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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SNP Conference: Fuel efficiency

snp_conference

As the first day of the SNP Conference dawns in Aberdeen, an atmosphere of anticipation is building. This weekend presents Nicola Sturgeon with a serious challenge. After the marches in Glasgow and Dumfries, it is evident that momentum is building within the Yes movement. The Gathering in Stirling, meanwhile, demonstrates the extent to which the Yes movement has matured. Four years ago, it was a bairn; full of youthful enthusiasm and endowed with the impertinence to do stuff just because nobody told them they couldn’t.

Now, the Yes movement has grown into formidable political and social force. Now, it knows exactly what it can do. The Yes movement has the power to shake and shape nations. Nicola Sturgeon will be well aware of this. And she will know that she has to treat this power with respect.

The Yes movement is hungry for action. Being older and wiser it is not reckless enough to demand action for its own sake. It is well aware of the political realities and the demands on the SNP leader’s political judgement. But the Yes movement needs to be fed. Nicola Sturgeon has to give them something this weekend.

Some in the Yes movement will not be satisfied with anything less than a firm date for the new referendum. They will almost certainly have to go unsatisfied. But there must, at the very least, be some acknowledgement of the fact that the Yes movement is a factor in Nicola Sturgeon’s deliberations.

Too often and too much, perhaps, we hear about the significance of Brexit; and economics; and the antics of the British government; and the polls. There is a danger that the Yes movement may feel sidelined in all of this. There is a real risk that, if its significance is not adequately recognised, the enthusiasm may turn to resentment.

It is difficult to know quite what form of words will allow Nicola Sturgeon to keep the Yes movement on board and positively engaged without closing off valuable options in her dealings with the British government. But she will have to find those words. The energy of the Yes movement is what fuels the independence cause. Nicola Sturgeon has the unenviable task of ensuring that fuel does not burn to fast too soon.

It all makes for great political drama. And I’ll be there watching.

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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What do we want?

scotlands_parliamentMost people in Scotland want independence. They just don’t realise that the thing they want is called independence. They would vote for the powers that come with independence. But they shy away from voting for independence itself. Why is this?

In part,of course, it is because the British propaganda machine has been working very hard for a considerable time to make independence seem like a big scary thing. The status that other nations regard as normal is, in Scotland’s case, portrayed as a dark and dangerous condition fraught with uncertainty and risk.

But the Yes movement must also take some responsibility for the strange contradiction whereby people say they want the Holyrood to have the powers of the Parliament of an independent nations, but without Scotland being an independent nation. The Yes campaign in the 2014 referendum and since has allowed the British state’s portrayal of independence to go unchallenged. We tried to concoct a ‘pick ‘n’ mix’ range of of independence ‘flavours’ so there might be a version that each individual and group could get behind. We should have been working to get everybody behind the one simple idea of independence.

It would be gratifying to think lessons have been learned. Unfortunately, I don’t think they have. We still have different parts of the Yes movement treating independence as a massively complex issue and promoting a plethora of highly detailed ‘solutions’. We still have too many groups competing with each other as they try to sell their particular brand of independence.

This reflects the diverse, open, unconstrained nature of the Yes movement. That is important and must be preserved. But the Yes campaign has to be different. It has to be unified, focused and disciplined.

If the Yes movement is to be the force behind an effective Yes campaign, it must unite around a single, clear, concise concept of independence. It must concentrate all its efforts on promoting a common vision. It must find leadership without adopting leaders.

To avoid the mistakes of the past, the Yes movement has to reframe the issue. We must rid ourselves of the mindset which has us asking the British state to lend its powers to the Scottish Parliament. We must develop a mindset which has us demanding powers which rightfully belong to us, but which are being wrongfully withheld by the British state.

The people of Scotland are sovereign. The Union is an impediment to the exercise of that sovereignty. The solution is to dissolve the Union.


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Thanks, Andrew, but…

I confess, without a scintilla of embarrassment, that I have not read the Sustainable Growth Commission‘s (SGC) full 353-page report from cover to cover. I have skimmed through the thing a few times, lighting on bits which hint that they might prevent my attention from flagging completely. I have more thoroughly perused the less daunting 55-page summary. And I did devote some time and effort to more in-depth study of Section C – the stuff about currency and monetary policy that seems to be getting some people all worked up. Although I’m still not sure why. I am, I think, sufficiently aware of the report’s main proposals.

Other than for the purposes of discussion, there’s not really a lot of point in me poring over this tome. It wasn’t written for me. It was written for people who crave the scant comfort of a superficial order imposed on economic chaos; or those seeking diversion in the near-infinite potential for dispute; or those aware that they are sure to find opportunities to relieve the straining bladder of their pent-up outrage.

It was written for people who need to be convinced that Scotland is economically viable. That’s not me. I want independence for reasons which are almost certainly incomprehensible to those who suppose I might be persuaded by an economic argument.

With all due respect to Andrew Wilson, I don’t need him to tell me Scotland can pay its way. I know that already. I know that, not by studying statistics and graphs and tables of economic data and performing complex cost/benefit analyses which, for all their mathematical impressiveness, are really no more than an elaborate way of getting from a preconceived idea to a foregone conclusion, but by a simple process of observation. I am sure that Scotland is able to pay its own way because I look at what is actually happening in the real world outside all those fancy economic models. I look! And I see that Scotland is already paying its own way.

Everything we have in Scotland is supported by the Scottish economy. All the infrastructure and all the public services and all the pensions and all the benefits and all the rest, we pay for it. Who else is there?

The ‘Too wee! Too poor! Too stupid!’ narrative which is the constant underlying refrain of the anti-independence campaign rests entirely on the notion of a net fiscal transfer to Scotland from the rest of the UK (rUK). But you don’t need to be a highly trained economist to see that this is impossible. The UK economy is in deficit. You can’t have a net fiscal transfer from a deficit. You can’t get something out of nothing. There is no magic money tree.

The only thing that can be transferred from a deficit budget is a part of that deficit – together with the debt and debt servicing costs needed to sustain the deficit. We know for an absolute fact that rUK doesn’t ‘give’ Scotland money, because it is an uncontested fact that rUK doesn’t have any money to give. What is portrayed as a ‘subsidy’ is actually money that is, effectively, borrowed on Scotland’s behalf by the British government, in arrangement over which we have no control and for purposes of which we largely disapprove. The costs of servicing this debt are then charged to Scotland’s taxpayers in precisely the same way that taxpayers throughout the UK pay for servicing the UK debt as a whole.

In a worst-case post-independence scenario, Scotland would continue to run a deficit budget; continue to borrow to the same extent in order to sustain that deficit; and continue to charge taxpayers in the same way to service that debt. In short, nothing changes! Nothing changes with independence, other than our capacity to effect change.

I didn’t need this explained to me in a 353-page report. It is majestically obvious.

Nor was I shocked, horrified and/or angry to be informed that the starting point for Scotland’s economy immediately after the Union is dissolved will be what, for want of a better term, we may as well call ‘Tory austerity’. How could it be anything else? That’s where we are. We have to start from where we are. Other than in the demented fantasies of the terminally deluded, there is no option to start from where we want to be; or somewhere closer to where we want to be.

We start as a nation with its sovereignty fully restored from wherever the Union has taken us. Which is precisely why it is essential that we restore the ability to fully exercise our sovereignty as a matter of urgency. Because the Union is taking Scotland at a rapid and accelerating rate to a place from which recovery will be more and more difficult.

That recovery is a process, not an event. Independence is about reinstating the people of Scotland as the ultimate arbiters of how we go about repairing the damage done to our nation by the Union. Understanding the nature of the problems that the Union has bequeathed us is vital if we are to decide how best to rectify those problems. And accepting that ‘Tory austerity’ is the inescapable starting point is crucial to that understanding.

The SGC report is a tool for exploring possible ways in which the recovery process might work. It is one of several such tools. Every one of them should carry a disclaimer stating that all their calculations and conclusions are subject to revision in the light of how things actually turn out in the real world. The way things go in the real world will be decided by the people of Scotland. I see no harm at all in having such tools to inform our debates and deliberations. But I am well aware that you can’t answer a constitutional question with a calculator.

In part, at least, the SGC report is intended to offer reassurance to those who still harbour doubts fostered by decades of British propaganda. I have never entertained such doubts. I have always had total confidence in Scotland’s people.

Thanks all the same, Andrew, but I have never needed an economist to tell me that Scotland is ‘Clever enough! Big enough! Wealthy enough!’.


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