They never learn

douglas_ross

Once again, a British politician falls victim to that particular mix of prideful ignorance and vaunting arrogance which attends upon the dumb exceptionalism of British Nationalist ideology. what is remarkable here is, not the answer given by Guy Verhofstadt, but the fact that Douglas Ross asked the question in evident expectation of the response he wanted rather than the response that Guy Verhofstadt had previously given.

Ross doesn’t even have the excuse that he was ignorant of that earlier response. He actually referred to it as he asked the question anew. He was fully aware of Verhofstadt’s stated position that there is no obstacle to Scotland’s membership of the EU. But he still anticipated being given the answer that suited his agenda. He seemed to genuinely believe that, being British, he’s entitled to expect that others will adjust their positions to accommodate his purposes.

I haven’t the slightest doubt that Ross was both surprised and offended by Verhofstadt being so disobliging. He certainly won’t acknowledge, to himself or anyone else, that he did something really stupid. In his mind, the question was perfectly valid and sensible. Verhofstadt is entirely at fault for giving the wrong answer.

And nobody should imagine that this episode will deter British Nationalists from continuing to peddle the nonsense that independent Scotland must inevitably be expelled/excluded from the EU – and every other international body. Just as Ross supposed Guy Verhofstadt would indulge his prejudices, British Nationalists shall persist in the belief that the rest of the world must naturally pander to their petty and petulant need to see retribution visited on Scotland for daring to challenge the divinely ordained British state.


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If the Union offends thee…

ian_blackfordAlong with Mike Russell, Ian Blackford is emerging as one of the heroes of Scotland’s independence movement. Unquestionably, this is because both these individuals are unafraid to reflect in their rhetoric some of the indignation and anger felt by people across Scotland and beyond.

What may seem strange to some is the extent to which the British establishment seems oblivious to and/or disdainful of this outrage. The British political elite appears genuinely incapable of appreciating how its behaviour is viewed in Scotland. Either that, or they simply don’t care. Or maybe there is some awareness, but it is countered by powerful denial. I suspect there is an element of all of these at work.

There are certainly those in the British political parties who simply cannot understand why anybody would challenge the authority of the British state or question the efficacy and desirability of British governance. To them, the British ruling class is a natural phenomenon, much like the winds and the tides. They take for granted the British ‘right to rule’ just as they do the air that they breathe. when Ian Blackford and Mike Russell talk about the deficiencies and failings and offences of the British state, they might as well be speaking the Gaelic for all the British understand of what they say.

Some, no doubt, are just as aware of these deficiencies, failings and offences as Blackford and Russell and the rest. But, from the arrogant and perverse perspective of British exceptionalism, getting away with these things is a mark of superiority. They not only don’t care about the harm they do, they revel in it. Gross abuse of power and abysmal incompetence are, like the elaborate raiment and ornate headgear sported by aristocracy, the ostentation which signifies status.

Then there are those who simply blank out the discomfiting reality. We see all to clearly in aspects of the Brexit fiasco the astounding capacity for denial that exists within the ranks of the British political elite. If they are capable of deluding themselves about how that whole bourach is going, it’s easy to see how David Mundell might have convinced himself that he really does speak for Scotland and that we all respect and admire him just as we love and adore Ruth Davidson.

What this all adds up to is a British state which is sick to its core. Chronically sick. Terminally sick. From Scotland’s perspective, ending the Union will be like amputating a diseased limb.


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The duck that roared!

keith_brownKeith Brown joins the long list of pro-independence politicians plying the Yes movement with pious soundbites urging us to “reach out to our communities and former No voters, and make the strong and positive case for independence”. I’m surely not the only one who hears such bromides and immediately thinks, “Been there! Done that! Got the No vote and its dire consequences to prove it!”. I can’t be alone in craving something more from the SNP than a litany of banalities about ‘the power of being positive’ that sound like they’ve been lifted from the monthly motivational talk given by the sales manager of an office supplies wholesaler.

OK! I get that the new Depute Leader is, first and foremost, a politician. There are public expectations about how ‘real’ and ‘serious’ politicians behave and sound. Ducks don’t strut! Ducks don’t roar! Keith Brown and his colleagues have to act the part. But don’t you just wish more of them would step out of character once in a while? Don’t you long to see the duck strut? Aren’t you desperate to hear the duck roar?

Apparently, many of you are. While the reaction of the British establishment to the SNP House of Commons walk-out led by Ian Blackford has been predictably sneering and hateful, the public seems to have loved it. The prissy, tut-tutting disapproval of this bit of political theatre emanating from the British political elite was all but totally drowned out by the cheering and applause from the cheap seats. SNP membership surged yet again and social media blazed with an enthusiasm that not even the wet blankets of the British media were able to damp down.

Perhaps encouraged by the public’s reaction to the walk-out, Blackford strode back onto the boards at Westminster to give a storming speech in the almost debate-like play unofficially titled “Sewell? So what?”.  Fearful of a severe upstaging, David Mundell side-stepped the starring role in favour of his understudy. He was right to do so. Blackford’s performance sizzled with righteous anger and crackled with genuine passion. As a follow-up to his part in ‘SNP Walkout’, it was perfect.

Twice now, Ian Blackford has shown that an SNP politician can strut and roar without any cost to their credibility. People are ready for this. People want this.

Of course, the ‘positive case’ for independence must continue to be made. But this must be more than a dull recitation of dry facts and dusty figures. It cannot be only a tedious repetition of the arguments made in the first referendum campaign. Something more is needed. We need a positive case which is at least as much about democratic principle as it is about economic prosperity. But the tempered steel of this positive case also needs to be given a sharp edge.

One of the Yes movement’s most compelling slogans is ‘Hope Over Fear’. This is commonly taken to mean, among other things, that we should campaign exclusively on a message of hope and eschew the politics of fear. But functioning democracy requires the informed consent of the electorate. Which necessarily means that, when faced with a political choice, they should be aware of the possible negative implications as well as the potential positive consequences associated with either or every option.

How different the outcome of the 2014 referendum might have been if, as well as offering a bright vision of independent Scotland, the Yes campaign had done more to make people aware of the dire consequences for the country of remaining part of the UK. It’s not as if we didn’t know. The effect of a No vote was foreseeable and foreseen. The subsequent behaviour of the British political elite was predictable and predicted. But little, if any, of this was conveyed to voters by a Yes campaign which came to regard any hint of negativity as heretical.

Nelson Mandela famously urged that our choices should reflect our hopes and not our fears. He did not suggest that we should be oblivious to threats which might prevent realisation of our hopes. The light of hope is measured by the darkness of the fear it overcomes. SNP politicians have been very good at describing the light. They have been far less willing to talk about the dark that threatens to enfold us should we fail to seize that light.

Reframing the campaign to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status as resistance to the threat of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism doesn’t mean we abandon the ‘positive case’ for independence. It simply means that we add an extra element to that campaign. We’ve made people aware of what Scotland can do as an independent nation. It is right and necessary that we should also make them aware of what will be done to Scotland should we remain part of the UK. The case for independence is augmented and made complete by the case against the Union.

Both cases will benefit from being put to the people with such facts as may be available; such rational arguments as may be formulated; and such objective appraisal of the options as may be possible. But all of this is likely to leave people cold unless it is lit with the fire of justified anger and honest passion.

I’m not asking for Braveheart. Just a bit more Blackford.


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Face off!

There is a tone of bemused incomprehension in David Mundell’s remarks concerning the Scottish Government’s position in the current wrangle over powers. He simply cannot understand why the Scottish Government refuses to bend to the will of the British state. The concept of a fundamental principle is totally lost on him. Accustomed to a political culture in which supposedly cherished precepts are reduced to mere trade goods, Mundell is obviously deeply perplexed by the SNP administration’s disinclination to do business.

Mundell clearly supposes that a vote of the Scottish Parliament might be bought with a meaningless ‘concession’. As a mark of the British political elite’s contempt for Scotland, this would be bad enough. But the assumption that the Scottish Government might be had so cheaply may signal something arguably far worse than mere disdain for Scotland and its people.

Most of us, it is safe to assume, recoil in disgust from the uber-patriotic ideology encapsulated in the expression, ‘My country! Right or wrong!’. How much more repugnant is this kind of mindless exceptionalism when it relates, not to a country, but to a particular ruling elite and the political system by which it maintains its status. A certain commitment to the land one calls ones own may be normal, even admirable. But unthinking devotion to a select group and dogmatic belief in this group’s righteousness is the very essence of extremism.

David Mundell is genuinely shocked that anyone should challenge the authority of the British political elite with which he identifies. He is sincerely baffled by the SNP’s refusal to accept the supremacy of Westminster and their insistence that the will of the Scottish Parliament must be respected. He must know, at some level, that the ‘concession’ being offered by the British government is as worthless as the tawdry beads and shiny baubles with which European imperialist colonisers sought to purchase the servitude of indigenous peoples. But Scotland is supposed to be grateful for whatever it receives. We have no right to anything. Whatever the British state may offer is to be accepted with humility. The value of the ‘concession’ lies, not in its effect, but in the fact that it is being proffered at all by our superiors.

The SNP isn’t playing the British political game of token opposition readily bought-off with some trinket. They were supposed to follow the example of British Labour in Wales and meekly accept Westminster’s authority to seize devolved powers in return for a totally unconvincing assurance that this would be temporary.

The dispute between Westminster and Holyrood is not mere haggling over powers. It is a truly momentous clash of political cultures. On one hand we have the openly anti-democratic ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism so ably represented by David Mundell. On the other, we have a political culture based on fundamental democratic principles such as popular sovereignty and the right of self-determination being defended by the SNP. The latter is alien and incomprehensible to the former.

Depending on who prevails, Scotland’s democracy will either survive and prosper, or be crushed out of existence. Mundell and his fellow British Nationalists may be incapable of appreciating the Scottish Government’s stance, but they certainly recognise the threat posed to the established order by the wave of democratic dissent rising in Scotland.


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Break the rules

mundellDavid Mundell seems to have a knack for revealing the British state’s true purpose. He doesn’t appear able to conceal the British Nationalists’ contempt for Scotland – and for democracy. Or maybe he just doesn’t care who knows. Perhaps he and his associates are sufficiently confident of their power that they see no point any longer in subtlety or subterfuge. They are set upon rushing northwards to crush those rebellious Scots, and it doesn’t matter that we know they’re coming, because we can do nothing to stop them. Or we won’t even try.

One can understand this confidence. After all, Scotland has accepted British rule for centuries. We’ve let the British state use our wealth and our resources and our people and allowed ourselves to be convinced that we should be proud of our sacrifice, content with the impositions and grateful for the governance which, by the British state’s own account, has left us depleted and impoverished and stripped of the capacity to be a normal nation.

David Mundell feels perfectly justified in declaring that Scotland is “not a partner of the United Kingdom; Scotland is part of the United Kingdom”. He can readily claim that this is what we voted for in 2014. He can claim whatever he wants about the meaning of that No vote because it was a vote to give the British state licence to define what it meant. Thus, it was a vote to allow the British political elite to do whatever they want with Scotland. No wonder David Mundell thinks he needn’t take the trouble to sugar the pill. No wonder he doesn’t feel the need to try and persuade us we’re being embraced when, in fact, we’re being crushed.

The fate of the Scottish Parliament was sealed back in 2007. When Scotland’s voters took control of their Parliament from the British parties and handed it to the SNP, the British establishment realised that the devolution experiment had failed. Rather than killing the independence cause “stone dead”, it had enabled Scotland to develop a distinctive political culture. Rather than being an instrument of the British state, as was intended, the Scottish Parliament had become the locus of a new politics. Rather than serving British interests, Holyrood was finding and implementing measure tailored to Scotland’s needs. Rather than being slave to the British state, the Scottish Parliament had become the servant of Scotland’s people.

This could not be tolerated. If Holyrood could not be brought back under the control of the British parties, it would have to be crippled or destroyed.

Those who scoffed at warnings about the British state’s malign intent no longer have any reason to doubt it. David Mundell has been brazenly explicit about the fact that the British state already considers Scotland to have been absorbed into a ‘Greater England. He makes it perfectly plain that, even if Scotland wasn’t ‘extinguished’ by the Union, it has been massively diminished by the subsequent actions of the British political elite.

Now, in the face of a rising tide of democratic dissent, this British government has decided to finish the job and formalise Scotland’s status as part of a British state which is ‘indivisible and indissoluble’. To do this, they must first render the Scottish Parliament powerless. Or get rid of it altogether.

We know this because David Mundell and others are openly boasting about it as if there’s nothing we can do to stop them. But behind the facade of bluster and bravado and mach posturing, they know differently. They know that they only have the power we allow them. They realise that they only have authority over us so long as we recognise that authority.

The British establishment is very aware that, should we choose to challenge that power and defy that authority, the whole edifice will crumble. They are afraid. And well they might be. Because there are growing indications that the people of Scotland have had enough.

We will not rescue Scotland from this British Nationalist onslaught by adhering to rules devised to limit or entirely disable the exercise of our sovereignty. Their rules. The rules the British establishment devises and manipulates to keep us in line. The rules which David Mundell cites as if they were iron laws of nature.

If Scotland is to continue to exist as a nation, we need to break those rules. And we need to do it now.


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Scotland’s tragedy

corbyn_leonardI don’t suppose I was the only one to predict that British Labour would quickly find a way to back off from their momentary and superficial solidarity with the SNP in defence of Scotland’s democracy. They appear to have found a route back to the customary British Nationalist contempt for Scotland by way of a political fudge which attacks the detail of the ‘power grab’ whilst leaving untouched the underlying principle that the British political elite can do whatever it likes to Scotland.

To anyone with a modicum of respect for democracy, it matters not a jot whether powers that rightfully belong with the Scottish Parliament are withheld for seven years or five years or one minute. What matters is that the British state is asserting the authority to arbitrarily and unilaterally alter the terms of the constitutional settlement, not only without the consent of Scotland’s democratically elected representatives, but against the will of Scotland’s people as expressed by the only Parliament which has democratic legitimacy in Scotland.

British Labour’s amendment is as much a denial of the sovereignty of Scotland’s people as the British Tories’ Clause 15. Will their MPs from constituencies in Scotland continue what British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) started? Or will they cravenly abandon Scotland to the onslaught of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism? Expectations must be low.

When ‘Scottish Labour’ MSPs voted with the Greens, SNP and Liberal Democrats to withhold legislative consent for the British state’s EU Withdrawal Bill, many of us suspected that this was no more than a meaningless gesture. They were able to pose as stout defenders of devolution safe in the knowledge that their British Labour colleagues and Tory allies at Westminster would ensure they were never required to take it any farther.

British Labour is a party of the British establishment. It is always going to betray Scotland in favour of the British state. It is one of the mysteries of Scottish politics that there are people who have yet to learn this lesson. There are those for whom the gesture is enough. They will always forgive BLiS’s failure to stand up for Scotland so long as they are tossed the bone of an occasional token effort.

This is Scotland’s tragedy.


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SNP Conference: Something missing

nicola_speechConference is over. I have that strange mix of feelings which tend to come in the wake of being part of an important event – part sad it’s over; part glad it’s over. Sad because an SNP Conference is an enjoyable and uplifting experience. This is real democracy at work. Especially as much of the last couple of days was taken up with protracted, complex and  – let’s face it – dry as dust internal matters.

Which is not to say these matters aren’t important. They most certainly are. The party is currently engaged in a process of internal reorganisation largely aimed at allowing more full and effective participation by all 100,000+ members. Obviously, I can’t go into detail on this. Not only because it is internal party business, but because it would make for the dullest blog in the entire history of blogging. Suffice it to say that, dreadfully dull and confusingly complex as these debates may be, their purpose is worthy and honourable.

There is, I suspect – although to the best of my knowledge this has never been formally studied – a strong correlation between the functional democracy within a political party and that party’s ability to properly serve democracy either in government or opposition. The very fact that the SNP is striving so hard for inclusiveness and engagement within its own structures and processes almost automatically makes it more fit to govern.

The mills of the SNP’s internal reorganisation may grind slowly. But the product will be worth the effort. Of that, I am supremely confident.

Then there’s the social side of things. After the business of the day is done, it’s time to turn to unwind. The evenings spent meeting with friends – old and new – from different parts of the country are as important in their way as anything which goes one at the conference venue.

While I’ve thoroughly enjoyed endless chats with countless folk over beer or a meal, I have to say that the highlight of this weekend’s entertainment was an evening spent in the company of one of Scotland’s brightest talents Alan Bissett. The author, playwright, poet and raconteur put on a specially prepared show in which he performed a selection of his work, including scenes from his plays and readings from his books. And it was wonderful.

Back to the serious business of conference. As well as the discussions on internal reorganisation mentioned above there were the resolutions to be debated – along with all the attendant amendments. This is where the party activists shine as they take to the platform to speak – often with great eloquence and passion – on a range of issues. It is these debates which shape party policy. This is the party talking to the leadership.

Then there’s the set-piece speeches. This is the leadership talking to the party and the public. There were some excellent speeches. There always are. John Swinney spoke with very obvious passion about his aspirations for Scotland’s education system; and just a little pride in the progress which has already been made. Nobody listening could possibly doubt that this is a man who genuinely cares about Scotland’s children and young people. Coming from anyone else, the words “Equal from birth! Equal in life!” might sound like an empty slogan. When John Swinney utters those words there is no mistaking the power of his commitment.

Mike Russell confirmed his role as Scotland’s champion in the battle to save Scotland’s Parliament from the rapacious depredations of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism. He didn’t quite put it like that. But one gets a distinct sense that he’d like to. His anger at what the UK Government is attempting is every bit as genuine as John Swinney’s commitment to give Scotland a world-class education system. Both make it very clear that they see the Union as both a threat to what we have, and an obstacle to achieving more. Both are quite explicit about their determination to remove that obstacle.

And so to the grand finale. The big one. The Party Leader’s address to Conference. Nicola Sturgeon’s speech. Before commenting on this, it is important to note yet again the fact that the SNP two quite distinct roles. It is both the party of government – the administration, and the political arm of the independence movement. When Nicola Sturgeon speaks, she may do so in her role as First Minister, or as the de facto figurehead of the independence movement. Occasionally, as in her Conference address, she will speak in both roles.

The speech follows a fairly well established format. There are regular components, such as the tribute to the host city and the jokes at the expense of one or more British establishment figures. Generally, however, the speech can be divided into two parts – a listing of the Scottish Government’s achievements and announcement of significant new policy initiatives, and something on the constitutional issue. This reflects the party’s dual role.

In regard to the first, Nicola Sturgeon was superb. It would be surprising if she wasn’t given that she has such strong material to work with. Her administration’s achievements have been little short of miraculous when considered in the context of Westminster austerity and the debilitating constraints of devolution. The announcement too were impressive. The immediate pay rise for NHS Scotland staff being probably the standout example. I would urge you to read the speech in full so as to better appreciate what an excellent job the SNP administration is doing – whatever the media may say to the contrary.

It was when Nicola Sturgeon turned to the matter of independence and a new referendum that things went badly wrong.

Let me make this clear – although my remarks will inevitably be misrepresented regardless of any clarification. Nobody with an ounce of sense anticipated that Nicola Sturgeon would use her conference address to announce the date of a new referendum. That was never going to happen. She is far to astute to squander her options at this stage.

What may of us did hope for was some sense of awareness of the precariousness of Scotland’s situation and the need for urgency in addressing the threat to our Parliament and our democracy. At the very minimum we expected an acknowledgement of the rising power and presence of the Yes movement. We were given neither.

When Nicola Sturgeon said that we should not “focus on the ‘when’ of independence”, that felt like a rebuke to a Yes movement which is increasingly concerned that the the consequences of delaying the referendum are not being recognised or appreciated by the SNP leadership. Those concerns most certainly aren’t being addressed by senior SNP politicians. And those who hoped for better from Nicola Sturgeon must now be feeling extremely disappointed.

Perhaps worse, however, was the disregard – dare I say, disdain – for the Yes movement. In recent weeks there have been massively significant events which have shown how the yes movement is growing, maturing and becoming more active. The marches in Glasgow and Dumfries, as well as The Gathering in Stirling, are rightly regarded by the wider independence movement as landmark events with great import for the independence cause. People are bound to be perplexed and offended that Nicola Sturgeon chose to ignore them.

It grieves me to say it, but Nicola has made a grave error of judgement. Doubtless, some will say that that she was ill-served by her advisers and speech writer. There is some merit in this argument. I can’t be the only one who cringed at references to “the NHS” rather than ‘NHS Scotland’. But, as Party Leader and First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon is ultimately responsible. The Scottish buck stops with her.

Listening to Nicola Sturgeon’s remarks about the referendum I got a sense of something bordering on complacency. In her failure to give to much as a hat-tip to the Yes movement, for the first time ever I got a disturbingly distinct impression of a political leader detached from the base of that movement.

PS – If you’d like to chat about events at the SNP Conference, I’ll be talking about my impressions and listening to yours at The Bridge Street Social Club on Sunday 10 June from 14:00.


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