By Alec Ross
“There shall be a Scottish Parliament” (Donald Dewar, Scotland’s inaugural First Minister).
“Power devolved is power retained” (Enoch Powell).
I have a son who likes golf. I mean, really likes it. Likes it to the extent that he built his own practice facility by nailing an old football net between two trees in the garden so he can hone his swing on the increasing rare occasions when he’s not actually at his club. I told him the story about the great, six-time Open Championship winner Harry Vardon who wrote: “I try not to play too much golf. I find that thirty-six holes a day is ample”. My son’s expression suggested that he considered old Harry’s practice ethic to be highly questionable and was wondering what he did with all that spare time.
I was sitting last Friday night with a beer in the garden watching my boy practice (and that sentence alone hints at why his handicap is plummeting and mine is rising – at some point we’ll meet briefly in the middle). The following thoughts went through my mind.
Firstly, whatever you do in life you get better the more you practice. Everyone remembers the kid in the school football team who was miles better than everyone else. And yet it tended to be the quiet one that no-one noticed who put in the hours and made the sacrifices – who ended up with the professional contract.
Secondly, at fourteen years of age you have no limits. You genuinely believe that you’re going to make a living out of doing something you love. Indeed, the idea that you couldn’t do this seems so absurd that the thought never even enters your mind.
And thirdly, golf is a great life coach. You get back, roughly speaking, what you put in. You live by the rules. You make your own decisions and accept the consequences, good, bad and indifferent, equally. You stay grounded and humble. You learn to get on with and respect people who you wouldn’t otherwise have encountered. You learn not to get too high on the good days or too low on the bad days.
And it got me thinking. As parents, we try to instil these values in our children – respect, self-reliance, pride, self-worth – while bringing them up in a place that outsources its democracy to a foreign country and which forces them to live with the consequences of decisions over which they have no say.
What kind of message is that to send? No wonder Scotland is confused. It’s the highest level of cognitive dissonance you could possibly imagine.
My son’s obsession has rekindled a bit of fire in his old man.
I went to our local teaching professional for a lesson. Given that he has a degree in sports psychology (and given that it’s a subject that fascinates me), we spent most of the time talking about the “inner game” – the mental side of sport.
He told me the story about the renowned golf mind coach Bob Rotella. Bob had precisely zero background in golf – he comes from a college basketball background – but he coached at least three talented underachievers to major championship glory.
The story goes that Bob, way back in the day, is coaching his college basketball team in the playoffs. His main man – the guy who takes all the free throws and scores most of the points – is having a shocker. They ought to be winning by a country mile but this guy can’t hit his hat.
The score is 90-90 and Bob’s team get a free throw from a difficult angle. He’s tempted to take off the main man, and given the previous hour, who would blame him?
But the main man tells him everything will be fine. Something in his body language suggests that, despite everything, he actually believes this.
Rotella leaves him on. He scores.
After the euphoria has calmed down, Rotella pulls his man to one side. He’s interested to know his thought process.
“You we’re having a horrible game. You’d made nothing all day. What made you think you were about to turn that on its head?”
“Because”, he replied, “every time I missed I got more excited. I knew I was due”.
Rotella then played devil’s advocate.
“So, if you’d scored everything all day you’d surely think you were due to miss that last shot?”
“Eh, no. When I’m on a streak I believe I can never miss”.
“But surely you can’t have it both ways?” Challenged Rotella.
“Of course you can”, said the player. “Why not ?”
Rotella calls it the gambler’s mentality. Byron called it the antithetical mind, but it’s the same thing. In life, half the people think something is possible and half the people don’t. And both halves are right.
The key message is everyone, without exception, can choose how they think. And that’s also true of countries, and it’s an important thing to remember as Scotland heads towards its destiny as an independent country.
We can choose how we think.
Our country’s Parliament re-opened almost precisely twenty years ago. As time moves on, fewer and fewer people in Scotland can remember a time when there wasn’t one. It has, to a greater or lesser degree, governed us humanely and represented good versions of ourselves. It has brought responsibility for some (but by no means all) aspects of the things affecting our lives closer to the people it affects.
Scotland has made a good job and has pushed the narrow limits of the devolution settlement to its very limits. And that is why it scares the British establishment to death. Paradoxically, its success means a risk to its future
Boris Johnson and anything resembling the truth are the rarest of bedfellows, which makes his occasional forays into honesty memorable. At a recent hustings, he was asked if there should be a devolved English Parliament, just as they exist in Scotland, Wales and (barely) Northern Ireland. “England has a Parliament”, he said. “It’s called Westminster”.
It was a highly revealing moment. For Westminster, England and Britain are the same thing. Westminster is designed to reflect this. England always gets what England wants. Which isn’t grievance mongering, by the way. It’s just arithmetical reality.
Because we’re seen not as a country but as a province, Westminster has never tried to understand the very different nature of Scotland’s democracy. It’s only when we’re nearly out the door when we’re told we are valued. But talk is cheap and the way to value Scotland was through actions, not words. Actions like respecting Scotland’s expressed wish to stay in the EU. Like including Scotland fully in the Article 50 negotiations. Like respecting the triple locked mandate for a second independence plebiscite.
But the truth is that Scotland’s democracy is only respected as long as it doesn’t thwart English democratic wishes – like Brexit. Then it becomes a problem.
Here’s the real question to be asked of the Conservative candidates that virtually nobody wants and hardly anybody gets to vote for.
“What, in your opinion is a valid and democratic path to Scotland’s self-determination, however hypothetical or personally undesirable you may find it?”
If the answer is “there isn’t one”, then they are not democrats and Scotland is not in a union but a subjugation. If it is to be Boris Johnson – and it will be – he has already strongly hinted that he would prorogue parliament to railroad through a hard Brexit this Hallowe’en. Although at least Hallowe’en is the one day of the year when he won’t look quite so out of place.
So the question is – if he would prorogue his own – England’s – Parliament to appease the narrow xenophobes and goons who represent his core support, do you suppose he’d think twice about suspending or even closing a Scottish Parliament that is nothing but trouble to him? A man who says a pound spent in Croydon is worth more than a pound spent in Strathclyde?
This presents a dilemma. We now know that 63% of Tory voters couldn’t give a monkeys about Scotland as long as they got their Brexit delivered. The problem is that he can’t deliver Brexit without the Scottish revenues they’d need to mitigate the worst effects of it. Which means that Scotland needs to stay, come what may. Good luck, Nicola, getting that Section 30 order amidst this permabouroch.
This is what Theresa May means when she talks about a “devolution review”. She meant that the present Scottish Government is opposed to the wishes of England. If Scotland refuses to get shot of the SNP, then England will have to do it itself. Brexit can’t work unless Scottish democracy is neutered
And don’t think for a second this hasn’t been discussed. A headline in the Daily Mail reads: “May’s successor must declare era of devolution over”. This is no longer a topic for the lunatic fringe. The undermining of Scotland is very much near the top of the next PM’s in-tray. History shows that for as long as Scotland is of value to English projects – and Brexit is an English project – then there are no rules. They can, and will, do anything to preserve the status quo. Even if that means weakening or ending Scottish Parliamentary democracy.
“So what happens ”, asks the writer Neil Ascherton, “after Westminster has overruled and vetoed all the Scottish Parliament’s decisions on EU withdrawal or on ensuring the return of devolved powers to Holyrood? Or when Scotland has finally been dragged out of the European Union against the expressed will of its people? Perhaps 21st century Scotland can do better than politely express ‘deep disappointment’”
It’s interesting that twenty of the EU27 owe their very existence to their secession from a larger state or empire. That rarely happened through a referendum. They just realised that independence is normal and made the journey. There came a moment for all of them when they refused to be governed by a foreign law and a concept of sovereignty that they failed to recognise. Very soon, Scotland will have that epiphany too.
We can all choose how we think, said the golf coach from earlier.
Independence starts as a state of mind that means we act as it are already there. We should behave as it we’re in the early days of a better democracy.
Like a happy wee boy hitting balls into a net, the idea that we couldn’t be as good as we wanted to be would never, ever, occur.