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.