Archive for the ‘indyref’ Category

Oh no, not that tone again; anything but that tone.

I was prepared for Farage’s monstrous braying. I steadied myself for Boris burlesquing a bit of Horace or Plutarch. I was even ready to endure the sound of Gove’s voice. But I had forgotten how unbearable Scottish people are when they feel politically thwarted these days. Over the past 24 hours or so, the reality of the vote to leave the European Union has unleashed an onslaught of full-spectrum nationalist whining across social media the like of which I’ve never seen before.

The self-righteousness that clogged up the post-indyref atmosphere has descended once more. Across the country, heads shake gently in damp-eyed rebuke as disappointed Facebook posts are bashed out and furious tweets sent. And would you believe it, the SNP leadership has considered events through its single lens and concluded that another indyref is exactly what the country needs in a time of confusion and turmoil. It’s a good job the Scottish Government hasn’t been captured by constitutional obsessives like those UKIP guys, eh?

Now, I lost the run of myself completely during the 2014 referendum. I came to believe many more than six impossible things before breakfast on any given day during the campaign. This blog has essentially been a record of my trajectory from suggestible Yesser back to my general disposition as a skeptic, and I’ve left my early posts on this site as a permanent reminder to myself of the damage enthusiasm can do to rational thinking.

If we’re really going to flirt with having another independence referendum there are a few things we all need to get straight, whether we’re Yes or No or Not Again Please For The Love Of God Not Again. There were lessons to be learned back in 2014 about tone, respect for opponents and preparedness to scrutinise one’s own prejudices – I’m not sure they’ve even been acknowledged let alone assimilated. Well I’m here to help! Learn from my fail by asking yourself the following questions and answering honestly. It can even be our wee secret.  (more…)

I don’t have much of a track record as a tipster – the horse I backed in last weekend’s Grand National exceeded my expectations simply by not dying – but even I feel emboldened to hazard that the SNP might do quite well in next month’s General Election.

The polls suggest the SNP will win a majority of Scottish votes and almost all available seats. On the face of it this looks like a deep political consensus, but in reality I don’t remember our political culture ever feeling so divided.

In this post I explore post-referendum polarisation and unpick some of the myths that have come to be accepted as reality by large swathes of the electorate.  (more…)

Indyref psychology

Posted: December 29, 2014 in indyref, politics and ideas
Tags: , ,

We’re into a reflective phase of the indyref process. Senior figures from the campaign have shared their recollections in two excellent broadsheet longreads (Guardian part one and part two; and the Telegraph) while the first few books emerged in time for Christmas. I’ll be buying the Peter Geoghegan and David Torrance tomes with my Christmas money, and so should you.

I keep returning to the referendum too; there’s always more to say, always another angle. And this month I’ve been thinking more and more about the startling sense of adventure that a huge chunk of the electorate showed on the day of the vote. To frame this, I’m going to consider the ideas of the great 20th century political philosopher John Rawls, particularly his view of human motivation. You’ll like Rawls, he’s brilliant. And to me, Rawls’s theory provides an interesting perspective on what the Yes and No votes symbolised at the individual and collective levels. Read on. (more…)

It all seemed so positive at the time.

In the run-up to the referendum, many, many thousands of people took the time to educate themselves, and each other, about how we in Scotland are governed. Information came to light about taxation flows, media coverage, oil revenues, voting records, expenses payments. Everywhere, people were interested in politics.

I always wanted that to happen, so the last few tumultuous months before the vote were quite dizzying to live through.

I voted Yes. I was sure it was the right thing to do.

It was an article of faith on the Yes side that lots of citizens had journeyed from No to Yes, but no one ever headed in the opposite direction.

Well, more than two months after September 18th, I look around me at what the Yes movement has become. And I think I want out.

It all seemed so positive at the time. But last week the Yes movement entered its imperial phase, signalled in particular by the massive SNP celebration event at the Hydro in Glasgow. And the jubilant tone of the thousands of Yes voters glorying in that event and others finally tipped me over the edge.

It’s that tone that makes me suspect the movement was built on a fundamentally flawed conception of power all along. It’s that tone that makes me question the credibility of the leaders who have emerged from the Yes movement, and the cheerleaders who hero-worship them. And it’s that tone that makes me doubt the progressive credentials of the entire enterprise.

It all seemed so positive at the time. But I’m increasingly concerned that the Scottish public sphere faces a serious threat from authoritarian, sanctimonious Yes fundamentalists.

And that’s the very opposite of what I thought I was voting for.

Allow me to explain.


I’ve never been able to bring myself to join a political party.

All of the mental gymnastics involved in party-membership – subscribing to a platform, holding the party line, keeping the faith, traducing opponents – struck me as far more effort than I would be capable of. The closest I’ve come to political commitment is my enduring support for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

By contrast, the Yes movement was exciting for me because I didn’t have to sign up to anything. The movement was broad, diverse, and comfortable with people coming to the same answer by different working.

Sadly, I’m not sure that openness has survived the referendum defeat.

In this post I want to discuss the nature of solidarity in politics and the way the concept of solidarity could inhibit imaginative responses to the referendum defeat. In the process I will offer a warning about the dangers of sliding from enlightenment to romanticism. This argument will be developed by analogy to the legacy of the 1968 Paris riots.


Hello friends!

Well, if I had known my 1979 | 1997 | 2014 piece was going to attract so much attention I might have done another draft!

I’ve been enormously flattered by the attention the essay has received. I want to begin this follow-up piece by thanking sincerely everyone who read, shared and/ or commented upon it. I extend particular gratitude to David Torrance for sharing the article with his Twitter followers. He began the social media chain reaction that allowed the piece to find an audience.

I have received some fascinating responses, which frankly out-do the original piece in eloquence and imagination by some distance. In this post I want to gather together the key points from my postbag and offer some measure of response to them, to highlight the interesting counter-arguments as much as anything. (more…)

It has been two weeks since Scotland’s independence referendum and we’re not short of analysis of what happened and why. However I think there is an angle that has not been explored in sufficient detail, namely the links between the indyref and the two previous referendums held in Scotland in 1979 and 1997.

For this post I have ploughed through the raw voting data from each of the three referendums. I think my findings turn the received wisdom about each referendum on its head to some extent. (more…)

Well I never said I was a great tipster…

We lost. So what now?

Wise heads have reminded us that independence is a process, not an event. We should take comfort from this insight. You don’t become independent after a thunderclap. It’s a shared learning experience; a collective journey made over time rather than an isolated moment of clarity. The result on 18th September made clear that Scottish society had further to progress along the path to independence – the learning process was not complete.

I want to argue here that this is not something for Yes voters to despair about, nor is it a cause for lashing out at No voters as traitors. (more…)

I think Scotland will vote Yes on Thursday.

In fact, I don’t think it’s going to be particularly close.

Readers who have been living through this remarkable period in Scotland’s history will scarcely need me to sketch out the likely consequences of such a result, at least for the first few hours. The unforgettable will merge with the un-rememberable, and George Square could get rather messy.

Then the major figures from both campaigns will, one assumes, sleep for a week.

But what will happen after the dust settles on a Yes victory?

I want to explore three themes which will, I think, characterise our political culture in the post-Yes landscape. (more…)

With one week to go until the Scottish independence referendum, the country has changed. It’s never felt like this before. The wonder of democracy shines everywhere.

I’m voting yes, and I’ll explain why in a minute. But you’ll have read dozens of these pieces by now, and almost certainly of superior quality. Perhaps of more interest to you may be my reflections on the impact of the referendum on the way we do politics in the future. I set these out at greater length below and you’re very welcome to have a read. I’ll explain why I think politics has become detached from real life, and how the referendum experience has helped to reverse that. I hope it’s not too dry. No academic study is required! (more…)