The boost

angus_macneilI confess to spells of weariness and occasional bouts of despair. Political activism can be quite draining. I think I’m averaging around three Yes events per week, along with all the reading and writing and social media activity. Just keeping the diary up to date can seem onerous task. Then there’s the travel and accommodation arrangements. All in all, being part of the Yes movement can get to be like a full time job.

Not that I’m any kind of special case. Countless people are doing as much as I am. Many are doing a great deal more. I’m sure they get weary too. Maybe it’s not a bad thing to acknowledge this. Perhaps it would do us all good to admit that we’re only human. We get tired. There’s no shame in that.

It has been a long time, too. Some count their commitment to the independence campaign in decades. An honourable few have made it the work of a lifetime now closer to its end than its beginning. But even if you are one of those who only engaged with the independence cause during the first referendum campaign or in it its immediate aftermath, you have been involved to some degree in an unrelenting programme of events and activities for at least four years. In that time, and at the lower end of a scale of activism, you’ve probably done around 100 things.

The Yes campaign makes considerable demands of all who participate. If we get tired and irritable let’s not be too hard on ourselves –  or each other.

No matter how jaded we may get, there are always those moments which serve to revive us. The marches. The rallies. The conferences and the conventions. The occasions when we get together with like-minded folk and feed on each other’s enthusiasm. The times when we gather to share ideas and insights. The times when we embark on bold new projects. The times when we get to welcome those who have made the journey to Yes.

Then there are the developments and interventions which make us mindful of the fundamental justice of our cause and remind us how necessary – and urgent – it is that we break Scotland out of the Union. Almost daily now we are jolted out of any tendency to lethargy by some new evidence of how damaging the Union is to Scotland. With increasing frequency we are hearing influential voices raised against the inclination to complacency. Angus MacNeil is prominent among those voices.

Unfortunate as it is that Angus MacNeil persists in linking action to resolve the constitutional issue so intimately with Brexit, at least he is injecting a much needed sense of urgency into the debate. This is what Yes activists want to hear. This is what will keep us old-timers going for a bit longer. This is what will attract fresh blood and fresh vigour to the independence campaign.

Angus Brendan MacNeil MP, I salute you!

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No British veto on Scotland’s democracy!

back_in_boxIt is always gratifying to see British Nationalists squabbling amongst themselves. But the main thing we should take from all of this is the British parties’ shared conviction that the British political elite holds the power of veto over Scotland’s right of self-determination.

The right of self-determination is vested wholly in the people of Scotland, to be exercised entirely at our discretion. That is how democracy works. By their arrogant, presumptuous insistence that they have authority to deny or constrain the right of self-determination the British parties reveal their contempt for democracy.

Nicola Sturgeon could give the Yes movement great encouragement by taking the opportunity at the SNP Conference in October to disabuse the British ruling elite of this notion. Nobody realistically expects her to use the occasion of her Conference address to announce a timetable for action to resolve the constitutional issue. But she has to give the Yes movement something. And declaring that, whatever form this action might take and whenever it might happen, there will be no Section 30 request would send precisely the right message to both Yes activists and British Nationalists.

To petition the British government for a Section 30 order is to acknowledge the veto they assert. Nicola Sturgeon must reject this assertion. As Scotland’s First Minister, it is her solemn duty to defend the democratic rights of Scotland’s people. No democratic right is more fundamental than the right to choose the form of government that best suits our needs. The British political elite must not be allowed to limit or deny this right.

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The Predictables

scotland_euBy way of comment on the latest developments in the Brexit farce, I refer to something I wrote nearly two years ago. If nothing else, this demonstrates just how predictable it all was.

“I continue to be perplexed by British politicians and political commentators talking as if the manner of the UK’s departure from the EU was a matter of choice. Many of these people seem to genuinely believe that the UK Government can, on behalf of the various vested interests that it represents, tailor Brexit in such a way as to avoid much of the deleterious impact. They really seem to imagine that the institutions and remaining member nations of the EU are just sitting there waiting for Theresa May to tell them what it is that she wants so that they can helpfully accommodate her.

First there was “soft Brexit”, and the notion that the UK could simply choose to retain privileged access to the single market having torn up the membership of the EU which is the essential prerequisite for such access. Then there was talk of the “Norway option”, as if Norway’s views on the matter counted for nothing. Now we have solemn pronouncements about a “transitional deal”.

What all of these have in common is the fact that they are totally delusional. The impression given is of a British political establishment desperately trying to convince itself that Brexit can be achieved without consequences. Or, at least, that the process can be made relatively pain-free.

In all of this one finds the acrid stench of British exceptionalism – an innate conviction that the British state is special which has as its counterpart a sense of righteous victimhood born of the equally strong belief that this status is bitterly resented by the rest of the world.

There are a couple of things we can be reasonably sure of amid all the uncertainty of Brexit. All the talk of “soft Brexit” and “transitional deals” will ultimately be exposed as whimsically euphemistic fantasy as the reality of the imposed punitive settlement bites. And blame for the inevitable impact of Brexit will be placed firmly on the shoulders of Johnny Foreigner.

When this happens, British nationalists will be incandescent with indignation that the UK is being penalised for its actions. The anger which should be directed at the British politicians who created the situation will instead be directed outwards against our neighbours. All of which will be disturbingly familiar to those who know a little of Europe’s history.”A very British delusion

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Alpacas might fly

rennie_ram_llamaIt seems somebody called Willie Rennie is ‘challenging’ the SNP to support something called a ‘people’s vote’. Having done a bit of research, I can offer some clarification on the ‘somebody’. It seems that Willie Rennie is the Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) for North East Fife and Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats – which is one of the British political parties squatting in Holyrood where a proper opposition should be. When he’s not ‘challenging’ the SNP to do something they’ve already done or never will do, Willie’s hobbies include ram wrestling and teaching alpacas to fly (see above).

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you much about the ‘People’s Vote’ – other than that, apparently, it must be capitalised. The term refers to a campaign, run by an organisation called Open Britain, which hopes to persuade the British government to hold a referendum on something called ‘the final Brexit deal’. To this end, they have a petition signed by lots of people. Presumably the people who are convinced they should have a vote on this ‘final Brexit deal’.

The real problem comes with trying to identify what it is that the capitalised ‘People’ would be doing with their capitalised ‘Vote’ supposing the capitalised ‘People’s Vote’ campaign were to succeed.

Referendums (I only call them ‘referenda’ when wearing a toga.) can be useful tools. Used well, they can enhance the democratic process. But, done badly, they are worse than useless. To be effective, a referendum must offer clear options – preferably no more than two. Ideally, the choice should be binary – yes or no – with the meaning of each being totally explicit. If the proposition can’t be put, without ambiguity, in twenty words or less, then it is probably too complicated for a referendum. If explanatory notes are required, then it is almost certainly too complicated for a referendum. If those explanatory notes run to more than a single side of A4, then trying to decide the matter by means of a referendum is just plain daft.

If a referendum is to be decisive it is essential that both options are spelled out in a manner which leaves no room for dispute. If one or more of the options is undefined then the referendum can produce a result, but never a decision. And, for the purposes of referendums, ‘poorly defined’ is defined as ‘undefined’.

Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum is illustrative. While it was perfectly clear that a Yes vote meant independence by way of a reasonably well described process, there was no indication whatever of what a No vote meant. Initially, it was said to be a vote for the status quo. As the referendum campaign progressed, however, all manner of stuff was hooked onto the No vote – up to and including ‘The Vow’.

In practice, a No vote meant whatever the British establishment wanted it to mean. This turned out to be pretty much the opposite of everything that had been promised. And something very, very far from the status quo that was originally offered. Thus, the referendum produced an indisputable result, but no decision. Because the No option was effectively undefined, a No vote in the referendum could not settle the issue. There was nothing to settle on.

A similar problem beset the EU referendum in 2016. While it was clear that a Remain vote meant ‘no change’, nobody had a clue what was implied by a Leave vote. Those running the Leave campaign least of all. Even leaving aside the added complication that Scotland (and Northern Ireland) voted Remain, the UK-wide vote produced a result, but not a decision. In the aftermath, every faction has sought to define the Leave vote to suit its own agenda. How often have you heard someone assert that the voted Leave, but they didn’t vote for one or more things from a seemingly endless list. By way of an example, the following is from the ‘People’s Vote’ website.

No one voted to be poorer, for our public services to suffer, or to pay a £40 billion divorce fee.

So, will another referendum sort out the problem? Can a ‘People’s Vote’ produce, not merely a result, but a decision? It seems extremely unlikely. For some, it may be a bit late to start – but let’s think about it.

The one thing we can say for certain about the ‘final Brexit deal’ that is supposed to be the subject of the ‘People’s Vote’ is that it will not be clear or concise or unambiguous or unequivocal. Given the impenetrable complexity of the issues, we may assume, with an exceptionally high degree of confidence, that it will be the very opposite of all these things. It won’t even be ‘final’. It can’t be. UK/EU relations will be in flux for years. Probably decades. Just as there has been endless wrangling about what Brexit means, so the precise meaning of the ‘final Brexit deal’ will be the subject of unending argument.

Even if it was possible for those voting in favour of the ‘final Brexit deal’ to know exactly what they were voting for, what they voted for would be likely to change even before their votes were counted. Even if the result favoured the ‘final Brexit deal’, there would be no decision. Because it would always be possible for people to claim that they hadn’t voted for some aspect or interpretation of an over-complicated and fluid proposition.

And it gets worse! Because those voting against the ‘final Brexit deal’ would hardly be any clearer about what their vote meant. Obviously, they’d have no more idea of what they were voting against than those who were voting for the ‘final Brexit deal’. But neither would they know what would happen if the ‘final Brexit deal’ was rejected. Would the status quo ante be restored? (Had to slip into my toga for that one.) Could Article 50 be revoked? Would the EU accept this? Or would they choose to poke the Europhobe rats’ nest with the jaggy stick of conditions for the prodigal’s return?

Much as everyone might like to erase the entire Brexit episode from their memories and from history, that’s not an option. Even if the UK were now to remain in the EU as a result of a ‘People’s Vote’, the relationship must inevitably be changed. And it’s just not possible for those participating in the ‘People’s Vote’ to know the nature of that change. Whatever way they voted, they wouldn’t know what they were voting for any more than they’d know what they were voting against.

A ‘People’s Vote’ cannot possibly resolve anything. It can only be the cause of further confusion and conflict. The ‘People’s Vote’ idea is as inane as everything else associated with Brexit. It says nothing flattering about Willie Rennie that he has embraced the inanity with such alacrity. If Nicola Sturgeon has even noticed his ‘challenge’, she will surely ignore it. For obvious reasons she cannot allow herself to be portrayed as opposing a ‘second referendum’. But there is no possibility that Rennie will bait her into supporting a ‘People’s Vote’. He has more chance of getting that alpaca airborne.

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Yes boss

sic_cwBehold! The latest attempt to set up the Scottish Independence Convention (SIC) as the ‘official’ umbrella group for the Yes movement. All credit to Common Weal director Robin MacAlpine for his persistence. Congratulations also go to Max Wiesznewski (formerly of Common Weal), who seems to be in charge of this scheme to impose a management structure on the Yes movement.

Which is not the same thing as taking control, of course. However much it may look that way, we should not be deceived into thinking that waddling, quacking thing is a duck. Just because SIC/Common Weal is talking about setting up offices and employing staff, we shouldn’t take this to mean they intend to run the Yes movement. When they talk of “getting on the front foot with the media” we shouldn’t take this to mean that they plan on presenting themselves as the ‘official’ voice of the Yes movement. When they talk of providing a “strategic vision for the Yes campaign” we mustn’t assume that vision will tend to align with that of a particular group.

It’ll be fine!

If you’re concerned about the grassroots Yes movement being transformed into a hierarchical organisation, don’t be! I’m sure that’s not what’s intended at all. If you’re worried about the possibility of SIC/Common Weal harnessing the power of the Yes movement to a narrow policy agenda, relax! There’s a distinct possibility that won’t happen.

If you’re apprehensive about SIC/Common Weal diverting resources from the de facto political arm of the independence movement – the SNP – fear not! There’s a fair chance somebody is looking at that issue.

If you are in the slightest bit dubious about the motives of those setting themselves up as ‘leaders’ of the Yes movement, set aside those doubts and suspicions right away. Just look at the individuals and groups who have already signed up for whatever this turns out to be. The unity card has been played. You’ve been trumped.

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All our eggs in one Brexit

scotland_euIn a recent article I had some strong words to say about the notion that ‘Brexit is the key’ to Scotland’s independence. I continue to be alarmed at the number of potentially influential voices within the Yes movement who are prepared to stake everything on Brexit. An already substantial, and arguably increasing, part of the discourse around the constitutional question has moved away from the core issue of the Union to focus on the impact of Brexit. Many seem to have abandoned, to some degree at least, the effort to make the case for independence on its inherent merits – or against the Union on its fatal defects – choosing to rely instead on a perverse, and almost certainly forlorn, hope that Brexit will affect people’s lives so dramatically and so detrimentally that they will immediately demand the ‘solution’ of independence.

That Brexit will be detrimental to most people is hardly in doubt. What is, at the very least, questionable is whether the impact will be dramatic enough to have the effect hoped for by those who would have us pin all our hopes on it.

As I pointed out in that earlier article, it is not the reality of Brexit which matters, but the perception.

And who controls the apparatus by which public perception is manipulated? The British state, of course! Even if it were true that “Brexit is the key!”, that key is entirely in the hands of a British state with a massive propaganda machine at its disposal.

I was prompted to revisit this thought on reading that, in a survey conducted by Deltapoll for the Guardian, no less than 60% of respondents agreed with the statement.

I no longer care how or when we leave the EU,
I just want it all over and done with.

The opinion piece by Rafael Behr in which this poll is mentioned argues that voters have already switched off. Behr concludes,

It is possible that all of the ideological and technical squabbling, the factional bickering that has consumed politics since the referendum, will turn out to have been only the preamble. And what it will all come down to in the end is a contest between two gut propositions that have very little to do with the EU. For leave: just get on with it. For remain: please just make it stop.

Now! I know that this was a UK-wide survey and that it may not accurately reflect the mood in Scotland. But it serves to illustrate and reinforce the point that popular attitudes to Brexit have more to do with how it is perceived than with any actual effect. How it is perceived by the general public may be very different from the way it is appreciated by the likes of Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp. And this is especially true if, as we may reasonably assume will be the case, those popular perceptions are manipulated by British media in such a way as to suit the purposes of the British establishment.

Let us not forget that Brexit itself is largely – some would claim entirely – the product of a decades-long campaign of disinformation, distortion and dishonesty conducted by large sections of the British press determined to destroy the entire European project.

It is reasonable, therefore, to expect that the British media will do what it can to encourage the attitude of apathy and ennui identified by the Deltapoll survey and summarised so succinctly by Rafael Behr. And it is not unreasonable to anticipate that this effort by the British media to encourage disengagement will have some effect in Scotland. Especially as it also serves the British Nationalist cause and so is bound to be promoted by the BBC.

That effect need not be large to be catastrophic for the independence campaign. The British state need only defer some of the impact of Brexit for a few months; and/or disguise the reality with help from the media, and the moment is gone. The impetus is lost. The opportunity is squandered.

Putting all our independence campaign eggs in one Brexit basket is an enormously risky strategy. Gonnae no dae that!

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The vanishing road

road_closedI would certainly prefer to be discussing the duration of a transition period between the decision to dissolve the Union and actual independence rather than the length of a delay in making that decision. But there is something else we must bear in mind regarding the “final principle that applies when it comes to project management”. We may not have a choice.

It’s all very well to say that we can pick any two out of ‘cheap’, ‘quick’ and ‘good’. But choices are constrained by circumstances. And the aspect of those circumstances which seems little considered is the reaction of the British state to the prospect of losing Scotland.

It is rightly pointed out that sketching plans for the future requires making certain assumptions. The manner in which the British state conducts itself would seem to loom large in any independence scenario. And yet, beyond a rather casual discounting of a “Madrid style campaign of political repression”, there’s precious little discussion of how the British state will behave. Or, more pertinently, the assumptions it would be prudent to make about how it will behave.

In this regard, the discussion of a transition period resembles ‘wait and see’ talk of postponing a new referendum. In nether case do we find any recognition of the fact that locking Scotland into a political union is an absolute imperative for the British state. Factoring that imperative into our thinking, along with what we know of how the British state responded in 2014 when it began to look like Scotland might vote Yes, the only sensible conclusion is that we must anticipate that the British establishment will resort to desperate measures. We certainly cannot afford to underestimate their capacity for the very lowest of low politics.

In terms of those project management options, it seems likely that, at least to some extent, both ‘cheap’ and ‘good’ may have to be sacrificed in favour of ‘quick’.

This, too, is true of both the transition period and the scheduling of a new referendum. In both cases, we are almost certainly going to be obliged to compromise on cost and quality in order to get the thing done quickly. There’s no point in complaining. There was always going to be a price to pay for the No vote in 2014. Part of that price is that the democratic road to independence is now much narrower and daily more littered with obstacles.

How long before that road becomes impassable, or is closed altogether? Is a three year transition period even a choice? And, even if it is a choice now, will it still be a choice should The Postponers get their way and there is a delay of one, two or even three years before that transition period can commence?

What mischief might be wrought on Scotland between now and 2025?

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