Kissinger’s “First Virgin” and the Excluded Middle

better together_0Alan Trench, writing on his “Devolution Matters” blog, this week put a name to the UK Government’s newly robust referendum strategy: the “excluded middle”.[1] In a nutshell, that strategy might be summed up as one of undermining, in a deliberate and co-ordinated fashion, any policy positions in the Independence White Paper that smack of continuity – since it is just those elements, he argues, that are likely to assuage the fears of the many undecided voters and in turn sway the referendum result.

While thus far we have been told that there will be no underwriting of Scots banks and no access to the BBC — even, indeed, that Scots will be stripped of their rights as European citizens — the blog now warns us to “expect arguments about such detailed matters as the organ transplant ‘pool’, which currently operates on a UK-wide basis.” If I understand Mr. Trench correctly, he appears to be suggesting that, rather than see an available organ go to a patient in Scotland, the rUK Government will allow that person to die, even where there is no suitable “match” on its own waiting list; no other interpretation can exclude the middle and worry voters.


So charming, in fact, that this all rather begs the question of why a political strategy should be laid bare in this fashion, both because such openness might lessen the credulity of those undecided voters and because the inherent cynicism is likely to provoke moral outrage. To understand it, one has to go back to the Nixon-era National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, who argued that his Administration’s goal in Vietnam was “to have a decent interval between withdrawal and the rape of the first virgin”. For obvious reasons, that is an endlessly unpleasant phrase, which for many people will have confirmed their worst suspicions about Kissinger and Nixon. It is also a deliberately macho statement whose entry into the public sphere was in all likelihood secretly applauded by White House Republicans — the reason being that it rhetorically made a position of weakness look like a position of strength.

So where lies the weakness of the strategy so memorably described by Alan Trench? Well, first one has to point out that the excluded middle has been the UK Government’s choice not once but twice, the first time being when devo-max was removed from the ballot paper. That decision, which makes the strategy described by Mr. Trent an absolute necessity if moderate voters are not to vote “yes”, was a high-risk move that may very well deliver not the status quo but independence. It was also entirely unnecessary, since the nationalist leader Alex Salmond had already said that independence referenda were “once in a generation” affairs, i.e. that enhanced devolution chosen over independence in a multi-option ballot could not lead to Scotland’s exit from the UK in the short term.

Essentially, therefore, the UK Government is gambling that Scots voters will reject independence — and doing so with the aim of retaining something substantially nearer to the status quo than devo-max. Studying what, if any, further powers were devolved in the case of a “no” vote would tell us why, but unfortunately we do not have the luxury of prescience on that count.

However, it is highly likely that any offer of enhanced devolution would both maintain UK Government control over oil revenues and guarantee the role and lifestyles of Labour’s contingent of home-flippers at Westminster. It would also stop short of allowing Scotland to compete: a) economically, through lower corporation tax or anything but the most superficial moderation of income tax; and b) politically, through meaningful control of social security. Welfare uniformity is in fact vital to the Labour party’s ability to fight elections based on the prejudices and preferences of those regions viewed as most important electorally without alienating its traditional support elsewhere, and the full devolution of welfare would make it painfully apparent that Labour is not the most left-wing party in the Scottish Parliament.

So, if Scotland votes “no”, it might not have to suffer the bedroom tax, but it is likely to see more people using food banks as welfare is cut further.

All worth bearing in mind in September.

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  1. Alan Trench says:

    That’s not what I meant when I referred to organ donation. At present, there’s a shared UK ‘pool’ of organs suitable for transplant, which are allocated to the most-suited potential recipient wherever she or he is in the UK. The Scottish Executive (as it was then) looked briefly at opting out of this, as part of the process that led to the Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006 – and concluded after only a cursory examination that this arrangement suited Scotland very well and should be maintained. (That Act departed from practice in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in some important respects, and Wales has now taken a more radical approach to consent in the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act 2013.)

    The imbalance of size means that such an arrangement will suit Scotland better than England or rUK, given the nature of tissue-matching. The benefit here is much more clearly on the Scottish side. Why should rUK seek to maintain such an arrangement if Scotland were to become independent? It might, but the calculus of interest from an rUK point of view is far from clear.

    I’m sure that rUK would be happy to see an available organ for whom a suitable domestic recipient couldn’t be found go to a Scottish recipient after independence- but equally it could go to a French or Swedish one. That’s the nature of becoming a separate country.

    1. Also consider this rUK how is that possible? when two countries formed the union,take one away and that leaves one,hardly a union!

    2. innerbearsdenurchin says:

      It seems that the position taken by Prof Trench was either disingenuous or just badly researched.

      Yesterday, Newsnet Scotland published an exposé which laid waste to the scare story of the English NHS refusing to co-operate, as it does now, across constituencies in organ transplant and presumably every thing else.

      I thought academia had a duty to be objective and truthful? It would appear that would only be true in the BBC definition.

      I expected better from Prof Trench but should know better; he who pays the Piper etc.

      1. Alan Trench says:

        How on earth could I know about a private letter published only after I wrote? What a bizarre suggestion.

        I’m not sure what authority NHS BT have to ‘pre-negotiate’ such matters in any event.

  2. innerbearsdenurchin says:

    Thanks Alan, but does this also not mean that the pool available to the those people living Scotland would include , France, Sweden etc etc. In fact all the EU or participating States.

    In fact a much larger harvest pool?

    1. Alan Trench says:

      Not really. As far as I could tell when I looked at this, most European countries operate their own ‘national’ pools – which given that size makes a difference, is good for Germany and less good for Portugal. But I don’t know what small countries like Luxembourg do. If Scotland wanted to form collaborative arrangements with such countries, it could see if they were interested – with or without independence. My hunch is that the medical professions would find it hard to make arrangements work well with such different systems, though.

      1. innerbearsdenurchin says:

        Alan, there are cross border organisations in transplant research and methodological harmonisation, for example.

        Here is a link to some of them. Note that there is a Scandinavian one, which actually shares organs and I am sure Scotland would be equally welcome. Did we not send some patients who has Bird Flu for hyperbaric treatments to Sweden or Denmark.

        Bilateral links would already be possible if some are not already in place.

        I am sure that donors in England would also not be carry cards saying “Organ Donor but No Scots Allowed?”

        Your transplant example was just a canard of the George Osbourne, stamping, hissy-fit type over a currency union. In other words it would be in the mutual advantage. I wonder what is the situation with Eire?

  3. thisgreenworld says:

    “Vote No for more Food Banks”

    …now there’s a catchy vote-winning/losing campaign slogan!!

  4. David Agnew says:

    The problem here, is that you hollow out the middle class at your peril. Trench should be aware of this, as it was pretty much what the Tories did during both devo campaigns in 79 & 97. All they succeeded in doing was to make their brand of right wing politics so toxic, that to this day they are still feeling the effects of it. Trench also ignores the 500lb gorilla sitting in the corner. It is the arrogance of that position that thinks there can be no down side to the unionists, in scaring people into voting no. I am very much of the opinion that if in the event of a no vote – any attempt to then do what they threatened would happen in the event of a yes vote, will lead to anti-British sentiment, not just anti-tory sentiment. Its Britishness and the UK that could end become toxic in Scotland. Not just a particular political party. Its the irony of the no campaign – that in doing so much to threaten and bully the Scots, to do a hatchet job on its reputation within the UK, could very well mean that the Union becomes a sort “odious” debt in the minds of the majority of Scots. Not just those who vote yes, but those who voted no because they were scared witless into doing so.

    Trench, like so many – place their hopes that some soothing “Britishness” balm can be applied to take away the sting of injured pride and fear. This of course is entirely down to who wins in 2015. So far none of these parties have said anything on it. But one thing is clear. In constantly portraying the Union and Britishness as a simple benefit & handout that Scotland relies on. It will be impossible for any of these parties to resist calls to cut the very thing they claim is at risk if we vote yes.

    Not one single person in the no camp, nor indeed Mr Trench, has considered what the cost to the union is, in the event of a no vote. Just like the Tory party back in 78 – they have fooled themselves into thinking that Scotland doesn’t really matter and they can’t possibly lose.

    1. Alan Trench says:

      Don’t assume I’m a supporter of this strategy, or for that matter simply a critic of it. I’m simply pointing out what the strategy is and what it means. My own position has been quite clear, for a long time; see posts on my blog Devolution Matters, particularly ‘Scottish independence: does taking a sterling currency union off the table change the game?’ of 12 February 2013 and ‘”Scotsman” article on Devo More and a referendum’ of 9 May 2012, and the work we’ve been doing in the IPPR’s Devo More project.

      1. Alex Buchan says:

        The devo more proposals of course rely on a rather unscientific reading of political will. How much political will is there likely to be to implement greater devolution after a no vote? Labour in particular show no signs of having reconciled themselves to the changes that would be necessary to ensure English input into the legislative process at Westminster.

  5. innerbearsdenurchin says:

    Scandinavian version. Look at the map.

  6. JBS says:

    What a grisly quartet. Spare us.

  7. gavin says:

    One thing stated by Osborne that is credible, that he could not see a bill for Currency Union getting through Westminster. I agree, but the flipside of that coin is that I cannot see any future bill for enhanced Devolution getting through either the Commons or the Lords, such is the toxic nature of British Nationalism which has grown up round Scottish Home Rule. That British Nationalism is redolent of the anti-Irish sentiment that preceded Irish Independence, only now aimed at the Scots.

    1. Aye a no vote will mean powers reduced in Holyrood so that Scotland will never be able to hold another referendum.We don’t have powers on the loan of some for administration purposes.

    2. Just to point out to avoid confusion that I’m not the Gavin above.

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