The Yes campaign is continuing the fight Photo: Scottish Political Archive
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Conspiracy and paranoia reign in the grassroots Scottish independence movement

At a Yes rally following the Scottish independence referendum result, talk of conspiracy was ubiquitous. 

On Sunday afternoon, several hundred Yes voters today met for a rally outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. It was, as one speaker admitted to me, the political equivalent of “comfort eating”: self-congratulatory lauding of the bravery of Yes voters fused with anger at the grotesque unfairness of it all.

Fifty years ago, Richard Hofstadter attacked “The Paranoid Style in American Politics”. Hofstadter defined its practitioners as displaying “qualities of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy”, observing that “the feeling of persecution is central” to the paranoid style. Without stretching the point, a comparison could be made to some of the most fervent independence campaigners in Scotland.

In the hour I spent at a Yes rally, talk of conspiracy was ubiquitous. Everyone I encountered believed that only some form of conspiracy had prevented an independent nation. At the mildest end, this was limited to anger at the media – especially the BBC – for bias against the Yes campaign, and failing to give equal airtime and respect to Yes.

But there was more. Much more. During my conversations I heard a collection of weird and wonderful conspiracies. One man simply insisted, “The result was a fix” - Yes had indeed prevailed in the popular vote, but it had been rigged, banana-republic style, to preserve the union. There were also dark allusions to postal voting, and allegations that thousands of postal votes had been sent by the No campaign to boost its votes. A string of fire alarms in Dundee on polling day were even put down to Westminster’s attempts to suppress the vote in Yes strongholds. The police were accused of destroying CCTV footage of Yes supporters being attacked by No campaigners.

It is always an easy game to find a group of oddballs from a political group and make them out to be representative of the wider movement. The paranoia and belief in conspiracy I encountered is certainly not representative of the 1,617,989 who plumped for Yes 10 days ago.

But the mood of these Yes supporters is still deeply problematic for the wider independence cause. If this eclectic bunch is seen as being the only people who bother to keep the independence flame alive, it will put those lacking their penchant for conspiracy off. Floating voters viewing Yes campaigners as weirdoes to be avoided at all costs would be a disaster for the Scottish independence movement.

Unsurprisingly given that many outside the Scottish Parliament did not believe that the vote had been fair, no one seemed very interested in convincing those that had voted No to change their minds in the event of a second referendum. If, indeed, they wanted a second referendum at all: several people felt that the Scottish Parliament should simply unilaterally declare independence and be done with it all.

The emphasis was only on the heroism of those who had voted Yes; they represented what one poster called “Scotland the Brave”. The No campaign was depicted as more than just wrong: fundamentally and inherently dishonourable. Pictures of Alistair Darling, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband – called “The three stoodges”- were on a poster at the front of the rally. The caption beneath their heads simply read “Traitors”.

No doubt all the tub-thumping made a few hundred Yes voters feel rather better about themselves. But it may have made a casual passer-by who, after prevaricating, voted No ten days ago less likely to regret their decision. “Don’t blame me I voted Yes” t-shirts don’t send much of an inclusive message. What, I asked one campaigner, do you say to those who voted No to convince them to plump for Yes in the future? “Open your eyes to all the lies.” 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

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The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.