By Derek Bateman
The ToryLabourLibDem Troika, having delighted the Dependence Twitterati with their currency strike, have created a massive problem for themselves. They don't consult, they combine to say No – against all reason – they resist well-argued Scottish logic. So, if this is how they treat the Scots in an area where we share an asset, who can trust them to deliver increased powers?
When Labour can abandon its position on protecting living standards in order to join with the Coalition cutters, what price their promise of more devolution? If jointly the Westminster parties can deny what is rightfully ours when it suits them, why would we believe any of them when they dangle Devo Max?
This display of resistance at a plan they dislike, shows what Scotland is up against when trying to prize more powers out of Westminster. They have set some precedent. There is no length they won't go to in taking on the Scots and the scorn explicit in this week's team snub of reasonable – and with the debt, generous offer – is a clue to what we can expect after a No vote.
They have introduced a note of punishment for our impudence that should serve as a sharp reminder of how important it is, in their eyes, to stand up and be counted. They have made clear, as has Barroso, that it is only the nation state – a sovereign Scotland – that commands their respect. Remain a region and they'll walk all over you.
There is now a distinct smell in the air that if they can act so brutally by closing off without negotiation a key area of mutual interest and in the process shred the Edinburgh Agreement, then they can throw extra powers into the dustbin after they win the referendum. Who will ever again listen respectfully to Osborne, Cameron, Balls, Miliband or…if they ever did…to Alexander when they implore us for our trust, that they will deliver more powers, or say the Union is a partnership when we know from their actions they treat us like their estate workers.
I think this must be a constant strand of argument no matter which area of government is under discussion. They have proved we can't trust them – any of them. And as we now know they won't produce a joint policy on additional powers, their alternative offer is insultingly unconvincing.
We are being blocked from a sensible option by an obdurate and bellicose government in an all-party Unionist front. It shows precisely how they regard the Union and Britain – as theirs to do with as they wish and us as people of a lesser status.
This is core to the debate and blows away all the technocratic stuff and puts centre stage the basic questions – are you prepared to be pushed around like this? Is this what the Union stands for? Do you agree Scotland is an inferior partner of the UK? Do they sound like reasonable people who will give you Devo Max? If they look down on a national region, doesn't it show that we need sovereignty to defend ourselves? Is this the Britain you have been happy to be part of or is Scotland really your country, not Britain at all? Voting Yes begins to sound imperative.
And this takes me back to the Labour Yes voters I wrote about weeks ago. They are worried that if the vote for Yes is too low, Westminster will disregard the outcome and bin extra powers. The need for them to back Yes is more pressing today because it is clearer what is at stake.
Hands off Tim Reid! A BBC correspondent gets a call to Downing Street to be gifted a big story and he's expected to do what? Demur? I'd love the conversation with the newsroom. "Yeah, they told me Osborne is joining forces with Balls and Alexander and will rule our currency union…so I said You're not using me as a conduit for your political campaign, give it to somebody else, you chancers…"
What's a reporter to do? It was, after all, true. It all came to pass and it was a global story. Reid got the credit for it although not from the News at Ten where the presenter introduced Nick Robinson with the words: "Nick, you broke this story…" And Nick said nothing!
So was the BBC manipulated? Of course. That's how the lobby system works. Minister or aide whispers in journalist's ear, journalist writes story or broadcasts it and the hare is off and running. The question is: Should the BBC have spent two days building it up before anything was said? Yes. How could they not? You can't un-know something and you can't credibly let every other outlet run with your story and not do so yourself.
The real issue here is surely how it was then dealt with because having ownership of a story and with so many hours to work on it rather demands intense scrutiny, in my mind. Instead of just bursting on you in the morning and forcing everyone to scurry around getting on air, in this case there was more than enough time ahead of the statement to do some serious investigative work on what was going on, on how voters would react, how currency works, experience elsewhere, impact on the UK. Maybe even Johann Lamont's reaction – only joking.
I didn't get much sense of depth in BBC Scotland's coverage up to the announcement and I would like to hear an on-air statement pointing out that a request for interview was put in but rejected. STV were exactly right to make that point about the parachute policy of the UK government. It isn't just that they don't want to be caught out on camera not having acceptable answers, they don't want to be caught on camera at all. A speech is one thing, but an intimate camera in the face capturing every squirm and reminding us of who is behind the Union campaign is not a good PR idea.
Consider too that the Scottish government has the same power over the media – pro Union or not. If they wanted to they can play the same game by summoning a journalist and offering an exclusive…" the Scottish Government will definitely not agree to pay part of Britain's debt" could have been an example. Nobody would have refused to publish and, offered to the right outlet, it would have been spun positively.
This is a campaign. In that respect it is a game and time and gain one side gets the better of the other. Yes campaigners should be asking why.
The reaction has been grand sport both to the currency issue and the latest Barroso outburst which have been linked by the media implying a coordinated effort, although I doubt that personally. Laughably, Barroso was in the UK ahead of the European elections and trying to convince us to stay good Europeans…and not to listen to UKIP and Cameron…exactly what Scotland is trying to do!
I liked Angus Roxburgh in the Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/mar/20/scotlands-eu-bombshell-bunkum-barroso pinning the issue neatly and hitting a button most of the media just don't reach.
'Barroso was asked whether the commission could confirm the "view" (sic) expressed by his predecessor Romano Prodi in 2004, to the effect that "a newly independent region would become a third party with respect to the Union and the treaties would, from the day of independence, not apply any more on its territory". Yes, replied Barroso, he could confirm this because "the legal context has not changed since 2004 as the Lisbon treaty has not introduced any change in this respect".
Alarm bells should have clamoured in the ears of everyone with the slightest knowledge of the EU. Of course the Lisbon treaty did not change the legal context regarding this issue – because the Lisbon treaty has nothing whatsoever to say on the matter! Lisbon deals with many important things (including how a member state might withdraw from the Union), but not the question of what happens with a region that secedes from an EU state. It's like saying, your gas bill has not been affected by recent changes to the mobile phone network. True, but daft.
So why did he say it? In letter after letter to the commission I have pleaded with them to spell out to me what "legal context" Barroso was referring to. Which treaty article or EU law did he have in mind? No reply.
I asked whether Prodi's "view" (the thing that Barroso confirmed) had any legal status, or was it really just his opinion. Again, an eloquent silence.
I asked them to confirm that in fact there is no provision in EU law to deal with the situation that will arise if part of a member state secedes. No reply.
I put it to them that in such a circumstance, the member state itself would have to renegotiate its membership terms (number of seats in the European parliament, votes in the council, contribution to the budget etc), and that during that period of negotiation it would surely be possible for the seceding territory (prior to its actual declaration of independence) simultaneously to negotiate its own terms of membership. No reply.
The commission, I was told, "will only be able to express its opinion on the legal consequences under EU law of a specific situation upon request from a member state detailing a precise scenario".
Why? It is the European commission's job to interpret EU law. That's what it exists for, and it does it every day, without being prevailed upon by member states. And yet in this historic situation it refuses to clarify to the Scottish people what a vote for independence would actually mean. Instead, it uses weasel words patently designed to influence the vote.' Precisely. Barroso, whether he is right or wrong, is playing politics and undermining the EU's authority and, I suspect, it's reputation in Scotland. (I too have written to Commission officials asking for answers to specific points but if they won't answer Roxburgh's, they won't answer mine).
Pity the Guardian continued its anti-SNP tone with another leader cavilling about Salmond's seemingly hollow speech. Surely what is happening is that he is only speaking to us, the Scots, to hammer home the idea that we are being robbed of something that is rightfully ours and whatever we finally decide to do about currency, this has to remain upper most in our mind.
Salmond must ensure this lesson is learned but it is also important that he continues to open up the idea of a currency without monetary union. It simply isn't sustainable to stay in denial and the Guardian view – that all else is hot air – will prevail until there is an alternative. That isn't just following a Better Together narrative, it is key to convincing Scottish voters to have belief that there is a credible option that won't harm them. It is twin-track – relentlessly blaming the UK for denial of rights in a vindictive and aggressive act while pointing to the next best option, adding the rider than actually, this has real attractions too.
When Darling pops up frothing at the alternative the penny will drop with the voters – this man won't accept any option. All he does is demand you pick a number and then he rubbishes it. That is credibility-grating in the yes of the voters. Salmond can take the morale high ground here and drive further the idea that London – the government, the parties and, in this case, even the Civil Service, are conspiring against us.
If you want some type of confirmation of this, I suggest you check out David Maddox in the Scotsman.
This makes extraordinary assertions including that London believes through its release of "government papers" it has won the heads of the Scots. All it has to do now is win their hearts…are you following this? 'They believe the battle of the head is won. They also feel that they bend over backwards to keep Scotland happy so it will stay in the UK through devolution, a generous settlement in the Barnett Formula and a high representation in Westminster.'
Bend over backwards?! I have been accused of being subsidised when I'm a net contributor, I've had my oil money removed and not a penny saved, our farmers have just been robbed of their EU cash, my steel industry and pits were shut, my fiscal policy is shaped for the bankers, I didn't have a pay rise for five years because they screwed up the economy, they're threatening to take their money out of our renewables and I don't want representation at Westminster…
I don't want a Barnett formula either. I want to raise all my own taxes and I don't have a West Lothian Question because I don't want a vote on their privatised health service or their parent-run free schools…
How could a Scottish political journalist write this as if it might be fact? Is he so removed from the realities of this country that he thinks only in Westminster-speak?
It gets worse. Read this: 'Where they think they could lose is in the battle of the heart. This is why Prime Minister David Cameron made his appeal for the rest of the UK to love-bomb Scotland. But this analysis is leading to a conclusion, not publicly expressed, that if Scotland does leave, then it is because Scots simply do not like their neighbours – a view fuelled by SNP rhetoric.'
Get it? They have done everything they could to help the ingrates to the point where its only hatred of the English that can positively justify their continued complaints…
I can't believe this quasi-racist English supremacist – and deeply inaccurate – garbage is published in Scotland. This briefing should have been used to pour scorn of a ruling elite deluding themselves. What if Salmond had made such self-serving claims? Would have been presented as an intelligent feature item or blasted in ridicule across the front?
And then, the poor soul offers us this: 'Given this mood music in Westminster, if Scots do vote Yes, there is likely to be a ruthless assertion of national interest by the larger state. So saying "no" to sharing the pound is just the beginning. Tory Home Secretary Theresa May has talked about border posts, Tory Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond has questioned allowing Scotland into Nato, Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable has talked about moving Royal Bank of Scotland's headquarters to London.
If Scotland does not share the debt, there could be worse in the form of a total asset grab, potentially even including North Sea oil and gas which, courtesy of the Callaghan government, is in a fifth part of the UK – the continental shelf – and not formally part of Scotland.'
So the wave of threats will continue unabated, all reported in advance in a national newspaper which doesn't question one word of it, either the accuracy (prevent us joining NATO, Border posts? RBS moving – now specifically denied?) and seemingly accepted by the editor as a fair piece of analysis. Taking all the oil?
Apart from the ludicrous assertion that idea implies in international law, are we to believe that the Scotsman itself has no problem with this, no sense of outrage, no booming editorial standing up for the rights of the Scots the paper was started all those years ago to serve? NO, is the answer because it's leader column plays London's game to the hilt.
And even, in a profound irony in light of the Maddox article, manages to blame Salmond of making threats. 'To threaten that in retaliation, Scotland will not take on any share of the UK debt built up while Scotland was a member of the Union is vacuous'.
Unbelievable. Actually un-Scottish is a better term. Can you imagine anywhere else on earth where a country is threatened this way including removal of its oil assets and its national newspaper doesn't raise a murmur? It actually indicates clearly it agrees that it should be bullied. I write about national pride being part of this debate. Far from pride, some of our press hasn't even got a backbone.
There is talk in the steamie – and I've had two sources say it now – that the Scotsman is to cease publishing as a daily newspaper because it can't afford to carry on. It might, runs the theory, publish weekly, on a Thursday.
What a climb down that would be for what was one a venerated institution with an international reputation. When I worked there it meant something. You were proud to call yourself a Scotsman Reporter. It's where I started 45 years ago and I owe them a lot but it only makes the pain harder to bear when I read it today. There was a greater sense of Scottishness and desire for self-determination in the paper in those days, and especially in the 1979 referendum, than they have today. Where are the Neal Achersons and the Chris Baurs of our age?
I add here a few lines from someone who is always worth listening to – the tax expert Richard Murphy at for a money man's take on Barroso's ramblings.
'I am surprised that Jose Barroso of the EU has said that Scotland would have to re-apply for membership of the EU if it voted for independence but omitted what seems to me to be quite an important detail.
The detail he omitted seems to me to be that if he is right then surely the remaining part of the United Kingdom would also have to apply for membership as well?
I cannot quite see why it is assumed that if the United Kingdom split Scotland would be a new state but the remaining bit (surely, not then the United Kingdom, almost by definition) would carry on as before.
Making this assumption the EU appears to make very clear that it thinks that Scotland is not now a separate country, and yet it has some very clearly defined characteristics, such as a separate legal system that pre-existed its joining the UK that clearly indicate that it is. It also has a very obvious independent history. But the EU logic is that Scotland is simply a province and not a partner when the very name of the UK implies not.
And what I cannot quite accept is the EU logic that if the UK splits then England is the heir. This appears to me to have dubious foundation in logic that is worrying even if the Union survives and suggests that it will need to take a very different form if it does, that may actually be harder to manage.'
So it's not all anti-Scottish out there even if our own press struggles to find its kilt.
**I quoted Angus Roxburgh earlier. These are quotes from his latest piece in the Guardian about Barroso’s interventions. The full version is at http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/18/scottish-referendum-independent-scaremongering-eu
‘Now, it seems, if we dare to express this unique and much-loved identity of ours by voting for independence in September, we will be outcasts. Nobody would want us in the European Union or Nato, and what used to be known as a land of canny bankers wouldn’t be trusted with the British pound….In every instance, I find myself asking (and wondering why BBC interviewers do not ask): why are all these politicians suggesting that Scotland should be cast out when sheer self-interest and common sense would dictate the opposite? Why, Mr Barroso, would the EU expel a country that has been a member for 40 years, and which has already transposed all EU legislation into Scottish law, knowing that this would cause utter havoc – not just for Scotland, but for all the other member states? Why, Mr Osborne, would you refuse to share a currency when it would be in the interests of British business to do so?
There are seven months to go to the referendum. Let’s quit the scaremongering, and accept one thing: if the Scots democratically choose independence, then Brussels, London, and all global institutions will accept this and work to make it happen. Not for Scotland’s sake, but for their own. No one is going to throw us out.’
He is a seasoned international observer with intimate knowledge of the EU.
‘What is glaringly absent from the debate, both in the knowing buck-passing of Barroso’s intervention and in the broader silence of the EU’s main movers and players on the Scottish question, is the articulation of any kind of public philosophy that would provide good reasons, rather than simply motivations of base political self interest, why an independent Scotland should or should not be welcomed with open arms. How, precisely, is the EU, still resolved by common commitment of the member states in the preamble to the Treaty on European Union ‘ to continue the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity’, to justify the exclusion of an independent Scotland? Why should a country of 5 million citizens, who have also been EU citizens for 40 years and who have expressed no desire to leave the European Union, be treated less generously than the 110 million new EU citizens – over 20% of the EU’s total population – who have joined from Central and Eastern Europe since 2004? Why should Scottish citizens instead be placed in the same category of Kosovo, or any other potential candidate from beyond the Union’s distant borders?
Here, the Edinburgh Agreement reflects the preparedness of the UK’s flexible constitution to accommodate the prospect of independence. So for the EU to set its face against Scottish independence would be to dismiss the significance of the member state’s own recognition of the legitimacy of secession.
Not only is this less than we might expect from someone committed to the general interests of the Union, but it also allows the prejudices of national parties to be entered to the calculation without the embarrassment of a first person airing.
In a nutshell: If any of the key players on the EU stage is opposed to Scottish membership then they should either show the courage of their convictions through a discourse of public justification linked to the interests of the Union as a whole or, failing that, they should at least be prepared to declare their intentions to act out of national self-interest. Barroso’ s intervention allows a significant oppositional note to be struck without either of these tests of public candour being met. The danger increases that our independence debate become hijacked to poorly specified and undefended external considerations. That surely is bad news for anyone interested in the referendum as a means to the long-term, widely accepted resolution of our national conversation.’
Does this make sense to you? Or are you convinced by the ill-informed hysteria of the anti-democracy Unionists? If we do vote Yes, there is going to be a period of intense revisionism in Scotland as those who played politics with the facts, Scotland’s future and their reputations feel the heat of public and professional scrutiny.
How do you come back from disastrous misleading positions like Barroso’s, or Darling’s or the Unionist politicians. I think the MEPs are particularly vulnerable here since their case is clearly anti-Scottish and simply not credible. Nobody in their right mind hitches their reputation to a right-wing maverick like Barroso as David Martin, Catherine Stihler and Struan Stevenson have.
I noticed a tweet today in which Professor Adam Tomkins, Britain’s most Unionist academic, recommended Brian Wilson’s latest self-justifying sneer at the SNP. Tomkins recommends Wilson on independence is like Campbell recommends Blair on Iraq war or Cameron recommends Ian Duncan Smith for impoverishing disabled, or Paul Sinclair recommends Johann Lamont for doing nothing.
And did you see the shameless Gordon Brown, the man utterly devoid of self-analysis, announcing that it is better for Scottish pensions to remain in the UK where “they will be safe”. Is this the former Chancellor who stole billions from our pensions?
Here’s a report from 2007. ‘Gordon Brown was warned explicitly that he would cause the death of the final salary pension scheme and cost companies and individuals billions of pounds when he took the knife to the pension system in his first Budget.
Confidential documents sent to the Chancellor before he axed the dividend tax credit in 1997 also warned that the worst-hit victims would be the poorest members of society.
The internal Treasury forecasts, released last night under the Freedom of Information Act, state that the changes would “cause a shortfall in existing assets of up to £75 billion” and that “employers would have to contribute about an extra £10 billion a year for the next 10 to 15 years to get pension scheme funding back on track”.
The abolition of the credit system has become notorious as the biggest and perhaps most damaging tax grab of Mr Brown’s chancellorship. It became known as the ultimate stealth tax since it only became clear in the following years how serious a dent it was to leave in pension funds.
Actuaries have claimed the move cost schemes £5 billion a year and plunged the pension system into crisis. They allege that Britain has gone from having one of the best pension systems in the world to one of the worst.
The papers released last night reveal that the Chancellor took his decision in the full knowledge that the costs to pension funds could be double £5 billion a year.
They also show that in 1997 “90 per cent of employees in occupational pension schemes have defined benefit” – schemes that pay out a portion of final salary. Now, less than half do, according to actuaries. The Treasury only published the papers last night after losing a lengthy battle to suppress them.’
Yes, you can trust Gordon with your pension. Interestingly Greg McClymont, another Brown acolyte, who was present today in Fife is Labour’s pension spokesman and doesn’t see the irony and poor Lindsay Roy, former heidie and lugubrious Labour MP, doesn’t seem to remember Gordon’s pension-killing either. Of course he was just a teacher then.
And wasn’t it Gordon who refused to restore the link between earnings and pensions, broken by the Tories?
Gordon Brown, Scotland’s biggest economic failure since Darien, still living his delusional life.
Courtesy of Derek Bateman