Monday 29 December 2014


SNP, Lib Dems and Labour out (September 26, 2015)
One year on we must still fight for Britain (September 19, 2015)
Let’s make September 18th the UK’s national day (September 17, 2015)
If you think Tories are heartless, you should try socialists (September 13, 2015)
Only losers march (September 12, 2015)
The melting pot melts nationalism (September 4, 2015)
Why we are where we are in Scotland (August 29, 2015)
Dwelling in the land of Nod (August 28, 2015)
The love song of the dark lady : Epilogue (August 22, 2015)
The love song of the dark lady XIII (August 22, 2015)
The love song of the dark lady XII (August 20, 2015)
The love song of the dark lady XI (August 17, 2015)
The love song of the dark lady X (August 15, 2015)
The love song of the dark lady IX (August 14, 2015)
The love song of the dark lady VIII (August 12, 2015)
The love song of the dark lady VII (August 10, 2015)
The love song of the dark lady VI (August 8, 2015)
The love song of the dark lady V (August 7, 2015)
The love song of the dark lady IV (August 5, 2015)
The love song of the dark lady III (August 3, 2015)
The love song of the dark lady II (August 1, 2015)
The love song of the dark lady I (August 1, 2015)
Hare Alex, Hare Nicola : an introduction (August 1, 2015)
Despair is the sickness unto death (July 26, 2015)
#Brexit kills Scottish nationalism stone dead (July 25, 2015)
Nationalism is destroying the Eurozone (July 18, 2015)
Don’t import #Grexit into the UK (June 26, 2015)
We must find a common purpose in Scotland (June 6, 2015)
The debate about the EU must be about democracy (May 29, 2015)
Marriage has no purpose now (May 29, 2015)
Dazzling with an excess of truth (May 22, 2015)
The positive view of the SNP is only shared by insiders (May 22, 2015)
Throwing away the ladder (May 4, 2015)
It’s hatred of Tories that is destroying Labour in Scotland (May 3, 2015)
What's so great about Britain? (May 1, 2015)
This campaign of hatred must be turned off (April 30, 2015)  
Is there an ideal result for Scottish UK supporters? (April 4, 2015)
The road not taken (April 3, 2015)
Kierkegaard and The Exorcist (March 29, 2015)
Always do what your opponent least wants (March 28, 2015)
A lady of little faith (March 22, 2015)
One nation, indivisible (March 21, 2015)

The teleological suspension of the ethical and the great man theory of murder: Raskolnikov and Abraham as knights of faith or murderers
 (March 15, 2015)
An enemy of the people (March 14, 2015)
If God does not exist everything, is permitted (March 8, 2015)
On the Waterfront (March 7, 2015)
Either/Or (February 28, 2015)
Lily of St. Leonards, or, The complete works of Effie Deans (February 22, 2015)
Independence is becoming ever less likely (February 21, 2015)
An Indyref romance (February 14, 2015)
Things fall apart when the centre cannot hold (February 7, 2015)
The SNP is based on a distinction without difference (January 31, 2015)
Goodbye to all that (January 24, 2015)
“O rus!..” (January 1, 2015)
It's Scotland that needs rescuing now (December 27, 2014)
Failing to take No for an answer (December 20, 2014)
Tactical voting will defeat Salmond (December 13, 2014)
The social media campaign must start now (December 6, 2014)
Look where nationalism leads (November 30, 2014)
Scarlet on the Horizon, a novel by Effie Deans (November 29, 2014)
SNP plots have not been thought through (November 22, 2014)
What is devolution for? (November 15, 2014)
To remember you need to know what you're remembering (November 8, 2014)
There’s something rotten in the state of Scotland (November 1, 2014)
Nationalism has turned Scotland into a place of whisperers. (October 26, 2014)
Failing to move on after historical turning points leaves you on the wrong side of history(October 4, 2014)
Moving on, but with a glimpse backwards (September 27, 2014)
What we achieved (September 20, 2014)
To vote Yes would be worse than folly (September 13, 2014)
Don’t sell your birthright for a mess of nationalism. (September 6, 2014)
The foundation of nationalism is division (August 30, 2014)
Don't trust someone who would say anything to win independence (August 23, 2014)
It’s the SNP's attitude to democracy that worries me most (August 16, 2014)
Nationalist accusations of scaremongering are illogical (August 9, 2014)
Is there a democratic deficit in Scotland? (August 2, 2014)
Nationalist arguments depend on a strange misunderstanding of the word “country”(July 26, 2014)
A summary with two months to go (July 19, 2014)
A parable about wind (July 13, 2014)
A brand new UK is on offer if we vote No. (June 21, 2014)
Why an independent Scotland would face a demographic challenge (June 14, 2014)
A vote for independence is a vote for the SNP (June 7, 2014)
Would independence really help those living in poverty? (May 31, 2014)
Independence movements like UKIP and the SNP are enemies of the EU project (May 24, 2014)
Scotland does not need independence to be a country (May 17, 2014)
On the difference between a Scottish and British identity (May 10, 2014)
Independence and the choice about citizenship (May 3, 2014)
The description British nationalist is either trivial, offensive or false (April 26, 2014)
Is civic nationalism consistent with independence? (March 15, 2014)
Independence and the meaning of the word "foreign" (March 8, 2014)
To Alex Salmond on the occasion of his speech 4th March 2014 (with apologies to Mr J. Keats) (March 5, 2014)
The independence debate and the need for good neighbours (March 1, 2014)
A Doric declaration of independence (February 22, 2014)
The threat of independence (February 15, 2014)
Vote no If you want to keep the Tories out of Scotland (February 8, 2014)
The delusion of independence (February 1, 2014)
The SNP would destroy what the NHS stands for (January 25, 2014)
Expressing uncertainty is not scaremongering (January 19, 2014)
Do you have to feel British to support the UK? (January 1, 2014)
Why nationalist accusations of scaremongering are illogical (December 24, 2013)
You don't know what you've got til it's gone (December 15, 2013)
An appeal to our fellow Brits (December 7, 2013)
These people could win (November 30, 2013)
Is Scotland a nation? (May 19, 2013)
Do Independent countries have the right to their own currency? (May 5, 2013)
The Union is an accident of history (April 21, 2013)
Could an independent Scotland avoid austerity? (April 7, 2013)
Independence weighed in the balance (March 31, 2013)
The benefits of independence (March 24, 2013)
The difference between a compatriot and a foreigner (March 10, 2013)
The implications of independence (February 23, 2013)
Should England have its own parliament? (February 16, 2013)
A tale of two referendums (February 2, 2013)
Is Unionism a form of nationalism? (January 26, 2013)
Is the utility of Scottish independence pragmatic? (December 15, 2012)
Taking wings from reality, or, nationalism's failure to understand the concept of both/and (December 8, 2012)
A sense of Scottish identity does not require independence (December 8, 2012)
Are the SNP the heirs to Michael Foot? (December 1, 2012)
A positive case for unionism (November 17, 2012)
On remembering what Scots fought for (November 11, 2012)
The SNP threatens unionism not only in Scotland (November 4, 2012)
Scottish independence would delight our enemies and dismay our friends (October 25, 2012)
On the North-South divide and the secession of South Britain (October 13, 2012)
Self-determination and the Union (October 6, 2012)
Can Scots bear to live in the same country as the English? (October 6, 2012)
Failing to face up to the logic of independence (October 6, 2012)
What if Scotland had voted for independence in 1997? (October 6, 2012)
The unfulfilled promises of independence (October 6, 2012)
Why independence is not a matter for children (October 6, 2012)
What Scots could lose with independence (October 6, 2012)
Scottish Independence: a question of identity (October 6, 2012)
The argument for independence depends on a linguistic anomaly (October 6, 2012)
A choice between two unions (October 6, 2012)
Scotland, debt and subsidy (October 6, 2012)
A dilemma for left-wing nationalists (October 6, 2012)
How the unionist campaign can attract support (October 6, 2012)
A fundamental flaw in a nationalist truth (October 6, 2012)
Why Scottish nationalism is founded on ancestry (October 6, 2012)
Understanding the 1980s is the key to understanding Scottish politics today (October 6, 2012)
Why Scottish unionists should be concerned about English nationalism (October 6, 2012)
What the history of the SNP tells us about nationalism (October 6, 2012)
Why monetary union may not survive independence (October 6, 2012)
Scotland and home rule (October 6, 2012)
Why I'm not a nationalist (October 6, 2012)
The two kinds of Scottish nationalist (October 6, 2012)
What has the union ever done for us? (October 6, 2012)
Is there a contradiction between euroscepticism and unionism? (October 6, 2012)
Salmond wants independence in the UK (October 6, 2012)
How the SNP uses Anglophobia to split the union (October 6, 2012)
SNP and the development of newspeak (October 6, 2012)
Why “devo-max” is the greatest threat to the union (October 6, 2012)
Counter Arguments to YesScotland (October 6, 2012)
A tale of two SNPs (October 6, 2012)
The one thing that the the EU lacks is the one thing that the UK has. Why would we give it up? (October 6, 2012)
Self-determination and the Union (October 6, 2012)

Saturday 27 December 2014

It's Scotland that needs rescuing now

The world fell apart in 1991 and since then we’ve been living through the looking glass. People who don’t remember the Cold War can’t grasp how permanent it seemed. When I was a child, the idea that the USSR would cease to exist was as preposterous as the idea that the USA or UK would break up. Even when I moved to the USSR, I didn’t dream that it was on the verge of break up. There was shock in Russia in 1991 and chaos, not least in the minds of people. Suddenly, almost everything everyone believed turned out to be false. The Party was a sort of religion. We in the Komsomol were the youthful acolytes. You didn’t question the truth in our meetings. You didn’t even hint at doubt. You agreed or kept silent.  But suddenly, self-evident Komsomol truths became as empty as the places where we used to have our meetings. Everything people thought they knew turned out to be questionable. Career paths that previously had led to success now led to failure. A taxi driver earned more than a professor, because he did something that didn’t depend on the state. In bewilderment no-one knew what was true anymore.

When people cease to believe in God, it’s not that they believe nothing it’s that they believe anything. This is attributed sometimes to Chesterton, but it’s also an expansion of the idea in Dostoevsky that if God does not exist, then everything is permitted. I have seen this at first hand in Russia.  People who had lost their faith in the Party needed something to fill the gap.  They started to believe anything. There were cults.

I don’t wish to criticise anybody’s religion, not least because I have no rational justification for what I believe. There was a revival of interest in what had for centuries been the foundation of the Russian character, the Orthodox Church. But there was incredible ignorance. I met people who brought icons out of hiding. But they didn’t know who the icons depicted. But the simplicity of these people’s faith was genuine. It protected them and they remained grounded in the traditions of a thousand years.

But Russia was suddenly open and became flooded with charlatans.  I received a visit from the mother of one of my students. Her daughter had joined the Hare Krishnas. She’d changed her name and was refusing to even speak to her parents. I went to try to rescue her. Their guru was from England. He had a very pretty Russian “wife” who translated all he said and lived like a little king on the back of donations. My husband used his connections to find out what he could and I did the same. I spent a few days with the Hare Krishnas getting the full on treatment. We knew the guru was a charlatan, but the brainwashing was too powerful. I couldn’t get through to my student. She had ceased to reason. All I saw was a blank face, eyes glazed. The person I had known had ceased to exist.

The reforms that Gorbachev began in the Soviet Union can be likened to the reforms that Neil Kinnock began in the 1980s. John McTernan is very good on this.

It has often been observed that the Left won the Sixties - in terms of equalities and social issues - and that the Right won the 1980s – in terms of economic management. All true. As is the fact that no political party represent what mainstream voters really want – a socially liberal party that is also economically liberal.

It was because economically the Right won the 1980s that Labour could no longer keep on with the ideas of the past. This became still more abundantly clear with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Given the choice between Capitalism and state Socialism, people simply voted with their feet. The ideological foundation of the Left creaked. What to do? The only sensible thing was to build a new foundation. This is exactly what the Labour party did. New Labour was about making free market economics work for everyone. The idea no longer was to overthrow capitalism, but to make it fairer so that no-one was left out. If an economy grows, there is more to share round.

Sensible people on the Left realise that this is the only game in town. The rejection  of capitalism makes everyone poorer, most of all, the poorest. Believe me I've been there. It didn't work. Apart from the nobility in the inner circle of the Party we were poor.
The Left’s role is to use economics to make the economy more wealthy, but to use what we know about economics and the growth obtained for the benefit of all. If we can just make a bigger cake, there will be more for us to divide up. Everyone will get enough. Above all, the poorest will get a bigger slice than if the cake were smaller because we made a mess of the economy. The debate between Left and Right becomes as much as anything a debate about competence in running an economy and a country. This is quite dull, but it will have real world rewards.

But some people and an especially large number of them in Scotland, simply don’t get this. They complain to me bitterly about Red Tories. They obsess about issues of the 1980s like nuclear weapons. They think the process by which Labour transformed itself into a modern party was a mistake. Those on the Left who were unwilling to make the intellectual transformation that was made by the Labour party have found themselves without a coherent role.  They go on demonstrations.  They occupy buildings. They complain about cuts. They leak secret documents. They wear masks. They oppose, but what they lack is a coherent alternative plan. 

Much of the Nationalist left in Scotland is stuck in some sort of odd time warp. They have not made the intellectual leap from the 80s. They reject the intellectual change made by the Labour movement. The foundation of this is that they cannot get over their hatred of Margaret Thatcher. They cannot accept that she won the economic argument of the 1980s. She remains the devil incarnate and bogeywoman all rolled into one. An independent Scotland has become the Nirvana where all things are possible. It’s a place where there will be ever more increases in public spending and no cuts whatsoever. There will be manna from heaven, only the manna is black liquid that looks like treacle. There are mantras that everyone keeps repeating. They involve words endlessly repeated and chanted like 'Trident', 'cuts', 'bedroom tax', 'wicked Tories', 'Norway'. When facts change like the fall in the oil price, they just believe ever more in the coming Nirvana. There’s no way of disproving that this Nirvana exists. It’s like heaven. You just have to wait and see about the hereafter.  

I don’t wish to be nasty about my nationalist friends. Many of them are perfectly reasonable and many have the best of intentions. But I found throughout the summer that I could not reach most of them intellectually. We could not have a rational discussion. This has increased since the referendum rather than decreased. They prophesised that Scotland would vote Yes, but when the prophesy was disappointed, they simply dusted themselves off and began prophesising again. The guru is always right: it’s always possible to reinterpret the prophesy. The end of the world didn’t after all happen today, but wait: it’s actually going to happen next year.

In Russia today the popularity of a man who has led his country to disaster is sky high. I told friends and family months ago that this path was folly. But they would not listen. I told them what would happen to their savings, but they did not care. I hate seeing leaders worshiped. I hate coming across people who can see no wrong in the Party and who are unable to reason and criticise.  This is all too familiar. The intellectual case for independence was destroyed in the summer by reason and has become still more untenable since owing to the collapse of the oil price. But support for the SNP just keeps rising. This is not politics. This is religion. Hare Alex, Hare Nicola. It’s Scotland that needs rescuing now. 

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.

Saturday 20 December 2014

Failing to take No for an answer

One of the fundamental rules of human behaviour is that you must sometimes accept that the answer is No. Unrequited love is one of the great themes of literature. I think it is nearly always acceptable for a single person to express interest in another single person so long as it is done politely and in a suitable setting. Of course, trying to chat up strangers on a train may not go down too well. But if there is a social situation where there is some degree of interaction, it can hardly be wrong for someone to suggest that they find the other person attractive. Because we’re British we find these situations intensely embarrassing. Still at some point both men and women have to find a way to express interest in each other or else remain single. What happens if the response to the inquiry isn’t exactly positive? My answer to even the hint of a rebuff would be to run a mile, but I accept a degree of persistence can be acceptable. We know from literature, (e.g. Pride and Prejudice) that a marriage can result from a relatively disastrous first meeting. It’s alright to continue to express interest at least for a while. However, when someone says finally and definitely that they are not interested, it is best to take No for an answer. If I continue to pursue the person who has rejected my advances, I’m liable to get myself into trouble. If I won’t leave them alone and continue to press them for a relationship, I will be guilty of sexual harassment. If I follow them and try to find out about their life, where they work, where they live, who they are with, I will be guilty of stalking.

I’ve learned a lot about life online in the last two or three years. One of the things I’ve learned is that the rules of ordinary life do not apply.  People who are without doubt decent in everyday life are willing to act completely out of character while on twitter. When was the last time you swore at a complete stranger in the street? If you were discussing something with acquaintances in a pub, would you call them complete [expletive deleted] idiots? On the whole, the people I meet on the street are polite. They queue for the bus and observe the normal rules of how to interact with strangers. Online however, it sometimes feels like the Wild West.

Politics is never going to be completely genteel. People have strongly held views and it’s perfectly fine that debate is robust. Everyone has used insulting language about political opponents. When I write or tweet I accept that people have a right to disagree with me. I have a comment section on my blog and frequently discuss matters with opponents. As I remain reasonably neutral with regard to UK party politics, the people most likely to disagree with me are SNP/Yes voters.  I try to engage with opponents who choose to interact with me.  I enjoy debate and anyway what’s the point of politics if you can’t debate with those who disagree? If someone is sensible and polite, I will usually talk to them for a while. If someone starts off with insults or swear words, I’ll just ignore them. There are occasions however, when someone I’ve interacted with for a while becomes simply too annoying. Over the summer I ended up at times being overwhelmed with nationalists who kept saying the same old things over and over again. I found I simply couldn’t endure having to repeat the same argument ad infinitum. Sometimes also someone would cross a line and say something I found to be unacceptable. These people I began to either mute or block on twitter. It didn’t mean I necessarily thought they were bad people, just that I couldn’t face seeing them anymore in my timeline.

Some people block me on twitter, though it is completely pointless. I rarely if ever start a conversation with opponents. Certainly if I knew someone had blocked me, I wouldn’t go anywhere near their account again. Such people have in effect said they no longer wish to talk to me, so it’s only polite not to attempt to talk to them. Most people I block behave in this way too.  They leave me alone. There are some however, who simply won’t take No for an answer. Although I no longer see their tweets their names still appear in my timeline when they interact with people I follow.  It’s like listening to one end of a telephone and I can tell from my friends’ comments that these people continue to be abusive.  It would really help if people blocked or at least ignored them too. I peek sometimes at what is being said and it’s not a pretty sight. I don’t particularly mind insults. But when someone relentlessly continues to attack me personally months after I’ve blocked them, I begin to wonder about the kind of person who would do that. Obviously it’s a person who won’t take no for an answer. Even when you’ve said you don’t want to interact with them (what else after all is a block?) they don’t accept that but keep on behaving in the same way as before. This is the equivalent of the harassment I mentioned earlier. The trouble is that once someone begins to fail to take No for an answer, this sort of behaviour escalates. Soon they think it’s OK to metaphorically go through your bins. They go hunting for information at your place of work and try to find out where you live. This is clearly the same as the stalking I mentioned earlier. 

What is responsible for this behaviour? Partly it’s the fact that trolls cannot see their victims. It’s rather like dropping bombs from an aircraft. No-one could face doing it if they saw what happened at the other end. Trolls don’t see the damage they can do to someone. They don’t know whether their victim might be struggling in some way. They don’t see the victim and so they don’t realise the consequences of their actions. We’ve all said stupid things on twitter, but we should all always be aware that there is a human being on the end of our insults. Who knows what damage I could do if I use my words to wound or humiliate. Our lack of kindness to those strangers we meet online may have unknown consequences. Alternatively small acts of kindness may help someone who is going through a tough time. If you believe that politics is about making Scotland better, why not start by making the little corner of Scotland where you live more pleasant. This also includes the online corner.

I’ve always held the view that politics should reflect everyday life. What I believe politically should be reflected in my everyday actions. Of course, government has a role, but if you want to live in a kinder, fairer society, start by being kinder and fairer yourself.  I can’t help thinking that one explanation for the persistence of trolls is that they have been told by the people they admire most that it is quite all right to not to take No for an answer. If it’s fine on a national level not to accept the will of the people in Scotland who said No, then it naturally makes it easier for someone to consider it acceptable to refuse to take No for an answer when an opponent like me blocks them. A tiny number of nationalists behave in this way, but the political policy of failing to take No for an answer has ordinary life consequences. The SNP decided that No did not mean No. Some of their followers will consciously or unconsciously think that this means that they don’t have to take No for an answer online. Others may likewise refuse to take No for an answer offline. Just like the plane dropping bombs the SNP cannot see the damage that they are doing. Their failure to take No for an answer has poisoned this country. It’s like we’re all still stuck in some sort of eternal recurrence. We’re stuck on the 18th of September. There’s continual low level tension, because no-one knows what will happen next to our country. We, who campaigned so hard to achieve a decisive No victory, find our victory under assault every day from those who refuse to take No for an answer. We were not even really allowed to enjoy our victory for more than a few days before the attacks began. The SNP have stirred up our fellow Scots to such a pitch that it seems they will stop at nothing to get what they want. My No vote  counts for nothing in the face of this assault. The No side of Scotland feels like a village awaiting the arrival of Viking berserkers.

When we have elections we have to wait a certain number of years before competing again.  If I don’t get the government of my choice in May I’ll have to accept the result for five years. A referendum is different from a General Election. It will be held much less frequently. It is this that distinguishes a referendum from an ordinary election. For this reason, if we have another referendum on the EU after 42 years and UKIP loses, it would be morally disgraceful and antidemocratic if they continued to campaign for that goal. But the Kippers know this. They accept that they only have one chance. They are democrats.  

Trying to overthrow the result of an election is undemocratic, but so too is trying to overthrow the result of a referendum. This violates the norms of democratic behaviour. When people act in this fashion it angers me. It makes me fight still harder against such immorality. The failure to accept that No means No, is deeply offensive.  This is the case politically and personally, online and offline. It is as morally culpable as the troll, who is blocked who continues to insult, who continues to stalk.

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.

Saturday 13 December 2014

Tactical voting will defeat Salmond

I grew up in a little village in Banff and Buchan. The local MP lived nearby. He was a Conservative. Altogether there were 22 Conservative MPs in Scotland. There were 2 SNP MPs. What happened? The answer is simple, there was tactical voting.  After the traumas of the 1980s, the Conservatives were condemned as the “nasty party.” From then on Labour, Lib Dem and SNP voters would gang up to make sure that the Tory always lost his seat. Scotland is one of the best examples of how well tactical voting can work. It got the Conservatives down to no seats at all in 1997 and to 1 seat in 2010. This handed the SNP one of their best arguments and is a primary cause of the growth in support for independence. Remember all the times they went on about England voting Tory, but there being only one Tory in Scotland. That’s their grievance and it was caused by tactical voting. So don’t let anyone say that tactical voting doesn’t work, or that it’s somehow an illegitimate tactic. This is how democracy has long worked in Scotland.

I had hoped that having decisively voted No in the referendum, Scotland could have got on with the rest of our lives with ordinary political/economic debates. But this was not to be. The SNP put us all through years of turmoil, but they have refused to accept the result. They remain a single issue party dedicated to achieving independence. They only want more devolution in order that it will make Britain unworkable. They don’t want devolution to succeed in making Britain a better place. They want it to fail and to topple into independence. They have shown themselves to have no respect for the rules of democracy, because fundamentally they believe that a decision is democratic only if they win. They will keep on like this until they achieve their goal. But No voters who cooperated so well during the referendum campaign can cooperate again. We can punish the SNP for ignoring the fact that we voted No by a large margin.

No other party has ever tried to break up my country. No other party has behaved in such a nasty undemocratic way as the SNP. So let them be the new “nasty party.”  Never again vote tactically for the SNP as huge numbers did in 2011. We’ve all learned that lesson surely. Rather let all No voters vote tactically against the SNP everywhere.  There is no political goal more important to me than keeping my country intact.  If we all send the SNP a message via the ballot box, it is just possible that they might begin to focus on ruling Scotland rather than breaking up Britain.

There is one seat in particular where tactical voting has the power to bring about a major defeat for the SNP. This is the seat where I live now, Gordon. Remember when Alex Salmond appeared to retire from politics on the morning he discovered unexpectedly that he’d lost the referendum. He also ruled out another referendum for a generation. But that didn’t last long. Soon enough he began plotting a return to Westminster. It has to be said he is the favourite to win in May. Gordon has long been a Lib Dem seat held by the well-liked Malcolm Bruce, but he’s now 70 and deserves a long and happy retirement. We all know that the Lib Dems are in trouble in national polls.  They have an excellent candidate in Christine Jardine, but, of course, she’s nowhere near as famous as Salmond. So she has a fight on her hands to retain the seat for the Lib Dems and for Better Together or might we say #GordonTogether?

How should no voters respond in Gordon? The one thing we must do first of all is to agree who has the best chance of defeating Salmond. Let me explain the reasons why that candidate has to be Christine Jardine. Tactical voting works best when there is a candidate from the centre.  It’s much easier to persuade Labour and Conservative supporters to vote for the Lib Dems than for each other, not least because they know it is highly unlikely the Lib Dems will form the next UK government.  Most importantly however we all need to vote for Christine Jardine because she’s the only one who has a chance of beating Salmond.  

The odds quoted by bookmakers recently are as follows:

Salmond (SNP) 1/6
Jardine (Lib Dem) 5/1
Davy (Labour) 33/1
Clark (Conservative) 50/1

We learned during the referendum campaign that bookmaker’s odds are far more reliable than polls. As soon as I saw these odds, I immediately realised that we all have to back Jardine. Why though should Salmond be such a favourite in a seat that has been held by the Lib Dem’s for decades? The reason clearly is that bookmakers do not believe that we will vote tactically in sufficient numbers, neither for that matter does Salmond. Let’s surprise him twice in one year.

The big problem with tactical voting is that we are competing with each other as well as cooperating. Labour voters want a Labour government and so do Lib Dems and Conservatives. Everyone wants others to vote for them tactically, but no-one wants to return the favour. But tactical voting only works if we are all generous. If Labour and Conservative voters would vote for Christine Jardine, they should do so with the expectation that they too will be helped elsewhere.

A few weeks ago there was a poll that suggested that Labour might lose all but a few seats in Scotland. So many former Labour supporters have deserted to join the SNP that they will struggle to maintain anything like their 41 seats unless they get help from other No voters.  Let’s be honest if Labour could beat Salmond in Gordon, they would win a landslide in Scotland and wipe out the SNP on their own. Labour party supporters must above all be realistic of where they have the best chance of success. It’s not in Gordon.

The Conservatives could well remain stuck on one seat or even lose that unless they get help from other No voters. On the other hand with the help of Better Together friends they could well win seats in places like Perth and North Perthshire that they would otherwise lose. It’s not unreasonable to expect that the Conservatives could in this way win 5-6 seats in Scotland, but they can’t do so on their own. It is therefore in Conservative interest to help the Lib Dems win Gordon, not only to keep out Salmond, but so that they can begin their own recovery in Scotland.  The Conservatives too must pick the seats where they have their best chance. It’s not in Gordon. Salmond would just love to have the Tories as his main challenger. Always do what your opponent least wants. The one thing he fears is that we all get behind Christine Jardine.

But how in general are we to determine fairly which party has the best chance of winning a particular seat? This will all have to be done informally. There obviously won’t be any formal pacts. But that’s not how tactical voting works anyway in this country. Rather there can be local arrangements. But how do we work out who to vote tactically for? We must do so with a combination of polling and bookmakers odds. We should all vote tactically for the Better Together party that already holds a seat, or for the party that came second last time in a seat held by the SNP. There may be room for some local negotiation, but remember if we squabble we just split the No vote and let the SNP win by default.

Some people think it is strange to suggest that Conservatives should vote for Labour or vice versa. I don’t think so. Of course they want different UK governments, but they equally and above all want to defend Scotland’s constitutional status as a part of the UK. Moreover, there are seats in the Central Belt where the Conservatives have no chance whatsoever. Why not therefore help Labour and at the same time hinder the SNP? Better a Labour MP than one who wants to break up our country. The same argument goes for certain rural parts of Scotland where only the Conservatives or the Lib Dems have a chance. Why waste a vote for Labour when it could result in another Better Together MP being elected?  

In theory we could make it so that the SNP would have to win 50% of the vote in every seat in order to win it. That would be very difficult to achieve, especially in parts of the country like Aberdeenshire which voted 60% for No. Of course, not everyone will vote tactically, but if enough of us do, we can turn Gordon into one of those election results that everyone remembers. Imagine what it would be like if Alex Salmond found himself beaten by Christine Jardine. Imagine him driving away and someone taking another photograph of him looking glum. This would be a result that would eclipse the defeats of Chris Patten and Michael Portillo. It would also seriously damage the SNP’s chances of causing mischief in Westminster.

If we each fight our own campaign in Gordon, Salmond will win. But if we could just turn the SNP into the new “nasty” party and remember how well we worked together last summer, we can cause a major upset.  I will be campaigning for the Lib Dems and Christine Jardine in Gordon, but at the same time I will be campaigning for the Conservatives in places like Perth and Labour in places like Glasgow. Join me in making the next election one that makes Scotland’s position in the UK more secure rather than less secure.  In the end if we can’t cooperate to defeat Salmond in Gordon, we may as well give up cooperating at all. In that case I’ll campaign for my party, you campaign for your party we’ll split the No vote and the SNP will be the winners. The one thing they fear is if No voters gang up on them, because they know from the referendum result that they are outnumbered nearly everywhere. 

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.

Saturday 6 December 2014

The social media campaign must start now

When I started at my college, there was one telephone in a glass case that I used once a week or so to call my parents. The easiest way to contact someone else was to leave a message in their pigeon hole. If I wanted to meet a friend from Oxford I’d write a letter saying we should meet outside the British Museum at ten o’clock on Wednesday. There were no last minute texts saying I’m going to be late. You turned up on time.
Much about the modern world still seems strange to me. I have a mobile phone, but it’s in my bag switched off. I didn’t have a Facebook, or Twitter account until the Scottish independence campaign began. I learned by doing. I’m still learning.

Back in 2012, or a little earlier, I began to really worry about the independence referendum. I started commenting on some of the articles in the Daily Telegraph. I tried various ways of writing, but it didn’t matter what I did. These comment threads were already dominated by nationalists. Everywhere I went was the same. Someone would write an article and within a very short time word would go out and the whole page would be dominated by independence supporters. This is what worried me. Where were our guys? The nationalists had a never ending supply of people ready to fight online. While for the most part we got on with our lives as if there were no threat to our country.

I started writing blogs, but didn’t really understand what I was doing. Almost literally no-one read what I was writing. My reader statistics were not significant. It turned out sometime later that Google wasn’t even aware of my existence. So I learned that lesson and began reading up on what was necessary to promote my writing. I was reluctant to join Twitter. Like everyone else I said something like “How can you write anything significant in 140 characters?” I thought Facebook was for teenagers. I didn’t really get social media. I still don’t.

For the first year or so on Twitter, I would only tweet about my blog. I had about 100 followers. The number of people who read what I wrote depended quite literally on whether someone with a lot of followers retweeted me or not. I get a bit embarrassed being pushy so I set myself a sort of rule. I would tweet about my blog maybe four times. If people retweeted, I would get a hundred or so readers, if they didn’t, I’d get next to none. It’s frustrating writing and not being read. It takes a lot of effort to write a blog every week. The only thing that makes it worthwhile is that other people take the trouble to read. I learned to be so grateful to the people who did retweet me. I received encouragement too. People were kind enough to leave comments or tweet about my blog unasked. I learned patience too. When you write, you must build an audience. If you write well, people will come back to read again. Some of my early blogs were ill-thought out and poorly written. I learned to write better. Now that I’m moving into writing fiction I’m still learning. That’s what’s great about writing, trying to get across ideas clearly in such a way that people want to continue reading.

With a few months to go until the referendum I changed tactics. I still wrote blogs, but I tweeted much, much more. There’s a technique for writing on Twitter. There are tweets that work and there are those that don’t. It really helped my style to be limited to these little aphorisms. As the campaign grew in intensity I gained followers just as I began to follow more. Anyone sensible who retweets or comments gets a follow. Once I got to two or three thousand followers I found it impossible to read more than a random fraction of tweets. Now I only really read my timeline. What I learned was don’t get into long futile arguments with people who won’t change their mind. Now I respond once or twice and move on. Long threads with strings of names and hardly any room to comment are without purpose.

I’m still learning about social media and blogging, but I know we have to do things better. I honestly thought that the campaign would end one way or the other in September, but it hasn’t. We have another fight on our hands. It may be that this fight will last all of our lives. The Smith Commission could help things, especially if devolution is made more equal across the UK. On the other hand it may make matters worse. The nationalists just want to make little steps towards independence. Are we helping them or hindering them? Only time will tell. There’s nothing wrong with devolution as long as it is done coherently and as long as there is equally a movement to unify the country. Politicians should be accountable and the best way to make them so is to bring them as close to local people as possible. Above all we must be able to kick out those who do a poor job, which can only happen if we cease voting tribally. What we know already though is that the nationalists will only ever be happy with independence. Smith will not appease them. When did appeasement ever work? Where does that leave us? It leaves us with a task. We have to start campaigning again and we have to mobilise the pro UK majority. There is a majority.  Never forget we won in September.

There is only one sensible tactic for No voters at the General Election. Like everyone I have my own views about party politics, but it’s far, far more important to me that Scotland remains in the UK than that either Labour or the Conservatives form the next UK government.  The General election matters, but what is five years of a government I disagree with compared to losing my country? The only way we can limit the number of SNP seats is by working together just as we did during the independence campaign. Whichever party has the best chance of defeating the SNP in any particular constituency must have the support of all No voters. The task however is to determine this accurately, not simply to rely on the last General election. If we do this cleverly we can use our 55.3% majority to defeat the SNP’s 44.7% minority. In theory this could limit them to seats in Glasgow and Dundee. Of course this will not happen. But a tactical voting campaign will limit the number of seats the SNP gain.  It will also maximise the support for Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives. It’s in everyone’s interest for Better together to continue informally cooperating. Don’t let anyone tell you this sort of campaign is illegitimate. After all previously we ganged up on the Tories. But they never tried to break up my country. All we are doing is making the SNP the new nasty party.

How do we get the message across? By social media of course. But we must do it better. In war it is important to learn from what your enemy does well. In every war there are new tactics, e.g. Blitzkrieg. When you imitate them it hardly means you are expressing support for the enemy. Our opponents do social media much better than we do. Think of Wings and Bela. Here are two sites where nationalists are able to gather together, write and comment. Of course we do not agree with what is written in these sites, it is largely propaganda, nor indeed with the people who write them, but an astonishing number of independence supporters read these blogs. Over time I have built a pretty reasonable audience, but it is as nothing compared to the number of readers Wings gets.

The problem goes back to the beginning. The nationalists care more than we do. They were campaigning in huge numbers when there were hardly any Pro UK people online. After the referendum our supporters relaxed and said job well done. They went back to their lives and became indifferent again. The nationalists kept on fighting. How many UK supporters would come to a rally organised to protect the Union? We’d be lucky to get 100. They can get 10,000 at the drop of a hat. How many of us would turn up for a march or a demonstration? Almost none. They just need to send a message on social media and they can get as many as they want. If Wings wants to publish a little book he just has to ask and the money pours in. They are more committed than we are. It’s for this reason that they have grown in strength despite defeat, while we have weakened.

There are some excellent pro UK blogs, but wouldn’t it be great if we were all gathered together in one place and it was properly promoted? I would certainly contribute. I would set one up, but I simply lack the skills to do so. I can’t even send a text message. I suspect anyway that if such a site were going to happen, it would already have happened. But what we can do is share what we write much more than we do. It costs nothing to retweet. By all means favourite, but only retweets will build an audience. It also costs nothing to tell someone else on social media about an article you’ve seen. We must be generous in the way we support each other. That’s not to say we are always aware. Twitter passes in a flash. I’m sure there are good blogs that I don’t know about. Please share with me and I’ll tweet about them all I can.

The next few months are crucial. The SNP had momentum with two weeks to go before the referendum, but we turned it around. We turned it around by ordinary people making an extraordinary effort and by getting our message across to people who didn’t care about politics. We must overcome that indifference once again and we must get through to the same people who turned out in their droves to save the UK. I am so grateful for the support I have received. Without you I would still be writing only for myself. Your retweets made all the difference. Sharing is the way we can turn things around. 

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.