Trident? It’ll cost you!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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No change

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

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

British Labour Manifesto 2017

That statement is still on British Labour’s website.

In September 2018, Jeremy Corbyn told the BBC,

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

Labour to block new Scottish independence vote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Options and priorities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Playing their game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Web inside web

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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No more Septembers

There were a number of reasons I campaigned for a new independence referendum in September 2018. It was an available date four years on from the first referendum; a perfectly adequate interval for those who consider such things important. It allowed for a summer campaign, which give advantage to the campaign which can put boots on the ground. The Yes movement was strong and becoming more mature, And, of course, a September 2018 referendum was intended to preempt Brexit; avoiding the economic fallout and constitutional consequences of that greatest of British follies – so far.

As it turned out, Brexit was deferred for a year. This gave the Scottish Government a year’s grace in which to advance the independence cause. That year has been squandered in a manner which rather justifies my concerns. And it allowed more time for signs of wear to appear in the independence movement.

All of these things I wrote about in some detail and spoke about with some passion at the time. But there were also reasons I was more reluctant to talk about. I discerned potential weaknesses in the SNP, both as a party and as an administration, and developing vulnerabilities in the Yes movement. I was concerned that the SNP administration might become tired and the leadership complacent.

I was aware that the longer a party remains in office the more susceptible it is to accusations of having ‘run out of steam’, And how susceptible to ‘scandals’ – real or maliciously contrived.

I feared the party might suffer problems as it sought to adjust and adapt to its rapid growth after initial enthusiasm stopped distracting folk from the daunting task the SNP faced in reforming itself.

I worried that the Yes movement might fall foul of the factionalism which seems always to attend grass-roots progressive movements. (Is there any other kind?) I worried to that, lacking structures and leadership and being battered by disappointments and anti-climaxes, the Yes movement might succumb to ennui and frustration and just begin to fade away.

In short, I saw the possibility of the independence movement as a whole deteriorating. Not massively. But from a very a very high base to a more sustainable level. I reckoned the independence movement would be at its peak around September 2018. After that, I wasn’t so sure.

Let me be clear! I am not suggesting that the independence movement has broken down or that the SNP has lost its way or that the Yes movement has grown stale and fragile. Merely that things have changed. And the independence campaign must change accordingly. We are none of us what we were even as recently as five years ago. This is reflected in the organisation we form to fight our campaign, and so must also be taken due account of in the campaign itself.

Perhaps the biggest threat to the integrity of any political party or movement is factionalism. By which I mean, not the ordinary discussions and debates and differences of opinion that are inevitable when a number of individuals band together for a common purpose. That is usually healthy and helps the grouping to develop its ideas and arguments. What I am referring to is the kind of factionalism which involves small, or relatively small, cliques forming within the main grouping to pursue, under the ‘flag’; of the grouping, an agenda not agreed by the group as a whole. The key thing here being that the faction seeks to pursue this agenda while retaining and exploiting its identity as part of the larger grouping.

The faction is like a parasite, drawing on the facilities and influence of the organisation for its own ends. Like many parasites elsewhere in nature, the faction can be quite harmless. Its activities need not impact on the ‘parent’ grouping significantly. The organisation may be able to accommodate the faction’s agenda. In principle, at least, it is even possible that the faction might provide some benefit to the organisation.That they may have a symbiotic relationship. Although, by the time that happens it will probably have ceased to be thought of as a faction and will have been reabsorbed into the main grouping.

But factions can also be a powerfully disruptive and even destructive force. If the faction’s agenda, or the methods and rhetoric by which it pursues its aims, are sufficiently at odds with the agreed purpose of the main grouping, conflict will almost inevitably ensue. It is not uncommon that both (or all) sides in this conflict will claim rightful ownership of the organisation and its identity – as well as its assets. It can get nasty.

Another thing about factions is that they tend to proliferate. I won’t get into the whole business of prevailing and countervailing forces here. Suffice it to say that the more powerful the prevailing force, the more it will define the countervailing force. If an organisation develops one faction this implies that it is the kind of organisation (prevailing force) that is prone to developing factions (countervailing forces) and so it is likely that it will develop more factions. It’s very much like playground ‘gangs’ or the way cliques form in the workplace. The same processes are in play. The consequences can be trivial, or not.

The reason I wanted the new referendum in 2018 was that I wanted to get it done before the Yes movement succumbed to the factionalism which I saw in its future. I am surprised and delighted to realise that I may have been overly pessimistic about this. Apart from the usual self-righteous radical factions that nobody takes too seriously, the Yes movement has not developed anything like the proliferation of factions that might have been expected of such a huge and diverse grouping. This is a testament to the power of the common objective which binds the entire grass-roots independence movement.

We would be wise, however, never to lose sight of the fact that our movement is vulnerable to ‘splits’. The fact that it hasn’t done so to any consequent degree up until now is something to celebrate. But we should remain vigilant. The tendency to factionalism is still there within the Yes movement. And, even where the factions themselves are harmless or helpful, their tendency to proliferate may be problematic.

Groups! We’ve all seen the proliferation of Yes groups over the last seven years or so. We have tended to think of this as a good thing. And, mostly, it is. But it often happens that groups are competing for the same constituency. And this can frequently be for no better reason than that somebody has thought of a better name for the group. So they set up their own.

We see it also with things like hashtags. No sooner does someone come up with a hashtag pertinent to the independence cause than somebody else decides they can ‘improve’ it. A seemingly trivial thing. But it is a symptom of a much bigger issue. One of the major weaknesses in the 2014 Yes campaign was the lack of a single, coherent message. In a single-issue political campaign, it is essential that everybody involved should have the same objective. And that they should be able to describe that that objective in a consistent manner. There was never an undisputed concept of independence. And a campaign cannot be effective if it is based on a disputed concept. Bear this in mind when you hear talk of finding or concocting a ‘better’ independence message. The 2014 campaign was badly weakened by so many people trying to find that magical form of words that would convey the wonders of being just an ordinary nation.

The Yes movement is excellent because it makes us all activists. But there is a pervasive notion that it has made us all experts. Nobody can come up with any suggestion without a chorus of people saying, “I’ll just polish that for you.” With the result that we never have a settled campaign message, or voice, or strategy. We have a proliferation of the things. Which, in campaigning terms, is effectively the same as having none.

Now, we have a proposal for a tactical voting plot which is supposed to defeat the d’Hondt system and ensure a pro-independence majority. I have expressed concerns about this proposal in the face of levels of enthusiasm which are tending to overwhelm reasoned evaluation of the plan. An additional worry is that it may prompt the kind of proliferation that is a common feature of factionalism. Once one person or group has a great idea for ‘gaming’ the voting system, what’s the betting others will think they can improve on it.

The ‘Wings Party’ proposal is critically dependent on a number of factors. Not the least of these is that it it be ‘the only game in town’. But, given our experience in other areas, what are the chances of that? And it’s no good pleading that it would be stupid to have two or more independence-only list parties.That would only prompt a dispute about which of the ‘factions’ was most stupid.

I don’t know this would happen. Not in the same way as I know that the sun will rise in the east, But I do know that what the independence movement needs most urgently is a coming together. We must resist factionalism. We must halt the proliferation of individual mini-campaigns and pull the whole movement together behind a single, concentrated effort.

That effort has to start long before the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections. By encouraging the idea that it is okay to leave things until the 2021 election, the ‘Wings Party’ proposal, and all the little cousins it may engender, risks blinding people to the more immediate and lethal threat to the very elections on which they want us to depend. The threat to all of Scotland’s democratic institutions.

I won’t be discussing the ‘Wings Party’ again if I can possibly avoid it. I won’t be thinking on a time-scale that stretches all the way to 2021. I want to get back to matters which are pertinent right now – such as the effort to persuade the Scottish Government of the need for bold, decisive, urgent action and the folly of going down the Section 30 route. There’s time enough to think about the 2021 election when we can be sure there will still be a Scottish Parliament in 2021.

A great opportunity was missed in September 2018. We look like missing the opportunity of September 2019. There may be no more Septembers.

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Beware of swans

I don’t suppose Derek Mackay really believes that a British government minister being caught in a blatant lie will be “hugely embarrassing for the Tories”. I expect that, like most of us, he learned long ago that British Nationalists have absolutely no qualms about lying in defence of their precious Union. In fact, it is expected of them. Liz Truss wouldn’t be where she is today if she was not ready and eager to participate fully in the British state’s anti-Scottish propaganda campaign.

Far from being embarrassed, Liz Truss will be very pleased with herself. she got the headlines disparaging Scotland; she knows the media will play down the rebuke from the UK Statistics Authority; and she can be confident that there will be no consequences for her, other than being bought congratulatory drinks by her colleagues.

They just don’t care. British Nationalists don’t care about their lies being exposed because they don’t consider it wrong to lie for the Union. Any behaviour, however reprehensible in other contexts, is totally justified if it’s purpose is to further the British Nationalist cause. He (or she) who casts the first, biggest and most stones is without sin.

Derek Mackay, I’m certain, is well aware of this. The stuff about the Tories being embarrassed is just political rhetoric. No harm in that. Or is there?

It is common to see on social media comments about how the Tories are panicking and the British government is in meltdown and the suggestion that, if we just wait long enough and expose enough of their failures and wrongdoings, the whole lot will collapse and leave us a clear run to independence. And it is true that, on social media, there is to be found much evidence to support this notion of the British establishment being fearful and discombobulated. But what we see on Twitter is the webbed feet frantically paddling. Above, the swan of the British ruling elite glides gracefully on, unperturbed by any number of chastisements from any number of Sir David Norgroves. Impervious to Derek Mackay’s political rhetoric. Unmoved by being ‘slammed’ on Twitter for the umpteenth time by the First Minister.

They don’t care. They don’t care because the Union means they don’t have to care. They don’t care because, in 2014, we told them they didn’t have to care. When Scotland voted No it boosted the already vaunting confidence of British political elite in its power to deal with the ‘Scottish problem’.

The idea that if we give them enough rope they’ll hang themselves is utter folly. The more rope the are given the better they can bind us. We keep on giving them rope and they just use it to string Union flag bunting along every street in Scotland. The notion that the more the British state’s lies and misdeeds are exposed the more people will turn to thoughts of independence is just naive. Because, in general, people don’t care anymore than the likes of Liz Truss does. Tell them a UK Government minister has been talking Scotland down with brazenly dishonest statements and, supposing they even hear you, their thoughts turn to soap operas and football and sex and the problem of affording new shoes for the kids and sex.

The British state is not crumbling. However frantically the feet may be flapping under the water, on the surface the swan goes calmly on about its business. While some urge independence supporters to hang on in the hope that the swan of the British establishment will panic under a hail of exposés in The National and drown, the thing just keeps on going. Swans don’t forget how to swim.

Whatever it may look like from the social media perspective, the British political machine is not close to cracking. The juggernaut of rabid ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism isn’t measurably slowed by all the indignation and outrage at lies told by British politicians. The threat to Scotland’s democracy isn’t lessened one iota by revelations of British perfidy.

We cannot afford to wait in the hope that the Union will break. We must act to break it.

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