-respect) we have. Powers would be rescinded and perhaps the whole Parliament wound down with time. That’s the real plan of those parties: “You’ve had your fun. Now it’s time to come back to the fold.”  And why? Not just massive losses to the Westminster exchequer, but also the embarrassment of having a border with a successful, socially-just and left-leaning country that demonstrates vividly the possibility of an alternative to the market-led consensus of Westminster.

But another aspect of this story is that it shows the extent to which unionist politicians are genuinely ignorant about the situation vis-a-vis Ireland and the UK. The Republic, being a sovereign independent country is actually classified in legal terms as ‘not foreign’. In practical terms this means that those of us who chose to live in each other’s country can vote in elections, need no passports and freely move as we chose just as we can around  the rest of the EU. As for roaming charges? Well, funnily enough my Irish mobile company doesn’t charge those for the UK,  but Vince Cable wouldn’t want you to know that.

A dose of Calvin?

A week in which I dashed from one meeting to another, the first in Ireland, the second in Scotland. Both with similar types of organisation and representation. The difference? Well, the one in Scotland started exactly on time and the agenda items were all given fixed, pre-arranged timeslots, no-one spoke unless they had a valid point to make and the whole thing worked remarkably smoothly. Business dealt with, some friendly chats at the end.

The one in Ireland? Well it sort of staggered towards a start, people coming in as the meeting unfolded, topics of discussion meandered into anecdotal stories, everyone felt compelled to have to say something. Some things were agreed, though most of us will have to wait until the minutes emerge in about a month’s time to see what exactly those were. It’s not always clear, either, from the outset which initiatives will work and which won’t. People here say “Yes” right away, and its only later as a project begins to take shape that the objections and the reasons why it won’t work might reveal themselves. Perhaps its a fear of disappointing others. Whereas, in my experience, people in similar work in Scotland will be more likely to imply “No” at the outset but eventually commit when they see that it might indeed be feasible. The problems only arise when you think an Irish “Yes” means “I will immediately enact this”, rather than “I’d love to help with that, but I’m going to have to think about it more seriously and then if it really looks feasible it will happen, but there’s a fair chance that when I look it over it’s not going to happen.” Frustrating? Not really, once you’re used to it.

They often say that those who move here either get driven insane by these aspects of the culture or they really take to it and appreciate the informality and the friendliness. Me? I hardly notice it anymore, until that is I leave the country.

So what am I saying? Nothing really, just drifting off into anecdote in the middle of an attempt to do something more serious. Hmm. I have been here a while, haven’t I?

A very British coup

I guess the best way to end a surreal week is in the parallel universe of Eurovision, where countries smaller than Edinburgh have as big a say as Britain, France or Germany in determining which nation has the burden of next year’s extravaganza. As more than one wit put it on twitter (and surely it’s twitter that has given the Eurovision a whole new lease of life), I wonder which one Nigel Farage is going to vote for. Poor man must find it very disconcerting to have to watch us do the rounds of voting from as far afield as Montenegro and Azerbaijan to Iceland. How dare those San Marinans (?) tell us that the UK entry, well, sort of stinks. And as for the Romanians? The poor man probably went cardiac at that performance.

As for himself, well in a sense he’s an equally absurd character, trying to promote a jovial ‘fellow down the pub’ image (surely that’s wearing thin, now? Many more downing pints in front of photographers, he’s going to end up depending on those foreign doctors and nurses that keep the NHS working). But, what’s most disconcerting about the whole UKIP phenomenon is the extent to which they have been given such a free ride in the British media. The way in which they’ve played on their English eccentricity and ‘common sense’ arguments to essentially insinuate their way into the political system, when at heart they are (as one RIC commentator remarked) essentially ‘the BNP in better fitting suits.’ Farage, a city financier, has done a remarkable job of convincing some people in England that all the problems of the country’s economy lie not at the hands of he and his chums gambling pensions on stock-market speculation, but rather some poor (but highly educated and ambitious) Pole or Romanian. As for the French and their ridiculous notion of a maximum working week….apoplexy.

UKIP is no laughing matter. Their political narrative and policies (insofar as they exist formally) are far-right, populist proto-fascism. Apparently well meaning, bumbling oafs, with bizarre handlebar moustaches and union jack handkerchiefs, that seem to offer a refreshing change to the established parties – all the classic warning signs from other countries and history are there. That the Conservatives, Labour and the LibDems are falling over themselves to talk about the ‘real concerns’ of the electorate over immigration and jobs is even more disconcerting. The way to tackle racism, ignorance and distortion is not to try to play it to your advantage by legitimising the underlying ‘fears’, but is to tackle it head on and expose it for what it is: a clear sign that many people are ill-informed and that the cosy Westminster system, devoid of real political debate or at least a half-decent clash of ideologies and principles, is vulnerable to the occasional rightward surge. Look how the trend has moved from the NF and its skinhead gangs, to the BNP and now to the seemingly more palatable UKIP. As for those Labour MPs who have rushed to the defence of Farage after some members of the public took umbrage at his repulsive policies (have politicians really detached so much that they can’t handle public heckling?), they really need to think carefully about where they are going.

Beyond the pale

I didn’t mean to post again so soon, but I’ve spent much of today reading the news of Gordon Brown’s imminent journey north and the latest scare stories in the Scottish media. Maybe something to avoid in future?

There is something sad and demeaning watching Labour politicians twist and turn to deny themselves, in Scotland, from seizing the opportunity that full self-government provides to finally implement their espoused political philosophy. With fingers crossed behind their backs, they supported Blair, waiting for their hero Brown to eventually step into the limelight and lead us to that long-awaited just society. When the time came and it became clear that his whispered solidarity was an empty promise, that all that wrapping in British flags and Imperial splendour had cut him adrift from his younger self and all that remained was a bitter shell, still they marched on towards the inevitability of electoral defeat, dreaming of regrouping, of reclaiming the mantle of the party’s historical beliefs.

And then along came the Millibanders, once again the hints and winks that he might be leaning more to the left, but the reality being the flag again, this time of ‘One Nation’. And now its ‘talent,’ incorporated utterly into the social networks of the Westminster political class, scuttling frantically to preserve their career plans, at risk now from a threatened peasants’ revolt back home. Having to hit the shuttle flights once again to go back and deal with the mess that those left behind in the toon cooncils and ‘pretendy wee parliament’ have made. Eyes off the ball, they let the hated nationalists (hated because so many of them were of their ilk originally and everything needs to be done to stop further defection) win the election. Somehow the offers of tuition fees, of a privatised NHS, of the debt burden of PFI and of the glory of war seem not to have had much electoral purchase amongst the northern tribes, core though they were to the actual Blair-Brown project.

And now, Gordon’s back. In a relaunched relaunch of a second campaign for the Union to be headed up by a Labour ex-Chancellor.

This isn’t another ‘cybernat rant.’ It’s genuine disappointment from someone who in the past voted Labour, but who has watched with despair at the twisted logic of refusing to accept the responsibility, the power, the opportunity and the hope that YES would offer them and all of us. That the bitterness of the aggressive, macho-posturing of yah-booh parliamentary ‘debate’, the tribalism of loyalty and ‘treason’, of ‘support us because you’re one of us’ (never mind what our new policies actually are), the mindset of football and religion (confused though that has now become), the hollow beating of the drum, the electoral cannon fodder, is now all that’s left. That’s the tragedy of Scottish Labour.

But there’s another side, away from ‘the masses’ and the footsoldiers, that of the professional networks, of the taken-for-granted expectation amongst solicitors and teachers, of journalists, of academics, and others, that Labour is their political home and everything else is a little too unseemly or rough around the edges. It’s that hidden fabric of power, of cultural and political hegemony that feels most challenged by any shift in fortunes in the independence polls. Precisely the professional class that in other countries has all the strings to pull, that govern and manage so many small nations, in Scotland has seen itself only in UK terms and is, as of yet, still unable to reimagine itself in a context in which power may rest in Edinburgh, in which our social, economic and environmental problems become our own and not something we can gladly outsource to our colleagues down south.

Related content (far more eloquent and informed than I could be):

Furth of Scotland

I have no vote in next year’s referendum, living abroad as I do. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have an opinion, though I’m well aware of the attitude of many to the Scottish diaspora – “who are they to tell us how to think, when they don’t even live here?”. After all, isn’t that just the perfect argument against those who’ve made their fame and fortune south of the Border and who worry about it all unpacking? Well the truth of the matter is that perspectives change when you live outside the UK and there’s a point at which you begin to share the bemusement of the people of your new country at the apparent lack of desire of folk back home to realise that uncertainty, debated futures, choices to be made, are all part and parcel of independent nationhood.

The debate in much of the Scottish press that demands answers, facts and figures (from both sides) might be understandable in a Scottish context, but the point is that in truth there cannot be hard facts and figures about what the spreadsheets will show with option (a) or option (b). It isn’t like that. There are external forces, the European and global economy, politics at the international level, the movement of capital. All these influence the future, but the question is do we want to have the tools to be able to respond to these forces, to be able to steer our own way or do we want just to be a passenger on someone else’s ship, blaming the captain and crew for taking us to a different destination than the one we want?

None of the small countries in which I’ve lived and worked are able to predict what their corporate tax rate, social security structure, etc, are going to be in five or ten years down the line. That depends on who is in power in their national parliaments and how they respond to circumstances. It seems sadly naive to follow the Scottish argument of ‘give us detailed figures so that we can make our minds up’. There’s risk with any choice, but there’s also the evidence of past history, of the political complexion of the Westminster system and the likely policy trends of its dominant partners.

To those outwith the UK, the question is why don’t people living in Scotland want control over their future? What is unique about those people in that country that makes them unwilling to want to control their own lives, their own resources? The more I try to explain the complexity of political party loyalties (in particular Labour and its support of the Union rather than independence), they more they think we’re just making excuses for fear.



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