Don’t Know 8


I don’t know yet, not on substance but on the issue of  tone and institutions. I hesitate to even write this because I am afraid I will be shouted down, and my point, inadvertently proved.

What do I mean by institutions?

I am not a young person – and defy the often repeated idea that people get less radical in old age. I would like to live (and die) in a Scottish Republic. I aim to do so.

Why then should there be any hesitation I hear 1000 online activists scream?

There’s two reasons – the first I want us to really consider how we create a better democracy and this for me would have to include thinking about a timeline for abolishing the monarchy and putting into the constitution other checks and balances so that a whole system can be looked at. I’d like us to be discussing how long a president would sit, what second chamber (or other body) would be required. I’d like to see some more innovation about direct democracy (perhaps the Public Petitions Committee could be overhauled and beefed up?). I’d like to see local democracy revived and decentralised. I’d like to see the outline of a proper democracy.

I don’t see any of this yet.

Maybe this will come and I will be satisfied.

I can quite see how the independence vote is a stepping stone to a better democracy and a better society, but I do not want to step in the darkness like a latter day Davie Balfour at the House of Shaws.

What do I mean by tone?

Supporters of Yes – of all hues and political backgrounds need to understand that the vast swathe of people that need convincing are not going to be responsive to being shouted at with great certainty. That’s why Bellas’s efforts this week have been worthwhile, and why it’s been so good to hear new voices I’ve never read before.

I don’t need convincing of the main point that we’d be better to run our own affairs, and I can understand the frustration of those who have understood this a long tome ago. But the reality is that many do need convincing. It’s a serious step and very few of us are asked to make any serious decisions at all. At most elections we are asked – once every four or five years – to choose from politicians that it would be very difficult to separate in a line-up.

Secondly whilst the weekly news of corruption and scandal from Westminster will have passed very few people by, the phenomenon is in danger of tainting all politics. For the truly disengaged (surely a vast minority) this has the effect of turning them further off politics and politicians. So it’s very important that we create discussions and forums that excite and inspire people with something genuinely new.

This is one such forum but we need many more and more that operate outside the arena of the online activist and the already-committed Yes supporter. Sometimes the tone is too aggressive and this is off-putting. You might not like that, you might reject that, but that would seem to me to be a reality.

These new technologies have give us tools of communication that my generation never had access to. Let’s use them well.

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  1. Doug Daniel says:

    “I’d like us to be discussing how long a president would sit, what second chamber (or other body) would be required.”

    Ahh, for the day when this becomes the reality. The fact there needs to be a discussion over how long a president would sit etc is actually the main reason I’m quite happy to leave the whole head of state issue until after the referendum. I feel both are big enough issues on their own, and require their own debates, rather than one being lumped in with the other.

    One of the things we’ve got to get right is choosing our “poster child” countries for how to do things. There does seem to be an assumption that we’ll need a second chamber of sorts, simply because a bicameral parliament is all any of us has ever really known, be it Westminster or even just seeing the US system on TV. People don’t seem to have stopped to ask if it’s really necessary to have a second chamber, and look around Europe to see how the rest do it. When we get to have such discussions for real, I hope we don’t just plump for a second chamber merely because it feels like we’re supposed to!

    “I can understand the frustration of those who have understood this a long tome ago. But the reality is that many do need convincing.”

    It can be particularly difficult if you’re a lifelong supporter of a cause, someone who didn’t have to have a “Eureka!” moment to make them see the light. I sometimes envy those who only recently came to the independence debate, since they can simply tell people what made them become a supporter of independence. It can be difficult when it’s always felt like such an obvious thing, because you can’t really say to someone “you should support independence because… well, surely it’s obvious, no?”

    “Secondly whilst the weekly news of corruption and scandal from Westminster will have passed very few people by, the phenomenon is in danger of tainting all politics.”

    For me, this is why we need democracy to be brought closer to people. As long as politicians seem to be a separate class of people, operating under their own rules and making decisions without really bothering to consider how they’ll affect people, then people will be sceptical of politics and participation will be low. We should be trying to get as many people involved as possible.

  2. Peter A Bell says:

    I see you’ve got your excuses in first so as to be able to dismiss any responses you don’t like as merely the screaming of online activists. What quaint quirk of human nature is it, I wonder, that bids folk like yourself assume you are the only ones being “reasonable” while everybody else is a shrill ranter? Do you even realise that the shrillness and excess volume is something that you yourself add to otherwise perfectly benign comments?

    You say you haven’t seen any discussion about the constitution of an independent Scotland. When I ask how hard you’ve been looking I implore you to imagine that I do so in the calmest and most patient of voices. But ask I must. Because it is is difficult for me to comprehend how, if you had looked at at all, you could have avoided finding at the very least the website of the Constitutional Commission (

    With only slightly more digging, but still no noticeable effort, one can find blogs such as this – I could easily fill a page with similar links.

    You don’t see? Or you don’t look?

    I must admit to being totally baffled by the claim that you want to create a better democracy but don’t see how independence is a “stepping stone” to that objective. What else might be?

    It is said that the longest journey starts with a single step. It is less often noted that in order to start that journey one must be at least as prepared to step away from something as to step towards ones destination. If you hang about waiting for that destination to get closer, or for the whole path to be laid out before you brightly illuminated and clearly signposted, then you will never get anywhere.

    Google maps doesn’t give you directions to a better democracy. You can’t just punch the postcode of the Land of Milk and Honey into your satnav. The future isn’t a place you go, it’s a place you make.

    And what the hell is wrong with activists – online or otherwise? They’re the people who get things done. The clue’s in the name! Those who are not activists are apathetics. What do you imagine you might learn from them? What sense is there in saying that you want to discuss issues such as the constitution but you don’t want to be bothered with people who are actually interested enough to want to join in such a discussion?

    If those activists do get a bit shrill from time to time maybe there is good cause. I have to admit that my own patience is sorely tested from time to time. The fabled patience of Job would hardly be sufficient when people say to me, as someone (not you!) actually did not so long ago, “Can we please keep politics out of the constitutional debate!”.

    I’m stifling a scream right now.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      I’ll let Moira speak for herself but if you read her piece she writes: “I CAN quite see how the independence vote is a stepping stone to a better democracy”. That’s CAN…

      1. Peter A Bell says:

        But she goes on to talk of a “step in the darkness”. Which suggests an inability to see where she wants to go. That is what I was referring to.

        1. bellacaledonia says:

          Let’s get this straight Peter.

          An older women who hasn’t posted before is exploring (with some caution) why she’s not 100% and publicly shares a concern she might be denounced for expressing some issues. You then fulfill her prophecy by attacking her (having not read her post properly).

          Your attitude and response is frankly, extraordinary. You seem to be saying, effectively, that you will only tolerate, or communicate with people who have already made their minds up and are 100% sure about everything, in which case, if you think about it, you are marking yourself out as essentially useless in the next year and a half.

          Think about it.

          If I were you I’d apologise and go and have a long hard think to your self.

          1. Peter A Bell says:

            If we’re getting things straight then let’s note that it was you who apparently failed to notice the bit about a “step in the darkness”.

            I did not see my response as an attack. I saw it as addressing the points made in an entirely appropriate way. I suppose I could have agreed that there is no ongoing discussion of Scotland’s constitutional future. But that would have involved being dishonest about what I (and you) know to be the facts of the matter. If somebody makes a false assertion then they have absolutely no right to expect anything other than that it should be challenged.

            And if I say I am baffled by the attitude of someone who, in one breath, says that she is sure of what she wants for Scotland’s future and that independence is a “stepping stone” to that future but, in the next breath, says she is unsure about taking that step, that too is no more than me being honest.

            I might be less baffled if the reasons for this doubt and hesitation were explained. But they are not.

            And I am frankly weary of people who claim they want to participate in discussion of the issues but don’t want to hear from anybody who actually knows enough and feels strongly enough to state a case.

            As bad, if not worse, are those who say they want to debate but only on condition that they get to stipulate how others respond.

            I flatly refuse to treat Moira with patronising condescension. I will deal with her as a mature adult capable of speaking for herself. As she has already proved.

      2. bellacaledonia says:

        I’m not stipulating how anyone responds but I think you have made her point better than she could hope to with absolute crystal clarity.

        1. Peter A Bell says:

          Whining about my tone is certainly easier than addressing my points.

          What is the point of this exercise? I thought it might be to engage with the “don’t knows”. But it seems from everything that I’ve seen up to now that engagement is the last thing they want. And, apparently, you’re not much interested either.

          If the point is just to make people feel better about being undecided without addressing their uncertainty then what use is it?

          If all that happens it that people complain about not having any information while admitting that they haven’t even looked at any of the information that’s available, and making clear that they don’t want responses from those people who might set them on the right course, what can possibly be achieved?

          If all people want to do is repeat all the stuff they read in the papers about there not being any “answers”, while not asking any actual questions that might elicit answers, where does it all go?

          And if those who do respond are attacked for not doing so in accordance with some officially approved formula, why would anybody bother getting involved?

          It’s all starting to look like a complete waste of time.

    2. bellacaledonia says:

      I’m stifling a scream right now.

      Can you explain your plan for persuading the people who don’t agree with you over the next while?

      1. Peter A Bell says:

        If by “people who don’t agree” with me you mean the “don’t knows” such as are featured in this series of posts then any “plan” would first have to involve discover exactly what it is that they “don’t know”. What is the cause of their uncertainty. What it is that they hope to discover.

        The future is always uncertain. That is as true of the future after a NO vote as it is of the future after a yes vote. But neither is totally unknowable. Total uncertainty would require that anything is possible. And that is never true. The future is always constrained by the past. On any scale that is meaningful to human beings, far less this discussion, there is only ever a finite number of possible outcomes given any set of preceding circumstances.

        Even if this finite number is large it is made more manageable by the fact that only a much smaller number of those possible futures is realistically probable while most are, to varying degrees, highly improbable.

        The anti-independence campaign’s primary strategy has been to distort perceptions so as to exaggerate the uncertainty of the future. Ideally, they would like everybody to believe in the fallacy that anything is possible and so increase the uncertainty which is a function of the number of perceived possible outcomes.

        The secondary strand of this strategy involves emphasising negative outcomes while discounting positive outcomes. By talking endlessly about disasters such as bank collapses while ignoring or being mockingly dismissive of things like the aspiration to a fairer society, unionists contrive to make the former loom larger in people’s minds than the latter. And, of course, they are aided in this effort by large swathes of the mainstream media.

        That’s what scaremongering is.

        The people we’re talking about here are those who have succumbed to this propaganda. Whatever “plan for persuading” them there might be it certainly doesn’t included affirming and pandering to unwarranted fears about futures that are so vanishingly unlike that fretting about them is quite irrational. We won’t dispel fears by compounding them. We won’t ease uncertainty by putting on our best counselling voice and telling people their uncertainty is perfectly OK.

        Some uncertainly is normal and even healthy. But the kind of insecurity being promulgated by Bitter Together, the British parties and their friends in the media is abnormal and extremely unhealthy. It is NOT OK to be worried about things that are not going to happen.

        Where these unwarranted fears are reasonably specific then they can be addressed if only we can induce people to articulate them. If people come right out and say that they remain in the ranks of the “don’t knows” because of concerns about their pensions and savings, for example, we can point them to the information that will ease whatever concerns they may have. (While wondering why they haven’t accessed this readily available information for themselves.)

        The real problem, and the real success for the anti-independence propaganda effort, is when the fear becomes generalised and non-specific. When people are afraid or uncertain without really knowing what they are afraid of or being able to explain their uncertainty.

        The only way to address this is to try and get people to focus. To endeavour to get them to see the insubstantial nature of the object of their fear by really looking at it.

        People come in all shapes and sizes. The idea that there is one “way of talking” that is appropriate for every single “don’t know” is naive to the point of idiocy. Different people will respond to different arguments put in different ways. The value of channels of communication such as this is that many voices can be heard. But this value would be totally lost if all the voices were the same.

        The Yes Scotland campaign is supposed to be different from ordinary political campaigns in that it is truly community based. How could that mean anything other than that there should be one message but many voices? It is a campaign based on people talking to each other rather than the masses being addressed by some elite spouting carefully calculated sound-bites sprinkled with scientifically confirmed trigger-words all padded out with rhetorical devices and phatic waffle.

        By virtue of the fact that they are here one must assume that the “don’t knows” contributing to this series are prepared to listen. I venture to suggest that the very last thing they want to hear is the same kind of pish and platitudes they can get any day from professional politicians and pundits. If they want to hear anything at all it is real people talking to them as if they are real people and not just ballot-fodder.

        I’ll do it my way. And happily let others do it their way. The hope being that one of those many voices will strike some kind of chord with some of those who are so sadly affected by unionist fear-mongering.

    3. Hen Broon says:

      Precisely put Peter and not one shouty word did I see even your screams were silent. Some people write what they want to be true, others like you write what the truth is, and some people just cannot accept that truth.

  3. polwarthian says:

    It’s great to get a keek from your viewpoint, and good that you feel comfortable in this space.

    I have to admit to being a bit mystified by your description of “online activist” Yes supporters who shout (and scream) at you aggressively, and who shouldn’t be allowed to participate in certain forums. Do you mean people like me who spend a lot of time reading about the independence debate on the internet, and occasionally post a reply to someone who has offered their opinion? I don’t recognise the scary activist you say must have their voice quashed, and wonder if it might be that you’ve heard that such people exist because the No campaign are forever telling everyone that they do, and insist that the SNP must be controlling them?

    I find the vast majority of voices proclaiming Yes to be very reasonable, and who put forward logical arguments for their position, in a non-hysterical manner.

    You seem to have some great items on your wishlist for our nation, but I wouldn’t agree with all of them, and would expect our new nation to reach consensus about whether Scotland adopts them. I’m sure that you don’t need promises of your wishlist being fulfilled before you’ll vote Yes, as that would be an impossible promise to honour.

    I wonder what it is you need to happen when you say “I don’t see any of this yet”? What do you need before you’ll agree to start working on building our new nation together?

  4. Charles Patrick O'Brien says:

    Well here I am still young and not 61 till next Saturday, I realise that all the wants cant be had at once,I want a republic I always have,I want and independent Scotland and I think that must come first,we need control over our country before we can create a republic,with a social conscience.The rights of the people,and I don’t know what will happen after a YES vote but it must be better than what the Westminster party does to us,without the votes from the people of this country supposedly a partner in this union,not so much a union more of an insidious take over,and if we don’t get independence our future generations those Scots yet to be born wont have a country to stand up for.I can ramble and ponder with the best or worst of us,ask many questions that cant be answered unless we have control of our future,what and if and maybe and am no sure ah don’t know,aye fair enough but if we don’t try we will all die wondering me I’d rather have the chance of being an independent Scotsman,than never known that feeling or privilege.Thats my answer to any questions.Like when I was about to open a wee cafe in my thirties and a wife that always said what if and maybe it wont work,that had stopped me for years,but I wanted to know if I could well I did and it worked and served me fine,so I wont die wondering,just happy that I did I had a lot more in me than I ever suspected.I think we all have.Just lets give it our best ’cause that will be good enough.

  5. Andy Anderson says:

    It seems obvious to me that in addressing the important question of giving the Scottish people the right to decide their own democratic future that any government which set out a detailed blueprint of what that future should be would not be acting democratically.
    The whole point is that if someone believes, as I do, that Scotland should be a republic we should make the case for that in Scotland in the normal democratic way, if we have a normal democratic country. We need first of all a normal democratic country before we can address that question.

  6. Barontorc says:

    One thing’s certain, no YES, no future for anybody’s hopes.

    Moira has her blank canvas wish on the royal line hitting the buffers with independence, plenty of YES voters will be less than keen on that. There’s conflicting views on how continuing with Nato screws up the majority wish to kick wmd’s to hell, renewable energy, the choice of sterling as a founding platform to enable options later, etc, et..bloody..c.,

    YES first please!

  7. douglas clark says:

    For Moira’s benefit, I hope.

    I am quite old too. It was almost like being 21 again when the first state pension hit my account last month. Y’know, an event in your life that defines your lifetime?

    I want most of the things you want. I would reverse your desires somewhat, I want a constitution hammered out right now. I want a general agreement about you and I being sovereign, and no-one else. I expect any politician who is found guilty of a criminal or a serious civil offence to lose his or her seat and be unable to re-stand. I most vcertainly do not want Lords and Ladies. Stuff like that should be in our constitution.

    Like you, I have no real enthusiasm / interest in the Royal Family. As an independent nation we could have a referendum on that. Australia did.

    I am sorry that you probably will have been turned off by one commentator here. I can understand your doubts but I would ask you, if I may, whether you have considered how bad a No vote might be?



    Why is Peter trying to alienate anyone with doubts?

    It is an extraordinary strategy for an advocate of independence to take.

  8. douglas clark says:


    I agree with what barontorc has to say. We have to have our own democratic mandate in order to deal with the ‘big stuff’. Without that, and at least a degree of faith in our fellow Scots* we will never reach our potential as a people*.

    We are continually told we are too small, too poor and too stupid to run our own affairs.

    Do you believe a word of that?

    Of course you don’t.

    You know we can.

    * Anyone who lives here. Add that to the constitution.


  9. douglas clark says:

    Peter A Bell,

    How do you justify to yourself this:

    “I see you’ve got your excuses in first so as to be able to dismiss any responses you don’t like as merely the screaming of online activists. What quaint quirk of human nature is it, I wonder, that bids folk like yourself assume you are the only ones being “reasonable” while everybody else is a shrill ranter? Do you even realise that the shrillness and excess volume is something that you yourself add to otherwise perfectly benign comments?”

    to someone that has singularily been open in talking about their opinions? And unsurprisingly has not replied to this thread or more specifically to you?

    Your excuses for what amounts to disgraceful conduct is this:

    “What is the point of this exercise? I thought it might be to engage with the “don’t knows”. But it seems from everything that I’ve seen up to now that engagement is the last thing they want. And, apparently, you’re not much interested either.”

    Are you missing the point that she posted here? I think you are.



    Get a grip. You had an open goal and you missed it.

    Maybe it is tough being a – presumeably – long term activist, but attacking people that express doubts?

    Yeah, that is a winning strategy.



  10. Stuart Vallis says:

    Really good to see this series of articles BC, really much appreciated Moira. I agree on your point about decentralization, I would really like to see a package of proposals for discussion from the SNP on local government and decentralization. Until now I don’t see anything and surely this is the right time when they have the majority, regardless of a yes or no vote it is the right thing to do. You are right to be concerned at the lack of progress or comment from the SNP. Giving people real power in their communities to tax, spend and develop is the right thing to do. I happen to think that giving communities more power leads to more self reliance and more likely-hood of a yes vote. The Raasay hunting rights was an example of top down fuck up followed by top down fix, but the basic problem of why it happened in the first place remains the same and the solution is that the decision making and power should be with the people of Raasay. Has anyone learned anything from it or are there just now ever more civil servants in Edinburgh scrutinizing ever more possibly problematic local issues to avoid another mistake? I really wish the SNP could set some vision of what local democracy can look like and after consultation with communities make progress on this. Perhaps the proposals could be put forward in local referendum so that communities could choose the form of local government and taxation structure (LVT, Crown estates revenue – I know it is not devolved but it should be-, local income tax etc) that best suits their needs. At least we could be talking about something useful, hopeful and positive.

  11. steven h says:

    I can see the logic in tiptoeing the dont knows into the yes camp

    (Only works with a positive argument peter)

    but a part of me thinks if a large part of the population are driven by fear then as a country we dont deserve independence

  12. Hen Broon says:

    He was not attacking any one, he was pointing out that the article was rendered impotent by trying to demonise Cybernats as extremist shouters. Good God have you ever watched the bulging eyes and red faced vein popping performance of Darling or the naked hatred of Iain Davidson or Foulkes. They would make good extras in The Worlds Strongest man.

  13. douglas clark says:

    Hen Broon,

    If everyone thought that that is a reasonable way to talk to a ‘don’t know’ then we will lose. If that comes across badly to you and presumeably Peter then I’m sorry but you are both not really helping. It is all very well to use that sort of language to a unionist politician, and I have cheered along Peter when he has done so.

    But to address a swithering voter in the same way?

    I, frankly, don’t see the need for the ultra-defensiveness.

    This is, probably, our only shot at independence in my lifetime and acting all arsey is what Unionists do, as per your comments about Darling, Davidson and Foulkes. They probably add a lot of folk to our side of the campaign. Emulating them is, imho, a very bad idea.


  14. BPowell says:

    I see that there are a number of requirements and needs people have when talking about an Independent Scotland.
    All require the starting point of Scotland becoming Independent. None are going to happen if Scotland isn’t Independent.
    I know this because people expressing these requirements or wishes, say, ‘if Scotland becomes Independent I would like this….”
    To me that means they cannot get it the way we are now, it isn’t happening.
    For example, the majority in Scotland don’t want nuclear weapons such as Trident and didn’t want the Iraq or Afghan Wars, but at the same time a large percentage say they want Devolution where most powers are in Holyrood but Defense and Foreign Policy stays with Westminster. Two sets of completely incompatible requirements. because we are not getting rid of Trident and we had the Wars. We could not stop these, and other decisions like these, without Independence.
    More meaningful Devolution is not going to happen, we might even lose some of it. Just look at what David Cameron and Ruth Davidson said. Ruth Davidson said we want a ‘stable’ Devolution, ‘we do not want Alex Salmond coming back in 5 or 10 years to try for Independence again’.
    No democracy works like that, that’s not democracy.

  15. wanvote says:

    Hi Moira, I agree that the tone of some in favour of a yes vote can put a lot of folk off. There’s a lot of hostility and belligerence and even agreeing with a comment can provoke unwanted advice about what you “should, ought, must” do now to “spread the word”. Apart from presuming we all have no jobs, family and other commitments , health and age limitations and therefore have adequate time and opportunities to trawl online and pound the pavements, there is a kind of zealousness around that is excluding as many as it tries to include.
    Whether, we like it or not, most folk are pretty busy getting on with life but still want to join in now and again when time and subject-matter match up.

    Bella provides good links but other links would be useful, so yes, Peter, a page listing would be helpful. I have not even mastered how to insert a link in a comment – could someone explain it in easy lingo?

    1. Peter A Bell says:

      I am looking at the possibility of doing a companion site to Referendum 2014 ( but featuring links to information rather than news, blogs etc. Not sure how well this will work, however, as there is no way to categorise content. Might have to consider another option. Time permitting.

      1. AnneDon says:

        That would be a good resource, Peter. Many of us have friends asking questions. We don’t have all the answers, but a point we could direct them toward would be very useful.

        1. Peter A Bell says:

          I have made a start on a directory site for information about independence and the referendum. Hopefully, people will help populate the directory by submitting links.

  16. AnneDon says:

    There is one thing we can be sure of – if we don’t vote Yes, there will be less democracy, not more, on offer in the Disunited Kingdom. We need to get out there.

    Are you actually a “Don’t know”, Moira? I can’t imagine, if you have thought about the kind of state you want to live in, that you imagine it will be achieved under Westminster!

    Any positive change will come after a Yes vote, and that is what we must secure first.

  17. Interesting. Unfortunately Moira we can’t guarantee that the monarchy will be abolished and in fact based on SNP plans it almost certainly won’t be in the near future. I don’t think a second chamber is required but it if we did have one I’m quite certain that it would not be appointed.

    Independence is about creating a democratic space for Scots. We can’t predict how Scots will use that space but it is not a huge leap to trust ourselves to do our best for our own country.

  18. Jim says:

    I was going to say that I’m not being flippant but I suppose I probably am being.

    What do I want?

    A Sottish parliament and government that is elected by the people of Scotland rather than a millionaire Tory government at Westminster when Scotland has only one Tory MP out of 59 Scottish MP’s ?…Westminster has 650 MP’s!

    A government that is more in tune with the people of Scotland rather than one which purposely and deceitfully called us “subsidy junkies” throughout the 1970’s, 80 and 90’st and crushed the confidence of Scottish adults and children, even though Denis Healy has admitted that it was all a lie!

    A government and community that actually cares about each other rather than a distant government that couldn’t pin-point Inverness or Paisley on a map and whose PM “visits” twice a yeat and considers it a chore!.

    However, it’s been a sunny day and I’ve had a couple of beers and I’m building up to going to bed, kicking Angelina Jolie and Jessica Alba out of it. But hey. It’s hard wanting self-determination!

  19. jdman says:

    “However, it’s been a sunny day and I’ve had a couple of beers and I’m building up to going to bed, kicking Angelina Jolie and Jessica Alba out of it. But hey. It’s hard wanting self-determination!”

    Kick them out of bed and you deserve (self determination) ahem;)

  20. jdmank says:

    “However, it’s been a sunny day and I’ve had a couple of beers and I’m building up to going to bed, kicking Angelina Jolie and Jessica Alba out of it. But hey. It’s hard wanting self-determination!”

    Kick those two out of bed and you deserve self ahem determination;)

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