2007 - 2021

A Glad Confident Scotland

In an election marked by historic amounts of distortion and spin from the parties and their wing-men, it’s the columnists job to cut through the bullshit and offer up some kind of analysis.

This is not what readers of The Times receive from Alex Massie, who this week penned an article so odd you had to check yourself that this was a professional columnist writing in one of Rupert Murdoch’s flagship papers.

The Times (Scotland edition) has been relatively successful in a dwindling market under the stewardship of Magnus Llewellin. Credit where credit’s due.

Before the Times Scotland started its current wave of investment in 2014/15 it was selling less than Scotsman, the Herald and the Telegraph. It now accounts for 40% of all quality newspaper sales in Scotland.

The reasons for this might be a) that it flies below radar and ducks the sort of partisan negativity that the Scotsman and Herald receives b) its football columnists c) its successful positioning as a “quality” unionist paper. Even conservative unionist Scotland wants a cursory coverage of its surroundings d) it’s invested where other newspaper groups are suffering cuts.


But surely a serious newspaper, attempting to build a readership and credibility deserves better than this? As Massie writes in the first of his daily 5pm campaign bulletins: “Respect is a two-way street”.

Exhibiting some twisted logic Massie opines that: “if Brexit were somehow stopped it would at a stroke dismantle the case upon which the SNP has built its argument for a second independence referendum. No Brexit means no reason for a referendum predicated on Brexit “dragging” Scotland out of the EU against its will. Viewed strictly dispassionately, the SNP requires Brexit and the harder the better even if, or rather because, that will be a disaster.”

Not really.

First, Brexit isn’t going to be “somehow stopped’.

Second, the First Minister is simply outlining the reality that Scotland has been lied to, treated with contempt and ignored in the process. These are simple facts observed by many north and south of the border.

Indeed, it has been argued that the General Election, despite being mired in weird dystopian propaganda is a win-win for the Yes movement.

But in Massie’s world of cricket and spaniels to stand up to such democratic abuse is a lack of belief. He writes:

“It is not the glad, confident, Scotland of which Ms Sturgeon likes to speak on other, happier, occasions. A truly strong Scotland could survive whatever Mr Johnson might throw at it but, when it suits her, it seems Ms Sturgeon does not believe in such a Scotland.”

You’ve got to love the idea of one of the Family of Nations “surviving” what a PM they didn’t elect “throws at them” from a passionate backer of the Union. It’s kind of a low bar isn’t it? (“Look this is relentless shit but you can survive it” – it’s sort of UK:OK in Survival Mode).

Stranger still, devolution as a sort of Panglossian fix:

“Tory governments come and go but Scotland, whatever you think of it, remains forever. If the country can see off Margaret Thatcher and John Major and David Cameron and Theresa May I imagine it can survive Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson too. Especially since, in the devolution era, his ability to ravish poor, tender, Scotland is much reduced when compared to the rough-wooing insisted upon by some of his predecessors.”

To be clear, Scotland didn’t “see off” Thatcher, Major or Cameron, nor will we “see off” Johnson. Rather, Scotland will endure a democratic deficit of having an economic and political ideology imposed on it despite emphatically rejecting it over many decades. It may, under independent estimates, costs tens of thousands of jobs, and a Johnson victory consign a generation to extreme poverty.

But the problem of The Times (Scotland) coverage isn’t just that it’s slightly mad bubbled gibberish, but that it avoids the wider context of the British crisis.

As Michael Kenny writes in the New Statesman:

“.. it is quite remarkable that the English appear so detached from the likelihood that the territorial integrity of the state in which they are the largest partner faces mortal danger, especially given the SNP’s commitment to making a formal request for a second independence referendum, and the growing possibility of a border poll in Northern Ireland. Should Johnson win a majority on 12 December, the stage is set for a major confrontation between his administration and the Scottish government.”

In the heavily isolated world of Unionist commentators, the constitutional question is just the personal fixation of “Sturgeon” or the “Nats” rather than a systemic problem of the British state, heightened and accelerated by the very “warm bath of self pity” that is redolent not of the Yes movement but of the bizarre Brexit experience of post-imperial England.

Massie – ironically – seems completely to oblivious to the wider movements at play in ‘These Islands’.

His Irish counterpart is less so:

To continue to posit Scottish efforts for self-determination as some kind of outlier madness of ‘separatism’ is just completely inadequate.

As Michael Kenny (Director of the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at Cambridge University) observes:

“There are signs that the English are starting to engage with these domestic constitutional issues, jolted out of their traditional indifference by the Scottish referendum and the forcible reminder of Northern Ireland’s unique position given by debates about the Irish backstop. But a marked ambivalence characterises this re-engagement.”

There are good reasons for this.

As Anthony Barnett writes (describing research) in the Afterword of Michael Gardiner’s “Literature of an Independent England” (Palgrave MacMillan):

“I questioned people about their national identities. Those who were Scottish or Welsh had no problem saying if they felt Welsh or Scottish first and British second, or visa versa, and could consider their identification with Europe as well. When the English were asked the same question: “which comes first for you, being English or British?” – many simply could not understand the question.”

Scotland should have wider ambitions than to “survive” the implications of a Union teetering on the brink of oblivion and Scottish-based commentators should recognise the “forces reshaping the architecture of these islands.”



Comments (14)

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  1. SleepingDog says:

    I suppose it is odd that when the BBC had to pick a Diversity Tsar, they chose one of the two hundred celebrities who signed a letter calling on Scotland to reject Independence: June Sarpong MBE:
    Sarpong wrote a book called Diversify: Six Degrees Of Integration: Because the world is separate enough. Apparently she wants us to challenge our “-isms”, so does that include civic nationalism?

    What is really odd about her website (I have not read the book) is its whitewashing of real difference. Does everybody in America (sic) really celebrate Thanksgiving regardless of faith and religion? [warning, may contain traces of union flag]:

    I don’t suppose MBE-rejecting colonialism-critic George the Poet would have had a chance.

  2. Derek Henry says:

    Have you seen this Mike ?


    I hope you write about it.

    No wonder Ireland voted against it since it is the largest tax haven of them all.

    Neoliberal central. That is where we are heading if we win Indy 2.

    1. Derek Henry says:

      So Nicola how do you get 27 liberal left and liberal right and far right countries to agree with what you want to do ?


  3. john burrows says:

    It’s relatively easy to manipulate your average English shire voter in the Yookay. Few of them read anything more than fiction, their media is a sewer of partisan opinion and their ‘Public’ broadcaster is an arm of CCHQ. Their deference to the ruling class is beyond parody.

    The current generation of 50+ loyal Chelsea Pensioners will line up to vote for the Tory spivs. There isn’t the slightest measure of doubt about it.

    The world will wonder how John Bull could have been brought to the point of cutting his own throat in a patriotic fervor. The union is being disposed of by it’s own adherants.

    The irony is almost Shakesperean.

  4. Zen Broon says:

    Massie now admits the (apparently inevitable) Johnson regime will be shite for Scotland. The ‘suck it up’ stuff needs a therapist to untangle, but he has at least taken the first step.

    1. john burrows says:

      Coming to terms with his own future prospects of peddling unionism in an independent Scotland is the more likely explanation, rather than the damascene conversion you suggest.

      Redundancy and obsolescense are frightening prospects for even the most grounded of people.

  5. Alastair McIver says:

    Massie is partially right in that it does seem counter-intuitive that the SNP are campaigning for an outcome (averting Brexit) that makes realising their lifelong dream (Scottish Independence) quite a lot less likely in the short term. But he seems unwilling to countenance the simple reason for this: that it’s JUST NOT BLOODY WORTH IT! The SNP are, by and large, decent people, who want Independence, but not At All Costs.

    His point that Scotland has survived and will survive is neither here nor there. Of course Scotland will survive. It’s very hard to kill a country, and no one is actually trying to kill Scotland. It’s rather easier, however, to kill people. Let us never forget those who have not survived this Tory Government and its brutal ideology of austerity.

  6. Alistair MacKichan says:

    The SNP took a bad hit in the General Election of 2017. A major contribution was the double-speak that had developed in Holyrood – it was difficult to discern any clear, passionate Nationalism amidst the panderings to Corporations and Banking – the SNP had gone soft. Ever since then Sturgeon has swithered about regaining her nationalist credentials, and if the Brexit fracas was to go away, what kind of Scottish Nationalism remains is difficult to discern. There is a cosy complicity with neoliberal Europe and its junta of leaders who allow their policies to result in austerity in a cluster of EU States, while pursuing objectives of Empire-building and global positioning. So, I think the article misses the point that Sturgeon, actually, is guilty of an uncertain, pusillanimous belief in oor glad, strong Scotland.

  7. Mike Heinemeier says:

    A coke of weeks ago I also posted the same arguement that Alex Massive gave. Of course Scotland needs to be independent for all the reasons given during the 2014 referendum but the only ‘material change’ that will initiate Indy2, is Brexit. Remove that and we are back to accepting the result of Indy1. By concentrating on nothing else but Brexit, Nichola Sturgeon has painted herself into a corner.
    Surely making the economic case for an independent Scotland and being clear on currency are the most urgent issues that voters want to hear. These are the things that lost us the last Indy because there were no well thought out policies. Voters succumbed to Project Fear and reverted back to the safety of what they knew, the status quo.

    1. Ken Mathieson says:

      Mike you’re spot-on about the 2014 ref being lost largely on currency & the economy and, unless SNP spokespeople get clear, informed coaching on these matters, we’ll see the same result in the next Indyref. Nicola Sturgeon got picked apart by Andrew Neil on this topic when she spouted the Growth Commission’s proposals. These had been demolished at the Autumn party conference by Tim Rideout’s amendment, but somehow the SNP leaders still adhere to the flawed currency and economic proposals of the Growth Commission.
      If anyone needs to get a handle on currency and macroeconomics, just read the relevant chapter in Robin McAlpine’s book “How to Start a New Country”. It sets out a step-by-step, high-level project plan of why an independent sovereign currency is essential and how to implement it. This needs to be understood and adopted by all SNP spokespeople if another disastrous interview is to be avoided and it would help doorstep canvassing if canvassers had a grounding in it too.

  8. Roland says:

    No need to dis by association all Spaniels

    1. I love Spaniels, I just dont like Alex’s Spaniels.

  9. Craig John Macfarlane says:

    Massie is right Scotland could take everything Boris throws at us…question is…Why should we have to? We didn’t vote for him…we clearly don’t like him…he lies with ultimate ease and Scotland could easily do better on our own…

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