Monday 28 April 2014

A Huge Meet

What do you see in this picture?

Collegamento permanente dell'immagine integrata

I'd say somewhere between 100 and 150 people.

Now why do I ask that question?

Because Ken Gowans, who is apparently an SNP Councillor for Inverness South posted it on twitter with the claim that he had been delighted to chair "a huge meet" (for Yes) and offering this as pictorial evidence.

Now, I like a good, Labour organised, "public" meeting as much as the next Labour person. It allows us to "rail" against the Tories or the SNP dependent on the nature of the event. But we don't lose sight of the "us" in that. For the "us" invariably includes the vast majority of the audience. It is unlikely any Tories or Nationalists will be there to be railed against in person, or at best they will only be there to rail back. It is even less likely that any members of the general public will be in attendance: partly because they don't particularly warm to railing; partly because if they really want to watch railing they can easily find some superior quality railing on the telly; but chiefly because they are not that interested.

Now there will be exceptions. Citizens who attend such events to inform the rest of the audience that we are all being poisoned by the fluoride in the water or indeed that Princess Diana is still alive and being held captive by the SAS/Mossad/the Martians (delete to taste).

We recognise that as the price of democracy. Or at least as the price of "public" meetings.

But for at least thirty years, sophisticated political movements have clocked that, while "public" meetings might have a role in cheering up your own activists, they have literally no impact on the wider public. That's not to confuse them with televised rallies. Such events do have a (limited) role but only for the very reason that they will be televised. Even then, they are fraught with the "Sheffield" potential.

Which is why I am genuinely bemused as to the strategy of Yes Scotland in this regard. To find (let's be generous) 150 people in Inverness interested in going to a public meeting apparently addressed not only by Fergus Ewing and Dennis Canavan  but also by the leader of the SNP group on the local Cooncil and a woman called Michelle Thomson is not a remarkable achievement. After all, 72,000 people live in Inverness. What is remarkable is the delusion that being able to attract one person in five hundred from the local population is somehow something to boast about. And that's even before you include the faithful from elsewhere who no no doubt also attended, perhaps genuinely interested to hear from prominent members of their own side, but also "inadvertently" apparently "swelling" the number of actual Invernessians truly present.

I was amused by a photograph two or three weeks back of a similar public meeting in Renfrew, equally "huge" and equally boasted of with a photo on twitter. For it featured prominently among the audience a pal of mine, wee Brian Lawson. Now, I've known Brian since school. We enjoy to this day a mutual devotion to St Mirren football club where we will pass the time quite amicably. But Brian is not a member of the public; he is the leader of the SNP Group on Renfrewshire Council! So if he really needs to be persuaded to Yes then Nationalists are in even more trouble than I realised.

And, by the way, Brian is not from Renfrew. He is from Paisley. That's why he supports St Mirren.

Yet these "public" meetings are clearly not isolated events. Robin McAlpine boasted in the Scotsman last week that in the previous month he had addressed eighteen such events. Dennis Canavan on twitter announced he was to do another five in the next fortnight.

Now, on one view, all of this is harmless. No doubt if we could line up a few Better Together luminaries for a public meeting in Kilsyth I would toddle along myself.

The difference is that as I sat with my comrades from the Labour Party in the audience, even, for the occasion, showing some goodwill to the few local Tories and Libs also no doubt in attendance, I wouldn't for the moment delude myself that I was among the "public".

For the public would be at home watching Eastenders or the football.

There is however something slightly worrying about the reaction of some to these Yes Scotland jamborees.

It is developing a cult of the "true believer", already getting wound up by the idea that "so many" people have attended these meetings that defeat on 18th September will in some way be not a true expression of the "will of the nation".

So, if I did have one final thought it might be this. That there must be a resolution among the more sensible of those organising these events to remind their audience that Scotland will speak at the ballot box on September 18th. And that, once we have, that will be the end of it.

Sunday 13 April 2014

My take on Eck

Alex Salmond had a historic opportunity yesterday. And he failed to live up to it.

Now, you would expect me to say that . for it is no secret that I am no admirer. But even I would concede that it is an achievement for him to have brought his country to a position where, to paraphrase Jim Sillars, between 8am and 10pm on 18th September, it has its sovereignty in its own hands.

As it will.

And I do not dismiss the observation that, as much as I personally am now a "No to dissolution" man as I would have been a "Yes to the union" man in 1707, this year I, like every citizen of Scotland, will have an opportunity to express a view. In the way that "the likes of me" had no say back at the beginning of the 18th Century. Indeed, one of the few advantages of this whole baleful episode will be to shoot down forever the argument that "Scotland never voted for the Union."

Yesterday, however it was for the man leading the counter argument to make his final pitch. To rise above the day to day and to paint a broader vision. Instead, Eck opted largely for boilerplate and calculation. You'd almost have thought he already knew this was only now about firing up a core vote.

For, while the speech started well, with a few well observed jokes at my side's expense, as it went on it became increasingly clear it was addressed to the already converted.

Let's be honest. Even if Scotland was to be the fourteenth most prosperous country in the developed world, while the UK was only the eighteenth, nonetheless Scotland would face choices. All taxes could not be lower while all public services were better. People are not daft. Very few, even in that hall, believe that a Scottish Government would not face tough decisions just as a British Government faces tough decisions. Indeed even as the German Government does.

And people also understand that politicians twist the facts to their agendas. They understand that in his heart David Cameron is for lower taxes and all its consequence while Ed is for better public services whatever the cost.

Thus they understand that, in a Scottish context, that Alex Salmond would be for an  independent Scotland no matter what the price. He need reassure the public that it is affordable but he'll never credibly persuade them that the cause of his life arises from some sort of economic analysis he did as a schoolboy.

So surely it would have been better to acknowledge that and then to suggest why the electorate should agree. And a key element of that would have been to argue why that was the right choice NOW even if tacitly conceding that those to be persuaded of it now had not necessarily been wrong in their past views. And that has to be posed strategically: not based on abolishing the bedroom tax or getting rid of recent increased charges to lodge an Employment Tribunal claim.

This is what he could have said.

"This year we pay homage to those who founded this Party eighty years ago. Without them we would not be here today. But we also have to acknowledge that, over that eighty years, what we understand by independence has changed. This Party was founded in the aftermath of a cataclysmic world war and while the world was still divided into armed camps. Today, we are privileged to live in a Europe, in the west at least, where the idea of the use of force to resolve our disputes is a thing of the past. 

The Party was founded when the idea of being a true Scot meant that you would be white and, let's be honest, protestant. Today we acknowledge those of many skin colours, and of many religions and none, who are  fully equal members of our wonderfully diverse society. 

It was founded by those who's overwhelming priority was Scotland itself, perhaps sometimes losing sight of the fact that there were other equally worthy causes. For wider social and political progress; to confront and defeat poverty; to secure true equality for women and ethnic minorities and, perhaps in a way some of us have only fully come to appreciate in the last ten years, to recognise that who you love cannot always be defined in traditional ways.

Without these pioneers of eighty years, as I say, we would not be here today but equally without our more recent recognition that independence can only succeed as part of a wider progressive movement would we now be standing on the verge of finally achieving their, and our, ultimate goal.

So I say to those concerned for a fairer society; your cause is our cause. For those wishing women to be full members of our community; your cause is our cause. For those wishing equality for all, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation; your cause is our cause. 

We believe, we have always believed that Independence is the best vehicle to achieve that. You have trusted us with the conduct of the devolved settlement over the last seven years and I believe we have served you well in that capacity. But how much more could we have done with full sovereign powers?

For about one thing the pioneers of eighty years ago and we in this in this hall today have been constant. That decisions affecting the people of Scotland are best taken by the people of Scotland. Not because we won't make mistakes. We will make mistakes. 

But because the interests of every nation are best served by being controlled by the people who live there.

For the astonishing thing about Scotland is that it exists at all, That after more than three hundred years of union with a much larger neighbour we are still recognisably a Country of our own in every sense but the fully democratic one.

Going forward, beyond September 18th we will bear malice to none. We will continue to be a good neighbour and a responsible world citizen. When it is in our mutual interests to do so, we will continue to pool and share resources, and decision making, across this island, across Europe and indeed with all other democratic nations across the world. And we acknowledge that along the way some of that will need compromise. 

We only ask that we be allowed to do so by our own calculation and not at the dictate of others.

We only ask to be a normal country. Scotland."

Now, that is what he could have said. Instead the speech was placed at the centre of a tableau which began with a dramatic performance of a play specially written by a man of well established anglophobic view; was then followed by two men with beards and guitars singing patriotic songs and was rounded off, after the oration itself, with the rendition of a dirge about a battle seven hundred years ago.

And backgrounded by a downward clicking clock that seemed to portend not opportunity but doom.

And the speech itself contained no real vision. Just rather repetitive rhetoric for the already converted and a clunky tokenistic "promotion" of two women to the cabinet in a crude attempt to address the yawning gender gap in the opinion polls.

Moses may have lead his followers to the top of the mountain but he seemed clueless as to how to get them to the promised land.

The next SNP Conference, postponed to November, will prove the test as to whether there can be a Joshua generation.

To stick with an Old Testament analogy however, my money would be more on Cain and Abel as a likely precedent for that event.

Thursday 10 April 2014

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths

This is an odd blog. I know that people who follow this site do so because they wish to be outraged (on one side) or reassured (on another) about the Scottish Independence issue.

But it is my blog. I don’t do fancy graphics or easy to follow links or back references.. I just say what I think. Take it or leave it.

And I know that even my political opponents were taken aback when I wrote this. To confess to where my personal circumstances  were.  And in its aftermath I was appreciative of the sympathy I received across the political divide.

But, in the real world, life went on.  I went to my work every day. Tried, at least, to secure justice for my clients. And tried at least as importantly,  to make money. If not for myself then at least to secure the wages of those who work with me.

And all the while I was pretty miserable about the hand fate had dealt me but resigned to it.

Until about six weeks ago.

I defy anybody who has been married forever, as I have been, not to meet somebody and think “if only”.

So, about, ten years ago, such a person walked into my office. A wee dark woman. If you follow me on twitter you will know I like wee dark women.  And when her legal business was done, by circumstance, we still would bump into each other. And she’d smile at me and pass some time and I’d (much less attractively) do the same.  And I’d think again “if only”.

While wee Mo, who I will love to the very end, descended further and further into the pit which is Alzheimers disease.  Until Mo didn’t know who I was, except that I was a familiar face.

So, after some very mild flirting over twitter, I wrote to my (second) wee dark woman.  And I told her what I could and couldn’t offer and invited her to walk away.

Except she didn’t.  

She saved me instead. 

We’ve been out no more than ten times. First to hear the Scottish Chamber orchestra play Schubert and Mozart, where she turned up ludicrously overdressed and then let me laugh with her. Then to the Burrell that Sunday where she suggested I might want to spend more time looking at the Bellini (I did) and where she in turn nearly cried( I noticed)  when,  by coincidence,  a chamber group played her favourite music from Hungary. (She is Hungarian, did I mention that?)

Through La Boheme and Nardini’s at Largs and, after a Friday night off,  because I had a Law Society Dinner , to Edinburgh and the Museum of Scotland and then the (wonderful) refurbished National Portrait Gallery. With lunch at the Outsider in between (No need to applaud).

And then, a week later,  to the New Lanark Mill Hotel Cottages where we marvelled at the beauty of my own country and I cooked her dinner and then we watched the telly together. And then I marvelled simply at the beauty of her.

And then, then.  the ordeal of meeting her two teenage boys.  Two big lumps. Well actually one quite dashing but the other at least for the moment just a lump but about whom I was reminded of a certain Danny Kaye song.  And going to see the film they had chosen: “Need for Speed”. If there has been a worse film ever made then I have not seen it.  But then it is a very long time since I was a teenage boy. They thought it was so brilliant they were prepared to allow me to snog their mum afterwards. (briefly).

So, anyway, after a weekend  out  together shopping at the Glasgow Market and then IKEA, as a result of which  I missed the West Ham against Liverpool game for love, this woman and I appear to have become an item.

So much so that next week we are going to Hungary to stay with her parents: to make her boys happy to see their grand-parents (even at the expense of my company) but most importantly of all so that she and I might be together for a week.

So, twitter is odd. From time to time you think something you don’t quite understand might be going on beneath the radar.

Don’t speculate tonight. The use of “this woman” was unfair.  For her name is Andrea  Eperjes. She is


 on twitter and I love her  in a way I never thought I would ever love again.