A modest proposal

With the Referendums (Scotland) Bill now going through Parliament, we can be confident that the Scottish Government has a plan which will ensure that the people of Scotland are able to exercise our right of self-determination in accordance with the norms of democracy. There will be a referendum – with or without permission from Sajid Javid or any of the other anti-democratic British Nationalist ideologues vying to become the next Prime Minister of the disintegrating British state.

And that referendum will be soon. For reasons which I have outlined elsewhere, my money is on September of this year. Talk of the “latter half” of 2020 is, I believe, a diversion. And, even if it isn’t and this really is Nicola Sturgeon’s preferred time-frame, I reckon unfolding circumstances will force an earlier vote. I’m absolutely sure that she and Mike Russell have prepared for this. The option has certainly been kept open by the proposed legislation.

I am also persuaded that Nicola Sturgeon and Mike Russell have devised a way to satisfactorily address the concerns that I, and many others, have about requesting a Section 30 order. If the Referendums (Scotland) Bill doesn’t do that, then there is no point to it. But my reading of the Bill convinces me that those concerns can safely be set aside for the moment.

We know that there will be a referendum. We have to proceed on the assumption that it will be sooner rather than later. So we have to start thinking about the campaign.

Actually, many of us have been thinking about this for some years. Even in the immediate aftermath of the 2014 it was clear that the matter was not settled. That referendum produced a result, but not a decision. The issue was always going to have to be revisited. We’ve had well over four years to consider how we should campaign in the coming referendum. If the best we can come up with in that time is a repeat of the 2014 campaign with a new logo, than we clearly aren’t thinking hard enough.

As you would expect, I have my own thoughts on how the Yes movement should fight the #ScotRef2019 campaign. I’ve been writing and talking about this since October 2014. It is clear to me that, if we are to be confident of securing the additional 10 points required to win the new referendum, we have to approach the whole constitutional issue with a totally fresh mindset.

More on that later. For the moment I’d like to deal with something fundamental. Something that many in the Yes movement probably don’t think about very much, if at all. Because we’ve all moved beyond the first questions that must be asked of any proposal – such as the proposal to #DissolveTheUnion. There are three things that any proposal must have before it can really be considered a proposal.

  • A sufficient reason
  • A viable plan
  • A credible alternative

Let’s look at these in relation to the proposal to dissolve the Union, taking them in reverse order.

Is there a credible alternative to the Union?

The alternative, of course, is independence. And, independence being the normal, default status of nations, the question really should be “Is the Union a credible alternative to independence?”. Unless there is a powerfully persuasive argument that the Union is better than independence, then independence must be a credible alternative.

Asking if there is a credible alternative to not being independent is a bit like asking if there is a credible alternative to not breathing.

Is there a viable plan for dissolving the Union?

By which is meant, is there an evidently workable way of getting from the status quo to the status being proposed? Is there a way of implementing the proposal to dissolve the Union?

Again, it is clear that there must be a way for nations which are not independent to become independent. It has been done many, many times. It is not a novel thing. The broad principles governing the process are set out in the Charter of the United Nations. The practicalities are pretty much all covered by precedent and the various conventions which have been developed over the centuries.

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I enjoy visiting groups throughout Scotland to talk about the constitutional issue.

I will travel anywhere in Scotland if it is at all practical.

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If you would like to discuss a visit to your group please email speaker@peterabell.scot

In Scotland’s case, much of the work has already been done – ore partly done. We already have much (most?) of the infrastructure and institutions of an independent nation. And we have people who have been planning for the dissolution of the Union for many years.

The Union is an artifice. It was created by politicians and lawyers and civil servants. It can be dismantled by politicians and lawyers and civil servants.

This is another question that really needs to be turned around. If there is some obstacle or impediment that makes the process of becoming independent unworkable, then let those claiming it can’t be done give their reasons. Let them describe those obstacles and impediments. And if the obstacles and impediments are of their making, let them explain their reasons.

Is there sufficient reason to dissolve the Union?

The Union shouldn’t exist. If a political union on these terms was to be mooted now, it would provoke more ridicule than anger. The Union is a constitutional device by which the people of Scotland are denied the full and effective exercise of their sovereignty. The Union is a denial of popular sovereignty. It imposes the alien concept of parliamentary sovereignty – a prettified version of absolute monarchy – along with a range of policies which are wilfully or incidentally contrary to Scotland’s interests.

The Union is a constitutional cage within which Scotland’s needs, priorities and aspirations are confined lest they conflict with the interests of the British state.

The Union, as has been noted, is anomalous. It is an aberration. And an abomination. Within the Union Scotland cannot even be a fully functioning democracy, never mind the progressive and prosperous nation we aspire to be. The Union simply will not allow it.

The difficulty isn’t finding sufficient reasons why the Union should be dissolved. The problem is explaining why it is allowed to persist.

In dealing with these basic requirement of a proposal, one thing has become clear. Restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status requires no justification. There is no need for a ‘positive case for independence’. It is the Union which must be justified. It is those who insist on preserving the Union who must explain why the people of Scotland should tolerate a constitutional arrangement which makes them second-class citizens in an increasingly intolerant and repressive British state, rather than normal citizens of a normal country.

It is for British Nationalists and hard-line Unionists to tell us what it is that Scotland gets from the Union which makes it worth the sacrifice of our democratic rights and our dignity. And, as they do, they better be aware that they cannot get away with the old lies.

Which neatly leads into the matter of how the coming referendum campaign should be fought. Let’s think about that.



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The fight is on!

The Scottish Government appears to be proceeding on the assumption that there will still be a Scottish Parliament in the “latter half” of 2020. There can’t be many politically aware people in Scotland who consider that a safe assumption.

But I use the word “appears” advisedly. Because everything we know about the First Minister and her team tells us that they are not the kind of people who make rash assumptions. They are, however, the kind of astute political operators who recognise the importance of keeping their options open.

Nicola Sturgeon’s talk of a new referendum sometime in the second half of next year jarred with more than a few commentators. It’s not that this degree of specificity on timing was unexpected. The vagueness and ambiguity couldn’t go on much longer. In truth, Ms Sturgeon’s timing is probably perfect. She has chosen just the right moment to give some definition to the time-frame for a new referendum. We now have an approximate end point well ahead of the next Scottish general election in 2021. Nothing set in stone, of course. Remember those options and the need to keep them open.

The way this time-frame has been presented, the First Minister could set a date beyond the latter half of 2020. But that was always unlikely anyway as this would risk a clash with campaigning for the Holyrood elections in 2021. What is vastly more significant is the fact that the time-frame as stated leaves total flexibility to schedule the referendum earlier – at any point between the passing of the legislation and autumn 2020. This crucial option has been kept open.

Let’s talk!

I enjoy visiting groups across Scotland to talk about the independence campaign.

I will travel anywhere in Scotland if it is at all practical.

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I aim to cover all costs from donations to this site.

If you would like to discuss a visit to your group please email speaker@peterabell.scot

It would surprise no-one who has considered the constitutional implications of Brexit and the ‘mood’ of the British political elite if the date for the new referendum was to be in September 2019. British Nationalists will foam and splutter, insisting that Nicola Sturgeon had ‘promised’ the referendum wouldn’t be held before late 2020. But British Nationalists will always misrepresent the facts in this way. Just as they will always foam and splutter.

The same political acuity which we see in the careful crafted statements and the keeping open of options can be detected in the wording of the Referendums (Scotland) Bill. There is purpose in making the legislation broad – relating to plebiscites in general rather than just the new independence referendum. There is purpose in defining the territory on which legal battle with the British government will be joined. There is purpose in drafting the legislation in such a way as to allow concession to parliamentary allies. This is some smart politicking!

There has been a deal of frustration with Nicola Sturgeon of late. Many in the Yes movement – myself included – have found cause to criticise her. But nobody, I’m sure, seriously doubted our First Minister’s ability. My sense is that the days of frustration are over. The Referendum Bill marks, not a change of direction, but a change of gear. The fight is on. And Nicola needs every bit of support the Yes movement can provide.



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The state of BLiS

Kevin McKenna may be correct when he says that “the Labour Party in Scotland has been on the wrong side of the constitutional debate in this country”. (For the benefit of Unionists, “this country” refers to Scotland.) But he doesn’t seem to realise that it is the only “side of the constitutional debate” that they can possibly be on. He advises that “it [‘Scottish Labour’] must fashion a realistic and more pragmatic position on Scottish independence” having earlier noted that “the relationship between Westminster Labour and Holyrood Labour proceeds on a master and serf basis”. Does Kevin McKenna fail to fully comprehend the nature of a master/serf relationship?

Firstly, we must issue the regrettably still necessary advisory that there is no such political party as ‘Scottish Labour’. No such party exists. The thing calling itself ‘Scottish Labour’ is not a political party. There is no ‘Scottish Labour’, there is only British Labour. And there’s a bit of British Labour which is in Scotland and which, therefore, should properly be referred to as British Labour in Scotland (BLiS).

Journalists seem to have particular difficulty getting their heads around this apparently very simple concept. It’s quite unreal the way they persist in treating ‘Scottish Labour’ as if it was a real political party and whoever has their name chalked on the ‘Scottish Labour’ leader’s office door as if they were a real leader of a real party. They really need to get real.

(It goes without saying that the BBC is particularly bad for this. As far as BBC Scotland is concerned, ‘Scottish Labour’ is still the main political party in Scotland. That’s what comes of listening to their own news bulletins.)

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I enjoy visiting groups throughout Scotland to talk about the constitutional issue.

I will travel anywhere in Scotland if it is at all practical.

I do not charge a fee.

I do not ask for expenses but will accept contributions if offered.

I aim to cover all costs from donations to this site.

If you would like to discuss a visit to your group please email speaker@peterabell.scot

Now that we’re all (except the Pacific Quay mob) clear on the fact that ‘Scottish Labour’ is NOT a political party in its own right but is, in fact, British Labour in Scotland, it should be obvious why it is “wrong side of the constitutional debate in this country”. (For the benefit of Unionists, this still means Scotland.) The clue is in the word ‘British’. It is British Labour in Scotland. It is a British party. It is in Scotland, but not of Scotland. And certainly not for Scotland.

British Labour in Scotland can no more “fashion a realistic and more pragmatic position on Scottish independence” than the British Conservative & Unionist Party in Scotland (BCUPS). Both are ineluctably and immutably part of the British establishment. They are embedded in, and utterly dependent on, the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. They are the servants of the British state.

The outposts of these British parties in Scotland have no meaningful autonomy. They cannot formulate policy independently of the party of which they are but a small part. They just can’t. They pretend to. But they can’t.

Both BLiS and BCUPS can only be on the British side of the constitutional issue. Neither can fashion a realistic or pragmatic or even sensible position on Scottish independence because they are bound by their essential nature to seek the preservation of the Union at any cost to Scotland and its people.

But perhaps it is not the nature of the relationship of the pretendy parties to the real parties that Kevin McKenna hasn’t quite grasped. Perhaps it’s the nature of the constitutional divide itself which eludes him. Maybe he still thinks of it as a divide between Scottish Nationalists and Scottish Unionists. If that ever was the case it certainly isn’t now. The divide is between Scottish Nationalists and British Nationalists. Between Scotland and the British state.

British Labour in Scotland is on the “wrong side” of the constitutional issue because it is on the British side. Not as a matter of choice, but because it cannot be otherwise. The people who associate themselves with BLiS do have a choice, however. They will shortly be called upon to make that choice.



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Out of time

I fear the Yes movement has rather left Angus Robertson behind. All this stuff about “focus groups” and “research” and “the pro-independence message” just seems so 2012. The political landscape has changed dramatically since the first Scottish independence referendum. Many of us realised even in the immediate aftermath of the 2014 referendum that there would have to be another – and that it would be very different. This realisation doesn’t appear to have reached the higher echelons of the SNP. Which, considering the vital role the party has in the independence movement, is more than a little disturbing.

We are months away from a new referendum. I know the First Minister is talking about the “latter half” of 2020, but that has to be no more than political gamesmanship. Brexit is happening on 31 October 2019. There is no realistic possibility of the EU granting a further extension, even less chance of Article 50 being revoked and only slightly better odds on a UK general election being called. Even if any of these things wasn’t such a long shot, we simply cannot afford to proceed on the assumption that they will happen. The policy of hoping for the best while preparing for the worst is well past its sell-by date.

The timetable has shifted by a year. So all the arguments that were relevant to having the referendum in September 2018 now apply to September 2019. The constitutional implications of Brexit for Scotland – which have been quietly festering in the background while everybody has been distracted by pointless ‘economic arguments’ – will now kick in towards the end of this year. And they will kick in hard. Because, by the end of the summer, the Tories will have chosen a new leader and a new British Prime Minister. They look set to choose a hard-right ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist.

First day on the job, this new Tory PM will be looking for a way to make his mark. (Let’s assume, for convenience, that the male pronoun is appropriate.) He will want to impress the massive chunk of the Tory vote which absconded to Farage’s ‘Brexit Party’ in the European Parliament elections. It will also suit him to divert attention from the whole Brexit shambles, This will be easier than trying to pretend he is in control of the situation. He could declare war on Iran. Or he could declare war on Scotland’s independence movement. Which do you think is more likely?

Taking all of this into account, Thursday 19 September 2019 looks like a good day for that new referendum. Which means the ‘hot’ campaign would start around the beginning of August.

Let’s talk!

I enjoy visiting groups throughout Scotland to talk about the constitutional issue.

I will travel anywhere in Scotland if it is at all practical.

I do not charge a fee.

I do not ask for expenses but will accept contributions if offered.

I aim to cover all costs from donations to this site.

If you would like to discuss a visit to your group please email speaker@peterabell.scot

But, of course, campaigning will be going on all through the eight weeks before that. We have to think very hard about the nature of that campaign. Some of us have been thinking about it since the day after the 2014 vote. Angus Robertson has a bit of catching up to do. In fact, he has a huge amount of catching up to do if the SNP is to provide the leadership that the independence movement will need over the next few months. To be talking about research and focus groups at this stage seems oddly detached from the situation on the ground.

Unless Nicola Sturgeon has a team beavering away in a secret lair inside a volcano somewhere, it looks as if no preparation at all has been done for the coming referendum campaign. The impression is that groups like Progress Scotland have been hastily cobbled together to give the appearance of being on top of the situation. But it’s all too late.

Seven or eight years too late, by my reckoning. Because when I read what Angus Robertson says about “research” and “focus groups” and formulating the “pro-independence message”, I’m reading about preparations for the 2014 referendum. I’m reading about preparations for the wrong campaign. I’m reading about preparations which are, not only tragically belated, but woefully misguided.

All of which puts a burden of responsibility on the increasing number of people in the Yes movement who realise the need for a new referendum this year and recognise that the campaign must take the form of an all-out assault on the Union. If the SNP leadership isn’t listening, then we have to shout louder.

We will have an opportunity to try again to get Nicola Sturgeon’s attention at #AUOBGalashiels on Saturday 1 June. A date which, coincidentally, should mark the start of the campaign to #DissolveTheUnion. We must ask ourselves, if the SNP won’t take the lead in this campaign, who will?



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#ScotRef2019

I have frequently observed that there is no path to independence which does not pass through a point at which there is direct and potentially acrimonious confrontation with the British state. This is necessarily so as to imagine that it might be possible to end the Union whilst adhering to laws and procedures designed to preserve it is to go against all logic.

Given that there must be confrontation – that the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament must breach the British state’s rules in order to restore constitutional normality to Scotland – then it is clearly vital that this confrontation be on terms determined by the Scottish Government. It would be obvious folly to go head-to-head with the British state on ground of their choosing. The Scottish Government must choose the rule to break. It must decide the issue on which to confront the British state. And it must decide the manner and the timing of this confrontation.

Let’s talk!

I enjoy visiting groups throughout Scotland to talk about the constitutional issue.

I will travel anywhere in Scotland if it is at all practical.

I do not charge a fee.

I do not ask for expenses but will accept contributions if offered.

I aim to cover all costs from donations to this site.

If you would like to discuss a visit to your group please email speaker@peterabell.scot

There is no better issue on which to confront the British state than the matter of Scotland’s right of self-determination. On this issue in particular, the Scottish Government is on absolutely solid ground. The right of self-determination is guaranteed by the Charter of the United nations. The British state cannot have the power to deny or constrain that right. It’s asserted authority to effectively veto the right of Scotland’s people to determine the constitutional status of their nation and choose the form of government which best suits their needs cannot withstand challenge.

For this reason, the point of confrontation should be the requirement that the Scottish Parliament seek Westminster’s permission to hold a constitutional referendum.

The so-called ‘Section 30 order’ purports to be no more than a procedural device by which power in a reserved area is temporarily transferred to the Scottish Parliament. It is merely assumed that the British state is entitled to withhold said power in the first place. It is time that assumption was challenged.

But the ‘Section 30’ requirement is much more than a mere procedural technicality. Without that requirement, and the provisions within which it is enshrined, devolution would not be possible. This is how the British state retains the power that is devolved. This is how the British ruling elite ensures that the sovereignty of the ‘Crown in Parliament’ is not challenged by the competing and wholly irreconcilable principle of popular sovereignty. It is only by putting shackles on the right of self-determination that the British state can play with devolution without compromising the single underlying and overarching purpose of the Union – to be a constitutional device whereby the people of Scotland are denied the full and effective exercise of their sovereignty.

The ‘Section 30’ requirement protects the Union. The Union protects the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.

Doubtless some will object that this represents an oversimplification of the issue. Perhaps. Or perhaps it reduces the issue to its essentials, stripping away the entanglements of legal argumentation that would bind us to a ‘status quo’ which disadvantages us not least by the manner in which it entangles us in legal argumentation.

The Scottish Government must explicitly reject the need for Westminster’s permission; declare its intention to proceed with a constitutional referendum on the basis of Scotland’s inalienable right of self-determination; and dare the British state to try and prevent the people of Scotland exercising a fundamental democratic right.

This must happen soon. There simply is no reason to delay. It is perfectly clear that, wherever the British state is heading, it is a place that Scotland does not want to go. Arguments about waiting to see the outcome of this or that process are without merit when there are no outcomes which are acceptable to Scotland.

I therefore suggest Thursday 19 September 2019 as the date of a referendum on the question of dissolving the Union.



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Shiny! Shiny!

I observe the Tory leadership contest with the same reluctantly fascinated revulsion as I might experience watching maggots wriggling on a corpse. The metaphor is apt. The British Conservative and Unionist Party is deceased – dead by its own hand.

The candidates for the role of leader are simply seeking to feast on the most juicily putrescent morsels of its rotting flesh. Being addressed as ‘former leader’ still carries a certain cachet within the British political system, even when the entity that was led is long gone. A determined scavenger might yet find in the carcass of the old Tory party material to serve political ambition. Or, at the very least, ensure a seat in the House of Lords and/or on TV panel shows.

I look at the Tory leadership contest and all I see is a seething vipers’ nest of voracious opportunism. And in the midst of it, glistening as obscenely as any other worm, squirms Roderick James Nugent “Rory” Stewart.

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I enjoy visiting groups throughout Scotland to talk about the constitutional issue.

I will travel anywhere in Scotland if it is at all practical.

I do not charge a fee.

I do not ask for expenses but will accept contributions if offered.

I aim to cover all costs from donations to this site.

If you would like to discuss a visit to your group please email speaker@peterabell.scot

But the attentive observer should note something particular about Rory Stewart’s sheen. There is, to be sure, the polish that comes from decades of expensive preparation for entry into the ranks of the British state’s ruling elite – attendance at the right schools; membership of the right clubs; participation in the right pursuits; mixing with the right people. Then there is something else. Something new. Something applied over the deep burnished gleam of breeding and the warm glow of assured preference. On top of all this there is the slick, streaked gloss of rudely applied media spin.

Rory Stewart is being sold to us. Recent media coverage can readily be seen to be a coordinated process of building a narrative. Much of this is crude enough for the original script to be evident. Isn’t it remarkable how many political commentators seem to have simultaneously realised that Rory Stewart strikes them as a ‘decent sort of guy’, or words very much to that effect. Some is more subtle. The disinterring of an oddly indulgent interview in the New Yorker magazine a few years ago makes it look as if the article was created just for this purpose. Almost as if somebody was thinking ahead.

This spate of admiration and flattery in the media has all the managed and coordinated appearance of a professional marketing campaign. The purpose of such a campaign would, obviously, be to put Rory Stewart in 10 Downing Street. That kind of image management doesn’t come cheap. Somebody will be looking for a return on their investment.

I am not for one moment suggesting that Michael Fry is part of this media effort. Not knowingly, anyway. Rory Stewart strikes me as the type of individual who acquires acquaintances and cultivates friendships ever calculatingly mindful of their potential usefulness. Indeed, this would form an important element of his training to become part of the glue binding the structures of power, privilege and patronage commonly known as Britain.

I do, however, think it a bit strange that Mr Fry can recognise Rory Stewart’s elaborate contributions to British Nationalist propaganda during the 2014 referendum campaign and not be even slightly dubious about his motives now.

As for the rest of us, the more adulatory the media’s presentation of Rory Stewart becomes, the more we would be well-advised to look on him with the most jaundiced eye we posses. There is more of the hyena than the lion about this individual.



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Two messages

What better way to follow up the tremendous success of the SNP in the European Parliament elections than with a highly visible public display of support for independence? And what better way to help create that highly visible public display of support for Scotland’s cause than to attend the All Under One Banner March in Galashiels on Saturday 1 June?

No sane, sober and sensible person can deny that the EU election result in Scotland is a triumph for the SNP. (And for progressive politics in Scotland; let’s not forget the Scottish Greens’ 8% on top of the SNP’s 38%.) So perhaps we should draw a discreet veil over this Tweet from Stirling Tories.

Ignore the SNP spin. The fact is that in a depressed turnout election, where they sunk a lot of effort Scotland-wide to get their vote out and saw their opponents struggling, they’ve gone nowhere from their 2017 GE result.

No-one has won from these elections that no-one wanted.

https://t.co/iHKaaz5DHq— Stirling Tories (@stirling_tories) May 27, 2019

Or perhaps not.

This was also a massive boost for the independence cause – even if Nicola Sturgeon seemed initially reluctant to include the Yes movement in her own celebration of the result.

Formal declaration to come, but clear now that @theSNP has won the Euro election emphatically – we are on course to take 3 out of 6 seats. A historic victory. And Scotland has rejected Brexit again. 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🇪🇺🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) May 26, 2019

Perhaps we should set aside, for the moment, her extraordinary focus on Brexit and look instead on what the First Minister said later.

“If all Westminster has to offer is more chaos and confusion – potentially under the premiership of an extreme Tory Brexiteer – then more and more people will come to the conclusion that Scotland’s future is best served as an independent country.”

Not quite the bold, decisive call to action that many in the Yes movement are awaiting. But at least there’s a mention of the independence cause. Let’s all be grateful for that.

Fortunately, the Yes movement is self-motivating. We act of our own volition and do what we reckon needs to be done. Much as we would wish for some leadership from the SNP, it is clear this is not going to be forthcoming. So we find leadership where we may. Or, to be more precise, leadership arises within the Yes movement where and when it is needed. And, when the need passes, it merges again into the body of the Yes family.

So, we will gather in Galashiels on Saturday 1 June. We will march. We will sing. We will chant. We will wave flags and hold aloft banners. We will make and listen to speeches. We will enjoy music. We will be together. We will be joyous. Some of us will be sore.

We will do all of this for as many reasons as there are people attending. We will certainly do it to send a message to those who sneer at the SNP’s electoral success with the same contempt they have for Scotland’s people, Scotland’s democratic institutions and Scotland’s distinctive political culture. The message is, “We’ve had enough!”

But we will also be sending a message to Nicola Sturgeon. A respectful but forceful message.

IT IS TIME!



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