It’s Time to Question a Declining Media

4574919147_08d97cb039_oI didn’t make it through all of Thursday night’s instalment of Question Time, it seems I was not alone in this. I switched on to find talk of Nigel Farage’s plan to have ‘a grammar school in every town’. I also caught a bit of a ruckus in the audience about whether disliking immigrants was racist or not. As has been widely noted the episode played host to two very different radicals: one with big ideas and a twitter following, the other with no ideas and a well resourced political machine at his back. This was the high camp rehearsal for a tipping point in British politics: the full scale farce is destined to take place in six months time.

The programme presented an odd picture, certainly, in addition to provoking a more mundane sense of disconnect. Living in a part of the British Isles with a declining, rapidly ageing population, one of the lowest population densities in Europe and an education system entirely independent of England’s, the programme has become rapidly more foreign. And, in case any UKIP types are reading this, that’s an observation, not a value judgement.

One panelist started talking about the 1930s: not with reference to cross-party support for austerity, but rather to contrast the rhetoric of Russell Brand with the rise of facism. It seemed as if the resultant disintegration of the show’s format presaged something darker. People heckled and didn’t wait their turn. A bit like the Nazis.

That said Question Time’s increasingly grotesque quality does demonstrate a wider post-crash divide, some have termed it a “culture war” (though class is just as important). The great big question that we face in Scotland is how to link up the demand for something more than the theatrics of polarisation with the vast significance of our recent referendum experience.

A decade ago, Question Time could still seem like the fulcrum of political debate in the UK. I have friends who once referred to Thursday as ‘politics night’. Great chunks of meaty moral politics could end up strewn all over Dimbleby’s bear pit, but it still seemed to hang together. Today, even the boozy after-hours quality of This Week, couldn’t save it from being the subject of scandal. In the hungrier, more divided country the UK has become since 2003 even the televisual equivalent of a pub lock-in becomes mired in partisan controversy.

To list the things that have changed in Britain over the past decade is too vast a task to attempt here. Though it should be noted that a post-Iraq crisis within the BBC is probably central to the predicament of a media that is, like Thursday night’s Question Time, unravelling before our eyes.

However, let’s not forget how fast that erosion of status has taken place. In 2005 Tessa Jowell proclaimed ‘The BBC is as much a part of British life as the NHS’. She did so off the back of a vast public consultation about the national broadcaster. 75% of some 30,000 responses were positive, with ‘high quality news programmes’ amongst the top three factors cited. Post-Iraq, post-Saville, everything has changed. That such decline dovetails with the final extinction of social democracy in British politics, is of profound significance too.

Seeing a nation state crumble is something that is bound to be played out in conjunction with the demise of its media. In large part, as sociologist Jürgen Habermas demonstrated, it was the emergence of mass media that created the public sphere in the first place.

The rise of the newspaper and various other new media over the centuries worked in tandem with the development of the nation state. In this sense the BBC’s tortured decline is telling. Britain, it could be argued, is the BBC. In a country with limited traditions of popular sovereignty, a highly contested, perhaps non-existent national culture, institutions take on an aggrandised, almost sacred, role. They serve an awkward and very British task that encompasses everything from the mundane day to day functions of dusty bureaucracy, to acting as the sole carriers of national identity. We think of the BBC and NHS as fair and virtuous, because Britain needs them to be.

Yet these institutions, like so many others at the heart of Britain, are all reaching a tipping point. Their reserves of social and economic capital are depleted, increasingly their defence has to revert to broad abstract statements of principle. Yet without them, there is little else for the realm to fall back on.

The gamble is (and to some extent always has been) that social cohesion in Britain can be patched together out of these institutional fragments. All the while the private realm continues to be favoured in policy, while corrosive debates about ‘entitlement’ at the extreme ends of the class system dominate political rhetoric, as does fear of the other.

Such an assessment is no longer radical. Newspaper editorials from across the political spectrum are warning that Britain could soon descend into chaos. As The Independent recently remarked on the possibility of a Green-Left bloc after the next election, ‘the work of governing Britain will become near impossible’.

Rather than the unions, or the working class, the enemy within in the coming battle of Britain will be plurality itself. Establishment hysteria treats that which is normal throughout Europe: the inability of any one party to form an overall majority, as a kind of doomsday scenario. Shorn of resilience, the patchwork collection of shared institutions ‘our BBC,’ ‘our NHS’ ‘our Queen’ are all likely to find themselves tested as never before. Given that memories of the 1930s are in vogue, pundits should also reflect that the rise of facism was facilitated by establishment complicity.

Will Scotland be a thrawn, reticent, onlooker to all these confrontations? The role of the SNP in particular in the coming election will be key. Here is a party that talks social cohesion and has advocated working with the Greens and Plaid Cymru (the only other parties entering the contest to be led by women). In that sense Scotland’s interim role within the UK can be one of leadership, unlocking a hung parliament and demonstrating the need for reform. To do that, as a country, we need more than just a single party in Scotland. We need a vast, mature and plural public sphere built in the spaces opened up by the referendum campaign. Think of it as Scotland’s latest export: mass political engagement.

The referendum then, becomes a demonstrable experience not just of people power, but also of a profound desire for our media and politics to be better. Indeed, other than the ten days in September when Britain was saved, there can be no better example of Britain’s ongoing democratic crisis than the BBC’s handling of leadership debates in the coming election.

The BBC’s partisan promotion of Nigel Farage to Prime Ministerial contender has opened up a pandoras box. We are now witnessing ossified media institutions desperately trying to adapt to a our new non consensual politics and failing. Big time. The institutional response to a pressing need for plurality is to shut it out. Should we be surprised that our media instinctively sides with the establishment? Well no, because it is a cornerstone of the establishment. Anyone who has ever take part in public protest will be well aware of that. The fact that it seems all the more blatant in that role, in the age of social media, demands nothing short of transformation. If it fails to do so, it will continue to haemorrhage legitimacy, eventually becoming just one contender in the culture war itself.

Leadership debates have become a kind of election time viagra for ailing news organisations. They provide spectacle and can generate a whole heap of additional content and stories premised simply on the ‘performance’ of each contender. Who best grips the lectern, who sweats, who stutters, who blinks, who delivers key soundbites with better intonation. All factors that are infinitely easier to fixate on than a constantly shifting landscape of a politics that has escaped from the neat, easily managed domain of the two horse race.

Such gladiatorial contests, complete with ring-side pundits and bizarre gimmicks (like Scotland Tonight’s straight forwardly surreal ‘word cloud’) are a symptom of this struggle to represent the post 2008 scene. Plurality remains something that the BBC clearly struggles to grasp, perhaps because it is so overwhelmingly lacking in the British media itself. Ever more elitist, squeezed by the PR industry and reliant on pre-packaged sources or ‘churnalism’, our news media, as a sector, is painful ill-equipped to respond to the politics that we are now living. This widespread emasculation of journalism is not something public service broadcasters are protected from. Robert Peston, noted earlier this year that the BBC is ‘completely obsessed’ by editorial agendas of an overwhelmingly right-wing press.

The favouring of Farage’s party over the Greens is relatively straight forward: his politics is not a threat to the British establishment (UKIP is essentially a Thatcherite home for eurosceptic Conservatives). As in the referendum, this is the real criteria for favourable airtime. The rise of the Greens and the SNP on the other hand, is about a more complex story. To explore the breadth of politics in the UK today takes time, investigation, analysis, rigour and an editorial courage that is more and more scarce in all but the most exceptional of news rooms.

A renowned journalist from a different era, Harold Evans, neatly summed up the lofty role the fourth estate once played in public life:

Governments as well as citizens need a free and inquiring press. With a volatile, pluralistic electorate, and a complex bureaucracy, a free press provides an indispensable feedback system from governed to the governing, from consumers to producers, from the regions to the centre, and not least from one section of the bureaucracy to another.

The public sphere in Britain, of which that free and inquiring press must be a crucial part, is broken. No one with the power to do so is talking about fixing it. But the above remarks do begin to provide some sense of a way out.

Evans, speaking in 1974, could never have guessed that the ensuing decades would see every category mentioned above (and the relationships between them) irrevocably changed.

As has been brilliantly argued here, a blanket rejection of the mainstream (or worse, trying to mimic its practices to smaller audiences) offers only regression. It’s as counterproductive as suggesting that Russia Today or Press TV provide viable alternatives to the BBC, because their coverage of the independence referendum was not explicit state propaganda. That simply changing the logo (and the state agenda) is somehow a recipe for plurality. The staff at Russia’s last independent TV station, currently reduced to broadcasting from a living room, would beg to differ.

In this time of flux for both politics and the media, the challenge is slightly more complex than simply making different consumer choices, but the answer is ultimately more rewarding. Firstly, Scotland must rebuild and reimagine its own public sphere, as Gerry Hassan has argued, in order to remedy our ‘truncated democracy’. A solution will not be achieved by endlessly contrasting Westminster gruel with Holyrood honey, or bad London media with virtuous, enlightened Scottish alternatives. While green shoots like The National, Scottish Evening News and Common Space are welcome: they are not saviours. But taken together, they can begin to demonstrate what a plural media might look like. Their success does not depend on offering up different brands, or indeed platforms: rather, this will be determined by whether they manage to provide vehicles for well resourced journalism.

The injunction to be the media is a complex one. It involves some weighty thought and a search for new formats, better suited to the complexity and variety of the world we inhabit.

The second task, then, is to work out new formats better suited to a world so different to that which Evans describes. A world in which bureaucracy is replaced with multi faceted private entities, in which the ability to differentiate between centre and region is altered, in which producers are consumers and consumers producers.

Thirdly we need to stop railing against ‘the media’ in general. Instead, we need to look at the institutions that constitute it, examine their politics, their decisions and make concrete demands of how they can be better. The role of the BBC in the coming General Election must held up to more public scrutiny than ever before, again, Scotland’s referendum campaign can provide a point for us to start leading. On top of that we also need a civic campaign that demands a better public service media, a grassroots alternative to gather stream ahead of the BBC’s charter renewal in 2016.

Our media is one big tired format: A Question Time with more and more noises off presented by the same man who fronted general election coverage in the 1970s. It’s time to relentlessly question such centralised, narrow and archaic media and to start mapping out ways in which we can re-make it for the 21st century.



Heart of Midlothian Introduce Living Wage


Today, Heart of Midlothian Football Club became the only professional team in Britain to not only be undefeated in league football but also the largest British club where all staff are to be paid the living wage. This comes shortly after Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement that the Scottish Parliament was to become a living wage employer. The living wage is voluntary for companies to adhere to and stands at £7.85 per hour, £1.35 per hour more than the current minimum wage.

The world’s richest 1% now own more than 48% of global wealth. In the UK alone, the ownership of Britain’s wealthiest 1% equates to 55% of the population’s poorest. Furthermore, the UK is the only G7 country to record rising wealth inequality between 2000-2014. In regard to this enormous inequality and the very fact that a voluntary wage exists based on the necessity of survival, the case for increasing the minimum wage is surely a convincing one. A quick google search for “Westminster living wage” shows that half of the top results relate to Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, with the only other direct reference to the UK Parliament coming from UNISON’s website. This reflects Scotland’s leading role in tackling wealth inequality through increasing wages. While the minimum wage remains a reserved power and companies are not legally obliged to pay staff a wage from which they can reasonably support themselves and their families, voluntary payments of the living wage are most welcome and should be encouraged. The living wage may not be a large sum of money in the grand scheme of things but it could make all the difference for families on low income. Tough decisions on rent payment and the ability to have healthy hot meals and nice healthy korean red ginseng supplements may be made slightly easier.

Hearts should be proud of their commitment to the living wage. Football has a major significance in Scottish cultural consciousness, especially among the traditional working class. It is to footballers and football clubs that swathes of the nation’s youth seeks inspiration and finds their role models. While major clubs are paying players wages upward of £250,000 per week and increasingly generating debt, under Ann Budge’s leadership, the Jambos are setting the precedent that not only should a football club, recently threatened with financial collapse, live within their means but that all employees deserve a fairer rate of pay in relation to wider economic circumstances. The move towards a living wage comes quickly after Budge’s public condemnation of sectarian behaviour from both sets of fans during a Scottish Cup match against Celtic. With attitudes such as these coming from a football club that is prioritising youth development, Hearts are successfully transforming their fortunes and fast becoming a shining example of an ethical business model.

Hearts and the Scottish Government are tackling wealth inequality. Their decisions are fantastic examples for other organisations, both public and private, to follow suit. Hopefully, the introduction of the living wage at Tynecastle will inspire other corporations, especially major multi-million pound clubs, to do the same and perhaps even take the distribution of fairer wages a step further.

Euan Campbell
National Collective

Image from Ross Aitchison

Challenge Everyday Sexism

We are about to witness a defining moment in Scottish history; a woman is about to rule the people of Scotland. We are also about to witness an inevitable onslaught of sexism from the media, politicians and members of the public alike, a great deal of which will go unnoticed, let alone challenged.

There remains a common misconception that gender inequality exists only in a few socially conservative societies. Or that it is exclusive to particular religions. Or that it being worse elsewhere somehow diminishes the urgency to confront it here.

In reality, sexism exists in the realms of our everyday lives. Seldom is this more apparent than in politics. We can try to blame the right-wingers, but the painful truth of the matter is that in spite of progressive ideals, a very real strand of sexism exists in left wing politics too. It’s an ever-present, structural, global issue. And yes, it manifests in varying strands of severity, but regardless of this, it needs collectively confronted.

Just to clarify, I’m not suggesting for a second that Nicola can’t handle backlash – if people think we have a fragile leader on our hands, they’re sorely mistaken – but that shouldn’t stop us challenging everyday sexism. Seemingly insignificant, petty remarks or headlines are a tactical, strategic way of deliberately undermining women in politics by steering attention away from politics and onto appearance, or gender based stereotypes. Speaking out against seemingly trivial belittling in our political sphere is one of the many ways in which we can seek to preserve the socially just, progressive politics of the Yes movement.

There is however a fairly sizeable chunk of society who will acknowledge that this is problematic but deny that it is structural. A hard truth remains; our stale media and outmoded sectors of society aren’t ready for women in politics. They’re yet to come to terms with it. Here are just a few examples that remind us of just how far we have to go.

In 2011, the then Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was subjected to a hideous attack from renowned red neck imbecile, Tony Abbott. Alongside claiming that women should stay home to iron and that men are by physiology and temperamentally more adapted than women, the opposition leader told Ms Gillard that she should “make an honest woman of herself”, labeling her a “man’s bitch”. To put the impact of this attack into perspective, Tony Abbott comfortably won the following election and is now Australian Prime Minister.

Only this year, #PatronisingBTLady happened. As much as we enjoyed laughing in the faces of those who thought this would actually appeal to women, it is genuinely scary that in this day and age women are seen as too dense to think.

Yet it is not just the archaic Eton bred dinosaurs that reduce women to gendered stereotypes. Love her or loath her, and I place myself firmly in the latter category, the problem with Maggie Thatcher was her deeply callous politics, not that her personality was not ‘Motherly’ enough. These gendered typecasts did not come from draconian Conservatives; ironically they came from those who define themselves as pro equality progressives. Speaking of Thatcher, I am extremely excited at the prospect of never hearing the words, “yeah but look what happened last time a woman was in charge” again.

If you thought for a second that this might have significantly improved in the decades to follow, think again. One recent example heard MP Austin Mitchell say that, “apart from obsessive feminism, women MPs are more amenable and leadable”. He continued, proclaiming that women are preoccupied with “family issues” and “small problems rather than big ideas.” In other words, get back to your cereal and focus on the wee things. Let the big shots handle the real politics.

Hop over the pond to America and in 2013 a Republican convention produced badges comparing Hillary Clinton to KFC that read, ‘2 fat thighs, 2 small breasts … left wing.’ They literally compared a globally influential woman to a bit of puny meat.

Here in Scotland, the Lamont versus Sturgeon televised debate aptly illustrated how backwards attitudes can be at home. Before they even spoke, comments about their hair, clothes and expressions erupted over social media. Before they even spoke, the very focus of their presence was thus on appearance, rather than their potential contribution to the debate. All of a sudden, these women were no longer authoritative, influential political figures. Nicola was bossy and irrational, and Johann was a troll with anger issues. ‘But people fixate on the appearance of men in politics too’, I hear some say. Yes, Salmond and Darling provide a good example of this, but there remained a general ability and willingness to differentiate their appearance from their politics.

Already, a particularly condescending headline referred to Nicola as “First Lady” – Apparently it’s much easier for our crusty tabloids to portray our soon-to-be First Minister as the wife of a leader, rather than the actual leader. When Nicola spoke at their conference, signaling a new direction for politics in Scotland, a headline read, ‘New Leader’s Natty Style: Nic Shoes the Way Forward.’ Don’t get me wrong; Nicola’s tartan heels were fabulous. They just weren’t quite as important as the content of her pioneering speech.

We live in a country where women lead two of our political parties and co-convene another two; a country where women, especially young women, have been actively engaging in politics throughout the celebration of democracy that was the referendum. As a society, we should embrace and encourage this.

To really do so, Scotland needs to acknowledge that petty belittling and seemingly trivial everyday comments and headlines are symptomatic of a wider, structural problem that needs tackled.

Many people say they want to challenge these kinds of attitudes, but seldom speak out when the perpetrators are on their side. Sexism transcends party boundaries; it’s bigger than any ideology, and it’s high time that we unite to challenge this embedded social problem.

Miriam Brett
National Collective

Image: Corey Oakley

Class and Power: Scotland’s Changing Politics

Nicola Sturgeon is now the first woman to lead the SNP, and will shortly become the first woman to lead Scotland as First Minister. Her first speech to SNP conference as party leader made it clear where her priorities lie for leadership: a determination to tackle poverty, to extend the living wage, to tackle gender inequality, to institute radical land reform, to raise the NHS revenue budget in real terms, and to fund a massive investment in education infrastructure to allow an increase in free childcare.

One passage of Nicola’s speech states her sense of purpose clearly:

“The need for a strong economy to support a fairer society is well understood. But I want our national conversation to recognise, just as clearly, that the reverse is true as well. A strong economy depends on a having a healthy, happy, well-educated and well-paid population, to provide the workforce and the customers that businesses need to succeed.

“Right now, 1 million of our citizens – 220,000 of our children – are living in poverty. In the 14th richest country in the world, that is quite frankly a scandal. So let me promise you this. Tackling poverty and inequality – and improving opportunity for all – will be my personal mission as your First Minister.”

The context of Nicola’s transition to leadership is remarkable. Despite the referendum loss, or perhaps because of it, the SNP has seen an astonishing growth in membership and support in opinion polls. Meanwhile the Labour leadership is deeply unpopular at a UK level and non-existent at a Scottish level, with both Johann Lamont and Anas Sarwar resigning from their positions shortly after the referendum.

Labour are now involved in a highly public spat between the left and right of the party, with the trade unions hoping that the little known Neil Findlay can overcome the high-profile and ultra-Blairite Jim Murphy in the leadership election. But more broadly, the party is undergoing something of an identity crisis. Since 2007, Labour’s inability to outline a credible alternative has seen them alternately oppose and adopt SNP policy. On council tax, for example, Labour routinely attack the council tax freeze as a regressive policy (an extremely dubious claim), despite making a manifesto commitment to freezing the council tax in 2011, supporting it as recently as the 2013 Dunfermline by-election and vehemently opposing a progressive alternative to the council tax in the last parliament.

But the bigger structural issue for Labour is their loss of support amongst the working-class, outlined earlier this year by Jamie Maxwell. The Scottish working-class not only now prefer the SNP to Labour but were the strongest supporters of independence, threatening to carve a permanent divide between Labour and their traditional constituency of support.

The referendum result told us what we already knew. Support for independence cut across Scottish society, but it was strongest in deprived, urban communities. This was unsurprising partially because Yes campaigners had focused a huge amount of energy on these areas. Much has been said about the role played by the organised left through the Radical Independence Campaign and their high-profile mass canvasses of Scotland’s housing schemes. But beyond that, local Yes groups across the country were often focusing their efforts on these areas, understanding that working-class voters were more likely to vote Yes but also less likely to be registered and less likely to turn out to vote.

But even without this targeted effort, the class dynamic of the campaign was predictable simply by looking at history. This was Scotland’s third referendum on constitutional change, and each time it has been working-class Scotland that has voted most enthusiastically in favour.

The aftermath of the first referendum prompted a significant and now deep-rooted change in the Scottish national movement. The 1979 referendum is now infamous – a majority of those who voted in the devolution referendum voted in favour, but turnout failed to reach an arbitrary and undemocratic threshold. Afterwards, the small but influential 79 Group were established by young radicals within the SNP, who argued that the SNP should seek to build on the working-class support for devolution by replacing Labour as the natural party of the left.

The 79 Group were expelled from the party within a few years, but the short-lived faction left a legacy of ideas and personnel that have defined the national movement since – Alex Salmond, Kenny MacAskill, Roseanna Cunningham, Margo MacDonald and Jim Sillars were all prominent members. The success of the modern SNP has been the implementation of the central 79 Group strategy of winning support in the Labour heartlands. It is no coincidence that the party is now led by a Glasgow MSP, while her Depute is a Dundee MP.

But there is an important lesson for the left in the referendum result. While our support was concentrated in the working-class, Yes never reached the same saturation of support or turnout in the poorest areas as No did in the most affluent. Or, to put it another way: there are as many Scots in the top 20% of wealth and income as in the bottom 20%, but the top 20% will always turn out in bigger numbers and vote more uniformly in their interest.

This poses a challenge for those of us who see politics as a tool for transforming the lives of the working-class. It is almost certain that we will see another independence referendum within our lifetimes. A whole generation of working-class Scots now see the creation of a just society as inextricably linked with constitutional change. But victory next time round will likely depend on winning over middle-class Scotland on a scale we’ve so far been unable to do.

Nicola has acknowledged that part of building support for independence is ensuring a competent devolved government. But what could be more crucial is improving confidence in Scotland’s economy. Pointing to GDP and export figures was not enough. Confidence in Scotland’s economy will come when people feel better off, secure in their employment and able to pursue opportunity. And, as our First Minister-in waiting has argued, building a stronger economy will require us to use any devolution of economic powers to improve the lives of our poorest citizens, who voted Yes in hope of exactly that.

What Were They Really Fighting For?

It’s 100 years since Europe descended into the madness of World War One and 75 years since the nightmare was repeated with the outbreak of World War Two. Today we remember all that we lost. The cost was so high, it is fitting that, before we go any further, we remember the loss of life and those who were directly affected. But I would like to talk here about what we won. The true legacy of the chaos of the world wars, the tangible prize that our forebears secured for us, is still with us today and we could complete the tribute to them by celebrating that legacy. We could be shouting it from the rooftops. But very few people are. Our government and media seem afraid even to mention it. Why?

It is easy to look back on the destruction unleashed during the world wars from a distance, through the black and white lens of documentary footage, or to flick on a BBC drama that brings the front line into the living room, so close that the mud and blood splash up on the screen. And yet something is still missing. Neither the dramas nor the documentaries, nor the politicians nor any journalists that I can find are making the connections that tell us what WWI and WWII really mean today. They are letting us down, because we are only getting what it was like back then, when we should also be asking, what’s it like now?

What good came out of the carnage? What did we win? What were our great-grandparents, grandparents and parents really fighting for?

I don’t have many political heroes but one of them is Stéphane Hessel, a man who answers these questions not just from the wartime generation’s point of view, but by bringing it right up to date. He was born in Germany in 1917. His Jewish family naturalised French in 1939 and Hessel fought in the French Resistance, surviving Buchenwald concentration camp and serving in De Gaulle’s Free French government during and after the war. In 1948, he observed the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (he was there when the UK and USA made a failed push for a weaker ‘international’ rather than ‘universal’ declaration). Throughout his subsequent career as a French and UN diplomat, right up to his death in 2012, he campaigned tirelessly to ensure that what he calls the ‘true legacy’ of the world wars was honoured.

In 2010, when he was 93, Hessel published a short book that inspired two of our generation’s biggest political movements, the Indignados in 2011 and Occupy in 2012. It remains a key text for both. It is called Indignez-vous! and it would sit well on the bookshelf of anyone who wants to see a socially just independent or devo-max Scotland, just as it sits on 4.5 million other bookshelves worldwide. It calls for a revival of the type of economic and social democracy that lifted Britain, France and Germany out of the ashes of World War Two. What were the real prizes that our grandparents’ generation won for us? Well, among them, writes Hessel, are our universal welfare and social security systems and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (in particular, Article 22) upon which those programmes are based. These advancements transformed our societies for the better, and their insistence on the fundamental dignity of human life everywhere has prevented us from rushing back into war against each other since then.

Yet today they are under attack from many of the politicians that we see laying poppies, and from the right-wing newspapers that laud Britain’s wartime generation every November only to spend the rest of the year dragging that legacy through the mud and cheering as they see it stripped to pieces. Austerity is the weapon they use (see below) while our party of UK government wants to take human rights out of the universal and back into the national domain.

But it is our legacy. Not theirs to take away. It belongs to everybody. I’ll let Hessel do the talking from here. He writes that the advances his generation made have “gone into reverse at an alarming rate. Kids, be careful, we have fought to secure what you’ve got. Now it’s up to you to defend, maintain and better it. They want to take it away from you. Don’t let them.”

How to stop them? He urges us to connect with the spirit of his generation and in particular with the indignation that motivated the French resistance. Rejecting apathy is key, he says, and crucial in itself, even if it is hard to know where to focus efforts in 2014:

“There is plenty to get indignant about if you look around. The dangers are not as apparent as a neighbouring country invading your land. But they are just as dangerous.”

One of those dangers is austerity, whose lie he unmasks: “They have the gall to tell us that the State cannot afford the costs of these programmes. But how can it be that there is insufficient money today to maintain and extend these achievements when the production of wealth has increased so greatly since the Liberation, a period in which Europe lay in ruins? It’s because the power of money, against which the Resistance fought so hard, has never been so great, so insolent and so egotistical, with its servants in the highest seats in the State. The gap between the richest and the poorest has never been so great, competition and the free flow of capital never so encouraged.”

Indignez-vous reminds us that the aim and practical achievement of the Free French government from 1944 was to “establish a true economic and social democracy that involved the removal of large-scale economic and financial feudalism for the management of the economy.” It was a system that strengthened French society after 1945 just as Britain’s did for us in the same interregnum, up to the 1970s, and it needs defenders today. Hessel urges us: “We, veterans of the Resistance and of the fighting forces of Free France, appeal to the young generation to revive and carry forwards the legacy of the Resistance and its ideals. We say to you: fill our shoes, get indignant! Those in positions of political, economic and intellectual influence, together with all of society, must not give up or be influenced by the current international dictatorship of the financial markets, which are such a threat to peace and democracy.”

Before the September 18th referendum, Better Together tried to capitalise on the emotional bonds that grew up between the Britons who fought together in the wars. Yes campaigners perhaps didn’t know what to do with them, since they are real and they imply complex and layered identities. But the fact is that the Yes campaign was the movement fighting for the powers to defend and extend the democratic achievements that our fighting forebears won, a priceless legacy that the British State seems hell bent on demolishing.

It is incumbent upon us to remember today, on Armistice Day, but how do we remember? Just by looking back? Or do we look around as well, deploying the perspective of the past so as to understand the present? I think that we ought to do both. The fight is not finished, and thanks to the generation that sacrificed so much in 1914-1918 and in 1939-1945, we don’t need to go to war to win it. Just all of us raise our voices.

Alasdair Gillon
National Collective

Image: Staffs Live


Translations are variously Alasdair’s and those of Damion Searls and Alba Arrikha whose English version of Indignez-vous! is entitled Time for Outrage! It is published by Quartet Books (London, 2011).

Catalans Are Ready To Vote


It’s getting late in the day in the Catalan countryside. At the family meal in a rural house near the small farming town of Prats de Lluçanès, everyone has switched from Castilian Spanish (for the foreigner) to native Catalan. It’s the end of a long, uncertain summer and the pine forest outside smells fresh and inviting once more after the final crescendo downpour of a thunderstorm. Sleepy children are kissed goodnight, large tumblers of wine are refilled, cigarettes lit and shoes flung aside as we pad down stone steps and out into the night air under a new moon.

At first, the dance is graceful and gentle; seemingly suspended in slow motion. It looks easy until you attempt to imitate. Friends join hands and cousins are hoisted onto shoulders. Everyone is serious and full of intent. Knowing looks are exchanged between older relatives (traditional Catalan folk dances were banned by Franco in the years after the Civil War). Voices compete to find the authentic chorus of a distant but familiar tune. Someone shouts ‘Molt bé, a munt’’ and the dancers begin to rise. A young girl atop her cousin’s broad shoulders stretches her arms wide to imitate the grace and wisdom of a mountain eagle. They fly in exaggerated, circular swoops, beckoning others to do the same.

This is La Patum country – the annual festival of traditional dances where local people dress as mystical, symbolic figures. It’s a long way from the saradana performed for tourists outside Barcelona Cathedral every Sunday or the castellers (human towers) rehearsed and organised with regimented precision. This is a dance for participants, not confused by-standers. I can’t connect it to the recognisable 4/4 rhythm of a Scottish ceilidh reel. I make my apologies and step back to try and make sense of it all.

On 9 November 2014, Catalans will stage a very public demonstration of their renewed cultural pride and civic confidence when they press ahead with a non-binding independence vote and what many see as the inevitable next step on the way to realising the region’s right to self-determination.

“There is no way they can stop this,” says Bernat Garrigos, an organizer with the Catalan National Assembly (a civil society group prominent in the independence campaign), referring to the Spanish government’s opposition to a vote.

The non-binding vote this weekend follows a protracted and very confusing back and forth stand-off between the centre-right Catalan Premier, Artur Mas, his pact with more leftist Catalan politicians to hold a referendum, and the national government in Madrid. In September, at the request of the Spanish government, the Constitutional Court granted an injunction against any official referendum on 9 November.

It seems that in Catalonia, everyone expects a Spanish inquisition. Perhaps in order to save face after two years of promoting referendum day to an excited electorate, or perhaps because the injunction is the latest in a long series of avoidance tactics on the part of the Spanish government , the Catalan leadership retreated to a somewhat ambiguous- sounding ‘consulta populaire’ (public consultation) and now, just in the last few weeks, to a residual, non-binding vote. Disempowered, the Catalan people are losing patience with the continued rhetoric and political posturing, on all sides. They didn’t turn out in their millions for the V for ‘Vote’ demonstration in September 2014 or the ‘Via Catalonia’ human-chain in 2013 only to be dealt a rehearsal referendum instead of the main event.

Here in Scotland, we might be feeling the hurtful chill of a bitter post-Referendum, autumn wind but our Catalan friends look on with envy at what they perceive to have been a transparent and peaceful self-determination process negotiated between Edinburgh and London.

Many Catalans complain that Madrid drains the region of taxes to subsidise poorer parts of Spain without respecting the Catalan language or culture. In a decision described as “incendiary” in the national press, Spain’s national budget for 2015 has given Catalonia the lowest settlement for public investment in 17 years. Meanwhile, those in favour of a unified Spain insist that Catalonia already enjoys autonomy under Spain’s written constitution.

The reality is that Spain cannot afford to lose Catalonia. Not only is the region the industrial and economic powerhouse of a country still on its knees begging to Merkel following the financial crash, sanctioning the possibility of Catalan cessation would give hope to independence movements within the Basque country and Galicia. The new leftist political party in Spain , ‘Podemos’, has overtaken both the major parties in the opinion polls on an anti-austerity message.

But rather than emulate the sycophantic love-bombing of UK Westminster politicians in the panic-stricken final days of the Scottish Referendum campaign, Madrid is refusing to even turn up to the party. Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáez de Santamaría said the Catalan plans for the November 9 vote – with same-day voter registration and volunteer pollers – represents a “legal fraud” and “a perversion” of the democratic process. In response to such put-downs, the Catalan political leaders defiantly turn up the volume of their different tune and the confusing dance that began with a referendum attempt, followed by public consultation, then ‘participation process’, continues apace.

Newly democratic Spain is angst-ridden with visible growing pains. Only the young Catalans swaying to the folk tune atop their older cousins’ shoulders were born into a post-dictatorship Spain. This generation is over-educated and under-employed. Most are well-traveled and speak at least three languages – Catalan, Castillian Spanish, and usually English, French or Italian.

Catalonia has been part of Spain for over three hundred years. It is a region of 7.5 million with a distinct culture, language and diverse geography spanning the Pyrenees mountains in the north and the vineyards and olive groves of Tarragona in the south. Since the current Catalan government first committed to an Independence Referendum two years ago, many border towns such as Berga in the north of Catalonia have declared themselves to be bound only by devolved Catalan law and to refute the supremacy of Spanish laws. Perhaps it is always at the national, and personal, borders and boundaries of life– these crossroads to something different and the fault-lines of our identity– that excitement and anxiety collide. Many people use CBD vape cartridges to manage their anxiety levels and keep up with their day.

By refusing to agree to a Catalan referendum, Spain is galvanizing the independence cause. A poll released at the end of October by the Catalan government’s Centre for Opinion Studies indicated that pro-independence sentiment remains strong in Catalonia. It showed that 49.4% of Catalans would vote “yes” to both questions on the proposed November 9 independence ballot. The two questions are: “Do you want Catalonia to become a State?” and “In case of an affirmative response, do you want this State to be independent?” The poll found that 19.7% would vote “no” to both questions, and 12.6% “yes” to the first question and “no” to the second. Even the choices in the ballot box appear confusing when contrasted to the simple Yes/ No of ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’.

When I ask Catalan friends to try to explain to me what this all means, they smile, open their hands and concede that nothing is clear and Catalans themselves are frustrated by the slow pace of participatory democracy. My friend Mariona joked, “now that Spain refuses us a referendum and the Catalan leaders won’t commit to anything more than a participation process, we might as well decide this by a WhatsApp vote” (referring to the popular smartphone texting app). With the lack of an official electorate census or the formality of a sanctioned vote, turnout for 9 November is predicted to be much lower than originally hoped for.

Each day introduces another step in the dance. Although the exercise will have no legal weight, Catalan leader Artur Mas and his supporters say it will send a powerful signal to Spain and the rest of the world that Catalans are ready to go it alone:

“We will have polling stations open, there will be ballots and ballot boxes, and everyone over the age of 16 will be allowed to vote…. This will not be the final consultation. It will be the one before last.”

In this complex land where wild eagles soar above the Pyrenees, the calls for change are getting louder amongst ordinary people fed up of remote political elites. It’s an ever-changing choreography of elaborate moves in which successive generations are caught between history and hope.

At the middle of the folk dance celebration, someone shouts “Estem preparats!” The pace quickens, the assembled circle is cheering, hands are held tighter, but no one can quite remember the next move.

Jemma Neville
National Collective

Originally published at

Image from Josep Ma. Rosell

Devolving Immigration – A Lifeline For The International Student Community


The SNP recently announced it wants powers regarding immigration devolved to Scotland, so that they can re-introduce the post-study work visa. All around Scotland, International students (and friends of!) briefly gave this news an interested glance; the repercussions of such a plan actually taking place would be incredibly exciting. Before we look at the potential results, here is some context:

  • The Tier 1 Post-Study Work Visa (tied to the ‘Points Based Immigration System introduced in 2008) enabled International students to work in the UK upon completion of their degree for up to two years before applying for a work permit.
  • This system in itself was actually regulation by Labour rather than de-regulation – the system used previously (Highly Skilled Migrant Programme) was more flexible and welcoming, enabling students to apply for work permits under more relaxed criteria.
  • The Conservative-Liberal coalition decommissioned this visa in 2012 as a step to ‘tackle the immigration problem’. As a result, students now have a window of a few months to find a job – within a very narrow range of sectors – that has a minimum starting salary of £21,000 per annum (yes, a graduate job in the current climate of that level), with the employer then also requiring to go through an arduous process to enable them to be ‘sponsors’ for this visa.

The net result, obviously, is that International Students struggle to stay and find work. Post-degree celebrations are marred by the melancholy of leaving the place you have settled in. I lost four very good friends this summer who all tried (and failed) to find something – anything! – that would keep them working in their adopted country of residence. This is common.

So when the Independence campaign kicked off, and the ‘Yes’ camp clearly laid out their plans for returning a provision to enable International students to stay, a lot of International students got involved. One of the clearest arguments that resonated from the ‘Yes’ camp with regards to ‘differences’ was just how starkly different a new Scotland’s immigration plans were from the direction Westminster travelled in, and this was a crucial part of that. It was one of the first reasons that grabbed me, as well as several other International students – here was a Nationalist movement that wanted to help me stay in my adopted country.

The current laws are detrimental to all involved in the sector. Principals of Universities hate it as it has a clear effect in their recruitment of International students. Students and academic staff hate it for reasons detailed above already. Businesses hate it since it adds a massive layer of bureaucracy when finding and appointing workers. The laws have also had absolutely no positive impact in the jobs available to British workers – we’ve seen unemployment figures, the inequality figures, the skew towards low-paid work.

Of course, that’s before we even discuss the social impact of bringing in hundreds of thousands of International students into a country every year – bringing in millions into the economy – and then sending them the clear signal that they aren’t wanted.

We’ve seen how conversations about immigration have progressed over the past two years. This issue is completely off the table as far as the Conservatives are concerned. Labour’s current offering amounts to removing International Students from the migration figures – a move that has no tangible gains for students, rather simply a move for the government to claim “hi, well, since you don’t count now, hurrah look how much we did to cut immigration!” This is simply more fuel for them to shout about how tough they’re being on ‘them foreigners.’

Labour cannot be trusted to bring about this change in any case – remember, it was the Blair Government that brought in this visa in 2008 as a cut to migration – and Ed Miliband’s recent rhetoric around immigration is enough evidence that there is nothing progressive on this issue coming from that particular party.

A ‘No’ vote robbed that opportunity for International students to build an inclusive immigration system here in Scotland, and by and large hope was dead. I was very open about the very personal impact that vote had on me; it dictated my chances – and future international students’ chances – of calling Scotland home or not. I was devastated.

So at this point, hope’s fairly dead in terms of policies from parties down south. Then enter the devolution commission and SNP’s latest proposal, a move that’s backed by their ‘Yes’ campaign allies the Scottish Greens. Let’s briefly put in context just how many people this policy would affect – 40% (that’s upwards of 8,000 people) of our student populace in the University of Edinburgh is currently on the Tier 4 visa. Several of the Scottish Universities pride themselves on their international intake, and this is a massive lift in a hope we thought was dead.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m probably of the belief that immigration would be the last detail to be devolved by the Smith Commission. There’s enough scare-mongering flying around from the other Westminster parties to try and make devolved immigration unfeasible. But the very fact that the SNP have brought this back on the table, at a time of massive immigration scaremongering, and making a clear statement that they want the opportunity to actually make international students feel welcome here – that’s something. That’s hope.

Like I said before, 40% of our student populace is currently on that Tier 4 system that makes it nigh on impossible for them to stay in their adopted country. I can’t think of a better policy for them to get behind. There’s hope once again – perhaps fleeting – but a recognition that we haven’t been forgotten about.

Dash Sekhar
National Collective

Is Devo-Max Compatible With The UK? And What Is Devo-Bare Minimum?

Many of us remain convinced that the best, and most democratic, way for Scotland to be governed is as an independent state. But constitutional options like devo max (generally understood to mean Holyrood having power over everything except defence, foreign affairs, immigration, and a few macroeconomic essentials like the currency), which were dangled in front of voters so extensively during the final weeks of the recent referendum campaign, would be a welcome advance on Scotland’s path to self-government.

Now that the referendum is over though, the mode du jour amongst the unionist commentariat and political elite has been to claim that devo max is a “complete non-starter” (Ruth Davidson MSP) and “incompatible with remaining part even of a largely federal system” (Alan Trench). But is it really true that devo max is incompatible with membership of the United Kingdom? Or is it simply a working backwards from a (legitimate, if not majority-held) view that Scotland should remain as similar to the rest of the UK as possible?

If we look to the rest of the world (something which I fear hasn’t happened nearly enough in the current debate), we find some potential answers to that question. And, while we’re at it, we observe some possible ‘design patterns’ for the constitutional arrangements of post-referendum Scotland, and the UK as a whole, in places that have been doing this stuff for decades.

On a fundamental level, the claim by some that devo max is, more or less by definition,
incompatible with being part of a larger state is patently false. Hong Kong is an integral part of the People’s Republic of China, yet has more autonomy than even devo max would provide (Hong Kong having both its own currency, and a separate immigration area from mainland China).

Hong Kong – along with Macau – is of course governed under the maxim of “one country, two systems”, and some may object to the comparison on the basis that no-one in Scotland expected a No vote in the referendum to mean the “state within a state” form of government that Hong Kong enjoys. That proposition remains to be tested – perhaps this would be a more popular option than many unionists would like to believe – but it is not necessary to pursue this particular comparison here. It serves merely to illustrate that on a technical level claims about devo max being inherently incompatible with membership of the larger state that is the United Kingdom are simply not true.

If we look then to federal (or federal-like) countries which no-one would suggest are anything other than single states, we find several where some or all of the constituent parts have significantly more control over the fundamental issues of taxation and welfare than Scotland currently does as part of the UK.

The most obvious example – and one not so far from home – is Spain, and in particular the
autonomous communities of the Basque Country and Navarra. These two autonomous communities – through their economic agreements with the Spanish central government – are responsible for setting most, and collecting virtually all, taxes in their respective territories, while remitting a certain amount of money to the Spanish state for centrally provided services such as defence, according to a bilaterally agreed formula.

Are the Basque Country and Navarra part of the Kingdom of Spain? Quite clearly they are. (Many may wish them not to be, but that is besides the point here.) These two autonomous communities have had almost exclusive competence over tax collection for more than three decades (and also previously, before the Franco era), but they remain part of Spain, and, indeed, are highly integrated in the Spanish single market.

Crossing the Atlantic to Canada, we find provinces which are responsible for a significant number of their own taxes, and virtually all of their own working-age benefits – there is no Canada-wide equivalent to Jobseekers’ Allowance or Universal Credit, for example. In the area of contributory state pensions, where there is admittedly more uniformity across most of Canada, Québec has its own separate Québec Pension Plan. Yet Québec, like the other provinces, is still an integral part of Canada, and an integrated part of the Canadian macroeconomic zone and single market.

Careful observers won’t have failed to spot my specific highlighting of the Basque Country and Québec, two of the most independently minded parts of their respective larger states – and, in fact, the most autonomous sub-state entities in the whole of the OECD. That is with good reason. Contemporary Scotland is the most independently minded and autonomy-seeking part of the United Kingdom, and so we should devise a constitutional settlement which reflects and accommodates that (even if ultimately I would prefer such a settlement to be extended to, or at least be on offer to, all four UK nations). We shouldn’t force Scotland into a UK straitjacket that doesn’t meet the aspirations of most Scots simply for the sake of some abstract notion of British unity.

Looking again at Spain and Canada, and examining the situation of even the most ‘Spanish’ of autonomous communities – Castile-La Mancha amongst others – or of an ‘ordinary’ Canadian province such as Ontario, we find aspects of the constitutional order which go significantly beyond the Scotland Act 2012 and which would be worth taking serious note of. For example:

  • Castille-La Mancha, in common with all Spanish autonomous communities, has a statute of autonomy – an entrenched written constitution subordinate only to the written constitution of Spain.
  • Ontario levies a large number of its own taxes, including beer and wine tax, corporation tax, fuel/gasoline tax and personal income tax – and, particularly relevant to the current debate in Scotland, the employer health tax, a payroll tax completely separate from income tax and unique to Ontario.

Some may posit, “Well, that is all very well and good, but our contention was never that such systems of government would not be technically possible in the United Kingdom, simply that in the specific case of the UK, the essential nature of what the UK as a country is about – as opposed to what, say, Canada and Spain are about – makes the level of autonomy that devo max would involve impossible to contemplate.”

That seems quite a contorted argument, but if it is some people’s view, let’s at least hear it – along with a decent defence of this position. What is it that makes the UK so different from Canada, Spain and elsewhere that makes significant, if not complete, autonomy for a part of the state over taxation and welfare a non-starter, uniquely, here? I’m not sure anyone has a convincing answer to that question.

That all said, let’s for a moment set aside the first choice (for now) of devo max, and focus
only on two humbler aspirations:

  1. That the Scottish parliament should be responsible for raising tax revenue to fund substantially all of its own expenditure – a basic principle of responsible and accountable government anywhere.
  2. In having responsibility for a particular tax, this responsibility should be comprehensive – ensuring that the Scottish parliament isn’t prevented from making reasonable changes to the structure of a particular tax to the extent that the usefulness of it having any control over that tax at all is severely hampered.

One benefit of devo max-like systems is their clarity, and thus their clear trace-through to the ballot box. In the Basque Country, for example, it is clear to everyone who is responsible for every last rate, band and relief of income tax – and this would also be the case in Scotland under devo max.

By contrast, in all of the unionist parties’ rather tepid proposals on income tax, numerous
important components of the income tax system would remain under the control of Westminster – including the personal allowance (which is simply a 0% band), meaning that Westminster, bizarrely, would be deciding how much of Scottish taxpayers’ earned income could be taxed, while not actually receiving any of the tax on this income itself.

At the recent UK Conservative Party conference, the UK prime minister David Cameron said:

So here’s our commitment to the British people: No income tax if you are on Minimum Wage. A 12 and a half thousand pound tax-free personal allowance for millions of hardworking people. And you only pay 40p tax when you earn £50,000.

If the Conservatives’ current plans for further Scottish devolution were put into effect, the
part of Mr Cameron’s promise relating to the 40p income tax band wouldn’t apply in Scotland, while the part relating to the proposed £12 500 personal allowance would (meaning the UK parliament would be telling the Scottish parliament at what point it can start taxing Scottish taxpayers’ earned income). I challenge anyone to convince me that this would not be an utterly confusing proposition at the ballot box in Scotland – not to mention the unfairness of English voters being able to vote for a holistic vision of the entire income tax system while Scottish voters cannot.

Returning then to where we started: Devo max is quite clearly not incompatible with Scotland’s staying in the United Kingdom and to suggest otherwise is to wrap a political preference in the guise of objective fact. Furthermore, devo max would make Scotland’s governance arrangements much simpler to understand (compared to either the status quo, or any of the other currently mooted schemes for further devolution), and it would thus provide the greatest level of political transparency and democratic accountability possible while Scotland remains in the UK.

If devo max is not deemed to be politically achievable this time around, then let’s give Scots a system of fiscal autonomy where they are able to express a holistic view at election time on at least some of the most significant taxes and welfare benefits. (And, in deciding on the extent of such a system, let’s keep in mind that many countries manage to operate, and indeed thrive, with much less fiscal uniformity than currently exists in the UK.)

While such a ‘devo max lite’ proposition would likely not satisfy the appetite for more powers of most Scots – not least of all the 45% who voted Yes on 18 September – it would be another step forward on the journey to true self-government – a journey where the direction of travel is clear and unambiguous.

The Edinburgh Agreement commits the Scottish and UK governments to work together constructively in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom. It benefits neither Scotland nor rUK for a discontent Scotland to be denied the power over its own affairs which it legitimately seeks.

Let’s make a step change in the governance of Scotland and all of the United Kingdom.

Let’s get to it.

Kenneth MacArthur
National Collective

The Future Of Scottish Broadcasting

national collective final

It’s my job to watch, read and listen to the news. First hand I see the trickle down effect of news coming in off the wires, to that particular event being covered by all major news outlets. From the guttural to the high-brow, one sets the agenda for the other and this becomes our rationalised understanding of the world, and of our own communities.

Some say the media only confirms that which we already hold a position on and some see it as wholly influential. Whatever the opinion might be on either side, the fact remains that our society allows us to have a diverse range of news and entertainment providers which are regulated through the Communications Act.

The act was implemented in 2003 and is controlled by Westminster and the UK Government, and much of the regulation is to ensure a diversity of views and focuses on the concentration of ownership. It has always been maintained that we should have a public service broadcaster, which of course we have in the BBC and we pay a license fee to sustain an ad-free service.

BBC productions in Scotland consist of token shows such as ‘Waterloo Road’, a programme with no real Scottish identity. I’m also certain that anybody who has ever tried to get into the ‘media’ in Scotland has at some point been told, ‘you know you will probably have to move to London to get anywhere’. Really, what should happen is that we have the resources to keep and draw talent here so our communities can be more educated about the things that matter to them. In doing so, people might feel more inclined to get involved in whatever way they feel they can.

It is widely recognised that the referendum motivated people on an unprecedented level through online, grass-roots campaigning from both sides. Vincent Mosco in his book ‘The Digital Sublime’ wrote, ‘all of the major social movements have developed communications strategies and policies’.

The internet and social media helped to ignite a fully formed debate which took place everywhere, from the playground to the pub. It involved the nation as a whole, and in some ways the internet filled whatever gaps there were in the mainstream media coverage of the referendum. This momentum needs to continue for democracy to thrive, and this can be achieved with a media that is representative of the variety of issues we have in Scotland.

The reason broadcasting is so important is because even in a digital world, it is our primary source of information. We can trust documentaries, current affairs programmes and 24 hour news as this is all quite familiar to us. It was even stated by Jürgen Habermas back in 1984 that when it comes to our trust in mainstream media, people can be convinced of anything, even ‘there is no such thing as true’.

As noted before, the media rationalises the world in which we live by placing certain events/issues in to the public sphere. A great example right now is the furore over immigration and asylum seekers.

Places such as Clacton have a lower than average proportion of immigrants but it is in parts of the country like this where immigration is the greatest concern. The prominence of the issue of immigration within the mainstream press and on our tellies gets us properly riled up. It is also in places like this UKIP are gaining ground.

John Kay put it nicely in his Financial Times column, he said on the matter, “citizens express dissatisfaction with the current state of modern politics by hostility to anonymous others”.

If people were more educated about the world they inhabit, they might not be so quick to make generalised assumptions based on media rhetoric. With more local and regional media, there can be a more informed public and therefore a public who are empathetic to the needs of the community around them, not a public who are suspicious of things they know nothing about.

For this to happen Scotland’s broadcasting industry needs to flourish and have greater autonomy from London. With that we can achieve better regional representation, putting us back in touch with our communities. This can only happen if we have control of our own broadcasting policy.

It was pointed out in another article on the National Collective website that in federal Germany, broadcasting is the responsibility of the states, therefore they have a total of nine public service broadcasters working alongside nationwide broadcaster ARD.

In the event of the Scottish Parliament being given primary power over broadcasting in Scotland, it would be possible to set up our own Scottish public service broadcaster while coming to an agreement with the BBC over their continued role in Scotland.

The media and online is our connection to the people in power, and this has become even more apparent over the last two years of referendum campaigning. It may be generally thought that social media, websites and blogs cancel out the need for the press or television news programmes but we need a balance. Good quality professional journalism, passionate citizen journalists and an engaged public.

Now I realise that this takes money and a public who are willing to invest in a proposed Scottish public service broadcaster, which is where it gets tricky, but we live in a democracy. Together we can debate the issue, come up with sustainable business models and education programmes which will encourage all of the above.

Let us have a voice and promote the idea of true optimism. Let our communities know what is relevant to them. Let us continue to take an interest in our own political and social affairs by having a broadcast media that actually works for Scotland.

Jenni Flett & Laura Richmond
National Collective

Illustration by Laura Richmond

6 Questions on the Yes Alliance

There’s been a lot of talk about the potential of pro-independence candidates standing on a joint ‘Yes Alliance’ platform in next May’s General Election – the idea being that the 45% who voted Yes, and in particular the Yes majority in Labour heartlands such as Glasgow, could deliver the largest possible team of pro-independence MPs.

It’s likely that, without party instruction, a great deal of independence supporters will be minded to vote tactically to ensure the best result for pro-independence candidates. And it is entirely feasible that pro-independence candidates may strategically decide not to stand against each other in certain seats. But the Yes Alliance proposal goes further – suggesting that the Yes parties should drop, or at least dilute, their individual identities to stand on a common platform.

Much of the enthusiasm for this idea seems to have developed from the experience of working across political divides during the referendum. And no wonder – the non-partisan nature of the campaign was not only highly enjoyable for activists but hugely attractive to the public. I strongly believe that many of the relationships built during the campaign will endure, and delivering first devo-max and later independence will require us to continue to work as a united movement.

But there’s a huge difference between fighting for a common cause and fighting parliamentary elections on a joint platform. Would a Yes Alliance actually work?

1. Who chooses the candidates?
The immediate issue any electoral alliance would face is choosing candidates. If we assume that the six sitting SNP MPs would stand again, then we’d have to select 53 candidates for an election happening next year.

The time frame is important here. If energies hadn’t been focused on the referendum, then we can assume that the SNP would have a full slate of candidates by now and that the ground campaign would already have begun. The earliest a Yes Alliance could presumably be agreed would be SNP Conference in mid-November. To devise and operate an entirely new process of candidate selection could take two to three months. That’s getting dangerously close to the election itself.

But even if a time-frame were to be agreed, who would actually choose the candidates? For the Yes Alliance to capture the movement it would have to extend beyond the SNP, Greens and SSP and include the other campaign groups and non-aligned Yes volunteers. But these other groups are not formal membership organisations in the way a political party is and establishing a secret ballot among a group that may be no more than an e-mail list would be extraordinarily difficult – and would still exclude the thousands of volunteers who simply turned up at stalls and canvass sessions without ever formally joining any group. And what of multiple memberships? Would someone who was a member of the Greens, RIC, National Collective and Women for Independence get 4 votes or 1? How would this be controlled?

2. Would voters just vote as they’re told?

The central assumption of the Yes Alliance proposal is that Yes voters would back a joint pro-independence platform in greater numbers than if the parties stood individually.

It’s entirely feasible that, were the pro-independence parties to stand against each other, there could be seats where their combined vote share would have been enough to push the leading party over the edge. But the Greens only stand in a minority of seats and its unlikely that the SSP, or any other pro-independence left group, will stand. Party competition isn’t a particular threat in the Westminster elections.

The electorate will often behave in strange ways. Not all Yes voters will be minded to vote for a pro-independence candidate – there will be a not insignificant number who vote Labour next year, if not in 2016, and there will even be some who go back to voting Conservative, Lib Dem, UKIP or not voting at all. Meanwhile there are significant numbers of anti-independence voters who will happily vote SNP but might baulk at the thought of voting for a Yes Alliance. I’ve written before on behaviour of Green voters, as has Jonathan Mackie, and the idea that they would universally vote for an SNP or other pro-independence candidate simply because the Greens endorsed them is unconvincing. And speaking personally, I wouldn’t vote for just any candidate simply because they supported independence if their other views were incompatible with my own principles.

3. What happens once they’re elected?

Part of the reason we can’t expect voters to put aside their own political opinions is simple – our candidates might win.

When a voter selects a candidate they do so understanding that they’ll be accountable not just to the electorate but to a party and its manifesto. The voter may not agree with every policy a party has, but they can make a judgement based on the party’s record and platform and vote accordingly.

If a Yes Alliance candidate without party allegiance was to be elected then what would they actually do in their position? Yes, we’d expect any Yes MPs to argue for the best possible devolution settlement and to articulate the argument for independence in the long-term. But the next parliament will not be defined solely by further devolution. Scottish MPs will still be required to represent their constituents interests on issues of welfare, citizenship, employment and consumer rights, defence and more.

What happens if the enthusiastic, non-aligned small business owner turns out to support welfare reform and vigorously campaigns against employment protections? What if the peace campaigner is elected only to oppose any MoD investment in Scotland? What if the hard-working activist from the local campaign turns out to be a zealous advocate of depriving criminal suspects of their civil liberties?

These things aren’t likely, but they’re not impossible. We can’t assume that everybody who supports independence has a consistent world-view. And the working-class SNP voter might choose to vote Labour rather than for a Business for Scotland candidate just as the middle-class Yes supporter might find it impossible to vote for an SSP activist.

4. Wouldn’t it destroy what made Yes work?

A conflict in our beliefs didn’t matter during the referendum because of the binary nature of the question being asked us. You either believe that Scotland should be independent or you didn’t.

As a whole the Yes movement found lots of common ground. At least on principle. We were mainly on the left, and we talked about internationalism and social justice and equality, but we did so knowing that after the vote we’d often end up on different sides of the argument again. Even if our objectives sounded similar we had different routes of getting there.

That diversity was a strength. But in a parliamentary election, it could be become a weakness.

5. Wouldn’t it entrench us in the 45?

If we want Scotland to become independent in our lifetimes then in all likelihood we will need to convince hundreds of thousands of people who voted No this time round to change their minds.

There are plenty of No voters who can be won round. There are even more who can be won round immediately to the idea that we need an extensive and radical devolution of powers. And many of them will be willing to vote for a pro-independence candidate in future elections if they feel that this will deliver them devo-max.

My biggest fear about a Yes Alliance is that these soft No voters are confronted with ‘Yes’ on their next ballot paper and vote for anybody else in frustration. We need to win these people over and to do that we have to demonstrate that we accept the referendum result and will, at least for now, strive to make devolution work. A Yes Alliance could permanently divide Scottish politics along referendum lines and entrench two camps in their beliefs. The problem for us is that we’re the smaller of those two camps.

6. Where would it actually be of benefit?

But let’s say that all of this can be overcome. Let’s say that we devise a workable way of selecting candidates, that we can put together a credible platform that makes us electable while maintaining our diversity, and that we carry Yes voters with us without permanently alienating the 55% of No voters. Where would this approach actually benefit us?

I’m an SNP activist and my political instinct is shaped by that. But the SNP are by far the largest political party of the Yes movement and, without a Yes Alliance, the only party with any credible chance of electing any MPs.

I’ve tried to think of a single parliamentary constituency where nominating a non-SNP figure would make it more likely that we win. I can’t think of one.

Dan Paris