Saturday 25 January 2014

A wee bit Burns

I started off thinking that I wouldn't write about politics this week but instead say something about Robert Burns. In the end, as you read on, you'll find I don't entirely succeed.

I'm not a Burns fanatic. I prefer Keats. And Shelley to Keats. And W.B.Yeats to any of them. Now there is a poet.

But much as you know in your heart that Andy Murray is not quite Rafael Nadal, equally you are in no doubt who you'd be cheering for in any contest between them. And tonight is the night we cheer for our boy. For he is, at his best, a truly great poet. In Scots or English. And just as "Andy" is from just up the road, so "Rabbie" is from just down it.

There has been the usual game this last ten days about where he would stand in the Referendum. And the honest answer is that it depends when he was asked the question. I concede this point to my (contemporary) political opponents on this matter. The younger Burns would have been a Yes voter. And I also concede that this was the period of his greatest consistent creativity. In truth, with one, extraordinary, exception, it was all downhill after the Kilmarnock Edition.

The exception is, of course, his master work, Tam O'Shanter. In my opinion the greatest single achievement in all Scottish literature. I can still, I hope, recite it from memory from start to finish. And if I wanted to make a political point I'd suggest by then he was older and wiser. Although I'd concede the alternative interpretation that by then he had  been broken by the world. Either way he'd be voting No.

But, that aside, the great Burns was the Burns of the early poems. And, just as the Kilmarnock edition was put to bed is my very favourite. Written in English and addressed to Wilhemina Alexander, a woman with whom he had but a brief dialogue. But a woman who became, nonetheless, immortalised as the Bonny Lass o' Ballochmyle.

The full text is here , Although the familiar parts are the third and fourth verses. Those commonly set to song. And the error, for Burns, is in the fourth verse. Particularly its penultimate line.

For when he writes "and nightly to my bosom strain" it paraphrases something altogether more....straining.

Yet for Lady Wilhemina Alexander this was too much to contemplate. For she was no "country maid" but rather a lady of some standing. She had no desire of a "country swain", no matter how eloquent. So, having been sent the poem, contained in a letter from the poet, she never wrote back. Ever.

And if I wanted to draw a political metaphor?

Sentiment, no matter how beautifully expressed, is not enough. You have to have regard as to how you might be supported in the world.

And if I wanted to console my nationalist chums? When Wilhemina Alexander died, fully 47 years after the poet and never married, she still had his letter.

Wednesday 22 January 2014

A brief blog on my Cowdenbeath sweep

There were four categories of Labour seat at the 2011 Scottish Parliament Elections.

Firstly the "We're not at home here so we need to work for every vote" seats. That's why we bizarrely held on in Eastwood and Dumfrieshshire.

Secondly the "Well, that's the swing, seats". They include my current home, Cumbernauld & Kilsyth. The Nats were always about. In a good year for them, it was no surprise they might win.

Thirdly, the "For fuck sake we didn't see that coming" seats. Paisley, Clydebank, Dunfermline and the like. Places it never crossed our mind we would actually lose.

And finally the "Jeez, that was close" seats. Cowdenbeath is in this final category. A 42% SNP vote in Cowdenbeath is the sort of momentary result that convinced the Nats that they might have a remote chance in an Independence Referendum. Even though, amidst the utter chaos and incompetence of Labour's 2011 campaign, and even with the benefit of a significant differential turnout, it required from them a willful blindness to the fact that they still didn't hadn't secured a majority for independence.

Anyway, tomorrow, there will be a by-election in Cowdenbeath. Where, to have any chance of winning a referendum the Nationalists would need to have advanced on 2011. To have got more than the 42% they secured then.

So, as a bit of fun I thought I might tonight have a sweep on twitter on the Nationalist vote tomorrow. No fractions and first come first served. No prize except glory and, I accept, no true believers among the voluntary participants.


I'd have set out the results in full except that twitter seems to have, temporarily I hope, deleted some of them. Suffice to say that excepting @biscuit_ersed with 13% at one end and @anthoCu86 (I suspect in the pay of Blair McDougall) promoting 40% at the other, everyone was broadly in a 25-33% spread. I'll recover the lost tweets and announce the result tomorrow.

But don't lose sight of the fact that any result in that band, even near the top, would signal that the referendum is already over.


Sunday 19 January 2014

Front Line Fife (again)

I am old enough to remember the last time the SNP vote collapsed. In the period 1978-79.

There is a perceived history that this was caused by the decision to vote with Mrs Thatcher to bring down the Callaghan government but, in common with much else in Scottish politics, that is a false recollection. In fact, by the night of the fatal vote, the SNP were already in steep decline. When Callaghan spoke famously in the no confidence debate of the turkeys voting for an early Christmas he was only referring to what the opinion polls and by-elections, from Garscadden onwards, already predicted. When Scotland actually voted, the SNP's 30% in October 1974 washed up at 17,3% in the next test of national opinion. By 1983 it was down to 11.8%.

Now why do I whimsically recall these days of my youth?

I was in Cowdenbeath today. Where even amidst the tsunami of 2011 Labour held on, as we undoubtedly will on Thursday, but where the Nats still got 10,679 votes, 41.6% of the total. Well, here is my prediction. If the Nats get half that total on Thursday they will be pleasantly surprised.

As the constituency has no natural centre, Labour has two campaign rooms in the constituency. Those in Lochgelly are at the "solid" end but at the arrival at the other base, in Inverkeithing, I was advised that its catchment area was more "mixed". And indeed, in my experience, in Rosyth this morning and Dalgety Bay in the afternoon, mixed it certainly was. Indeed in Dalgety Bay we were clearly not exactly in a Labour heartland. But, and it is a big but, it is also clear that, unlike 2011, the opposition is, once again, all over the place.

We were after two pieces of information on the doorstep: immediate voting intention and, as a a guide to the intention of the "not yet decideds" or "shy" againsts, as to how they might vote in the Referendum.

So, from that direct empirical evidence, and from some conversation with those with longer experience of the campaign, here is my conclusion. The SNP vote is in meltdown. And the reason is...........Independence.

I expressed frustration after both Donside and Dunfermline that the Nats would talk about anything other than Independence. Ludicrous minor local government issues; the middle class perks they have delivered since 2007 and, above all, the Council Tax freeze.

But, for whatever reason, possibly that they thought they had nothing to lose, possibly at the insistence of a candidate who is a true believer, they have at least decided to 'fess up in Cowdenbeath. And, believe me, that has been a strategic error. In consequence, the anti Labour vote which the Nats historically rely on, is suddenly everywhere and anywhere. For it may be anti-Labour but it is also firmly anti-independence as well. Some of it even appears to be in the hands of UKIP who, based purely on my own experience, have got more supporters in Rosyth (2) than the SNP (1).

So, here is my prediction of the result.

We'll win with more than 50% of the vote.

The Nats will trail in Second. The balloon is burst but it's still got a fair bit to deflate.

If the people intending to vote Tory in Dalgety Bay actually bother to vote, they'll be a decent third. That's despite our efforts to persuade them that a Tory vote is a wasted vote and that they should be sending a clear message to the hated Salmond.

UKIP will beat the Libs. There aren't a lot of Libs to start with.

The Greens will be nowhere. When I said the anti-Labour vote is everywhere I meant everywhere except with them.

And the other part of the "Yes coalition", the SSP? Jings, turns out even in a part of Scotland that once had a Communist MP they were afraid to stand for fear of humiliation.

But there is something else that I can't help but observe. Where is this 27% who apparently support independence? We don't like to talk about this but our wider (than Cowdenbeath) canvassing just doesn't pick it up. And while they, even more understandably don't want to talk about it, the experience of the Yes Scotland crew can't in reality be that different. There is no need to lie to a disembodied voice at the end of a telephone canvass. No wonder the SNP are considering holding on to their money to try to cling to power in 2016.

I appreciate Blair McDougall won't thank me for the paragraph above. So, in deference to him, I will end with my usual twitter exhortation.


Wednesday 15 January 2014

Advice for Eddie


Yesterday, Eddie Barnes, the (former) Scotland on Sunday journalist was appointed as the new head of policy and strategy for the Scottish Tories so I thought I might offer him some well intentioned advice.

But first I want just to say something more personal. I’ve read Eddie’s work with interest for many years but I’ve also dealt with him personally. I have always found him one of the most straightforward political journalists of my acquaintance. He would always be happy to establish the terms of any discussion at the outset and to stick rigorously by what had been agreed. If he asked you for background information it always remained precisely that and if you decided you’d rather not discuss the matter at all, respect your wishes unless it was about something about which he was entitled to insist you say something. He is widely respected throughout all of Scottish political life, across which his appointment is generally believed to be a clever, clever move. Whether anybody can turn round the fortunes of the Scottish Tories is a more contentious point.

Anyway, in a spirit of ecumenicism, I thought I might offer him some well intentioned advice. If I wanted to couple it with a motivational song then it would surely be “The Only Way is Up."

Advice for Eddie

As I sat down to start writing this last night I was distracted in the background by a television programme called Location, Location, Location. It features people looking for a new house with the assistance of the show's hosts and it has the usual diverse demographic group among the house hunters.

But the recurring main "type" consists of a relatively young couple with kids looking for a better place in which to bring up their children. Their target properties obviously vary dependent on income and circumstance but they have the same basic requirements: a "nice" area; good local schools; somewhere to which, if required, they can retreat, as a family, away from the trials and tribulations of the outside world.

And if you ask them about the years ahead they see things very much in terms of the progress, solely, of their own family. For their kids to grow up as "normal" as them; to get a good education and then a decent job and for the cycle of life then to renew itself in the next generation.  There are, in the United Kingdom, an awful lot of people like that. Indeed, even among those who are not in that circumstance; those existing among more chaotic personal or relationship circumstance, let alone those in more challenging financial ones, there is often an aspiration to be precisely in the position of these couples.

And, do you know what? Most of these people are natural Tories. Stable relationships; family first; relative economic comfort. Why, all other things being equal, would you not be a supporter of the Party of the status quo?

And do you also know what? There are as many, or at least nearly as many, such people in Scotland as there are in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Yet while, even when polling badly in the UK, the Tories bump along  at 30% or so of the popular vote, the Scottish Tories, at least since the late Eighties, would die for that level of support.

Why is this?

Well, the reasons are complex. One of them undoubtedly is that such voters are fearful of the Labour Party. They believe us,secretly, to have ambitions on the appropriation of their wealth and disruption of their lives. No matter how much we (or at least our new Labour wing!) might protest that there is no need for such anxieties there appears little prospect of them being disabused of it. So, in a number of Northern English Cities we have long seen the phenomenon of a slide away from a Tory Party which, for demographic reasons, would never challenge for power locally, and in favour of the Liberal Democrats. And in Scotland, looking around for the best "Not the Labour Party", the natural beneficiaries have been the SNP.

And this is the first, and arguably most insurmountable, problem that the Tories face in the Scottish Parliament. Had they been capable of coming second in the 1999 Scottish Parliament Elections then they would have qualified as the best alternative to the "Socialists". But they didn't and thus became trapped in a death spiral, not helped by the Nationalists increasingly moving on to "their" ground, not only promising to rein in the financial demands of (still mainly Labour) local authorities by freezing Council Tax and ruling out any possible use of the Parliament's own tax raising powers but also pursuing an increasingly authoritarian criminal justice policy.

But there the Tories also had a second problem. The main selling point of the Tories at a UK level, other than in the maintenance of "law and order", is that they will "keep your taxes down". (Here I'm talking perception, I'm not for the moment concerned as to whether that is actually true). But, Council Tax aside, the Scottish Parliament can't cut your taxes! It can certainly spend less but only to give the money back to the Treasury. Sure, in theory, it has the power to vary the Standard Rate of Income Tax downwards but we're all of us, across the political spectrum in Scotland, aware that if we ever did so it would shortly signal the end of the Barnett Formula. No matter what the block grant was intended to achieve it certainly wasn't lower personal taxes as a consolation prize for being Scottish.

Their third problem was and is entirely of their own making. They seemed embarrassed to be Tories. Never mind my more personal illustration above, the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey indicates that attitudes in Scotland to issues such as Welfare Reform, scepticism about the European project or even immigration are not, frankly, significantly different from those in England and Wales. But when have you ever heard a Scottish Tory defend their Westminster Government's policies on such matters? If they support them, and I assume they do, why don't they say so? Instead,  in so far as they talk about them at all, it is with a "they are not as bad as people are making out" approach that still makes the basic concession that they are nonetheless bad. Suppose they were to challenge us back on what is wrong with the principle, as opposed to the practical execution, of the reform of Employment Support Allowance to discourage long term reliance on sickness benefit among those patently not unfit for any form of work? I suspect that not only would they find a ready Scottish audience but in fact see Labour and (particularly) SNP politicians floundering. Not least because we know what many of our own voters views are on such matters. Indeed (whisper it) some of these reforms were legislated for by the last Labour Government, without demur from the SNP, and just not yet implemented when we lost the election.

So, turning from analysis to advice, my first piece of advice to the Tories is to be proud to be Tories. If Cameron takes a controversial but popular initiative down South, get on the phone to Scotland Tonight and Newsnicht and volunteer to go on. Not to "defend" the policy but to positively advocate it. Don't be afraid to present Labour and the "social-democratic" (sic) SNP as two peas from the same pod. Indeed, if the Nats want to protest that "actually we are more left wing than Labour", positively encourage them to do so, looking out for quotes that you can challenge them on back in the local press of Perth or Moray & Nairn. If asked why 32.2% of the population of Glasgow is economically inactive, don't get drawn into the collective wringing of hands and shaking of heads; let alone the defending the Cooncil or bemoaning the constitution. Tell them to get on their bikes! These people aren't ever going to vote for you anyway.

And my second piece of advice is to forget, for the moment, May 2016. There is a potential big prize for the Scottish Tories at the 2015 General Election. That is to return, at Westminster at least, to being Scotland's second party. It is a mark of the Tories own failure of self promotion that the initial reaction of even seasoned political hacks reading this will be "surely that is impossible?" In fact, at the 2010 General Election the Tories got 412,855 votes, 16.7% of the popular vote. But then you realise that the second Party (in popular vote), the SNP, got only 78,531 more votes, or 2.2% more of the total vote share. Even without the Tories making any true gain in  support, in the aftermath of the referendum one can assume that the tactical vote the SNP have historically enjoyed at Westminster elections vote (anti-Labour in some areas, anti-Tory in others) would be stripped away. And the fate of the poor old Libs appears to be sealed. That alone would probably carry the Tories into second. But more importantly, they have to make sure it brings prizes.

I've been saying for ages that the Tories could easily gain more seats than the SNP at the May 2015 General election. Straight gains in Angus, Moray and Perth North to the Tories  together with Dundee East to us and it's already 4-2. None of that is even particularly difficult since, even with the benefit of a tactical vote, the SNP got less than 40% of the vote in all of these seats in 2010 and the Tories are already well placed in second in each of their three. And that's without even considering what might be seized from the wreckage of Labour voters abandoning their tactical support of the Lib Dems, let alone what might be picked up in and around the more affluent cities and county towns by just getting natural Tory voters to actually vote Tory. Talk up Red Ed. "Michael Foot without the duffel-coat". "He's a danger to your savings, your mortgage rates, your very way of life!" "Only by maximising  the Tory vote across the whole country can we prevent a descent into anarchy!" "Scotland must do its bit!" "Remember Teddy Taylor!" (I may have taken that too far). The point is, if you don't want a Labour Government you need to vote Tory. And a lot of people in Scotland don't want a Labour Government, even if they remain a minority.

And think then what a transformation even five or six Scottish Tory MPs would bring to the public discourse. Suddenly Scotland would no more be seen as "a land with no Tories" and once that embarrassment factor had gone I suspect 2016 would suddenly look a lot more manageable even without doing much new, policy wise, up here. A few new faces after May 2015  would also bring benefits in themselves, never mind the public service broadcasting requirement to give the Tories greater air time when UK politics were being discussed in the Scottish media.

And then we have the most important factor of all in modern politics, the presentation of the leader. Now here, I want to start with a confession. I really like Annabel Goldie. Indeed Annabel Goldie is universally liked. The point however is that IT IS NOT PART OF A LEADER'S ROLE TO BE UNIVERSALLY LIKED! Even at the height of his popularity Tony Blair was hated by many Tories who thought him a charlatan. By the time he went it wasn't just Tories!

Yet after Annabel became leader it seemed she just couldn't help being liked. Sure, she was a smooth operator behind the scenes, gaining significant policy concessions from keeping the SNP in power from 2007-11, but in the very act of being universally liked she lost sight of Machiavelli's maxim. It is better to be feared than to be loved. Nobody ever really took Annabel seriously as a potential First Minister, or even as a potential King (or Queen) maker. And her Party paid the price for that. What was the point of voting Tory in the Holyrood elections? They weren't going to win but much more importantly, it didn't even appear as if they'd be a very challenging opposition.

Ruth was meant to be a fresh start but, as time has gone on, far from turning into Theresa May, let alone Margaret Thatcher, she is becoming more and more like......Annabel Goldie! Just a bit less well disposed towards the Women's Institute and a bit more inclined towards the SAS. Universally liked and utterly ineffectual in the process.

Ruth needs to get herself into a position where (politically) she is really not liked by the likes of me. She should find some successful part of the English NHS reforms (there must be something?) and pledge to introduce that in Scotland. Expose and attack "failed" comprehensives and demand that parents be given more choice over where and how their children are educated. Find somebody released after a quarter of their sentence on a tag and who has then re-offended and protest that law abiding citizens can't sleep safe in their beds. Get a researcher to dig into the budgets of the Scottish Government and various (Labour controlled) Local Authorities, find the "waste of taxpayers money", express outrage and demand "action". Be a Tory!

And if she supports the Westminster Government, support the Westminster Government! Be photographed and quoted beside Michael Gove; Jeremy Hunt; George Osborne and Boris. Above all Boris. "A proud Tory but still standing up for London in the way I would stand up for Scotland." Well, actually not above all Boris. Above all David Cameron. Engineer a situation where he seeks her advice about something. Fishing? (what do I know about fishing). Engineer another situation where she is reported (off the record) to be "furious" and then get him to say. publicly, that "having spoken to Ruth Davidson" he has reconsidered about.......what doesn't matter. Fishing would probably do again. Currently the Scottish Tories get all the blame and yet none of the reward from association with the Westminster Government. Change that.

And finally, forget the constitution. That will be settled on 18th September. The SNP and certain certain sections of the media will no doubt "demand" that Westminster respond to the 30% or so who will have voted Yes. Tell them to piss off. Re-draw the line in the sand and stick to it. I suspect she'd find plenty of post referendum allies on our side in that enterprise.

So that's my advice but I'll finish with one other observation. Forget taking out Jim Murphy. If there has ever been a national politician who is a better constituency MP then I've not encountered them. You're not getting that seat back till he's deid.

Sunday 12 January 2014

A Death in the family

Professor David M Walker, the man who essentially taught me the law of Scotland, died this past week. Ninety odds. A good innings as they say. In my experience, he was a person of unparalleled ability when it came to analysing a legal problem and reaching the correct conclusion. In the proper sense, a genius. But those who follow the activities of Saga on The Bridge will know that the command of logic does not make a rounded human being. And although he probably didn't ever encounter her, when I first did, the fictional Saga reminded me of no-one so much as the late prof.

The stories I might choose to illustrate this are legion but I will choose but one.

There was once a student who had had just failed one of the professors famously taxative exams in either contract or delict. But having just failed he was offered an oral exam.

Except that by this point the student had secured a Summer job on a North Sea fishing boat. Hard. hard work but also big, big money. Where, in the discharge of that obligation, he was advised by short wave radio of the oral exam awaiting him back in Glasgow. So he persuaded the skipper to put ashore in Fraserburgh or Stonehaven or wherever and got a train through the night back to Glasgow. No doubt reading through as he went "Walker on Delict" or "Walker on Contract" (two volumes) or simply "Walker on the Principles of Scots Private Law". For this was, literally, the man who wrote the book(s).

Except that when, sea sprayed and unslept, the student presented to the professor the next morning he was met with a baleful announcement. "I am sorry to inform you" he was advised "that I reviewed your written paper last night and have concluded that, no matter how well you perform in oral examination, I could not, in all conscience, allow you to pass this exam. Your grasp of the subject is simply inadequate." And with that the student was sent on his way.

Now the point of this story is both for the professor and against him. He knew nothing of how the student had come to be before him, even if he might have been curious as to his slightly salty smell. But, had he known, for all there might have been a degree of apology for the inconvenience caused, there could never have been any question of special consideration in respect of the exam itself.  And that was understood on both sides. Professor Walker set his standards and there was no scope for compassionate exception. On the other hand, the professor must have known that, had the student traveled no further than across Byres Road,  he nonetheless would have spent hours preparing for the ordeal ahead. It would hardly have killed the professor to allow that effort to be put to some (apparent) use, no matter how predetermined the outcome. That might not have been the logical thing to do, if the task was truly hopeless, but it would nonetheless have been the decent thing to do.

Now, why do I tell you that tale? Only because a blog from me on a Sunday night is something you might have come to expect. It might even be deemed to constitute. in the professor's classification, a "unilateral obligation uninduced".

Well, if it is, I propose to default. Partly it is because I had to work today on another one of these grim cases caused not so much by failed relationships as by failed parenting. Partly it is because I am still writing my (great but unfinished) novel. But mainly it is because I am bored with my own main subject: Scottish politics.

See, on both sides, gloating and outragedly responding, do you think a single referendum vote was changed on whether Labour abstained on or voted against a procedural vote in the Parliament last Tuesday? See, on both sides. do you think the support or disapprobation of Vladimir Putin will swing a single vote? See, on both sides, here in the middle of January, while most people are mainly concerned whether their pay will last till the end of the month, do you think anybody is listening to this moronic dialogue about an event still nine months away?

So, Professor Walker. Rest in Peace. For good or ill, nearly forty years on, I don't forget you. The events of this past week however I will have forgotten by next Sunday. And, in relation to these past week's events, I am one of very few people who was even remotely interested in the first place.

Sunday 5 January 2014

To the Barricades!

Happy New Year

There was an interesting interview in the Guardian yesterday with the playright and author David Greig.

The subject matter is the Referendum and at the start the message is very much that he intends to vote Yes.

Reading the article as a whole however, you see that by his own admission he might yet change his mind. Now, if I was making a purely partisan point I might point out that this direct testimony gives a lie to the repeated suggestions by some on the Yes side that. while they might currently be behind, their vote is solid while ours is much softer. The reality is that, in addition to the genuine still don’t knows there are people on both sides at the moment who will vote differently come September 18th.

Logically, that is more a worry for the side currently ahead who would be content for politics to be preserved in aspic for the next 9 months. We’d then win comfortably. You don’t need to take my word for that, Nicola Sturgeon admitted as much in her interview with the BBC on January 2nd.

Of course we keep getting told that there will at some point be a game changer although interestingly in his most recent contribution the SNP strategist Stephen Noon was left relying on three suggestions none of which are now within the Nationalists control: UKIP doing (very) well in England (but not in Scotland) at the European elections; the Tories looking likely to win the 2015 UK General Election and the eventual improved Devolution offer from the “UK Parties” failing to excite.

I want to deal briefly with the first two of these points before turning to the third, that being my main topic today.

I’m not really convinced the European elections will have much of an impact on either Scottish or British politics. Otherwise, simply put, a lot more people would be intending to vote in them. I suspect the only real consequence for of UKIP doing well will be in relation to the internal cohesion of the Tories. And the only result of that will be to increase Labour’s 2015 prospects.

Even that aside, it is simply inconceivable that by September 2014 it will look “likely” that the Tories will win in May 2015. That’s not because a Tory victory will by then be impossible, although various UK demographic and systemic issues certainly don’t help them.  It is simply be because at eight months distance nobody will know the “likely” outcome in 2015. Insofar as some think that the possibility of a Tory victory makes them inclined to vote Yes, they have made that decision already. The best Yes Scotland can hope is that continued uncertainty allows them to hold on to that vote.

The third element is more interesting however. Some already fully intending to vote Yes will of course declare on the announcement of the proposals that they are so disappointed that it has made their final decision for them. Others already inclined to No will seize upon even the most minor movement as justifying the decision of their already faint hearts without (alleged) embarrassment. But I take Mr Greig at his word when he suggests that their might be some voters who will decide on their Referendum vote only when the final devolution offer is known.

So what might it be?  Well I've written about what it could be at its maximum already. But it won’t be that, not least because a subsequent conversation with Professor Jim Gallacher has persuaded even me that the assignation of VAT wouldn’t be in Scotland’s own interest given the “head office” effect.

It will instead, I suspect, be all income tax, probably geographic taxes like Air Passenger Duty and (not insignificantly) Inheritance Tax. And on benefits not much more than Housing Benefit, which should have been devolved anyway in 1998. And there will be a few extra legal bones thrown in such as all Road Traffic Law and the Misuse of Drugs Act.

But none of this will be ”Independence”. It will still, on any view, involve a common UK foreign and defence policy and a common macro economic strategy (although, arguably, the current White Paper offer, based on a common currency, also implies the latter, just without us having any say in it). It also won’t involve a flag or an anthem. Clearly therefore it won’t be of interest to diehard Nationalists.

So, if David Greig, and others, still need to know our offer before making their mind up then they should make their mind up now. This has never been about constitutional technicalities. It has always been a choice between being participants in our own destiny or merely waving “our own flag” while,  in relation to more important matters,  being mere pawns in the calculations of England, a much larger  “foreign” Country forming a physical and intellectual barrier between us and the rest of the world. That is the choice in 2014 as much as it was the choice in 1707.

Maddest of mad Nationalists aside, does anybody, looking  back, think that we made the wrong call in 1707? That the Empire that we then built together wasn’t to our mutual advantage or that its ultimate sacrifice in the defeat of Nazism wasn’t to our mutual credit? That, even today, the BBC or the NHS or our command of the world’s language are nothing to be proud of? That it would be better if there had been no Perth, Western Australia or Hamilton, Ontario? No David Livingston or Mary Slessor? No Scottish Enlightenment or Clyde Shipbuilding industry? No Keir Hardie to found the Labour Party or Manny Shinwell to serve in its greatest government?

Well, actually, undoubtedly, some do. Some who think that we should just look after ourselves and hope that the world just leaves us alone in the process. Contrary to the re-writing of history currently being undertaken, Scottish Nationalism was not devised as a reaction to Mrs Thatcher. Nationalists were nationalists while we were engaged between 1939 and ’45 in a life or death struggle for the very future of civilisation. (An “English war” in which they believed no Scot should be obliged to take part). And they were still nationalists when the 45-51 Labour Government was building the modern welfare state, bizarrely contesting the Paisley by-election in 1948 with Tory support and on a platform of abolishing the (British) NHS! And they were still nationalists when they conspired to defeat Jimmy Reid in Dundee East in 1979 by running the most vicious of red smear campaigns.  They have but few real principles: Parochialism and isolationism, bound together with the glue of grudge and grievance. And leopards don’t change their spots.

And, so, in the end, those who would sign up for that for want of a specific devolution scheme to their liking should maybe just get on and vote Yes. This is not an argument about constitutional niceties. It is an existential struggle over your world view.  A certainty that over three hundred years Scotland and England together has proved a better bet than we here standing alone in self imposed isolation, looking on at events. Let that be the terms of the argument and then let’s get this done.