Being cynical

sic_cwSomebody has to ask the awkward questions. As others eagerly jump on the bandwagon with the flashy Yes paint-job, somebody has to be the one asking who’s driving the thing and where they’re taking it. While others are beguiled by the slick marketing, somebody really needs to be taking a less starry-eyed look at this project.

We’ve been here before. This is not the first time the Scottish Independence Convention (SIC) has attempted to assume a role at the head of the Yes movement. And it’s not the first time I have expressed reservations about its suitability, as well as doubts about the need for such an umbrella group. As far back as February 2016 I was voicing concerns about what appeared to me to be an attempt to “seize ownership of the Yes movement and bring it under the control of factions whose support for independence is conditional on a narrow policy agenda”.

At that time I wrote,

I have always maintained that it would be useful if some organisation or group emerged as the entity around which the wider Yes movement could coalesce. But I never envisaged this as resulting in a top-down organisation. What I felt would be useful is a body able to represent the Yes movement at a national level. Something akin to what we had with the official Yes Scotland. It is important to understand that Yes Scotland had a very limited role in the first referendum campaign. It set broad strategy parameters, coordinated speakers, and dealt with the media at a national and international level. But it was merely the tip of a huge iceberg made up of hundreds of almost totally autonomous groups.

My thinking on this has changed considerably in the intervening two and a half years. As the Yes movement has developed and matured over that time, I have come to be firmly persuaded that it would be fatally altered by the imposition of a formal management structure. This would inevitably (and irrevocably?) transform the Yes movement from an amorphous network of autonomous grassroots groups, to a regimented hierarchical organisation under centralised control. And, for all the protestations to the contrary, this is what the people pulling the strings at SIC intend.

Who are those people? Just over a year ago I referred to a “clique of passionless technocrats, supercilious intellectuals and dogma-bound radicals which has recently sought to claim ownership of the Yes movement to the exclusion of any and all who decline to embrace their narrow agenda”. Despite the lick of fresh paint applied to the facade, nothing has changed. The sales pitch may be new, but the product is the same as it has always been.

Is it a product the independence cause needs, or would benefit from having? I am sceptical. Somebody has to be. The purported aim is to set up a “campaign body [which] will provide the Yes movement with media handling, strategic support, resources, messaging and the administrative capacity”. This “campaign body” is being presented as if it is merely a tool to be used by the Yes movement. But there is no visible means by which the autonomous grassroots groups can access this “campaign body”. The SIC has very adroitly acquired the endorsement of major groups and prominent individuals. But I’m left wondering if any of them have seriously considered the implications.

When SIC talks about media handling, does this mean a facility by which Yes groups can access the mainstream media? If so, how would that work in practice given the size and diversity of the Yes movement? If not, then are we to assume that SIC proposes to ‘handle’ the media on behalf of the Yes movement? In which case, how would that work in practice given the size and diversity of the Yes movement?

When SIC talks about messaging, what message are they referring to? Whose message> Who decides what that message is? How do they propose to reconcile the differences and/or represent the nuances within the Yes movement? The independence campaign certainly requires a clear, concise and consistent message, as well as the means to focus on that message. But is the SIC the appropriate body to formulate and promulgate that message?

When SIC talks about administrative capacity, who exactly is going to be doing the administering? And what do they intend to administer? Is SIC to have administrative control over the entire Yes movement? How would that work? What of the Yes groups which decline to be administered by SIC? Which is the ‘real’ Yes movement – the bit that’s administered by SIC, or the rest? Can it possibly be healthy to have a situation which gives rise to such questions?

I will be accused of being cynical in my attitude to SIC. I make no apologies. I am cynical for a reason. I am cynical because I recognise the realities of politics. And because I am am acutely conscious of the potential cost of being naive. The Yes movement is a massively powerful political force. We should be constantly wary of those who seek to harness that power for their own purposes.


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Yawn!

richard_leonardI don’t care. I’ve thought about it. I’ve tried very hard to think why I should care about the internal squabbling of the British parties in Scotland. But I can’t think of a single good reason.

Of course, I object to the way they treat the Scottish Parliament – our Parliament – with open contempt. I am appalled by behaviour. I deprecate their abysmal failure to perform the function of a democratic opposition. But I can’t bring myself to care about their bickering amongst themselves.

It’s increasingly as if the British parties have opted out. It’s like they have little or nothing to do with Scotland’s politics. Our Parliament and Government function despite the presence of British parties rather than because of any contribution they make. The Scottish parties – mainly the SNP – get on with the business of running the country as best they can given the crippling constraints of devolution and the need to constantly mitigate the economically destructive and socially corrosive policies imposed on Scotland by the British regime. Meanwhile, the British parties are preoccupied with their own petty concerns. At best, they are an irrelevant sideshow. At worst, a malign hindrance.

Over the last couple of decades, Scotland has developed its own distinctive political culture. The British parties are not involved. Not in any meaningful sense. Certainly not in any constructive way. They stand apart by choice. They choose to remain aloof from our politics. They decline to engage. They want to do British politics in the British way. They don’t really understand Scotland’s new politics. They want no truck with it and wouldn’t even if they were capable. They crave a return to the old ways. They hunger for the restoration of the old order.

The British parties are an ever more alien presence in Scotland. The more alien they become, the less I care about them.


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The most dangerous man in Scotland

mundell-bulldogIs David Mundell the most dangerous man in Scotland? You may be accustomed to thinking of him as the comically disgusting character, Baron Snackbeard, absently nibbling chunks picked out of his whiskers as he lounges on the lush green leather benches of his Westminster club. Or perhaps you’re more inclined to see him simply as Theresa May’s yapping wee lapdog. Or maybe as Ruth Davidson’s sidekick – the bumbling Laurel to her bumptious Hardy. But it might be wiser to regard Mundell as the British establishment’s obedient bulldog set on Scotland to seize it and hold it and shake it into submission.

I have written previously about how we should attend well to the words spoken by politicians. How we should be wary of too readily accepting their utterances at face value. How we must “be mindful of the wider political context as well as being attentive to the precise form of words used”. What, then, should we make of the following comment from David Mundell.

So I want to use this opportunity to say to Sturgeon, it is time to end the constitutional uncertainty that we have lived with for the past four years.

It is time for Scotland’s two governments to work together in the best interests of the Scottish people. It is time to move on.

Let’s gloss over the discourteous manner in which Mundell refers to Scotland’s First Minister. Although we should recognise, in passing, that this disrespect is purposeful and part of the ongoing effort to diminish and delegitimise Scotland’s democratic institutions, we can hardly dwell on every such instance. The next phrase, however, warrants closer attention. It is an illustrative example of a remark which may seem totally innocuous or even quite sensible, but which may take on a darker meaning when viewed in the light of current political reality. Surely ‘uncertainty’ is a ‘bad thing’. Surely ending uncertainty is a ‘good thing’. Surely it is perfectly reasonable to state that “it is time to end the constitutional uncertainty that we have lived with for the past four years”. But, as always, the key to rewarding analysis is to ask the right questions.

Is constitutional uncertainty necessarily a bad thing? Given that it is fundamental to our democracy, shouldn’t the constitutional settlement always be subject to scrutiny? Given that the constitution is about political power and where it lies, shouldn’t we heed Tony Benn’s urging and constantly interrogate the powerful demanding to know what power they have; how they obtained that power; in whose interests they use that power; to whom are they accountable for the the exercise of that power; and how they can be deprived of that power?

What constitutional uncertainty is Mundell referring to? Whose uncertainty is he talking about? Is he referring to the precariousness of the British state? Is he talking about the unease felt by by those whose purpose is to lock Scotland into a ‘One Nation’ British state? Does his remark reflect only the fears of a British Nationalist ideologue?

We can, I think, safely assume that Mundell is not referring to the constitutional uncertainty occasioned by Scotland being dragged out of the EU against the democratically expressed wishes of the people. He’s not talking about the distress caused to EU nationals living in Scotland. He’s not talking about the concerns of those who are being forcibly stripped of their EU citizenship with no satisfactory explanation as to what status is to be imposed in its stead.

It is not Mundell’s intention to draw attention to the uncertainty caused by Brexit. When he refers to constitutional uncertainty he is talking only about the fact that, while the 2014 independence referendum provided an indisputable result, it did not produce a decision. It did not resolve the constitutional issue. And the blame for that rests, once again, with the British political elite.

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.

How does Mundell propose to end the constitutional uncertainty which does trouble him? How does he intend to prevent us asking those five questions? How does he plan on fixing Scotland’s constitutional settlement so that he and his fellow British Nationalists can feel secure in their status and power?

We know the answer to this. We know, because the likes of Mundell and Davidson have been unabashedly explicit about their anti-democratic intentions. We know that their malign ambition is to deny Scotland’s right of self-determination. We know, because they’ve come right out and told us, that they mean to deprive the people of Scotland of the right to choose the form of government best suits our needs.

When David Mundell speaks of ending constitutional uncertainty he is talking about nothing less than stilling the beating heart of Scotland’s democracy.

Mundell also says he wants “Scotland’s two governments to work together”. Fine words! Until we juxtapose the expressed sentiment with the actual behaviour of the British state towards the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament. But first let’s ask some more questions.

Does Scotland actually have two governments? That rather depends on how one defines the term ‘government’. If democratic legitimacy is a criterion, then we have only one government. The term ‘government’ is generally understood to mean the group of people with the authority to govern a country. But if we stipulate rightful authority, then that must rule out people who obtained power against the wishes of Scotland’s voters;  who use that power against the interests of Scotland’s people; who are not answerable to Scotland’s electorate; and who cannot be removed from power by Scotland’s democratic processes.

Democratic legitimacy derives solely and exclusively from the consent of the people. Only the Scottish Government enjoys the consent of Scotland’s people. That consent has been consistently and decisively denied to the people David Mundell represents. Those people cannot claim rightful authority. In terms of our definition, therefore, they cannot be regarded as a government. For want of a better term, we might justifiably call them a ‘regime’.

What does Mundell mean when he says “work together”? What does recent history tell us of cooperation between the Scottish Government and the British regime? Is such cooperation likely, or even possible?

When answering these questions people will probably tend to reflect on the way in which the Scottish Government has been excluded from the Brexit negotiations. But we see the British regime’s contempt for Scotland’s elected representatives very plainly in EVEL. And in their insistence that there is ‘no demand’ for a new independence referendum despite electoral and parliamentary mandates. And in the Brexit power-grab. And in the UK Supreme Court action against the Continuity Bill. And in David Mundell referring to our First Minister as ‘Sturgeon’.

In fact, we see in pretty much every aspect of the Scottish Government’s dealings with the British regime a lack of respect which ranges from the thoughtlessly casual to the mindlessly hateful. There is no basis on which to “work together”. The British regime will not allow it.

Mundell isn’t asking for cooperation, he’s demanding compliance. As a British Nationalist, he is absolutely committed to concept of parliamentary sovereignty. He is intellectually incapable of doubting the supremacy of Westminster. He cannot question the British ‘right to rule’. He is the loyal servant of established power.

When Mundell talks of “the best interests of the Scottish people” we have to ask what definition of those interests he has in mind. Who decides what Scotland’s best interests are? Who is entitled to decide? Who speaks for Scotland? Is it the Scottish Parliament, with its democratic legitimacy? Is it the Scottish Government, with its rightful authority? Is it the First Minister, with her mandate to speak and act for the people of Scotland?

Or is it the corrupt and incompetent British political elite at Westminster? Is it the chaotic cliques and fractious factions and puffed-up personalities of the British regime? Is it the likes of David Mundell, who presumes to govern without consent?

Mundell has no doubt. He is unshakably persuaded of the righteousness of his ‘mission’. He is implacably opposed to anything which threatens the established order. And that is what makes him so dangerous. Mundell represents authority without consent. He represents power without accountability. He represents a British regime which is resolutely determined to destroy Scotland’s democracy and install a shadow administration that is neither elected by nor answerable to Scotland’s people.

Davidson is a distraction. She is the British media’s poodle. Mundell is the one to watch. He is the British state’s bulldog.


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To bleat, or to snarl?

nicolaWe have to be cautious about the language of politicians. A literal interpretation of what is said may not always be a reliable indicator of intent. When listening to what politicians say, it is always best to be mindful of the wider political context as well as being attentive to the precise form of words used.  Politicians will, for example, make demands of their opponents, not in any hope or expectation that these demands will be met, but in order to highlight their unwillingness or inability to deliver. So, when it is reported that Nicola Sturgeon has “repeated her call for an extension to the Article 50 Brexit negotiating period”, we should not automatically assume that an extension to the Article 50 Brexit negotiating period is what she wants, anticipates, or even considers possible.

Throughout the Brexit fiasco, the largest part of the First Minister’s strategy has been to look reasonable and accommodating relative to the clown troupe actually conducting the process. A strategy which, it must be said, has not severely tested Nicola Sturgeon’s abilities as a politician. Theresa May being to the craft of diplomacy as an inebriated hippopotamus is to the art of the unicycle, looking deft by comparison is hardly difficult. If the aim is to appear ready and willing to explore all options, it makes perfect sense that the possibility of extending the Article 50 negotiating period should be mentioned – even if there is no realistic prospect of such an extension being requested by the British government or much chance of it being granted by the EU.

Talk of further dragging out the agony of Brexit negotiations may be no more than a bit of politicking. The aim may simply be to pile further embarrassment on the British political elite. It’s an easy win for Nicola Sturgeon. If Theresa May rejects the idea of asking for an extension, she looks unreasonable. If she does request an extension, she looks weak. And if/when the request is refused, she suffers yet more humiliation.

But, if we are taking due account of the whole political context, then we are obliged to consider the possibility that this is not mere gamesmanship. We have to ask ourselves whether, in this instance, a superficial reading of Nicola Sturgeon’s words may be all there is to it. We must wonder whether her suggestion that the Article 50 negotiations might be extended beyond two years is, in fact, a clue to her thinking on the independence project. If the First Minister is serious about wanting to give the British government more time to work out some kind of Brexit ‘deal’, what might this tell us about her attitude to the how and the when of action to resolve the constitutional issue?

We cannot be oblivious to the fact that those I refer to as The Postponers are part of the the context in which Nicola Sturgeon made her remarks. She will be listening to all manner of voices as she explores the options available to her. All sorts of people will be seeking to influence her thinking – including those who advocate delaying any action until some undefined – and undefinable – ‘optimal time’. There are people, some of whom may be close to Nicola Sturgeon, who favour allowing ruinous Brexit to proceed. Their thinking is that if enough people are subjected to enough pain then enough of them will turn to independence.

If this strategy seems crude and cruel and callous, that’s because it is. It is also a massively flawed strategy, as I have sought to explain elsewhere. But we cannot know to what extent The Postponers have ‘got to’ the First Minister. We have to at least consider the possibility that they have managed to convince her. We would be remiss if our analysis did not take due account of the possibility that Nicola Sturgeon has been persuaded to further postpone confrontation with the British state.

That confrontation is inevitable. It is an unavoidable part of the process by which Scotland’s rightful constitutional status will be restored. There is nothing to be gained by putting off that confrontation. The British establishment’s determination to lock Scotland into a ‘One Nation’ British state is not going to diminish. We are not going to discover some magical new independence message. However disastrous Brexit is, the British media will manipulate the perception of it just enough to prevent the backlash hoped for by those who insist that ‘Brexit is the key’. The dynamic of relative power is not going to be shifted in Scotland’s favour by anything that the British state does. That shift can only happen when we make it happen.

I listen to people in the Yes movement who suppose they can game the British political system and what I hear is a flock of sheep earnestly discussing the best strategy for hunting wolves, while the wolves get on with doing what comes naturally to them. With the SNP Conference looming, let’s hope that Nicola Sturgeon’s call for an extension to the Article 50 Brexit negotiating period doesn’t turn out to be the bleating of someone who has joined that flock.


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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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