The Truth Commissionaire

Scotland in Union’s proposal for a ‘Truth Commission’ is not to be taken seriously. In part, because it is impractical. It would all but certainly be impossible to find or constitute a body that was “independent”, “qualified!” and “unimpeachable” to the satisfaction of all parties to the referendum. And even if such a body could be set up there is no way it could respond quickly enough to serve as an arbiter during the course of a referendum campaign that may be as short a six weeks.

Think back to the 2014 referendum. Among them, Better Together/Project Fear, the British political parties and the British government issued masses of material. Yes Scotland, the SNP and the Scottish Government contributed a fair bit of material too. That was a two-year campaign which started quite slowly. There’s a chance a ‘fact-checking’ agency might have been able to keep up with demand initially. But as the campaign went on there was huge amounts of material being published daily. It is inconceivable that this ‘Truth Commission’ would have been able to cope even with unrealistic human and technical resources.

While you’re thinking about the 2014 campaign, consider the infamous ‘Vow’. That was a dead cert for referral to the arbitration body. But it was issued only days before the vote. How might it be possible to assess the material, come to a judgement and ensure voters were notified in such a short time? Especially considering the backlog there would inevitably be.

The ‘Truth Commission’ would also be laughably toothless as it could only possibly adjudicate in issues involving the official campaign bodies. As noted, it would hardly be possible for such a body to deal with even a fraction of the material put out in the course of a referendum campaign by the registered organisations. Were its remit any wider it would be crushed under the sheer weight of referrals; because one can be sure that virtually every pamphlet, report, social media posting, speech and statement would be referred. Or, at least, one would have to assume so in setting up the body.

We have to wonder what good it might do, anyway. By the time a particular piece of material is adjudicated on, the lie is already ‘out there’. It’s in the public domain. Courtesy of the British media, the British state’s lies will already have entered the public consciousness. A dull wee rebuttal doesn’t stand a chance against a big glittery lie.

Significantly, the ‘Truth Commission’ – even if it was feasible – would still leave the anti-independence campaign with the advantage of having the biggest media trumpet by far. Even the dullards at Scotland in Union are capable of figuring that out.

Given that it is such an obvious non-starter, why suggest it? Why come out with the idea of a ‘Truth Commission’ that is patently unworkable and ineffective even if it was a practical proposition? What purpose does this serve?

I would suggest that it fits nicely with a wee propaganda ploy we’ve been seeing more and more of lately. There being no way the British Nationalists can credibly claim that they didn’t lie on an industrial scale in the 2014 campaign, they are now trying to inculcate the notion that the Yes campaign was ‘just as bad’. No honest and dispassionate observer could ever reach such a conclusion. But proposing a ‘Truth Commission’ to regulate both sides of the campaign implies parity.

Scotland in Union is home to some of the most rabidly fanatical British Nationalists. If there were no other reason to treat their proposal with scorn, that would suffice.

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Anything for the children

The wellbeing of children must be the first priority of any civilised society. The Named Person measure is opposed by people who have no place in any civilised society. The assorted religious fundamentalists and ‘Big Brother’ conspiracy theorists of the No To Named Persons campaign (NO2NP) are bad enough. But the crass political opportunism of the Tory bandwagon-jumpers is immeasurably worse.

A good working definition of the term ‘civilised society’ would be a society which has abjured religious dogma as a basis for public policy. The very last people you’d want influencing efforts to ensure the wellbeing of children are those who set their moral compass by scripture which commends and commands treatment of children which is horrifically abusive by the standards of that fundamental humanity which religious faith usurps and perverts.

Neither can a society be truly civilised where the laws which allow it to function are subject to the whims of those who place themselves outside society and spurn its laws. Those who reject the principle of pooled sovereignty upon which democracy relies and regard the law, not as an expression of the collective will and mores of society, but as an assault on their asserted right to act entirely and solely according to the dictates of their own ‘code’.

Also inconsistent with the concept of civilised society is the lawmaker who puts personal and partisan concerns before their duty to society. The politicians responsible for scaremongering about the Named Person measure fall into this category. Can there be a more despicable creature than one who sabotages a simple but potentially effective improvement in the child protection system for no better reason than the possibility of scoring points against a hated political opponent?

A civilised society must constantly fight the forces of regression and forever guard against corruption by those who would use fear and superstition to manipulate the public consciousness.

Bearing this in mind, my first instinct was to dismiss Ms Kirk’s suggestion that the should “repackage” the Named Person measure in favour of taking a stand against the scaremongering. My initial thinking was that this ‘rebranding’ had the appearance of pandering to those regressive and corrupt forces. But then I remembered that the wellbeing of children must be the first priority of any civilised society. For that reason alone, I am obliged to concede that, if positive reform of the child protection regime in Scotland requires is, then “repackage” the Named Person measure we must.

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Trident? It’ll cost you!

Imposing a timetable for the removal of Trident would be a serious mistake. Adopting such a policy would leave the SNP open to accusations of being prepared to compromise safety for the sake of political posturing. The paramount consideration of safety means that we must be resigned to Trident remaining for an undefined period. But ‘undefined’ need not mean ‘indefinite’.

It’s no use anybody, however well qualified, claiming that Trident can be removed safely within a specified period. The horrific nature of nuclear weapons is such as will outweigh any reassurance. A host of world-renowned experts testifying that Trident could be moved within a couple of years of independence without compromising safety would be trumped by one guy in a white lab coat making that noise plumbers make when they look at your ailing boiler.

We will be stuck with Trident for a while. Let’s all get used to that idea. But Scotland would be in a position to dictate the terms on which Trident remains on Scottish soil. We could demand that the facilities are immediately marked for decommissioning and taken out of service. We could demand proof of preparations for complete removal and a timetable for completion with margins for safety. And, of course, we could charge the rUK government for use of the facilities.

Trevor Royle says an asset such as Faslane, which could attract a rental of £1.1bn a year. Profiting from WMD even in this tangential way might be regarded as somewhat mercenary. But one shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Unless it’s big and wooden and hollow and filled with enemy soldiers. In which case a precautionary peek is likely to be forgiven.

It will be pointed out that leasing the base would open the possibility of the rUK government being purposefully tardy and perhaps seeking rolling extensions to the short lease. This is wrong. It is not a possibility but a racing certainty that the Brits would play such games. There is, however, a very simple way of disincentivising such shenanigans. Ramping rent!

By setting the rent to increase at an exponential rate an economic imperative is introduced. Let the rent start at a level which can be portrayed as reasonable, if not generous. But put in place annual increases which will bring the rent up to, say, double or even treble that £1.1bn figure within the maximum time period considered acceptable, without actually specifying any time limit. That way, the rUK government is put in the position where protesting the exorbitant rent is seen as putting money before safety.

The Scottish exchequer benefits and the Scottish Government avoids accusations of playing fast and loose with safety while hard-line anti-nuclear campaigners can be satisfied knowing that there is an irresistible economic imperative driving removal of Trident. Everybody wins! Except the fans of WMD, of course. But who gives a toss about those freaks?

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No change

Tommy Sheppard tells us that British Labour’s still highly dubious acceptance of Scotland’s right of self-determination is a “long-standing position”. Which is odd given the following from British Labour’s 2017 UK general election manifesto.

Labour opposes a second Scottish independence referendum. It is unwanted and unnecessary, and we will campaign tirelessly to ensure Scotland remains part of the UK.

British Labour Manifesto 2017

That statement is still on British Labour’s website.

In September 2018, Jeremy Corbyn told the BBC,

We don’t want another referendum, we don’t think another referendum is a good idea, and we’ll be very clear on why we don’t think it’s a good idea.

Labour to block new Scottish independence vote

And, of course, British Labour in Scotland has always been fanatically committed to denying the fundamental democratic rights of Scotland’s people.

How’s that “long-standing position” looking now, Tommy?

It never ceases to amaze me how easily those who profess themselves on the independence-supporting left of Scotland’s politics succumb to the inexplicable allure of British Labour. It often seems that they spend their lives on tenterhooks just waiting for some soundbite that they can seize upon as an excuse to discount the gross betrayal of British Labour making common cause with the Tories in the appalling campaign to deny the sovereignty of Scotland’s people. The party’s participation in Better Together / Project Fear is, with ample justification, regarded as totally unforgivable by many (most?) in the Yes movement. But there are some for whom British Labour has the same irresistibly magnetic appeal as the mother ship has for alien visitors.

There is a more general feature of British politics at play here. The notion, powerfully encouraged by the media, that only the latest thing matters. History is treated as a series of discrete events linked only in those ways which happen to fit the current narrative. Everything is a one-off, unless it’s convenient that a pattern should be identified. Every wrong-doer is a ‘lone wolf’ or a ‘bad apple’ unless it’s useful for them to be associated with some out-group. The public are evidently reckoned to be incapable of dealing with anything more complex than a single soap-opera plot-line, and assumed to have an attention span no greater than the length of this sentence.

I’m not suggesting Tommy Sheppard has fallen foul of this ‘syndrome’. And there is much merit in his argument that “while we remain part of the UK, it is better for Scotland that it is governed from the left”. But the idea that British Labour offers any hope for Scotland just seems utterly naive. The idea that “there’s a deal to be done” with Jeremy Corbyn is politically misguided. The idea that any British party can be trusted relies on a ‘blanking’ of recent history that borders on the pathological.

British Labour is a party of the British establishment. It is a British Nationalist party. It will renege on any deal without hesitation or guilt because anything is justified in the name of preserving the Union. To imagine that Jeremy Corbyn’s British Labour is any different from the British Labour of Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband, Alistair Darling or Richard Leonard is to embrace a dangerous delusion.

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Options and priorities

As I have said on many occasions, the most valuable thing a political leader can have is a range of options. I have also acknowledged Nicola Sturgeon as a worthy pupil of one of the most astute politicians of our time – her erstwhile mentor, Alex Salmond. So I find it totally inexplicable both that she should discard options for taking forward the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence and that she should do so by choosing a route so fraught with potential pitfalls.

Unlike many other SNP members and a good number of my fellow Yes activists, I was perfectly content that the MacNeil/McEleny ‘Plan B’ resolution was rejected. I won’t go through all the reasons for this here, but they included the First Minister’s concern about distraction as well as recognition of the difficulties involved in making an election work as a substitute for a referendum. And the fact that a conference resolution isn’t needed for Plan B. The SNP can just stick in their manifesto for any election a declaration that a favourable outcome will be taken as a mandate to start negotiations. Who’s going to object? Apart from the usual suspects

I suggested then that Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny might have had more success putting forward an amendment to the resolution in the names of John Swinney and Maree Todd, which they have now done; although I don’t for one moment suppose my words had any bearing on that decision. Besides, I also advised that they should drop their ‘Plan B’ and instead submit an amendment advocating a greater sense of urgency from the Scottish Government and exhorting the First Minister to keep her options open on on the matter of process rather than insisting on rigid adherence to procedures established by the British government. Obviously, Angus and Chris have not heeded this part of my advice.

I take the view that getting Plan A right is vastly more important than having a backup plan. Not least because, should Plan A fail, it’s unlikely that there will be an opportunity to resort to Plan B. If the British establishment is aware of the potential of Plan B, and how could they not be, then they will have a countermeasure ready to be deployed.

Nicola Sturgeon is absolutely correct in sating that focus must be on her plan. Where I part company with her is that I insist this focus shout take the form of critical scrutiny, rather than obedient acceptance.

I suggest that the four SNP MPs now backing a Plan B route to independence would serve Scotland’s cause better were they to take the lead in questioning the efficacy and wisdom of following the Section 30 route.

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Playing their game

Tommy Sheppard is right. The British government’s refusal to release the results of its polling on attitudes to the Union and Scottish independence certainly does beg the question, what is it they’re trying to hide? But we shouldn’t restrict ourselves to the most obvious questions, or the first query that occurs to us. We might well ask why they are trying to hide it.

The reasons for hiding something are not necessarily connected to the nature of the thing being hidden in any direct or obvious way. The act of hiding may be more significant than what is being hidden. It is certainly worth exploring what the motives may be.

The obvious conclusion is that the thing being concealed is potentially embarrassing. In this particular instance, it is only natural to assume that the polling must undermine the British government’s position on the Union. It would seem likely that the results show less support for the Union than British Nationalists would like and/or more support for independence than they are prepared to acknowledge.

But less support for the Union doesn’t have to mean a dramatic collapse. And more support for independence needn’t mean a dramatic surge. In fact, polling already in the public domain suggests the split is still hovering around 50%. I always thought the fuss which greeted a recent poll show 52% for independence was rather overdone, given that the margin of error is commonly +/-3%. Of course, any majority for independence is welcome news for some of us – even if it is conditional and with the ‘don’t knows’ stripped out. And such numbers would are certainly problematic for British Nationalists who are still trying to convince the public that independence is a ‘fringe’ issue in Scotland.

There being no reason to suppose the British government’s secret polling might be an outlier, I am prompted to wonder why they are so desperate to keep it hidden. It could be that they are simply defending the convention that advice sought or provided to the government is confidential. But even taking this very sensible principle into account, the case for a FoI exemption seems weak. Which makes their apparent determination to take it all the way even more curious. What might explain this apparently pointless obduracy?

Here’s a thought! Suppose the polling results are actually quite dull. Suppose they show, not a big swing to Yes, but just a run-of-the-mill 52/48 split in favour of the Union. Suppose the information is being hidden solely because the British government knows that the SNP will make a big deal of it only to be left looking a bit foolish when the information is finally released.

Devious? Indeed it is. Far-fetched? Well, I started out thinking so. The original idea was to use this to illustrate the need to always ask the awkward questions and never settle for the obvious answers. The ending I had planned dismissed the notion of such Machiavellian shenanigans. But, now that I’m here, I’m not so sure. The way British politics is at the moment it doesn’t seem safe to discount any silliness.

The real lesson here may be for Tommy Sheppard and other SNP politicians. Perhaps they need to be wary of reacting in predictable ways to the antics of the British political elite. With all due respect to Tommy, he could be following a script written by his opponents. He is playing their game. Following their rules. It might be worth considering more nuanced tactics.

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Web inside web

I hear the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and the increasingly ludicrous Jo Swinson talking about having a ‘plan’ and my first thought is that they are three years too late. This is almost immediately revised upwards to 13 years, or possibly more. Because the time for planning was before the Brexit project was launched. And a project so complex would surely need at least ten years preparation time.

I know this has all been said before. And I know it’s too late to do anything about it. But when politicians are talking as if the situation can be resolved if we just put our faith in them it is as well to remind ourselves that the Brexit situation cannot be resolved.

I suspect most couples have gone through a period of hardship. The economic system under which we are obliged to live is driven by insecurity, inequity and imbalance. It’s engine is the tension created by contrived difference – differences among individuals and groups and differences between the ideal with which we are presented and the reality with which we must exist.

So most couples, and possibly others, will be able to recall times when it’s all gone wrong. Unemployment, debt, rising costs, family responsibilities and eventually ill-health all combine to imprison them in a web of intractable problems. They will recall those long hours spent in fruitless and futile discussion, pushing and tugging at the tangled threads of the web trying to find a way out. They will recall moments when a thread seemed to come loose. They will recall the wrenching, crushing despair on realising that this has only tightened two threads elsewhere.

When people have shared problems they tend to talk about them even when the talking takes them round in circles. However much they talk things through, they always end up back at the same place, or in a worse place. Sometimes they try to deny the soul-sapping powerlessness, insisting there has to be a way out. There just has to be. What if we….

Brexit’s a bit like that. Some foolish choices have sent things spiralling out of control, and now we’re at the talking-in-circles stage with politicians pretending they have solutions by pointing at the loose thread while ignoring the ones that are tightening. Those with nothing to gain from such pretence/deception stand back – to the extent that is possible when you’re trapped – and take in the whole snarled and ravelled knot, or as much of it as they can. And they see no way out.

Tug at the tread of an Article 50 extension and you are merely buying some time before you end up back at the same place.

Tug at the thread of a general election and you end up in the same place but with some new cast members.

Tug at the thread of a ‘people’s vote’ and the result puts you back in the same place.

Tug at the thread of revoking Article 50 and you find that the place you’re trying to get back to no longer exists; so you end up in the same dire situation but with a different web.

Where stands Scotland in all of this? We stand trapped in a web inside a web – the web of the Union. Deemed incapable of making our own choices, despite having made the choice that would have avoided the Brexit web altogether. Deemed helpless, despite being expected to help those who dragged us into the web. Deemed undeserving of a fate any better than that which England has chosen for itself, despite having a clear way out.

Brexit isn’t Scotland’s problem. The circuitous and circular discussion about how to ‘fix’ Brexit is not our conversation. The posturing of British politicians like Jeremy Corbyn is not for our benefit.

We don’t want to be here. We don’t deserve to be here. We don’t need to be here. But here we remain. Why?

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