YES! Open to all!

180505_marchI’ll be heading for Dumfries tomorrow (Friday 1 June) to take part in the All Under One Banner march on Saturday 2 June. I want to be there in plenty of time to fully enjoy what I know will be a wonderful atmosphere. But the main reason for travelling on Friday and staying overnight is that , for health reasons, I don’t like being under any kind of pressure. I want to join the march at the start fresh after a good night’s sleep and be at the end in plenty time for my speaking slot at 14:55. And I’ll be staying over on Saturday night as well so I can do a bit of socialising after the event.

This is an important event. (The march, I mean. Not my wee speech.) The Yes movement needs to show that it is strong, not just in Glasgow and Edinburgh and across the central belt, but the length and breadth of Scotland. It is up to us, as individuals, to make the effort to be there. There will be some who genuinely cannot attend. That simply puts more of an onus on those who might, if they just roused themselves a bit.

The Dumfries march is also important because it takes the Yes movement right into the heart of Tory territory – where Unionism holds sway, but where Mundell’s brand of rampant ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism is ripe for attack. An odious ideology which should be abhorrent to ‘old-time’ Tory voters who still cling to a Scottish Conservative tradition of standing up for Scotland’s identity and values.

The Union is a comfort zone for most small ‘c’ conservatives. But it’s not as comfortable as it once was. Many are already questioning whether the Union that has emerged since 2014 is the Union that they signed up to. Many are beginning to wonder if ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism is compatible with either their Unionism or their conservatism/Conservatism.

The Yes campaign must exploit these doubts. We must miss no opportunity to aggravate discomfort with the Union and increase unease about where this new breed of ultra-Unionism threatens to take Scotland. We must tell the true story of what the Union now means for Scotland and what it will mean if the British Nationalist project isn’t stopped. We must shatter comfortable illusions and undermine complacent attitudes.

But we also must make it clear that these traditional Tories and small ‘c’ conservatives have an alternative. It is pointless trying to deter people from a harmful course of action without offering them somewhere else to go. They need to know, not only that independence will be better for Scotland, but that it will be better for them. They need to know that there is a place for them in the Scotland that the Yes movement aspires to. They need to realise that nobody is trying to take anything from them.

They need to be made aware that, while we reject the Union, the Yes movement reaches out to them. They are as much part of Scotland’s enriching diversity as anyone else. It is their Scotland as much as it is ours. They must want to rescue their Scotland from the onslaught of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism every bit as much as we do – even if for different reasons.

Let’s go to Dumfries with our minds, hearts and arms open. Let’s make it clear that, while you may not march with us, you are welcome to join us on the journey to a better, fairer, more prosperous Scotland.


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Long live the Queen!

ruth_davidsonThe British media in Scotland aren’t always negative. We are accustomed to a daily diet of unremitting gloom, doom and despair served up by journalists who have made a career of portraying Scotland as a country made entirely from dreich held together by dour. All is crisis and chaos. Unless it’s catastrophe and collapse. If the nominally Scottish media are analogous to a window through which Scotland both observes itself and puts itself on display to the world, then the typical  hack spends their days smearing the glass with excrement and bile.

Apparently, there is only one good thing about Scotland. One palely gleaming pearl of hope in the mire of misery. One reason for journalists to exercise the muscles of positiveness which would otherwise surely atrophy. One thing in all of Scotland about which they can wax enthusiastic. Ruth Davidson!

And why not? Why shouldn’t they lionise her? She is, after all, a creature of the media’s creation. A Frankenstein’s monster made from photo-opportunities and vacuous pronouncements stitched together with spin. It is the media who have elevated Davidson to the status of Queen of the BritNats. It is only the constant and vigilant protection of the media which allows her to continue pretending to a status that she could never hope to earn on her own.

The British state needed a ‘personality’ to be the face of the ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project in Scotland. The British political elite required a leader for hard-line Unionists to rally around. The narrative of British propaganda demanded someone who could be portrayed as a heroic blend of Boudicca, Churchill and Thatcher  – with a dash of Molly Weir. Someone to play the role of bold defender of the Union standing with her finger in the dyke holding back the tide of democratic dissent threatening the settled order.

Ruth Davidson got the part by default; British Labour in Scotland being unable to field a candidate who might survive internal party strife long enough to serve the British state’s purposes. That potential for a certain longevity was pretty much the only thing Davidson had going for her. The rest had to be constructed. She had to be given a make-over. She was shoved in one end of the British media sausage-making machine a third-rate party place-filler with no discernible talent. She emerged the same bag of fatuous hypocrisy and unabashed dishonesty, but now bulked with the breadcrumbs of interchangeable stock positions; artificially coloured with off-the-shelf charisma; seasoned with carefully controlled controversy; and enclosed in a protective skin that lends her the deceptive sheen of a serious politician whilst concealing the unappetising insipidness of the content.

But the Queen of the BritNats sits on a rickety throne. Her crown is on a shoogly peg. The pedestal upon which she has been raised must be constantly steadied and shored up. The British political establishment has invested too much in Ruth Davidson to let her fall. No matter how often or how badly she succumbs to arrogant stupidity, she must be protected. Her every clumsy stumble has to be presented as deft politicking. Each ill-thought utterance has to be imbued with gravitas. The contradictions and inconsistencies must be spun as intellectual complexity.

So it is that we get headlines such as ‘Ruth Davidson throws down gauntlet to May on immigration, NHS and tax‘ above cloyingly sycophantic articles written by journalists more accustomed to churning out dire pieces in the ‘Scotland is a hellhole’ genre. The purpose here is to present Davidson as a significant actor in Scottish and British politics. Someone who matters. Someone who has influence. Someone who can get things done. Someone who can be effective. Someone capable of bringing about change.

And it is all completely, utterly, ludicrously false!

Ruth Davidson is not a significant actor. She has no power. She has no authority, She can do nothing of any import whatsoever.

It’s all a sham. It would require a massive injection of substance to qualify as smoke and mirrors. It is a deception. Yet another confidence trick being played on the people of Scotland by the British establishment. The lectures and speeches and stage-managed public events and strictly controlled TV appearances, are all just theatre. None of what you see and hear is real. None of it matters.

The idiom of throwing down a gauntlet suggests a serious challenge. We are supposed to believe that Davidson is standing up to her generally reviled boss. We are supposed to be duped into thinking of Davidson as an effective shield against the worst excesses and ineptitude of the British government. Essentially, we are supposed to see Davidson as either – or both – an alternative to Theresa May and to Nicola Sturgeon. She is either Prime Minister-in-waiting or First Minister-in-waiting depending on the demands and expediences of the moment.

She is neither! But that won’t deter the British media. So long as Ruth Davidson remains a useful tool of the British establishment, they will continue to treat this commonest of commoners like political royalty.


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Irresistible force

gatheringThey should just give up. Theresa May and her trusted lieutenants, Ruth Davidson and David Mundell, should simply abandon the ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project. Davidson should tell her faithful allies, Richard Leonard and Willie Rennie, the game’s a bogey. If, as she shovels stinking fish-guts of prevarication and obfuscation over the stern of Brexit-bound Britain, May had caught a glimpse of The Gathering, she’d have turned to the other ‘One Nation’ British Nationalists and mumbled, “We’re gonna need a bigger lie!”.

On Sunday 27 May, around 500 activists from Scotland’s Yes movement assembled at the Albert Halls in Stirling to discuss matters such as organising and funding the movement; currency and national debt; voting systems; the economy; a written constitution and several topics relating to campaigning in a new independence referendum – which pretty much everybody seemed to agree is imminent.

The event was organised and run by the National Yes Registry, a group dedicated to developing networks connecting the baffling number and range of groups which make up what must be one of the biggest grass-roots democratic movements ever known. A movement with absolutely no formal hierarchy but which, nonetheless, manages to be coordinated without being directed and to find leadership where it is required without having any recognised or recognisable leaders.

The sheer ambition of The Gathering would have made a seasoned professional event organiser blanch. To say that the agenda for the full-day event was packed would be a risible understatement. The complexity involved in some of the activities and the need to marshal so many people meant that the potential for the thing to collapse into chaos was ever-present. And yet the whole event went off without a hitch. Other than some minor timetable slippage such is inevitable, The Gathering worked like a precision machine building itself out of a confusing array of disparate bits gathered from across the geographic and social length and breadth of Scotland.

It was an impressive sight to behold. But this was very much more than a happy-clappy group-bonding experience. There was serious business being attended to. There was a purpose to it all. Beneath the informal atmosphere and amicable discussion there was an intensity and earnestness that spoke of people with a common purpose. For all the banter and bonhomie, there was no mistaking the strand of steely resolve running through proceedings. This is about rescuing Scotland from an anachronistic, anomalous, dysfunctional political Union which is increasingly deleterious to our nation’s interests and a ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project which represents a growing threat to Scotland’s democracy.

By way of illustrating the serious business of The Gathering, one of the five topics chosen from the original list of 21 for more detailed discussion was the concept of reframing and how it might be useful to the Yes campaign.

A frame, or frame of reference, is a complex schema of ingrained and unquestioned beliefs, values and attitudes by which we infer meaning from words and actions. By changing any part of that frame – or reframing – meaning can be altered.

The process of reframing involves distancing from the actual words and actions in order to consider the construct of assumptions, preconceptions and prejudices which bestows meaning to them. It is then possible to envisage and formulate alternative constructs which give a different meaning to those words and actions. Selected attributes of the existing frames can be disregarded or downplayed while other other aspects are emphasised so as to create a new frame, and new meaning.

Something seen as a problem can be reframed as an opportunity. A weakness can be reframed as a strength. Negatives can be reframed as positives. Understand the frame within which something is interpreted and it becomes possible to devise a frame which prompts a different interpretation.

gathering_pab

The work-group which elected to deal with reframing came up with some ideas relating directly to the Yes campaign. It was suggested that the ‘Too wee! Too poor! Too stupid!’ narrative of Project Fear could be reframed as ‘Big enough! Clever enough! Rich enough!’.

The group proposed that the always contentious ‘currency issue’ should be reframed by ignoring the ‘What currency?’ question and asking instead ‘Is Scotland capable of managing its own currency affairs?’. Thus, a frame of challenged entitlement and uncertain resolution is replaced with a frame of straightforward competence.

More broadly, it was put to the plenary session of The Gathering that the entire independence cause could be reorientated by taking the question asked in the 2014 referendum, ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’, and reframing it as, ‘Should the Union be dissolved?’.

Although it’s obviously not simply a matter of changing the question, but of imbuing a whole new mindset, it can readily be seen how this reframing alters the whole tenor of the constitutional debate. It takes it from a frame in which Scotland is the presumptuous supplicant petitioning a superior British state for some favour, to a frame in which Scotland is merely asserting its right to restore its normal constitutional status by withdrawing from an outmoded and untenable political union to which it has been nominally an equal party.

It is this kind of thinking and planning which intimates that the Yes movement has matured and evolved. It has developed into an extraordinary democratic phenomenon which, while retaining its original diversity, openness and informality, has become a force which, when applied to a unified, focused and disciplined political campaign, now seems irresistible.

This article was written for the June issue of iScot Magazine. As you will have noted, it gives away some of the secrets of the Yes movement’s clandestine plans to restore Scotland to constitutional normality. The magazine has already gone to print. So the only way to prevent this material falling into the wrong hands is for Yes supporters to buy up all copies as soon as they become available.


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An alien force

bbc_union_at_any_costWE REJECT CRITICISM

That could be BBC Scotland’s strapline. It could almost be their mission statement. It certainly reflects the British state broadcaster’s smugly complacent attitude to criticism, as will be testified by anyone who has experienced the corporation’s arrogantly dismissive attitude to complaints.

All of which is reminiscent of the current debate about the accountability of the media and journalists’ insistence that they are not answerable to any external authority, least of all the consumers of their product. Just as the principle of press freedom is used a stick with which to beat any who criticise journalists, so the principle of the independence of public service broadcasting has been fashioned into a shield to deflect criticism of broadcasters.

This is what happens. All institutions created by and for fallible humans are bound to be imperfect. Organisations will tend to evolve to serve their own existence and convenience rather than the purpose for which they were founded. Professional groups will tend to become self-serving elites more concerned with the preservation of their status than with adherence to codes. That’s just the way people are. That’s just human nature.

Against this tendency to corruption are set such things as effective management, state regulation and market forces. We hope and intend that the managers of organisations will keep them focused on their purpose. We hope and intend that state regulation will prevent abuses. We hope and intend that consumer power will serve as a corrective to failures elsewhere.

But what happens when incompetent management is allowed to persist because they have become accountable only to themselves? What happens when a lack of political will saps regulation of its power? What happens when organisations are shielded from both public opinion and consumer power either by corporate wealth or the funding system which is meant to ensure their independence from political and commercial interests?

What happens is that we get the inadequacy and imbalance which characterises the media in Scotland today. We get a public service broadcaster which is woefully unfit for Scotland’s purpose. We get newspapers that simply don’t relate to Scotland.

We get media which are impervious to criticism and incapable of change.

We get British media lurking in Scotland like an alien force.

It is impossible to neglect the parallel with the British political parties squatting in the Scottish Parliament like a cuckoo in the nest of our democracy.


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Freedom from the press

mediaThere is a curious contradiction in Carolyn Leckie’s argument. On the one hand, she appears to recognise that the British mainstream media is inherently biased in favour of the British establishment of which it is a part. On the other, she urges us to “get across our arguments in a clear, friendly factual, positive way” using the same mainstream media. Either she doesn’t understand that fundamental aim of Scotland’s independence cause is to break the British state, or she doesn’t understand that the fundamental purpose of the British media is the preservation very structures of power, privilege and patronage which the independence movement opposes.

In one breath Carolyn seems to be saying that we should just accept the fact that the British media is not inclined to give the independence movement a fair hearing and an honest representation. In the next, she seems to be hoping that they will do just that if only we’re nice to them and present our case in a manner so devoid of assertiveness and passion that even a delicate creature such as Sunday Herald editor Neil Mackay won’t feel he’s being pressured – or attacked.

If Carolyn Leckie is saying that “attacking” the British media is futile, then I would probably agree with her. It is pointless to expect that the independence cause will be treated by the British establishment as anything other than the threat that it is. But this misses the point. It’s not about whether we should attack the media, but whether the media should be exempt from attack.

And for ‘attack’ here we should read ‘criticism’. Terms such as ‘attack’ and ‘hatred’ are labels which the media attach to criticism in order to divert from and avoid answering that criticism. To whatever extent it my be fair to characterise some of the criticism of the media as aggressive, that doesn’t alter the fact that much – perhaps most – of that criticism is perfectly reasonable and justifiable. By focusing exclusively on the aggression, journalists distract attention from the reasonable and justifiable points and, not at all incidentally, present themselves as victims.

It’s a question of accountability. Journalists such as Neil Mackay insist that they are a special category and should only be accountable to a professional code which, unfortunately, all too many journalist seem all too willing to disregard or flout. Others, myself included, maintain that journalists merely provide a service and produce a product and that, like anyone else who offers a service or product, they are ultimately answerable to the consumer.

With something that looks worryingly akin to complacency, Carolyn points out that,

The state-controlled media did not stop apartheid being overthrown in South Africa. Nor did Pravda prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union.

While this is true at a woefully superficial level, it fails to acknowledge that the media were an important part of the apparatus by which these oppressive regimes were maintained for decades. It fails to recognise that breaking the media’s grip on people’s minds was an important – perhaps crucial – part of the process which ended apartheid and brought down the Soviet Union. Would anything have changed, or changed so soon or so quickly, if the version of reality promulgated by establishment media was not challenged?

The pious wee lecture with which Carolyn Leckie ends her piece is irritatingly familiar. A small but growing part of my “righteous anger” is reserved for those who suggest I’m not entitled to my righteous anger. I reserve the right to be significantly irked by the insinuation that it is those challenging the media who fear debate and dialogue when it is others – not least some journalists – who are seeking to shut down debate and discourage dialogue.

The clue is in the words, Carolyn. Righteous anger! There are things that should provoke us to anger. There are things to which we should strenuously object. There are things which must be protested loudly and opposed vigorously. And each of us must do so in the manner which we deem appropriate. Each of us should express our anger as we see fit, limited only by what is legally permissible . Only the causes of righteous anger benefit from our response to it being constrained by an etiquette authored by the objects of our righteous anger.

Challenging and criticising the media is essential to a healthy democracy and a necessary part of any political struggle. Journalists do not get to declare themselves an elite immune from public scrutiny. Notwithstanding the spluttering outrage of some journalists at the very idea, the media will be answerable to the consumers of its messages.


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The impossible dream

fantasyKevin Pringle, a man who knows whereof he speaks, confirms in his final verdict on the feasibility and likelihood of a federal UK what many of us have been saying for a very long time,

I think that independence is more realistic.

The reason is simple. The things Kevin Pringle rightly identifies as the basic (minimum?) conditions for an acceptable – and therefore potentially viable – federal Britain are the stuff of fantasy politics.

Written constitution? No chance!

Economic policy that works for all the nations and regions? Unimaginable!

Divested of post-imperial pretensions? Don’t be silly!

All of this, together with anything else that so much as resembles modern democracy, is anathema to the ruling elites of the British state. Talk of imposing a working federal arrangement on the British state makes about as much sense as talk of squeezing me into a tutu and having me perform with Scottish Ballet.

And there’s another problem, quite apart from the fact that federalism and the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state are mutually exclusive forms. For a federal arrangement to be feasible it would not only have to be fair and equitable, it would have to be seen to be fair and equitable. Which means that the negotiation of the arrangement would have to be seen to be fair and equitable. Which, in turn, could only be the case if all the parties involved participated in those negotiations on the basis of parity of power, equality of status and mutual respect. Which, to close the circle, could only be possible if those parties to the negotiations were already independent nations.

Independence precedes and is a prerequisite for the negotiation of any constitutional arrangement which involves the ceding or pooling of sovereignty. Only independence permits the full exercise of sovereignty which provides the rightful authority to cede or pool sovereignty.

Federalism cannot proceed from the British state any more than pea and ham soup can proceed ‘fae a chicken’.

Independence is, not only more realistic, but essential and inevitable. Any constitutional arrangement which succeeds in terms of the imperatives, aims and objectives of the British state necessarily fails in terms of the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people. It is not remotely possible that negotiation of a new constitutional settlement could command the confidence of Scotland’s people other than in the wake of the dissolution of the Union.

The now ritualised espousing of federalism by British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) is not a case of them genuinely exploring constitutional options. It is a case of them striving for relevance in a political environment where absolute commitment to the preservation of the British state is increasingly regarded as an untenable oddity.


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A minimum of respect

then_whatMhairi Black observes that, when the ‘lead not leave’ platitude was being peddled, some people “maybe even believed that the UK Government would make a considered effort to take the Scottish view into account”. It should also be noted that some didn’t believe it, but didn’t care. They have important things to think about; like TV soaps, football matches and royal weddings. They can’t be expected to concern themselves with trivial matters such as the destruction of Scotland’s democracy.

Others were fully aware of the deception, but fully approved of it. Applauded it. Celebrated it. Scotland’s great tragedy is that it is home to a significant minority who rejoice in Scotland being demeaned and denigrated and diminished. It is a fundamental tenet of British Nationalist ideology that Scotland must be less if that is what is required in order that the British state may be more.

British Nationalists were never taken in by the ‘lead not leave’ plea because they regard the very idea of Scotland having any kind of lead role as unthinkable and faintly ridiculous. Belief in the primacy of the British ruling elites precludes Scotland being anything other than subordinate. Their can be no parity of status where one party is presumed to be ‘naturally’ preeminent.

For British Nationalists, who make up between 10 and 20 percent of the electorate, Scotland’s prosperity and dignity are things to be thoughtlessly sacrificed for the greater glory of the British state. They see nothing wrong in a requirement for consent that presumes consent to have been granted because they cannot conceive of circumstances in which it would be right to withhold consent from the British political elite.

They see nothing wrong in misleading, deceiving and lying to the people of Scotland in order to preserve their precious Union. On the contrary, they take great pride in doing so effectively. Liars and frauds are elevated to the status of heroes if their chicanery has been practised in the name of the British state.

No doubt people did believe that the British government would “make a considered effort to take the Scottish view into account”. But why would that be acceptable to anyone other than the British Nationalist fanatics just described? Why should the people of Scotland have to rely on a government they decisively rejected making an effort to consider their views?

Why would anyone with a modicum of respect for democracy and themselves accept anything less than that they be governed by people who take their views into account as a matter of course? Isn’t that a minimum requirement of any government? Isn’t it the very least that we’re entitled to expect?

Isn’t it about time we demanded that minimum?


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