The spirit of Scotland’s cause

I recall seeing the letter below, or one very similar, perhaps thirty years ago or more. I am grateful to a number of people for bringing it to my attention now. Making due allowance for its antiquity, for me this text embodies the true spirit of Scotland’s cause. The spirit of the campaign to #DissolveTheUnion. I urge you all to read it with an open mind, and an open heart.

Peter A Bell

LETTER on Independence from JOHN STEILL 14th Nov 1844

Sir, I know not whether you have ever thought of the subject which I am to bring under your notice, but I own it has always been a favourite theme with myself, and I address these few lines to you in particular, because I believe you have too much candour to refuse to listen to sentiments that you may be opposed to, or to pronounce opinions absurd, simply because they are not popular, and not recommended fluence.

The Union between Scotland and England was ’one of the blackest transactions in history; and, like every other measure originating in selfishness, fraud, and injustice, that Union is producing its natural fruits, and promises very soon to realize the worst consequences that our Scottish ancestors anticipated from it — to become, in short, a positive practical nuisance.

In this light the Union is already begun to be considered by many in Scotland, and I should not be surprised but an agitation may ere long be commenced on this side of the Tweed with respect to that matter, which will not merely vindicate Scotsmen from the apathetic indifference with which they have long regarded national rights, but which will, if wisely conducted, be productive of results far transcending in importance every scheme that has yet been propounded for the elevation of our land.

Deeply and conscientiously as I am opposed to the Union however, my hostility does not arise because this bad thing and the other bad thing has been done by England to Scotland. It was easy to foresee, from the nature of the compact entered into between the two kingdoms, that Scotland would be continually getting rubs of this description, and that when England had a purpose of her own to serve, however prejudicial it might be to her weaker neighbour, no obstacle would be allowed to stand in the way of its attainment.

But I base my opposition to the Union on broader ground. I see in it the reduction of my country to a state of vassalage and dependence which no man ought to brook, and which is the more intolerable when one reflects on the treasure that was wasted, the blood spilt, and the heroism displayed by our forefathers to guard their posterity against those very evils of which we have daily cause to complain. And, indeed, in thinking indignantly over these things, I often wonder all the while, whether I am treading on Scottish soil, and if it can be possible that the people I am surrounded by, are the descendants of those who fought at Bannockburn and Stirling Bridge.

It is in vain to tell me that Scotland has thriven since the Union, and that the tranquillity and ease we enjoy is not too much to pay for the annihilation of our independence and very name as a nation. Slavery might, on the same principle, be upheld as a good thing by its abettors, because the victims of that system are said to be well cared for, and to get fat under it. But I maintain that the so-called prosperity of Scotland is not owing to the Union, but to the intelligence and indomitable perseverance of Scotsmen; and I have yet to learn that the same, and even an infinitely greater, amount of prosperity might not have been the lot of our country had there been no Union at all.

Sure I am, that when Scotland had her own kings and her own parliaments, she was not behind England in the arts of civilized life, or the means of defence either; and as we contemplate her at the present day, she surpasses her southern sister in energy and enterprise, and in all those moral and physical qualities that ought to make a people prosperous and happy.

But although Scotland has thus abundantly within herself the elements of becoming a great nation, she is sternly interdicted from stretching out her arms and bringing those elements into play: England must first be consulted before a single step can be taken by Scotland in any walk of improvement; and here it is that the Union is felt to be a degrading and oppressive grievance.

Then, again, as to political advancement, the returns to Parliament demonstrate that our people are more inclined to take on the impress of democratic institutions than the English are; yet this avails us nothing, for the voice of our Scottish members, in the misnamed British Senate, is drowned amidst the tumultuous clamours of iron-hearted Tories, bloated corruptionists, and hordes of other venal creatures, who have been sent by the pure and enlightened constituencies of England to manage the business of the realm, and to bear down all opposition before them.

Nay, such is the direful effects of the Union on the progress of Scotland, that (without stopping to enumerate the instances in which it has been manifested of late) though the aspirations of the Scotch after national regeneration were to be of the most magnificent and compendious description, and enforced in Parliament by the patriotic fire and fervid eloquence of another Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, John Bull would scowl upon and laugh at all such schemes, just because he did not understand them, and had not a soul to be moved by them.

With these facts before me, and looking at the practical bearings of the whole subject, I venture to assert, that had Scotland been blessed with an independent government of her own, uncontaminated by English influence, cheering as the picture is that she now’ presents in some particulars, it would have been more cheering still.

Scottish enterprise would have had a wider field to exert itself in than it has, the land which God intended to be dug and cultivated minutely, would not have been lying waste or locked up in the custody of a few selfish aristocrats, who, besides spending the produce of it on hunting horses, idleness, and luxury, have the power, when it pleases them, to beggar, starve, and banish, the men and women born on it, and who have a better title to live by their industry on the fruits of it than their tyrants have.

The Highlands and Isles of Scotland, instead of exhibiting, as they now do, the unsightly spectacle of vast experimental gardens of misrule and despotism, would have been (under the eye of a paternal legislature of our own, always ready and on the spot to examine into the wants and necessities of those secluded regions), flourishing and productive provinces; and the chieftains living there, as Fletcher says, would have got “knocked on the head,” had they dared to tread down and rob their clansmen, as they have for half a century past done, and are still doing.

Enormous as these evils are, however, it is, I fear, almost hopeless for the people of Scotland to try and grapple with them while the Union with England continues. England is herself subject to the rod of an imperious oligarchy, whose ancestors, in the days of William the Bastard, won her by the sword, and it is the interest of these men that the privileges of their order, to pillage, and destroy mankind, should in no corner of the British empire be trenched on, or even called into question.

Hence Highland destitution and misery; hence such large ill-gotten estates as those of the Dukes of Sutherland and Buccleuch,— estates which, instead of belonging to two men, ought to be broken up and parceled out in property among tens of thousands of men.

Now, Sir, I put it to you to say, whether we, as Scotchmen, ought to endure such a state of things as this? Or whether Edward the first, better known as the Murderer of Wallace, whose fiendish hatred of Scotland was so inveterate, that he spent his last breath in maledicting her, could have desired to have our country more thoroughly under his feet than the Queen of England and her Parliament have it at this moment?

Some worthy well-meaning individuals propose to counter balance the malign effects of English ascendancy, by contending for having what they call “federal parliaments,’’ to manage local concerns. But this implies English connection, a thing I, for one, abhor; and, besides, the only benefit that a local parliament could confer upon Scotland, would be that it might save persons the expense of sending agents to London to look after their interests, which are probably as well attended to there already, as they would be even in Edinburgh; for, I believe, it is notorious, that when any local Scotch affair, not involving points of Divinity or Politics, is to be legislated on, English members do not trouble the House much with their presence, and the Scotch, in general, thereby get all their ends quietly accomplished.

Moreover, it is a degradation of the whole question, and a useless expenditure of our strength, to try and stir up a general movement for the sake of the paltry advantages that a mere federal parliament would confer on us, and Scotsmen, in volunteering their aid and countenance to forward such projects, give but too much colour to the supposition that they unintentionally act and think as if their country had always been an appendage of England, and that they are in the habit, like the Irish, of obsequiously blessing England for any little favour she might deign to dole out to them.

No! Scotland in her best days never dealt with England on these beggarly conditions, and when she comes to treat with that realm again, she will, I trust, assume an attitude that will atone for the foul stain the Union cast on her, and the parties who conclude the treaty will not be a parcel of crazed “gown-men,” who valued not national honour, provided they could get their own fanatical Presbyterian Kirk preserved, or treacherous nobles and gentry, who had often before sold their native land to her enemies; but, they will be the high-minded people of Scotland at large, who, animated by a consciousness of their own integrity and their own strength, have bravely combined to rid their country of a yoke that was gradually enslaving and destroying her, and to restore her to that rank among the States of Europe which she of old so respectably filled.

Yes, Scotland, contemned and despised Scotland, has still a soul to aspire to more dignified aims than the ability of getting a few local bills passed now and then by a sort of mock legislature of her own; and as it is no doubt taken for granted by federalists that we are to swear allegiance to the same chief magistrate that the English do, this very circumstance of itself, though we had a federal parliament sitting at the back of Saint Giles’ tomorrow, would always give England the pretense to levy what taxes she pleased on Scotland, and to enmesh us in expensive wars and other abominations, just as she is doing at present. Such, appearing, then to me to be the results of federalism, I can see no cure for the evils of the Union, no method by which the practical skill and mental resources of Scotchmen can be fully and fairly developed, both at home and abroad, but to cast off all legislative connection with England whatever, and to acknowledge no other intimacy with that kingdom than what friendly intercourse, unlimited trade, and mutual protection from unprovoked foreign aggression require.

Mankind, Sir, will not now be contented with half-and-half temporary expedients. Truth is what is sought for; and there being no denying that a crisis has arrived when Scotland, in order to keep pace with the spirit of the age, behoves to occupy a far different position from what she has hitherto done with reference to England, it is necessary that that position, to be free and unfettered, must, to all intents and purposes, be an independent and absolute, not a controllable and subordinate one. In other words, I contend for Scotland having the same power that she possessed in the days of her Alexanders, Roberts and Jameses, to enact her own laws, levy her own taxes, enter into what treaties she pleases with foreign dominions, supply her own means of defence, internally and externally; and while she studiously avoids interfering with, or encroaching on the privileges of other kingdoms, she will be as jealous and watchful in protecting herself from similar aggression.

Let Scotsmen but once in this manner assume to themselves the exclusive management of their own affairs, in their own way, and I much mistake them if they do not make Scotland, as to all that concerns her social, educational, and material weal, in reality “the envy of surrounding nations.’’

Every spot of earth capable of tillage, which is now lying barren and useless, would be brought into cultivation; pauperism, and that revolting practice which our Scottish nobles and gentry have so long with impunity, to the eternal disgrace of the nation, been permitted to indulge in, viz. the “clearing” of estates, and compulsory banishment of our fellow countrymen into foreign climes, would no more be heard of. There would be no lack of employment for every man who is able and willing to work; the deserted glens of the Highlands in particular would be re-peopled as of old with thousands of industrious mountaineers, who would have freedom to enjoy the fruits of their labour without the dread of any rapacious landlord or domineering factor to burn their houses above their heads, scatter their poor families, and expel them from their holdings.

But the question occurs, How are these animating prospects to be realized, and what mode of government. would be best suited to promote the interests of Scotsmen, and perpetually secure to them the complete enjoyment of those prerogatives and benefits I am supposing to be within their reach?

It seems to me, that, for these purposes, the Union ought to be dissolved out and out, and that the same deed which annuls the Union ought to invest every sane man, without exception, with the privilege of electing those who are to rule over him. But as the right exercise of the suffrage would be incompatible with the existence of monarchy. and a hereditary feudal aristocracy, both these useless, tyrannical, and all-devouring institutions would require to be swept away, and the nation declared to be a Republic, open to exchange commodities with the whole world, without let or hindrance.

To such an adjustment of affairs as this, the genius of our people, and the condition of our country, seem both to be peculiarly adapted, and it has the additional merit of being just and expedient in itself, and of harmonizing essentially in spirit with those enlarged schemes for the settlement of Scotland which were advocated at the time of the Union by that generous and enlightened patriot to whom I have already alluded, viz., Fletcher of Saltoun,—a man who devoted his life to the extirpation of despotism, and the establishment of freedom all the world over, and who was inspired with a detestation of English domination, and desire to advance the welfare of Scotland, which many of our noisy declaimers of this age would do well to try and imitate.

But whatever form of government the Scottish people may choose for themselves, it is manifest that an entire separation from England, in a political and legislative sense, is imperative, both for our safety and well-being. England is obviously actuated by maxims at home and views abroad, which will prove ruinous to herself, and, of course, involve in a like fate every other state that has the misfortune to be entangled with her. I ask the people of Scotland then to take these things into consideration, feebly and inadequately expressed though they be; and if my poor attempts to arouse my countrymen from their slumbers, and to touch them with a sense of the degraded position they occupy, shall have the effect of bringing an advocate into the field better qualified than I can pretend to be to go into details, and to do justice to the subject generally, I will have got my utmost wishes gratified.

Of yore Scotsmen required no stimulus to prompt them to install an energetic exertion, when their rights were trampled on, and their national honor invaded. How much stronger is the necessity now for our resuming a portion of the spirit of our ancestors, when our fatherland, in consequence of being united to England, has been sunk into a contemptible province, stripped of her very name, deprived of the power to remove those crying evils which afflict her, both socially and politically, and when she is left with no other memorials of her former dignity and independence but the moss-covered ruins of her palaces and citadels, whose gigantic fragments but too emphatically tell what Scotland once was, and what she now is.

Never was the destruction of an ancient state more complete and humiliating than that of Scotland; never did a people consent so tamely to surrender their liberties, and submit themselves to the overbearing dictation of another kingdom, as the Scotch have done. No amount of prosperity, whether commercial or agricultural, can excuse or palliate mean conduct like this; and however much we may boast ourselves of our enlightenment, and the pretended happiness we enjoy under English rule, were our unpolished, but brave, honest, and shrewd Scottish ancestors to rise from their graves, and to behold in us their descendants the wreck and prostration of that glorious principle of nationality which burned so intensely in their bosoms, and for which they so often enthusiastically fought and bled, they would utterly disown and despise us.


I am, Sir, your obedient Servant,


JOHN STEILL 14th Nov 1844



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Under pressure

I despair of people who can meekly accept over three centuries of their sovereignty being denied, but find in the fleeting ascendancy of a malignant child-clown an incentive to end the gross constitutional anomaly under which the nation labours. If Boris Johnson being British Prime Minister is the best reason these people can think of for ending the Union then they really need to do a bit more thinking.

But we take what we can get. Motives are of academic interest only. Voters are not required to justify their choices. There is no space on any ballot paper where voters must provide their reasons for voting as they have. Which, in a way, is a pity. I suspect those ballot papers would make rather interesting reading.

It is gratifying that, whatever their reasons, enough people have switched from No to Yes that the First Minister can be “confident” of victory at last for Scotland’s cause in that new referendum she has been promising for what seems like decades, but can’t possibly be more than a few years. Such is the sense of unrequited urgency that is felt, to a greater or lesser degree, across all of the Yes movement bar the increasingly isolated and besieged pockets of Postponer complacency.

The question most are asking is when will that confidence be translated into the bold, decisive action that may yet save Scotland from the onslaught of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist fervour that threatens our democracy, our prosperity and our very identity as a nation? Not to mention our vital public services.

Opinion polls won’t do it. No number of opinion polls, however favourable, will end the Union and restore Scotland to normality. That will only happen when our First Minister decides to cast aside the rules and procedures imposed for the preservation of the Union and the advantage of the British ruling elite. It will only happen when Nicola Sturgeon knows in her heart and her head that the odds favour Yes.

It is her calculation to make. Few doubt that she is politically capable. Fewer still doubt her personal commitment to the restoration of Scotland’s independence. But time is running out. The British establishment understands what is at stake. If there is one certainty in today’s chaotic political condition it is that the British state will move to thwart Scotland’s aspiration to be a normal nation again. For established power, that is an imperative.

Knowing the imperative, we need only look at the options available to anti-democratic British Nationalist to be in a position to predict, with some certainty, what they will do. Broadly speaking, the British state can be expected to attack one or more of the five components parts of Scotland’s independence movement – the SNP, which is the lever by which Scotland will be prised out of the detested Union; The Scottish Government, which is the fulcrum on which the lever moves; the Scottish Parliament which form the solid base on which the lever rests and the Yes movement. which supplies the force to move the lever.

It will be pointed out that all of these are already under attack – with the possible exception of the Yes movement, which doesn’t present a good target. what is happening now; what has happened to date in terms of smearing the SNP, denigrating the Scottish Government and undermining the Scottish Parliament is mere sparring compared to the onslaught which awaits us the other side of Brexit. The contenders for the job of British Prime Minister have all made it abundantly clear that bringing Scotland to heel, by whatever means, is among their top priorities. They will seek to make good on their threats.

The burden of responsibility which rests on Nicola Sturgeon’s shoulders is massive. The decisions she must make have profound implications. The task she faces is daunting in the extreme. She must act before the British state contrives new obstacles and impediments. She must act while the various parts of the independence movement are intact and strong. She must act very soon – and with relentless determination.

For our part, we must continue to urge the First Minister to act. The pressure we put on Nicola Sturgeon translates into the power she wields against the British state. So pile it on! Even if it is only to avoid the ignominy of Boris Johnson being able to declare himself Scotland’s overlord.



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A bunch of Hunts

The most striking thing about Jeremy Hunt is how accurately and comprehensively he typifies the British political elite. He clearly knows nothing of Scotland and our politics, but he assumes he knows everything there is to know. He presumes to tell us what the people of Scotland think and feel, having never even considered the possibility of asking us what we think and how we feel.

He makes claims that are dubious if not patently untrue, safe in the knowledge that the British media will never question or challenge anything that he says so long as he is peddling British Nationalist dogma.

He is patronising towards Scotland’s people and contemptuous of Scotland’s democratic institutions, but so lacking in self-awareness as to genuinely believe he is winning our affection and echoing our sentiments.

Jeremy Hunt is a liar, a hypocrite and a fool. In every regard he is indistinguishable from any of the other British Nationalist politicians who occasionally sally forth from their metropolitan fastness to grace Scotland with their presence and chasten Scotland’s people with their colonialist rhetoric. Words which first deliver the patronising pat on the head, and then the lash of the imperialist master’s whip. He basks in the sycophantic attendance of the British state’s North British lackeys, then returns to the cocoon of aides and advisers to be assured of what a fine impression he’s making on Scotland.

Jeremy Hunt is like all the rest. They are all Hunts.

Meanwhile, Scotland observes the antics of the Hunts who venture north to scent-mark jealous Britannia’s territorial possessions with a mixture of bewilderment, amusement and disgust. And with increasing detachment. More and more, the Hunts seem to have nothing to do with us. Nothing to do with Scotland. They are alien. Like particularly ill-mannered foreign visitors. Like a series of little mini-Trumps, barging into our home, trampling their muck into our carpets; crudely insulting us; outstaying their welcome by however long the intrusion last; and departing leaving behind only the stench of their corruption.

The Hunts are not connected to us at all. They have no connection with us. They are remote from the reality of our circumstances. Even if they could hear us; even is they were prepared to listen to us, they would not understand. They are unapproachable. Unreachable. Untouchable. There is absolutely no point addressing pleas, petitions or protests to the Hunts of the British political elite. They will not be received. They certainly will not be acted upon.

Why would we expect it to be any different? Why would we bother with the Hunts? Even if they had anything to offer us, they have nothing we would want. They cannot give us what we seek. It is not in their gift. They cannot do what needs to be done. It is not in their power.

We have a Scottish Parliament. We have a Scottish Government. The former has democratic legitimacy. The latter has a mandate from the people of Scotland. What use are the Hunts to us? Our pleas, petitions and protests should and must be addressed to the people we elect. The people who have a solemn duty to serve Scotland’s interests rather than subordinate those in interests to the pretensions of the British state. The people who are connected to us.

Ignore the Hunts! They can and will do nothing for Scotland! Speak, instead, to Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. She is both willing to listen and capable of understanding. Speak to Scotland’s Government. It is required to act on our behalf. Speak to Scotland’s Parliament. It alone has the legitimate authority to speak for us.

Scotland’s fate will not be decided by the Hunts. Scotland’s fate is in the hands of Scotland’s people. Our First Minister, our Government and our Parliament exist to give effect to Scotland’s voice. It is for us to tell them what that effect must be. It is for the people of Scotland to imbue the apparatus of Scotland’s democracy with the power to serve our needs, honour our priorities and realise our ambitions.



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Wrong target II

Once again, I find myself unable to be shocked by this ‘revelation’. I, and many others, were warning well ahead of polling in the 2014 referendum that one obvious consequence of a No vote would be increased, and more brazenly invasive, efforts to bypass and undermine the Scottish Parliament.

Holyrood’s fate was sealed in 2007 when voters ended the British parties’ domination by electing an SNP government. The British state’s imperative to rein in Scotland’s democracy was made all the more urgent when, in 2011, the Scottish electorate casually broke the system which had been designed to ensure that the Scottish Parliament would always be under the control of one or more of the British establishment parties.

The enthusiasm of British Labour in Scotland for devolution was almost entirely a function of their belief that this would guarantee them a permanent power-base in Scotland. Their Tory partners were prepared to tolerate devolution only because they were confident that, whatever power the Scottish Parliament might afford British Labour, it would always be insufficient to pose a threat to a Tory government in Westminster. And, of course, because they were assured that the Union would never be compromised. For all the rhetoric, when it comes to keeping Scotland in check, British Labour is considered a safe pair of hands by the British establishment.

No voters handed the British political elite a licence to dispose of Scotland as they pleased. Did hose No voters seriously imagine the British political elite wouldn’t use that licence to the full? What was it about the history of the British state and its treatment of Scotland which led them to this staggeringly naive belief?

For those of us not afflicted by this credulousness, it comes as no surprise whatever to find British politicians conspiring to emasculate Scotland’s only democratically legitimate parliament. The Union requires this. The fact that the Scottish Parliament represents a form of democracy which cannot be managed by the apparatus of the British state means that it must be crippled or destroyed. No challenge to established power can be tolerated. Any moves towards restoring to the people of Scotland the sovereignty which is theirs by absolute right must be thwarted. Dissent must be rendered manageable. Distinctiveness must be wholly eradicated. All in the name of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism.

What is disappointing – if not, in the light of late experience, surprising – is to find SNP politicians presenting this assault on Scotland’s democracy as exclusively, or even particularly, a Tory project. This implies a disturbing failure to recognise the nature of Scotland’s predicament. A predicament which cannot be resolved to the satisfaction of democratic principles simply by a change of government at Westminster, or the installation of a new British Prime Minister in Downing Street.

Correspondence, both private and public, with others in the Yes movement leads me to the certainty that I am not alone in the fervent wish that SNP politicians would desist from treating Scotland’s cause as a mere party political contest with the British Tories and afford that cause its deserved status as a battle for the integrity of Scotland’s democracy.



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Wrong target

Why? Why is Ian Blackford demanding the release of the “Boris Johnson bust-up tape“? Of what possible concern is this to the people of Scotland? It’s not as if we are currently deceived about Johnson’s character. Few, if any at all, are in need of being disabused of notions that the man is other than unworthy for public office, low or high. The content of this recording could add nothing useful to our knowledge.

It is not Johnson’s behaviour that Ian Blackford should be deploring, but the fact that such an individual as we already know him to be can be imposed on Scotland by a combination of British Tories in thrall to a demented British Nationalist ideology and English voters whose appreciation of democratic politics has been so soured by experience and media manipulation as to bid them see in Johnson some manner of dragon-slaying hero.

If Ian Blackford’s purpose is to ensure that Johnson’s elevation is thwarted, again we must ask why? How is Scotland served by preventing Boris Johnson becoming British Prime Minister only to hand the role to someone who is different only in the particulars of his unsuitability for that role?

Mr Blackford’s outrage is surely justified; and may well be regarded as virtuous as his demands are reasonable. But he should be wary. British politics is so corrupt that even to touch it with the barge-pole of condemnation is to risk contamination. Better to stand aside from and above the mess.

Better to direct that outrage and condemnation at the device by which Scotland is made subject to the vile machinations of the British political parties and the irrational whims of the English electorate. Rather than urging the release of some entirely redundant evidence of Boris Johnson’s debauchery, Mr Blackford would be more usefully employed demanding Scotland’s release from the abomination that is the Union.



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Dear Callum…

Of course I will support The National’s effort. I will buy at least two copies of The National, just as I always do. Having a digital subscription, I will share these newspapers with others, just as I always do. With or without copies of The National, I will engage in conversations about the need to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status, just as I always do.

So, yes! I will support this effort. Just as I will support any effort aimed at ending the Union. But please don’t tell me that this is a “new push to reframe the case for Yes”. There is nothing new about it. And there is no reframing.

One of the basics of reframing a debate is that you do not echo the terms of the debate that is being reframed. These terms should only be alluded to obliquely, so as not to reinforce the existing frame. The phrase “big enough, rich enough and smart enough” precisely mirrors “too wee, too poor, too stupid”. If the aim is to reframe then the order should be changed and the language altered as much as possible without changing the meaning.

CLEVER ENOUGH! LARGE ENOUGH! WEALTHY ENOUGH!

This is reframing the gist of the British Nationalist narrative within the debate. But it does not reframe the debate itself. That happens when we stop explaining and start demanding explanations. When we stop trying to answer questions about a hypothetical future and start demanding answers to questions about our present predicament.

Reframing happens when we stop asking for independence and start demanding an end to the Union. It happens when we stop petitioning for powers that are rightfully ours and start taking powers that are being wrongfully withheld from us.

Reframing happens when we stop trying to rationalise the normality of independence and start insisting that our opponents justify the preservation of a Union which denies the people of Scotland the full and effective exercise of the sovereignty that is ours by absolute right.

The National is doing a superb job of supporting Scotland’s cause and deserves Scotland’s support in return. But what The National is most definitely not doing with this campaign is reframing the constitutional debate.

The Yes movement is massive and diverse. It holds within it a wealth of knowledge and expertise and experience. My respectfully proffered advice to Callum Baird – as, I hope, a friend and certainly as one who shares his commitment to Scotland’s cause – is to tap that resource as greedily as you wish. Reach out to the Yes movement and borrow from it to improve and augment your efforts.



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Tolerance of violence

What is possibly of more concern than the assault committed by Mark Field – and it is clearly that no matter what Johnny Mercer says – is the normalisation of violence suggested in comments offered by Mercer and others.

Where should the line be drawn? In the mind of any mature and sensible person that line should lie prior to any form of contact. Arguably, before contact is even considered. Under no circumstances should violence, in any form and to any degree, be the first resort.

Given the prevalence of violence against women in our society it is not at all sexist to say that Field’s behaviour is doubly deplorable on account of his victim being female. It is disturbing to any thoughtful observer, and should be a matter which Field himself reflects upon long and hard, that the fact of it being a woman didn’t appear to give him pause at all.

If I did what Field did in a pub I would expect to be instantly and permanently barred from the premises. In any of the licensed premises which I frequent, that expectation would certainly be met.

In my life, I have witnessed many acts of violence. I am ashamed to admit that in all too many instances I was the perpetrator. I have also been in situations where I was permitted to use minimum or reasonable force. I know how easily it can go wrong. I know how things can rapidly escalate. I know that the consequences of a small misjudgement can be life-changing – if not life-ending.

That is why, as a society and as individuals, our tolerance of violence must be set as low as is practicable given considerations of our own safety and that of those close to us. That is why, when that line starts to move to the far side of actual physical violence, pushed by a public servant of some standing as well as their apologists, there is no possibility of over-reaction.



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Talking back

I don’t share the dim view of social media that seems to prevail. While I recognise that much of what gets published on social media is ill-informed and semi-literate drivel, and that some content is seriously objectionable, I regard this as a relatively minor inconvenience that is massively outweighed by the fact that millions of people have been given a voice where previously they had none. Certainly, I would prefer that people wrote in ‘proper English’ and used punctuation and paragraphs and the spell-checker. But that is only because this makes the material easier to read. Not everybody has the same language skills. And if they are ill-informed then this is as likely to be because they have been wilfully misled as due to a lack of basic research skills or an unwillingness to learn.

I am content that all should have a voice even if that does result in an often discordant, sometimes impenetrable and occasionally ugly cacophony. After all, we get the same kind of thing in real life and deal with it with barely a thought. Listen to some pub conversation and it’s like Facebook Live! Now there’s a scary thought!

Just the other day I was involved in an exchange which illustrates this point. I had, somewhat reluctantly, been drawn into conversation with a couple of people, one of whom is a an old friend who I know to a fairly ardent Unionist and very much anti-SNP. Normally, we would stay away from talk of politics other than a bit of light-hearted banter. But my friends companion notice my Yes badge and insisted that he wanted to ask me questions about the independence campaign. He didn’t, of course. What he wanted was an opportunity to make all manner of inflammatory and fact-averse claims without allowing me to respond.

We’ve all experienced this, I suppose. The individual who comes out with a childish comment about Nicola Sturgeon or a regurgitation of some gobbet of propaganda picked up from the British media, then immediately insist that they don’ want to talk about politics. Until, that is, they think of another infantile jibe or bit of disinformation which is also followed by insistence on changing the subject so that nobody gets the chance to respond.

The parallels with ‘debate’ on social media should be obvious.

The particular ‘conversation’ I’m referring to ended with one of my interlocutors reminding me that he is a successful businessman – as if this implied infallibility! – and he could testify to the impact that all the “extra taxes” imposed by the SNP (he meant Scottish Government) were having on his business. I think you know where this is going. I asked him what “extra taxes” he was referring to. He replied that he was a businessman and therefore he should know. I asked him to identify at least one of these “extra taxes” He responded in the same evasive vein. Perhaps half a dozen times, I asked him to deploy the expertise with which he was supposedly endowed to help me understand what these “extra taxes” were and how they were affecting his business. The exchange ended with him declaring that there was no point in talking to me, and walking away as I agreed that, if all he had to offer were unsupported and untrue assertions, then the ‘conversation’ was, by definition, pointless.

My point here is that social media hasn’t created a new way of communicating or a new kind of discourse. It has simply provided a new virtual venue for the same exchanges we have in real life. If you are intolerant of views or the manner in which they are expressed on social media, then you are all but certain to be just as intolerant in the real world. If you are in the habit of deploying bombast rather than reasoned argument and fiction rather than fact in a pub conversation, then you are at least likely to do the same on Facebook or Twitter.

Some argue that online exchanges are ‘special’ because he participants are not face-to-face. But there is nothing novel about this. We’ve had SMS messaging for nearly thirty years and telephone for considerably longer. Prior to that, letter writing served the same purpose of communicating over a distance. We had to learn new skills to successfully manage verbal exchanges with the aid of non-verbal cues. Similarly, new skills were required to cope with the restrictions on message size which pertained in the early days of text messaging. These are transferable skills. We brought them with us to social media. So it isn’t quite the unfamiliar environment that some seem to suppose.

I strongly suspect that the people who get most exercised about the supposed awfulness of social media are mainly those who have long enjoyed privileged access to the means of mass communication and who are less than happy about losing this status. And, of course, those who have long used the traditional media for political ends and now resent that power being challenged.

One thing that these groups have in common is that they have been accustomed to communication being almost entirely one-way. They talk down to us. We look up respectfully at them and listen. Evidently, the BBC still believes this is how it should be. They find it disconcerting that people have acquired the means of speaking for themselves. The traditional media used to tell us what the public thought. and what the public thought was generally presumed to be what the media told us the public thought. Now that every single one of us has the means to convey our views to a potentially huge audience, the old media’s power to define the public mood is much diminished.

Getting down to cases, it may be thought curious that the opponents of Scotland’s independence movement seemed to recognise the power of alternative media somewhat earlier than those in the vanguard of that movement. I vividly recall the frustration I felt at SNP meetings where an entire evening could be spent discussing campaign strategy without social media even being mentioned. Meanwhile, British Nationalists were expending substantial resource in an effort to control or discredit what they knew to be a serious threat to media dominance.

Social media may not present any impediments to effective communication that we, as a species, haven’t dealt with before. But effective communication requires more than the absence of impediments. While speech is an innate capacity, communication is a learned skill. My hope is that, as people realise its power and learn to use it well, social media may emerge as an effective means of challenging established power. My expectation is that Scotland’s Yes movement will play a leading role in making this so.



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