Talking to the Nay Sayers

NO

By Peter Arnott

Is Scotland a real place? Is democracy the best form of government? Answer “Yes” to both of these questions?

Then you have to vote Yes on September 18th.

In case that wording is problematic, let us ask you the same questions again less emotively. Is Scotland a distinct political unit? Is the best way to run a political unit to have the people within that unit agree between them how it should be run?

See? The game’s a bogie. There is no logical way to vote No unless you answer No to at least one of those questions. There is no coherent argument for a No vote that does not question either our political reality or our fitness for democracy or both.

So who is still saying No? Why is “NoThanks” or whatever they are calling themselves this week still ahead in the polls? When even Gordon Brown is saying publicly that their campaign is patronising? When even No voters of all of our acquaintances wince at the crass promises of the Armageddon that we will bring on our own heads if we decide that meaningful self- government might be worth a shot?

If the argument in principle for Yes turns out to be logically unanswerable, the appeal of No, if you can call it that, must be entirely to the lower organs of intelligence. ? How do you ensure that having won the argument, and won the campaign, the Yes side doesn’t lose the vote? So how do you engage with a mind-set that depends on not engaging with argument?

I’m personally not persuaded of the utility of the appeal to individual economic self-interest that political wisdom dictates is decisive in all votes. I don’t think that’s ever been true of any election, and especially don’t think it’s true of this referendum. Just because the consumer based electoral model is based on a market place of spurious certainties, I don’t think that’s what will work for us now. It certainly doesn’t seem to have done the trick yet. This is because no one believes in guarantees about the future, which in turn is for the very good reason that experience tells us that all guarantees are always bogus. Things going to shit always seems intrinsically more likely. Change leading to negative consequences is what we have come to expect. For instance, a taxi driver today said to me today: “ A Yes vote will send us back to the stone age. There won’t be any money.” I didn’t want to alarm him by reminding him that we will also be a haven for Al Qaida and prevent a cure for cancer, apparently.

But if it is true to say that the crystal ball gazing indulged in by the Yes side is questionable, then so surely is prognostication of economic and political warfare promised us from the EU, the US and the rUK should we have the temerity to get above ourselves. The crystal ball arguments should cancel each other out. If both arguments in practice come down to the truism that the future is an uncertain place, which is, of course, uncontroversial, that scarcely constitutes an argument against democratic control of our own affairs. Rather the reverse, I should have thought.

So why does the intrinsic uncertainty of the future play so well for the No side, and so badly for the Yes? Why is it that the No side are clearly right to persist with their negative campaign, other than that there is apparently no positive case they can make? The dwindling but significant lead that the Nay-sayers maintain in the polls makes it easy to see that the relentless torrent of threats doesn’t need actual evidence to be effective. The climate of fear is far more important than any realistic prospect of individual outcomes coming about. And while the daily storm of lies and half-truths still needs to be resisted, to actually change the weather we need to achieve a change in climate. We need to look harder, I think, not just at the head, (which turns out to favour independence – who knew?), but also at the lower organs, perhaps the heart included. One has to examine the roots of doubt. And plant them firmly in the No campaign’s garden. While it is all very well simply to point out that a Union whose continuation is based entirely on fear is scarcely likely to be stable, let alone liveable, let alone happy, do we need to go harder if we hope to actually win the vote rather than just be smug about it afterwards when everything goes to shit? In short, how does the Yes side turn the intrinsic uncertainty of the future to face the other way.

Might part of an answer be for the Yes side to go strongly negative on the possible consequences of a No vote? Maybe go in for a blizzard of scare stories of our own? To ask the nay-sayers questions about the future as aggressively as they ask us? They are in a better position to answer those questions, after all. While democracy is an experiment Scotland hasn’t tried yet, the evidence for the efficacy of putting our trust in democracy in the unitary UK is all around us. We know what that future looks like. We’re already in it.

Might we ask of No campaigners, Do you really think the status quo so wonderful that you think some more of the same (but getting incrementally worse) is a good idea? Also, if you think they might punish us for voting Yes, what do you think is going to happen if we give them permission? If we say, ‘Do whatever you like…it’s fine by us!’ do you really think they’ll give us a reward? Do you really think it is better to trust in governments we don’t elect and cannot remove no matter what they do to us? Do you really expect to get better off by throwing away thje only negotiating card we’ve got? Can’t you see that this referendum was only agreed to by David Cameron because he thought it was a trap he could set for the turkeys to vote for Christmas? Can’t you see that any negotiations we enter into over revisions to the Barnett formula or our representation in Westminster will be fatally undermined by a No vote? Are you really sure you want to tell the world that you are happy to store somebody else’s nuclear weapons thirty miles from our biggest city?

Can you imagine what the world will think of us if we Vote No?

That we got the chance to peacefully and democratically take control of our own affairs and that we said, No thanks, we’d rather not think for ourselves? We’d rather not be adults? We’d rather not make our own decisions in our own country? That we decided we weren’t normal? That we decided we weren’t like other people? That we were less than a real country? That we agree we are too weak too poor and too stupid to face the future in our own name? That we think democracy is too good for the likes of us? Surely anyone can see, we can say, that “guarantees” being offered by the No campaign are only being offered under the threat of a Yes vote, and they will vanish like morn’s mist, just as they did in 1979 if we voluntarily vote that threat away?

Do you really agree that Scotland should be a dependent country? Do you really want to be that much of a weirdo?

In 1979, as now, there was an exciting and close campaign for a Yes vote that came from behind and actually won…just not by enough…in 1979. What is instructive is that our rejection of home rule was not just a product of the notorious 40% rule. It was a product of obedience, of our not “feeling” autonomous. If we had really wanted it, we could have had constitutional change then…by the extra parliamentary means of making Scotland ungovernable. What we did, in slow motion, was take a parliamentary route to making Scotland ungovernable by Tories we’d elected…which is not quite the same thing. The difference between 1979 and 1997 was that what seemed like a dangerous novelty, a devolved Scottish Parliament in 1979, was a stone no brainer in 1997. The referendum of 1997 was an enormously dull foregone conclusion…which is the way referenda should be, probably.

Today feels more like 1979 than 1997 in terms of excitement and uncertainty. What also feels the same, at least to those of us on the Yes side (and probably to a lot of potential No voters), is just how bad, how dispiriting, how awful it will be to wake up on the morning of September 19th knowing that we blew it. That, right now, this close to the decision, the living heart of the nightmare scenario we can credibly start to paint is just how shitty that will feel. Everybody knows it. It will feel like in fear of life we had voted for death. That’s how it felt in 1979. God forbid it takes eighteen years (ten of them at least with Boris Johnson as Prime Minister) for us to recover enough to have another referendum which we will be boringly certain to win… in 2032!

One might ask a No voter if they’re happy to keep having these arguments for that long? They might change their voting intentions out of anticipatory ennui.

What feels decidedly different now, I think to voters on both sides of the referendum argument, is that the autonomy we never really believed in in 1979 feels much less controversial now. It feels very close to a done deal. Even a No vote will be, in a sense, a sovereign decision. Even a No vote, in a way, will be an exercise undertaken by an already independent electorate. It’s really not such a big jump, culturally and psychologically, as was the change between 1979 and 1997. After all, we’re now used to the practical fact of there being distinctively Scottish elections to a distinctively Scottish parliament. We are already a functioning demi-democracy, with all the trimmings and ten percent of the powers. It’s not so much of a shift. To use old fashioned language, it feels like the people are already sovereign, whether they vote for sovereignty or not..

Autonomy, self-rule, for reasons both democratic and cultural, is beginning to feel normal, I think. The question is whether that sense of normality can be translated into political self-expression in time to deliver the Yes vote which is its logical concomitant. Can we make the link in time between how people feel and how they will vote?

Maybe it’s as simple as a thought experiment.

So, in 2014, imagine we were having a vote now to abolish the Scottish parliament and revert to the status quo pre 1999? It seems like a lunatic suggestion. I confidently predict that if we were to find ourselves voting for an Independent Scottish Government in 2016, it is equally pretty much unthinkable that this democratic parliament would make its first order of business to vote to abolish itself, as, under a very strange set of threats and promises, did the pre-democratic Scottish parliament of 1706. Independence will seem like normality almost as soon as we have it, just as quickly as the democratisation and extension of already existing devolution did only 15 years ago. Anything other than a Yes vote should, logically, seem as bizarre as Norway voting to put itself back under the control of Sweden. A Yes vote after independence would be obvious to the point being dull.

That’s the mindset we need to inhabit, and invite our brothers and sister to join, only we need to do it before the vote. I don’t know if there is a magical form of words that can normalise change and make the status quo seem like a leap in the dark, but that is surely the form of words we should be looking for with a hundred days to go.

Can we make that leap in advance? Can we make the idea of independence “normal” by September, and ask, as we should be able to, of the No campaign: ”You’re voting AGAINST national autonomy? Against elected self-government? Against democratic control of taxation and expenditure? Why on earth would you think of doing anything so ludicrous?”

Voting No will need to look unthinkable, if we are to be confident of voting Yes.



Categories: Commentary

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27 replies

  1. Today June 11th(my youngest sons 34th birthday hell he is older than me now)watching PMQ,s,and I keep getting annoyed but today (after years of watching) I realised what annoyed me most so I sent them an Email here it is,oops sorry good piece;Hi,On P.M.Q.,s M.P.,s kept referring to the North-east and the Northwest,never heard Plockton nor Dingwall mentioned once why not and they are in the N-E. and N-W.of the United Kingdom? this is the UK parliament government.Surely Newcastle ,Sunderland are more in the Midlands of the UNITED KINGDOM,Scotland not count again?and you all wonder at our displeasure over the UK!

    • THose are actually the EU regions for the UK… Scotland is counted as a region too, currently. They’re the EU’s NUTS 1 for the purposes of international and national administration.

  2. I have always felt myself Scottish not British, and believe we will get a YES vote in September. However hard I try am unable to persuade my brother in law, his argument is the same as many.

    “In my opinion, the ‘Yes’ campaigners are deluded ideologists with little grasp on the real world. The United Kingdom is the ninth biggest global economy and is a good dynamic size when it comes to rapidly changing global trends. If we separate, the United Kingdom will forge ahead powered by the engine that is London (already equivalent to a quarter of total UK output) and the industrialised Midlands high end manufacturing. An independent Scotland, governed by ideologists would spend their energy quibbling over the diminishing oil revenues and how they should fund a cumbersome welfare state.

    The Yes campaign have been unable to establish what our relationship with the EU shall be, what our relationship with NATO will be, what our relationship with the British Monarchy will be, what our relationship with London will be, what our currency will be, what our tax regime will be, what our armed forces will be, how will the 9000 employees currently at HMND Faslane & Coulport will be re-employed post Trident, how will our borders be policed, shall I go on?

    Should Independence prevail, I will probably relocate somewhere sunny (along with most big businesses) and return to Scotland for fishing/sailing/hillwalking holidays as a tourist. I wouldn’t want to pay increased taxes (yes, I’ll be classed as one of the privileged rich ones, middle aged & middle class) to fund an ideological, inward looking welfare obsessed Scottish government.”

    It comes down, he has earned his money, looking to retire in the next 10 years and does want to supplement the welfare state.

    • Interesting and honest case for the Union..the “Don’t Rock the Boat Vote” from the Brother in Law. Try the leaving the EU soon argument as a balance of uncertainty on para one…

      On para two, all those things are negotiable whether we vote Yes or no…only if we vote No we won’t have any say over ANY of them…including the EU. Or who we go to war with

      You might also point out than London’s bubble is built on the Russian mafia and credit fuelling a HUGE bubble which already divorces itss non tax paying base from the rest of us…and add that if he really wants to be a non-taxpting business

      and add, for para three, that actually, the centre right vote in Scotland under PR probably means that there is as much chance of his kind of government as there will be of ours, (as witness the Tories in Holyroof as opposed top WM) and isn’t that better than monochrome managed decline a la Westminster?

      And wouldn’t he, as a good democrat, like to be part of that? Salmond is for a low tax economy too

      (We will have our ither fechts later)

    • Well, good luck to him when he goes. It’s a shame he has forgotten how he got to where he is and is too selfish to make the same chances possible for others…

    • He may be planning on a comfortable retirement in a few years time but has he factored in having to pay for his health service and other services currently funded by community taxation.
      England (who elect our governments) is going down this road through political ideology and there is no doubt that any further economic set backs engineered by Westminster will accelerate this process.
      If that is his future,then I predict a very unhappy and less prosperous one.

  3. Peter, perhaps you could have told your taxi driver that there is no “money” any more, just credit. The UK government can’t even pay the interest on its own debt so we have to pay more for food and electricity. The UK now produces “money” – paper, derivatives, bonds – instead of producing anything else which is why the entire ponsy scheme will come crashing down as sure as night follows day. JK Rowling should have given her £1m to your taxi driver because at least he would have spent it. Uncertainty is having no political power. The polls show what the state wants us to read and believe. Are the people truly consulted, are they actually encouraged to participate? We are currently enjoying the excitement of the high corries. Before us lies the excitement of the lowlands.

    • Hi George

      I woke up in the middle of the night realising that what he meant was there would be no BANK NOTES…he actually thought that…and I did think to myself, jeez, if we lose this vote because of THAT level of misinformation…

      I agree that the final Revelation of capital’s vacuity is at hand…maybe a spirited Jeremiad from your biro at a later juncture?

      Here’s ink in your inkw
      ell

      P

  4. Hmm,is it the case then that those who will vote No are just dumb?Slaves to those “lower organs of intelligence”?Perhaps unwilling or,if you are Alan Cochrane,willing, dupes of the evil MSM(copyright Chomsky).If only they could see the light of the true faith!!Seriously Peter,when was political debate ever decided by logic?Well,I will vote Yes and its seems evident to me that is best for the country where I live but I am prepared to admit it may not be.Sure,many of the Naw arguments are ridiculous and little more than cauld kale microwaved to the max but I have always thought the YES side underestimate support for Britain among the Scots.Also,in my experience,by no manner of means is Scotland as left as its painted. If we lose the indyref I will be disappointed but not destroyed which may be the default position of an old Indy supporter used to such results.Yes it has taken one helluva long time to reach this point and if it goes boobs up it will look very bad indeed but,that word again,as you say Peter much has already changed.

    “Maybe it’s as simple as a thought experiment.”

    if only it were Peter.

  5. If Scotland votes NO on September 18th, then we will confirm to the world that Scotland is no more than a region and thus will be treated as such on the international stage. We would have rejected nationhood, the people would have rejected responsibility and rejected any right to have a mandate on how we are governed in the future.

    I don’t agree with Alex Salmond when he says this is a once in a political generation chance, no Alex this is our only chance! The powers at Westminster will make sure that cash cow Scotland will be no more than a region (a divided one at that) and will maintain that grip for the next 100 years. Labour wants Holyrood to be no more than a glorified regional council, a talking shop for the demands of local authorities. The Tories want to reduce the number of Scottish MPs in Westminster. And then there is the money, goodbye Barnett Formula, goodbye reinvestment, goodbye upgraded infrastructure, goodbye reindustrialisation, goodbye self-sustaining communities… hello needs-based grants. Both the Tories and Labour will succeed in their ‘visions’ for Scotland.

    Make no bones about it, a NO vote will put Scotland on terminal life support where the only things left will be oil, whisky and scenery, not even people as they will still be Scotland’s biggest export. The NO voter will have to embrace whatever the future will bring with Scotland remaining in the UK, they have to because they voted for it.

    • A no vote is not, intrinsically, a rejection of nationhood, responsibility and a political mandate; for some it may well be an assertion of British nationhood, of accepting a wider responsibility to work with everyone on these islands, and a belief in a wider political reality.

      Can’t see it myself, but…

      • I am not convinced that many who put forward that explanation truly believe it. It is merely an excuse in many cases for voting for a system which they feel has served them personally, because there is absolutely no sign of this wider responsibility of which you speak in the UK body politic. Instead there is the encouragement of selfishness and lack of empathy so that the poor and disadvantaged can be ignored. How can you feel part of this so-called British nationhood when a considerable section of the population are made to feel marginalized? What sense of nationhood and sense of responsibility is being represented there? It is certainly not a vision of nationhood which I would find inspiring or make my heart swell with pride.

        It appears that Grant’s brother-in-law is giving a more honest viewpoint of what being part of the Union means to him.

  6. imagine a NO win and you are one of those who helped deliver it. Fast forward a few years and see what has become of our “region”.

    I would hate to have to live with that as I stood in the food kitchen line,

  7. I wonder whether in the event of a No Vote, when the region of North Britain that will be Scotland gets financially and socially raped, what all the No voting drones will think and whether they will feel shame? Would they be capable of feeling such an emotion?

    I can’t believe with all the evidence laid out and all the obvious MSM and BT lies, people are still sticking with the Union. Why would you stick with people that clearly lie?

  8. Quote: “Is the best way to run a political unit to have the people within that unit agree between them how it should be run?”.

    Absolutely … that would be real democracy. But is that what we are being promised – or just more unrepresentative, undemocratic governance by the usual suspects?

    Unfortunately, the truth is – I suspect – that for a variety of reasons most of the ‘Nay’-sayers neither understand what real democracy is nor want it (too much trouble … leave it to the politicians – as long as they make sure the comfortable lifestyle we have come to take for granted is preserved … ).

    Not my view, of course. But I suspect many are afraid that an independent Scotland might become too ‘socialist’ and take effective measures to narrow the gap between the rich and poor.

  9. I go along with J Gedd’s appreciation of Grant’s Brother in law. “Grant’s Brother In Law” may have to be what I call all No Voters from now on.

  10. Very good article, thank you. Perhaps there is an apathetic hard core in every electorate who just don’t get excited by politics, can’t face major political change and will only come round years later once they have experienced the benefits of the changes that their braver compatriots fought for. In Scotland’s case, you just have no reference in living memory, even 3rd hand, to an independent Scotland, so for some it must seem very abstract.

    Perhaps this group contains many of those most severely affected by the hopelessness that long-term political oppression causes, and so have the longest internal journeys to make to reach the clear skies of independence.

    If there is, God forbid, a No vote, I hope Scots will pick themselves up and carry on the cause. The momentum is for indy. Why not agitate for a revised Act of Union so that at the least Scots would regain the right to withdraw from the union in future if they so decided, not as and when Whitehall deigns to grant such a right.

    But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. I’m in England and don’t have a vote but am excited at how an indy Scotland could flourish for its own people and challenge the Westminster system the rest of us will still have to live with.

  11. It is a very good article and sums up a lot of my own thoughts on this issue. The close defeat of the yes vote in 79 was the prelude to a massive shift in Scottish politics. Nothing would be the same again. The Tories betrayal of Scottish desires for devolution (remember they had promised a better devo package) and the subsequent attempts to dismantle civic Scotland condemned Thatcher and her party to almost pariah status.
    The poll tax, normally seen as the crucial moment Tories lost Scotland, was really the final nail in their coffin.
    By 1997 Scotland realised that YES had been the right choice to make back in 79 and this time, it would YES.

    Today a very similar campaign is being fought, but this is for Scotland to regain control of its own affairs. Standing in its way are all three main Westminster parties. They have fought their entire campaign from one of Scottish dependency on the union and the rUK. Many people either believe this, or believe the scare stories and feel like many did in 79, that the YES vote was too big a gamble. Many thought it would not really change anything, so why bother. In the event of a NO vote, which will be a narrow win imho, focus will shift to the main Westminster parties and how they will proceed. They will do this faced with a significant number of the electorate whose stated aim is nothing less than to end the union. A total rejection of the Union and Westminster. Labour wants to tax Scotland more money to mitigate austerity in England. The Tories just want to cut and cut and bleed Scotland white. The lib dems will go with whoever lets them have a seat at the table. A lot of no voters are going to be confronted by a torrent of abuse from the English right wing press for being the subsidy Junkies Bettertogether painted them as. Many more are going to see all those things they thought a no vote would protect, being done away with. Yes voters are going to feel vindicated. A lot of no voters are going to feel cheated. This time it is the British State that is going to be on the receiving end of Scottish anger. Not just the Tories.

    There is an old saying that goes “You can’t unring a bell”. Just as the no vote in 79 heralded the end of the conservatives in Scotland and brought about Devolution. A no vote will ultimately bring about Independence. I believe this, because of the utter rotten state of Westminster and how utterly hopeless the main stream parties actually are. They have through their continued portrayal of Scotland as dependent, painted themselves into a corner. They will have to appease an rUK which thinks it pays for everything in Scotland. These parties can only be trusted to do their very worst. Pooling resources and sharing risks – its a phrase that already makes me nervous. Its a phrase that’s going to haunt labour and a lot no voters for a long time; if through their apathy and fear, the no vote wins.

    I fear the union and the UK far more than I do the future of an independent Scotland. There is now nothing the no camp can say or do that will ever be able to reconcile me to accepting “British nationalism”.

    • Well argued, David. The toxicity the Tories acquired in the 80s shall indeed accrue to all the Westminster Parties in the event of a No vote. And the ugliness of the strategies used, the “Any lie to win the vote” cynicism will not make for a stable or long term Union if they secure it. I don’t doubt the break up of Britain…but i doubt if we will get another chance to do it as neatly and cleanly as a Yes vote in September 2014. Many people say they would vote YES if the Tories get re-elected in 2015…but no one will be asking then.

  12. A great article. On a purely personal response I always think that we ignore the emotional aspect of change which is fear that they will lose what they already have. . When you have been a colonised people it’s natural and courage that great attribute which the Scots claim in some circles… brave soldiers, explorers and on and on doesn’t follow through to the community when it comes taking on political systems that don’t serve the people. Scotland has given so much to the world and yet it’s still not an independent country. I know we can’t live on dreams but without them it’s a pretty poor show for most who come on this planet. At 70yrs though jaded I still have hope for without it there can be no expectation of change and without change there is no life. The day will come just hope it’s 2014.

  13. “So why does the intrinsic uncertainty of the future play so well for the No side, and so badly for the Yes?”

    Assuming we can trust the polling figures, and that is if calculation of certainties/uncertainties driving the response to the pollster, then it is probably basic human psychology – risk aversion.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Risk_aversion

    Humans are observed to typcially plump for a lower, certain outcome than a higher, uncertain outcome.

    Arguing from first principles, as the article does, may be better than more speculative estimates of gains (though the same arguments in the first paragraph would be made by UKIP supporters too…)

    • If you think about it, a dividend / loss either way the vote goes of about £1000 per person is very small considering we are looking at such a huge political change. I wonder if there is some international comparative data out there which would show just how small this margin is? If people could see just how small the economic risk is, that could help.

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