2014 Referendum, BBC, Better Together, Blair MacDougall, Edinburgh, Edinburgh Fringe, John Swinney, Nate Silver, Opinion, Opinion Polls, Politics, Scottish Independence, Scottish Nationalism, Silly Season, Sir John Elvidge, Sir Jonathan Mills, SNP, Unionism, Yes Scotland
Tychy has taken a holiday from Scottish Independence over the last month, sojourning in the genuinely “better nation” of the Edinburgh Fringe. You can imagine how guilty I feel. We are prospectively living through the final months of the 300+ year old Act of Union. My grandchildren are bound to be squealing with questions about what it was like during this momentous and historical period. It would not do to disappoint them, and so what controversies have I missed over August?
At the end of July, the nation was rocked by the news that an independent Scotland might be obliged to exit the BBC. Scotland would have to raise and spend its own licence fee; it would have to set up its own Scottish Top Gear and Celebrity Masterchef (perhaps Gordon Brewer and the team at Newsnight Scotland could stretch themselves to present pale imitations of these programmes as well.) Thank goodness that television was still in its early days when India seceded from the British Empire – Gandhi would have been completely out of his depth on these issues.
August began with a squabble about the support for independence in the Scottish Labour party, which is so boring that you can get Grampa Simpson to tell you all about it. On the 9th August, however, the two sides in the referendum debate clashed dramatically. The chief executive of Better Together, Blair MacDougall, accused the SNP of stealing his campaign slogan “the best of both worlds.” The SNP hit back that Better Together was being “arrogant.” Political parties previously denounced each other for stealing policies – now it’s the catchphrases!
On the 11th August, we at last moved out of the barren world of public relations, and into political decisions which could genuinely transform our lives. The SNP’s John Swinney revealed that cold calling will be outlawed in an independent Scotland. If you are startled only by how pathetic this sounds, you will think again after Swinney’s sobering warning: “research shows the high volume of unwanted calls we receive has left almost 60 per cent of people too intimidated to answer the telephone in their own homes.”
Whilst the referendum debate was generating negligible ideas and controversy, at least the opinion polls were slugging it out. On August 13th the American polling “guru” Nate Silver swanned into Edinburgh to announce that there was “virtually no chance” of Yes Scotland winning. He consoled Yes Scotland with the sunny news that something like an “economic catastrophe” in England might deliver a Yes vote. Yet Ipsos Mori were immediately cautioning that 44% of the population had no idea which way they were going to vote in the referendum. It is truly an incredible achievement for the Scottish establishment: after months of debate, the largest percentage of the electorate remain completely baffled.
In other news, Yes Scotland revealed the disturbing news that their emails had been hacked – disturbing because it is hard to imagine any known sort of human being rejoicing over the secrets in Yes Scotland’s inbox. We were wound up to fever pitch by the end of the month when the famous civil servant Sir John Elvidge made a decisive intervention in the debate. Okay, I may be exaggerating how electrifying this really was – Elvidge is in fact a former civil servant. According to the Herald, Sir John’s comments “surfaced in a newly released recording of a recent talk to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Constitution at the House of Lords.” Yes, those meetings always end in trouble. Sir John warned about the referendum becoming “polarised and aggressive” – he did not exactly use the word “Rwanda,” but you could tell what he was thinking. He was essentially rebuking elected politicians for making the referendum…. err, too exciting.
Although it seemed like a good hiding place at the start of August, the Edinburgh Festival/Fringe was not immune from the boredom of the referendum campaign. The director of the Edinburgh International Festival, Sir Jonathan Mills, had specified that the independence referendum was not going to feature as a theme in the 2014 Festival. Over 1400 people duly signed an internet petition which demanded that Mills “lift the BAN on any Scots Independence themed shows in next years [sic] Festival.” An encore and bouquets for the SNP, who speedily disowned this appeal. The SNP deputy leader of Edinburgh City Council, Steve Cardownie, argued against the politicisation of the EIF, whilst the culture secretary Fiona Hyslop warned that an independence-themed festival was in danger of becoming “boring.”
They are quite right. Although Tychy is sceptical of traditional artistic representations of WW1 (one of the designated themes of the 2014 festival), this was at least an “international” conflict which had disrupted and frequently ended people’s lives all around the Commonwealth. An international festival should remain aloof from regional politics. Mills’ foremost obligation is to ensure that some people actually turn up to watch his festival, and Scottish independence is presently more unappealing than a season of Ibsen’s theatre. An invasion of the Yes campaign would be more likely to finish off the EIF than it would the Union.
You may protest that it is unfair to dwell upon the boredom of the independence campaign over the last month. August is the “silly season,” when most of the media is being babysat by deputies and interns. Yet the date of next year’s vote is the 18th September. The London media will probably stay away during the Commonwealth Games, the Festival/Fringe, and the August downtime, generating an impression that the independence debate is not yet national politics. They will then flood up to Edinburgh for a final three-week extravaganza. If Yes Scotland is to get a full hearing in the run up to the vote, they will have to do a lot better than this month’s dismal campaigning.
Bickering over campaign slogans and opinion polls! With the wholesale avoidance of morality, vision and initiative on both sides of the referendum debate, never has the expression “the devil’s in the detail” been more apt.
[Previously on Tychy: “I Am Not National Collective.”]