How to Lose a Referendum
How very unfortunate that the quiet little plan David Cameron was reportedly hatching for the G8 conference has been foiled by Vladimir Putin’s outburst of aggression on the Crimean peninsula. Now that the G8 has become the G7, Dave will no longer be able to have his friendly consultation with Vlad the Invader on the matter of how best to deal with those recalcitrant Scots who might have the temerity to vote for independence. The origin of this story was not the spluttering blog of some crazed cybernat – in which case it would have been taken with a pinch of salt – but an ITAR-Tass report on Russian language news-wires which was picked up by two Scottish newspapers, The Herald and the Daily Record. The embarrassing scandal has predictably been dubbed ‘Kremlingate’ (‘Scotland’s Kremlin-gate: Did Cameron seek Putin’s aid to rubbish Scottish independence?’).
The mind boggles as to what sort of wisdom the old KGB hand would have given the old Etonian. Would he have suggested flattening Edinburgh much as the Red Army flattened Grozny? We will never know. Putin, fresh from playing Santa at the Sochi winter Olympics, has gone back to his day job, which involves a fair amount of brinkmanship, or indeed over-the-brink-manship, as the sons of the steppes swarm across the borders of sovereign Ukraine. The aggressor, in this case, seems to have taken his own lead from a Mr A.Hitler’s policy for the Czechoslovakian Sudetenland, so if Dave had got hold of Vlad’s pre-used policy one suspects Salmond and Co might have been toast by polling day, and the Scottish Parliament, Reichstag style, a wall of flames – which purely in terms of architectural good taste would, naturally, have been an extremely good thing, but otherwise not.
Alas, Mr Putin will be persona non grata at the G8 conference of industrial nations, and will no longer be chairing it as planned, so the PM won’t be getting his cosy little chat. That hasn’t stopped a lot of other silly malarkey, however. With the ‘No’ campaigners not so much in the doldrums as listing heavily to starboard and scrabbling around for lifejackets, the London high command has taken refuge in a shock and awe campaign which is – they foolishly believe – guaranteed to jolt the silly Jocks out of their wits. On current poll ratings, Scotland doesn’t seem to be heading for independence, but given the mind-boggling inanity of the ‘Better Together’ campaign, it suddenly looks possible that defeat might well be snatched from the jaws of victory.
First, it was struggling wallpaper tycoon George Osborne, currently doing a spot of work experience as Chancellor of the Exchequer, who laid it on the line. If the Scots vote for independence, then they’ll be kicked out of the Sterling zone, serve them right. This is a bit churlish, Given that the Irish, who won their independence after an armed uprising, were allowed to stay in the sterling zone for years. It’s also a bit cheeky. The sterling zone isn’t a 100% English-owned entity, despite the misnomer of our central bank, the Bank of England. It’s actually British, which means 8.3% of it belongs to Scots. Doh!
At least Georgie-Porgie, unlike Vlad the Lad, isn’t taking his cue from Mr A. Hitler. He’s taking it, instead, from the hapless British Prime Minister, Lord North, who, in 1774 thought the best way to bring his Britannic Majesty’s revolting Americans into line was to close the port of Boston and undermine the economy of his most troublesome transatlantic colony. This was a blunder, to say the least. Not only were the good folks of Massachusetts incensed by Northie’s Coercive Acts – the patriot cause spread like wildfire and before you could say boo to a befuddled Westminster goose all thirteen colonies were signing up to independence. Doh again!
London’s chinless tendency have also engaged the support of the well known ex-Maoist turned free market libertarian and Iraq war hawk, EU President Jose Manuel Barroso, who is naturally terrified at unleashing the dragon of nationalism in such places as Catalonia, Belgium, Venice, and the Tyrol, because if Europe falls to pieces he’ll be out of a job, and shown up for the blustering fool he is. The President’s panicky pronouncements would seem to be of questionable legal validity. I much preferred the opinion of the eminent former European judge, Sir David Edward, who, if I heard him correctly, said on Radio Scotland that the UK government, as member state, would be obliged to negotiate Scotland’s place in the EU. Oh dear!
All these crass miscalculations by our UK government of the day become faintly reminiscent of a keystone cops out-take in which nobody gets anything right. For example, Dave tried his love-bomb-the-Scots offensive from a 2012 London Olympics venue which only served to remind those he was seeking to mollify that a £10 billion sports extravaganza originally costed at £1.8 billion was yet another London-centric indulgence which the rest of us were forced to pay for.
His patronizing mollifications didn’t fool anyone (except, perhaps, Kate Moss, speaking on behalf of David Bowie) but even if they had, the effect was spoilt somewhat when a cross-party bully-boy unionist troika consisting of Osborne, Alexander, and Balls told the Scots they could shove off rather than use ‘England’s’ pound. This gave Alex Salmond a wonderful opportunity to make a quip about how love-bombing had suddenly become dive-bombing.
What has to be appreciated, really, is that these shenanigans are seriously damaging the unionist cause in Scotland, but barely registering in England. The colonial disconnect which lost America can largely be blamed on distance – it took around ten weeks to send a letter across the Atlantic in a big wooden boat, and another ten weeks to get a reply.
The disconnect now is media-related. The UK press is clustered in London, and metropolitan introspection, garnished with arrogance, is the order of the day. The distance problem, though without the big wooden boats, is a factor here, too. Editors shudder at the very thought that they might have to go somewhere more than an hour’s cab ride away from The Ivy or Groucho’s. This would be even worse than not buying one’s shirts in Jermyn Street (OK – the Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger has been spotted in Urban Outfitters)
As London sinks under its own hubris, Scottish news is surgically editionalised out. Not since the middle of the 18th century – the high point of Scotophobic hysteria – have Londoners been so blithely unaware of events in Scotland. TV and Radio follow the same formula. In other words from a media perspective, Scotland is already a separate country!
Some journalists try their best to cope with this. John Harris wrote a perfectly well balanced article in The Guardian recently, as had Aditya Chakrabortty a few weeks ago. Melanie Philips, on the other hand, was obviously confusing Scotland with the Gaza Strip in The Times, by assuming that the referendum was, in effect, an Intafada by another name. This was disappointing – I would have expected more from a lady whose principal virtue is her apparent loathing of obnoxious anti-Scot David Starkey – but she seems to have become fixated on the idea that the Scots are guided in their political deliberations by their hatred of the English, whom they wish to drive furth of their sacred soil to avenge the sins of Edward 1st, Oliver Cromwell, and the butcher Cumberland.
The poor lady should get out of London more. She might then meet the perfectly civilised retired lawyer I was chatting to only a few days ago who, when I’d last spoken to him, had been a dyed-in-the-wool No voter, and had not a good word to say for Alex’s army. Something damascene had happened to the poor man. He had become so thoroughly disenchanted by the ineptitude and nastiness of the ‘Better Together’ campaign that he’d switched sides, and now intended to vote ‘Yes.’
The remarkable thing here, my dear Melanie (as Starkey would say) is that the chap was speaking in an impeccable English public school accent, and didn’t even try to hide the fact that he was born in the home counties. Amazingly, he’d managed to live for almost thirty years in Scotland without being torn limb from limb by the rampaging bands of the tartan-clad Anglo-haters Ms Philips seems to think might be stalking our woods and mountains – or do I exaggerate here, just a bit? Indeed, she would probably be astonished at the number of English people in Scotland who are not only prepared to vote ‘Yes’ but are actually members of the SNP.
The disconnect doesn’t simply affect London based British titles. It seems almost beyond remarkable that The Sunday Times could write a full page article on the US Ambassador and his whiskey-heiress wife (OK, it’s only Jack Daniel’s) without once mentioning the fact that the country to which he’d been posted might be falling apart in six months. One wonders what the Americans must make of such a lacuna. Not much, is probably the answer, given that their bureau chiefs, too, don’t want to wander too far from The Ivy and Groucho’s, – though I recall many years ago the New York Times’ Warren Hoge was a frequent visitor to Scotland. Recently, the same newspaper has run a story which referred to the ‘fact’ that Andy Murray was a supporter of the ‘No’ campaign, when in fact the Tennis star has made it perfectly clear that he prefers not to express a view on the matter. This isn’t quite as bizarre as the Washington Post claim, made last October, which stated that an independent Scotland would be quitting NATO, when this just happens to be the opposite of the truth. Alarmingly, these papers are meant to be America’s foremost journals of record.
America is, however, beginning to wake up the the fact that the end of Britain might make a difference, despite the inadequacy of its reportage. One fear is that Britain might lose its seat on the UN Security Council, where its function as a poodle has been of some use in the past. Given that the Russian Federation seamlessly picked up where the collapsing USSR had left off, in this particular context, that prospect would seem to be a remote one.
It’s also the case that Americans, in general, are curious about the whole affair, given that they were the first off the block a couple of hundred years ago. Increasingly, it comes up in casual conversation. It also featured at a recent event in New York’s Upper East Side, where the author Ian Rankin was entertaining a room full of people. Quizzed by one curious guest as to how he might be casting his vote, his reply was a study in neutrality.
‘Well, if I was John Rebus, I would definitely be voting no. But if, on the other hand, I was his sidekick, Siobhan, I would definitely be voting yes.’
That’s much more informative than anything you’ll be getting from most London newspapers.