Tag Archives: Independence

To J.K. Rowling, I apologise



This article is essentially an apology to J.K. Rowling, for the behaviour of a few small-minded, intolerable morons. Without their views and apparent idiocy both the debate surrounding the independence referendum and Scottish society would certainly be a better one.

In her much needed and eloquently written defence of a No vote in the forthcoming independence referendum, J.K Rowling uses terminology from her best-selling Harry Potter series. The author refers to a lunatic fringe of Yes supporters – whom operate mostly behind the anonymity of social media – and describes their ideals of ethnic nationalism “a little Death-Eaterish”.

This is most certainly an accurate description, as their presence online, a space usually reserved for the best kind of grassroots campaigning in support of a Yes vote, most certainly does drain the enthusiasm and happiness out of a keenly argued, intellectual debate about Scotland’s future and how we can hopefully improve it regardless of the decisions made on the 18th of September.

Their company is unwanted by the vast majority of Yes voters I have encountered either in person or online for two reasons: their views are morally redundant both within and outside of the context of the independence debate; and their brand of technological vigilantism is hurtfully unrepresentative of the official and unofficial Yes campaigns.

The fact that the “London-centric media that can be careless and dismissive in its treatment of Scotland”  – to which Rowling also refers in her epistle – is only too eager to display this rogue minority of Yes voters as the face of the campaign is another issue for another article. Indeed one journalist described these troglodytes as “blood and soil nationalists”. The said journalist was hopefully unaware that blood and soil nationalism was Nazi Germany’s pet name for the land laws which prevented Jews from owning, working or ‘poisoning’ German soil or blood.

Another quote from a Scottish author has been used in defence of the accusations put at the Yes campaigns doorstep regarding the ethnic nationalism of the bullies targeting – most prominently, but definitely not exclusively – J.K. Rowling; namely William McIlvanney’s declaration that Scotland is proudly a “mongrel nation”. This strikes a far louder chord with the Yes campaign I am familiar with; the Yes campaign of Radical Independence and National Collective, of Green Yes and Women for Independence, Africans for Yes, Academics for Yes and Generation Yes. Collectively, these organisations represent the mongrel nature of the Yes campaign, and one which contradicts the ethnic nationalism of a noisy minority.

To borrow my own choice of Harry Potter terminology, this collection of Yes campaigners represent almost all groups within Scotland’s mudblood society, a society which, excepting an unwelcome and unwelcoming few, accepts all with one condition: that they have the best intentions for all. Scotland has been described as having embedded in its national consciousness a “fierce egalitarian streak.” This trait is the same one which helped JK Rowling when she was a single mother writing fantasy books in an Edinburgh cafe. This is the trait that explains why the vast majority of our society cared not whether she was “born in the West Country and grew up in the Welsh border” with a mix of Scottish, English, French and Flemish ancestry. This is also the characteristic inherent in most individuals in our society, and especially in the grassroots Yes campaign, which champions the drive for a debate centred on civil nationalism – a case vividly argued for by National Collective’s Mairi McFadyen in her open letter to J.K. Rowling.

It is this civil nationalism that has prompted me to intend to vote Yes. The message it stresses is as simple as it is profound, democratic, and – sadly – all too rare: In an independent Scotland everyone will be given a chance – a fair chance. 

Words by Daniel Reuben Comiskey 

Photo by Daniel Ogren


The Cold War didn’t end when one side declared ‘victory’

Credit: Jeroen Elfferich

CONGRATULATIONS TO EVERYONE now realising that the Cold War never ended.

To see any ‘cold war’ in the new chapter of Russo-West relations currently unfolding in Ukraine might seem overly simple and alarmist.  Certainly there are some lazy journalists and commentators for whom this is just standard operating procedure.  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true – the Cold War is alive and well.

The real lazy journalism is what has filled the self-indulgent, self-congratulatory interim period of the 1990s and 2000s, where we revelled in the ‘defeat’ of communism.


Russia had to withdraw when communism fell.  It needed to regroup and reform.  Even as late as 1998 the former Soviet Union defaulted on its debt, and saw the ruble collapse.  There was a lot of mess to sort out.  A lazy journalist might make some loose, throwaway comparison to Weimar Germany here.

Yes, Russia has changed – but haven’t we all.  Change, reform, metamorphosis – none of it precludes the persistence of much older, broader geopolitical realities.  Well-worn battle lines and worldviews are not so easily redrawn as the front-of-house political scenery.

The ideologies might not appear so extreme, but the spoils of victory are little different just because the battleground has shifted

The current upheaval in Ukraine has obscured the economic developments that immediately preceded it.  Russia already had a very cosy agreement with Ukraine in terms of natural resources, not least of all in the gas industry.

Moscow wanted Ukraine to go further and join its ‘Customs Union’ along with Belarus and Kazakhstan, but the EU was offering an effective free-trade deal as well.  The two options were mutually exclusive because, with neither Belarus or Kazakhstan members of the World Trade Organisation, the EU deal would not permit Ukraine’s participation in the Customs Union.

Spheres of influence

Now look at how the two sides are bidding to be Ukraine’s administrators as it looks to recover from both pre- and post-Maidan economic distress.

Credit: Jose Luis OrihuelaRussia offered a $15 billion bailout last November, with even cheaper natural gas into the bargain.  The West has since bid higher, sniffing a chance to redeem the market they gave up as lost last year, when former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich chose to favour ties with Russia.  The International Monetary Fund bailout currently under discussion is worth between $14 billion and $18 billion, with promises of up to $10 billion more from individual countries.

So do we see those two sizeable spheres of influence emerging from that narrative?  This current economic back-and-forth falls squarely within the tradition of the Monroe Doctrine and the conflicting US and USSR post-Second World War recovery programmes – the Marshall Plan and the Molotov Plan respectively.

Two power blocs are tugging and cajoling the periphery states that lie between them, trying to establish a stable protective buffer zone.  The ideologies involved might not appear so extreme or polarised as in past decades, but the spoils of victory are little different just because the battleground has shifted.

$15 billion is $15 billion

It would also be foolish at this juncture to indulge in our go-to dichotomy of a big, bad imperialist Russia acting against the benevolent, charitable West.

Sadly it doesn’t work like that.  As the IMF gears up for its tried-and-tested austerity routine – making its cheap loans to Ukraine conditional to all manner of painful measures – you won’t hear too many endorsements ringing out from the European countries who have recently entered similar bargains.  Ultimately, $15 billion is $15 billion – whoever is loaning it to you.

There are those that fear talking in terms of cold war. This is not an irrational fear.  Nobody wants a return to the days of maniacal, sleep-deprived war-hawks reaching for the big red button whenever anyone so much as sneezes near a missile site.  We cannot take decades of progress for granted, and guarding against regressive thinking is only prudent.

Credit: tonynetone [Flickr]Embrace

But selective sight is also a retrograde step.  It’s all very well telling ourselves that we have moved on but that’s irrelevant if the few people with their hands on the levers are not playing the same game.

Analysing the current formation of Russian political thought is an important venture for those in the West – the first step towards compromise and greater understanding.  Yet this can only work if begun from a position of honesty, with nobody kidding themselves as to the outlooks and intentions of either side.

As yet the old spheres of influence have not been broken down and neither side has ever made a true effort to embrace or even understand the other. In such circumstances, we have a long way to go before we can call time on the cold war.

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Words: Sean Gibson

Photo credits: top (Jeroen Elfferich); inset 1 (julochka); inset 2 (Jose Luis Orehuela); inset 3 (tonynetone).

Does the new east-west tension really have anything to do with the Cold War? Do economic alliances really constitute power blocs?How much closer to mutual understanding are Russia and the West in the 21st century?  Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.