« | Home | »

Speed Reading ‘Scotland’s Future’

Tags:

John F. Kennedy is supposed to have been able to read 2000 words per minute. Alistair Darling must be nearly as quick: the Scottish government published its 670-page White Paper on independence at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. By midday the former chancellor had reached his verdict: ‘a work of fiction, thick with false promises and meaningless assertions’. Alistair Carmichael was lagging behind; it was the early afternoon before the Scottish secretary declared of the White Paper: ‘Rarely have so many words been used to answer so little.’

The press was, if anything, even quicker in rushing to judgment on Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to an Independent Scotland. During Tuesday morning’s launch at Glasgow Science Centre, Alex Salmond and his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, were asked barbed questions about everything from border control to European Union membership and what currency an independent Scotland would use. Sturgeon demonstrated an impressive command of her brief, reeling off page numbers and points, and Salmond put on a show of bonhomie – ‘In Glasgow parlance, you’ve had a fair kick o’ the ba’,’ the first minister said as he brought the hour-long conference to a close – but it didn’t win them many favourable headlines.

Nationalists have been accused of failing to deliver what Scots are constantly told they crave most: certainty. Salmond didn’t help his cause by saying earlier that the White Paper could ‘resonate down the ages’. (The normally more circumspect Sturgeon had promised voters it would ‘answer all your questions’.) The hefty document reads more like an SNP manifesto for the next Holyrood elections (which in part it is, independence or no) than ‘the most comprehensive blueprint for an independent country ever published’ (though that’s possibly true, very few nations having been forged so peaceably, a point too often forgotten amid ludicrous comparisons to the Balkans).

The White Paper is not as vacuous as its critics claim. An independent Scotland could make good on its proposals: it could have a separate broadcaster; it could remove Trident; it could provide extensive free childcare; it could (though it shouldn’t) lower corporation tax to 17 per cent. Whether it will or not depends first on the result next September, and then on the skills of its political classes.

The paper’s failure is less one of content than of form. Implicit in the production of a weighty, data-heavy text – full of swish graphics and word clouds – is the assumption that the question ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ has a straightforward answer. ‘We need more facts!’ is a rallying cry of the Central Belt’s chattering classes, few of whom, I would guess, have waded through the dozen and more reports published on various aspects of independence in the last six months. More reports will follow, but none will provide certainty precisely because there can be no certainty about the future, whether in an independent Scotland or in the union.

The SNP and the Yes Scotland campaign (the two are still broadly interchangeable) have allowed themselves to be bounced into trying to deliver the impossible – answers that can only be provided if Scotland votes yes. (For all London’s bluster, post-independence compromise is not only possible but likely. It was the Edinburgh Agreement between David Cameron and Alex Salmond that has allowed the referendum to take place at all.) So far, the Yes side hasn’t turned the critical questioning back on the unionists: would the UK be an EU member in 2016? Would Scottish jobs be secure in the union? What does Westminster propose to do about the chronic deprivation a short walk from the Science Centre, in the tower blocks of Glasgow’s south side?

Getting the residents of the tower blocks out to vote at all could be a deciding factor next September: independence is more popular among the poor; the middle classes have shown little enthusiasm for going it alone. A few days before the White Paper launch at the Science Centre, the Radical Independence Convention met at the Marriott Hotel on the opposite side of the Clyde. ‘We don’t have proscriptive policies,’ Pete Ramand, one of the organisers, told me. ‘We want to win over people who voted Labour or perhaps whose parents voted Labour. They’re the key.’ Around a thousand people attended the day-long conference. Scottish Labour, one of them said, ‘would struggle to get a fifth of that’.

Comments on “Speed Reading ‘Scotland’s Future’”

  1. Stephen says:

    ” Around a thousand people attended the day-long conference. Scottish Labour, one of them said, ‘would struggle to get a fifth of that.”

    Peter Geoghegan must – if he has any grasp of Scottsh politics at all know that this is untrue.

    Leaving aside Scottish Labour Conference is far bigger than 200 people (that’s why Local Authorities compete to get the business). Those attending are representing their organisations Constituency Parties / trade unions etc. Delegation size determines voting strength in consequence there is strict control over delegtion size.

    The RIC conference in contrast could be attended by anyone prepared to stump up a tenner and its attendeees representing no one but themselves – they aren’t delegates from a campaign they are the campaign. So direct comparisons of size are absurd in any case.

    Which makes it all the more bizarre that Peter Geoghegan is content content to finish his piece repeating such an obvious falsehood?

    • Amateur Emigrant says:

      Firstly, Peter Geoghegan is clearly quoting one of the participants in the Radical Independence Convention, not subjectively suggesting that Scottish Labour couldn’t raise 200 supporters. Secondly, you are not comparing like with like. Delegates attending the annual Scottish Labour conference have a variety of motivations and even obligations in being there. If Scottish Labour mounted a one day conference just to discuss the benefits of Scotland staying in the UK, how many do you really think would turn up, even if they made it free and laid on lunch?

      • Stephen says:

        I know he’s not saying it – But if someone had said something equally obviously untrue say “Salmond is committed to better banking regulation”, “The SNP supported Ed Miliband’s plan for an energy price freeze ” “The Earth is flat” etc would it have made it into his piece without further comment, or clarification?

        Could Labour raise 1000 bodies for a 1 day conference? Well they haven’t tried..But there were around 200 at the Pearce Institute in Govan on a Tuesday lunchtime a couple of months ago. So I reckon it’s possible. That was I’ll concede a free event – but only tea and coffee – no lunch.

  2. Amateur Emigrant says:

    As well as turning the critical questioning back on the unionists, the Yes campaign has to make voters realise that the choice is not one between the uncertainties of independence and the status quo, but between independence and the uncertainties of Scotland’s future within the UK. There is an ever increasing likelihood that the rest of the UK will revise the Barnett Formula, reducing even further the proportion of Scotland’s tax revenues that are given back to Scotland to spend. Unionist politicians demand answers on matters that can only be confirmed during negotiations following a yes vote, whilst refusing to give guarantees on Scotland’s future funding which are within their power to give now.

    The conundrum here for Yes Scotland is trying to avoid launching their own ‘Project Fear’ in making voters perceive the risks of a no vote. Many middle class voters are afraid of personal tax rises under independence while taking free aged care and zero tuition fees for granted. How will those broad middle class benefits fare if Scotland loses another 4bn from its budget? Yes wants to concentrate on the positive, understandably, but most voters don’t realise that there are risks to voting no as well.

    All voters, not just the chattering classes, need more facts but since the mainstream media is the primary vehicle for obtaining these facts they will find them hard to come by given the almost unanimous bias of press and television news against the Yes viewpoint. There is very little opportunity for informed debate when straw men and bogey men stalk the news pages unchallenged on an almost daily basis.

  3. Ally says:

    I am currently reading Andreas Kalyvas’ “Democracy and the Politics of the Extraordinary”, from which an extensive quotation seems relevant: “In ordinary times, in short, politics as usual fits a utilitarian and statist model that is characterised by civic privatism, depoliticisation and passivity and carried out by political elites, professional bureaucrats and social technicians. By contrast, democratic extraordinary politics might be tentatively and provisionaly construed as involving high levels of collective mobilisation, extensive popular support for some fundamental changes; the emergence of irregular and informal public spaces; and the formation of extra-institutional and anti-statist movements that directly challenge the established balance of forces, the prevailing politico-social status quo, the state legality, and the dominant value system. During these extraordinary moments the slumbering popular sovereign wakes up to reaffirm its supreme power of self-determination and self-government…”
    Is Scotland extraordinary yet? Probably not, despite glints of light in recent months. But the SNP Government’s paper may deaden this in favour of a parade of “responsible” business as usual politicking – whereas the only thing that can provide momentum is the imaginative possibility of a decision that could break with enduring more of the same to instead make something different.

  4. Laurie Strachan says:

    Could we drop this appalling expression “the chattering classes”? It suggests that only a select elite are competent to comment on anything of importance. This is, of course, nonsense.

  5. gotnotruck says:

    WILL WALES AND NORTH IRELAND PLUS ENGLAND = A UK. ON A VISIT TO LOVELY ENGLAND TWO YEARS AGO, I ADMIRED CATHEDRALS AND RHODODENDRON TAKING OVER THE COUNTRYSIDE, WHICH ENGLISHMEN HAD DIED TO PASS BACK HOME. (TIBETANS THOUGHT THEM BONKERS, HAVING TREKKED DOWN AND BACK UP FOR BUDDHIST TEXTS, THUS SAVING THEM FROM THE MUGHAL EMPIRE, WHICH BURNED ALL BUDDHIST TEXTS THEY FOUND, NICELY CONCENTRATED IN MONASTERIES AND EASY TO FIND. WHILE EACH HINDU SAID OK AND ADDED JESUS OR WHATEVER TO HOME SHRINES.

    MY ENGLISH FRIENDS DIDN’T LIKE THE WELSH. THEY DIDN’T LIKE NORTHERN IRISH, NEVER HAVING MET THEM OR BEEN THERE, THOUGH WALES WAS CLEARLY VISIBLE. WHEN I SAID IN AMERICA OUR PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX WAS FILLED WITH BLACKS AND LATINOS, (NO BANKERS), THEY REPLIED YOURS CONTAIN BLACKS AND IRISH. DO YOU REALLY LIKE THE PEOPLE OF WALES, NORTHERN IRELAND, SCOTLAND, OR IS IT SIMPLY A MATTER OF PRIDE, AT BEING ABLE TO SAY UK? ENGLAND, ITSEL,F IS A GREAT COUNTRY!

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.


Advertisement Advertisement