2007 - 2021

51st State

bush_obama_nope_06Unsurprisingly, President Obama’s comments in regard to the Scottish independence referendum have delighted and electrified those politicians and media hostile to independence, in a replay of David Bowie’s earlier intervention. Scots, however, are less in thrall to celebrity and power than the average British politician and journalist. Most pro-independence commentators, therefore, see Obama’s anodyne comments as not likely to make any more difference to how Scots vote on September 18th than Bowie’s, and if they do have any effect, are as likely to encourage Scots to vote Yes than vote No in a thrawn reaction to being told how to vote in such a manner.

There are some, though, who see something much more sinister. Craig Murray, a former British Ambassador, says: ‘If the United States truly believes it has a “deep interest” in “making sure” that Scotland does not become independent, we can be quite certain that America will be pulling out all the stops to “make sure” that No wins. The language is the language of intelligence service tasking memoranda, which Obama is consciously or unconsciously reproducing.  I have personally been involved in a great deal of intelligence service tasking. Intelligence service resources, both personnel and financial, are deployed to a greater or lesser extent to a task according to an assessment of the depth of national interest involved. If Obama has decided the US has a “deep interest” in the result of the Scottish independence campaign, we can expect hidden interference at Ukrainian levels.’

What is more immediately significant to the referendum campaign is the role of the British government and the BBC in the affair. According to Gideon Rachman, the Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent at the Financial Times: “Those remarks from Obama on Scotland were not spontaneous. Came after an informal request from No 10.” If this is the case, then the British government would need to ensure the comments were suitably prompted. That such a prompt was provided by a journalist from the BBC gives credence to Rachman’s comments.

It has also been suggested that the official No campaign might also have been involved due to the speed at which Brian Taylor, BBC Scotland’s Political Editor, could brandish a printed leaflet from Better Together bearing an image of Obama and the single word ‘Nope’ displayed in large type underneath it, just over two hours later on Reporting Scotland. Indeed, Anas Sarwar, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, had posted the image on his Twitter account only 45 minutes or so after Obama made his comments.

The strong possibility – and it seems to be increasingly accepted, even if it may never be proved conclusively – that the British government and the BBC, and perhaps Better Together, colluded to bring about a desired intervention and make political capital out of it, is more damaging to the No campaign than Obama’s comments are to the Yes campaign.

For their part, the SNP has expressed surprise only at the timing of Obama’s comments. It is not difficult to see why. The UK has been a remarkably obedient ally-cum-lapdog, the few exceptions to the contrary proving the rule. In return, the UK has been able to remain as a major player on the world stage, something of tremendous importance to a highly status-conscious British establishment. The silence of the British media and politicians in regard to Obama’s comments on the UK leaving the EU, which were far more explicit and unequivocal than his Scottish comments, and took place while voting in the Newark by-election was still under way, show how obeisant the ally-cum-lapdog can be.

An independent Scotland is a less attractive prospect for Washington, one almost certain to be led by politicians who defied US displeasure over the compassionate release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and who only adopted a policy of NATO membership as a tactic to win the referendum. Moreover, the dominant narrative of the pro-independence campaign has been hostility to the Anglo-American consensus on neoliberalism, UK/US aggressive interventionism internationally, and Scotland’s role in that consensus, including being a base for WMD. Scotland doesn’t just threaten independence from London, but from Washington as well. The US was happy to be strictly neutral when a No vote seemed almost certain, but now that certainty has been lost, so has that neutrality.

Backed by Chomsky and opposed by the White House, Obama’s intervention represents Scotland’s emergence on the international stage as one of those countries the Scottish left has often campaigned for, but has not hitherto belonged to.

Comments (34)

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  1. Steve Bowers says:

    Very interesting stuff here

  2. MBC says:

    I’m having trouble following you here Hamish. These are important issues so the sources need to be robust.

    1. Where does Craig Murray say that the US has a ‘deep interest’ in Scotland remaining part of the UK and what is the source of this information? Is it opinion? This is the first I’ve heard of the US having a ‘deep interest’. Is Murray speculating?

    2. Where does the BBC come into it? Which BBC journalist provided the prompt, where, when, how?

    Hope you can clarify.

    1. Muscleguy says:

      It’s a quote from what Obama said. Craig Murry quotes him explicitly if you bother to click the ink provided.

      Personally I think Mr Murray is being unduly paranoid as it is far from clear what the US can do that the UK government is not already doing. Buy out the Sunday Herald? Any actual covert intervention runs the risk of detection and revelation which would be immensely damaging to the No campaign and a gift to Yes.

      Though as we saw in NZ when the Rainbow Warrior was sunk in Auckland harbour with limpet mines. Everyone’s first reaction was ‘It must be the French’ then their second ‘Nah, they wouldn’t be that stupid’ except it turns out they were. Prieur and Mafart were only caught because they acted the responsible civil servants and returned their campervan. The NZ police were waiting. The investigation was headed by an experienced detective, frae Glasgow.

      So we can rule nothing out. States often act stupidly out of sheer arrogance. Vis the new cobbled together Ukrainian government abolishing Russian as an official language, a major stimulus for Crimea to want to break away. The French are not the only example.

      1. MBC says:

        Sorry, there’s no link and nothing I have read says that Obama says ‘deep interest’.

      2. MBC says:

        OK. Found the ‘deep interest’. Thanks. Yes, very telling. But as the question seems to have been sprung on him, not a lot you can definitely conclude from that.

    2. MolliBlum says:

      MBC. Perhaps it’s easiest just to listen to his words: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCCWKjK8fIU

    3. MolliBlum says:

      MBC. Perhaps it’s easiest just to listen to his words: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCCWKjK8fIU

  3. MBC says:

    Look, it’s really important we get this straight: Scotland or rather Kenny Macaskill and the SNP were the fall guys for Tony Blair’s Prisoner Transfer Deal. Now they are hitting us with it. See:


    In 2007 Blair signed a deal on oil but it depended on the PTA. The PTA was an arrangement with the UK government, it had nothing to do with the Scottish Government or with Scottish jurisdiction.

    When Megrahi got sick, the SG had a number of options. One of them was compassionate release. But as Saif Gaddafi makes plain, this was a separate thing from the PTA, which was a UK issue. The SG had no jurisdiction over the PTA because of that.

    I think Blair and Mandelson calculated that the SG and SNP would be only too willing in their hubris and inexperience to step forward into the international limelight and act the big guy by releasing Megrahi. Therefore the PTA conditions would be fulfilled but Scotland and the SNP would take the flak. Nice one, Tony!

    I always thought this would come back to haunt us one day. Macaskill was inept, even visiting Megrahi in hospital. A far better outcome would have been to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds but to not let him out of the country. If Blair wanted to repatriate him he could have asked the SG if they could send him from Scotland to England and then take it from there. That way Blair would get the flak.

  4. YESGUY says:

    A point of note that is often overlooked was that the courts found Megrahi was acting in the interests of his state. Therefore it was Libya at fault and Megrahi was only a foot soldier.

    Releasing him on compassionate grounds did Scotland no favors , but we let murderers out of jail every week. Theres often only a small protest by the victims to no avail and forgotten by the public quite quickly.

    Can’t see why this would make a person vote NO ?? or change a YES voter either.

    1. MBC says:

      The fact that Macaskill was so inept in foreign matters as to release Megrahi to Libya (as opposed to just out of prison) is a good reason for voting No. And I’m a Yes vote.

      MacAskill really causes me to waver, especially his uncalled for proposal to abolish corroboration which has conveniently been parked until after the referendum. You have to wonder what other ineptitude is in store if we were to vote Yes, especially during the negotiations, with a justice minister like MacAskill on board.

      1. Clootie says:

        The concept of compassionate release is to die with your family not alone.
        The use of “…what other ineptitude” is an attempt to state the release is a given. It is only your opinion. Most people who have done even basic research are convinced the trial was a miscarriage of justice.
        A YES voter is not prone to waver over an individual of a political party as that is for the will of the people AFTER independence.

        You do not sound like a YES voter?

      2. I don’t think MacAskill thought it through about corroboration nor the strength of the opposition to its loss.It got kicked into the “long grass” and shall I think remain there,to be lost and forgotten,I hope.Negotiations after a yes vote will take on other people and not just those of the SNP,as for an instance of the release of Megrahi to make somebody consider saying no,makes me wonder over how many don’t like me and will vote no because I am all for independence,its not a good reason for casting the aspirations of a nation to the history books and vanquishing a nation to a shire,so to say.

      3. MBC says:

        The SNP will be the party in power if we vote Yes. I hear Salmond is currently assembling a negotiating team. So I hope MacAskill is not part of it.

        Compassionate release means being released from prison. It does not mean being repatriated to Libya. Megrahi’s family were in a house in Scotland courtesy of the Libyan government. Megrahi could have been released to his family in Scotland, but MacAskill wanted to play the big fish and go further. And it won us what, precisely?

        A lot of people have been put off voting Yes because they do not like the SNP. Thankfully most like myself have put that to one side for now. But the SNP have made mistakes and repatriating Megrahi was one of them. It did not win us many friends internationally.

      4. Abulhaq says:

        Compared with the less than altruistic foreign policy, bloody and counterproductive, interventions of Anglo-America in the MidEast and elsewhere in the past 100 years the release of the Libyan was a minor event. It was compassionate for all that. What the then Libyan government made of it was beyond anybody’s control.

      5. Dan Huil says:

        First things first: Vote Yes.
        The 2016 election in an independent Scotland will be a fascinating affair; I don’t believe a SNP government is a foregone conclusion.

      6. joseph O Luain says:

        You’re not a fool MBC. You know perfectly well that you can vote for any party you might wish to after the referendum. There are several to choose from which don’t contain Mr McKaskill.

      7. Crubag says:

        I think it is the case tha many people will vote “NO” to the SNP, rather than to independence. UKIP doubling their vote in Scotland was probably another instance of this – a chance to stick a thumb in Salmond’s eye.

        I think the SNP will now continue post-YES, and as an already Scottish-based party will have the advantage over a shell-shocked Labour and Conservatives. I think they will bounce back, but it will be the SNP who will determine the new constitution and form at least the first and probably the second administrations of the new Scotland.

        It’s interesting to speculate what would have happened if the SNP was committed to dissolving itself post-independence, which was the received wisdom when I (a long time ago) was a student nationalist. Would this boost YES?

  5. Dr Ew says:

    Yes the BBC question was a plant, and yes the entire thing was a set-up – hence the preparedness of the BT response – but ultimately Obama staked no political capital on it. “From here” and “on the surface” and, of course, “it is for the people of Scotland to decide” were all suitable equivocations.

    For these dribbling words, Cameron will have a agreed a price – some backroom deal where the UK supports some awful trade agreement. Obama too clever not to have charged for the service.

    Regardless of this, it was a very, very mild intervention. I suspect the US won’t lose any sleep over Scottish independence, or the removal of Trident (which the Obama adminstration consider a very dubious investment anyway – they want money in ground troops for the next adventure), or even a slightly diminished UK on the international stage. Obama has got the Europeans back onside after the Iraq spat, meaning the UK is less important to the long term strategy, especially if it takes the plunge and pulls out of the EU.

    Ultimately having another friendly country – for you can bet your bottom dollar/pound/euro/groat we will be – wouldn’t be too bad a deal for US interests. I only hope we don’t turn into the kind of lapdog that is the slabbering British Bulldog. Maybe a nippy wee Highland terrier that growls if taken for granted.

  6. I think the term of ANGLO-AMERICAN says it all really,its not British-American,if it was it would mean we are all included,but Anglo-American seems to portray its more selective.

  7. Clootie says:

    It was such an obvious set up.

    1) The BBC reporter asking this question when all top journalists treasure the early selection slot to hit with an “on topic question” – e.g. G7

    2) The posters being available so quickly.

    3) BT activists all available to hit the streets with a camera crew to hand.

    4). Press releases / twitter etc all ready to go.

  8. Crubag says:

    “could brandish a printed leaflet from Better Together bearing an image of Obama and the single word ‘Nope’ displayed in large type underneath it”

    There are online Obama poster generators. You can produce any message you like with them with only a couple of clicks.

    “Obama’s intervention represents Scotland’s emergence on the international stage as one of those countries the Scottish left has often campaigned for, but has not hitherto belonged to.”

    Not sure about this bit. The centre right will be the biggest winners in the short/medium-term in Scotland, as the Conservatives become fully Scottish, and the SNP secure the middle ground.

    In terms of international politics, there isn’t too much to choose between the small and the large European states. Sweden is probably the most marked outlier, but the rest are Atlanticist, free trade, pro-NATO, etc.

    And Sweden has been involved in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Libya, etc.

  9. bjsalba says:

    Have serious doubts as to Megrahi trial and suppression of evidence (break-in at terminal).

  10. Abulhaq says:

    Obama declared a preference for the UK as it is. It is impossible to read into his comments anything other than that. It was not neutral. Undoubtedly fed with scare stories of what an unfamiliar beast an independent Scotland might be he opted for the status quo. The ex-ambassador’s take on this sounds very plausible to my precociously cynical ears. We ought to remember the US finances and backs the new military dictatorship in Egypt. Supported Saddam in his war with Iran and internal “problems” with the Kurdi. It gave succour to the post coup d’état régime in Ukraine and has important strategic allies among the personal fiefdom potentates in the Arabian peninsula. High moral ground just doesn’t figure. And of course there’s the British tagging along behind.

  11. MolliBlum says:

    Anybody else notice that Obama said “the United Kingdom has been an extraordinary partner to us…” ? He didn’t say “the United KIngdom IS an extraordinary partner to us…” Nope — it’s a “has been”. I’m feeling more optimistic already. 😉

    1. Clootie says:


  12. Tog says:

    Interesting but collusion between the British government, BBC and Better Together? “It may never be proved conclusively”. Is this a conspiracy or a conspiracy theory? Perhaps I am naive but my take is that Obama is giving us a hedged version of what is almost certainly the US view at the request of Mr Cameron saying what we suspected they thought and should have kept to themselves.

  13. qzchambers says:

    There’s a lot of similarities between the US and Westminster foreign policy agendas. If Scotland votes Yes, then I would suggest that Cameron asks Obama for England’s admission as the 51st American state. England could have 2 senators like every other state and 50 odd congressmen like say California so that they could then punch their weight in legislative matters. They could rename the country “The United States of America and England” so that the English would feel all warm and fuzzy about being part of a new national family. The English could then ask the US for devo-max over their own internal affairs. It may sound a bit loony but I am sure there’s a precedent.

  14. manandboy says:

    Keep in mind.

    Scotland lives in political chains.

    Its political and economic movements are restricted by Wesminster.

    Scotland is not free to do as it wishes.

    We’re expected to know our place.

    We have a Master.

    And he has free access to our bounteous inheritance of natural resources.

    But now, as on Sept 18th, the key to the chains will be in our own hands for a day.

    The incomprehensible fact is however,

    that many in Scotland place little or no value in this chance of freedom.

    If Scotland was a person,

    we would surely be in psychiatric care.

    I’m voting Yes.

    The reason is self-evident.

  15. andrew>reid says:

    Think on what George Robertson had to say recently to get the mindset of the defence and security establishment in Western and other governments, and then consider what they might do to counter the threat of removing the sake of one of their main military bases – in our case, Faslane with Coulport. Then, remember all of the revelations recently about the NSA and GCHQ. It is not at all far-fetched to consider the American and UK governments pursuing their security/military/defence/nuclear interests, threatened by Scottish independence, by dirty trick activities – watch out for them through July/August and early September – terrorist arrests, preferably in Scotland but elsewhere would do, media articles about terrorist threats, reports of Russian navy and air force movements across the North Atlantic, or just apparently unrelated economic doom mongering – and, we’ll never know its source, but we will certainly see the effect.

  16. James Coleman says:

    Too many big fearties on this site. Grow a pair and get stuck into the debate whether as a canvasser, a blogger or a tweeter. Too much exaggeration of a few words by Obama and grossly wrong speculation about what it all means and what might be done by USA/UK and its dogs of intel.
    FFS. It is surprising we’ve reached the stage we are at to listen to some of you.

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