Watch Your Step, Cassandra: Hawthorne Is Watching


An Outside Context Problem was the sort of thing most civilisations encountered just once, and which they tended to encounter rather in the same way a sentence encountered a full stop.

The usual example given to illustrate an Outside Context Problem was imagining you were a tribe on a largish, fertile island; you’d tamed the land, invented the wheel or writing or whatever, the neighbours were cooperative or enslaved but at any rate peaceful and you were busy raising temples to yourself with all the excess productive capacity you had, you were in a position of near-absolute power and control which your hallowed ancestors could hardly have dreamed of and the whole situation was just running along nicely like a canoe on wet grass… when suddenly this bristling lump of iron appears sailless and trailing steam in the bay and these guys carrying long funny-looking sticks come ashore and announce you’ve just been discovered, you’re all subjects of the Emperor now, he’s keen on presents called tax and these bright-eyed holy men would like a word with your priests.

— Iain M. Banks, Excession

It is now 78 days until the Scottish Local Authority Election. Historically speaking, these are frequently the second-lowest attended elections in Scotland, which is understandable, given the prominence and perceived hierarchy of the UK Government: according to the Westminster hierarchy, the UK Parliament is at the top tier of government, with the Scottish Parliament next, and local authorities third. Here in Scotland, things are a bit different: in Scotland, the people are sovereign. As local authorities are the closest to the sovereign people, they are crucial to the political conversation. Is it any wonder, then, that the elite insist on putting Westminster first, Holyrood second, and local authorities last, when an argument could easily be made for the very reverse?

But that’s all by the by. I will once again be campaigning for my local SNP candidates in this election. Yesterday, several of them were approved by the Greenock & Inverclyde Branch & Constituency to go forward. There is still time for anyone else to throw their hat in the ring, but we don’t exactly have a surplus of that particular resource.

(Time, that is: we have plenty of hats)


Local elections, of course, are very different campaigns compared to a Parliamentary one: there are multiple candidates contesting multiple wards, each with different demographics, priorities, geographies, and sizes. That’s clear to see from a map of Inverclyde: one ward takes up half the land area of the other six combined, despite having roughly the same population as any individual ward; two wards are largely rural, three urban, and two more a combination of urban and rural; all bar one have a coastline. Each ward will be its own campaign-in-miniature, with different champions vying for representation on Inverclyde Council.

Just as each election is fought as miniature local contests – 59 (for now) for the UK Parliament, 73 for the Scottish Parliament – there will be, effectively, 353 elections throughout Scotland this May. That means, while I will obviously be campaigning for all SNP candidates in Inverclyde, I would have a particular interest in my own ward. Now, when I was campaigning for Ronnie Cowan & Stuart McMillan, it was part of a campaign that was targeting the tens of thousands of Inverclyde voters. This time, everything has become much more intimate – and personal.

Unfortunately, until we have our candidates – and that might be a wee while yet – the campaign proper won’t be kicking into high gear. And that presents an issue, given we have an absolutely gargantuan elephant in the room which might completely change the tone and character of any campaign.


I remember folk being incredulous when I stated my firm, genuine belief that Inverclyde – and Scotland – would vote Yes. And, even if the official vote did not go that way, I feel great vindication that our constituency was the fifth highest Yes-voting constituency in Scotland, when we were widely predicted to vote No. On the day of the referendum, many on the No side expressed shock, as they seemed to think Inverclyde was expected to vote Yes:

Inverclyde was flagged earlier today as an important indicator of the strength of pro-independence feeling among Scotland’s working class voters. As a relatively poor part of Scotland with few migrants from elsewhere in the UK it was thought to represent rich pickings for nationalists and give an early indication of the potential for Yes in the big cities of Glasgow and Dundee.
Financial Times

The separatists then lost in two more of their target areas, Inverclyde and Renfrewshire, with the former proving a particular shock.
The Telegraph

In Inverclyde, where yes fancied its chances based on both polls and the council’s demographics, no edged it by 86 votes. The yes share of the vote was softer than expected, with no winning several councils by 20, even 30 points.
The Guardian

Examples of these supposedly Yes seats include the first to declare its total, Clackmannanshire, a small council which was a top Yes target. It voted No, 54 per cent to 46 per cent Yes. This pattern was then repeated in other Yes hopefuls, like Renfrewshire, Inverclyde, Perth and Kinross and Aberdeenshire.
The New Statesman

No comfort at at all can be taken from the fact that Inverclyde (a small council area to the west of Glasgow and a suspected yes zone) has voted no. The result was Yes 27,243 No 27,329 – fewer than 100 votes in it. (Such results makes you wish this was decided by some kind of US-style electoral college system). It’s a reminder how dangerous it is to look at a map of Scotland and divide the place into yes areas and no areas – with the vote so tight, it’s pretty much irrelevant. The only point that matters is the overall score.
– Fraser Nelson, quoted on an article which does exactly that

inverclydeshock_inverclydeclp inverclydeshock_robfordmancs inverclydeshock_ruthdavidsonmsp inverclydeshock_susejohnston inverclydeshock_svenjaodonnell inverclydeshock_tommckendrick

Yet what is this? Only a few months previously, the Bookies expected Inverclyde to vote No.

One thing that sticks out is the vote in Aberdeenshire, which was No 9 in most likely to vote for a Yes, but they ended-up at No 24. What seems to have happened is the Aberdeenshire is a strong SNP area, but, perhaps, the head ruled the heart … where the relative affluence of the area overruled the strong independence focus. Angus and Moray too are strongly SNP, but have gone more with their head, as both areas too are fairly affluent. The bookies obviously predicted that the heart would rule the head in these areas, and that’s why they didn’t manage to predict them in the correct position.

For heart over head, Dundee, Glasgow, and East Ayrshire were predictable; it was other West Coast areas which showed the great head over heart movement, including South Ayrshire moving from one of the least likely (No 31) to somewhere nearer the middle of the table. Renfrewshire and Inverclyde, though, stormed through the odds with massive heart over head turnaround.

It’s almost as if people who thought No would win comfortably were possessed by utter unreasoning panic in the final few weeks of the campaign, and tried to present the loss of their massive lead as some sort of glorious underdog victory – defeating “Yes Strongholds,” remarking on “shock results,” confounding “expectations.” Yet all through the Yes Inverclyde campaign, I was constantly told there wasn’t a chance Inverclyde could possibly vote Yes. It utterly pains me to say this given the respect and appreciation I have for Yes Scotland, but even they told a room full of activists, quite frankly, that “we weren’t going to win Inverclyde.”

The weird thing is, I remember when people thought Inverclyde was going to be one of the few seats that the SNP might not attain in the 2015 General Election. Even those who thought it might go gold predicted a modest, middle-of-the-road win – not the 9th largest swing to the SNP it ended up being!






An unpleasant shift followed the next year: this time, there was no way the SNP could fail to gain a majority. It’s practically guaranteed. And yet…

Then, the mantra was that the UK would never leave the EU. Barely any point going out and campaigning: Scotland would vote Remain, so would England, it’s all a big noise about nothing. So many people told me, so assured they were. Even the more thoughtful among them, including more than a few significant SNP figures, were confident the UK wouldn’t vote out – and that even if it was to happen, the UK Government would shy away from an outright break. We’d still be in the single market, EFTA, the Customs Union. No way would the extreme Leave voters get what they wanted.

Aye, and Scotland would get Devomax after indyref2.

I recall a while back someone on Twitter dismissed my blog, because I put a Latin quotation in the heading: in his experience, it’s a sign the author is a pretentious diddy who seeks to confuse readers with unclear language. While it was certainly not my intention – I used Latin because it’s from a Latin source, and translations are subject to the prejudices and preconceptions of the translator – I’ve encountered more than my fair share of pseuds in my time, and as a precocious teenager, I was far from immune to such affectations. But it still lingers with me, as the entire reason I have this blog is to share thoughts in a way which, I aim, will aid in the cause of Scottish Independence. If I use big words, it is because that big word is the best to express a complex idea – not because I’m trying to impress people with my love of the Thesaurus (much as I adore my Thesaurus, it has “saurus” in the title, and you know I love my dinosaurs). Yet even in my humourous posts, I can’t shake the underlying sincerity, because this is serious business.

I mention two names in this post. The first is Cassandra, the Trojan Princess who was simultaneously gifted and cursed: she was a prophet who no-one would believe. She foretold troubles, dooms, tragedy, but none would listen, even as prediction after prediction came true. Sometimes, being a Yes supporter can make you feel like Cassandra. Of course the UK Government wouldn’t give us Devo-Max. Of course they’d vote down every amendment to the Scotland Bill. Of course the UK couldn’t guarantee anything they claimed would be “safe with a No vote,” from the NHS, to jobs, to our place in the European Union. It is not the fault of the people for not listening – it is the fault of those who seek to corrupt, obscure, and outright deny the truth.

The other name is Hawthorne. I’m referring in this instance to Henry A. Landsberger’s Hawthorne Effect, a psychological phenomenon which occurs when people are aware they are being observed, and change their behaviour accordingly. The UK Establishment are watching us – now, more than ever, thanks to the useless opposition & cowed media, and the realisation that the independence movement is not just a fringe fantasy – and it’s made me more concerned about what I could, or should, say, in a public forum. Imagine I had come up with some great line, some great campaign tactic for indyref2. Suppose I had some amazing information that would change the entire debate. What could I do with it? Putting it out on the internet means the opponents of independence have it too – which means they can counteract it. But how, then, can it be disseminated through the new Yes Campaign? What about things you know will happen, which you know will change the event, but even saying that you know something is enough to give the opposition a heads-up? Or is it too important not to share – no matter how seemingly modest the proposal be – even to those who would stop us from achieving our goals?

Would Cassandra have been more effective if she just kept silent, never telling anyone about her prophecies at all?


Scotland is changing. Politics is not the plaything of a political class, well-to-do latter-day gentry who pursue a lifetime in chambers and halls, or opportunistic carpetbaggers seeking to multiply their contacts and feather their nests. Politics is not an employment generation scheme for those incapable of working in a “mainstream” job. Politics is not a parlour game for classes to debate with each other, an ersatz TV show for people to gossip about. Politics is deciding who should feast and who should starve; who will benefit and who will suffer; who will live and who will die. And despite the protestations of exactly the same political classes who benefited the most from the old days of low turnout and minimal engagement, constitutional politics are not “getting in the way” of foundational issues of care, employment, security and education – rather, they are the foundation upon which everything else is based.

And there are some people who don’t believe, or understand, how serious we are about this.

We are in the eye of a terrible storm, which is surging around us. It only seems like everything has settled: “maybe leaving the EU won’t be so bad”; “perhaps we’ve seen the worst the anti-democratic agenda taking hold in the UK, EU, and US has to offer”; “it’s possible we’ve made it through the worst.” Something will happen, before the election, which will put everything – everything – into a completely different perspective. Our opposition know it – why else are they ramping up the shameful rhetoric on one hand, while proclaiming confidence that the people of Scotland don’t want a second referendum? A paradigm shift, one that we haven’t seen in generations – and I’m including the #indyref in that – is coming, and it’s coming soon. This is something that’s going to make local personalities, minor policy differences, tribal loyalties, and historic feuds, look for all the world like straws in the wind, as people are faced with a monumental event which will change everything.

We have to be ready for it.

Watch your step, Cassandra.

6 thoughts on “Watch Your Step, Cassandra: Hawthorne Is Watching

  1. Kangaroo says:

    Well here is something for you to consider. Either watch 1666 on youtube or buy the book on kindle. It will enlighten you with Truth. Why are Westminster such ah^&&*les why do they support evil dictators etc etc

    Once you “get it” things are just very different. Illuminated so to speak.

  2. Stravaiger says:

    Calgacus was defeated at Mons Graupius because he was outflanked by Agricola. Maybe some foot soldiers spotted this possibility, but they never had 21st century means of communications to directly alert their leadership of the weakness in their flanks. Calgacus could then have used this information at the appropriate time.

    Even though Calgacus was defeated, a prolonged campaign of guerilla tactics combined with external events eventually led to a proto-Scotland rising from Rome’s ashes, because the people were sovereign and knew it.

    You are not the only Cassandra, nor the only one to catch a glimpse of the smoke on the horizon. Many eyes are watching the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

  3. agm24 says:

    Excellent post Al. Here is hoping for a strong turnout at the councils, real danger of the Tories sneaking in through unionist 2nd preference et al. votes. Inverclyde is lucky to have such an bright and committed SNP member such as yourself!

  4. […] know what? Forget my worries about being a Cassandra. I’m just going to call it like I see it. World’s mad enough as it […]

  5. […] something tick, tick, ticking away, just out of earshot. And I feel like one of the characters who knows that there’s a bomb, but doesn’t know where it is, when it will explode, or even what […]

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