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As I write, we are waiting nervously for the result of the European Union elections. Well, “nervously” is perhaps putting it a bit too dramatically. Things happen slowly in Europe. It’s taking us four days to vote but by Sunday night we will know the colours of most of the 751 MEPs – though the final Scottish result will be delayed till Monday because the Western Isles will not be counting its votes until the Sabbath Day hath ended.

The Western Isles EU votes counted on Monday

The Western Isles
EU votes counted on Monday

Then, curiously, we will not be analysing the figures for what they tell us about how Europe handled the recession or how it’s going to reform the financial industry or tackle immigration or climate change, or any of the other issues that need a continental solution. No, instead we will be wondering if the SNP is going to win a third seat in Brussels and whether the Liberal Democrats will lose out to the Greens or Nigel Farage’s waspish little party.

This is a pity because these large continental issues deserve to be debated and resolved. How else are we to protect the environment or ensure a fair market, or avoid a race to the bottom on working hours, safety standards, taxation etc except through the European Union ? But, for the moment, I suppose everything has to be seen through the brightly coloured prism of the referendum.

Church of Scotland Deeply divided on independence

Church of Scotland
Deeply divided on independence

The Church of Scotland staged a full blown debate on the issue at its General Assembly on Tuesday. There was lots of fine rhetoric but no vote was taken – wisely, since the Kirk, like the rest of Scotland, is deeply divided on Scottish independence.

On Wednesday the Assembly revealed itself still divided over the issue of gay ministers. By 369 votes to 189, the Assembly decided to consult further on a compromise which re-affirms the Church’s opposition to gay ministers in principle but allows individual congregations to follow their own conscience and elect gay ministers if they wish.

It’s been a divisive old week. The Scottish parliament was divided – the SNP versus the rest – over the future of the health secretary Alex Neil. The opposition parties accused him of favouring his own constituency by “ordering” the local health board to retain two mental health wards at Monklands Hospital in Lanarkshire. Mr Neil said he’d left the decision to his deputy and the SNP’s majority in parliament made sure the motion of no confidence, the first for 13 years, was defeated by 67 votes to 57.

440 officers routinely armed

440 officers routinely armed

Did you know that there are 440 police officers in Scotland authorised to carry guns ? And they do so on routine patrol. It seems a lot, for a police force which is supposed to be unarmed. The disclosure by Police Scotland has caused alarm among politicians and human rights groups who say it’s not setting a good example. Happily, the police officers have little to shoot at. Gun crime is at its lowest level for 30 years.

Scotland is doing well in the happiness stakes this week, despite all the political divisions above. Inverness is hosting a Happiness Festival this weekend, parading the best of British comedy. It has also come second top in a survey of the happiest towns in Britain by the on-line housing agency Rightmove. Falkirk, it reckons, is the fifth happiest town. Harrowgate in Yorkshire came first with great ratings for friendliness, safety, fine open spaces, good house prices and pride in their community. And the worst place ? East London. Don’t even go there.

Gourdon Harbour

Gourdon Harbour

Two men who chuckled all the way to their press conference on Thursday were fishermen Jim Reid, aged 75, and his grandson David Irvine, aged 35. They were telling their story of being found after two days lost at sea off the Aberdeenshire coast. They set off in their 16ft creel boat from Gourdon harbour on Tuesday to collect a few lobster pots. But, in thick mist, their compass broke down and gave them a false reading. They headed east instead of west and ran out of fuel 50 miles offshore.

A huge search was mounted but no one thought to search so far out to sea. The two men said they’d survived on a flask of tea and two biscuits and cursed each other till eventually they attracted the attention of a passing fishing boat. Miracles do happen…even in the North Sea.

They happen in Perth too. Because, for a moment last weekend, it must have overtaken Inverness as the happiest town in Scotland when the home team St Johnstone paraded the Scottish Cup through the streets of the fair city. It was the first time they’d won anything in their 130 year history.

Over in Glasgow, Neil Lennon is happy enough with his silverware. But he announced on Thursday that he was leaving Celtic after four years in charge. Apparently he felt he’d taken the club as far as it could go in the shallow waters of Scottish football and he’s off to swim with bigger fishes.

So where does that leave Glasgow in the happiness stakes ? That depends on the success of the Commonwealth Games which this week finally sold its last 100,000 tickets. I can exclusively reveal that the opening ceremony will include a sequence in which the Queen and Sir Sean Connery will drop by parachute into the arena singing “I belong tae Glasgow” accompanied by Mr Bean on the keyboard. Now that would make me happy.

This week we’ve been celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament…if celebrating is the right word. It is certainly the focal point for our current debate over independence, which boils down to the question: just how much power should the parliament have ?

The late John Smith MP Devolution "the settled will"

The late John Smith MP
Devolution “the settled will”

Almost everyone wants it to have more power. Unfortunately we are not being offered a range of powers in the referendum question, only a yes or no to independence. And looking back on it, this is one of the mistakes the Better Together campaign made at the beginning of this whole divisive affair.

John Smith, the Labour leader who’s death 20 years ago has been marked this week with the opening of a new Centre for Public Service at Glasgow University, once famously remarked that devolution was “the settled will” of the Scottish people. It has been anything but settled. John Smith may have started the ball rolling but Donald Dewar kicked it on with his famous remark – “devolution is a process not an event.”

So more powers are being devolved from Westminster all the time, the latest involves half of all income tax, landfill tax, stamp duty on house sales etc. The Better Together parties have promised still more powers, though, disastrously, they’ve not been able to agree on a detailed alternative to independence. Thus the referendum debate has become even more confused and uncertain.

Can David Cameron help create a "united front" against independence?

Can David Cameron help create a “united front” against independence?

The prime minister came to Glasgow on Thursday to try to forge a united front against independence, even invoking the spirit of John Smith. But Mr Cameron’s “sunshine” speech was not exactly helped by the Chancellor back at Westminster who repeated his warning that there can be no currency union after independence. And the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon was able to dismiss the spring offensive as a “Tory takeover of the No campaign.”

The referendum has however brought the dying tradition of the public meeting back to life. I was at a referendum debate in Edinburgh last Sunday afternoon – sponsored by the local churches – and every seat was taken. I could see steam coming out of peoples’ ears as they tried to keep their feelings under ecclesiastical control. The Church of Scotland – which holds its general assembly this coming week – has called for a service of national reconciliation in St Giles Cathedral in the immediate aftermath of the referendum in September.

It could be a humbling experience, if the campaigns turn nasty or if the result is close. Perhaps we Scots will be revealed as not the greatest practitioners of democracy in the world. After all, the parliament we have built over the last 15 years is not without its flaws. Its successes I think have included free personal care, free university education, the national parks, the smoking ban and being a national forum. But its failures are legion: the cost, the expenses scandals, its timidity over taxation, its failure to spread power down to local communities and its turgid and ineffective committee system.

Commonwealth Games Ticket fiasco

Commonwealth Games
Ticket fiasco

But parliaments are not the only things that can go wrong. The organisers of the Commonwealth Games suffered humiliation at the hands of their computer experts earlier this week. The sale of the last 100,000 tickets had to be suspended when the on-line and telephone systems designed to handle the stampede collapsed. Then our newest jail, HMP Grampian in Peterhead, which only opened in March, erupted in an old-style riot. Forty prisoners went on the rampage, beating up their new furniture and fittings. Police had to be brought in to restore order.

The brutal world of football also suffered a few shocks this week. The new owner of Hearts, Ann Budge, brought along her new brush on Monday morning and swept away the manager Gary Locke and eight other coaches and players. Instead she’s brought in a former manager Craig Levein and promoted Robbie Neilson to first-team coach. The Paisley club St Mirren have also promoted Tommy Craig from within. And in both cases, the new philosophy seems to be to nurture home-grown players rather than take part in the bidding war for outside talent. Not before time.

About the only place were tranquillity reigns is the European election. There are unlikely to be any riots or stampedes at the voting stations on Thursday. But we are all waiting to see if the SNP increase their number of seats from 2 to 3, whether Labour will keep their two seats and whether the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats will hold on to their single seats or whether they will be taken by the Greens or UKIP. Who would have thought that democracy could be so exciting ?

Kenny MacAskill is in trouble again. Scotland’s justice secretary is like one of those skate-boarders who always seems to be tumbling towards a fall but always manages to stay upright. This time he’s been forced into a u-turn on “corroboration”.

Kenny MacAskill  Justice Secretary

Kenny MacAskill
Justice Secretary

His Criminal Justice Bill has run into mounting opposition for proposing to abolish the ancient tradition in Scots Law of two independend sources of evidence being required before a case can be brought to court. His idea is to increase the low rate of prosecutions in cases of rape, sexual assault and child abuse. Victims, he says, should have their day in court, even if their case does not pass the corroboration test.

To me, this whole issue is just a semantic dispute, since I don’t suppose there is a country in the world – or at least in Europe – which would put someone on trial without there being some sort of credibility test applied to the allegations, whether you call that “sufficient” evidence or “corroboration”. But the lawyers and the opposition parties have got themselves into a fury over it and now Mr MacAskill has been forced to postpone that part of his bill until a review of the “safeguards” is undertaken by a former judge Lord Bonomy.

Alex Salmond MSP Lowest level of crime

Alex Salmond MSP
Lowest level of crime

At first minister’s question time on Thursday, Alex Salmond faced calls from Labour and the Conservatives for Mr MacAskill to be sacked for the way he has handled the affair. And, of course, they had a list of previous “offences” which they said should be taken into account – the introduction of a single police force, the closure of many local court houses, the legal delays over the introduction of minimum pricing for alcohol, the high rate of stop-and-search operations in Glasgow, and his decision in August 2009 to release the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

But Mr Salmond pointed out that Mr MacAskill had presided over the lowest level of recorded crime for nearly 40 years. It’s dropped 22 per cent since he’s been justice secretary. He declared his “enormous confidence” in Mr MacAskill. As well he might, since Kenny MacAskill has been a firebrand member of the SNP since the beginning of nationalist time.

He rose through the ranks of the party while working as a lawyer. He has the craggy good looks and speech delivery of an evangelical preacher but off-stage he’s amusing and surprisingly laid-back. His hobbies include writing books on SNP theology and following the Tartan Army wherever they go. One football match he missed, however, was Scotland against England at Wembley in the Euro 2000 competition when he spent the entire game in a police cell due to “a misunderstanding” on his way to the match.

Alex Salmond has kept a stable team

Alex Salmond has kept a stable team

It’s inconceivable that Alex Salmond would ever sack Kenny MacAskill, however accident-prone he might be. It’s not the sort of thing Mr Salmond does. In fact the SNP front row have been remarkable in how well they’ve play together and remained loyal to each other despite the ideological differences there must be between them. The fight for independence is a strong unifying force.

No amount of the flag-waving south of the border on Wednesday, St George’s Day, could deter Alex Salmond going to Carlisle to declare that an independent Scotland would be good for business in the North of England. He even made a cheeky offer to start building the new high-speed rail line from Scotland, without waiting for the Westminster government to get going from its end.

Kenny MacAskill wasn’t the only one to stumble this week. The business organisation the CBI thought it would be a good idea to register as an official supporter of the “Better Together” campaign, presumably because it could then hold a few fund-raising dinners without falling foul of the referendum spending rules. But that prompted a rush of resignations by organisations I didn’t even realise were in the CBI, like the universities and the broadcasters, government quangos and the Law Society, all of whom said they must remain neutral in the independence debate.

Russian Bomber (MoD)

Russian Bomber
(MoD)

With the Russians pouncing on Crimea and clanking along their border with Ukraine, we’ve all become a little sensitive about Russian military manoeuvres. So when a couple of bombers appeared off the North East coast of Scotland on Wednesday afternoon, the RAF was sent to investigate. Two Typhoons were sent up from Leuchars and confirmed that the bombers were indeed Russian “Bears”, Tupolev-95s. The RAF chaps warned the Russians they were coming dangerously close to Scottish – or rather British -air space and they’d better turn back.

It then transpired that there had been a similar incident at sea a few days before when a Type 45 destroyer had to be sent out to shadow a Russian warship, The Kulakov, on manoeuvres off the north coast of Scotland. Apparently, we’re not to panic. Such incidents happen all the time – there were eight last year – and they are all part of routine operations to test our defences. But, right now, they certainly test our nerve. What would happen, I wonder, if there is one of those “misunderstandings.”

David Moyes Sacked after 10 months

David Moyes
Sacked after 10 months

I certainly misunderstand the decision by Manchester United to sack that fine Clydesider David Moyes after only 10 months as manager. OK, he’s had a bad run of 11 defeats but his illustrious predecessor Sir Alex Ferguson took time to find his form. Clubs rise and fall, that’s what football is all about thesdays. Paying a reputed £10m severance fee to a man who’s hardly started the job seems to me crazy. But apparently it’s pleased the shareholders, such is the bizarre world of high finance. Moyes will probably walk into another job next week, a richer and wiser man, so my tears are less for him than for the fallen state of professional football.

Another man who’s been shedding tears this week is Andy Murray, but this time tears of joy. He was overcome by emotion when he was given the Freedom of Stirling at a ceremony in his old school in Dunblane. He left the town as a promising young player, 15 years old, to train to be a world champion in Spain. He too has experienced the ups and downs of sport but he said the people of Dunblane have always supported him. It’s a lesson that could well be learned in Manchester.

By Jo Armstrong, University of Glasgow; Karly Kehoe, Glasgow Caledonian University, and Trevor Salmon, University of Aberdeen

Poll after poll shows Scottish women are considerably less keen on independence than men. Alex Salmond has been reaching out to women voters since the campaign kicked off two years ago. We asked our panel about the reasons for the gender gap in the polls.


Jo Armstrong, Professor of Public Policy, University of Glasgow

It might not be that women are more reticent about independence. It may be that the cry for more evidence is coming from women and at the point they get it, they will be just the same as men in their preferences around independence. Wanting more evidence doesn’t necessarily make you more cautious. It does make you more analytical though.

If the hypothesis is that women analyse things differently, it’s unlikely that they would want to see policies promoted only for them. It’s about having policies where they can understand the implications for them and their families, which is perhaps not being communicated well in the political messaging.

I suspect that the issues that interest women are exactly the same as the ones that interest men. I can’t believe that women think that childcare is more important than the economy, jobs, or more important than better services in general.

The idea that you’ll be able to make women change their minds with women-only issues is misguided. It suggests that the political parties still have a poor idea of what equality is really all about.

Women are vastly under-represented in certain parts of the Scottish economy. For example in the Scottish Parliament, only 35% of our MSPs are women; 45 out of 128. The results appear not much better for Scotland’s various public sector boards.

The evidence suggests that the more you have diversity on boards, the better they perform. Board dynamics change and it does appear that diversity (be that women, older or younger representation and members from ethnic minority backgrounds) has a positive impact on company performance.

On the question of positive discrimination, I am certainly in favour of having representation that reflects the economy in which we live and work. There are more women than men in the country, so this should be reflected in boards and the parliament.

Trevor Salmon, Emeritus Professor of Politics and International Relations, University of Aberdeen

Traditionally women were more conservative than men in how they vote. It was said that because the men were in the factories or in the industrial plants, they learned socialist solidarity through being part of the trade unions.

But with women in relation to the Scottish referendum, I don’t think it’s a question of conservatism. I think it’s more about pragmatism. It might sound a bit old-fashioned, but in many cases women are the people that spend the household money. They are the ones that actually see what’s happening to the price of food, clothes, to the economy.

They want to be reassured that independence is going to be better. They are the ones who ask: “What if something happens to my husband’s wage? What if something happens to childcare? “What if something happens to university fees?”

In England, Labour is about ten points ahead of the Conservatives with women. Cameron has a real problem with women. Mostly it’s this argument about the cost of living. Women are more likely to ask the question: “Will we be better off or not in everyday life?”

For this reason, I think the gap between male and female voters is unlikely to narrow. In fact it may increase slightly as more and more people consider the issues carefully.

The trouble with making pledges about what will happen after the referendum is that there’s such a distrust of politicians nowadays. The only promises that either side can make to attract more women are ones where they can make them real – but that’s difficult because one parliament can’t bind the next. More than likely, the SNP will be judged on what it has already done for groups like women – not what it says it will do after the referendum.

Karly Kehoe, Senior Lecturer in History, Glasgow Caledonian University

I don’t agree that women are more pessimistic about the idea of Scottish independence – nor am I convinced that women are a harder sell for the campaign. Whenever I speak to women about this, I find that they are split down the middle.

But the tradition of women not being heard is probably having an influence on what they are prepared to say or on how they are going to vote. Or it might be the case that women are more naturally cautious because of the traditional culture of exclusion.

We have a very low participation level among women in politics. We don’t have enough female role models, women in leadership roles or enough women on senior management teams. This has an impact on women’s confidence levels.

The SNP needs to be careful with its policy announcements that women’s roles aren’t just confined to conceptions of the family – which in any case is a very diverse concept now. Women aren’t just concerned with childcare, education and family-related issues. There needs to be a meaningful engagement with the roles women play across all sectors.

I’m not attracted by the idea of taking affirmative action over women on boards. This introduces an opportunity for people to criticise a woman in a management position, suggesting that she’s only got there because she’s female. This happens. It’s a fact. I would never want to be appointed to a position because someone needed to fill a quota.

There’s not an easy fix here, but the first step is to recognise that we have a problem. We need to start for example by normalising equality in society. This can start with children by reinforcing understandings of equality through childhood and young adulthood. If you show a child how their mum and dad are equal in the home and in employment, that child is going to grow up with a balanced picture of what society is and should be.

The Scottish Government has made a decent start with equal parental rights, but it needs to go further by supporting it properly. When I’ve spoken to men in Scotland about this, many have told me their wives’ employers are much more amenable.

While I think the SNP isn’t too bad on this front, none of the political parties seem able to engage with the fact that a significant culture shift is needed to bring about genuine equality. If the failure to engage with the skills, expertise and experience that women have to offer continues then we have a real problem on our hands.

The Conversation

The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

By Arthur Midwinter, University of Edinburgh; John Curtice, Strathclyde University; Karly Kehoe, Glasgow Caledonian University, and Neil Blain, University of Stirling

Former UK defence secretary and NATO secretary general George Robertson dipped a toe into the independence debate this week and found the water scalding hot.

In return for his comments to hawkish think tank the Brookings Institution in Washington DC that a Scottish yes vote would be “cataclysmic” and music to the ears of terrorist “forces of darkness” around the world, Better Together insiders were soon briefing journalists that this was “hardly helpful” at a time of distinct unease for the campaign.

The yes side remains behind but has been making steady progress, most recently culminating in a poll last weekend that suggested there are now just five percentage points between support for yes and no.

This helps explain why some unionists have been calling for a more positive campaign. While campaign leader Alistair Darling is still insisting that the yes side are the negative ones, we asked our panel whether they thought Better Together should change tack.


John Curtice, Professor of Politics, University of Strathclyde/ScotCen Social Research

My impression is that the no side feels somewhat chastened that its big idea, which was to tell us we could not have the pound, has not worked. And neither has repeating statements of varying degrees of ambiguity about whether or not the financial institutions would relocate in the event of independence.

In the wake of this failure, you are certainly seeing signs of disquiet from parts of the campaign. Liberal Democrats such as Nick Clegg, Charles Kennedy and Willie Rennie have all publicly called for the no campaign to adopt a more positive tone. So we perhaps should not be surprised that George Robertson’s comments were greeted with disquiet by some in the no camp.

My view is that being negative is not necessarily a problem. The problem in the past few weeks has been ineffective campaigning.

Negative campaigning is more likely to work if you are telling people something new. Even before the currency intervention, it was already clear from the polling evidence that quite a lot of people in Scotland had twigged that they might not be able to use the pound as part of a monetary union. Whether or not they thought they would be able to use the pound also seemed not to be making much difference to whether people were likely to vote yes or no, as we saw from the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2013.

The source of the information has to have credibility. Telling people that, “a banker told me this” is not necessarily the most effective way of persuading people given their views about bankers as a class. And though businesses are not as unpopular as bankers, they are not that popular.

Equally, it is unwise to use a Tory to sell a big message in Scotland. They are not the most trusted source north of the border. Meanwhile, your claims should not be challenged by “experts” and quite a few senior economists have disputed George Osborne’s arguments against sharing the pound.

The problem the no campaign now faces is that nearly half of the Scottish population has decided it does not believe the claim that Scotland would not be able to use the pound, And having lost credibility on that issue its other claims about the risks of independence may now be regarded more sceptically too.

To be effective, negative campaigning also needs to be followed by the offer of a solution. But while the no side points to Scotland’s potential future economic difficulties, they are less effective at advising how the union will supply a solution.

Trouble is, the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats do not necessarily agree about how the UK economy as a whole should be run, let alone Scotland within it. Thus the no side finds it difficult to offer a united alternative vision that could be a vital ingredient of a more positive campaign.

Karly Kehoe, Senior Lecturer in History, Glasgow Caledonian University

With George Robertson, we need to keep in mind that he was speaking in Washington, DC. He was talking to quite a reactionary audience and not to people in Britain. There were specific things that this audience would have wanted to hear from a former secretary general of NATO.

But his speech indicated that he’s already questioning Scotland’s loyalty to the West. If you suggest that an entire nation can’t be trusted, of course that’s going to alienate people. It’s very condescending. That obviously isn’t good for the Better Together campaign and that’s probably why they wanted to distance themselves from it.

I can’t agree with Darling’s argument at the weekend that those in favour of a yes vote are inherently negative in their opinions. To assume that the majority buy in to what the pro-independence cybernats are saying is irresponsible. People are paying more attention to the mainstream media.

Arthur Midwinter, Visiting Professor of Politics, University of Edinburgh

George Robertson’s record on these issues is not great. He said before devolution that it would kill off the SNP. I just about choked at the time.

I have never regarded what Better Together is saying as negative. That’s a phrase that comes from Salmond. If people regard it as negative to be criticising your opponents, there’s something wrong with the quality of the debate in Scotland. You have to make arguments about the weaknesses of the economy and the fiscal position after independence. That’s not being negative, but robust and critical.

The notion that Better Together can come up with a plan for after the referendum is silly because it depends on who becomes the government. There will be some form of extra devolution, but not necessarily one that is agreed by all the major parties.

Better Together has probably been affected by the turn in the polls, though it’s difficult to tell what the causes are. Appointing Jim Gallagher as strategy director has made a difference to the tone. His advice would be that they should certainly be making a more positive case for the union, which has been a good change.

You have to separate the response to the SNP and the case for the union. The case for the union is now being made more positively, but I don’t regard what they are saying about independence as negative.

Neil Blain, Director of Media Research Institute, University of Stirling

George Robertson’s comments almost worked as an unconscious satire of the no campaign. It reminded me of websites such as bbcscotlandshire.co.uk that have been inventing scares about alien invasions and such like for months. Talking about forces-of-darkness type stuff at the Brookings Institution is not going to go down well.

It raises the real practical question of how the no campaign goes about being positive. If I was in the no campaign, I would find it incumbent on me to point out real difficulties with voting yes. The currency question, banks and GDP issues are real weaknesses for the yes campaign, so of course you would plug away at them.

I was astonished at Henry McLeish advocating going for more hearts and minds. People are going to decide on the basis of the economy. I would predict scare stories right through to the referendum.

But when it comes to making the no message more positive, there is a problem that many people think the status quo is not satisfactory. The SNP as a Holyrood party is enjoying sizeable majority support for a reason. When people were asked about devo max without knowing entirely what it was, 70% plus said they would go for it.

But the no campaign has to span everyone from traditional liberal home rulers who had no difficulty with devolution to hardline Michael Forsyth types. It makes it very difficult for them to put a message together about what Scotland will get in return for voting no.

To read the previous instalments from our panel, click on the links below:

3 April 2014: What does Alex Salmond owe the Poll Tax?

28 March 2014: All about the money as currency debate rages on

22 March 2014: Can we trust the polls?

Panel announcement

The Conversation

As an adviser to Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, Arthur was appointed chair of the party’s Welfare Commission, which is putting together a series of proposals for the future of Scotland.

John Curtice, Karly Kehoe, and Neil Blain do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Flags of Norway and Iceland

I wondered why the Norwegian and the Icelandic flags were flying in the strong wind blowing off the Solway Firth. Was this an invasion from Alex Salmond’s “arc of prosperity”? Afterall, we are living at a time of changing national boundaries across Europe. But it turned out that the flags were to welcome feathered visitors to the nature reserve run by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Caerlaverock.

Whooper Swans in Galloway

Whooper Swans in Galloway

Thousands of barnacle geese fly down to spend the winter here from Svalbard in the far north of Norway. Hundreds of whooper swans make the journey from Iceland every year. We watched as the swans were fed. The warden cast grain on the water from his wheelbarrow and the yellow-beaked birds jostled for position. At first they all faced one way, then the other and all were cautious about going near the nets where they were caught for tagging the day before.

It all symbolised for me the state of Scotland’s local government. An unlikely comparison I know. But if we take the warden to be the SNP government casting its £10.5bn funding to the 32 local councils and the whooper swans to be those councils each fighting for their “fair share”, then this is the situation we are in.

Councils Split

Councils Split

The issue has come to a head over the last few weeks, with the threat of seven local councils – and perhaps more – leaving the umbrella organisation COSLA, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, and forming a rival grouping. The dissidents so far are: Glasgow, Inverclyde, Renfrewshire, South Lanarkshire, West Lothian, Aberdeen and Dumfries and Galloway.

Of course, party politics is involved. Labour control half of the 32 councils, and therefore have control of the central decision-making committee in COSLA, the committee of council leaders. The other parties don’t care for this arrangement and are suggesting that decisions should be taken at the quarterly convention where they stand more chance of success.

This squabbling among the whooper swans wouldn’t matter too much, were it not taking place against an overall cut in the size of the spending wheelbarrow. There’s also a divisive public debate over the role of local government and the services they run. Not to mention a referendum over which national flag should be flying over the council chambers.

Glasgow Council - left CoSLA

Glasgow Council – left CoSLA

For the last six years councils have all faced the same way and accepted a council tax freeze imposed on them by the SNP government. Now the straight-jacket is beginning to hurt and many councils are asking themselves why they should stick with a system that limits even the 20 per cent of revenue that councils raise for themselves through local taxes. Like the whooper swans, many are now cautious of being caught in the centralising net of national government.

Those who want to keep COSLA together argue that local government will lose out if it has no collective voice. Each council will be bullied by central government in turn. Besides, negotiating pay and conditions for the 250,000 people who work for local councils is easier done through one organisation. So too is common research, or “best practice” guidance or co-operative arrangements between councils on issues such as special schools, road repairs, re-cycling etc.

This story of local government flux is often overlooked and yet it is of immediate importance to our everyday lives…..how schools are being run, rubbish collected, old folk looked after, parks and libraries kept open, businesses given the services they need to operate. It is also about democracy, giving people control over their own lives in a world which is being increasingly centralised.

Yes, birds of a feather flock together but they also have individual lives. The interplay between these two aspects of both birds and humans is still a bit of a mystery. But it is a process which has served us well and should not be given up.

Soon the whooper swans will take off for the breeding grounds in Iceland and the barnacle geese will fly back to Norway. A collective decision will be taken, but no single bird – or even a central committee of birds – will dictate when they will fly and where.

A chance to get away from it all?

As I lay in my wind-battered tent last weekend, I must admit I did not think about how the events of this week would unfold…the clash of the cabinets, the debate over North Sea Oil, the vote on corroboration. Instead I was wondering if the scout leader would call me out to help rescue a tent-full of 12 year-olds which had been struck by a blown-away tent from further up the field. Luckily, he handled the crisis by himself and I remained snug in my sleeping bag…until I too had to get up and re-peg my own tent before it blew away.

Church of Scotland LogoThe annual “Brass Monkey” camp held at Bonaly Scout Centre on the edge of the Pentland Hills really puts life in perspective. Here the concerns are high winds, rain, tents, rucksacks, meal times, wide games and watching the citizens of the future cope with life’s early challenges. All 160 scouts seemed to be having a great time, untroubled by the sterling zone, the EU entry requirements, jobs, house prices, climate change and life’s later challenges.

But hey, the life of the nation is not at all the same as “life” in general. And thank goodness for that. The Church of Scotland brought out a report this week which tires to bridge this gap between the two worlds. It appeals to voters in September’s referendum on independence not just to ask; “What’s in it for me ?” (pensions, wages, oil revenues etc ) but to consider what’s best for the country. The debate, it says, should be less about currencies and constitutions and more about social values such as fairness, equality, integrity and participation.

Two cabinets talked of  'Scotland's Oil'

Two cabinets talked of ‘Scotland’s Oil’

So how does this apply to “Scotland’s oil” ? Well, not one but two cabinets met to discuss this in Aberdeen on Monday. David Cameron brought the UK cabinet to Scotland for only the third time in its history. Ministers had before them a report from Sir Ian Wood calling for a new oil industry regulator which will encourage smaller companies to take over mature wells and squeeze the last £200bn of oil and gas from the North Sea. But it cannot be done, Mr Cameron warned, without the “broad shoulders” of UK investment.

The UK energy secretary Ed Davey also found time to pop up to Peterhead to announce that, at long last, the gas-fired power station there is to have a pioneering £100m carbon capture system installed.

Alex Salmond meanwhile staged his own cabinet meeting in a church, a few miles down the road, in Portlethen, followed by a public question and answer session. He wanted to highlight the difference between his down-to-earth “people’s government” and the posh boys from London who “jetted in and jetted out” to a meeting behind closed doors deep inside BP’s main Aberdeen office building. They were only here, he said, to keep Scotland’s oil for themselves “and squander it as they have done for the past 40 years.”

Standard Life nae mair?

Standard Life nae mair?

Back in Holyrood on Thursday, Mr Salmond was facing another foe, Labour’s Johann Lamont, who asked him how many companies it would take to consider leaving Scotland before he realised independence was bad for jobs. “It isn’t just Bathgate no more, or Linwood no more,” she said, quoting the Proclaimers, “It was Standard Life no more, Royal Bank of Scotland no more, if Scotland became independent.”

Standard Life bosses told their shareholders this week that they were planning to set up new companies south of the border and abroad if Scotland voted to be independent, because of uncertainty over the currency and pension and insurance regulations.

RBS - Record Loss but huge bonuses

RBS – Record Loss but huge bonuses

The Royal Bank of Scotland said it would have to shed jobs in Scotland, as it down-sized to concentrate on retail home banking again. It’s just reported a loss of £8.2bn for the year 2013. It’s the bank’s biggest loss since it had to be rescued by the UK government in 2008. But amazingly, it’s didn’t stop the bank paying out £576m in bonuses. Perhaps the bank is considering a move to another planet.

The SNP government was undaunted by these headwinds and it pressed ahead in parliament with its latest legal reforms. MSPs voted 64 to 5 in favour of the Criminal Justice Bill, which includes a controversial measure to drop Scotland’s unique and age-old rule of “corroboration” – the need for two distinct pieces of evidence for a prosecution to be mounted in court. Most Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MSPs abstained and called on the government to think again, as indeed has the parliament’s own justice committee and a string of senior judges and court lawyers.

So the battered tent of democracy continues to be blown to and fro. I’ll be amazed if the Criminal Justice Bill makes it through all its parliamentary stages unaltered. I’ll be amazed too if more large companies and UK government ministers don’t raise more doubts about independence in the weeks ahead. But I’ll be amazed if it doesn’t just result in more Scots saying “Yes we can ” to independence. Like those scouts at Bonaly, they won’t be put off by head winds, rain or negative messages.

Scotland – overburdened by iconography

by Charlie Laidlaw

Companies stand or fall on the authenticity of their brands, with brand value an integral element in corporate and marketing strategy – the same is true of countries.

Scotland's 'brand' draws heavily on its history

Scotland’s ‘brand’ draws heavily on its history

This is a pertinent observation ahead of Scotland’s independence referendum later this year. If Scotland does vote to go it alone, it is the value of the country’s brand that will sustain it – driving everything from inward tourism to international investment.

Of course, defining a national brand and its value to the economy is virtually impossible, as perceptions vary enormously. The Anholt-GfK Nation Brands Index,which ranks countries against a number of criteria, offers some insight.

We are, of course, hotwired to think in shorthand. For example, think of Italy, and what do you associate it with? Pizza? Ferrari? Do you have a positive view on Italian manufacturing quality? Would you buy an Italian product against a competitor product from, say, France?

Think Italy - Think Ferrari

Think Italy – Think Ferrari

In some instances, the national brand guessing game is easy. Germany, for example, despite being on the losing end of two world wars, has achieved an international reputation for engineering excellence that has made it the economic powerhouse of Europe.

In that sense, Germany has reinvented itself. So too, Japan. “Made in Japan” once meant cheap and second-rate. Now, the Japanese automobile and electronic industries straddle the world, and stand for excellence and reliability.

Scotland too has reinvented itself, most obviously by Sir Walter Scott who organised King George IV’s visit to Edinburgh in 1822. It represented nothing less than a national brand makeover, making all things tartan chic and fashionable. Later, Queen Victoria put the heroic back into the Highlands.

A national brand make-over in the 1820s

A national brand make-over
in the 1820s

In some ways, for such a small country, Scotland is overburdened by iconography: from tartan to whisky, from lochs to glens, shortbread to haggis, bagpipes to the Loch Ness Monster, golf to kilts…the list goes on.

National symbols are important because they sustain economic activity. For example, Scotland’s tourism industry employs some 200,000 people and visitors spend almost £11 billion a year – with many of those visitors coming from other parts of the UK. Will they still come if Scotland becomes independent?

The tourism and hospitality industry seems split on that one, despite the Scottish government promising to cut VAT for the sector and reduce airport tax.

Whisky is another icon, an industry that employs 10,000 people and, according to the Scotch Whisky Association, exports in excess of £4 billion. But food and drink extends well beyond the water of life. Scotland is also home to about 25% of the UK’s beef cattle, and we catch over 50% of the nation’s fish. Our salmon rivers are world-famous, supporting rural and remote communities.

Scotland invented retail banking

Scotland invented retail banking

Or financial services, another national icon, with Scotland also credited with “inventing” retail banking. Yet if Scotland achieves independence, banks would have over 1,000% of Scotland’s GDP. When Iceland’s banks went bust, their assets were some 880% of GDP. Is that brand strength, or brand risk? Westminster politicians obviously think so, having blocked Scotland from entering into a UK Poundland after independence. Does Scotland therefore revert to its own currency? Or, longer term, think about the Euro?

(Incidentally, it was Sir Isaac Newton, then Master of the Mint at the Tower of London, who brought Scots coinage into line with the rest of Britain following the Act of Union).

Oil and Gas A diminishing asset?

Oil and Gas
A diminishing asset?

The financial case for independence is based, at least initially, on two iconic industries – North Sea oil and the financial sector. The SNP hopes to secure some 90% of tax from oil and gas, albeit a diminishing source of revenue, and a healthy slice of income from the country’s financial sector. (That’s leaving to one side the issue of Scotland’s share of national debt).

That means that Scotland the Brand will be dependent on a diminishing asset under its waters, and a sector that (post-crash) the country can’t necessarily rely on to deliver a safe return. Let’s not forget that, against Scottish tax revenues of some £60 billion annually, the cost of the bank bailouts was some £500 billion in loans and guarantees.

Scottish Government Committed to renewable energy

Scottish Government
Committed to renewable energy

It’s why the SNP government is keen to develop renewables as a new icon of Scottish industry, despite some ambivalent figures – for example, that offshore wind investment halved to £29 million last year. Biggest blow was a decision by Scottish Power to drop plans for the £5.4 billion Argyll Array windfarm.

Scotland has other strengths, particularly its track record of invention: from penicillin to the postage stamp, from TV to the telephone, the steam engine to logarithms…that list also goes on and on, to modern advances in gaming to Dolly the Sheep. If Scotland the Brand stands for anything, it must also be about education, innovation and invention. Medical and scientific research may become brand icons of the new Scotland.

Festivals - all part of the brand

Festivals – all part of the brand

However, in this year of decision, Scotland the Brand will also step onto an international sporting stage, helping the country to redefine itself (again) as a country of beautiful cityscapes and wilderness. The Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup couldn’t have come at a better time for the pro-independence lobby.

But it’s the future that will better define Scotland the Brand: how the country’s universities engage internationally; how Scotland diversifies from oil and financial services; how Scotland can find niche industries to build worldwide reputation; how it attracts inward investment; and how it promotes its festivals, cities and landscapes.

Scotland may or may not vote for independence. But the debate has done one great thing for Scotland: it has raised awareness internationally in Scotland the Brand, a marketing opportunity that the country should grasp with both hands.

Charlie Laidlaw is a director of David Gray PR and a partner in Laidlaw Westmacott.

By Jan Eichhorn, University of Edinburgh

A lot of things have been said about those who have not made their minds up yet with regards to whether they will vote yes or no in this year’s referendum on Scotland’s constitutional future.

Sometimes those undecided have simply been declared as those who probably do not care at all and are therefore not likely to think about it – and who will probably not turn out. On other occasions links to a range of socio-demographic variables have been made suggesting that people from particular backgrounds, in particular those from lower socio-economic backgrounds would be less likely to make up their minds.

But very few of these propositions have been backed up with actual data.

The vote: should Scotland be an independent country? SSA

Using the representative 2013 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey (SSA) we have been able to properly investigate what characterises those undecided. We found a lot of the commonly expressed assumptions paraphrased above could not be supported.

But about one-third of voters say that they have not made their mind up yet. Therefore it is worth engaging with them in more depth to properly understand their reasons for indecision.

Age, sex and class

First of all, demographic differences do not show major differences in the likelihood of being undecided. There is no consistent age pattern – most age groups are similar to one another. While those older than 65 appear to be a little more decided and those 25-34 a little less, none of these differences are actually robust when you account for other influencing factors at the same time, such as sex and social class.

Proportion of voters undecided by age group. SSA

Similarly there are no major differences in decidedness between different social classes. Most are very similar, with those that may be considered about in the middle (small employers and own accounts workers) being slightly less likely to be undecided and those in lower supervisor and technical occupations being slightly more likely. But there is no clear pattern. The percentage of those undecided is effectively the same for those in the highest and those in the lowest social class (at 35 and 36% respectively).

Again, when controlling for other demographic factors we do not find the relationship between social class and decidedness to be robust.

Proportion of voters undecided by social class. SSA

There is a small relationship between indecision and general political interest. A small group of politically very disinterested people (about 10% of respondents overall) has a substantially greater likelihood not to have made up their mind. These “usual suspects” indeed exist, but they are only a small proportion of all those undecided. Whether people have more or less interest in politics only relates marginally to their likelihood of having made their minds up.

Political interest only matters at the extremes. So many of the undecided voters are not disengaged, but can be identified by other factors.

Proportion of voters undecided by interest in politics. SSA

There are some differences between men and women, with women being somewhat more likely not to have decided yet. This is a robust finding when taking into account other demographic variables, but the difference can be explained when we look at whether people think they know enough about the issue.

Those who feel that they do not have enough knowledge about independence yet are more likely to be undecided – and women are more likely to report the desire to know more about independence before deciding.

Proportion of voters undecided by political party identification. SSA

Those who feel independence would affect their lives more significantly are more likely to have made up their mind. So campaigns for both sides have been given a clear message – and a strategic approach would need to clarify this indecision on how independence would affect potential voters on each side.

Playing politics

Indecision is greatest among those who do not identify with any political party (at 48% indecision). This makes some sense, as those voters are probably not receptive to the clear pointers that the various political parties are providing. But there are also differences between parties in the campaigns. While nearly all those who identify as Conservative and Liberal Democrat have made up their mind (89% and 85% respectively) Labour identifiers, show similar levels of indecision to SNP identifiers (36% and 35% respectively), despite Labour being part of the Better Together campaign.

There is one more important group of undecided voters the campaigns should pay close attention to: those who do not have their favourite option on the ballot paper.

Decidedness by constitutional preference SSA

Approximately one third of respondents in the survey stated their most preferred option for Scotland would be further devolution (commonly referred to as “Devo Max”). Among the Devo Max-inclined voters, 45% were still undecided (compared to only 30% among those who preferred other constitutional solutions). Neither campaign has been able to capture a large number of potential voters who would have preferred further devolution to either independence or continuing full union.

If they want to reach these people, they will have to convince them that their proposals come closest to the preferred option of these voters.

The Yes campaign would presumably have to convince them that a No is unlikely to result in substantial further devolution, while the Better Together campaign would have to persuade those people of the opposite, that a No would be followed by effective further devolution.

If either campaign is able to do this we may see a relevant number of those undecided still shift correspondingly.


Hard Evidence is a series of articles in which academics use research evidence to tackle the trickiest public policy questions. The graphics were reproduced with the kind permission of ScotCen Social Research.

Jan Eichhorn receives funding from the Economic and Social Research Council as part of the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2013 with ScotCen Social Research.

This research has been funded by the ESRC. Members of the research team are Jan Eichhorn and Lindsay Paterson (both University of Edinburgh) and John Curtice, Rachel Ormston and Susan Reid (ScotCen Social Research).

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Is there a ‘Plan B… C… or D’?

It may be St Valentine’s Day but the message from London has suddenly changed from “Love” to a stony “No.” Last week, David Cameron went to the Olympic stadium to declare his love for Scotland and his desire for us to stay in the United Kingdom. This week, the declaration from “Mount Olympus” was followed by a rare trip to Scotland by the Chancellor George Osborne to warn voters that if they choose independence, there will be no currency union with the rest of the UK.

Danny Alexander  Fell into line with the Chancellor

Danny Alexander
Fell into line with the Chancellor

Labour’s Ed Balls and the Liberal Democrats’ Danny Alexander fell smartly into line. The SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon complained that the unionist parties were “ganging up” on Scotland and we were being “bullied” into voting No to independence. It was all part of “project fear”, she said, and it would backfire spectacularly.

The currency question is undoubtedly an important one. It’s something very real, in your hand every day, and something to be worried about. So the SNP and the Yes campaigners have been responding to the London offensive with the assurance it’s all a bluff, that the rest of the UK would find it in its interest at the end of the day to keep Scotland in the sterling zone, making trade easier and sharing the UK’s debt.

Nicola Sturgeon 'Feisty'

Nicola Sturgeon
‘Feisty’

In interviews this week, the feisty Ms Sturgeon was reluctant to talk about her plan B or C or D, saying she was not going to be bullied out of her plan A, an agreed currency union. She didn’t want to threaten the rest of the UK with plan B which is for Scotland to use the pound sterling unofficially but not take on its obligations, such as the debt or limitations on borrowing.

Plan C of course is to join the euro, which was SNP policy until the global crash and the euro zone crisis. Plan D is for Scotland to have its own currency, the groat or the bawbee, which would float on its own on the turbulent seas of the international money markets. Unpopular though it may be, I think an independent Scotland should join the euro. It would certainly make our entry into the European Union much easier and there are signs that the euro is gradually recovering its credibility.

Scottish Power investing in Ben Cruachan

Scottish Power investing in Ben Cruachan

There were indications from the heavens this week that Scotland is indeed a separate country. We were spared the storms and floods that have swept the coasts of England and Wales and swollen their iconic rivers. The gods have clearly taken the view that we in Scotland are at least trying to take global warming and climate change seriously. We may be still be missing our emissions targets but our legislation is among the most ambitious in the world. And we are making a real attempt to switch to renewable energy.

This week Alex Salmond was in Spain to see a pump storage hydro scheme operated by Scottish Power’s owners Iberdrola. The company is now investigating a £600m expansion of its similar scheme at Ben Cruachan near Oban. When the windmills are turning, water is pumped up from Loch Awe into a reservoir inside the hollowed-out mountain and when the wind drops, the water flows down to the loch again through a series of electricity turbines. Result: the holy grail, renewable energy all the time.

Donald Trump will no longer invest in Scotland (Pic: Gage Skidmore Creative Commons)

Donald Trump will no longer invest in Scotland
(Pic: Gage Skidmore Creative Commons)

One man who does not like it, because he doesn’t like windmills, is Donald Trump. This week he lost his court case against an experimental wind farm in the sea off his new golf course at Menie in Aberdeenshire. “Wind farms are a disaster for Scotland,” he’s quoted as saying, adding (and I can’t quite believe he said this) “a disaster, like Lockerbie.” He promptly announced he was abandoning plans for a hotel and luxury village at Menie and instead he had bought a new golf resort at Doonbeg in County Clare on the west coast of Ireland. It’s said to have cost him £12.3m and will be the 16th golf resort in his portfolio.

As I write, Scotland is still waiting for a medal at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Our curling teams are testing our nerves with up and down performances. Team GB is celebrating Jenny Jones’s bronze medal in the snowboarding, said to be Britain’s first ever Olympic medal won on snow. Only, it’s not quite.

Alain Baxter from Aviemore won a bronze in ski-ing at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002. The medal was denied him at first because he failed a drugs test. However he was later cleared when it was discovered the banned substance was in an ordinary inhaler he’d bought quite innocently over-the-counter in the USA. The British version of the inhaler, which Baxter normally used, did not contain the forbidden substance and, in any case, the amount was not enough to affect performance. He’s still waiting for his medal to be returned but has meanwhile congratulated Jenny Jones on her achievement.

Olympian justice, like Olympian love, is a fickle thing.