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GEORGE GALLOWAY AND SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE

LAST week, my interview with Bradford West's MP George Galloway appeared in Abu Dhabi's The National. In this, he talks of the Middle East - Iraq, Syria and Israel and Palestine. But, he also spoke of Scottish independence - which didn't make the final cut. But, here's his (brief) thoughts on Scots indy as told to me just after the death of Margaret Thatcher and on the day Galloway took to the floor of the House of Commons to argue against the cancellation of PMQs on the day of her funeral.

"I hope (Scotland doesn't become independent) - but all of this Thatcher business in the last week probably added quite a few votes to the yes column. I think the problem is not that there are not enough countries in the world - there are too many countries in the world. If every nationality has to have its own state we'd have thousands of states and each will have an army, a navy, an air force, a set of embassies around the world, barriers, frontiers and lots of antagonisms between them, blaming each other for things that actually afflict all of them. So, the idea of breaking up a small island - a small English-speaking island - for no good purpose and when there's no pressing need to is just foolish to me. My experience of Scotland is that they're pretty canny people - they'll calculate the risks and the costs and I think they'll vote no."

So, there you have it folks - George Galloway's views on Scottish independence. In a nut-shell.

 

ROLLING NEWS... THAT JUST... ROLLS

BY any reckoning, the United States has had a pretty grim week.

The Boston Marathon bombings, which killed three and maimed a great many more on Monday, were followed by the Texas fertiliser plant blast on Wednesday, which, though non-terrorist related, wreaked untold havoc and was responsible for a death toll that reached double figures. Then there was the Elvis impersonator from Mississippi who was charged mid-week with sending a letter containing suspected ricin to US President Barack Obama - though an Elvis impersonator suspected of trying to bump off the US president in such a cack-handed manner probably brought some light relief to a people who were being continually pummelled by tragedy and despair.

The rolling news channels were, perhaps understandably, focused on the Boston Marathon bombings (despite the news-worthiness of the other stories) and I, like millions of others, spent much of the time on Twitter and watching the likes of BBC News and CNN - though I was spared Fox News, which I can't receive on my own TV package. Yet, for the twenty-four hour TV news channels, the Boston events were a Godsend - light years away from the typical 'breaking news' items of a rise in unemployment or an expansion or contraction in the economy (file under worthy but dull).

But, in pursuing the Boston story - complete with its gripping story line, movie-like man-hunt and vivid pictures - the rolling news giants ran into trouble, descended into the banal and verged on the embarrassing. CNN, for instance, announced an arrest had been made when none had happened, and publicly proceeded to take part in the type of de-brief that would normally happen behind closed doors. And before the now-captured suspect was found seriously injured in a suburban backyard, a CNN analyst speculated about the dead suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, whose name, he said, may have referred to Tamerlane, the 14th-century Muslim conqueror in Central Asia, and pondered aloud about what living with such a name might have done to his psychological state as his CNN colleagues looked on rather sheepishly. Meanwhile, and as the world continued to wait for this massive manhunt to reach some kind of conclusion (dramatic or otherwise), the BBC, via one ever-present reporter, tried manfully to interview Bostonians, many of whom seemed so determined to answer in the shortest manner possible that I thought she might resort to asking what their favourite colour was and whether they were free for lunch the following day.

With the likes of 'Islamist', 'terrorist', 'Chechnya', 'Russia', 'Al-Qaeda', 'Middle East' and so on being thrown about with an almost casual complacency, it seemed that the channels were less concerned with educating their viewers and more with providing a B-Movie visual of flashing sirens, pulsating sound-effects of gun-fire, interspersed with fill-in interviews with members of the public (reporter: "have you been outside yet?" - resident: "eh… no") and the imposing appearance of Colonel Timothy Alben, who looked like the type of man who could take on the entire press corps with just one hand.

But, hey, that's the rolling news for you - it just keeps on rolling. But, whether, in reporting the Boston events, they really educated and enlightened us the viewer, is another thing entirely.

 

'A Vote on Scottish Independence' - that NYT editorial

JUST some thoughts about The New York Times editorial on Scottish independence

Foreign interest in the debate is - and has been - running at full pelt since the SNP's comprehensive victory in 2011 but what struck me most about this editorial was its lack of conviction. It read like a "it would all be too much, so just don't bother" kind of argument - the sort that does nevertheless resonate with many prospective NO voters in Scotland.

For instance, the NYT says:

"After more than three centuries of political union, breaking up would be complicated."

Well, yes, but if it is a YES next year then all the relevant protagonists would presumably sit around the table to thrash out negotiations - as is always the case when any political issue (however big or small) requires some kind of resolution. If we didn't bother with things because it would be too "complicated" then, in political terms at least, there would be no United Nations, no European Union, no Scottish devolution (which, while not as radical as independence, wasn't exactly small potatoes in political or historical terms).

"And as a new European Union member, Scotland, like all new members, would have to commit itself to adopting the euro."

An emphatic statement from the NYT - but disputed by the likes of Dr Daniel Kenealy, of Edinburgh University, who said: "The notion that Scotland could be forced or compelled to adopt the euro is simply untrue."

It finishes by comparing the prospects of an independent Scotland "to small, independent European states like Cyprus and Iceland" who have not had their troubles to seek, not least, in recent days, the former state.

But, this is simply lazy: Norway (pop. 4,952,000) is not falling into the abyss and neither is Denmark (pop. 5,574,000). Greece (pop. 11,304,000) has, on the other hand, been hit badly by the global recession.

If size does matter, as the NYT suggests, then the people of Greece should be much better off than both Norway and Denmark. It is not, as many people in Greece - my Athens-based uncle included - would gloomily testify.

 

TWO SCOTLANDS

LAST week, Scotland's first minister Alex Salmond announced the date when the people of Scotland will make their most important constitutional decision since the 1707 Act of Union.  

Whether you're for or against independence for Scotland, September 18, 2014, is a date that all of us should be looking forward to with great enthusiasm. But, now that the clock has started to tick - we have the two major referendum ingredients of a question and date (which means, mercifully, two fewer arguments in a debate, which doesn't have its arguments to seek) - what of the position of the rival camps, Better Together and Yes Scotland, or, more generally, those who see Scotland's future as better within the UK and those who relish seeing Scotland making the transition from constituent nation to nation-state?

As a Scot, as my job as a journalist, and, not least, with this being my first blog post, I feel compelled to briefly illustrate the differing positions, as I see it, which have been occupied by the respective camps: a Yes campaign which, on the whole, is exceedingly optimistic - naively so, on occasion - and a pro-UK campaign, which warns of the impending doom of independence, but which fails time and again to explain the real benefits of Scotland remaining a British home nation.

The Yes campaign, the SNP and the Scottish Government are all inclined to accentuate the positive - and rightly so, for selling an independent future as a whole load of worries is no vote winner - but it all too often goes overboard, as the pledge to place free education at the heart of a written Scottish constitution - which is surely a policy matter and not a constitutional one - so illustrates. Another is the much flagged-up prospect that an independent Scotland would be rid of the 'hated' Tories. But, despite the Conservatives having just one Scottish representative at UK level, they outnumber their Lib Dem counterparts at the Scottish Parliament, and so are not the complete busted flush many in the pro-independence camp like to persistently make out. There are many Scots whose views are distinctly right of centre and it surely isn't good politics for a campaign to repeatedly alienate those Scots voters on the right who might be inclined to vote yes next year.

That being said, the pro-UK camp is, in essence, becoming a campaign, which is simply a machine to churn out scare story after scare story, negative sound bite after negative sound bite. After being inundated with various prospects of an independent Scotland being an isolated basket case, devoid of a tradable currency, subject to volatile oil prices and vulnerable to terrorist attacks, it occurred to me that those in the pro-UK campaign are almost like a panicky parent trying to prevent their child from leaving the family home. Think of it for a second - a father tries to spook his grown-up son from pursuing his own way in life by blinding him with a litany of scare stories: not only a future unknown, but one which is filled with bills, the council tax, insurance, a rent/mortgage and so on. Perhaps, the stern father may say, you may not be able to keep up your rent or mortgage payments and may become homeless; perhaps you may even get mugged on your own doorstep without your father there to protect you. Faced with the grown-up responsibilities of being independent and some grimly-illustrated possibilities that may come to pass with this new found independence, the child may either be persuaded by his father's doom-laden stories to remain at home, or, like countless thousands of us, may go on to find that being independent is hard-going, full of pressures and unknowns, but, ultimately, quite wonderful, rewarding - and natural.

My point, in all of this, is that those in the pro-UK camp must find a way of providing Scots with the same sense of optimism (of a Scotland in the UK), which many of those in the pro-indy camp have made their own since a referendum on Scotland's future became a forgone conclusion. Because, while that kind of optimism may, at times, stray into proverbial 'land of milk and honey' territory, a relentlessly negative campaign is surely doomed to resonate with only the most cynical of Scots voters come polling day.   Sure, a negative campaign could win it for the union next year, but this writer, for one, is looking for something to believe in during these difficult times - and, at this time, the arguments for the status quo - and remaining within our so-called 'family of nations' - just isn't cutting it.

 

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