Just Say No

By Mike Small

The start of the No campaign came after a month-long trail of visceral criticisms of the Yes Scotland launch. With a gushing media presence at the ready the packed room was led by ex Chancellor, Alistair Darling.

Enter a giant Panglossian Yes-No game. A world of make-believe in which Willie Rennie and Ruth Davidson are political giants, Darling a respected elder statesman, and Annabel Goldie a hilarious raconteur. Their challenge is a difficult high-wire act. On the one hand the message is: all’s well, there are no problems, Britain is good, Britain is best, it’s like the Olympics and the Jubilee rolled into one, only cheaper. Imagine giant cupcakes and athleticism. On the other: we live in a world of terrible dangers, don’t move an inch, we live in peril. You’re great you Scots, but it go all Albanian if your left alone to manage your own affairs.

As Ewan Crawford wrote it was like a child’s fantasy: “This was a Scotland where no-one was without a job, where no-one feels any uncertainty, no-one has any concerns over pensions, welfare, health or any of those other nasty things that other people, in other countries have to endure.”

But the most striking aspect was not the fantasy land or the spin – it was the very odd cast we were presented with. Given the media’s inability to ask questions of this gathering let’s try some obvious ones.

Where was Charles Kennedy?  He was supposed to be one of the ‘big guns’ rolled out to ‘protect the Union’. Why was Ruth Davidson playing second fiddle to Annabel Goldie? Haven’t they a new leader? Didn’t Annabel lead the Tories to an absolute electoral disaster?  And – why wasn’t Johann Lamont leading the thing? What’s Alistair Darling got to do with anything? And didn’t he lead us during a period where we fell into financial crisis and a botched and failed term in office leading to Labour’s ejection from No 10? Where was David Cameron?  Surely if this was such a grave and terrible position we’d want to hear from our leader, the British PM? No, instead we were treated to the views of Miss Inverness, somewhere in between the rejected glitz and celebrity of the Yes campaign.

Apart from this undermining collection of oddball characters with a proven track record of failure, the No campaign has three real problems on it’s hands: the Devo Crisis, The Yes No Game and it’s core message of Going Nowhere.

The Devo Crisis

The campaign doesn’t appear to have a position on whether Scots should consider an alternative to full independence – Devo Max or Devo Plus, – it seems instead content with David Cameron’s Devo Shsh in which he promises something better in the future but is keeping quite about what that might be. It’s all top secret.

The “Better Together” campaign won’t be talking about DevoMax. Alastair Darling said on Monday morning because: “The first question surely that we in Scotland have to answer is ‘do we want to stay in the UK or do we want to leave?’

This is fine but it may well have the unexpected consequence of driving wavering pro-extra power Scots into the hands of the Yes campaign. Presented with a binary choice it’s a big gamble from the No brigade. This is the real Bear Trap.

Fact is: People really hate the Tories.

The Yes – No Game

As Hamish over at Caledonian Mercury wrote: “One shipyard worker used in the short campaign film the organisers have put together let slip that he would be “voting ‘No’ for Scotland’s future” which not only sounded a little confused but showed that, for many Scots, the Better Together campaign would have a damned sight more traction if it was simply called the “No” campaign.”

The No campaigns desperate efforts to not be No leads them into some very strange language and slogan areas. “Vote No for a Better Future!” Less “Yes We Can!” than “Maybe we shouldnae” or “No to Yes In Case We’re Not Up to it!” It’s all very undermining, downbeat and betrays an absolute crisis of confidence at the very heart of everything the Unionists say. Combined with a deeply unpopular London government agenda it’s going to be very hard for this to hold.

The Road to Nowhere

Britain’s not broken in the way the Tories spin it to justify their Victorian punishment of the poor. But if we are to be convinced that there’s something worth being part of – something worth being ‘together’ with – there’s some crucial issues needing answered.

Why is it better to be tied to a state that’s been involved in not just illegal wars but secret rendition, and torture, and is now suggesting ways to create secret courts to cover it up? That’s something to move away from. Never mind the ‘positive case for the union’ – just justify that association? This isn’t about an aberration this is about the hardwire of how British foreign policy works. Alistair, Willie Rennie and Ruth Davidson need to explain what’s good about that.

In defence policy Labour now seem committed to opposing the removal of Trident because they are in favour of it’s removal. It’s one of the most peculiar policy stances ever stated, yet it remains unchallenged by a pliant media. I’ve read nothing from Severin Carrell, Eddie Barnes, Paul Hutcheon, Angus Macleod or any senior editors or correspondents on this extraordinary policy. It’s a weapons system Gordon Brown once described as “unacceptably expensive, economically wasteful, and militarily unsound.” It’s a weapons system many many Labour supporters have deeply held views about and will be pivotal in the coming years as Labour try and hold their core voters to a No campaign.

How are we understand the gap in the political culture between Scotland and England? It’s not universal and it’s not absolute but it exists. If, as Alistair Darling insists we are not to go “on a journey with an uncertain destination” (what better journey can one imagine?), where are we going? Where are we being taken? The inescapable conclusion is that we are going nowhere. The whiff of entitlement is only overpowered by the reek of stagnation and inertia. But it would be very wrong to assume that if the Unionist Bloc presents as stability, security and conservatism it means ‘no change’. Not at all.

Michael Gove has promised a supply-side revolution for English schools – and that is exactly what he is delivering, with barely a squeak of national political protest. Most attention has focused on the few “free schools” set up by parents or sponsors with public money and private-sector management.

But on a much  larger scale, schools in England are being bribed into becoming free ‘academies’ outside local control, many sponsored or run by private companies.

On the NHS we learnt only yesterday that one NHS hospital trust is on course to be placed in a form of special measures called “unsustainable providers regime” after accumulating a deficit of £150m dating back to what the government has described as an “unaffordable” private finance initiative signed under Labour. It’s gone bust, been crippled because of PFI. This is the scheme routinely and religiously favoured by Scottish Labour activist @dhothersall Duncan Hothersall on Twitter. #YesScot may have it’s challenges with it’s own activists breaking out into the wider public – it does – but if CyberBrits and Better Together activists are going to be campaigning on Trident and PFI, then the giant hubris being displayed by the likes of Severin Carrell (such as this) who claims the SNP are about to abandon independence – and Ian Smart who claims the referendum will never happen – are well overcooked.

Last year a group of lawyers and health academics spelled out in the Lancet medical journal, that if the health and social care bill is passed in its amended form it will abolish England’s model of “tax-financed, universal healthcare”, pave the way for a “US-style health system” based on “mixed funding” and fatally undermine “entitlement to equality of healthcare provision”.

This lurch towards market-driven private provision at a cost of £3bn is already causing massive problems with the government’s parallel attempt to drive through the deepest cuts in the history of the NHS.

Better Together?

The Liberal-Conservative coalition that is bringing these changes forward have no material base in Scotland. They have been eviscerated. Yet they sit in Napier with fixed smug grins with a message of “No change”. Post-Blair we were handed Brown’s Britain, patented slogan: “Better yesterday”. Today we are handed a bizarre message of better together – together with a political class and set of institutions which have been repeatedly rejected.

Darling claims that: “The truth is we can have the best of both worlds — a strong Scottish Parliament and a key role in a strong and secure United Kingdom.” But what is this key role? The assorted panelists tell us nothing of this. While every detail is demanded of the Yes campaign trailing forwards for imagined scenarios hundreds of years into the future, there is no detail on what relations Scotland the UK might have if independence is set aside.

Unionists will argue that devolution – of whatever variety – allows for distinct paths. While we might have Goveite ‘reform’ of schools in England you can have Euro-chic education a la Mike Russell here. While Andrew Lansley might be smashing the NHS in England, Labour will hold hands with the Tories in a campaign to keep the state of ship afloat.

The message lacks credibility or integrity. If we share these great common values then why does our UK government seem to be wrecking the very institutions that would seem to hold us together better than a well crafted speech or chortling along with Miss Inverness?

And why do those reforms seem to have clear continuity from New Labour’s agenda of privatisation?

It’s impossible to pretend that this is one happy family, and only so much media distortion will put paint over the cracks.

A poll this week showed almost four times as many people trust Alex Salmond’s administration to act in Scotland’s best interests than trust Cameron’s UK Government to do so.

Trust in the Scottish Government has increased while at the same time, the number of people who said they trusted the UK Government to act in Scotland’s best interests was 18% – compared to 35% in 2007. This isn’t a united country, it’s one that is splitting apart down ideological lines.

Just say No.



Categories: Economics, New Scotland, Referendum on Independence

Tags: ,

5 replies

  1. Darling’s mantra of “The first question surely that we in Scotland have to answer is ‘do we want to stay in the UK or do we want to leave?’” is comparable to forcing an unemployed person to choose which city they want to live in before telling them whether or not there’s actually any jobs there for them to get. They might prefer a job in their current location, but the reality is their primary concern is getting a job, so if that means moving to a different location, then so be it.

    Unemployed person: “I would like to stay in Greenock, but I don’t know if there are any jobs here, so perhaps I’ll move elsewhere and get a job there. Can you tell me if there are any jobs for me in Edinburgh?”
    Mr Darling’s JobCentre: “Well, first you need to tell us where you want to live, then I can see if there are any jobs there.”
    UP: “I’m not overly fussed to be honest, I just want a job.”
    Darling: “Yeah but where you live and what job you want are two totally different questions, so first we need to decide where you’ll live.”
    UP: “I’d rather not move if I can help it, but there’s no point if there are no jobs here. Can’t you just tell me where the jobs are and then I’ll decide if I want to stay here?”
    Darling: “No, you need to decide where you want to live first, then I’ll find you a job there.”
    UP: “Look, can you at least give me a hint? Where do you think I should live?”
    Darling: “I think you should stay here.”
    UP: “Is that because there are jobs here?”
    Darling: “I’m sure we’ll manage to find lots of jobs for you if you decide to stay here.”
    UP: “That’s not what I asked – are there jobs here?”
    Darling: “I can’t tell you until you decide to stay here or not.”
    UP: “Why not? Why can’t you just tell me?”
    Darling: “Because you need to decide where you’ll live before I look for jobs for you.”
    UP: “FINE! Well, you look like a trustworthy man, and I can’t imagine such a boring person would lie to me, so since you refuse to find me a job until I say where I’ll live, I’ll take my chances and stay here.”
    Darling: “Oh dear, there are no jobs here. Bye.”
    UP: “Wait, you could have just told me that before! Why did you tell me to stay here if you couldn’t promise me a job?”
    Darling; “It’s a big, difficult world out there…”
    UP; “It’s Edinburgh! It’s no different to the rest of Scotland!”
    Darling: “…times are tough…”
    UP: “You don’t have to tell me that, I don’t have a job and I can’t feed my family!”
    Darling: “…the last thing we need is all the uncertainty…”
    UP: “Oh yeah, certain doom is so much better!”
    Darling: “…Erm, yeah well, I have to shut now. I’ve just been promoted to the House of Liars… sorry, House of Lords.”

    • In fact, I’m just realising my little metaphor works both ways.

      The jobseeker’s main concern is getting a job, so once he knows where the jobs are he can decide if he should stay where he is or move to where the work is.

      Similarly, Scottish voters’ primary concern is what powers they want and how these can best be delivered, and from there we can decide if remaining in the union is compatible with our desires, or if we need to vote for independence in order to get the powers we seek and require.

      The first question we should be asking is “what powers do we need to make Scotland a more prosperous place?” Only then can we decide whether we need to vote for independence or not, and this is precisely why Darling et al are so determined to shut down the debate so much.

  2. The hatred that Scotland has for westminster tory toffs has grown immensely due to their treatment of the sick and disabled. The westminster coalition are more verminous than a plague of scavenging rats. A YES vote for independence will rid us of this plague and allow us to manage our own affairs, which wont involve a self serving band of parasitic corporate rich toffs scavenging from the poor and weak.

  3. The Tories and Labour – especially Darling and Balls – have been deeply tainted by the LIBOR scandal. The whole basis of their argument about monetary policy has been completely undermined. Perfect timing!

Trackbacks

  1. Scotland’s Independence Referendum: Media Round-Up 28/06/2012 « Still Raining, Still Dreaming

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