Things were so tense that the President had collapsed in the Oval Office and had spent a day confined to bed. Command and control over nuclear weapons had been given to troops in the field. The world seemed poised on the brink of war between two countries with a history of religious hatred, armed with weapons of mass destruction.
The Indian and Pakistani governments were sending delegations to Washington.
It was into this maelstrom of tension and sweating scared West Wing staffers that a refined British gentleman stepped, bringing with him wit, charm and a certain urbane cool that immediately began to rub off on everyone. His name was Lord John Marbury, and he had a solution to the pending conflict over Kashmir.
“I believe this,” Mr President, he said, in the Oval Office. “Buy them off.” The staff looked at one another, and they asked him to explain. He did. “Mr President, for several centuries, my kingdom has ruled India with a stick and carrot. When we had a particular problem with someone, one solution we would try is to make him a maharaja. That’s kind of a regional king. We would pay him off with an annual tribute, and in return, he would be loyal to the crown.”
This crisis didn’t happen in real life, of course. It was a figment of the imagination of Aaron Sorkin, the writer of The West Wing, and this exchange happens in an episode entitled “He Shall From Time To Time…” which he penned.
Sorkin knew his stuff though, and he knew his history. As we approach the end of this campaign, with Yes now in the lead, whilst some were worried about the stick, I have always been more worried about the carrot.
Unmistakably, though, the two go hand in hand.
We all know the Robert Buns song by now, about how our forefathers sold their rights to a country of their own for the promises of “English gold.” One doesn’t have to watch Braveheart or The West Wing to know that the British Empire was built on bribery as much as it was built on blood. It’s the British way. I always harboured fears that after the fear mongering failed they would attempt to buy us off, and so it has proved.
The news that we finally have an opinion poll lead has brought out the new settlement offer writ large, a version of the very “third option” they scammed and schemed to keep off the ballot paper. The promise of a federal Britain and some kind of constitutional convention sounds nice, doesn’t it? If I thought they meant it I might be tempted. For about two seconds. Followed by my telling them to ram it somewhere the mice won’t get at it.
It’s too little and it’s too late to matter. The tactic is now so well known that it’s a discredited joke. They played the card earlier in the campaign too, but in a slightly lesser form, with their nonsense about more powers for the Parliament. Now this, reading like something cobbled together on the back of a fag packet. They must think we’re mugs.
Trust is a wonderful thing, and it’s vital for any relationship. I think it’s safe to say the trust has completely left this one.
Imagine, for a second, you’re in a relationship where everything goes just one way, where you use their credit card instead of having one of your own, and can only spend to a certain limit; that you’re allowed a key for the front door but can only use it at certain times of the day and that you’re limited in the friends you have, the life you can lead and even the clothes you can wear.
Imagine you’ve told your partner that you want to leave. Imagine that instead of conciliatory dialogue and gestures of love that the response of said partner has been to spread lies about you to the neighbours; to attempt to financially shackle you for even having the will to want to get out; to tell you that the shared assets of the marriage are not really yours at all and to threaten to impose physical barriers between you and your other loved ones.
Imagine they then told you they loved you really, and offered you a deal. Your credit card limit has been raised. You can use the door key more freely. You can have more friends and you can have more independence and even some brand new clothes.
Would you be tempted? Would you be tempted even when you found out the credit card limit has been raised but that you’ll have to give up some of what you already get from your partner in other ways. Spend more money yes, but they’re cutting back on what they put into the house keeping pot. Imagine you found out your use of the house key only entitled you to use the back door as well as the front, but all the other restrictions still applied. Imagine that your friends allowance was being raised but that your partner would still decide who they were and when you could see them. And the clothes? Oh they’ll be chosen for you … but on the bright side, you’ll have a greater selection of the stuff you can actually wear.
Would this change the equation somewhat? Would you be less interested in leaving, or would you realise, finally, that this person just doesn’t get it at all? That the marriage of convenience is, and always has been, built around what works for them, and not so much you?
It’s tempting to say we’re really getting some very mixed messages as we roll into the home straight, but that is the greatest illusion of all. Making maharajas is the carrot, but that stick is always there, just in case. What makes it all the more galling here is who’s holding the weapon.
Better Together has run the worst campaign in living memory, and it will astound me if Blair McDougall ever finds work in professional politics again when this is done. I have rarely seen such flagrant, and blatant, incompetence. Their campaign has been a mess from start to finish, playing its good cards bafflingly early in the game until they’ve gone into the final furlong holding only dreck.
It was amplified best for me during the latest TV debate, when Yes put the charismatic national treasure Elaine C. Smith into a head-to-head battle for the soul of the electorate against a fresh faced NuLabour luvvie. Talk about bringing a knife to a gun fight. It was an image nightmare, a piece of pure misjudgement so stark I wondered who in the Hell from Better Together had decided this was a good idea. That person deserves a merit badge, for services to Yes Scotland.
Labour voters have long held the key to this thing, which makes it all the more incredible to me that Better Together has led off with the worst of the worst amongst their ranks.
Take the “100 towns tour”, an exercise in “I Love Me” if ever I’ve seen one.
Putting Jim Murphy on a soap box is like putting a narcissist in charge of the Hall of Mirrors. The self-love was always going to morph into delusions of grandeur and that was always going to result in calamitous over-reach. The man who gleefully rode on top of tanks and donned flak jackets, who vowed not to be silenced, barracked Yes voters everywhere, but was scared off the streets by a single protester wielding an egg. That would have been bad enough without his running to the media to tell stories of hate-mobs under the control of the smiling, genial and gentlemanly Blair Jenkins. The picture doesn’t fit, and everyone knows it.
That was never going to earn him more than derision and the contempt. It was a slap in the face to those Labour Party members out there who still believed their side was interested in an honest debate, and playing a straight game. The notion of putting a man like Jim Murphy, an expenses fiddler, shameless self-promoter and proven liar, front and centre in a contest where probity and fair play will be rewarded is laughable and an insult to the collective intelligence of the nation.
Murphy accomplished only one thing; he ensured that there will be no way back for him in an independent Scotland’s Labour Party. His political career ends with the current Westminster parliament unless he finds himself a safe seat south of the border. He is finished up here after showing himself up as a duplicitous charlatan, a hack with a messiah complex and a coward all wrapped up in one slippery skin with his wondrous, self-destructive display.
It’s people like him, on the front lines of the Better Together campaign, who have turned Labour’s voters into the most partisan supporters of Yes outside the SNP. They understand that between Murphy’s preening and Johan Lamont’s exhortations to Scotland to rip down the welfare safety net and end its “something for nothing” culture that this party they’ve given their lives to has walked away from every principle that ever bound it together.
Now, as Yes moves into the lead for the first time, Ed Miliband – a man who’s betrayal of the working class in England and Wales has led to an over-dependence on Scotland’s sometimes pliant and ever-loyal Labour heartlands – has given us the ultimate in one fingered gestures by threatening that if we exercise our democratic right to self-determination that his government’s first act of “friendship” will be to put troops on the border.
A Labour Party leader and wannabe Prime Minister. Keir Hardie would not have recognised this man as one of his own, and he would have disavowed the party he leads.
The insanity of this, when Better Together needs every available Labour supporter’s vote, is hard to credit. The contempt it shows for Scotland is breath-taking. It is an extraordinary act of self-harm, the kind that demonstrates, clearly, why Miliband will never be Prime Minister no matter the outcome of this referendum.
In truth, he had already shown his true colours before this, in pledging the party to no deals on the currency at the same time as he’s committing it to the Tory cuts in spending and threatening more of his own, and all that as he tears up the social contract by moving the Labour Party away from the principle of universal benefits.
In doing so, he has lost any moral right he ever had to call himself the leader of the progressive left. He is neither progressive or left any longer. He is a typical Westminster bully-boy, except that he comes across like the kind of guy who would have been slapped all over the schoolyard instead. His tough talk these days is reserved for the weakest in society, those the Labour Party is supposed to be standing up for.
His antennae for what the core vote believes in, his understanding that the working people of Scotland have aspirations too, is deplorable in one who seeks to be the father of the nation, and who only a week ago talked about saving it from itself. They do not get it down there in the Westminster bubble. There is no longer a “choice” for the Scottish voter in who it elects in that nest of vipers. Whether it’s Balls who sits in the Treasury or Osborne, the drum beat of middle England and the City of London is all they can hear, and all they know.
There is no longer a red side and a blue side down there. Shades of purple are all there is left, one morphing into the other like the pigs and the men around the table at the end of Orwell’s Animal Farm and every single one of them has his or her snout in the trough.
The breakdown in the system is now acute. Offering us a constitutional convention is the purest attempt at buying off our hopes and dreams with jam tomorrow promises and the old English gold that I’ve yet seen in this referendum.
No-one who comes to a negotiation pointing a loaded gun is ready to talk to you in good faith. We can judge the seriousness of these people and their offer by their conduct up until now. They have talked above love whilst unleashing an unprecedented barrage of fear, smear and hate. They have talked about a partnership whilst going out of their way to remind us that it’s not an equal one and never was, and then they try to tell us that it might grow into one yet. What? After 500 years? What was wrong with doing this at any other point in time?
You and I, all of us, know the answer to that question. Right now, on this perfect, beautiful day, at this shining moment, we have them by the balls. We have them pissing their pants scared that after all of it we’re still determined to go through with this, that we’re still ready to go, and so they are pouring on the love one last time, and all the while they’re talking at cross purposes and showing their hand, the one that’s holding that loaded gun.
Guards on the border? Abandoning us to invasion from Russia or terror from Al Qaeda and Isis? As though we’re expecting an Islamic uprising in West Kilbride.
These would seem like mixed messages, but they’re not.
This is the old way of doing things, dressed up in the trappings of a modern state. This is the old imperialist playbook, point by point. This is how it’s always been done. The British pioneered it.
The carrot and the stick. Talking love whilst trying to inspire fear.
Well in 11 days’ time we can tell them to stick their playbook where the sun don’t shine.
Bought and sold for English gold?
As a greater man than any now living once said, “Never, never and never again.”
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