All posts by thomas

Spreading the word

Catch Up
Catch Up, a photo by sheilaz413 on Flickr.
Wings over Scotland recently commissioned a Panelbase poll and today published the results for the media questions. Here’s what the poll found with regard to knowledge of some of the main websites dedicated to Scottish politics:

Which of these Scottish political websites have you heard of? Tick as many as apply.

  • ThinkScotland: 19%
  • Labour For Independence: 10%
  • The Jimmy Reid Foundation: 10%
  • Newsnet Scotland: 9%
  • Wings Over Scotland: 7%
  • Bella Caledonia: 6%
  • National Collective: 6%
  • Labour Hame: 4%
  • Five Million Questions: 2%
  • Open Unionism: <1%
  • None of the above: 68%

This is a massive problem. It means 68% of the population are likely to get their knowledge mainly from newspapers and TV (and the associated websites) and don’t know any independent websites that are likely to write about Scottish independence.

My guess is that the 68% includes the vast majority of those voters who haven’t made up their mind yet, so the implication is that most waverers get their news exclusively from mainstream media. (It would be good to get this confirmed from the crosstabs once they’re published.)

However, I’m sure the status quo can be changed.

Perhaps Yes Scotland (or the local groups) could select a small number of articles from a few blogs (Bella Caledonia, Newsnet Scotland, Wings over Scotland, National Collective etc.) and with the websites’ permissions print them in a small leaflet and hand it out to all households in Scotland. Each article would also list the URL of the blog it’s from, and the leaflet would of course have to state that Yes Scotland didn’t endorse the blogs but that those particular articles seemed to be of interest to many people.

I lots of people would actually sit down and read the articles and start thinking, and then go and explore the websites themselves. If it would make waverers more likely to read the leaflet, it could even include articles from neutral and anti-independence blogs — the main aim would be to get people to start accessing more news sources.

I’m sure a greater awareness of political websites would lead to an increase in support for Scottish independence.

The Three Hundred Year Night

Holberg, a photo by JsonLind on Flickr.
If you read Norwegian texts from the period when Norway was ruled from Copenhagen (1397–1814), you don’t get the impression that Norwegians were terribly unhappy about their plight. In fact, they didn’t take any steps towards independence until Denmark had to hand Norway over to Sweden after the Napoleonic wars. It’s quite possible Norway would have remained part of Denmark if Denmark-Norway hadn’t been on the losing side in those wars.

However, after Norway became independent again in 1905, it became popular to refer to the years of Danish rule as firehundreårsnatten “the four hundred year night”. With hindsight, they suddenly realised that Norway could have done so much better if it had been run by Norwegians for Norwegians in Norway all along, and they were kicking themselves for having put up with Danish rule for so long, even though at the time it seemed like a reasonable set-up.

Will Scots in the same way talk about the period from 1707 to 2016 as the “three hundred year night” in a generation’s time? Will people be shaking their heads in disbelief at what their forebears thought was an acceptable state of affairs?

PS: The photo shows a statue of Ludvig Holberg, who lived from 1684 to 1754 and is often considered the father of Danish literature. He wrote in Danish because Norwegian had ceased to exist as a written language, in the same was as Scots is now often seen as an English dialect. Although he was born in Norway, he studied in Denmark, worked in Denmark and lived in Denmark because Denmark didn’t see any need to build a university in Norway. It’s quite lucky the Scottish universities were founded before 1707.

Is Fife a kingdom, and is Scotland a country?

Scotland ~ Fife
Scotland ~ Fife, a photo by e r j k p r u n c z y k on Flickr.
Fife is a bonnie part of Scotland, but obviously when it’s called the Kingdom of Fife it’s just a way to commemorate the fact that it was a Pictish kingdom many centuries ago. The word “kingdom” thus has a ceremonial meaning in the collocation “Kingdom of Fife”, but a real, current meaning when we say “the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.

The reason for this brief introduction to the meanings of the word “kingdom” is that I wonder whether something similar is true with regard to Scotland’s status as a country.

Most Scots — and definitely everybody on the Yes side — see Scotland as a real country, which just happens to have formed a political union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

However, I wonder whether some people on the No side mean something completely different when they say that Scotland is their country, for instance when they insist that they love their country just as much as the Yes campaigners. Do they interpret “country” in a ceremonial fashion, just like the meaning “kingdom” has in the “Kingdom of Fife”? So do they actually mean that they love their region (Scotland), presumably as part of a real country (i.e., the UK)?

This is important because it relates to the representation Scotland gets in Westminster.

As Wings over Scotland put it recently:

If you’re claiming “my country” as being Scotland, then it’s a country [that] only gets the government its people vote for around 40% of the time. The argument from the No camp is that Scots have a vote in electing UK governments like everyone else does, and should just shut up and accept it if their wishes get over-ruled by the much larger population of England, because that’s democracy and people in Newcastle get Tory governments they didn’t vote for either.

But that only works if you’re saying that your “country” is the UK. The minute you identify Scotland as being a country in its own right, that argument disintegrates. Regions of a country have to accept the overall will. Countries should get the governments they vote for.

In other words, if Scotland is a country, then the UK is a union and Scotland should get many more seats in the House of Commons. It’s also logical that Scotland has a parliament, a separate legal system and even its own football team.

However, if Scotland is just a region which is ceremonially called a country, then the current representation in the House of Commons is completely fair, but it’s then a bit strange why Scotland needs a parliament when other regions don’t (in this world view, four regions have parliaments — Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and London — but eight don’t: NE England, NW England, Yorkshire and The Humber, East Midlands, West Midlands, East of England, SE England and SW England), and there’s absolutely no justification for Scotland having a separate legal system and its own football team.

I’d like people from the No campaign to tell me what kind of country they consider Scotland to be.

“There would be little point in the SNP as a party”

In a blog post about a speech by Michael Moore on the Liberal Democrat Voice website, LibDem activist Caron Lindsay wrote:

The one thing I would be a bit wary of is that it’s not realistic to expect the nationalist camp to come up with just one vision of independence. They can’t. The nationalist movement is by its nature going to be full of people with a diversity of views. Should Scotland choose separation, there would be little point in the SNP as a party. There would be nothing to hold it together after the first effort to build the new nation. There are liberals, socialists, greens, republicans, right wingers within it. They would most likely join other parties or start new ones.

It’s good to see that at least some people in the Unionist parties are starting to realise that an independent Scotland won’t be an SNP dictatorship and that independence offers a huge opportunity to other political parties.

Too often I’ve talked to people who say they’re voting No because they don’t like Alex Salmond and/or specific SNP policies. In reality, the SNP is a very broad church that is held together by the quest for independence, so there will have to be a realignment of the Scottish political spectrum after a Yes vote.

It’s even possible that Labour will lead the first government in an independent Scotland, as I’ve blogged about before.

The flatness of the polls

Opinion polls compared.
Opinion polls compared.
The Panelbase poll that was published today was basically another independence referendum opinion poll that didn’t register any statistically valid voter movements (given the sample size, plus or minus one or two points is definitely within the margin of error).

The dramatic changes we sometimes hear about come about because people compare the results from two different pollsters — if you look at one at a time, the polls have been practically static for months.

But why is that? My beloved wife offered the explanation that most voters actually aren’t very interested (yet), so they actually don’t pay much attention to all those fascinating stories that all the activists assume must be discussed at length over Scotland’s dining tables, which is why they don’t change their opinion, no matter how shallow it is.

If this is true, we all need to get better at talking to those uninterested voters and make them understand why this is so important, so that we can get the polls to start moving again!

The anglocentric media and the London Scots

Inequivocabilmente UK
Inequivocabilmente UK, a photo by lyonora on Flickr.
Yesterday the Herald published two articles that both contained interesting observations about the way Scotland and the independence referendum are perceived in London.

Iain Mcwhirther pointed out that the Scottish press is completely ignored in London: “The reason so many BBC network news programmes seem so anglocentric is because they tend to take their editorial agenda from the press, which doesn’t report Scotland in its London editions. This, rather that any anti-Scottish bias among editors of the 6pm news or Any Questions, accounts for the absence of Scottish stories.”

Andrew Marr noted that there is an assumption Scotland will vote No to independence: “Whenever London Scots get together and talk about independence, there is a general assumption the people back home will never actually vote for it — that a vote for the Scottish National Party in Holyrood is simply the latest wheeze to put pressure on London for financial favours is blandly repeated in bars and television studios. ‘They willnae.’ … I have become less certain: next September, they micht.”

Taken together, these two remarks make it clearer why the UK media have concluded that the referendum have already been decided (as I noted more than a year ago). If they don’t access Scottish media, they will out of necessity get their information primarily from Scots living in London, and if they in turn have decided it’ll be a No, that then becomes the established truth in the Westminster bubble.

It’s quite interesting to contemplate why the London Scots have already decided it will be a No. It has probably something to do with the widespread assumption that talent moves to London, and that the people who didn’t leave are too stupid to think for themselves.

I have a feeling the London Scots might get a big surprise in September 2014!

Skintland and my mum

Skintland, a photo by MissRachel2012 on Flickr.
My mum was chairman of the local constituency Social Democratic party in Denmark for decades, so she is quite politically aware. However, she doesn’t know much about Scottish or UK politics, and until recently she didn’t really have an opinion on Scottish independence.

It was therefore quite interesting to observe her when she found a copy of The Economist’s infamous Skintland issue lying around our living room some months ago. She got intrigued by the cover and sat down to read the whole thing.

She then declared that she didn’t know what it was they were hiding, but if they saw a need to bully people into submission like that, they must be really scared of the truth getting out, so the truth must be that Scotland will be much better off as an independent country and/or that the rUK will be much worse off without Scotland.

So ever since reading the Skintland issue, she’s been strongly in favour of Scottish independence. I’m not sure that’s the reaction The Economist were hoping for!