The Pessimist’s Crystal Ball

1932278_832805086735247_2095550285_nBeing Scottish, I have been finding all the optimism and good cheer surrounding the Yes camp of late to be deeply alien and unpatriotic. If I may, I’d like to introduce some genuinely Caledonian gloom to the proceedings at this juncture, and contemplate once again , as seems to be my temperamental inclination, the consequences of a No vote.

And find that, despite myself, I cannot see history coming to a dead stop on September 19th as Westminster seems to hope.

No matter what Whathisname Carmichael says (still legally Scotland’s senior politician if you read and believe the Scotland Act) if we vote No by even a slim margin, the reaction at Westminster will be: “thank God that’s over and we don’t have to think about them ever again” – so whatever intentions may underline the promises of jam tomorrow will evaporate like the morn’s mist.

This won’t happen because of any inherent capacity for treachery. It is merely a cultural reality that like Brigadoon, Scotland only exists politically in Westminster intermittently, and then only by causing trouble rather than indulging in the frankly odd kilted choreography by which our cultural identity exclusively existed in the days of my youth.

This will last only as far as the 2015 election when…and here comes the crystal ball time…Labour will lose 20 odd seats in Scotland to the SNP…

(The idea that a NO vote will “destroy” the SNP is in the same category of wet dream as MiLord Robertson’s ancient pronouncements on devolution – and is part of the misreading of Scottish politics that will finish the Labour Party here just as it finished the Tories once upon a time. In deed, if one places the Labour party as the central tragic character at the heart of Scottish drama, the referendum campaign where they can do nothing but say “quite right, Prime Minister” to a second rate message consultant like Cameron is the beginning of Act Five…)

Ironically – and here my national pessimism is really kicking in – this will quite possibly allow the Tories to form another coalition…So on all sides the new devolution settlement will be a grudging, nasty, bitter compromise put together by people who are all viscerally opposed to any such thing…and are united only by the hate and fear of Alec Salmond (this Fear being the real heart of the Better Together project) and it will not, cannot last…

It will all be quite horrible, frankly

But a year ago…and even now, quite possibly, Alec Salmond never expected to win this referendum…so the negativity and incoherence of the No campaign, which was and remains odds on to win the vote having utterly lost the argument, is an historic gift.

Brief historical nugget: The battle of Bannockburn in 1314 did not, in itself, guarantee Scotland’s sovereignty in the 14th century. But it made Scotland ungovernable from London except by overwhelming force – Ireland style.

It meant that Scotland’s self rule was no longer within England’s (theoretically) withdraw-able gift.

It was 1328 when Scotland’s right to self rule was recognised by the then government of England – Treaty of Northampton and Edinburgh.

It is my argument here, to my own surprise, that the fact of this referendum, whatever the result, is exactly analogous.

As Jim Sillars puts it, for 15 hours on the 18th of September in 2014, for the very first time in history, the people who live in Scotland will be sovereign AS a national polity as a matter of legal and…importantly…collective psychological fact. And while it is quite possible that the relentless barrage of veiled threats will persuade us to hand it back…temporarily…that decision will be a wholly negative one, a humiliating climbdown, a national failure of nerve that will feel, even to the vast majority of convinced no voters, like failure.

This will be no happy embrace of the spurious community of happy national families that David Cameron ludicrously and insincerely evokes while Osborne quite sincerely threatens retribution.

It is quite clear (on both sides the Tweed) that these men and all their tribe are in the thrall of a transnational movement to liberate the rich from all care for anyone else. And it will only become clearer and clearer over time that the only protection any community can have against the untaxable hegemony of the super-rich is some form of sustainable, democratic collective political identity.

The UK, in the view of many of us, whatever else it is, is hardly that protective and inclusive community. Surely there is nobody even in deepest Surrey who believes anything like that any more.

But Scotland, whatever it’s flaws and possible weakness and vulnerabilities, just might be.

Whatever else happens, then, in the face of the only real Independence that seems to matter…the independence of the rich…a fundamental shift of sovereignty is under way in Scotland….It has a more cheerful face these days, and is made for the first time in my lifetime, of what feels like effective dreaming…of imagination and a real sense of possibility.

The breakup of what Tom Nairn called Ukania has been coming for a very long time. What is new is the feeling that at least a substantial minority of the people who live here are living in something as Un-Scottish as hope, and that the very living core of that hope is a sense of self-governing, self-ruling, being sovereign over ourselves – not in some 19th Century costume drama way, but as modern, individual world citizens of every imaginable nest of complex identities – of gender and ethnicity – only one of which is the chosen pooled identity as civic Scots. We are sovereign over ourselves as individuals and can choose, if we wish, to pool that sovereignty into a new identity with which to live in the real world – and protect ourselves from the people we know that Cameron and Osborne really work for.

Whatever offers are made by the Westminster parties, they cannot offer us anything that sovereignty, anything like that choice, anything like that protection..

Sovereignty is something we can only create ourselves. And we are creating it, it is everywhere, all around us…The referendum campaign, whatever its result will be, is only accelerating that irreversible tectonic shift.

The UK as we have known it is exhausted and out of time. That is the reality with which everyone on these islands will shortly have to deal.

But remembering that I’m Scottish, I have to anticipate a No vote in 2014, and point out just as Bruce managed to repel an invasion, but not guarantee sovereignty in 1314. Remind myself that it took until 1328 for the question to be settled in favour of there being two collective sovereignties on the island

2028 at the outside, at my most pessimistic…still seems about right.


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  1. Garrion says:

    Excellent points, but I have to say, “keep digging, we’re no died yet”.

    I agree that, in the event that we have been sufficiently and collectively lied to, threatened, smeared, diminished, stupefied or terrorized into not voting yes enough come September, the desire for self determination will not die, and further, after people see what happens to Scotland and it’s people as “reward” for voting no, the desire will only become stronger.

    I guess the confounding factor here is the very clear evidence that the so-called no ‘campaign’ is not a campaign, it’s a comprehensive and co-ordinated state run strategy of suppression, propaganda, promoted lies and viciousness. It is not a campaign, it is a policy.

    That doesn’t go away after September, and will not necessarily end. If anything has become crystal clear in the last short while, it is that the interests that kept us from this moment of opportunity are not political, or democratic, they are the essential core of what the powers at Westminster and the City of London are. The sooner we reframe our thinking from winning a democratic debate to finding a (peaceful and constructive) way out from a comprehensive policy of suppression and oppression, the quicker we will get there.

  2. steven luby says:

    Very good read,with one or two points I’d like to make. If Scotland votes No, I don’t believe that the SNP will pull anything like 20 MP’s. My take is simply this;if a Yes vote is heavily reliant on Labour voters and a No vote wins,then I can’t see any reason why the same Labour voters would then turn on they’re own party in 2015. Sure,they may lose seats, but they may also win seats in the hope of turning the coalition gov as it stands now. As for further devolved powers/responsibilities,the fall back for Westminster will be the Scotland Act. Oh there may be much gnashing of teeth,heavy frowns & grumbling but giving that nothing has or will be offered before Sept 2014 on further devolution,Scotland is far enough away to continue ignoring. Let’s be honest,Westminster will not give anything away anymore than Scots Labour voters will learn that the NHS in Scotland has always been in Scotland’s hands.

  3. Muscleguy says:

    Despite having been born and spent my first 6 years here I grew up in New Zealand, national motto ‘she’ll be right’ and was thus either infected by the national optimism or failed to have my own squashed. I agree that failure to win this time won’t mean the dream has died. But I decline to look into that temporary abyss until the last votes are counted in the small hours of September 19 or a mite later. We can win this and the latest ICM poll’s revelation of a ‘shy Yes’ vote while trying to find a shy No is heartening. It suggests that a significant proportion of those telling pollsters they are No’s or Don’t Knows will, in the privacy of the polling booth, vote Yes.

    A dose of realism that some may describe as pessimism is not necessarily a bad thing. But it needs to become a cautious optimism sometimes when warranted lest you become a curmudgeon. So it is still all hands to the pumps time and no slacking until 10pm on the 18th (and not at all for count observers) but I remain optimistic that we can do this, can win this, can be that nation again.

    I know what it is to live in a small self confident optimistic country at the arse end of anywhere and I want to live that again now I have returned to the country of my birth.

  4. If we don’t achieve independence this time, Alistair Carmichael has already said Westminster has learned the lesson of Quebec and will make sure it doesn’t become a neverendum. He even coined the word ‘neveragaindum’ to describe this approach. Nobody should relax and think that if we don’t get there this time, of course we’ll become independent by 2028.

  5. The damage done by 2028 may be too great to bear. This is our chance to embrace hope and start rebuilding a country based on decency and mutual respect. Let us keep being positive and we’ll deliver the right result in September.

    1. John Page says:

      You are right, Sinclair…….14 more years of unrestricted neoliberalism will destroy the public domain, will see Dickensian levels of poverty and will render us defenceless in the face of an emerging climate catastrophe
      But I am fearful that it will take another 14 years to see the complete demise of Labour in Scotland

  6. Alba4Eva says:

    It is well worth watching Duncan Hamilton dealing with the ‘Timeline at work’ after reading this article…

    …Maybe help alleviate your pessimism a wee tad Peter. 😉

    1. Clootie says:

      Thank you – I was down and depressed after the article (Sorry Peter!)
      Very much appreciated.

    2. rabthecab says:

      Brilliant Alba, thanks for sharing.

      1. Simone says:

        Thank you Alba, that’s made my morning.

  7. Alistair says:

    Lots of things appear impossible shortly before they become, with the benefit of hindsight, inevitable. Mostly it’s down to our perception of reality. In the past few years we’ve seen numerous dictators, who held power for decades unchallenged, just crumble – from granite to dust – seemingly out of nowhere.

    I have a feeling that now is the time. The seeds have been planted. Perceptions are changing. We just need to get close enough that we are within sight. All defining moments require that unseen hand – that game changing moment at the right place, at the right time – and a population primed to recognise it.

    I don’t believe the referendum question is “should Scotland be an independent country?”. I started life as a “No” voter. I’ve listened to the pronouncements (re currency, EU, UN and NATO membership) from “better together” and I now realise that we aren’t seen as an equal “nation within this family of nations”. We are being looked at like a renegade province. The question this referendum really asks is “Is Scotland a nation at all?”

    My answer is Yes. I fell that this is the time.

    1. ian foulds says:


      Your question is maybe one that should indeed be addressed to the Naysayers.

      I need you all to get a YES, as I do not want to be coming back home at the end of the year to a retirement under the status quo – very selfish, I know.



  8. Bigbricks says:

    I do hope you’re being pessimistic, as I’ll be 75 in 2028, and I’d really like to spend long enough in an independent social democratic Scotland to actually enjoy it, and accept it as the norm. Come on folks, fingers out, I need you to do it this year!!

    1. Peter Arnott says:

      Worst case scenario is what I had in mind. If you’d asked me in 2010 for a prediction, it wouldn’t have been that close. Even my temperamental tendencies are cheered now beyond what I thought possible.

      1. Droll, Peter. Droll.

        The waves come and go on the beach. But nothing can stop the tide

  9. Thanks all for cheering me up. Hell for leather from now till September…and thereafter….let’s invent that country!

  10. YESGUY says:

    Alba4ever thank you for the video clip as i had not seen it and have to say that Duncan Hamilton’s words gave me a huge lift. Its been a rotten weekend of vile taunts and lies again from the NO side and the quietness in the YES corner maybe knocked me off my stride. I was feeling a little “doon”

    We need more Duncan Hamiltons and we need to make sure they are heard. Thank you for that Alba.

    And if we fail to win our independence on sept 18th I for one will probably not be around 2028. as a disabled over 50 y/o who get worse each passing year , I can only see a no vote a one of the nails hammered into my coffin . Bedroom tax and fitness for work tests has seen me in debt and unsure of the safety i once took for granted. A no vote will bring even more hardship and i am not capable of fighting back anymore. I am not alone with these fears.

    I served 14 years as a soldier and worked up till i became too ill . Thankfully then people where on hand to help me , now every letter or phone call makes me nervous. I saw with my own eyes food banks and felt a terrible shame that the children of a country i swore to protect go hungry and the political parties promise us more austerity .

    It is not through selfish means that i wish for a yes win. It would restore my faith in my fellow Scots and bring about changes that we desperately need to protect all our citizens , A yes vote means an uncertain future but one with hope. A no vote brings the certainty of more hardship and very little hope.

    I’ll bookmark the page and watch the video again every time i lapse in my belief of a YES vote win and take comfort that there are powerful voices out there fighting on my side.

    Thanks again Alba and to all at Bella and their viewers

  11. Peter Arnott says:

    Wonderful comment Yes Guy.

  12. Lou Nisbet says:

    I’m sorry but what utter tosh! ‘Alex Salmond never expected to win this referendum’ – Yeah Right – he’s only been planning it for FORTY years! He was planning this since before most of the opposition leaders were out of nappies and there is NO possibility of losing it. You’ve been reading too many BT polls. BT polls are all made up mostly of carefully chosen NO voting Pariahs with the occasional YES or MIBBE voter thrown in.

    Look instead at the best indicator that we have – the 2011 SNP wipeout of the Labour party. SNP – 44% Greens 4% – other YES parties 2+%. In other words as an SNP MSP famously said on the night

    ‘ We will hold the referendum when we know we can win it’

    Which was on THAT very night. We are in no danger of losing this. The other defining factor is that the YES vote is very strong whilst the NO vote is comparatively weak. This in itself could represent a SEVEN point advantage to YES. So you could have anticipated AT LEAST a vote of 57%+ for YES back in 2011 never mind what the MSM have done to INCREASE that lead since then.

    If it was not for the fact that we KNOW the BT lot are completely and utterly incompetent we would swear that they were deliberately throwing this. It is likely that in some Conservative plots they ARE doing this but Labour are just uselessly hopeless.

  13. YESGUY says:

    Thank you everyone.

    This referendum thingy ….. grips you and you cant get away. I always hated politics and the like and now 4 hours a day (min) i eat , drink and sleep the bloody thing and …………… I love it . Being involved , reading commenting . I now know exactly what grassroots means. Ive never experienced anything like it before.

    And my emotions got a wee bit off there so Sorry Peter, your article was stirring stuff. After reading it i thought of Scotland being the ” gallant loser” . And if things go the NO way gonna be in for fight to get the chance again.

    The old analogy of Scotlands football team “plucky loser ” in countless world cups and not being there for so many others haunts me as it could apply to our nation on the whole, we can.t afford to be second. we must win. Or we might have to wait decades for the chance again. ouch

    scary stuff

    Thanks again Peter

    1. Alba4Eva says:

      This isn’t about politics YESGUY… it is abojt democracy itself.

      Great last post BTW… and you are most welcome. 😉

  14. James Dow A voice from the diaspora says:

    As aboywho emigrated tfom Scotland to Australia in 1952 It is beyound my comprehension that my people should be swithering around with Will we? Could we? Should we?.Where has that Scottish fierce independence of will and self belief gone? Where has the sense of the collective
    Scottish family gone? Just when did the W in WE invert it’s self to becom ME?
    If I could replace every eligble Scottish voter with Scots from the Diaspora we would not be swithering around with Will we? Could we? Should we? but instead planning for every day after the 18th in the sure knowledge of delivering a Sovereign Scotland.
    For we have already contributed greatly in the formation of other World Nations.
    I returned to Scotland in 2005 as a piper in the Rats of Tobruk Memorial Pipes and Drums to perform in the Tattoo. A number of natives commented that I was more Scottish than themselves
    Actually I was just Scottish, but they had become less Scottish than they should have been Thats the problem of incremental Anglelization that erodes Scottish distictiveness, the desire of the English Mandarins, common identity for ease of control.
    A message to Scotlands custodians, restore our Sovereignty, for right now you ar an embarassment to your ancestors, to your Nation, and the rest of the World that formally held Scotland in high esteem, particularly for our courage, It is your responsibility to maintain that
    opinion. Or be seen as a people lacking aspiration, and the inherent courage required for self determination,

    1. grumpydubai says:

      Well said.

      Right there with you and, if I had the power to kick a**, we would be one of the most dynamic ‘wee’ Countries in existence.

      1. grumpydubai says:

        and at 64 today I can still kick a** and take on the softies who think they are something – indeed they are – intellectual pygmies in spineless bodies

  15. YESGUY says:

    Great comments here and nice to see Rabthecab on Hi buddy.

    James Dow. Welcome to Scotland 21st century , From the 80’s onwards it’s been ME culture with breakdowns in communities , that and the “dumbing down ” of our young . I despair at the lack of knowledge they have of even the most basic topics and sadly you can pass the buck if you want but the blame lies with us. We are the parents of this generation and all too many expect someone else to call the shots.

    I look around and see girls barely out their teens with 2 sometimes more wee kids. Most on benefits and little prospect of jobs because childcare costs so much. These kids more often than not have absent fathers and the vicious circle goes on and on.

    With effective childcare and support these young mothers could learn new skills and get jobs and pay taxes.

    Educating our young , showing them options to improve themselves , training them and creating jobs with a working wage are simple enough solutions . Its not rocket science. But this govt says we need to cut down on benefits without any options available to the poor and unemployed . Its enough to make you weep, seeing these young people without hope. They have the potential to be anything they want. But theres nothing out there.

    during the late 70’s /80’s the armed forces was an option to learn a trade and see the world. The queue’s at the recruitment centers were packed. Now many see the forces as nothing more than a private army for the oil companies and the treatment of our veterans , often young very young men ,are a public disgrace.

    Why has this country got so many problems ?? Why cant the elected govt not do something rather than blame everyone else? I have no idea but i do know that i am voting YES to save my country . Then when the Scottish govt goes to the polls i will vote for a progressive forward thinking party , the opposite of what we have in Westmidden.

    And if the NO vote win then god help us all.

  16. Peter Arnott says:

    Nice thread of comments…YesGuy and Lou especially…fire in the belly…

  17. YESGUY says:

    Was out voting for SNP last night and the few (the weather was typical… pouring rain) people i saw where sporting YES badges. After a chat with one lass , who wanted to vote green but was worried about UKIP so decided SNP in hope they kept these “swivel eyed loonies” out of Scotland . And it looks like it has worked..

    I hope the rain stays off on the 18th. although it wont stop me. And thats where i feel the difference will be made . Everyone i know who will vote YES say they will vote no matter what and thats heartening . The NO voters dont have the same conviction, many may not bother at all fed up with the constant threats. (do any others notice this?)

    Still it was nice to hear folk talking. Politics usually kept last on their minds after work, kids and the football . The message is slowly getting across.

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