Monthly Archives: September 2015

THE INDEPENDENCE CAMPAIGN IS BEING REDEFINED.

Scottish Labour Party Leader Johann Lamo

Something quite dramatic and very significant happened in the debate about Scotland’s constitutional future last week. The leader of Scottish Labour followed quickly by the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats said that their members would now be free to support a ‘Yes’ cause in any future referendum. This is huge, not just for the fact that it is now ‘alright’ to support independence in once firm unionist parties. It is huge because new rules of engagement are shaping up and the parameters of the debate are being redefined.

I suppose we always knew it would happen. Labour being so totally set against their former voters and on the same side as the Tories on something so important as independence was always totally unsustainable and has practically killed them. It is so blindingly obvious that their firm and unequivocal unionist position would have to be addressed.

We surely aren’t too far away from the first serious Labour politicians coming forward to express support for independence. Measured at first, this will grow into a meaningful movement and voice within their party. Most of the voices associated with unconditional unionism are now gone, having been rejected, defeated and voted out. I have a sneaking suspicion that those who have recently joined Labour are a bit more adept, informed and accommodating than the SLab dinosaurs of yore.

We will then move towards a place where we can look forward to a ‘Yes’ position being a broad movement of SNP, Green, ‘Labour for independence’ and some Liberals. It will look very much like the Yes campaign in the referendum for the Scottish Parliament but even more like the campaign for a Scottish Assembly in 1979. There will always be a strong unionist voice within Labour and that is fine and should be respected. In the Scottish Assembly campaign in 79 there were Labour campaigns for and against devolution. Similarly there will be opposing Labour campaigns for and against Scottish independence.

The No side in the future will primarily be the Tories with assorted ideological unionists from the other parties. Nearly all Tory voters voted No and other than the SNP they are the one party that is comfortable with their constitutional position. Again, looking at historical precedents a future No campaign will look very much like the No campaign of 97 when the Tories were almost alone as the voice and face of opposition to the Scottish Parliament.

There is of course the temptation to over emphasise the impact of political parties positions on referendums but it should not be ignored. Where ‘Better Together’ could barely be more dysfunctional in its almost clown like approach to the referendum I believe that the Scottish people found a broad cross party campaign attractive. People will always pay attention to the politicians they recently voted for but more than that it set the parameters for the debate and influenced the media coverage.

The next referendum will be very different and the realignment that is currently being undertaken is fascinating. The Scottish people aren’t through with this yet and there will be another referendum. Scotland’’s politicians better start to think about which side they are going to be on.

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INSIDE THE INDYREF 3 – THE WISHART DIARY

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Wednesday 19th February

I go to the BRITS practically every year as a guest of the BPI because of my interest in music issues and the fact I am the only former professional ‘rock’ musician in the House of Commons. Over the years I have picked up most of the industries agenda in the House of Commons and led the debates on the creative industries and things like intellectual property. I also, to the chagrin of my MP colleagues, put together the only Parliamentary rock band in the world, the aptly monikered, MP4. The BRITS is the corporate music industry’s big night out and it is immensely popular, watched by millions of (mainly) young people. Since its move from Earls Court to the O2 invited MPs are shepherded into a corporate box like some sort of political pen with a few music biz bods and journalists to keep us amused and on our best behaviour.

Usually it is just a good night out and a chance to meet up with old colleagues and the many friends I have made in the sector. Not this year.

In accepting the award for best British male artist on behalf of David Bowie, Kate Moss, in reading out a prepared statement from Bowie told us that he wanted Scotland ‘to stay with us’. An incredible intervention that I almost missed because I was in a conversation with the BBC’s Ian Watson. Everybody of course fixed their gaze on me as the only nat in the village and there was a general ‘did she really just say that’ gasp of amazement.

Went down to the after show party and all the talk was of the Bowie intervention with music biz chums reliably informing me that the cause of independence was now lost after the great man’s intervention. The No’s aren’t exactly bulging with glamour and star studded endorsements so this was a fantastic coup for them. Where Scotland’s music community is overwhelmingly Yes, the UK’s is, to a woman and a man No, in that general ‘what have we done to upset you so much that you want to leave’ type of way’? And there is then a general feeling of satisfaction at tonight’s turn of events.

Somehow end up being in the company of Tory chairman, Grant Shapps and the always affable Labour MP, Stella Creasey. I think we just about manage to conclude that Bowie’s statement is ‘noteworthy’. Eventually find the BPI’s chair, Geoff Taylor, and asked him if he knew that this statement would be made? Geoff had no idea, and no-one had thought to ask Kate Moss what was included from Bowie. So tonight the Nos got one of the best pieces of advertising they could buy and it wasn’t even in the adverts!

On social media the remark is everywhere and twitter went mad. The Nos predictably went on the abusive cybernat stuff as it started trending on twitter but it in fact showed the funny side of the indy ref at its best. Some really funny stuff started to come out and his songs were parodied under the hashtag #bowiescotland. There was ‘Jock, I’m only Dancing’, ‘Ziggy played Stranraer’ and my favourite ‘The man who fell to Perth’. Fantastic stuff and really funny. Got no idea what possessed Bowie to get involved in Scottish independence but it is was actually turned out to be really amusing.

Wednesday 26th February

There’s another bedroom tax motion in the House of Commons today and again it comes courtesy of the Labour Party. Our Scottish Labour friends are still sore about us exposing them for failing to turn up at the last bedroom tax vote and are now particularly sensitive about the issue. That’s why I was there with my clipboard and pen to count them out as they came through the lobbies. Most of them didn’t like it, but it was soon resolved with some good natured banter. Some of them even congregated round the Aye lobby to wait and watch me concede that they were, in fact all there, as they were. That was until the Labour MPs, Jim Murphy and Tom Harris came through.

Now, Murphy and I famously don’t get on. I reported him to the Standards Commissioner when I was first elected because there was a suspicion he was using Parliamentary materials for party campaigning, something clearly forbidden, but a charge that he was later cleared of. He in response organised a coup to stop me getting the chair of the All Party Music Group. Honours even then, or so you would think. But Jim didn’t get over it and instead indulged in one of the longest Parliamentary grudges in Scottish political history resolutely refusing to speak to me ever again. I then, usually just try to avoid him, and him me.

When he came through the lobby he muttered something at me which I didn’t quite catch and I just said lightly in response ‘nice to speak to you too Jim’. He then went absolutely berserk! Running over to me he was right in my face continually shouting ‘fuck off, fuck off, fuck off’ at me almost covering me in spittle. He then went to join his Labour friends standing at the other lobby. I went after him and asked ‘what was that all about’ and he did it again in front of his Labour colleagues even more aggressively. At one point I thought he was going to take a swing at me. He then stormed off leaving me shaken and furious with Labour MPs looking on in bemused horror.

I quickly convened a small group of fellow MPs including Angus Robertson, Stewart Hosie and Mike Weir and asked them what I should do? We discussed whether I should make a point of order or go and see the Labour Chief Whip. I decided I didn’t want to make a public fuss but I didn’t want to let it go either. Murphy is one of the Nos that consistently goes on about on-line abuse – apparently real life verbal abuse and intimidation is alright – so I simply tweeted the encounter and it was soon round all the journalists and other MPs. Guido Fawkes put it up immediately and sought out the Labour ‘witnesses’ finding that ‘they couldn’t make out what was being said’!

An appalling incident and just shows a dreadful thuggish side to Scottish Labour and particularly this very angry man and his quite obvious unresolved issues.

INSIDE THE INDYREF 2

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Wednesday 26th March

Yesterday I got a visit from the Government Deputy Chief Whip, Greg Hands, asking if we were going to call a vote on the Government’s welfare cap. This is the measure in the budget that calls on the total spending on welfare to be capped at a £119 billion pound limit and cuts found if it’s exceeded. Greg very much wants to test the Labour Party on this knowing that there are divisions in their Parliamentary group. I assure him that we will indeed be opposing and if the Labour left do not call the vote we most certainly will.

They have said that they support a welfare cap in most of this week’s press and now it looks like they will have to vote with the Tories. UK Labour have been looking at the opinion polls and they know the cap is popular in the UK and they want to demonstrate just what a ‘responsible ‘ Government in waiting they are.

This is particularly tough for our Scottish Labour colleagues. They have just spent the weekend at their Scottish conference telling the nation that they are now back in touch with their roots. Adopting the word ‘socialism’ like it had gone out of fashion and Tony Blair never actually existed. We were once again the ‘tartan Tories’ and they were the newly proclaimed tribunes of the people. Well, today, they will walk through the lobbies with the Tories in support of a Tory welfare cap which will significantly impact on the poorest in our community.

All day I gently tease my Scottish Labour colleagues asking which way these newly defined ‘socialists’ would vote? In the middle of the afternoon Ed Balls defiantly confirmed that Labour would support the Tories and an hour later they voted accordingly. Watching the faces of Labour you could almost feel the embarrassment and there was a very real feeling that this would go down as a very significant moment in the indyref.

We of course did all we could to embarrass Labour with messages like “the weekend socialists back to the day job voting with the Tories’. Later in the evening I put up a blog with the 30 Scottish Labour members (a majority) who voted with the Tories. After this was left to hang Labour just had to take the shame. A very bad day for them and this blows holes in their strategy to outflank us on the left and stop the haemorrhaging of Labour votes to Yes.

The only comfort for them is it looks like the Scottish Press, predictably, are going to totally ignore it.

Saturday 13th September

The last Saturday of the campaign and you can almost feel and touch the excitement in the air in the city centre. Both campaigns are here (obviously) and there is something approaching a carnival atmosphere with practically everyone wearing either a Yes badge or one of their ‘No Thanks’ stickers. I’ve organised a flash mob circled round the Perthshire singer Dougie Maclean and his iconic song Caledonia. We put the word round social media and there is already an expectant crowd of a few hundred gathered in Perth High Street.

The idea is that the busker who is performing in the city centre starts to perform Caledonia and is then joined by our own independence choir, who is then joined by about 15 musicians who walk towards the busker before Dougie himself appears while everyone joins in with lyrics to the song which we are distributing. It doesn’t quite go like that. The High Street is too busy for the musicians to get any sort of platform and our busker forgets some of the words! But then Dougie turns up and it is absolutely electric. Silence seems to descend on the High Street and looking round several people are actually close to tears. When Dougie is finished I make a small speech and some Better Together idiot makes a lunge at Dougie but is quickly calmed down by our supporters. It was a fantastic event and everybody is really happy. As we finish we start to see some pictures of elsewhere in Scotland. In Glasgow thousands of Yes supporters have taken to the streets and George Square and Buchanan Street are stowed out. There have never been scenes like this in Scotland and no-one is going to forget this day.

Meanwhile the No campaign have to endure the Orange Order who are having a British ‘unity’ parade in Edinburgh. Almost ironically this is perhaps the biggest rally the No campaign have managed throughout the whole referendum. This is immensely embarrassing for the Nos who have ran a mile from any association with this divisive group. The images are bad. All over Scotland Yes campaigners are joyfully celebrating this carnival of politics whilst in Edinburgh this group wanders round the capital with their union jacks and messages of division and hate. All of the Yes campaign ignore this march and the fear of any flashpoint dissipates. Exhausted we retire to the Greyfriars pub in Perth with Dougie where more songs are performed. The campaign is coming to a climax now and it almost feels a privilege to be living through such times.

Just before going to bed I hear that the Perth hostage, David Haines, has been executed by the IS jihadists in Iraq. We had all been hoping that he might still get out alive and I have been dealing with the family offering any assistance that they may need. Dreadful stuff and will be huge in the press tomorrow.

Sunday 14th September

I get my first phone call and bid to appear on the media at 6.15am and from then my phone did not stop. Did Radio’s 4 and 5 before 7am and Sky had dispatched a van for an 9am interview. This goes on all day and it was actually quite distressing having to give comment on a man who was so brutally murdered. Try to give the view from Perth and how the whole community would be here for the family. Inevitably some of the interviews verge on to the indyref particularly from the many foreign news outlets who have descended on Perth. What is impressive is that so many foreign broadcasters understand all the issues concerning the indyref and they approach these issues without any particular agendas and with a real sensitivity to a city that is in grief following the brutal murder of one of its sons.

The big news today is of course the last of the opinion polls. There are 2 this morning showing a small swing back to No. A Survation and Opinium poll both give No 53% to Yes 47% but a smaller ICM poll actually gives a 54% to 46% lead. It is absolutely too close to call. After 2 and a half years the polls are now on a knife edge where last year there was something like a 20% No lead. This is now getting overwhelmingly exciting and people are actually having trouble sleeping trying to figure things out. It is incredible that we go into the last week with the referendum so finely balanced and with a few days still to go there is a sense that there are still a few twists to play out yet.

In the evening I venture down to the concert for Yes in the Usher Hall. Scottish musicians have come together for this last big concert and there is a stellar line up including Mogwai, Amy MacDonald, Franz Ferdinand and Frightened Rabbit. It is a fantastic joyous occasion high on emotion and passion. Get a chance to see some of my colleagues for the last time before the referendum. Everybody is obviously excited and high on adrenalin with a real determination to deliver this. Support from Scottish artists has been absolutely incredible and they have helped build support amongst young Scots. Some have emerged as key communicators like Mogwai’s, Stuart Braithwaite, who has helped ensure that Yes is the overwhelmingly ‘cool’ option. Leave exhilarated and now totally set for what will be the biggest week in my political life.

INSIDE THE INDYREF

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Thursday 13th February

There he is, our Chancellor of the Exchequer, all but ruling out a currency union.

Even though we knew he’d do this it still seems to be quite shocking to hear this new escalation. In his speech he said that it wouldn’t work, that it was unreasonable for the rest of the UK to take on this responsibility and that he couldn’t propose this to the rest of the UK , because they could be exposed to the ‘unacceptable risks’ presented by an independent Scotland. Delivered in his usual expressionless monotone style the dead pan delivery just added to the menace. It just came across as ugly and even intimidating. The pound that we thought we shared with the rest of the UK is not in fact ours at all. We would be excluded, and the rest of the UK would now do all it could to make life as difficult as possible for an independent Scotland. It was a crushing rejection of our case for a currency union and quite clear and seemingly unequivical.

We seem to be almost unprepared for this and there is no immediate response and almost a temporary paralysis. Concerned that there would be the usual phone round for response I phoned our press office for the holding line to be told that Nicola Sturgeon would be appearing on the Daily Politics. Meanwhile all the Unionist parties are all over the media gleefully predicting that it is now all but over.

Nicola’s appearance on the Daily Politics was steady, if obviously tense and tetchy, with Andrew Neil again and again determined to get an answer for a plan B. I see the first signs of a toughing this out and sticking to the existing line that the UK will be in a different frame of mind following a Yes vote. Just as I see the constant demand for a ‘plan B’ to be asked – ad nauseum. Later in the day, as predicted, Ed Balls and Danny Alexander also rule out a currency union – so that’s all the Westminster parties together on this.

As part of her visit to London Nicola is also speaking at the UCL this afternoon, now with added press attention. By now the line is toughened up that this is a political statement from the Chancellor, that currency union is still our preferred option and that this is in the best interests of both an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK. Not too sure if this is going to continue to be sustainable as the unionist start to put some muscle into their ‘you’re not getting it’ line

Later in the evening Alex Salmond is drafted on to Newsnight and Scotland Tonight to shore up our position. Alex, is as persuasive as ever and almost has me believing that the Government is bluffing! He is helped by following a bumbling Danny Alexander who almost does what he can to blow the Government’s advantage. There’s still lots of debate in this yet.

Friday 14th February

The great ‘St Valentine’s Day massacre’ is how the cartoonist in the Independent saw it with the three UK “chancellors’ packing away their machine guns in front of a blood splattered Alex Salmond portrayed as a caledonian Mickey Mouse. Meanwhile, Alex himself is on morning radio now stating that this is all ‘bullying, bluster and bluff’.

Since we started this process it was always presumed that this would be done in partnership and that we would both work for the best interests of our respective nations if we did indeed vote Yes. This morning I actually feel quite sorry, but also angry, that this will no longer be the way that the referendum debate will now be conducted. Yesterday marked the start of a new hostility and the first signs of an apparent intention of a rUK to damage an independent Scotland if we dare to vote Yes

The only positive is that there appears to be an emerging anger that the Scots have been bullied and threatened by the UK Government and there is already some evidence that this is building up. Back in Perth this morning someone actually came into my office, clearly incensed, insisting that he was now a committed Yes voter after watching George Osborne and Ed Balls cosy up together.

It does look bad that Ed Balls is siding with George Osborne and that they have all ganged up on Scotland. I have always thought that we can’t win the referendum without a real sense of grievance and injustice. Well, hello Mr Grievance, we’ve been expecting you! It is possible that we can get through this if we can tap into this emerging anger and present the UK Government as an intimidating presence determined to bully the Scots out of choosing for itself and being denied what we thought was also ours. So far the UK Government have been a beacon of reasonableness and partnership in the referendum but that now looks like it’s evaporating quickly.

Still many turns to go and at this stage and it ’s now over to the Scottish people to see what they make of this dramatic raising of the stakes.

Thursday 3rd July

Got a note late last night to tell me that the Prime Minister would be visiting my constituency with the usual instruction to not share this information or publicise it – as if I would! Dave’s coming to address the Conservative Friends of the Union in the Dewar’s Centre in Perth and as usual it is a closed meeting to an invited audience. Cameron is majoring on the ‘bullying’ theme and how we are ‘silencing’ businesses. He’s making a pitch to the ‘silent majority’ to come forward and speak out, only of course, the silent majority of non-Tory voters will be kept out by the PM’s security spooks.

Speaking in the hour or so he was in Perth he said “I come across business leader after business leader, large and small, in Scotland that want to keep our UK together, who think it would be crazy to have border controls, different currencies and split up our successful UK. I would urge them to speak out, talk with their workforces about the strength of our UK and vote to keep it together.” The only thing is that Cameron singularly refuses to identify which business leaders he’s referring to and provide any evidence of this ‘intimidation’. This is just about becoming the main theme in the No campaign and there are all the signs that they are going to ramp this right up.

Friday 4th July

The main purpose of Cameron’s visit is of course the launch this morning of the aircraft carrier the HMS Queen Elizabeth, an absolute behemoth of industrial warship. Longer than three football pitches it is the biggest warship ever built by the UK. The Queen was at Rosyth to officially name it by smashing a bottle of Islay malt whisky onto the hull. Built at six locations around the UK it is the first of two aircraft carriers under construction. Famously bereft of aircraft, this and the second carrier, named the Prince of Wales, will be built at Rosyth regardless of the outcome of the referendum. That didn’t stop all sort of indy ref discourse whether through the symbolism or direct confrontation.

Cameron told us “If the United Kingdom stays together, as I hope it will, Glasgow and Scotland will continue to be an absolute centre of excellence in terms of shipbuilding. Let’s celebrate today the fact that so many people have worked so hard to produce the Royal Navy’s biggest ever ship. It’s a really exciting day for Scotland, a great day for the United Kingdom and a sign of things to come if our country stays together.” This signalled the usual predictions that shipbuilding would cease in am independent Scotland and the usual stuff that the UK doesn’t build complex warships outside the UK, even though it does.

The First Minister carefully avoids all this and instead talks of the skills of the workforce saying “What keeps us safe for the future is not the willpower of David Cameron, it’s this magnificent deep water facility and the great skills of the workforce.” He even took along his dad, a veteran who served in the navy during the war. My dad worked at Rosyth dockyard when it dominated the economy of West Fife in the 60s and 70s employing tens of thousands of people. Practically every family in the Dunfermline area had somebody who worked in the dockyard. Such was its role in the local economy that at school we even sat the ‘dockyard exam’ to place us at the level we would start our dockyard career. In those days we were told that devolution would destroy employment at Rosyth, now of course it is independence. Only a few thousand souls now work at the dockyard and it a mere shadow of its former self. The UK Government will continue to suggest that what is left of this activity will go with independence and I have no doubt that people will still believe them – even when the historic evidence stares them in the face.

Monday 7th July

The bullying theme goes through the roof today with the broadcast of a Channel 4 Dispatches programme with ‘evidence’ on how the SNP and the Yes campaign are intimidating businesses and organisations.

First in the frame is that appalling bully, Angus Robertson, my Westminster colleague, who represents most of Scotland’s whisky distilleries. This ‘thug’ had the audacity to ‘meet’ the boss of the Scotch Whisky Association, Gavin Hewitt on six occasions, where the poor Mr Hewitt apparently ‘felt’ that there was a genuine fear that, by coming out publicly against independence, there would be “retribution down the track.” He even ‘thought’ that he (Angus) was trying ‘to neuter business comment”. Appalling!

Next up was that ‘Flashman’ of Scottish politics the great oppressor, John Swinney, who even went as far as to ‘pressure’ Government and public organisations to pull out of the CBI after it backed a No vote. ‘Unbelievably” he contacted bodies like Visit Scotland and Skills Development Scotland, telling them that it ‘may’ be inappropriate to remain (as a public body) in an organisation that had hoisted its mast as a No campaigning organisation. What absolutely dreadful behaviour from this, thankfully, now exposed tyrant.

Even though this ‘evidence’ could only be regraded by any reasonable person as being on the ‘thin’ side the Nos went to town. All of this “won’t come as a surprise to those who’ve found themselves on the wrong end of an SNP tirade” said one “the Scottish Government using its position to breathe down the neck of everyone who dares disagree is frankly appalling” said another.

Almost unbelievably this was kicked around all day and otherwise sane journalists took it seriously. In actually watching the programme it was almost apologetic in the poverty of its ‘evidence’ and even the rehashed ‘silencing the academics’ seemed almost comical. Dreadful stuff from Channel 4 and does nothing for the quality of the debate.

Meanwhile on the the BBC, Robert Peston, managed to show how it could be done. In a very informative half hour he’s almost even handed in looking at the financial issues of independence. The broadcasters have to try and up their game and get this together. The unhappiness with, particularly the BBC, is becoming a real issue in the referendum and the charge of institutional bias in our national broadcasters is becoming almost a story in itself.