Theresa May could lose this, you know by Matthew Wilson

It’s very early and, obviously every commentator would disagree, and non-commentators, presumably too, would join them, but apart from the cliche that ‘this is Theresa May’s election to lose’ thrown out to make what appears to be a certainty actually dubious enough to spend hundreds of hours discussing it on TV, radio, internet and so on, there is a possibility, a genuine possibility that Theresa May and the Tories will not win the landslide predicted or, even…a majority. I know. I should medicate…but, well, let me try…

May is a serious politician and feels a moral dimension to politics that many pay lip service to yet do not allow to get in the way of a promising career. Doubtless, she is political, canny, absent when it suits, but I honestly view her Christian upbringing, her vicar’s daughter heritage and her stridently value-laden speeches as signalling a seriously moral person – with the usual blindspots. I do not doubt her sincerity, or to be more accurate, I do not doubt she believes she is being sincere. A little bit like Gordon Brown. And like Brown she has tried to be an ‘adult’ in politics, but much, much more successfully, since Brown’s ‘adult’ approach was undercut by his own limitations, meaning he was always playing politics. Theresa May is the securer person and does not demonstrate the need to continually make pointless policy announcements, thereby amputating her own credibility.

Yet she is like Gordon Brown, the lowest polling sitting Prime Minister in history, in a very, very important and crucial respect. She’s stiff. Very stiff. Watch her walk and you’ll see a very rigid woman. Very much like Brown in her rigidity. ‘So what?’ says you. ‘Nothing,’ says I, ‘Except…’. Except that people who are stiff tend to live in their minds more; they tend to rationalise, intellectualise and moralise more for reasons that I won’t go in to here. When emotion is called for, rationality and morality is the response, and when more emotion is called for, you get more reasoning, more moralising, more intellectuality. What you don’t get is empathy. The very thing that people want. They want a leader that understands, that feels as they do. Blair had that. Bill Clinton had that. Thatcher had it in a limited way when she was being patriotic and Obama had it. Our culture is a sucker for empathy – the TV shows condition us to it. Corbyn’s got it. Maybe too much. But he’s got it. And…Theresa May doesn’t really do humour. Another important quality.

May does not have it: humour, empathy, charisma, and when she’s under pressure she loses it even more. In fact, when she’s under pressure she seems slightly bewildered as if people cannot understand that she is a good person doing the right thing. Politics is not about doing the right thing. It’s about doing the best possible thing, even a bad thing, in a way that makes people agree with you. As we see more of Theresa May, who must have set a record for the most absent PM, in terms of media appearances, since 24 hour TV started – because she’s doing the right thing and working on problems – the voting public might start to recognise a well-meaning, competent, moral woman who is narrow, exasperated, non-empathic, not at ease with power or its necessities and who relates best to a core support that is aged, white, Christian, Tory and living in the South East.

I think that’s going to turn people off. And I think other Tories have little appeal. I think that Hammond is a turn off. I think Boris Johnson is now politically toxic, who no longer commands the respect of the working class Tory – his once great appeal – and I think, David Davis aside, the Tories have not got a single frontline politician that has a powerful attraction or even combines likeability with recognisability, May and Davis aside. Add to the fact they admit they will raise taxes, and, unlike Labour, they are not hinting they will rule out extra taxes on the upper working and lower middle class – the basis of any election victory – then there is a chance that large swathes of these two economic categories will not vote Tory. They cannot vote UKIP as it is self-mutilating so they will stay at home…or vote Labour on the basis that Brexit will happen and they don’t want their taxes to rise. A simple calculation if the Labour Party can be competent enough to let them make it.

There is another thing apart from personality and economic self-interest that might harm the Tories. There’s the arrogance factor. It might be the case that not all elections are winnable, however, every election can be lost. The Tories have already started talking to themselves. In their eyes, Labour is done. With that assumption, the Tories are now talking to themselves and the media about what policies they will have with an underlying assumption that these will be government policies. At a very deep, subconscious level, people do not like that. The more this becomes apparent, the more people will react against this. They might not vote Labour; they won’t vote Tory. 

Finally, and this is almost laughable if it was not for the fact that we live in the age of internet, millions of people choose not to vote and there was a referendum: Labour have a strong, simple message with a leader who moves between genius and clueless. If they can keep the message of anti-bank, anti-multi-national and pro-people and Jeremy Corbin can channel his inner Lincoln and not his inner Arthur Steptoe, then there is a possibility of frustrating the Tories. Think about it. Corbyn says it’s a rigged system and Labour will change it. Millions of would-be Labour voters who have stopped voting want to hear that. Millions who struggle want to hear that. The millions on zero hour contracts and minimum wage want to vote for something like this. Then add in Remainers who accept Brexit and yet want a diverse, tolerant society. Few million there. Corbyn cannot be doubted on his pro-immigrant, pro-tolerance credentials. Then add the millions of immigrants both European and non-European who do not want sent home, having made lives in the U.K. They’d rather have Corbyn too, instead of a ‘Britain First’ Tory government. That’s quite a few million. Corbyn’s biggest challenge is to grab the working class and lower middle class vote. To do this, he has to be pro-immigrant, but strongly anti-immigration; he has be pro-capitalism, but anti-capital, or its most greedy incarnations at least, and, even if it is difficult, he has to hit the patriotic note. Both sides in the referendum on the EU see themselves as patriots; it’s a ruling passion for millions; so he has to tap into it and make it his. If he can do it enough, who knows? I’ll admit, he tends to do well in one area then sabotages, but, you never know…

At the moment, it looks like an easy Tory victory. Yet this is an extremely long campaign and there are critical factors that I do not think the Tories posses. We’ll see. 

How we lost


Before starting I’d like you to look at the above image. No one knows exactly what reality really is. Is it possible we’ve come the closest we’ll ever come in our lifetimes to an independent Scotland? Can we go further? This article is premised on the assumption that there are still opportunities to gain independence for Scotland, if we learn from where I believe we went wrong.

I’d like to make four points early on in this article. The first is that it is long. The second is that although there are a lot of negative points in it, it is not intended to criticise or dishearten. I admire everyone who made an effort in the campaign. The third is that it is my own personal view. The fourth is that when you get down to it, campaign or no campaign, the people of Scotland had a very simple question put in front of them: ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ The answer to me is obvious, but to 55% of those that voted, their answer was different from mine, and that is a shame.

The fourth point is the one that is the most important. Why did people vote ‘NO’? I’ll not exhaust you with possible answers. 23% of people surveyed in Scotland say they feel ‘British’. This gives feeling ‘Scottish’ an overwhelming majority of 77%. A majority that, the Scottish People being like other people in other countries, you might think would make self-governance self-evident to them. Yet that did not convert into a 50% +1 majority at the polls. Either people genuinely do not believe that Scotland should be independent (because they have researched the issue in depth and have concluded that Scotland is unviable as a slightly separate economic entity, or it will encourage division or…whatever) or they never had that cocktail of reason, evidence and emotion that would give them the confidence to vote ‘YES’.

If it is the latter, and I believe it is, then I think we have to be clear and say that each individual is responsible for their own education in these matters. However, given that persuasion and a powerful campaign can make a sizeable impact on people’s willingness to educate themselves on such issues and that the psychological needs of individuals have more impact than just ‘facts’, then running a good campaign that hits crucial areas of a person’s needs has the potential to deliver an independent Scotland. This is why examining where the YES campaign possibly, might have, maybe came up short may be a useful exercise.

I will cite a few areas where I think improvements could be made and at the end of the article I will give suggestions on what can be done. I would like people to bear in mind that although we came close, close isn’t winning. And, although we were, in many ways, unlucky not to win; in other ways, we were lucky not to have been hammered. 

Our Activism was Slightly Deluded. Already there is a myth growing about the YES campaign and the strength and effectiveness of its activism. My opinion is that our activism was weak all the way through and it was only in the last six weeks that things started to take off. This was due to the idea of an independent Scotland filtering into the People and hundreds of thousands of people adopting that idea of independence actively. The YES campaign can take a certain amount of credit for this, as can the leadership of the SNP for demonstrating competence for 7 years, but I would suggest it was the latent power of the idea of an independent Scotland exerting its appeal, rather than anything else. I believe that almost two years of activism by YES activists had only a marginal impact.

There were reasons for this. One was an unrealistic grasp of what canvassing is trying to do. First of all, you do not ‘flip’ a NO voter in less than a minute. I doubt you do it in 5 minutes either. Yet time and time again, I heard or read about people who had claimed to ‘turn’ NO voters into YES voters in record time. A person’s vote, especially for something as large as independence, is a complex matrix of emotions, beliefs, references and reasoning power. For a person to change position takes time. To think that a stranger can have a serious impact with a five minute conversation is slightly delusional. Let me emphasise, it takes time. Usually, the best that can be hoped for is that the seed is planted, which I’m sure did happen on many, many occasions, subsequently growing, before going on to bear a fruitful YES. (How many times this happened relates to how many activists we had. See next point.) If it was the case that someone had been ‘flipped’ within five minutes then they were as likely to flip back five minutes after the YES activist left or the next scare story came on TV.

Our Activism was Weak. The campaign was two and a half years long. I seriously started campaigning a year and a half before the vote. The first observation I would make is that there were no numbers and massive apathy. People did not come out in droves until about six to ten weeks before the vote itself. My experience was that usually, two to five stalwarts would meet-up and go round an area for a couple of hours, once a week. Sometimes canvassing was cancelled because no one turned-up. A stall would be manned by a few, not many, and it would be manned for a couple of hours, once a week.  This stood in stark contrast to the final couple of weeks of the campaign: there were more people than organisers knew what to do with: extra stalls were able to be set-up, extra leaflet runs done and canvassing was able to be completed quicker. This was needed a lot, lot earlier if the campaign was going to be successful. We needed masses of people to not only create a ‘buzz’ but to give that intensity and reach to the work which was lacking for most of the campaign.

Continuing this theme, the culture of the campaign was not strong enough. I have stood at countless stalls where campaigners were more intent on talking to each other than talking to the public, as if we were slightly embarrassed about discussing the independence issue or frightened or we didn’t trust ourselves to do it well. I do not exaggerate. Countless stalls. And I was involved in about 4 different areas. Too many times, I heard the words ‘non-invasive’, ‘non-threatening’, ‘let them come to us’. It was all too passive, despite the fact that we were trying to push a message some people had been working for their entire lives. You’d think there might be a bit more urgency. We were not confident enough. We lacked a self-assured-directness. I have nothing but respect for people giving-up their time, but it’s a waste of time, if it isn’t used properly. The training of activists? Well, as far as I could see, this never happened to any great extent.

What happened was that our perception of success was too easily achieved. Lots of people at a meeting ignored the fact that there were few undecided people and a vast, vast amount NOT there. I heard predictions of 60/40 for YES or more. At times I got carried away, yet I was never confident about a victory. Too many people were not opting-in – attending meetings, stopping at stalls or even listening – on such a big question. For every 10 000 in Buchanan Street, 20 000 walked past. For every window with a YES poster, 40 had no posters. We were too impressed with our achievements, partly because it has been decades since anyone ran a decent political campaign in this country and we had little to compare ourselves against.

Our Recruiting was Poor. Originally, the idea was that there were to be YES ambassadors who were to be trained and who would then in turn train others until there was a literal army of campaigners to take the message to the masses. I signed-up twice and never got an email. However, I do know that some training did take place. My own anecdotal evidence is that people did the training and then disappeared. Some would come out for a day, some a couple weeks, others a few weeks. In the end, for the most part, it was the stalwarts and the die-hards that carried the message for most of the last six months of campaigning. Recruitment had to be much deeper and have more time spent on it. It would have paid-off. It had to enter into the lives of recruitees on a much more regular basis, like the social realm, and not just a pint in the pub, although that would be a good start. If we think about it, hundreds of people slipped through our fingers for a long time. The opportunity to make the campaign more than just political issues was passed-by for a long time.

Our Approach was Weak. I love balloons as much as the next person. I don’t like face paints, but I do like flags. The strategy of using balloons and face paints at stalls was misguided and weakened us, I feel. It was trying to take the message to adults through their kids. I don’t think that is the correct way to do things. If parents want that for their children, then they can do it themselves. I do not think that we should be setting-up stalls with stuff for kids. Badges for adults, fine. If kids want them, fine. Balloons for decoration, fine. But face paints? Is the campaign that orientates itself towards children, even slightly, going to be the one you trust when you’re being frightened about your job? It was all a bit lightweight.

In certain contexts, I believe it may be appropriate. There should be joy and frivolity on the way to independence, and if parents want their kids to have flags, then who are we to stand in the way? Yet it has to be underpinned by some serious, confident, grounded activism. And that wasn’t always there. There needed to be more power behind the events, even a stall. 

The Strategy was Questionable. There were 18 activists in East Lothian who were consistent throughout the two years, so I heard. There are 100 000 people in East Lothian. The canvassing strategy was merely touching the surface. Leafleting could be done one village each weekend. There are several villages never mind towns to get round and large distances to cover (relatively compared to a city). From over a year out, it was pretty clear there would be a huge turnout. Why just find out what a small amount of people are thinking when energy could have went into something else? Wouldn’t a strategy other than canvassing have been more effective? I realise that stalls and door knocking are considered the staples of campaigning, nevertheless, there must be  millions of people who never once got their door knocked, who never went near a stall, but who may have heard a loudspeaker, or could have had a leaflet for a local meeting that may have piqued their interest, or might have been invited to a neighbour’s house for a discussion.

We never found a way to reach silent NOs and this was the campaign’s ultimate Achilles heel. Obviously, canvassing WASN’T the way to do it. Instead of canvassing, I feel, this finding a way to the silent NOs should have been the priority. After all, we knew they were there and that they’d vote. It was pointless to try and identify the vote or even Undecideds. In the last few weeks of the campaign I was in the ludicrous position of handing letters targeted to Undecided voters who’d made their minds-up months ago, sometimes even years ago. Yes, it had been that long since they’d been canvassed! I genuinely don’t know a solution to this one. Yet that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. My instinct is that people might come along to something out of curiosity, if it is interesting enough. 

Our Tone was Off. If we are going to compare campaigns, then the YES campaign won. Yet there were hundreds of thousands of people who would not engage with the Better Together campaign and still vote NO. I cannot tell you how often I saw and was on the end of dismissive responses about independence: ‘Don’t be ridiculous’, ‘It’s a sham’, ‘Nonsense on stilts’ (to quote a phrase). These did start to die away as time progressed, however, clearly not fast enough. We went with the attitude of trying to persuade in a nice, non-threatening, rational, positive way. I’m not arguing with this approach entirely, but there could have been, if not arrogance, then more assertion – a greater projection of confidence. Of course we can run our own country. Why are you saying we can’t? We run most of it already. Look… We had quotes from David Cameron and Alistair Darling saying Scotland could be successful! How crazy is that? We were looking to our opponents to approve of our belief in successful independence to give doubters confidence. So when they had doubts? Who did they run back to? Who had we turned into authority figures? On whose premise did we fight the campaign? Theirs. If we asked a Dane if he really felt Denmark should be governed by the people who live there we’d receive an incredulous look before either being asked a sarcastic question or being dismissed as a lunatic? We should start to think in this way, because…we actually do run the country, a few administration points aside. And independence isn’t a strange idea, it’s a normal, self-evident proposition that should be treated as such. We’re not breaking-up a Union; we’re running our own affairs.

This tone was partly the product of a belief that we should not annoy or frighten people off. Independence is such a ‘bizarre’ idea that people may run a mile if we try to invade their lives with it or confidently promote it. Underlying this approach is the assumption that people are frightened. Often our positivity was both a cover for our own timidity and a way of engaging with the public’s in a way to soothe their anxiety. I’m not saying that people aren’t frightened, or frightened by change, but a judgement was made to run a conservative campaign in the hope that we would peak and get across the finish line before anyone noticed. Yet, ultimately, we fought a campaign that was premised on people being afraid, just as Better Together assumed, a campaign of change but not frightening or radical change, just tiny little change, but Better Together had the weapon of fear, and we, not being allowed to talk about courage, freedom or anything like that because these words were banned, and with them any emotions they may stir, we only had positivity, happiness, evidence and reasoned points. It IS a lot, ultimately though, not enough, and never will be. To fight fear, you need values of courage and freedom, emotional calls to action and a vision. We should remember, we’re campaigning for something good and we should not be uncomfortable about using the tools nature provides to address fear.

We’d conceded a great deal of that which is useful before we started. Understandably, we didn’t want to fall into the trap of being caricatures of Braveheart. And yet, there’s a reason why Braveheart made hundreds of millions at the Box Office. It appealed to these values and emotions. We never found a way of appealing to people emotionally while remaining in the present. I believe, it was there for the taking.

We Fought the Last War. It has become part of SNP folklore – the great victory of 2011. Twenty points behind then surging to an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament. It was a great election victory. However, I was never convinced that you should fight a referendum the same way you fight an election, and in too many ways we did just that.

The first thing to realise is that 2011 was not the shocking victory it is often seen to be. Ian Gray was never going to be First Minister. Weak leader. Poor communicator. Little profile. Alex Salmond always had him well beat. The SNP were competent and confident. They deserved another term. Also, less than 50% of the electorate voted and of those that voted slightly less than 50% voted SNP. The complete collapse of fringe parties and the Lib Dems meant for many the SNP were the only viable repository of a vote. Despite that, polling 25% of the total electorate is roundabout where the SNP have historically stood. There was, in my opinion, no reason to believe that some great election strategy had been discovered. Also, no one cares that much about Scottish Parliament elections in the rest of the UK. Do you care about the Welsh elections? Fighting a referendum for independence was always going to be much different and the same strategy was, in my opinion, one that would fall short.

So fighting an election by going for the late surge was always open to a few flaws. It relied a lot on superficial voting – the ‘Why not? They’ve done alright’ vote. In the case of reaching a decision about independence, it relied on people being engaged for a long time but only being convinced towards the end of the cycle. This seems a little unrealistic about human behaviour. I would maintain that giving the weight of the issue, a successful campaign would have to reach deeper, reach further and be more intense for a longer period of time. It could not be a last minute surge to victory but a mass movement where the vote was a formality and the size of the victory all that was left to be revealed. Therefore, using the 2011 campaign as a template was a mistake since it meant we could not run the sort of campaign that was needed to win or even build the structures that could deliver that type of campaign. (D’you know 4 months before the referendum, media aside, you’d struggle to see any visible signs that this was a country about to decide upon independence.)

This isn’t to say that one of the crucial aspects of that campaign, the positive message, is not vital. The positive message is central and must remain so.

We Relied on Social Media Too Much. There are 200 000 people on Twitter in Scotland. 70% of them will be for YES. If it was 100%, it still wouldn’t be enough. Roundabout 3 million in Scotland are on Facebook. Obviously, it wasn’t enough. Don’t misunderstand me. Without blogging, the internet, Twitter and Facebook it is very possible that we would have gotten thrashed. The internet allowed the truth to get out and it allowed a lot of people to educate and politicise themselves very quickly and very well. It goes to show what a revolution the medium is, but a lot of energy was put into social media that would have been better spent doing something else. Too many people thought they were activists when all they were doing was tweeting or posting.

The weakness with the internet and social media is that you can send up speaking to yourself and not reach beyond a small circle. You create a bubble where you surround yourself with people with similar interests, similar views and you (and they) do not get exposed to other ideas. In Twitter this is a serious weakness as when you engage with others, the medium presents difficulties to any sort of meaningful argument or enagagement. Facebook is different. There is more capacity for meaningful exposure to a wider range of people in most people’s Facebook, but trying to campaign through Facebook is tricky. Most people share articles and posts, yet the people who need to be persuaded can easily ignore these, unfollow that person’s stream, or not be moved by the post’s picture or tag line. It’s difficult to know what is the right amount to share and I’m sure that as the vote approached many people were swamped with posts so just tuned-out and relied on traditional media instead.

When you get to the nub, the internet is a passive medium. Unless you go to it with a questioning mind and a desire to really know something, then you’ll engage passively with information and you will not absorb the emotional impetus that is required to take that step towards independence. If we cannot get people emotional about independence in some way, we won’t get independence. The way people interact with the internet means that it is hard to reach that emotional core in a person. It’s passive. It can be a self-referential bubble. It has information overload potential that dulls emotions. You find in it what you want to find and if independence isn’t your thing then when will you encounter it?

On the plus side for campaigners and interested parties, it did effectively, time and time again destroy the BT narrative…but many were not paying attention.

We Underestimated the Opposition. There’s no doubt that Unionists underestimated the YES campaign and the latent desire for Scots to be independent. For two years, they had a 20 point lead, possibly more. They never really had to try that hard and I think that fooled many people in the YES campaign into thinking that the ‘ground war’ was being won easily. Yet they did do things. The BT campaign had millions to spend and I’m sure that there were other shell groups, including the Labour Party and unions, who helped spend millions to shore-up the campaign. This allowed them to do masses of phone calls, masses of leaflet deliveries, pay activists and put up masses of adverts. I remember being told about a campaign fought in Edinburgh in the 80s. The Tories were nowhere to be seen. Labour thought they had the seat for sure. On election night, the Tories romped home. They’d been one of the first to use telephone campaigning. I’m sure that telephone campaigning in particular was used to great effect by BT.

The BBC more than any other media outlet demonstrated what a one-party state must be like. It was continually negative, but its ‘7 days of fear’ in the run-up to the vote deployed every trick in the book under the guise of impartiality and it stopped then rolled back what was, I will maintain to my dying day, the beginning of a possible winning surge (in spite of my criticisms of the campaign!). We did not think, as was the obvious from the direction of travel, that the media was the campaign, so we engaged with it unwittingly. The BBC was as much Better Together as Alistair Darling or The Daily Record. We needed a way to counteract that. We didn’t have one. (In truth, we were fortunate that this onslaught did not happen earlier due to the fact that they thought they were winning comfortably. It could have meant a larger margin of defeat. That too was a possibility.)

Beneath all this of course is a very powerful and disconcerting truth: no one lets go of £1.6 trillion of resources. Or more. Scotland has possibly greater oil resources than Iraq. Look at Iraq. If we want to have an independent Scotland then we have to be a lot smarter about how we go about it, because we are up against some very experienced, ruthless people. The Scottish People should be made aware of this and every campaigner should know it. We have to find a way of re-orientating the interests of people, organisations and institutions, including some who we’d rather kick out of the country, so that independence is in their interests and Unionism and being associated with Unionism will be a painful experience. (The Tories are obviously helping with that.)

We Never Made A List of Enemies. Richard Nixon once said, ‘Make a list of enemies, and stick to it!’ Many people do no like Nixon but Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson are two political geniuses almost without parallel in democratic politics, in my humble opinion, and so are worth listening to. I would love to run a purely positive campaign, but let me know when human beings are brought-up in a society where all are loved and all have their needs met, and there’s no hierarchy, humiliation or injustice. Until then, we need a mix of the positive and the negative. And, unfortunately, in politics that means undermining the credibility of the messenger as much as the message. 

It was right to have a positive message and there are certain people like Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon and others who should have been aloof from the battle, freed to articulate the positive Vision. However, there should have been credible heavy hitters and campaign materials that were devoted to annihilating people like Alistair Darling. Darling has a terrible record, and he’s dull. He’s the Chancellor that oversaw the biggest collapse, the largest deficit and a massive increase in borrowing. Why was he allowed to speak about economics? He should have been discredited. Danny Alexander has never had a proper job. Why was he given any credibility? Ruth Davidson was appointed by David Cameron, again, why not a thorough attack? And Willie Rennie…is Willie Rennie! Johann Lamont was always out of her depth by a couple of miles. Their credibility should have been undermined to the extent that people stopped listening to them and continual re-arrangements of the BT front line were required, ultimately discrediting Better Together. Gordon Brown, Jim Murphy et al. Same treatment. 

There were other enemies that it would have been good to have. RBS has been asset stripping small companies for years and banks would be a good enemy to have. The media have The Daily Mail, The Telegraph and The Daily Record – worthwhile attacking them too. Sticking to the same enemies over 2 years would have slowly undermined their credibility and made their own attacks on independence like throwing sticks at a tank. It would not have been easy but given time, and their continual hostility, it was possible and necessary.

It would also have been a good idea to have some general labels which people could have been placed under to raise questions about their credibility without having to research each individually. So, if someone, like Alf Young, is continually negative to the point he is making things up about economics then he should be labelled a ‘Can’t do Scot’. Labour MPs are ‘Red Tories’ and big business opponents are ‘London Scots’. I know it doesn’t sound nice, but it works, and to a certain extent, it is fair, because…it is true. I’m not suggesting going around throwing labels at everyone and anyone, but there were people, like Alf Young, like Labour MPs and like some people in the financial community who would lie for the sake of a NO vote and since it is impractical to research and discredit everyone, what is needed is an ‘enemy’ label that can be used. Obviously misuse discredits the label, so having it and using it appropriately is the key. 

We Allowed Ourselves to be Bullied. In 1979 companies threatened to leave. In 1999 companies threatened to leave. Guess what happened in 2014? Yet we seemed unprepared for this. We should have confronted directly these companies with the language of pride and the undercurrent of an economic backlash. We should have made clear that Standard Life was building a new £70 million building in Edinburgh. We should have threatened consequences about unpatriotic banks. Or loudly and publicly laughed at the idea of sacking 20 000 people and then heading south and hiring 20 000 in the age of the internet. We should have called them out. We didn’t, enough.

We were Unprepared. The SNP has kept the torch of an independent Scotland alight and deserves all the credit in the world for that. Nonetheless, Alistair Darling made one of his two good points about the SNP. He said that the SNP had been around for ’80 years and they still didn’t have  a currency plan’. A fair point. The currency plan was there but it needed to be there 10 years ago so it could be explained and everyone had grasped the rudiments. What it showed, fundamentally, was that the SNP were not prepared for independence and did not have a long-standing plan for it. This meant that currency was an open goal for Better Together and they could not score enough with it. Eventually, they blew themselves out on it because they are, collectively, useless politicians, but they’d done a lot of damage.

I know from anecdotal evidence that the SNP lacked a plan for an independent government even after 2011. There was a vacuum where policy should have been, policies that should have been installed years ago, even if it was just for the sake of being taken seriously. This was never more apparent than when it came to the Lender of Last Resort and the banking system. An independent Scotland did not require a lender of last resort under two of the plans, and if it wanted or needed one, then setting it up would be easy. There was no need to ditch the Scottish pound under any circumstances. Yet we were bullied on this issue again and again. Failure to have a plan and then explain the plan or possible alternatives cost us. (Another hole was failure to explain why definitively Plan A would have worked. rUK would have to negotiate to save the £.)

The lack of clarity meant that people who wanted to dig further had to become experts to understand the information that was available. This takes months of effort, probably more than the average voter will be prepared to exert. The lack of clarity meant that the vague fears BT and its acolytes continually conjured in the air, stuck.

We Did Not Believe. There were too many truths we accepted without serious examination. I for one never believed that Alex Salmond was as unpopular to the public as the Labour Party and the media would have us think. I always felt there was potential to recast him as Scotland’s Champion. Post-referendum, this is what he is becoming. However, it needed to have happened a lot earlier. Alex Salmond does have the common touch and if he’d been unleashed a lot earlier, even below the media radar, he would have packed places out. Advisers, politicos, maybe even himself, believed that he was slightly toxic: there was no belief in the transformative powers of change the new context of an independence campaign could bring about. This is what the campaign needed. At no point did the campaign ever shape circumstances, it tried to operate effectively in the reality handed to it. Mistake. We did not believe we could alter circumstances enough so that BT were facing an uphill battle themselves. Ironic given that was the intent of the campaign.

We Lacked Faith. I don’t mean religious. People are crying out to be engaged with. They just don’t know how. I personally think that they are bored of looking at cats on Facebook or surfing the apps. But there’s not much else on offer. The YES campaign could have really barnstormed its way across the country with speeches, with loudspeakers and rallies. We were scared of turning people off! We were scared of being called ‘Nationalists’! Being compared to Hitler or having a ‘Sheffield Rally Moment’ like Kinnock! We should have had faith in people’s desire to have meaning and identity in their lives. The real engagement only started in the last weeks when, at last, people started using the Saltire. When Alex Salmond got out on to the streets he owned them. People wanted to be involved. Imagine what four months of that might have looked like! People want meaning. They want to engage. The YES campaign was starting to give them that. It needed to have started a lot earlier.

Political Careers Are Dangerous. Obviously a lot of people have taken the opportunity of this campaign to promote independence…and themselves. I don’t personally have a problem with that. There are many individuals who have made outstanding contributions, notably Rev Stu Campbell, Carolyn Leckie, Derek Bateman, the Indycyclist, Ivan McKee, Phillippa Whitford, Tommy Sheridan, Natalie McGarry, Craig Murray amongst others. If their careers benefit, then good luck to them, I view the great majority of these contributions as unequivocally good.

However, there are many people who seek a career in a political party whose profile is much lower and, I would suggest, their contribution is a bit more mixed. There are a lot of people who have put a mass of work in to organise things and the campaign could not have run without them, yet having one eye on a political career has meant their priorities have not been purely independence for Scotland. They have wanted to avoid making mistakes. They have wanted to make sure rivals are kept in their place and they have not wanted to be made to look bad by someone coming in and stealing their thunder. I can’t criticise really because they often keep the ship afloat. However, finding a way to welcome new ideas, new approaches and having a variety of leaders would be very useful. I have seen not a few people restricted and turned-off by local organisers who always want to do things their own way and want to have control of matters. Typical of a top-down organisation. It meant there was a lot of pointless in-fighting and a loss of useful activity.

They beauty of the YES campaign was that when it eventually started to lift off, people could do and organise as they liked. There were a vast range of campaigns going on. There were great quantities of common sense, unity and creativity throughout a mass of people. They had different values and ideas, nevertheless, they united behind independence, consciously knowing they would split once it was achieved. It was rational, mature and correct. If there is to be independence, then this has to be trusted to continue and some of the organisers in the SNP have to learn to let go. Especially as the SNP is likely to be at the forefront of a movement now.

We were Saying Yes into a Vacuum. Labour had the unions; it had the majority of councils; it had much of civic society and much of local government. The small ‘c’ conservative mentality had the civil service, the media, the financial sector and corporations. A Yes vote would have been into a culture with a lot of resistance to independence. It is always a good bell-weather to see how many people are abandoning the ship. I was surprised that as it looked like Yes could win, few Labour councillors jumped ship. A lot of them probably would sense they were heading for destruction at the polls in the future, but they stayed onboard. It shows the power of the Labour machine and it also shows that the chances of a Yes victory were less than we thought. The edifice stayed intact. This meant that one of the issues an independent Scotland would have faced, if it had sneaked across the line, was governance. A sizeable and  powerful group were resisting independence.

It wasn’t only in politics that independence wasn’t attracting people. It was in the culture stakes too. In what way is life noticeably Scottish here? If you go to work, come home and watch the BBC, in what way are you Scottish? You’re just like another region of England. Yet you are Scottish. Scottish culture has been caricatured and marginalised. It has to be brought amongst the people and the people have to embrace it. Scotland has to be a little bit more Scottish. Just enough so that people know that it is a separate nation. Otherwise, what’s the point of independence? If you know history you know there’s been a systematic attempt to wipe Scotland from the face of the map. If Scotland is going to return to the map, there has to be a culture of Scotland that the politics and the map reflect. As Gramsci noted, politics reflects culture. Our culture lacks Scottishness, so then does our politics lack the belief in an independent Scotland.

People don’t like to talk about it too much yet the existence of Scotland has to be more than just economic or protecting the NHS; it has to be about asserting Scotland as a nation and Scottish identity. This is why the flag has to come out more. The SNP must embrace the Saltire. We all must. As a symbol of positive, progressive nationalism and as a symbol of Scotland, free, open and independent.

We Were Robbed. Maybe. Every experienced activist I spoke to before the vote mentioned their worry about the vote being interfered with. Since the vote there has been unsubstantiated evidence that raises questions. My own feeling is that whether it was anti-YES employees at the count or actual manipulation by state security services, then there probably was some tampering. To what extent, who can know? However, this is why it had to be a huge YES vote. The sort of vote that could not be manipulated as it would be logistically impossible and the falsified outcome would fly in the face of clear evidence. Yet no one could say, hand on heart, that it is impossible that there were 2 million NO voters.

Here’s a thing and it’s my only evidence. I’ve never called an election entirely wrong. Not being an egotist, or lying, I never have. I felt a Tory victory in ’92, Labour obviously in ’97, ’01 and ’05. A victory for YES in ’99 Scottish Parliament referendum. Labour in ’99, 03 and ’07 I felt that Labour’s vote wasn’t going to collapse (which it didn’t and apart from a disputed seat, Labour would have been the largest party). 2010 I had as an unconvincing Tory win, mainly due to anti-Tory rhetoric from Mums on mumsnet!

On referendum day, I spent 3 hours in an Edinburgh area that should be clear NO. The BT woman beside me could not give her leaflets away and given people’s reaction to me with a YES badge, it was a clear YES from an area that should be hostile. So, I felt it was possible that we’d done it. I would have called it for YES. Make of that what you will.

Update on This Point. I’ve been pleased to get feedback on this article form many people. Some of it has said that the above point discredits the article. I’d like to make clear a couple of things. The first one is that I believe that there were many hundreds of thousand of NO voters and that there is only unsubstantiated rumour and unsubstantiated evidence for tampering, and even that which has been presented would not significantly affect the final result. YES would have needed a large margin of victory to overcome any tampering or, importantly also, to negotiate credibly if successful, so the bar for victory was higher for YES.

The second point is that I do believe that some sort of tampering is inevitable. You do not let a country with over £1.6 trillion in resources leave without the services at your disposal being used. The stakes for Scottish independence were much higher than we were lead to believe in the public narrative. The UK state, losing both trillions of natural resources and the £3.3 billion annual subsidy of its military would have been severely weakened as an economic force and as a military ally. Furthermore, the success of a ‘separatist’ movement by peaceful and democratic means could have triggered a response across the globe for other similar movements (if I remember correctly there are about 50 regions potentially in China that would like significant decentralisation). So Scotland faced a World Establishment worried about internal nations asking for ‘home rule’, not just a UK Establishment.

In the light of this, I think my own personal experience might be relevant. A good few years ago, as member of a UK party, I worked reasonably closely with a person who was involved with the process of keeping tabs on every constituency in the country. Each constituency had a person who made reports about meetings and then sent them back to Head Office so that tabs could be kept on things and issues controlled. The discourse of the conversation at group meetings was to be controlled, subtly. If it looked like a certain person might get elected as a candidate, then there was always a group that could be called on, ‘sleeping members’, who would turn-up and whose votes would prevent a particular candidate from being selected. So much for party democracy.

In the seat where I worked, the Liberal Democrats were the main competitors and, given the trend, looked like they were going to take it. However, once all the parties standing in both council and Westminster seats had been registered the list of parties to appear on the ballot papers showed a unique combination of names. There was ‘The Liberal Democratic Alliance’, ‘The  Scottish Liberal and Democratic Party’, ‘The Democratic Liberal Party’ and others. It would have been very confusing for an inattentive Liberal switcher to find on their individual voting forms the right party! Who had registered these parties? Who was in them? No one knew, but plenty guessed. Some group who wanted a particular UK party to win that seat. Of course, these parties were shells that had never been heard of before or since, and whose existence was purely to syphon votes from the Liberal Democrats. ‘We’ kept the seat.

For me, it is naive to think that there would not have been involvement in the vote by…?

The Future

There are some people who spend their life campaigning because they never actually win one. Some of these people have already embraced ‘Round 2’ and are gearing-up for another referendum and round of public meetings. I feel I need a rest, first of all, and I can think of quite a few activists who’d benefit from one too. Secondly, we’d lose another referendum in the near future, even if Devo-Max is a fraud. Thirdly, we all need a bit of thinking and reflecting time. As noted, there are weakness in the strategy that need to be addressed and I don’t see how an independence campaign will avoid being viewed with contempt unless they are fully addressed. There’s also the YES campaign itself. Where’s it going? ‘Nowhere!’ people say. I’ve been kicking around in politics awhile. The campaign took off a few weeks before the referendum. Are all these people who arrived late in the day really prepared to remain active through the winter and deliver a crushing SNP victory in May? Is it a false dawn? Can the SNP provide enough freedom to allow people to remain engaged? Can independence parties co-operate?

These are all questions that we and time will answer. Depending on the answer and our response, we may well become those life-long campaigners who never win, although many will have dropped the cause when that becomes apparent, or we may soon be opening a new chapter in the life of an ancient nation called Scotland.

For me there’s hope: 1.6 million people looked into the greatest fear bombing I’ve ever witnessed in my life in this country and still voted ‘YES’. Some probably had to fight a lot of fear to do it. We have to build on this. And brave people are a good foundation to build on. Here are some of the areas which I think are worthwhile thinking about:

Our Definition of Success is Too Low. Good canvassing is not 5 people talking to 30-40 people in one night and then having a gratifying 65% support independence return. Good canvassing is creating events people want to be part of in the community and then spending the time with people required to persuade them of the benefits of independence. It is being in the community, part of the community, knowing the community and knowing that the community will support an independent Scotland which will be the barometer of success. When the vast majority of communities across Scotland support independence then we’ll be on our way to success.

(In some ways canvassing is a sign of failure. It means that politics is a product being sold and that strangers have to go into a community and find out how the product is going down. It means that there is little community, little continuous community organisation, little penetration of the community by politics and that the community is being sold an idea rather than rising up with with one.)

We were too easily pleased with our success  during the campaign, and we still are. Glasgow and surrounds have 2.5 million people. Getting 5000 people into George Square doesn’t mean anything. Getting 5000 into Musselburgh town square means something, or Kirkintilloch town square or Elgin. Until the numbers are seriously big (much bigger than we had) in local villages and towns for rallies and speeches then we’re not successful. When Haddington can be filled with people from Haddington waving flags and calling for independence, then that will be success.

Canvassing Needs Re-thinking. Walking around similar looking housing areas week after week is boring and a lot of people don’t like it. Having an event, a local clear-up, a coffee morning with a speaker where people can be talked to is, to my mind, more effective. Shift patterns, mass fibbing and door entry systems are making canvassing a time heavy, impact light process. There has to be a better way of doing it.

I think we need to re-examine some of the shibboleths of campaigning. I like leaflets but 9% of them are read, and how many ever persuade anyone? No idea. We have to deliver 10 leaflets to get 1 read, and then what? Add in the fight to be noticed with other junk mail and to me it’s clear that leaflets need re-thinking too. (Look at the success of The Wee Blue Book!)

One of the things we have to realise is that we can work really hard and have no effect. I once delivered 20 000 leaflets for a candidate to get 600 votes. I’m not saying abandon; I’m saying re-think all aspects of it.

We Need to To Think Big. As I write SNP membership has reached 70 000, the Greens are at 7000 and the SSP at 3000. We have 1.6 million strong supporters of independence which will grow as disappointment with Westminster inevitably follows from the misleading promises. There is no reason why a pro-independence rally could not fill Murrayfield or Hampden, or both. We have the speakers; we have the numbers and we have the organisation. These events give people a fantastic focus, a talking point and a socialising opportunity. It turns politics into an event, into theatre and showmanship and adds the further quality of being meaningful. It is an irresistible combination. If it can be done correctly then 60, 70, 80 000 people and more will return to their workplace and community as energised peer-to-peer activists. Millions of people would want to be part of that.

Flags, Music, Theatre, Meaning. George Orwell, a dull guy, has left a decent but dull legacy to UK politics. He articulated the suspicion of music, marching and oratory that many people in the UK have. They think its fascist. Orwell’s intentions were good but they stifled politics. I think that fascist is fascist. If you’re not a fascist, then what’s wrong with a bit of organised music? What’s wrong with a bit of theatre? Meaning can be delivered dully and be rejected because of it, or it can be delivered with verve, passion, boldness and colour and be twice as meaningful. If we learn anything from the YES campaign, it should be that being part of something that is colourful, fun, meaningful, showy can withstand the blasting fear of the UK state.

Party Structures Need to be Examined. The SNP are thinking about this. I think unless we can get away from dull meetings and cliques running local parties then there will be serious difficulty. If people want to be creative and dynamic and there are people putting the brakes on all the time, for whatever reason, there’ll be splits and in-fighting for years. There has to be leadership and a certain degree of order, but there has to be ways in which people can organise with freedom and not be reproached for not always towing the party line. A little bit of the ‘Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom’ attitude might go along way (minus the Maoism, of course).

Parties Need Discipline. People who join political parties often make the mistake of believing that they represent the public. However, by joining a political party you are doing what only maybe 5 people out of a 100 do. So, hardly representative! Yet this belief and passionate commitment to values means that members fight for what they want and what they think will benefit the community, not thinking about what is electable. It’s important to fight your corner but also to be able to compromise about what can be realistically achieved. It is the end of a politician or party that gets too far ahead of their public. Certainly at the moment, there are a lot of people who are going to be involved in politics for the first time and who perhaps do not realise that it is often quite a messy compromise even over little things. It’s important that we all realise there’s going to be compromises, lots.

There are some great political opportunities approaching. UKIP look like they are about to present a very open goal for the independence movement with a Euro referendum added. We also have a genuine rock star unburdened by Office. Alex Salmond now owns the streets and will be a larger figure out of office than in it. If he uses his free time well, he can put in place that understanding of the issues that tens of thousands require to enable them to vote for independence next time. That and a movement, a strategy and a culture that drives the political process will deliver us independence, I believe.

Success is getting Ed Miliband involved, it hurries the end


Liverpool Football Club should be a warning to the YES campaign. You do not lift the trophy until you lift the trophy. Up until yesterday, Liverpool had that English Premier League title in the bag. Now it is once again Manchester City’s to lose.

The YES campaign has done well. What has done even better is the people’s movement that is growing from the YES campaign. The polls are narrowing and there is momentum. However, heed Liverpool.

When we get into the summer and as we get closer to the vote, the ‘No’ vote will strengthen. This is a characteristic of all referenda.  The anxiety, the doubts will start to pull people to ‘No’. We can expect the ‘No’ camp to increase the fear while simultaneously offering improved political settlements. And the fears might get a lot nastier.

We could be threatened with loss of North Sea oil. We could be threatened with a veto of our application for EU membership. We could be threatened with loss of the Faslane to protect UK strategic interests. There are many things that we could be threatened with and I’m sure there are plenty of people who would carry out those threats. Some people do not like to lose.

When it all becomes real, some voters will lose their nerve and the campaign has to expect that. The ‘Yes’ vote will, unless there is a massive amount of momentum, weaken. Obviously the plan is to have that kind of momentum in the final couple of months so that threats and fears will be deflected or absorbed like meteorites off a hurtling planet.

To continue the space analogy, the movement for an independent Scotland, a movement that goes beyond the YES campaign, has to reach a ‘blast off’ point of energy that will allow it to develop its own cyclical momentum. At the moment, the relentless negativity of the NO campaign is holding that in check along with people’s own doubts.

The entry of Ed Miliband into the campaign is a major success for the YES movement. Ed Miliband has very little to offer: the more he speaks, the more it is obvious that he is not going to be prime minister. His promises are so vague and his management so insipid that the voters of England will stick with what they have. This is becoming clearer to Scottish voters the more they see of him.

If there is one feature that is noticeable about the campaign it is the continued and increasing alienation of Labour from Scottish voters. Labour tend to make the mistake that any support lost is a move to the SNP but it isn’t. It is a falling out of love with Labour. Their alignment with the NO campaign is a disaster. It could be said that they are standing with people who are bullying Scotland; but they’re not. They are joining in. This will have disastrous consequences for them. Ed Miliband’s entry into the campaign highlights this approach and accelerates the breach. He has entered this campaign earlier than he would have wanted to, and a ‘Yes’ vote will now sink his leadership as surely as it will fatally damage David Cameron’s. In truth his options were limited: it’s a risk to let Cameron be the victorious Defender of the Union. Cameron would be re-elected for that.

However, I believe the Labour Party, given its history, could have won this referndum by staying neutral and maintained an affection with the Scottish public. They could have said, ‘Vote for independence if you want it. We will support you. But we feel we can give you a left-wing country as part of the UK.’ The party would have stayed neutral and the innate conservativeness of the Scottish people combined with a mistrust of Alex Salmond and the SNP would probably have defeated the YES campaign.

The fact that the Labour Party is now run by people who lack the generosity to do this, who have no sense of the party’s ideals and who lack the tactical nous to take a position that requires a bit of vision, means that whatever the result of the referendum, the Labour Party has now lost Scotland. They just don’t know it yet. They have become the voice of fear; the voice of the past; the voice of the ‘has been’. Gordon Brown’s speech at Glasgow University was noticeable for its continued reference to a history that few now know and that is 70 years out of date. It was like campaigning in the 1960s based on the issues of the 1890s. It was bizarre! But that is Gordon Brown. They have become guilty of what Aneurin Bevan accused the conservative institutions of being all about, ancestor worship. Worship of the Dead.

This referendum came about because 23% of the electorate in Scotland voted SNP in 2011. This is not a majority for independence by any stretch of the imagination.  The Westminster parties hoped to destroy the SNP with a referendum, instead they have unleashed a people’s movement based on a paradigm shift. Scots everywhere are slowly being conditioned to look at their lives and evaluate it in terms of being independent or not. They never did this before.

What it is bringing out is the immensity of potential that is available in the Scottish nation. Vision after vision of a future is being presented to the Scottish people. They may not agree or like them all, but it cannot be argued with that there is an abundance of life tantalisingly waiting to be realised. It is this call to the future that the Westminster parties, even the SNP, has unwittingly released and it will sweep everything before it.

Every single political issue will be evaluated in terms of independence now. The genie is starting to come out of the bottle. Whether it is coming out fast enough for this referendum to be won is in question, but a people’s movement is beginning.

Unprinted response to letter in the East Lothian Courier


Dear Editor

Your correspondent Mr Hall complains the Yes East Lothian meeting he attended last month was not a debate .The reason is simple, it wasn’t intended or advertised as a Yes/No debate.

What was remarkable about the Haddington Town Hall meeting which 180 attended, was the different backgrounds, perspectives and positive visions of independence expressed by a Dowager Duchess, an international entrepreneur, a socialist academic and nationalist Euro MP.

The debate to be had during our six towns meetings will be between an equally wide range of distinguished speakers and citizens who come to ask questions and make serious comments. From what I observed searching questions received truthful and evidence based answers.

Though Mr Hall regards the panelists as living in “Fantasy Land” their view of a vastly more prosperous Scotland is one shared by the Financial Times. The coldly objective international credit rating company Standard and Poor’s also forecast that an independent Scotland would be in the top ten richest countries of the world.

The difficult challenge for people living in Scotland is to reconcile international predictions of their independent country being embarrassingly wealthy with present day food banks, soup kitchens, perpetual payday day loans and the second lowest pension in the Western World

A desire for fairness and an awareness that Britain is now the fourth most unequal country in the 34 membered OECD will make many vote Yes. For others it will be the relief of knowing that by voting Yes they will always get the government for which they vote – for evermore. Reality is sometimes what we make it.

Not all benefits of independence are tangible but they can be as important. With greater self determination comes greater confidence, pride, hope and happiness . 140 nations have chosen independence since 1945. Not one has ever asked to give it up again, not one.

The inspiring case for national independence will continue to be put by a sparkling panel of Yes advocates at our next big public meeting at the Bleachingfield Community Centre, Dunbar on Thursday 17th April 7-9 pm , whilst the weekly free and easy roadshow saunters into Aberlady Community Hall this Friday 11th April, 7-9 pm. Another Scotland is possible.

Yours sincerely

F McAllister

Letter to the local East Lothian press


This letter was sent to several East Lothian local papers by a local Yes Scotland activist

I believe, as John P Mackintosh did, that we Scots have the brains and the courage to run our own country. We have the sense to welcome the English, and their skills, into our midst. They know that whilst we will defend their country at every turn, as indeed they will defend us, it is not in the interest of the working class within Scotland to be shackled forever to England.
I appeal to traditional Labour voters, like myself, not to be deceived by the fibs of Messrs, Blair, Brown, Blunkett, Darling, Hewitt, Mandelsohn, Reid and Prescott. These new Labour millionaires sold the Labour Party’s soul. They, and 23 Tory Cabinet millionaires, now seek to persuade you to sell you country’s soul. They urge you to vote NO to INDEPENDENCE. Will you? I won’t!
To vote NO is to support pay day loans, pawn shops and abandon manufacturing skills.
To vote NO is to support wars of intervention in foreign countries.
To vote NO is to ensure a constant Conservative Government who knows nothing of your life.
To vote NO is to accept unemployment rates of 50% on parts of the west coast and 30% on average.
To vote NO means that 60% of Scots will continue to earn less than £25,000 per year.
To vote NO accepts that 100,000 children in poverty is tolerable.
To vote NO is to agree that cuts should be imposed on the most vulnerable in society.
To vote NO agrees to a £375 Bn bailout for the stockmarket and £140 Bn to cover tax evasion
To vote NO is to demand a flexible workforce that is transferable and disposable.
To vote NO is to prefer others to rule your country.
To vote NO is to beg for your fair share and the humiliation that comes with that.
To vote NO shows a lack of self-belief in ourselves and a lack of faith in our children.
To vote NO is to be frightened into staying in a relationship and the contempt that that brings.

To vote NO means agreeing to suffer poverty, degeneration, hopelessness, fear, abdication and to
giving up democratic government so deeply cherished in Scotland.
That is why I’m voting YES!
I urge all the Labour voting electors to think deeply and to act courageously.


Would financial companies leaving an independent Scotland be so bad in the long term?


Financialisation is the final stage of a declining economy. Let me explain what I mean by ‘financialisation’. An economy is about the production of goods and services for human needs. Money (capital) is important in creating the investment to produce those goods and services and to consume them. Throughout history economies and countries that are rising tend to be weighted towards manufacture. The rise of the Dutch, English, German, American, Japanese and Chinese economies were all grounded on manufacture.

There are many benefits to having an economy that is based on manufacturing. A few a worth mentioning, but I won’t go into detail. A manufacturing heavy economy has more employment, has greater dynamism, has more cohesion among classes and has greater productivity in non-manufacturing areas. There are many other benefits: skills, self-esteem, affordable public spending, but I won’t strain the point.

Financialisation is when financial services, when moving money around, becomes the dominating factor in an economy. In the US, the financial sector is now the larger than the manufacturing sector. This preeminence of finance has occurred as the UK declined in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; as the Dutch economy declined in the late 18th century; and it signalled the rot in the Spanish Empire, as instead of choosing to support industry, Catholic Spain choose to support Church, aristocracy and financial services based on gold and silver shipped from the New World.

What it means is that a sector of the economy makes money, a lot of money by moving money around and lending it out. Giving people loans that provide high returns quickly is how the financial sector prefers to operate. This means higher profits for those involved and high growth, but it also means that the wealth is not distributed beyond a small financial elite; it means that disparities in wealth become shockingly high; this leads to societal rot, as Churchill himself noted, ‘the seed of imperial ruin and national (is in) the unnatural gap between the rich and poor (and) the swift increase of vulgar jobless luxury’ – he was not attacking the benefit-claiming poor with this: he was attacking the rich finance men of the British Empire who had forsaken industry and commerce to invest in assets oversees, live doing nothing and allow the industries that had raised England to a commercial zenith to decline and decay, and the people who worked in them likewise.

Although the UK is no longer a world power, if anything, the decay caused by finance has accelerated social and cultural decline. There are three areas of the UK that pay their way: London, the South East (because of London) and Scotland. Every other of the UK receives more public spending than it generates. It is a classic example of a hollowed out economy. Hollowed out by the Financialisation process begun in the 80s.

But the effects of financialisation of an economy are far more insidious than just a deficit in productivity in the regions. Finance acts as a vampiric parasite on the economic body; a virus that inhabits every cell of the body and weakens it. On average, every adult in the UK owes £54 000. There is over £50 billion of credit card debt owed. Eight million households have no savings and over 300 000 mortgages are in arrears. The economy has recovered at the same time as debt has increased. Coincidence?

This is financialisation. The poor have to borrow from pay day loan companies to survive through the week and financiers make a fortune. People, even the middle class, are asset stripped (buy gold at 5% the actual price), and there is a constant packaging and re-packaging of debt. There is no way of alleviating the debt as there is no manufacturing that can use exports to grow our way out of it.

The success of financialisation goes hand in hand with political power. The lender is seen as the leader of the economy. Diminishing their returns by investing in industry or limiting their interest rates or penalty charges is an attack on their right to make a profit, or more accurately their right to buy cheap in a foreign country so industry leaves Scotland, provide easy credit to the Scottish consumer and watch the debt and the profits increase. I could also mention that having the Westminster government run a strong pound so that the finance sector can purchase foreign assets and Scottish exports become uncompetitive is another by-product of financialisation.

Eventually financialisation leads to economic primitivisation as many economists have noted. The IMF’s loans to countries that have encouraged them to focus on their ‘comparative advantage’, exploit their natural resources and abandon their industries (or have them bought by foreign investors), has led to lower living standards for their people.

All these financial companies that are threatening to leave Scotland won’t. It’s not practicable to take 10 000 staff down South, or hire 10 000 with the skills required, plus a Scottish government will give them a deal. But, would it be so bad if they did go? We could then re-industrialise unmolested by the capital sucking financiers and start building a society that is fairer and more meaningful.

BP can leave an independent Scotland, but it won’t


The head of BP, Bod Dudley, has intervened in the independence debate. He believes that there will be great ‘uncertainties’ about the future of an independent Scotland, citing the issues surrounding a new tax regime, the currency and whether or not an independent Scotland could be part of Europe.

Although, predictably, London Scot and Better Together chair Alastair Darling hailed this as a major intervention by a serious business and business man, the actual words spoken concerning the business side of things was little more than pointing out the obvious. As an independent Scotland does not yet exist, we cannot claim 100% certainty that Scotland will have Sterling as a currency; or it will be part of Europe or it will have a benevolent tax regime to North Sea oil companies. Besides, It is questionable whether these are entirely in Scotland’s interests: the UK needs Scotland’s export power more than Scotland needs the UK’s; handing sovereignty over to the EU immediately upon independence would undermine some of the potential an independent Scotland holds, and it may well be that our tax regime should be tightened-up for oil companies.

The personal opinion of Bob Dudley that ‘Great Britain should remain great’ shades with the grey spectre of ‘No’ what are fairly common sense concerns by many businesses, with little foundation. Scotland will not destroy business and profits when it becomes an independent country. Why would it?

Nonetheless, however these uncertainties are resolved, BP should be allowed to leave an independent Scotland. No cajoling. No pleading. No subsidising. It can leave…it won’t though.

Oil brought BP to the North Sea. It is investing £10 billion over five years, and will probably continue to invest in the North Sea. It will not walk away from that investment. And even if it did, there would be companies lining-up to take its place. Businesses are there to make a profit. Altruism did not drive BP to the cold waters east of Aberdeen; money did. As long as there is money to be drilled for, raised-up from the sea bed, and shipped back to the shore land, there will be companies in the North Sea.

Oil is the basis of our entire economy. And it is slowly running out. Back in the 1950s Marion King Hubbert, an American geologist working for Shell, studied the major oil fields of the United States below the Canadian border, their rates of production and their inevitable peaks. Because oil, coal and gas are non-renewable fuels that are created over millions of years by geological pressures, their ‘wells’ or ‘seams’ will deliver increasing diminishing returns over time. In the case of oil, the pressure inside an oil well means that oil is pushed to the surface very easily at first upon initial strike. Yet as more and more oil is extracted the pressure reduces and the production of oil slows. At a certain point it may be necessary for engineers to intervene and try to increase production by finding some way of increasing pressure or improving drilling technology and techniques. Oil production will peak in each well, after which it becomes increasingly harder to get the oil out. This is called Peak Oil, and it is the theory that Hubbert is famous for.

Hubert predicted that oil extraction in the lower forty eight states would peak between the years 1965 and 1970. In spite of improvements in drilling technology and tax breaks, he was right. It peaked in 1970 and has been declining ever since. As production falls, the expense of getting barrels out of the ground increases until it becomes uneconomic. A well could still have substantial oil left in it, but it costs more energy to get the oil out than that barrel can produce. Unless the price of oil rises, then the oil will stay untapped in the sometime half full well. It is an astonishing illustration of the economics of oil and the difficulties faced in maintaining supply.

What applies to the vast oil lakes of North America, holds true across the world. There has been much speculation about when the world will reach its peak of oil production; and there are massive political interests in keeping hidden whether Arabian oil fields are now sloping downwards in their production capacities. Yet it is likely that if we have not passed peak oil world wide, then we are close to it. Many experts believe that Saudi Arabia’s failure to increase production during several oil price hikes in recent years signal that the world’s largest oil producer has now peaked – and there are persistent rumours that water is now being pumped into Saudi wells to get the oil out. 2005, many think, was the world’s oil production peak.

It had long been foreseen. Much of the discussion in the 1990s at oil seminars around the world focused on the consumption of present oil supplies and the failure to make discoveries that would allow production to keep pace with demand. A notable attendee of these was Dick Cheney, former US Vice President. By the 2000s, there was a great deal of pessimism about oil and the ability to meet increasing demand. “We estimate that world oil and gas production from existing fields is declining at a rate of between 4 and 6 per cent a year,” wrote the president of ExxonMobil Exploration in 2004. He continued, “To meet projected demand in 2015, the industry will have to add about 100 million oil-equivalent barrels a day of new production…we will need to find, develop and produce a volume of new oil and gas that is equal to eight out of every 10 barrels being produced today.” This is a huge task.

It has not been achieved and this goes a long way to explaining the war in Iraq. A country dependent on oil cannot afford to be insecure about its supply. What it means for the world is that, with increasing demand as China and other countries become fully developed, and the increasing difficulty of fulfilling that demand, prices are going to rise. (In Scotland, we are continually being told that oil is volatile. The truth, prices are only going upwards and this will have huge benefit for Scotland’s budget.)

As prices rise, not only will Scotland reap the reward of a higher price for an important export product, it will also attract more investment as the oil in the North Sea that lay untouched because it was ‘uneconomic’ increasingly becomes economic and profitable. In fact, it is quite possible that Scotland’s tax revenues from oil and gas may surpass those of when the fields were at maximum production.

There are £1.6 trillion worth of oil reserves off the coast of Scotland. Increased prices means that figure will rise. Greater investment will increase productivity, longevity and viability of these reserves. In short, no company walks away from oil reserves in the trillions. Neither will BP.

What we have to make sure is that we are not giving this valuable resource away. That we are receiving the correct tax revenues. That we are using those revenues to build a post-oil future which, one day, is inevitable. And that, most important of all, that we, an independent Scotland, are making the decisions.

London Scot George Robertson writes rubbish in the Washington Post


One of the more undistinguished members of the New Labour cabinet was George Robertson, now a peer. He was quickly moved from his cabinet post as Minister of Defence to the head of NATO. Given that this position is titular: no one is seriously going to wait for Robertson’s approval before doing anything, then he at least freed up a seat for either Blair or Brown to inter a loyal aspirant.

Recently, he’s been writing for the Washington Post about the break-up of the UK. In light of his career, there are some peculiar stances which he takes in the article, along with points that never really develop in to arguments – a strange phenomena which we will try to explain later on.

Working our way through the article, we thought we might take the opportunity to offer a few corrections and rebuttals as the piece lends itself to them. The first amendment is that the United Kingdom is not, as said in the article, ‘the United States’ oldest and closest ally’. Although this may be surprising now, the French are the US’ closest ally. The UK fought a revolutionary war against the Americans, invaded the US in 1812, and then had to fend off constant interference in its domestic politics from the UK establishment for decades, including interference in the Civil War. France, on the other hand, supplied and fought with the American forces against the UK state and, post French Revolution, shared ideals of republicanism and political freedoms. The latter years of the Twentieth Century should not blind us to these facts – France and the US have sustained continued ties and relations. (Cultural similarities are a different matter.)

We are on the road to ‘disintegration’ says London Scot Robertson. Quite dramatic – an independent Scotland will lead to either social breakdown or it will mean more countries asserting independence, like Wales? Not being specific has the intent of trying to whip up fear an unnameable fear – a fear which if he did articulate it, we could then laugh at, and dismiss. Welsh independence wouldn’t be so bad, if Wales wanted it. If Cornwall wanted independence, then why not? It’s democracy in action. Does George Robertson have a problem with that?

He describes the UK as ‘one of the world’s most successful, social and economic unions’. It would be churlish to not admit the successes of the UK; there have been many. Yet not so many that Scotland could not have achieved most of them as an independent country. The problem is that, after 300 years, there seems to be so little affection for the Union one partner is about to break away! And Robertson is worried there may be more lurking!

As a tangent, is this not really getting to the core of the Better Together campaign’s problem? Despite 3 centuries of Union, the NO campaign makes no appeal to ideals, aspirations or a glorious past. Instead, those who desire independence are accused of dishonouring the war dead, threatening a Balkans War in Western Europe or destroying a unique historical entity. Their constant theme of fear and petty-minded slurs puts the Scottish people into the position of voting NO out of cowardice, bullied by fear, and making voting YES the courageous choice.

To continue with the article and the point about a ‘successful’ union, has Robertson forgotten about Ireland and Northern Ireland? Ireland seceded from the UK state after centuries of exploitation; Northern Ireland has had decades of unrest with thousands dead, a long term guerrilla war few states in Europe have known, and Scottish nationalism has been a continual thread in UK politics always requiring some form of political compromise to stave off dissolution (including many broken promises and outright gerrymandering). Perhaps a re-definition of the word would help.

George Robertson sees the break-up of the UK as upsetting the global balance. I’m sure Scotland should be flattered that it is so important to the balance of power currently existing that it leaving the UK would seriously undermine it! But the point is delusional. Aside from the fact that most probably Scotland will join NATO and it’s independence will have no impact on the global balance of power, there is also the fact that the US with a million men and women under arms, China with an ever-increasing military reach that includes nuclear missiles and aircraft carriers, India and Pakistan with nuclear weapons, Russia with its inventory of high-tech arms and Japan and Germany with their massive economic strength are global players. Much more so than the UK. Scotland as part or not part of the UK would make little difference.

Another big danger of Scottish independence claims London Scot Robertson is it may ignite separatist struggles across the continent. Does he mean war? Really? As far as I’m aware all these movements aim to be part of the EU and are therefore committed to resolving these issues through the ballot box. If ancient nations, despite centuries of war and suppression and reasons d’état, surely people asserting their national identities is a good thing? Robertson espoused this sentiment often enough when attacking Tories as neglecting Scotland’s needs and going onto campaign for a Scottish parliament – a separate parliament, for a separate people who retain the right to be fully independent. Has he changed his mind? Or is he a political opportunist who gives his loyalties to institutions that benefit his interests as many London Scots are?

Robertson goes onto assert that ‘going local would benefit no one’. The man who campaigned for a Scottish parliament said that! His point is that with worldwide problems, more states will lead to strife. This is based on the assumption that mature democracies cannot make cross border treaties that help with mutual interests. In fact, following this logic, we should have a global government and disband ‘petty nation states’. Is that what London Scot Robertson wants, a global government? One world government might be oppressive but it could surely repress localism so that big issues could be dealt with.

Isn’t it more the case that localism is the ideal response to many global problems? Would empowered people not be better able to fulfil their responsibilities or learn how to? Isn’t more democracy and more responsibility better? And isn’t the lack of these things what causes the strife, rather than ‘localism’ as George Robertson maintains?

The article drags on to its inevitable conclusion. Vague worries about whether Scotland would be allowed into Europe, allowed to be part of NATO, allowed to have the currency they want are raised. And a reader is struck by the poverty of the Better Together arguments. It’s spectre after spectre after spectre.

After 300 years together, the partners arguing to maintain the relationship do it with a mixture of threat, implied fears, moral pontification and misinformation. It says so much about how they perceive the Scottish people. It is a political class that does not believe in its people. They fail to understand that they manipulate people because the people have stopped believing in them. A political class that does not believe in its people has lost the right to lead. A people that does not believe in its political class, needs a new political class.

When there is real change on offer, polls become volatile


The polls are becoming more volatile. There seem to be shifts one way, then another. ‘Deeper’ polling is producing surprising answers that appear to contradict the ‘superficial’ polls of a by-election. Of course, some media outlets with their own agenda further confuse the issue with ridiculously unscientific polls that support the line they are pedalling (Sky’s poll on the Murnaghan show being one that springs to mind).

Democratic political systems are designed  to be stable enough to be governable, however, that stability must not become inertia and be incapable of delivering a certain amount of reform and even revolution, otherwise the system will, eventually, topple through its incapacity to incorporate new forces of change as they emerge. Although the best system so far discovered for dealing with the revolutions in science, production and technology, the full capacity of a democracy to inaugurate change, rather than absorb it, is never fully realised for several reasons, one of them being that, as D’Israeli knew, the working people are more conservative than they are radical. This makes the coming of any change a very uneven process.

Yet in the vote in September we are asking a democracy to deliver change on a massive scale – an entirely new political system. Even if the policies so far promulagted appear to be ‘more of the same’, the fact that these policies are instituted or revoked by a new state is of huge significance. It is sometimes hard for independenistas, like ourselves, to remember that for a conservative system and a generally conservative people, this represents massive, once-in-a-lifetime change. It would not be entirely outwith the realms of the political imagination to envisage poll numbers that remained static up to the 18th of September as people shut themselves off to any possibility of a new way of doing things. However, the polls are shifting.

Are there are spate of unscientific polls doing the rounds? Why can there be movement so dramatically in one direction that then retracts just as suddenly? I think we can look to recent history for some sort of guide. The polls are possibly at a similar stage to the polls for the Democratic party’s nominee about this time six years ago. Hillary Clinton had been out ahead in all the polls for a long time (at one stage 20 points ahead), and given Bush’s unpopularity and a general revulsion to all things Republican, it seemed certain that the Democratic nominee would be president.

Obama had been in the race for a long time, and despite a peak, he had slipped well back. Then he won a surpise victory in the Iowa primary which gave him a 10 point lead for the next primary, New Hampshire. However, the momentum was turning with each news cycle and a debate followed by an emotional moment with Hillary saw her achieve a win in New Hampshire. She then went on to win the popular vote in Nevada, but Obama won the delegate count. The polls continued to oscillate, and it wasn’t until Obama won in South Carolina and on ‘Super Tuesday’ that he became the front runner and carried his momentum to his nomination as the candidate.

The uncertainty did not stop there. Although his Republican opponent was rarely in the lead, he was nearly always in a position to catch Obama until the economic collapse and his own mistaken pronouncements about the economy. His credibility was gone and Obama won.

My point is that Obama at that time was perceived as a huge change. The wild variations in the polls reflected voter desire for change and their fear of it. Obama managed to build enough momentum for change, reduce the fear of it and then win the vote. Needless to say, he had some advantages that the YES campaign do not have. He was not suggesting that there be a new constitution. He was not suggesting a radical new direction in economic policy. He was not suggesting a new state.

The choice facing Scotland is so much bigger than electing the first black president. (In hindsight, a much, much smaller choice than was thought at the time.) And we can expect there to be a lot of volatility in the polls. This is exactly what we (pro-independence supporters) want.  We want the volatility because it is a sign – it is a sign that voters are wrestling with hope and fear; it is the convulsions that precede the birth of change.

Why Scotland is the greatest democratic country in history…

yes 2014

…it is an irony that it does not have its own fully functioning democracy for itself.

Democracy was founded by the Ancient Greeks in the city state of Athens. After driving out the Athenian King, the Athenian people created a unique form of direct democracy. People voted on policies and leaders. The people were the legislatures and the male adults that attended the Ekklesia, out of duty, voted on the issues of the day. Athens has been passed down through the centuries as one of the few examples of genuine freedom the human race has enjoyed. Its unbelievable military victories and the cultural Golden Age that Athens enjoyed is tantalised and inspired democrats to this day.

But freedom, or a form of it, only existed for those Athenians who were male, citizens and had time enough to attend the Ekklesia. An immigrant, a slave, a woman did not have the rights of citizenship and where therefore not able to partake in history’s most famous democracy.

However, like all democracies, Athens did not stand still. Democracy is a progressive mode of government based on change. Once the idea of equal rights is added to the mix, like yeast in dough, it works its way throughout the polity to create conditions of equality and freedom. Issues such as rights for women and slave enfranchisement were beginning to be discussed, Athens most famous leader, Pericles, in one of his final public speeches made a plea for female rights, however, the war and political instability ended Athens democratic experiment. One of her sons,Plato, an aristocrat, by his anti-democratic writings ensured the experiment would not be repeated in the West in the near future.

So, how does Scotland fit into this? Scotland, more than any other country, has helped to develop democracy as we understand it today and has inspired some of the greatest democrats in history. It has been pivotal in creating the greatest democracy in history.

Within Christianity there is a political timebomb that has exploded many times throughout the the two millennia of its existence. The idea that all souls are equal before God embeds an idea that is easily transposed to the Earthly world and not just Paradise. If all souls are equal, then why not all people? And, if all people are equal then why should their be Kings or Queens who rule over the people without their assent? Should not people’s equality be recognised in institutions that give them a say over their own lives?

For this to happen is not as easy as it sounds. After the end of the Roman Republic, the assumption of political power by Emperors and the growth of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire, there was a change in consciousness. People’s loyalties were to their local lord primarily and not such abstract an entity as ‘Rome’ or ‘the Republic’. The King expected loyalty from his aristocracy, but the knights and peasants gave theirs to the person directly above them. A disloyal aristocrat could count on the feudal dues of his own subjects.

To counter the idea of personal loyalties, there had to be a return to abstract entities. People had to be loyal to something that would stand as a counterpoint to the leader. The Church did not fill this role to any extent. What was needed was the sense of an entity that stood separate from political leaders, from local lords or lairds, from churches and monasteries. What was needed was the consciousness of the nation state.

The nation state, many would say, began with the Treaty of Westphalia after The Thirty Years War when national boundaries across Europe were created. Some might argue that a genuine consciousness of the nation state began just before the French Revolution. The French people had developed a sense of ‘France’ and that loyalty to France was the crucial point, not fealty to a King. The King could and would be judge by how successfully he governed France – a central democratic principle.

Of course, Scotland got there first, by about 400 years depending on what argument you side with. The Declaration of Arbroath is a statement of national consciousness, the first of its kind in Europe. This national consciousness embraces and stands above the idea of kingship. In the Declaration, the Scottish people are defined as a unified identity who are separate from the feudal institutions and who are able to choose a king who serves the needs of the Scottish people. If he (or she – Scotland was the first nation in Europe to support a female ruler) does not fulfil the requirements of the Scottish people, a new king may be appointed. Essentially, the main components of a democratic state exist in this document. Scotland gave the world of nation states, the world we live in, its first example of nationhood and democracy.

Scotland had applied the principle of equality existing in Christianity and raised it to the political realm in a way that no country had before and would not again for almost 500 years. The Declaration makes no reference to exclusion at all. It is all of the people of all levels of society that have a say in the matter. This makes the Declaration of Arbroath a much more radical and much more democratic document than the celebrated English equivalent – the Magna Carta: a document that does not apply to serfs and is really a charter for aristocrats against an arbitrary king.

Scotland does not stop there. The Protestant Reformation applied the same democratic logic inherent in Christianity. People were equal before God and had a direct with relationship with God, unmediated by earthly institutions or persons. If people were to have a direct relationship with God and to know him through Scripture then had they not better be able to read Scripture? If people were open to God’s word, should they not have a say in how the word of God was preached to them in their church? The Reformation in Scotland ushered in a social revolution. A revolution that went further than anywhere else in Europe. In The Book of Discipline, the new Protestant Church of Scotland, led by John Knox, set forth principles and policies to have all children, regardless of position in society, to be educated, at the expense of the local parish if need be. A populace that can read, argue and be informed is the rock of democracy. Scotland was putting in place the foundations for a people’s democracy. The institution that would operate democratically, to a certain extent, was the new Church.

The Book of Discipline laid down a policy that was to bear fruit over a hundred years later with the explosion of the Scottish Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was one of the great democratic events in history. Its attacks on superstition; its championing of science and progress; its call for education and rights, all of this was democratically inclined and was to provide the intellectual gunpowder for both the American and French Revolutions. None more so than Scotland. Scotland provided not only the writings of David Hume whose philosophy implied a material world absent some ruling force and a model of the mind and identity as something very much like a democratic parliament. Adam Smith, who is rarely recognised for this, developed a theory of economics and a model for its operation that was democratic, individual and concerned with the welfare of the people.

Armed with these ideas, the leaders and intellectuals of the American and French Revolutions had the ideology to create a new form of government. The success of these revolutions was won by force. Their successful people’s armies eventually vanquished their enemies. The idea of citizen’s armies was not new, because, again, Scotland had provided the model for this in its war for independence. Wallace’s army was a people’s army. Its soldiers taken from the populace with a ruling idea: the fight for freedom. This voluntary model where people fought and won their own freedom, often a necessary step for a democratic country, gave the Americans and the French the energy to create a new country and re-model an old one.

Scotland did not stop there, particularly with its impact on the new United States. Alexis De Tocqueville is one of the great writers on the American democratic experiment. Writing in the middle of the 19th Century he noted the excellence of the American democratic institutions. These institutions were inscribed in the Constitution. A constitution that was written by a congress with a high preponderance of Scots or Scot descendants. Based on constitutions that had been created by ‘democratic’ Protestant cultures for each of the states. Many of these written by expatriate Scots or descendants of Scots who had learned democracy from the Scottish Reformation.

Scotland’s influence on democratic development continued. As de Tocueville remarked, the laws are secondary to the culture that supports those laws. Some of the most democratic laws exist in an oppressed society because the culture is not there to support their application. What democracy the United States did have was supported by an imported Scottish culture that was used to elections to office and freedom of the individual. This was mainly a Protestant inheritance, but as de Tocueville noted, the Catholic Jacobite Scots, without priests, believed in equality and were, in that sense, even more democratically inclined. The American culture of democracy was founded on the Scot.

And further democratisation was due to Scots or Scot-inspired presidents. The first modern democratically elected leader was Andrew Jackson. A man born to Scot-Irish descendants and who claimed William Wallace as his hero. He was passionate about democracy and the people’s right to elect their own leader. Before Jackson, the United States was really an elective aristocracy that had seen each of the Founding Fathers elected to the presidency, an almost titular role, and the son of a Founding Father elected. The initiative for legislation lay in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and only the House was directly representative of the people. The Senate was elected by other bodies.

After Jackson that all changed. Jackson, as the only office holder elected by all the American people, claimed the right to initiate and frustrate legislation. He had supporters in House and Senate fight for his legislation, and he vetoed legislation he did not like (the first president to use the veto in this way). At all times, he claimed a link with the people and acted in their name. Respecting the right of the people to dispense with him once his time was done. He took his policies to the people. He fought campaigns on policies and programmes – again, the first president to do so and thereby opened-up the voice of the people to the democratic process. He attacked institutions that tried to govern without accountability to the people, like the first Bank of America, and destroyed them. More than any other democratically elected politician other than Lincoln, he shaped the idea of what democracy meant.

Scotland has given the world a huge democratic legacy. It is questionable whether democracy without Scotland would exist as we know it (one third of all American presidents are descended from Scots). Yet it is an irony of history that Scotland itself has never known a genuine democracy. Let’s hope 2014 is the year all that changes.