Political Will

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I have never been political. I have never joined a party, made a donation or been on a march. My political experience has been limited to a venture in a local action group agitating for an environmental improvement in a bleak district in the east end of Glasgow more than 40 years ago. I joined the group, took on a committee role, initiated public meetings, but after serial infighting, walkouts and continual constitutional crises, I realised that it wasn’t for me. So, politics has always been little more than a spectator sport and generally a pretty dull one at that. I never got around to cheering the home team or shouting at the opposition. It is not that I was, or am, indifferent to the issues it is just that I could never connect with the mechanism or saw that particular route as being a realistic way of effecting change or making a difference.  Deep down I always felt that real power and real influence lay somewhere else. The forces to change things were not with politicians.

It was not that I despised politicians. Rather, I  held them in high regard. My sympathies were more likely to be with the government in power at any given time, because I recognised they were effectively public servants and as such, deserved some measure of respect.  It was not a position I ever envied and the job seemed an almost impossible one. I hated when people so easily rubbished, castigated and abused these civil servants.  They could be called names and insulted like no other group. I remember the abuse heaped upon Harold Wilson and upon Ted Heath in their respective terms and I felt the abuse that Margaret Thatcher suffered was sometimes nothing short of shameful. In many cases, I felt the ire was directed against her especially because she was a woman.  The fact that people held parties, sung “the witches dead” and danced on her grave,  long after she had relinquished power and had any influence, showed how low it had all become. I was astonished, too, how quickly Tony Blair took on her mantle, and became the villain almost overnight. The people who cheered him in, cursed him out in a very short time. I am almost certain that, had Alex Salmond won independence for Scotland and stayed to be the country’s leader, it would not be long before he too would have suffered the same fate. Knocking the person in power is the easiest game in the book, and we keep playing it.

So it is inevitable that I am pretty sceptical about the new body politic, the new grass root engagement, the rainbow coalition, the enthusiasm for on-line activism and the involvement of the young.  I am sure it is a good thing, maybe good will come of it, I hope so, but I have this sneaky feeling that in the long run it won’t actually make much difference. I hope I am wrong. I also wonder how long this extraordinary energy and mobilisation will last when it comes to the hard graft of working things out in practice and the nitty gritty of concessions and compromises. You only have to take a look at the diverse and contradictory interests represented by the 45 to see the mountains of concession and compromises that will be needed, to get even the most basic of changes through. Even Bevin had to make deals with the BMA to bring the NHS to birth. He had to “stuff their mouths with gold” to bring them on board. All of that takes skill and patience, determination, persistence and hard work and I am not sure if the wave of optimism will carry it through. Again I hope I am wrong.

Now, I know that making any sceptical noise or expressing any doubt or for a moment challenging  the credibility of the cause will be seen as outright disloyalty if not heresy and treason but the thing is, time alone will tell.  Time will tell if, what we have witnessed is the birth of a new body politic, when nothing will be the same again and great changes will be made that will affect the lives of our all our citizens and be a catalyst for similar changes throughout the world or, whether, it will simply be a riotous explosion of optimism that will fizzle out just as quickly as it has begun.

Crawford Mackenzie

It works, don’t fix it

I don’t know what it is about me (honestly, I don’t try it) but I seem to be perpetually swimming against the tide. Just when everyone seems to be leaning, swaying and swinging towards a yes vote I am becoming less and less convinced.

I was so looking forward to this debate, but it has been such a dreadful disappointment. I hate the slick TV commercials, I hate the promise of Nirvana that no one can believe in. I hate the dreadful warnings and the threats. I hate the celebrity endorsements.  Really, we don’t need to know how musicians, TV cooks   and dancers chose to vote. We can make up our own minds. But what we do need is leadership and of a kind that we have, so far, not seen.

Somehow I naively believed that out of it all would come some clear leadership, some visionary, some prophet, someone who would grab the attention of the people and fire their imagination, someone who would point a way beyond petty kale yard parochialism to a hitherto unseen horizon, a Vaclav Havel, a Jomo Kenyatta, a Mahatma Ghandi a Nelson Mandela an Aung San Suu Kyi. But no one we have, comes anywhere near the stature of these people. Inevitably it has become little more than a playground scrap following the same old predictable lines and no one seems to be able to rise above it. Some like Jim Sillars and Gordon Brown make an effort and hint at what could be, but others have let it slide into a grubby political game promising a paradise, issuing threats and knocking chunks off each other. When people like Nicola Sturgeon says “we have everything to play for” we know it is as a game.  The scary thing is that it is not a game.

So, while they are unlikely to listen, this is what I have to say.

To the Yes side: “Forget about politics and economics, monetary policy security, child care, the just and fair society that we all want etc etc.  You know and we know that it might not be possible to deliver on any of these. There are no guarantees. You might not be in power to do it. Focus on nationhood, inspire us, make us believe in it, and don’t promise anything, other than that it’s going to be hard. That was what Wallace (aka Mel) and Churchill did. Whatever you do, don’t give us sweeteners. We are not fools and we see through all of that as we have done before. Promises of a better world, simply by putting a cross in the right place never convinced anyone. But if I heard a speech that said “it’s going to be pretty tough, the economy might not go well for some time, it will takes us several years to sort all the things out and get it right, we may have difficulty working out who are our friends, It will take a lot of patience, you might find yourself worse off for some years and frustrated with us because we can’t do it all at once but… but, and here’s the thing,  it will be worth it.” Then I just might just be convinced.

To the no side: “Don’t say anything. Everything you have said, so far, has backfired spectacularly.  You don’t have to argue for the status quo. People know what it is. The other side need to do the explaining. It’s not perfect, it’s not all good, there are lots of flaws but it works, don’t fix it.

Crawford Mackenzie

Independence: a Slovak’s view

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The white paper might be a help to us when it comes to making the big decision, but it is always good to hear from others outside, especially if they have had some real experience of what independence has meant for them.

I met Jan at a garden party following the wedding service of a special friend in Žilina a northern city in Slovakia.  His English was impeccable but he was keen to improve and he wanted to do that by learning some Scottish idioms in dialect. As usual my mind went blank and all I could come up with was “yerawrit big min” from Glasgow, “Fit Like?Foo ur ye aye daein’?”  from Aberdeen and the legendary  “Twa pehs an’an’inyin’in’an’a.” from Dundee. He practised these and went around the party muttering them under his breath while everyone else gave him a wide berth.  We corresponded by email afterwards and had some interesting discussions on politics, language and nuclear power (he and his wife were both nuclear scientist). On one occasion I asked him about the independence issue. In light of the Czech  Slovak  experience, did he think it would be a good thing for us in Scotland?  His answer came back, simple and straight to the point  “Whit’s fur ye’ll no go by ye!” . So now I know.

Crawford Mackenzie

Independance

I have always thought that independence was an honourable aspiration and something to celebrate when it was achieved. I remember, as a boy, sensing the excitement and interest when Ghana achieved independence from colonial rule in 1957, the first sub Saharan country to do so. Others followed. Zambia became independent in 1964 and while I remember little of that event, was able to visit that amazing country in 1985 and later in 2010. Despite many intractable problems there was still a real sense of celebration and pride that they had finally broken the chains of their colonial masters.  Last year I visited friends in Slovakia and when language allowed, asked how they felt about their break up with the Czech Republic.  The overwhelming view was that, while the economic difficulties were grave, still it was a good thing. “We are able to be friends again” said one.

So when it came to considering independence, I warmed to the idea.  I wanted to believe in it and I still do. There seems something good about being grown up, being able to stand on our own feet and more importantly take responsibility for our own decisions and actions and stop whinging and blaming someone else for our ills. But Scotland is not Ghana nor Zambia nor Slovakia. It isn’t Norway nor is it East Timor.  England has not colonised Scotland, we speak the same language, our families, friends, business, professions, scientists, academics, musicians and poets crisscross the border. Our histories are intertwined. Scotland’s golden period followed the union of the crowns and only in the past century have we begun to feel the poorer partner. The union seems to have been good for us.   And when it comes to emotion and passion, the things that seem to matter most are football, “bank” holidays, “For sale” signs which turns homes into commodities, using “shall” instead of “will”  and the south easterly bias of the weather reports.

What has finally disillusioned me and cooled my enthusiasm is the way the debate has been conducted over the past year. I have become less and less convinced that the leadership of the “Yes” campaign actually believe in it themselves. There has been an astonishing loss of nerve. Real conviction seems in short supply. There has been so much back tracking so many questions fluffed and unanswered. I am almost coming to believe in the perverse notion that the aim of the campaign is to be deliberately muddled and confused so that people vote against it and some semblance of pride can be retained.  They will be able to breathe a sigh of relief. “At least we tried” they will say. Like David Cameron’s very palpable sigh of relief when the commons voted against intervention in Syria

The most confusion, however, surrounds the word itself.  Politicians and pressure groups know how to reinterpret words to their own advantage so that it can mean something different from what you thought it did.  I thought I knew what marriage meant. Now I don’t. I thought being independent meant being in total charge of your own affairs. Now it seems to mean being dependant on another country, sharing a currency and a bank of last resort, being subject to a monarch of another country, submitting to a military authority based on the use of nuclear weapons and being subservient to the multinational giants who will always dictate the terms. It doesn’t look like independence. It looks like being fully dependant in all but name. It is like being an adult but still living at home with your parents on call, ready to lift and drop you, pick you up, dust you down and bail you out when you are in trouble. That is not independence so I think I will vote “No”

Crawford Mackenzie