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Scotland’s Independent Story isn’t over:

A Review of Yes/No: Inside the Indyref

Gerry Hassan

Bella Caledonia, March 19th 2019

As British politics enters a mixture of meltdown and an endgame, convulsed by Brexit, everywhere in political discourse there is an obsession with the past. From the rise of Churchill to unquestioned national hero, to the ultra-Brexiteers talking of the UK reduced to a ‘vassal state’ of the EU; and now, Speaker John Bercow announcing there cannot be a rerun of parliamentary votes due to a 1604 English convention, while being compared to Speaker William Lenthall who presided over the long Parliament and English civil war.

Such a fraught period seems the ideal moment to revisit that other time of near-UK meltdown, namely our indyref – the subject of a three-part documentary on the new BBC Scotland channel, ‘Yes/No: Inside the Indyref’, the last episode of which airs tonight. It is a welcome, long overdue production, coming four and a half years after that historic September 2014 vote, underlying the problems the Beeb has had in Scotland and the UK in coming to terms with such high octane existential politics.

The three programmes covered the political environment in light of the SNP winning a parliamentary majority in 2011 and the agreement of the Scottish and UK Governments on an indyref; from the announcement of the date to the last weeks of the campaign; and the hectic final period of Yes going into the lead and the resulting panic of No and the British political establishment. Read the rest of this entry »

The ‘F’ word rears its head again: Federalism and Labour

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, March 13th 2019

One political principle unites not just the Labour Party from Jeremy Corbyn to Tom Watson but also the Conservative Party – from Theresa May to the most ultra-Brexiteers in the Jacob Rees-Mogg faction.

That principle is a belief in parliamentary sovereignty: which for all its elevated sound actually means the right of governments to do what they like and not be bound by things like the rule of law, human rights or what previous administrations have done. It is of course a shibboleth, a fantasy and delusion, because in the real world, governments are actually constrained by all of these factors and cannot live in a world of absolutism.

The mirage of this particular fetishism was one of the driving forces in Brexit and the allure of ‘taking back control’. But it can also be seen in part of the Scottish independence debate with some talking about a version of undiluted sovereignty rather similar to Westminster, and equally impracticable. Indeed, these sorts of debates and the clinging to certainty they entail has risen as the world has in political and economic power become more about shared, fluid sovereignties. Read the rest of this entry »

The Importance of the McCrone Report and Scotland’s Future

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, March 6th 2019

There was major interest and debate last week about a UK Government paper on Scotland – the McCrone report – written nearly 45 years ago.

The McCrone report was written in March 1974 by then Scottish Office civil servant Gavin McCrone for ministers in the aftermath of the UK general election the month previous. It was subsequently given a wider circulation in government in April 1975 with a covering letter but remained publicly unknown and unpublished until it emerged as a result of a SNP Freedom of Information request in 2005.

The report looked at the implications for Scotland and its economy of the coming on stream of North Sea oil, including revenue implications, and what this could mean for the prospect of an independent Scotland. Read the rest of this entry »

1979: The beginning of the end of the ancien regime that ruled Scotland and the UK

Gerry Hassan

Bella Caledonia, March 1st 2019

Today is the 40th anniversary of Scotland going to the polls to vote in the first devolution referendum on Labour’s proposals for a Scottish Assembly.

This marked the beginning of Scotland’s constitutional revolution through referendums which, at the moment, stands at a triptych of 1979, 1997 and 2014 but which may have another addition. Despite this there will be no bunting, no ceremonies and no plaques unveiled to mark today. Both then and now, Labour’s plans for an Assembly were little loved and respected. But in retrospect it has become more and more obvious that they marked the beginning of the end of the ancien regime both in Scotland and the UK.

On 1 March 1979 Scottish voters supported devolution by 51.6% to 48.4%: a winning margin of 3.2%. The country was divided and not very enthusiastic. The Central Belt of Strathclyde, Lothian, Central and Fife voted for change (as did the Western Isles), but large parts of the rest of Scotland were suspicious: including Grampian, Tayside, Dumfries and Galloway and Borders, and Orkney and Shetland emphatically against (with the last two even asked a different question to allow an opt-out from the whole thing if it went ahead). Read the rest of this entry »

The Birth of the New: BBC Scotland Finally Takes Off

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, 27 February 2019

BBC Scotland’s new channel launched on Sunday at 7pm. There was a small amount of expectation, a countdown, and even nervousness. Sitting, waiting for it to begin, in those last few seconds I reflected how seldom a new TV channel is born on old-fashioned telly. The last I remember being Channel 4 in the 1980s, with Five not at the outset or since really registering.

Then it came on air. The first night opened with the Chvrches and had ‘A Night at the Theatre’ with Iain Stirling and various worthies, followed by a doc on Asian weddings, ‘Still Game’, ‘Burnistoun Tunes’, and the star of the first evening: the BAFTA winning ‘Nae Pasaran’ about how a group of East Kilbride Rolls Royce workers took on and defeated the Pinochet dictatorship. The second night had the first ever ‘Scottish Nine’ news programme – which looked and felt distinctive.

First night audiences came in at 700,000, with a 13% audience share, and at points a big footprint in the 18-34 year olds, particularly during ‘Still Game’. All of which is a good start with the public. The station has got noticed. Read the rest of this entry »

Gerry Hassan is a writer, commentator and thinker about Scotland, the UK, politics and ideas. more >
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