Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Done up like a Kipper

It's the Conservative Party conference, and the major theme that seems to be emerging (aside from the usual persecution of the unemployed and working poor) is just how scared they are of UKIP.  On Sunday Tory MPs were told that their personal integrity would be brought into disrepute if they should defect to UKIP, which can only lead to the conclusion that many of them have secrets they would not like to be exposed to the public.  I don't recall ever seeing such a naked threat issued, and I think it tells us a lot about the level of fear over the defections.

As a related aside, one thing that I noticed during the referendum was that we didn't see any scandal stories about Alex Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon in the tabloids.  You'd think that would have been a big weapon in the armoury, given how tame the mainstream media were.  I can only conclude that there really wasn't anything of great interest to be told, since if there was any scandal you can bet there will be a file on it somewhere.

Yesterday we had George Osborne promising to abolish the 55% tax on pensions when they are passed on at death, and hinting at reviving his party's policy on raising the inheritance tax threshold to £1 million.  Pensioners are deserting the Conservatives for UKIP in increasing numbers, so again we see the fear of UKIP dictating policy.  As I get nearer pension age, I am waiting to see if I suddenly wake up one morning agreeing with everything the Conservatives say.  Maybe it's something that you get on the day you retire, along with access to the special old people's clothes shops?  I'll let you know when I get there.  Mind you, with promises of raising the retirement age to 70, it's going to be a while.

Boris Johnson has even re-extended a previous invitation for Nigel Farage to join the Conservatives - presumably a sort of reverse 'if you can't beat them, join them' scenario.  For me this raises the scary scenario of a Tory/UKIP alliance if there is a hung parliament at the next General Election, especially if, as rumoured, Boris takes over as Conservative leader.  Are you Yes yet?

The final interesting thing for me was John Redwood warning businesses not to give their opinion on leaving the EU.  To be fair to Mr Redwood, he doesn't think businesses should have given an opinion on the Scottish referendum either, a view clearly not shared by David Cameron and his chums.  I don't think they will want businesses giving their opinions on the EU, as they are not likely to agree with Mr Cameron this time, given that he is willing to recommend that people vote to leave the EU in the event that he doesn't get changes in the terms of the UKs membership, ie if he doesn't get his own way.  Getting his own way seems a little unlikely, as he doesn't have a great record of success in negotiating with the EU.  Also, the fact that he wants schools to go back to teaching imperial measurements rather than metric would suggest a deep-rooted anti-Europeanism and a hankering after the days of Empire, something that I don't think is shared to the same degree in Scotland.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Patriotism is a relative thing

David Cameron said this on the Andrew Marr Show:
"I am just a deeply patriotic politician and person. I do this job because I love my country, I care passionately about its future and I want it to be a strong, proud, self-governing independent nation.”
45% of Scots feel the same way about Scotland, but apparently that's different.

He said this in the context of the EU, when he said he would be prepared to recommend that people vote No to staying in the EU in the forthcoming referendum in 2017 if he doesn't get a satisfactory agreement (ie his own way) on the UK's opt-outs.  That could be one of the triggers for another referendum on Scottish independence in the event that Scotland votes to stay in the EU and England votes to leave, which certainly seems to be a possibility on the evidence of the polls.  Here's hoping!

Sunday, 28 September 2014

A new media

One of the major bones of contention throughout the referendum campaign was the bias against Yes from the media, both print and broadcast.  This entailed both the promotion of stories from the No side pretty much uncritically, while attacking stories from the Yes side and also by not covering positive stories from the Yes side but ensuring the No stories were reported prominently.  Some of the issues were exposed by Professor John Robertson of the University of the West of Scotland.

There are 37 newspapers available to the Scottish public, 36 of which espoused the No side.  The one exception was, of course, the Sunday Herald, whose sales figures more than doubled following their support for the Yes campaign.  This is not to say that the Sunday Herald acted as an uncritical cheerleader for Yes.  They printed interviews with representatives of the No side, as well as analysis of the issues raised by the prospect of independence.  Clearly there was a gap in the market for this type of coverage.

The difficulty faced by the media supporting No was that Internet access is now widely available, something that was not the case in previous referendums in Scotland.  This meant that scare stories could be quickly debunked using information that was readily available on the Internet.  This was not something that the traditional media was used to.  I think that one of the reasons that sites like Wings over Scotland were so reviled by them is that they persistently embarrassed the BBC and newspapers by exposing the flaws in their stories using carefully researched and linked data.

So, if all the information was out there, why did we get a No vote?  One telling point here is the data showing how the various age groups voted.  It is quite striking to note that the young and middle-aged, the ones who are familiar with the Internet and social media, generally voted Yes, while the elderly, who are more likely to rely on traditional media, tended to vote No.

Where do we go from here?

The Sunday Herald  appears to be continuing its pro-independence stance.  However, it only appears weekly, which leaves a huge gap in the market.  A gap which is now being addressed by several initiatives such as The Scottish Independent, an offering from Derek Bateman and Newsnet Scotland, the Caledonian MercuryFreedom TVReferendum TV and an initiative from the guys behind Dateline Scotland and Wings over Scotland.  The size of the gap in the market is, I think, demonstrated by the fact that this last is being crowd funded and has raised more than three times the money they were looking for in two days.  Most of the offerings are not solely independence-oriented, but are more about providing a Scottish perspective on the news that is not biased against independence.

There are naysayers, of course, who point to the difficulties in starting up a new newspaper - see this thread on Guardian CiF for an example.  However, just because something is difficult and may not succeed is no reason not to try it.  Even if only one or two of the above initiatives succeed, it can only be an improvement on the current situation.

I firmly believe that Scotland will see independence in my lifetime (and I'm in my fifties now).  To succeed in the next referendum we need to be able to provide a strong voice in contrast to the establishment media, and not just online.  A diversity of opinion can only be a good thing for democracy.  Let's make sure that next time, people have access to both sides of the argument.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Why Yes?

One of my hobbies is genealogy and family history.  Naturally, my first project was to research my own family, which I've traced back to the early 18th-century on both sides.  As it turns out, 98% of my direct ancestors were born in Scotland.  The others are either Irish-born or English-born.

I was immensely aided by the fact that both of my parents have very unusual surnames.  Unusual to the degree that I have never found them in any of the surname books for either Scotland or the UK.  Family lore has it that both sides originated from Europe, although I haven't been able to prove it.  Nevertheless, the implication is that my family were originally immigrants.

All of my ancestors are from the working class.  There are tailors and dressmakers, crofters and ploughboys, dairymaids and housemaids, drivers and railway workers, masons and canal tenders.  None of them wealthy, and some of them very poor indeed.  Most of them are Scots.

Let's go back in time to the late 1930s, when my dad was born, the eighth of nine children.  He has an elder brother who he will never know.  His brother died at the age of 2 from pneumonia.  At that time you had to pay for a doctor's visit, and his family doesn't have much money.

Fast forward.  It's the late 1940s.  My grandmother has died in the mid-1940s, at the age of 47, and my grandfather has remarried.  My dad has some great news.  He has passed his 11-plus, and a place at the local grammar school awaits.  His parents have some bad news however.  Wearing a uniform is compulsory at the local grammar school, and the family budget will not stretch to cover the cost.  He will have to attend the local secondary modern school instead.

Fast forward.  It's the late 1950s.  My dad gets married to my mum, a nurse.  She is also a talented musician, but nursing offers a steadier way of making a living.  He is called up for national service and opts for the Royal Navy, where he makes a career and learns the skills of an aircraft engineer.

Fast forward.  It's the late 1960s.  My dad has worked his way through the ranks to Petty Officer.  However, he decides it's time to leave the Navy, and he takes his skills to the world of commercial aviation.  My mum has been a stay-at-home mum while I was growing up, but is thinking of going back to work once the youngest of my siblings goes to school.

Fast forward.  It's the late 1970s.  I have passed my exams and have a place at Glasgow University.  There are no tuition fees and I am entitled to a maintenance grant.  It's not the full grant, as both of my parents are working, so they are expected to pay a contribution to my maintenance.  They do this.  My brother also goes to Glasgow University the year after me.  They also pay a contribution to his maintenance.  Meantime our two remaining siblings are attending school.

Fast forward.  It's the early 2000s.  Two of my nephews are going to University, one to Glasgow and one to Stirling.  The one going to Glasgow has lived in England for most of his life and must therefore pay tuition fees as well as taking on student loans for maintenance.  Fortunately my brother has had a successful career and is in a position to help his son with this.  My other nephew has lived in Scotland all his life.  He doesn't have to pay tuition fees but does have to take on student loans.  I have been diagnosed with a chronic health condition.  I have received excellent care from the Scottish NHS.  My condition is manageable, and the introduction of free prescriptions will be of great help when they are introduced in 2011.  My dad has retired.  Among other things, he has taken to writing poems.  He has talent.

Fast forward.  It's September 2014.  In a few days we will be voting in the referendum on Scotland's independence.  In England the NHS is being privatised by stealth.  It's thought that in 5 years there will be no NHS in England in its original form, free at the point of need.  Tuition fees in England currently stand at £9,000 per year and look like they will shortly rise to around £11,000 per year.  If we vote No, Scotland will follow suit.  Not because we want to, but because the UK government will take a No vote as implicit approval for their policies and will use the block grant to impose them.

I don't want to return to a time when healthcare depended on the money at your disposal.  I don't want to return to a time when education depended on what you could afford, leading to a huge waste of talent.  I do want to do things differently. I wanted future generations to have the opportunities I had.  That's why, on the 18th September, I will vote Yes.

Fast forward.  It's a week after the referendum.  Sadly, we did not get our independence.  Not this time.  However, I am heartened by the fact that 45% of us wanted the change that independence would have brought.  I am also heartened by the fact that we are not giving up in the quest for independence.  The future is still bright with possibility.

Oot o' the Shortbread Tin

On 18th September 2014 the people of Scotland were allowed, for a little while,  to come out of the shortbread tin where they had been safely contained since 1707.  To many of us, the freedom was exhilarating, filled with endless possibilities for a new Scotland.  Sadly, however, for 55% of Scotland's people the freedom was too scary, and they voted for us to be put back in the tin. 

The rest of us don't want to go back in the tin.  It's too confining, we want to grow and develop beyond its limits.  One week on, and the hunger for change has not been sated.  We are seeing not so much the Flower of Scotland as the flowering of Scotland.  New projects are being set up, the political parties in favour of independence are growing rapidly and people are staying involved.

Let's capitalise on that energy.  The future is in our hands.  Let's keep it there.