Positivity

Pundits seem to be coalescing around the idea that a ‘positive message’ is an essential part of political campaigning (nothing new here, see Pat’s Juggernaut of Joy thesis). Whether it’s Obama’s upbeat derivative (but ultimately empty) Yes We Can, or, as critics had it, Salmond’s indy question (characterised by some as some sort of Derren Brown-style mass hypnosis), the idea of positivity is the key, or so we’re told. It’s simple: people who whinge and moan all day become a bit of a drain to be around. We naturally gravitate towards those who bring a bit of sunshine and light into our life.

This presents the Unionists with a challenge. How to oppose the Yes Campaign with a positive? What is the positive case for the Union? Well it’s about security, continuity and stability. All good things, but in stressing these you have to also sort of pretend it’s all okay as is, and that’s where they get unstuck. The nationalists have to say things will be okay, the unionists have to pretend things are okay. It’s not jam tomorrow but it’s a set of ideas – a vision – based on hope. Now we know that this might not work out but we have aspiration whereas in the HERE and NOW we kind of know perfectly well what things aren’t working. UK Plc has nationalised the banks and given our money away to the super rich. People can’t get the homes they need, and there’s an outbreak of mass unemployment, fuel poverty and a generalised economic insecurity that strikes into the heart of peoples well-being by the residual stress it creates.

In this context stressing continuity has a hollow ring.

This vision-failure isn’t just a problem for the parties political future. As Joyce McMillan writes: ‘And even if their campaign of fear and negativity is successful in achieving the “no” vote they crave, it will leave Scotland – the day after the referendum – with no prospect of a better future, and no idea at all of how it should move forward.’

And this is a problem for the emerging Devo-Max contenders. The likes of Kenyon Wright have no political vehicle to hitch onto. The paradox opens like a chasm. McMillan again:

‘In the 1990’s, the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties formed a powerful alliance with Scottish civil society to campaign for what was seen, at the time, as a huge and radical constitutional change in the British state; today, the Liberal Democrats are silenced by their Westminster coalition with the Conservatives, while Labour literally no longer knows where it stands, in the battle for democracy between ordinary citizens and overweening financial power.’

This is the reality behind the sort of paranoia fostered by Tom Peterkin in The Scotsman today ‘Fears over pressure on ‘civic Scotland’ to back devo-max’.

The scare stories about ‘rigged polls’ have been slain this week with the setting out of a clear simple question, a transparent consultation process and the concession about the role of the Electoral Reform Society. You’d also have to hope that the ‘civic leaders’ have consulted their membership before committing themselves to a political intervention?

Whatever the outcome – a more positive debate would be welcome. As Gerry Hassan wrote this week: ‘These are momentous, challenging times, filled with a mixture of excitement and bewilderment, hope and fear, depending on your political opinions. It is up to those of us who want a serious, mature debate appropriate for the occasion to challenge and demand from all Scotland’s and the UK political parties, media and political communities, that they act respectively and reach out and understand perspectives different from their own.’

So we’re inviting people who’s views we don’t agree with to come and argue the point, make the case and have the debate on these pages. But we’re also going to be working beyond politics on showcasing a series of inspirational projects and people working now (today). If you want to suggest someone or some project get in touch with us – it could be an arts project, a band, a community group, a campaign or some social innovation.

Come All Ye.

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  1. Aucheorn says:

    I have no doubt that “Civic Scotland” can discuss and debate and come up with good ideas and functions and articulate them very well, which the MSM will pass around ad nauseam ( anything to put a spoke in the Nationalists wheel ).

    But, and it’s a big but, how are they going to get their agreements implemented ?

    Remember, Independence we take with the backing of the international community and law.

    Devo-whatever we are dependent on the UK Parliament at Westminster giving whatever “Civic Scotland” comes up with, with no one to cry foul to when Westminster reaps it’s revenge on these uppity Scots.

    Frankly they are wasting their collective breath and time.

    1. Doug Daniel says:

      I wouldn’t say they’re wasting their time. They’re formulating ideas about which powers they think Scotland needs in order to prosper, which means they’re actively thinking about trying to get a significant shift in power from Westminster to Holyrood. So they’re getting in the right mindset, such that the very notion of remaining in the union with no change becomes utterly untenable.

      Not just that, but in opening up their minds to the possibility of Scotland regaining some powers, not only are they having to question why Scotland should have those powers, they’re having to ask themselves why Scotland should not have other ones. So rather than just blithely thinking “there’s no way Scotland could be independent”, they’re looking at each power and perhaps saying “you know, now that I think about it, why can’t Scotland be in charge of its own defence policy? It would actually be a very positive move to rid the world of one set of nuclear weapons and not send our soldiers into illegal wars.”

  2. Siôn Jones says:

    Johanne Lamont promises that once Scotland votes No to independence, Labour will re-visit the devo-max option, but only then. Surely everybody believes her?

    1. Doug Daniel says:

      They must not be allowed to get away with that, it’s a typical case of a politician shirking an issue, except in these most atypical circumstances, it is far worse. How on earth can someone dare to tell Scots “vote no and we promise we’ll do something about more powers… Although you have to reject independence first”.

      They must be forced to reveal what powers they would seek to be devolved to Scotland, how they would do it, and when. Anything less is completely disingenuous and entirely irresponsible.

      Of course, the more important question is: WHY is she so coy about outlining what they would do?

  3. Alex Buchan says:

    If you dissect Joyce MacMillan’s article she’s actually saying something interesting. She’s saying that you can’t be positive unless you’ve a vision, but you can’t have a vision unless you’re proposing something to give the nation hope i.e. something to aspire to.

    The reason I think this argument is interesting is that it’s interesting that none of the unionists parties are putting much effort into talking up the Scotland Bill. They make references to massive transfers of powers etc. but they don’t talk with any enthusiasm about what those powers will mean on the ground. So what MacMillan is pointing to is that by refusing to back a third alternative all three unionist parties have no vision for Scotland and will be forced to fight a fully negative campaign.

    What she’s also pointing out is that talk of a positive case for “the union” will come to nothing because, whether this kind of thing has any traction anywhere else or not, it certainly doesn’t have traction in Scotland for more than a small hard-core minority. So the absence of a devo max option will confine the unionist parties to an entirely negative campaign. MacMillan doesn’t say this won’t work (she’s very careful not to calm that) but she’s saying that the unionists will not have gained the victory they think they will and I think this seems to be dawning on some unionist politicians.

    She’s really saying here needs to be a debate about two visions: one for a more autonomous Scotland and one for independence. Her point is that only that debate will engage the public, the binary independence versus status quo debate will be a massive turn off. In the end she seems to be saying, unenthused, voters will vote for security, but they will hate the side they are voting for.

    That is an interesting hypothesis, and in the light of Mike’s comments about welcoming different views, her view can’t be said to be hostile to independence, rather she painting a picture of the reality of the situation as she sees it and wishing it were different.

  4. Donald Adamson says:

    Another curious intervention by Cameron or “sources” close to him. If true, although the announcement itself only confirms what we already knew, surely the British government should at least have had the decency to complete their consultation process before allowing this to be released:

    http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/no_further_tax_powers_for_scotland_says_david_cameron_1_2084365

    1. Alex Buchan says:

      Donald

      When Cameron made his intervention at the start of the year, I was struck by how much commentators in London seemed to have been briefed by the UK Government that the move was necessary to block Alex Salmond from bringing in a devo max option. The UK government put it about that they had no option but to intervene because devo max was seen as a devilishly clever move by Salmond to use the referendum to put pressure on Westminster to grant massively extended powers.

      If this is report does represent Cameron’s position then it’s clear that they haven’t budged from the view that the real danger lies in devo max rather than independence, which they’ve convinced themselves is highly unlikely. The whole thing feels like political pocker. The UK government has upped the stakes, effectively saying any advance on Calman is inconsistent in principle with Scotland remaining in the UK, thus ruling out more powers in the future.

      The fact that they feel it necessary to do this suggests that they are concerned that Cameron’s earlier intervention hasn’t had the effect of killing off devo max fully. They clearly don’t want any civic Scotland campaign for devo max gaining momentum. My take on that is that they don’t want any presumption to arise that devo max is the “settled will” of Scottish public opinion. It’s fascinating that Cameron seems to see the real battle as being how to block devo max.

  5. Donald Adamson says:

    Hi Alex,

    As I said, this announcement only confirms what we knew already, that devo max is a non-starter for the British government, any British government not just the Tories. I’d still like to hear it, officially, from Cameron himself as only that will provide the “clear and unambiguous” death of devo max that I referred to in a previous exchange with you. Unlike the short-lived eighteen month ‘deadline’ he set with his earlier intervention, this one is non-negotiable.

    1. Alex Buchan says:

      Yes, but it might suit Alex Salmond to have a campaign up and running for devo max before Cameron shoots it down. That could liven up the referendum debate in a way little else could, because it would focus on where the determination of Scotland’s future should lie: Scotland or London? Joyce MacMIllan’s argument is that a negative campaign by the unionists pitched against a case for independence that’s difficult to assess because of so many imponderables will after two years become a monumental bore and turn off most voters. The real issue this Scotsman article brings up isn’t so much about devo max but rather what the unionist party’s position on future devolution is. The Lib Dem’s are very keen to stress that further devolution is possible in the future and many in Labour in Scotland are very keep portraying devolution as a process. This article is not helpful for either of them because, in taking a hard line on tax and benefits, it’s really saying there isn’t much scope for advance beyond Calman.

      1. Alex Buchan says:

        I would also add that all of the three new party leaders in Scotland have been very circumspect in what they’ve said about further powers beyond Calman. Lamont in particular won’t be drawn on the issue. The distinct impression these three Scottish unionist leaders give is that they are aware that the consensus in Westminster, shared by all three main parties, is that there needs to be a playing down of expectations in Scotland so no hostages to fortune are given. It’s the old Westminster trick, much used before devolution, of holding out against change in the expectation that the public will eventually get bored with the whole thing if there is no momentum, which is why Alex Salmond has to keep the momentum up to undermine Westminster’s efforts.

  6. John Souter says:

    In view of Cameron’s declaration for Devo -No More; shouldn’t Devo Max be dropped in favour of Independence Best, in order for civic Scotland (whatever that means) to best utilise their resources and claimed talents by addressing the issues which independence will bring to the fore?

  7. Donald Adamson says:

    Alex,

    We’re in danger of going round in circles here. For what it’s worth, I don’t agree with Joyce MacMillan. For if she was right then we may as well all campaign for the pipe dream of devo max. As I’ve said to you before, however unpalatable it may be, we need to look at this through the eyes of the British state as well as the British government. What needs to be clearly understood by everyone is that, from the British government’s perspective, even if devo max had 100 per cent support in the polls, it wouldn’t change anything.

    Have we forgotten that we’re talking about a British government that has less than 2 per cent of Scotland’s MPs? You can forgive them for reaching the conclusion that if the Scottish people are prepared to put up with that, and all its consequences, they’ll put up with anything! This is one of the reasons why Cameron is taking this approach as he reads the apparent majority support for devo max as confirmation that the majority of Scots want to remain part of the UK.

    From the British government’s perspective, it doesn’t really matter what the Scottish people want. With Calman, the British government believes it has already offered more than enough generous concessions to Scotland. From the British perspective, this is about the sovereignty of the Westminster parliament (they won’t allow anything to challenge that) and the consequences of further devolution on the future of the UK, consequences which the supporters of devo max seem completely impervious to.

    If people really do want Scotland to enjoy all the benefits of devo max (and more) then the only way to guarantee that is to support independence. If, on the other hand, they think that they can use devo max as a bargaining chip with Westminster, they are destined to be disappointed. They should be more realistic (and honest with themselves and the Scottish people) and campaign for a modest Calman plus settlement. If they’re lucky, they might get a watered-down version of this sometime in the next 10 years or so, possibly subject to approval in a UK-wide referendum.

  8. Alex Buchan says:

    Donald

    I don’t disagree with much of that but the UK Government seems strangely over-concerned about devo max; if your statement above held then the UK Government should be far less concerned about devo max because they know it will go nowhere. In fact there could be an argument that they should say as little as possible about it because it is essentially Labour and the LibDem’s who have the problem. They, more than the Tories, who have always been anti-devolution, need to have an answer to civic Scotland and others as to why devo max is not an option. Why should a Tory UK Government come to their aid, what has the Tory UK Government got to be concerned about. You can’t say they just want everybody to know what the position is because political calculation isn’t like that. They have calculated that devo max is a threat. Now we could speculate as to why it is and there are issues to do with trying to keep independence as a separate issue in order to close down debate on a wider constitutional rearrangement in light of English resentment and talk of an English parliament; whatever conclusion you come to about their reasons, the fact remains that the Tory UK Government sees devo max as a greater threat than independence. This is difficult to understand from your explanation without other considerations being brought to bear. Therefore strategically it is by no means clear what would be the best course to take in relation to this, which is why I have said before that I trust Alex Salmond and his advisors to have a better grasp of this than you or I.

  9. Alex Buchan says:

    On Joyce MacMillan, her point is not as you claim. She is saying that two years and more of a ding dong between negative unionists and the SNP will turn people off. Pretty uncontroversial, especially, if for many, neither side encapsulates their preference of more powers. So according to her it will just become background noise and people will lose interest. What’s the point of Mike calling for dissenting ideas if we don’t want to engage with anything other than our own comfortable worldview? Are you denying that many in Scotland don’t share your prospectus?

  10. Donald Adamson says:

    Alex,

    Devo max holds no fear for the British government at all. Only the British government can deliver devo max. Why should they be fearful of something which they have complete control over, which only they can deliver and which they have no intention, under any circumstances, of delivering, unless you want to argue that maybe they don’t trust themselves to not deliver it! More seriously, this argument only makes sense if it’s argued that the consequences of the British government not delivering devo max would be that those voters who support devo max would then turn to independence. But this is exactly the opposite of what you were arguing on earlier threads (you’ll recall that I contested what I called your “fatalist” argument that the majority of ‘supporters’ of devo max would vote No in a straight yes/No referendum question).

    The other point here is that the Tories are speaking for the British state not just the Tory party. As I’ve said to you before, British Labour has no intention of delivering devo max either, even if it were in a position to deliver it before 2020-2025. Like the Tories, they’d be completely mad to go down this route. All that the Tories are doing is setting out their stall. This is a red line issue for the British state and the choice for the Scottish people is a straightforward one, like it or lump it.

    1. Alex Buchan says:

      But they weren’t just setting out their stall. They made an intervention that many in London were dubious about, they justified it to lobby correspondents by saying they had to wrest the initiative on the constitution, especially over whether there was one or two questions. Their concern was to not lose control off the process. Alex salmond seems determined not concede control over the process to them. That’s what we’ve been witnessing over the last three weeks. My attitude is that Alex Salmond is right, denying them control over the process is more important than getting rid of devo max as an alternative, on that we clearly differ.

  11. Donald Adamson says:

    Alex,

    The point I was making about Joyce MacMillan is that if she’s right, then what she’s saying is that the independence campaign would have failed to inspire enough Scottish voters to support independence. In that case, if she’s right, we may as well all campaign for the pipe dream of devo max. That’s the only point I was making.

  12. gavin says:

    There is no way that Westminster will give up its political and economic hegemony in the UK to opt for a kind of federalism. It is important, however, that they are the ones who are seen to deny that option on the ballot. If they wanted to offer enhanced devolution, then they have claimed that it does not require a referendum, but can simply be agreed and put through parliament. They have nearly three years to formalise any constitutional proposal they wish to give us. They obviously do NOT need to wait out the referendum to do this. The fact that they do not, shows up their position for what it is–fraudulent, in the manner of Douglas-home.

  13. John Souter says:

    Like most of the bewildered herd I have little insight into the political armoury Westminster and its establishments hold in their toxic bosoms.

    However I’ll make one observation – constitutionally, democratically and financially it’s in ‘irons’ and desperate for a tide to save it from the rocks.

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