Conjuring an image

mad_max.jpgDavid Davis is a fool. And we don’t even have to examine the ludicrous demands he’s making of the EU in order to know this. The fact that he introduced the imagery of the ‘Mad Max’ movie franchise to already demented rhetoric of the Mad Brexiteers shows him to be a buffoon. These things stick. The official title of ‘Better Together’ fell into immediate and lasting disuse once it was leaked that those labouring in the British state’s anti-independence lie factory referred to their work as ‘Project Fear’.

That is how it is known to this day. Mention the No side in the first independence referendum campaign and chances are the words ‘Project Fear’ will be uttered – invariably with a grimace of disgust entirely appropriate to such an unprincipled and disreputable project.

Now, the ‘Mad Max’ allusion will forever be associated with Brexit. Nobody will remember that this refers to the film’s eponymous hero. The name will conjure only thoughts of a war-ravaged landscape and people reduced to a pitiful, primitive subsistence under the heel of vicious gangs which can’t be criminal because they’re the only law there is.

Mentioning ‘Mad Max’ was a mistake. The kind of clumsy misstep that marks a politician as inept and inexpert. Or as someone who just doesn’t care. Someone who is so persuaded of their entitlement and righteous superiority that they can speak and act on a whim knowing they will never have to suffer any unfortunate consequences.

Much in the way Mad Brexiteers believe, with all the conviction of the religious zealot, that haughty Britannia must suffer no repercussions as she stumbles drunkenly out of the EU, attempting a theatrical flounce but managing only to get her feet tangled in the tawdry, mouldering robes she dragged out of the dusty imperial dressing-up box.

When he isn’t conjuring dystopian metaphors for Brexit, Davis is to be found applying his meagre talents to contriving ever more contorted euphemisms for having cake and throwing it under the tracks of one of those crushing, flattening, bulldozing leviathans that tend landfill sites. This time, it was ‘mutual recognition’. Which translates as the UK getting to pick and choose which bits of EU regulation it will abide by, and the EU respecting this. For Davis and the rest of his clown troupe, ‘mutual’ means “we do as we please, and you are pleased with what we do”.

There is probably something Orwellian about this. But that may be one literary allusion too many.

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Down with breathing!

hold_breathImagine, if you will, a survey which asked respondents for their views on breathing. Imagine 68% of those respondents indicating that they either had no strong feelings on the matter or were actively opposed to the process of respiration. How would we makes sense of it? Apparently, two-thirds of the population want breathing stopped. If the survey is to be believed, there’s a significant majority in favour of mass suffocation.

I’m not aware of any such survey. But I’m just as perplexed by actual research which indicates large numbers of people opposed to human rights. According to a report published by the Scottish Human Rights Commission outlining the findings of a YouGov survey, only 17 per cent of Conservative voters are human rights supporters. This suggests that a massive 83% of Tory voters reject the idea of human beings having fundamental rights. Assuming that Tory voters are included in the category of ‘human’, more than three quarters of them want to be stripped of their own basic rights.

This is every bit as incomprehensible as being anti-breathing. And not just because the figure is so high. It would be startling if even one person scorned something that is essential for life. It is surely just as remarkable that anybody should spurn the principles which make life tolerable.

According to the research, 51% of SNP voters are also at best ambivalent about human rights. While that number doesn’t have quite the jaw-dropping impact of the Tory’s 83% opposition to human rights, SNP voters can’t really afford to be smug. That’s still a majority who, if we interpret their votes literally, disagree with the idea that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

That’s a majority who, based on their responses to the survey, think it’s OK to discriminate on the basis of race, colour, sex, language or religion.

It’s a majority who don’t agree that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

It’s a majority in favour of slavery and the slave trade.

It’s a majority in favour of people being subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

It’s a majority in favour of arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

It’s a majority who reject the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Of course, most of these people would almost certainly deny most or all of the above. They’d deny that they favour slavery and racial discrimination and arbitrary imprisonment without trial and the use of torture. They would probably insist that this is not what they meant when they repudiated the concept of human rights. They might even dispute the definition of human rights being used. Even when it is pointed out to them that it’s the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948, they’ll still insist that their own definition takes precedence.

They’ll say that, when they voted against human rights, they were voting against convicted terrorists being allowed to go free. They were voting against prisons being like luxury hotels. They were voting against the ‘political correctness’ that forces employers to take on barely educated black people when there are plenty of better qualified white people available.

Explaining why people would, apparently, eschew their own fundamental rights is difficult. But it may be easier to understand the disparity between Tory and SNP voters. They read different newspapers. They listen to different voices. They have a different world-view.

This is both cause and effect. They see the world differently because of the media messages they consume. And they consume those media messages because they seek confirmation of their world-view. If you think suspected terrorist shout be tortured to extract information, you’ll tend to avoid publications which denounce torture and those who advocate it. You’ll tend to favour newspapers which tell you torture is a good thing. You’ll derive satisfaction from reading stories of how torture was used to acquire intelligence which led to some murderous plot being thwarted. You won’t learn of the abundant research indicating that torture is woefully ineffective as a means of acquiring useful information.

It’s not a full explanation, of course. People are complex. And so are the issues. But, if nothing else, it illustrates an important point. A properly functioning democracy relies on informed consent. It depends on at least a significant part of the electorate actually knowing what they’re voting for – or against. Which leads to questions about the duties and responsibilities of information providers. That means the print and broadcast media.

Let’s look on the bright side, shall we? If, as is not entirely improbable, the Daily Express ever decides to denounce the fad of breathing as a dastardly plot by evil Eurocrats bent on undermining traditional British values, this could prove to be a very Darwinian solution. Would it be such a tragedy if three out of every four Tory voters chose to demonstrate their superior British stoicism by holding their breath until they expired?

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Seeing the change

Kevin McKenna’s perspective on Scottish politics, while better than most, continues to be marred by a tendency to succumb to the cosy consensus of the mainstream British media. He correctly identifies the way Brexit has altered the whole dynamic of Scotland’s constitutional debate. But only insofar as that debate is conducted in the language of economics. He perceives the opportunity that the grim car crash of Brexit offers to the SNP. But hardly rises above the salacious, sensationalist style of the British gutter press as he describes this opportunity only in terms of political scavengers feeding on economic roadkill.

Of course, McKenna is far from alone in imagining independence is entirely a matter of economics. Large parts of the Yes movement regard the issue in the same way. Not a few prominent SNP politicians come at the whole subject of Scottish independence as if it was all about the money.

The anti-independence campaign’s principal weapon has always been doubt. In order to most effectively deploy this weapon it was necessary to move the battle onto the ground of high finance, where the British state could field its cavalry of ‘independent economic experts’ bearing lances of doom-laden data; wielding swords of portentous statistics; protected by the armour of corporate media; augmented by journalist mercenaries; supported by the spear-carriers of the British political parties; provisioned by the quartermasters of big business; blessed by the priesthood of broadcast punditry; cheered on by a rag-tag rabble of banner-waving British Nationalist zealots, spittle-flecked bigots; posturing patriots; prostituting functionaries, attention-seeking celebrities and forelock-tugging sheeple. Such was the army sent forth by the ruling elites of the British state on a mission to defend their power, privilege and patronage. Such was Project Fear.

The constitutional issue was reframed as an economic problem which the Yes campaign had to solve while the No campaign reserved to itself the exclusive authority to unilaterally and arbitrarily redefine the terms of the question so that no answer was ever correct or sufficient. And there the debate remains. Having followed the British state’s forces onto the battleground of budgets and borrowing and debt and deficits and currency and credit and money and markets, the independence movement now faces the daunting task of shifting the debate back where it belongs – in the realm of constitutional justice.

You can’t address democratic deficiency with an abacus. You can’t solve the issue of sovereignty with a slide-rule. You can’t answer a constitutional question with a calculator.

For commentators such as Kevin McKenna, Brexit impinges on the constitutional question only in terms of its economic impact. The advantage to “the Scottish nationalists” is crudely represented as a chance to exploit the economic consequences of a catastrophe wrought by a weak, inept and irresponsible British political establishment totally in thrall to a manic clique of zany xenophobes, demented isolationists, deluded exceptionalists and nut-job nativists. There is little room left for discussion of the constitutional aspects of the Brexit process. And little enthusiasm among political journalists for exploring those aspects.

The tragedy is that so many of those who should be leading the independence campaign are instead being led into this same shallow, simplistic analysis. There is a view, apparently quite widely held within the SNP and the wider Yes movement, that the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence is best served by having the Brexit fiasco run its ill-fated course in the callous hope and justified expectation that the ensuing economic suffering will drive Scottish voters to the lifeboats of secession.

Other than passing mention of the fact that Scotland is being dragged out of the EU against the will of it people, there is little or no acknowledgement of a constitutional dimension to Brexit. Among all the talk of imminent economic catastrophe, there is no very evident appreciation of Brexit as an impending threat to Scotland’s democracy. In the case of political commentators such as Kevin McKenna this is merely disappointing. In prominent SNP politicians it is disconcerting and distressing.

Which brings us back to Mr McKenna’s perspective on Scottish politics, and his propensity for shovelling the same dross as the mainstream British media, even if speckled with the odd glint of distinctive perspicacity. In his closing paragraph we find recognition of the massive grass-roots Yes movement whose existence is rarely, if ever, acknowledged by London-centric media accustomed to associating the independence issue entirely and exclusively with the SNP.

But McKenna immediately spoils the impression of an astute and informed journalist by dropping back into the narrative of the mainstream British media. Having risen above the herd by mentioning the “network of Yes groups all across Scotland”, he promptly rejoins it by talk of these groups “demanding more autonomy from SNP central control”. As anybody even marginally involved in the Yes movement will confirm, there is not now nor was there ever anything even vaguely resembling “SNP central control”. Indeed, a common and persistent complaint throughout the first referendum campaign was of inadequate direction from either Yes Scotland or the SNP.

If Kevin McKenna genuinely supposes the Yes movement is merely a tool of the SNP, and isn’t just saying this for effect, then he is woefully ignorant of the facts.

McKenna’s sadly distorted view of the Yes movement is only confirmed by talk of Yes activists’ “abuse of independence supporters who do not favour the SNP”, as if this was a prevalent attitude among independence campaigners and a ubiquitous feature of their online rhetoric. There is certainly widespread criticism, even condemnation, of those who advocate for British Nationalist parties and politicians while purporting to be part of the Yes movement.

From time to time, disapprobation of this duplicity may be expressed in robust terms. But, if one is properly mindful of the hypocritical contradiction involved in claiming that urging people to vote for British establishment parties is consistent with the aims of the independence campaign, then the criticism and condemnation is entirely warranted. Resorting to the term ‘abuse’ is a well-establish device by which those so inclined seek to obscure and divert attention from the real issue.

If Kevin McKenna truly had a finger on the pulse of Scottish politics then he might sense a growing rejection of the idea that independence is an economic issue rather than a constitutional matter. He might detect increasing dissatisfaction with the ‘wait until the ordure enters the air-con’ approach to Brexit. He might notice a greater emphasis on the constitutional implications of Brexit.

He might even discover that, contrary to the fallacy he perpetuates, the Yes movement is tending more and more towards acceptance of the fact that the SNP is the de facto political arm of the independence movement. There is increasing recognition of the crucial role of the party in providing the effective political power that is essential.

He might find that it is this pragmatic appreciation of the part which the SNP must play which is driving criticism of those who continue to insist that independence can be achieved by some alternative means – the details of which are never explained.

Were Kevin McKenna more attuned to the everyday realities of Scottish politics and less influenced by the cosy consensus of his colleagues in the British media, he might observe a change in the whole tenor of the constitutional debate. He might feel the tide turning.

Things have changed. But not only because of Brexit. And probably not in the limited and superficial ways Kevin McKenna imagines.

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This time it’s urgent!

Julie Hepburn
Julie Hepburn

I’m not about to get into discussing the merits of candidates for the SNP Depute Leader job. It’s far too early for that. Although the fact that nominations aren’t even open yet hasn’t prevented some people making up their minds and the media declaring at least two ‘favourites’ – neither of whom has declared their candidacy and one of whom has actually ruled himself out. It’s all in danger of becoming rather ridiculous. So I’ll just bide my time.

The issue of a new referendum is another matter, however. It seems to have become bound up with the Depute Leader contest in a manner and to an extent that may not be helpful. Some things can’t be helped, I suppose. On this, at least, Julie Hepburn talks some sense. Up to a point.

““It’s important to note that whoever becomes depute leader will not be deciding unilaterally what the strategy is and when the decision will be.”

This is important. I see a lot of ill-informed comment along the lines of suggesting that the SNP needs a Depute Leader who will ‘challenge’ Nicola Sturgeon on various issues. That is NOT what the job entails. The Depute Leader is, as the name suggests, a stand-in for the party Leader. They have to be the Leader’s shadow. They have to be able to step in and speak for the party precisely as the Leader would. There cannot be any significant disagreement or conflict. Certainly not in public.

It is this consideration which may rule out certain candidates. Those who are aware that the Depute Leader role imposes significant constraints on the incumbent’s freedom to speak and act according to their personal beliefs may be disinclined to elect to the position someone whose value to the party and the country lies in their ability to be something of a thorn in the side of the SNP leadership.

It is good that Julie Hepburn reminds us of this. Although I fear her words may too readily and too soon be forgotten.

Having got off to such a good start, it is all the more disappointing to find Julie’s comments on the subject of a new referendum reflecting the same woeful lack of urgency found in a recent article in The National by her old boss, Pete Wishart.

Whatever Louis Armstrong may say, we do not have all the time in the world. While it would be great to be able to wait for the optimum moment (although how you’d know it was the optimum moment is a mystery), we can’t. While it would doubtless be a fine thing to have absolute certainty about the outcome before we even launch the campaign, that’s not how it works in the real world.

And now, more perhaps than ever before, we desperately need some hard-headed realism in the Yes movement. If we have not settled the constitutional question within a year, then the entire terrain upon which the independence battle is being fought will have altered. And not in ways that favour the Yes side.

It isn’t only about what we do. We have to be aware of moves being made on the other side. When, for example, David Mundell talks of ‘UK-wide common frameworks’, we cannot afford to dismiss this as mere political jargon. We have to consider what it means. We have to work out what it implies for Scotland. We have to assume the worst. We have to proceed on the basis that he is talking about an entirely new structure; set up initially to take on powers repatriated from the EU, but capable also of taking powers removed from the Scottish Parliament. And if they can weaken the Scottish Parliament then we have to assume that they will. We cannot afford to be complacent.

It’ll start with things like agriculture and fisheries. The argument will be that this needs to be dealt with on a UK-wide basis. The Scottish part of it will be handed to the Scotland Office on the grounds that this will better facilitate coordination of policy with the UK Government. They will claim that it’s not really taking powers away from Scotland because the powers are going to the Scotland Office. And it has the word ‘Scotland’ in it. So stop being such a ‘grievance-monkey’ and get on with the day job using the powers you have. You can just hear it, can’t you?

Then it will be argued that, in order to make the ‘UK-wide common framework’ more efficient, the Scotland Office needs to have further powers. It will be argued that it makes no sense to have agriculture and fisheries responsibilities split between the Scottish Government and the Scotland Office. So they all have to go to the latter. Because that’s where the ‘common framework’ is. Right? Duh!

Thus begins a process of attrition. With the help of the media, and regardless of the reality, these ‘common frameworks’ will be hailed a stupendous success – at the same time as the Scottish Government is being loudly and repetitively accused of failing at everything it is responsible for. There will be a clamour for more powers to be transferred to the pure dead brilliant team at the Scotland Office. Resistance to this process will be portrayed as putting ‘narrow nationalism’ before the needs of the economy.

At the same time, it will be maintained that the new arrangements need to be secured. There needs to be ‘certainty’. So the ‘threat’ of independence must be eliminated. Legislation will be passed at Westminster prohibiting constitutional referendums. Or introducing a requirement for the approval of both the Commons and the House of Lords. Or stipulating a qualified majority. Or some combination of these and, perhaps, other measures. The ground will have shifted. The possibility of a referendum will have receded almost out of sight. The chances of winning will have diminished to near-zero.

This is not a story about some hypothetical scenario for a remote future. This is actually happening. And it’s happening now. By the end of 2018 the British government will have everything in place to make a new referendum, and/or a Yes win, as close to impossible as makes no practical difference. By October or November the post-Brexit shape of the UK will be settled. It will be a fait accompli.

Of course, given the present UK Government’s record, it’s all but certain that they’ll screw this up in some way. But do we really want to pin all our hopes on their incompetence?

#Referendum2018! This time it’s urgent!

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saltire_breakoutNice one, Pete! Putting a reference to Braveheart right at the top of your article was a stroke of genius. Braveheart is a trigger word for British Nationalists. They are pathologically obsessive about Mel Gibson’s kilt and claymore account of a mild-mannered minor Scottish nobleman turned blue-faced, bare-arsed freedum-fighter who, having out-thought and out-fought the Englander enemy, was betrayed by his ain folk and totally went to pieces over it. Unionists were bound to latch onto this cinematic allusion and be distracted from the vague, vacuous and vacillating drivel that follows.

I like Pete Wishart. He is a superb MP. He has served his constituency and his country admirably over many years at Westminster. As Chair of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee he has proved an embarrassment to most of his predecessors in that role. His work-rate is phenomenal. He is a credit to his party. He’s one of the good guys. But this article is almost a definitive statement of the very attitudes and thinking which the SNP and the Yes movement must eschew if Scotland is to be saved.

I say this, not to give offence – although I accept that offence may be taken, possibly by Pete Wishart himself and all but certainly by others on his behalf. I say it because my dedication to the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence is as strong as his. It would be remiss of me to be reticent out of respect for one individual when such a cause is at stake. To remain silent, even for friendship’s sake, in the face of what I can only regard as dangerous folly would be to betray the cause to which we both are committed.

The article deals with three main topics. The scheduling of a new independence referendum, and the timing of a formal declaration by the Scottish Government of its intention to hold such a referendum.

The relevance of Brexit to these questions of scheduling and timing.

The form, manner and conduct of the campaign to first secure and then achieve a Yes vote in a new independence referendum.

In each of these areas I find Pete Wishart’s analysis to be shallow, his conclusions indecisive, his ideas unimaginative and his general approach cautious almost to the point of paralysis. I know it’s only a short newspaper article. But if the intention was to give an impression of his thinking in relation to the core political issue of our time then, with every gram of goodwill I can muster, I cannot do otherwise than conclude that his thinking is woefully inadequate.

On the matter of when the new referendum should be announced and then held, Pete would have us wait until we can be “certain of victory”. He would have us put off the campaign until the campaign has been won. We should wait and see. We should make ourselves slave to the polls. We should be dictated to by events.

I genuinely don’t understand this. We don’t campaign because the polls have moved in our favour. We campaign in order to move them. We don’t campaign because public attitudes have changed. We campaign in order to change them. We don’t wait for the conditions to be right. We make them right.

If there is a point at which conditions are right for a new referendum, Pete declines to define it for us. He leaves such definition to indeterminate developments and unknown circumstances.

But what of developments which have already happened, or are in train now? What of the circumstances which already exist, or can be foreseen with a high degree of confidence? Where is their influence on Pete Wishart’s thinking? If development’s in the relationship between the UK and Scottish governments since 2014 do not have a definitive effect on thinking about the need for a new referendum, then what might?

What future developments might give adequate grounds if all the broken promises and exposed lies and imposition of execrable policies and casual disrespect of the last 40 grim months is to be borne without protest? What is it going to take before Pete Wishart is prepared to say enough?

The ‘Parable of Stirling Bridge’ with which Pete opens his article has a superficial ring of wisdom to it. It sounds very plausible to say that we should “hold” until the right moment. But this is no more than superficially plausible unless we are told precisely how close the enemy must be before we unleash our weaponry. And it makes absolutely no sense at all if the enemy is already upon is.

What are the circumstances in which Pete Wishart would consider the time ripe for making our move? We are none the wiser on that score for knowing his thoughts on the matter. To the extent that he chooses to reveal them, his thoughts appear to be that there is some mystical alignment of polling results and public mood which somehow allow us to know that the moment has arrived.

But what circumstances could be more propitious than those which have already been created by the British government? What circumstances could better suit the independence campaign than those which the British state is in the process of creating? We are already in a situation where Scotland is politically and economically disadvantaged by the Union. That situation isn’t going to get any better. It’s neither paranoia nor fear-mongering nor resort to the politics of grievance to state that things are going to get a great deal worse. The British political elite is telling us this every single day.

The process of delegitimising and bypassing our democratic institutions and elected representatives is already well advanced. It is not surreptitious. It is brazenly overt. The effort to undermine public confidence in our services and our infrastructure and our capacities is so ubiquitous and relentless as to have become a commonplace of daily life. Part of the prevailing circumstances.

This isn’t happening for no reason. There is a purpose. And we cannot afford to be so naive as to assume benign intent on the part of a British state whose imperatives include preventing the exercise of our democratic right of self-determination and locking Scotland into a political union on terms that are no more subject to meaningful consultation or negotiation involving the Scottish Government than the Brexit process. We have to take a realistic view of where all this delegitimising and undermining takes us.

These are the circumstances that pertain right now. We can be as sure as we need to be what those circumstances will become if we do nothing to alter the course of events. We don’t have to wait and see. The time to “hold” is already past. Now is certainly the day! Even if now isn’t quite yet the hour.

brexit_titanicThen there is Brexit. And, if we take Pete Wishart’s advice, more holding. He acknowledges the inevitable economic impact of Scotland being dragged out of the EU despite voting decisively to Remain. He acknowledges that we’re “doomed”. Unless we take to the lifeboats. Pete deploys the metaphor of a stricken ocean liner. If you think of it that way, taking to the lifeboats is a, perhaps convenient, option. I prefer the analogy of a tall building.

When someone is threatening to push you off the top of a tall building you, firstly, don’t want to suppose that they might not do it. You’re now standing right on the edge of the roof; the precipice only millimetres away; your assailant advancing towards you with a mad gleam in their eye and arms outstretched, screaming their murderous intent, you should be naturally disinclined to pin your hopes on them changing their mind.

Nor need you reflect long and hard on the potential consequences of that final shove. When somebody pushes you off the top of a tall building, you don’t have to wait until you hit the pavement to know that it isn’t going to end well. There may be time for a last desperate hope of a parachute. Or the miracle of flight. Maybe even a lifeboat. But your fate is sealed. Having been pushed off that building you are doomed – with a capital ‘F’.

Pete Wishart’s assessment of the situation lacks the appropriate sense of urgency. Perhaps it might if he took any account of the constitutional, as well as the economic, implications of Brexit. Think of it as a precedent. The true relevance of Brexit to the independence campaign is, not that it promises to be economically ruinous, but that it represents probably the most extreme illustration to date of the asymmetry of power – or democratic deficit – which is one of the fatal flaws at the heart of the Union. Along with the denial of popular sovereignty, it is this inherent, systemic subordination of the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people which makes the Union untenable.

But Pete seems not to consider this constitutional dimension. His analysis focuses almost entirely on the economic aspect. Eventually, people will feel the impact. Eventually they will hit the pavement. What use will a lifeboat be then?

There is no Brexit ‘deal’ which negates Scotland’s Remain vote. There is no Brexit ‘deal’ which is not an insult to Scotland. There is no Brexit ‘deal’ which can possibly compensate Scotland for the harm done by Brexit.

I don’t want to hear reassurances from SNP politicians that it may not happen, and even if it does it may not be so bad, and even if it is we may have a way out. I want to hear our elected representatives sounding angry and indignant about what is being done to Scotland. I want to hear them talking openly about the real and imminent threat to Scotland’s democracy and distinctive political culture from rampant ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism.

I want them to stop talking about Brexit as if it is the disease rather than merely a symptom of a cancer right at the heart of our constitutional arrangements. I want to hear them tell us of their determination to cut out this malignancy. I want to hear their ideas about how we might cure this increasing unbearable condition.

I don’t want to be placated with stories of how wonderful everything will be once the cancer of the Union is gone. I want to hear them come up with some convincing ideas about how we get rid of it.

I’m not getting any of that from Pete Wishart.

He asks the question, “How do we then get over the line and win?”. But his answer takes us absolutely nowhere.

“I don’t believe that it is in simply offering the same perspective that lost us the last referendum. We need a new independence offering that reflects the Scotland we now live in and takes into account the new political environment that we inhabit. Most importantly it needs to be sufficiently persuasive to win over that section of our population that have hitherto been unconvinced.”

This makes no more sense than talk of an “early referendum”. What constitutes “early”? Relative to what? What are the rules governing the interval between referendums? Who made these rules?

Was it our “perspective” that lost us the first referendum? What was it about that perspective which put people off? We need to be told.

What would a “new independence offering” look like? What could possibly be new about independence? How many different kinds of independence are there? This is not explained.

What might constitute “sufficiently persuasive”? What is the form of words which is going to induce an epiphany in “that section of our population that have hitherto been unconvinced”? Is such a form of words even possible? If it is, why has the entire Yes movement failed to find it? No answers.

Pete acknowledges that “offering the same prospectus, with the same arguments, is likely to produce the same result”. So don’t! Accept instead that there is no new way of presenting independence that is going to persuade those who aren’t listening because they’ve already decided that independence isn’t happening. Accept that we’ve already won over everybody who can be won over by the positive arguments.

Accept that we have already harvested the aspirational Yes vote. The only fertile ground left lies just to the No side of Yesland but well short of the desert of ideological British Nationalism. It is in that ground that we must now plant our seeds. And they must be the seeds of doubt.

Doubt was what Project Fear was all about. What gave the anti-independence campaign its strength was its capacity for generating doubt. Better Together was remarkably successful in creating an atmosphere of uncertainty even where none was warranted. Especially where none was warranted. Their strategy was to play on the fear of change. To exploit the insecurity that is a characteristic of the prevailing economic orthodoxy. To take the normal vagaries of life and exaggerate them until, however little actual substance they possessed, they took on the appearance of monstrous catastrophes awaiting those who dared challenge the established order.

They did this in various ways. And, of course, the anti-independence campaign enjoyed the support and assistance of shamefully compliant and docile mainstream media. This was essential, as the creation of doubt required that everything the Yes side did was constantly and repeatedly questioned while nothing the No side said or did was ever subject to any meaningful scrutiny. Uncertainty is relative. Simply by questioning one side more than the other, that side seems to have the most uncertainty associated with it.

If we want to win, we should look to the winners for lessons. We didn’t lose because there was something deficient or defective about the Yes message. We lost because they were better at frightening people than we were at inspiring people.

We have to accept that fear will tend to outweigh inspiration. Frightening people is relatively easy. Inspiring them is seriously hard.

Not that we want to emulate Project Fear. We don’t have to. We can instil in accessible minds an uncertainty about the assumed merits of the Union simply be telling the truth. Pretty much everybody who moved from No to Yes in the past started that journey by questioning their assumptions about the Union. The positive arguments of the Yes campaign had to be there in order for them to have somewhere to go when they let go of the status quo. But it was the letting go that was crucial.

The new Yes campaign must utilise this process in reverse. We need to change the emphasis of our narrative from one of heading towards a better future to one of breaking away from the past. We need to talk a bit less about the new age we hope to enter and considerably more about the existing mire from which we must extricate ourselves.

We don’t need a new independence campaign. We need an anti-Union campaign like we’ve never had.

That is the fresh thinking we require. That is the new approach we need. A more aggressive and proactive approach. In terms of the practical measures and methods we must adopt, we would do well to take what we can from the tactics that worked for Better Together/Project Fear. There is not space here to go into detail, but, by way of illustration, we might look to the fact that the No side had a message which was simple, concise and consistent. It may, when unwrapped, have been intellectually bereft; devoid of any substance or worth; riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies and contaminated by duplicity, deceit and dishonesty but. in its short form, it was always and everywhere the same.

By contrast, there were as many definitions of Yes as there were people asked to define it. The fundamental constitutional issue came to be lost in a welter of policy positions. People couldn’t see the question for the options.

While discussion of being independent has its place, that place is alongside the actual independence campaign. It cannot be the campaign. It is too diffuse and amorphous. If we are to break Scotland out of the Union, we need something hard and heavy and with a sharp point. We need some of that weaponry Wallace unleashed at Stirling Bridge. We need to be preparing that weaponry now. But we first of all need the leaders and influencers in the Yes movement to acknowledge that these are the kind of weapons we require.

I find in Pete Wishart’s article no such acknowledgement. His thinking appears to be that, faced with the formidable might of the British state, we need only fluff up the pillows we took to the last sword-fight.

I find no sense that the day of battle is already upon us, and that only the precise hour remains to be decided.

I find no evident awareness of the urgency of our fight. No recognition that, while Pete Wishart pores over polls and strives to read the public mood from the portents and urges ever more and ever ‘wider’ debate about this and that and this again, the British political elite is not idle. It is mustering its forces. it is conducting its intrigues. It is pursuing its agenda and its aims.

We know what is intended for Scotland. We know that the British government’s plans for our future will start to take solid form towards the end of this year. We know that Brexit is merely an opportunity and a means by which those plans can be taken forward. We know that, if it wasn’t Brexit, it would be something else. We know that if it isn’t Brexit then it certainly will be something else.

We know that the British establishment is absolutely determined to preserve the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state and which advantage the few at the expense of the many.

We know all we need to know. If we don’t want to remain enmeshed in these structures; if we don’t want to be ensnared by the ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project; If we want to do things differently, we must act before it is too late. We cannot be deterred by fear of losing. Because failure to act would bring about the same outcome, but make it even more unbearable.

We need a new independence referendum no later than September 2018. We need to conduct the Yes campaign on the basis that it is a fight to save Scotland. We need solidarity, focus and discipline. Because the front of battle lours.

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Scotland’s paper

the_nationalThere is an increasing sense that The National is, not just the only newspaper in Scotland to reflect that half of the population which aspires to independence, but also that it is the only part of the media which is actively engaging with Scotland’s politics.

I have long maintained that The National’s real value lay, not in its support for independence, but in the way it demonstrates that a different perspective is possible. There is an alternative to the cosy consensus of the British establishment media. The National has proved that. The National provides it.

The launch of YES DIY is a further step in this process. With its Roadshow events, The National has already established a reputation for reaching out to the public in a manner and to an extent which is, I think, unique in our time. The paper has also gone further than most to allow access to its pages. It devotes an exceptional amount of space to readers letters and comments reprinted from its website. There is already a ‘what’s On’ feature for Yes  events in the print version as well as a very useful online calendar that can be used to create personalised reminders of upcoming events.

This remarkable two-way engagement is now to be enhanced with a twice-weekly feature about Yes groups throughout Scotland. And that is a damned fine thing!

One of the things that inevitably comes up in every discussion of independence campaign strategy is the problem of media access. Well, here it is! Not everything we might wish for. But wishes rarely come true. Not in the way we hope. It’s a start. It’s a foot in the door. The National is a small wedge inserted in a tiny crack in the British establishment’s media armour. It is up to us to drive that wedge home. It is we who must open up that crack until the armour is broken.

I hear criticism of The Nation. Most of it ill-informed. Much of it petty and prejudiced. All of this criticism misses the point that, whatever the paper’s provenance, it is what we make it. Some say The National was only launched to cash in on the demand for a pro-independence newspaper. Well, duh! If the Yes movement has the power to bring about the launch of a new newspaper in a time when the traditional print media is in serious decline, then it has the power to shape that newspaper. Especially when Callum Baird and his team are so evidently amenable.

The National is by no means safe. We cannot afford to take it for granted. There are a lot of very influential people who would like to see it fail. If we make it viable, we make it more secure. If we make it profitable, we effectively own it. It seems obvious to me that the entire Yes movement must get behind The National. Why would we not? Why would we decline this opportunity? That would be madness.

But it’s not only the Yes movement that stands to gain from making The National a success. The National should be respected by all who value media diversity. It should be embraced for the contribution it makes to creating media which serve society and democracy rather than established power and corporate interests.

Buy it! Read it! Share it! Promote it! Make The National work for the Yes movement, for Scotland and for democracy.

If you find these articles interesting please consider a small donation to help support this site and my other activities on behalf of Scotland’s independence campaign.


Petulant children and mindless vandals

James Kelly MSP
James Kelly MSP – Petulant child? Or mindless vandal?

When Alex Salmond talks about the way the British parties at Holyrood are behaving in relation to the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act (OBFA) his anger is genuine, palpable and fully justified. He allows his emotions to show to an extent which is rare in politicians. I think that is very much to his credit.

We should all be angry about this. Regardless of what interest we have in football; or our political or religious affiliation; or even any informed and considered opinion of the legislation, we should all be outraged by the way British Labour in Scotland (BLiS), in particular, has sought to exploit the issue solely to satisfy a base and vulgar urge to land some sort of blow on the SNP.

This has nothing whatever to do with whether or not OBFA is effective as a weapon in the fight against sectarianism. If that were the case then BLiS and their Tory allies would be proposing changes to the legislation in order to make it more effective.

Claims that this is not the way to tackle the blight of sectarianism beg questions about what other measures might. That the legislation is unlikely to be one hundred percent effective in eradicating sectarianism cannot, in itself, justify removing it from the statute books. Society uses laws, not only as a means of eliminating or minimising anti-social behaviour, but as markers which signal moral or ethical stance. Laws serve as a statement of our shared mores and standards. We don’t make laws against rape and murder in the hope or expectation that this will put an end to such offences.

We make such laws not least to define and formalise society’s attitude to certain behaviours. The effectiveness of OBFA in combating sectarianism may well be less important than its utility as a means of re-shaping public attitudes. The mere fact of the law’s existence may impact on awareness and perception of sectarian behaviour which is so ingrained as to have become accepted as an inherent and ineluctable aspect of our society.

We are entitled to wonder why certain politicians want this signal of social disapprobation removed. In fact, we have a duty and a responsibility as citizens to demand to know what motivates politicians who object so strongly to legislation which, even if it does nothing else, attaches a social stigma to behaviour which none of them would publicly admit to finding anything other than totally abhorrent.

It has nothing whatever to do with justice. Nobody has suffered any injustice as a consequence of the legislation. There is no human or civil right to public expression of sectarian abuse or provocation which might be infringed. To claim that OBFA unfairly targets football supporters is like saying drunk driving legislation unfairly targets motorists. Regrettably, football matches and their environs is where you find overt sectarian abuse just as the road network is where you find drunk drivers.

It has nothing whatever to do with responding to public demand. All the evidence is that OBFA is approved by an overwhelming majority of people in Scotland. The campaign to repeal OBFA totally disregards the views of Scotland’s people. Those responsible for this campaign exhibit a casual, sneering, supercilious contempt for the public which is now firmly established as a defining characteristic of the British parties in Scotland.

The only thing driving this campaign is British Labour in Scotland’s burning, bitter, intellect-crippling resentment of the SNP. There may be an argument that OBFA should never have made it to the statute books. Or that it should not have been enacted in its present form. There was ample opportunity to advance those arguments as the legislation made its way through Parliament. Self-evidently, no such case was ever adequately made. The legislation was passed by the Scottish Parliament. The only Parliament with any democratic legitimacy in Scotland. The only Parliament which has the rightful authority to represent the will of Scotland’s people. The Parliament which speaks for Scotland. That Parliament spoke for Scotland when it declared our rejection of sectarianism and our determination to drive it from the sphere of our nation’s public life.

To now repeal OBFA is to retract that declaration. It is a very different proposition to not implementing the measure in the first place. To now remove it from the statute books is to recant our previously stated detestation of sectarian bigotry. It is to say that sectarianism in football maybe isn’t so bad after all. Actively renouncing our refusal to tolerate sectarianism has to be perceived as demonstrating a willingness to tolerate it.

Such a momentously regressive change to our social conventions would be difficult to justify under any circumstances. To do it for reasons no more worthy than the pettiest of political point-scoring is the conduct of a petulant, over-privileged child or a mindless political vandal.

No wonder Alex Salmond is angry. Aren’t you?

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