Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Remarks to Glasgow Skeptics 22 September

Last night I spoke at a well-attended meeting organised by Glasgow Skeptics. Parts of the crowd were, as Alex Salmond might say, a bit "joyous". Which is to say they tried to shout down any point they disagreed with. 

I was struck by two things: that there has been created here, and I suspect not least through the influence of Wings Over Scotland, an angry brigade of the pale, male and stale; and that the Yes speakers not only ignored it completely, but spoke in gushing praise of the joy of a people's campaign. 

You can watch a recording of the event here. The speech I tried to deliver is set out below.

Thanks to everyone who’s turned out for this evening. When I agreed to do this the concept of “after the referendum” was a tricky one to grapple with. It seems for some of our leaders it remains a tough concept to accept. Nonetheless here we are.

We have spent 3 years staring down the barrel of a binary choice, and assigning every issue in our lives to one or other of the options. It’s been exhausting and, as a way of agreeing on what’s best for Scotland, it’s been totally dysfunctional. It’s time now, I think, to embrace a bit of participative democracy - to talk through the pros and cons of the issues that matter, and find shared solutions rather than exchanging binary ultimatums.

So my simple answer to “what now?” is that we must work to find a unity of purpose to deliver social and economic justice within the devolution settlement which is now unquestionably the settled will of the Scottish people.

What that doesn’t mean:

It doesn’t mean “revenge” against parties or individuals who voted differently from us. Harnessing the Yes cause to “wipe out” No parties, or harnessing the No coalition to target Yes parties, just embeds division.

It doesn’t mean boycotts of companies which took views during the debate that you didn’t like. Jim Sillars’ “day of reckoning” would be utterly self-defeating. The same goes for boycotts of, and demos against, media figures and organisations. The media did a good job. They gave platforms to diverse views. They also delivered brutal analysis, much of which was directed at the No side. They should be applauded, not condemned.

And it doesn’t mean insisting that independence is still the answer. Scots voters said no. If we are democrats, we must accept that. And please don’t suggest that those who voted No were duped, tricked or conned. Respect the voters’ decisions. They want a devolved parliament within a United Kingdom.

What it does mean:

It means we should see and celebrate what we achieved as a whole - mass political re-engagement. Engage with it. And remember lots of first time voters voted No, let’s not pretend our record registrations and high turnout was all galvanised by a desire for independence.

Let’s recognise that it’s been demonstrated that we the people have the power when we actually turn out to vote. Let’s those of us involved in political parties ensure that we give the people something to vote for in 2015, and 2016, and beyond.

And let’s work for honesty in politics. If someone promises to cut child poverty while also cutting taxes in a period of global recession, look hard at that proposition, because it’s probably a lie.

What to fight for:

Real democracy. Not the false idea that dividing the UK would have solved the problem when in fact it would just have changed a devolved government into a sovereign one. The real route to improving democracy is to reverse the trend of centralisation in Scotland - something of which Lab and SNP have both been guilty - and devolve real powers to communities. Recognise that what our current councils do is regional administration. We need community power. Cities, towns and rural communities with democratically elected government, with real cash to spend, because cash means power.

Early years and childcare. This should never have been a referendum football. It’s too important. The Scottish Parliament has the powers now to make a real difference. Research shows us time and again that investment in the early years is by far the most efficient use of public money to improve life chances. And I would say this: if it comes down to a budgetary choice between free university tuition and investment in early years, I will fight for early years every time. Politics should be about benefiting the many not the few.

Simply speaking, we need to fight for good policies at elections. We’ve fought a proxy war in the referendum over childcare and Trident and welfare and education. It was a proxy war because a Yes or No vote didn’t actually address these challenges. Policies at elections will. So don’t be tempted into using your vote as revenge next May. Use it to choose a representative whose policies are closest to what you want to happen.

The last thing we should be doing right now is re-fighting any aspect of the last three years. That debate has been settled. We have a massive opportunity to harness the political energy created across Scotland. Let’s seize it together.


  1. "the media did a good job"


  2. Some good points, and some not so good.

    I disagree utterly with "the media did a good job." Which media were you watching/ listening to/ reading? The BBC showed bias. Selective use of photos, cutaways to nodding audience members when a no campaigner was speaking, fewer cutaways when a yes campaigner was speaking, and nearly always to a motionless or disagreeing audience member. The infamous "Didn't answer" Nick Robinson incident. Not an exhaustive list.

    I assure you, I will continue to exercise my democratic right to protest about this bias from our national broadcaster.

    "[E]mbrace a bit of participatory democracy..." yes please. FYI, the SNP and the Greens have a really good reputation for listening to their party members. Their MPs and MSPs have a really good reputation for listening to their constituents. Labour has a reputation for being arrogant, out-of-touch, paternalistic, professional politicians. I say this not to be rude, but as an honest attempt at constructive criticism. I, like many I've met from the Yes camp, come from "Old Labour" stock, but I came of age in 2000 and I've never voted Labour. I'd love to have a Labour party at which I couldn't level that criticism.

    "Don't be tempted to use your vote as revenge..." Haha. You wish. Look, it's not enough to tell us. You've got to show us that we can trust you, that you're LISTENING. Are you listening?