Some people have been in touch to ask for transcripts of the podcasts for the hard of hearing. Unfortunately, this requires time that Andrew and myself don’t really have. Fortunately, Ed Coulson volunteered to do one for us and it is greatly appreciated.
Also, some of those who asked did it as anonymous or did not leave us with a contact so here is hoping this reaches them as well as those who did get leave a contact.
So below is the transcript for the episode he did which was episode 11 of the For A’ That podcast with Osama Saaed which you can find online here.
The text is below, click on the continuation page to see it all…
FOR A’ THAT EPISODE 11 – UNDER THE IRON FIST
It’s been a busy week by any standards in Scottish politics and in this week’s For A’ That Andrew, Osama Saeed and myself tried to get through as much as possible.
Firstly, we had a discussion about how the Independence show is going down in the media abroad. We then moved on to talk about the Section 30 debate this week, the pros and cons and having a constitutional debate now or later and what kind of constitution should we be aiming for.
We also found time to talk about the goings on at Glasgow City Council.
I hope you enjoy.
MUSIC – ANDY WILLIAMS ‘BORN FREE’ (STRING INTRO)
REMIXED EXCERPTS OVER MUSIC – ANAS SARWAR MP SPEAKING IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS: We have a majority SNP government in the Scottish parliament. That is not a democratic place in the conventional sense, as a dictatorship of one man sitting in Bute House who will do not what is in Scotland’s interest, but what is in his own or his party’s interest.
ANDY WILLIAMS: …Born free / as free as the wind blows / as free as the grass grows / Born free to follow your heart…
JEREMY PAXMAN: Only Robert Mugabe can rule Scotland.
AW: …Live free and beauty surrounds you / the world still astounds you / it’s time you look at a star…
JP: But how would an independent Scotland be different to Zimbabwe?
AW: …Stay free / where no walls divide you / you’re free as a roaring tide / so there’s no need to hide…
JP: Exactly what President Ahmadinejad wants.
AW: …Born free / and life is worth living / but only worth living / ‘cos you’re born free…
JP: We seem to have made such a bollocks of this United Kingdom
ALEX SALMOND: I think that’s a reasonable basis to start to be an independent country.
JP: I’m pissed off.
IAN DAVIDSON MP ON NEWSNIGHT SCOTLAND: Powers should be given to the Scottish parliament and the SNP should do as they wish. We understand that.
AW: …Stay free / where no walls divide you / you’re free as a roaring tide / so there’s no need to hide…
ID: We have the opportunity if we wish simply to hand over powers to the Scottish parliament.
AW: …Born free / and life is worth living / but only worth living / ‘cos you’re born free…
CHARLIE CHAPLIN – EXERPT FROM THE GREAT DICTATOR: Do not despair. The misery that is now upon is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die.
MUSIC FADES OUT
ANDREW TICKELL: Hello and welcome to this, Episode 11, of the For A’ That podcast. We’re joined today by the Head of Communications [Head of International and Media Relations] for Al Jazeera, and former SNP candidate Osama Saeed. How are you doing Osama? Thank you for coming on the podcast.
OSAMA SAEED: A pleasure, good to talk to you guys.
AT: And as ever we’re joined by Michael Greenwell and his menagerie of fertile and infertile animals. Michael, what’s the state of your cat’s womb today? I’m sure our readers are desperate to find out –
MICHAEL GREENWELL: She’s calmed down but we actually let her out for the first time ‘cos there’s other cats in the area and she’s gone mad, like 8 hours without coming back.
AT: I like it. I feel like my life is structured around your animals in various states of -INAUDIBLE- [LAUGHS] Well, this week we’ve got Osama on, and Osama’s got an interesting perspective, I think, from living – where exactly do you live, Osama, at the moment, when you’re in your job?
OS: I live in the capital city of Qatar, which is Doha, which is in the Arabian Peninsula.
AT: So I imagine that as I look outside and see the English snow that’s closed every shop and corner for today, that you’re looking out and surveying something rather more… scorched.
OS: [LAUGHS] Yes, you could say that, although the weather forecasts for the week just past and the week coming, the news reports are saying that the temperature has plummeted, plummeted, and we’ve been getting about sort of 20, 22 degrees this week. So, yeah, it’s a tough life.
AT: I can feel all the Glaswegians and Aberdonians throbbing with sympathy for your terrible situation.
MG: Have you never subscribed to the idea that the weather in Scotland makes life interesting, ‘cos you never know what’s coming next?
OS: No, I’d say it pretty predictable actually [LAUGHS], Michael. I mean, last time I was back in Scotland was July, and I was a little bit homesick before coming, about 6 weeks out, I was really looking forward to it. And I got off the plane, Glasgow airport, and it was raining. And it rained for 11 days solid, every single day. And, yeah, as soon as I got off the plane I was like, ‘I can’t be having this anymore.’
MG: The absolute best I’ve ever heard about that is that it’s because God likes us and he wants to water us and make us grow.
OS: Aw, that’s lovely.
AT: Though not very well reflected by the facts, yeah, that Scots are all quite short. I assume that the Dutch, the people that he must truly love, the Ents, are on the other side of the sea [LAUGHS]. But on that international theme, those of us who’ve been following this independence referendum debate will be seeing flashes and some signs of international interest and coverage of various developments: there was an article in the Wall Street Journal; there was recently a long, actually, and quite in-depth study on Spanish television about the whole phenomenon. Osama you’ve a perspective, with an interest in independence, but you’re based outside of the country, and with a very, increasingly prominent news organisation. What’s your feeling about the level of international interest that we’re seeing about the independence referendum so far?
OS: I think it’s definitely increasing, particularly after the Edinburgh Agreement. I mean there was kind of coverage around there but I think the level of understanding of the Scottish case isn’t there. I think when people look at other independence struggles and struggles for freedom, as was seen in the Middle East, people have an acute understanding of what’s being said on the street. And that really hasn’t come across from the Scottish perspective, is why are the Scottish people suddenly far more interested in independence than they ever have been. What are the underlying reasons for that, and what does it mean? And I think actually there needs to be more engagement with the international audience, because that’s gonna be critical I think in the lead up to the vote itself. You know, what is the international community gonna make of it, what do the Americans make of it, the Chinese, and so on. And that kind of thing will matter. And it will particularly matter if other countries express any kind of negative perception towards it. I mean obviously that will be exploited by the No camp. So it really is incumbent – and I don’t know what is actually happening, what the Scottish Government strategy is on reaching out to foreign governments, but I think there needs to be a heightened level of awareness of why Scots are seeking this and what it will mean to other countries as well.
AT: Yeah, and I think that’s interesting and Osama on the point you made there about engagement with foreign governments, I mean who do you envisage doing that engagement firstly, ‘cos obviously that’s a kind of thing which you could imagine that many foreign governments whose relations at present are primarily with the UK government might not really be up for, firstly. And secondly I suppose that there’s a problem for the SNP too about, well, what promises it can make, what policies it can adopt. I mean NATO is obviously a good example of where the SNP I think primarily for an external audience, an external governmental audience, changed its position on NATO, rather than for this having any great clamour on the streets of Scotland. I wonder just what you think about that, about the kind of quality of that engagement.
OS: Yeah I mean there is a structural disadvantage in the sense of there aren’t Scottish embassies around the world, so how do you do that? And you’ve also got a situation where I think, you know, you’re not gonna find the Scottish Government travelling around the world extensively like, say, someone like Hilary Clinton or William Hague. They get to travel extensively. I think there would be an outcry if Scottish ministers were seen to be doing that. So I think they’ve got to be innovative. I mean London’s a good meeting point for many cultures, all the embassies are there. That’s certainly a good starting point and you know I’m sure the Scottish Government are making efforts in that regard. But then using whatever opportunities, you have the STI all around the world, they provide very good opportunities for dialogue through trade. And it’ll be tough, but it requires work, but I think it is work that there needs to be put in.
AT: Michael I mean you’ve presumably been following the various stories, at least the anglophone, and I know you’ve got your Italian as well that you speak. What’s your impression of the kind of reception of this whole controversy into the international press and media?
MG: Well there’s some real problems of perception with it. If I can go a few years back, when I was in South Korea. I was there for a year. And everywhere you – everyone you met says, ‘Where are you from?’ And, OK, ‘Scotland’. And they go, ‘Oh, England!’ And you know this is not something people at home like to hear, but it’s true. And I taught them quite well though, so what I would do in that situation is I’d say ‘Where are you from?’ and they’d look at me as if I was mad and say, ‘Korea’ and I’d say, ‘Oh, Japan!’. [LAUGHS] And that didn’t go down that well, but they stopped doing it after that.
But like if you go to – I’ve been in Korea, I’ve been in Nepal, and if you look at it, there’s this problem of perception, some of it actually comes from maps. If you look at the world maps they have, it doesn’t say ‘Britain’ a lot of the time, it just says ‘England’. And they refer to the island of Britain as ‘England’. Also in China you find that, in Korea you find that, in Japan. So for a lot of –
AT: You find that in America too, don’t you? You often see in sort of American dramas, you quite often see ‘England’ being referenced for Britain.
MG: Yeah, and Scotland is part of England, and that’s the whole story. So I agree with Osama that we have to get out there in the international arena and say that, you know, Scotland is not part of England. So the way I try to explain it when I’m abroad is that you should think of the United Kingdom as a kind of more dysfunctional version of the European Union, with separate states – with separate nations with one state apparatus. But with the international media, there’s another little thing where a few countries are running positive stories about it, but one of them is Press TV, which is the Iranian government sort of mouthpiece, and I think a lot of that should be taken with a pinch of salt. Another one of those is the Argentinian, and another one of those is Russia Today. Now, it doesn’t take a genius to see that those three countries, to use the phrase that you used last week, all have a dog in this particular race. Do you think that – I’ll ask Osama that – do you think that some of the media organisations generally have an agenda in some kind of way, and do you think that this is going to play out where some media organisations are going to come out in support of it to suit a particular agenda or not?
OS: Um, as far as medias go, I mean they’ll respond to what leaders are saying. I mean I think by and large, with the exceptions actually you mentioned, outlets like Press TV obviously have a tighter editorial line from where they’re controlled. But generally it will come down to say, the Chinese leadership, you know, what will their view on it be? And I use the Chinese example because I know the Scottish Government have had a lot of relations with China over the years, which they’re continuing to cultivate. But it’s interesting the view, because I mean we get a lot of world leaders coming through my place of work, and I mean the overriding thing, I mean when I’m speaking with them and they find out I’m from Scotland, they do know there’s something going on. I mean, they don’t know much about it, I mean the initial reaction is always, ‘Well, can you guys afford it?’ You know, and I don’t know where that comes from, whether it’s from a narrative from London, or whether it’s just a perception that look, OK, you’re a small country. But, you know, you don’t need to get into too much of persuasion to just say ‘Well, you’re from a’, sometimes, ‘you’re from a small country yourself, I mean, you know, let’s do the math.’ And then they come round, I mean they can see it and, you know, they’re amenable. But I’ll come back to something that Andrew said as well. I mean the whole NATO debate was interesting because in some quarters it was presented as, you know, this is appeasement towards, you know, the powers within NATO. But it’s interesting actually, you know, speaking to a lot of NATO insiders, that they don’t feel themselves having that sense of power amongst their member countries. I mean the increasing thing amongst people, NATO people, is trying to find a semblance of a role for themselves, and to keep their funding coming from member states, which is one of the aspects I was confused about with when that debate was going on last Autumn, and no one seemed to actually talk to NATO and find out the things that they asked, for example, to the EU. You know, everyone goes to the EU, ‘Will Scotland automatically gain membership?’ They just kind of assumed that NATO will give membership. I mean I don’t know what vested interests made sure that wasn’t questioned. But then it didn’t really get into, you know, what is this NATO, is it really supported, is it gonna be around in five or ten years? And they are struggling around for a role. But outside of NATO, you know, where power is increasingly shifting, even American interest is shifting from the Atlantic Alliance to the Pacific Alliance, I mean it was very apparent, you know, looking at Hilary Clinton’s visits, looking at Obama’s visit, first visit after his re-election he went to Southeast Asia. But the focus of the world has shifted, and I think for Scotland, if there is this thought that we’re gonna just pin ourselves to this NATO alliance, and that it means something, I think that’s a very lazy and backward way of looking at it, because the alliances in world politics are shifting ever eastward, and we’ve gotta put a lot of thought into what that means and how we fit into that.
AT: There’s a friend of mine recently sent me an email, and he went to uni with me in Edinburgh and is a London guy and now lives in London, and he said something quite interesting. He said that from his perch in Hampstead or wherever he is, that actually Scotland seems less far away – more far away, sorry, more far away – than Nigeria or Paris or Berlin or you-name-it, that actually this sort of indifference, this sort of sense that ‘Oh, sure there’s something going on that north-eastern periphery of the European continent, but I’m not quite sure what it’s about, and I don’t really think it’s going to come to much.’
MG: Hasn’t that always been the case in England?
AT: Well I think so, but it’s more curious in some ways. It’s just it struck me that what Osama’s describing about a certain curious, but not necessarily terribly engaged, interest in the situation is arguably reflected down in London too, and it isn’t really seriously being treated as a possibility, that the UK’s going to break up in actually quite a short period of time, three years, something like that is the kind of timetable. Of course there’s also, it seems to me, opportunities in indifference as well actually, that up to a point when people feel their vital interests are being put at risk or challenged, or being subject to change, then obviously they might take a more vital hand and a more vital interest in Scottish independence and I doubt that would be a good thing for many nationalists. So in some ways there’s maybe a bit of space. I don’t know if that resonates with either of you two – Osama.
OS: Well, there’s another aspect to this as well, which is the Scottish diaspora. I mean one thing about the referendum is that, you know, someone like me – I’m not going to get a vote in it which is, you know, is quite upsetting. I mean I campaigned hard for Scottish independence for a number of years but it seems I’m not going to get a vote. And I noticed as well that many in the No camp portrayed this as some kind of way of keeping out a diaspora who’d certainly vote No. And I don’t think that’s the case. I mean speaking to Scots abroad, that once you get out of that bubble and you see a lot more of the world, you can see the role that Scotland could play and maybe it could be a perfectly viable nation. I mean we’re sitting here in – I’m sitting here – in Qatar, you know, a nation of, when you bring in all the outside workforce, two million, and it’s a world power, it’s a world power right now, and so I’m seeing that everyone’s coming here, everyone wants to talk to Qatar. And they’ve made something of the resources that they have, and Scotland can do that as well. And I think when you come out of Scotland, I think the diaspora you know aren’t going to play a role, but if they were to play a role I think actually it would be increasingly towards the Yes side rather than the No side.
AT: ‘Cos that’s a controversy this week which actually was flaring up again because of the debate about the Section 30 order in the House of Commons this week, and also a report by the Scottish Affairs Select Committee which raised the issue about what the franchise should be in this referendum. And I think it’s fair to say that the approach advocated by Ian Davidson and his colleagues was somewhat confusing, but it did raise this question about, well, is it right that those people who are outside of Scotland, whether they’re in London, whether they’re in Qatar, wherever, that they should not get the vote? And in general terms I feel that I don’t want to get into the whole territory, whatever the practicalities, of a Scottish ethnic registry commission, which would then decide through various bureaucratic means who was or was not entitled to vote. I mean, Osama, in your case obviously this is going to deprive you of a chance to vote Yes. Would you, if you could, if there was a way of working it practically, would you be in favour of the diaspora being able to vote?
OS: Yeah, I mean I’m able to vote in other elections, I mean I know this one’s slightly more complicated. Yes, on a personal level, I’m sad that I won’t be able to but, as I said, if the diaspora were to play a role, it isn’t the role that the No camp think it would be.
AT: Michael, what do think about that, ‘cos people often would say, ‘Look at all of these Scots who live down in London, who work in London. The chances are that many of those would be union-sympathetic because they get their own personal union dividend, if you like.’
MG: Very possibly those in London have a more vested interest in keeping the union, but I think Osama’s right. When you think of the people in other parts of the world, a lot of the diaspora would be in favour of independence. If you read some of the personal stories or listen to them, a lot of the time they say that their reason for moving away was in fact that they felt kind of stilted, stunted – that the possibilities for growth in Scotland were stunted because of the political situation as it is. And even in the podcast last week with Clare Galloway, she’s saying that this kind of political settlement that we have creates a lot of negativity that also people feel they need to escape from, and when they get out of that they seem to think, well, why can’t we have a bit of that back at home?
AT: Yeah, and speaking of negativity and it follows on from what you were saying there. If anyone watched the House of Commons and the House of Lords this week, you’d have seen an astonishing display of negativity from the mostly Labour Party MPs and Tory MPs, when they were passing the Section 30 order which will mean that the referendum on independence is pretty much gonna be free from legal challenges. I don’t know if either of you two watched that particular session, and the various arguments …
MG: Well I wanted to ask you Andrew: did you get permission from the dictator at Bute House to ask that question?
AT: Well you know I live in England, which is a land of liberty, don’t I, so if this was a house in Scotland I would’ve expected the spongy hand of Salmond on my shoulder.
MG: He’s not talking to me now, ‘cos that picture that we were all forced to put on the wall of him, I turned it to face the wall, so I’m in the bad books. I can’t speak about this.
AT: It’s extraordinary of course, and Osama will be familiar with Anas Sarwar, who you were standing against in, was it, Glasgow Central in 2010, weren’t you?
OS: Yeah, I can’t remember [LAUGHS]
AT: Yeah, he contended that the Scottish Parliament was not a democracy in any real sense, which is a truly extraordinary and frankly ludicrous proposition. But I think it’s interesting when you see in these debates this rather melancholy atmosphere of sort of longing for a better past with [GRANDLY], ‘This House, and this Parliament, will take sane deliberations on the fates of the nation,’ before, you know, these upstarts, Holyrood types, took over. And you think, well, do you want devolution without devolution because people like Ian Davidson would say, ‘I’m a devolutionist, not a unionist’, and yet the whole atmosphere that was being cultivated in that Section 30 debate was remorselessly negative, and pathologising too, as if all Scottish nationalists were somehow suspect, and secretly longed for single party state domination, and you-name-it. I thought it was pretty chilling as a kind of No argument for…
MG: Ian Davidson: ‘All Scots are secretly longing – or independence-supporting Scots – are secretly longing for another Bannockburn as well’, I mean Jesus Christ, it was mad.
AT: It was a marvellous sort of rhetorical move he made there about set up a straw man and then deplore something that no one’s actually proposing. It was, you know, he does have a certain low animal cunning, whatever else you can say about Ian Davidson. Osama, I don’t know if you saw it at all. I imagine you might have better things to do than watch the House of Commons.
OS: Well, when Michael asked me to come on today, and told me the topics, honestly guys, I can’t believe you made me read that debate.
It was truly hideous, I mean, from at one point, you know, Davidson making out that it was something based on, you know, Scots were wanting to base this whole thing on ethnicity, and then as Jim McGovern stands up and, you know, laments the fact that Alec Ferguson can’t vote ‘cos he’s in Manchester, but Englishman Terry Butcher can, and thereby himself making it into an ethnic thing rather than an inclusive civic Scottish thing. But the other thing that struck me about it is, and as someone who worked formerly for the First Minister, you know, I’ve never been able to really get a handle on the amount of hatred that the Labour Party have for him. On one level I don’t get it because, you know, I know him to be – you know this is going to sound really sycophantic – but I know him to be a really decent man and I also know that the public there is this perception that yes, he’s…, because he’s very confident and articulate that that somehow translates into him being arrogant and cocksure of himself. Whereas in reality I think, whenever it is that he leaves the political scene, I think people will find that there’s all sorts of humble things that he’s done and all sorts of humility in the way that he goes about his actions. And that can be seen in fact by the team around him, as well, because he’s surrounded by talented people who wouldn’t deal with that kind of dictatorial element. He doesn’t have any hold over them, he doesn’t control an army or a military, it’s his own personal conduct which helps him keep those people around him for as long as he has kept them around. And I can’t imagine, you know, we’ve seen politicians over the years in the UK, and when they have that cult of personality, eventually people get tired of it. The other aspect of it is, unless – and this is my sincere advice to those in the Labour Party and the No camp – is that they’ve got to remove that hatred because it comes across really badly, and if they seem to be coming to the public with this really bad feeling in their hearts, it will translate to the public, and it doesn’t do them any good, and they need to come up with a far more positive narrative than they’re portraying at the moment.
AT: And it’s a classic saying, is it not, that you should ‘never hate your enemies’. I don’t remember what canny soul actually said that. But I think it’s generally true that you blind yourself, and tend to assume, I think, that people share what you believe, which maybe they don’t, and you just exist in a rather negative echo chamber. I don’t know if either of your saw that this week a woman who is in many ways taken to represent – takes herself to represent – a sort of Scottish social democratic voice, Joyce Mcmillan, was commenting on this particular debate that we’re talking about, and saying that despite her own non-nationalist approach to politics, despite her own long-term sympathy with the Labour Party , let’s be blunt about it, that she’s finding that the whole tone of this debate is pushing her towards voting Yes, which I think is extraordinary. I don’t necessarily think she’s a classic representative of the ordinary Scottish punter, but she is someone who’s very invested in this conversation, and is a kind of pro-devolution soul – the sort of person that we will actually have to convince to support independence, so I thought it was significant that she was sort of finding the sort of hatred and frankly just bizarre feeling that Osama was summarising there.
MG: Yeah I read that. I thought it was wonderful. It’s exactly what we’re hoping for. You could say that Labour are digging their own graves. There’s been a lot of articles to that effect recently as well that, what’s-his-name – from the Independent – Owen J-?
AT: Owen Jones?
MG: Owen Jones, yeah, he wrote an article saying that basically that the slow death of Scottish Labour, the self-inflicted death of Scottish Labour, they’re just pushing themselves further and further down that hole.
AT: I suppose the kind of counterpoint to that is that we’re all, as we say, we want to be convinced by folk like Joyce McMillan, and personally I think a sort of scorched earth anti-independence campaign which is undoubtedly where we’re going to get to, might actually work quite well if it comes to it. And therefore I know it might drive us up the wall, but in the sense of cultivating terror and innuendo about nationalists all secretly wanting to be fascists, you know, I’m not sure that these are thoughts – despite how ludicrous they are – which wouldn’t necessarily begin to cause anxieties for some, a significant section of the Scottish people.
MG: Speaking of that, did you see that today, about nationalists wanting to be fascists, there was actually a photo from Edinburgh that someone put up, with some of the Defence League people, carrying the Golden Dawn fascist sign. If that’s the people that Labour want to get in bed with, I think that’s support for independence on the up.
AT: Yeah, no, it’s curious I think. And actually maybe that’s a nice point, with talking about that Section 30 order – which I must say I’m very pleased has been passed ‘cos it does mean that we won’t have any legal challenge to this referendum – we’ve been thinking again a bit this week about constitutions in a wider sense, not just sort of Britain’s curious half-written constitution, but about the independent Scotland’s future constitution. And Alex Salmond made a speech this week, I don’t know if both of you have seen it, but he was making an argument that Scotland would have, firstly, a written constitution – I think we’re all behind that – but secondly he was talking about different sorts of things you might include in it. He was talking about ,say, an anti-Trident provision. But more interesting I thought was a suggestion that maybe you could enshrine free education in the constitution. And I think that’s a really interesting example for him to pick because it raises a fundamentally broader philosophical question, a broader range of choices, about what kind of constitution an independent Scotland might have. Should we have a more minimalist one, that sets up institutions, and which leaves as much power as possible in the hands of the legislature and executive to decide what policies to adopt? Or do we go for a constitution more like somewhere like Brazil adopted in the 1980s, which includes a whole range of very, very specific commitments including the rate of overtime pay, for example, including periods of maternity leave. They’re actually enshrined in the constitution. I wonder, Michael, what do you think about that, on either the specific or the general point really, about free education, and what we should choose to enshrine in our new constitution if we get one?
MG: Well on the specific one I think they should enshrine free education in it, but on the general one, it’s not just about enshrining the rights of individuals, it’s also about what are the limits of the power of the state. Are you going to have the kind of constitution that prescribes what people can do and what the government can do, or what people and the government can’t do? An example with this: if you think about in the internet age, where internet technology and what happens on the internet moves far, far, faster than legislators can, so like, do you have a kind of blanket constitution that can control that kind of thing before – you can’t do this, you can’t do this. It’s a very open question – what should we do? And the other thing is, should we have some kind of draft constitution before the referendum, or should we do it after a Yes vote?
AT: Yeah, I mean Osama, I don’t know what the constitution is like in Qatar, I don’t know that off the top of my head, but certainly in line with what Michael was saying there, I do know that the SNP has a draft constitution that was put together some years ago, the most recent draft by Neil MacCormick, now dead unfortunately. And it looks quite a lot like the Scotland Act, which is a curiosity. And it envisages a Scottish Parliament set up with limits on its power, and rights of individuals protected, which more or less look like the primarily civil and political rights you find in the European Convention. I don’t know what you think about that, on either what kind of constitution you might want to see Scotland adopting, or whether we should begin thinking about these things now, concretely, abstractly.
OS: I mean, to follow from Michael’s point, I mean I suspect that what [INAUDIBLE] this week, the idea of this written constitution, I don’t think the SNP are going to get into a detailed discussion about what it would be until after the referendum. I think it could be very distracting for everybody to get into dreaming about that and getting into some of the anal complexities of what should and shouldn’t be in it. And I mean, one thing generally I think, whenever it does come time to draft it, is that an area of focus needs to be about the rights of the individual, because I mean there is an argument that in the UK that has got out of kilter, particularly over the last ten years, during the years of the ‘war on terror’. I mean some of the laws brought in place with regards to habeas corpus, with regards to detention without trial, and so on, even going to stop and search powers, and questioning powers at airports, it has gone, for many people, way beyond where it should be. And it’s also noticeable within Scotland, there isn’t a huge amount of discussion about that. And in fact some of it has been almost accepted, I would say, within the justice and policing framework. And I think it would be important to have a really solid discussion about the rights of the individual versus the powers of the state with respect to crime and punishment.
AT: I mean in some ways actually I would agree that in Scotland many of these debates seem to pass us by. You don’t, for example, hear a great degree of a kind of Scottish debate on the British Bill of Rights proposal, the controversies in England mostly about what the European Court gets up to-
MG: Sorry, I wanted to ask you Andrew about that. From what Osama said there about, you know, with the war on terror, the laws that they introduced, I mean what do you think about the charge that the United Kingdom government, even though it’s kind of enshrined in the constitution, you know the European Bill of Rights, do you think that they just ignore it when they want?
AT: Well there’s two answers to that. One of them’s a very legalistic answer, one’s a political answer. On the legalistic answer, the Human Rights Act doesn’t give courts the power to knock down laws passed by the UK government, so on the various litigation you were referring to around the war on terror and the various terrorism control orders and things, the courts just said they were incompatible with fundamental rights, and then the government changed them. Scotland’s in a wee bit of a different situation, because our laws can be knocked down and declared invalid if they’re not compatible with the rights enshrined in the European Convention. I suppose the second question is that it’s certainly the case that Britain has, because of its theory of parliamentary sovereignty, not really been up for fundamental rights judicially reviewable and protected in the same way as you get in other European countries, as you get in America, classically. And I think that’s a good question, and a serious question, on this kind of constitution question about what we want courts to be like in an independent Scotland, what kind of powers do we want them to have. And I think I understand what Osama was saying there about getting into these knotty legalistic things before we’ve even got an independent state, and that itself looks to be challenging enough, without the challenge of trying to draft a constitution. But there’s a couple of other reasons why we maybe should put it off a bit. One is the fact that I want people who are in the Labour Party to be involved, I want people who are in the Conservative Party to be involved, in framing the constitution. And they’re not going to do that if this is a pre-referendum question, I think. And the second thing, actually, which is a bit more problematic, is someone was saying to me this week that she was undecided about the constitution, but would only vote Yes if she could envisage a Scottish constitution that she could support being enacted. So we’re on kind of two prongs. Personally I think the issue of trying to involve all Scots after independence in framing what kind of state we have is much more important. And I think I agree with Osama in ultimately that we can’t do this before we get an independent state. Michael.
MG: Yeah. To contradict that, I mean I agree that after, it gives the opportunity to involve everyone. The advantage maybe of doing it before is that you can say, ‘Right, this is what we’re campaigning for, this is the society that we want to be.’ And that’s where it comes in with things like free education. I mean, a constitution which includes economic rights, you know, a right to free education, things about the homeless that Alex Salmond also mentioned, or even economic rights guaranteeing a certain standard of living or a certain amount of money each week for the poorest and the people in most difficulty. I mean, that can be a beacon, that can be something you say, ‘This is something we want to see, this is who we want to be,’ and you can put that in your constitution, and that can become something to campaign on. I don’t know what you think of that.
AT: I just… personally, I mean, I tend to favour shorter rather than longer constitutions. And I prefer active democracy and continuing democracy rather than trying to settle these things in the founding documents of a nation through basic laws. I mean it’s interesting, if you look internationally, you can find some nations which started off with a kind of constitutive assembly trying to frame what their constitution would contain and then they couldn’t, they couldn’t frame a text they could all agree on. I’m referring specifically to Israel, which has an interesting, very interesting, underlying legal structure. The Knesset really began as a kind of constitutional body, but couldn’t make a constitution. So now they make it on the hoof, and look much more like a kind of Westminster’s situation. And actually that kind of politics is something that our politicians, and the various loud voices in this constitutional debate, are going to be much more used to than the sort of politics that you’re referring to Michael – and the sort of constitutionality, maybe, that you were referring to. I can see the argument, but I’m not wholly convinced that I want these things to be enshrined forever in a kind of state document.
MG: But it brings us back to Section 30 because, you know, he called the Scottish Parliament a dictatorship, which is kind of mad. But, like, the original phrase ‘an elective dictatorship’ came from Lord Hailsham in 1976, where he’s basically saying that, you know, even with 30 per cent of the vote, 35 per cent of the vote, there’s absolutely nothing that a United Kingdom government can’t undo, or do, on the spur of the moment – like you said, on the hoof. And that’s why I was mentioning earlier the idea about limiting the power of the state is also something that could be put into the constitution.
AT: Yeah, I think it’s really important that we talk about, and think about, these constitutional ideas. I know I think I said that before, when we first met. It’s important for us to work up a constitutional imagination. I think the problem with it is, though, is that we get into, when we get into specifics, when we get into the sort of substance about what powers should the government have; what should be the relationship between the executive, the legislature, and the courts; if we have these positive rights and social rights enshrined in the constitution, should they be judicially enforceable? Those kind of questions – and I can see everyone’s eyes, I can feel them glazing over here – but that is where the justice, and the real substance of constitutionality, kicks in for me. Or maybe it doesn’t have to, I mean I suppose you could keep these things as loose principles and you can’t take them to court, and then we might be able to agree on abstract things about more liberty and free education, than if it was judicially really enforceable. But I think it’s going to be a difficult conversation, a messy one. All you have to do is read the accounts of how the United States constitution was framed, and that’s a document which only runs to just over 4000 words. I imagine the Scottish constitution, there’ll be pressures on it to become much longer, and maybe include hundreds of sections.
MG: Just to finish that up, because legal debates can get, ah… long, um-
AT: ‘Soul-destroying and arid’ is the phrase that you were looking for.
MG: Uh, yeah, did you know that in Samoa it’s actually against the law for a man to forget his wife’s birthday? We could include that.
AT: You see? This is how constitution bloat happens: everyone wants their own domestic turmoil to become enshrined in the nation’s founding documents. There’s a good example of where we can get to.
MG: What kind of country do we want to be?
AT: [LAUGHS] I think we could agree one where people remember their wife’s birthday would not be a bad start.
OS: It should be the other way round as well, I think.
AT: [LAUGHS] Yeah well, equality has to be enshrined as well-
OS: Yeah, exactly.
AT: All right, and on that, from a very wide and theoretical angle to a rather more local and focussed one. There’s obviously been controversies in – Osama I think it’s your home city, and it’s certainly where my parents live – Glasgow, this week. We’re certainly not going to talk about all of them, ‘cos some people’s private griefs are their own private griefs. But Michael you were taking a look at – you’re a West End guy as well, so we’re all a bit Glaswegian – the various sort of calumnies and disasters going on in Glasgow Council this week. Which one was your favourite?
MG: Well, the one about what happens in cars is of no interest to me. But what happens with pay-offs that have been described as – what was the word? I don’t want to get this wrong – oh yeah, ‘misconduct,’ where someone who’s in the regeneration organisation for some of the poorer parts of the city is getting a discretionary pension augmentation of £230,000, as well as another kind of £240,000 through the contract. I think that’s a far more important story than what’s going on anywhere else.
AT: Hmm, nice work if you can get it. Osama, I mean, you’re obviously far off from Glasgow now but it must still make your heart sink, these kind of stories about sort of Glasgow’s civic life, and its mischiefs.
OS: There’s a lot of murkiness there, and you know if you speak to anyone in the third sector within Glasgow especially, I mean there’s all sorts of shenanigans going on, most of which has never seen the light of day, but which might someday, and you know people need to be careful how they’re conducting themselves. But I mean I think what we actually hear of by my reckoning is the tip of the iceberg. I mean, I’ll say a little thing about cars, and not in any way to get into the detail of it, but just to note that it’s… I mean I actually have not read anything in depth. I don’t what happened, but I did see that Graeme Hendry, the SNP Group Leader, within the council, he refused to comment on the story, and I think that’s to be commended. But I would just note that I think if it had been the other way round, that wouldn’t have been the case. I think the Section 30 debate in Westminster shows some of that kind of negative blackheart politics, over nothing. But I think that if this had been an SNP politician in a car, you wouldn’t have got that level of dignity about the response.
AT: Yeah, I mean I must say I’m with Michael on that. I wrote something silly about the whole Gordon Matheson thing, but I think yeah, it’s people do daft things, and I think you may be right there, Osama, about the reception that those occasional daft things that people do receive is it might be a bit different if things were reversed. I mean obviously another kind of debate going on is around Glasgow George Square, and the various kind of marches and counter-marches in terms of redesigning it into something, some extraordinary space and, I don’t know, it sort of seems kind of worrying, about how many get consulted, about how open Glasgow’s civic life is. I was thinking about – people were talking about Borgen, I don’t know if either of you watch Borgen habitually – but a good site, I think, to do a Scottish political drama would be Glasgow City Chambers. You could [LAUGHING] make it quite dramatic, I think, though perhaps a bit less attractive-
MG: I think your production process would be bogged down in a legal storm before you even got started. [LAUGHING]
OS: Yeah I think people would also say, ‘That’s just too fantastical to be true,’ as well. I mean, a cross between, you know, The Wire, and I don’t know, Borgen, and the West Wing, and everything thrown in there, it’d just be amazing, amazing series.
AT: I know, I think so. Maybe I’ll pitch it to someone eventually, when I get my [INAUDIBLE] in my writing.
MG: I’ve not seen Borgen. That’s twice you’ve mentioned it. I’m more of a Breaking Bad person.
AT: I think it’s really interesting, I mean , I’m joining the kind of, I think there’s several people who are attentive to Scottish politics who are rather obsessed with it… and it’s just a really good show. And it’s a bit serious; you can’t imagine the Scottish version. We’d need more jokes and sarcasm, I think, than you get in this rather po-faced Danish production. But it’s just really interesting that a small country of 5 million folk, pretty much like Scotland, is able to produce a piece of drama of self-representation which, according to my Danish friends, is recognisable as an echo of what their actual politics are, and it’s diverting, and it’s well-written, and the production values are good. And what do we get? We have River City.
MG: Well can I make a heartfelt plea to Scottish programme-makers? Enough with the hard-nosed crime dramas. Something else, please, just anything else.
AT: I think it’s interesting. Last week I actually watched a legal thing that was on River City, ‘cos I’m always quite interested in how popular culture represents law, because it’s a curious kind of phenomenon. And I was just thinking about how little you still, still, still how little you see and hear kind of good Scottish drama on telly, or any Scottish drama – even bad Scottish drama. You know, the number of times that Taggart was your only entrée, the only time you really tended to hear a Glaswegian voice or see a corner of the city on telly, it was kind of a feature of my youth. I mean I think both of you are a wee bit older than me but I don’t know, Osama, does that-
MG: Don’t rub it in.
AT: Sorry, sorry.
OS: [LAUGHS] That’s quite presumptuous, Andrew.
AT: I know. I maybe look older than you, so at least time is crueller to me.
OS: Your twitter profile looks older than me, anyway.
AT: [LAUGHS] It’s amazing how a parook ages you. I don’t know, I think it’s just interesting, it’s another thing, the whole Borgen drama thing, it just says to me that we really aren’t making the best of all of the potential that we’ve got in this country. And I’d like to find ways, dramatic ways, political ways, that we can do it, you know, have a bit of ambition, and draw on the resources that we’ve already got, instead of, you know, feeling that we have to leave the country to become and represent ourselves. I think that’s tragic.
OS: Yeah but I mean, at the same time, I’m trying to think, moving on from Scotland to the UK level, I mean how many really quality dramas have we exported as the United Kingdom over the last few years? I mean I think, judging from what sells… I was actually in Virgin Megastore earlier this afternoon and as far as things from the U.K. come, we’ve got Top Gear, you’ve got Frozen Planet, I couldn’t find Doctor Who. And that was about it. So I think there may be a kind of wider thing about our culture that we’re not able to produce it, rather than any sort of institutional barrier that’s stopping us producing it.
AT: Michael you’re a big fan of Downton Abbey aren’t you? You’re devoted, devoted, to it and are continually watching all of these [INAUDIBLE; LAUGHING] things, I assume.
MG: I’ve never seen it; never will.
AT: No, no, I can’t quite imagine it’s your thing. But what about, ‘cos you’re a Glasgow guy, presumably when you were younger and you were watching Scottish telly, such as it was, that actually you must have encountered that sensation as well, of sort of very rarely seeing the kind of sights that you know, and were part of your life when you were growing up in the West End, on screen.
MG: Yeah, I just get fed up with the, you know, every programme in Glasgow, or anything that’s mentioned is, you know , this kind of it’s this horrible, grey place where nothing nice ever happens. Yes, there are problems in Glasgow, but there are problems in every other city, like if you go London there’s poverty in London that would make your eyes bleed. And it’s just, why is it always that same story? I’m not suggesting that those stories should be neglected. They’re the most important stories in many respects. But there’s other things going on. I’m just fed up with crime dramas.
AT: Yeah, the No Mean City. Yeah-
OS: Well, guys, you’re going to see Glasgow fighting a zombie apocalypse [LAUGHING] later this year so, um, I don’t know if you’ve seen the trailer yet for Brad Pitt’s film, but that looks good.
AT: It was one of the more surreal moments in my life, when you’re wandering through the middle of Glasgow and you see a sort of New York style, or Chicago style, taxis sitting around, and you think, ‘Oh no, something’s happened, we’ve been invaded’. I thought we’d had a sort of alien invasion or something-
MG: When that was going on I was actually showing two foreign guests around Glasgow. ‘Oh, here’s George Square and oh, there’s American yellow taxis – what? – and there’s a kind of half-crashed truck – uh, what?’ But, so the George Square, I think the debate is basically that they want to change it in order to give it over to business to make it a space for events that people are going to make money from, and it’s not going to be the people’s square, as it should traditionally be, as it was the square that was constructed for the people, so to speak. I mean, I don’t know if you’ve looked at the plans or whatever.
AT: I saw one of them. My view is just in general that it should be, you know as you were saying there, a Piazza del Popolo, that should be the kind of space, that actually these spaces in towns are relatively limited, but they symbolise a lot, that they’re symbolically really important, that you’re able to assemble in a place which is almost… it may just seem a kind of curious mental construct but that this is a civic space, and that there are relatively few of them, and it’s critical for demonstrations and things that it’s able to stay as a civic space.
MG: You know, I’ve got a friend who’s a very well respected academic, and he believes that the reason Britain never had a revolution in 1848, like every other country, was that they didn’t have a square big enough.
AT: [LAUGHS] I suppose that’s not entirely incredible though, the idea that there was some relationship between social control and buildings, the built environment, and space. You know, if people can’t congregate, then they don’t congregate. That seems kind of not altogether a controversial thing. I don’t know if it kyboshed revolutions that might have happened in this country in 1848, but it’s not I think immediately implausible. I mean Osama, I don’t know, do you want to come in there, on the whole thing. I don’t know if you’ve been following this closely or anything.
OS: I can’t say I have, but you know I’ve been to, and I’ve spoken at, and organised, many demonstrations in George Square over the years and it’s vital that that’s kept as a point where people can come and easily meet. I mean we’ve had, you know, various negotiations for demonstrations with the council about availability and events that might be getting held and, you know, the square is often not available. But if there is any notion that it’s going to be boxed off for commercial events purposes, then there’s plenty of places where commercial events can be held within Glasgow, whether that’s the SECC or many other places, and that’s for that, but George Square should, yeah, refurbish it by all means, maybe even turn into a square rather than a rectangle, but it needs to be there for the people.
AT: Hm-mm, I agree, there we go- [LAUGHS]
MG: Yep, me too.
AT: Splendid, well we shall have to introduce one dissenting voice just to spice things up. OK, I think that’s us covered all of the various things primarily that we wanted to have a wee look at this week-
MG: Yeah it’s been a very busy week.
AT: It has, no, it has. And not just individually but collectively, and I think it’s all kicking in now, 2013 politically starts here, and it’s going to be a really important year, in terms of persuading Scots to vote for independence. We saw, just to mention it, there was a poll done by Angus Reid – who I must say is not a pollster that I follow devotedly – but it looks as if on that poll that things pretty much are where they have been for quite some time, and there’s been a slight increase in the number of people who are undecided, a slight decrease in those that are decidedly opposed, but all those old structures about a gender gap, about an age taper in support for independence, with more old people being more opposed to independence, and more young people supporting it, those structural things are all still there. And I think 2013’s going to have to be a year where we start getting some of these things moving if we’re going to have a serious prospect of winning in 2014. Anyway… [LAUGHS] a small psephological monologue to close the podcast there. I’d just like to thank Osama for coming on this week, and it was very interesting, and I’m sure we’ll get you back on before the fatal day comes some time in autumn, if you’d be up for it.
OS: It’s been a pleasure talking to yous. I should also say, at the risk of upsetting any Samoans, it’s actually my wife’s birthday tomorrow, so I mean, if I can just put a plug out there to the world – Happy Birthday.
MG: Well can I do that as well, ‘cos it’s actually my good lady’s birthday, and she’s just here, and we’re actually going to the Mexican restaurant tonight for that, ‘cos it’s very, very, very good.
AT: Excellent. Well, I wish both of your ladies very well I’m sure, and I’m sure our audience will send their best wishes to them. OK, and on that, we shall just close the wee podcast there, thanks very much, and I’ll see you next week for more conversation about what’s going on in Scotland and abroad, in our domestic politics, international politics, and as ever the independence referendum inching slowly toward us like a lame tortoise. See you all later, bye!
MUSIC – THE ROLLING STONES ‘I’M FREE’ [40 SECONDS, THEN FADES OUT]
MG: I mean there’s been so much going on this week. We never even got to Irvine Welsh’s Scotsman story, where they criticised his article, and then pulled the article criticising his article. But that’s another podcast.
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