The Importance of Tone

“And you said, No. Our job is to end all that.

                Our job is to make it clean.

                Because if it’s clean, we win.

                Because our ideas are better.”

Kathy Bates – Primary Colours (1998)

I don’t know when it happened but the tone of the independence debate seems to have changed.  Some might say it happened a while ago as we entered the same calendar year as the poll.  It certainly seemed to shift when we had the first direct involvement from the Government in London into what will and will not happen in the event of an independence vote.  Maybe this was the tone all along and I have become more and more aware of it as I become better linked into the online debate.  Whatever the reasons I feel it has shifted, away from the high minded ideals to something nastier and altogether more unpleasant.

The high minded stuff still exists, it’s is still being articulated by both sides but the vitriol is beginning to bubble to the surface and I think it is probably putting off the people who will decide the vote in September.


The majority of voters are not politics geeks, they are interested but don’t want to devote the headspace required to know who was caught up in the expenses scandal, who voted what way in an obscure fisheries bill vote or whether a blogger once used the F-word during a heated twitter debate two years ago.  Normally these people would turn to the newspapers of the broadcast news for this cool headed and informative view, but for some reason they too have been swept up in the mass hysteria.  Papers I once not only trusted, but actively used to help form my views on subjects, have consistently shown themselves to not only disagree which me but have report things that I personally know to be factually untrue.

I have begun now to seek out source documents directly, whether it is the full Wood Report on oil exploration in the North Sea, or reading directly the Annual Report of Standard Life, I find myself not being able to trust what I am being told anymore. Big announcements are pre-released to the BBC and newspaper stories are given a spin; a top line; an angle before the news being reported has even happened.


And maybe this is why the tone has begun to get nasty.  The trust is beginning to go in so many parts of Scottish and wider British society that everything becomes politics, nothing is fact anymore, and everything is up for grabs.  This is much more insidious and dangerous than the idiots on both sides that scream anti-Englishness or profess their hatred for rebellious Nats.  This stuff is horrible and embodies the worst of the debate and the worst aspects of nationalism whether of the ‘British’ or ‘Scottish’ variety.  It feels like we are witnessing the total collapse of the informal institutions of our democracy as the press chooses sides, and the parties of every hue begin to eat their own young.  It is beginning to put me off, so goodness only knows what it is doing to the undecideds.

For those in Scotland this has to be a factor in their choice in September.  Not that an independent Scotland will be immune from this continued threat to decent political discourse, in fact it may be here that the wounds of the referendum debate will be felt most keenly. No, the decision will have to be whether you feel that the political settlement in Britain has got to a point where only massive structural change will wake us from our reverie, or if you think that the best way to heal these divisions is to reaffirm the status quo and carry on together.  Personally I think that we need a change, a new settlement that sees the current way of doing things shaken up, and the people who apologise for this sort of thing as ‘the way it is done’ shown that people think perhaps there is another way to do it.  My hope is that whatever happens we can respect each other and continue to work to the benefit of us all.  In the end we all win when our ideas are better.


(All photographs copyright Lewis Brown)


An open letter


On Saturday at the pub a friend of mine, a Northern Irishman who has lived here for years asked me for my take on the Scottish independence referendum.  He said he was on the fence and was considering not voting because he “isn’t Scottish”.  I disagreed and said that as someone who lived here and is affected by the decision he is as entitled to a say as anyone.  The following is the email I sent him.  Not sure why I am publishing it other than it is the best and most concise summary of my reasons I have written so far.  I could have written pages more, but it’s a start.  Please read and if you think it will convince someone pass it on.

“OK fella,

You wanted more info on the referendum so I thought I would put this together to give you my view on the matter.  It is unashamedly biased, and for that I am not sorry.  I think that the decision in September is the most important in my lifetime and I think the case for Scottish independence is strong on both an emotional and practical level.  This is in no way the most detailed or eloquent case, but it’s the best I can do without boring you with pages and pages of stuff.

First off, why am I voting yes?  You will probably hear some people talk about the movement for Scottish independence as a narrow minded nationalist movement that is all about Braveheart and hating the English.  Whilst I am sure there are some people for whom that is what it is all about, in my experience it couldn’t be farther from the truth.  For me independence is all about letting those who live in Scotland finally make decisions on how to run their affairs, be able to shape their society as they would like, and confront the challenges of the modern world in the way they choose to.  My girlfriend is English, as are many of my best friends, colleagues and people who I respect deeply.   I have family living in London.  Scottish independence is not about where people were born, who they identify with or even about whether you feel more ‘British’ or ‘Scottish’.  I totally disagree with the idea that Scot’s living outside of Scotland should have a vote in the referendum.  The choice is about how those who live here want to be governed, and for that reason I think that a Romanian or Somali immigrant living in Glasgow has more right to have a say in that choice than a Scot who has not lived here for 40 years.  Being from Northern Ireland, you said you thought that you shouldn’t vote because you aren’t Scottish. Well I say that you live here and this decision will affect you as much as it affects me so of course you should vote.

I don’t feel that the UK Governments in Westminster make decisions that affect our lives in our interests.  That is total understandable, Scotland makes up only 5 million of the UK’s 60+ million population, they have to do what is best for the majority, but that will never be Scotland and as a result we will always have to live by their decisions, and in the interests of the more populated areas in the South East. The decisions we would make here could and probably would be much different if we had a full say.  Nuclear weapons on the Clyde, where the money from oil goes, social and welfare policy, NHS privatisation, how we behave to the world including who we go to war with, bank bonuses and regulation, all of these things are imposed on us by Westminster Governments that we often don’t vote for and don’t act in our interests.


I want a Scotland based on proportional representation of parties, on common interest of the people who live here, where the resources we have in the shape of oil are saved and reinvested in our future instead of being used to fund tax cuts to already rich middle class voters.  I want to live in a country that doesn’t throw its weight around in the world and still thinks it can dictate to others.  A country that hasn’t been involved in an overseas war of one kind or another for the last 100 years.  A country that doesn’t sell arms to dictatorships around the world then pretends it is a beacon of democracy.  A country where the school your parents paid for you to go to isn’t the most important factor in how successful you are in life, where all the major political parties aren’t led by graduates of two exclusive universities.  A country with a well-funded and functioning public health service that isn’t being sold off cheap to rich party donors, much like all of our other public services.  I can’t guarantee that an independent Scotland will not have some of these things, and I know that making things better will be hard work, but I am certain that if we remain part of the UK it will only get worse and no amount of devolution will stop it being imposed on us eventually.

I am voting Yes for positive and negative reasons.  Positive because I believe that given the chance to make our own way in the world Scotland can be a wealthy, fair and strong small country that can be respected and liked around the world.  The debate so far has necessarily felt inward looking, but once we vote Yes we can open up again to the world as a new nation, which in itself is incredibly exciting.  Negative because all I can see in remaining in the UK is more of the same old politics of nasty blaming of the poor and watching the rich establishment cement its place at the top of the heap.  We can’t change the rest of the UK, we have voted Labour for decades and all that has happened is that Labour has just gotten more like the Tories.  Perhaps the shock of Scotland leaving will wake people up and create change, but otherwise it will never change.


I am more than happy to answer any questions you have on specifics, but to start with here are some websites to have a look at that make the case better than I can and address specific issues:

I have put part of my case for Yes (there’s a lot more detail), if you want the case for No you will have to talk to someone else, or probably just open a newspaper or listen to the BBC.  For some reason the national press seem to be totally against the idea of independence.  Some think it is because they are part of the establishment that feels threatened by independence, others that they don’t understand it because they are so London focussed they think we are all running around in kilts hating the English.  Feel free to read the websites above and the mainstream press and make up your own mind.  All I will ask is that you bear in mind a few common criticisms about press coverage whenever you are reading something, these are:

“Could” does not equal “Will”

When you read a headline quoting someone saying what “could” happen in an independent Scotland have a think.  Who is this person and what side of the debate are they on? Do they give any actual evidence? They are taking about the future, so how do they know? Is this just a scare story? Which leads us on to…..


Project Fear

Early in the campaign it was leaked that the No camp were secretly calling their strategy “Project Fear”.  This relates to the idea that for the No campaign to win all they need to do is to scare people enough about the unknown that they will vote No to keep everything safe and warm and cuddly.  This will be enough for some, but do you really want to live in a country that was too scared to take responsibility for itself and try and better itself?  Not to mention that a lot of these scare stories are nonsense and rely on the fact that in the future nothing is certain.

The Status Quo

You will read a lot about how a No vote will keep things the same, this isn’t true.  First, nothing stays the same, there is a direction of travel in any country and all you need to do is take a look at how the last few governments in Westminster have been behaving to get an idea of what a No direction might be.  Not to mention there have been politicians in all parties suggesting that after a No there should be a review of the formula that decides how much money Scotland gets, basically cutting the amount the Scottish Government gets each year.  Things won’t stay the same.

Its Salmond’s Folly

The papers love to paint Scottish independence as all about one man, because it sells papers and they know lots of people hate Alex Salmond.  The fact is independence is no more about Salmond than Britain is about Cameron.  First thing that happens in an independent Scotland is we have a general election and you can vote for any party you want.  In fact the other parties, Labour, Conservatives and Lib Dems will finally be able to make policies that are solely about Scotland rather than being told what to do by their London head offices.

Jam Tomorrow

You will read a lot about the Devo-Max option, and other possible arrangements that would allow Scotland to stay part of the UK but get more powers.  First, this isn’t an option on the ballot paper, it is an idea that might happen, maybe, if we vote No and the right party gets in at the next election.  This sort of thing is known as ‘Jam Tomorrow’ and has always been used to stop Scots trying to be independent by promising things afterwards that never materialise.  Once we have voted No there is no reason for Westminster to give us anything, we have said we don’t want independence so it isn’t a threat to them anymore.  If they seriously wanted to give us more powers they would have given them to us.

The UK subsidises Scotland

This is crap and is a lie we have been told for generations to keep us in our place.  Whilst each person in Scotland gets £1,200 more on average spent on them per year, the per person contribution to the exchequer in Westminster is £1,700 more in Scotland than the rest of the UK.  We get more, but we pay even more.  An independent Scotland would also be able to fit its economic policy in line with Scotland’s needs instead of trying to fit in with the policy set in London in the interests of the City and the financial sector.  Have a read of this and see what you think:

That is just a few thoughts outlining why I think we should be voting Yes in September.  I am sure you have lots of questions about certain bits and pieces, have a look at the sites and I will answer any I can.  There is lots and lots of information out there, just don’t become blinded by it all.  At the end of the day it is down to whether you think we can do better than we are right now by taking control of our own destiny, or if you think things are as good as they are going to be with the way things are.

Good luck!”


(The photos are just for added interest and are all copyright Lewis Brown)

Early Spring

Some shots from the streets of Edinburgh in February.  Despite some miserable days the nights are getting shorter and once in a while you can feel warmth on the breeze.  The city is beginning to stir back into life.



(All photographs copyright Lewis Brown)

Under the Bridge


Just before Christmas I had the chance to wonder around central Glasgow with a tripod late at night.  Decided to take some shots in the barren spaces under the M8 motorway bridge.  Some really interesting shapes and light.  The new Hydro venue by the Clyde looked pretty good too.



(All photographs copyright Lewis Brown)