Monday, 29 September 2014

Scotland's referendum: what went right, what went wrong and how we will win it next time

What a long, long month September 2014 has been - and yet we still have a couple of days of it left! During this time I have been to two job interviews, been given one job, had to give it up to start the other and of course been as fully involved in the last two weeks of campaigning including one trip to a border tea party in Berwick as well as helping out at street stalls and then back to Newton Stewart for the big vote itself. Followed by great disappointment but then the renewed determination of the great defeated. It has been a dramatic, highly charged few weeks.

We came very close to winning a Yes vote in the independence referendum with 45%. Only another 200,000 of the swing voters who eventually went for a No vote could have been enough to win it for the Yes campaign albeit by a very slim majority. In the most deprived areas of Scotland we achieved our highest vote - Glasgow, Dundee, West Dunbartonshire and North Lanarkshire. This could only have been testament to the great work put in by the Radical Independence Campaign which made sure people realised this was a huge opportunity for change. But I believe that threats made by big banks and businesses, threats they didn't need to make and threats given extensive coverage by the mainstream media lost it for us.

However dejected we feel about the result, the fact that the Yes campaign grew support for independence substantially is a huge achievement. We were always the underdogs, yet in Glasgow we polled in a majority of those who turned out to vote. I will always feel proud of Glasgow for that support despite the Daily Record being so against independence. The ball is now firmly in Westminster's court, they have to deliver or face a loss in support for the Union - and the politicians down there clearly realise that. As the 45% we can help make sure they are fully held to account for what they do and don't deliver in the way of enhanced devolution.

It is hard to say if we made any mistakes in our campaigning, we could only really do our best but we certainly proved we were capable of doing our best. I think next time we will definitely need a bolder vision of independence because on certain issues we were ridiculed for not going all out in a break from the UK. Most notably was the question of currency. The SNP's preferred option of keeping the Pound Sterling put us at the mercy of Westminster who could and did say no to a currency union. And the Unionist politicians were able to use to Pound as a pawn in the argument in such a way that it was as though Scotland needed the English balance of payments into the Pound rather than the other way round. If England, Wales and Northern Ireland didn't sign up to a currency Union they would lose a important contrituion to their own currency by Scotland not being part of it and then they would have to pay all of the UK debt because they are legally responsible for it. In other words it would be the rUK, rather than Scotland, that loses out as a consequence of no currency union taking place. The pound would weaken without oil and other exports being a part of the economy. A separate Scottish currency would certainly be a strong currency as Jim Sillars has pointed out. So my view is that next time, we go the whole way and argue that an independent Scotland should use its own currency. This would put Scotland in a far better negotiating position at a future independence negotiations with Westminster.

I also think we made a few other mistakes in our arguments mostly where we were seemingly trying to soften the blow of independence. One of them was the idea that 'we're not really leaving the United Kingdom, because we'll still be part of a united kingdom with the Queen as head of state.' I don't think this was a very wise argument. The United Kingdom is a clear concept that refers to a particular sovereign state as governed currently from Westminster rather than all the countries with the Queen as head of state. Otherwise we might as well regard Australia, Canada and New Zealand as 'part of the UK.' If people say they 'like the idea of being part of the UK' then we have to challenge why they like it and why they wish to be part of the UK when it is as it is a state that doesn't work for everyone. For many of them its simply personal, a sort of nationalism, so we can't really do anything about that. But if they say 'we like Scotland being British' you have to challenge them as to what they mean by 'being British'. Why do we need to share a common sovereign state to feel like our fellow citizens and family south of the border are still very much are fellow citizens and family? And why should British only be the adjective for the UK when it is also thought by many to simply be the adjective of a place called Britain regardless of whether that's the UK or Great Britain. It's just those two definitions become unpegged with Scottish independence. I should say however that being British 'because we're part of the British Isles' is not a very good argument either because the name British Isles is contentious in the Republic of Ireland where there is no basis either political (UK) or geographical (Great Britain) for being considered British. I for one believe 'the Anglo-Celtic Isles' would be a better name for these isles where it lacks a rather imperialist set of connotations and seems more appreciative of different cultures within the isles.

Similarly I think we should have been willing to accept Scotland as a secessionist country rather than a co-continuation of the UK. I can understand the co-continuation argument but I think it reasonable for people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to feel that their own countries would form the outright continuation the UK in the eyes of the international community. The principle of co-continuation would mean we automatically remained part of the EU instead of having to reapply. But soon that principle could be unnecessary as the UK leaves the EU and so in any circumstance Scotland would have to reapply. We should be able to wholeheartedly embrace the idea of a new sovereign state emerge with an institutional blank canvas to paint up our own new internationalist society. Let South Britain and Northern Ireland be the continuation of the UK, we have our own agenda up here. UK is not OK.

It has been the most fantastic and unexpected response from 45% who didn't win that the SNP has suddenly enjoyed a sharp rise in membership numbers with people turning to Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon's party from often socialist backgrounds. This gives the SNP fresh blood that could help move the party in a direction towards a more radical vision of independence. I certainly hope that very soon we could see a revote on NATO which would overturn the prospect of joining such a controversial organisation. A reenergised SNP should also see a discussion had between radicals and moderates in the party about the what approach to taxation is the best to ensure Scotland is both a successful economy and a progressive society. Add to that the promise of a referendum on the monarchy and the thought of entering the European Union as our own state independent of a country that will probably be leaving it in 2017 and you have a very attractive vision of a new radical independent Scotland.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

The important difference between ethnicity, national identity, citizenship, residency and where you're born

For many people, it's nice and simple. You're born in a single country and in that same country, specifically the same region as your birth, you grew up, were educated and still live. Both your parents were born and grew up there as did many of their preceding generations. You therefore have the local accent and of course the citizenship of that country. You are quite unmistakably of that country specifically of that region.

But for many of us it really isn't as simple. Yours truly is a case in point. I was born in Oxford to an English mother and Norwegian father (whose father was Swedish). I grew up in a corner of southern Scotland called Galloway from the age of three, though spent some of my formative years in Penrith and the Eden Valley. That said my accent was the one my Mum and older siblings spoke, a southern English accent. I suppose that was awkward because everyone else in my class at Primary School had the local Scottish accent and even at school in the north of England my accent stood out no less. In relation to my father's side of the family, we regularly went on our summer holidays to Scandinavia to our cottage in Sweden where we saw all of my father's family and that helped reinforce my sense of being part Scandinavian.

A cottage in Sweden reminiscent of summer holidays

I'm not Scottish. I do not consider myself to be Scottish. I still live in Scotland but what I am in terms of national identity is quite different to where I call my home. Because national identity is an aspect of personal description while my home is a matter of location and where I feel I belong. So while my home is Scotland, I am English. My national identity relates to my parents' backgrounds and I have identified one of those backgrounds as my primary nationality, the one I give if I can only state one or only feel like stating one. That primary nationality is for me determined through a stronger sense of association with that background than the other. If I had grown up anywhere in Scandinavia speaking their language I probably would have given my identity as Norwegian so in some respects my upbringing does determine my primary nationality in terms of choosing between English and Norwegian. But I grew up on the west side of the North Sea speaking English as a first and only fluent language meaning I felt more English than Norwegian. So ironically I'm English because I grew up in Scotland. Strange isn't it?

I don't particularly like the word 'national identity' used for individual people. It's supposed to be a collective thing - the national identity of Scotland is about an overall image and character of a nation. But people within any nation are highly diverse culturally and you can get someone born and bred in Edinburgh who has more in common socially and culturally with somebody from Auckland, New Zealand than someone living just next door. When I say "my national identity is English", it is merely a statement of my association with the country of England than me being a microcosm of the English national character, whatever that might be. Still the term 'national identity' is a word used on individual basis' so I guess I will have to use it. So my national identity is English. Or to be more precise I am English first. Then I am Norwegian and then I am Swedish. And distantly I am equally Scottish and Irish but I have little knowledge of the ancestors they refer to so I don't really feel they're part of my national identity.


The border between England and Scotland. I grew up in both Galloway and Cumbria.

Ethnicity is deeper than that. It is about race, genetics, skin colour and so on. This is when I do take into account more distant generations. Broadly I am white Caucasian. Specifically I describe my ethnicity as Nordic Anglo-Celtic, in other words, Northern European. My ethnicity split on this side of the North Sea, Anglo-Celtic, considers the fact that as well as being English, there is also I understand traces of Welsh along with my Scottish and Irish roots. Nordic takes into account ancestry from any of the Nordic countries, not just Scandinavia. It is also thought that I have some distant Russian ancestry because of my nose and cheekbones!

This is why I objected to one particular Unionist complaint. When a couple of years ago they started going on about a supposed false choice between Scottish and British I did a bit of google research to investigate the origin of the complaint. Blow me - the offending question about ethnicity drafted in 2008 for the Scottish Government's 2011 census. The multiple choices included Scottish, English, Welsh, Irish, British and so on and you could only choose one. You also had an 'Other' box with a space to write in the term you use to describe your ethnicity. The cause of offence was that if you stated Scottish you were saying you were not British. But this was to misunderstand the question. It asked you which best describes you ethnicity. Not your national identity but your ethnicity. Many people who are Scottish in all lines going back several generations would have chosen 'Scottish' because they don't know of any other ethnicities in their background but people who tick British do so usually because a number of their family lines are also ethnically English, Welsh, Irish or a mixture so the word British is used as a means of combining them all. The reaction from the unionists seemed to suggest people should have be an additional 'Scottish and British choice'. For one thing this would betray many people's feeling that to say you're Scottish is to actually say you're British. A lot of people in England feel that stating you're 'English' is stating you're 'British' because quite simply England is a nation of Britain. Likewise with Scotland. The suggestion was that people on either side on the constitutional divide are somehow divided by ethnicity. Such a suggestion would be both unwise and absurd because ethnicity is nothing to do with political preferences. Lets just for argument's sake take the Proclaimer twins. Imagine Craig Reid converted to being pro-union while Charlie Reid stayed firmly in the pro-independence camp. Does Craig Reid suddenly have a different ethnic background to the very person with whom he shared the same zygote? I think not.

Now for nationality, the official kind, that is to say citizenship. Yes in case you haven't realised there's a difference between nationality and nationality. Two definitions of nationality, one being official (citizenship), the other being unofficial (national identity) and often based on the subjective. I would gladly take up Scottish citizenship but that wouldn't make me Scottish by the concept of national identity that I explored in an earlier paragraph. My national backgrounds would continue to be English, Norwegian and Swedish. But I would now be a citizen of the Scottish state and so would be officially saying I have trust in that state to look after me. It will be a much more notable statement when, despite being allowed to keep British citizenship in duality with Scottish citizenship, I renounce British citizenship in favour of just Scottish citizenship. I haven't yet decided if I'll actually do that but I'll think about it. But I can tell you that despite all my pride in my Norwegian heritage I'm absolutely glad I never held Norwegian citizenship. If I had done so I would have been required to do national service at the age of 18. No way would I have wanted that! So for me citizenship is about the sovereign state to which I choose to belong and be protected by.

A Scottish Passport as it might look. This is something I look forward to owning one day.

Residency is about where I live and is an unofficial kind of citizenship. Because there is no such thing currently as Scottish citizenship the franchise of a referendum in Scotland can only pragmatically be determined as the people living there and therefore making the most directly contribution to the Scottish economy and Scottish society. So a Scottish resident may or may not be Scottish by origins or self-identification but he or she is considered one of the Scottish people when it comes to determining Scotland's future.

Where you're born? That's surely the easiest thing to understand. But the country of your birth could be anywhere, you could be born when your parents are on holiday abroad for example. Many people feel a certain bond with the country of their birth regardless of its relevance or irrelevance to their parents' national backgrounds. If I had been born in say, Yemen, I may have been tempted to have describe myself as Yemeni for the novelty factor. Incidentally someone who was born in Yemen was Eddie Izzard although he would generally describe himself as English. Still I think many people would make a case for the entitlement to citizenship of the country of your birth if you choose since it is listed on your own passport and birth certificate and if you're born in 'Yemen' you're 'born Yemeni'. Fortunately for me I don't have that confusion, I was born in England so my primary nationality is also my birth nationality.

As for the question 'Where do you come from?' for me that is a bit ambiguous. Are they asking me my nationality (national identity) or my country of residence? Well if I'm being asked that question in my country of residence, Scotland, I would usually say something, South-west Scotland, Dumfries and Galloway or Newton Stewart, depending on how well they might know the places around Scotland. However, they may enquire further about my accent so I would mention that my family are from Oxford originally. If I'm somewhere abroad, like Italy, India or somewhere else where they're quite chatty and I'm asked the question of where I come from then my simple answer would be 'Scotland'. What they're interested in knowing is the country where I live for most of the year, the country which was the starting point of my journey to that destination where I'm talking to these very friendly people. They want to know about where you live because that's the place you know the best, that's your home. If however I'm being asked what my nationality is, well that's different, then I say 'I'm English' because they're asking me about my national description not about where I live. But normally the people I get talking to ask me where I come from so that's okay.

Oxford, where I was born

So there you have it - the difference between birth, ethnicity, nationality and so on. They are all different ideas, each with their own meaning. And for people like me their descriptions are hugely mixed up but the more I explore them the more I understand what's what. Is there anything in there that's a source of pride for me? Not really. Except for my Scandinavian heritage because that means I've had somewhere truly wonderful to visit during Summer holidays. And I also like the fact that my English Great-Grandfather drove the Flying Scotsman (though only from London to York). I feel privileged to have lived in Scotland most of my life and now I feel a I have a massive chance to help shape that nation's future and determine the sort of place it becomes. But different aspects of my personal description I treat as individual subjects which may or may not be relevant to a debate about a country of 5.3 million people and therefore 5.3 million different identities.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

What Scottish independence could mean for Ireland

There has been much talk lately about the possible effect of Scottish independence on other parts of the UK. The obvious questions being asked are 'will Wales be next?' and 'could we see a united Ireland?'.

I'll come on to Wales in another post. But on this occasion I will shift my focus some 30 miles across the North Channel to a province with a turbulent history. It is of course no surprise that many Irish Nationalists will be eagerly watching what happens in Scotland on 19th September because it may help to galvanise their own objective for a Northern Ireland free from British rule and reunited with the Republic of Ireland.

In respect to Northern Ireland it's an awkward issue to try and read. Broadly speaking I would be in favour of a united Ireland. More immediately I feel that the province's political association with the UK is toxic. The union with Great Britain may have been suitable in the past when there was heavy industry like before 1970 when the Troubles began. From the perspective of people in Great Britain itself , Northern Ireland is an embarrassment. The Unionist assertion of 'British identity' is as far as I'm concerned an Ulster brand and therefore ironically an Irish brand. Most people in England, Scotland and Wales are not interested in going on marches dressed in orange wearing sashes, bowler hats and twirling batons. They'd far rather do things like go and watch a football match, go for a ramble, go ten-pin bowling, go to gigs, go to pubs or whatever other random thing I can name. Basically the people of Great Britain like to just do something exciting. So if all these Union Jack fanatics want to be 'more British' how about they be more like people on 'mainland Britain' - like, well more fun?

The matter of Northern Ireland's future should be debated a lot more on practical and economic matters rather than being a debate simply between two counter-nationalisms. I would love Northern Ireland to have the debate that Scotland is having, that is to say a civilised debate where not a bullet is fired and no blood is shed. What I feel would be reassuring is incidentally for more and more Catholics to come out in favour of the union with the UK while more and more Protestants aspire to reunification with the rest of Ireland. The debate then becomes more secular as Catholics and Protestants unite on the same side on both sides.

Cave Hill near Belfast

The Northern Irish debate would be somewhat different to the debate in Scotland for obvious reasons. The debate would generally be about a choice between two unions - the British and the Irish unions. As Scotland becomes independent Northern Ireland now becomes an exclave of the UK and, other than flying, the only way to travel to the mainland UK without going through a separate sovereign state is to take the longer boat journey to Liverpool. Which means the British Unionist argument in Northern Ireland about 'not wanting to create borders' would be, in contrast with the equivalent argument in Scotland, much weaker and rather laughable considering the elephant in the room which is the border with the Republic created as a result of Unionists wanting Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK. Oh the irony! Scotland, as the nearest part of Great Britain to Northern Ireland is a key cornerstone in the Unionists' attachment to the British state. Many of them are of course Scots by descent. So they may well begin to question the purpose of a union of which Scotland is not part especially when there's the European Union. I wouldn't be surprised if more and more of them see a union with the Republic as making more sense especially as the economy in the South starts to improve.

However, to get from one union to the other, Northern Ireland would possibly have to secede first. The people of the Republic aren't necessarily that much in favour of absorbing the North and Northern Ireland, if it does vote for Irish reunification, will have to ask the Republic's permission which they can't take for granted. There are some sections of Northern Ireland's population that would favour an independent Northern Ireland (or 'Ulster') but they're much smaller in number and mainly in the Unionist community who would want Northern Ireland to remain as an entity distinct from the rest of Ireland. Most people in Northern Ireland however would likely not see any economic viability in an independent Northern Ireland while a united Ireland with provincial devolution would be more ideal. As a new generation that has never known the Troubles grows up and they in turn produce another generation many of them will be more concerned with their own job prospects and their personal finances than any politics of identity. Whether they stay part of the UK or rejoin the UK would mainly be an economic debate for them.

The Northern Ireland - Irish Republic Border

It's fair to say Northern Ireland and the Republic do have their superficial differences as a product of their political difference. If you've ever gone by car to the Republic from the North you'll immediately notice that the road-signs look completely different, not just that they're bilingual in the Republic but they're of a different format altogether as are the road markings. The registration plates on cars in the Republic are also different to those on cars in the North. It therefore raises the question of how Northern Ireland would be effectively integrated into the Republic when the North's infrastructure may need a large overhaul and people across the province would have to spend time adjusting to the new-look highways. All that could cost money but many may see it as a small expense if they feel they would be better off as part of the Republic of Ireland.

I look forward to hearing such a debate unfold but only if it is a peaceful debate. A unified independent Ireland looks to me like a natural and sensible arrangement but what I would like to see more than Irish unity is Northern Irish unity. The debate about Northern Ireland must transcend the province's traditional sectarian divide and be an enlightened discussion. Scotland's current debate could go a long way to inspire such a discussion.

Thanks to Game of Thrones, Northern Ireland enjoys a more favourable reputation these days as a filming location.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

A new ally in the Land of the Silver?

If you're a member of the Tartan Army watching the World Cup you're maybe wondering just who to be cheering on in Brazil. Well don't be surprised if you see some Saltires fluttering around the stadium when Argentina step up to face Bosnia. Argentina is a country that will be looking on with intense interest at what happens on Peter Shilton's 65th Birthday, the 18th September - maybe they will be celebrating a Yes victory by doing a sort of Hand of God salute!

The reason why Argentinian fans would be so enthusiastic about a display of Scottish solidarity is not difficult to consider. The rivalry with England is something both Scotland and Argentina share on the football pitch. Both rivalries with England of course produce a classic display of world football notably in 1966, 1986, 1998 and 2002 for Argentina and 1996, 2013 and many others before for Scotland. Then of course the blue and white lends itself to a mutual support although for Scotland's strip it's dark blue compared to Argentina's midday shade. And of course, let's not forget, Scotland's fondest memory of the World Cup is their trip to Argentina in 1978 with THAT goal by Archie Gemmel against the Netherlands.

That goal.

Off the field, if many in Argentina's football fraternity are as entrenched in their views about the Falklands, or the Malvinas, as their political leaders in Buenos Aires then without doubt they will see Scotland's opportunity for independence as a chance to complete the quest for decolonialisation of the British state. The President of Argentina will be watching closely what happens at the other end of the Atlantic in September anticipating a Yes vote with eager anticipation.

Personally I don't agree with Argentina's posturing over the Falklands. It would be wrong not to want self-determination for the Falkland Islanders having wanted it so much for Scotland. They do not typically identify with Argentina, they prefer to turn to the British state for their citizenship and being descended from Anglo-Celts it's hard not to share their view. But it does mean, for people living here in Britain, relations with Argentina leave a lot to be desired. And for those Scots that want to see a good relationship with Argentina a Yes vote would they feel be exactly what they need.

With Scotland removed from the British state, Argentina can form a new bond with at least one part of the island of Great Britain that is refreshingly less acrimonious. And with that could potentially come new opportunities. For example if Scotland were to follow the Republic of Ireland's lead in 2008 that might include a Visa agreement which would allow Scottish citizens the chance to work in Argentina. Of course there's plenty of places around the world to work but why not Argentina? Many Scots in Scotland would love to be associated with that kind of foreign policy of reaching out and shaking hands. The UK's foreign policy appears so much to be stuck in the 19th Century. But that's Westminster's issue, Scotland can choose a different direction. Diplomatic disputes between Argentina and the UK over the Falklands are likely to have an unwanted negative effect on bilateral trade but this would not be an issue with trade agreements between Argentina and an independent Scotland who would have no responsibility for the Falklands.

So in the land of the silver (that's what Argentina literally means) could we find a new ally? Well hopefully a much more positive relationship with Argentina. But Scotland cannot be seen to take sides on the Falklands issue. One person who probably will have a strong opinion is Veterans Minister Keith Brown MSP. He himself saw action in the Falklands and if he is to hold a defence or foreign affairs brief in an independent Scottish Government he will be all too aware of the importance a good diplomatic relationship with Argentina. If Holyrood is not put under too much pressure to take Argentina's side on the Falkland's issue while refusing to aid Britain's watch over the islands, then there's no reason why Scotland can't strike the right balance in how it's government interacts with a country who really should be our friend not our foe.

In the meantime, I look forward to seeing an England v. Argentina Semi-Final hopefully with both Rooney and Messi gracing the floor having scored their first finals goal. Why it will have taken them both three World Cups to get to that stage of being a goal scorer in the greatest show on Earth I can only wonder. But what I can tell you is.... I can't wait!

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Move World Cup 2022 to another country for the sake of football and sanity

It's the moment you dread. A little known or unremarkable country winning an honour that really belongs to someone else. Like Greece winning Euro 2004. You'll see these nations biding for something and feel insecure that they're even in the process. But you just don't expect the worst.

Yet I could have dropped whatever I was holding when I heard live on radio the announcement of the 2022 FIFA World Cup hosts. Minutes before, I had been left disappointed that England lost out to Russia in the bid for 2018. Now I was left in complete disbelief that Qatar had been given the right to host the 2022 World Cup ahead of Australia, Korea, Japan and even the USA. At least Russia has the size and international profile to match a competition of this scale but Qatar - this was probably the moment people had even first heard of the place.

Qatar - where?

It got you wondering, like with the allegations in the 2018 bid, if Qatar had also won hosting rights on the back of bribery. I have always believe they did. And now the Sunday Times has uncovered evidence that proves my and many other people's suspicion. That FIFA executives were involved in a major instance of corruption. Because there is no sensible reason on this earth whatsoever for Qatar hosting the World Cup and even if it was only a 22-man committee that decided on Qatar it is rather telling that so many of them managed to back this tiny emirate.

Qatar doesn't even need the World Cup, it doesn't need it for any great economic gain, there's already plenty going for it as a country of only 1 million people. It is a small and insignificant nation that lacks the image that bigger countries have and that appeals to fans of the World Cup. Italy, USA, France, Japan, Germany, South Africa, Brazil - these are all countries people know and love and want to visit. Who's particularly interested in visiting Qatar? It has hardly any history to make it a remotely interesting place outside of it's material artificial façade. It has no football culture and most or all of the stadiums will have to be built from scratch. Of course it's got the money to sort all that out and it can easily put in place a strong infrastructure, one thing Qatar would have to its credit. But the experience of being in Qatar for the World Cup both as a player and as a fan would be incredibly uncomfortable. If it's not rescheduled for the winter at considerable disruption to domestic seasons across the world it would have to take place in the unbearable heat of an Arabian summer. Of course they would have to install air conditioning but it still may not be adequate and playing standard could suffer considerably as a result. For fans the time before and after each match would also be exhausting and alcohol can only be bought in specific fan zones. If this tournament takes place here in a country with so little a soul where few people will find any real joy from the experience it will be a real denigration of this most wonderful of tournaments.

But what is really getting the international community to take note of this controversy are the human rights issues. Migrant workers. They come from Nepal. They're offered a better future but they arrive at Qatar, have their passports confiscated and are forced to work in labour camps so the new venues can be constructed quickly. In a climate they're far from used-to. The total squalor of the conditions they face amounts to nothing short of slavery. And there's one death a day. Think of the misery this is causing not just themselves but the families they've left behind in Nepal. They can't even escape and return home! To describe this horrifying con where migrant workers were legally trapped having been assured of good salaries as a human rights abuse is possibly an understatement. That FIFA is allowing the World Cup to be held here shows just how far the organisation has sunk. If the World Cup continues to be held here, I for one may refuse to watch it. Had the decision to host the World Cup been made by representatives from all 209 countries then it is very unlikely Qatar would have won.

The ghastly plight of migrant workers in Qatar 

Fortunately because it's still a whole eight years away, there's still time to move the World Cup to another country. Mexico is the country that hosted it twice with the shortest interval, 16 years. The second time came after Colombia was stripped of the right. The USA hosted it 20 years ago and in 2022 will have been 28 years previously, not far short of the time between when West Germany hosted it in 1974 and when they hosted it as a unified country in 2006 (32 years). America would have everything in place in time no problem, three years is probably the most they will need to prepare if Qatar could be stripped of the hosting rights. Korea and Japan who also lost out to Qatar will only have held it last 20 years previously though neither on their own. And Australia, the country that should have won the bid, would be a fantastic place to hold the World Cup. Although people love to go there for the sun it will be their winter so cooler but more pleasant for the players much like in South Africa. But would they have the stadia prepared in time? That will depend on when any announcement is made concerning World Cup 2022 being moved elsewhere. So either the USA, Japan or Australia for hosting the 2022 World Cup.

But not Qatar. This country does not deserve to stage the greatest show on Earth. Not now, not ever.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Why I have little sympathy with James Wallace

In case you're wondering who I'm talking about, James Wallace is the London-based Scot who wants to vote. Not just in any old poll but THIS REFERENDUM. You know? The one happening more than 300 miles away from where he lives. He supposedly has the God-given right to vote in this referendum because he is, well, Scottish.

As agreed in the terms of the Edinburgh Agreement, the Scottish Independence referendum is only open to people who live in Scotland and with good reason. Can you imagine the legal nightmare involved in trying to decide precisely which expats are eligible? Yet this same nightmare is just what James Wallace wants.

The first thing I ought to comment on is the name of his petition, 'Let Wallace Vote'. Why isn't it called 'Let James Vote' or 'Let Mr Wallace Vote'? Surely the voter is supposed to be someone you're on first name terms with like Joe the Plumber during Obama's election campaign some years ago. I can only wonder if this is his way of giving the title a Scottish tone since Wallace has obvious connotations in a debate about Scottish independence i.e. Scottish patriots.

Let Wallace vote

Now I don't question his patriotism for Scotland. And Mr Wallace I'm sure is a nice guy, possibly the sort I'd want to have a bit of Premier League footy banter with at the local pub, as long as he doesn't talk about Chelsea (I'm a Liverpool fan you see)! In all sincerity it's good that he has found a job in London, always reassuring to know that there are plenty of home-grown graduates who have made it far and wide. If I was one of his family I would be very glad for him in having found a desired career. But Mr Wallace lives in London and will be there indefinitely which means he is not directly contributing to Scottish society, he is not paying taxes in Scotland, he is not subject to the many issues affecting Scotland which may or may not affect the south of England and won't be anytime in the near future. So why should he have the vote when democracy is about people being able to make decisions about the very communities where they live? He would accept that he has no right to vote in Holyrood elections as he doesn't live there and nor even a referendum for further devolution if Devo-max and not independence had been the Yes option. So there had better be a very very good case for that to be different with the independence referendum.

Which leads us neatly to the question, What is James Wallace' case for wanting the vote? Well to answer the question I should perhaps dissect a little his petition calling on expat Scots to be given the vote. Because it's not that long I thought I might as well copy and paste it here:

I'm James Wallace.
I, along with over one million future Scottish citizens will not be able to vote in the Scottish Referendum on Independence due to take place on 18 September 2014.

I was born in Scotland, all my family live there, I have lived there all my life until I moved to London in 2012 to start my career, I will return.  I'm Scottish. if Scotland becomes independent I automatically will become a Scottish citizen but I have no say in this decision. Never before has a vote for independence been based on a franchise like this. 

Scotland needs to encourage its workforce to be international, to learn, and to bring this knowledge back to improve our nation.  In its history Scots have explored, ventured to new areas in the world and then improved our country.  They should not be denied a vote on their future.

I have obtained a legal opinion stating that excluding all non resident Scots is illegal.  I have called on the leaders of all parties to come together to ensure that the legality of the referendum cannot be challenged either before or after the independence referendum. 

James Wallace

  Example: if I lived in New York (or anywhere else in world) I could vote for my Scottish MP in westminster elections. But under these rules would not have a say on whether i get that vote in the future. This makes the referendum franchise rules undemocratic. Fact.

So there it is. James Wallace wants to vote because with Scottish independence he will 'automatically become a Scottish citizen'. He's right - to an extent. Under the plans listed in the White Paper anybody who was born in Scotland before and beyond independence day will be regarded as a Scottish citizen. I would say it's a spiritual prerogative to have the citizenship of the country where you were born. But has James Wallace heard of the right to renounce citizenship if you don't want it? Ah, see my point? You can renounce UK citizenship by politely saying to Teresa May, 'you can take this citizenship of mine and you can shove it up your proverbial backside, preferably before your lot brings back conscription for all healthy male British citizens between 16 and 40'. Likewise you will be able to renounce Scottish citizenship if you so wish. So James, if you don't like being a Scottish citizen then by all means renounce your Scottish citizenship. But why would James Wallace want to give up his Scottish citizenship? Well, possibly he's a little suspicious of Alex Salmond. Oh well, that would be his problem.

But I'm sure he wouldn't renounce his Scottish citizenship, he would embrace it with pride. Like I will too as someone who is NOT Scottish but will be normally resident in Scotland on day one of independence. However, I've only touched on half of James Wallace' paranoia about his citizenship. The other half appears to be a belief that by becoming a Scottish citizen he will then lose his British citizenship, well that's his implication anyway. But how would that work exactly? Would the Met come round to his house in the middle of the night and seize his passport in complete breach of his human rights? Oh but wait a moment, I'm just having a little look at some comments on the campaign's Facebook page and they appear to be saying it's Alex Salmond who wants to take away their UK citizenship! No sorry but that's just taking the piss now. For that to make any sense you're looking at a rather ridiculous Interpol operation!

As is made clear in the white paper the Scottish Government's intention is to let Scottish citizens hold dual citizenship with the UK if they wish. That's hardly Alex Salmond 'wanting to take away people's British citizenship'. As the current rules state any British citizen who wants to hold dual citizenship with another country can do so as long as that country allows it. Again you would have to be questioning Alex Salmond's wish to let people hold dual-citizenship to question that rule applying to Scotland and its citizens.

So then what really is left of James Wallace case for getting the right to vote in this referendum? That he may be returning to Scotland sometime? So what? You may be returning? May be? When? If you haven't got any arrangements made to move back to Scotland  how can we know your intentions? How are the Electoral Commission supposed to know? And so what if you're moving there and have family there? I have some family down in Surrey, my maternal Grandmother for one. I would rather there was no prescription charges down there but should I be able to do anything about that through the ballot box? Of course not, I don't live there, it's not my business, it's for my Gran and others like her in England to cast her vote to help get the right government that will abolish prescription charges. It is for my Gran, not me, to elect the councillors that will make the right decisions on a local level in Surrey council. And it is for my Gran, not me, to vote in any local referenda including devolution for Surrey. Of course devolution for Surrey as a wealthy part of London's commuter belt is a little pointless but you get my point. As someone born in Oxfordshire, should I have a vote in a similar referendum down there, one for devolution for Oxfordshire? No I shouldn't because I don't live there! Nor should my Mum, who was born in what is now southwest Greater London, be entitled to vote in the London Mayoral Elections.

The referendum on Scottish independence is about further powers for Scotland albeit the maximum amount of further powers. It is the people living in Scotland who will be directly affected by the result of the referendum. People are not voting in this referendum merely on the idea of national identity or citizenship, they are voting on how empowered they wish to be in the country where they live. What James Wallace wants is for some 500,000 to 1 million people living outside Scotland to decide how empowered people living in Scotland should be. Think about that for one moment. If a majority of say 100,000 over the rest of the voters living in Scotland, feel the best interests for themselves are to have the MSPs they elect to represent them in the Scottish parliament making all of the decisions at a national level that affect them then why should that voice be cancelled out by some 200,000 who are not affected by what goes on in the Scottish parliament who are not represented by and do not elect any MSPs?

Whatever your view on independence many people in Scotland feel this is a fantastic opportunity to be able to live in a country free from the mess of Westminster. It would not be fair that they lose out simply because of people who most likely will be voting No on a rather vague and irrational fear about their supposed citizenship status. Although they will be able to read the Herald and Scotsman online, generally speaking people south of the border, Scots or not, will be a lot less well informed of the debate because there is not going to be the same access to the level of coverage with this referendum that we get north of the border. They won't be getting leaflets through their door, they won't be able to pop along to any public meeting unless they live near the border, they won't be passing Yes or BT stands when out shopping and they won't have STV on their TVs. They can have a valid and strong opinion but it would likely pale into insignificance compared to the minds that are made up north of the border. The Scots south of the border are British citizens living in what will be considered the continuing UK. So what on earth can the reasoning be for them losing that citizenship? That the UK won't allow dual citizenship with their nearest and dearest neighbour while allowing it with all other countries? Well if anything that would sound like little more than revenge and can be challenged in a court of law where the UK government would lose. For sure.

I said I have little sympathy with James Wallace. Well, to be generous I'll add an indefinite article. I do have a little sympathy with James Wallace. It is understandable that he'd love to be part of such an important decision about the country of his birth. Of course he will have strong views on what best for the citizens of Scotland that live there and may have good reasons for those opinions. But he doesn't live in Scotland and far from having to change his citizenship, he will be able to hold Scottish citizenship jointly with UK citizenship. That should be seen as a bonus, a privilege rather than an obligation. So if Mr Wallace wants to choose not to hold Scottish citizenship he will have every right to do so following independence. But why do it through potentially outvoting the resident population of Scotland in their decision about what sort of country they want to live in? The least he should do to make his campaign remotely convincing is to include someone who would vote Yes especially if they are voting Yes for a better future for their family back home. Otherwise his campaign comes across as little more than an attempt at gerrymandering which is no doubt an accusation he's levelling at the Scottish Government!

Also as I touched on at the start Mr Wallace is entering legally dangerous territory since it will still be unfair for some people. Because who on earth do you define as Scottish expats? Yes James Wallace is certainly one of them, he ticks all the boxes in being Scottish other than residency not least because he was born in Scotland. But what about if I myself moved down to England and James Wallace has his way? Would I be allowed to vote? No I wouldn't because I neither live in Scotland nor was born there. Yet I've lived in Scotland longer than possibly than James Wallace has been alive! That's right, if James was born after March 1988 he was born after I moved to Scotland. I moved up when I was only three I spent the majority of my school education in Scotland including all of primary school. I call Galloway my home, before moving to Edinburgh, Newton Stewart was my local community. I still feel it is. I far more naturally take pride in the local talents of where I live than the ones that hail from Oxford where I was born. I've noticed James Wallace having the cheek to comment on the "French people living in Scotland can vote but not Scottish people living in France" like it's big irony. Yes James, that's right, French people living in Scotland can vote in this referendum. But the irony in the first place is that French people are living in Scotland and that Scottish people live in France. Don't tell me you're saying it's unfair that French people generally should have a say in the future of where they live while Scottish people don't have a vote in the future of where they don't live. I actually think that is fair. Because generally speaking French people living in Scotland are going to be working in Scotland, paying their taxes in Scotland, sending their children to school in Scotland, getting NHS treatment in Scotland and so on. What's wrong with French people voting in this referendum?

Oxford, where I was born - lovely city but I don't live there so why should I
vote there?

For Labour's Elaine Murray MSP to get involved in 'Let Wallace Vote' doesn't do her any favours. She had started supporting this campaign to extend the franchise for this one off occasion to include expats like James Wallace way back when her party were arguing that the electorate should not include 16 and 17 years olds because it should be the same franchise as votes in the Scottish parliamentary elections! They argued that any age extension should be for all elections. If this was Dr Murray's view personally as well then it would have made her downright hypocritical. Why argue for a one-off extension to include people, many of whom are probably well off, who don't live in Scotland getting to vote while arguing that 16 and 17 years olds, many of whom will be facing heavy competition in the jobs market, shouldn't enjoy the one-off extension to the franchise? How could that be fair?

See my point? All I can say to James Wallace is count your blessings, you have a well paid job down there in England, many of us here in Scotland are far less fortunate and we want to be able to vote for change. I know Mr Wallace cares about his own country and the issues his people face in their everyday lives but he should let them decide what's best for themselves. James Wallace has no obligation to replace his British citizenship with a Scottish citizenship, if he doesn't want the latter he can renounce it and just keep UK nationality status. So with the issue of citizenship eliminated this is a decision about how people are goverened in their everyday lives and that is not something that affects Mr Wallace directly any more than it does with the Holyrood elections. So Mr Wallace should not be allowed to vote on the 18th September referendum and if he wants to vote in Scotland he should first find somewhere to live in Scotland.

This referendum must be decided by the people whose everyday lives are in Scotland, the people living in Scotland.

Monday, 12 May 2014

A Service of Reconciliation?

I have to say it is a little patronising for the Church of Scotland to call their planned post-referendum service a 'service of reconciliation'. I understand such an idea would be needed in Northern Ireland although in a cross-denominational setting. But Scotland is not Northern Ireland. We'll disagree with each other verbally not violently and we'll all with maybe a few exceptions accept the result of the referendum and choose to get on with making the result work for the good of the country. We'll all, friends and foes, sit around the table at the pub together after the vote or if not a pub then we'll maybe all go for a nice little walk together in the countryside.

There is a place for the Church in this debate and a post-referendum service to bring politicians together in a single space. I'm not someone who thinks religion is just there to preach dogma. Although I disagree with the Church's stance against gay marriage I do feel the Church can do a lot to help people in their communities and could pass on some moral wisdom for the congregation. With politiicians the Church can be there saying, remember you are there to serve the people who elect you and you have to listen to their issues and their anger because that is your duty. For some politicians, especially those who are religious it is about finding moral courage and just having the time to pray to God and ask that that they, in that most difficult of occupations to get right, find the right answers, the right solutions to the problems and dilemmas they will inevitably face.

Personally, from my perspective what I would like to see in any event of 'reconciliation' is just for somebody to stand up in front of the mixed crowd of politicians and public figures and make the point loud and clear on behalf of Yes voters that the vote they cast in favour of independence was not necessarily to do with identity and wasn't a proclamation of 'Scottish-only'. Many of us voting Yes are NOT Scottish. We don't identify as such but we still believe in a Scotland governed by those elected by its residents. I want someone to stand up and shake this notion of non-solidarity with the people of England from the minds of those hardened unionists who really don't understand the desire for independence. Because I and many others are very angry at the idea that we are indifferent to the suffering of people south of the Border. We want to lead by example as people liberated from the shakles of Westminster. But unionist politicians should realise that if there is a No vote we are simply going to stand-by and sulk of course we will work with other people to get the best deal for Scotland and I hope that unionist politicians recognise that if there is to be a No vote, which I hope won't happen.

A church service at St Giles' on Sunday 21st September is a good idea. It just needs to be something that humbles politicians. It needs to be a place where Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling can shake hands without the same political heat of the debate and maybe even be a place for the two of them to discuss the season ahead for Hearts as they kick off their time in the second tier of Scottish football. Basically lets just make it a service which lightens the mood up. But don't call it a Service of Reconcilliation, it is the wrong term because we will be a nation already reconciled to the decision made three days earlier, we will respect it regardless of the result because this is a referendum where hopefully not a single bullet will have been fired.

St Giles' Cathedral

Monday, 28 April 2014

Birthday time

And so I can announce on +428 that at 4.28 on 4/28 (written regrettably the American way) my age was confirmed as the age I will be on referendum day, 29 years old. And that is the age I will be, at heart, for the next eight months or so. Because once the new year passes, I always give the age I will be on my forthcoming birthday. That's just how I am. None of this business of pretending to be a younger age. What's wrong with the age I am? Okay I am starting to put on more weight but about time because I've been a little too skinny. Not that that matters too much.

Age for me is the number of years that have passed since birth. I judge each age that comes to me accordingly and based on what goes on. After all you could have a miserable adolescence and be in prison at 18 but have turned your life round and be travelling the world at 50. So it isn't always better when your younger. There's no inherent thing other than the passing of time that makes somebody such an age, some people look older some people look younger. Just like there's not really a such thing as being homogenously Scottish or homogenously British. Each person is as different in what their national identity means or doesn't mean to them as zebras' stripes.

I like the age I am, I like the physical maturity that has comes with it and hopefully on the 18th September I will remember 29 as the age when I helped make Scotland an independent country. It's as though the whole of my twenties have been leading to this point, this political climax. I did after all start following Scottish politics only when I was 21. Independence for the country I've known since I was three will certainly feel like a long time coming.

For now though there is much work to be done and before that birthday presents to open.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

What if there's a No vote, then?

It is an unthinkable thought, the aftermath of a No vote. It is of course a likely outcome and that is why we are doing everything to campaign for a Yes vote. Indeed the need to bridge a gap is an extra incentive the Unionists just don't have. However, let me now offer my own approach to an outcome that favours a No vote.

First, there's the immediate aftermath of the No vote, the disappointment and deflation following so many months of hard campaigning but then the gracious acceptance that the people of Scotland have decided, albeit through listening to too much fear and scaremongering, to TRUST WESTMINSTER to deliver for them. This wouldn't be a vote to stay friends with England and Wales, our friendship and solidarity with people south of the border, especially with the working class, should be regarded as a given in any circumstance. There are many ways to help out people south of the border, the word charity comes to mind, but to give up our sovereignty in the hope that electing Labour MPs will be enough to bring a change of culture at Westminster would take some sacrifice. There has to be a very compelling financial case to stop people in Scotland deciding enough is enough we're taking control of our own affairs now. But a decision to be say No to independence, whatever the case, is a vote trust the UK political elite with important reserved issues. The moment I hear Johann Lamont declaring 'the people of Scotland have voted to remain British' is the moment I'll be fuming because for many of us being British is more about a simple belonging to a place that is called 'Britain', that is Great Britain. For many of us being British simply means being English, Scottish, Welsh or a mixture.

The principle of live debates: Chairman v. Chairman; Blairman v. Blairman

It goes without saying - counterparts should debate with one another in their rival visions. In the debate on Scottish independence this is no exception. The two Government leaders, each representing an opposite viewpoint, should debate with one another, Alex Salmond against David Cameron; the two chairs, Dennis Canavan and Alistair Darling as the two chairs should debate with each other; the two Blairs, Jenkins and McDougall who are both the managers of their respective campaigns should likewise share a stage; and then Nicola Sturgeon against Alistair Carmichael; Patrick Harvie against Johann Lamont; John Swinney against George Osborne; and so on. But we have a deadlock right now. Alistair Darling wants to debate with Alex Salmond but Alex Salmond doesn't, he wants instead to debate with David Cameron and David Cameron refuses to take part altogether. So someone has to give way or there will be no debates full stop.

Yet Salmond has offered a compromise: He is prepared to debate with Alistair Darling ONLY if he first gets the opportunity to debate with David Cameron. Well Alistair, there you have it. Your long desired chance to grill Alex Salmond in front of a live audience is within your reach. All YOU have to do now is write to David Cameron requesting that he debates with Alex Salmond and then you can get on with your debate. So what's stopping you?

Well, it's clear what's stopping Alistair Darling: a debate between Salmond and Cameron is a nightmare scenario for Better Together. It will look like Scotland versus posh Middle England, something that Ian Davidson admitted once in PMQs. There's actually no doubt about that and such a polarised perception would work to our advantage here in the Yes campaign. But behind it is a very simple principle: parity and accountability.

Well, that's two principles but anyway. If David Cameron is so keen to campaign for the Union, if the UK Government is busy investigating the effects of independence and if the Treasury wants to come up to Edinburgh to set up deliberate obstacles to indepdence then they are hardly behaving as impartial observers.  Indeed Cameron's excuse that it's a debate "between people living in Scotland" is blown straight out of the water by such interventions. Without wanting to go too much into the case of Abdel Basset Al-Megrahi in 2009, here at least was an example of the then Labour UK Government recognising this was a matter for the Scottish Government to get on with and therefore staying out of offering their own opinions on whether or not he should be released (that was left to the party in Holyrood). But on the subject of Scottish Independence, Downing Street clearly isn't an opinion-free zone.

David Cameron even managed a bit of instant hypocrisy in responding to the letter Alex Salmond sent requesting the debate. Cameron said:

"Alistair has been asked by all of the pro-UK parties in Scotland to lead the campaign for a No vote. It is entirely right for you to place yourself at the head of the Yes campaign, but not to decide who should lead for the No campaign, too."

Let's get this straight. In one breath he dictates that Salmond is leading the Yes campaign (when he isn't) but then he has the nerve to demand that Salmond doesn't dictate the leadership of the No campaign. In the first sentence he said that Alistair Darling is leading the campaign by the mutual agreement of 'all' the pro-Union parties. Presumably he meant all the Holyrood unionist parties. Well by that same logic let's get the SNP, Greens and three independent MSPs to agree the main champion for the Yes campaign: either Blair Jenkins or Dennis Canavan. I would recommend the latter as Dennis has a strong political background, is a fantastic speaker and would really make Alistair Darling feel uncomfortable. Also Canavan is Darling's direct opposite number as both are the chair's of their respective campaigns.

If Alistair Darling is adamant about debating with the person leading Yes Scotland he should at least have the decency and courtesy to write to campaign HQ in Hope Street to request they put forward their leader for a debate. But it isn't for Alistair Darling to decide who that leader is any more than it is for Willie Walsh of British Airways to decide who should be the CEO for Emirates or for Liverpool Manager Brendan Rogers to determine who should replace David Moyes over at rivals Man Utd. If Alistair Darling wants a leader-to-leader debate then it should be just that. But if it is about campaign leader challenging government leader in their constitutional viewpoint - Darling v. Salmond - then surely it is only right that that be balanced properly - Canavan v. Cameron. That thought would of course alarm Better Together a million times over but that's how it would have to work for the sake of parity.

If this referendum had been happening four years ago nobody would have objected to a debate between Alex Salmond and Gordon Brown. Yet everybody would have accepted that Brown was debating in his capacity as the head of the UK Government, the Prime Minister and not merely in his capacity as the highest profile unionist Scot. Cameron's presence in such a debate would be in the exact same capacity, as Prime Minister of the UK and the head of the government that, along with its parliament, is politically at the heart of the case for the Union. Just he doesn't live in Scotland (unless his retreat on Jura counts!).

David Cameron should be perfectly capable of speaking eloquently in defence of the Union he was after all educated at Eton. Not that I'm trying to claim private school education to be superior but Etonians are taught to be strong orators. David Cameron should also be suitably equipped to answer questions about the workings of Whitehall and about the current structures of the UK Government, it is him we expect to provide answers on such matters. If Alex Salmond is being expected to answer questions on independence as someone who will be heading one team of negotiators and upon whose shoulders the responsibilities of a nation lie then equally it is for the head of the opposite negotiating team to answer questions about how it would conduct proceedings following either outcome. We don't know who that would be post-May 2015 but we do know who it will be in October 2014: David Cameron. So as far as we know it's David Cameron.

If recent polls are anything to go by, the people of Scotland want such a debate to happen. So it is ironic that Alistair Darling should talk about it as Alex Salmond trying to create a distraction for the people of Scotland when it is exactly what they want. The people of Scotland want to ask both Salmond and Cameron the hard questions so they can make up their mind about which institution they should entrust their very sovereignty to. So by that very nature no back-bencher from the ruling benches let alone opposition party can comprehensively answer these questions.

Salmond has offered the prospect of being involved in two debates one with the Prime Minister and one with the leader of Better Together, therefore giving Alistair Darling, should he accept the offer, the possibility of having the last word. Yet he's refusing to accept that offer. Either he's not so desperate as he says he is for a debate or he can't stomach the thought of a debate between Salmond and Cameron in any circumstance. Yet how would he respond to a different offer, one where he was allowed to debate with Salmond on condition he first debates with Canavan? Surely he wouldn't refuse that arrangement, after all both debates are between two Scots both with a vote in the referendum, would he? Yet you can't help but feel that he would retort and say that Dennis Canavan isn't the true leader of the Yes campaigner and shouldn't debate with him. If that were to be Mr Darling's response it would only confirm his arrogance. In that instance he would be behaving like a spoilt child who wants to eat his cake and still have it! He therefore does not deserve the debate he wants.

My suspicion therefore is that no live debates will take place at all involving Alex Salmond, Alistair Darling or David Cameron. But the invitations will likely remain symbolic in the run-up to the referendum being for debates that didn't happen but should have. Maybe then the stage should be set up any way with Yes on one lectern and the logo for the Scottish Government and better together on the other lectern with the logo for the UK Government with the invitations sent out to the heads of the two governments. That way, with Alex Salmond likely to take to the stage, David Cameron has little choice but to either turn up in person or send a Scottish representative from his cabinet a move which would mark out his weakness as a leader. So I will leave you with two pictures with which to illustrate this idea.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Irreplaceable Margo, 1943-2014

Today I was supposed to be using this post to mark five months since the passing of Nelson Mandela, a year since the passing of my pet cat Cherry and twenty years since the untimely death of Kurt Cobain. But a day ago Scotland lost one of its finest political talents, Margo MacDonald and so it would be more fitting to remember someone who will be enormously missed at such an important time in our nation's history.

In the Scots Independent shortly after the SNP's historical victory in 2011 the results were shown with the names of the parties abbreviated. And there alongside SNP, Lab, Con, Green and Lib Dem was the name Margo. Not Independent or Ind or Margo Macdonald but quite simply Margo. As Alex Salmond said yesterday in tribute to a woman who stood out from all the others "Very few politicians are recognised and known to the public by their first name - Margo was."

For all independence campaigners she was the person who by winning the 1973 by-election in Govan helped change the perception of Scottish nationalism from being all about beardy men obsessed with the past to being about a genuine concern for social welfare in some of the poorest parts of the country. She had a way of winning arguments because she could hold her ground with great conviction and immense humour.

I first heard of Margo MacDonald some 7 or 8 years ago when I first took a real interest in Scottish politics and I read that the one independent member of the Scottish Parliament, Margo,
 was also a supporter of independence. It was therefore convenient to see that the banner of Independent was so apt. She was clearly an independent-minded independence supporter and like her husband, the equally formidable Jim Sillars, she did not share the views held by the SNP regarding many aspects of an independent Scotland like the currency and EU membership. She was widely respected across the political classes and she often made her voice heard in parliament as interventions to great effect. In First Minister's questions that usually came as a point of order at the end of the session and the other members would pause to listen. Because of the person she was it was easy to take notice of the issues to which she was drawing our attention. In that regard alone she could be seen as the mother figure of the parliament.


Of course Margo MacDonald will be remembered in recent years as a champion of causes that other politicians were too shy to confront notably assisted dying and the rights of sex workers in Edinburgh. Assisted dying was an important issue to Margo because of her Parkinson's and so she published a Private Members Bill to introduce it in Scotland. On this issue I do lean in favour of assisted dying but still haven't made my mind up as there are issues surrounding the possible consequences of such a law. But it is good nonetheless that members were given a free vote by their parties so they could make up their own mind. All credit to Margo for using the opportunity of Scotland's devolution to hold this debate.

But she won't live to see the outcome of the reintroduction of this bill nor the other thing she had dreamed of seeing her whole political life, the Scottish independence referendum. We can all take inspiration from the manner in which she participated in the debates about Scotland's future. I therefore will share with you a video of Margo alongside three other women in a BBC debate back in June 2012:

I am very saddened that Margo MacDonald has passed away and that she will not be with us to shape the early years of an independent Scotland. She is completely irreplaceable and it will be many years before we see her likes again but in her spirit we can carry out her vision of a socially just and confident nation that will come with Scottish independence.

My thoughts are with her husband Jim, her daughters Zoe and Petra and all of her family at this sad time.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Week 13, Unlucky for some

Who would have known it? In just one week, Week 13 of 2014 (let's call it 13'14, that has a certain ring to it!), everything changed, the tide turned, a new order was born, and you can think of any other number of clichés to describe it. But basically in the course of the week the media in Scotland was dominated by a truth it couldn't avoid. That now the gap in the polls was narrowing and the alternative media and twitter's cybernats were finding a stronger voice, the Yes campaign was suddenly becoming a force to be taken seriously. And so it took only a few gaffes in the Better Together hierarchy and an underwhelming performance by Nick Clegg at the Lib Dems' Scottish conference to embarrass the Unionists to the point of admitting the Yes campaign could win this September.

The ball started to roll for the Unionist campaign a week ago on Sunday as new polling revealed the extent to which people were starting to turn away from No and give their backing to Yes. But that was only the beginning.

Friday, 21 March 2014

The Parliamentary Case for Independence

Ask any MSP or MP who has worked at both Westminster and Holyrood "Which parliament do you prefer?" chances are the answer is always going to be the same. Whichever side of the independence debate they're on they are still likely to tell us they prefer Holyrood over Westminster. And it probably isn't so much political as pastoral. The Scottish Parliament has a charm and convenience that the UK Parliament doesn't have.

The debating chamber is certainly a lot nicer in Holyrood. The seats are better spaced out, there is no need for anyone to stand and every member gets their own desk on which to put their documents. The seating is arranged in such a way as to reflect what was intended to be a more consensual approach to parliamentary politics rather than the confrontational nature of the House of Commons. Aesthetically the chamber at Holyrood is much more pleasing. It has a fresh wooden look and lets in a lot more natural daylight. That in itself could have a more positive effect on the mood of the chamber. The freshness makes it feel closer to nature as was part of the original vision by the Spanish architect Enric Miralles (if you look at the shape of the parliament from above it is like a small litter of leaves). And it's modern. That's important because it sends out the message that this is a democracy that is current and up-to-date or at least more so than Westminster.

Holyrood from a golden eagle's perspective.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Cold War II? I hope not.

I enjoyed watching the Sochi Olympics. I enjoyed the opening ceremony better than the one at London 2012 although that was good as well. Russia had clearly been waiting a long time for this opportunity to show itself off to the global community and here was a showcase of Russian culture with the sound of Alexander Borodin's Prince Igor providing an atmospheric opening to proceedings evocative of the Russia of the 19th century rich in its ballets and literature before it made way for the chaos of the 20th Century. When the national anthem was played with the raising of the tricolour I was powerfully reminded that this was the first post-Soviet Olympic Games held on Russian soil. Yes, the setting of these Olympics raised some eyebrows: of all the places to host it why did the Russians choose somewhere far south in the Caucasus Mountains where it was much warmer? Surely further north in the heart of Russia where colder winters are better known would have been more apt, like the Ural Mountains. Nonetheless, this was very much Russia being exhibited and what a statement they made of it as they went forward and claimed the top medal-haul with 13 golds. Russia can certainly look forward to more great sporting festivities with the Grand Prix taking place in the same city in August and the World Cup all over the country (well, the European part), four years from now. So having invested in the most expensive Winter Olympics ever Russia is making significant progress in the 21st Century.

Sochi - Russia living the dream?

At least that's what we'd like to think. But Russia can hardly be seen as progressive right now. The Kremlin's suppression of gay rights was of course the big social talking point throughout the Olympics with people taking to twitter to ask Mr Putin if he was enjoying watching the double-luge (which is NOT a mixed event!). But as the Paralympics dawn it is events on the adjacent coastline to Sochi which is threatening to overshadow Russia's reputation. If ever there has been more evidence in recent years of the old Soviet Union's legacy in Eastern Europe the struggle in the Ukraine between those who want closer integration with the European Union and those who want to remain integrated with Russia possibly absorbed says it all. Are we about to witness an event that means the Cold War now has to acquire 'I' as a suffix?

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Osborne's mistake will backfire

So we now know where the three would-be chancellors post 2015 stand on a formal currency union. Or do we?

Well delivering his speech in the West End of Edinburgh, George Osborne said to the people of Scotland "If you walk away from the UK you walk away from its currency". It was a threat with a clear political agenda. Blackmail, in other words. The BBC's Douglas Fraser commented "Pro-union parties said they would not negotiate ahead of the referendum - they're now doing so, but only to rule out negotiations." About the best thing any BBC reporter said all day. Had this been a unilateral referendum with no Edinburgh Agreement signed then I might have respected David Cameron's wish not to debate. I would have especially respected his wish if he said that his government would make the transition to independence as smooth as possible for the sake of the Scottish people if they decide democratically that they wish to become a sovereign nation. But his government has not shown any respect to the Scottish people by sending George Gideon Osborne (that is actually his middle name!) to say what his government would threaten to do if they vote for independence. By not even saying that a formal currency union would be one option for an independent Scotland his contempt was complete. If it just so happens that a majority of people have already decided to choose independence then George Osborne, Ed Balls and Danny Alexander have decided that the people of Scotland are making a big mistake. But more to the point this is proving that David Cameron is no longer treating this simply as a debate between people living in Scotland, the UK Government has actually come up here and interfered. That means David Cameron has an absolute moral obligation to come up here and debate with Alex Salmond so he can explain his Government's posturing. He is now accountable to the people of Scotland.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Good luck to our athletes in Sochi

Very rare is it that Scottish and British are effortlessly interchangeable the way English and British are on so many occasions. But as I write this, Team GB are taking to the ice to throw some heavy stones along the length of a rink towards what I hope will be Olympic glory. With the lads skipped by Lockerbie's David Murdoch and the lasses skipped by the stunningly attractive Eve Muirhead (sorry I couldn't resist the comment) the curlers may as well be called Team Scotland which is what they are in the World and European Championships.

Eve Muirhead and her rink, Team Scotland/GB

I can remember in 2002 the jubilation that followed the team's success in Salt Lake City. Everybody was saying "this is Team Scotland" and there were saltires a many in celebration. I myself agreed, this is a moment for the Scots to be proud of but I felt that not as a Scottish nationalist so much as someone who preferred the idea of a united island country called 'Great Britain'. Yet that wasn't in antipathy towards Scottish nationalism because I didn't really have a clue about Scottish politics. I knew there was a devolved Scottish parliament, I can remember that being a big thing in 1997 but if anyone were to ask me 'Who is Alex Salmond?' I would likely have shrugged my shoulders and said "One of the MSPs who campaigned for devolution" and nothing else. It was only in 2006, a year before the SNP's first term, that I started to read up about and follow the Independence movement. But it has little bearing on my sporting allegiances. I may support Scotland in the 6 nations but in the footy friendly last August I supported England because that's what I normally do in football and with some competitive games still left in the qualifiers each win mattered at least mentally. My sporting allegiances vary because put bluntly, your country is great at some things, alright at others and crap at the rest.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Currency union matters as an option, formal or informal

There are few people in a position of power at a UK level that those of us who advocate Scottish independence have much respect for. Yet the Governor of the Bank of England is one of those few. Amazingly Sir Mervyn King is reputed to have had a far better relationship with Alex Salmond than with Alistair Darling, a testament perhaps to just how badly Brown and Darling handled the economy. Salmond was involved in some discussions relating to currency union with King before Mark Carney took. In his role as governor Carney is not going to have the same agenda as a politician, he is simply there to do his job and being Canadian his opinion on whether or not Scotland should be independent is not going to be as strong. On the one hand he may feel Scotland is only seeking what most Canadians desired during the years of colonial Britain, on the other hand he may see echoes of the Quebecois referendum in Scotland's big decision. Either way his involvement in the current debate is reasonably neutral and respectable and is not holding back from providing answers out of any fear of 'pre-negotiations'. Alex Salmond and Mark Carney got on with the technical discussions and the latter presented his analysis a week ago.

Mark Carney and Alex Salmond

It is of no great surprise or worry that compromise has to be found in formalising a currency union. Yes, the UK government remains the main user of the Pound Sterling and the founding state of the Bank of England. But Scotland has a stake in the currency as well and most importantly it holds the cards on this issue. The UK government has indicated it may refuse a formal currency union but actually it is the UK government that will urgently feel the need for discussions with the other government for the formalisation of the common currency area.