Friday, 7 March 2014

A Barrage Of Balloons

Weren’t the Oscars a disappointment?  Faced with the planet’s foremost assembly of emotionally incontinent attention-seekers fuelled by mind-altering substances, the No campaign couldn’t persuade even one of them to supply a vacuous sound-bite about Scotland staying in the UK!  We were treated to the biggest “selfie” in history, and there wasn’t an embarrassing tartan jacket in sight, nor a single designer handbag with a petite Union Jack poking coquettishly out.

I suppose it’s possible the silly buggers entrusted the flag to Liza Minnelli, only for her to end up hopping about in frustration at the back of the photo group, searching in vain for a stepladder.  But if we move back into reality, the truth is obvious:  they’ve called off the love-bombing because they just don’t fancy us any more.  Perhaps it was our constant references to Norway that put them off, or our indiscreet hand gestures during Dave’s Olympics address.

The violins may have stopped playing, but the bombardment continues.  Now it’s a barrage of bouncing bombs, skittering along the river towards the dam of Scottish self-confidence.  “You’ll be uniquely unable to use any currency whatsoever.”  “You’ll be chucked out of the EU, but mysteriously be bound by its rules.”  “You’ll be walking away from the BBC…. oh, hang on, maybe that’s a good thing…”

In fact they’re not really bombs, but giant balloons filled with noxious gas, much like the people who launch them.  Anybody capable of sharpening a pencil can easily pop them, albeit never loudly enough for the mainstream media to notice.  But we’re dealing with the UK establishment, where you earn a gong by repeating the same crap over and over again, so the balloons keep coming.  The last week or so has brought an exciting new trend, where many of the balloons have sported a “highly respected” company logo and, according to the BBC, carried the message “Vote Yes and get the sack, losers!”

That's because it’s the corporate reporting season, when, as a condition of the pen-pushers signing off on their accounts, companies must draw attention to any risks they believe will affect operations.  Even though the UK economy is a Ponzi scheme teetering on the edge of meltdown, they’re not allowed to cast aspersions on the status quo.  Independence, on the other hand, is just the ticket to set alarm bells jangling, especially if it means a firm might be properly regulated and any fraudsters thrown in the clink for a change.

This is particularly relevant for the financial sector, which a couple of weeks ago was a ravening monster whose demands would suck Scotland dry, but is now a pillar of national prosperity we can’t afford to lose.  Hence the hullaballoo about Standard Life “threatening Scottish jobs”, even though that’s not really news, because they sack people all the time, especially when the directors’ bonus pool needs topping up. 

Similarly, Alliance Trust, tiptoeing on to the scene today with a bland statement about forming additional companies, soon found themselves waving in the wind on top of the media flagpole, as commentators sucked their teeth in concern.  By contrast, Aviva, through the brilliant stratagem of announcing they weren’t fussed about independence, guaranteed themselves peace and privacy for the duration of the campaign.

It’s difficult to conceive of any situation that can’t be made more annoying by the intervention of a banker.  Sure enough, an old Square Mile chum of Robert Peston popped his head out of the trough the other day to deliver a sly tip-off.  While looking for buried treasure, he’d found a cobweb-encrusted piece of European legislation, forgotten by everyone and never tested in the courts.  After some restoration work with Tipp-Ex and a felt pen, lo!  the magic document proclaimed that upon independence RBS and Lloyds would have to move their head offices from Edinburgh to London.  Surprisingly, Robert assumed we’d interpret this as bad news, whereas it actually prompted a surge in sales of pitchforks and firebrands as we prepared to help them on their way.

In opposing independence, oil companies are on the sort of sticky wicket that defies all lubrication.  As soon as they praise the UK as a bastion of stability and continuity, it’s a fair bet that Osborne will move the taxation goal-posts again and UKIP will have a five-point boost in the opinion polls.  They also know that it would be a bugger of a job to extract the oil, transport it into English waters, bury it and extract it again, just to keep in with the chancers at Westminster.

So the oil sector’s comments about independence tend to be restricted to remarks by chief executives, whose grasp of the real world slipped away long ago.  Bob Dudley’s pro-Union views in a BBC interview were sentimental claptrap, albeit carefully judged to mask his own diabolical performance at BP.  Still, at least they were internally consistent, unlike those of Ben van Beurden, who at Shell’s annual reception waxed lyrical about the certainty provided by the EU, but didn’t notice that a Yes vote might be the best way to prevent it being flushed down the toilet.  Perhaps he was simply reading from the script Mr Cameron left behind after the Cabinet had finished posing in Shell’s Aberdeen offices.

And so it goes on, and on, and on.  The nay-sayers in the mainstream media are in clover here, because unless a company has something to gain from independence, such as British Airways hoping for Air Passenger Duty cuts, it isn’t going to leap on the Yes bandwagon in its annual report, any more than it would eulogise about its favourite colour or Kylie Minogue single.  So the best we can hope for is neutrality, although that hope seems somewhat forlorn when so many company boards are festooned, like Standard Life’s, with former Thatcher acolytes.  “What would Maggie do?” they ask themselves, and the answer’s always “Knee Scotland in the balls!”

Meanwhile, a million miles from the microphones and the lurid headlines, membership of the pro-independence group Business For Scotland has hit 1400 and continues to rise.  They’re mainly small enterprises, trying to make a living for their owners and the ordinary folk they employ, so they needn’t expect Westminster to give them so much as the time of day.  But they have a clear glimpse of something that’s plainly in front of us, when it isn’t obscured by the Unionist propaganda that surrounds us like a cloud of midges. 

Hope, not fear.  Opportunity, not risk.  A decent society, not an austerity-ridden hellhole.

And maybe, just maybe, the chance of a Saltire in next year’s Oscars selfie.

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