Peter Curran: One Scot’s Journey & Thoughts On Where We’re At


A lifelong Labour supporter, I celebrated Blair’s 1997 victory, but not without misgivings. A glib Old Fettesian lawyer as Labour PM? Still, he’d won a general election convincingly, his constituency office was in a village I knew intimately – Trimdon in County Durham – and he’d been more or less discovered by Joe Mills, the North East Regional Secretary of the Transport and General Worker’s Union, a man I knew well and deeply respected. Of course, as a Glaswegian born and bred, I’d had 38 years experience of the awful thing the Glasgow Labour Party had become in the1960s and ’70s, but that could be dismissed as an aberration. And I remembered with affection and respect a much older Labour Party, the pre-NHS party, the party of the old Glasgow, a party of men and women who had fought two wars and could tell shit from Shinola in their politicians.

But far from being an aberration, it was a harbinger of what UK Labour would metamorphose into under Blair. The decline started quickly – Blair expressed his gratitude for Bernie Ecclestone’s £1 million donation by exempting Formula One motor racing from the cigarette advertising ban – an act of such barefaced cynicism that some of his closest advisors found it hard to accept he had actually perpetrated it.

Then a truly world-changing event – 9/11 – and the increasingly close relationship between Blair and Bush, culminating in the profoundly misconceived Afghanistan war, a cynical, knee jerk reaction to the enormity of the Twin Towers deaths and the shock to the American psyche over a terrorist attack on US soil, the price of which we are still paying in blood as the humiliating withdrawal grinds on. And then Iraq – an illegal war, launched on a deliberately falsified premise that led to death and destruction on a massive scale and the destabilising of the Middle East.

At that moment, cognitive dissonance intensified, yet a lifetime of Labour internationalist values and the rancid residue of a lifetime of British Empire indoctrination kept me from making the leap – a huge one psychologically for me – to Scottish nationalism and the idea of Scotland’s independence. But I didn’t vote Labour in 2005, and in the 2007 Holyrood election I voted SNP for the first time and at some point thereafter joined the party.

In 2008, I started blogging, then opened my Youtube channel. In 2010, influenced by Mick Fealty’s (Slugger O’Toole) Pi-Camp, I started tweeting. In 2012, I resigned from the SNP (before the October Conference) over the leadership’s decision to join NATO. I will never join a political party again, but I am fully committed to the YES campaign, and will still support the SNP electorally.

To the lifetime Scottish nationalist, to whom independence is a no-brainer, I’m a slow learner who acquired political sense rather late in life. But perhaps I represent fairly closely the new nationalism and new nationalists (I don’t accept the false distinction being made between the terms nationalist and independence supporter) who have come so recently to the cause of independence, and those who are yet to be persuaded. I certainly represent a strong body of opinion best described as left-wing nationalism/internationalism, one that is currently central – and perhaps pivotal – in the great debate. My credentials for National Collective? I’m a musician of sorts and a writer of sorts, undistinguished at both …

So – where are we at right now, with the referendum only fourteen months away, still dazed by the rare phenomenon of a sunny Scotland, in the hottest July for decades, and in the midst of one of the world’s great arts festivals where independence is almost nowhere to be seen or heard?

Well, undoubtedly approaching a watershed in the early autumn, marked by three events – the 18th of September, a day when we can say we have one year until the fateful day in 2014, the 21st September March and Rally on Calton Hill, and the publication of the White Paper in October/November.

All three are vitally important – the first two to jolt us out of a long summer indolence and the last to fire the gun that will mark the end of the phoney war and the start of real, hard-nosed military operations. As Americans are fond of saying when they want to test the appetite for change or a new initiative “Let’s run up the flag and see if anybody salutes …” 

We’re winning the online war by 3:1 and gradually reaching those who are online rarely – or not at all – by the only means possible, given a hostile or indifferent media – direct leafleting and canvassing and personal contact, and what the religious evangelist would call direct witness, i.e making our views and beliefs known to those we interact with in our daily lives. But a danger exists for those who are committed to indy but not engaged in direct canvassing, namely that they exist in a reassuring indy bubble, insulated from the harsh reality of the anti-indy majority views and the don’t knows. This danger is especially pronounced for the online campaigner, where we are in the majority. For those in this situation – as I am – it is vital to have contacts among the activists on the doorsteps and the public places to remain rooted in electoral reality and avoid complacency.

The structure of the independence debate and the implications of the key dates along the way from now to May 2016 are confusing for those not deeply involved, but struggling to understand. God knows, even the political activists get confused at times over them! We must keep a pristine clarity in our understanding and explanations of them, and reiterate the fundamentals at every opportunity.

Let me reiterate them, as I see them -

1. The YES Campaign is not a political party with policies and a manifesto – it is a movement arguing for Scotland’s independence comprising many parties and organisations – and individuals of no party affiliation. It says why Scotland can be independent, emphasising its resources both natural and human, and why it should be independent, but leaves specific policies to the parties who will attempt to form the independent government of Scotland in May 2016.

2. The SNP, the largest party committed to independence, currently forms the devolved government of Scotland. The legal agreement made by the UK with Scotland on the referendum was made between the First Minister of Scotland and the Prime Minister of the UK, and in the event of a YES vote, the SNP Government will negotiate the terms of independence with the UK Government.

3. The SNP will therefore present a negotiating agenda, with negotiating objectives and deal breakers in accordance with SNP policy and the SNP Government White Paper, and that agenda will incorporate aspects of SNP policy that are not necessarily shared with every component part of the YES Campaign – e,g, on the monarchy, on NATO membership, on oil revenues – and it will reflect the SNP’s economic view of an independent Scotland which is quite clearly not shared by all of the YES parties. This in a sense is represented by a polarity, argued by many to be between a social democratic, centre left neo-liberal view and the more socialist left view of The Common Weal. This of course, simply represents the reality of politics in UK – and indeed any democratic country – and in theory at least, is reflected in the Tory versus Labour politics of Westminster, with LibDems as uneasy and impotent bystanders.

4. Crucial dates – 18th September 2013, White Paper launch Oct/Nov 2013, Referendum 18th September 2014, UK general election May 2015, Scottish Parliamentary - independent or still devolved(!) election in May 2016.

The date that raises the most complex question in this potential constitutional earthquake is the UK general election in 2015, which will either be a conventional one after a No vote in 2014, or effectively an rUK general election as negotiations progress towards Scotland’s independence a year later in 2016. This latter scenario raises questions that are of vital constitutional importance, but have been barely addressed, never mind answered by politicians and media commentators, e.g. will Scottish opposition political parties enter candidates for a Parliament that will no longer represent Scotland, will the SNP and YES political parties enter candidates (almost certainly not, in my view) and crucially, what will be the implications of a change of UK/rUK government be, coming in the middle of the Scottish independence negotiations?

Truly, we are living in interesting times (the ancient Chinese curse!) and therefore bear a huge responsibility as Scottish citizens to contribute dynamically to them. A curse? No – a privilege rarely accorded to a generation. Let’s be worthy of it!

Peter Curran
National Collective





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About Peter Curran

Formerly a senior manager and HR director in industry (Goodyear, Burmah Oil, Scottish and Newcastle) and independent management consultant, specialising in negotiating skills and management training.

There are 18 comments

  1. David Officer

    I think all parties will have to enter candidates in 2015 to argue their case within the negotiation process and stand up for constituents until formal independence. Those candidates will need to be very determined and committed politicians who are genuinely taking it for the team if we’ve already voted Yes.

    To abstain from westminster politics within the last year of a United Kingdom would be absolute folly verging on negligence.

    1. Peter Curran

      I understand that viewpoint, David, but don’t share it. I accept it is a valid one to argue, but one that is not advanced by phrases such as “folly and negligence” to describe an alternative viewpoint..

      From the day after a YES vote, the UK no longer exists in any real sense at Westminster. By the time of the 2015 general election campaign, negotiations will have been underway for almost seven months.

      I cannot see how the MPs for Scottish constituencies – who will still be sitting MPs during that seven months, unless they resign – can exercise any meaningful role in Westminster politics on behalf of their constituents. (The fact that they are largely impotent at the moment is a key argument for independence!).

      The SNP MPs can simply abstain from voting (as they currently do on purely English matters on the West Lothian Question principle), and the role of Scottish Unionist MPs will be an odd one, if indeed they have any real role.

      rUK will exist de facto from the date of a 2014 YES vote, whatever the theoretical constitutional position. The UK (rUK) negotiating team will be mandated, again in theory, by the UK Parliament, but how can the representatives in that Parliament, of a country that is negotiating its exit, have any meaningful voting role or influence under these circumstance? Presumably the de faco rUK Parliament will have to ratify the negotiated settlement, then enact it into enabling legislation. How can Scottish MPs have any role in that process?

      The Westminster Parliament may appear bound by law and rule, but in practice, it is a deeply emotional and often irrational assembly. The reactions of Tory backwoodsmen is entirely predictable as far as a YES vote is concerned, and Labour MPs will feel even more bruised by it. There are very difficult times ahead.

      I am not a constitutional lawyer – my perspective is that of a voter, so others more qualified will have to address these questions. At the moment, there is no evidence that I have seen that anyone has, but of course that does not mean they are not under active debate and deliberation in private.


      1. David Officer

        I certainly didn’t meant to describe your viewpoint as folly or negligence peter, just my view that to not put forward candidates would be so.

        Thanks for expanding on why you feel that way and of course you present a compelling case. I would just be uneasy with there being no representatives in Westminster during the transition time and all Scottish MP’s should be on the side of Scotland during this period, regardless of party affiliation at Westminster. Though that may be an unrealistic viewpoint.

        1. Peter Curran

          Talking to some people today after the Spiegel Tent thing in Edinburgh would indicate that many – perhaps most – people who’ve thought about lean to your position, David, so my view may well be a minority one – and maybe just plain wrong, as I often am!

          1. Jim Monaghan

            a simple solution might be to allow the sitting MPs for Scottish contituencies to hold their seats for the interim 7/8 months between a yes vote and a settlement. The real dilemma would come if negotiations became protracted and a different Scottish Gov came to power in May 2016 before negotiations are concluded. Although that is a bit of a trainspotter/anorak question as the way curent polls are going the SNP are all but defintely going to win theext election in Scotland.

          2. Juteman

            You can’t have a situation where sitting unionist MP’s take part in negotiations. Would you trust the likes of Davidson, Murphy and Alexander to do their best for Scotland? They have spent years telling lies to the Scottish people on behalf of their Westminster masters.

          3. Peter Curran

            There is no practicable likelihood of anyone other than Scottish Government ministers and officials being on the Scottish negotiating team, unless some Scottish unionist MPs have a death bed conversion the day after a YES vote and Alex Salmond offers them a place, which is as likely as him being beamed up to the Starship Enterprise. (I wouldn’t entirely rule that out …)

            It also seems unlikely to me – but not beyond the bounds of possibility – that some Scottish Labour MPs – will be part of the UK negotiating team. It is more or less certain that Michael Moore will play a key lead role in the Westminster team and perhaps David Mundel. But again, there are major questions unexplored here, and if they are not examined before the 2015 general election, they sure as hell will have to be after it, if there is a change of UK(rUK) government

          4. Jim Monaghan

            agreed, i dont think that any westminster MP would be involved in the negotiations, unless appointed to do so by either Government.

          5. rod mac

            Has anyone considered the possibility that the majority of Westminster MPs vote against the Secession?
            They do after all outnumber us ,and truly believe in their sovereignty over everything.

          6. Jim Monaghan

            agreed, I dont think the Westminster MPs should be involved in the negotiations, they should simply carry out the duties of their constituency ofrfice until it closes down. The negotiations should be between the elected Governments of the UK and Scotland at the time.

          7. Peter Curran

            It is entirely possible that SNP MP’s will be involved in the Scottish Government’s negotiating team, Jim, e.g. Angus Robertson, Stewart Hosie. I find it hard to conceive of a negotiating team that doesn’t include both, given their roles within the party (defence and Treasury/economic matters) and their unrivalled knowledge (except for FM!) of Westminster.

          8. Jim Monaghan

            yes, I am sure that will happen, equally, the Westminster mob might appoint Moore or whoever his successor is

          9. Peter Curran

            As far as I know, Westminster can’t stop them retaining their seats in the interim. The SNP can clearly tell them to resign their seats or not attend Westminster.

            It’s 7/8 months between YES and the 2015 general election but 19 months allowed for negotiations to May 2016 Scottish election. There is clearly the possibility that a non-SNP government or an SNP Coalition could be the outcome of the 2016 Holyrood election and that can take place in one of two scenarios – negotiations complete and independence, or negotiations not complete, and therefore a conventional devolved Holyrood election.

            Various scenarios and key questions spin off from these alternatives, all of which have major strategic and tactical implications, none of which have been explored in the press or media because the superficial nature of much coverage precludes in-depth analysis.

            One would hope the SNP and YES have thought about them. Perhaps an exercise with Play doh might help, or some brown rice/holistic, get-in-touch-with-your-inner self consultant crap?

  2. weefoldingbike

    The Blair government lost its shine for me earlier than 9/11. I was sitting outside my tent in Glencoe with my trusty Longstaff tricycle having cycled up from Glasgow. I was making dinner on a wee Trangia stove and listening to the radio news. It announced that a Labour government was going to charge for going to university.

    One of the most powerful speeches Neil Kinnock made was about being the first in his family to attend a university but now a Labour government was going to make people pay for that.

  3. Gruts For Tea

    Interesting times indeed. I think this is the most politically engaged I’ve ever been. I find the prospect of an independent Scotland tremendously exciting and have been heartened by the more healthy online debate after feeling dismay at the MSM coverage.

    Generally politics had stopped being relevant for me and that was largely due to the situation with Westminster. Now the prospect of a fully functioning government seems too attractive to pass up.

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