How to Lose a Referendum

George Osborne Underlines UK Government's Opposition To Currency Union

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.

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  1. Padaruski says:

    Interesting piece with good insights. Reference to Russia and condemnation of Putin is becoming tribal pack behaviour. Ukraine’s situation is far more complex than has been painted in the British media. The excessive and brutal violence by the Right Sector and their neo-nazi supporters who bombarded the Kiev Police non-stop for weeks (from End of Dec) with burning cocktails which torched several elite police fofficers, shot at them and beat dozens of cops senseless (killing an IT specialist when they stormed the government building in Kiev) is something which the Western Media condoned by not condemning it. Yes, the elite Police eventually retaliated after a few members were shot, but there can be no doubt it was a Coup. The issue of deciding to support these violent groups, financially before hand, then condoning their shocking violence is a sickening blind spot for British politicians like Hague. Ukraine needs stability.Gorbachev rightly stated that a bulldozer should push all foreign interests out of Ukraine and let the people sort their own affairs out as their elected President ran from the violence. American exceptionalism now includes government by proxy, government by remote control via buying influence and I will certainly not condone a new Coup government that appoints a right sector nutcase as the defense minister. From closely monitoring the development in Ukraine it was clear to me that the right wing nuts who bombed and torched their way into power would have tried to do the same with each regional parliament, so although I dont agree exactly with what Putin did, it is plain to see that he wished primarily to stop the escalation to a civil war in the east of Ukraine and Crimea where the majority are Russian speaking and most of Russian origin. And keep safe his fleet in the Black sea. All the idiotic and moronic press coverage refering to Hitler and other silly historical comparisons do not apply one iota. If the leader of the BNP and some mob paid to bomb Westminster took control of London, would the world sit back and accept then condone them? Passing legislation to prevent Russian being a recognised language in Ukraine was a highly inflamatory act of the new parliament and lifting the ban on neo-nazi insignia really tells us what this so-called government is all about. Until their is a legally elected regime in Kiev the West should keep their beak out of condemning Russia. Who invaded Iraq under a lie? Hypocricy through our cities rode!

    1. Padaruski, that’s a pretty objective assessment of Ukraine at the moment and while Putin’s methods may be questionable there is certainly more technical excuse for his actions ie protection of ethnic Russians as per their constitution than the completely bogus pretence used for the smash and grab on Iraq.
      In relation to our own quest for independence we should be very aware of potential ‘black ops’ and ‘false flags’ mounted against us by UK interests. There again, I’m not sure they have the competence to carry such out effectively any more.

  2. muttley79 says:

    Given all the unionist gaffes and petulance, when do we start to get worried that they are still leading the Yes campaign?

    1. Alex Buchan says:

      The idea that negative campaigning doesn’t work is pure phantasy. The SNP didn’t win the 2011 election because they were positive. Yes their positive approach helped, but in reality they won because they had demonstrated that they could be relied on to work to blunt the effects of Westminster austerity measure and had also helped people with their household bills by freezing the council tax. They were therefore the safest option for swing voters, because the question of independence was deferred to a later vote.

      In this contest the SNP is now championing something unknown, so their role for uncommitted voters has reversed; they are now the riskiest option, unless they can demonstrate to the voters between now and September that staying in will be more risky.

      The Unionist parties will try to balance their negative campaigning by making a great play later on of their plans for further devolution in order to argue that Scotland will have even more protection that at present. Even if they can’t agree, Labour will cobble something together.

      It is the task of the Yes campaign to point out that none of these proposals are likely to be acted on because Labour in particular do not want to do anything that would make it possible for the Tories and Lib Dems to pursue their plans for procedural changes at Westminster to allow ‘English only’ MPs to have a decisive say over legislation affecting heath, education, transport etc, because they fear it will mean a future labour government relying on Scottish and Welsh MPs will be hamstrung (plus Scottish Labour MPs fear a cut in numbers).

      But Labour will still make a big play of offering a bright future inside the Unions as will the Lib Dems and even the Tories. They are not stupid they know they have to use a carrot as well as a stick. So the question is what is the best way to respond.

      1. tartanfever says:

        The SNP will have help to counter the ‘jam tomorrow’ offers by the unionists. When the official referendum period start, the Electoral Commission come into effect. They have stated very clearly that the ‘No’ campaign have to give a clear indication of what a No vote will entail for the Scottish people. That clearly is not happening yet. We’ve heard nothing except “we’re working on it’ from the unionist parties.

        The Electoral Commission normally answer to Westminster, but for the purposes of the referendum, they are now answerable to Holyrood, which obviously holds an ‘Yes’ majority.

        The BBC, the main culprit of TV based bias will also be subject to the same scrutiny during the official period, so unanswered questions on promises of ‘jam tomorrow’ will be not be acceptable. They are being watched carefully by most of the population in Scotland anyway as their reputation is pretty much shot. Add the EC into the mix and Pacific Quay are going to be under intense scrutiny.

        All the Yes campaign have to keep pointing out is that further Labour devolution to Scotland can only happen if a Labour government is elected in Westminster, which is looking unlikely for 2015. If anything, we may see a role reversal – with unionist parties trying to become more positive with fake promises of jam tomorrow, while the Yes campaign argue ‘No – we will not get any more powers’

      2. Alex Buchan says:

        Thanks that’s useful. Of course no one can predict the outcome of the next election so that argument just kind of hangs in the air. But Labour are very vulnerable to being asked about their attitude to English MPs as a separate group having an input into the legislative process at Westminster. If pressed they will refuse to answer this, which will show that they are not serious about any of their proposals for Scotland. Labour are the only UK party dead against this and without embracing this principle Labour promises to extend devolution in Scotland are worthless because no more devolution will get through the lords, or English public opinion without some recognition of the English democratic deficit and the Tories and Lib Dems have already agreed on a plan for dealing with this by means of a 4th reading involving only English MPs.

      3. Alex Buchan says:

        Labour in fact have most to lose of all the unionist parties in extending devolution in Scotland. The most telling argument against Labour on further devolution is that they use arguments about not wanting to lose fairness across the UK through redistribution to camouflage the fact that their real concern is for the Labour parties own interests in continuing the discredited Westminster system in order to ensure that they can get their hands on power again. Labour MPs put Labour party interests before the future welfare of their Scottish constituents and always have done. More focus needs to be applied now, not later, by the Yes campaign and by the media on this reactionary gang of Labourites and what they are really up to.

  3. Colin young says:

    Padaruski, i agree the west has bankrolled the coup in Ukraine as payback for Putin backing Syria.

    Nazis now have control also have backing from Hague and Obama to join the EU.

    Welcome to planet Mickey Mouse.

  4. muttley79 says:

    Are we still going to be expelled from the EU if we vote Yes (according to some on the Guardian’s Cif anyway)? LoL

  5. bringiton says:

    I see a future for the Ukraine where both Russia and the EU have a stake in political stability within that country.
    Any attempt to allign Ukraine with NATO will draw a serious response from Russia and rightly so in my view.
    Everyone needs to tread carefully and respect each other’s view point.
    Violence will achieve nothing of any lasting significance and will only alienate people who should be friendly neighbours.
    We need some breathing space here to allow everyone to calm down and work out a solution which is acceptable to everyone in the Ukraine and it’s neighbours.

  6. Clootie says:

    Loved it. Written in a manner that was factual and fun. Well done.

  7. Abulhaq says:

    whether post indie scotland stay or quits nato or abolishes or retains monarchy is a matter for the new scots democracy to decide not the snp to dictate. why is that so difficult to grasp? the yes campaign could be much clearer on this. salmond is not the prophet moses.
    ukraine is a classic basket case with a history, especially the 20th century stuff, as nasty as any in eastern europe. its boundaries were fixed by stalin’s ethnic gamers to include disputable territories; crimea, a tatar homeland, isn’t the only one. the west in exhibitions of flagrant hypocrisy is telling russia not to do what anglo-american led foreign policy has done, particularly in the arab world, on numerous occasions. ukraine, meaning the borderland, is europe’s “wild” east. the main square in Kiv is called the maidan, a perso-arabic word. that is suggestive of the realpolitik in the region.
    when putin visited scotland some years ago he astounded people with his knowledge of the scots contribution to russia; cameron, barclay de tolly, lermontov etc. the enemy of my enemy etc.

  8. cirsium says:

    Liked this article, apart from the reference to Hitler. Don’t think Sudatenland 1938, think Syria 2013 – have a look at this analysis of the situation in the Ukraine
    http://consortiumnews.com/2014/03/02/what-neocons-want-from-ukraine-crisis/

    1. Padaruski says:

      Cirsium: Good link with article re the Neo-cons. Thank you.

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