Lately, every time I sit down to write one of these articles, it has taken a real effort of will to avoid starting with the words, “Ah telt ye!”. Over the last few days that urge has become all but irresistible. As I watch events unfold at Westminster I am reminded of something I wrote back in December 2013. Then, as now, we were entering a year of debate, deliberation and decision. Five years ago, it was a time to consider the very different futures that would flow from the decision the people of Scotland made on Thursday 18 September 2014. Today, it is time to think about where that decision has taken us. And where we go from here.
That article was titled ‘2013: The year of fear’. That may seem a little melodramatic. But those who recall the way the anti-independence campaign conducted itself at the time will find the words quite apt. Looking back, I find no reason to revise my assessment made as 2013 drew to a close.
“We have been subjected to a relentless campaign of grinding negativity from the British parties in Scotland, from the UK Government and, of course, from the aptly named Project Fear itself. The almost exclusively union-supporting media have regaled us daily with terrible tales of the various disasters that must inevitably befall Scotland should we decide to assert our rightful constitutional status.”
But the article itself was not concerned with reviewing the duplicity, deceitfulness and dishonesty of Project Fear. My purpose then was to look forward to the potential consequences of a No vote in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. This was necessary because, unbelievable as it may be to those coming fresh to the constitutional issue – and bear in mind that thousands of those who will be entitled to vote in the new referendum were still in primary school at the time of the first one – there was absolutely no meaningful examination of the No campaign by the mainstream media. None of the newspapers at the time asked any probing questions about what a No vote would mean. Those peddling the lies and scaremongering of Project Fear were almost never challenged by journalists on TV or radio. Everything said by the British government, the British parties and Better Together was afforded the status of established fact without any kind of scrutiny.
If anybody cares to take a look at that article they can judge for themselves how accurate I was in foretelling what a No vote would really mean and what would ensue if the people of Scotland decided to take the power they held in their grasp on that day in 2014 and hand it to a bunch of politicians in London.
Personally, I reckon I was pretty close to the mark. I’d make some quip about giving Mystic Meg a run for her money but, the truth is I don’t even know who that is. I have as much interest in astrology as in exploring my own innards using a barbecue set. My prognostications were not based on the pretty patterns that the stars make in the sky, but on what was then known, or could be reasonably assumed, about the nature of the British state.
I concede that there has not been the “tampering with the electoral system” that I predicted. I now realise that this was not necessary. The nature of the electoral system meant that an SNP/pro-independence majority at Holyrood was always vulnerable. There was no need to tamper with the voting system. All that was required was for the British parties and the media to collude in encouraging tactical voting by hard-line Unionists so as to concentrate the anti-independence vote. The ‘Scottish Tories’ were regarded as the best bet, Ruth Davidson was crowned ‘Queen of the British Nationalists’, and the rest of history.
As for the rest, I defy anybody to dispute my right to say, “Ah telt ye!”. Especially when we factor in the 2015 UK general election SNP landslide which put a bit of a brake on the British state’s plans. Not all of what I foresaw has yet come to pass. But there can be no mistake about the direction of travel.
I was right about budget cuts. The slashing of Scotland’s may not have been quite as severe as I envisage. But when combined with the increasing cost of mitigating British government policies the impact has been significant.
I was right when I wrote about “imposed policies”. The bedroom tax is only the most prominent of countless policies in reserved areas, particularly social welfare, which have had negative effects that were then either blamed on the Scottish Government or subject to demands for mitigation or both. But then there’s this,
“As well as policies that are forced on Scotland by London’s stranglehold on spending, there will be increasing direct imposition of policies in the name of “harmonisation” and “efficiency”.”
Read that in the context of the British state’s expropriation of powers being ‘repatriated’ from Brussels as part of the Brexit process and the talk of ‘UK-wide common frameworks’.
As I observed in December 2013,
“As powers, and particularly budgetary powers, are stripped away, it becomes ever easier to justify the repatriation of ever more powers. Once the Scottish Parliament is weakened, there will be nothing to prevent a massive rolling back of devolution. And if there is nothing to prevent it, then it will surely happen.”
Who can doubt that this process is in train now?
I was correct, too, when I observed that the 2014 referendum was “a challenge to the established order that the British state will not tolerate again”. Since then, the entire British establishment has been engaged in a massive effort to ensure that the people of Scotland are never again permitted to exercise their democratic right of self-determination.
Some of the more speculative aspects of that article may be regarded as overly pessimistic. The fact that, along with many others, I’m still writing articles and people are still reading and discussing them demonstrates that at least one of my fears was not justified.
“One of the benefits of the referendum campaign in Scotland has been a revival of political discourse. The political environment is richer and healthier and more diverse and more active than it has been in decades. It is questionable how much of this will survive the deadening effect a No vote.”
It goes without saying that there has been absolutely no sign of this “deadening effect”. Rather the contrary. Sometimes it’s good to be wrong.
Largely because the Yes movement has proved to be so robust and resilient, my concern that the energy generated by the Yes campaign might be “diverted to less constructive forms of activity” also proved to be unfounded. Whether that can remain the case as the British state closes down democratic routes to independence is something I fervently hope we never have to find out.
As if to prove that politics can be complicated, the claim that a No vote in 2014 might represent a setback for progressive politics is both right and wrong.
“There is a distinct possibility that a No vote will take some of the momentum out of the drive for political and economic reform while simultaneously providing a fillip to more reactionary elements.”
It could be argued that progressive politics in Scotland has not suffered any significant setback as a result of that No vote. While this is largely attributable to the Yes movement, it must be acknowledged that the SNP administration has, at the very least, managed to maintain a political environment in which progressive politics can survive. This despite much of that “momentum” having being diverted into the dead-end of ‘Corbynism’.
How much of the rise of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism is down to the “fillip” provided by Project Fear’s success is open to question. But the rise of those “reactionary elements” is beyond question.
Nor can there now be the slightest doubt that my warning about the “erosion of the powers of the Scottish Parliament” was entirely justified. The fact that, despite a slew of assurances and promises from David Mundell and Ruth Davidson and Theresa May’s ‘Scottish’ Tory puppets, Clause 11 of the EU Withdrawal Bill has gone to the House of Lords unamended is proof enough of that. This is the legislation which enables the very “erosion” of which I spoke. Remember what I said about that stripping away of powers from the Scottish Parliament – if there is nothing to prevent it, then it will surely happen.
Clause 11 removes any hindrance. It not only facilitates the Brexit ‘power grab’, it also also gives the British government the legal authority to unilaterally rewrite the devolution settlement. It not only reinforces the legal basis for withholding powers, it facilitates the expropriation of even more powers that rightfully belong with the Scottish Parliament. It is the opening line in a charter for the eradication of Scotland’s distinctive political culture and the imposition on all the people of these islands of an ugly ‘One Nation’ British state.
And it has now been taken beyond the reach of even the minimal influence of Scotland’s elected representatives at Westminster.
Heed the condescending, patronising, supercilious and contemptuously paternalistic language of these ‘One Nation’ British Nationalists, as reported by The Times.
“But the Scottish Tories said the exercise of some of the responsibilities would be subject to the [UK] Government’s consent, to ensure trade barriers are not erected and “there isn’t an inadvertent pulling apart of the United Kingdom.””
Does that not speak clearly enough of the British state’s intention to roll back devolution and marginalise the only Parliament which has democratic legitimacy in Scotland? Does it not make clear the intention to lock Scotland into a political union on terms decided without any reference to Scotland’s people or their elected representatives? does it not resonate with the utter sneering contempt in which the British state holds both Scotland’s democratic institutions and the democratic will of Scotland’s people?
In concluding that December 2013 article I wrote,
“Scotland’s independence referendum is all too often portrayed as a choice between a Yes option fraught with unspeakable dangers and a No option which is consequence free. This is a misleading and even a dishonest representation. Choices are always accompanied by consequences.”
We are now all too well aware of the dire consequences of that No vote in 2014. The warning signs were all there. Had the British media not worked so assiduously to keep them hidden, Scotland would surely have chosen differently. We know what imperatives drive the British political elite. We know what they intend for Scotland. We know that if there is nothing to prevent it, then it will surely happen.
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