The Land that Time Forgot
Steve Richards and Alex Massie can’t both be right. Richards has argued in the Guardian (‘Scotland is going it alone’):
Scotland becomes more markedly different than ever. In Scotland the NHS is spared the haphazard revolution in England. The education secretary, Michael Gove, is powerless to impose his resolute will on schools in Scotland and the same applies to his other more evangelical colleagues moving England rightwards. Without doing very much Scotland becomes more different because of what is happening in England. The limited powers handed over to the Scottish parliament are precisely the ones that partly protect it from the ideological mission of the Westminster government. The cautiously incremental New Labour settlement becomes the basis of historic distinctiveness.The distinctiveness will deepen whatever happens in the referendum.
Massie thinks there’s little difference (‘Two Nations, two cultures?‘):
Whatever one thinks of the government’s plans for the NHS (and I try to avoid thinking about health policy) it is nonsense to suppose that placing a cap on benefits amounts to “dismantling” the welfare state. Nor, I think, has Michael Gove proposed abandoning universal education. (And if schools are part of the “welfare state” then what isn’t?) Be that as it may, it is doubtless the case that Scots like to think of themselves as being a morally superior, social-democratic kind of place but, in truth, this is often an example of the Scottish ability to kid or otherwise flatter ourselves. Because while Scots may say they are more left-wing than the English they do not tend, on the whole, to hold very different opinions.
There’s something funny about Richards revelation – visitors to Jockoland ‘discovering’ Scottish politics when they are up for the festival in quasi-anthropological tones is always amusing, but not as funny as Massie’s analysis. He is what Phil Mac Giolla Bhain calls ‘evidence resistant’ in Minority Reporter. Massie’s attempt to erode and erase any cultural / political differences between Scotland and England is essential to identifying a Pax Britannica that justifies and sanctions Austerity Unionism.
His wishful thinking about a right-wing reverie for thirty years of failed economics bares little scrutiny.
Richards is at least conscious of what’s going on, though his analysis does unfold as he speculates about the positivity of a post No settlement: “Many who will oppose independence next year support devo-max and will not forgive Westminster if it does not deliver. If there is only a puny devo-max deal after a defeat for independence, there will soon be calls in Scotland for another referendum.”
Will there? This is very hopeful thinking.
If establishment Scotland is this freaked out by the democratic process as it has seemed this week – it seems a huge stretch of the imagination to see the Better Together parties emerging blinking from victory clutching a positive case for more powers. A series of their own outriders have explicitly rejected this in the last week, but any such a move would also be dependent on not just some sort of unlikely Scottish unionist vision but acceptance and backing from their UK and Westminster parties. There will be no such mood for this.
But there’s an irony in Massie’s Forsythesque dewy-eyed Thatcherism versus Richards overly-perky views. As Gerry Hassan pointed out today (‘London Scots and the Referendum’) Andrew Neil, Iain Martin, Fraser Nelson, James Naughtie and Andrew Marr represent a slew of emigre Scots who have been assimilated by London, they are more Borg than Borgen. But it is not just their view, but our overly-deferential treatment of their views that creates a real problem:
The Marr-Naughtie BBC elite illustrate the crisis of liberal London and England, given the reality of that city and English politics; the Neil cohort is even more illustrative for it has chosen to validate and popularise the reactionary march of British politics, and denigrate and undermine anything which doesn’t conform to their free market mindset.
There are big issues in this. The London Scots feel they are close to real power and have influence themselves on big, grown-up decision makers. The increased focus of wealth, power and status in London makes many domestic Scots feel they don’t have the status or confidence to oppose this view of the world, challenge it, or map out an alternative course.
The road to London is well worn but it’s also another expression of a phenomenon that some deny exist at all. Hassan again: “Perhaps the most salutary point is that the BBC considered the best person for the job to be someone whose direct experience of Scotland, Edinburgh Festivals apart, was 36 years ago. The powers that be either think he is quick on the uptake, or that not much has changed north of the Border in more than three decades.”
This is Massie’s line, a land where selling off public housing is the cutting edge of policy innovation. Writing today Kevin McKenna also points out to our two countries taking very different paths, sensing an imminent UKIP breakthrough he sees this only getting more stark, not less: “Britain under the coalition government at Westminster has become colder, more ruthless and more aggressive. The Lord only knows what it will look like with Ukip in the coalition mix. It’s now time for the Yes campaign to become cold, ruthless and aggressive in telling Scots what has really become of England and show them the road map out of it.”
This is the Land that Time Forgot according to the Borg Scots trapped in the failed thinking of the long 1980s: where nothing has changed, nothing will change because nothing needs to change because nothing is wrong. Have you got that?