Saturday, 19 July 2014

A change of air

So, I’m back.

I am not the greatest fan of Bernard Ponsonby but just over a month back he observed that those who believed that the Independence Referendum would  dominate the public discourse in Scotland between now and 18th September did nor appreciate the impact of the World Cup.

He was right.

By virtue of the Summer break I saw the World Cup in three different Countries. Or, if you prefer one view of Scotland’s status, four different countries.

Having left my own Country/Countries after the group stage, I saw the round of 16 and most of the quarter finals while with Andi’s family in Hungary. I then saw both the semis and the final itself in Italy.

The final I saw on a big screen in a square in Rome in the company of the citizens of many nations but most prominently, and understandably, of those of Germany and Argentina.

Sportingly, there was no love lost. Afterwards the Germans drank (even) more publicly in celebration while the Argentinians drank (even more still I suspect) privately in grief.  But during the event there was a strange kind of love. Love of “il calcio” certainly but also love of an event that could bring so many nations together in a moment of mutual interest in ninety or, as it transpired, one hundred and twenty minutes.

For the World Cup probably sums up more than any other event that the world is shrinking. That German fans would be as well informed of the constant diligence of Mascherano or the faltering form of Messi as the Argentinians were of the fortuitous absence of Khedeira or the potential danger of underestimating the German’s one extra rest day if the game went to extra time.

And when Klose was taken off for the last time in a World Cup, it wasn't just everyone in the stadium who applauded his final departure from the field, it was everyone in that square in Rome. And I suspect everyone in hundreds, thousands, of similar locations across the world.

The next day I was home.

To a country where, in the aftermath of the world coming together, some still seemed anachronistically determined to see reasons for putting us all once again apart.

Except that for all Bernard claimed that nothing would change during the World Cup something seemed subtly to have changed. The Nationalists had realised they were going to get beat. And that this was all the fault of the electorate.

I could cite any number of such pieces from the press or the blogosphere but they all share common themes. A bitterness towards the people of Scotland. Somehow we are not worthy of all the poems written and faces painted in the cause of “freedom”.  Surely any true patriot would be unconcerned with the economic technicalities? That they would if necessary be prepared to starve for their flag? Self determination is a wonderful thing but only if it is exercised in a particular way. Class politics must, at least for the moment, step aside in the interests of “the nation”. Most bizarrely of all, that after 18th September, the SNP will enjoy a benefit from losing while the Labour Party will pay a price for winning.

For prominent examples over the last few days you need only look to Joyce McMillan in Friday’s Scotsman, Neil Ascherson in today’s New York Times or Stehen Maxwell in the New Syatesman. Perhaps at its most grande guignol, this piece by Peter Arnott  in Bella Caledonia.


There are two iron rules of democracy. The first is that when the voters have spoken, the voters have spoken. And the second? That the voters are always right.

I have written before about the parallels between Yes Scotland and the Labour Party of the early eighties. Then, even  more fully packed and self satisfied rooms of the same people on different, sometimes every, night of the week wore different hats and titles as the occasion demanded. The platform on a Tuesday, the audience on a Wednesday, the Committee on a Thursday.  Convincing themselves of their own certainty while the wider public looked on askance. Initially with disinterest and then, as that public inreasingly found themselves accused of lacking appropriate sympathetic zeal, with ever more certainty that those so fanatically engaged with politics were not quite "like them".

Yet, as the prospect of inevitable defeat sinks in it seems to me that the Nationalists have learned nothing from that earlier political period. Post 1983 there was a brief fashion for badges bearing the message “Don’t blame me, I voted Labour”. It certainly allowed us (and I readily concede I was one of “us”) a degree of comfort but as to persuading those who had not voted Labour? That accusing them of stupidity or, worse still, personal responsibility for what then followed was unlikely to win them over? That lesson took a longer time to learn. Arguably a full further fourteen years.

That wiser heads in the SNP have not always had an eye to at least the possibility of defeat is almost inconceivable but whether they will learn from it what they might need to survive; an acceptance of the result and an avowed determination to get on with the proper governance of Scotland for the next eighteen months? That is more difficult to call.

For the victors it will certainly be amusing to watch.


  1. The same tone is on display from some contributors to this round-up of writers in the Guardian. Alan Warner is particularly eloquent:

    Think on this: if there was a no vote, has there ever been another European country where a "progressive" – and to use two pompous words – "intelligentsia", has united in a liberation movement, yet the majority has finally voted against the aspirations of this movement? A no vote will create a profound and strange schism between the voters of Scotland and its literature; a new convulsion. It will be the death knell for the whole Scottish literature "project" – a crushing denial of an identity that writers have been meticulously accumulating, trying to maintain and refine. With a no vote, a savage division will suddenly exist between the values of most of our writing – past and present – and the majority of our people.

    It would take a heart of stone not to laugh.

    1. Warner writes as if the death of the modern kailyaird would be a bad thing.

  2. Saw this comment in the Guardian at the weekend. Seems you were closer to the mark than I realised: 'If the No vote prevails, I'll start wearing a badge that says "Don't blame me - I voted Yes".'

    Amazing that, knowing they will lose the vote, some Nats have really gone down the "blaming the voters" route.

  3. Ian: 'For the victors it will certainly be amusing to watch.'

    Well I can't say I find it amusing though the apocalyptic language of such as Warner deserves all it gets in way of mockery. Bill Paterson has a wise and witty piece in the Scottish Review at the moment on the Yes Luvvie hegemony and what it implies about modern Scotland.

    Bill also quotes Billy Connolly's wise words about the one sure thing about the Rerferendum - we will get the Scotland we deserve.

  4. Dearie me. One minute you are blogging about having a bit on the side, Pakis and Poles, and now you have really lost the plot.
    There will be no referendum anyway.

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