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Scotland’s Independence Referendum Heats Up Ahead Of Polling Day

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Getting off the train at Glasgow’s Queen Street station and stepping out into George Square, it’s hard not to get swept up in the feverish excitement that is gripping the city. Yes badges seem to adorn almost every passer by. A giant banner reads ‘Bristol Greens: England says vote Yes for a fairer society.’ A band plays an open show on Buchanan Street, with saltires and Yes billboards lining the makeshift stage.

This is in stark contrast to Edinburgh, just yesterday (Saturday), when the Orange Order marched ‘to save the union’, in their biggest showing in Scotland in over fifty years. The controversial march – many on the Better Together side were well aware of the counter-productivity of a march by a group largely eschewed by most branches of Scottish civil society – was reported on positively by The Guardian as ‘a visceral show of strength for the union’ that passed by ‘largely without incident’. Continue reading

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Scotland Must Ditch Pound If Independence Is Gained

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Seven months remain between now and referendum day, when Scots will be asked ‘should Scotland be an independent country?’. Whilst the No campaign – or ‘better together’, a cross-party alliance between Conservatives, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats – have the upper hand in most polling data, the sizeable number of Scots who are ‘don’t knows’ ensures that the result of the referendum, and the future of the United Kingdom, is all to play for.

The issue of currency has been a key battleground between the two sides of the campaign. Before the collapse of the Eurozone, the Scottish National Party (SNP) argued that an independent Scotland – like Ireland – would join the European common currency. With that option now politically dead in the water, the SNP have since argued that the pound sterling could be retained in a UK currency union. Continue reading

The ‘Scottish Question’

‘The Debatable Lands of history’, wrote Norman MacCaig of the hills and valleys of the Scottish Borders, which signal the dividing point between the two historic nations of England and Scotland. Whilst the geographic boundary may no longer be in question, the debate over the constitutional boundaries within the United Kingdom is very much to the fore in both Edinburgh and London.

On gaining an overall majority in the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary elections – an impressive feat in a system which utilises proportional representation – the Scottish National Party (SNP), under First Minister Alex Salmond, pledged that there would be a referendum on Scotland’s future in the UK within four years. Since then, the ‘Scottish Question’ has taken on a renewed impetus, as politicians, journalists, civic groups, and the public have engaged in the debate over independence for Scotland.

Yet this debate is by no means a new one. Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom was a subject of discourse for much of the 20th century. ‘There will be a Scottish Parliament’, declared the late Donald Dewar, and in 1997 Scots were given the chance to decide for themselves in a referendum on the matter in which almost 75% of Scottish voters agreed with him. This was not the first time Scots were presented with a referendum on their future. A referendum was held in 1979, with a majority again in favour. However, the referendum had been subject to the “40% rule”, i.e., requiring 40% of the whole electorate to vote in favour rather than a simple majority.

The successful devolution referendum in 1997 was on the back of nearly twenty years of Conservative rule in Britain. During those years, the delegation of Conservative MPs crossing the Tweed to Westminster was uniformly minimal, prompting many to question the mandate held by Westminster over Scottish affairs. Margaret Thatcher’s governance, moreover, alienated many in Scotland. In 2012, there are only two Conservative MPs representing Scottish seats. David Cameron’s Conservative government finds little support north of the border. The conditions which fostered burgeoning support for devolution in the run-up to 1997 are being mirrored in the political climate in which the current debate exists, and Salmond is keenly aware of this.

David Cameron took an early foray into the debate, attempting to call Salmond’s bluff. “If Alex Salmond wants a referendum, why wait?”, Cameron told the Commons in January. This proved to be a costly error. The SNP Government hit back with claims of Westminster interference in Scottish democracy, a sentiment that many Scots found themselves agreeing with. In a matter of such historical importance for Scots, a Tory Prime Minister callously urging “get on with it” from London did little to help the unionist position in Scotland.

The debate has been further tipped in favour of independence by the manner in which it has been argued against. The argument to a large extent has thus far centred on why Scots can’t go it alone, rather than being built on a positive argument for the Union. Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats, partners in the coalition Westminster government, have been amongst those eager to stress some of the apparent gaps in the finer details of the independence plan, such as the armed forces, currency, and border control.

These details are undoubtedly important, yet such a focus is detrimental to their stance in that it fails to set the unionist position on any positive footing. Salmond has seized this opportunity to hold ownership over the language of positivity. He told a London audience in January that an independent Scotland would be a “progressive beacon of social democracy” based upon “universal values of fairness”. Johann Lamont, leader of the Scottish Labour party, has long understood that the best way for her party to garner support for the union is on those very values which Salmond espoused. Nevertheless, Labour have failed to effectively convey this.

Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, recently sought to rectify this in a visit to Scotland.

I support Scotland as part of the United Kingdom, not because I think Scotland is too poor or too weak to break away. But for a profoundly different reason: Because I believe that Scotland as part of the United Kingdom is better for the working people of Scotland, and better for the working people of the United Kingdom as a whole.

He cited the NHS and the history of British Labour as being a shared success, with the rallying cry: “let’s confront the real divide in Britain… between the haves and the have-nots.” A strong speech, but given his party’s failure to competently confront that very divide as Opposition in the Commons, its sentiment was all but lost.

Yet there is another aspect to the ‘Scottish Question’, away from the tit-for-tat politics of the debate. Miliband attempted to conjure a shared identity in his appeal to Scots, and both Cameron and Clegg respectively have reiterated those “common values”. Yet a uniqueness of culture and identity is something that we cannot ignore in the question over Scottish independence. This, it must be stressed, is something aside from nationality (the recent calls, for example, for expat Scots to be included in the referendum electorate was folly; an electorate should not be defined along ethnic lines). The Economist recently chided those in Scotland who seek independence as anti-English. Conversely, a fairer political relationship between the two countries could, as Salmond has argued, help cultural bonds between the two nations to prosper.

There are, undoubtedly, shared identities within the United Kingdom. Yet, since the end of the Second World War, there has been a growing sense of a re-defined Scottish identity in its own right. This expressed itself partly through the formation of the Scottish Parliament at the end of 20th century. The political and constitutional make-up was reconstructed to reflect the changed needs and wants of Scotland. The independence referendum, including the devo-plus and devo-max options (which involve a much greater transfer of power from Westminster to Edinburgh), offers the chance for this process to continue. The referendum will further empower Scots to re-define their cultural identity.

As the debate rages on, opinion polls fluctuate in levels of support for either side. When it boils down to it, there will be many Scots – in spite of the political to-and-fro, the arguments over the economy, and bickering over North Sea Oil – who find themselves having left the polling station having placed a cross in the “yes” box. Hugh MacDiarmid’s 1926 work, A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, hinted as to why this will be the case:

 I’ll ha’e nae hauf-way hoose, but aye be whaur

Extremes meet – it’s the only way I ken

To dodge the curst conceit o’ bein’ richt

That damns the vast majority o’ men.

There is an element of this appeal which can only be described as a hedonistic leap of faith, allowing a break from MacDiarmid’s “cursed conceit of being right”. The ‘Scottish Question’ may yet find an answer.

Turbulent Period Ends In Victory for Fenlon’s Hibs

AS HIBS LINED UP to face Celtic in the SPL on Sunday, they sat joint on points at the foot of the table with Dunfermline, with the Edinburgh side ahead only on goal difference. Three games – and sixteen goals – later, and Hibernian have a three-point gap above the relegation spot with a game in hand. The calm waters of Leith’s harbour give lie to the tumultuous fortunes of its football team. This comes as no surprise to the time-weathered followers of Hibernian, though for Pat Fenlon the experience may well be one that requires adjustment.

SPL-leaders Celtic visited Easter Road on Sunday 19th February. Neil Lennon’s side were in emphatic form, currently enjoying a record-breaking winning streak in the Scottish top flight, and their visit to the capital city continued in a similar vein. Fenlon’s side suffered a 5-0 defeat in a flat performance which, despite Celtic’s current form, served as an alarming wake up call to everyone involved with Hibernian who now teetered on the brink of the relegation zone.

A mid-week trip to Motherwell offered Hibs the chance of a respite from the hangover induced by Sunday’s heavy defeat. Motherwell, emboldened by the recent 10 point sanction place upon Rangers as they entered into administration, could begin to look above and beyond their 3rd place standing. Their recent form would suggest that they would be favourites ahead of Hibs, though most observers whom are familiar with the SPL will recognise this fixture as an entirely unpredictable affair, in no small part due to a 6-6 scoreline here in 2010.

Wednesday’s game was equally as compelling. Hibernian, bolstered by a sizable travelling support, took the game to the hosts early on. The visitors looked confident and dangerous in attack. Yet a return to some all-too familiar failings for Pat Fenlon’s team allowed ‘Well back into the game. It was a hard-fought encounter in which Hibs’ prowess going forward and in the middle of the park was undone by repeated defensive mistakes – including the gifting of two penalties by young Irishman Matt Doherty. The game finished 4-3. The enthrallment of the neutral offered scant consolation for Fenlon and his players.

To end the week, Hibernian travelled to Kilmarnock, eager to dispel the disappointment of the previous two matches. Fenlon had made a couple of key changes to the side that lost at Motherwell, replacing Matt Doherty with Pa Kujabi in defence and Irish forward Roy O’Donovan taking the place of Garry O’Connor. It was an astute reshuffle which appeared to banish the woes of the week that had passed. Central to Hibernian’s performance on Saturday was the return from injury of Tom Soares, on loan from Stoke City. Two goals from Soares and a fine 25 yard strike from O’Donovan saw Hibernian record a crucial 3-1 victory over Kenny Shiels’ Kilmarnock side.

The sense of relief around the Easter Road club was palpable as Fenlon recorded his second league win with the club, though the Hibs boss urged caution. “It’s one win, nothing else. If we can get on a little bit of a roll, that will help us”, Fenlon told the BBC. “It’s a massive game at home to St Mirren next week. It’s important that we stay focused.”

There is breathing space now between the bottom two clubs in Scottish Premier League. Fenlon’s plea for focus will need to be heeded if Hibs are to part from their capricious habits.

Doyle sends new-look Hibs into the last eight of the Scottish Cup

The excitement in the cold winter air was palpable around Easter Road on Saturday, as Hibs prepared to face Kilmarnock in 5th round of the Scottish Cup. Despite league woes continuing, having suffered a four nil defeat to Rangers in Glasgow the previous weekend, Pat Fenlon’s dramatic overhaul of the squad in the closing stages of the January transfer window prompted a welcome wave of optimism amongst the supporters.

From kick-off, this optimism was given justification. Hibs pressed ahead, applying early pressure as Tom Soares strode forward with the ball from his own half and forcing a fine save from Killie ‘keeper Cammy Bell with an effort from range. The resulting corner saw the ball hit the back of the net, only for the goal to be somewhat controversially disallowed by the referee for an alleged infringement by Garry O’Connor. Yet Hibs were soon legitimately ahead, after some neat link up play which saw Eoin Doyle cleverly nod the ball on to Soares to the right of the goal, who proceeded to cut the ball back to Doyle. The resulting strike found the back of the Kilmarnock goal as Doyle claimed his first goal at Easter Road and his second in the cup competition.

Soares and Doyle, after showing examples of effective link-up play at Ibrox last week, appear to be continuing on in that direction. From other areas of the park too, quality of service is increasing to Doyle’s benefit. David Wotherspoon’s pin point cross from the left-wing found the Irish forward at the far post, though with the resulting header looping over. Into the second half, left-back Pa Saikou Kujabi impressed on his first outing in front of the Hibs supporters with a rampaging surge forward up the left flank, feeding the ball through to Doyle with a perfectly timed and placed ball. Doyle was unable to double his tally as Bell saved the low shot, yet Hibs were showing a desire and finesse in going forward that had been lacking in recent months.

Yet it was in defence that the biggest change could be noted. Fenlon’s Hibs have been much criticised for slack defending in recent games, with the shambolic goals lost at Ibrox last weekend being a case in point for the season so far. Kilmarnock, who have gained plaudits this season for their attacking style, pressed forward in search for an equaliser as the game progressed. Yet Hibs held their grounded solidly and astutely, with the home support cheering every block, tackle, and aerial battle won. The new signings were thoroughly effective in this regard. Matt Doherty thwarted Killie attempts to at the Hibs goal with some fine tackling, and James McPake followed suit, throwing his body in the way of a James Fowler volley which seemed certain to hit the target as the Hibs defence again repelled Kilmarnock’s advances.

Hibs held on to their lead to claim a one nil victory and passage through to the last eight of the cup. “They’re a good team and they caused us problems but our work-rate and our defensive shape was fantastic”, Fenlon told the BBC. This was a much changed Hibs side in both look and demeanour, yet the most noticeable improvement was in their attitude. This was a confident and assured performance, and Fenlon’s work at the Edinburgh club appears to be paying dividends. Hibs will hope to carry this positivity into their league campaign as the battle to move away from the relegation zone and up the table continues next Saturday with a home tie against Aberdeen.

Hibernian look to build on crucial win as the search for new faces continues

On a grey Fife afternoon, Fenlon’s Hibernian claimed a vital 3-2 victory over bottom placed Dunfermline to give the capital side a four point cushion above the foot of the table. The sizeable Hibs travelling support, which filled the 3,000 capacity away stand and forced Dunfermline to re-open their North Stand to accommodate the swelling ranks of green and white behind the goal, suggested the gravity of the tie which many billed as the game of the weekend.

The fixture did not disappoint, as two teams struggling to find form served up a highly entertaining and hard-fought match filled with drama. It was Hibernian who again found themselves chasing an early defecit, as Andy Kirk ghosted by the Hibs defence to nod home for Dunfermline. Yet Hibs began to find their feet as the half went on. Isiaah Osbourne left the ball as it passed him in the air, allowing Leigh Griffiths in behind the home defence to slot home and bring the Edinburgh side level.
Into the second half, and Hibernian pressed on the counter. Fenlon showed his desire to take the full three points from the game, replacing David Wotherspoon for Hibs’ top scorer Garry O’Connor. The substitution paid off, as the former Lokomotiv Moscow and Birmingham City frontman drove the ball into the top corner after a lay-off from Leigh Griffiths on 75 minutes. Dunfermline, however, did not seem to be disheartened by going behind. Despite some dogged individual performances in the Hibs defence, the home side broke through to level the tie at 2-2 on 81 minutes.
Just as it seemed Fenlon’s Hibernian had thrown away the chance of such a crucial win, the Hibs fans amassed behind the goal were sent into delerium barely two minutes after their side had lost the lead. Lewis Stevenson fed the ball towards Griffiths, who shirked off the attentions of the home defence and fired a low shot in at goal which managed to escape the clutches of the Dunfermline keeper before finding the net. A typically nervy finish ensued, though the Leith side held on to claim their first league win since October.
Hibernian have sought to bolster their side through the acquisiton of Norwich City right-back George Francomb on a six month loan signing. With Akpo Sodje being the latest player to be released by the club, Fenlon has been working hard to get new faces at the club, yet signings other than 20 year old Francomb and 23 year old Irishman Eoin Doyle have been unforthcoming.
“We have identified and are talking to some who will improve us, whether we get them or not will depend on other teams”, Fenlon told the BBC. One of these appears to be Arsenal’s Rhys Murphy, who is reported to be currently on trial with the Edinburgh side, as well as St Mirren midfielder and fellow Irishman Jim Goodwin.
Hibs return home to Easter Road this weekend and Fenlon will be looking to capitalise on the momentum generated by the last two consecutive wins. Fourth-placed St Johnstone are the visitors this Saturday and will provide tough opposition given their impressive form this season.

Fenlon claims first Hibs win

This weekend provided a break from league action as the Scottish Cup reached the fourth round stage. Hibs were handed a tough test at the Fife home of 2nd Division leaders Cowdenbeath. A dismal recent record and languishing a point above bottom placed Dunfermline in the Scottish Premier League, it was the top flight side whom many expected would struggle.

Hibs have had a troubled relationship with the Scottish Cup throughout the club’s 137 year history. This is a tournament – the oldest national cup in world football – that the Edinburgh side have failed to win since 1902. In their last two campaigns in this competition Hibs have met their fate at the hands of lower league opponents. A trip to First Division Ross County under then manager John Hughes in 2010 resulted in a premature end to that season’s cup run, with a similar end being suffered by Colin Calderwood’s Hibs side in 2011 after an away defeat again to a First Division side, Ayr United.

Yet Hibs supporters hoped that their team would not suffer the same outcome under new boss Pat Fenlon, despite a home defeat to local rivals Hearts in their last league outing. The meticulous Fenlon has taken a robust approach to the squad he has inherited, having already dropped Aggogo and Thornhill from the side, with more expected to follow. Striker Leigh Griffiths has had his loan spell from Wolves extended and, in the first real indication of Fenlon’s vision for his Hibernian side, Irishman Eoin Doyle has joined the club from Sligo Rovers who made his first start at Saturday’s fixture.

However, it took just 19 seconds for Hibs’ recent woes to be compounded. The second division side scored in their first surge forward, with Greg Stewart easily outmanoeuvring Sean O’Hanlon on the turn before finishing past the Hibs keeper. An upset appeared to be on the cards. Despite this early setback, the SPL side began to gain a foothold in the game. On the 18th minute Cowdenbeath player-manager Colin Cameron gifted possession away in their own half, with the former Hearts man allowing Leigh Griffiths to fire a rasping shot from 25 yards that clipped the inside of the crossbar before finding the net.

With the tie level, it was Hibernian who pressed forward. Doyle posed a threat to the Cowdenbeath defence, forcing a save with a curled shot from the edge of the box. Just shy of the half-hour mark, the former Sligo Rovers hitman opened his goalscoring account with his new club. Michael Hart’s pass found the Irishman in the 6 yard box who slotted home on the rebound after his first attempt was blocked by Cowdenbeath keeper Thomas Flynn.

Doyle again asked questions of the home defence, with a scrambled clearance off the goal line after a deft head flick from Hibs’ new number 10. Griffith’s sublime first strike was almost imitated, though the long range free kick found the wrong side of the crossbar this time. Hibs extended their lead in the second half after Danny Galbraith proved elusive for the home defence on the flank, the resulting cross being met at the near post by the head of David Wotherspoon to bring the Capital side’s tally to three.

Yet a nervy finish was ensured after Cowdenbeath struck again. John Robertson showed great individual skill and composure to chip a ball over Hibs defender O’Hanlon before striking a neat volley to finish. The young forward was presented with a opportunity to draw the home side level not long after, with Hibs looking like the tie could slip away from them. Robertson’s sliced shot went way adrift of the target, resulting in a collective sigh of relief from Hibs supporters at the game and listening at home across the country as the Edinburgh side ensured a place in the next round and Fenlon earned his first victory as manager of Hibernian.

Ahead of the next round of the Scottish Cup, there are much more pressing issues at hand. Another visit to Fife beckons for Fenlon’s side, who face Dunfermline Athletic in a game that could well determine how the rest of the season will follow for two teams eager to retain their SPL status. Fenlon will hope to take some confidence from Saturday’s cup success, though a tough task remains ahead for the Irishman if Hibs are to reverse their fortunes in the SPL.

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