How not to win a referendum

In autumn last year, I posted a blog entitled “How to win a referendum?”, where I expressed doubts about the then frequent comments, critical of parts of the Yes movement, coming, not from unionist supporters, but from other independence supporters.  At the time, I thought that unionists could come up with enough SNP-bad comments without any help from our side.  Unfortunately, the practice seems to have been resurrected, though this time the targets are independence supporting media, such as National, iScot and Wings, and prominent indy supporters.

From my point of view, the last straw was the trolling of Mhairi Black by Caitlin Logan, new columnist on Common Space, to “prove” that Mhairi was supporting homophobes.  Caitlin Logan was apparently encouraged by Angela Haggerty, the editor.  I would have expected something like this from an idiot unionist, but from someone representing a supposed independence supporting platform, I was surprised and disappointed, to say the least.

The bad news is that the blog from last year is as relevant today as it was then.  It seems there are still those out there who believe that the best way to get independence is to point out that everyone who disagrees with them is wrong and it’s even better if you can attach a label like homophobe to them.  Just to prove that it’s true, here’s last year’s.  What do you think?

Sadly, since Indyref1, there has been a significant upturn in negative comments by some Indy supporting groups about others.

It may have originally been prompted by feelings of disappointment at the result, looking for someone to blame, but it certainly increased in the run up to the Scottish election, when, of course, supporters of the various parties were trying to distance themselves from the rest to gather electoral support.  Unfortunately, several groups chose to highlight differences by pointing out the perceived weaknesses in their opponents position rather than the benefits of their own.

Unfortunately, much of the bitterness generated over that period seems not to have gone away. Several indy supporting sites seem happy to publish articles which show other parts of the indy movement in a poor light, with the SNP being a common target, though by no means the only one.  The recent attacks on the indy group who had crowdfunded a plan to put up billboards highlighting BBC bias being a recent example, not involving the SNP, which generated a significant amount of negative comment.

What is to be gained from such attacks by one Indy group on another?  Obviously, the author will feel better for getting “something off his chest”, but will the Indy movement itself gain anything?

Negative comments are often picked up by the unionist supporting media and then relayed to their viewers and readers as yet more Indy-bad propaganda, often with an even more negative spin.  What does the indy movement gain from this?   Even worse, the comments are sometimes rehashed Indy-bad articles which have already appeared in the unionist media.   What does the indy movement gain from this?  Would it not be the case that negative comments that appear in both unionist supporting and indy supporting media are more likely to be accepted as true by ordinary punters?  What does the indy movement gain from this?

Attacks on the Scottish Government are often justified as holding the Government to account.  Laudable though the aim might be, when the vast bulk of the media are constantly on the lookout for any chance to rubbish the Scottish Government, the SNP and, by implication, the whole Indy movement, are we just giving our opponents a bunch of open goals?  Do we really think it benefits the Indy movement to join with the unionist parties in asking the Scottish Government to do everything we want with its extremely limited powers and its ever decreasing pocket money budget.

At this time, with Indyref2 on the horizon, we have to decide what is really important to us.  Do we want to continue to fight with each other over the minor changes we can hope to get from the application of the few powers we have now, or do we want to set aside our differences for now in search of the one big goal of independence.  Yes, it means handing the Scottish Government a get out of jail free card, valid until independence is gained, but is that too much to ask for, given the importance of what we want to achieve?

Only with independence can we make our own decisions for ourselves.  Only with independence can we argue for our government to spend money based on Scottish priorities, knowing that winning the argument in our parliament will mean it will happen.  Only with independence can we stop the obscenity of half of Scotland’s budget being spent to benefit the citizens of another country.  Only with independence can we restore Scotland’s rightful place among the nations of the world.

Can we do everything we can do to make it happen?  What do you think?

When will they ever learn?

I am getting a bit worried about where the Indy campaign is going.  Perhaps it’s just post-holiday blues.  I know I should be grateful for getting away at all, but it’s been no fun coming back to the election aftermath, to Brexit and, worst of all, to Grenfell, possibly the worst man-made land disaster in the UK in my lifetime since Aberfan.

As the Grenfell death toll rises inexorably towards 100 and likely beyond, the truth surrounding the decisions taken by governments, both local and national, which led to a minor fire being transformed into a major catastrophe, are gradually filtering out.

Cheap cladding was specified, not because it would improve the lives of those living there, but because it would make Grenfell Tower look more attractive to the residents in the more expensive parts of the Royal Borough, the people who really counted to the local authority.  Indeed, many of the spending (or saving) decisions taken by Kensington and Chelsea council seemed more concerned with reducing the opportunity for the richer residents of the borough to come in contact with the poorer ones.

The so-called internal “improvements” in Grenfell were carried out with little regard to the structural integrity of the building and there’s significant evidence emerging that the “improvements” were at least partly responsible for the seriousness of the outcome.

However, Grenfell is not the reason I started writing this blog.  As I said above, it’s just one of the reasons why I’m perhaps feeling a bit depressed and this depression might be the root cause of what I’m going to say.

It has become generally accepted by all sides that a second Scottish independence referendum can only take place at the end of the Brexit process.  Sure there are differences between the parties as to what constitutes the end of the process.  Is it after agreement has been reached (or not reached) between the UK Government and the EU, likely in the latter half of next year?  Is it when the UK formally leaves the EU, at the end of March, 2019, unless a new date is agreed in discussions?  Or is it only once the full impact of leaving the EU becomes known, likely to be at least a decade after leaving?

However, all sides agree that, whenever the time comes, the Scottish people will be able to make an informed decision, based on the then known facts of the implications of staying as a part of the UK versus becoming an independent country.  Unionists probably hope that a longer delay will give the UK Government time to pull off a miracle and make Brexit look like the greatest thing since sliced bread, or perhaps they just think that kicking it into the long grass will give everyone the chance to forget all about this IndyRef2 malarkey.  But even independence supporters seem happy to go along with the idea, thinking that, when the terms and implications of leaving the EU become clear, many more Scots will realise what a bad deal we will get by staying as part of the UK and this will make them more likely to vote for independence.

Let’s look at this second belief in more detail.  The union has been in existence for more than 300 years.  The bulk of the Scottish people weren’t very keen on the idea, but it was pushed through by the politicians and the elites, the very ones who had most to gain from the arrangement, so, in the end, the street marches and protests were of no avail: the union went ahead as planned.

Wind forward to today.  The bulk of the Scottish people don’t favour the union, but its continued existence is being maintained by the politicians and elites who have most to gain from the current arrangement.  By the way, don’t confuse the statement above with the proportion of people who might vote to leave the UK.  Many people who voted no in the independence referendum did so out of fear for the future, not out of love for the present.

So if so many people don’t think the United Kingdom is good for Scotland, why did so many vote to stay in it in 2014 and why do opinion polls consistently show less than 50% in favour of independence?  The short answer, or answers as there are two, is/are fear and lies.

Let’s look at the lies.  You can’t survive on your own without handouts from England.  You won’t get your pension.  You’ll have to use the Euro.  You won’t get into the EU.  You won’t get into the UN.  You won’t be able to trade with any other country.  You won’t be able to afford an army or navy.  You’ll be responsible for the breakdown of world order.  You’ll be invaded by the Russians.  You’ll be invaded by aliens.  All of these and more were used by the opponents of Scottish independence.  All have been thoroughly debunked, but all had an effect on the outcome.

But why would such, in most cases, obvious nonsense make people change their minds?  The simple answer is repetition.  With a virtual monopoly of both broadcast and print media, union supporters were able to get a lie repeated time and time again, with virtually no chance that the same media would broadcast or print an opposing point of view.  Often it appeared that the media were working with each other, with a story appearing on the radio on Wednesday, being brought up in Parliament on Thursday, then repeated in the press on Friday and, to (almost) quote Mark Twain, a lie can be halfway round the world before truth has got its boots on.

For years, Scots have been told they are second class.  For years, they’ve been told they survive on handouts from England.  For years, they’ve been told they are subsidy junkies.  For years, they’ve been told they couldn’t run their own country, that they aren’t equipped to make political decisions.  Ruth Davidson, the leader of the so-called Scottish Conservatives, went even further to tell Scots that 90% of their countrymen and women are a burden on the state and that Scots are not normally put somewhere if there’s something they can steal.  This from a person who tells us she’s a “proud Scot”.  Proud to be one of a bunch of thieving, no-good layabouts?

The continued drip, drip of negativity (or at some times more like flood, flood) is what produces the fear.  Having been told so often, and by so many people, that Scots are generally useless, people fear that any change can only be change for the worse.  And when this gets repeated regularly practically all through your lifetime, is it any surprise that, deep down, you become a little afraid to make the leap into the unknown, to independence.  You might not really believe any individual story, but there’s no smoke without fire, so they say.

So unionists have been telling us lies for years and years, probably for 300 years, since the formation of the United Kingdom, though I can’t vouch for that personally, and enough Scots have been sufficiently swayed by the lies to fear change, change that they have been told can only make things worse.

So my question is: does anyone think that this will be different at the end of the Brexit process, whenever that is?  Will the media tell us how bad things might become for the UK after a Brexit on terms much worse than we have now, or will they tell us that this is just the first step to a brighter future?  Will they tell us that every good outcome from the talks shows the brilliance of UK negotiating, or will they say it’s just a practical necessity?  Will they place the blame for any poor outcome on the UK government or will they blame Johnny Foreigner?  Do we really think the media will not be supportive of whatever is the outcome of the negotiations?

If nothing changes in the media, if the media continue to praise the UK position and continue to tell us only what the politicians and elites want us to hear about the Brexit negotiations, why would we think that the Scots taken in by the lies and the spin in 2014, those who feared change in the last referendum, are going to react differently this time and be able to see clearly that staying a part of post-Brexit UK is not in their best interests.

Unfortunately, as things are going, I can’t see a post-Brexit independence referendum producing a better result.  As I said at the start, perhaps it’s just post-holiday blues, but I fear that, no matter how bad the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, the MSM will make sure the Scots who didn’t see it last time won’t see it this time either.  So those of us who want independence need to think of a more radical approach than the current let’s wait and see how Brexit turns out.