UK: Living Hell

I’ve had a sneek preview of the McWhirter book – Disunited Kingdom, how Westminster won a referendum but lost Scotland – which will start appearing in the Sunday Herald today. Iain emailed it to me in advance of tomorrow’s formal launch – probably to humiliate me with the quality of his writing…

I started reading it in Living Hell, which is what I call the kids’ soft play area in Maryhill where my two birthday girls joined the rest of the demented chimpanzees. Even in the din, I was engrossed and raced through the early stuff. He does write with alacrity, marrying insight and narrative to drag you along and provides a depth often missing from thinner and often more pompous offerings. You kind of know, whether he’s on your side or not, that he’s still on the side of the angels – not a sense you get from, say, John McTernan, however relevant his scribblings.

Iain reminded me of the emotional white water ride that we’ve just been through, the gripping anticipation, the total involvement, the astonishment at the mushrooming of support and the sense of national purpose that bound us. I haven’t felt like that before and it was contagious. He captures the sense that we were all in it together (sorry, Mr Cameron) and it created a shared sense of self and community to know you were part of the great movement. Every Yes badge was your side, every window sticker was with your cause, every single one of us was doing our bit. And losing did hurt. He brings it all back and I had a wee greet, more out of pride in the Scots than in regret.

I gave the David Torrance book on Salmond to an American relative last year to educate him so I think I’ll follow up this year by giving the McWhirter.

Talking of Scots to be proud of, I was speaking to the Edinburgh Central branch of the SNP on Friday and was struck by the quality of people who are now politically active. They have rooms in North St Andrew Street that were the hub of Yes in Edinburgh but have to relocate to hold their meetings because there are so many of them. My event had to be ticketed to keep down the numbers for safety reasons – response was so high. It’s all a bit scary.

But it’s the breadth of people who are stepping forward in the national cause that is inspiring – it isn’t just special interest groups or the ambitious. Here is middle Scotland, the educated, the qualified, the concerned and the polite. (The nuttier Unionists in the divisive mainstream papers are still peddling the myth of Nationalist mobs and of intolerance to demonise Scotland’s democratic movement. To me this is a form of denial in keeping with their inability to grasp their own failings).

We discussed the media and I apologised for the trade of journalism which let down the Scots at a crucial time – but which of course also spawned the new media which is now part of our daily lives. I find it impossible to say where this creative spring will lead except that there will be consolidation of outlets as the market takes effect and the objective is not to replace the mainstream – that is neither possible nor desirable – but to supplement with alternatives. We are trying not to compete against each other but to find room for all.

This blog and Newsnet aren’t trying to make money in the normal sense but to generate an income which makes continuing possible. Money pays for office space, admin, studios, equipment and, to a limited extent, professional fees for contributors. It is shoestring and it shows but my objective is to make it sustainable rather than ‘successful’ and the short-term plan is raise enough to get us through to the General Election when Scotland’s future will again be a major feature.

I thought Steven Purcell was interesting on in saying Labour aren’t doing enough to change the political scene and electing a Jim Murphy isn’t in itself the answer. They don’t need more Blairite machine politics and empty mantras, they need a new story and a re-engagement with people – yet where are the members able to do that? The age profile is increasing and without new blood will go the way of the Tories. The sad and predictable Margaret Curran line is that you vote SNP to get a Tory government. And you can understand why this is what is left of a threadbare position. Vote Labour, not because we can do anything for you but because we’re not the other lot. Inspiring, it ain’t. It reminds me of the French presidential election when Chirac was up against Le Pen and people went on to the streets with signs reading: Vote for the Crook, not the Fascist…

In their thousands Scots did return to Labour last time in 2010, having put the SNP into power in Scotland and what did we get? A Tory government. We returned 41 Labour MPs – including my own – and it’s unlikely the party could win more of our 59 seats than that and still it wasn’t enough.

And if you do want rid of the class war Tories, do you honestly believe Miliband is the man to transform the country? There is no denying that across Britain, voters are sick of the whole Westminster circus and have lost faith and while we have a progressive alternative, in England they have only the right wing loonies posing as anti Establishment rebels that is UKIP.

The Autumn Statement has been exposed as the last throw of the dice for Osborne with OBR and the IFS challenging him and even the BBC taking flak for its reporting. The underlying truth is that Britain is bankrupt, living on sovereign debt and personal credit cards, buying imported goods instead of equipment for industry, creating low paid jobs which need benefits to eke them out, still borrowing massively because tax receipts are too low while opposing the immigration that can boost economic activity and dividing the country by stripping away the benefits that are the glue of British society.

I’d like to see a paper on how much of this can be changed if all the existing powers at Holyrood were fully used and supplemented by the Vow promises. How much could we really change out society with those powers and what would it cost us? Most of it seems to be predicated on raising your own revenue – hurrah – while your funding is cut accordingly and if income tax is the main cash generator, isn’t it bad politics just to take more from voters without being able to increase economic activity and take the additional revenue in business tax?

This was the Union’s chance to trump the nationalist case by delivering true Devo Max and making the Scots sit up and be impressed. Most of us can’t tell what is and isn’t devolved in an incoherent, piecemeal offering which shows just how much our Lords and Masters trust us with our own affairs. (I spoke to a Tory who expresses a widespread worry that Cameron panicked two weeks before voting because without the silly Vow and Brown’s mad meanderings, they really would have won and Scots would have no case to make for additional powers today. We’d have to take what we were given. They blew that by promising the earth in desperation).

This guarantees that our demands stay fresh and relevant and provides the campaigning platform for the next big push – in May next year. McWhirter concludes that independence is inevitable. I’m not so sure but I do think Devo Max will be realised eventually as the sinews that bind us weaken under the strain of inept London administration and social unrest which leads to a realisation that there must be a better way.

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