Intolerable

yesIn order to take this swivel-eyed scaremongering about Siol nan Gaidheal seriously, you have to believe some stuff that is every bit as crazy as the delusional drivel subscribed to by that insignificant band of brain-dead ‘blood and soil’ nationalists. You have to believe that Scotland in 2018 is just like Germany in 1928, with social and economic conditions and a political culture which combine to provide fertile ground for the rise of fascism.

You must also believe that Siol nan Gaidheal is, not a semi-detached support group for the socially inadequate, scientifically illiterate and pathologically sad, but a terrifying reincarnation of Hitler’s Nazis, faithful to the obscene original in every sordid detail and just as politically effective.

You then must eschew all further reflection that might risk exposing the insulting ridiculousness of this demented fantasy and proceed directly to death-camps on the outskirts of Auchterarder where Siol nan Gaidheal‘s psychopathic minions implement the ‘Final Solution’ to the ‘White Settler’ problem with all the cold, heartless, mechanical efficiency for which the Gaelic master-race is renowned.

Those who seek to put Siol nan Gaidheal on a historical pedestal alongside the Nazis would doubtless respond to my dismissive attitude by insisting that there are similarities between the ideologies and by incessantly referring to Karl Popper’s Paradox of Tolerance. But similarity doesn’t imply equivalence any more than correlation implies causality. And, while they bang on about Popper, they assiduously ‘forget’ to mention that what he was warning against was unlimited tolerance of the intolerant, Which, to the best of my knowledge, nobody has proposed. I certainly did not.

At no time did Popper suggest we abandon all reason and sense of perspective and treat every instance of vaguely politically organised intolerance as if it represented an immediate threat to democratic civilisation. It is worth contrasting his reasoned argument with the grotesque exaggerations and frantic virtue signalling of the Angry Villagers.

Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.

What Jason Michael and others are presenting is an absolutist perversion of Popper’s analysis in which suppression is the first resort rather than the last and rational assessment of the threat is foregone altogether. It is a form of madness on a par with anything spouted by Siol nan Gaidheal. and arguably more pernicious. Because, while the threat to democracy posed by Siol nan Gaidheal is too small to be measured, the absolute intolerance proposed by Jason Michael is a very real threat to the Yes movement.

I repeat, with not the slightest hope that the import of the words will register on those intent on engineering an irrational fear of Siol nan Gaidheal, that nobody is suggesting unlimited tolerance of fascism. My own remarks on the matter are perfectly clear despite much malicious misrepresentation by others. Far from suggesting unlimited tolerance, I don’t suggest any tolerance at all. I merely point out that the Yes movement, as it is presently constituted, has no mechanisms by which to suppress – or exclude – any individual or group. Further to this, I assert that creating such mechanisms necessarily and irrevocably alters the fundamental nature of the Yes movement – in ways that many might regard as unfortunate, if not catastrophic.

Unlike Jason – who apparently believes that the people of Scotland are one Siol nan Gaidheal slogan away from descent into rabid fascism – I am totally confident that society as whole is perfectly capable of providing the appropriate level of suppression whenever it may be required. There is no need to destroy the Yes movement in order to save Scotland from the Siol nan Gaidheal bogey-man. Scotland does not so readily succumb to bogey-men.

Which brings us to the final bit of Jason’s inanity which I intend to address in what will be my last contribution to an exchange which has been as depressing and dispiriting for me as I’m sure it has been for all who value the Yes movement.

In the article referred to earlier I set out what I consider makes the Yes movement special, if not unique.

The Yes movement that I have known and cherished is open and inclusive. It is totally open and inclusive. It is open and inclusive, not because those who are part of the Yes movement choose that it should be so, but because it is incapable of being anything else. By it’s very nature, the Yes movement cannot be other than open and inclusive. It is devoid of the capacity to be exclusive. It lacks the structures, the hierarchies, the regulations and the apparatus required in order to formally include or exclude anyone.

Jason, and others, are quite explicit about their desire to destroy the fundamental character of the Yes movement by creating mechanisms by which any group or individual might be excluded. They say it’s only in relation to Siol nan Gaidheal. But when did it ever happen that the power of patronage was left unused having become available? Once mechanisms exist by which inclusion may be offered or exclusion threatened, that power will be used. That’s just the way the world is. That’s just the way people are.

I made myself unpopular by asking awkward questions about who exactly would wield this power of patronage newly created within what was formerly known as the Yes movement. Once the principle is accepted that inclusion in the Yes movement is conditional on satisfactorily passing a test of motives (Or whatever other tests may be devised. They tend to proliferate.), then all motives must be scrutinised. And some authority has to do the scrutinising. Some authority has to administer the test. Some authority has to adjudicate on who is deemed fit to be part of the Yes movement. Who would take on this authority?

Jason imagines he gets around this issue by proposing that it should be a matter of “general consensus”. More acute readers would immediately think of the obvious question which Jason is at pains to avoid either asking or answering – who decides when this “general consensus” has been arrived at? All this does is shift the power of patronage dangerously towards anonymity. It resolves precisely nothing.

Creating mechanisms by which any individual or group can be excluded and placing inclusion in the gift of some self-appointed, unaccountable clique spells the end of the Yes movement as we have known it. Worse! It destroys the essential inclusive character of the Yes movement for no good reason. It serves no purpose which is not already very adequately fulfilled by society as a whole.

At best, it is wantonly irresponsible. At worst, it is yet another attempt by some elitist clique to take ownership and control of the Yes movement. Either way, it is intolerable.


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Not so easy

yesIt is easy to mark Siol nan Gaidheal as an out-group. It is easy to justify intolerance of their ideology. It is easy to rationalise excluding them from the Yes movement. In matters of politics, I have learned to be wary of easy choices. In matters of ethics and morality, I find even more cause to be mistrustful of anything presented as an easy answer.

I have not made a study of Siol nan Gaidheal. I know enough about their ideology to be certain that I have no interest in knowing more. As someone who self-identifies politically as a civic nationalist, I find ethno-nationalism totally alien and profoundly objectionable. Racism is, quite apart from any other consideration, intellectually offensive. The ‘blood and soil’ nationalism espoused by Siol nan Gaidheal is, from my personal perspective, an affront to science and logic. It is an ugly ideology. It is ugly because it is facile. It is ugly because it arrives at significant conclusions about the character of individuals and groups on the basis of ‘evidence’ which is wholly inadequate and/or totally misleading.

You cannot know a person by the colour of their skin, or by any other aspect of their physical being bestowed by nature. You cannot know a person by their ancestry or their geographic origins. You can only know anything meaningful about a person from the conscious, considered choices that they make.

To my mind, the stuff peddled by Siol nan Gaidheal is rather too ludicrous to be considered dangerous. It would be easy to dismiss. So I don’t dismiss it from anything other than my own mind. Because I’ve learned to be wary of things that seem easy.

It is easy to condemn Siol nan Gaidheal. So easy that we might do so without thinking. We might just go along with the condemnation and the intolerance and the exclusion without questioning the process and without considering the implications. It is seldom a good idea to do anything thoughtlessly. It is always a good idea to consider the implications of any action. It is only sensible to examine what is actually going on with an apparently easy process. It’s good to question everything. The more obvious and easy it seems – or is made to seem – the more is likely to be revealed by questioning.

Why exclude Siol nan Gaidheal from the Yes movement? It can hardly be because they support the cause of restoring Scotland’s status as an independent nation. That, after all, is the primary aim of the Yes movement. What is proposed is that Siol nan Gaidheal be excluded on account of their motives for supporting independence. Which necessarily implies that their motives have been scrutinised and judged to be unacceptable. By whom? Who, in the Yes movement has the authority to conduct such scrutiny? Who has the right to pass judgement?

Who decides which groups and individuals are to be subjected to such scrutiny? Who decides which individuals and groups are exempt from any examination of their motives?

What criteria are applied in assessing whether an individual or group is fit to be part of the Yes movement? Who selects these criteria? Who ensures that the criteria are fairly applied? Who oversees the process by which individuals and groups are approved or rejected?

How does one apply for accreditation as an approved part of the Yes movement? To whom must one apply? Who has to apply? If not everybody, who decides which individuals and groups need not apply?

What seemed like an easy choice to exclude Siol nan Gaidheal from the Yes movement turns out to be rather more fraught when one takes the trouble to ask the awkward questions. It turns out to be more problematic than we’ve been led to suppose because asking those awkward questions brings the realisation that excluding Siol nan Gaidheal has implications, not only for them, but for the Yes movement. The process of excluding any individual or group necessarily and unavoidably says something about the character and nature of the entity which is doing the excluding.

The Yes movement that I have known and cherished is open and inclusive. It is totally open and inclusive. It is open and inclusive, not because those who are part of the Yes movement choose that it should be so, but because it is incapable of being anything else. By it’s very nature, the Yes movement cannot be other than open and inclusive. It is devoid of the capacity to be exclusive. It lacks the structures, the hierarchies, the regulations and the apparatus required in order to formally include or exclude anyone.

It is this that has made the Yes movement special – perhaps unique. Excluding Siol nan Gaidheal destroys this essential quality. Instituting a process by which any group or individual may be excluded necessarily transforms the Yes movement into an organisation. I would strongly urge that those who suppose casting out Siol nan Gaidheal is an easy choice think long and hard about the unintended consequences.


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The bargain

When someone, such as shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith, speaks of getting “value for money” from weapons of mass destruction then it is time to question, not merely the political acceptability and military wisdom of the Trident project, but the mental well-being of those who promote it. How would one begin to measure “value for money” in such a context? What exactly might represent “value for money”?

The idea of “value for money” suggests the possibility of an optimum balance between what one pays and what one gets in return. In the case of Trident, what is paid is a figure so enormous as to baffle the imagination. It is, broadly speaking, an amount sufficient to run a country the size of Scotland for a year. Enough to provide at least a reasonable level of public services such as education, healthcare and public safety.

And what do we get in exchange for this enormous outlay? We get a (supposedly) independent nuclear deterrent. Something which can never be used because to use it would be to destroy, not only the ‘enemy’, but ourselves and probably all of human civilisation and maybe even all of life on this planet. We cannot use ‘our’ deterrent because of the existence of other deterrents. The only people who won’t be deterred are those who would actually welcome the obliteration of human civilisation and who would regard global extinction as a bonus.

So, we get a deterrent which only works against those who don’t need to be deterred and which actually acts as an incentive rather than a deterrent to those who need to be deterred. What would be a reasonable price to pay for something which is, at best, useless and, at worst, counter-productive?

Even if it cost nothing, Trident would be an obscenity. The squandering of resources piles insanity on top of obscenity.

So, what else do we get in exchange for this prodigious expenditure? We get to be a “tier-one nation”. Which means only that the British ruling elite get to indulge their pretensions to global significance. They get to strut the world stage alongside the other ‘major powers’. They get invited to the meetings. They get to cling to something vaguely resembling past imperial status. By maintaining a nuclear deterrent, they get to be the kind of power that needs to be deterred.

And, given the dubiousness of the concept of deterrence, that’s pretty much all we get. In return for depriving ourselves of the resources needed to make our country work better, we get to watch as the British political elite plays in the ‘big game’. In exchange for accepting that real people will suffer and real lives will be less than they might be, we get to be vaguely associated with people who are made more than they ought to be.

It seems that, for British Labour as much as for their Tory counterparts, getting “value for money” means maximising privilege for the few while minimising provision for the many.


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Britspeak

Gawd! Not another nippy Nat rummaging around looking for some petty grievance to whine about! As a lawyer Joanna Cherry should be aware that there is a perfectly adequate precedent for making foreigners foot the bill for checks to ensure they’re fit to live in Great Britain. She should know that, when Jews were being transported by rail to places like Auschwitz during the so-called ‘Holocaust’, the Reichsbahn made them pay their fares like any other passengers.

As in the case of the British government’s charges for processing EU nationals wanting to enjoy the advantages of living in our wonderful country, children got to travel for half fare, Just as the British government is letting some of these people off without paying, the Reichsbahn offered generous group discounts.

To anybody other than these bloody-minded separatists who want to break up the great English nation, this would all seem totally reasonable. After all, why should hard-pressed British taxpayers be forced to fork out to help these people remain here and enjoy our famous English hospitality? It’s not as if they aren’t getting a bargain. They’ll soon recoup the cost of processing their applications thanks to our generous benefit system.


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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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