Sunday, January 05, 2014

Referendum 2014

Oh I know.  But, well...  Anyway, from lovely Paul Evans via the book of the face I have learned that (in as far as I could understand it, gambling being one of the few vices I just don't get) the bookies aren't offering very good odds on a 'Yes' vote in the referendum.  This being as it may, I'd still reckon it's worth a punt.  The respective campaigns have conspicuously failed to make a dent in Scots' voting intentions. I have a few thoughts as to why this is happening with regards the 'Yes' campaign but I agree with those who, despite the polling evidence to the contrary, do not think the referendum is a foregone conclusion.  In the interests of even-handedness, here's two or three problems the 'No' campaign has:

1) Negativity. Don't get me wrong, much of the accusations of negativity and 'scaremongering' from the Nationalists are absolute bullshit - as if it were scaremongering to ask questions about the obvious difficulties that disentangling one state from another would entail.  Rather, there is an intrinsic negativity to the 'No' campaign that few people are willing to defend - and the reason that this is so is because there are so few people who are prepared to declare themselves to be sceptics and conservatives with a small 'c'.  It's so counter the spirit of this age.  You need to be positive, man!  Someone, I can't remember who, made the sharp observation that even when a politician's political views are cautious, conciliatory and centrist, they nevertheless feel the need to come out with some horse-shit about belong to the 'radical centre'.  Many of us who are Unionists are of such a sceptical disposition - so when Nationalists say, "We Scots are just as good as anyone else!", we respond, "Aye, and we're just as bad as everyone else".  This leads to the second problem:

2) Inertia.  One of the most boring and stupid lines from the 'Yes' camp is this notion that those of us who are Unionists are obliged to come out with a 'positive vision for Scotland'.  Please!  I'm not a very positive guy and I leave visions for those of a religious disposition; you want me to do both?  But again it's the scepticism that under-pins the problem.  I don't agree that it's complacency that is behind the rather relaxed attitude of the 'No' camp; it's that it is difficult to mobilise people to fight merely to maintain things as they are.  Nationalist campaigners are motivated into action with the hope that there's a bright future ahead.  Don't think I don't know.  My son's mother is a Nationalist and does lots of local organising leafleting stuff in areas of Glasgow where the rule of law is but a faint rumour.  Things are going to have to get pretty desperate before you catch me doing anything as mental as that.

3) The doctrine of absolute anti-Toryism.   It's not really a doctrine and it's pointless to ask whether and to what extent it is rational; what is required is to acknowledge that it exists north of the border and is very deeply felt.  "We're not English, we're not Tories" doesn't count as a positive campaign in my book but it doesn't do to underestimate its appeal.  David Cameron, despite his expensive private education, has never struck me as being the sharpest tool in the box but at least he isn't stupid enough to fall for the elephant trap that is the invitation to debate Alex Salmond on the issue of Scottish independence.  But it doesn't end there.  Like so much of the Nationalist rhetoric, the notion of constitutionally ruling out any possibility of Conservative rule is shallow, short-termist and absurdly partisan but only a fool would underestimate the emotional potency of this message.

As for the 'Yes' campaign - ah, but where to begin?  I can't even pretend to be able to distinguish the aspects of their strategy that are genuinely causing them problems from those that are merely annoying to me but assuming that there's a possibility that there's an overlap between the two, here's a few things the Nationalists might want to consider:

1) Pathologising the opposition.  It involves no exaggeration to say that the Nationalists think Unionism is a species of mental illness.  No, really.  We're not talking psychosis, merely neurosis.  "What are you afraid of?", they cry when they're not hashtagging 'ProjectFear' after ever Unionist query.  It doesn't seem to have occurred to any of them, as far as I can see, that some of us are Unionists merely because we quite like being part of Britain; we have an affection for what is familiar and are completely and utterly unconvinced with this political project that wants to collapse all of Scotland's problems into the constitutional question.  The strategically significant point here is that Nationalists are ill-equipped to convert anyone expect the undecided because they treat anyone who disagrees with them, not as an opponent to be persuaded, but as someone in need of psychological help.  This used to annoy me - now I'm convinced it forms part of the reason why the Nationalists are losing.          

2) "An independent Scotland would be more left-wing and more like Ireland".  This appeals to quite a lot of my colleagues because they're both left-wing and Catholics of Irish descent.  They don't care much for the monarchy and the British army they like even less, for fairly obvious historical reasons.  The problem is that I don't think these feelings are that widely-shared by the Scottish electorate.  I don't know if the Nationalists will lose in September but if they do, part of the reason will be that they've succumbed to the myth of Scotland as a significantly more left-wing country than England.

3) The currency question.  Only a true believer could see the protean position of the Nationalists on the issue of what kind of money an independent Scotland would use as anything other than a slow-motion car-crash.  Membership of Sterling has gone from being something that trapped Scotland in a deflationary monetary straight-jacket to being so obviously desirable that an independent Scotland would persist with it, with or without the permission of Westminster.  "It's our currency as much as theirs and no-one can stop us using it".  This is one where it's difficult to assess whether and to what extent it is doing damage to the Nationalist cause.  It's an issue that form part of a wider phenomenon where the SNP argue, in effect, that an independent Scotland could join any international arrangement they like on their own terms.  They'd keep Sterling and the Bank of England would be obliged to give them representation on the MPC; stay part of NATO but no nukes; automatic membership of the EU but no Euro for the time being, thank you very much.  This, surely, is the talk of children?  Damaging the Nationalist cause?  I think so but not as much as it should be...


Phil said...

the myth of Scotland as a significantly more left-wing country than England

I really don't believe that's a myth. Put it another way, I am quite ready to believe that Scotland's no more left-wing than the North-East of England, the North-West, Yorkshire, the Potteries, the Midlands or the South-West. But I grew up in the South-East, and it's bad - and a very big chunk of the English live there. (Pet theory: industrialisation didn't hit in the South-East in the same way or to the same extent as elsewhere. By the end of the 19th century, the Lancashire girls who would have been going into service were going down the mill and earning their own living. In Surrey they were still going into service. Yes sir, no sir, very good sir.)

Anyway, I'm convinced you guys have a political centre well to the left of ours, taking England as a whole. Apart from anything else, that stuff about never having a Tory government again doesn't come from nowhere (or from a four-party system under PR).

Phil said...

But if you meant "the myth of Scotland as a significantly left-wing country, unlike England" I'd agree - it's tied in to the core Nationalist myth, that independence would change everything (for the better, of course). I guess left-wing Nats are a bit like Trots talking about how people will act when the cuts bite, or Tony Benn looking forward to when people "wake up" - just one big change and people's inner socialist yearnings will be released. Wouldn't that be nice.

I think the third point about the Nats is probably key to stopping them gaining support - since the Arc of Prosperity went phut nobody really seems to know what the new Scottish settlement would be, and the SNP's approach seems to consist of letting people think of problems and then saying "no, not that, obviously". A bit childish, as you say, and very unconvincing.

eamonnmcdonagh said...

And they don't see anything odd about the "more left wing and more like Ireland" combo??

Roger McCarthy said...

Having been thinking a great deal about this recently I would disagree with the Scots are more left-wing meme only in that Scots have remained more wedded to the status quo of c.1955 (when over 50% voted Tory) than the English and thus have moved not quite as far and fast to the right.

The divergence is thus more a function of Scots small c-conservatism than anything else.

Which given the toxic and destructive nature of neo-liberal radicalism is not necessarily such a terrible thing.

Shuggy said...

That's really what I meant. There's a political north-south divide but its border is much further south than the Nationalists like to pretend. And it has, as you say, to do with patterns of industrialisation and nothing to do with 'national culture'

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