Tuesday 24 January 2017


What happens next kind of depends on how much Nicola Sturgeon personally is prepared to risk on the turn of a card.

Nobody in the leadership of the SNP thought Leave would win the EU Referendum. That's why they put such an eventuality in their 2016 Scottish Parliament Manifesto. It kept the zoomers happy that there might be an early second referendum in certain circumstance while the leadership could remain confident that this circumstance would never actually arise. To be fair to that leadership, David Cameron had made exactly the same miscalculation, with a different group of zoomers, almost precisely a year before. 

So the result was....a surprise. 

But it wasn't just the narrow result in the UK that was a surprise. It was also the result in Scotland. 

England Leave, Scotland Remain was meant to be a dream result for the SNP. Except it wasn't meant to be on the basis of an essentially split decision north of the border. 

Nobody, nobody in Scotland was meant to support a Leave vote. Not one of the gang of five did. Not Nicola, Ruth, Kez, Patrick or Willie. Sure there was Coburn but it wasn't just his politics which made him a joke figure. And then (very) latterly there was Tom Harris for the Leavers, but even he would hardly claim to carry in much of a personal vote.

Yet 38% of the Scottish electorate voted to leave. Not just on the North East Coast, where there has been long resentment of the Common Fisheries Policy,  but in parts of urban Scotland where it transpired people were not much more enthusiastic about uncontrolled immigration than their demographically similar counterparts in the North of England.

And that's without the narrative of the English always dictating to the rest being spoiled by the Welsh. The bastards

Politics turns on moments. And in one moment, on the morning of 24th June, Nicola made a fatal mistake. She forgot that 38%. And she didn't pause to think who they might be.

She kens noo.

For it is increasingly clear that they were substantially those who were no more keen on the European Union than they had been, thirty months before, on a different Union.

Yet by the time that slowly dawned, the die was cast. "Scotland" had voted to remain in the EU. So, zoom, that meant that everything was up for grabs. 

And of course Nicola found a willing audience for that. English Remainers prepared to indulge her assertions that the Union itself was at stake as a mark of their own frustration with a vote they felt had not been properly thought through. Even the occasional rag tag and bobtail European politician happy to suggest Les Anglais would need to pay a price for their lack of solidarite communitaire.

The problem was that this audience, true believers aside, wasn't in Scotland.

And it most certainly did not include Mrs Theresa May.

Yet by the time that became clear it was too late.

Since 24th June threats of a second Independence Referendum have become almost a weekly headline. There is no good way out of this now. 

The Prime Minister and her allies having essentially told the Nats to va te faire foutre ailleurs si tu veux, Nicola has suddenly had to have regard to the retort from her electorate "Don't look back, we'll be right behind you."

Yet what credibility would she now have if what follows something that has been "More likely", "Ever more likely" or finally "Even nearer" eventually turns out to be "Not anytime soon"?

The Nats are in a hole. They have no coherent offer: on currency; on the deficit: even, bizarrely, on the EU, to place before the electorate. 

At least in 2014 they had the semblance of one.

Yet they have threatened a a vote nonetheless in the spirit of the man who points a gun to his own head and threatens to pull the trigger. Over an issue on which a good one third of their own support wouldn't entirely mind them getting shot.

But what now is the alternative? That the Empress herself admits to having no clothes?

And this is where it comes down to a personal call. 

If there was another Referendum now, the Nats would almost certainly lose. But nothing is certain.

And yet if their isn't a referendum now?  Nicola Sturgeon personally could never threaten one with any credibility ever again.

So what does she value most? The post of First Minister or the "Cause of Scotland"?

Oddly, having not wished to be where she is, I don't rule out the latter. For the alternative can only be long years ahead defending the failure of Scottish public services while being gently patronised by her own hated British establishment. 

"First Minister! It's Boris on the line. How's the referendum thing going? Anyway, I've got a stag do in Glasgow next weekend. Any chance you could recommend a decent Curry House?"

As the poet has it, perhaps sometimes "One crowded hour of glorious life is worth an age without a name".

So I don't rule out an attempt at a second Referendum. After Trump, and Brexit, I don't even rule out an unanticipated result. 

But, let's be honest, it appears to be Nicola herself who is most upset that events seem to bringing that test "ever closer".

Sunday 15 January 2017

What is Independence?

Just over two years past we had a referendum.

On the one side was the status quo and on the other the proposition set out in the Scottish Government's notorious White Paper. I say notorious because that document was clearly "informed" by a number of financial assumptions that were tendentious at the time and which, with the benefit of hindsight,have been shown to be the entirely wishful thinking that my side then accused them of being.

And it wasn't just the economics that demonstrated a degree of wishful thinking. It was also the assumptions made as to the response of others to a Yes vote. Whether that being the English, prepared to risk the stability of their currency because, while we'd have demonstrated by our votes a desire to have nothing to do with them, they'd still hold a residual affection towards us. Or the Spanish, who'd welcome us into the European Union irrespective of the consequence for their own polity because, being Scottish, we were special. Actually, the whole document proceeded on he basis of us, the Scots, being special, but I suppose that's the view of all nationalists in any nation since the beginning of history.


At least then there was a proposition. Scotland and England would go our separate ways but still share a Head of State and a currency. We'd both be in the European Union, so our citizens could continue to live without restriction in either country and indeed, since we'd also remain in the common travel area, we'd also be able to cross the border with any passport control persisting in being at Dover rather than Gretna. Oh, and since we'd still be in the EU, we'd also still be subject to the two European Courts who'd protect us if required from the authoritarianism and worse which almost inevitably becomes the by-product of over enthusiastic nationalism.

So, even accepting the criticisms of the White Paper which I make above, Yes voters in 2014 knew, or at least thought they knew, what they were voting for.

The people who gathered in Glasgow yesterday to advocate a second referendum have no idea what they'd be voting for. Although they'd still vote for it. What currency would this new nation state use? They have no idea. That doesn't matter. Would we be applying to join the European Union? They have no idea. That doesn't matter. Is the plan still to have a constitutional monarchy? They have no idea. That doesn't matter. Above all, how would they address the unprecedented international deficit identified by the Scottish Government's own figures? They have no idea. That doesn't matter.

And how would Independence actually improve health, education, the economy........indeed anything at all? No idea. That doesn't matter.

Utilitarian nationalism always was a farcical proposition. It can only proceed logically starting from the assumption that in certain circumstances its alleged adherents would not be nationalists at all.  But those people preaching "utilitarian" nationalism yesterday as an alternative to the Tories would, strangely, still be preaching "utilitarian" nationalism in the, admittedly improbable, circumstance that Jeremy Corbyn was Prime Minister and engaged in the socialist transformation of society (sic). For nationalists aren't just "utilitarian" nationalists when Margaret Thatcher or Theresa May was/is Prime Minister, they were equally "utilitarian" nationalists when that position was occupied by Clement Attlee or Gordon Brown.

A month ago they were "utilitarian" nationalists so as they could remain in the EU. Following Nicola's declaration that there will, at the very least, be no vote in a timescale that will permit that to happen they are nonetheless still "utilitarian" nationalists. Indeed, as they consider whether their own electorate might require a complete rethink on "Independence in Europe" altogether, they remain "utilitarian" nationalists. Even if the utility is difficult to articulate.

There is only one sort of nationalism. Suffice to say utilitarianism forms no part of it. Nicola herself described the alternative type as existential. That's one way of describing it I suppose. As I say above, whatever type it is, the eight hundred gathered in Glasgow yesterday will vote for it. The problem for them is that nearly four million people would vote in any future referendum and a large number, even of those who voted Yes the last time, would expect some idea of what they were voting for. Which is why Nicola has taken the decision that there is to be no vote in the foreseeable future.

You can't help feeling that from the perspective of the survival of her existential cause, that is an altogether more utilitarian decision than anything discussed yesterday

Sunday 8 January 2017

A Fur Coat

January is an odd month. At the start the festive season isn't quite over and thereafter there is a brief period of optimistic renewal until towards the end of the month, in Scotland at least, there dawns the slow realisation that the Spring is still a good three months away. If we're lucky.

But in that brief period of renewal there are inclined to be certain traditions and in this house at least this includes a purge of the wardrobes. Clothes are gone through and those beyond further use: whether by reason of, long should have been appreciated, wear and tear; or a realisation that, if they've not been worn in the previous twelve months, it's unlikely they'll be worn again; or a recognition that a particular item has long been replaced without being discarded; or, most mysterious of all, the discovery that the clothes appear to have succumbed to the phenomenon of shrinking, while hanging on a rail and not being worn at all.

That has been my task this weekend.

Since Maureen has been ill, I  have applied myself to our collective wardrobe, and, since that time at least, I have faced the dilemma of the fur coat.

It's not even Maureen's fur coat, or even one she ever wore. It belonged to my mother, who has been dead for nearly thirty nine years. And, to the best of my knowledge, no one has so much as tried it on since.

I must have taken it with me when we cleared the family home after my mother's death and then again when Maureen and I first moved in together. I have no recollection of that, or even as to how it then came to this house. Let alone of it being placed into the little used part of the wardrobe within which I make my annual encounter with it each January.

I don't know why I keep it. I'm not a particularly sentimental person and even if I were I have other mementos of my mother somewhat more significant, never mind more easily retained.

I'll never have anybody to give it to. I have no daughters, and all my nieces would probably be horrified that I even possess  a fur coat, let alone be willing to accept it off me.

I'm kind of conscious that if I simply hang on to it forever then no-one lives forever and that, some day, somebody will do what I should have long since have done and dispose of it. If not to the bin then at least to a charity shop where it might raise a few quid for a worthy cause.

Every year that rational part of my brain says that's precisely what I should do but, strangely, every year I am ever less inclined to do so. Not least as it would constitute an admission that it is something I should have done long ago.

Why am I writing this? Partly it's because it's New Year and you are meant to be miserably reflective. Again perhaps particularly in Scotland.

But it's also perhaps because the place this fur coat holds in my life increasingly parallels my relationship with the Labour Party. There is a bit of me that is conscious that the Labour Party was once as fashionable as no doubt was the fur coat but that fashions, and mores, change. Increasingly it looks as if no one will ever wear it again. Be clear, Corbynism may be a by product of this unfashionability but it is not its cause. If no-one wants to wear you anyway, what matters the length at the knee, or the width of lapel?

They say that if you wait long enough all fashion comes round again. But the codpiece won't. Or the bustle. Or, I strongly suspect, the fur coat.

Yet I cannot quite bring myself to throw it away.

Happy New Year.