2007 - 2021

The Land that Time Forgot


Steve Richards and Alex Massie can’t both be right. Richards has argued in the Guardian (‘Scotland is going it alone’):

Scotland becomes more markedly different than ever. In Scotland the NHS is spared the haphazard revolution in England. The education secretary, Michael Gove, is powerless to impose his resolute will on schools in Scotland and the same applies to his other more evangelical colleagues moving England rightwards. Without doing very much Scotland becomes more different because of what is happening in England. The limited powers handed over to the Scottish parliament are precisely the ones that partly protect it from the ideological mission of the Westminster government. The cautiously incremental New Labour settlement becomes the basis of historic distinctiveness.The distinctiveness will deepen whatever happens in the referendum.

Massie thinks there’s little difference (‘Two Nations, two cultures?‘):

Whatever one thinks of the government’s plans for the NHS (and I try to avoid thinking about health policy) it is nonsense to suppose that placing a cap on benefits amounts to “dismantling” the welfare state. Nor, I think, has Michael Gove proposed abandoning universal education. (And if schools are part of the “welfare state” then what isn’t?) Be that as it may, it is doubtless the case that Scots like to think of themselves as being a morally superior, social-democratic kind of place but, in truth, this is often an example of the Scottish ability to kid or otherwise flatter ourselves. Because while Scots may say they are more left-wing than the English they do not tend, on the whole, to hold very different opinions.

There’s something funny about Richards revelation – visitors to Jockoland ‘discovering’ Scottish politics when they are up for the festival in quasi-anthropological tones is always amusing, but not as funny as Massie’s analysis. He is what Phil Mac Giolla Bhain calls ‘evidence resistant’ in Minority Reporter. Massie’s attempt to erode and erase any cultural / political differences between Scotland and England is  essential to identifying a Pax Britannica that justifies and sanctions Austerity Unionism.

His wishful thinking about a right-wing reverie for thirty years of failed economics bares little scrutiny.

Richards is at least conscious of what’s going on, though his analysis does unfold as he speculates about the positivity of a post No settlement: “Many who will oppose independence next year support devo-max and will not forgive Westminster if it does not deliver. If there is only a puny devo-max deal after a defeat for independence, there will soon be calls in Scotland for another referendum.”

Will there? This is very hopeful thinking.

If establishment Scotland is this freaked out by the democratic process as it has seemed this week – it seems a huge stretch of the imagination to see the Better Together parties emerging blinking from victory clutching a positive case for more powers. A series of their own outriders have explicitly rejected this in the last week, but any such a move would also be dependent on not just some sort of unlikely Scottish unionist vision but acceptance and backing from their UK and Westminster parties. There will be no such mood for this.

But there’s an irony in Massie’s Forsythesque dewy-eyed Thatcherism versus Richards overly-perky views. As Gerry Hassan pointed out today (‘London Scots and the Referendum’) Andrew Neil, Iain Martin, Fraser Nelson, James Naughtie and Andrew Marr represent a slew of emigre Scots who have been assimilated by London, they are more Borg than Borgen. But it is not just their view, but our overly-deferential treatment  of their views that creates a real problem:

The Marr-Naughtie BBC elite illustrate the crisis of liberal London and England, given the reality of that city and English politics; the Neil cohort is even more illustrative for it has chosen to validate and popularise the reactionary march of British politics, and denigrate and undermine anything which doesn’t conform to their free market mindset.

There are big issues in this. The London Scots feel they are close to real power and have influence themselves on big, grown-up decision makers. The increased focus of wealth, power and status in London makes many domestic Scots feel they don’t have the status or confidence to oppose this view of the world, challenge it, or map out an alternative course.

The road to London is well worn but it’s also another expression of a phenomenon that some deny exist at all. Hassan again: “Perhaps the most salutary point is that the BBC considered the best person for the job to be someone whose direct experience of Scotland, Edinburgh Festivals apart, was 36 years ago. The powers that be either think he is quick on the uptake, or that not much has changed north of the Border in more than three decades.”

This is Massie’s line, a land where selling off public housing is the cutting edge of policy innovation. Writing today Kevin McKenna also points out to our two countries taking very different paths, sensing an imminent UKIP breakthrough he sees this only getting more stark, not less: “Britain under the coalition government at Westminster has become colder, more ruthless and more aggressive. The Lord only knows what it will look like with Ukip in the coalition mix. It’s now time for the Yes campaign to become cold, ruthless and aggressive in telling Scots what has really become of England and show them the road map out of it.”

This is the Land that Time Forgot according to the Borg Scots trapped in the failed thinking of the long 1980s: where nothing has changed, nothing will change because nothing needs to change because nothing is wrong. Have you got that?

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  1. Albalha says:

    Hassan is spot on about the BBC but I think there are other factors too. Naughtie now lives between Edinburgh and London, has done for a wee while, so this is also being done to suit his lifestyle. Let’s see if he presents in and around the weekend. We’ve seen the same with Kaye Adams (how that appointment was ever made). But she seems to have a contract with BBC Scotland that permits her to regularly present a TV programme on a commercial Channel that goes head to head with her main BBC job! I doubt we’d ever see Naughtie sittting on the ITV sofa in the mornings between 6 and 9am.
    And then when Ms Adams is absent Kirsty Wark pops up, no doubt suiting her lifestyle as well.
    It all points to just how hopeless BBC Scotland management is.
    And on Scottish broadcasters, who’ve chosen to make London their home, I doubt someone like Eddie Mair will enter the debate at all, if only the others mentioned by Hassan would follow his lead.

  2. Murray McCallum says:

    Alex Massie – “I try to avoid thinking about health policy”.

    It’s that kind of [non] thinking that had patients drinking water from their bedside vases. Maybe Alex should try to do more thinking and less avoiding?

  3. James Morton says:

    Massie, who i once believed was one of the more rational and honest proponents of Union, is increasingly looking like an apologist for the sheer insanity of austerity. At the back of his head, he knows its wrong, he senses it will fail, but still “believes”. To that end, He will adopt the tactics of Forsyth and beat the drum a bit more loudly while saying, “one more heave my boys, one more”

    The other person seems to be of the opnion that Scotland will vote no, we will then get more powers which will be cool as Scotland has a tendenacy to kick its boot firmly up the arse of anyone from WM that pisses it off. Clearly he wasn’t paying attention in 1979. Thatcher convinced scots to vote no as she had something better. Sespite the result clearly showing that the position was split, thatcher proceeded to ignore and then marginalise Scotland. This, more than the poll tax, was the dumbest thing that woman could ever had done. It did lead to devolution albiet 20 yrs later. But the path was bumpy. Westminster showed a willingness to be spiteful and awkward when it came to this subject of homerule. The writing on the wall clearly being ignored as they think they can always find a way to fudge it and muddle through.

    My feeling is that if Scotland votes no, or the result is like the one in 79. Split down the middle, the Unionist camp will try something utterly stupid with regards to the devolved parliament. Westminster policies I suspect will also become deeply hostile to Scotland and this will lead to a constituional crisis that will see the Union crash & burn in the most ugly fashion possible. The best thing for the Union is for it to be dissolved amicably. But you get a sense they want it to be nasty, out of nothing but mean spirited spiteful imbecility.

    And on the subject of the Imbecilic nonsense of Bettertogether, I have been aware of a strange underlying theme in the No campaigns message. It suddenly struck me that when defending the Union, they always describe Scotland as being a simple beneficary of UK largesse. They never really state with any passion what Scotland brings to the Union. Its always what Scotland loses if it leaves. Its as if in 300 years it had not made one single, meaningful contribution.

    I made this point just recently on twitter. I had two debates that soon descended into surreal strawman arguments. The main gist of these seemed to confirm my theory. basically, as I was told. Scotland is dependent on the UK and it would be mad to leave. When I challanged this point, I was told that “Dependency is not failure”. There you have it. A truly held belief that Scotland for many Scots unionists, is simply not big enough to survive on its own. It has needed and will always need the UK. To attack this lamentable state of affairs is nothing more than grudge politics at how brilliantly the Union has supported us.

    Needless to say, I am utterly appalled, saddened and shamed by this position.

  4. Murray McCallum says:

    “They never really state with any passion what Scotland brings to the Union. Its always what Scotland loses if it leaves. Its as if in 300 years it had not made one single, meaningful contribution.”

    A good summary of a core BT theme James.

    I had to laugh when Alistair Darling stated on a recent BBC HardTalk interview: “There are only so many times you can say something is terrible”. Well, it seems to me that the Chair of Better Together has an unlimited capacity to argue how terrible the concept of Scots governing their own country is.

  5. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

    “Yes Scotland needs to become cold, ruthless and aggressive…” straight from the horse’s mouth.

  6. Jen says:

    I don’t think Scotland will get more powers after a No vote, it will be seen as approval to tear down any gains that Devolution has brought. In fact the current British Labour Party in Scotland are paving the way for tutition fees and other differences to be changed to toe the party line. Although it can be hard to determine because they seem short on policy, must be waiting on London Labour telling them what to do.

    The BBC seem to favour their “top talent” with cushy lifestyles rather than let local folk who know the score do the job. These London based Scots, can’t really know the state of affairs because they have not lived here for many years.

    1. Wullie says:

      I’ve found London Scots a pain in the erse for fifty years. Instead of getting themselves properly emigrated to Canada or Oz, these pseudo emigrants were forever popping back to assure us how well they were doing.
      There opinions were an irrelevance then, ditto now.

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