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I guess you had to be there

September 30, 2012

When writing about any of my passions – sport, politics, literature, travel, music and the likes – I always seek to gain some perspective, lest I fire off an ill considered rant that leaves me open to justifiable criticism. Of course, I’ve reached a stage in life where I find there’s an awful lot of perspective to be had; in some cases it stretches to a barely discernible smudge in the far and dim distance.

Be that as it may, my intention was to delay writing about Saturday’s Independence March and Rally until I had time to digest my feelings and appreciate the general reaction to it.

In so doing, however, I find that my reflection time was somewhat hijacked by the hullabaloo caused by Johann Lamont’s game changing announcements earlier this week.

It makes no never mind, as they say, because, of course, the two events are inevitably linked.

First, to the March and Rally.

When writing about any of my passions – sport, politics, literature, travel, music and the likes – I always seek to gain some perspective, lest I fire off an ill considered rant that leaves me open to justifiable criticism. Of course, I’ve reached a stage in life where I find there’s an awful lot of perspective to be had; in some cases it stretches to a barely discernible smudge in the far and dim distance.

Be that as it may, my intention was to delay writing about Saturday’s Independence March and Rally until I had time to digest my feelings and appreciate the general reaction to it.

In so doing, however, I find that my reflection time was somewhat hijacked by the hullabaloo caused by Johann Lamont’s game changing announcements earlier this week.

It makes no never mind, as they say, because, of course, the two events are inevitably linked.

First, to the March and Rally.

Well, I guess you had to be there. As the veteran of a hundred ‘Princes St’ sprints for all manner of causes, I’m wise enough to know that marching of itself solves nothing and that turn out – high or low – is not necessarily significant.

However, what I did detect last Saturday was a new atmosphere – something I’d not noticed on previous forays down the Mound. Perhaps because this was about an idea, rather than defending a particular issue or attacking a government decision, there was a positivity, a mellowness about the atmosphere which was quite uplifting.

There were all sorts of folk, of all ages, from all parts of Scotland, and, whereas previously, on a ‘nationalist’ march, there might have been a ‘Harry Lauder Appreciation Society’ whiff about the whole affair, this was much more inclusive – a coming together of, to quote Kenny Farquharson’s phrase, ‘civic nationalism’.

This wasn’t a gathering informed by ‘Wha’s like us?’ fervour or anti English bile. It was largely composed of folk who had sampled a dozen or so years of devolution and were of the opinion that an independent Scotland could make a fist of it – and a better fist of it than the folks in Westminster. It was people who were sick of anti-Englishness and blaming others for our woes – folk who wanted to take responsibility for our own affairs, avoid the laziness of ‘it’s no oor fault’, bring politicians closer to the people and more accountable for the decisions they made and their impact on the country, in particular on the most vulnerable and neglected by the current set up.

The presence of supporters and fellow travelers from many countries was indicative of a new direction as well. I saw and heard folk from England, Ireland, Wales, USA, Canada, Catalunya, Flanders, Germany, Italy, France, Brittany, Euskadi – some who have similar struggles for self determination, some who merely supported the notion that Scotland should be ‘normal’, should have a voice in world affairs, should have its citizens represented internationally.

In the speeches – and they came from a wide section of the Scottish political community – the focus time and again was on ‘doing the best for the vulnerable’, ‘protecting real social democracy’, ‘wanting the best for the people of our country’.

There was plenty resentment against the coalition government for its many failures and Dennis Canavan and ‘Labour for independence’s’ Allan Grogan, both evinced disappointment in the Labour party’s failure to connect with the people of Scotland, but these were the only negative elements of the procedure. The First Minister, Margo Macdonald, Ruth Wishart, Cameron McNeish, Amar Anwar and others all had the same focus: we must do better for Scotland, we can do better for Scotland and we will do better for Scotland if we have control of our own affairs.

Interestingly, Margo’s central theme was ‘Speak to those who disagree. Put yourselves in their place and listen. Use the strong case we have for Independence to convince them.’

In the light of that wise advice, the reaction of the pro-union body was enlightening.

It could be summed up as: “Not many at march”.

Individually, various commentators minimized the numbers and suggested it was “Alex Salmond’s failed attempt to whip up anti-English feeling”.
The numbers achieved – irrespective of 5000 or 10,000 – were probably decisively more than any other political movement in Scotland would have achieved just now, and, as I’ve suggested, the march was to establish a feeling of unity amongst the various factions for Independence – a task it notably achieved.

As already noted, this was not an ‘anti-English march’, nor was it organized by Alex Salmond or the SNP – indeed the media had been keen to point out, in the days leading up to the march, how silent the SNP HQ websites had been on the event. Anyone who had been at the march would have been aware of this.

Interestingly, one ‘no’ voter replied to my tweet about the variety of languages I heard on the march: “But how many of them have a vote?”

In a sense, this was emblematic of the pro union campaign so far: not an attempt to argue the case against independence, more an opportunity to scoff. In fact, I found this remark indicative of a kind of parochialism which was entirely absent on the march itself. I was happy to march with anyone, voter or not, and I would never dream of categorizing someone as a ‘non-citizen’, on the basis of a ‘foreign’ accent.

There is a high irony that, while those in favour of independence still have the ‘parochial’ epithet hurled at them, the independence movement has developed an inclusive and internationalist approach, while opponents are sounding more and more parochial in a British sense. Indeed, as I write, the news is leading with Cameron’s strong hint in Brazil that there will be a UK Referendum on the EU, the footsteps of UKIP and his own Tory dissidents almost drowning out his words. What a further irony – as the ‘separatists’ clamour for a voice in Europe, there are voices in the south unhappy about EU membership.

This I think demonstrates the problem with the ‘no campaign’ currently. For some reason they seem unwilling or incapable of putting the case for the union and instead limit themselves to negative attacks on the Yes campaign. Their problem is that the nature of the movement towards independence has changed dramatically over the past decade, but they don’t seem to have noticed.

At the first count I ever attended, in Edinburgh’s Meadowbank Stadium, in October 74, a colleague and I were speaking to the Labour candidate. Her husband/agent came up and spoke across us saying: “Oh! Talking to the children are we?” In a sense, Scottish Labour and the pro union movement in general have never got past this mode of ‘debate’. In their world, independence is unthinkable and those who propose it not worth arguing with.

That’s a big mistake. The world has changed, Scotland has changed, and if they don’t recognize that fact, ‘their world’ will be so removed from the real world that they will become irrelevant.

In their recent study on Labour Scotland’s decline, Hassan and Shaw make the point that Labour’s position in Scotland post war – in local government in particular – led to a situation of control where they came to believe it was ‘their way or the highway’. Cronyism replaced genuine social concern, power at Westminster – as we saw with the opening of the Scottish parliament – was far more highly valued than service to the people who voted for them. It sometimes seemed that, for many – certainly not all – Labour councillors, their position was more a stepping stone to a job in Westminster, than a chance to work for the local populace. In the passing, I hope the SNP learn from this that popularly large majorities bring their own risks with them.

Which brings us to Johann Lamont’s speech: “The second longest suicide note in history’ as Iain McWhirter cried it. Why would the leader of a party who, if not genuinely pursuing it, had based much of their existence in Scotland on pursuing a fair social agenda, protecting the vulnerable, carrying out Keir Hardie’s legacy – why would she suddenly promote such a retreat from the very soul of these
ideas – especially when unable to offer an alternative and in reference to a time beyond the referendum. What sense did it make?

For some time now I have been losing patience with the media who demand to know what sort of independent Scotland the SNP envisage, without making the same demands of the other parties, and then rubbishing independence on the basis of the SNP’s views, vague though some of them are. It seems to me that all parties should be clear on what they would offer in an independent Scotland as well as how they would see Scotlamd after a no vote. The referendum is a choice between the status quo and independence – not between parties – that choice comes with the first independent election. Now, at last, Scottish Labour have acknowledged they will need a plan, either way, – but won’t tell us what it will be!

The conspiracy theorists, of course, had a field day: she’s thanking London for helping her re-gain control of John Smith House or helping remodel UK Labour so they can join a coalition with the LibDems in 2015.

I think the answer is much more simple.

Scottish Labour are still stuck in the same mode as that guy was in Meadowbank in 1974 – don’t debate with the Nats – just swot them away, make fun of them, they are inconsequential. As many have pointed out, some Scottish Labour politicians have a hatred of the SNP which is so visceral it controls all their political reactions. It’s almost a case of – ‘If the SNP are for it, I’m agin it’, irrespective of the merits of particular policies or decisions – the opposition to minimum alcohol pricing is a good example of this.

Of course, this crucifies any kind of meaningful debate and does not serve the voters well. Opposition for opposition’s sake is a poor substitute for active and responsive politics.

Those who know Johann Lamont say she is a good woman who cares. In any case, personal attacks should be anathema to anyone who seeks a better Scotland – whichever route they favour.

My reaction to this last week’s events would be much more reflective than knee jerk partisanship.

What I saw and sensed on the Saturday march is that there is a change in the wind in Scotland. There are decent people from all parties and none who are looking at our potential and believing there is a better way – that with independence will come responsibility and that it’s about time civic Scotland took that responsibility and took Scotland to a better place – in its care for the vulnerable and in the face it presents to the world community. As a nation we are around a thousand years old – far too long in the tooth to maintain the cry “a big boy done it and ran away’. It’s not England’s fault, it’s not Cameron’s fault, it’s our fault if we don’t face up to our problems and use our potential to create better.

I can’t envisage an independent Scotland without a strong and influential labour movement; the two most stirring speeches at last week’s rally came from that direction – from Dennis Canavan and Allan Grogan.

Unfortunately, as things stand, neither can I see the Scottish Labour party, as it is at present, bringing that movent to the table. It’s time for them to realize you can’t serve two masters, and, of all organizations, they should be eschewing Westminster for the most vulnerable at home.

Well, I guess you had to be there. As the veteran of a hundred ‘Princes St’ sprints for all manner of causes, I’m wise enough to know that marching of itself solves nothing and that turn out – high or low – is not necessarily significant.

However, what I did detect last Saturday was a new atmosphere – something I’d not noticed on previous forays down the Mound. Perhaps because this was about an idea, rather than defending a particular issue or attacking a government decision, there was a positivity, a mellowness about the atmosphere which was quite uplifting.

There were all sorts of folk, of all ages, from all parts of Scotland, and, whereas previously, on a ‘nationalist’ march, there might have been a ‘Harry Lauder Appreciation Society’ whiff about the whole affair, this was much more inclusive – a coming together of, to quote Kenny Farquharson’s phrase, ‘civic nationalism’.

This wasn’t a gathering informed by ‘Wha’s like us?’ fervour or anti English bile. It was largely composed of folk who had sampled a dozen or so years of devolution and were of the opinion that an independent Scotland could make a fist of it – and a better fist of it than the folks in Westminster. It was people who were sick of anti-Englishness and blaming others for our woes – folk who wanted to take responsibility for our own affairs, avoid the laziness of ‘it’s no oor fault’, bring politicians closer to the people and more accountable for the decisions they made and their impact on the country, in particular on the most vulnerable and neglected by the current set up.

The presence of supporters and fellow travelers from many countries was indicative of a new direction as well. I saw and heard folk from England, Ireland, Wales, USA, Canada, Catalunya, Flanders, Germany, Italy, France, Brittany, Euskadi – some who have similar struggles for self determination, some who merely supported the notion that Scotland should be ‘normal’, should have a voice in world affairs, should have its citizens represented internationally.

In the speeches – and they came from a wide section of the Scottish political community – the focus time and again was on ‘doing the best for the vulnerable’, ‘protecting real social democracy’, ‘wanting the best for the people of our country’.

There was plenty resentment against the coalition government for its many failures and Dennis Canavan and ‘Labour for independence’s’ Allan Grogan, both evinced disappointment in the Labour party’s failure to connect with the people of Scotland, but these were the only negative elements of the procedure. The First Minister, Margo Macdonald, Ruth Wishart, Cameron McNeish, Amar Anwar and others all had the same focus: we must do better for Scotland, we can do better for Scotland and we will do better for Scotland if we have control of our own affairs.

Interestingly, Margo’s central theme was ‘Speak to those who disagree. Put yourselves in their place and listen. Use the strong case we have for Independence to convince them.’

In the light of that wise advice, the reaction of the pro-union body was enlightening.

It could be summed up as: “Not many at march”.

Individually, various commentators minimized the numbers and suggested it was “Alex Salmond’s failed attempt to whip up anti-English feeling”.
The numbers achieved – irrespective of 5000 or 10,000 – were probably decisively more than any other political movement in Scotland would have achieved just now, and, as I’ve suggested, the march was to establish a feeling of unity amongst the various factions for Independence – a task it notably achieved.

As already noted, this was not an ‘anti-English march’, nor was it organized by Alex Salmond or the SNP – indeed the media had been keen to point out, in the days leading up to the march, how silent the SNP HQ websites had been on the event. Anyone who had been at the march would have been aware of this.

Interestingly, one ‘no’ voter replied to my tweet about the variety of languages I heard on the march: “But how many of them have a vote?”

In a sense, this was emblematic of the pro union campaign so far: not an attempt to argue the case against independence, more an opportunity to scoff. In fact, I found this remark indicative of a kind of parochialism which was entirely absent on the march itself. I was happy to march with anyone, voter or not, and I would never dream of categorizing someone as a ‘non-citizen’, on the basis of a ‘foreign’ accent.

There is a high irony that, while those in favour of independence still have the ‘parochial’ epithet hurled at them, the independence movement has developed an inclusive and internationalist approach, while opponents are sounding more and more parochial in a British sense. Indeed, as I write, the news is leading with Cameron’s strong hint in Brazil that there will be a UK Referendum on the EU, the footsteps of UKIP and his own Tory dissidents almost drowning out his words. What a further irony – as the ‘separatists’ clamour for a voice in Europe, there are voices in the south unhappy about EU membership.

This I think demonstrates the problem with the ‘no campaign’ currently. For some reason they seem unwilling or incapable of putting the case for the union and instead limit themselves to negative attacks on the Yes campaign. Their problem is that the nature of the movement towards independence has changed dramatically over the past decade, but they don’t seem to have noticed.

At the first count I ever attended, in Edinburgh’s Meadowbank Stadium, in October 74, a colleague and I were speaking to the Labour candidate. Her husband/agent came up and spoke across us saying: “Oh! Talking to the children are we?” In a sense, Scottish Labour and the pro union movement in general have never got past this mode of ‘debate’. In their world, independence is unthinkable and those who propose it not worth arguing with.

That’s a big mistake. The world has changed, Scotland has changed, and if they don’t recognize that fact, ‘their world’ will be so removed from the real world that they will become irrelevant.

In their recent study on Labour Scotland’s decline, Hassan and Shaw make the point that Labour’s position in Scotland post war – in local government in particular – led to a situation of control where they came to believe it was ‘their way or the highway’. Cronyism replaced genuine social concern, power at Westminster – as we saw with the opening of the Scottish parliament – was far more highly valued than service to the people who voted for them. It sometimes seemed that, for many – certainly not all – Labour councillors, their position was more a stepping stone to a job in Westminster, than a chance to work for the local populace. In the passing, I hope the SNP learn from this that popularly large majorities bring their own risks with them.

Which brings us to Johann Lamont’s speech: “The second longest suicide note in history’ as Iain McWhirter cried it. Why would the leader of a party who, if not genuinely pursuing it, had based much of their existence in Scotland on pursuing a fair social agenda, protecting the vulnerable, carrying out Keir Hardie’s legacy – why would she suddenly promote such a retreat from the very soul of these
ideas – especially when unable to offer an alternative and in reference to a time beyond the referendum. What sense did it make?

For some time now I have been losing patience with the media who demand to know what sort of independent Scotland the SNP envisage, without making the same demands of the other parties, and then rubbishing independence on the basis of the SNP’s views, vague though some of them are. It seems to me that all parties should be clear on what they would offer in an independent Scotland as well as how they would see Scotlamd after a no vote. The referendum is a choice between the status quo and independence – not between parties – that choice comes with the first independent election. Now, at last, Scottish Labour have acknowledged they will need a plan, either way, – but won’t tell us what it will be!

The conspiracy theorists, of course, had a field day: she’s thanking London for helping her re-gain control of John Smith House or helping remodel UK Labour so they can join a coalition with the LibDems in 2015.

I think the answer is much more simple.

Scottish Labour are still stuck in the same mode as that guy was in Meadowbank in 1974 – don’t debate with the Nats – just swot them away, make fun of them, they are inconsequential. As many have pointed out, some Scottish Labour politicians have a hatred of the SNP which is so visceral it controls all their political reactions. It’s almost a case of – ‘If the SNP are for it, I’m agin it’, irrespective of the merits of particular policies or decisions – the opposition to minimum alcohol pricing is a good example of this.

Of course, this crucifies any kind of meaningful debate and does not serve the voters well. Opposition for opposition’s sake is a poor substitute for active and responsive politics.

Those who know Johann Lamont say she is a good woman who cares. In any case, personal attacks should be anathema to anyone who seeks a better Scotland – whichever route they favour.

My reaction to this last week’s events would be much more reflective than knee jerk partisanship.

What I saw and sensed on the Saturday march is that there is a change in the wind in Scotland. There are decent people from all parties and none who are looking at our potential and believing there is a better way – that with independence will come responsibility and that it’s about time civic Scotland took that responsibility and took Scotland to a better place – in its care for the vulnerable and in the face it presents to the world community. As a nation we are around a thousand years old – far too long in the tooth to maintain the cry “a big boy done it and ran away’. It’s not England’s fault, it’s not Cameron’s fault, it’s our fault if we don’t face up to our problems and use our potential to create better.

I can’t envisage an independent Scotland without a strong and influential labour movement; the two most stirring speeches at last week’s rally came from that direction – from Dennis Canavan and Allan Grogan.

Unfortunately, as things stand, neither can I see the Scottish Labour party, as it is at present, bringing that movent to the table. It’s time for them to realize you can’t serve two masters, and, of all organizations, they should be eschewing Westminster asirations for looking out for the most vulnerable at home.

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