Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Malcolm Bruce is new deputy leader

Sir Malcolm Bruce: new deputy leader of the
Liberal Democrats in the Commons
It has been announced in the last few hours that the latest person to be elevated to the position of deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons is former Scottish leader and MP for Gordon Sir Malcolm Bruce.

Not for the first time, I have failed to correctly predict how the vote would go. My money was on Lorely Burt, so it's just as well I'm not a betting man.

It seems a curious coincidence that, on the day the Liberal Democrats announce that Christine Jardine has been selected as the PPC for Sir Malcolm's seat, he should be chosen to be - in real terms, given the status and media recognition that comes with the role - the deputy leader of the party. No doubt this decision on the part of our MPs is in recognition of Sir Malcolm's incredible service to the party over the previous few decades and the esteem in which he is held by his colleagues. It is, in many ways, particularly fitting that he should have the opportunity to finish his parliamentary career as deputy leader.

I have always liked Malcolm Bruce, who has so often been the voice of no-nonsense, pragmatic liberalism. And while I am more than happy with someone of his abilities, passion, experience and self-evident dedication assuming the role of deputy leader, I do wonder if it was the right move given the party's current circumstances.

If we're being honest, it's a retrograde step. The party is in a difficult situation and a longer-term approach is needed. Much as Sir Malcolm Bruce has had a distinguished political career, we must look to the future. It's time to take some risks. It's time to build. It's time for someone like Lorely Burt to be able to step up, to show some leadership, to boost her profile and that of other women MPs. Sir Malcolm won't be staying on beyond the next election, when a new leader will have to be chosen in the aftermath of the result. Not only have our MPs not considered the longer-term picture, they've also overlooked the need for continuity. It doesn't help to have more deputy leaders in four years than the average South American republic has presidents.

In opting for Sir Malcolm, albeit for entirely understandable reasons, the Liberal Democrats have missed some key opportunities, not least in regards our public image. Indeed, there will not be a similar opportunity to reach out more in advance of the General Election. I suspect if he hadn't been standing down, most would have seen him as a rather odd choice and for me that logic still stands. Clearly there should be an internal conversation about what the role of deputy leader entails - unlike Party President, this shouldn't be something whose role can essentially be determined by the office bearer. It certainly shouldn't be seen as a gift for long-service.

Also, we need to take a serious look at our internal structure. For how much longer can the Liberal Democrats afford not to have a deputy leader of the federal party elected by the membership? We claim to be the most openly democratic party in the UK, and yet the electorate for tonight's vote was a mere 56.

These of course are significant issues, and I hope in the next few years democracy is widened and a new role of federal deputy leader created. In the meantime, I'd like to congratulate Sir Malcolm Bruce and wish him every success in his new role.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

John Farquhar Munro 1934-2014

Charles Kennedy and John Farquhar Munro
It is with a great deal of sadness I have learned of the passing of John Farquhar Munro, the former MSP for Ross, Skye and Inverness West.

John was elected to the new Scottish Parliament in 1999, and held his seat until retiring in 2011. A keen sailor, a fisherman and a Gaelic speaker, he was an ideal Highland MSP. A passion for such issues as land reform, crofting, ending tolls on the Skye bridge made him an authentic voice for Highland interests in Holyrood.

This, naturally, should not have been surprising given that he lived in Glen Shiel, Lochalsh, for the entire duration of his life. He served as a councillor for 33 years and was the leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the Highland Council prior to his being elected to Holyrood. He used his experiences in crofting and local government to his advantage in the new parliament. As one of the first intake of new MSPs, John quickly made a reputation for himself as one of the awkward squad in joining with Donald Gorrie and Keith Raffan to oppose the Labour-Lib Dem coalition. He inevitably ruffled more feathers when he openly criticised the executive for its failure to support a bill granting Gaelic equal status to English. Furthermore, he also (rightly in my view) openly supported an independence referendum during the last parliament in spite of the official Lib Dem position.

There were times when he came close to leaving the party he loved so much - most notably when he threatened to resign if the Skye bridge tolls were not removed. He also expressed his support for Alex Salmond in the 2011 elections. For all his awkwardness, however, he was an honest voice of liberalism and political integrity - albeit one who, at times, struggled with some of the choices the Scottish Liberal Democrats made.

Many will remember John Farquhar Munro as an energetic and sometimes abrasive MSP, but he deserves much more credit than that. A tireless campaigner, he was instrumental in helping to win Ross, Cromarty and Skye for Charles Kennedy and the Alliance from Hamish Gray in 1983. He also did a great deal to further Gaelic education and culture, as well as to improve appreciation of the particular needs of Highland rural communities.

Most obviously, John Farquhar Munro was his own man. He was a man of absolute principle and a liberal after my own heart. We need more like him in politics, and Scotland - and the Lib Dems - are poorer for his passing. 

Saturday, 25 January 2014

A UKIP joke

A UKIP councillor attends an LGBT event, for no other reason than to express his disgust at the "moral decay" that marriage equality will inevitable cause to British society. Oddly enough, there have been no flood warnings in this area and it isn't even raining. 

He tells everyone present that he thinks their "alternative" lifestyles aren't natural, but admits there's also something unnatural about him - one of his eyes is false. He lost his right eye in a fight outside a pub, in an argument about how to differentiate Slovakians from Slovenians. The fake eye he has is so realistic that no-one has, to date, successfully managed to guess which one it is.

He puts down a challenge - if the chair of the meeting can correctly guess which is the glass eye, he will rip up his UKIP membership card.

The challenge is accepted and the chair guesses correctly. Stunned, the UKIP councillor asks "how did you know?"

"I chose the one with the sympathetic look in it" came the reply.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Why sorry seems to be the hardest word

And so, Chris Rennard refuses to apologise for allegedly sexually harassing four women. Quelle surprise.

Elton John was right - so often sorry really is the hardest word.

I am not necessarily convinced of Rennard's pleas of innocence. At the very best, I suspect he has rather limited self-awareness. But this alone does not mean that I believe that he should be treated in the way he has. Every convicted criminal in this country has been subjected to due process, and that should also be the case for Lord Rennard.

The problem, as so succinctly described on Channel 4 News, is that while Liberal Democrats are strong believers in process, we don't actually agree on what that process is.

And of course Rennard will not apologise, as long as there is any suggestion that doing so would be tantamount to an admission of guilt. Sorry is such a difficult word, because of the perceived consequences. It's also difficult, in Rennard's case at least, because his advisors are offering somewhat questionable counsel. Intense media scrutiny does little to make apology easier. No doubt Rennard also has some difficulty in apologising as he fails to understand that the fact that behaviour is not criminal does not in itself mean that such behaviour is acceptable.

I understand why many are demanding an apology - I hoped Rennard would bring himself to at least apologise for hurt and offence inadvertently caused. But that hasn't happened and no amount of pressure will now achieve anything more than to stiffen his resolve and increase the potential for internal conflict. It's not an approach likely to bring about meaningful resolution.

Barring a complete climbdown by either side, the most logical way forward is via arbitration or reconciliation. I hope this is attempted, as it is surely the only means of avoiding what appears to be an otherwise inevitable slide into unpleasant confrontation. Even that will require some to admit to mistakes and to back down from unrealistic positions, but it is certainly achievable.

The alternative, so we hear today, is a legal challenge from Lord Rennard. I do not believe for a moment that this is what either side wants. But I understand Rennard's impossible position. Those who would criticise him for even considering such an action against "the party he loves" must appreciate that, without the party, Rennard has nothing. He has given so much of his life to it that, in his mind and those of many others, he and the party are inseparable.Their identities are interconnected.

I am reminded of an occasion when another politician, who had given over 30 years of service to his party, took it to the Court of Session after being suspended following serious allegations. The politician's name was Pat Lally, the former Provost of Glasgow. In 1997 he and Alex Mosson were suspended after a "votes for trips" scandal. They denied any guilt, but voices both within the Labour Party and outwith argued that they should resign from public office. Party members urged Lally to consider the good of the party; the Evening Times stated that "while Pat Lally has done many things of which Glasgow should be proud...for the good of the city he must stand down now".

There could be no denying that Lally loved the Labour Party, although he was later to fall very much out of love with what it became under Tony Blair. The fact that he felt compelled to go through legal channels should not have been interpreted as a sign of disloyalty. Lally was ultimately successful and readmitted to the Labour Party, but the outcome itself is largely irrelevant to my purpose here. I would not hold it against Rennard should he pursue legal action, but I would certainly hold it against both "sides" if sufficient efforts are not made to avoid it.

It is unclear what the outcome of such a legal battle may be, and how long it could take. What is more certain is the impact it will have on the credibility of the party in the run-up to the 2015 General Election. It will be undeniably damaging. Parties can and do recover from apparently devastating setbacks, but the timing could not possibly be worse.

But if sorry is a hard word for Rennard, it is equally hard for many who wish him to apologise. Where is the apology from the leadership for the kamikaze-style way in which they have dealt with what is clearly a long-standing issue? Where is the apology for failing Rennard's alleged victims, who have been roundly diminished? Where is the apology for not having confronted Rennard properly in over a decade, thus arguably reinforcing his belief that such behaviour is acceptable? Where is the apology for relying on procedures so unfit for purpose, they make the Church of England's organisation look positive progressive? In short, where is the apology for having failed everyone concerned? Where is the apology for apparently denying the right of all party members to be treated properly and fairly in accordance with the party constitution to Rennard? It is not only Chris Rennard who has appeared recently to misunderstand the experiences of women (and, also - lest we forget - some men).

Of course sorry is the hardest word. To say sorry requires an admission that, at some stage, we were wrong - if not in intent then in deed. Rather than persist in unrealistic demands, the situation needs to be de-escalated. This requires no shortage of political skill, but also an abandonment of the superficially easy options. There needs to be an emphasis on rehabilitation rather than exclusion, on reconciliation rather than conflict. Within the party, some sober reflection may yield more dividends in the longer-term than anger and what Nick Clegg unhelpfully describes as "shrillness".  The process may be long and difficult,

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. That, at least for me, isn't Chris Rennard's political future - it is ensuring that no further harassment of any kind is tolerated in the Liberal Democrats. The inept, creaking party organisation must be overhauled if we want to turn the situation around. The party must admit to its mistakes, and take steps to become more responsive to complainants while creating a new culture in which the kind of behaviour alleged of Rennard cannot thrive.

I too would like some apologies. I would like Lord Rennard to realise that, whatever has happened, clearly misunderstandings have taken place and consequently people are both hurt and angry. No-one deserves to be treated with desrespect. But similarly, if progress has to be made, the leadership must also apologise for the party's failings and the poor handling of the saga to date.

Perhaps, given the significant damage already done to our party, all those on both sides who have made frankly ludicrous things in the last few days could also apologise?  Or is sorry just too hard to say?

Sunday, 19 January 2014

The Rennard Question: can internal division be avoided?

It seems that the Lib Dems have entered into a civil war.

This, naturally, is not unusual for political parties. Labour had their own internal battle over the repeal of Clause 4. The Conservatives fight among themselves over such matters as marriage equality and Europe. We Lib Dems tend not to do things as others do, but sadly the previous few days have witnessed a regrettable descent into what could well develop into a fully-fledged conflict, with the potential to damage both long-term relationships and the reputation of the party.

I never took us for being a party that would end up so divided over something like this. I am so depressed at how this is being managed and the potentially significant damage being done by both "sides" to the party. On the one had there are those who have already pre-judged Rennard as guilty of the worst of the accusations leveled against him; on the other those who, on the basis of his reputation and standing, believe him to be entirely innocent irrespective of the fact that this has to date been far from proven.

At the very least, this saga has developed into an undignified spat. This morning Lord Carlile used the Sunday Mail, of all papers, to compare Nick Clegg with Thomas Cromwell, Kim Jong Un and Henry VIII. The other "side", inevitably, hit back. Does any of this help?

Worse still tonight was an example of how tribalistic loyalties have a tendency to undermine the substantive issues - in this case the need to tackle all forms of harassment. North West MEP, in defence of Rennard, said in an interview that "this is touching someone’s leg through clothing...the equivalent of an Italian man pinching a woman’s bottom". It defies belief. There have been other such ill-considered comments, but I would have expected more of Davies.

The reality is that we simply have had no idea how do deal with this kind of issue, and that in itself has led to the current predicament. It's all immensely painful to watch. At least when the Tories are divided and indulge in petty trench warfare, it's on something we can all laugh about. This is more serious. It underlines our failings as an organisation and it isn't only Chris Rennard who should be apologising.

To summarise the complicated saga in a few words, the party has to date failed everyone concerned.

I have personally been the recipient of unwanted sexual advances from a Lib Dem parliamentarian, and gave evidence to the Morrissey inquiry on this. I also cited another male who had similarly been propositioned. I accept that sexual harassment is serious, that it must be challenged and that the culture of how we work as a party to eradicate it must change urgently. But I also have witnessed other forms of harassment, which have equally harmful psychological and emotional effects, which it would seem are more acceptable in a liberal and democratic party in the 21st century. When myself and others have been the recipients of unwanted harassment and bullying by someone who is even now using the Rennard issue as a means of masquerading as a moral crusader against harassment, it is more than ironic.

The Liberal Democrats have something of a history. We came out of the "Paddy Pantsdown" scandal relatively unscathed although failed to learn the lessons, and seemed to have no idea how to deal with revelations surrounding Mark Oaten and Simon Hughes. Consequently, when the accusations surrounding Rennard came to light the party was paralysed with indecision and lacking the kinds of advanced and professional internal processes other employers use effectively in such situations. The real issue here is not Chris Rennard, as much as many want it to be - it is the need for an admission of collective and organisational failure.

What we must do in situations like this is remember we are a liberal party. We must behave in a liberal way, consistent with our liberal values. Currently, it looks as if even the most basic liberal tenets of pluralism and tolerance have given way to mistrust, suspicion and inflexibility. Not to mention judgmental attitudes and no small amount of pseudo-liberal angst.

Caron Lindsay wrote today on her blog, asking how is the party going to get through this. It's a good question (and Caron's piece is well worth reading), but the answers are far from certain. To me it seems increasingly unlikely, given the intransigence of all involved, that there is any way out of this without one side losing face entirely. The battle lines have been drawn. No-one is willing to concede an inch. The only thing we can be sure of is that this will become even more messy. I can only hope when the two sides blow themselves to bits with their metaphorical cannon, that there will be sufficient of us left to pick up the pieces. We need to grasp the inescapable truth that this internecine strife will do serious, and in some respects irreversible, damage to the Liberal Democrats and what we represent as a party. This is not something I say either lightly or with any sense of satisfaction, but unless some attempts at a ceasefire are attempted I can see no alternative outcome. It is utterly depressing to see friends pitted against other friends, especially when the pending self-destruction is - even now - far from inevitable if reason prevails.

I know what I think about Chris Rennard, and what he should do. I also know what I don't know. I don't wish to hear anything further about this, unless it is from someone who has carefully considered all of the evidence and has a trained legal mind. However, I am more than aware that that remains as likely as Morton winning the Champions League and therefore I will reduce my appeal simply to a request for sober minds and tolerance. How we proceed in the coming days and weeks will say a lot more about the type of party we are than how the leadership has historically handled the accusations themselves.

Only by the triumph of genuine liberal values can an unnecessarily calamitous civil war be avoided. I retain the belief that liberalism would be an excellent philosophy, if only more people had the courage to put it into practice.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Some myths about bisexuality

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
As a bisexual person, I find that many people don’t understand us.

Recently, I saw a doctor who had reason to ask about my sexual activities. When I mentioned that I am attracted to men (as well as women) he asked when I had ceased to be “straight”.  He is a health professional, working in acute psychiatry; is it any surprise our NHS is in such a state?

That, however, is merely the tip of the iceberg. Here are a few myths that need dispelling – not least because they diminish the humanity and identity of myself and others like me.

1. Bisexuality is a lifestyle. No it isn’t. No more than liking cats or enjoying sci-fi movies is a lifestyle. (Actually, on second thoughts, the latter might not be a good example). I have encountered this attitude so often that it’s beyond frustrating.

There are conservative Christians out there who seem, rather judgementally and unfairly, to assume my defence of LGBT rights stems from my “lifestyle” rather than a well-thought out moral and philosophical position. There are others who imagine that simply by identifying myself as being bisexual suggests a particular “lifestyle”. I’m not really sure what this “lifestyle” thing actually means, but I for one have been with the same amazing woman for the last 14 years. Bisexuality is an orientation – not at all the same thing as a lifestyle.

2. Bisexual people are promiscuous. No, they are not. At least no more promiscuous than anyone else. I’m sure some people would like us to be, but there really is no factual basis to this supposition.

3. Bisexual people are attracted to everyone. I’ve experienced this far too often: “Ah, so you swing both ways. You fancy everyone, right?” Erm, wrong. Bisexual people are attracted to people they find attractive, just like anyone else. Personally I find intellect, a caring personality, and a sense of humour to be far more important a factor in determining attractiveness than an individual’s gender – but that’s just me. Bisexual people simply aren’t limited to being attracted to people of a particular sex.

4. Bisexual people are not straight or gay people who have changed their minds. This is quite a common misconception – and it isn’t just people like the aforementioned doctor who fail badly here. A friend had once come out as gay  - when he later announced that he was in fact bi some in the LGBT community unkindly suggested that he had “once come out, now [he was] going back in”.

Human sexuality is complex and fluid. Many of us will have gone through periods when we are unsure of our identities – in my case it took a long time for me to recognise and embrace mine.  Those who look at sexual identity 2-dimensionally, exclusively in terms of gay and straight, don’t seem able to grasp this truth. Don’t put us into pre-determined boxes of socially-defined conformity – see us for who we are.

5. Bisexual people have more fun than others. Erm, no. See point #1 – most of us are in committed relationships and, while we do have a great deal of fun with our partners, have probably no more than straight or gay couples.

6...”But you have such adventurous lives.” Whatever. I work, watch TV, play computer games, go shopping, tweet a lot, play tennis, run a business, enjoy art and look after a 17 month old girl. The latter actually takes up most of my time. While many of us have interesting lives, I don’t think bisexuality is a passport to adventure.

7.“But if you like guys so much, why are you with a woman?” Yawn! Bisexuals are not gay people who have heterosexual bits on the side – how hard is it to understand that?

8. “You ARE gay, you’ve just not accepted it yet”. Bisexual people are not people who lack the courage to be themselves – quite the opposite in fact! It’s a shame that others so often don’t have the courage to accept that not everyone fits into their convenient “two labels cover everyone” view of human sexuality.

9. “Wow! So you’re bi! That’s just, like, so ...well, COOL!” Really? What’s really cool is not making assumptions about people based on labels such as “gay” or “bi”. I don’t really see what’s cool about being bi – personally, I think it’s much cooler to have a social conscience.

10. Bi people are different. “So what’s it like being a bi dad?” I was asked  last year, when I became a dad for the first time. The person who asked had absolutely no idea how offensive they were being: what difference does it make whether I’m gay, bi, trans, poly or even straight? (can’t imagine ever being the latter though). Becoming a dad is great, whatever orientation you happen to be. The real point being that our lives are not remarkably different because of something as trivial as whether we like men, women or both.

In any case, I define myself far more by who I fall in love with than I do my orientation - surely it's simply a human thing to love and be loved? Why does orientation make it different?

11. Isn't everyone really bisexual? Sounds like wishful thinking to me. 

12. "You're just curious" or "You'll grow out of it". Shut up. Take your ignorance elsewhere. Bisexuality is an integral and significant part of our identity. It isn't something that's grown out of. 

13. And finally...“but you know what bisexual people do?” The attitude behind this kind of remark is a combination of several of the above – but I add it as I’ve heard it personally on so many occasions.

Enlighten me...what DO bi people do that others don’t? There is obviously a huge difference between what some think we do and what we actually do – which is just to get on with life.

So...please, let us get on with it!

Saturday, 4 January 2014

What I want from Better Together - more negativity

Those of you who are regular visitors to my blog will know that I’ve often criticised the “no” campaign for their negativity.

It will therefore come as something of a surprise when I say that what I hope to see from Better Together in these crucial, final months of campaigning is more negativity.

Not simply negativity, but focused negativity.

And that negativity should be directed towards the Union. It is the only intellectually honest tactic to save the 307 year old union, which is itself arguably threatened by the strategy of its self-appointed defenders.

Let’s turn back the clock a bit. A little over a year ago, myself and other Lib Dems were making the case for a multi-question referendum on the basis that this was the surest method of providing for guaranteed further constitutional and political reform in the aftermath of a “no” vote. In essence, many of us were looking for a way by which we could bring ourselves to vote “no” in the knowledge that improvements would inevitably follow. As an “ultra-federalist” (an intended term of abuse coined by a fellow Lib Dem) I fail to see how the constitutional status quo is either desirable or sustainable, a view shared by many others who are far from nationalists in their political outlook. We wanted some guarantees rather than vague talk.

In the meantime, the Scottish Liberal Democrats have published their own plans for Home Rule. It misses a few opportunities but in general it’s a fairly optimistic and well conceived vision. It is not, however, a blueprint for a federalist settlement and its principal deficiency is that the Lib Dems lack the means via which to implement their grand programme. Ming Campbell’s report is a signal of intention at best; there is no serious prospect of it being realised without the support of the Conservative and Labour parties – which means there is no serious prospect of it being realised.

For their part, the Tories and Labour are at pains to tell us that there will be further reform, but omit to provide explanation as to what shape it may take. This lack of elaboration on their part is telling. Labour talk in vague terms about a range of ideas including a new convention, but are unable to be more specific and have suggested long-term timescales; the Tories seem to be struggling to put forward any proposals of significance that are remotely practical.

This is relevant to the pertinent and immediate question of whether Scotland should be an independent nation as it underlines the inescapable fact that it is not only the pro-independence camp that legitimately stands accused of a failure to provide detail of their vision for a post-referendum Scotland. The only certainty is that, whatever the referendum result, the immediate consequence will be more uncertainty.

Of course the Scottish voting public deserve better. However, in the absence of any positive indications from Better Together as to what form and shape prospective constitutional reforms might take, what is needed is a healthy dose of intellectual and political honesty towards the nature of the Union.

If we were to believe Better Together’s claims, then the Union has never been in a healthier state. It constitutes “the best of both worlds”. It is “like a family”. In fact, like Mary Poppins, it is practically perfect in every way. Better Together consistently sing the praises of the status quo, as if any deviation from the current settlement would result in economic Armageddon.

No doubt there are some who believe this; who genuinely think that the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy is an example to the world, who feel that no further reform other than the most basic of tinkering at the edges is necessary, or whose understandings of “family” are as dysfunctional loosely connected units presided over by a domineering patriarchal figure.

Aside from its message that the Union represents some type of democratic Utopia, Better Together’s tactics have been invariably negative. The worst thing about the campaign to date is that, in supposedly “defending” the Union, they are actively undermining the case for both federalism and future constitutional reform. It is more than ironic that Liberal Democrats, passionate advocates for ongoing reform, have sat passively by while their progressive vision is sidelined in favour of shrill, tribalistic negativity. Worse still is the degree to which many Liberal Democrat activists have uncritically supported whatever Better Together happen to be saying at any given time, including misguided and disingenuous claims about the nature of the Union.

What I would like to see from Better Together is an acceptance of the Union’s flawed make-up. It must, like those of us campaigning for a better EU, recognise the dysfunctional nature of the status quo – accepting that the current arrangements are far from perfect and actually have so often failed to serve the interests of Scots. It must be honest in regards the Union’s deficient democratic system, the need to build on the devolution settlement, the social and economic divisions inherent within (and exacerbated by) the Union, and the worsening relations between Scottish and British parliaments. It also has to recognise that the Britishness it promotes and defends with such vigour is dying and that the appetite for change is very real.

Messages such as “the Union has served us well for 300 years” are not only glib and simplistic; they are very, very wrong. The Union, like any other political arrangement, has had its share of successes and failures. It is difficult to take seriously any “positive case” made by a campaign group that refuses to face up to inconvenient facts of history.

Better Together, if it genuinely aspires to any kind of political credibility, must acknowledge that it recognises the glaring limitations and inadequacy of the Union, rather than reinforcing lazy myths and ill-informed cultural stereotypes. Only by embracing intellectual honesty can Better Together hope to preserve the Union. It may well be the case that the Union is worth defending, not least if – like the EU – it can be reformed from within. But the Union so beloved by Better Together no longer exists – if it ever really did. What the Union needs, if it is to survive, is not the ramblings of nostalgics and an ill-conceived appeal to shared culture, but a forward-looking approach; one that learns from the past while recognising the Union in the future will need to be very different in how it works, how it relates to its component parts and how its systems of democracy work in action.

So, it’s time for Better Together to up its game. Let’s have more cynicism and negativity – not towards Scotland, but towards the Union itself. I don’t expect Better Together to articulate a programme of evolutionary constitutional reform, but a general acceptance of the Union’s weaknesses and limitations would be a very useful starting point for future constitutional negotiations.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Alex Salmond makes dramatic u-turn

In a stunning about turn, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has publicly stated that he has “changed his mind” about Scottish independence and will in fact now be voting “no” in the referendum he has worked so hard to facilitate.

It is believed that the volte-face is a product of some intense soul-searching at the top of the Scottish National Party and a number of senior SNP MSPs have backed Mr Salmond’s change of heart.

Speaking to Angus McTavish on Radio Cille MhaolChaluim this morning, the First Minister explained his reasons:

“I’ve realised, after giving the issue a great deal of thought, that Scotland would not survive without the Union’s benevolence. We are so dependent on the subsidies and the goodwill that Westminster has always given us, asking for nothing in return.   I’ve been re-reading our White Paper for independence and realised what a load of unrealistic populist polemic it is – what Scotland needs is not the freedom to determine its own destiny but enslavery to a political system that regards the retention of murderous nuclear weapons and demonisation of already oppressed minority groups as of greater significance than the creation of an egalitarian, tolerant and liberal society.”

When challenged by McTavish as to why the climbdown was so complete, Salmond responded with a surprisingly blunt defence. “Look, we all make mistakes. I spent years believing that Scotland could be a better place if she was independent. I wanted to create the kind of Scotland Scots would actually like to live in, which I naively thought meant increased democracy and control over our own affairs, with our own resources in our own hands. But I realised I was too idealistic. Scots don’t really want or need that – they just need BBC TV and the knowledge they don’t need passports to take dirty weekends in Blackpool. And the chance to be governed by Tories they didn’t vote for.”

Other SNP MSPs have similarly declared their rejection of belief in Scottish independence, among them Nicola Sturgeon and Roseanna Cunningham. Ms Sturgeon made clear that there has been a creeping realisation within her party that independence would “be bad for Scotland”. Writing on the party’s website, she refers to “dangerous delusions” that the SNP had previously considered to be unquestionable truths. “Scotland just can’t compete on the world stage. We’re too small. Just think if the likes of Luxembourg, Iceland, Austria or Denmark were to be independent. It doesn’t bear thinking about. We also need to remain part of the UK if Scots are to be successful in sport – take a look at other wee countries like Belgium and Holland and see how bad they are at, say, football.”

Sturgeon continued: “An economically strong Scotland needs to be part of the EU, which is something we’ve always said as a party. But we don’t need to be independent to achieve that. The EU won’t welcome a new member that is a net contributor. The best way to remain within the EU is to stay in the Union – we know English people love the EU as much as we do and are guaranteed to vote for continued membership in Cameron’s planned in-out referendum.”

Cunningham pointed to the many things that were good about the Union, when she spoke to McTavish on his Current Affairs for Kids slot. “We have to be honest, it’s a political system that’s tried, it’s tested and it works. With First Past the Post, an unelected second chamber, reserved places for Bishops and an electoral system that is biased towards two major parties, it’s incredibly representative of Scotland.” She also spoke of how proud she was to be British: “I’m Scottish but I’m also British. This means that I love red phone boxes, the Queen, the Dunkirk spirit, HP Sauce, Winston Churchill, the established Church with its well-deserved privileges, a welfare system that discriminates and marginalises, waving Union Jacks, Morris dancing and being prone to bouts of uncontrolled sentimentalism whenever a member of the Royal family does something as natural as giving birth. All Scots should find identity in these things – these are what make us who we are...not some pitiful belief in autonomy, increased freedom and self-governance.”

An un-named SNP councillor contributed to the debate on the Radio’s phone-in. He added that Salmond was only saying what many within the SNP felt, and that the idea that Scotland has the economic potential to be independent was just a nasty lie spread by cybernats. “Just think of the cost of passports”, he said. “And printing our own postage stamps. It’s right that the leadership has made a firm statement now because we don’t want to continue to mislead people.” He was asked what persuaded him to change his mind, after over 35 years of fighting for independence. “Well, if Alex Salmond thinks it’s the right option, I believe him!”

Salmond has now been invited to co-chair the Better Together campaign alongside former chancellor and owl lookalike Alistair Darling. “This is indeed a privilege”, explained Salmond, “and I will do my utmost to ensure a ‘no’ vote as the only way to give Scots the future they deserve – a future based on backward-looking and nostalgic notions of British cultural identity that only really exist in the minds of right-wing Tories and Nigel Farage.”

Not all within the SNP are happy, however. Some members have already broken away to form a new “Real SNP”, and have elected MSP John Mason as their leader. Mason has already confirmed that God has called him to set Scotland’s people free - or at the very least establish a Theocratic Republic of Shettleston.

There has been reaction to these developments from other parties. Labour’s Margaret Curran and Ian Davidson have announced they will now be campaigning for a “yes” vote as “it would be good to wipe the smirk off Alex Salmond’s face”. Curran explained that her political raison d’etre is to oppose the SNP at all times and therefore that supporting independence is merely a means to a more important end. Davidson confirmed that he has never been opposed to independence in principle, “just the idiots in the SNP”. They now hope to work closely with Yes Scotland.

They have been followed into the Yes camp by former Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott, who declared that “we are not going to be told what to do by the SNP. This is the time to seize the opportunity for independence, which has to be the best option for forging a new, Liberal Scotland.” Johann Lamont added that her party’s policy has essentially been determined in recent years by antipathy towards the SNP and that, given the nationalists’ new stance on the independence issue, “Scottish Labour’s continued support of Better Together will inevitably be reviewed in the immediate future.”

Please note that this piece is intended as satire and none of the events described above, or the quotations cited, have any basis in reality. However, any reference to real persons is entirely intentional as also are the inferences in respect to the tribal nature of the political debate.