A victory with no victors and losers who refuse to lose

In case you missed it, the No campaign won the independence referendum.

This might come as a surprise, with celebrations of the result ranging all the way from low-key to non-existent. (Save for a few troglodytes in George Square whose ability to drag their knuckles without possession of opposable thumbs was quite a feat.)

Tales of the Union’s demise may have been greatly exaggerated but its survival, as Alex Massie wrote, was met by relief rather than jubilation. It was as if the clunking old family car, hurtling carefree towards a cliff edge with mum, dad, the two kids, Rover, and a commemorative Golden Jubilee tea-towel in the glove box, suddenly caught on its handbrake mere inches from the precipice.

Thursday’s result was just that: A lucky escape for the Union rather than a ringing endorsement. The voters, like the warden in an old Jimmy Cagney movie, announced a stay of execution just as our hoodlum hero was receiving the Last Rites.

In the end, it wasn’t love-bombing or secret NHS cuts or women’s dislike for “that man on the telly” that did for the Yes campaign. It was the economy, stupid. Almost all general elections are fought on the question: “Are you better off today than you were before this lot got in – and would things be worse under the other shower?”

By opting to fight the referendum as a general election, the Yes campaign walked into a trap of its own devising. If voters could choose independence for everyday economic reasons rather than exalted constitutional principles, they could equally choose to stay in the UK because they feared the financial consequences of a breakaway.

The initial refusal by Alex Salmond to outline a currency Plan B, after all the main UK parties ruled out a sterlingzone, was unnerving to voters worried about the pound in their pocket, their mortgages, and their savings. When he finally half-relented and started dropping hints about sterlingisation, a risky strategy in the eyes of many, he put a segment of undecided voters beyond his reach.

The interventions of the banks and supermarkets, warning of head offices moved to London and hikes in shopping basket prices, will have shifted undecideds to No and even cleaved some soft Yeses away. The SNP said it was scaremongering. They said it was bullying. They said it was coordinated by Downing Street. But none of that mattered to voters whose primary concerns were not political skulduggery but feeding their family and paying the bills. Nor did it sway those Scots who had worked hard, bought their house, saved a bit and didn’t want to gamble it all on a vision of a better Scotland that couldn’t even guarantee a stable currency.

But before Yes campaigners lament, in that more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger tone of a prating Kirk minister, that No voters chose self-interest over self-government, they should reflect that this is exactly what their campaign invited the electorate to do. You can’t fault the public for meeting your low expectations.

Since Thursday, there has been a wave of generational antagonism as older voters found themselves blamed for the result. The staunchly Unionist demographic had sold its grandchildren down the river, some Yes activists claimed. Others charged that the future had been robbed by the past and that financially comfortable pensioners had turned their backs on the young, the unemployed, and those dependent on food banks.

The basis for these claims is a post-referendum survey from Lord Ashcroft showing that 16- and 17-year-olds and those aged between 18 and 24 tended to vote Yes while those over 55 overwhelmingly voted No. However, the samples used for younger voters are unhelpfully small and leave us pronouncing on the electoral behaviour of two sizeable demographics based on the responses of just 14 people in one category (16-17) and 84 in the other (18-24).

This line is also petty, and vacuous in its attempt to blame defeat on a cold-hearted caste of selfish grannies, like some hideous cross between the Golden Girls and Harry Enfield’s Loadsamoney. (I don’t know what circles some of these pro-independence campaigners travel in but I know few pensioners who are rolling in it and determined to keep their grandchildren in grinding penury.)

The sinister implication of much of this rhetoric is that the votes of the elderly ought to count for less than those of the young and hale and hearty. This is an unpleasant turn in our politics and one that we would do well to abandon as a hot-tempered response to a painful defeat.

The new battle cry of Yes campaigners is: “We are the 45%”. This might more exactly, if less stirringly, be expressed as “We are the 44.7%” or, to strip away the poetry entirely, “We are the roughly 30% hardcore supporters plus a further 15% who were convinced to vote for independence but who aren’t necessarily prepared to make it their life’s work to secure a Yes vote”.

The past few days have seen a dramatic upsurge in membership for the pro-independence parties, particularly the SNP which has gained 25,000 new members since Thursday, with the Scottish Greens gaining at least 3000 and the SSP an increase of 1600. This suggests some very difficult times ahead for Scottish Labour – a party that doesn’t have its sorrows to seek but always makes the effort – and points to a third term in government for the Nationalists.

However, the decision of thousands of apparently hitherto unaligned Yes voters to join the SNP, while good news for the party, poses a number of problems for the pro-independence movement as a whole. If what was a diverse and independent-minded (in all senses of the term) family of idealists finds itself increasingly dominated by the SNP, it risks becoming a manageable tool of party high command rather than an organic and creative community.

Those who got involved with Yes politics only after they were convinced of its distance from Nationalism could drift away. Electors who backed a No vote out of distaste for the SNP could with some justification feel vindicated. It is still possible to support independence without being a Nationalist but that a chunk of the non-aligned Yes movement has so readily thrown its lot in with the SNP makes this case a more difficult sell going forward.

The air is electric with excited talk of a grand coalition between the Yes parties or a push to set a date for the next referendum. The next referendum? After three long, draining years, most Scots want to put the vote behind them and get on with their lives. Save a constitutional earthquake like a vote to leave the EU, they will have little patience for any party that wants to open the question up again in the next decade or two.

As the Chinese military philosopher Sun Tzu counselled, “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” The SNP must bide its time in pushing for another plebiscite and what remains of the broader Yes movement must give it leeway to do so. If we know one thing after this referendum, we know this: There is no majority in Scotland for independence.

That might change if the voters feel they have been short-changed on more powers for the Scottish Parliament. If the Unionist parties don’t want to be back here again in ten years’ time, they must make good on their campaign promises of further devolution. If they are smart, they will go further and take the Union closer to a federal system, giving Scotland vast new scopes of autonomy while keeping the UK together.

Here is a chance to vindicate their campaign rhetoric about Scotland having “the best of both worlds”. This eleventh-hour reprieve from the voters is an opportunity to design and entrench a new Union for generations to come. It Unionists spurn it, they may not get another.

Originally published on STV NewsFeature image © Kay Roxby by Creative Commons 2.0.

Indyref Daily: Outrage as Scotland defies sovereign will of Byres Road

The democratic process has been thrown into chaos after a majority of Scots voted against the clearly expressed wishes of people who shop in Whole Foods.

Friday morning’s referendum result brought an eerie chill to Byres Road. In the independent coffee shops, patrons wept into their double tall soy caramel macchiatos (hold the foam).

Tchai-Ovna closed for a day of mourning and cyclists in the West End marked the sombre occasion by cycling on the road instead of the pavement.

Crawford, 40, a lecturer in the sociology of Twilight at nearby Glasgow University, described the result as a “paradigm shift”, a “hemoginisation of the late capitalist superstructure”, and other things he’d obviously been storing up in the hope he’d get to use them one day.

The academic, who carries copies of Sunday Herald editorials in his pocket and reads them at random strangers on the Subway, added: “I just don’t know how Scotland could do this. The people of Byres Road had all the arguments. We had Pat Kane, Lesley Riddoch, and words like ‘polysemy’ and ‘Podemos’.”

He continued: “With a Yes vote, Scotland would always have got the governments the West End voted for. Now, we are having a No vote imposed on us by a tiny, unrepresentative minority of 55% of Scottish voters, people who probably watch EastEnders and assign gendered personal pronouns to their children. The heteropatriarchal bastards.”

“This must be what it feels like to live in Gaza,” said Allegra, 31, an ethical Reiki massage therapist. “I knew something was wrong yesterday morning when my Third Eye Chakra was playing up. I thought it might have been a migraine but it turns out it was a portent of the coming Tory/Ukip coalition and the drowning of every child in Scotland by George Osborne.”

Iain Macwhirter could not be reached for comment.

Seriously, could someone go check if he’s okay?

Originally published on STV News. 

Why the Scottish Independence Referendum Matters

Long a fringe phenomenon, Scottish independence might become a reality this Friday • How did this happen? • Was it because of Scottish nationalism or economics? • What will independence mean for Britain and the West? • And what are the ramifications for Israel? • Stephen Daisley, referendum reporter for Scotland’s leading commercial broadcaster, explains.

Close your eyes and picture Scotland. What do you see? Rolling hills and glens? Highland cows and bagpipes? Shortbread and the Loch Ness Monster? Perhaps Mel Gibson in the days before his name was associated with drunken anti-Semitic jeremiads, when he was the Hollywood incarnation of Scotland’s semi-mythical warrior William Wallace?

These national symbols of Scotland’s history and culture are important – both to Scots and to our tourism industry – but they do not tell the whole picture.

What if I told you that Scotland is an oil-rich nation, the Saudi Arabia of north-western Europe, with somewhere between 16 billion and 25 billion barrels of recoverable oil in the North Sea (depending on which expert you turn to)? What if I told you that Scotland has a GDP of £130 billion, or £148 billion with a geographic share of those oil revenues included? What if I said the Clyde, on the West coast of the country, is home to the United Kingdom’s Trident nuclear deterrent system?

As part of the United Kingdom, Scotland has a seat on the United Nations Security Council and is a member of the European Union, allowing it to export goods worth £11 billion to the other 26 member states of the community. Thanks to the UK’s standing in international markets, Scotland can trade at a level that most small nations dream of. Its whisky exports are worth more than £4 billion while its tourism industry boosts the national economy by £10 billion.

This might sound like the recipe for a happy nation but Scotland is racked by discontent. On Thursday, the country goes to the polls in a referendum on leaving the United Kingdom and becoming an independent country. If the electorate votes Yes, and the polls suggest that this could happen, it will be the end of Scotland’s 300-year partnership with England, as well as Wales and Northern Ireland. The Union which enabled Britannia to rule the waves and the British Empire to control a third of the globe at its peak would be broken up.

Although the UK’s place in the world has steadily declined since the end of the Second World War, with brief upsurges during the Thatcher and Blair years, the country’s fundamental transformation if Scotland were to leave should not be underestimated. A country known for its stiff-upper-lip and cautious traditionalism would enter a period of constitutional crisis, embroiled in negotiations with a departing Scotland and forced to redraw its own governmental map to ensure no other partner-nation followed the Scots to the exit.

Unraveling the mystery

Why, then, given its economic health and the possible consequences of independence, could Scotland be about to quit the United Kingdom?

There are a number of answers, the first amongst them is institutional and takes us back to the pre-war period. The Scottish National Party was founded in 1934 to campaign for Scotland to become independent from the United Kingdom, a Union forged in 1707 when the kingdoms of Scotland and England were merged in the Acts of Union. The Nationalists argued that this alliance did not serve Scotland’s interests and in fact smothered the once-proud nation’s culture and identity. The SNP remained on the fringes of Scottish and wider UK politics for decades, edged out by the left-right rivalry of the Labour and Conservative parties and its own ideological vicissitudes. From time to time, it would shock the Westminster establishment by winning a by-election during periods of discontent with the Labour Party, the party which dominated Scottish politics for the second half of the 20th century, but it tended to lose these seats at the next general election.

But the Nationalists saw their opportunity in the rise of Margaret Thatcher, whose free-market economic and social policies sat at odds with Scotland’s vision of itself as a fair-minded and progressive nation. (Ironically, the SNP had helped Thatcher into power by voting with her Conservative Party to bring down the Labour government in 1979.) Throughout the 1980s, Scotland voted Labour but found itself governed by successive Thatcher administrations and subject to unpopular industrial and taxation policies. As Labour moved to the political centre, the Nationalists repositioned themselves as a left-wing party and used Thatcher’s unpopularity to lobby for independence.

The landslide election which brought Tony Blair to power in 1997 also saw a referendum in which Scotland voted to create a Scottish Parliament. This legislature, based in Edinburgh, was put in charge of Scotland’s economy, health, education, and justice portfolios while powers over defence, foreign affairs, welfare, and the bulk of taxation were reserved to the UK Parliament in Westminster. Devolution, as this new arrangement was known, was intended to “kill nationalism stone dead” in the words of one senior Labour politician. However, as the voters grew dissatisfied with Labour they turned to the SNP, and its charismatic leader Alex Salmond, and after narrowly winning the 2007 Scottish election the Nationalists formed a minority government. Although the Scottish Parliament’s electoral system was designed to encourage coalitions, the SNP set off a political earthquake when it went on to take majority control in the 2011 elections.

Mr Salmond used his mandate from the voters to pressure the UK Government into holding a referendum on Scottish independence. When Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to allow the plebiscite, it was close to unthinkable that the Nationalists could win the vote, with only one-third of Scots supporting a breakaway from the UK. However, Mr Salmond, a sharp political strategist, recognised that nationalism alone could not deliver a majority for independence. For that, he would need to turn to economics.

This isn’t Adam Smith’s Scotland

The economy of the UK and Scotland, and the divide between rich and poor, constitute the second answer to our independence conundrum. While Scotland is known around the world as the birthplace of liberal economist Adam Smith, Scots progressively abandoned free market principles and by the mid-20th century state-engineered equality had cemented itself as the nation’s central political ethic. Socialism has since given way to redistributivist capitalism but Scotland’s self-image as an egalitarian society endures. “We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns” goes an old Scots saying: We’re all the same. That egalitarian impulse is prominent in the referendum, with the Yes campaign framing independence as the opportunity to realise a more “socially just” society.

Yes campaigners point to income inequality and poverty as evidence of the failures of the UK economy. The standard measure of income equality, the Gini coefficient, assigns the UK a rating of 0.345 after taxes and transfers, placing Britain 28 out of 34 OECD nations. Only countries like the United States, Israel, and Turkey are less equal. The expansion of food banks has been a hot-button issue in the campaign, with pro-independence activists arguing that such charities are a symbol of a Westminster-dominated political system that favours the wealthy over the needy. The Nationalists have also seized on statistics suggesting one in five Scots, including 200,000 children, are living in “relative poverty” as proof that the welfare reforms of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government at Westminster are hurting the poor.

Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy First Minister of the Scottish Government and figurehead of the Left within the SNP, argues: “It is vital that we gain the full powers of independence in order to build a better Scotland – one that protects people from poverty and helps them fulfill their potential in work and life.”

That is why political issues like economics, welfare, and “social justice” – rather than constitutional questions about the structure of government — have led the agenda in Scotland’s referendum. The Nationalists calculate that, if they can appeal to disaffected Labour voters, they can construct a majority for independence. Their opponents in the No campaign, however, point out that the SNP has failed to outline any tax policies to achieve its social democratic ambitions while encouraging enterprise and productivity.

Much of the No campaign’s efforts have been focussed on talking about the consequences of Scotland going it alone. How, they ask, would Scotland afford its generous welfare state, socialised healthcare, and free university tuition? What would happen to the economy when the oil revenues dried up? What currency would an independent Scotland use and would it be granted membership of the European Union? This risk-raising strategy, known as “Project Fear”, has backfired on the No campaign, depleting their substantial poll lead as voters become more sceptical about independence warnings.

With the polls neck-and-neck, the parties which make up the anti-independence “Better Together” campaign have promised more powers for Scotland short of independence. They hope that this offer will convince Scots that they can have “the best of both worlds”: An even stronger Scottish Parliament backed up by the strength and security that comes from being part of the UK.

Small country, worldwide repercussions

Foreign policy has played a remarkably muted role in the referendum. After the failures of Iraq and Afghanistan, there is little appetite for an independent Scotland to take as active a role in world affairs at the UK Government currently does. A central plank of the Nationalists’ platform, however, is the removal of the Trident nuclear defence system from Scotland in the event of independence. This poses a significant challenge to the UK Government – which says it has no other base where the nuclear submarines can be docked – and could see the future of the British nuclear arsenal thrown into doubt. In this scenario, the United States would see one of its closest allies unilaterally disarmed and the divisive subject of nuclear weapons would be on the international agenda at a time when the West is trying to unite against the Islamic State and Iran.

This is why Scottish politician Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, former secretary general of Nato and defence secretary in Tony Blair’s first administration, has warned that independence could impact the broader geopolitical situation.

In an April speech to the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, he said:

The loudest cheers for the breakup of Britain would be from our adversaries and from our enemies. For the second military power in the West to shatter this year would be cataclysmic in geopolitical terms. If the United Kingdom was to face a split at this of all times and find itself embroiled for several years in a torrid, complex, difficult and debilitating divorce, it would rob the West of a serious partner just when solidity and cool nerves are going to be vital. Nobody should underestimate the effect all of that would have on existing global balances and the forces of darkness would simply love it.

His comments were dismissed as alarmist by supporters of a Yes vote but President Obama and Hillary Clinton have also expressed their preference that Scotland remain in the UK. Suddenly, the votes of a small country of five million people could disrupt international relations in ways no one ever expected.

And What of Israel?

One area of foreign policy where there is a degree of certainty is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Scottish Nationalists have tended to look more favourably upon the Palestinians than Israel. During the recent Operation Protective Edge, the Scottish Government criticised Hamas’s firing of rockets at Israeli civilians but condemned Israel’s response as “disproportionate”. Ministers pledged £500,000 in humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians, offered to welcome injured Gazans to Scotland for medical treatment in the state-run National Health Service, and called for an arms embargo on Israel. The SNP administration discourages Scottish public bodies from trading with Israeli businesses which operate over the Green Line in Judea and Samaria.

As such, an independent Scotland would likely be more sympathetic to the Palestinian experience than to Israel’s security concerns. This would not pose a new challenge for Israel’s foreign ministry, merely add another voice to a now-familiar chorus.

Two points that should give Israelis some hope.

First Minister Alex Salmond is an active foe of anti-Semitism. During the Leveson Inquiry into British media ethics, the SNP leader was asked on the witness stand whether he had ever contacted editors to object to their coverage of current affairs. Somewhat surprisingly, he revealed that he had written to the editors of two of Scotland’s leading newspapers to express concerns about anti-Semitic remarks which had appeared on the comment threads of their websites. This is by no means a common practice amongst people of Mr Salmond’s political standing.

Moreover, Scotland has rapidly growing hi-tech and medical technology sectors, areas where it would benefit from cooperation with Israel and the sharing of personnel and ideas. Politics may inflame the passions but economics pays the bills. Whatever objections an independent Scotland might have to Israeli government policy, there are few politicians seriously willing to hurt the Scottish economy just to make grandstanding statements about a conflict halfway around the world.

No one can predict the outcome of the referendum. The race is simply too close to call, with the current poll of polls standing at 51% for No and 49% for Yes. Scotland’s constitutional future might not be the talk of the world’s foreign ministries right now but if Scots vote for independence on Thursday, the impact could be felt far beyond our rolling hills and glens.

Originally published in MidaFeature image © Nicholas Mutton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

A referendum debate that showed us at our best

STV’s Tuesday night town hall debate came down to a tie — a multicoloured disco-sticks number sported by moderator Bernard Ponsonby.

The broadcaster is respected for his inscrutable neutrality and the distinctive neckwear was the one bold expression he allowed himself.

Of course a tie is just a tie — though it’s good to see Joseph’s Technicolor Dreamcoat being put to good use — but there was a subtle symbolism: This was Bernard’s debate and he was going to soak up every minute of it.

I have been working as a journalist for seven years; I am a mere infant in this business. But I can say with the arrogant honesty of youth that Bernard is the finest broadcaster I have ever had the honour of working with.

He is certainly the most accomplished political broadcaster in Scotland and perhaps even further afield, marrying policy heft and ruthless charm to dazzling, devastating effect. Part Robin Day, part Donald MacCormick, all Bernard.

It was entirely appropriate, therefore, that the STV political editor should have fronted the most civilised, elevating, and engaging debate of the long referendum campaign.

He was aided by a deftly crafted format that encouraged considered responses more than political point-scoring. No gladiatorial contest here; in place of volume there was substance.

Three representatives of Yes Scotland — Nicola Sturgeon, Patrick Harvie, and Elaine C Smith — and three from Better Together — Douglas Alexander, Ruth Davidson, and Kezia Dugdale — were asked to marshal their best arguments on the economy, social justice, and foreign affairs.

The triumvirate of Unionist politicians stepped onto the stage against the backdrop of a YouGov poll putting the No vote ahead by just six points. If that figure had put the frighteners on them, they did not show it.

Douglas Alexander, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, was calm, plausible, and at several points had Nicola Sturgeon on the ropes over currency and the redistributionist potential of the Union.

Kezia Dugdale, the party’s shadow education secretary in the Scottish Parliament, will have been a new face to many viewers. She started nervously and talked too quickly but finally got into her stride with a sustained assault on the SNP’s ideological left-right acrobatics on policies like college places and the living wage. Expect to see more of her in the final two weeks of the campaign and in the Scottish Labour Party in the years to come.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson stumbled when grilled on Trident — she made the military rather than economic case for the nuclear deterrent — but recovered with some very moving words about the UK’s armed forces and sharp answers on the question of an independent Scotland’s relationship with the European Union. Where she excelled, though, was in a pitch-perfect closing statement. Here was a Tory politician speaking passionately and patriotically about Scotland, one prepared to serve her country whatever the outcome a fortnight from now.

The Scottish Conservatives still have a steep hill to scale if they are to win back Middle Scotland but after last night there might be more than a few people willing to listen to the Tories for the first time in years — or ever.

The SNP’s champion debater, deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon, put in a solid performance by turning down the volume after the first few questions. She had prepared for a knife fight but found herself in the middle of a much more measured conversation. With this initial wobble behind her, she held her own against Douglas Alexander, if not trouncing him as comprehensively as she has almost every other Unionist politician unfortunate enough to find themselves opposite her in a debate.

Kezia Dugdale was the star of the programme but Sturgeon commanded the stage with confidence and authority. She will make a strong First Minister when her time comes.

The other Yes speakers were a mixed bag. As expected, Elaine C Smith took the populist route that is always the safest for a non-politician in these situations. This paid off in places; her stark quotation of life expectancy statistics for Glasgow was the most arresting moment of the night. Yes voters were certainly roused by her but I’m not convinced that undecideds will have see it that way. For every voter with whom her folksy bromides connected, there will have been another who found her “och aye” platitudes inane and her evasiveness on corporation tax disingenuous. You can play the politician or the punter but you can’t play both.

The infuriatingly likeable Patrick Harvie, co-convener of the Scottish Greens, was affable but veered too far to the left for some of the audience. His principled denunciations of nuclear weapons and militarism were heartfelt but predictable, nothing you hadn’t heard before through a megaphone outside Tesco on a Saturday afternoon. Trident was “psychopathic” and yet more children were set to be “slaughtered” by it, an image thrown around with unseemly regulatory by sincere if excitable unilateralists. Harvie is a nuanced thinker who sometimes allows his positions to be caricatured by his own rhetoric.

Striking above all else was the calibre of the audience. Informed and insightful, this was a politicised populace holding its leaders to account. Hands shot up throughout the programme to enquire about the Barnett Formula, local government funding, and Sir Ian Wood’s oil revenue projections. Even the most cynical political journalist could not fail to be impressed by this level of engagement in the democratic process. The greatest threat to governments and the vested interests who exert influence over them is an informed and active citizenry. However the votes fall on September 18, it is hard to see how this wellspring of social awareness can be put back in the box.

Absent from this debate, as from all the others, is any indication that either side recognises and is prepared to address the crisis in public finances, the fiscal morass of debt, or the affordability of pensions with an ageing population. These are questions which can be dodged but not evaded and their omission is a disservice to an otherwise vital and comprehensive national conversation.

That is a point that can be returned to in the coming days. For now, we should congratulate ourselves and, yes, even some of our politicians, on the quality and substance of Scotland’s great debate.

Originally published on STV NewsFeature image © flash.pro by Creative Commons 2.0.

The final ever TV debate drinking game. We promise. Maybe.

Another week, another debate.

What these people still have left to disagree about is beyond me.

Alistair Darling has conceded that an independent Scotland could use the pound without a currency union.

And the Scottish Government agrees with its UK counterpart so much that it wants to share the currency, central bank, monarchy, welfare system and the timeshare in Pensacola.

Tonight’s Scotland Decides debate, which airs on STV between 8pm and 10pm, will be a Salmond and Darling free zone, a crushing blow to fans of finger-pointing and creative oil projections.

Instead, STV’s political editor Bernard Ponsonby — or “The Notorious Bernie P” as he makes us call him — will moderate a town hall discussion between three representatives from Yes Scotland (Nicola Sturgeon, Patrick Harvie and Elaine C Smith) and three from Better Together (Douglas Alexander, Ruth Davidson and Kezia Dugdale).

An audience of 350 voters will be on hand to ask questions but only after they’ve finished their cereal.

Since the debate lasts roughly 56 hours, we have provided you with another (last one, we promise) referendum debate drinking game.

So, put the kids out, send the cat to bed, and get a bottle of your favourite tipple to hand.

image.jpg

Originally published on STV NewsFeature image © Edwin Land by Creative Commons 2.0.

Salmond bested Darling but faces race against time to win voters

We join this movie at its climax.

Our hero and his nemesis — we leave you to decide which is which — have just duked it out in a fast-paced, stylishly edited fight scene and return, bloody-faced and scraped-knuckled, to their respective lairs.

A power-pop montage with 80s synthesisers as they pound steps, leap over walls, and thump punching bags, training for the impending final showdown.

Cut to the clockface on the bomb: It’s still ticking, and fast approaching zero.

The music picks up. The camera closes in on the war-beaten faces of our leads; steely determination gleams in their eyes. Who will get there quickly enough to cut the red wire? It’s a race against time.

That is the situation facing Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling. The First Minister dominated most of the second televised debate against the head of the No campaign. He was confident, engaging, assertive, and utterly merciless in his assault on Darling. A sharper contrast to his sluggish turn in the first debate would be hard to imagine. Here was a rare sequel where an A-list performer replaced a lesser actor.

This was the Alex Salmond of two stonking election victories. The booming-voiced vanquisher of every foe at First Minister’s Questions. The pitch-perfect populist with an uncanny knack for being offended on behalf of every last person in Scotland. If your vote on September 18 will be influenced by strength, confidence, and leadership, Salmond hit the trifecta last night.

Darling, by contrast, was hesitant, stammering, and equally unrecognisable from his first debate performance. He radiated all the emotional appeal of a toaster and at times the audience seemed sincerely hostile towards him. One felt he could have promised to make chocolate taste twice as good at half the fat content and still have been heckled.

The snap Guardian/ICM poll afterwards handed a blockbuster blow-out to the Nationalist leader. Seventy-one per cent deemed him the winner compared to just 29% for his Labour MP opponent. This was a far more resounding triumph than Darling’s 56% to 44% defeat of Salmond in the August 5 STV debate.

What was the No Thanks campaign chief’s worst moment? There are almost too many to choose from but his mishandling of his trump card – currency – stood out.

Darling’s statement that an independent Scotland could use the pound will be press released by the Yes campaign from now until polling day. His broader point, that to do so without a currency union would leave an independent Scotland with no control over its interest rates and no lender of last resort, will be left off the poster quotes.

If Salmond has neutralised the currency issue – his weakest point – it will be thanks to an unforced error by Darling, one the former Chancellor may come sorely to regret. His frustration will only be magnified by the fact that nothing has changed on the substance of the currency question, merely its effectiveness as a wedge issue with undecided voters.

Can Better Together take any positives from the debate? Only two. First, Salmond failed repeatedly to explain how an independent Scotland would plug the £6bn fiscal black hole projected by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Second, the independence campaign figurehead was subdued when quizzed by an audience member on the impact on jobs of waving Trident submarines down the Clyde.


Intermission, and a tense scene that should give us all pause.

Darling, the one-time Trotskyist, was assailed by an audience member for selling out his socialist principles. What, she demanded to know, would Aneurin Bevan think of him? Darling inexplicably struggled to respond to her onslaught. He could have parried that it was Bevan himself who said the “language of priorities” was “the religion of socialism”.

He could have rhymed off Labour’s introduction of the minimum wage, investment in public services, economic growth, and job creation – to say nothing of the advance in LGBT rights, humanitarian intervention in Sierra Leone, and, of course, the creation of the Scottish Parliament.

That he could manage none of this speaks to larger problems than Darling’s debating skills. It signals an emotionally shattered Scottish Labour Party which has finally come to terms with its 2007 defeat to the SNP but cannot quite muster the confidence to pick itself up again.

Regardless of the referendum result, Scottish Labour has much soul-searching and a power of rebuilding still to do before it can present itself as an alternative government to the Nationalists. Unfortunately for Johann Lamont’s party, Labour has always expressed a greater preference for the former than the latter.

However, the audience member’s question throws up an equal challenge to the SNP, that New-Labour-in-denial party of Scottish politics. The SNP has always been an ideological chameleon, changing its socio-economic colours to suit the fashions of the day, but its triangulations now rival Tony Blair at his poll-obsessed, focus-grouping, Middle England-pandering zenith.

It is the party of Jamie Hepburn and of Fergus Ewing, of no nukes and no wars but safeguarding military jobs on the Clyde, of welfare caps and welfare-reform-is-beastly, of public investment and of council tax freezes, of sexual tolerance and of Sir Brian Souter, of republicanism and of monarchism, of egalitarianism and of corporation tax cuts, of Stiglitz and of sterlingisation, of drill-baby-drill and of wind-powered Mother Earthism. A church so broad it risks becoming non-denominational except on the fundamental doctrine of independence.

At some point, there will be a reckoning. That point will be hastened by one of two things: a Yes vote or a comfortable No vote, either of which would lance the independence boil. A narrow defeat for the pro-independence movement will only postpone the inevitable ideological introspection that awaits the Nationalists.


Those, however, are concerns for another day. Salmond has reminded those foolish enough to forget the first rule of Scottish politics: Underestimate Alex Salmond at your peril. He alone will not carry the Yes campaign over the finish line – keep chapping those doors and registering those voters, Radical Independence – but he will have delivered a much-needed morale boost to the troops.

What of the voters, though? Before STV’s August 5 debate, John Curtice’s poll of polls had Yes on 43% and No on 57% when Don’t Knows were excluded. Anyone want to guess Professor Curtice’s most recent tally? You guessed it. Yes 43%, No 57%.

There are just three weeks to go until Scotland votes. A week may be a long time in politics but three weeks is a passing moment in public opinion formation. Now that he has the attention of undecided voters, Salmond must talk to them, woo them, ease them into the polling booth and coax their pencil over to the Yes column on referendum day.

The naysayers – and nawsayers – may be right that debates do not significantly shift public attitudes. But the Yes campaign might not need a significant shift. A few points could make the race close enough that turnout makes all the difference and few doubt that Yes voters are more motivated and determined than No voters or those still to make up their minds. If that scenario plays out, this referendum is going to be excruciatingly close.

The clock is still ticking, the music throbbing faster. The end credits are only a few scenes away. Our leading men are running full tilt in pursuit of those remaining uncommitted voters. When all fades to black on September 18, neither side wants to be left wishing it had done more to win over the audience.

Originally published on STV NewsFeature image © Scottish Government by Creative Commons 2.0.

Salmond vs Darling debate is chance to win undecideds

This is it.

Rarely do you get a second chance in politics but Alex Salmond gets one tonight in the BBC’s referendum debate with Alistair Darling.

Of course, Salmond is a man accustomed to overcoming tough odds. He is leader (for the second time) of a party which once expelled him for left-wing agitation. In 2007, he ended one-party rule in a country where voting Labour had become a national religion. And in 2011, he defied political gravity by taking the SNP into majority government despite an electoral system designed to engineer coalitions.

But this evening’s Scotland Decides showdown, which airs in Scotland on BBC One from 8.30pm until 10pm, will be more than the First Minister’s second chance. It will likely be his last chance to win over those voters who will decide the outcome of the referendum, namely women and traditional Labour voters.

STV’s September 2 town hall debate will make for exciting theatre, and there will be some wavering electors still up for grabs, but a sea change in public opinion needs time to embed itself in the popular consciousness. That means people sharing clips and memes on social media, journalists writing about the shifts in public opinion, and broadcasters reporting the impact on the polls.

In short, undecided voters have to be assured that others share their thoughts and feelings. Peer pressure isn’t just for the playground.

Although his spin doctors will not admit it in public, Salmond lost the first debate to an unexpectedly confident and forceful Alistair Darling. The former Chancellor hounded the First Minister over currency, demanding that he outline a Plan B after the three main parties in the House of Commons ruled out a sterling union with an independent Scotland.

The SNP leader’s refusal to do so, despite his fiscal commission working group having sketched out a number of fall-back options, brought us an unfamiliar sight in Scottish politics: Likeable, populist, in-it-for-Scotland Alex Salmond being booed by voters.

The Nationalist chief will go to every length to avoid a repeat of those scenes tonight. There will be no flippant, time-wasting questions about which side of the road we would drive on or what would happen to the pandas if we vote Yes. He will not allow himself to be cast as Fox Mulder to Darling’s unbelieving Dana Scully with a question on little green men. The truth can stay out there tonight.

The last few weeks have seen the Yes campaign abandon its shiny happy people strategy in favour of the Chicken Little approach. The sky is falling, or will fall, on the NHS if Scotland votes to remain in the United Kingdom.

This line is premised on the assumption that NHS spending cuts in England (which none of the three main parties at Westminster advocates) would force cuts in Scotland’s devolved health service (the budget for which is decided by the Scottish Government but comes out of a block grant from Westminster that is tied to UK spending).

The merits of this claim are debatable but no more so than Better Together’s insistence that an independent Scotland could not use the pound. (It could, either in a currency union agreed in exchange for a big-ticket item like keeping Trident on the Clyde or through sterlingisation, whereby Scotland would use the UK’s currency in much the same way Panama uses the US dollar and does just nicely, thank you very much.)

Who’s right and who’s wrong, that quaint old notion, isn’t really the point. This is now a campaign of two Projects Fear. Vote Yes and lose the pound. Vote No and lose your doctor. Salmond and Darling will not replace the names Lincoln and Douglas in the annals of elevating political debate.

Fear works. The object for the two men is not so much to refute the other’s charges as it is to scare undecided and soft Yes and No voters over to their side. We will hear the word “risk” a good deal tonight from both men. Salmond will tell us a No vote risks leaving Scotland’s NHS vulnerable to cuts from George Osborne, whom the Yes campaign has reimagined as a scalpel-wielding Thatcherite bogeyman.

Staying in the UK, he is likely to warn, also risks our place in Europe, should David Cameron’s promised referendum on membership of the EU be won by the forces of Euroscepticism. Other risk factors to listen out for: Tory majority government, Ukip, and tuition fees.

Au contraire, Darling will retort. The only risks are those we face if we vote for independence, or “separation” to use his preferred term. “Separation” will put our economy, our jobs, the very pound in our pocket under threat. A Yes vote, he will insist, is a vote to leave the EU and try to renegotiate our way in from the outside — and the same goes for Nato.

Volatile North Sea revenues are a risk. Removing Trident is a risk to the defence industry. Cutting taxes for big business is a risk to public services. And how will we fund the pension pot for our older citizens?

Salmond’s task, as Wings over Scotland’s Stuart Campbell astutely notes, is to corner Darling into pleading with voters to trust that the Tories won’t cut the NHS in England. (In government, the Conservatives have actually ringfenced health spending but that fact will get short shrift amongst Cameron-averse Scottish voters.) If Darling falls into this trap, he will hand the Yes campaign an eleventh-hour gift.

For Darling, the aim is to force the First Minister to concede a Plan B on currency — then mercilessly attack whatever it is. If it’s the euro, prepare for a gruesome retelling of the eurozone crisis, A Nightmare on Merkel Street. If sterlingisation, get ready for “Panama Pound” and snipes at its principal pushers: the right-wing Adam Smith Institute.

None of this will be particularly edifying and the raised stakes and ticking clock are bound to make this debate even sharper than the first. Some exchanges will be fiery, others downright belligerent. The future of a country — of four countries, really — hangs in the balance.

Welcome to 23 days to go until Scotland votes. There are no more chances. This is it.

Originally published on STV News.

Against complacency and despondency after referendum debate

Pitfalls of media groupthink, example no. 486.

Going into STV’s live referendum debate, most journalists and commentators – this observer included – expected a clear victory for Alex Salmond.

If Alistair Darling could hope for anything, it would be a close fight or a draw.

Mr Salmond was a warm, engaging populist who never let nuance get in the way of a nice bit of demagoguery. Mr Darling, meanwhile, was a bit standoffish, somewhat robotic, and would struggle to connect with the audience.

However, Mr Darling had one big gun and he fired it. Repeatedly. The First Minister’s insistence that an independent Scotland would share a currency with the rest of the UK, despite the Conservatives, Labour, and Liberal Democrats all ruling it out, has long been perceived by the No campaign as his greatest weakness.

Who better than a former Chancellor of the Exchequer to grill the SNP leader on his Plan B if a currency union proved to be a non-starter.

Darling went in hard on sterling and never really let up. Yes, Mr Salmond wanted a currency union but what if, as the Unionist parties insist, he couldn’t get one? What was his back-up plan? His fiscal commission working group had laid out a series of options. Which did he prefer?

The First Minister stuck to his line, insisting there would be a currency union.

“We will keep the pound Alistair because it is our pound as well as England’s pound,” he maintained. “It’s logical and desirable to have a currency union because England is Scotland’s biggest export market and Scotland is England’s second biggest export market. This is Scotland’s pound, it doesn’t belong to George Osborne, it doesn’t belong to you; it’s been built up by the people of Scotland over a long period of time.”

But Mr Darling kept jabbing away with the same question: What was Plan B and when would it be revealed to the public? In doing so, he turned himself into the voice of the voters, demanding answers on their behalf. Few could have expected him to pull off such an unlikely feat going into the debate.

And then he came to his most effective line and also the line of the night: “Any eight-year-old can tell you the flag of a country, the capital of a country and its currency. I presume the flag is the saltire, I assume our capital will still be Edinburgh, but you can’t tell us what currency we will have. What is an eight-year-old going to make of that?”

Things got worse for Mr Salmond when he chose to challenge the Better Together boss on some of the more outlandish claims about the downsides of independence, including which side of the road Scots would drive on, how vulnerable we would be to outer space threats, and what would happen to the Edinburgh Zoo pandas.

It was to be a self-inflicted wound because instead of painting the No campaign as a turbo-charged production line of scare stories, Mr Salmond’s questions made it seem like he was making light of the debate. Trite jibes are not the stuff of leaders, especially those asking a wary public to vote for an historic constitutional change.

Afterwards, Yes-inclined commentators managed only half-hearted defences of the First Minister, if they essayed them at all. Mr Salmond’s spin doctors persevered valiantly from behind ashen faces. The First Minister’s driving-alien-pandas stream of consciousness was “building up to something”, they insisted, which raises the unnerving possibility that only the constraints of time saved us from a soliloquy on EastEnders as a shared asset.

(If Mr Salmond really wanted to air his grievances about “Project Fear”, he might have gained more traction by interrogating claims that organ donations or a million jobs would be at risk after a Yes vote. Those charges, made by senior figures in the No campaign, could not have been so easily laughed off.)

This is not to say Mr Darling had things all his own way. The First Minister made handy work of the exchanges on Scotland’s EU membership after a Yes vote and left the Labour MP visibly rattled on the question of whether he believed an independent Scotland could be a success story. One audience member put him under pressure over Scotland’s contributions to the UK kitty and how much we get back out.

Unfortunately, this was overshadowed by another audience member who demanded sharply if Mr Darling, MP for Edinburgh South West, had an address in Scotland. He explained that he did but the subtext of the query was hardly indiscernible and its innuendo left an unpleasant aftertaste.

All the same, while the Unionist figurehead’s handlers deserve credit for preparing their man to exceed the expectations of the commentariat so audaciously, they might want to reflect on the tone of his contributions to the programme. Here, once again, was Alistair Darling as Mr No: Naw ye cannae, naw ye shouldnae, naw ye wullnae.

No Thanks continues to struggle with the vision thing. It’s too late to fix that now and they will have to hope they can get by without it. The polls are still to their advantage, a fact for which the Better Together campaign does not get enough credit. Maintaining a consistent poll lead with a popular First Minister on the other side and a despised Prime Minister on yours is no small potatoes. Complacency, however, is a very real danger and their efforts have to narrow now to solidifying their poll standing and preparing their get-out-the-vote operation.

A snap poll conducted by ICM for The Guardian saw 56% of voters declaring Mr Darling the winner against 44% for Mr Salmond. Wings over Scotland makes some worthwhile points about the responses from undecided voters but the samples are so tiny in these categories that it’s hard to extract much in the way of useful information. It is also fair to note that the split in opinion roughly reflects the division over the referendum question itself, so embedded voting intentions could have determined people’s responses.

Only a fool would begin writing Alex Salmond’s political obituary. As even the First Minister’s most vehement opponents will admit in private, he is the most skilled and capable Scottish politician of his generation. He has a personal touch that appeals to voters who hold every other politician on the scene in contempt. His inner circle is home to some of the canniest political strategists anywhere in the UK. Expect him to come back in the next debate, and come back hard.

There is a salutary lesson here for the pro-independence movement. Yes campaigners rightly berate the media for emphasising Alex Salmond’s role in the constitutional debate. An outsider might be forgiven for wondering if the ballot paper on September 18 will ask, “Do you want Alex Salmond to be King of Scotland forever and ever and ever?” Yes activists, even those affiliated to the SNP, have stressed that the campaign is about much more than one man.

It would seem that some have given in to the very temptation they warned against, elevating the First Minister to Yes-campaigner-in-chief. And, after putting their faith in Mr Salmond, he appears not to have delivered. This can be cause for despondency and bitter infighting. Or it can serve as a wake-up call to supporters of independence. They can gripe on Twitter about the First Minister’s failings or the wicked ways of the mainstream media, or they can redouble their efforts.

Alex Salmond was never going to win this referendum on his own. It was always going to take an entire movement to bring the public around to the idea of leaving the UK. One thing Yes Scotland is not wanting for is activists. It boasts an army of volunteers who chap doors, hand out leaflets, attend public meetings, and spread the word to family and friends. The polls are not yet where the Yes side needs them to be but if they remain that way on referendum day, those who surrendered into a dejected funk with six weeks to go will have no grounds to blame Alex Salmond for the result.

Overall, the most illuminating moments of the programme were the audience interactions. After two years of questions and answers mediated almost exclusively by journalists, the middle man stepped aside for the bulk of STV’s referendum showdown. The audience, composed of Yes, No, and undecided voters, put their questions to the First Minister and the leader of the No Thanks campaign.

And they were impressive. The local-addresses-for-local-people questioner aside, STV’s cross-section of voters acquitted themselves with grace and intelligence, reminding those who often forget that ordinary voters can have more acute insights into social and political issues than the professional political and media classes.

The next debate is tentatively scheduled for August 25 and will be broadcast by BBC Scotland. It is an opportunity for Mr Salmond to redeem himself or Mr Darling to shine again. But with any luck the format will mirror STV’s in putting the voters in the driving seat of this debate where they belong.

Originally published on STV NewsFeature image © Financial Times by Creative Commons 2.0.

The Team Scotland tartan, the Scottish cringe and the indyref

Couldn’t they just go back to blowing up blocks of flats?

The Team Scotland parade uniforms for the Commonwealth Games were unveiled on Sunday and confirmed Glasgow’s determination to win gold in the neck-reddening category.

First Glasgow 2014 proposed an uplifting opening ceremony in which the Red Road flats would be blown to smithereens; now Commonwealth Games Scotland wants to kit out our athletes in apparel so gaudy it would make Dame Edna Everage blanch.

The shirts and dresses are not blue, not quite lapis lazuli, but the psycho-cerulean hue of a particularly vivid Smurfs doll. The kilts and shawls carry an amber, fuchsia, and aquamarine tartan, a curious mixture of the psychedelic and the twee. This is what the Sixties must have looked like in Ecclefechan.

These are paired with knee-high socks with a distinct shade of burnt caramel. Somewhere in Auchterarder, a tea room is missing its curtains.

Is this the best Scottish fashion has to offer? Not by a long shot. Our designers are gaining world renown amid a renaissance in Scottish style. Christopher Kane, Niki Taylor, and Jonathan Saunders are names held in esteem in London, Paris, and New York.

Instead we get these outfits, which look like the flight attendant uniforms for a Jimmy Shand-themed airline. “If you look out the left side of the plane, you’ll be able to see Brigadoon.”

Twitter was less than enthusiastic about this sartorial sacrilege.

https://twitter.com/LeckieBill/status/485826839794180098

Designer Jilli Blackwood is undoubtedly a talented artist. Her work has been displayed at the National Museums of Scotland, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, and St Andrew’s House — not to mention in the United States, Spain, and India.

Commissioned artists have briefs to meet and Ms Blackwood’s brief called for “a parade uniform that was high on impact and made a real statement, but also had a contemporary feel”. She can hardly be blamed for delivering what she was asked for.

And when she says “[t]here will be no mistaking that this is the Scottish Team as they proudly step out at the opening ceremony,” we feel we must agree.

The backlash is against the design, not the designer, but it’s also about something else. It’s a reaction against a certain mindset amongst the professional class of events managers and marketing gurus paid to promote Brand Scotland.

These consultants are well-intentioned, and not lacking for skill in their area of expertise. Rather, it’s their vision that’s limited.

Welcome to Scotland 2014. We are a diverse, modern, culturally rich society. We are in the middle of an historic national conversation about our identity and our future. We have National Collective and Yestival imagining the early days of a better nation. A revolution is taking place within Unionism and even the most reluctant of devolutionists are thinking the unthinkable about Scotland’s constitutional future.

Scotland is on the move. And yet, if the Commonwealth Games are to be believed, our culture is still trapped inside the shortbread tin. The White Heather Club plays on loop.

Commonwealth Games Scotland chief executive Jon Doig says: “We wanted a parade uniform that had a bold and confident look, but which still retained the iconic Scottish elements of the kilt and unique Games tartan.” When confidence demands cliche and the iconic is indistinguishable from kitsch, we should aspire to be neither confident nor iconic.

That is why Team Scotland’s Kailyard couture has struck a nerve. This is not a function of the Scottish cringe but a reaction against that corrosive self-deprecation passing as a virtue. We are shaking off the inculcated inferiority of don’t raise your hand, don’t stand out, just keep your head down; that artsy stuff is not for the likes of us. The och, wheesht and parental skelp that greeted so much embarrassing creativity in our childhood, locked our history and our literature out of our school curriculum for generations, and institutionalised the furrowed brow as our national facial expression.

No more. Scotland is, in the words of National Collective, “getting ideas above its station”. We are raising our heads, unfurrowing that brow, unchaining our imaginations. This renewed cultural and political confidence is surging through our town hall debates, in the art that we create, in our pub conversations about the referendum. The old volcanoes are rumbling beneath our feet, no one else’s.

This should not be confused with political nationalism. The new Confident Scots are not necessarily Yes voters and many see Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom as perfectly consistent with national self-expression. Our nation and our culture are about larger, more complex things than a cross on a ballot paper on September 18.

Winnie Ewing’s battlecry, “Stop the world; Scotland wants to get on,” no longer belongs just to the independence movement. Come Yes or come No, a proud Scottish identity has been awakened, one that will not settle for the banalities of shortbread chic.

Originally published on STV News. Feature image © Thomas Nugent and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Eyal, Gilad and Naftali — a response

How should Israel respond to the brutal murder of three schoolboys?

“Proportionately,” The World says. “With restraint.” As if it is the hallmark of a civilised society that it views coolly and dispassionately the slaughter of its young.

“They were illegal settlers,” say the fellow-travellers with Palestinian rejectionism. “They shouldn’t have been there in the first place.” Jews are unlawful interlopers in Judea and Samaria, the cradle of Jewish history. The teenagers invited their savage demise by failing to acquiesce in the ethnic cleansing of the Jews from the heart of their homeland.

“Work with the Palestinian Authority to bring the killers to justice,” says the Left. As if the PA really exists outside a smattering of heavily guarded buildings in Ramallah. Hamas may have done the bloody deed but let us not pretend that Hamas alone found joy in the destruction of Jewish lives.

“Kill the killers,” says the Right. “Or throw them in jail.” As if jihadists are a finite resource in Palestinian society. As if they would not be replaced tomorrow by younger, fierier shahids. As if a few more Palestinian funerals will even the score, solve the problem. Throw them in jail? Of course. Now, guarantee me they won’t be freed in the next round of terrorist releases.

I don’t know how Israel should respond. All I know is this: My heart aches for those boys, for their parents and loved-ones, for every friend they have been snatched from. Ha’makom yenahem etkhem betokh she’ar avelei Tziyon vi’Yerushalayim.

My heart aches that Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel will never again join a minyan, never again strap on tefillin, never again listen to their fathers recite kiddush on Shabbat, never grow up to have children who will listen to them recite kiddush. Baruch dayan ha-emet. 

Tonight I feel a burning, righteous rage. Raid. Bomb. Annex Judea and Samaria. Hashem yikom damam. Tomorrow I will be calmer and the next day calmer still. But is calmness a virtue? Should we not be angry? Maybe the Zahal is the only solution. Maybe the only way yeshiva students can walk safely in Alon Shvut, Kedumim, and Revava is if an Israeli flag flies over Nablus, Qalqilya, and Jenin.

I will leave these questions to the politicians for now. My own response? Revenge may be the prerogative of G-d but there is a justice that men can exact: To go on living, building, praying, raising families, and sending boys to yeshiva. In short, be Jewish. Ela sheb’chol dor va-dor omdim aleinu lechaloteinu; v’ha-kadosh baruch hu matzilenu miyadam. 

Remember, survive, flourish. Pray for Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali z”l and hold their families in your heart.