There Goes The Neighbourhood

Three locals coming home accompanied by two sea trout in the River Ness; filmed by the Ness Fisheries Board

The occasional observer on the river bank may be unaware that migratory Atlantic Salmon native to these islands, who have never had it easy as they flog over to their Icelandic feeding grounds and back again to their home rivers, face increasing threats to their well-being which are becoming beyond worrisome. 

 Using a drone on the Ness to locate spawning 'redds,' of the Pink Salmon

Using a drone on the Ness to locate spawning 'redds,' of the Pink Salmon

The last few years have seen numbers returning to their home rivers in decline from Canada all the way over to Norway. Salmon fishermen and those who study migratory salmon have so far been unable to identify any single reason for the decline. Similarly, the pattern of behaviour which we have seen in salmon since the early sixties appears, in some rivers at least, to be changing with returning fish coming back in large pods at different times of year than has been the way for at least a generation. It is likely that a combination of factors are responsible and probably include their feeding grounds being pushed some 250 miles further north because of sea warming, unrestricted growth in predation in native coastal waters because no one wants to kill seals and many local factors such as agricultural pollution and sea lice from salmon farms on the West Coast. Not forgetting of course the invasive American Signal Crayfish which has decimated some rivers in South West Scotland and the demented introduction of beavers in some areas. 

Part of the fishing community, having consulted the dusty records of the past, believe we are simply going through one of natures down-cycles and a natural reversal of the trend will come in good time. At best though, only 5% of smolts survive the sea journey, (it was 30% in the 1960's), and now, after that long trip, a new threat awaits.

 Pink or Humpback Salmon. Normal catch & release rules do not apply; catch, kill & report.

Pink or Humpback Salmon. Normal catch & release rules do not apply; catch, kill & report.

Some new folk are moving in. Pink, or Humpback salmon as they are also known, are ugly brutes and are not native to our waters. About a month ago a couple were caught on the Ness and since then they've been appearing in rivers up and down the Scottish East Coast from the Helmsdale to the Tweed. They have occasionally appeared in the past, just not in the numbers being seen this year. Although native to waters off Canada and Alaska the travellers we are seeing have probably come from the Barents Sea where they were introduced in 1956. I wish they would bloody stay there.

Pink Salmon spawning on the Ness filmed by the Ness Fishery Board

Broadly speaking, no-one in the fishing world is getting too animated about it. We're a stoic lot and lord knows there's enough to worry about without sweating over a few illegal immigrants. The clip released today though by the Ness Fisheries Board of two Pink's spawning won't help. The last thing we need is for these buggers to take hold and potentially squeeze out our native salmon for its not exactly something that the poor fish get a vote on.

An update posted on 15th August from Fisheries Management Scotland may be found here.

Sturgeon Loses The Plot

Scotland has delivered a strong, unequivocal vote to remain. The vote here makes clear that the people of Scotland see their future as part of the European Union.’ Nicola Sturgeon - Scotland's First Minister; June 24, 2016

So spoke the Scottish First Minister the day after the referendum last June. Anyone puzzled as to why she yesterday announced her party’s intention to pursue IndyRef 2 should be under no illusion about what the Nats are about. They are hard coded to pursue independence at any moment of opportunity and to do so all the time. Logic, good sense and good governance come way behind their short, medium and long term pursuit of that single aim. In this context, soft or hard Brexit are simply an irrelevance. If it wasn’t this torch they would find something else. The ‘once in a generation,’ mantra during the last referendum was insincere. It was simply a tool to push undecided’s over the line.

Without question, many Scots are firmly in the independence camp and probably always will be. For some it is a rational conclusion that they have come to having weighed up their optionality. For many, it remains an emotional response in tune with how they see their position in relation to the rest of the UK and the rest of the world. Unfortunately few, especially those leading the SNP, can present an economically coherent case for independence which would underpin the political case. The SNP’s manifesto for independence in 2014 estimated oil revenues at £7.9bn. Following the fall in the oil price that number is some 90% or more lower. An independent Scotland simply could not absorb such a financial shock. The Scottish governments own figures show that they spend £127 for every £100 raised in tax, a ratio that is difficult to find anywhere else in the developed world. For every £100 pounds spent per person in England, £120 is spent in Scotland. The SNP will attempt to talk through, over or round the fact that Scotland’s deficit at 9.5% of GDP is the worst in the developed world. That number alone would keep the door to Europe firmly slammed shut even if resistance from some European countries such as Spain did not already exist. Had Scotland gained independence the country would now be staring down the barrel of slashing and burning state spending by 15% or raising taxes by 19% or a combination of the two. The quantum of those rises would be to raise the basic rate from 20% to 39% or VAT to 40%. Alternatively, an 82% cut in health spending would get them there. It is difficult to think of any country that has embarked on such a vicious austerity programme in peacetime. Regardless of oil revenues being high or low, it is a fact that Scotland has run a deficit every single year since devolution in 1999 and the deficit has deteriorated over recent years, and is now running even higher than during the aftermath of the 2008 Crash. Even in 2011-12, when the North Sea oil price peaked at $125 per barrel, Scotland's deficit was 5.7% of GDP.

So why go now? Bearing in mind that to Nat’s any opportunity is a good opportunity, the SNP are not actually in the commanding position they enjoyed three years ago. They have been in government now for 9 years and it is slowly dawning on Scottish voters that the SNP is not perhaps as capable at running a country as they are election campaigns. Despite the constant lecturing and grievance chasing it is apparent that while there is an open debate and willingness to explore new ways to improve public services efficiently in England, and which are meeting with some success especially in education for poorer children, few such improvements are evident in Scotland. Partly because the SNP are wary of upsetting some of their core constituencies, such as teachers, their solutions always veer toward more centralisation, more money, more government. The Scottish electorate are alert to this and the popularity of Sturgeon is consequently on the wane with the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, somewhat implausibly ahead of Sturgeon in the approval ratings.

Sturgeon’s move is simply irresponsible. She is putting her party’s historic political aims above the best interests of Scotland. The timing is theatrical. To demand a referendum as Brexit is being finalised will create an unnecessary distraction both to the UK and to Europe. I can guarantee the last thing the EU will want or need, if it still exists then in its current form which I very much doubt, is a small country with a banana republic sized deficit clinging to its coattails. The UK government will though acquiesce and offer a referendum but probably after Bexit, that is, after 2019. The SNP will stamp their feet and have sequential hissy fits about not being taken seriously or ‘insults to Scotland,’ but the only people who will take them seriously will be themselves. A growing number of Scots are fed up with their holier-than-thou ranting and simply want things done that matter to them and done properly. The English meanwhile are less and less animated about independence and that is more evident the further north in England you travel. As the English demographic has changed so have traditional ties to Unionism. Millennials for example, for the most part, see self-determination as an entirely fair and reasonable aspiration; ‘if you want it, have it.’ It would suit the SNP to have a much more robust response from the English but I think they will be disappointed. In fact, the quieter and more mature arguments that are presented the more likely they are to enrage them all the more which is kind of satisfying.

So, what should Sturgeon have done?

Seen through an SNP lens, I see Brexit quite simply as a lost opportunity to quietly build a firm economic platform for succession on a ten year timeline. Instead, all Mrs Sturgeon has succeeded in doing with her ill thought out announcement is to put a cap on Scottish property prices, to disincentivise long term inward investment and put a question mark over firms and central government looking at expansion in Scotland. In her stilettos, I would have done the following,

  • Seen Mrs May and offered quiet cooperation in return for,
    •  No change to the Barnett formula
    •  More shipbuilding orders
    • No further defence reductions in Scotland
    •  Inward investment incentives from Westminster for areas of special need
    •  HMG help and assistance overseas in capturing inward investment
    • (insert other items from economic shopping list as desired)
  •  Stepped down from the soapbox marked ‘grievance,’ and focused on internal matters pertinent to Scots; employment, housing, education, NHS Scotland etc. Adopt a stance of industrious humility and work tirelessly to organically improve the Scottish economy
  • · Stop obsessing about the single market (which, after all, was a creation of Mrs Thatcher through her former trade Secretary Frank Cockfield!). Scotland is in a single market. It is called the UK. Stop being emotional and start being pragmatic. Is it really sensible to leave the UK and then have your economic relationship with your biggest trading partner, (64%) negotiated by Brussels
  • Immediately sterling was devalued thrown open the doors to the country to visitors from across the world and aggressively pursued the tourist dollar / Euro / Yen. Pursue them with a generous international marketing budget and do so on a three year view
  • Dial back the incredibly short sighted pious remarks made about the US President and make friends. Usually, US Presidents go straight to Ireland and effect a sort of Plastic Paddy persona, playing to the gallery on their own East Coast and Chicago. A US President with a Scottish mother, who actually likes Scotland a lot, doesn’t come along very often. A successful visit to Scotland by Trump could unleash a tsunami of tourists from the Southern States and at least a reasonable shot at business investment.
  • Raid every educational establishment in the UK and US, business and the media for the best Scots, (or other), minds available and begin to establish the intellectual and economic case for inward investment and beyond that, independence. It simply does not exist at the moment.
  • Monitor Brexit and quietly learn from negotiating mistakes and inevitable errors of judgement.
  • Be humble and learn from success stories such as education in East London instead of dismissing everything south of the border as irrelevant.

In summary, Mrs Sturgeon and the SNP should cease and desist generally from the hectoring Calvanistic tone adopted in every interview or speech. Scots may be proud and they may be romantic but most are also gritty realists who can see through the flannel, (the SNP’s own independence newspaper’s circulation is down 30% in 12 months). They can also see that the SNP are not making any friends. Friends that economically at least, Scotland very badly needs. The big danger for Scotland is that the rest of the UK simply gets worn down by the SNP’s incessant moaning and just gives in. That would be tragic for Scotland and tragic for the UK. Having a next door neighbour throwing itself into economic Armageddon would not be good for any of us. Referendums are unpredictable but I’ll be hoping for 3/3 and will be relying on old fashioned Scots common sense when I place my bet today. Growth in Scotland has been put on ice with a breathtaking display of selfishness and arrogance which potentially sets Scotland on a road with a destination signposted ‘Catastrophe.’  It need not be so.

Stand-Out Stand-Up Guy

Jim Murphy doing the Hard Yards

One or two good reflective pieces appearing with this one, again from the excellent Alex Massie, of note and some analysis from Lord Ashcroft's post referendum poll in the Spectator coffee House here.

For me, the stand-out stand-up man of the campaign, on either side, was Labour MP Jim Murphy. His 100 Towns in 100 Days tour will be long remembered.

If David Cameron is serious about connecting with the huge swathes of disaffected citizens in the UK he could make a good start by getting the MP for East Renfrewshire, Jim Murphy, on board the Governments team in respect of Scottish affairs and the devolution of more promised responsibility to Edinburgh. He is a Labour politician so I probably don't agree with most of his political beliefs but frankly, that's unimportant at this time and it shouldn't be for David Cameron. Right now there's a pretty loud message coming through that even Westminster can't continue to ignore.......... start listening. Murphy strikes me as the man who can plug in to both sides and who is strident enough to cope with the sometime boisterous character of Scottish politics.

Jim Murphy

Throwing a New Year Honour his way would to my mind be a somewhat cheap. There's work to be done and I wouldn't mind betting he'd be up for it. In any event, I intend to write to him to offer my appreciation for his efforts that made the rest of the headless chickens look like.... well, headless chickens.


Jockageddon Averted - Now It's England's Turn

Commentary and analysis from referendum observers is being produced by the bucket load, not all of it has substance. Here though are some salient points to note from friend Marcus Ashworth, Head of Fixed Income over at Espirito Santo, and he writes really, with no particular axe to grind..

"It was Crumble's Ma wot did it........ the silent majority came out in droves to register their understated desire to retain the Union, whereas in Glasgow the turnout was one of the lowest and 53.5/46.5% was not enough of a Yes vote to give Salmond a chance.  Despite all the puff he didn't get his vote out, and in what was probably the largest % turnout in a modern democracy ever (Aus doesn't count as semi-forced voting).  Bully boy tactics clearly backfired.

A double digit majority was what was required to put this issue to bed for now - though of course Salmond doesn't have that in his nature - "at this stage" was a particularly telling phrase in his most ungracious acceptance of defeat speech.  Evidently his only tactic left is to try and grab as much of the "vows" as possible.  However, Number 10 apparently has some other ideas and talk of Devo Max is being downplayed.

The chat from Downing St seeems to a swift volte face to try and redress the growing clamour from the Tory backbenches about what Gordy was allowed to promise in the final days?  For all the sense of panic it is evident that Gordy had this worked out many months ago but was only sanctioned to unleash the dogs of war in the final nail-biting furlong.  His last speech was apparently his best, though equally Cameron did his bit under unrelenting abuse.  The Better Together campaign was pretty much totally Scottish Labour led and Tory free, it is not the winner though.  Labour party conf in Manchester - Ed needs an even better speech this time - pref without that Disraeli one-nation blather.

The West Lothian question is the key piece of egregiousness that will have to be finally knocked on the head - something that Labour has conspicuously failed to do.  Scottish MPs will soon no longer be allowed to vote on England only matters - whilst of course English MPs have never been allowed to vote on Scottish matters.  This will pose a knotty one for Miliband because it could very well permanently emasculate Labour Govts if on budgetary matters there is not enough of an English-only MP backing.  The Barnett formula (which even its eponymous creator thinks should be scrapped) will stick in the craw.  If affords a permanent upward only subsidy of circa £1500 per person to Scotland over rest of UK.  This has not gone down well south of the border.  At all.

Cameron may have been knifed by Clegg on the Boundary Commission changes (which is the most outrageous breach of code for the so-called Mother of Parliaments) - but this way he may partly get his own back.  If he fails then he will really face the chop from the 1922 cmte.  Bear in mind Clacton by-election shortly will see a big slap for Cameron - and his image is very much of the "essay crisis".  Tricky times if he drops this ball on Constitutional change - especially if Salmond gets traction on any perceived signs of backsliding on the vows.

Labour has acted appallingly throughout this campaign being utterly self-serving and using every opportunity to try and turn a battle to save the Union into a call for a Labour Govt next May.  If Miliband fails to engage in a William Hague (as Leader of the House) overseen all-party talks, then it will be Labour who will carry the can for failing to deliver on the myriad of promises offered up by their last Prime Minister.

If only for that fact Cameron should emerge from this as the biggest winner and it's a 2nd big win for him after seeing off the Lib Dems on proportional representation, is he on a roll for winning in Europe as well?   OK that might be a leap of faith too far - still the gamble has largely paid off and the Tories can get to shape constitutional change whilst still in power.  That is a major, major difference from the expected situation that the next Labour Govt (as the polls still point to) would carve it up as they see fit.

........... welcome back Scotland

I find it hard to see (bar Gordy, Darling to some extent and of course the redoubtable Jim Murphy who will clearly get a Knighthood) who in Labour comes out of this with any accolades.  Miliband is a dead man walking - and he knows it.  It is one thing for Cameron to find it difficult to campaign in Scotland but for a Labour leader not to either basically bother to get up there until the last few moments and then not to be capable of walking through Edinburgh is a travesty of not just how the Yes campaign has been conducted but of Miliband's validity.  Clegg has proved that the Lib Dem vote has vaporised.  Question now is whether Salmond can survive, let's hope not as he allowed a very dirty campaign to get quite seriously out of hand - he deserves to go just for that alone.  Only Farage had the temerity to call him out for that."


Scottish Independence; Phew!

Crumble, up bright and early and on my way to work this morning

Well what a night! There must be some weapons grade hangovers out there. At one point, after Glasgow came in, there were only 500 votes between No and Yes. 

There is a lot of healing and a lot of work to be done in all parts of this Kingdom.

Biggest winners? Definitely democracy, (the turnout numbers are simply stunning), and UKIP who will benefit from a similar anti Westminster backlash in England but we know that, (the one liner doing the rounds this morning is "if the Scottish wanted independence they should have let the English vote). The biggest loser is obviously not Salmond, (who I think is walking away with a massive sense of relief having got exactly what he set out to achieve), but Andy Murray. Never liked him. The absence of grace is breathtaking. 

More later

Scottish Independence; Words From The Wise

One of the best pipe bands in the world playing one of my favourite tunes. The word dignity springs to mind. The Queen's Own Highlanders Association Pipe Band in Cameron Barracks, Inverness, 2010. The 79th's Farewell to Gibraltar. 

The speeches are done, the marches, the meetings, the doorstepping. Those of us beyond Scotland look back and trust that sense and pragmatism will prevail for none of us want to see an economic and social darkness overcome family and friends to the north. 

Here then, are some words from a bloke who knew a thing or two about these British Isles.

Extracts from a speech given by Winston Churchill on receiving the Freedom of Edinburgh on October 12th, 1942.

I have never before been made a freeman of any city, and although since the war I have been complimented by a number of invitations which I greatly value, your freedom is the only one I have felt myself so far able to receive in the hard stress of conditions.

It seems to me that Edinburgh, the ancient capital of Scotland, enshrined in the affection of the Scottish race all over the world, great in memories and tradition, immortal in its collective personality-Edinburgh stands by itself, and therefore I am here to-day to be refreshed by your very great kindness and inspiration and to receive the all too flattering tribute from my old friend William Y. Darling, the Lord Provost.

The old quarrels, the age-long feuds, which rend our island have been ended centuries ago by the union of the Crown and by the happy fulfillment of the prophecy that wherever the Stone of Scone shall rise the Scottish race shall reign.

I have some ties with Scotland which are of great significance, ties precious and lasting. First of all, I decided to be born on St. Andrew's Day, and it was to Scotland that I went to find my wife, who is unable to be present to-day through temporary indisposition. I commanded a Scottish battalion of the famous 21st Regiment for five months in the last war in France. I sat for 15 years as the representative of Bonnie Dundee, and I might be sitting for it still if the matter had rested entirely with me. Although I have found what I trust is a permanent and happy home in the glades of Epping Forest, I still reserve affectionate memories of the banks of the Tay.

Now you have given me a new tie which I shall value as long as I live. We call ourselves in our grand alliance the United Nations. Here, indeed, is an example of national unity.

And so the country is pulling together better now than ever before in its history. Cruel blows, like the loss of the original 51st Division in France, have been borne with fortitude and silent dignity. A new 51st Division has been formed and will sustain the reputation and avenge the fortunes of its forerunner. The air bombing was endured with courage and resource. In all the Services, on sea, land, and air, on merchant ships and in all the many forms of service which this great struggle has called for, Scotsmen have gained distinction. 

Surveying both sides of the account, good and bad, with equal composure and coolness, we must see that we have reached a stern and sombre moment in the war which calls in a high degree of firmness of spirit and constancy of soul. The excitement and the emotion of those great days when we stood alone, undaunted against what seemed overwhelming odds, and single-handed saved the future of the world, are not present now. We are surrounded by governments and nations, all of us bound together in a solemn unbreakable alliance, and all of us bound together by ties not only of honour but of self-preservation.

Deadly dangers still beset us. Weariness, complacency or discord, squabbles over petty matters will mar our prospects. We must all drive ourselves to the utmost limit of our strength. We must preserve and refine our sense of proportion. We must strive to combine the virtues of wisdom and of daring. We must move forward together, united and inexorable.

Thus with God's blessing the hopes which we are now justified in feeling will not fade or wither. The light is broadening on the track. And the light is brighter, too. Among the qualities for which Scotland is renowned steadfastness holds, perhaps, the highest place. Be steadfast, then; that is the message which I bring you, that is my invocation to the Scottish nation here in this ancient capital city, one of whose burgesses I now have the honour to be.

Let me use the words of your famous minstrel-words which have given comfort and renewed strength to many a burdened heart:

"Keep right on to the end of the road, 
Keep right on to the end."

Churchill

Commanding Officer, 6th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers, 1916.

Scottish Independence; The Final Furlong

Final furlong

Heading into the final week of campaigning in front of the most momentous vote that Scots will take in their lifetimes and with the rest of the Kingdom strictly relegated to observer status, mixed emotions are increasingly evident. Many can see victory within their grasp and are beginning to see red mist. Their claims become more emotionally charged and factually outrageous by the day. Others are suffering from referendum fatigue and simply want a quick end to it all and to be allowed to get on with their lives while some are sucked into a vortex of questioning disbelief, worry and anxiety for the future.

“No,” would appear to be slightly in the lead but with a tolerance of + or – 3pts in these polls it really is all to play for. I do though hear more stories of stupid and crass low level intimidation from the “Yes,” campaign from the Highlands to the Borders. I think we’ll hear more about this after the vote but one thing is for sure and for certain, when individuals are in that voting booth they can tick which ever box they wish with absolute privacy and impunity. That’s exactly the point when Mr Salmond may regret not reigning in the more febrile elements of his campaign.

Standing back from the melee for a moment I can’t help but think how badly planned and handled the entire enterprise has been from every constituent part. That with four days to go the level of informed debate is better suited to the cut and thrust of a mid-term by-election is nothing short of an international embarrassment. Peoples livelihoods and their economic future are at risk here and they deserve better. So does the rest of the United Kingdom.

Both campaigns have in fact completely missed the target. Salmond has failed to invest in time and energy to create a sound intellectual case for independence and instead has leaned far too heavily on transient soundbites, reviving ancient mistrust of the English, (that many voters have no lineage to anyway), questionable election practices, a nostalgia for a post war economy that has forever gone and oil and well, oil. Creating a dependency for the well being, health and education of 5m people on the price of a globally traded commodity would to me seem a somewhat casual approach to policy but what do I know?

What did you expect Nick when you asked an awkward question at a press conference. The SNP, reinventing East Germany.

An independent Scotland though is of course possible and indeed could be more of a reality if Salmond and his hopeless band of backward looking socialists embraced a culture and manifesto of socially liberal, economically conservative policies that enthusiastically sought openness, collaboration, partnership and participation. That’s not going to happen though. The SNP is a small minded, spiteful and resentful collection of miscreants who in the best traditions of modern politics will promise everything to everyone and deliver nothing except value destruction and national strife.

There is the possibility that the electorate vote for independence then immediately vote the SNP out, preferring instead individuals capable of doing the job properly but they are in short supply in Scottish politics. I think such an echo of Churchill being tossed out from government in the 1945 election is unlikely; the SNP have simply left it too late having relied too much on what they perceive to be a spirit of nationalism and they have left too many open questions unanswered.   

It would have been so much better to make the case ex oil and ex the EU and sell those as added bonus’s. Salmond should have focused on a very gradual disconnect with the rest of the UK with multiple joint ventures and collaborations, with checkpoints, at the sovereign, financial and social level. He should have warned every Scot that this momentous decision was one they were entrusted with on behalf of their children and subsequent generations. That for most Scots there would be no immediate financial uplift. That in fact the benefits would take a minimum of ten years to accrue, if not a generation. He should have asked, “Is that a sacrifice you are prepared to make?” He should have reminded, if not berated his potential voters that Scotland suffers from a corrosive drug problem, galloping ill health in some areas and a bewildering and growing culture of dependency on government. He should have reminded Scots of their heritage and what he intended to do to unleash the capacity of Scots to revive, invent and build based on a competitive and forward looking education system and an environment which allows business to thrive. Instead, he’s just shovelled out a truck load of lies, half-truths and  cynical scare stories that add nothing to the debate and diminish his appeal to voters. Voters see through this nonsense and his standing has fallen commensurate with the diminishing integrity of his argument. He will lose on Thursday and he need look no further than himself to blame.

Not all one way traffic; 5000 gather in Edinburgh yesterday

The No campaign meanwhile has been equally poor. In fact, its been an utter shambles. The “Keep Calm,” approach was chucked on the bonfire last week when the enormity of the weapons grade fuck up they’d made of it became apparent in the polls. They will probably pull it off in the end but it will be in spite of their efforts not because of them. In fact, it will largely be the pragmatic and sensible undecided Scottish housewife who rescues them. I don’t imagine she has much love for either side but will instead vote for whoever she thinks will cause her family the least dislocation and worry. I don’t blame her. The failure of the “No,” campaign to properly articulate the benefit of being a Scot within the United Kingdom is symptomatic of our hermetic national politicians and the arms length political class we’ve created. Here though is a man who can and in fact is one of the few who has written sensibly about the issues at hand for some considerable time, Alex Massie. Worth a read.

The winner in all of this, and there aren’t many, is UKIP who will benefit from an English reaction to an independence vote but also to an excess of largesse with Devo Max. The driving undercurrent is anyway, a rumbling dissatisfaction with central government which has resonance throughout the UK and indeed in many European countries beyond.

Referendum fatigue, voters deserve better

That general feeling of dissatisfaction was nicely articulated by a chum in the Highlands over the weekend,

“I took a wee wander with the dog the other day to pass the time and popped in for a pint. On looking up at the sign above my watering hole, it read - The Royal British Legion (Scotland) Branch. I pondered and wondered what that will be called next week?  Anyway, I digress...

It was a lovely sunny day so I sat outside at a table and during my time there, I chatted to several tourists from the Manchester area about various topics, weather, how nice it was 'up here' etc, etc.... and of course the referendum. It was quite surreal actually, with about a 50/50 split in how the 'tourists' would vote if they had the chance, which came as a bit of a surprise. 'Westminster' isn't too popular in the North of England either it seems...

Also sat with me was a wise old piper, now in his eighties, who served his Queen and country well when he was in his prime and he eventually summed it all up in a few ( or quite a few...) words.

He was sitting quietly listening to all the opinions, not saying anything - apart from humming his usual heedrum hodrum pipe tunes aloud until he finally stopped 'playing' his imaginary pipes and he said;

‘Och!! I'm sick o' the whole damned thing!

Some days I wake up and my heart says Yes, but my head says No.

On other days my heart says No, but my head says Yes.

The problem is I can never get the two of them to agree.

I've listened to everything all these (*expletive*) politicians have said and all I have to do now, is decide which lot of the (*another expletive*) are lying the least!’

That for me, sums it up in a nutshell.........”

Indeed it does.

Scottish Independence; The Wolves Lair

The Wolves Are Waiting

Salmond has had a fairly easy run up up until now with his mendacious and toxic mix of lies and hyperbole while unleashing the worst traits of Scots character. I can’t yet decide whether he reminds me of Haig before the Somme, lining up his citizens Army before they go over the top and into oblivion or Kinnock at Sheffield in ’92 when his victory grandstanding was actually followed by ignominious defeat. Perhaps though, Salmond’s smug triumphalism most reminds me of Napoleon………… and he may be about to meet his Waterloo.

Salmond has had everything going his own way since he was found wanting in the first televised debate. His scheduled debate this afternoon with Alistair Darling on Mumsnet though may be looked back on as an error of judgment on the part of the “Yes,” team. Just look at some of the questions already posted,

Salmond is going into the Wolves Lair and I don’t rate his chances. The questions so far are overwhelmingly sceptical. These Mum’s don’t care about waffle; years of listening to excuses from their husbands about why they haven’t “mown the grass / mended the hoover / forgot about the dinner party / forgot to pick Jonnie up / looked at their friend that way at the party / lost weight / not noticed their hair / not recorded their favourite programme / ………. and so on,” have battle hardened them to excuses and are trained now to just go straight for the jugular and rip the arms of helpless, mumbling men. 

I’d rather be anywhere on the planet than where Salmond will be at 1:45pm, and I’m not joking; the press will seize on this. Darling meanwhile should say nothing, (especially after his disastrous interview on BBC Scotland last night by Jackie Bird), but if he has to, just agree with everyone – just like the rest of us do when faced with angry women.


Oddly though, I don't seem to be able to get my own question for the debate posted

Balancing this off is of course the visit of the other party leaders to Scotland which may neutralise any damage Salmond ships today because its difficult to see any circumstance where the #westminsterschooltrip can end well. For what it’s worth, I think honest straight talking would have more value and garner more respect than sycophantic toadying to many who will not ever change their minds. My question to Cameron is, “would you indulge your young children in this way if they didn’t get what they wanted no matter the cost or how ridiculous the demands?” The “reverse engines,” on Devo Max is actually harming the “No,” campaign because voters can only see headless chickens in a flat out panic who are throwing honesty and integrity out of the window.  Their target must be the small percentage of Labour voters who have swung to “No.” The bookies meanwhile, or rather the punters, are still backing “No,” and whatever the media noise level, I wouldn’t dismiss that.

Finally, the press have reported that assets have been leaving Scotland. That’s a bit presumptuous and premature. It’s not as if everything would shut down on the 19th in the event of a “Yes,” vote, indeed it would take years to disconnect and unravel Scotland from the rest of the UK and many things simply wouldn’t change at all. Nonetheless, as I alluded to yesterday, changes in the psychology of the crowd can quickly surge and overrun accepted thinking. Watch the ATM’s. Big and widespread cash withdrawals would be illogical but watch what happens, that would scare voters.

A few interesting articles,

Paul Krugman in the NY Times doesn’t get it

John Redwood on the role of Scottish MP’s

Heffer takes offence at South African comparison and a good deal else.

Scotland’s Financial Service Industry – Reuters

International impact; Vuc Jeremic in The Times

Prof Charles Pattie with a reflective view of an unsettled future

Forecasting Scottish Migration in the context of the Referendum; University of Southampton


Scottish Independence; Ahmm wee word, Mr Cameron....

The kind of backfire that Mr Cameron is currently experiancing

When I mentioned in my last post that PPE at Balliol hadn't prepared the policy wonks and advisor's in Westminster for the General Custer, "Where the fxck did all those "Yes" votes come from?" moment I had little idea that I would be so quickly validated by the pointy headed clowns.

We discover today that messrs Cameron, Clegg and Milliband are sufficiently in melt down mode that they've binned Prime Minister's questions tomorrow and are all off to the North "to listen." 

“There is a lot that divides us – but there’s one thing on which we agree passionately: the United Kingdom is better together. That’s why all of us are agreed the right place for us to be tomorrow is in Scotland, not at Prime Minister’s Questions in Westminster. We want to be listening and talking to voters about the huge choice they face. Our message to the Scottish people will be simple: ‘We want you to stay.’”

Crumble's interpretation of that statement is, "oh bloody fxck, fxck, fxck bloody fxck. I'm not going down as the one with his name above this fxcking fiasco.......... book the fxcking tickets - I do humble better than anyone else, I'll go and beg."

Wee word Mr Cameron, and even I down here can figure this out. The 'word on the streets' is why only offer 'extra powers' now?

The Yes campaign are being very quick to point out that that was one of Salmond's original requests for the ballot paper.  He wanted 2 questions on it - 

1. Should Scotland have more devolved powers? - The 'Devo-Max' option.
2. Should Scotland be an independent country?

Cameron was emphatic that there would only be one question - a straightforward IN/OUT - YES/NO question and no more powers would be devolved whatsoever!

It's backfired a wee bitty hasn't it?

We love our neighbours

From a friend in the Highlands,

"It's still close - but I'd put the Yes voters in front of the No's for now. The people just don't seem to trust (with reason in many cases) anything Westminster says anymore which is why there has been such a big swing in the polls..... To be perfectly honest, even I am wavering a bit now too! ..... I don't believe what Westminster are saying anymore either, so it's going to be interesting to see what this 'package' of new powers consists of. All 3 Westminster parties have their OWN agendas and ideas on what they should be and leaving it to the last minute to cobble 'something' together that they ALL agree on, certainly doesn't fill me with confidence....."

New Powers to Scotland

I remain of the view that the last thing Salmond wants is full independence; the Devo Max thing will do just fine. In fact, no one is probably flapping more than he is at present at the prospect of actually having to get a spreadsheet to add up that can't and won't ever do so and it wouldn't surprise me if he was paying for Cam's tickets. Whilst though, we are all hoping for restoration of level headedness when Scots voters peer over the abyss in a Quebec moment, the Westminster team may well be playing this wrong at the crucial moment. Fighting Celtic emotion and passion with repressed English emotion and passion will not help. The loss will just be bigger. I understand they have to take action and be seen to be taking action but they must rely on presenting mature arguments and logic and leave the Scots to make their own minds up on that basis.

A reflection of the level of panic, and stupidity of 13 year old advisor's, is the decision to fly the saltire over Downing Street from today until the referendum. However well intentioned, it's just a very visible sign of the wheels coming off and won't go down to well elsewhere in the Kingdom where people feel they're just rubbing along as best they can. 

 Aye Pods

Aye Pods

David Cameron has been on holiday every three months since he became Prime Minister and only on one of those has he been to Scotland, (Jura). Not withstanding my own views about that kind of idleness perhaps the time to show an interest was in August or perhaps at Easter. He and his parliamentary colleagues are in fact in danger of making a bad thing worse. That's it, if in doubt throw more kerosene on the fire Mr Cameron, pass the bucket.

Scottish Independence; What About The Jocks?

Mostly, I wouldn't recommend an argument with these lads, (2 SCOTS)

Nine days to go and half of the country think they're Nelson Mandela running around shouting "Cry Freedom," while the people supposed to be running the country and demonstrating clear leadership are running around in a flap with their pants on their heads. PPE from Balliol didn't prepare any of the policy wonks and advisors for this. (Good piece by Chris Deerin here btw).

Anyone who thinks this is just about Scottish Independence is somewhat missing the point. The same dissatisfaction that drives English voters to UKIP is herding wavering voters to the "Yes" camp in Scotland. That is, a screaming sense of dislocation and disenfranchisement, stretching to utter abandonment in some areas, from the political process. Some of this is just very basic. How difficult is it to empty the bins on a weekly basis? (Thank you for nothing Mr Pickles). How difficult is it to regulate travel costs so people can travel to and from work without surrendering half of their after tax income? How difficult is it to plug in the country to fast broadband to bring all our communities into the 21st century? How difficult is to provide sufficient local educational and health infrastructure for the immigrants that the national government allow through? How difficult is it to articulate a vision that offers at least the potential for a better life if not for oneself then at least for ones children? Actually, how difficult is it to listen? 

I digress. Nine days to go and the "Yes," campaign rolls on with much noise but little substance. Enjoy the ride, it won't last long. Let's just pick out one knarly, wee small issue but one which is of interest to many of us Mr Salmond.

It's obvious that many people are unlikely to change their minds and agree in the nine days that remain before voting. That's fair enough.

Royal Regiment of Scotland

But, if the "Yes" camp win the world is going to change for Scotland and change for the Armed Forces. The SNP say they will retain 3 out of the 4 Scottish regular infantry battalions, two reserve battalions, and the incremental company, (not including the Scots Guards, RSDG, 45 Cdo or 19 Fd Regt RA).

In the SNP's Independence White Paper, they contend that "the units of the Scottish Army will carry on the names, identities, and traditions of Scotland’s regiments, including those lost in the defence reorganisation of 2006." (The lads from Plockton will love to hear that). Lot to squeeze in there, especially as the "All Arms Brigade," of three units with supporting arms is described as "infantry/marines."

If you win Mr Salmond, who would you chop and what would you say to the Jocks who might be given a choice of moving to England to join an English regiment or being made redundant?

Still, one consequence of the inevitable economic darkness which will befall Scotland is that the recruiting problem for the British Army will be solved in a heartbeat yet it will have lost part of it's soul without the Royal Regiment of Scotland. 

 

Scottish Independence; Escape Velocity?

The weekend polls were unsurprising and made dismal reading for unionists. The problem besetting the “No,” campaign now is the nagging concern that they’ve allowed the “Yes camp,” to seize the initiative, set the agenda into the final phase and have allowed them to gain significant momentum. As the “Yes,” block gain more “don’t knows,” and turn previously set “No,” voters have they in fact reached escape velocity? That is, have we just witnessed a Berlin Wall moment this weekend when passion and emotion overtake logic and reason when the end simply becomes inevitable?  I see a growing number of “ah, fxck it, lets give it a go,” type of one liners on social networks and the hope now, that voters adopt a pragmatic and reasonable stance with a high turnout of “No,” voters looks at this point at least, doubtful.

English Scots For Yes.............. I have no words

Within Scotland the “Yes,” camp consists of a pretty broad church of constituencies. Surely the oddest must be this collection of loons, English Scots for Yes. I initially though they must be a bunch of ultra conservatives campaigning for a yes vote to rid parliament of 43 Scottish Labour MP’s but no, they seem to be fully paid up members of the Turkey’s for Christmas Club. Be careful what you wish for. On the other side of the nonsense wing are characters like Bruce Ogilvie of Siol nan Gaidheal.

Nutter

A kind observer might think him an eccentric cove but actually, he’s just a rabid racist of National Front type extremism who will inevitably end up behind bars one day. I remember there used to be a few clowns like him running around in the seventies dressed in what they thought Jacobite s wore and spent their time being angry and chopping down telegraph poles. The independence consortium consists of left wingers, right wingers, nationalists, naturalists, greens, immigrants, special interest parties, bored people, mischievous people, anti English people, anti government people, anti establishment people, passionate people, rich people……………… and all the rest. I’ve even heard of “no” voters who intend to vote yes because they want the relocation package to the south from their employers.

Thing is, once Motherwell Man has cast his deciding swing vote, what next? The experience in Estonia was that everyone wanted independence, they got it and then produced a fragmented political landscape consisting of many, many parties. Salmond has promised so much to so many but has not managed any expectations. In the transition phase Scotland will need a strong government acting with a fair but firm hand to navigate its way through the decoupling process. There is no indication that such leadership yet exists and there will be a danger of squabbling and division sinking the boat before it makes it out of the harbour. The SNP’s default position of “blame Westminster,” for anything they get wrong simply won’t cut it on a go forward basis and any “yes,” voter who sees some utopian vision where all Scots act as one is simply being disingenuous as to the reality of how Scots see fellow Scots across geographical, cultural, demographic and social divides.

The entire exercise will have a negative impact on the UK during and after any transition. The hard facts however, are that England, Wales and Northern Ireland are likely to emerge more or less economically intact after a prolonged period of restructuring. It will though, probably take Scotland a generation to reengineer its economy and there are likely to be some early hits to tax revenue and business morale with some companies moving out or reducing investment. Voters who are influenced by a need to teach Westminster / England / anyone-not-voting-yes may wish to ponder that.

Certainly, if I lived in Scotland and had a mortgage I’d be sprinting to lock in a fixed rate.

But, this is becoming less about the detail and more about the psychology of the crowd. Certainly, there are some pretty important aspects to a restructuring such as pension liabilities that at the moment, are dismissed with a catchphrase and wave of the hand but when the hard reality hits individuals they may wonder what happened to the Utopia they were promised. There will though, be no way back. “Yes” voters are buying a one way ticket which is why Devo Max is so attractive since they get the best of both worlds without the liabilities. That outcome is perhaps the least fair to the individual English tax payer which is why a “No,” vote ought to present the greatest satisfaction to any fervent nationalist.

The Wee Blue Book

 GBP; Smell the coffee time

GBP; Smell the coffee time

Fourteen days to go and with the latest poll reporting a difference between the two sides of just six points, a frission of nervousness is flowing through capital markets and excitement is gathering across the media in expectation that they may be on the verge of the biggest story of their careers. Alas, no sign of life from Westminster but then we’re used to that. The “don’t knows,” are swinging to “Yes,” at a two to one ratio. Most observers attribute the change to Darling’s poor showing in the last debate when he had no answer to Salmond’s aggressive debating tactic of painting Scottish Labour as quasi Tories, (although Guido squarely blames the Gordon Brown effect!).

 This is serious

This is serious

There may be an another reason however that is driving the don’t knows, and many previous unionists, into the yes camp. 

 The Wee Blue Book

The Wee Blue Book

Hardly anyone has heard of it in the South but in Scotland, “The Wee Blue Book,” has been dropping through letter boxes for weeks with many households receiving, and continuing to receive multiple copies. Written by Stuart Campbell of the Wings Over Scotland cybernat blog, (who oddly lives in Somerset), it is turning heads and changing minds. You may not yet be familiar with Wings Over Scotland but it is a very successful site and is read daily by most if not all political journalists and interested politico’s.

Up until very recently many individuals were genuinely undecided but friends tell me that since this book started dropping on the doormat many have changed from “No” to “Yes” and its self-evident where the “don’t know’s” are heading. It’s a slick, well written production and having read it, its easy to see how many find it convincing. The scary thing is, people across the political and social spectrum appear believe it verbatim. The “No,” team do not yet have an appropriate, equal or original response. All of which is fascinating to reflect on across multiple levels given the recent debate on indoctrination and radicalisation in English towns. 

The “Book,” as it has become known, obviously covers just about every argument raised in pub debates in the last ten years and predictably, an independent Scotland wins every time. It even mentions the World Cup! No one would expect anything else from mischievous, or malevolent, political operators who have produced this cleverly, or craftily, written piece of propaganda.

I wouldn’t underestimate the impact this thing is having. At the minimum, interested unionists should read it cover to cover. At some point the penny must drop, we’re within a whisker of losing the most important political campaign in 300 years and we didn’t really show up for the bout. 

After the divorce the family might continue to squabble

Another aspect of the campaign which is manifesting itself on a broader basis is the increasingly spiteful and sinister edge to the Nationalists campaign such as was endured last week by the Better Together campaigner, Labour MP Jim Murphy on his “100 Towns, 100 Days,” campaign. Mr Murphy is genuinely to be admired for his commitment and passion. Unfortunately, an underlying nastiness is emerging further afield in villages and towns with rumours and scaremongering becoming more apparent. Everyone would earnestly hope that the debate, voting and counting process will be conducted properly and that both the eventual winner and loser, and their supporters, will treat the decision with dignity and respect. Scots harbour long memories. You don’t have to go far in the Highlands to discover a residual resentment borne in the collective memory from the Clearances and that resentment is aimed at the central belt every much as it is the English. A more obvious chasm exists between the Orkney and Shetland islanders and the central belt and that is likely to be one of Salmond’s first thorny problems were he to win on the 18th. But that’s another story.

The “Yes “ camp are a nose in front but that’s all. Placing a higher news and political priority on an Essex by election than a debate of national historical and international importance is not helping the perception in Scotland of how much the rest of the nation care. It needs to change, we need to engage and bloody quickly.