2007 - 2021

Blue Labour, White Flags & Red Lines


Today, Christine Jardine attempted to lay out an argument that No actually means Yes. ‘Historic powers’ are already coming our way – and more are to follow (‘We’ve already moved on and will move on again.’). This is a line being diligently nurtured by  Kenny Farquharson, Alex Massie, Severin Carrell and David Torrance. It’s a sort of liberal amnesia. Politics without power, commentary without analysis. It studiously ignore the dynamics of Miliband’s British Labour styling, the wobbly equivocation of Ruth Davidson’s Tory rump or the abject capitulation of the Liberals.

Ignore the cognitive dissonance and listen up. Under this argument the powers that have spent lifetimes repressing, resisting and deflecting sovereignty, are those who will actually deliver it. Vote No and get more powers in the future, honest. On closer examination this seems highly unlikely.

Jardine describes gleefully how: ‘The Lib Dems have unveiled proposals for a federal UK to be included in their 2015 manifesto.’ This is true, but what she emits to say is that the Liberal Democrats are in popular free-fall having lost any credibility with their disastrous liason. At one point they were polling 3%. They are utterly irrelevant. Even with the best will in the world the Liberals will be forming no government any time soon, anywhere. Her evidence of the No to Yes epiphany is sketchy too: “Labour too is establishing a commission with the aim of strengthening Holyrood and even the Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has embraced the idea that our constitutional journey is not over.”

It’s all very vague and her evocation of the great transfer of powers also collapses under scrutiny. Describing the great Scotland Act of 2012, she highlights how we’ll soon have  “powers  and responsibility for stamp duty, land tax, landfill tax, powers over air guns, speed limits, drink driving and more.” This is puerile.

Better Together

Like the French chef who can make beefsteak out of a leather glove, Alastair Darling has done well with his Better Together campaign. There was – up until now – no need for a mass campaign, a grassroots organisation, nor any need for creative thinking. The message was simple: “everything’s just fine.”

It is an appeal to the conservative, the cautious, the wary, and who isn’t all of these in times of stormy economics, in what I think we’re still rather coyly calling ‘the recession’?

In economic crises we eat more chocolate and watch Midsomer Murder. Like the rise of ‘warm bath’ media, this politics – we can call it the Politics of Jubolympics – or the Keep Calm and Carry effect – aims at muting discontent not by denying it or suppressing it but by appealing to a spirit of the Blitz. Explanations for the success of the Great British Bakeoff back up this theory. Times are hard, let’s get serious about scones. It is, we’re told, a quintessentially British response to tough times, and in telling us that, we feel better, redoubtable in our pinnies.

Events this week may disturb the baking.

First, announcements that the Libor scandal will now affect the RBS to the tune of £500 million, wrecking the narrative we are supposed to ingest of ‘fiscal rectitude’, strict budgeting and everything ship-shape. Second the Tories announced the relaxing of ratios for nursery children in England – a small thing you might think – but a glimpse into the restructuring coming down the path. The bedroom tax can be put in this category. The reality of austerity unionism is becoming clearer. It’s proving difficult to contain. Third the Prime Minister announced his EU referendum. Fourth, and finally, the Electoral Commission has announced its preferred question for the referendum on Scottish independence: Should Scotland be an independent country? The question is highly likely to be ratified by the Scottish Parliament. More importantly the Electoral Commission have asked the British Govt to set out negotiations for what a post-vote settlement should look like. In other words they have laid out that, in fairness to voters being able to make up their minds we should know what the consequences of a No or a Yes vote should be. This isn’t unreasonable. But it does present a huge headache for Alastair Darling and his leather glove of a campaign.

So what do corrupt banking practice, pre-school education and the EU have to do with Scottish independence?

The No campaigns focus and efforts has been to just tumble along pretending that Britain is Better Together, that we are ‘One Nation’ as Ed would have it and that, with a Heston-style re-make of our Constitutional Coronation Chicken, we can all get along without having to engage with difficult issues like sovereignty, self-determination or democracy. But the banks that we own but don’t control who appear to not have changed a bit since the ‘crisis’ are an exposure of lack of democracy or accountability in the economics sphere. Re-modelling nurseries so that teachers can look after 6 kids not 4 is a sure sign of where austerity Britain is headed, and the Europhobia of UKIP and the Tories represents a culture and outlook quite alien in Scotland  – and popular culture suggests we’re not really One Nation at all …

31.01.13: Steve Bell on the wording of the Scottish independence referendum

Suddenly Alasdair, Ruth, Johann and wee Willie have their work cut out.

If the case for the Union doesn’t make itself – if the argument that being part of Britain means security and stability suddenly looks highly questionable, these people will have to make the case, they’ll need to come up with specifics, and they’ll need to both be creative and agree on details. Whilst the Scottish Green Party, the Scottish Socialist Party and the SNP have had months if not years to settle into ways of working, and whilst thousands of people with very different political outlooks have begun to learn how to communicate around a common goal of Yes, the Unionist parties have had no such challenge. Now they will have to agree some post-referendum scenarios or reject the findings of the Electoral Commission, something they have been howling at the moon about for the last twelve weeks.

Perhaps this won’t be that difficult given that Conservative and Labour responses to austerity aren’t that different, and the Liberals have been in coalition, between Ruth’s line in the sand, Blue Labour and the Liberals surrender to Tory rule, the Unionist Front is in trouble. But here’s one or two questions the No camp have to resolve (with thanks to @AdamRamsay).

Cameron wants to renegotiate Britain’s place in Europe. So what will that look like? Can the no campaign guarantee that Scots who are sick or disabled won’t have their benefits cut any further by Westminster after 2014? Or that they won’t be driven into forced labor? Can the Westminster government guarantee that it will introduce sufficient changes to financial rules to ensure there won’t be another financial collapse? Can the no campaign guarantee that the Westminster government won’t alter the Barnett formula? Can the no campaign guarantee a future Westminster government won’t cut public spending even further? Can the no campaign guarantee that a future Westminster government won’t reduce further the number of Scottish MPs?

If we vote No what powers are you going to devolve and why? When will we know and if the Liberals, Labour and the Tories have these policies why did they not put them to the test? And why on earth should anyone believe you given that previously:

The Conservatives said: “There will be no more powers to Holyrood – that’s a red line” Labour has shifted from saying ‘Bring it on!’ to arguing against any referendum to then demanding that it be held immediately, and the Liberals are inventing a consensus and a processes that doesn’t exist. Willie Rennie has recently declared:

“We will not be saying no, we will be saying ‘yes to a federal UK’. There’s an emerging consensus: if you look at the Devo More report out from the IPPR … if you look at the Devo Plus report from Reform Scotland, they all come to broadly the same conclusions, which is up to two-thirds of our expenditure should be raised in Scotland.”

This has no basis, no standing and no future, despite the No to Yes cheerleaders in the commentariat.

Jardine concludes: ‘The choice is no longer between independence and the status quo.’ The reality is that it is precisely the stark choice we are faced with and the parlour game of possible future scenarios is a daft distraction.

Comments (21)

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  1. Peter A Bell says:

    My response to Christine Jardine as grudgingly published in Scotsman comments –

    Here’s a question for Christine Jardine. If the choice is no longer between independence and the status quo, why are these the only options on the referendum ballot?

    And let us not forget that they are the only options because the British parties dogmatically refused to countenance a “more powers” option.

    Once again we see a British nationalist commentator offering an analysis that owes more to personal prejudice and partisan bias than objective observation and accurate reporting. We see this in the reality-distorting claim that it is the SNP that is ignoring what the people want while pursuing an objective that they do not. The contrasting actuality being that the SNP was prepared to accept a second question on devo-whatever while it is the British parties which have ignored the electorate’s demands for more powers and insist on offering only that which the voters are telling them is the thing they want least – the status quo.

    We see this deluded perspective also in the quaintly naive notion that such devolution as we have was the generous gift of a beneficent British state, naturally inclined to empower the periphery as a matter of fundamental principle, rather than a grudging concession wrenched from the jealous grasp of the British elites under threat of even greater loss of power, influence, territory, resources and face.

    Christine Jardine’s credulous belief in the honourable intentions of British politicians would be no more than a wryly amusing oddity were it not for a considerably more insidious strand to her arguments. It is not as if she is merely flaunting her gullibility for our entertainment. She seeks to win us over to her faith position.

    Jardine does not stop at a personal critique of the SNP’s arguments, as expressed by Nicola Sturgeon, based on her rather idiosyncratic view of past events and current circumstances. She is guilty of the much more serious offence of aiding and abetting the deception being perpetrated by the British parties which seeks to dupe voters into imagining that a NO vote is a vote for the kind of increased powers that they want for their parliament.

    Let’s not mince words. This is a lie!

    Jardine would have us believe that voting NO in the referendum naturally and inevitably leads to a land of milk and honey where every one of us magically gets precisely what we want in terms of further devolution. She would persuade those she assumes to be as credulous as herself that a NO vote is a vote for an option which actually doesn’t exist. It doesn’t exist because those who campaign for a NO vote rejected it and insisted that it be excluded.

    She wants us to deny our own intellect and ignore the alarms of justifiable cynicism about the jam tomorrow promises of British politicians.

    She wants us to disregard the undeniable probability – bordering on a political certainty – that a NO vote will be portrayed as a resounding endorsement of the union and a mandate to roll back devolution.

    I’m not fooled. Are you?

  2. Donald Kerr says:

    You have the wrong question quoted about: “Do you think Scotland should be an independent country?” Should be: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”. The answer’s not a problem “YES” 🙂

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Fixed, thanks.

  3. Not fooled and never was seen through the ’79 fiasco,when even the prisoners had a vote and all of them voted NO. Think about it there was votes for prisoners already.

  4. David Cunningham says:

    Sorry I am not buying the jam tomorrow decoy.
    Let’s just vote for independence and fix our country – it can be done!
    If they wrote devomax out in blood on a bible I still would not trust them

  5. Albalha says:

    When did No 10 dismiss the services of Ms Christine Jardine as an adviser to No 10 on all matters Scottish? She was only ‘selected’ in 2011.

    And Ed, even in my worst moments Midsomer Murders never made it onto the ‘watch crap tele for a day’ list.

  6. Erchie says:

    “This is a line being diligently nurtured by Kenny Farquharson, Alex Massie, Severin Carrell and David Torrance.”

    Why is it up to these four to try and sugar coat “No” ? These are members of the Press

    Are there not supposed to be ethics about this sort of thing

    1. Albalha says:

      Not a twitterer myself, though I do have a recce now and then, you’ve only to monitor the above named ‘journalists’ twittering feeds to know what they think. Not sure ethics are part of their musings.

      Meanwhile on Rep Scot tonight Marie Osmond, remember her?, sings Paper Roses to Kilmarnock fans, all’s well in Scotia.

    2. muttley79 says:

      Erchie, unfortunately we know that the media are overwhelmingly hostile to Scottish independence. The Fab Four you mentioned do not really attempt to disguise their opposition to independence. The problem for the broadcast and print media is that their intrinsic unionism has failed to prevent a referendum from occurring. Not only this but they failed to predict the SNP’s landslide in 2011. Of course they are now saying that the referendum is all but won already by the No campaign. Their confidence belies a fear of almost gigantic proportions. On the other hand, the Yes campaign have a massive amount of work to do. A Yes vote is certainly possible though.

  7. muttley79 says:

    The No campaign thought they were being smart by rejecting a second question, calling it “Salmond’s insurance card.” Now they find that the Electoral Commission’s report is putting an onus on them to spell out the consequences of a No vote. The silence from them is deafening, only their media buddies are left attempting to convince the electorate that they are serious about more powers!

    Not only did they loudly reject a more powers option, they also insisted that the Scottish Government abide by the E.C’s report. Therefore, they are now being forced to come clean on what a No vote means. But what does a No vote mean? The No campaign does not have a clue? They have no idea about Scotland’s membership of the EU as is looking increasingly likely the UK is heading for the EU exit, and they don’t know what they think about more powers for Holyrood. This after all their talk about the uncertainty of the independence referendum. Their credibility, in rejecting a more powers option, and now being challenged to spell out what their actual policies are, has surely being severely undermined. Shame…

  8. psychoerg says:

    The only truth which emerges from the fog of better together lies is the clear and unremitting truth of their great fear of being left adrift and abandoned on the arrival of independence.

  9. James Morton says:

    They have to describe what the status quo will mean but as more of this becomes public knowledge http://www.itv.com/news/2013-02-01/tenants-hit-by-bedroom-tax-tell-of-financial-misery/ Its going to be a hard sell to talk about Better Together and status quo and just trust us, we’ll give you moe powers.

    Frankly if what I saw in that report is the future of the UK. I want out. I pray to god the majority of Scots seeing this sickness being passed off as social justice will feel the same. I pray to god that 2014 sees the Union consigned to the dust bin of history.

  10. CW says:

    Funnily enough, the young Scottish guy from the Great British Bake-Off was wheeled out by Radio Scotland a couple of months ago to explain why he’s voting no. But more seriously, this is really just contemptible nonsense. This is only being discussed because of the existence of the majority SNP government and the referendum. If we as a country vote no, then our negotiating position is f***ed, to put it mildly. We have taken the very threat that fuelled most of the concessions gained by Scotland in the late twentieth century and put a match to it. This is really obvious, and I’m far from the first to say it, but we should say it until we’re sick of hearing it. The likes of Michael Moore or David Mundell or Jim Murphy have no interest in delivering any substantial devolution of taxation or welfare powers. They have never seriously discussed it, and even if they suddenly started to, it’s simply not possible. One tenth of a state cannot demand a federal relationship with the rest of that state if the other nine-tenths are not interested. And let’s not forget that when we do get given very limited taxation powers, such as those proposed by the Calman Commission, they are actually entirely useless because of their in-built deflationary bias. It’s almost as if Whitehall doesn’t want us to have control over tax, isn’t it? The journalists promoting this rubbish are either being seriously naive or entirely disingenous and they should really think hard about what they’re doing here.

  11. lenathehyena says:

    Not only is Christine Jardine invariably wrong but it is a mystery why anyone pays the least attention to someone whose claim to fame is as Scottish politics’ biggest bore.

  12. pmcrek says:

    Excellent article, I must say also, while the standard has always been high, Bella’s output and quality since the New Year has been nothing short of exceptional.

    On the issue of Devo Plus/Max whatever, like Independence, I’m all for it. Unfortunately however its not up to me or even most of the folks reading this, it is in fact up to the entire electorate of the UK firstly to give a party with Devo Max on their manifesto a majority at a UK referendum. It is then up to the entire civic structure of the UK to pressure and ensure such a promise is kept. Lastly, it is then up to the entire electorate of the UK (again) via referendum to decide if any such proposals are accepted.

    In short, I doubt anyone alive in the UK today will ever see such a thing happen in their lifetime and I’d personally rather live in a Democracy at some point before I die.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      A good point about the whole process necessary before Devo Max is arrived at.

  13. ronald alexander mcdonald says:

    As Peter said it’s all about deception. They know they’ve got no chance if they admit the truth before the referendum. Hence their insistence on a quick referendum-well that’s gone. They can lie and get away with it for a while. Another 20 months? I don’t think so.

  14. Major Hugh Jass says:

    “the wobbly equivocation of Ruth Davidson’s Tory rump”

    I say, that’s a bit personal, what?

  15. David McCann says:

    In an interview with Holyrood magazine last year, Alastair Darling let the cat out of the bag when he stated
    “.If you want anything more than a fairly minor change to the constitutional arrangement then at some point you are going to have to ask the rest of the UK which means that all the parties in a general election would have to have in their manifesto what they would intend to do.
    “At the moment this question has been confined to north of the border but once you go a little bit further then you are going to have to engage with the rest of the UK which is a rather different debate to the one we have had so far.”
    In short there is no chance that this will ever happen.

  16. Keef says:

    Take a bow Peter A Bell.

    I love it when you call a spade a spade.

    Are we to assume then that we’ll be bombarded with this line that voting no somehow means yes up until the day of voting?

  17. Alastair Wright says:

    there’s a Japanese proverb ‘vision without action is a daydream, action without vision is a nightmare’. Yes has a vision and is acting, better together has no vision and I for one don’t want my family and decendants having to put up with what will result if Scottish citizens vote no.

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