Category Archives: referendum

Beyond the point of repair

The second guest blogger on Arc of Prosperity is Phyllis Buchanan.

Phyl is a mum of 5, busy running her language company, taking photos and trying to keep up with the pace of life. She blogs at Phyl’s Blog.

An earlier version of this post has been published on her blog before.

Divorce Cakes a_006
Divorce Cakes a_006, a photo by DrJohnBullas on Flickr.
I’ve been wondering why the Scottish independence referendum has been annoying me increasingly over the last few months to the point that when I hear it mentioned on the news or similar, I turn off.

It isn’t the I am not interested. I am passionately interested. It is plain to see that England, first under Labour and now under the ConDems, has no idea whatsoever what to do to start moving in the right direction. Their education system has been priced out of realistic people’s grasp, and not in line with the rest of the European continent that it is part of. Their health service is failing miserably. The infrastructure is collapsing around them, they have youth unemployment but are trying to force pensioners into working till way beyond the age when people (in my family at least) tend to die. They are hysterical about immigration, even when fears are not realized.

Childcare is so beyond people’s reach that many women (even with degree-level education and beyond) are no longer able to go out to work — salaries just don’t meet the costs. Some stay home and decimate their careers, others choose to have no children, many rely on aging parents who suddenly find themselves incapacitated and then they’re faced with losing their home because their mortgage was based on granny childminding. Many, like me, try to work half-time (plus a little) from home, staying up till the wee small hours to make ends meet, working all weekends and holidays but that isn’t the way forward in the 21st century.

Sure enough London seems to be working reasonably well, a little part of the South East too but Birmingham up is quite frankly in a state! I want my kids to live in a fairer, more progressive country so it is incomprehensible to me after reading the figures (as quoted in the FT and even occasionally the Economist), reading independent GDP projections and reports on other small countries that are working much better, reading the White Paper and its far-reaching ideas that anyone would vote to sink with the ship that is floundering on the Somerset plains.

Now this is nothing anti-English — many of my English friends who live here are also Yes supporters, quite frankly I think Northern England needs it as much as we do, they simply aren’t being given the option and I am not willing to join them in a suicide pact when I can start to build a future they can hopefully draw example from.

Anyway, back to why the Indy Ref is annoying me. It suddenly hit me, while listening to Osborne’s speech in Edinburgh ten days ago… It is because of my divorce. I didn’t just go through a divorce eight years ago, I went through the most acrimonious divorce that any one I know has gone through. That is not what I intended but it is what transpired. I don’t usually blog about my real, innermost private life but let’s discard that rule just for once and let me take you through my divorce blow by blow. There is enough distance between me and it now for this to be possible without it being overly upsetting…

So let’s go back to five or six years before I left my first husband. We had grown apart. We were coexisting but didn’t have much in common. I saw my future differently from where he saw it but I wasn’t the divorcing type so I sat him down and told him we had to start having more time for each other, sharing parenting more and moving in the same direction. I said I wanted a little more respect and a bit more affection. He barked at me that by living in my “shitty country” he was showing me enough affection so I’d to leave him in peace and not nag him again.

After that spectacular fail at repairing our relationship things carried on as before with me working full time, parenting full time and doing everything in the house while he worked long hours and de-stressed by treating himself to café trips, cinema trips and piles of rental videos of his choice. When I had finally had enough, I told him I wanted to leave and he came out with a phrase I will take with me to my grave: “I didn’t need to make an effort because you were never going to leave.” Of all the lessons from my divorce that one line has possibly shaped the way I have lived my life afterwards most. So does that attitude ring any distant bells? Anyway, for my marriage it was too late. I didn’t love him any more.

His first reaction after I announced I was leaving was to declare his undying love for me and try to show me the affection I had craved for the previous decade. I was appalled and repulsed. I didn’t want him to go anywhere near me, let alone hold my hand.

After a few weeks of “I love you”, he moved on to undermining me. I was never going to survive on my own, I was too dependent, I was too used to his salary, I was pathetic. Too wee, too poor? Any bells?

Next I was told he’d go to court and have my children taken off me because I was a hopeless parent and he was a victim of my mid-life crisis so he would obviously be favoured by a judge. The thought of him trying to take my kids terrified me. That kept me voting “No” to leaving for a another few weeks. Slowly, I started to realize that I was the only constant in their lives so it was another lie — a bluff.

Then he tried bribery. He’d never bought me any jewellery and had always spent most of his money on things for himself so he told me that if I promised to stay I could have a diamond ring and a brand new seven-seater car. I guess this was his version of further devolved powers. Firstly, I wasn’t as shallow as that, but moreover, I was slowly beginning to realize that I’d rather have neither than stay with him.

When that blackmail tactic didn’t work he tried threatening to leave his job, so I would get no maintenance, this was followed by threats that I would have destroyed his career by leaving and he’d be destitute and it’d all be my doing. Of course later this all culminated in threats of self harm. I worried for another few weeks until again it started to dawn … all bluster and bullying. Yes, they worked for a little while but eventually I realized they were all time-buying bluffs.

He became quite verbally abusive for some time after that but that didn’t wear me down, it strengthened my resolve greatly. Finally I got the threat that he would not give up the house. He wouldn’t sell me his half so I’d lose my home. I guess this is the parallel of the current currency issue.

But the problem was that by that point starting again from scratch with less money, somewhere else, was still preferable to giving in to his bully tactics because we had gone way beyond the point of repair and more importantly I had started to believe in myself and see my route out. I’d seen what my future could hold and contemplated that other world.

Of course, he promised me the earth if I stayed but I knew realistically that once I opted to stay he wouldn’t change, he’d be no more loving or supportive than before and worse still he’d spend the rest of my life casting the almost-divorce up to me, taking more and more to compensate himself for the hurt he perceived. Life after a No vote to divorce would have been an utter nightmare.

So on balance, I think the reason I’m turning off to the Indy Ref is because it is way too close to the bone. The parallels are so strong, I am finding them upsetting. I’ve been through lies and bullying once and that is enough for one life time. Watching interview after interview on the BBC where Westminster politicians are allowed to lie or embellish the truth without being picked up by the interviewer just gets me down. I have read enough foreign and independent sources to notice the bullying lies and half truths. The fact that someone less well informed will be sitting there falling for their sound bites frustrates and scares me immeasurably.

I am starting to suspect that this divorce is becoming more acrimonious by the day and even if we do return a No, I sense we will have gone beyond the point of repair.

You cannot step into the same river twice

River Crossing
River Crossing, a photo by Tom Olliver on Flickr.

There was a rather downbeat article by Iain Macwhirter in The Herald today:

Scots voted for the SNP by a landslide, not because they wanted independence but because they were sick of Labour and wanted better devolution. […] [P]artly as a result of that 2011 vote and the referendum it triggered the status quo may no longer be an option. As this column has argued before, the new arrangements for funding the Scottish Parliament under the 2012 Scotland Act will end the fixed formula era and turn every budget round into a struggle. Like the residents of Benefits Street, Scots are going to be forced to get by on less, one way or another.
But, if the Social Attitudes Survey is any guide, it is going to be a grumpy campaign with a disenchanted electorate facing a choice of unacceptable alternatives and wishing that the referendum would just go away. Unfortunately, it won’t.

I don’t agree with the tone here — I think the referendum is a great opportunity for Scotland, and it’s clear that the campaign is energising and inspiring lots of people who weren’t engaged in politics before.

However, I do think Iain Macwhirter has a point. Many voters would probably just like to retain the status quo in spite of all its shortcomings.

What they need to understand is that the independence campaign is changing Scottish and UK politics forever. As Heraclitus said, “you cannot step into the same river twice”. There will be no returning to the exact devolution settlement that existed before if Scotland votes No in September, even if the legislation doesn’t get changed.

From a UK point of view, the Scottish lion will have been declawed, because the threat of independence will have gone for a while. Until now, there’s always been a fear that the Scots would leave the Union if we got too bad a deal. After a No vote, there will be a unique opportunity to get rid of the Barnett formula and such things. I wouldn’t be surprised if Westminster also acted to make it much harder to hold another independence referendum in the future.

From a Scottish point of view, many voters will now for the first time be aware that Scotland is subsidising England rather than the other way round. There will also be a lot of anger if Devo-Max never materialises (and I expect it won’t because of the declawing of the lion, as discussed above).

I can sympathise with those voters who just wish the sleeping lion had never been woken up from its 300-year sleep. However, it’s now awake again, and on 18 September it will either break out of its cage or pull back, whimpering with fear, waiting for the declawing to happen.

Everything flows, nothing will ever be the same again, and we need to decide on the lion’s future. Brave or feart?

Voting No for change doesn’t work

So I put a '1' against my first choice and a '2' against my second choice, right?
So I put a ‘1’ against my first choice and a ‘2’ against my second choice, right?, a photo by hugovk on Flickr.
The Alternative Vote was defeated because almost nobody really liked this voting system. The LibDems preferred the Single Transferable Vote, and other campaigners preferred proper proportional representation.

The Alternative Vote (AV) had been chosen as some sort of compromise during the Conservative-LibDem coalition negotiations, but the Tories campaigned against it regardless, and the LibDems were then forced to try and persuade the electorate to support a voting system they didn’t really like themselves.

So it’s likely many people voted No because they weren’t convinced by the merits of AV, not because they were against a reform per se.

However, the No victory buried all hope of another voting system for a generation, because it was interpreted as support for FPTP.

If the Yes side had won, it would have been possible to change AV into something better a few years later, but the No vote was effectively a vote for the status quo.

The lesson for the Scottish independence campaign is obvious.

Many No campaigners argue that all sorts of wonderful reforms will happen after a No vote, but in reality it’s very likely it will be interpreted as a vote to keep things as they are.

A Yes vote, on the other hand, will make it possible to discuss many other reforms in Scotland — such as abolishing the monarchy — that just aren’t on the agenda at the moment.

I actually feel sorry for the Devo-Max supporters out there. It’s a very popular vision for the future of Scotland, but by keeping it off the ballot paper the Westminster government has ensured that it will never happen. We’ll either get full independence or nothing at all.

All Devo-Max supporters must therefore face up to the reality that their preferred option won’t suddenly be resurrected after a No vote. They have to decide whether their favourite outcome is closer to the current devolution settlement or to independence.

Tories for Independence?

Conservative inspiration?
Conservative inspiration?, a photo by willumhg on Flickr.
In general, winning the independence referendum is about convincing the people who don’t support the SNP or the Green Party.

Because of this, Labour for Independence’s leaflets are extremely valuable when talking to Labour voters about independence.

However, here in East Renfrewshire many people tend to vote Conservative, so it’d be really useful if we had a Tories for Independence leaflet to give to them.

I’m not a Tory, so I don’t think I should be writing it, but I guess it might look something like this:

The Tories used to be Scotland’s largest party. However, after Thatcher’s necessary reforms we are now hated in Scotland. We got only one MP elected in the last general election.

All over the world, democratic countries tend to have at least one powerful centre-right party, typically either in power or providing the main opposition.

Why is Scotland unique in having only centre-left parties? Because the Scottish Parliament doesn’t raise its own revenues, so all the debate in Scotland is about how to spend money, which is not natural Conservative territory.

However, if Scotland becomes independent, voters will again react positively to a message about cutting taxes, helping our companies and growing the economy.

As the 8th richest country in the world we would take control of our own resources. We would benefit from the GDP per head being some 17% higher than the UK average and the deficit levels being about one third lower than the UK. The full 9.9% of UK taxes Scotland currently generates would be available for spending in Scotland. The £4.4bn extra revenue this represents would enable us to lower taxes and to invest more in our companies, creating jobs for hard-working Scots. We can also lower corporate tax to make it attractive for companies to relocate to Scotland, creating thousands of jobs here.

Vote Yes to independence to revive the Conservative party in Scotland!

It didn’t give me any pleasure writing the stuff above, but surely a message like that would appeal to many Scots of a Conservative persuasion?

Why we need to win this time

Victory Begins at Home
Victory Begins at Home, a photo by cliff1066™ on Flickr.
Recently former SNP leader Gordon Wilson proclaimed he was “laid back” about losing the 2014 referendum, because “Scots will back separation the second time round as Westminster will react to victory next year by scrapping the funding formula that gives them extra public spending”.

This is a sentiment I’ve encountered quite often. The thinking seems to be that it might take two tries to achieve independence, and that it doesn’t really matter in the long run exactly when independence happens.

However, I’m not laid back at all. Of course independence can happen later, but I fear the conditions will be much worse in twenty years’ time.

First of all, there is still a significant amount of oil left, but when you look at the CO2 emissions, I personally find it unlikely that it’ll still be legal and acceptable to burn oil twenty years from now. Of course it would have been even better if independence had happened thirty years ago, but there’s still a good chance of using oil money to pay for the inevitable costs associated with dismantling the British state and building up new institutions.

Secondly, all the Westminster parties want to extend austerity and continue to dismantle the welfare state. It’s also likely they’ll start to roll back Scottish devolution, or at least the financial settlement associated with it, once the threat of independence has been fought off. The consequence is that it will soon not just be a case of maintaining the British welfare state in Scotland after independence (at the same time as it gets dismantled in England), but if independence doesn’t happen till 2036, Scotland will have to reinvent the wheel because the UK then will be a neoliberal third-world country.

Finally, there’s no guarantee it’ll be as easy to be allowed to hold a referendum two decades from now. If the result is close, Westminster will probably think it was a close encounter with death and make sure that another referendum will never take place.

Because of all this, we need to win this time!

Taking the independence campaign into schools

valg2007.01, a photo by kurtpedersen54 on Flickr.
Lots of people are upset that Better Together are planning to send campaign packs to schools (my emphasis):

[T]he pro-Union Better Together campaign said it would be sending a teacher-resource pack, including lesson plans, research materials and a mock debate kit, to every school in the country.


Ross MacRae, Better Together’s youth co-ordinator, said his group’s teaching packs would be as “non-partisan as possible”.

“It’s less about our message. The first lesson is about referendums. We’re just giving them the resources. They do reflect our message, but it’s up to the teachers how to use it.

I’ve been wondering for a while why both Yes Scotland and Better Together seemed to be ignoring high schools as a potential battleground.

Because very few Scottish high school students are over 18 by the time they leave school, it appears the schools have got used to being campaigning-free zones.

In Denmark, on the other hand, secondary school students are typically between 15 and 20 years old, so you’d expect roughly half of them to have the right to vote in a general election. Because of this, Danish high schools are often full of political campaigning. For instance, in the run-up to a general election, there will normally be at least one huge debate featuring politicians from all parties debating in the atrium in front of all the students (not just the ones doing modern studies).

If Better Together proceed with their plan, I think Yes Scotland will have to send their own teacher resource packs to the schools, too — it will be a huge mistake to allow Better Together to do this unchallenged.

However, I believe it would be much better for Yes Scotland and Better Together to team up and create resource packs together, containing both neutral information and the views from both sides. In addition to these packs, they could offer to send debaters out to schools (whether professional politicians or young activists), so that the schools don’t have to spend time trying to organise a debate with equal number of debaters from both sides.

Brace yourself for the next Ipsos MORI poll!

Opinion polls by pollster.
Opinion polls by pollster.
Ten days ago when Ipsos MORI had Yes on 31% and No on 59%, lots of Yes campaigners were a bit disheartened, while Better Together were celebrating. Today the roles are reversed because Panelbase have published a poll where the split is 36% vs. 44%.

What’s going on here? Surely 15% of the Scottish public didn’t get convinced by the Yes campaign in just ten days?!?

To find out, I plotted the recent opinion polls, divided by pollster (see the graph above). Ipsos MORI’s polls are displayed in blue, and Panelbase’s are in red.

It’s clear that Ipsos MORI are consistently finding many more No voters than any other polling company. Interestingly, they find the same amount of Yes voters as everybody else, so they must somehow get more undecided voters to come out as No voters than the the other pollsters.

Panelbase are also clearly finding more Yes voters than anybody else.

It’s worth pointing out at this point that we don’t know who’s right. We can’t assume the average is correct — for all we know, even Panelbase might be underestimating the number of Yes voters. Because there has never been a referendum on Scottish independence before, we just have no empirical way to rate the different methodologies employed by the polling companies. After the actual referendum has taken place, we’ll be able to rate the different polls, but at the moment it’s a bit of guesswork.

Anyway, the real point here is that we shouldn’t compare the last opinion poll (from Panelbase) with the one before that (from Ipsos MORI), because the systematic difference between the pollsters is far greater than the actual poll movements.

It’s a much better idea to look at each polling company separately. For instance, the last three Panelbase polls had Yes on 34% — 36% — 36%, and No on 47% — 46% — 44%, so there’s been a slow movement from No towards Yes.

So when Ipsos MORI publish their next poll, we’ll have to compare it against their previous one, not against Panelbase’s very different figures.