Monday, 29 September 2014

Ten Days After

Call off the search party, I’m still here.  It’s just taken me a bit longer to return to blogging than I expected. 

It’s not that I’ve been lying disconsolately in bed, surrounded by tear-sodden Kleenex and empty beer cans. Apart from that first Friday, anyway.  It’s just that when your stock-in-trade is jokes, and you look in the Quality Street tin where you keep them and find nothing but sarcasm, sweary words and barely suppressed rage, it’s probably sensible to step back from comedy till the sense-of-humour fairy brings fresh supplies.

For my own rehabilitation I have to thank one or two prominent No campaigners whose patronising triumphalism stank out my Twitter timeline, swiftly replacing gloom with anger and determination. Other grieving Yessers, even if they body-swerved the social media wasps’ nest, were perhaps roused to resistance by the BBC’s footage - only kiddin’, it was Russia Today’s - of George Square being desecrated by sectarian wankers bent on mayhem.  

However, as the dents in my filing cabinet testify, the path to renewed optimism hasn’t been entirely smooth.   After all, for 1,617,989 of us the word “Clackmannanshire” will forever trigger nightmares, as we recall our jaws clanking to the floor at the silent majority suddenly materialising out of nowhere.  I’m sure some of us are still enveloped in a monochrome fog, surveying the popping-candy vitality of the resurrected Yes movement with a mixture of bemusement and envy.  Hang in there, folks, take as long as you need to get your mojo back, and we’ll save you a seat at the coming firework display.

Anyway, for the record, and to satisfy the thought police hovering over my shoulder, I accept the referendum result.  I acknowledge there’s a core group of people who, for reasons ranging from respectable to ridiculous, will always vote No to independence, even if scientists prove that it’ll transform Campbeltown Loch into whisky. 

And I won’t condemn anybody else who in good faith voted No, although I hope Hell has a special barbecue setting for the duplicitous weasels who lied to them on their TVs and doorsteps.  When those voters’ expectations unravel like a moth-eaten semmit, I’ll rely on Zen-like emotional control to reach out to them with warmth and sympathy, rather than sand-blasting them with colourfully-embroidered cries of “Told you so!”

Tip-toeing into controversial territory, and squeezing into my Kevlar onesie for protection, I have to say that I disagree with claims that the count was rigged.  Small-scale jiggery-pokery in Glasgow, a drama-queen fire alarm in Dundee and a notorious YouTube video casting doubt on easily-explained activities don’t amount to wholesale Government pauchling. Beady eyes from both camps, scrutinising every event from the sorting of ballots to the scratching of bums, would make such a stunt impossible to pull off, unless you kidnapped the entire count staff and replaced them with clones of Derren Brown.

But, before I morph into a cheerleader for the Electoral Commission, I’ve got one or two wee niggles. Firstly, control of the electoral register at Glenrothes obviously fell into the hands of Mr Frank Spencer, as several punters arrived at the polling place only to discover a bunch of spivs had already voted in their name. Few observers considered this a surprise, given the town’s fast-growing reputation as the Bermuda Triangle of fair electioneering.

Secondly, cyberspace is awash with allegations that ballot papers in some places were blank on the reverse, without the official bar-coding people were expecting.  Now, it’s quite possible that (1) this doesn’t matter, because Big Brother knows best, (2) it’s merely a public-spirited saving of ink in Austerity Britain, or (3) it’s the most widespread example of false memory syndrome since half the population claimed they’d always suspected the 1978 World Cup squad of being a bit rubbish.  But, if the authorities want to see the 84% indyref turnout repeated any time before the rocks melt with the sun, that sort of thing deserves a decent explanation, not the bog-standard civil service brush-off.

As for postal votes, I may be a vinegary old cynic, but aren’t they simply a licence to cheat?  I preferred the days when they were reserved for those who genuinely needed them, rather than being given away with copies of the Metro or dropped from helicopters on to a grateful populace. I’m not griping about the referendum, where I’d say either postal voters behaved themselves or both sides cheated equally, but this could be dynamite in a closely-fought constituency with tactical voters on the prowl.

Ruth Davidson is probably fed up with the whole idea of postal voting, having inadvertently stitched up the No campaign’s polling agents live on TV by blabbing that they’d sampled ballot papers during verification checks. Of course, sampling has been a widely-practised black art ever since homo sapiens first won a slim majority over the Cro-Magnons, but because it’s the electoral equivalent of insider dealing people normally have the sense to stay schtum about it.  Not so the hapless Ruth, whose prefect’s badge is now at a decidedly un-jaunty angle as the Crown Office polishes its knuckledusters.  Edge-of-seat entertainment to keep the Yes movement buoyed up in the coming days.

And it’s the coming days on which we must concentrate. Our sneerier detractors would like nothing better than to see us mired in the past, wide open to caricature as conspiracy theorists, tetchy losers and woad-wearing fantasists. Sorry, perhaps there’s one thing they’d like more: for us to shut our traps, chuck this political engagement malarkey, melt our Yes badges down to make cereal bowls, settle down on the sofa for the next 307 years and proudly join in the booing of Alex Salmond. Any alternative activity, the irony-deaf Dalek voice screeches, is “anti-democratic”.

Bugger that. I don’t know if my ballot paper had a bar-code on the back, but it certainly didn’t have the words “For Ever And Ever Amen” beside the No option. We’re in the minority, and we don’t need a Professor Branestawm lookalike on the telly to remind us, but it’s only two letters and an episode of Westminster stupidity away from becoming a majority. We’ve got every right to keep striving for that goal, and reason to believe we’ll find ears willing to listen. This isn’t denial or bloody-mindedness, it’s a gravitational pull.

Now is the time for everyone to be politically engaged, no matter how they voted. Just ten days after the referendum, “New powers for Scotland” has mysteriously become “Hey, what’s in it for England?”, fracking operators are gearing up to shaft the Central Belt, knives are being noisily sharpened for the Scottish budget, and we’re dropping bombs on Iraq for the third time, yet again without the haziest clue what happens next. Even if there’s no public appetite for another referendum, that little lot should surely resonate with some No voters who can be persuaded to stand alongside us.

I’m not particularly uptight about what we call ourselves, though I have sympathy with those who think “the 45” is too exclusive, “45 rising” too Jacobite and “45 plus” too like an intelligence test for middle-aged people. In these early days, it’s sometimes frustrating seeing energy being wasted on “Judaean People’s Front” naming scuffles, but the wizened old sage in me says these things have a habit of settling down and evolving naturally.

Personally, for the moment, I’m going with the “butterfly rebellion” idea first suggested in Robin McAlpine’s brilliant article here. In large numbers, butterflies are a near-impossible target for an opponent relying on brute force.  Individually, a butterfly is colourful and attractive, and has a nifty set of wings just like the sense-of-humour fairy.

Oh, and if it decides to flap those wings you never know what hurricanes might result.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

A Week Of Shock And Awe

I’m sure we’d have preferred a nice bunch of flowers and a candlelit dinner, but a Westminster Establishment schooled in the ways of the military-industrial complex was never going to waste time on that malarkey.  Instead the wooing of Scotland has turned out to be a half-arsed re-run of Operation Shock and Awe, leaving our ears buzzing and the landscape glowing eerily like Dalgety Bay at twilight.

Until YouGov accidentally, or perhaps conveniently, snuck out its poll result showing Yes nosing ahead, the London-based media were roughly as familiar with campaign developments as a rhinoceros is with differential calculus.  This knowledge gap allowed a skip-load of debunked scare stories to be unleashed on us again in zombie form, with broomsticks strategically inserted to prevent them collapsing in a squidgy heap. 

One of these was the beguiling notion that, at the first sign of 5.3 million Scots taking charge of their own affairs, financial institutions would with a screech of brakes vanish south of the border, replace their Scottish employees with more expensive London ones and cheerfully start paying Corporation Tax 3% higher than they needed to.  BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson, temporarily manifesting himself in Edinburgh like a peripatetic haemorrhoid, was the principal mouthpiece for this. 

Nick shares with the Prime Minister, and indeed many of our imperial masters, the distinction of a PPE degree from Oxford, and is therefore a man of unimpeachable probity.  So clearly there was no collusion when the Treasury inadvertently e-mailed him the outcome of a Royal Bank of Scotland board meeting that hadn’t yet finished, and no impropriety when he inaccurately pimped it on the airwaves before the stock market had even opened. Purple-faced RBS investors, spitting out toast and marmalade as they surveyed the share price in free fall, simply had to accept the sacrifice for the good of the nation.

The truth, which was that a name-plate might move but jobs would be unaffected, was no fun at all.  So, with a rush of blood to the head that somehow missed his brain, Nick decided he’d better muddy the waters by heckling Alex Salmond at that day’s press conference. This was, sadly, tantamount to taking on a master swordsman armed only with a plastic knife and fork.  The embarrassing rout that ensued, to chortles of appreciation from the international press corps, is - as you might imagine - unavailable on BBC iPlayer, and will be fully expunged from history just as soon as Nick discovers how to un-invent the Internet. 

In the media's fantasy world, threatening to move name-plates southwards soon became the hot new craze. Birds, bees and educated fleas were all reported to be in Peckham, checking out cut-price Brasso suppliers. Lloyds Bank was allegedly fired up and ready to go, until tiresome pedants pointed out that its head office was already in London.

Equally gung-ho was Standard Life, although - without wishing to be churlish - we’d heard the same thing from them back in March.  And in 1997, before the devolution referendum.  And, to be honest, any time in the last 189 years when the dreich weather had been getting on their tits, or the locals hadn’t been giving them enough cringing respect, or they’d thought someone was looking at them in a funny way.

A new, more blood-curdling threat was obviously needed.  Step forward Deutsche Bank, recently fined £4.7 million for inaccurate reporting of past events, but now touted by the media as somehow able to predict the future without its audience busting a gut laughing.  It turned out that the bank’s previous analysis of Scotland, in May 2014, had failed to take account of one crucial fact:  that UK Cabinet Minister Sajid Javid, previously a Deutsche Bank board member, desperately needed a favour from his old chums.

To the sound of principles crackling merrily on a bonfire, the bank now fast-tracked a re-evaluation of Scotland’s prospects that was a tad more pessimistic.  It seemed they’d analysed all the stupid things it was possible to do, including microwaving your private parts, reversing a petrol tanker off Beachy Head and skinny-dipping with a school of piranha fish, and reached the inescapable conclusion that Scottish independence was the daftest of the lot.  With absolutely nothing going for it but significant wealth, outstanding natural resources, a highly-skilled population and a reservoir of international goodwill, all a fledgling Scotland could look forward to was another Great Depression, so the German equivalent of “yah boo sucks” to the lot of us.

Meanwhile, Asda, John Lewis and M & S were reported as saying that was all fine, but could they possibly introduce a bit of hyper-inflation too?  “Scottish wheelbarrows will buckle under the weight of people’s everyday cash needs!” lamented No campaigners from a carefully-prepared script, as the Morning Call switchboard burst into flames. “Alex Salmond has no Plan B for mass-manufacturing reinforced axles!”

To add to the apocalyptic mood, Glasgow experienced a sudden plague of Labour MPs, trolley-cases laden with bankrupt ideas, parading out of Central Station and up Buchanan Street.  They coalesced into one giant doughnut round the statue of Donald Dewar, obediently chanted “Naw” as their soon-to-be-former leader Ed Miliband cranked the platitude generator up to 11, and then, er, slunk away again.  The BBC, naturally, found the experience so awe-inspiring that they vowed never to film on that spot again, no matter how many Yes campaigners turned up.

The day-trip will be especially remembered for the visitors’ piss-taking welcome from a guy in a rickshaw, who serenaded their miserable crocodile step by step with an amplified blast of the Star Wars Imperial March.  This rib-tickling episode highlighted the value of music in politics, if only as a means of preserving the public’s sanity.  

Any appearance by Cameron and Clegg would surely be much improved if accompanied by the Laurel and Hardy theme. Lugubrious wind turbine Jim Murphy, nabob of the expenses claim, deserves to have his harangues framed by a chorus of Money, Money, Money.  And, particularly if Scotland votes Yes on Thursday, shouldn’t Johann Lamont be permanently identified with Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now?

And so to the climactic payload of the week’s bombardment, which arrived with an almighty squelch on the front page of Tuesday’s Record.  This was the three main Westminster party leaders’ galactic, ground-breaking, oh-for-Pete’s-sake-not-again “VOW” to festoon Scotland with sparkly but useless trinkets if we Do the Decent Thing. 

Where to begin? Apart from the fact that the document is signed by Nick Clegg, and therefore inherently risible, there’s the itsy-bitsy problem that not a single MP outside Scotland has been consulted about it.  Westminster is already awash with the sound of knuckledusters being polished, and by the time the three stooges’ Sellotaped-together proposals come up for debate the atmosphere will be like a Wild West saloon waiting for the first chair to be broken over someone’s head.  I Predict A Riot.

So here we are, folks.  The clock is ticking ever more loudly, and there’s no further outrageous propaganda tarted up as humour I can sling at you.  It's now up to you.  Vote once, vote wisely, and be proud of the choice you make.

See you on the other side.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Getting Involved

While the next blog chapter is gently stewing in my brain, here’s a guest post from @HoppingHaggis, a call to arms reminding us that time is short and we still need to make things happen in the next six days!  

I know, there are tons of people out there campaigning already, but if you haven’t yet dipped your toe in the water, this post is for you! Canvassing may or may not be your own cup of tea, but we can all do something, and it’ll be worth it to wake up the morning after and think “I was part of that.”

I’ve been canvassing for the first time, and it feels good! 

It started with the rolling 24 hour party political broadcast at the start of the week.  You know, even if it wasn’t complete tosh about losing the BBC, this latest stunt makes me question whether we even want them!   Instead of getting angry, I decided to wrestle my trembles into submission and get out to chap some doors.  I’ve never campaigned for anything before, and I’m quite a quiet person, so it was with some trepidation that I emailed Yes Forfar, but I got a speedy reply from a very nice lady who invited me to come out with them.  

I’ve just returned, and I have to say I’m so glad I did it!  We met in a wee car park and I was paired up with a friendly lady who worked at a local university.  She quickly kitted me out in some Yes garb (I didn’t even have a badge!) and off we set.  We had a list of registered voters to work from: the first few people were out, but our first answer was for a Yes. We gave him a sign to pop in his window, marked our sheet and moved on.

It was a good night: a couple of No’s, a couple of undecided and a lot of Yesses, but my favourite was an extremely friendly Russian lady who proudly told us she already had her signs in the window – it pleases my heart how inclusive this movement has been!  Sure enough, when we walked round the corner of the block, we saw her window decked top to bottom with a big Yes Saltire.

When we finished our list, we headed back to the car park and met up to tally results (stopping to wave at the wee guy driving by, giving us a big thumbs up!)  Our wee group got:

60% Yes
20% No
20% Don’t Know
So with the Don’t Knows removed, that’s 75% Yes!

Please, we have so little time left and EVERY VOTE COUNTS. I’m a fearty computer nerd at heart, I hate speaking to people, but this is SO important and we all need to make it happen.  Even if you’ve never done it before, it’s not so hard - you just have to stand and smile. Everyone can stand and smile;  you’ll enjoy it, it’s liberating!  

If I can do it, then anyone can, and you’re needed. With something so important we can’t afford to be complacent.

People of Scotland, this is our time... Let’s make it happen.

Vote Yes! 


PS:  I asked William to post this for me on his blog, because his was one of the first blogs I ever read about independence 3 months (or so) ago and he drew me into the movement.  A brilliant humorous writer, if you haven’t read his posts elsewhere on the blog, I would encourage you to have a look. Be prepared to giggle!

(Aw, shucks…. WD)

Thursday, 11 September 2014

The Union Wakes Up

Flying back from my holidays at the weekend, wondering if the pilot would be able to avoid the clouds of volcanic pish spewing into the atmosphere through the efforts of Jim Murphy, I was blissfully unaware of the stushie that lay ahead. Thanks to a disastrous security lapse at YouGov, some truthful indyref poll results had accidentally escaped into the public domain, sending a ruddy great ferret up the trouser leg of the UK body politic.

In recognition of the national crisis, the BBC immediately abandoned its commitment to impartiality, not that anyone noticed much difference. Andrew Marr, his fingernails glistening with red, white and blue varnish, invited George Osborne on to his show to offer reassurance to the people, in so far as that’s possible for a creepy cadaver with coal-black eyes and no reflection in any mirror.

There would be no currency union, no way, no how, not on your nelly, re-iterated the Chancellor, sending sterling into a tailspin and his speculator chums into froths of excitement. But, by sheer coincidence, and in no way a colossal panicky bribe, this was the very week when the Unionist parties had been planning to announce some really bitchin’ extra powers for Scotland if it voted No. 

It wasn’t clear what these powers would entail, although enhanced control of lightbulbs, pop-up toasters and the colour of men’s socks were just some of the mouth-watering possibilities. But, whatever they turned out to be, they’d make Scotland just the proudest subordinate region of a bankrupt, clapped-out colonial power led by lying charlatans you ever did see!

Hang on, said some annoying swots who’d read the Edinburgh Agreement, you can’t move the goalposts so close to the referendum, especially when so many postal votes have already been cast.  The Internet began gently to smoulder as people Tweeted images of indignant e-mails they’d fired off to the Electoral Commission, under the misapprehension that this august body was any more useful than a wet wipe in a tsunami.  They might as well have written their messages on leaves and entrusted them to The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

It rapidly became clear that any prohibition in the Edinburgh Agreement on introducing faaaabulous new offers in the 28-day pre-referendum “purdah” period didn’t apply in this case, because (1) the Agreement wasn’t a proper treaty, suckers, just a wee pretendy scrap of paper signed by an oleaginous, dish-faced Tory with his fingers crossed behind his back, and (2) the three Unionist parties weren’t actually offering anything new, just the same unspecific mouldy old toot as ever.

As the Yes camp hooted in derision, the Establishment showed signs of being genuinely spooked. Alistair Darling, asserting to a slack-jawed John Humphrys on Today that all was going according to plan, had to be strapped into a life-size jelly mould so as not to slide off his chair into an amorphous mass on the studio floor.  A Royal foetus, usually a dead cert to instigate a forelock-tugging epidemic, failed to lay a glove on the public imagination, with Nicholas Witchell’s fawning adulation becoming an irrelevant background drone.  “10 DAYS TO SAVE THE UNION!” chorused the vassal press, in 30-foot high letters composed mainly of phlegm.

“Let’s publicly fly the Saltire everywhere, because that sort of patronising bollocks never pisses off the Scots!” declared David Cameron.  But, alas, the Downing Street pole was too greasy, and the flag fluttered disobligingly back to earth, in an omen both sides immediately claimed as disastrous for the other.  It was becoming increasingly hard to track down Tory MPs, most of whom had scuttled down palatial gold-plated rabbit holes.  A human shield for the Westminster establishment was clearly required – but who?

Only one man had all the necessary attributes:  elephantine lack of self-awareness, delusional faith in his own abilities and cast-iron certainty about the world, undisturbed by trivial distractions such as facts. A man still hugely influential in Scotland, according to BBC correspondents who either don’t get sarcasm or have been speaking only to folk who spent 1997 to 2010 goat-herding in Patagonia.  A fitting wearer of the “out-of-touch political relic selling moonbeams to gullible peasants” mantle so infamously worn by Alec Douglas Home in 1979. 

Yes, Gordon Brown, his world-saving superhero costume cunningly hidden under his trademark “sack of potatoes” suit, was back in the limelight.  Just as well, with sales of his book ominously circling the toilet bowl.  The BBC, whose standard-issue Sat-Nav had previously been unable to distinguish Loanhead from Bhutan, loaded its top news commentary talent into a fleet of articulated trucks and rumbled over the border to give us wall-to-wall coverage of Gordon’s manoeuvres to foil the insurgent natives.

We got Gavin Esler, who’d discovered the caterwauling Vote No Borders teenagers but completely missed National Collective.  Huw Edwards, who managed to conduct an entire interview with Ian McDougall of Business For Scotland without apparently twigging that the organisation supported Yes.  Robert Peston, bouncing up and down on his toes, either in eagerness to deliver the latest economic smackdown or because the Calton Hill breeze knifing through his loins made him want to pee.  How heartbreaking it would be for Scotland to lose access to such expertise through the silly nonsense of self-determination!

The centrepiece of the media onslaught was Gordon’s Big Announcement, which the Beeb marked with a 50-minute party political broadcast for No that would have been the envy of any banana republic.  Naturally, they reported that the great man’s words were pearls, dropping as the gentle rain from heaven, and that it would be unconscionably rude of Scots to reject such largesse from a generous, forgiving UK Government.  Of course, they’d have been equally complimentary if he’d simply read out the takeaway menu from the Rawalpindi Tandoori, and on reflection that would have been more informative than what he actually said.

As you don’t need me to tell you, the whole palaver turned out to be about nothing more than a timetable, which, as anyone knows if they’ve ever been stranded on a platform with their nads freezing off, isn’t a great deal of use.  It would also be fair, albeit uncharitable, to point out that not only does Gordon have no clothes, but he isn’t even an emperor.  Never mind, we were told, the three main Westminster parties will endorse everything he says, as long as it doesn’t involve anything concrete. And they’ll start the meter running the very nanosecond after a No vote, assuming they aren’t too busy flicking V-signs at us and orgiastically drowning each other in champagne.

At the end of October, presumably the next time Gordon intends to bother showing up in the Commons, we’ll get a Progress Report, with him pronouncing everything hunky-dory in the same tone he used for the knock-down gold reserves and ravaged pension funds. In November we’ll get a White Paper, which if the Unionist cabal has failed to reach consensus will no doubt be covered in equally white writing.  In January there’ll be a massive Commons mutiny over the proposals, in March the remaining few scraps will be sneeringly shredded by the House of Lords, and in May Nigel Farage will be elected Prime Minister, with a mandate to ditch devolution entirely and plunge us all into the abyss. 

Not far away, but in reality a million miles, Nicola Sturgeon was on the campaign trail in Glasgow, livin’ the high life with actor Alan Cumming, who doesn’t have a vote - hey, neither does Dave, Ed or Nick - but is a fervent Yes supporter.  Amongst Alan’s illustrious career highlights, as sad geeks like me know, is a role in the X-Men films as a teleporting mutant. The character also has blue skin, pointy ears and a forked tail, but let’s not stretch the metaphor too far.

There’s the whole shebang in a nutshell.  In Loanhead, one superhero offering a vague timetable to who-knows-where, subject to irritating small print, unpredictable revisions and footnotes such as “Service may not run after May 2015 in the event of utter bastards taking office”.  In Glasgow, another superhero advocating the chance for us to exercise our power and, in a puff of smoke, simply teleport ourselves away wherever we want to go.

No-brainer, isn’t it?