The sinking ship

I don’t for one moment doubt that, in the early hours of 15 April 1912, there were people standing on the giddily tilting decks of RMS Titanic sagely advising their fellow passengers to wait and see how things turned out even as the fatally broken vessel slipped into the icy embrace of the North Atlantic Ocean.

I was at SNP National Council in Perth. I heard Nicola Sturgeon’s address to a packed roomful of delegates. What I heard strongly suggested that the First Minister is still thinking in terms of a new referendum in autumn of 2018. Perhaps it might be more accurate to say that I got no sense whatever from what she said on Saturday that she had changed her mind about the scheduling of a second independence referendum. Rather, her remarks about publication of the Growth Commission report early next year being a “catalyst for relaunching the arguments for independence” seem to hint at a new referendum campaign beginning towards the middle of next year.

This is, of course, all a matter of interpretation and speculation. There was nothing explicit in what Nicola Sturgeon said. She is well aware of the importance of keeping her options open and recognises that the timing of the announcement of a referendum date is, in many ways, more important than the date itself. It is certainly a matter for fine political judgement. Political theatre is not to be taken lightly in an age of mass communication. A politician of Sturgeon’s ability and experience will be almost instinctively conscious of this. The Dewar’s Centre last Saturday (2 December 2017) was neither the time nor the place for a major announcement.

But nothing a politician of Sturgeon’s ability and experience says is devoid of meaning. Every utterance is measured. Every word is weighed. Every statement is tested. The extent to which this is true becomes strikingly apparent only when the politician makes a mistake. The gaffes of less competent politicians make evident the care and caution and craft that truly proficient political operators make invisible with the practised ease of their public performances.

Not that Nicola Sturgeon is infallible. I can think of at least one occasion when she slipped up rather badly. But, again, the odd instance of misspeaking only serves to illustrate the more usual quality of her work.

My understanding of Nicola Sturgeon’s comments is, as I have acknowledged, a matter of interpretation and speculation. But the speculation need not be idle. And the interpretation may not be ill-informed or prejudiced. There is a certain knack to reading between the lines of political rhetoric. Much of it has to do with taking in a bigger picture. Putting each speech into the context of previous statements and the wider political environment.

The mainstream media are scavengers on the prowl for easily digestible bite-sized morsels they can feed to an audience they hold in sneering contempt. Their purpose is not to inform, but to manipulate. What the British media want are snippets and sound-bites that can be selected and spun to fit a particular narrative. A narrative which is almost exclusively pro-British establishment and increasingly intent upon denigrating Scotland; undermining the Scottish Government; and delegitimising the Scottish Parliament, as well as defending the British state against the threat of democratic dissent. An informed electorate is a dangerous beast. The role of the British media is to keep that beast chained and pacified.

Coincidentally – and very sadly – the shallow, stunted, distorted perspective of the mainstream media is nicely illustrated by a paragraph in this article.

In 2014 the Yes side’s currency position – now regarded as a weakness in the case – was that Scotland would carry on using the pound Sterling. This was undermined when the then Chancellor George Osborne said an independent Scotland could not use it.

This neatly summarises the cosy consensus of the British media. But it bears only the most tenuous and tangential relationship with the reality of that episode. It is particularly regrettable when the newspaper that we depend on to provide a different and more honestly informative perspective on Scotland’s politics, so thoughtlessly presents the view from atop the London village midden.

A more rigorous and mindful analysis of the so-called ‘currency issue’ would look very different. Similarly, a more openly aware interpretation of Nicola Sturgeon’s speech to SNP National Council allows us to discern a continuous thread running through her references – direct or otherwise – to a new independence referendum. A thread which, if we choose to follow it rather than allowing ourselves to be side-tracked, leads to a vote on Thursday 20 September 2018. A thread which, from the perspective of somebody standing on the giddily tilting deck of the sinking British state, looks very much like a lifeline.

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20 thoughts on “The sinking ship

  1. LC Lorna Campbell

    Spot on. The 2021 SE will be far, far too late (and that would only be another mandate, in any case, when we already have two) with the added addendum that the Scottish Government cannot be absolutely certain that it will not be weakened, perhaps fatally, by then because, once a date is given or perceived to have been given, the knives will be out. I believe that if we leave it till 2021, by hook or by crook the British Establishment will find a way to either stop a referendum or stymie it in some other equally nefarious way, courtesy of the three-headed hydra of the establishment parties, coupled with interference from the security services. Brexit will take place in March, 2019, and it appears that there is nothing to stop that, short of a new referendum which would cause huge unrest in the UK, as the Leavers would create a disturbance, UKIP would emerge from the shadows again, and even more far-right elements would arise. It is the post-Brexit Tory UK (or even Labour UK because there is little that they could do to mitigate the effects once the die has been cast) that we have to fear most. A short musing about how this new dawn is to be achieved will tell anyone with two brain cells to rub together that it must, by necessity, be horrendous for ordinary people, that their rights will require to be trimmed considerably and that EU safeguards will be shown the door. Westminster knows what it has to do to save the UK (and that includes NI): it has to embrace full con federalism of the UK, with each part having an equal voice on foreign affairs, defence, etc. and full fiscal autonomy; then, it must join EFTA, at the very least. Unless it does this, we are all going. Of that, there is not the slightest doubt. England itself, which brought this on the rest of us, if only by a very small majority, will witness civil strife and be forced to reform itself whatever happens. It would be far less painful and far easier to take the bull by the horns and institute root and branch change now. Sadly, I doubt that Westminster, or, more importantly, Whitehall, can ever be persuaded, so stand by.

    1. Peter A Bell Post author

      We have to keep pounding away at the #Referendum2018 message. We have to squash the foolishness of thinking we can wait until after Brexit is finalised.

      1. SandyW

        Aye that, Peter. No way can we risk being treated like Catalonia and having our democracy ignored by an arrogant, hostile government in another country’s capital.

    2. Ann Rayner

      I don’t think EFTA would accept Britain/England as a member as it is too big and would unbalance the group. Also it would inevitably want exceptions to the rules to be made in its case.
      An independent Scotland would be in a very different position.

  2. Big Jock

    One of two scenarios are about to play out.

    A no deal exit from the EU, over the DUP and hard border issue. Or a deal where NEire gets to stay in the customs union.

    Scenario A passes go straight to an emergency referendum in 2018. Scenario two can have two outcomes. WM ignore Scotland and give NEire special status. Again that outcome = referendum 2018. Or WM grants Scotland single market status while England and Wales leave.

    The last scenario is as likely as finding a funny Victoria Wood sketch.

    So yes 2018 is going to be our year folks.

  3. Alasdair Macdonald

    Anent the example quote regarding Mr George Osborne’s ‘refusal’ (echoed by a grinning Mr Ed Balls) to allow an independent Scotland to continue the pound sterling: in his analysis of opinion trends in advance of the 2014 Referendum, Professor John Curtice identified this as an intervention which caused an immediate and sustained leap in SUPPORT for independence. Professor Curtice on several occasions has stated this conclusion which he drew from polling data.

    The quote is a real example of ‘fake news’.

    1. Peter A Bell Post author

      Good point. That brief statement on the so-called currency issues sums up so much about what is wrong with the media as well as a serious issue that the Yes campaign had last time. Far too many people on the Yes side were eager to go along with the British media’s narrative on this. Far too many seemed more interested in taking pot-shots at Alex Salmond than challenging the British state.

      1. Alasdair Macdonald

        This is an example of the power of ‘the myth’. Many of the NO supporters had a sense of Britishness which derives largely from a myth. I do not mean that pejoratively because myths are a potent sense of identity for all of us. I have some mythic Scotland in my head and the Declaration of Arbroath sets out a founding myth of whom the Scots are as a nation.

        Throughout history, myths fail and are replaced as we have seen with the rise and fall of empires. But, because a sense of self is so closely tied to the myth that most of us are reluctant to let them go, even in the face of strong counter -evidence. However, ‘reluctance’ does not connote ‘unchanging’. Eventually, most of us realise that some particular myth’s time has past and we let it go …. and adopt a new one!

        I think the myth of “Britain” is failing. Nowhere in the UK is it held more deeply and is it as well understood than amongst the unionist community in Northern Ireland. This is a community which is not one of mindless thuggish bigots as characterised by some in the ‘progressive’ camp. There are some of them within it, but, the majority are decent, hard-working, well-educated, economically successful, culturally eclectic to the same degree as the rest of us. But, part of the sustaining myth was of a ‘priest-ridden, Catholic’ Ireland south of the border (I exaggerate for emphasis). But that Ireland has undergone significant changes and secularisation and many unionists in the North have benefited from the growth of peace and cross-border trade. Once this ‘other Ireland to be feared’ is accepted by unionists as part of history, I think that there will be a resolution sooner or later.

        If that happens, then I think many ‘Britons’ in Scotland will say why not us, too.

  4. Mike Fenwick

    Peter, may I simply offer this link:

    The purpose of the page is self explanatory as indeed are the short videos already on the page.

    There are other short videos to follow, one of which expressly addresses the issues surrounding the continued use of the £Sterling, and indeed the use of all other currencies which are openly tradeable worldwide, and how that relates to the creation, in advance of independence, of a Scottish currency for use in and for Scotland.

    A secondary theme to the page is I hope also clear, namely that this initiative, amongst others, will see Yes Groups re-energised for the months (not years) ahead.

  5. Tommy Aikenhead

    Tell me people… you all really, I mean really believe you are all seers of truth and justice, and everyone else is a jack booted Britnat Fascist or a deluded dupe of nefarious state propaganda?

  6. kininvie

    Well, I’m punting for January ’19 for a vote in the first weeks of March. Because it has to come at the point of maximum ‘lifeboat’ – ie just before the UK leaves the EU. By September 18 the final deal with the EU *should* become clear, but I’ll bet you a tenner there will be fudge and bluster and ‘it will be alright on the night’ right up to the point when it becomes clear either that an EU state has vetoed the deal, or else that the deal is going to be so bad that we’re all sunk.

    By that time too the regulartory chaos will be in full swing, the queues at Dover will be building up, and the dissent between Brexiteers and Remainers will be at its most vociferous. And it will not be until stark reality is staring them in the face that the last of the reluctant No voters will shift.

  7. Gordon Taggart

    Elephant in room…an agreed “extension” of negotiations between UK & EU; beyond March 2019. Perhaps 6 months would be enough to flatten the sails of a referendum campaign.

    The EU would say it’s due to the “sensitivities” of the border issue(s), particularly with reference to trading & it is wise to allow more time to agree between all parties & get “all onboard”.

    UK would welcome the chance to scupper any indy ref campaign, agreed or not. Particularly the non-agreed!

    Claiming that the border issues would be sorted / agreed / put-to-bed by then does not look particularly likely at this moment…cue the “moving-on” hints from both sides?

    1. Peter A Bell Post author

      Firstly, it is difficult to see all the members states agreeing to an extension of the two year transition period allowed by Article 50. They certainly would not do so without demanding a quid pro quo which would almost certainly be anathema to the Mad Brexiteers who, let us not forget, are calling the tune to which the British government is dancing. Even asking for an extension would be like setting off a bomb inside a British political establishment that’s already falling apart.

      Secondly, the independence issue is NOT dependent on Brexit. The case for bringing Scotland’s government home stands on its own. As does the case for getting Scotland out of the Union. At some point, the two issues have to be de-linked. Unlikely as it may be, an extension of the Brexit negotiations might be just the the time to do that.

      Besides, more time is just giving the British establishment further opportunity to screw things up. There’s no reason to suppose another six months would be time enough for them to do turn things around. They’re not going to suddenly get clever.

  8. Clydebuilt

    BBC Shortbread . . . Shareen Nanjiani’s prog. Kirsty Strickland introduced as from Commonspace, but she’s got a column in the National.

    Same happens to Kevin McKenna he’s described as a columnist in the Observer .

    Btw they have a new propaganda tune.

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