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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Where Did It All Go Wrong?

"Where do we go from here?" That is a question much easier asked than answered. Was it the campaign; was it the question? I happen to think it was both, not that the question was wrong but that it was being asked of an electorate that for the past 25 years has become used to having independence downplayed by the supposed "party of independence". That same electorate was not fooled either, by the sleight of hand of the SNP, attempting to present an economic policy that quite plainly told them independence was not on offer. It was easy for the No campaign to highlight the dishonesty of the Yes side, despite their own campaign of blatant dishonesty and hypocrisy. Perhaps now, those dedicated and sincere people who desperately wanted independence, will accept that electoral success for the SNP is not the same as persuading Scots of the benefits of independence, so that however dishonest the Unionists are, independence will become the priority and will be delivered.

Perhaps instead of asking just "Where it all went wrong?" we should also ask "When did it all start to go wrong?" I firmly believe it started to go wrong long before the referendum campaign started; in fact I believe it started to go wrong for the SNP and the cause of independence some time before the 1987 Westminster general election. I realise that many of my critics will stop reading now, but many of them have little or no knowledge of the history of the SNP and how much the strategy and tactics of the party have changed throughout that period. Many others are not Nationalists, therefore the class politics, in which the SNP has indulged, chimes with their own view of what the party should stand for and how it should campaign. The failure of the referendum to achieve independence, should surely make them at least examine if the strategy of the last 25 years was correct.

The SNP did not fight a Nationalist campaign in 1987, it fought an anti-Thatcher campaign and did no more than talk up the Labour vote in Scotland. The 1983 campaign had been a disaster for the party, which spent more time dealing with the problems created by the activities of the 79 Group and the SNG, than it did campaigning. Prior to 1987, the party made a pact with Plaid Cymru in Wales, part of which entailed being prepared to keep a Labour government in power in Westminster in return for constitutional change, but rejecting any deal with the Tories for any reason. It was the first time the party had fought any kind of election on a purely class agenda and under the influence of Alex Salmond, who had been elected VC Publicity, the party talked up the likelihood of a hung parliament in Westminster, under the slogan, "If there is going to be a hung parliament, let it hang by a Scottish rope". There was strong internal opposition to the hung parliament scenario and keeping a Unionist party in power, as there was never any chance of a hung parliament. The strategy was a disaster and I wrote in the Scots Independent after the election, "Dundee East and Western Isles were sacrificed on the altar of anti-Thatcherism".

In his book, "SNP: The Turbulent Years" Gordon Wilson wrote, "...the central belt strategy had collapsed and with the loss of Dundee East in particular, we no longer had parliamentary representation in any industrial area." The vote was increased by 2.4% to 14% from the 1983 vote of 11.8% and the number of MPs increased from 2 to 3, so that the spin became, "We increased our parliamentary strength by 50%". Labour's vote went up from 35% in 1983 to 42.4% and their MPs increased from 41 to 50 (the famous Feeble Fifty). The vast majority of SNP supporters are unaware that the party has consistently failed to achieve the 30.4% of the vote won in October 1974 which returned 11 MPs to Westminster. In 2010 the party polled 19.9% which returned 6 MPs, the highest number elected under Alex Salmond's leadership. No one can deny the tremendous success of the party in the Scottish Parliament but it also has to be recognised that proportional representation gave it the kick start it needed. Under proportional representation for Westminster, the SNP would have returned 22 MPs in October 1974, a result which could have produced a much different outcome for the party in 1979. The class politics, which has been the strategy of the SNP during Alex Salmond's twenty years as leader, has obviously brought success in the Scottish Parliament but it has alienated the substantial number of natural conservative voters in Scotland and it has failed to convert Scots to the cause of independence. YouGov's latest poll shows that only 8% of Tory voters voted Yes while 20% of SNP voters voted No.

The campaign run by the No side was a travesty and was well named "Project Fear" but anyone who has been involved in politics in Scotland for any length of time, should have been ready to counter both that and the solid Unionist misrepresentation of the media, particularly the BBC and tabloids like the Daily and Sunday Mail. The Yes Campaign was hardly helped by the protestations of its Chairman Dennis Canavan, and others, when he proclaimed, "I am not a Nationalist" at every opportunity. He was aided and abetted by SNP office bearers like Humza Yousaf who regularly declared, "It is not about kilts, haggis, identity..." That proclaimed to the world that there was something wrong, pernicious and perhaps dangerous, with Scottish Nationalism and that it was better avoided, despite the fact that even the media was prepared to concede there had never been any hint of racism or sectarianism associated with the SNP and the independence movement, despite the best efforts of George Galloway to insinuate that there was. Ironically his colleagues and fellow Unionists in the Loyalists showed us where the racism and sectarianism could be found, when they attacked Yes supporters in George Square in Glasgow. The No side lapped it up, attacking the dangers of Nationalism at every turn. The Yes campaign was a class campaign, an appeal to the disadvantaged, pure and simple, an appeal to Labour voters, doing nothing to promote the culture and identity of the Scottish nation, the things that identify us as Scots to the rest of the world.

If there was one issue that sunk the Yes campaign more than any other, it was the currency. I have written about it at length and won't repeat the arguments now, as they can be read in several previous blogs. It was an insult to peoples' intelligence to argue that a currency union would give Scots control of the economic levers we need, in order to run our own economy when not just the opposition were pointing out, if a currency union was agreed at all, that allowing another country to control monetary policy, together with agreements on borrowing and spending, would deny us independence. The argument, "it is our pound as well as theirs" was infantile and demeaning. The failure to deal with the currency gave rise to several other concerns such as pensions, debt repayment, the flight of capital and companies to England, the EU and the euro. Supporters were reduced to claiming the currency union was merely a "short term measure", while the leadership was stating they expected/hoped it would last for many years. It is astonishing that the leadership allowed themselves and therefore the campaign, to enter the fight so obviously unprepared for the opposing arguments. The obvious answer for any country renewing its status as a nation state, is to have its own currency, which it can then manage as it sees fit. Why that option was never discussed, even to explain why the leadership rejected it, was never explained.

The one encouraging outcome of the referendum campaign is the energy it has released among the population, particularly the young. I have no confidence that Westminster will keep to the promises of greater powers for the Scottish parliament, particularly now that the English have realised what is happening. The timetable has already slipped and will slip further. I would be more encouraged by the enormous increase in the SNP's membership if I could be sure of the kind of strategy and platform the party will adopt. If it is more of the same, it is likely the result of another referendum will be the same. No nation that aspires to statehood can afford to alienate an entire section of its population by campaigning exclusively for another section, no nation can create a stable and successful society by fighting a predominantly class war.




Sunday, 21 September 2014

Mugged? Or Just Mugs?

Those of us who were around in 1979 have spent the last two years ( and a hell of a lot of years before that) warning the Scottish people to beware the promises they would be given by Unionist politicians. That was a bad time for Nationalists, as they saw the work carried out over the previous five years by the SNP's parliamentary group, thrown back in their faces by the Scottish electorate. This time,we knew, as the electorate should have known, that the Westminster MPs cannot be trusted. Within 24 hours of the poll, the promises made only a few days previously, of greater powers for the Scottish Parliament, were being kicked into the long grass. Increased powers for Scotland are suddenly to be conditional on increased powers for England, together with the resolution of the West Lothian Question. Just to ensure there is "fairness all round", Wales and Northern Ireland must also be given further powers, as yet unstated. So, in answer to the question, "Yes, we have been well and truly mugged". And just to make my position clear, I also think we are mugs.

Alex Douglas Home's infamous request to Scots to reject the Devolution Bill of 1979, as "the Tories would introduce something much better" is so much a part of Scottish political folklore, so ingrained in the minds of any Scot who has an interest in politics and Scotland's political history, it is almost inconceivable that we would fall for it again. Those Labour supporters who have been disgusted by the stance taken by the current Labour Party in Scotland and their coalition with the Tories, should have remembered it was a Labour MP who sunk the 1979 Bill with the notorious "40% Rule". They should also have remembered the Brian Wilsons and Tam Dalyells in the Labour Party, who campaigned against their own party's policy. These are the Labour MPs who are in favour of independence for every country in the world, except their own. This time, it fell to another Labour MP, an ex Chancellor and Prime Minister no less, to sink the knife into the hopes and aspirations of Scots. Step forward Gordon Brown.

I can respect the views of anyone who favours keeping the Union of 1707 for positive reasons, because they genuinely feel British and can make a positive case, without recourse to hypocrisy or the kind of disdain for Scottish aspirations, history, culture, mores and values that we have come to expect from the "British" establishment. I can have sympathy for those who have a genuine concern or fear for their future prospects, whether it be pensions, health or education for children or grandchildren, even if that fear is groundless and has been manufactured by a series of distortions, half truths and out and out lies. Unfortunately the SNP and Yes Campaign did little to assuage those fears, through a combination of incompetence and distortion that left them wide open to charges of the same kind of dishonesty that haunted the No Campaign. (I will cover the campaign in the next blog.) What I really despise is the rank hypocrisy of the Wilsons, Davidsons, Labour and Tory establishments in general, the Scottish media but particularly the BBC and Daily Mail.

Gordon Brown was regularly vilified and openly despised, with the kind of racist taunts at his Scottishness that would have been prosecuted had they been leveled at any other minority but which the Establishment tolerated in Brown's case, by the very same people who have deified him for his performance in the Referendum campaign. He is the man who destroyed the pension industry in the UK, during his term as Chancellor, who allowed the banks to cheat, steal and thumb their collective noses at their own customers, to the point where they almost destroyed the UK economy. They have paid millions in fines for corruption and billions in compensation to those they cheated and from whom they stole, using the legislation he introduced, but not a single banker has been prosecuted. In his Mansion House speech in 2007, to the Financial Services industry, Brown said, I congratulate you on those remarkable achievements, an era that history will record as the beginning of a new Golden Age for "the City of London....." The economy collapsed within the next year. He had the gall to tell the Scottish people their pensions would be threatened if they voted Yes.

The part played by the BBC and Daily Mail will not be forgotten, as their bias became more blatant with every day that passed. The BBC surpassed even its own hypocrisy levels, when it failed to report the riots in George Square for what they were, a show of sectarian racism and thuggery by Union Jack waving toerags. They tried to present it as "a clash between Yes and No supporters", rapidly disproved through use of the internet by those who were attacked. Alistair Darling has tried to disown them, although he was quick enough to condemn the entire independence movement because someone threw an egg at Jim Murphy. We have heard nothing from Ian Davidson. Sorry Messrs Darling, Davidson et al. they are your thugs, they are Unionists to a man and when they spewed all over George Square, they defiled the Scottish nation on behalf of the Union. For more than a fortnight the Daily Mail reported the on line abuse of J K Rowland on a daily basis, abuse that was condemned by every leading figure in the Yes Campaign. True to form, when Andy Murray revealed he would vote Yes, the Mail not only participated in his abuse, they attempted to justify it.

With the appeals for Scots to come together to work for the common good still ringing in our ears, the timetable for the reforms Brown promised, has already slipped, "English votes for English laws" has become the new mantra in England, reform all round has appeared on the agenda and Jack Straw wants the Union of 1707 to become indissoluble. In other words, another referendum on Scottish independence would become illegal and the main aim of the original English Unionists would finally be fulfilled; the end of Scotland as a separate country and political entity. The English MPs have a point; it is obviously unfair that the English people have been ignored during all the discussions about independence, but the time to raise the issue was before the Edinburgh Agreement was signed. Several leading figures have warned the Westminster government that any attempt to welch on the promises they made would not be forgiven, that Scots would never forgive them. I wish I was that confident. The main parties have been wlching on promises for the whole of my life and if you read history for a lot longer than that. In fact, the UK establishment has welched on promises since 1707 and couldn't care less if Scots don't forgive them. Until we vote for independence, there is nothing we can do about it and they will continue to break promises. Those who voted No will just have to get used to it.


Thursday, 11 September 2014

"The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is Fear Itself"

When Franklin D Roosvelt, said, "...the only thing we have to fear is fear itself", during his first inaugural address in 1933, he was speaking to a nation which was in the depths of the Great Depression. Unemployment was 25%, with another 33% working part-time, which meant 50% of the work force was unused. Farm incomes had fallen by 50% and out of a total of five million mortgages, 844,000 were foreclosed. Banks were closed and savings lost, no unemployment benefit and no social security. The soup kitchen, riding the rails, hopelessness and abject poverty passed into American folklore with songs such as, "Buddy can you spare me a dime". When, in a recent blog I suggested that Roosvelt's, "the only thing...." was far more applicable to present day Scotland than to America in 1933, it was the comparison of the relative levels of poverty and economic activity that I had in mind.

Roosvelt, went on to say, "nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror, which paralyses needed effort to convert retreat into advance". There is absolutely no doubt that much of the fear of independence we are hearing expressed by Scots, is both unreasoning and unjustified but which has been engendered by the Unionists during the application of their "Project Fear". Their relentless negativity, not just over the past two years of the referendum campaign, but over generations of propaganda, has damaged Scotland and the Scottish people, not just economically or materially, but psychologically. To instill unjustified fear and encourage lack of confidence in a nation, so that it will cease to aspire to create change or challenge the dominant partner, is criminal. I have been just as relentless in stating that Scottish Nationalism, the desire for independence, is about dignity and self respect, not economics and been accused of insulting those who oppose independence. I may have some sympathy with their arguments if they were not invariably couched in economic terms. Where is the dignity and self respect in believing that independence will inevitably lead to economic collapse, or that Scots will be unable to fund their pension, education or health service?

Margaret and Jim Cuthbert, who have produced some excellent work on the Scottish economy, said in one of their papers, "The Union has proved itself incapable of exercising proper stewardship, either of an irreplaceable resource like North sea Oil, or of the UK economy. Secondly the Union has failed to honour the kind of implicit bargain of good faith that should exist in any properly functioning union." That is a serious charge but one that can be shown to be accurate in any number of ways. For people who preface every comment with, "I am a proud Scot but.." Unionists do their very best to show what a useless, feckless, uninspiring collection of subsidy junkies, we are. They are also the only people who argue that Scotland will collapse when the oil runs out - next week, next month or next year. They will never have any credibility on oil after hiding the McCrone report and lying to the Scottish people for over thirty years. They are still lying and deliberately ignoring the other sectors of the Scottish economy which are doing well and with independence will do even better, such as food and drink, tourism, life sciences et al.

Gordon Brown warns us we will not be able to afford our pensions - who pays for them now? - which is rich, coming from the man who destroyed the pension industry in the UK. Standard Life announced yesterday they intend to reduce the pension provision for over 3,000 of their staff but this is just the latest installment of the total destruction of final salary schemes, brought about by Brown's policies when he was Chancellor. The uncertainty created by the currency issue, is said to be causing the finance industry to relocate to England, in the event of a Yes vote, with Standard Life leading the charge. This is the company that made the same threat when Devolution was proposed but is one of the few companies left in Scotland out of the once dominant financial services sector. Where are the great Scottish companies such as GA, Scottish Amicable, Scottish Equitable, Scottish Mutual, Scottish Provident, Scottish Life; all of them taken over and business transferred? When Margaret Curran warns we will lose shipbuilding jobs if there is a Yes vote, has she deliberately forgotten the jobs we lost when Labour were in power for thirty years out of the last 63? One hundred years ago, one fifth of the total ships built in the world, were built on the Clyde. Where are they now? Labour presided over massive job losses not just in shipbuilding but in the railways, mining and steel industries, while Scottish oil revenues were being used to fund the necessary changes in the English economy.

For a nation that produced some of the world's greatest inventors, scientists, engineers and whose working classes were at one time, the most literate and best educated in Europe, to be afraid of governing itself is almost beyond comprehension. Our history in education and medicine and the part played by the great Scottish thinkers such as Hume, during the Enlightenment, is without equal. We have lost almost two million people in the last 100 years and their talents played a massive role in building the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Their talents could have been used here, in their own country and with the exception of Ireland, no part of the British Isles has lost a greater proportion of its people to emigration. Independence could reverse that need to go abroad to realise aspirations while the great Scottish diaspora will continue to give us the international contacts we need.

Roosvelt was later said to be the "man who saved capitalism", although it took World War II to put the American economy really back on its feet. The independence movement's ambitions are less lofty than "saving capitalism". It has been repeated countless times but people seem to need reminding that the referendum is not about voting for the SNP or any other party; it is about deciding who governs our country and that is far more important. It would indeed be a tragedy if Roosvelt',s "nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror" was allowed to determine the result.


Monday, 1 September 2014

Does Labour's History In Scotland Justify Trusting Them Again?

This blog is simply an update on the one I wrote in April this year entitled, "If Scots Choose Labour Rather Than Independence, They Can Expect Another Kicking". With only two weeks to go until we make the most important political decision any of us have faced in our lifetime, a long, hard look at the alternatives to independence, is absolutely essential. Shadow Scottish secretary, Margaret Curran, issued a statement today, warning Labour voters who might be tempted to vote for independence "to escape the Tories", to remember the "threat to Scottish shipbuilding jobs" that independence would bring. For ANY Scottish Labour MP to warn against independence because we might lose jobs in shipbuilding, really is beyond parody.

Don't be put off by the list of figures below, because they tell an important story about Labour's record in Scotland, particularly how they have rewarded the trust placed in them by Scotland's population. The wastelands that are still there in parts of West Central Scotland - better known as "Labour's Heartland" - tell the story much more graphically than any list of numbers and figures ever will, but the numbers really are important, because they represent the historical record of Labour's betrayal of the people who trusted them and put them back into office time, after time, after time.

Year of Gen Election                    No of Scottish Seats Won By Labour
  1951           Tory Gov                                    35
  1955                  "                                           34
  1959                  "                                           38
  1964           Lab Gov                                      43
  1966                 "                                            46
  1970            Tory Gov                                   44
  1974 (Feb)   Lab Gov                                    40
  1974 (Oct)         "                                           41
  1979             Tory Gov                                   44
  1983                  "                                            40
  1987                 "                                             50 (The Feeble Fifty)
  1992                 "                                             49
  1997             Lab Gov                                     56
  2001                 "                                             56
  2005                 "                                             41
  2010              Tory Gov                                  41

Labour won the general elections in 1945 and 1951, the period where they have to be given credit for the setting up of the National Health Service and the massive restructuring that took place in the immediate post war years, but what followed, at least as far as Scotland is concerned, is massively different. What the figures show is that since the general election of 1964, when Harold Wilson led Labour, the party has never had less than 40 MPs which have been sent to Westminster to represent Scottish seats. That could have been a serious and effective Scottish pressure group but party loyalty always came first. They also show that Labour has held office in Westminster for thirty years out of the last 63, therefore they are as much to blame as the Tories, for whatever has happened to Scottish industry and the failure to deal effectively with the deindustrialisation of the Scottish economy.

In the coal industry, employment in Scotland fell from 89,464 in 1951 to 2,370 in 1991, but the carnage took place in three stages. Between 1951 and 1961, the numbers fell from 89,464 to 80,410 and between 1961 and 1971, the numbers fell from 80,410 to 34,315 and finally to 2,370 by 1991. The Tories were in power for all of the first stage but Labour was in power for seven years out of the ten years of the second stage when 46,000 jobs were lost and the real damage was done. There is a similar story in the rail industry where jobs in Scotland fell from 55,393 in 1951 to 11,870 in 1991. Again, there were three stages when there was a small reduction from 55,393 in 1951 to 53,990 in 1961, then a loss of 31,000 jobs from 53,990 in 1961 to 22,910 in 1971 and finally to 11,870 in 1991. Again Labour was in power when the real damage was done and although the Beeching reports were published in 1963 and 1965, when he returned to ICI, the bulk of the cuts he suggested were implemented during Labour's term of office.

One resource that could have saved Scotland much of the pain associated with the various periods of substantial unemployment since 1945, is oil. Had Scotland had the power to control the rate of extraction and proper management of the resource, in other words had we been independent, there would be no queues for second hand food as we are currently experiencing.The McCrone report on the effect oil would have on Scotland, if we chose to be independent, was written in 1974 for the Heath government but was given to the Labour government on April 23rd 1975. Both governments agreed that it would not be in the interests of UK governments if Scots were told the truth, therefore the report was kept secret, until the SNP were able to get it through Freedom of Information in 2005. There is no doubt Scots would have taken an entirely different attitude to independence, had they been told the contents of the report, which stated that an independent Scotland would be as rich as Switzerland with a currency which would have been the hardest of any in Europe, with the possible exception of the Norwegian Kroner.

In July 1986, with the Tories in government, I attended an unemployment summit arranged by the STUC, as part of an SNP team, together with representatives of the TUs, Churches, Local Government and other groups in Scottish society. This was nothing new as the STUC had called an "Assembly on Unemployment" in February 1972 when unemployment was 85,000; a "Convention on Unemployment" in December 1980 when unemployment was 250,000 and then this "Economic Summit" in July with unemployment at 480,000. Unemployment at this level was a national disgrace as Scotland was the fifth largest oil producer in the world the previous year, 1985. Contributions from the floor suggested that the nature and representation at the Summit, was a clear indication of the "power of Scottish society". Gordon Wilson, then leader of the SNP, pointed out that the Summit was "a sign of weakness rather than power". No one openly disagreed. Jim Callaghan predicted that oil revenues would be around £4 billion by the middle of the 1980s but they were £12 billion in 1985. Dennis Healey admitted on May 19th 2013, that they had quite deliberately reduced the true wealth in the North Sea "because of the fear of giving the SNP a boost."

Scotland has little to thank Labour for, as my previous blog shows in more detail, and when Margaret Curran has the gall to warn us that we will lose shipbuilding jobs if we vote Yes, I don't know whether to laugh or cry.