I read this morning that Betfair, one of the innumerable online betting organisations that seem to be underwriting Sky Sports these days, has paid out 48 hours early on a No vote success. I can’t think of a single good reason why it should do that, save one. It may be taking a gamble itself, in the hope of encouraging a rush of ‘Yes’ bets in the last two days before the result is known.
If that is the case I look forward to seeing Betfair stuffed twice over.
There’s a song that Eileen likes to sing to the grandchildren: ‘Clap hands for Daddy coming doon the wagon way, pockets full of money and his boots all clay.’ The days Daddy is quite likely to have his mobile in his hand, gambling that money away on the next yellow card in the Newcastle game, or some such.
Online gambling is a cancer on modern society, yet Westminster seems to have no interest in controlling it. I predict that an independent Scottish government will take a firmer line.
Ah! Becks wants us to vote No. And if the Yes manifesto had offered tax breaks to retired footballers . . ?
So what are these ‘new powers’, that are trailed by our three ‘leaders’ on the front page of this morning’s Daily Record?
Actually, not a lot; the only specific pledge I can nail down is the continuation of the Barnett Formula, which is actually hated by many Scots. There will be increased tax-raising powers, and there is a guarantee that all decisions affecting NHS Scotland will be taken in Scotland. That situation exists already, so the trio are simply promising not to break their word.
There is some surprise that this ‘Pledge’ has been made on the eve of the poll. There shouldn’t be; the timing is set to leave as little time possible to lay the glaring flaws in the document open for debate.
Will Scotland be able to set its own rate of Corporation Tax? No.
Will Scotland set its own rate of VAT? No.
Will the rate of excise duty in Scotland be set in Scotland? No.
Will Scotland have its own benefit system? No.
Will Scotland leave the EU when the Europhobic English majority votes to take us out? Yes.
Will the nukes remain in Faslane? Yes.
Forget the window dressing. The truth is that our economic policy will continue to be driven by Westminster, we will have no control over the fuel costs that are a great burden on the remote and island areas of Scotland, and the defence and foreign policies that are anathema to many of us will continue to be those of Thatcher, Blair and Cameron.
The truth is that the ‘Pledge’ unveiled this morning is a sham, a bribe to potential No voters. The daftest thing of all is that any money on offer is ours already. These are three desperate men.
There is a secondary reason for my desire to live in an independent Scotland, beyond my inherent patriotism. When I look across the border at our neighbour nation, I don’t like what I see. Already it is divided politically, socially, economically, ethnically and it can only get worse.
For years I have suggested to my friends down south that I rarely meet an Englishman, per se. First and foremost they’re Geordies, Lancastrians, Cornishmen, Yorkshiremen, you name it. (Apart from Londoners: they see themselves as special, and above all the rest.) This may not be surprising since the middle ages in England were one continuous Civil War, but today new factors are in play.
This is not a racist argument, let me make that clear to the ever-watchful PC police who are a blight on modern life. My beloved family is multi-national and multi-racial; I have no conventional religious beliefs, but I respect the right of those who do to express them freely.
What I’m saying is that for seventy years, successive UK governments have presided over barely controlled immigration but have failed to integrate much of that new population into existing communities.
I fear for England’s long-term future, for I believe that in a couple of generations it will have lost any sense of real identity that it ever had. Scotland has a chance to cut loose, and to consolidate the balanced, integrated secular society that we enjoy already. I hope with all my heart that on Thursday we take it.
My interest in politics began in my mid-teens; its principal stimuli were the Oxbridge satirists who populated ‘That Was the Week That Was’ (it’s over, let it go) and gave us Private Eye, when it was a fearless rag that gave fewer damns about consequences than it does today. They were never short of material, since those were the days of John Profumo, Stephen Ward, Christine Keeler, the days of the decline of SuperMac and the rise of Harold Wilson, a man so devoid of personality, to this young observer, that he had to hide behind a pipe and a Gannex raincoat to be noticed at all.
As a guy predicted during a debate in Glasgow University Union, my Granny’s budgie could have won the 1964 election for Labour and Wilson duly did.
The first political speech I can recall was on the telly, Hugh Gaitskell’s ferocious rounding on his opponents within his party. I didn’t a clue about the background, but I knew that he was taking no prisoners.
Since then I’ve heard more than a few, and some have stayed with me. My then boss, Frank McElhone, perplexing some of his 1970s audience by beginning, ‘As Lord Wheatley said to me last week, “Behind every successful man, there stands an astonished mother-in-law”.’ (Most of you will have to research that one.) Maggie at Perth in 1982, when she finished the staged autocue stuff, put her arm on the lectern and told her audience exactly why we were going to war with Argentina. The same lady two years later, the day after the Brighton Bomb, with SAS guys in the gantry above her ready for action if necessary. Ted Heath, around the same time, giving a one-hour masterclass on European politics to a tiny audience in Glasgow, without a single note. Barack Obama’s first inaugural. Neil Kinnock’s disastrous ‘We’re alright!’ speech that sent John Major back to Downing Street and ended his own career in Westminster. Five minutes of inspiration by Michael Foot in Glasgow, followed, unfortunately by fifteen minutes of arrant raving nonsense.
I’ve heard a lot, but never, until last night, had I heard a politician apologising for his own presence, as our Prime Minister did in Aberdeen.
No Dave, you will not be here forever, but the problem is, you’re here now, and the likelihood is, you’ll be here for another five or six should you survive losing the Referendum vote, given that Ed Miliband is unelectable.
Separation, he told his affluent audience in Scotland’s oil city, would be a painful divorce. Wrong again DC; it won’t be a divorce at all. It will be the annulment of an arranged marriage.
We’ve read much over the weekend of canvass returns, from both sides of the referendum debate. ‘Yes’ says theirs show them in front, and ‘No’ make exactly the same claim. They both can’t be right, can they?
Of course they can. No canvasser I’ve ever met has questioned a positive response on the doorstep. Don’t waste time, thank the voter and move on. It was one of the unwritten rules, alongside ‘Don’t ring doorbells when Coronation Street’s on.’ The inevitable fact that many householders said what the canvasser wanted to hear was ignored and the positive target voter slips were completed without questions being asked.
The same flaw exists in opinion polls, although people are more likely to speak the truth to someone they perceive to be neutral.
The real pros knew what was happening without the need for knocking doors. I once met an old Tory agent in the north of England, a guy who knew everyone on his patch. As election day approached, he would put on his overcoat and his rosette and go for a walk along the High Street, greeting everyone he saw. By the end of his stroll he could judge whether he as in or out by the number who looked him in the eye, versus those who avoided his gaze.
But not even old Joe would be able to call it this time.
I was born in Motherwell, Lanarkshire, somewhere between VE-Day and VJ-Day, at the drawn-out end of WWII. My home town made steel; it was sustained by the mills, even before the establishment of the Ravenscraig plant that dominated it for decades. It was a sectarian society, make no mistake about it; the religious divide was strictly observed, with us in our schools and them in theirs, and my parents while not bigoted in any way, had been raised within that framework and were part of it. I was nine years old before I met and played with a Roman Catholic child. His name was Phil McKeown; he joined our gang during the sumer holidays and was welcomed because he was a nice kid. It was only in August when we were all returning to school that he told us that he went to Park Street. Looking back, Phil was probably the first Liberal I ever met.
Sectarianism didn’t end in the schools either. In those days we had our own burgh police force; I cannot say for sure that there were no Catholic cops, but if there was one, he must have been lonely. Their job wasn’t that hard. Motherwell was not a rough place; there was a post-war period of twenty years when there was not a single homicide in the town, although the serial murderer Peter Manuel did live not too far away, until he died, suddenly, in Glasgow.
We weren’t rich then, as a community, but we were self-assured, and on either side of the invisible divide, we had the strong sense of identity that is part of my genetic makeup. We were Scottish, and we were proud of it.
However, we were also aware that we did not have power over our own lives. When I was very young, I remember my mother warning me that if I didn’t behave, ‘Mr Gaitskell will get you’. He was only Chancellor then so God knows what wold have happened if I’d done something bad enough for Mr Attlee to come for me.
Then Mr Churchill was Prime Minister again, and for a while all seemed well with the world . . . apart from the fact that our government was very far away, and the coal mines were still dark, dangerous places where lives could be ended by a single act of carelessness, or were taken aware more slowly in retirements limited by the inevitable lung disease, which the Coal Board did little or nothing to prevent. As for the steel works, in those men invented new ways of getting themselves killed.
July meant Elie, and a month in a rented house, with a new set of temporary friends, mornings spent pulling my dad’s trolley round the golf course, afternoons spent on the beach, more often than not huddled behind a windbreak, staring across the Forth of Forth at the Bass Rock, and unknown to me, at Gullane, where I would spend the bulk of my life. The saying was, ‘If you can see the other side, it mean it’s going to rain. If you can’t seen it, it’s raining.’
When I was eleven I was sent to Glasgow High School. I hated the daily journey, and I hated (as do my entire class, to this day) my prep year teacher, a frenzied belter whose like were abolished long ago, but I loved the city. I loved its size and its grandeur, and the proud assertiveness of its people. I loved the richness of its shops and the size of its buildings, architectural beauties that were taken for granted. My Grandma Bell called it simply ‘The Town’. And that’s how I think of it still. Yes, Edinburgh was the capital . . . a relatively meaningless status back then . . . but Glasgow was the heart of my Scotland.
I was almost sixteen before I crossed the border. My parents decided that we should have an Easter Holiday, so we squeezed into the A35 and headed South, for London. For a reason I have never come close to guessing, my old man took us into England over Carter Bar. It was snowing significantly at the time; I do not blame the English for that, incidentally. In those pre-motorway days the drive took two days, with an overnight stop in Tadcaster, a brewery town. We arrived at my mother’s aunt’s place in Corby, dumped the car and did the rest by train. (Why didn’t we train it all the way? Dunno, and I never did ask my father that one either.)
My earliest memories of the City on the Thames are mixed. We did the usual stuff, the Tower, Buck House, etc, and Madame Tussauds, but that’s all a blur. Only three things stick in my mind: an overwhelmed, uniformed Scoutmaster failing to control a pack of cubs at the tube station in the Tower, a meal in The Volunteer, a pub in Baker Street which had a parrot and claimed to have served kidney soup every day since the Napoleonic Wars, and arriving at my folks’ friends flat in South Ken, to find that they had a genuine debutante staying with them, a girl not much older than I was, on the way to being presented at court. Her name was Caroline, and she was sitting in front of the fire drying her hair, which was in curlers. She bolted for the bathroom and I never saw her again. Funny, I can remember the Crown Jewels only vaguely, but that deb is still fresh in my mind.
The other thing that never left me was the sense of being an alien. The staff in our B&B spoke what might have been another language and were of another culture with a quaint view of ours. For example, the breakfast waitress assumed that we would have ‘porridges’, and was visibly disappointed when we declined and had Corn Flakes instead. I suspect that an Indian family would have been offered curry as standard.
These days, things have changed; my imaginary Indian family may even own that hotel. But one thing has not; I still feel like an alien every time I set a foot on English ground.
I am Scottish. The nation in which I was raised has gone, although some of the prejudices still remain. The town in which I was raised is unrecognisable to me. The city I loved has been devastated, and turned into little more than a theme park. And yet they are still mine, my pride, my joy.
The referendum has given me the opportunity to declare my love for my country and my faith in its ability to restore and renew itself. Our society was not perfect then, it is not perfect now, and it will not be perfect on Friday whatever happens. But if we seize the chance we have been offered we can pursue perfection unhindered, as every nation has the right to do.
I have voted Yes because I am me, and there is nothing else that I could do.