The Scottish independence referendum debate comes to Cambridge


From one political gathering to another in the same evening – what I learnt from four male Scots sparring on independence

The first thing I was asked as I wandered towards the doors of the Cambridge Union building was:

“Are you Dick?”

To which I responded

“Nope – just me and the dragon”

…thinking nothing of it until Scottish folk singer Dick Gaughan wandered into the room. Clearly someone had not done an image search before the event had started!

An all-male speakers panel

The event was organised by Cambridge University’s Scottish Society. With what seemed to be all the speakers there, I asked one of the organisers why there were no women on the speakers list. They told me they had invited women to speak, but none of them had accepted the invitation.

An aside – how do we encourage more women to speak on panels, attend and ask questions at politics and policy events?

The reason I ask is because I’ve been going to quite a few of these events locally (to me in Cambridge), in London and elsewhere. All too often, the speakers are majority (White middle-aged or young professional) male. When it comes to the audience, even if it’s a diverse one it’s nearly always the men that volunteer to ask questions first. Having been one of the worst offenders in past times at wanting to ask lots of questions, I’ve now trained myself into the habit of pointing microphone people towards women in the audience indicating when they want to ask questions (or simply passing it on directly if it’s handed to me first) at Q&A sessions. At the event I was at previously with Maria Eagle MP, when she urged women to ask questions, one of the women in the audience responded saying that it wasn’t because she was a woman she wasn’t asking questions, but it was because she genuinely did not have a question to ask. I also noticed at the end of the formalities at the #indyref event (the subject of this post), the conversations in the bar were buzzing. So…any thoughts?

“So, who won what then?”

The speakers were Lib Dem Lord Nicol Stephen – former Deputy First Minister until 2007, David Greig the Scottish playwright, Thomas Docherty MP (Lab) for Dunfermline and West Fife, & Dick Gaughan the folk singer. David & Dick argued for independence, Nicol and Thomas against. There was a sort-of informal vote which was 14-yes, 28-no, but I abstained thinking it was only eligible Scottish voters that were being asked to indicate. But that didn’t matter. What mattered for me was what we all learnt about the nature of the debate taking place in Scotland – one that is not being properly reported at all in the London-based media.

“How so?”

It’s difficult to know where to start. I think it can generally be described as a ‘London bubble’ thing. The institutions in London are living their own lives in a city so very different to every other city in the UK that what goes on beyond the M25 or outside the south-east hardly registers. Think of the recent floods. Somerset had been struggling to deal with the floods for a few weeks and the media didn’t pick up on it in any big way. But as soon as the Thames Valley and Berkshire got hit, suddenly it was all over the media and Greater London had suddenly expanded one county westward. Council estate flooded and no one cares. A couple of mansions flooded and suddenly there’s a souvenir edition print special along with an online slide show to match.

“So…what did you learn?”

That recent political history matters. Big time. 

Prior to Thatcher, Scotland returned Conservative MPs in numbers hovering around the 20s & 30s. That number slumped to zero in 1997 and has been at one ever since (see here). At the same time, there has been a significant decline in both Scottish Labour and Scottish Liberal Democrats since the inauguration of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. From 53% of the popular vote & 56% of MSP seats in 1999 that formed the first Labour-Lib Dem Scottish Executive, that combination in 2011 39% of the popular vote and 32% of the seats. The details of how and why this happened I’ll leave to far more informed people to explain.

That values matter. Big time.

Whenever I’ve gone out and about in the ‘not London and the South East’ bits of the UK, I’ve always been struck at how different the atmosphere is. It’s almost as if we take ourselves ***way too seriously*** in the south east. Dick Gaughan expressed this in words that had some of the pro-free-market-types in the room really scratching at their heads because someone was strongly challenging their perspective and assumptions they had – until the debate – perhaps taken for granted.

A battle of hearts vs minds?

That is how some are portraying the debate. ‘In their hearts, the Scots want independence but in their minds, they cannot see it working properly so best stick to what they’ve got.’ was how one put it. In the debate itself, those arguing for independence were from an arts background, and those arguing against independence were/are politicians. It fitted within that frame. The artists appealing towards emotional heart strings while the toxic politicians sowed seeds of doubt and uncertainty without offering a positive and inspiring alternative.

But you can’t have one without the other – otherwise you’d be dead

That’s what makes – or rather should make politics fascinating. The better politicians are the ones that can inspire others around them to achieve great things while at the same time demonstrating competence in public office. In the grand scheme of things a body with a mind/brain but no heart is pretty much a dead one, as is a body with a heart but no mind.

All of the speakers had interesting points to make, but the policy-wonk and politics-watcher in me was able to pick holes in all of them. (It’s what happens when you work in policy in the civil service: Your job is to pick lots of holes in everyone else’s arguments and policies – including those you are working for – then try to think how to deal with them).

Falling down on the risks

This was probably my second evil question of the evening – to David Greig. He finished his talk acknowledging risks voting for independence, but urged people to run with it because the opportunities with independence outweigh the risks. Regular readers of this blog will know what’s coming.

“What are the top two key risks you see associated with a ‘Yes’ vote for independence, and how would you mitigate those risks?”

David didn’t respond directly, but sort of indicated that the changes the institutions would have to make, along with the Westminster parties behaving in bad faith during the inevitable negotiations would be big challenges.

Docherty’s doubts

Labour MP Thomas Docherty went in for a standard public policy approach rather than a campaigning politics approach. By that I mean he looked at the proposals from his political opponents and tried to make the case why they would not work. An understandable approach but didn’t really set the room alight. Dick Gaughan did that.

Folk fights back

For those of you not familiar with folk music, there’s a strong vein of protest songs throughout it. The Levellers (Sell out and Another Man’s cause) featured regularly in my teens, just as Oysterband (Jam tomorrow and Bells of Rhymney) featured regularly in my 20s. Having grown up with the Cambridge Folk Festival on my doorstep (Puffles went in 2012), the music has kind of always been there for me.

What Dick Gaughan was able to do powerfully was to tell the very dark story about the devastating impact of Thatcher’s government on Scotland – explaining to a mainly undergraduate audience why there are more pandas in Scotland than Conservative MPs. He explained graphically about the impact this had on communities that he lived in, and that how the values of the majority of the people of Scotland were at odds with neo-liberalism adopted by the political establishment. His final main point was that the referendum was a historical opportunity to throw off the unpopular policies imposed from Westminster by governments aiming to please swing seats of London & the south east.

But his points were not met without challenge. Some were from an internationalist perspective of the world ‘as is’ – such as EU laws and regulations. Others were from a numbers perspective – one student comparing London’s population to that of Scotland. (I wanted to respond by saying ‘Look at the institutions and the power structures’ – but refrained).

Nicol Stephen takes on the nastiness in the campaigns

Turns out it wasn’t the former Liverpool player speaking. Lord Stephen started off with a long historical narrative – in particular about the centuries-long links with London, then focused his arguments around the political parties, the flaws in Salmond’s argument and a swipe at nationalism and its dark sides. On the final point, one woman pulled him up for not acknowledging the difference between a nationalism of national liberation, versus that of imperial conquest.

My question to him was that in the case of a ‘no’ vote, then what? Scotland is still left with the institutions that failed it most recently in the past few decades. His response then formed a discussion I had with a very bright Scottish undergraduate called Rebecca, about differentiating politics from public policy – and how to make sense of it in the context of the referendum.

‘Scotland is in the process of renegotiating its relationship with the rest of the UK – and in particular the political establishment based in London. The independence referendum will decide whether it will be a negotiation between two equal parties, or between one senior and one junior party.’

The above in a nutshell is what I’ve learnt from the debate. Before this evening, I was under the impression that a ‘yes’ vote meant Scotland would go off and do it’s own thing separate to the rest of the UK, and that a ‘no’ vote would mean Westminster might give one or two extra powers to Holyrood, but that would be about it. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, this won’t be the end – but only the beginning of a process that will take years before formalities come to a close. And even then, the relationship will continue to evolve as it has done for centuries.

Rebecca and I tried to unpick what we had heard in the debate – and finished our conversation off by asking whether I would vote yes or no in a referendum. That was when the ‘heart yes/head no’ issue came up. How do you unpick that?

For me, Independence for Scotland will not mean building a big iron curtain along the border. We live in an interdependent world as Lord Stephen said. Climate Change and globalisation tell us this. The question for me that the referendum will first answer is ‘where does sovereignty rest in the minds of the people of Scotland?’ Does it reside in the Westminster Parliament as part of the people of the United Kingdom, or does it reside in the Holyrood Parliament in Edinburgh? Then the negotiations for which powers and functions can be pooled can begin. Which ones would they want to pool with the rest of the United Kingdom? (This is the storm around the currency issue). Which ones would they want to pool with the EU? (What choice/flexibility would there be? Is the ‘Norway’ model an alternative?) Which ones would they want to pool internationally? (Not just things such as international human rights treaties, but things like the IMF, World Bank and the World Trade Organisation).

And finally…

My friends in Scotland said similar things to what Dick Gaughan said about the whole referendum. It’s got people interested in politics again. People of all political parties and none are taking part in debates all over the country – and it has gone far beyond the control of the established political parties.

This perhaps was the point I was making about the poor media coverage of the debates in Scotland by the London-based media. You could be forgiven for thinking that it’s all Salmond vs Cameron backed by some elder statesmen of Labour and the Liberal Democrats (thinking Alistair Darling and Sir Menzies Campbell in particular). It’s not. I’ve learnt that the independence referendum and all that is going on around it in Scotland, has got a far broader breadth of coverage and far deeper historical roots in Scotland than the London-based institutions assume.


13 thoughts on “The Scottish independence referendum debate comes to Cambridge

  1. “The question for me that the referendum will first answer is ‘where does sovereignty rest in the minds of the people of Scotland?’ Does it reside in the Westminster Parliament as part of the people of the United Kingdom, or does it reside in the Holyrood Parliament in Edinburgh? Then the negotiations for which powers and functions can be pooled can begin.”

    A neat summary but the devil is in the last part (negotiations for power and functions). As far as I can tell small countries with few external anchors (ie trading blocs etc) end up being buffeted about by international forces that they cannot control (unless they go for the big iron curtain – North Korea option).

    The reality is that Scotland will need to be anchored to rUK and to a less extent Ireland and the EU…. so in practice (as the currency debate shows) an independent Scotland will actually not be as independent as they think. Worse they will have probably offended rUK through voting for independence. This means rUK is less likely to implement any policies that are for the greater good of Scotland and rUK – particularly if it may cause any headache for rUK politicians.

    To my mind this shows the problem with “emotional” politics that appeal to heart over head (whether they be UKIP or SNP). Ultimately politics (particularly nationalistic politics) that appeals to people emotions and builds up their expectations is easy. The difficult bit comes afterwards when the harsh realities of realpolitik kick in and those same expectations need to be reigned back.

  2. Paul,

    The thing is rUK has been offending Scots for decades. We are used to it. We expect it. We know THEY, the people in rUK are in for one hell of a wake up call when they find the shoe is on the other foot. Not quite sure how their emotions will be after Indy. I expect it won’t be pretty. C’est la vie

    It’s not my problem any more. I’m already an Independent Scot. rUKis just not my thing. It offers me nothing I could possibly want. I’m like the wife. whose head and heart left the marriage years ago. That marriage is dead. And it feels great. No matter what the result of the vote is, I’ll never be part of UK.

    It’s no about the money. It’s about the constantly lying (yes we are one of the richest countries on earth…. yet you (if you can use the “they” word” I can use the “you” word) lot lie constantly about your neighbour not being able to “afford to be alone”), the constant cheating, the constant bullying, the constant smearing, the constant scoffing and spin… is that addressing your problems? No. It’s avoidance behaviour, a behaviour that has been employed by rUK for my entire life. Yes really, Paul. THEY, the Scots know it, even if rUK don’t.

    What international forces are you talking of? Oh the big CEOs of eg BP? Is that who you mean? Scots simply look and retort to them “And who they hell are you? This is a democracy. Piss off. You control London. And look at the bloody mess you’ve made of that! Piss off” You’d know that if you’d been paying much attention over the past 2 or 3 weeks.

    It is the larger nations who are controlled by the “forces”, not the little ones. That, Paul is the reality. It is the larger countries, you know, like rUK and USA who are deliberately starving the poor to appease the rich gits. I’ll repeat that. It is the larger countries who are deliberately starving the poor to appease the rich gits. A people who believe the way to behave and are actively doing so, is to starve and terrify the poor are not the people best able to point to any other nation’s failings and are certainly not the people any decent human would listen to. A people starving and terrifying their poor sit back and sportingly find failings with other nations! An admirable brass neck they’ve got is it? *rolls eyes*

    The thing with anchors…. ye pull them up and set sail as and when the time suits, Paul. Here’s the truth. The Scots will anchor to rUK right up to the point yer fantastic invisible forces do what they always do… then we’ll cut the anchor as the great big ship Lolipop-For-Rich-Gits sinks. You can choose to deal with those forces right now or you can choose to keep playing the same old Finding Fault With the People of the World Game. The Scots will watch. We’ve even got the popcorn ready.

    PS. Mentioning UKIP in same breath as SNP tells me you’ve been watching too much guff London media. Put your emotions away. Count up all the energy you need. Where ye going to buy it from sweetie? What industries have you got to bail out the next banksters whoopsie? Ukraine? Not going to manage another mass house sell-off without the Scots oil fields to finance it this time are ye? When are you all planting rice fields in Somerset? After handing over rUK to the “forces” for all these years, I’d have thought clever people of rUK would have planned and been ready to go with that? Just a bit behind schedule with that policy? Been too busy sorting oot the rest of the world tae sort oot yersels again? Dearie me. When will ye all learn! Dearie me! Still, maybe by 2016 Somerset will be deep enough in water you could park your Trident subs there? The leaky ones too. Can you afford to buy a dock? I haven’t seen one on ebay lately.

    How are yer emotions, by the way?

    Offended yet? I promise you, you are not anywhere near as offended as I am.

    Meanwhile, I am off to seek Westmidden’s apology over their insulting disgusting behaviour towards the Scots Justice Secretary when he let an innocent dying man out of jail. Megrahi mean anything to you, Paul? Scots are offended by vicious and arrogant behaviour exhibited by the Great and the Good of London. The Scots are not the only ones.

    Collect yer jacket on your way out, Paul. I believe it’ll be handed to you around March 2016 if you don’t take it now

    1. I’m not offended at all by anything you said although it would seem that I have offended you.

      For what its worth I think Scotland probably will be able to afford to go it alone. Other small countries have managed it (without the oil). Where I’m a bit more circumspect is what an independent Scotland would look like. A lot of independently minded Scots seems to hate the “Tories of Westminster” and seem to expect a socialist utopia.

      I rather suspect that an independent Scotland would probably have a few early economic “shocks” (for example some of Scotland’s financial services industries relocation to England). However afterwards I’m relatively confident and independent Scotland will bounce back – although not before Scottish voter have accepted some difficult realities – which I’m afraid to say will probably involve tax cuts and spending cuts!

      In short Scotland can pay its way with rUK but I very much doubt it will be socialist Scotland that many supporters of independence want!

      1. Man! That flew right over your head, didn’t it?

        Westmidden will see a 10% drop in GDP
        Just you keep your eye on the swinging pendulum from BBC “Scots will suffer” “Scots will suffer. A CEO says there is a risk. Scary wary Scary WARY FEAR!”

        Meanwhile… in Westmidden they are flapping around screaming. They’ve been insulting Scots more than usual for two whole years now. Cos they think being offensive will save their jobs? I note you worry about Scots offending Westmidden.. lols

        Why? Why are Westmidden running around flapping?
        Westmidden will see a 10% drop in GDP

        Go do some sums.
        Come back and tell us how you are worried about the economic shock facing BBC with a Yes vote. The BBC, that one in London. That one. We reckon it’ll be a shock of £300 million. Annually.

        Scots will have economic shocks. Aye… but it isnae them that should be worrying you right now.

      2. @Rattlecans
        Are you trying to do self-parody…. If rUK has to worry about a 10% drop in GDP then by the same logic Scotland should be worried about a 90% drop in GDP.

        As somebody who has both Scottish family in England and English family in Scotland I think a divorce would be sad end to the Union…. But I’m ultimately not that worried about an independent Scotland. I’m sure there will be shocks for both sides (that no doubt will require some neo-liberal medicine) but ultimately successful people both sides of the new border will continue to be successful.

        My point was (and still is) that I suspect that an independent Scotland will be a socialists paradise then I’m afraid I suspect you are mistaken. Scotland will simply end up in a race to the bottom on tax and spending to compete with rUK!

      3. My point was (and still is) that if you suspect that an independent Scotland will be a socialists paradise then I’m afraid I suspect you are mistaken. Scotland will simply end up in a race to the bottom on tax and spending to compete with rUK!

      4. Race to the bottom…. that is frequently heard from those unable to differentiate a referendum from a general election.

        There will be a drop of 90% in Scotland’s GDP for Scotland if Scots vote Yes… ?
        Not really much can be said about that I suppose… Hmmm.

  3. I understand how the “head versus heart” framing might seem to be apparent, but I don’t think this describes the nature of the debate.

    For instance, the SNP have run a really credible administration in Holyrood for 7 years – certainly better than Labour ever did. So people’s heads tell them that the Scottish Government is competent.

    At the same time, plenty of people have emotional links to the UK, because of shared history.

    I really don’t think it can be reduced to heart = yes, head = no. Both factors influence both sides.

  4. I actually found quite a bit of that rather patronising, especially the hearts vs minds bit. I love how people assume that there are no unionists whatsoever voting no out of nationalistic tendencies or blind devotion to the UK, and that there are no separatists who have strong, logical arguments for independence. Trust me, there are plenty of people voting yes for no reason other than UK loyalty. Perhaps if you looked to understand the sectarian/religious divide in our country and how it affects national identity, you’d understand that better.

    1. Apologies Cat – it wasn’t my intention to be patronising. I appreciate the significant and often violent history of sectarianism in Scotland. I could have gone into further detail about what was mentioned – in particular in Lord Stephen’s historical narrative that he gave. Modern expressions of sectarianism such as the Old Firm rivalry, and the connections with Northern Ireland were hardly mentioned in the debate. My first introduction to the divide was as a child going to church where families from Scotland would have children wearing Celtic shirts – and later on, Italy shirts. I never understood as a young child why I went to a church that was different to the one several of my primary school friends went to at the end of the road. But it created an artificial divide at a very young age.

      In terms of understanding Scottish identity, I’m not going to pretend I have an in-depth understanding of it – I’ve spent most of my life in Cambridge. Hence my points about the London-based media not covering the debates people in Scotland are having about independence that go far beyond the party political bubble. On the occasions when I have visited Scotland (aged 10, 11 & 21), I was on the receiving end of racist abuse on each visit – not because of accent, but because of the colour of my skin. Because I was there. I didn’t even need to open my mouth. That stuff hurts, that stuff sticks – but it certainly does not mean I tar an entire nation due to the actions of a few idiots. On the final visit, having long conversations with locals in rural areas shone a light onto issues (such as land reform, and exploitation of agricultural workers) that are simply not covered by the London-based press.

      What I sense from my friends in Scotland that tweet to Puffles regularly, is that there is this incredible amount of energy and dynamism that is being released as a result of the looming referendum – the medium-to-longer term results of which are incredibly difficult to predict. That in part for me explains why the London-based politicians seem to be misjudging things – something that Lord Stephen and Thomas Docherty MP mentioned. David Cameron’s instinct is to come up to Scotland and to try and be both statesmanlike and salesman – not acknowledging that both he and his party are toxic to the ‘No’ campaign. (Or so LS & TD stated in their remarks).

      I take your points on passionate pro-unionists voting ‘no’ because that’s what their heart tells them in one part of the matrix and those that have gone through lots of information and attended lots of debates before coming to a logical conclusion to vote ‘yes’. The point I was trying to make was how the debate was being portrayed both in the room and by the London media. In the room you had two speakers from a strong arts background vs two politicians. What would the debate have been like if it were 50:50? What would it have been like if there was a gender balance?

      Finally – and again I take your point on the reasons people have for voting, this is where people inside ‘public policy world’ (and I include myself in this) often misjudge the mood of the people at large. People in public policy world seldom have to face the general public when looking at the public policy detail. This is one of the reasons why I questioned Lord Stephens on why existing institutions had failed Scotland to the extent that (watching from a distance here) Scottish Labour and Lib Dems as political institutions seem to have collapsed. Furthermore, what we don’t get a feel for in England is what the SNP as a political party stand for on anything other than Scottish independence. Our TV and mainstream media don’t cover what the SNP’s policies are other than in a ‘compare this with the situation in England’ perspective – in particular university tuition fees and the NHS.

      Hope this clarifies & thank you for posting your comment.

      1. Good response. The SNP, basically, come across as competent social democrats – important in a world where the centre left is portrayed as being irresponsible. This fits with the values of most people in Scotland.

        The day of the Scottish election in 2007, the Sun newspaper ran with a front page that said “Vote SNP and put Scotland’s head in a noose”. The was the narrative of the whole Labour campaign – that the sky would fall in.

        As you know, the SNP won and ran a minority government against very bitter opponents – and they did a great job of it. They were extremely competent. People noticed – the irony is plenty of people would like the SNP to run a devolved administration within the UK, without opting for independence!

        Also, my sense of them as a national party is that they see themselves as the party of Scotland – a country that has, and needs, workers and bosses, indigenous people and immigrants, and so on. They see their job as balancing these different forces for the common good. So they are pro-business, but within reason: business needs to contribute to society.

        I worked with them as a trade unionist and found them no worse than Labour, who were supposed to be our natural allies.

        Overall impression is of competence.

      2. First of all, thanks for replying to quickly, comprehensively and thoughtfully! It is much appreciated!

        It is a very frustrating divide, but what’s interesting is the way that the question of independence is changing people’s outlook on national identity. When I was a child, the divide (and indeed violence) was much, much more prominent, and that was only 15 years ago. National identity could be summed up neatly in “Rangers of Celtic?” But now it’s becoming more confused. I have friends who’ll rant and rave about UK involvement in Northern Ireland, the colonisation of Ireland and how amazing a united Irish Republic, free from UK oppression, would be, and then hum and haw about how the Union isn’t really *so* bad in Scotland. Conversely, I have friends who grew up surrounded by Orange Order members who’ve now decided that they don’t really want anything to do with the Union at all. It’s an interesting shift to watch. Especially for a Scot who’s always considered herself European first and finds identity politics a bit silly.

        Next, I’m really very sorry you had bad experiences in Scotland. Anti-english sentiment is rather rampant amongst certain people (though I’m not sure if it’s quite right to call it racism, more xenophobia or bigotry, not that I’m trying to belittle your experience at all) but I do believe it’s the result (thought not the righteous one) of centuries of fucked-upness. Indeed, since you mentioned agricultural reform, in some areas (like the one I grew up in) the vast majority of farmed land is owned by a small number of highly moneyed and often titled individuals. Because of the way the reformation and the formation of the Union worked in Scotland, the majority of the working class is either Cathiolic or Presbyterian (Church of Scotland), while this land-owning class is largely Episcopalian (as we call it here, but basically, the branch of the Church of England in Scotland). This class tends to have English accents, send their children to public schools down south. As a rather left-leaning population, the concept that there is a class which owns the majority of the land is hard enough, but when that class has also adopted markers of Englishness, a certain level of confusion between class and national resentment occurs, and thus all English become wealthy oppressors in some people’s minds, often subconciously.

        I certainly agree with you, the Westminster politicians are cocking up the referendum spectacularly. If the SNP has one great strength, it’s their ability to run an effective, positive, inspiring campaign and Better Together (and indeed Scottish Labour in recent years) simply haven’t been able to counteract this effectively. It seems they haven’t learned from the last Scottish election that negative campaigning doesn’t work against the SNP, and I’m baffled as to why they’re continuing it in the Better Together campaign. David Cameron is in a somewhat impossible position. If he doesn’t come, Yes can say he’s demonstrating how little Westminster cares about Scotland, if he does, well, he’s pretty much universally hated here in both the public and the press. Look what happened when George Osbourne came, it was hardly positive.

        I suspected that was the point you were trying to make. I’m afraid, from my reading, it seems like you’ve more perpetuated that idea than highlighted it or challenged it. I think art of the reason why the Yes campaign is using it’s artistic supporters so heavily is that Scottish culture has a tendency towards radical Left thinking, as does a large part of the population. The political culture is also rather different in Scotland to the rest of the UK. Our First Minister comes from a working class family, none of his cabinet were privately educated (I believe), to elect the kind of politicians who make it into cabinet in Westminster here would be simply unthinkable. The Yes campaign obviously wants to emphasise their difference to UK politics, so how do they do that? By bringing in people who have radical politics and a strong claim over Scottish cultural identity, thus linking the two implicitly in the debate. The Better Together campaign hasn’t used this tactic at all (despite a great number of Scottish figures coming out against independence), so a 50:50 debate simply wouldn’t happen. With regards to gender balance, it’s tough to say. I believe in certain ways that Scotland has further to go than the rest of the UK in the fight for women’s rights (our rape conviction rate is at 3% compared to England and Wales’ 6.7% for instance, due to outdated laws and judicial procedures). The Yes campaign has struggled to capture the female demographic (though that has started to change in the last few months) despite the Deputy First Minister being a (pretty brilliant) woman. It seems like more female voters are undecided than men. In a strange reversal of gender stereotypes, I read an article the other day which suggested that men, when surveyed, seemed to be more swayed to either side by grandiose concepts of nationalism and “hope”, whereas women were more likely to be undecided and, if they had been swayed either way, gave very practical, often personal reasons.

        It can be difficult to judge public mood. Sometimes I wonder if I’m making all this up! I wouldn’t say Labour had collapsed in Scotland, they are without a doubt the second most powerful political force, and in Westminster elections, they tend to get more seats than the SNP (we all get a bit frightened of a possible Tory government and desperately throw our lot in with English lefties!) They’ve gone through a brain drain. Their best politicians are hard at work in Westminster and there’s not too much talent left up north. They’ve been through several mediocre leaders in the last few years, and Johann Lamont’s hardly an inspiring orator. She seems somewhat out of her depth next to Salmond or Sturgeon. But, there is still a very large part of the population who are faithful to Labour, even if the political class of the party is floundering. The Lib Dems are dead here, they were dead when they joined the coalition. The next election will be excrutiating for them. They have falled to 5 MSPs, while even the Tories have 15. I wouldn’t be surprised if they lost all but one or two seats and were overtaken by the Greens (my own party) in the next election, which is truly amazing given that they were the third party by default before the coalition.

        I do understand from English friends (I’m a University of Edinburgh student so I have rather a lot of them!) that Scottish politics is barely covered down South, which is a shame because in my opinion our political system is much more efficient, accountable and democratic here. I feel like the AV referendum might have gone very differently if voters down south had known more about the electoral system up here and the No campaign hadn’t been able to scaremonger them so easily. The SNP are a fully fledged part, and a leftist (though not radically so) one. They do have a tendency towards populism, but that is, after all, how they’ve gone from being a fringe party twenty years ago to in absolute power now.

        It seems I’ve gone on something of a ramble! Apologies if it doesn’t make much sense, and thanks again for your thoughtful reply!

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