Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Media in Scotland – a failure of capitalism?

A recent post by Wee Ginger Dug highlighted the terrible state of the media in Scotland.  The central thrust of the article is “that there is a breadth and depth of opinion in Scotland that our media is not reflecting.” The Ginger Dug primarily focuses on the issue of ownership of the media and how much of it is owned by companies based outwith Scotland. This is an important part of the problem and one that hopefully will be addressed once we become independent.  It is a very good article and well worth reading in full – here.

In this post however, I want to raise another aspect of the sorry state of our media. For it seems to me that the failure of any of our mainstream media outlets, whether print or broadcast, to meet the demand for pro-independence and Scotland centred commentary is a damming verdict on the state of capitalism in Scotland.  The print side of the media is in a bit of a turmoil with declining sales. Still there is money to be made from newspaper publishing, otherwise why are there so many titles?  And of course, part of the reason for the decline in Scotland may well be that all the newspapers consciously, at best, neglect a large part of their potential readership, and at worst, positively denigrate this potential readership. Not the best way to go about increasing sales and making money. This applies equally to STV which seems to have missed a great opportunity here, given that the BBC is so skewed in its support of the UK.

The potential is definitely there. As a rock bottom minimum, at least 33% of the population of Scotland are solidly in favour of independence. In addition there is the large number of people who are attracted to the idea of devo max or full scale federalism.  Many of this group have already switched to supporting independence. The key point is that there is a sizeable market of up to half the population who are likely to be interested in a newspaper which took a positive view of Scotland and offered a genuine platform for those in favour of independence.  So why has nobody tried to take advantage of this marketing opportunity?  Is this not what capitalism and the free market supposed to be about – making money by offering a product to meet a clearly expressed demand?  The demand is there, witness not just the polls, but the incredible rise in online pro-independence blogs.

Such complete failure can only be a regarded as a failure of capitalism. What kind of capitalist is it that foregoes a clear chance to make money?  It would of course be good to have some newspapers owned by people committed to an independent Scotland. However capitalists didn’t get rich by a commitment to anything other than making money, and lots of it. It is all a bit of a mystery to me. The one positive note is that this failure is proof positive that the so called free market in the media does not work.  This provides firm ground for an independent Scotland to rewrite the rules governing ownership. So that finally we get a media which reflects the diversity of political outlook within the country.


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Labour attacks on SNP is good for YES

Unionists and BritNats and their friends in the media constantly try to frame the referendum as all about the SNP. Often this framing is reduced even further by equating Scottish independence as all about Alex Salmond.  An example of this was to be seen at last week’s Scottish Labour conference.  There most of the time seemed to be devoted to attacks on Alex Salmond and the SNP.  This blatant attempt to ignore all the many other parties and groups campaigning for independence used to annoy me greatly. It is still a bit annoying, but I have now come to the conclusion that attacking Alex Salmond and trying to equate independence with supporting the SNP is counter productive and on balance good for the YES campaign.

SNP does support independence

All these media attacks on the SNP achieve one thing for sure – almost blanket publicity for the SNP. And on the old adage that no publicity is bad publicity, this can only be good for the SNP. Just think how much it would cost to get that amount of media coverage. Here it comes all for free.  Even the opposition parties keep talking about the SNP. Now it would be good to get more media coverage for the likes of the Greens and Radical Independence, to name but two, but the bottom line is the SNP is in favour of independence. So while it is unfair to the other parties and groups also campaigning for independence, all this media attention on the SNP also means useful free publicity for YES.  More please!

Unionists attack SNP because they have nothing positive to say

Those who oppose independence have no alternative vision for Scotland. This has become even more obvious as the Tories, LibDems and now Labour, have all produced variations on well, pretty much nothing.  Assorted commissions have come up with slightly different versions of bland proposals which at best change nothing and at worst are unworkable. These proposals demonstrate both the emptiness and the duplicity at the heart of the No campaign.  If we are indeed Better Together, then why do we need further change anyway?  If, on the other hand, further devolution is a good thing, then why has it not happened already? The Tories and LibDems are in power now while Labour was in power until 2010. Why did they do nothing when they had the power to do so? Something fishy about suddenly producing proposals now. One can readily see why it is so much easier to just attack Alex Salmond and the SNP. Scaremongering at least avoids having to argue for something positive.  It will be interesting to see how long the Unionist and BritNat parties can keep up the pretence that these proposals can be delivered and would make any difference even if they were delivered.

By attacking SNP, Unionists have missed the Big Picture

This is perhaps the biggest mistake Unionists and BritNats have made. They all seemed to believe their own propaganda – there was no real chance of a YES vote and just to make sure, a dose of scaremongering from Project Fear would do the trick. Concentrate on attacking the SNP and everything will be fine. After all the whole of the media, print and broadcast, were solidly behind the Union. And just to confirm things opinion polls consistently predicted a big No vote.  Well, up to a point milord. Underneath the radar of the media and the Unionist parties, things were stirring across Scotland. New groups were emerging covering all sections of Scottish society. And all were campaigning for YES. Not in newspapers or in TV studios, but in local communities up and down the land.  Public meetings, street stalls, canvassing, music events and goodness knows what else. In addition more and more undecideds or previous supporters of the UK were changing to supporting YES. Some were well known names, many were former leading members of the Labour party, most were just ordinary people. All this grass-roots activity has generated a big shift from No to YES, as recent polling has confirmed.  This new trend towards YES has clearly taken the Unionists and BritNats completely by surprise. While all their attention was on attacking the SNP, they seemed to have been unaware of what has been happening on the ground across Scotland. And what will continue to happen between now and September, only with even greater intensity and enthusiasm.

The Emperor has no clothes

Finally the penny seems to be dropping on our beleaguered Unionist and BritNat friends. People in Scotland do want more control over our lives and more power for our Parliament. The belated and tawdry offerings from the Unionist parties are unlikely to convince many. More and more undecideds are likely to move to YES. And what have the No campaign to offer? More scaremongering? Who will believe them? It looks more and more that by playing the man, the No campaign has lost not just the plot but the game.

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Is Labour now the party of British Nationalism?

Scottish Labour has recently published its proposals for what it would like to do if there is a No vote in September. It is a pretty incoherent and insignificant set of proposals as far as I can see.  Even some Labour stalwarts have described it in very unflattering terms – it is not a mouse, it is a mess – for example. Johann Lamont herself was unable to make any sense of the key proposals when interviewed on Newsnight. However what interests me more is what the proposals say about the Labour party in Scotland.

Scotland is secondary to the UK                                                                          This is the most obvious message to come out of the proposals. They are designed to preserve the UK. Scotland must not be allowed to do anything which might challenge the supremacy of the UK. Why else all this talk about pooling and sharing of resources across the UK? The modest proposals on income tax are particularly revealing. Scotland can raise the top rate of tax, thus possibly making Scotland a bit less competitive with the rest of the UK. But on no account can Scotland be allowed to lower taxes and possibly give Scotland a competitive advantage with the rest of the UK. Oh no, that would be very bad.  But, prithee, why? Only someone who doesn’t regard Scotland as her primary country and its people as the people for whom she most cares, could come up with this proposal. UK rules for Johann and the Scottish Labour party it seems.

This limitation does not even make sense in its own terms. Tax differences within countries is quite common and not just in large federal states such as the USA and Canada. This also happens in Europe, even in a relatively small country such as Switzerland. There, all 26 cantons have the power to set their own tax regimes and tax rates. Imagine it, 26 different tax regimes in one small country. How do they manage? Yet a Swiss from Zug, one of the lowest tax cantons, is just as much Swiss as someone from Zürich, one of the highest taxed cantons. Moreover they don’t come to blows, they respect each other’s right to be different. Something that Johann Lamont and the Scottish Labour party seem to find difficult to accept.

British Nationalism = good: Scottish Nationalism = bad                                   This is another, rather sad, reading of Labour’s recent proposals. And this time not just the Scottish branch. For generations the Labour party has castigated and denigrated Scottish independence as an example of nationalism. Often further dismissed as “petty” nationalism or “narrow” nationalism. Yet all the time it emerges, Labour has been the party of British nationalism, in whatever guise you care to name it.    One Nation Labour, the new key mantra for Labour, is all about Britain as the one nation.  As is the thinking behind the assertion that Scottish independence would mean leaving the working people in the rest of the UK behind. But why does Labour’s concern for working people end at the Channel?  Does Labour not care for the well being of working people in Barcelona, Bologna, Bordeaux etc?  I am sure Labour does care about working people elsewhere, it is just that their primary concern is for working people in Britain. Which is fair enough. I want Scottish independence to make working people in Scotland the primary concern of our parliament and our government. It is just that one cannot be simply good and the other bad. Either both are bad or both are good. As Labour clearly advocates that putting British people first is good, then they must be British nationalists at heart. In which case it is rank hypocrisy to denigrate supporters of Scottish independence as Scottish nationalists.

Labour’s responsibility for rising inequality in Scotland and the UK             My final point on where the Labour party stands is to note that it is Labour who are partly responsible for the rise in inequality not just in Scotland, but the whole of the UK. Successive Tory governments and our current nasty Tory/LibDem coalition bear much of the responsibility for this. However Labour cannot get away unscathed. And of course Gordon Brown was at the helm as either chancellor or Prime Minster for all of the 13 wasted years of Labour government. Minor tinkering with complex benefits cannot obscure that it was under Labour that the rich continued to get much, much richer, while the poor remained poor. It was also Labour that presided over the financial and banking crash which has caused so much damage to our economy. Let us also remember that when Labour talk about pooling and sharing of resources, they did precious little of this when in power at Westminster. Why has London and the south east of England remained the richest part of the UK? Not much evidence of sharing from that part of the UK.

Scottish Labour’s latest little ruse is truly a mess. It offers Scotland nothing and is based on the somewhat dubious claim that Labour at Westminster would really do something about the power of the City of London. A claim for which there is little evidence. Vote Yes for something better!

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More patronising nonsense from Cameron

Another day, another lightning visit from David Cameron. And yet more empty promises along with the by now obligatory scaremongering. I will leave it to others to unpick the veracity or lack of, in Cameron’s alleged promise of more devolution after a No vote. The most obvious response of course is, if more devolution is such a good idea why not deliver it now? After all you are the Prime Minister with a clear overall majority at Westminster.

Instead I want to focus on the bit in his speech where he referred to the referendum as a major life decision. Which it clearly is. However Cameron rather gave the game away with his analogies. Here is what he said, “This referendum is a major life decision – and you don’t make one of those without getting all the information you can. You wouldn’t buy a house without getting a survey done. You wouldn’t choose a car without an MOT.”

This pathetic analogy only shows how little Cameron understands what is happening here. First of all we are trying to get all the information we can. It is patronising in the extreme to suggest we are not. It is even more patronising to infer that he, David Cameron is someone we should trust for information. It would really help enormously in this task, if all the main media outlets, including the BBC were not so irremediably biased and do not even attempt to provide a balanced coverage. It would also help if your government were to provide some real facts and information instead of just scaremongering. You could for example formally request the European Commission to report on the legal position if Scotland votes for independence. But no, much better to rely on the discredited Barroso to issue threats to Scots.

Secondly and if anything even more patronising, is the comparison of independence with buying a house or a car. Independence is not about buying something. How typical of a Tory to reduce the right to self determination to a monetary transaction. As someone once said, He knows the price of everything and the value of nothing! I have news for you Mr Cameron, we do not want to buy anything. To continue for the moment with the house analogy, Scotland already is our house and we already own it. We just want to be in full control over the future of our house. We’ve done the surveys and we are fully aware of just how resource rich our country is. And we are pretty determined that these resources will in future be used for the benefit and wellbeing of the people who live here, and not be wasted by Westminster on Trident, wars of aggression and propping up the City of London.

Mr Cameron continued on the theme of major life decisions with the following, which is both patronising and ignorant. “And you shouldn’t make a decision about changing your nation – forever – without knowing in full what the consequences may be.” I am not at all sure how you would go about changing your nation. Assuming that anyone would want to. It should not need pointing out, but as Mr Cameron seems to be rather ignorant on this matter, we must let him know that we don’t want to change our nation. I personally don’t think much in terms of nations, but to the extent that Scotland is both a country and a nation, then Scotland is our nation.

Certainly the UK is not a nation. It is a state, but it is not a nation. Otherwise why all the talk about the UK as a multi-national state?  Cameron, not for the first times seems a bit confused on this matter. Britain isn’t a nation, it is not even a state. Britain or Great Britain is part of the UK. The other bit is Northern Ireland. Memo to Mr Cameron, just think of the full name of the UK. It is a pity that Mr Cameron did not enlighten us on what the hell he meant with his reference to changing our nation. But enlightenment does not seem to be Mr Cameron’s strong point.

We do however want to change our state. In both senses of the word. We no longer want to be part of the UK state and instead want to live in an independent Scottish state. We also want to change the nature of that state. We want our Scotland to be a fairer, more equal and more democratic country with a sustainable economy which works for all of us. That’s the real change we want and that only independence can bring.

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Two stooges enter, and promptly exit, stage right

The No campaign seems to be rapidly descending into farce as the prospect of a Yes vote induces more and more panic from our Unionist and BritNat friends. The latest was the uncoordinated re-entry into the fray of Messrs Brown and Campbell. Both in their different ways highlighted the need to reform the UK and for the Scottish Parliament to get more powers and responsibilities. Both were as per usual pretty vague about what new powers should be transferred to Edinburgh. I don’t want to waste more time on dissecting the contents of the two speeches as others have done an admirable job of this already – Wings Over Scotland in particular, here and here.

What I do want to highlight is that these two outbursts, they hardly qualify as thoughtful contributions, are further evidence of the state of panic and disarray that seems to have engulfed the No campaign.  For both speeches have precisely zero relation to political reality. You just have to compare how the No campaign has approached this issue of further devolution with its response to a proposed currency union. There the biggest of guns at Westminster, Osborne, Alexander and Balls, were trotted out to parrot the same line – there will be no currency union. None of the party spokepersons from Scotland were involved in this.  Since a currency union requires the consent of Westminster only politicians representing the main parties at Westminster could issue a statement for or against a currency union. But equally, only Westminster can deliver the necessary legislation to secure further devolution. So it follows that only politicians representing the main parties at Westminster can issue any kind of credible commitment to further devolution.  Two failed former leaders do not count.  Only Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Milliband have the necessary authority to make a commitment on behalf of their parties at Westminster. And as with their stand on a currency union, it would have to be a joint commitment, and not just a vague promise to do something. It would need to be a joint commitment to deliver specific additional powers. Now of course nothing like this is going to happen. It won’t happen before September 2014. It won’t happen before the 2015 UK election. It simply will not happen.

It will not happen because none of the UK parties are remotely interested in further devolution. Their underlings in Scotland can rant on to their hearts content, but their masters in Westminster control the votes. It is also fascinating to see all this sudden interest in further devolution emerge as we get closer to the date of the referendum.  After all the LibDems are partners in the current coalition government at Westminster. If they were serious about further devolution, why have they not made this a key condition of the coalition agreement. At the very least the LibDems could have set out their proposals and secured the approval of all their current MPs and all their prospective candidates, not just in Scotland, but throughout the UK. But nothing of the sort has happened. Not the sign of a party that takes this as a serious issue.

It is if anything even worse for Labour. As someone mischievously tweeted, If only Gordon Brown had been Prime Minster!  Why has this stalwart of centralisation when in power in London, suddenly become a convert to further devolution?  Why did Labour when Gordon Brown was chancellor and then Prime Minster do nothing, absolutely nothing.

It is worth noting that neither Gordon Brown nor Ming Campbell used the Better Together platform for their speeches. Though both were speaking about the same topic, there does not appear to have been any prior coordination, no attempt to emphasize any similarities or commonalities between the two proposals. It all seems to be just further confirmation of the disarray in the No campaign.

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Unravelling the Royal Bank of Scotland

That intrepid BBC journalist, Robert Peston, has been at it again, with the apparently shock news that the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds may be forced to moved their registered offices and HQs to England if Scotland becomes independent, full report here. This will happen as the result of an EU Council Directive. All of which comes as a bit of a surprise, not least the revelation that this Directive dates from way back to 1995. Doesn’t exactly inspire one with much confidence in these two banks if they are only now aware of an EU Directive from 1995.  What else have they missed? Sticking to the letter of the law does not seem to have been one of the strong points of either bank. Leaving that aside, the real issue is, does it matter where the registered offices and HQ of these banks are located?

In the case of the Royal Bank of Scotland, or RBS, as it prefers to be called, much is made of the alleged fact that RBS is a “Scottish” bank. There is the added complication that there are in fact two companies called RBS. The first is the original RBS, the chain of retail branches which can be found all over Scotland. While this RBS does have some branches in England, it is predominantly a Scottish company, with its HQ in Edinburgh. The other company is known as RBS Group and though it also is registered and HQd in Edinburgh it is not a Scottish bank. A glance at their website will confirm this as it describes itself variously as a global banking and financial company or a UK centred banking and financial company. Which is not surprising as RBS Group is essentially a holding company. The real work is undertaken by the various companies which though all part of RBS Group, operate under their own name, with their own registered office and their own HQ.  As far as I can make out only two of these companies are based in Scotland, the old RBS retail bank and Adam & Co, a private banking and wealth management company. All the other companies are based and operate elsewhere.

This includes the USA, where there appear to be at least two RBS Group companies. One is Citizens Financial Group, which is based in Rhode Island. The other is RBS Securities which is based in Connecticut. RBS Securities is part of the Marketing and International Banking division of RBS Group. The other parts of this division operate from London and Singapore. All three are part of NatWest Bank. Which is not surprising, as by far the largest part of RBS Group is made up of NatWest Bank and its various subsidiaries. NatWest is of course one of the largest English banks and is as such registered in London. As are NatWest’s three private banking and wealth management companies – Coutts & Co, Child & Co, and Drummonds. Clearly there is a lot of private money around in London. It is interesting to note that to bank with Coutts & Co, for example, you need to have at least £1,000,000 available to invest, and this must exclude property. But I digress. NatWest has a few more subsidiaries, including Ulster Bank and Isle of Man Bank. The Ulster Bank is quite interesting on its own as it is made up of Ulster Banking Group, with HQ in Dublin, Ulster Bank Ireland, with HQ also in Dublin and plain old Ulster Bank, with HQ in Belfast. So much for the problems of running banks in different legal and taxation jurisdictions, not to mention different currencies.

The point of all this unravelling is that the key question is, how much of the business generated by all these RBS Group companies results in benefits to Scotland? Very little I would suspect. Only two, and two pretty small parts of the RBS Group empire operate in Scotland. With all the others, the employment, wages, spending and resulting taxes go to the countries in which they operate, whether that is England, Ireland or the USA. As RBS does not make any profits at the moment and is not likely to do so for a long time, we need not worry about where these profits would be taxed. Again I suspect very little would go to a Scottish Exchequer. Which leaves the employment and legal services that go with the Group HQ. While any loss of employment is to be regretted, I am sure the legal profession in Edinburgh will find ways of surviving this little loss. Especially as with independence there will be far greater demands for legal services, not least from an expanded government.

While there is no doubt some prestige and kudos to be gained from having the HQs of international companies in your country, it is not in practical terms that important. We can see this when we compare banking with two other stalwarts of the Scottish economy, North Sea oil extraction and whisky production. In both cases, most of the work is carried out by international companies whose HQs are located far away from Scotland. Shell and BP are two of the biggest companies operating in the North Sea. While BP is registered and HQd in London, Shell is a bit of an oddity. The parent company is known as Royal Dutch Shell and though its HQ is in the Netherlands, it is registered in London. Both companies operate in over 70 countries around the globe, apparently able to overcome all the uncertainties this must bring with all these different legal and taxation jurisdictions, all these different currencies, not to mention the political instability of many of these countries. Yet somehow the possibility of Scottish independence has them quaking in their boots.

It is similar with whisky, where many of our most famous distilleries are owned by international companies. These include Diageo, which is based in London and Campari, which is based in Italy. The key point in both whisky and oil production is that the revenues from whisky exports and oil production do come to Scotland and will remain with us in the event of independence. Some of the profits may end up in England or Italy, but virtually all of the employment comes to Scotland. Pretty much the reverse of what happens with our two overlarge banking groups. They are most welcome to leave Scotland and transfer their registration to England. As Robert Peston also pointed out, such a move would make a currency union all the more feasible and likely. Unless of course we decided that this would make rUK too dependent on a fragile and too big financial sector, and a currency union with rUK would be too risky for us.


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An open letter

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The Joys of Yes

_63052357_016047950-1As Referendum Day comes ever closer, it is time to step back a bit and reflect on the extra-ordinary nature of this campaign. For it is truly unlike anything ever seen before, not just in Scotland, but I suspect anywhere in the UK. I am, I have to admit, old enough to remember what passed for a campaign way back in 1979. This referendum was for a pretty unexciting Assembly and the campaign was suitably drab and uninspiring. It was much better in 1997 and this applied not just to the referendum campaign itself, but to the campaigning in the years before. There were lots of public meetings and leafletting. I can remember Jim Sillars addressing a packed out meeting in Anstruther. There was also another well attended meeting in St Andrews which featured Ming Campell and George Galloway, both advocating a Scottish Parliament. However even the 1997 campaign was nothing like the current one.

What really stands out this time around is the sheer number of grass roots, community based groups who form the bedrock of the Yes campaign. These groups are organizing public meetings, events and activities in just about every town and village across Scotland.  While there are Scotland wide bodies, such as Yes Scotland itself and others like Labour for Indy, Radical Independence, Women for Independence, National Collective etc, the main work is being done by local groups staffed by local volunteers. This work includes canvassing and leafletting to street stalls, Yes Cafés, public meetings, pub quizzes and goodness what else.

What is emerging from all this is that there is an enormous appetite among most people in Scotland to get engaged in this debate.  Most people are excited by the prospect of independence. Some are still not sure, a bit worried if we really are rich enough. But they want to know more and the more they know, the more likely they are to vote Yes. The other aspect of this campaign that stands out is the enthusiasm and joy of those working for a Yes vote. People from just about all backgrounds, ages and from all political expressions from the left to the right are working together in harmony.  There are differences of emphasis of course, but all parts of the Yes campaign are willing to share platforms and meetings and to treat one another with respect and even to enjoy themselves.

It is not just in public meetings and events that the Yes campaign is engaging with the wider public. This can also be seen in the range of articles, reports and analysis coming onstream. I am not here referring to the Scottish government’s own publications or those commissioned by them, but to the work produced by the various campaigning groups mentioned earlier and by the immense range of blogs advocating independence. To mention just a few, the Jimmy Reid Foundation is in the process of producing a series of reports on what an independent Scotland might become; National Collective produce regular articles and reports from the perspective of the artistic community, while blogs such as Wings over Scotland and Bella Caledonia offer daily comment and analysis on the developing campaign.

There is nothing remotely comparable on the No side. The No campaign reminds me of nothing more than an old general election campaign. Led from the top with an almost exclusive focus on elderly, white, male politicians. The preferred setting – a TV or radio studio or a closed door meeting. It is also clear that the No campaign is financed and led from London. Better Together, though it has Scottish front men, seems to take its orders from elsewhere. The main party leaders at Westminster have agreed to work together to save the Union. Though on the ground and in the streets it has proved almost impossible to make this work. The fact of the matter is, Labour, Tories and LibDems just do not get on well together. In fact they probably hate each other almost as much as they hate independence. Where is the joy on the No side? Where are the people of Scotland?

This general election feel to the No side is also reflected in the way the media are covering the debate. They are only too happy to limit and control the debate to what goes on in studios. BBC, STV and the print media like to think they are influencing the campaign, when in truth they are both distorting and ignoring what is actually happening. Not used to covering and reporting on grass roots, popular campaigns in the UK, they seem to have decided to just ignore what is happening on the ground in Scotland. Driven by their own Unionist, Britnat bias, they have been left floundering. This is most obvious in the London based media, where only sporadic glimpses are allowed into the nature of the debate up here. Most of the time Scottish independence is still dismissed out of hand as something silly, romantic, backward looking, if not just an outburst of anti-Englishness.

The vibrancy, the positive ideas, the inspiration, the visions of a different and better Scotland all come from the Yes campaign. This is what both the No side and the media in general have missed and probably not anticipated. And it is this enthusiastic engagement with what an independent Scotland can become that is making a Yes vote more and more likely.

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