Saturday, 20 September 2014

What we achieved

Something odd happened in August. What looked like being a relatively comfortable victory suddenly turned into a very close race that we were losing. I don’t watch television, but I read about the debates. Mr Darling won the first one well, but was then confronted in the second with a jeering audience and a shouting match. How can a reasonable politician win against that? All through the summer the nationalists had been complaining about bias in the BBC. I rarely checked the BBC web site because it was so dull. Every opinion by one side was matched by an opinion of the other. Yes said this, No said that. There was almost no editorial opinion at all, no criticism of either side. Good old BBC worthy but not very interesting. Why the demonstrations? Well these sorts of demonstrations put pressure on good journalists and on a famous television company that has a duty to be impartial. It won them the second debate for the Nationalists.

But could one debate really have made such a difference? We had a twenty point lead in one poll in August. Some bookmakers were offering odds in August that suggested a Yes vote was almost impossible. But the nationalists I came across on twitter were always very confident, many expressed certainty that they would win. How could that be?

The problem was that the whole debate had become irrational. I thought Better Together ran a brilliant rational campaign. Every serious economist I read in quality newspapers or from think tanks pointed out the problems with the nationalist’s case. The Scotland Analysis series brought together some of the best mind’s in the country to produce scholarly authoritative views. There were first rate minds from business and academia writing blogs based on their knowledge of law and the economics of everyday life.  There was almost nothing of this quality coming from the Yes side. But they were ceasing to listen.

Something rather sinister began to happen. Reasoned argument was dismissed as scaremongering. Every statement that did not accord with the nationalist world view was dismissed as a lie. This had been building up during the campaign but suddenly got much worse in August. An economics professor from Glasgow, a world expert, was dismissed as an Orangeman and a mason.  Some of the best world economists were being dismissed as in the pay of “Westminster”. I came across a young university graduate who dismissed all economics as rubbish, only the word she used was rather worse. What was the SNP doing to the minds of Scotland? The case against independence was overwhelming. Yet with less than two weeks to go it looked as if they were winning.

I’ve heard that the SNP are brilliant campaigners on the ground. They certainly seem to be well organized. They are willing to pay their campaigners large sums of money and pay for little booklets filled with what amounts to propaganda. We had nothing like that. I didn’t receive a penny for my writing. Nor would I dream of asking for money. It’s something you do for love or not at all. But why were my nationalist friends so confident. The change in fortune didn’t happen by accident nor did it happen because of one debate. It happened because of the work of thousands of dedicated nationalist activists.

Unfortunately there are areas of deprivation in Scotland and all over the UK. There shouldn’t be, but we just had the worst recession since the 1930s.  There are poor people who naturally want a better life. They were sold a dream that simply to vote Yes would cure their ills. Of course it’s not true. There are no magic fixes in economics, just hard work. If we grow economically, we have more to share. It’s as simple as that. But economics is hard, often dull and most people only have a hazy understanding of it. If you train them to think it’s all rubbish anyway, then it’s easier to sell your own version of snake oil.

I don’t know exactly what techniques the SNP use to persuade people to join the cause, but it strikes me as something similar to evangelism. First you get someone to agree with independence a little, then a little more, finally you have a convert. The trouble with this is that you end up also with the zeal of the convert.

This is what we began to see in the last few weeks. Mobs were summoned by social media and they sought to shut down debate. But worse than that, I found it almost impossible to have any sort of rational debate online. They had a one point lead, they had momentum and they really thought they were going to win. I was scared.

I was scared above all that I was about to lose my country. We fought for Britain in 1914 and 1939. What the Germans could not achieve, the destruction of the UK, was going to be achieved by a cause I considered unworthy, paltry.  I knew also that this would have a damaging effect on the UK economy, possibly the European and world economies too. Personally I believed a Yes vote would damage my own financial circumstances. But I would still have options. Worse still it would damage the financial circumstances of the poorest in Scotland who have few options. What was desperate was that I couldn’t reach my opponents. They replied with cliché, with pat arguments, with words that seemed to be coming from crib sheets.

I had a think that day when we all must have thought that we might lose and changed tack. I was not going to lose my country without one heck of a fight. Firstly I remembered from history what Napoleon said about morale. “The moral is to the physical as three to one.” I was determined to do what I could to cheer up our troops. So even if I felt nervous, I made sure I didn’t show it and instead projected confidence. The more I did this, the more confident I felt. Suddenly something rather wonderful happened. Huge numbers of people responded in the same way. I tweeted about 1940 and reminded people that we’d been in tough times before and seen off worse than this lot. Of course, we were not in a war, but the UK had never been in more danger of destruction than a few days ago.

I began writing a positive case for Britain. It’s something we’re rather shy about in Scotland. Personally I don’t like flag waving and find patriotism a bit embarrassing. But throughout the campaign we had rarely mentioned Britain, conscious I think that some Scots have little time for Britishness or don’t feel very British. But I began thinking about what we had gone through in history and what we would go through in the future if only we didn’t separate. I thought of some unknown time years from now when the UK would be needed, when we would need each other. I felt the connection with my relations who had fought for both Britain and Scotland. I remembered the achievements that had been made by people from all parts of the UK and from all political parties. This was a part of me and I was going to stand up for it.

All around the country people were standing up to be counted. We literally threw the kitchen sink at the nationalists. Some brilliant articles were written by experts explaining that independence was folly. I couldn’t understand how nationalists could not see what they were doing. Then I realised they were caught up in the emotion of nationalism. I’ve seen this in Eastern Europe. It starts off reasonably enough. Then it gets out of hand. It is one of the most powerful emotional forces appealing to the instinctual tribal instinct. This is why it is so dangerous. It closes minds and makes people behave irrationally. It makes people believe a wee blue book rather a world renowned professor of economics.

Scotland was on the brink a few days ago. But we did something together that is very special. We were heading for defeat but turned it around by millions of individuals making an effort and then a little more. We fought for our country and had another “finest hour”.

I’m going to continue fighting. I never want to see what I saw this summer happen in Scotland again. I want Scotland to feel less divided from the rest of the UK and more a part of it.  I want the divisions within Scotland to heal. For this reason I have been saying to everyone that we must be kind to our opponents. They are hurt and unhappy. Don’t make the next few days worse for them. I want to show over the next few years that they were mistaken to vote Yes. That Britain will become a better country for all its citizens. I want a new Britain where power is devolved equally to everyone.  We must be fair to England and the English.

I have never been a member of a political party and have voted differently at different elections. In Scotland we must cease obsessing about the 1980s. It’s a long time ago now. It is in part this obsession with a now dead prime minister that is responsible for the rise of the nationalism in our country.  I am going to try to keep blogging from a Lib Lab Con perspective. Whichever party I vote for in the future will be because of the circumstances at the time.  Above all I am resolved to continue fighting nationalism. I think there is a case for voting tactically against them next May. I will look at my constituency and vote for the party with the best chance of defeating the SNP. I never want us to have to go through another independence referendum. I am willing to help any political party to achieve this goal. Sorry nationalist friends, but we must put this genie back in the bottle.

If you like my writing, please follow the link to my book Scarlet on the Horizon. The first five chapters can be read as a preview.


  1. I came late to the campaign, from South of the Border, having thought I didn't care whether Yes or No won, and finding - to my surprise - I actually cared a great deal.

    I was irritated by the irrationality of the Yes case, and started tweeting about it, but to no great effect. I watched the second, terrible TV debate (an inside job, if you ask me), I couldn't quite believe that patently intelligent people were buying this snake oil. Yet the polls kept narrowing.

    Then I read - through a link you posted, I believe - the story of the "always positive" programme which the SNP had adopted. The penny dropped. I started tweeting shamelessly (rather embarrassingly, to me) positive tweets, just to see what would happen. The impact was immediate and extraordinary: suddenly, the Trolls had no answers. Suddenly I found my comments being favourited and re-tweeted, dozens of times. I gained hundreds of new followers: more and more positive tweets began to appear: clearly, something was happening...

    Then Gordon Brown rode into the battle and - guess what - he was making the same positive points we'd started using in social media: Unity, Tolerance, Fairness. Other No representatives took up the same lines. Importantly, vitally, making the positive case for the Union - which BT had completely avoided up to that point - suddenly became an ok thing to do. And it worked: we suddenly had people getting stirred up. The debate was changing - you could sense it. "No" stopped the poll slide, we turned it around and, in the nick of time, threw it into reverse. No became a vote with the head AND the heart, Yes was heart only. We won convincingly.

    Aristotle set out three rules of rhetoric: to be truly convincing, a speech should have "pathos" - that is, create a sense of empathy with an audience - "we all love Scotland and want it to succeed and be better"; "ethos" - that is, stir the emotions, the heart - "we can change things for the better across this island home of ours, across OUR UK: (notice Cameron said "Our UK" in his morning speech, not "the UK"); as well as "logos" - the logical argument itself.

    In the past two weeks, just in time, we got all three, pathos, ethos & logos, aligned and engaged. That's why we won.

    1. A really great comment. Thanks for making your contribution. I think the fact that the vast majority of people from other parts of the UK wanted us to stay made all the difference. A tiny minority were saying good riddance Scotland, but nearly everyone was with us. If English people had responded in kind to some of the nastiness coming from Scots, the union would now be over.

      I thought for a long time we could win the campaign rationally. That's my training. That's what I do. But no, we had to find the heart side of the case. And we did.

      I think Scotland leaving would have hurt us more than other parts of the UK, but it would have hurt all of us not just economically. We'd all have lost something precious.

      It's been a great effort from those who didn't have a vote. I want to thank each and every one of you.

  2. Effie, you have saved me a lot of trouble this morning by posting this article. I can now just repost it and save myself from typing up my thoughts post-referendum, knowing that you have expressed my views far better than I could have done. Thanks also to Chris for his thoughtful response. What happens now? I would like to continue this campaign, and I think we have to built support for the UK rather than take it for granted. Of course, I could join one of the unionist political parties, but I'd like to find a cross-party campaign which will seek influence over the parties, help to inform debate and support other organisations (I've managed to avoid the dreaded expression “civic society”). Are there other like minded people out there?

    1. Thanks A.J. We all need some time to reflect on what to do next. But I keep blogging and tweeting and thinking about how best to help the cause I share with so many people of all parties. Will rest for a few days. Think. Always welcome your messages on FB

  3. A brilliant article. It sums up so well the feelings I have discussed with my daughter over the last few days. We felt we were so close to losing the Union. I agree entirely that we have been silent for too long about the British aspect of our identity. We have allowed people to rubbish British values and to say they are no different from any other country's. This has been going on for years, however, but the Nationalists were able to tap into this lazy thinking causing terminal damage, nearly.

    The closeness of the vote, and what has been promised by the Unionist parties means the Nats are not going to go away. Indeed, Salmond in his retiral speech talked about the Scottish dream never ceasing - which of course is independence. Effie, like you we must now prepare ourselves for the real battle, never be afraid or ashamed to speak out in favour of our glorious heritage, history and culture again. Never remain silent while our values are trashed or trodden on.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Always appreciated. I hope the majority of Scots don't forget that we are British too. It doesn't diminish our sense of being Scots but enhances it.

  4. This is an insult to the intelligence of your opposite side. It's unfair to say that the Yes camp was without any rational argument or professional economic support. They did. Your only perspective is on economics. But the rationale and arguments are wider than this. No camp won. It's democracy. One ideology won over the other. We accept that. But why people here are trying to take credit that "I" turned it around, living in a fanciful self-created vanity? You are guilty of the crime that you accuse your opponents of.

    1. No one is saying I turned it around. We all worked a team. To be honest I don't intend to go over old ground and continue arguing with people. I'd prefer we'd never had the argument in the first place. Commiserations that your side lost. I want no more harsh words between Yes and No. Let's move on.

  5. Oops - the Ancient Greek scholars amongst you will have noticed, I got my "ethos" and "pathos" the wrong way round in my comment, apologies. "Ethos" = connection with audience, "pathos" = swaying of emotion. My excuse? Still recovering from the Thursday all-nighter...

    1. Don't worry. The referendum has destroyed my spelling on twitter.

  6. "But the nationalists I came across on twitter were always very confident, many expressed certainty that they would win. How could that be?"

    There was some study done of political campaigns (think in the US) and those which carried a positive confident message did - on average - fair better.

    You'd have thought those politicians in the No campaign would have been a little more astute in this regard.

    Had to re-post, sorry (why is there no tipex functionality here!!)

    1. No problem. With hindsight we would do things differently no doubt. I don't really think it should be about campaigning. To break up a country because one side campaigned better or worse strikes me as trivial. I can be the tipex. Thanks for your comment

  7. Congratulations, Effie!

    You should be very, very proud of yourself for all you have done for your country in a very, very dark hour!

    I can't tell you how frightened I was that the "Legions of Doom" would overtake us. When BBC finally announced a NO win, I bust into tears of sheer relief. Hearing Darling and Cameron speaking, I wanted to hug them both!

    And of course I gave our mutual friend Henry Hill a ring. It was so nice to hear him happy and chatty after all the heart-ache. We have been given a second chance. We are very, very blessed.

    I have completed recorded a song called "Our Lady of Britannia", ironically finished on the day of the referendum, before the result was announced. May I please email it to you for your opinion? I would deeply appreciate it, as I believe Our Lady did intercede for us!

    Now that this whole thing is over, would love to chat with you convivially again on here, on my blog, or through my email:

    God bless,
    Pearl of Tyburn

  8. Great blog thanks.
    Some random thoughts from me.

    The choice of referendum question was a blunder that almost cost the union. This was said at the time by myself and others but appeared to be brushed off as if it was of no consequence. One would hope a similar error is not made in the future.

    The YES side had everything going for them, binary question with the positive choice being theirs, first on the ballot paper, unpopular Westminster government, worst recession in living memory, ineffectual opposition in Hollyrood, gerrymandering the franchise, charismatic leader, Scotland hosting commonwealth games, Bannockburn anniversary and probably more I've forgotten. If they can't win with all that, they likely will never win.

    The cult of YES. I'd like to read a thoughtful, critical analysis of the YES cult. YES was the answer to everything for everyone. A fairer society? YES we can have that. A greener society? YES of course. No nukes? YES we'll do that too. If you didn't agree you were shouted down or worse. Non-YES posters and signs were deemed heretical and vandalised. It became utterly impossible to engage in a rational argument with anyone who was a member of the cult of YES. You were negative, scaremongering, talking Scotland down or even a traitor. On social media one was met with an avalanche of YES. Twibbons and facebook profiles screamed YES and most people's timelines quickly filled up with the same YES propaganda re-tweeted, shared and liked into oblivion. One couldn't walk down a single street in Scotland without looking up and being met with an eyeful of YES.

    Given all that it's a wonder we won ...

    1. There will never be another referendum. That was made clear before the vote if people were willing to listen. Agree too many concessions were made to the SNP. With hindsight, better if referendum had been organised by UK govt just like 1979 1997 with completely unbiased question, where our side got the Yes and the campaign had been two months long rather than 2 years.

      Something sinister happened in Scotland in the last couple of years. There are only actually about 25% who want independence. This has been the case for decades. But they used nationalism to whip up a sort of hysteria. I've seen this happen in Eastern Europe. It looked remarkably similar here. When a large part of the population ceases to think rationally we really are in trouble. This is seen also by how some of them have reacted to defeat.

      But we did win. Britain has had close shaves before and been in worse positions than two weeks ago. The world has needed Britain many times in the past and no doubt will need us many times in the future. What guarded us and gave us a miracle twice at Dunkirk and in the skies over England in 1940, also guarded and looked after us this September. Not much point fighting against that.

  9. All forms of nationalism are deemed to be sinister, except British nationalism? This is blind-faith religion!

    I am proud to see that more than 20% (since a couple of years ago as pointed out) of this country has embraced an open mind, ready to shake off the strong EMOTION of nostalgia.

    The old system is rotting. It's blatantly seen by everyone from the rows.

    In less than 10 years time, there will be another referendum. By then I am sure more people will be ready to progress with human history. It's unavoidable, unstoppable.

    1. Sir,

      I'm afraid I cannot see progression of human history in an act of tearing instead of restoring, of running away instead of facing up to difficult situations within one's country. Yes, you say, let us all fly apart and take care of ourselves as we can, let the bonds of community be broken and we will have done with old emotions of "nostalgia."

      I say no. This is our cultural bloodstream, this is unity over division and achieving instead of destroying. By championing another referendum, you do nothing but to further disunity and a climate of distrust among the Scottish people. If we had lost, you would have assured we were silenced. Now we must all pull together to make this United Kingdom work, not try to sabotage her. It's the Will of the People.

  10. I would not say the Will of the mass. The Britishness sentiment is insignificant in the No voters' intentions. Look at this post-referendum poll analysis:

    In the same fashion, nationalism is also an insignificant matter in the Yes voters. The main reason people voted Yes because they find themselves cannot agree with the London rule anymore - the rift is big enough to cause a divorce.

    For the No voters, the main reason is the worry about currency etc. it's all down to the fear about future, not so much about the romantic feeling of wanting us to be in one big family despite the differences.

    I travel a lot. From outside the UK, most people just see UK as big England. The identity of Scottish is totally overshadowed by English. If we have our independence, the brand value of Scotland will increase tremendously. This is beneficial both financially and psychologically in assuring our self-identity.

    Too much concentration in London. Poll tax was introduced in Scotland a year ahead of other regions. The bad management of oil revenue etc. etc. Ice does not form in one day. The undercurrent hard feelings had been built up for probably much longer than you and I have realised. Who will want to be ruled by another country?

    I respect everyone's wish here. But I just want to offer another perspective. If UK rules to be out of EU, the next Scottish referendum will come a lot quicker than you think.

    It's quite simple. Two people got married. They had a lot of good time together. But over time, the world values, the separate personal development have taken them apart. This is just the fact, like it or not. It will take a federal state or independence to resolve and seal the separation.

    1. Hello, again,

      Whether it's a point of patriotism, economics, or a hundred other reasons put together, the majority of the Scottish people still decided they would be better off in the Union. They want it to succeed. And I can only hope and pray that the rest of us will have the determination and wisdom to make that a reality, not continue to cause division by predicting failure…when it’s only been a week since the win and the reforms haven’t even begun to be hammered out yet!

      I don't doubt that you are an honest and passionate person who cares a lot about making Scotland a better place to live in, and making the Scottish identity respected on a world stage, instead of being presented as something of a cartoonish caricature or overarched by England. I heartily believe that this can be done within the Union. You see, there are a lot of people who don’t believe that the marriage has been a failure; that don’t believe break-up is inevitable. We can work and fight until reform is achieved, and embrace the Scottish heritage and the British heritage side-by-side.

      The world is an increasingly divided and dangerous place; why not embrace the choice of being better together and work to make it a success? If everyone with your passion and energy turned their mind to coming up with constructive solutions in the government and revitalizing the full panorama of history and culture, I think Scotland-in-Britain, and Britain as a whole, would have nothing to worry about. Ever.

      God bless,
      Pearl of Tyburn

      P.S. Effie, please check your email.

  11. Of course, there's a division here. We live in a democratic country. What do you expect? If you want a one-voice society, try North Korea.

    This is a war against neoliberalism, injustice and much more. This voice will continue to be heard.

    As I said, I accept the results in a democratic way. What got me into this is the attitude employed here branding another voice as "sinister" and "irrational". From my circle of friends, including lawyers and professors of business, this is very much a rational debate as well as passionate.

    I also want to point out that with British nationalism alone, it is not enough to sustain your argument. The undercurrent issues are much deeper and more complex than this.

    I wish your camp all the best in continuing to play your role in the society, but please bear in mind that another voice will not be silenced.

    1. May I ask you a question: Now that the vote has gone the way it has gone, what changes would you like to see within the structure of the UK that would be fair to all parts, Scotland included? What changes in the way Scotland in portrayed abroad? How would you go about making these changes a reality?

      You compare the situation to a marriage. Personally, I don't agree that marriages should be so easily dissoluble. I don't believe that people should just have some "good times together" and then split as soon as feel they have "grown apart". For me, marriage is a solemn vow to stay together in good times and bad and make it work, even when the "spark" just isn't there.

      My underlying (and final) plea to all this is: Please let's try to make this thing work, together, and not throw in the towel before we've even began to fight. We need you people to make Britain a better place; help us, don't sabotage us!