Don't Panic!

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The fear exhibited by the ruling class at the prospect of the break-up of the British state was a sight to behold. John Newsinger looks at the actions of a state machine under pressure.

The Scottish insurgency has been successfully contained by a mixture of threats, scare stories and fraudulent promises, but what a fright it gave the ruling class.

BBC reporter Nick Robinson remarked that he could actually smell Cameron’s and Miliband’s fear when it looked as if the Yes vote was gathering momentum.

It was this fear that led the three party leaders, Miliband, Cameron and Clegg, to make what is likely to become their infamous “vow”. Given the track record of these men one can only admire their nerve.

Clegg is, of course, the man who vowed to abolish student fees — a solemn promise, abandoned when he and the rest of the oath-breaking LibDems voted instead to increase them to £9,000.

Cameron’s whole general election campaign was a pack of lies, but crucial was one particular promise: there would be no more top-down reorganisation of the NHS.

This was a lie of such enormity as to take one’s breath away. He got away with it, but only because of the extent of Labour’s complicity in NHS privatisation and reluctance to campaign against it.

But what of Miliband? Who really knows what he believes about anything? All we can be certain of is that a Miliband government would continue a policy of austerity at the expense of the working class, but with a more sympathetic rhetoric.

Labour despatched a trainload of MPs, presumably on expenses, to canvass in Scotland. This was real desperation. Of course, the solemn joint vow fell apart within hours of the referendum result being announced.

So desperate were the Tories that they even wheeled out a regiment of generals to appeal to Scotland’s militarist traditions.

An Open Letter pleading the difficulty of launching any future invasions without Scottish participation was orchestrated by Lord Dannatt and signed by no fewer than seven former Chiefs of the Defence Staff, three former First Sea Lords, three former Army Chiefs and one former Air Chief Marshal.

There is no doubt that the fate of Trident was a very real concern. Britain’s military reputation was dealt damaging blows in Basra and Helmand; to have Trident put in doubt by a Yes vote would have compromised relations with the US.

Quite how desperate the No campaign was was best demonstrated by the decision to revive Gordon Brown. Most people thought he was dead, but it turns out he was only comatose.

And so we were treated to the spectacle of a former Labour chancellor of the exchequer and prime minister, who when in office had done everything he could to appease the super-rich and set the bankers free to wreck the economy, actually shouting his concern for “the people”. Brown proclaimed, with all the fake passion he could muster, that only Labour could save the NHS.

The media were amazed at this new revived Brown. A bit more scepticism was in order though. How seriously should we take Brown’s embrace of the NHS? Was it merely a cynical manoeuvre prompted by Alex Salmond’s success arguing that the NHS would only be safe in an independent Scotland?

If more journalists had read Nick Davies’s Hack Attack they would have found a clue regarding Brown’s sincerity.

Davies reveals how, in 2001, in an attempt to keep the Sun onside, Brown had a meeting with Trevor Kavanagh, the paper’s political editor, to discuss the NHS. This turned into a negotiation, with Kavanagh insisting “that Brown should accept the advice in that morning’s Sun for the NHS to start buying in services from private medical businesses. This was no part of Brown’s policy, but Kavanagh won.”

The very idea of Brown as a champion of the NHS is preposterous. His posturing was so much empty opportunist rhetoric prompted by fear of defeat in the referendum. As the Tories regularly point out about their NHS policies, they are merely continuing what Labour began.

To be fair though, Salmond had his own meeting with Murdoch, who hinted that the Scottish Sun might actually support independence and that News International would move its headquarters to the new Scottish capital, Edinburgh.

The suspicion is that Salmond offered to end the BBC TV licence in an independent Scotland, something Murdoch has always wanted. In the end, Murdoch drew back from breaking with the Tories.

Despite the tremendous disappointment at the result, the independence campaign gave the British ruling class and its agents a fright like they have not had for many years.
They were shaken, really shaken. The campaign against austerity has to build on this. The fight goes on.