Monday, 25 June 2012


By Alexander Smith (author of Devolution and the Scottish Conservatives)

This week’s launch of the ‘Better Together’ or ‘No’ campaign (as it will be better-known colloquially) for the 2014 Scottish independence referendum means that the battle over Scotland’s constitutional future now begins in earnest.

It comes just weeks after First Minister Alex Salmond launched the ‘Yes’ campaign in an attempt to regain the political momentum after the SNP fell short of its self-declared goals in the local government elections held on the 5th of May.

Although emerging with more local Councillors and votes than any other political party in Scotland, the Nationalists failed to wrest control of Glasgow City Council after an epic struggle with their ‘auld enemy’, the Scottish Labour Party.

Supporters of Scotland remaining part of the United Kingdom now sense that the tide is turning in their favour.  

It is certainly true that the challenges ahead for the Scottish Nationalists in winning the referendum campaign should not be underestimated.  The latest opinion polling suggests that, after recently peaking at just shy of 40%, support for independence has now dropped to 35% amongst Scottish voters. 

With 55% of the electorate behind them, those opposed to independence remain in the majority.

These figures reinforce a pattern, which has remained consistent since the opening of the Scottish Parliament over a decade ago, that demonstrates no more than about a third of Scots support independence.

To break through this electoral glass ceiling, the SNP needs to maximise the institutional resources at its disposal, in local government, the media, the Scottish Parliament and the wider community. 

That was why their unsuccessful effort to destroy the Labour Party’s powerbase in Glasgow – Scotland’s largest city – mattered so much to the Nationalists.

Convincing sceptical voters to take a leap into the constitutional dark and back independence remains a massive mountain for the SNP to climb between now and the 2014 referendum.

But supporters of the constitutional status quo cannot afford to be complacent.

For now, ‘No’ campaigners may have public opinion on their side.  But a lot could change before the 2014 referendum.

Leading figures from Scotland’s three main Unionist parties will feature prominently in the campaign to keep Scotland part of the United Kingdom. 

Although former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown will be conspicuous by his absence from the front ranks of the ‘No’ campaign, his former Chancellor of the Exchequer  Alistair Darling will be leading the charge for Labour in Scotland. 

He will be joined by the well-regarded former Liberal Democrat Leader Charles Kennedy as well as the relatively-popular (for a Scottish Tory) Annabel Goldie, who led the Conservatives in the Scottish Parliament until 2011.


Whether these three contrasting political personalities can agree to share the media spotlight and successfully work together over the next two years to secure Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom will prove fascinating to watch.  


Indeed, it may prove particularly difficult for the ‘No’ campaign to maintain a united front when the SNP at Holyrood rails against austerity and the budget cuts being handed down by the UK Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government. 


Sharing a platform north of the English border with both the Tories and the now-reviled Liberal Democrats could be especially challenging for Labour politicians sitting on the opposition benches at Westminster.


And in Alex Salmond – the undisputed leader of the ‘Yes’ campaign – they will continue to face one of Britain’s most astute, charismatic and emotionally intelligent politicians.  In recent weeks, he has capitalised on confusion amongst the Unionist parties in the run-up to the launch of the ‘No’ campaign and will no doubt mercilessly exploit divisions amongst his opponents over the next two years. 


So far, there have been bold claims made on both sides in their efforts to capture newspaper headlines and rally their supporters. 


For the ‘Yes’ campaign, Salmond has called for 1 million Scots to sign a pledge in support of independence in the run-up to the referendum.  Meanwhile, the ‘No’ campaign has declared that it will raise a war chest of £1 million to fight the Nationalists in 2014.


But big talk calls for a big vision for Scotland’s future, within – or outwith – the United Kingdom.


Over the next two years, Salmond will be hoping that the enthusiasm many Scottish voters feel for his government at Holyrood will translate into support for independence.  He also knows that to win this argument, he must articulate a positive vision for the future and tell a story of a Scotland capable of standing – and prospering – on its own two feet.


To derail his arguments, Unionist politicians may be tempted to run a negative campaign that seeks to exploit anxieties amongst Scottish voters over the economic uncertainties facing Scotland and the UK as a whole. 


They will likely point to the recent experiences of small countries and fragile economies on the periphery of Europe, such as Iceland, Ireland, Greece or Portugal.  And they will ask whether Scotland can really fend for itself financially, especially if as an independent country it can no longer rely on the Barnett formula or lucrative UK defence contracts to subsidise its economy?


In addition, the ‘No’ campaign could muddy the waters for the Nationalists further, distracting them with wearying questions of constitutional banality, such as what passports Scots would carry or whether customs would have to be paid at the English border.


While it is likely that a focus on the negative consequences and practical uncertainties of independence may help ‘No’ campaigners win the referendum, it is also true that they need to make an equally positive case for Scotland remaining within the United Kingdom. 


Without doing so, Unionist politicians may risk sounding overly negative against a confident, clear-eyed and optimistic narrative from Alex Salmond, who will champion the promise of an independent Scotland able to decide and act for itself on the world stage.


This could alienate Scottish voters and, in turn, further entrench the SNP as the natural party of government in Scotland – even if it loses the 2014 referendum.


Such a result would be disastrous for the Scottish Labour Party, which is hoping to regroup and fight back after seeing off the Nationalists’ formidable challenge to its Glasgow stronghold in May.

The ‘No’ campaign has now been launched and the battle for Scotland’s constitutional future has been joined. 

The stakes remain high for both sides.

The next two years will prove decisive in the history of both Scotland and the United Kingdom – whether or not the former elects to leave the latter in 2014.

Dr Alex Smith is a Senior Leverhulme Research Fellow in the Department of Sociology at the University of Warwick and the author of ‘Devolution and the Scottish Conservatives: banal activism, electioneering and the politics of irrelevance’ (2011, Manchester University Press).

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Dublin launch of 'Eva Gore-Booth'

This week has seen the highly successful launch of our biography of Eva Gore-Booth: An image of such politics by Sonja Tiernan. The event took place at the Mansion House in Dublin and featured a plethora of speakers.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Racism in Football Crowds: An issue of context, not disposition

As England prepare to kick off their Euro 2012 campaign, the tournament is becoming increasingly overshadowed by racist and violent behaviour by a small number of fans. Geoff Pearson, author of An ethnography of English football fans, published by MUP later this summer, considers ‘why does football attract this type of anti-social behaviour?’
By Geoff Pearson

In the build up to the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship, the issue of football crowd racism has been high on the media agenda. Images of Polish and Ukrainian fans chanting racial insults, performing Nazi salutes and on one occasion engaging in racist violence were broadcast in a rather sensationalised edition of BBC 1’s Panorama, leading to debates about what action players and referees should take in the event of racist chanting at Euro2012 matches. 

Expressions of racism by spectators at football matches was one area that I looked at during my 15-year ethnographic study of the behaviour of English football fans. From 1995 to 2010 I followed fans of Blackpool, Manchester United and the England national team, spending over 2,000 hours ‘in the field’. As Clifford Geertz warns us, ethnography is invariably microscopic in nature, and ethnographers must therefore be careful about making sweeping generalisations based on their research, which is inevitably only a piece of a much larger jigsaw of cultural behaviour. My research only focussed on a specific sub-culture of fans, supporting three clubs, in one nation, so it cannot claim to be necessarily representative of how all football fans behave. 

However, in terms of attitudes to racism, a common theme was identified across all three clubs for the duration of my research. This was that expressions of racism from football fans were largely determined by context rather than by a disposition of football fans towards that type of behaviour or those type of views. I found nothing to suggest that football fans were inherently more racist in attitude than non-football fans, or that football matches were magnets for racists or extremist political groups. I observed a number of incidents of racist chanting, but these took place only in specific contexts at certain times; for the vast majority of matches, racist chanting or abuse was not apparent.
For example, at Blackpool (between 1995 and 1999) racist chanting occurred that was widespread in terms of participants, but which only took place at a handful of matches a season, was only directed against one specific ethnic minority, and (with one exception) only against two clubs (both local rivals). And yet the fans chanting these songs refrained from engaging in this form of abuse for the rest of the season. With England (1998-2006), racist chants were engaged in by a minority at most match events, but only in specific geographical contexts – mainly pubs and bars and (again with one exception), not in the stadiums themselves. At Manchester United (2001-2010), racist chants were almost unheard of either inside or outside the stadium, and yet some of the fans with whom I carried out this research had racist views and expressed racist sentiments in other contexts.

What seemed to be happening at all three clubs was a form of (usually unspoken) self-policing. Most fans who might express racist views at home, in the workplace or in the pub, simply did not feel comfortable expressing these at football matches, where so much work has been done by groups such as Kick It Out, to make racist chanting seem unacceptable. If the scenes from Poland and Ukraine are typical of domestic football there (and many commentators from those countries suggest otherwise), then what we are seeing is the opposite – that fans with racist standpoints perceive football stadiums to be acceptable socio-geographic contexts in which these views can be expressed without fear of censure from the spectators around them. Of course in the UK, legislative action combined with improved stadium infrastructure and CCTV has also assisted in making football grounds largely free of racist abuse, but this did not stop some of the incidents observed in my research, and my conclusion remains that it is self-policing by the fans that has been most significant in dealing with the phenomenon.  

There is therefore no easy solution for the Polish and Ukrainian authorities in dealing with racism in their domestic football (whether any racism occurs in Euro2012 stadiums is less certain), but the English experience hopefully demonstrates that it is possible to manage racism in football grounds without somehow excluding all those who have racist views or fundamentally changing entrenched social prejudices. Football is not an equality-friendly pursuit; the teams that the fans at Euro2012 will be supporting will consist of players who are all able-bodied, all male, and all of a particular nationality, often as they play out historical political, religious, or economic antagonisms. There is no room for complacency, and in the case of nations like Poland and Ukraine serious improvement is clearly required if racist abuse in their domestic game is to be controlled. However the fact that the vast majority – if not all – of the European Championship games this year will pass off without any serious racist abuse is something that should be celebrated.

Dr Geoff Pearson is a Lecturer at the University of Liverpool’s Management School, and co-chair of the 2012 Ethnography Symposium.

His second book, ‘An Ethnography of English Football Fans: Cans, Cops and Carnivals’ is published by Manchester University Press in July. 

Follow Geoff on Twitter @Geoff_Pearson.
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Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The formal presentation of 'Eva Gore-Booth' to the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins

The President endorsed the book, by Sonja Tiernan, as 'a significant publication focussing on a key period in Irish history.'

The book, published by Manchester University Press to coincide with Eva Gore-Booth's birthday, will be officially launched in Ireland next week.