To hell with being polite!

chris_mcelenyIt is gratifying to find any senior figure in the SNP expressing a sense of urgency and determination about action to resolve Scotland’s constitutional issue. Chris McEleny is a widely respected figure in the party. His is a powerful voice within the Yes community. When he says that the independence movement is “crying out for determined leadership”, those who aspire – or pretend – to such leadership would be well advised to listen.

In Chris’s call to action we see evidence of the new mindset which will surely be required if Scotland’s rightful constitutional status is to be restored in time to save our nation from the ongoing insult to our democracy represented by the Union – as most egregiously exemplified by Brexit – and from the further depredations threatened by a British political elite in fervent thrall to an extreme ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist ideology.

But Chris may not go far enough. For all his apparent readiness to reject the possibility of achieving independence while adhering to rules devised by the British establishment for the purpose of preserving the Union, he doesn’t seem quite able to completely resist the asserted authority which has been inculcated in the people of Scotland over centuries. I mean him no disrespect when I say that he continues to exhibit symptoms of the ‘Scottish Cringe’.

We see this in the suggestion that Scotland must establish, to Westminster’s satisfaction, its right to hold a constitutional referendum. That we must show just cause in order to qualify for the exercise of our democratic right. In this instance, the fact of being dragged out of the EU against the will of Scotland’s people. To fully embrace the requisite mindset, we must rid ourselves of such notions.

If we are to “look like we mean what we say” then we must evince total confidence in our absolute and inalienable right to self-determination. We must not show the slightest hint of being prepared to compromise that right. We must, in all things and at all times, act and speak as a nation fully entitled to freely choose the form of government which best suits our needs.

This means that we must also have full authority to decide the manner in which we make this choice. We cannot sensibly suppose that a process by which we might exercise our right of self-determination can possibly arise within the context of a political union contrived and developed as a constitutional device by which to deny us the full and proper exercise of our sovereignty. We must determine and control the process such as to exclude all possibility of intervention or interference from a British state intent upon preventing it proceeding to a truly democratic conclusion.

I question whether Chris’s proposal achieves this. Using a UK general election as a proxy referendum means we depend on the British government calling that referendum. And doing so in timely fashion. Making the next Holyrood election a vote on independence means waiting until 2021 – by which time, who knows what damage the British political elite will have wrought on Scotland. Who knows if we will even have a functional Scottish Parliament by then?

Chris is unquestionably right about one thing. We have “ever so politely played the game” by the British state’s rules. It has been amply demonstrated that doing so is detrimental, not only to our cause, but to our democracy. I strongly suspect that, if the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence is to succeed, we may have to abandon politeness altogether.

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This is our fight

“The Tories think they can do whatever they want to Scotland and get away with it.”Deidre Brock MP

filthy_handsAnd why wouldn’t they think this? Why wouldn’t the British establishment blithely suppose they can do whatever they want to Scotland and get away with it? After all, this is precisely what we, as a nation, told them in 2014. That’s what a No vote meant. It’s effect was to give the British political elite licence to dispose of Scotland as they wished. To deal with us as they might find expedient.

And, for all Ms Brock’s splendid assurances that “the SNP is determined not to let them”, what has actually been prevented? What measures have been blocked? From EVEL to Brexit and the ‘power-grab’, the British state has proceeded unfettered in its abuse of Scotland’s interests and contempt for our democratic will. All objections have been ignored. All protests have been brushed aside. All demands have been ineffectual.

This is not to doubt that the SNP are Scotland’s champions. Nobody else is carrying our demands and protests and objections into the heart of the British political system. Nobody else is in a position to do so. The SNP is the de facto political arm of Scotland’s independence movement. We rely on them.

But what is actually being achieved? And, if not enough is being achieved, what needs to change?

There’s no point in blaming the SNP. They may not get everything right, and we can always wish that they would do more. But they cannot do it alone. We must take responsibility. We must play our part. It was we, the people of Scotland, who consented to being treated as we are by the British state. It was we who granted that licence to the British political elite. In 2014, we held in our hands the power to determine our nation’s future. We chose to hand that power to a bunch of corrupt and incompetent politicians in London. We did that! It’s up to us to put it right. It’s up to us to rectify our mistake.

If the SNP lacks the power to be more effective in championing Scotland’s interests it’s because we haven’t provided them with that power. It can only come from us. All political power and democratic authority ultimately derives from the people. If we expect the SNP to take a stand against the forces of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism then we must stand with them.

This is our fight. The SNP is our weapon. Let’s use it!

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Defiance! Not compliance!

scotlands_parliament“At then end of the day Westminster is still sovereign and they could impose a confirmatory referendum on us…” – Alex Neil

No it isn’t and no they couldn’t!

For me, the whole point of Scotland’s independence cause is that we reject the sovereignty of Westminster as incompatible with the sovereignty of Scotland’s people. We reject the Union as a constitutional device by which the people of Scotland are denied the full and proper exercise of their sovereignty.

I further maintain that the right of self-determination is absolute. It is vested wholly in the people of Scotland, to be exercised entirely at their discretion. That right may not be limited or constrained by any power. The British state has no veto over our right of self-determination. It is in no way and at no time conditional on the permission or approval of the British political elite.

We will not restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status so long as we comply with rules intended to preserve the Union. A change of mindset is required. If Scotland is to be a nation again, in practice as well as principle, we must stand ready to confront the British state. To reject its authority. To defy its rules.

To restore independence, we must seize control of the process by which independence will be restored. We must approach the constitutional issue, not as supplicants petitioning a superior power for some favour, but as a people demanding that which is rightfully ours.

I demand for Scotland nothing less than that status and those powers which other nations assume to be theirs by right. Let’s bring our government home.

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Active indifference

People's_Vote_March_October_2018.jpgThere may be sound reasons for opposing a #PeoplesVote. But concerns about a “confirmatory referendum” following a Yes vote should not be one of them. In the first place, we must wonder how likely it is that, having just restored Scotland’s independence, the Scottish people would then change their minds and hand power back to the British political elite.

It is argued that the British government could make the ‘divorce settlement’ so unpalatable as to cause voters to reconsider their choice. But this assumes that the British state has the stronger hand in negotiations such as would allow it to impose a settlement. Even if this were the case, bullying tactics of this sort would surely be as likely stiffen the resolve of voters as to deter them.

And it is wrong to suppose that Scotland would be negotiating from a position of weakness. Simple logic tells us that the British state’s determination to hold on to Scotland implies we have things that they want. They’d still want – perhaps need – those things after independence and this would give Scotland something to bargain with.

Also, any ‘divorce settlement’ which was bad for Scotland would probably be harmful to the rest of the UK (rUK). This at a time when rUK is likely to be particularly vulnerable to political and economic turbulence.

We should not fear a confirmatory referendum. Even if Westminster could demand one – and chose to do so – I am confident it would only reinforce the original Yes vote.

But there is another reason why concern about a referendum to confirm a Yes vote cannot be an adequate justification for opposing a #PeoplesVote. There would have to be a second referendum anyway!

After a Yes vote, one of the first tasks for the Scottish Government will be the drafting of a written constitution. This constitution will have to be endorsed by the people of Scotland in a referendum. It should be easy to argue that this makes a confirmatory referendum redundant.

None of which is to say that I entirely agree with the SNP administration’s decision to support a #PeoplesVote. Or that I wholly approve of the manner in which this decision was taken. There should have been wider discussion of the matter within the party. Had such discussions taken place, I would have been arguing for a position of ‘active indifference’. Not supporting a #PeoplesVote – because Scotland has already voted and our voice has been ignored. Not opposing – because it would be good if rUK changed its mind and brought the whole Brexit fiasco to a halt. And because opposing a democratic vote is never a good look.

I would have advised using the issue of a #PeoplesVote as a device by which to emphasise the fact that Brexit is very much ‘England’s problem’. And to drive home the point that we have the means to ensure that it isn’t made Scotland’s problem.

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Scotland the region

back_in_boxChannel 4 and Tesco have both been getting a bit of a hammering on social media lately. The former for broadcasting a live TV debate called Brexit: What The Nation Really Thinks which failed to include somebody to represent the Scottish perspective on this issue. The programme featured A pro-Brexit British Tory government minister (David Gauke MP, Justice Secretary); a pro-Brexit British Labour front-bencher (Barry Gardiner, Shadow Trade Secretary); British Nationalist and leading Mad Brexiteer, Nigel Farage

The sole ‘Remain’ voice was Green Party of England and Wales MP, Caroline Lucas, representing the People’s Vote campaign. To be fair, Nicola Sturgeon was invited to participate. But we’ll come back to that.

Tesco got itself embroiled in the ‘unionjackery’ row after one of its customer services managers responded to a complaint about Union Jacks replacing Saltires on Scottish produce saying,

We had used the Union jack on products because it unifies the different regions within the UK. Scotland, England and Wales. It was decided to do this based on the history of the UK as a whole and everything we have been through together as for the time being, we are still one country

The Tesco spokesperson went on to deny any “political agenda”. But it is difficult to see the above as anything other than an expression of a political position in support of Unionism. Leaving aside the clumsy offensiveness of referring to Scotland as a “region”, the response explicitly states that the purpose of emblazoning Scottish produce with the Union Jack is “because it unifies the different regions within the UK”. That is patently a political purpose. It could almost be the mission statement for the British Nationalist ‘One Nation’ project.

These two issues may seem dissimilar and unrelated. But I would contend that there is a common thread running through both. Not the kind of British establishment ‘conspiracy’ being theorised by certain section of the Twitterati. But something arguably just as insidious and pernicious.

To understand what is going on here, we must sidestep blame and look for cause. Instead of asking, “Who did this?”, we must ask, “How and why did this happen?”. It would be easy – perhaps facile would be a better term – to look for some kind of mechanistic cause and effect. We might theorise that Tesco’s ‘unionjackery’ was done on instructions from the British government or one of its agencies. We might suppose that Channel 4’s failure to ensure Scottish representation on their panel was a matter of British state-inspired corporate policy.

Such ‘conspiracy theories’ are quite understandable when one considers how the supermarkets were recruited, by David Cameron, to Project Fear during the 2014 referendum campaign. And when one reflects on how the British media in general tends to reflect the priorities and prejudices of the British establishment, at crippling cost to the possibility of fair representation for any perspective other than the cosy consensus of a London-centric clique. But, as I am frequently wont to observe, ‘conspiracy’ is commonly an emergent property of organisations or networks. Outcomes which, with hindsight or an excessively shallow appreciation, may appear to be the product of careful orchestration, are at least as likely to emerge spontaneously in situations where there is a sufficient number of actors, with sufficient influence, and a sufficient commonality of interest to produce an outcome which seems contrived to serve that common interest.

The driving force in this process is, not active and purposeful cooperation among individuals and groups, but the nature of the ethos and context within which those individual and groups operate. Unless otherwise directed by effective management or regulation, organisations tend to evolve to serve themselves rather than the purpose for which they were founded. They are essentially conservative and will, by their very nature as human constructs, be inclined to protect their own existence, preserve their structural integrity and maintain or increase their relative power. Organisations are reactionary. They tend to resist change. They tend to prefer the known, even if it is not ideal.

The overarching ethos within which organisations operate is, of necessity and almost with exception, determined by the dominant political, economic and cultural influence. British businesses – such as Tesco – and the British media – including Channel 4 – operate within a powerfully British context. It is entirely unsurprising, therefore, that these organisations should act for the British state even absent anything conspiratorial.

The British ruling elites have fostered an environment in which it is perfectly acceptable to decry and disrespect and denigrate anything Scottish. British politicians have, by their rhetoric and conduct, licensed anti-Scottish sentiment, in the same way that the EU Leave campaign licensed racist and xenophobic behaviour. The British media echo and amplify the British Nationalism that has infected all of British politics. And so it becomes ‘normal’ to treat Scotland as a ‘region’. In the British state, Scotland is regarded as subordinate and inferior. Scotland’s MPs are treated as second-class in the British parliament. Scotland’s First Minister is treated with similar disdain.

Hence, Channel 4 failed – or neglected – to recognise Nicola Sturgeon’s status as First Minister and leader of a major political party. When inviting Nicola Sturgeon to participate in the TV debate, they failed – or neglected – to follow the required protocol. The basic rule is that politicians only appear on a platform alongside their opposite number or a politician of similar standing. There are all sorts of perfectly valid reasons for this. But these need not concern us here. Only that there is a standard practice, and that Channel 4 did not follow it.

The point is that they would not have invited, for example, Theresa May unless they also planned to have her opposite number – the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn. It would not even have crossed their minds to do so. These are professional programme-makers. They would have realised almost instinctively that this would be improper.

So why didn’t it occur to them that inviting Scotland’s First Minister was, under the circumstances, just as improper?

The answer, I would maintain, lies in the political environment engineered by the British political elite and promulgated by the British media. An environment in which Scotland is regarded as a nuisance at best and an enemy at worst. An environment in which Scotland’s democratic institutions – government, parliament and political leadership – are perceived as a threat to be neutralised by any means. A culture of contempt.

This same culture of contempt pervades Tesco’s management. Their contribution to the obliteration of ‘Scotland the brand’ is almost certainly not motivated by conscious malice. It is simply the way things are done in the British state. No amount of Twitter outrage directed at Channel 4 or Tesco will change this. So long as Scotland accepts the Union, Scotland will be treated as no more than a ‘region’ of Greater England.

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A horror of democracy

dimblebySometimes it’s worth listening to British political commentators, not because they have anything insightful or informative or even interesting to say about Scottish politics, but because of what their comments reveal about British attitudes. We are surely entitled to regard a veteran BBC presenter such as David Dimbleby as some kind of barometer of those attitudes since this is a large part of what justifies the ‘expert’ status afforded him by the BBC. Dimbleby is an ‘insider’. He has ‘contacts’. He is knowledgeable. He is trustworthy.

David Dimbleby is very much the voice of the British establishment. So, when he says that Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum “brutalised politics”, we have to assume that this is how it is perceived by the British establishment. When he says that people were “frightened” during the referendum campaign, we must suppose that this is what is believed to be the case by a significant part of the UK population. When he says that it was “terrible”, we are obliged to consider this to be, at the very least, a widely held opinion.

One thing we know for certain is that David Dimbleby’s portrayal of the referendum campaign as brutal, frightening and terrible is completely false. Those of us who were actually there know it to be false. Anybody who had any involvement or contact with the Yes movement knows it to have been a positive and even a joyful thing.

There was brutality! The intimidation of pensioners by British Labour activists bussed in from England could readily be described as brutal. People were frightened! The anti-independence campaign was not referred to as Project Fear for no reason. There were terrible incidents! An elderly man attacked in the street by some crazed Unionist woman and revolting scenes of Union Jack-wrapped British Nationalist thugs in George Square spitting hate and giving Nazi salutes.

Had the Yes movement responded in kind, then Scotland’s politics truly would have been “brutalised”. Had independence supporters been prepared to engage in the kind of deplorable tactics employed by Better Together, then the referendum campaign would surely have descended into generalised ugliness. But it simply didn’t happen. Much as some in the No campaign tried to incite violence on the street of Scotland’s towns and cities, the worst that happened was that one of them was hit by an egg – injuring only what pitiful remnant of dignity they clung to.

We could debate at length whether Dimbleby’s remarks are purposefully dishonest; a casually uttered calumny on the 2014 referendum campaign intended to serve the British state’s effort to deny Scotland’s right of self-determination. We might speculate that his warped view is no more than a grotesque personal fantasy. We can wonder how common this perspective is among those who rely entirely on the British media for information, or if it is merely a cosy consensus generated among British journalists wedded to a London-centric perspective and perpetuated because nobody in their little clique has the professional rigour or intellectual integrity to challenge it.

Regardless of any of that, Dimbleby’s words tell us something very disturbing about the British establishment’s attitude to democracy. A referendum is part of the democratic process. The 2014 independence referendum was widely acknowledged to represent the ‘gold standard’. It was democracy in action. Popular, participatory democracy. The entire process was conducted according to rules imposed or accepted by the British government. The cream of the British political elite became involved. An unprecedented percentage of Scotland’s people were engaged.

The 2014 referendum transformed Scottish politics. It gave birth to the remarkable phenomenon that is the Yes movement. It energised our democracy. It generated a wave of activism which has enlivened Scotland.

And, if Dimbleby is to be believed, the British establishment found this great exercise in democracy utterly horrific. That can’t be healthy.

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How Scotland invited Brexit

peoples_vote_logoOf course a Remain vote in Scotland won’t be respected! In the unlikely event that Scotland for a People’s Vote get their way and a second EU referendum is called, Scotland’s democratic choice will be treated with the same contempt as previously. Why would anyone imagine that it might be otherwise? The abiding purpose of the Union is to serve as a constitution device by which the sovereignty of Scotland’s people can be denied. Is it really credible that the political elite of the British state would have the power to totally discount inconvenient democratic votes and not use that power?

How often must it be pointed out that Brexit is not the problem? Brexit is a symptom. The Union is the problem. It is the Union which makes it possible to impose Brexit on Scotland against the democratic will of Scotland’s people. Just as it is the Union which empowers the British state to impose on Scotland austerity and the bedroom tax and the rape clause and Trident and Iraq and Universal Credit and a whole catalogue of other abominations which are politically alien, economically damaging and socially corrosive.

None of these things would be possible if the people of Scotland were able to fully and effectively exercise the sovereignty which is theirs by right. They only happen because the Union makes it possible. This affront to modern democracy is the ineluctable outcome of the political union bequeathed to us by the predecessors of today’s British ruling elite. In a democracy, politicians only have such power as the people allow them. That archaic and anachronistic political union, devised for purposes which had absolutely nothing to do with the welfare of Scotland and its people, has provided British politicians with an extraordinary power. A power which is the very antithesis of democracy. A power which is, in essence, anti-democratic.

Over the decades, that power has been used, abused, honed and adapted. It has evolved as society and politics has evolved. But always in such a way as to maintain the power to deny the sovereignty of Scotland’s people.

This power was affirmed, and augmented, in 2014 when the people of Scotland were harried, cajoled, intimidated, induced and deceived into voting No in the first Scottish independence referendum. In doing so, they not only registered their acceptance of the grotesquely asymmetric and self-evidently dysfunctional Union, the actually went further by effectively granting the British state licence to do as it pleased in, to and with Scotland.

That is why Brexit is happening. Because we, the people allowed it.. As a nation, we invited it. It doesn’t matter whether you voted Leave or Remain in 2016. Because in 2014 Scotland voted to render your vote meaningless.

Of course a Remain vote in Scotland won’t be respected! As far as the British state is concerned, we squandered our right to be respected when we voted No.

Which still leaves the question of what the Scottish Government’s position should be on a so-called #PeoplesVote. The choices are, to oppose it, to support it or to remain passively indifferent to it. The First Minister has gone for the second option. One must suppose she did so after much consideration and consultation with her advisers. In a development which will shock precisely nobody, not everyone agrees that this is the right choice.

Pete Wishart MP is one senior SNP figure who has expressed misgivings.

I have big concerns about supporting a second Brexit vote and I am particularly anxious about supporting such a vote without any guarantees that our choice in Scotland will be respected next time round.

Well! He’s had his answer on that one! He got it from John Edward, speaking on behalf of Scotland for a People’s Vote. Responding to questions about what would happen if Scotland again voted Remain and the UK voted Leave he said,

If that happens, that happens and a decision would be taken after that.

Glossing over the unpleasantly dismissive tone, this would seem to rule out any kind of assurance that Scotland’s democratic will would be respected. And it raises the question which is fundamental to all of this. Who decides? When John Edward says that a decision on whether to respect Scotland’s vote would be taken after the event, who does he envisage making that decision? Who else but Westminster! Who else but the British political elite which, citing the Union and the 2014 referendum result, asserts a veto over Scotland’s democratic will.

What the Union means, given the overweening power of the British executive, is that the British Prime Minister can overrule the whole of Scotland. Your vote only counts if Theresa May permits it. Is that democracy? Is it the democracy you want? Is it the democracy to which you are entitled?

John Edward goes on to say,

This is a … discussion today on a People’s Vote on Europe, on nothing else. It’s not a party political movement. It’s not anything to do with the constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom. This is solely about a People’s Vote.

With all due respect to the former head of the European Parliament Office in Scotland, this is the most appalling drivel. It is ludicrous to suggest that the constitutional question of the UK’s membership of the EU can be isolated from the constitutional issue of whether Scotland remains part of the UK. The two are inextricably linked. Each has huge implications for the other. It defies all sense to imagine that a “People’s Vote” can possibly be abstracted from the matter of the “constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom”. John Edward himself acknowledges the inseparability of the two issues when he assumes that Westminster will decide after the vote whether Scotland’s choice is to be respected. Westminster is only able to assert this veto over Scotland’s democratic will because of the “constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom”. The British political elite can only trample all over Scotland’s democracy because the Union affords them the authority and the justification for doing so. The Union is the problem!

Pete Wishart’s concerns are valid. Self-evidently so. Because, while Scotland for a People’s Vote has no power to offer the guarantee that he is looking for, John Edward’s remarks on the subject are sufficiently redolent of the British state’s attitude that we may, for present purposes, treat his as the voice of the British political elite. There will be no guarantee that “our choice in Scotland will be respected next time round”. To be honest, I suspect Pete knew the answer before he asked the question.

But are those concerns, valid as they may be, reason enough to object to the First Minister’s decision to support a #PeoplesVote? I don’t think so. As I have stated repeatedly in the context of British Nationalist efforts to deny Scotland’s right of self-determination and prevent a new independence referendum, democracy is a process, not an event. It is never a good look to be demanding that people should not have a vote. As has been amply demonstrated by Ruth Davidson’s shrill and borderline despotic ‘No to indyref2!’ campaign.

By mounting a ‘No to #PeoplesVote!’ campaign, Nicola Sturgeon would invite discomfiting comparisons with anti-democratic British Nationalists. Best to avoid that.

Opposing a #PeoplesVote was not a viable option for the First Minister. It would risk her looking too much like the Tories. And, attracted as I am to the idea of remaining detached and indifferent, taking no position would risk looking as vacillating and indecisive as British Labour. On balance, supporting a second EU referendum was probably best.

There are other arguments, of course. Pete Wishart also raises the worry that, should a #PeoplesVote set a precedent, this precedent would be used against the independence cause. He envisages a problematic situation following a Yes vote in the next independence referendum.

… unreconciled Unionists would be working non-stop from the day after the referendum to ensure that a successful outcome would be overturned. Every apparatus of state would be deployed and they would ensure that the worst possible “deal” would be offered to the Scottish people in the hope that their Union could be rescued.

There are several things wrong with this scenario. Not least, the notion that Scotland would inevitably be the weaker party in negotiations with the British state. I find no good reason to suppose that this would be the case. On the contrary, I reckon Scotland would be in an extremely strong position.

But the ‘confirmatory referendum’ problem is very easily resolve. In fact, it won’t even be a problem. Because there must be a second referendum in any case. There will have to be a referendum to approve Scotland’s new written constitution. Those “unreconciled Unionists” would be demanding a referendum that was already going to happen. Not that this can be expected to stop them. Looking ridiculous has never been a deterrent before.

Pete Wishart also exhibits the very mindset that we must rid ourselves of if the Yes campaign is to succeed. In the above quote he approaches the issue from the perspective of ‘us’ trying to sell or defend the idea of independence. We need to turn that on its head, We must force ‘them’ to sell and defend their Union. Given what has already been observed about the nature of that Union and its deleterious implications for Scotland, that would be a daunting task.

We may not have valued our sovereignty well enough in 2014. But once we take back the capacity to fully and effectively exercise that sovereignty, I dare any power to try and wrest it from us.

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