Farming Matters: For English Gold

“For Britain’s guid? For her destruction, wi’ dissipation, feud and faction!” (Robert Burns, The Twa Dogs)

Alec RossFor a cultural icon so radical, so modern, so angry, so relevant, Robert Burns still has an incredible knack, two hundred and twenty-four years after his death, of attracting some deeply conservative people to the suppers held in his name. Conservative, that is, with both a small ‘c’ and a large one as well.

Speaking at a Burns Supper on Saturday, I felt like I’d just walked uninvited into the monthly meeting of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party. It was full of very white, very wealthy, very privileged and very Protestant people. It was also very posh, the kind of company for whom sex is what you put your potatoes in and whose houses don’t have rates – they have large mice. For some reason, that old Scottish joke kept coming to mind. Why don’t Scottish Presbyterians make love standing up? In case people look in the window and think they’re dancing.

Rabbie BurnsNot for the first time, I was struck by the enduring unionist popularity for a man who wrote in 1790:

Alas have I said to myself, what are the boasted advantages my country reaps from the union that can counterbalance the annihilation of her independence, and even her very name?”

If nothing else, the event allowed me to try to work out the number of Yessers in the room (zero) and to enjoy the ridiculous spectacle of tartan clad unionist solicitors belting out a song about independence. It occurred to me that these were the people that Burns wrote about two centuries before: the Establishment, the Holy Willies, the politicians, the pillars of society.

“You see yon birkie ca’d a lord, that struts and staunds and a’ that / tho’ thousands worship at his word, he’s but a coof for a’ that”.

The words from “A man’s a man for a’ that” felt apt, but so to did the words from “To a Louse” about the important of how the rest of the world perceives us.

“O wad some Power the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us! It wad frae mony a blunder free us, An’ foolish notion: What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us, An’ ev’n devotion!”

Teresa May’s Burns Supper this week was sorely lacking in this kind of self-awareness, and she was roundly lampooned for describing the supper as “part of the fabric of our union” (as well as a guest list that managed to spell everyone’s names wrong, and a cartoonishly pretentious menu. What, pray, is crispy haggis?) We’ve been trying to encourage people to #KeepScotlandTheBrand as tatties grown in Fife are suddenly engulfed in Union-Jackery, but now it seems that the Bard himself is getting a post-Brexit, Rule Brittania makeover. That eerie creaking noise you hear is Robert Burns birlin’ in his grave.

I’m perfectly fine with Teresa May, or anyone else for that matter, choosing to host a Burns Supper (although you just know it would have been dreadful). Of more interest and concern to a man of independent mind should be who the attendees were and what they represent. The guest included many of the Scottish Tory dirty dozen, whisky industry leaders, media chiefs, bankers, energy leaders, top civil servants and – no, really – the chairman of Tunnocks Teacakes. In other words, “elite” people who have done very nicely from being part of the ancien regime or who owe their continuing employment (in the case of David Mundell, for example) to the continuation of the status quo. The kind of people, in other words, who would do just about anything to frustrate the movement for Scottish Independence. So I have a feeling that Theresa’s Very British Burns Supper was about a lot more than just Fluffy Mundell addressing the Haggis very badly. It looked like a very powerful and disciplined army preparing for one hell of a campaign. And I shall explain what this campaign is and why we need to get organised. And fast.

Brace yourselves folks, because these next few paragraphs might not be too comfortable but there are some things that need to be said. And here’s my starting point.

This September will mark four years since the first Scottish Referendum, and I fear that one side of that debate has reflected on the previous campaign, been honest about where it went wrong, and triangulated its vote whilst building a war chest and planning for a campaign well in advance of the starting gun being fired. One side only has done all this. And it isn’t us. And that terrifies me. And here’s why.

Every action since 2014 has been designed to create the conditions whereby Scotland can never go for independence again.

Those who would deny us our independence because of fear, deference or self-interest have always been a powerful and formidable force. They take no prisoners and they don’t do emotion. They have no scruples. I see now that when we were singing songs in George Square, they were ‘phoning up your granny to tell them that Alex Salmond was going to steal her pension. Ours was the moral victory, but theirs was the actual victory. Yes voters like me were first through the polling station door on September 18th 2014, giving it the whole “selfie” treatment. No voters didn’t. They got up, went to work, had their tea and then voted No. It wasn’t emotional. It was business. Like completing your tax return, but with less fun.

It is now obvious that Scotland’s decision to vote No in 2014 – and, while I have some serious doubts over the veracity of a vote where the votes were counted by an outsourced agency based in England and in which the leader of Scottish Conservatives admitted tampering with the postal votes: and where Purdah was broken (19% of the voters were effectively voting on a different question to the 81% who voted after the -ahem – “vow”) – was the most egregious act of self-harm since the signing of the Act of Union of 1707.

The No side in 2014 argued that “No” didn’t mean the status quo. Faster, safer change, said Gordon Brown, and Nick Clegg. And David Cameron. And Ed Milliband. All of whom have since exited the stage for more important roles with people like Goldman Sachs. But, for what it’s worth, I agreed with them on the first point. “No” wouldn’t mean the status quo. “No”, I said, would mean Scotland being forced out of the EU against its wishes and the rolling back of its powers. I said that voting No after seeing a vow written on the front page of a tabloid wouldn’t be seen as an article of trust but as a sign of weakness. Which is precisely what has happened. Only worse.

The 2014 Referendum – and its result – was a huge moment for Scotland’s constitutional future. But it seems only one side of the constitutional question was energised by the result. While we gloried in the gold standard of democratic process that was the Indyref, the establishment set about the task of making sure that Scotland could never, ever, come so close to destroying a Unionist project that depends utterly on Scottish revenue ever again.


Which brings us to where we’re at. The British state is extremely powerful, and so lampooning a Downing St Burns Supper is a distraction. They don’t care about this. They only care about power. So when we – shamefully – voted against ourselves in 2014, we voted not for “no-change” but for the stripping back of our powers and the end of Scottish democracy itself. This much is clear.

This isn’t scaremongering. Think about it. We’ve gone from the “vow” from politicians who aren’t politicians anymore. We were promised “near federalism”, and instead we got EVEL. The Smith Commission saw only piecemeal repatriation of powers to Scotland, and the Scottish Government got battered for not mitigating enough the effects of the policies it didn’t vote for with the limited monies from a budget it didn’t set and can’t raise money for. Even the use of income tax powers triggers a downward adjustment in the block grant. We are being set up, as always, to fail. Devolution, said George Robertson, will kill nationalism stone dead. He was wrong, of course. Scotland now has a pro-Independence Parliament. It also has a majority of SNP MPs in the Commons, and a Section 30 – the voucher to order a second referendum – to boot. But does that mean self-determination is inevitable?

No. It doesn’t. The immediate response of the British State of the allegedly close result of the 2014 referendum was to regroup. To re-boot Project Fear. To launch Scotland in Union. To make sure that Scotland was diminished to the point where it could never again be so audacious as to demand the independence which will end the Unionist project.

The bitter irony – the thing that we’ve all missed – is that while the Scottish Government has spent the last three and a half years doing what it’s told to do by the British press and getting on with the day job and failing to re-write the case for self-determination, its opponents – in other words, just about everyone else – have busied themselves making sure that Scotland can never, ever, become independent.

And you have to give them credit. They’re doing a good job. The mask slipped early. On the day after the referendum, David Cameron announced English Votes for English Laws. The Smith Commission saw Labour block every new Holyrood power possible. And then every Unionist in Holyrood, by campaigning against the right of Scotland to hold the second plebiscite that their own parliament had voted for, effectively refused to recognise the sovereignty of their own parliament, while their cheerleaders in the press told us how awful the Scottish NHS was and how there were five minute delays on the new Forth Bridge and what was that Nicola Sturgeon doing about it. And this was just the start.

And then the democratic outrage that is Brexit happened. The Supreme Court judgement on Article 50 legally confirmed what some of us had long suspected. Power devolved is power retained. Our competencies are lent, not given. And the Tory deal with the DUP effectively means the end of the Barnett formula and therefore less money for Scotland and fewer powers with which to do things with it. Brexit, for Unionists, is Christmas Day.

So where are we now? I now realise that it’s pointless criticising, as I did, the thirteen Tories who voted against the recent Labour amendment that would have protected the devolution settlement before the bill entered the Lords. Because the dirty dozen were only doing their job, which is to serve the interests of the British State. Because I now realise that there are no Scottish Tories. There are only British Tories. And there are no unionists, because that implies respect and equality. They are incorporationists.

Independence William McIllvaney

Brexit provides a golden opportunity to roll back the devolution settlement that they always hated and to put Scotland back in its box forever. If you want to catch a thief you have to think like a thief, so if – God forbid – I was a unionist, this is what I’d be thinking and doing.

Firstly, I’d realise that if I wanted to achieve my endgame of a cliff-edge Brexit, the last thing I’d need would be a devolved Scottish Government with the powers to block things. I’d obviously start by demanding that my Tories in Scotland voted against any Brexit amendments. I’d give David Mundell and the Scotland office all the money, people and resources he needed to wage a war on the Scottish people. I’d then want to remove the Scottish Parliament at the earliest opportunity so that I could take control over previously devolved areas like fracking so that I could plunder absolutely everything from that resource-rich region so that I could pay for Brexit. I’d then slash the Scottish block grant to the point out that the Scottish Government had to cut public service funding and then get the papers – who are, naturally, staunch unionists – to ramp up a co-ordinated anti-Scottish campaign which takes the line is that, actually, Holyrood isn’t doing a good job and is an appalling waste of money, a talking shop, a wholly unnecessary layer of bureaucracy and should be closed immediately. I’d use these classic divide and rule tactics and use the press to turn Scotland against its own parliament and then I’d inherit the ruins. David Mundell then essentially becomes Scotland’s viceroy and Ruth Davidson becomes Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and North Britain. And, by the way, I’d get the Repeal Bill through before we leave the EU in March 2019, just in case anything goes wrong and we don’t Brexit when we’re supposed to. We will be under the yoke of London neo-Liberalism forever and the dream of Scottish Independence will be dead. But at least there won’t be all that divisive constitutional stuff and our passports will be blue and we can watch the Royal Wedding. And we’ll sing independence songs and wear the tartan on Burns night. We’ll be Better Together.

Three and a half years ago, the talk was all about what a Yes Scotland would look like. The union apologists promised change, and they were right – up to a point. But it was never going to be more devolved powers. It wasn’t going to be home rule, near-federalism or any other meaningless label you care to use. A No vote was never going to be seen as a gesture of trust. It was always going to be seen as a sign of weakness. What we’re witnessing now is that weakness being exploited. What we’re seeing is full-out, co-ordinated assault on Holyrood and on Scottish Democracy itself. The British Tories in Scotland voting to wreck the devolution settlement was just the phoney war. The cavalry will be with you shortly.

That’s it. That’s the future of Scotland. That’s your Brave New World. That’s what voting No gets you. Eat your porridge and thank us at you leisure.

That’s why I believe that talking about the timing of the second independence referendum and seeing how Brexit ends up rather misses the point. We’re not talking about whether Scotland is a member of the EU, or EFTA, or the Single Market, or the Customs Union. We’re not talking about any of that. On this day – Burns Day – we need to ask one question and one question only. Is Scotland a country? And if the answer is yes, then it’s about time we took it back and started acting like one. It’ll be a hell of a fight, but the prize will be great. Let’s get it done.

Burns booksPostscript: I’m in Orkney tomorrow night proposing the Immortal Memory to Robert Burns in the St Magnus Centre Come along.

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38 replies »

  1. Hi Alecross, brilliant yet again. Oh by the way ‘crispy haggis’ is how my dear wife usually serves my breakfast ‘fry-up’ having over cooked everything, LOL. Just glad she will not be reading this.

  2. “The Kirk an’ State may join an’ tell,
    To do sic things I maunna:
    The Kirk an’ State may gae to hell,
    And I’ll gae to my Anna.”

    ‘Crispy Haggis’? Put some cream on it – not that kind of cream!

    And………………..”Is Scotland a country?” Of course it is! Are the people living in the six counties, Irish? Of course they are – listen to how a person talks – not just accent, but ways of expression – look at their view of their history – look at their ways and traditions – Scotland is a country – so is Wales. I know – it was a rhetorical question. Worth stating the bleedin’ obvious though, now and then.

  3. This is a sobering article and hits the wound of a failed YES result from the Scottish referendum but it is, I believe, a true reflection of what the Tory (as well as other unionist parties) strategy has been working on evidenced by the snap 2016 election. The Bella Caledonia article written by G Hassan raised some similar questions – the debate which followed added some more positive points. The Scottish Independence Convention in the Usher Hall highlighted some of the work which has been going on post 2014 – lessons to learn and work going on to look forward for the next referendum which I experienced as being positive. Scotland is a country and not a unionist colony as many would have us be. I totally agree with your closing paragraph we need to take up our cause and more than that get involved to gain our status as an independent country.

  4. My thoughts since that fateful day in Sept 2014 appear in your print, thank you ..I thought I was the only one who ‘ got it’ who knew exactly what they were capable of. I’m just sad so few understood what a No vote really meant , let’s hope that it’s not too late.

    • Yep, I wrote in a subsequent article about the irony of voting No for a Status Quo that is now anything but. Though I predicted that at the time, the scale of the collapse has been astonishing.

  5. Such a well written article – I just hope that many Scots will read this and think long and hard about what has, is & will be going on with Brexit and the continual rubbishing of Scottish identity and potential independence. Keep up the good work Alec!

      • And…………….Mike came home yesterday evening, and told me that he’d walked into the Co-op and seen a sign which read………… “Haggis Bites”.
        Does it?
        Apparently, they are haggis canapés. Haggis canapes? Say no more!
        Truth is a good weapon, so is humour – as Alec knows.

  6. I have always felt that Scotland answered that NO vote of 2014 in 2015 when we sent 56 of the 59 MPs to Westminster from the SNP. We also had a majority in Holyrood at that time. With such success, (never likely to be seen again) I feel we missed the Independence boat, when we did not enlighten Westminster in 2015 that Scotland was leaving the UNION.

    We had the votes on our side, the MPs on our side, the majority in Holyrood on our side, & what happened? Nothing! Our MPs settled in @ Westminster, (being shouted down & never in a position to even have one amendment passed) Nicola settled in As First Minister.

    And all this while The YOONS were plotting as you say, to strip this country bare. I have voted SNP for almost 50yrs, am a member & although I KNOW that Nicola is doing her best for the people of this country with all the mitigation they do to make lives easier for our people. I also feel the SNP failed us, they let us down. WE (the voters) did what was required of us after that NO vote. The SNP however did not do what it COULD have & SHOULD have done, when we sent those 56MPs to Westminster.

    I do NOT believe anymore that we will ever win a referendum..The only way this country can ever leave that union, is the same way the country was dragged into that union, by our ELECTED ELITE (Government today) saying enough is enough. And declaring UDI.

    • Kurikat, you are partly right but when ‘referendums’ became the accepted way of gauging public opinion the previous method of ‘majority of MP’s’ was side-lined. I’m also of the view that very soon we will see the total extent of the Brexit disaster will be very obvious and the May should be handed our letter of Withdrawal from the Union of 1707. A similar letter should at the same moment be handed to the UN and EU.

      I just hope that I’m proved wrong for history teaches us that where the Wastemonster establishment is concerned they can never be WRONG and everything has to end in violence before what was being demanded is grudgingly agreed too.

  7. I hope you’re mistaken, Charles, about the violence. I seriously, seriously, hope that you’re mistaken. A dark road to go down – much can be achieved without it – history tells us that, too. I’m going to say it………………The Way of The Mahatma.
    This response worries me. Please, not more violence in a world saturated with it, already. Please.
    The comment by Eriador troubled me – the aftermath of the French Revolution is one of the darkest episodes in the history of human behavioural wrong-doing – the public went mad. And the rich are still rich, and the poor are still poor. Getting rid of the aristocracy didn’t make the big changes – it’s work from within Society that does that – changing laws, perceptions, attitudes – that’s what does it.
    This – two comments which mention a violent response, in one article – genuinely worries me.
    Scotland and England, actually fighting again? – “Aux armes citoyennes”.
    No, it can be worked, otherwise. How? – I don’t know! I’m not a politician, but I am a peaceable human being, who doesn’t want to fight anyone, if she can help it. Anyway, I’m not a Scot – would I be part of the fight? Would my neighbours turn on me? I don’t think so – they are people who want to live their lives, in peace – get on with their farming and making a living, preferably without being ordered about in an un-reasonable way, by folk who often know very little about what they are making the rules about. (I’m not going to go off on that one!). But – to actually fight, physically, to gain their aims?? I hope not – they have more sense.
    I do agree that The Establishment can never admit to being WRONG – any branch or form of the Establishment – that’s often how they get to be – The Establishment.
    No point in my wittering on – I just hope, and hope that you and Eridor, are mistaken.
    ‘The Troubles’ in Ireland should be a lesson to read, about this. Killing, division, un-reasoning hatreds across the divide. No – a dark road to go down. And the 6 counties, are still under English rule – still.
    And – I honestly don’t know why, but I just strongly feel that Scotland will be independent, and not through fighting and bloodshed, either. There are ways and ways. Being a general nuisance often works.

    It is the only outcome that makes any sense. I know, I’m well aware that that often isn’t what matters. What it comes down to, is a gut feeling I have. I hope it proves to be correct.

    • Bernie, I could not agree more but has been seen in so many places before where Wastemonster has been intransigent there were always people willing to resort to violence and when push comes to shove I honestly hope that it never, ever comes to that but it’s all down to the actions of Wastemonster in the next couple of months. They will ignore Scotland’s legitimate concerns at their peril!!!

      • There are no winners with violence. All the greatest and most effective movements in the world have been non violent. That is the only way forward. Nothing else is acceptable

    • I don’t feel that CLG is advocating violence, he is using history to point out that it is, sometimes, an inevitable outcome when frustration overcomes reason. I totally agree with you Bernie we will achieve our independence through non-violent methods.

      • First I do never advocate violence all I’m pointing out is that the history of IMPERI;AL BRITAIN is one of VIOLENCE caused by IMPERIAL INTRANSIGENCE and “we know better for you”.

  8. There are some very dark forces out there which are totally against Scottishindependence- remember the Unionist violence in George Square after the referendum result? The UDP / Unionist influence should not be underestimated particularly in the West of Scotland where I feel they have a malevolent potential for serious future violence when support for independence takes to the streets once again. These are not people that you can have a balanced discussion with.

  9. The Orkney News will never condone any acts of violence. We do like to allow people to discuss on our pages but any attempt to promote or praise anything other than peaceful democratic processes will not be tolerated on our pages.

  10. Great piece and completely nails it.
    We are up against a sick, callous regime that has perfected the art of divide and conquer – all to maintain the powerbase of wealthy elites.
    This structure is essentially English – under the guise of “British”, evolving from the Norman feudal system. We still see Lords, Ladies, Knights and all manner of hierachy, culminating in the Monarch, feeding off the sweat of those they dominate.
    Its always been like this and as the British Empire expanded (helped in no small way by Scots) the unprepared multitudes in far flung countries stood absolutely no chance of escaping their inevitable subjugation.
    Now the Empire has contracted. The domination has focussed on closer to home and like a wasting disease, it is now feeding on itself.
    It is feeding on US and it is systemic.
    We need a powerful antibody – and bloody quick or we will go beyond the point of no return.
    The ability to manufacture that antibody is embodied in the YES movement.
    We need to recognise the antigen that will trigger the antibody reaction – we don’t have far to look.
    We need to flood our country with a potent message and immunise our fellow Scots against the ravages of unmitigated propaganda.
    The SNP are part of the process – they are the example we must use to demonstrate there is light at the end of the tunnel.
    At the end of the day though, this final battle will have to take place outside the influence of the Establishment. We must engage our fellow Scots at ground level and dispel the propaganda and hatred unhindered by interference from the State. We know how to do this – we have already built a highly successful movement that is battle-hardened. Its time to get organised and get back out there with a renewed vigour.
    This is our last stand – we can’t afford to fail.

    • That’s a very good analogy. I sometimes feel like humans are some kind of infection on the face of the earth, and, every now and then, in some way, the earth tries to wash her face.
      But that’s when I’m letting it get me down, which is not productive.

  11. Yes, discussion is a good thing – whether folk agree, or strongly disagree – it’s how to work through things.
    And it’s only fair for all sides – as long as they don’t get offensive – to have their say.
    And I’m back to my liking for Tings, again.

  12. So much was made of a ” YES ” vote . Every media outlet predicted in every News item Propaganda was indeed masquerading as news

    The prediction was universal Armageddon and the end of Days .

    Nothing was said about the consequences of a ” NO ” vote , we are now witnessing the aftermath of this misjudged oversight , we were promised the moon , I am still looking for any benefit promised, Indeed the VOW now an Orphan that no party claims ownership
    A Indian politician once referred to dealing with Britain , he said the British word and promises are worthless and they continue to provide evidence of it every Day .

    Long gone are the days we deal with these Liars , they only respect strength , there is nothing to be accomplished talking to them ,

    • Plenty to be gained from talking to other people though and having a positive message if you want to promote an issue

    • Why don’t they just call this for what it is, ‘COLONIAL OFFICE’. All we need is the appointment of a ‘Governor General’.

    • Quick, quick pass me that puke bag I took from the ferry (useful for re-wrapping items).

      • I don’t quite understand this – did my comment make you ‘puke’? I hope not. Sometimes, subtlety is lost on me.
        Ne’er mind – can’t please everyone!

      • Dear Bernie, fear not it was not you that wanted to make me puke but the thought of Mundell dressed-up like some refugee from a Gilbert and Sullivan Imperial Comic Opera.

  13. the hub being completed in Edinburgh is for HMRC and the city deals etc. This was all hard fought for by the Scottish Government who negotiated with the UK Government to get these jobs and the funding for Scotland. It’s taken several years to get in place and the jobs have been advertised for over 6 months. Its an important part of transferring the IT necessary for payments to be administered in Scotland

  14. So – it’s actually helping Scotland to be more separate, independent of England, in this form of business, at least?
    I’d still prefer hospital wards.

  15. I’m afraid I’m going to witter…..
    I read it again, for the third time, and it still smacks to me of classic Civil Service gobbledegook and jibber- jabber. So many of the stock phrases about being a big step forward, which usually mean something fishy is happening, somewhere. Maybe I worked in the Civil Service for too long. It just strikes me as so much – so many …..words. (Look who’s talking!). Maybe I’m mistaken and it’s going to be a good thing. I hope so. Maybe they need to get someone else to write their publicity blurbs for them. It rubbed my fur up the wrong way the first time I read it, and it still does.
    Corporate-speak – those are the words I was looking for – Corporate-speak. Usually hiding something. What a suspicious old hippy I am!
    OK Alec, you asked the question, so…what do you think of it? Or is that going to be Friday’s article?

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