Be afraid, very afraid
Don't blame the media. Be the media.
Demos are not enough
|V for Votes and Victory...|
Chapping the right doors - data gets votes
Losing is winning
|...and V is for Vow|
|V for Votes and Victory...|
|...and V is for Vow|
The journalists have left Edinburgh and the cameras have focused back onto Syria or Obama or Ebola in Sierra Leone. The politicians are now back in the news, leaving the woman in the Muirhouse estate or the man in the crummy, crumbling block of flats to stew in their low income households.
The Scottish Referendum has exposed the brittle connection between us the people and our agents of change, the Westminster politicians. They, the politicians, seem to have almost no understanding of the lives and concerns of their most disadvantaged electors. But this makes no sense. Surely MPs must be bombarded with letters from constituents describing their problems, fears, concerns? How can it be that the politicians believe that a walk through Glasgow's city centre ( http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=TMcngLWjOrs) can be enough to demonstrate their concern for our most abandoned compatriots?
Perhaps MPs live in a bubble, whirling around Westminster hearing Westminster news and producing only Westminster-speak. Influenced more by a dinner with a leading banker than by a visit to a run-down housing scheme.
Because as agents of change they are horribly ineffectual. At least as agents of positive, widespread, fair changes that improve the lives of our least favoured people. The sort of change that the British Labour Party should favour (they don't).
We can change agents. Remove the small-c conservative rump of the British Labour Party from Scotland (as suggested by the Wee Ginger Dug http://weegingerdug.wordpress.com/) and replace it with people who talk to people on the streets and in the neglected housing schemes.
The referendum has shown us that we can do more. So has Catalonia. The Catalans have built a community with one aim (independence) and have painted the streets of Barcelona with a 1.8 million person Senyera ( http://www.lavanguardia.com/temas/diada-de-catalunya/index.html). Their politicians have had to run to keep up with the demands of the voting public.
This is how we should work with our agents of change in Scotland. Keep the momentum of the huge public movement that won 1.6 million voters, and drag the agents of change along behind us.
1,617,989 of your people voted for the most radical change that you can have without a war. Voted to create a new country, with a constitution, with a socially inclusive programme that would at last include the poor, with a decent free education system and without the awful nuclear weapons that are the Sword of Damocles over Glasgow.
These brave but too few voted Yes against the will of the three main Westminster parties. These brave few voted Yes against the will and the might of all bar one of the printed media and all of the broadcast media. They did so against the interests and the statements of major employers such as Standard Life.
Why? There will be months of analyses by people far more expert than me. But I heard a clue yesterday, on a run down housing estate in NW Edinburgh. I had joined a rally of about 100 people, most women and children, led by a piper. We walked through streets lined with broken fencing, past houses that needed repair, with children whom, I knew from the statistics, would live seven and a half years less than people from my wealthy middle class background ( http://news.scotland.gov.uk/News/Wide-variation-in-life-expectancy-between-areas-in-Scotland-b89.aspx). The woman walking next to me said, simply, "This is our time."
She is why I have worked for a Yes for the last year. She, and the 742,200 others (http://simd.scotland.gov.uk/publication-2012/simd-2012-results/overall-simd-results/key-findings/) who live in Scotland's poorest areas, is the fuel beneath the fire that burned so brightly for Yes. And now she, her children and their children must swallow yet another defeat in a society in which all the cards are stacked against them.
This is not anger at the 2 million who said No. This is a democracy - the least worst form of government - and I knew the risks before I started to dedicate time and energy to this debate. I, and the 1,617,989 who voted Yes, knew we were taking the risky road to major change. The fall from the heights of yesterday afternoon, when we were whooping around Edinburgh in a Landrover decked in Chinese lanterns and Scottish and Catalan flags, was always going to be a long one. But by goodness it was worth it, to reawaken Scotland to its possibilities.
And although I don't believe a word of politicians' promises, just maybe we have tripped a change in the UK. Enough of a shout of pain and disillusion from Scotland that Britain will alter course, one degree to the left. Just enough to drag some of the goodies from the shopping bags of London's wealth. Just enough to give Scotland power to look after all of the people who live in this beautiful country.
If the efforts of all of us in Yes have been enough to save one life from the gaol of deprivation then they have been worth every sweated, tearful, joyful hour. To paraphrase Lesley Riddoch (http://www.lesleyriddoch.com/blossom-the-book.html) we have shown that there is love for people you never knew you knew, and that is the seed that will blossom in Scotland.
On the street it all makes sense.
I spent three hours tonight walking the streets of north west Edinburgh with the canvassers of Yes Scotland.
We walked along a cross section of Scottish society. At first the houses were single houses with wee gardens. The gardens, beautifully kept, neatly edged, ornamented with tiny statues. Well pruned roses in clear-wedded beds. Then as we headed north the houses became multiple flats in three or four storey blocks, each with a 'close', a communal stairwell. The stairwells had hand-written notices reminding tenants to keep the stairs clean and to do their cleaning according to the rota.
My canvassing buddy explained that these were all council houses sold off to private landlords under Mrs Thatcher's Right to Buy scheme. Now the private landlords don't bother with maintenance, so the houses gradually decay.
Further north still and the closes became increasingly decrepit, strewn with rubbish, smelling bad and looking broken. Many of the people in these poorer homes were first generation immigrants. Others were people with what the professionals would call 'multiple social challenges.' People with problems in work (the fifty year old man from Tarragona, whose poor English meant that the only work he could get was as a free magazine distributor, on a daily contact.) Or with addictions (the young, havering couple, him bone skinny, her too big.) This is poverty, in prosperous Edinburgh, where the well heeled bosses of the big banks have tried to scare us into voting No by threatening job losses.
On the way to the canvass, in central Edinburgh, I passed three men sitting on pieces of cardboard, on the street. Surviving on the street in Edinburgh, and especially as winter comes in, must be hard. Each of the men looked rough, uncared for, unkempt.
This is wrong. A rich society should not have people living in poverty like this. These are our people.
It is for all these people of Scotland, our people, that we are voting Yes on Thursday.
On the streets, Yes makes sense.
In your email yesterday you said you were 'totally confused' about the choice in Scotland next Thursday.
You are a clever, insightful, worldly woman with years of management experience. Perhaps you are looking for complexity?
Actually it's simple.
I focus on just one issue; poverty. How can we make the lives of poor people in Scotland better?
From this one issue flows almost all the arguments.
We can't make poor people's lives better because Westminster keeps on making them worse. The latest in a long line of examples is the iniquitous Bedroom Tax, imposed on poor families a twelvemonth after wealthy MPs were found to be claiming expenses on second homes with third, fourth or fifth bedrooms.
We need the power to stop Westminster wrecking the lives of poor people. Follow that one line of argument and you have a case for a Yes vote.
But I can see that you are not yet convinced. So, take defence. Nothing to do with the poor? Or everything. Because Westminster runs a massive military spending machine in order to retain the aura of its old Empire. This includes Trident, the aging nuclear bombs parked 25 miles upwind of Glasgow. The A-bomb gets Britain its seat on the UN Security Council. And an "all-party" committee in Westminster has recently decided that Trident should be renewed. At an estimate cost of £4 billion. Each year. For 20 years. That 'estimated' £80bn budget represents about £8bn from Scotland, proportionately.
How many poor people could you help, dear N, with £8bn?
To help its poor, Scotland needs control over defence.
Since Mrs Thatcher invented the phrase, British politicians have believed that wealth will 'trickle down' to the poor. Cut back on government and cut taxes, allow the rich to get very wealthy and some of the gold dust will land in the poor woman's lap. All three main Westminster parties now subscribe, in one or other form, to this 'neo-liberal' philosophy. They do so despite the evidence. Because as the OECD has repeatedly shown, the wealth gap in the UK has widened continuously since Mrs Thatcher entered Downing Street. The rich get richer as the poor get relatively poorer. Wealth does not 'trickle down.' It floats up.
And yet, together, we are stuck with this three-party-no-choice. Scotland's politics has long been different - further left and, to date, remarkably untainted by the neo-liberals. Perhaps Scotland comes, as some writers have argued, from an older tradition of how to do right by society. Even my Dad is an old-fashioned decent Conservative. However we got here we are yoked to the neo-liberal policies of Westminster. While those policies exist we cannot help our poor people.
To unlock is poor people from no-choice Westminster, Scotland needs to govern itself.
Scotland's poor people are stuck in structural poverty. Too many are trapped in the poverty that their parents and grandparents also suffered. Some are stuck in poverty because of a disability. This is a human rights issue. The poor need the power to tackle governments, to secure rights over property or food or education. But England has no written constitution, so rights can be easily removed. (For evidence, look at Mr Cameron's new 'anti-terror' legislation.) As you know from your work with women in the Global South, poor, powerless people need strong protection from a state that is constitutionally required to protect their rights.
To help its poor, Scotland needs a written constitution.
Scotland's health record is a heart attack car-crash. Too many of us eat a poor diet, smoke, drink and don't exercise. Too few women breastfeed their weans. These are conditions of, and conditional on, poverty. The result is that Scots die younger than their English equivalents. Scotland needs to create its own solution to its terrible health record. We need to pull ourselves up by the straps of our exercise boots. Westminster MPs, with a couple of notable exceptions, are not interested. Their focus is on the slim, attractive, prosperous, joggers of London. Because London is where the power and the money are (which is why so many of us, me, and maybe you too? left Scotland to seek our fortunes in London.) Westminster's focus on London blinds it to the unhealthy northern hinterland.
To allow its poor people to help themselves into a better lifestyle, Scotland needs to break the London lock. By governing itself.
We need the power to stop Westminster taxing the poor. We need control over defence and the awful £80bn A-bomb, in order to release those funds for the poor. We need to break away from the neo-liberals. We need a written constitution to guarantee the rights of our least powerful citizens. And we need to look after ourselves.
It is in the end a simple question with a simple three-letter answer, on a slip of paper, next Thursday:
Can we make the lives of poor people in Scotland better?
The Financial Times has an excellent article about Philip Tetlock and the business of predicting the future (-- How to see into the future - http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/3950604a-33bc-11e4-ba62-00144feabdc0.html). Tetlock is a Canadian psychologist whose devastating analysis of professional forecasters ("Expert Political Judgement", published 2005) showed just how wrong the experts can be. He is now leading a new project to establish how to make better predictions.
The article suggests that working together in teams, and simple training to identify and avoid personal biais, improves or ability to predict accurately.
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne works in a team (the Cabinet) with access at the Treasury to the best data. So it must be personal biais that is clouding his crystal ball.
Because he has made two bad calls this year. The first came in February 2014 when he 'ruled out' a currency union with Scotland. That the Scottish Government proposed a union of currencies was not new; the independence 'white paper', "Scotland's Future" had announced this intention in 2013. The idea of the currency union had been selected by a commission of leading economists as the best option for Scotland. But Osborne has a severe personal biais that favours London and the City. His 'no currency union' speech was clouded by that biais. Despite (one hopes) risk assessments from the Treasury and the Bank of England he has continued to nail himself to this sinking ship, repeating on Sunday that Scotland could not have the pound.
As a direct consequence of his inability to predict the future, the pound is now falling. Dealers and investors have seen through the fog and are looking at a country with a £1.3 trillion debt that is at risk of losing the asset that props up that debt and that makes it payable: Scottish North Sea oil. They have worked out what the Chancellor could not; a union works for both Scotland and England. It allows England to say 'our currency is backed a solid asset' and it allows the new nation of Scotland to continue business as usual with its largest trading partner.
But Mr Osborne's vision was blinded by biais. And now he is playing a really dangerous game, for the pound is sliding downhill. How far can he let it slide before he takes up Nicola Sturgeon's invitation, issued on Sunday, to sit down for a sensible discussion about the currency union? I guess that if the pound falls below $1.45 (a 10% devaluation) he'll be forced to back-track and to admit that 'in certain circumstances' a currency union would work. And when he does that, perhaps two or the days before the poll, the last thin pit-prop in the 'Better Together' hole in the ground will collapse.
The second bad call came on Sunday during the Andrew Marr show. Mr Osborne said that within a couple of days new powers on tax and welfare would be announced for the Scottish Government. This is rash, late, political panic, and it again illustrates poor future judgment. By saying that Scotland could have these powers he's effectively admitting that Scotland needs these powers. And if Scotland needs them, why not have the whole show? Why not have independence?
And we get these undefined extra powers by voting No?
Here again Mr Osborne shows biais, but this time it's a nastier one; he appears to think that we are all stoopit, as stoopit as the #PatronisingBTlady. Because you'd have to be pretty stoopit to miss the lack of logic in this statement. The only chance of getting extra powers is to vote Yes, because a strong Yes just might persuade Westminster to legislate. Voting 'No' allows politicians off the hook: just like the last full Referendum in 1979 there will be no new powers if we vote No.
In the same interview on Sunday Mr Osborne said that there would be no resignations if Scotland voted Yes.
This could be his third and final bad call.
Because if I were a backbench Conservative MP I would be braying for Osborne's (crystal) balls.