Wednesday 17 April 2019

Stand, and be Counted

Thanks to our high-level contacts in Bute House, we have received a smuggled copy of Nicola Sturgeon's post-Easter speech:

"This is for everyone who lives in Scotland. And when I say ‘everyone’ l mean everyone. Whether you are old or young (and especially if you are young). Whether you are a voter or not, born in Scotland, or not.

If you live in Scotland, then this is for you. Because we who live here, in this Scotland of many peoples, know that Scotland has been hurt.

It has been hurt by the continued abuses of the Westminster parliament. Abuses, and I use the word advisedly, highlighted by the Brexit process.

I am not going to restate my views - they are well-known - on Scotland and the European Union. I know that the people who live in Scotland have a range of views on that issue, and I hope that an independent Scotland will decide, in its own way and its own time, the relationship that it wants with the EU.

Instead, I want to talk about the awful, chaotic, mismanaged and damaging Brexit process.

The process led, if that is the word, by not one but two political parties utterly riven with internal dissent. The process that completely ignored the views of the governments of Scotland and Wales, and that failed to listen to the many and varied voices of the four nations. The Brexit process that was all about party factions and divisions, and nothing to do with you, your family, your job and your wellbeing.

The Brexit process has shown us, if we did not already know it, that Scotland is ignored at Westminster. Ignored, and abused, our MPs scorned, and our views dismissed. But this is not about hurt national pride. It runs much deeper. Because the Brexit process has shown us that the famously unwritten British constitution is not fit for any modern purpose. It fails to guarantee a voice to the four nations. And, now that we know that the Sewel convention is another broken, empty promise. it fails to guarantee powers for the Scottish parliament, meaning that anything that we, or the Green Party, or the Tories, Liberals or Labour propose in the Scottish Parliament, can be overturned at the whim of whoever happens to be in power in Westminster.

And Brexit has exposed the corruption at the heart of Westminster politics. Corruption in the form of lies, easily said, readily repeated across a complacent media, and painted onto the side of a bus. Many people have lost faith in politics - what little faith we may have had - because we have been so extensively lied to. That is bad news, very bad news, for democracy. It will take years to repair the belief in a political process that can find solutions to our shared problems. Politics has been corrupted, bent to the needs of the Tory party.

Brexit has also shown us the power of small nations in the European Union. Remember that Malta – which is smaller than the isle of Arran – had the power of veto over Theresa May’s Brexit agreement; powers that were never offered to Scotland.

But out of this chaos of Brexit waste, there is a new vision emerging. A vision of a renovated Scotland, a Scotland that can stand up on its own two feet. Stand up and say 'enough' to Westminster. Stand and decide where its destiny lies – in the corruption of Brexit Westminster, or in our own, modern, independent nation, governed by the people who live here.

To allow us all to consider, debate, and then decide Scotland's future, I have written today to the Prime Minister notifying her that we will be requesting a Section 30 order in Westminster, as soon as the new Parliamentary session starts.

I expect that the Government will follow precedent and grant our request.

But in case it does not, the Scottish Government will hold a public consultation in the form of a vote on the issue of Scottish independence. The Scottish Government has a triple mandate to do this, and we shall not shirk our responsibilities.

I said at the start of this announcement that this was for all of us who live in Scotland. We all have our own views on how this nation should be governed, and I would urge everyone - and I pledge to do this myself - to listen to the range of views that will be expressed as we delete our future. 

Let us all take that step together, as we stand up to be counted, for Scotland.”

Scotland And Brexit

The shambles that is Brexit has silenced almost everything else in politics for the last two years. It's a mess. But it is a mess with lessons for Scotland.


First, we need to understand what is happening in areas with social disadvantage, and listen to the people who live there. As Misha Glenny showed in a recent article in the Financial Times, disadvantaged areas in England (defined as places where less than 20% of the population are graduates, and at least 35% of employees work in low-skilled jobs) voted overwhelmingly to Leave the EU. In contrast, areas in Scotland with the same social profile voted to stay. Mr Glenny compares Wigan (64% Leave) with Paisley (64% Remain). Why this difference? What is it about deprivation in England that translates into this vote? Are the people who live in disadvantaged areas opposed to the status quo, and is this a causal link? Are people in these areas anti-immigrant, or do they have a greater sense of having been abandoned by Westminster? We need to know a lot more about how people living in Scotland's worst-off communities think. "The poor are another world," but it is a world we must listen to if we are to avoid building the kind of debate we have seen in Westminster.

Everyone at Westminster is shouting, and almost no-one is listening. Had Mrs May (it is inconceivable, but let's day-dream) involved the four nations of the UK and had she reached out beyond the four governments, to talk to the people of Wigan, Paisley and other disadvantaged communities, had she done that, we would have a very different Brexit today (and quite conceivably, no Brexit at all.)

Power and the Media

Second, power and influence. My friend, who voted Leave, reads the Telegraph; gritting my teeth, I have occasionally read it too. The Telegraph's Brexit is one step forward and three steps back into a sunny British Empire with Cricket and the Ashes as the principal measure of the health of the nation, and Brexit dismissed as a lot less difficult than the First World War.

People do not own newspapers in order to make money. They own newspapers in order to influence, normally to influence the debate around Government policy. The Barclay twins, who live on the nearly feudal Channel Isle of Sark, want power and influence. and the Telegraph editors are happy to comply.

The Telegraph, the in-house journal of the Tory Party, helped to create the mass of Conservative voters who favoured leave, achieving something quite remarkable in that it even persuaded Britons living on the Costa del Sol and enjoying Spanish healthcare, sunshine and sangria to vote leave, apparently unaware of the bullet in their foot, and the mote in their eye.

So which are the media in Scotland with power and influence? Will The Press and Journal come out in favour of independence? No, I don't think so either. And what, oh what, are we to do with the BBC? Overwhelmingly, people in Scotland watch the telly, so getting the BBC onside would be a major coup. Again, highly unlikely. Which leaves us with social media. Set aside the ease with which people of power can buy influence in social media, we will have to hope that the Reverend Stu at Wings, the Wee Ginger Dug, and the erudite James at Scot Goes Pop, are the seeds of a million social media flowers. 

Where is the Backstop?

Third, and even more scary; what will be our "Northern Ireland Backstop"? By which I mean, which currently obscure, unthought of issue will leap up and bite us in the bum after we vote Yes? The most obvious possibilities are;
  • The nuclear submarine base at Faslane
  • North Sea oil and gas, and the territorial limits thereof
  • And, conceivably, the Orkneys, which have consistently voted No

Any of these issues could trip up the negotiations to separate our conjoined nations. Money will be at the heart of a divorce agreement but that is something we all know and can anticipate (and was, indeed, anticipated in the detailed white Paper that preceded the last Referendum). But it's the Backstop, the last thing you'd think of, that I fear the most.

Decline and Fall

But Brexit has also shown us the opportunities. By shining a very bright light into the corridors of Westminster power it has shown us how easily an Empire can decline and fall.

The decline of Imperial Britain is obvious in its Parliament, whose benches are full of Oxbridge white, male, public-school educated chaps, people from privileged backgrounds, with far too little experience of difficulty, deprivation. Brexit has exposed them in all their shouty, tousle-haired egocentricity. These (very) privileged few will now steer this land through a series of crises, because they completely fail to understand that too much wealth, and thus too much poverty, destroys a county.

Brexit is horrible, and will do great damage to Scotland, and to democracy. We need to listen and learn, so that when at last it is our turn, we can win Indyref2.

Thursday 10 January 2019

It's Jeremy's Fault

He was reading a book, a thick book, probably one of those long, complicated novels about family sagas or multiple intrigues. Totally engrossed, he was about a third of the way through the book, his grey hair falling over his eyes and with one hand occasionally stroking his stubbly beard. He looked comfortable, cosy even, in his sleeping bag…

…which was on a cardboard ‘mattress’ on the edge of one of the narrow streets in Barcelona’s old Gothic Quarter, one of those streets that has no pavement. I spotted him and the delivery lorry swerving round him at the same moment, the driver swearing at the invisibility of a dark-blue sleeping bag on the side of the road. The reading man did not even look up from his book as the lorry swerved, such was his concentration.

The man in the Barcelona sleeping bag is homeless. One of the thousands of people in Barcelona who spend each night in doorways, on cardboard mattresses.

A few of these folk find their way into squats. We’ve just had three fires in and around Barcelona in buildings occupied by squatters. All of them linked to multiple causes, but principally to the fact that the squats either had no electricity (and the fires were caused by candles) or that they had an illegal and as it turns out dangerous connection to the electrical mains, in one case with equipment from the 1960s that blew up with the electrical load. I witnessed one of these fires on the way in to work on Monday, with three firefighters leading an injured man to an ambulance.

Poverty is Murderous

Poverty is murderous. It’s murderous in part simply by being poverty (as anyone who has read Pickett and Wilkinson's ‘The Spirit Level’ will know), but it’s also murderous because of what it forces people, desperate people, to do. To squat an old council building and to risk their lives hooking up wires to the nearest street light; or to leave a candle burning next to the mattress where mum and two kids are sleeping. It is the source of stress, of accepting poor working conditions and the ill-health that results from them, and it results in the distinct pattern of life expectancy that we can see in Catalonia or Scotlandwhen we compare poor districts with rich.

The solutions are complicated but not impossible. They include personal actions (what you give, where you shop, who you complain to) and public actions, to improve benefit systems, and to tax the wealthy.

This last point should be the aim of any government, but especially of a Labour government. So you would hope that there was some reasonable chance that, with poverty such a widespread disorder in Britain, the next Government would be Labour.

Corbyn, Confused

Today, there is almost no hope that that might happen. The extraordinarily confused leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, and the indecision that seems to have rent the party into at least four quarters (combining pro- or anti-Brexit, and socialist or centrist), mean that Labour keeps falling in the polls. And yesterday’s YouGov poll seems to confirm that Labour voters will abandon the party if it colludes in a no-deal Brexit.

Like a lemming in the springtime, Jeremy seems to be heading straight for the cliff edge. His pre-Christmas Guardian interview was a classic, inventing a future full of fluffy unicorns and hairy fairies in which he would win an election, head over to Brussels, demand a whole new deal and come back triumphant by March 29th. Utterly unbelievable, and fabulously fantastical.

He must know that. 

Which means just one thing: that Jezzer is, indeed, aiming for a no-deal Brexit so that he can then blame the Tories and force their resignation via votes of confidence.

He is massively misreading the situation. If Theresa May gets her Brexit she will, as she has promised, organise a huge Brexit celebration on the night of the 29th March. She knows, and Jezzer does not, that this will inflate a Rule Britannia bubble over England, a re-ignition of right-wing patriotism, anti-foreigner patriotism, that will keep the Tories in power for a generation. (Until the "patriots’" sons and daughters realise that they have been swindled by their parents).

The fires and deaths amongst the poor in Barcelona are a powerful reminder that we need left-of-centre governments in power, that it is the job of left-of-centre politicians to get back into power. That means honesty, and pragmatism, with voters.   

It is Jeremy’s fault that Labour is dreaming of utopias when it should be on the doorsteps winning voters, and on the Commons floor winning votes.