Bringing it all Back Home

As Bob said way back when:  “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”. The article today by Murray Foote (‘Independence is the Means to a Greater End’) is a sign of the Times, standing in stark contrast to the thoughts of his colleague over at his sister paper. The article is remarkable from someone who was a key protagonist in the independence referendum and is a weathervane of a British political crisis and a Yes movement in revival. It’s all about the optics (as they say), and the English media and Westminster Bubble seems incapable of seeing itself and understanding how bad this looks and the impact it has. As the former Yes organiser Stewart Kirkpatrick has said: “I don’t think Bercow and the rest of the house understands how appalling it looks to many Scottish viewers that they continue to laugh uproariously at feeble jokes as the entire SNP cohort walks out. It serves to confirm the SNP line that Scots interests are treated with disdain.”

Foote’s article is the death of The Vow and the era of establishment Scotland propping up a decaying regime that it represented. It also represents four further breaks: the death of Two Government Scotland; the death of the Brexit consensus; the death of the pan-Britain establishment pact; and the death of the federalist myth.

The article is remarkable, not just as a sign of rapid change, but in what he actually says:

“the philosophy that Holyrood exists merely to mitigate the excesses of Westminster is not a belief system to which I subscribe. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to be far more progressive, dynamic, ambitious.”

The idea that we have two governments: one we elect and one we don’t – and that the first has a function to ameliorate the damage of the second – is so absurd that even the most conservative commentators are beginning to realise that this is unsustainable.

There has been much hand-wringing that there has been little or no constitutional impact from Brexit, but that moment of confused uncertain stasis is coming to an end:

“As we continue to labour under a vindictive Westminster administration, the nascent Scottish benefits agency will be another waypoint on the journey to more compassionate devolved government. Now we are on the brink of Brexit. But where devolution arrived bearing promise and hope, Brexit is draped in a shroud of despair. We have not yet completed our shameful retreat from the EU and I cling to the diminishing hope we never do.”

The collaboration between establishment Britain and establishment Scotland has also had its day, broken by the xenophobia of the Brexit farce:

“I cannot tolerate a Tory government prepared to treat devolution with the blatant contempt displayed in Tuesday’s cynical one-man debate on the EU Withdrawal Bill. It was a democratic abomination. I can no longer stand by while a cabal of the privileged deprive our children the right to live in 27 European countries because they don’t like Johnnie Foreigner encroaching their elite club.”

A key line – and one which several of Murray’s colleagues cling to like driftwood – is the regurgitated idea of federalism, which Foote also casts aside:

“Nor can I await the arrival of a unicorn, that mythical federal Britain. So independence it must be.”

The new pragmatism of the Growth Commission (massively flawed as it is) has has the effect of bringing in the outliers like Foote to some simple realities of the potential of sovereignty:

“For me, independence is about autonomy, allowing Scotland to meet success and failure on its own merit and not point an embittered finger of blame at anyone else. I have reconciled that independence would herald good and bad. I trust in us to solve the problems that will come our way. If so many other countries can, it is inconceivable that Scotland can’t.”

Taken as a whole, these changes and ruptures in the establishment view are significant. Like it or not these people shape the news agenda and wield power in dictating the media view of politics. Alec Finlay argues it represents the death of the ‘constructive ambiguity’ that the Vow represented:

“The erasure of all the devolved nations in the Westminster debate was not an exceptional event, it was absolutely in line with the position that British pro Brexit parties have taken, and it reflected British state policy since The Vow, which was to create constructive ambiguity, promise much, and deliver little. People have said that Brexit hasn’t changed Scottish politics in the way the SNP hoped. Scots are canny. They wait and see. And now some are seeing what it means to demeaned, lied to, patronised, baulked, and ignored. The Scottish parliament voted en masse to reject Brexit legislation and the attack on devolution. Two significant shifts recently. More Scots believe the economy would be better off if we were indepndent, and the architect of The Vow, a key member of civic society, now believes in independence. He knows he was part of the assault on democracy The Vow represented, a tactic typical of the constructive ambiguity and lying we have seen from all pro-Brexit parties. He has changed his mind. Slowly people are. One can only stand being fooled so many times.”

We can overplay and fetishise the impact of the Vow as a means to indulge in a  conspiracy fantasy. That time is over too. But this is a significant moment, and comes as a wave of new energy sweeps through the Yes movement and the reality of the Brexit crisis hits home. It will be interesting to see how Foote’s colleagues and allies respond to his uncomfortable message.

It matters less what establishment Scotland thinks, than the reality that there’s lots of people “on the pavement, thinking about the government”. Get Born.

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Comments (11)

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  1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    Mr Small,

    I hope you are right that this has strengthened the wind of change and the direction in which it is blowing.

    Had the SNP not walked out then undoubtedly the cynical and grossly disrespectful debate on the ‘power grab’, when Mr Lidington spoke for the entire nugatory 15 minutes allowed for the ‘debate’, would have been substantially ignored by the mainstream media. The BBC Scotland political correspondent at 10.30am on Tuesday night did not even mention it. The Daily Ranger – sorry, Record – did not even mention it on the front page. The P&J and the Courier have underplayed it. However, the metropolitan media have been showing lofty disdain, with, the Guardian’s correspondent being typically condescending.

    Well, there is some talk about it now and we are promised a statement today by the ‘puissant’ Mr Mundell.

    I hope this is an event – i.e. the arrogant ‘power grab’ on Tuesday night – is like ‘you cannot use the pound’ statement in swinging a significant chunk of the electorate to independence. That resulted in YES support rising from 25% to 45%. Even if half of that switches, we are over the line.

    However, perhaps the Calvinism of my childhood, makes me ‘ca canny!

  2. Iain MacDonald says:

    I welcome Mr. Foote’s conversion to Yes. It is a shame though that this conversion only happened after he left the editorial position at the Daily Record, it’s almost as if the shackles have been removed.

    A well known Internet meme is appropriate in this situation “pics, or it didn’t happen”, just replace the first word with “reporting”. Those in the know are rightly outraged at the continuing Westminster power-grab and the trampling of devolution but far too many people don’t know what is really happening.

    Never mind the technical discussions about currencies, foreign policy, monarchy etc., if we had balanced media reporting indepenence would be in the bag.

  3. tom kane says:

    Full on Mike… Great article… You’re getting back to the top of your game too.

    1. Thanks Tom, I didn’t know I’d been off my game, but I’ll take it as a compliment? : )

  4. tom kane says:

    Definitely a compliment.

  5. Kenny says:

    The walkout was a masterstroke. It got the story top billing and gave the SNP the chance to make their case. I think even people who don’t follow politics much will still hear “15 minutes and no Scottish folk got to speak and they’re taking away powers after we said they couldnae?” I feel a tide turning. People who are already worried about Brexit now see that the SNP are the only party that looks even remotely competent and that a lot of what Yessers have been saying for a long time might have been right all along.

    Even the Growth Commission has been a huge positive. It’s immensely pessimistic in a lot of ways and highly technocratic, but it negates the attack line of “Sturgeon promising oil and whisky on tap.” We all have a very different vision for Scotland’s future and we can still campaign for that, but the GC says to anyone who’s dubious that, if all else fails, there’s a solid, sensible, boring, conventional plan to keep the ship afloat. In comparison to the utter failure of HMG to plan anything beyond the end of the day, we’re now in a much better strategic position.

    It’s comin yet for a that.

  6. Redgauntlet says:

    Please note, friends, how Murray Foote addressed the question of the future of an independent Scotland.

    He did not start going into growth forecasts, debt ceilings and deficit percentages and all the detail like the Growth Report, which is to gift the news agenda to the Unionists…

    He quite rightly said that the mere idea that Scotland be incapable of running a modern, vibrant and viable independent country like the Irish or any of our neighbours was “inconceivable”…

    …and so it is… the country with most 100 topped ranked universities per capita in the world is Scotland after all if I recall correctly….

    1. Wul says:

      “He quite rightly said that the mere idea that Scotland be incapable of running a modern, vibrant and viable independent country like the Irish or any of our neighbours was “inconceivable”…”

      He also said “I trust in us.” Yes.

      Scotland is a country. Countries should choose who governs them. We trust ourselves.

    2. Alf Baird says:

      It would seem unfortunate that hardly any of Scotland’s nineteen universities are led by Scottish academics. All of Norway’s universities are led by Norwegians. And Norway has much less poverty than we do. Hosting supposedly ‘World class’ universities is surely rather pointless if the host nation and its people do not benefit.

  7. SleepingDog says:

    Regarding the dysfunctional Westminster Parliament, it is worth noting that the antics of Chope are nothing new:
    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jun/15/tory-mp-christopher-chope-blocks-progress-of-upskirting-bill
    Green MP Caroline Lucas describes the ‘Chope and Bone Show’ in the last chapter of her book Honourable Friends? Parliament and the Fight for Change, apparently a regular “litany of obsessions and mean-spiritedness”, a double act by the Conservative MPs Christopher Chope and Peter Bone. I think her point is that if the public were aware of the appalling reality of Parliamentary practice then there would be sufficient groundswell for reform, and power wrested from “the hands of a narrow and self-interested elite”.

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