No British veto on Scotland’s democracy!

back_in_boxIt is always gratifying to see British Nationalists squabbling amongst themselves. But the main thing we should take from all of this is the British parties’ shared conviction that the British political elite holds the power of veto over Scotland’s right of self-determination.

The right of self-determination is vested wholly in the people of Scotland, to be exercised entirely at our discretion. That is how democracy works. By their arrogant, presumptuous insistence that they have authority to deny or constrain the right of self-determination the British parties reveal their contempt for democracy.

Nicola Sturgeon could give the Yes movement great encouragement by taking the opportunity at the SNP Conference in October to disabuse the British ruling elite of this notion. Nobody realistically expects her to use the occasion of her Conference address to announce a timetable for action to resolve the constitutional issue. But she has to give the Yes movement something. And declaring that, whatever form this action might take and whenever it might happen, there will be no Section 30 request would send precisely the right message to both Yes activists and British Nationalists.

To petition the British government for a Section 30 order is to acknowledge the veto they assert. Nicola Sturgeon must reject this assertion. As Scotland’s First Minister, it is her solemn duty to defend the democratic rights of Scotland’s people. No democratic right is more fundamental than the right to choose the form of government that best suits our needs. The British political elite must not be allowed to limit or deny this right.


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The Predictables

scotland_euBy way of comment on the latest developments in the Brexit farce, I refer to something I wrote nearly two years ago. If nothing else, this demonstrates just how predictable it all was.

“I continue to be perplexed by British politicians and political commentators talking as if the manner of the UK’s departure from the EU was a matter of choice. Many of these people seem to genuinely believe that the UK Government can, on behalf of the various vested interests that it represents, tailor Brexit in such a way as to avoid much of the deleterious impact. They really seem to imagine that the institutions and remaining member nations of the EU are just sitting there waiting for Theresa May to tell them what it is that she wants so that they can helpfully accommodate her.

First there was “soft Brexit”, and the notion that the UK could simply choose to retain privileged access to the single market having torn up the membership of the EU which is the essential prerequisite for such access. Then there was talk of the “Norway option”, as if Norway’s views on the matter counted for nothing. Now we have solemn pronouncements about a “transitional deal”.

What all of these have in common is the fact that they are totally delusional. The impression given is of a British political establishment desperately trying to convince itself that Brexit can be achieved without consequences. Or, at least, that the process can be made relatively pain-free.

In all of this one finds the acrid stench of British exceptionalism – an innate conviction that the British state is special which has as its counterpart a sense of righteous victimhood born of the equally strong belief that this status is bitterly resented by the rest of the world.

There are a couple of things we can be reasonably sure of amid all the uncertainty of Brexit. All the talk of “soft Brexit” and “transitional deals” will ultimately be exposed as whimsically euphemistic fantasy as the reality of the imposed punitive settlement bites. And blame for the inevitable impact of Brexit will be placed firmly on the shoulders of Johnny Foreigner.

When this happens, British nationalists will be incandescent with indignation that the UK is being penalised for its actions. The anger which should be directed at the British politicians who created the situation will instead be directed outwards against our neighbours. All of which will be disturbingly familiar to those who know a little of Europe’s history.”A very British delusion


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Alpacas might fly

rennie_ram_llamaIt seems somebody called Willie Rennie is ‘challenging’ the SNP to support something called a ‘people’s vote’. Having done a bit of research, I can offer some clarification on the ‘somebody’. It seems that Willie Rennie is the Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) for North East Fife and Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats – which is one of the British political parties squatting in Holyrood where a proper opposition should be. When he’s not ‘challenging’ the SNP to do something they’ve already done or never will do, Willie’s hobbies include ram wrestling and teaching alpacas to fly (see above).

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you much about the ‘People’s Vote’ – other than that, apparently, it must be capitalised. The term refers to a campaign, run by an organisation called Open Britain, which hopes to persuade the British government to hold a referendum on something called ‘the final Brexit deal’. To this end, they have a petition signed by lots of people. Presumably the people who are convinced they should have a vote on this ‘final Brexit deal’.

The real problem comes with trying to identify what it is that the capitalised ‘People’ would be doing with their capitalised ‘Vote’ supposing the capitalised ‘People’s Vote’ campaign were to succeed.

Referendums (I only call them ‘referenda’ when wearing a toga.) can be useful tools. Used well, they can enhance the democratic process. But, done badly, they are worse than useless. To be effective, a referendum must offer clear options – preferably no more than two. Ideally, the choice should be binary – yes or no – with the meaning of each being totally explicit. If the proposition can’t be put, without ambiguity, in twenty words or less, then it is probably too complicated for a referendum. If explanatory notes are required, then it is almost certainly too complicated for a referendum. If those explanatory notes run to more than a single side of A4, then trying to decide the matter by means of a referendum is just plain daft.

If a referendum is to be decisive it is essential that both options are spelled out in a manner which leaves no room for dispute. If one or more of the options is undefined then the referendum can produce a result, but never a decision. And, for the purposes of referendums, ‘poorly defined’ is defined as ‘undefined’.

Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum is illustrative. While it was perfectly clear that a Yes vote meant independence by way of a reasonably well described process, there was no indication whatever of what a No vote meant. Initially, it was said to be a vote for the status quo. As the referendum campaign progressed, however, all manner of stuff was hooked onto the No vote – up to and including ‘The Vow’.

In practice, a No vote meant whatever the British establishment wanted it to mean. This turned out to be pretty much the opposite of everything that had been promised. And something very, very far from the status quo that was originally offered. Thus, the referendum produced an indisputable result, but no decision. Because the No option was effectively undefined, a No vote in the referendum could not settle the issue. There was nothing to settle on.

A similar problem beset the EU referendum in 2016. While it was clear that a Remain vote meant ‘no change’, nobody had a clue what was implied by a Leave vote. Those running the Leave campaign least of all. Even leaving aside the added complication that Scotland (and Northern Ireland) voted Remain, the UK-wide vote produced a result, but not a decision. In the aftermath, every faction has sought to define the Leave vote to suit its own agenda. How often have you heard someone assert that the voted Leave, but they didn’t vote for one or more things from a seemingly endless list. By way of an example, the following is from the ‘People’s Vote’ website.

No one voted to be poorer, for our public services to suffer, or to pay a £40 billion divorce fee.

So, will another referendum sort out the problem? Can a ‘People’s Vote’ produce, not merely a result, but a decision? It seems extremely unlikely. For some, it may be a bit late to start – but let’s think about it.

The one thing we can say for certain about the ‘final Brexit deal’ that is supposed to be the subject of the ‘People’s Vote’ is that it will not be clear or concise or unambiguous or unequivocal. Given the impenetrable complexity of the issues, we may assume, with an exceptionally high degree of confidence, that it will be the very opposite of all these things. It won’t even be ‘final’. It can’t be. UK/EU relations will be in flux for years. Probably decades. Just as there has been endless wrangling about what Brexit means, so the precise meaning of the ‘final Brexit deal’ will be the subject of unending argument.

Even if it was possible for those voting in favour of the ‘final Brexit deal’ to know exactly what they were voting for, what they voted for would be likely to change even before their votes were counted. Even if the result favoured the ‘final Brexit deal’, there would be no decision. Because it would always be possible for people to claim that they hadn’t voted for some aspect or interpretation of an over-complicated and fluid proposition.

And it gets worse! Because those voting against the ‘final Brexit deal’ would hardly be any clearer about what their vote meant. Obviously, they’d have no more idea of what they were voting against than those who were voting for the ‘final Brexit deal’. But neither would they know what would happen if the ‘final Brexit deal’ was rejected. Would the status quo ante be restored? (Had to slip into my toga for that one.) Could Article 50 be revoked? Would the EU accept this? Or would they choose to poke the Europhobe rats’ nest with the jaggy stick of conditions for the prodigal’s return?

Much as everyone might like to erase the entire Brexit episode from their memories and from history, that’s not an option. Even if the UK were now to remain in the EU as a result of a ‘People’s Vote’, the relationship must inevitably be changed. And it’s just not possible for those participating in the ‘People’s Vote’ to know the nature of that change. Whatever way they voted, they wouldn’t know what they were voting for any more than they’d know what they were voting against.

A ‘People’s Vote’ cannot possibly resolve anything. It can only be the cause of further confusion and conflict. The ‘People’s Vote’ idea is as inane as everything else associated with Brexit. It says nothing flattering about Willie Rennie that he has embraced the inanity with such alacrity. If Nicola Sturgeon has even noticed his ‘challenge’, she will surely ignore it. For obvious reasons she cannot allow herself to be portrayed as opposing a ‘second referendum’. But there is no possibility that Rennie will bait her into supporting a ‘People’s Vote’. He has more chance of getting that alpaca airborne.


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Yes boss

sic_cwBehold! The latest attempt to set up the Scottish Independence Convention (SIC) as the ‘official’ umbrella group for the Yes movement. All credit to Common Weal director Robin MacAlpine for his persistence. Congratulations also go to Max Wiesznewski (formerly of Common Weal), who seems to be in charge of this scheme to impose a management structure on the Yes movement.

Which is not the same thing as taking control, of course. However much it may look that way, we should not be deceived into thinking that waddling, quacking thing is a duck. Just because SIC/Common Weal is talking about setting up offices and employing staff, we shouldn’t take this to mean they intend to run the Yes movement. When they talk of “getting on the front foot with the media” we shouldn’t take this to mean that they plan on presenting themselves as the ‘official’ voice of the Yes movement. When they talk of providing a “strategic vision for the Yes campaign” we mustn’t assume that vision will tend to align with that of a particular group.

It’ll be fine!

If you’re concerned about the grassroots Yes movement being transformed into a hierarchical organisation, don’t be! I’m sure that’s not what’s intended at all. If you’re worried about the possibility of SIC/Common Weal harnessing the power of the Yes movement to a narrow policy agenda, relax! There’s a distinct possibility that won’t happen.

If you’re apprehensive about SIC/Common Weal diverting resources from the de facto political arm of the independence movement – the SNP – fear not! There’s a fair chance somebody is looking at that issue.

If you are in the slightest bit dubious about the motives of those setting themselves up as ‘leaders’ of the Yes movement, set aside those doubts and suspicions right away. Just look at the individuals and groups who have already signed up for whatever this turns out to be. The unity card has been played. You’ve been trumped.


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All our eggs in one Brexit

scotland_euIn a recent article I had some strong words to say about the notion that ‘Brexit is the key’ to Scotland’s independence. I continue to be alarmed at the number of potentially influential voices within the Yes movement who are prepared to stake everything on Brexit. An already substantial, and arguably increasing, part of the discourse around the constitutional question has moved away from the core issue of the Union to focus on the impact of Brexit. Many seem to have abandoned, to some degree at least, the effort to make the case for independence on its inherent merits – or against the Union on its fatal defects – choosing to rely instead on a perverse, and almost certainly forlorn, hope that Brexit will affect people’s lives so dramatically and so detrimentally that they will immediately demand the ‘solution’ of independence.

That Brexit will be detrimental to most people is hardly in doubt. What is, at the very least, questionable is whether the impact will be dramatic enough to have the effect hoped for by those who would have us pin all our hopes on it.

As I pointed out in that earlier article, it is not the reality of Brexit which matters, but the perception.

And who controls the apparatus by which public perception is manipulated? The British state, of course! Even if it were true that “Brexit is the key!”, that key is entirely in the hands of a British state with a massive propaganda machine at its disposal.

I was prompted to revisit this thought on reading that, in a survey conducted by Deltapoll for the Guardian, no less than 60% of respondents agreed with the statement.

I no longer care how or when we leave the EU,
I just want it all over and done with.

The opinion piece by Rafael Behr in which this poll is mentioned argues that voters have already switched off. Behr concludes,

It is possible that all of the ideological and technical squabbling, the factional bickering that has consumed politics since the referendum, will turn out to have been only the preamble. And what it will all come down to in the end is a contest between two gut propositions that have very little to do with the EU. For leave: just get on with it. For remain: please just make it stop.

Now! I know that this was a UK-wide survey and that it may not accurately reflect the mood in Scotland. But it serves to illustrate and reinforce the point that popular attitudes to Brexit have more to do with how it is perceived than with any actual effect. How it is perceived by the general public may be very different from the way it is appreciated by the likes of Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp. And this is especially true if, as we may reasonably assume will be the case, those popular perceptions are manipulated by British media in such a way as to suit the purposes of the British establishment.

Let us not forget that Brexit itself is largely – some would claim entirely – the product of a decades-long campaign of disinformation, distortion and dishonesty conducted by large sections of the British press determined to destroy the entire European project.

It is reasonable, therefore, to expect that the British media will do what it can to encourage the attitude of apathy and ennui identified by the Deltapoll survey and summarised so succinctly by Rafael Behr. And it is not unreasonable to anticipate that this effort by the British media to encourage disengagement will have some effect in Scotland. Especially as it also serves the British Nationalist cause and so is bound to be promoted by the BBC.

That effect need not be large to be catastrophic for the independence campaign. The British state need only defer some of the impact of Brexit for a few months; and/or disguise the reality with help from the media, and the moment is gone. The impetus is lost. The opportunity is squandered.

Putting all our independence campaign eggs in one Brexit basket is an enormously risky strategy. Gonnae no dae that!


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The vanishing road

road_closedI would certainly prefer to be discussing the duration of a transition period between the decision to dissolve the Union and actual independence rather than the length of a delay in making that decision. But there is something else we must bear in mind regarding the “final principle that applies when it comes to project management”. We may not have a choice.

It’s all very well to say that we can pick any two out of ‘cheap’, ‘quick’ and ‘good’. But choices are constrained by circumstances. And the aspect of those circumstances which seems little considered is the reaction of the British state to the prospect of losing Scotland.

It is rightly pointed out that sketching plans for the future requires making certain assumptions. The manner in which the British state conducts itself would seem to loom large in any independence scenario. And yet, beyond a rather casual discounting of a “Madrid style campaign of political repression”, there’s precious little discussion of how the British state will behave. Or, more pertinently, the assumptions it would be prudent to make about how it will behave.

In this regard, the discussion of a transition period resembles ‘wait and see’ talk of postponing a new referendum. In nether case do we find any recognition of the fact that locking Scotland into a political union is an absolute imperative for the British state. Factoring that imperative into our thinking, along with what we know of how the British state responded in 2014 when it began to look like Scotland might vote Yes, the only sensible conclusion is that we must anticipate that the British establishment will resort to desperate measures. We certainly cannot afford to underestimate their capacity for the very lowest of low politics.

In terms of those project management options, it seems likely that, at least to some extent, both ‘cheap’ and ‘good’ may have to be sacrificed in favour of ‘quick’.

This, too, is true of both the transition period and the scheduling of a new referendum. In both cases, we are almost certainly going to be obliged to compromise on cost and quality in order to get the thing done quickly. There’s no point in complaining. There was always going to be a price to pay for the No vote in 2014. Part of that price is that the democratic road to independence is now much narrower and daily more littered with obstacles.

How long before that road becomes impassable, or is closed altogether? Is a three year transition period even a choice? And, even if it is a choice now, will it still be a choice should The Postponers get their way and there is a delay of one, two or even three years before that transition period can commence?

What mischief might be wrought on Scotland between now and 2025?


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A significant day

The following is partly based on my notes for a speech given at the Hope Over Fear Rally in George Square, Glasgow on Saturday 15 September 2018.

“They wouldn’t be that stupid!”

Thus did Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp pronounce his verdict on the UK Government. Admittedly, he was responding to the provocative suggestion that the British state might, at some point in the foreseeable future, declare the Scottish National Party a proscribed organisation.

The founder and CEO of Business for Scotland (BfS) was answering questions from the audience at a meeting in the Grampian Hotel, Perth on Thursday night (13 September) jointly organised by Yes Perth City and SNP Perth St Johnstoun Branch. A packed room at the sell-out event had just watched Gordon give a slickly professional presentation setting out an economic case intended to bolster the constitutional demand for independence.

Nobody does this better. Whether he is explaining how Scotland is economically disadvantaged by being part of the UK or setting out his vision of a new kind of ‘economics with a social conscience’, Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp presents his material with the confidence, conviction and comfortable good-humour of a man totally on top of his subject. On matters economic, he is utterly convincing. On venturing into the realm of politics, perhaps less so.

It should be made clear, at this juncture, that the notion of the SNP being banned under UK law did not come from some bampot in a Bacofoil bunnet. The remark was made by a well-known and highly respected local Yes activist who was seeking to make a point about the lengths to which the British establishment might go driven by the imperative to maintain the British state’s grip on Scotland.

The point being made was that we underestimate the manifest stupidity of the British political elite at our peril. I’ve no doubt there was a time prior to the 2016 EU referendum when the invariable response to suggestions that the British government might try to extricate the UK from the EU without so much as the pretence of any planning was, “They wouldn’t be that stupid!”.

I know for a fact that right up to the moment Theresa May’s administration called a snap general election in 2017 there were people insisting that, “They wouldn’t be that stupid!”. Going back through the less recent history of the British state I’m certain one could identify any number of episodes which were, or could quite justifiably have been, preceded by the exclamation, “They wouldn’t be that stupid!”.

Any expression of doubt about the British political elite’s capacity for stupidity risks giving the impression of naivety. Out of respect for Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, I’ll put it no more strongly than that.

We would be stupid to imagine that the British state is benign. We would be stupid to ignore the fact that the British state is founded on a political union which contrives to deny to the people of Scotland the due and proper exercise of their sovereignty.

We would be stupid to disregard the fact that the British state has already seized powers which must rightfully belong to the Scottish Parliament as the only Parliament with democratic legitimacy in Scotland.

We would be stupid to neglect the fact that the British state has already awarded itself the legal authority to strip further powers from the Scottish Parliament at will. Or that it is in the process of establishing the necessary apparatus to administer those powers in the form of the ominously titled ‘UK Government in Scotland’.

We would be stupid to remain oblivious to the British state’s efforts to marginalise the Scottish Government; delegitimise the Scottish Parliament; and, by means of a relentless propaganda campaign of distortion, disinformation and denigration, to undermine confidence in Scotland’s democratic institutions and public services.

We would be stupid to suppose that there is no purpose to all of this. We would be stupid to imagine the purpose might have anything at all to do with serving Scotland’s interests.

Given what is at stake, we cannot afford to be naive. We cannot afford to be complacent. We cannot afford to be stupid.

“Brexit is the key!”

This is another phrase that has remained firmly lodged in my mind following Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp’s presentation. The theory being that once the – presumably ‘unfortunate’- reality of Brexit fully impacts on the people of Scotland they will flock to the independence cause. I have a few problems with this. For a start, there is the perversity of wishing on the people of Scotland the worst that Brexit might bring. Call me old-fashioned, but I see it as the role of the progressive Yes movement to oppose every harmful policy that the British state seeks to impose on Scotland. Furthermore, I regard it as the solemn duty of the Scottish Government to protect us from such harm. The idea of facilitating potentially catastrophic damage for political gain is something I find utterly reprehensible and totally repugnant. Even if the gain were to be an end to the Union.

Another problem with the ‘wait and see’ strategy is that it is quite falsely portrayed as a consequence-free option. I have yet to find any advocate of postponing action on the constitutional issue until ‘after Brexit’ who is even prepared to acknowledge that the British government will not be idle while we dither. The project to lock Scotland into a unilaterally rewritten constitutional arrangement is not going to be put on hold for the convenience of the hesitant and indecisive elements of the Yes movement. The process by which Scotland’s status within the UK is redefined continues independently of the Brexit timetable. That process is already in train. It is happening now. There is absolutely no rational reason to suppose it will be suspended until ‘after Brexit’.

What does that phrase even mean? How might ‘after Brexit’ be defined? Brexit isn’t an event or an occurrence. It is a condition. It is a new and continuing reality – constitutional, economic, diplomatic, social, cultural and everything else. Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp spoke of a ‘Brexit deal’ as something being signed, sealed and delivered – with a full-stop gesture for emphasis – as if we are all going to awake one morning to a definitive awareness of all that is implied by being dragged out of the EU against our democratic will and without any plan or preparation. It is this awareness, together with an immediate tangible impact on pockets, which is proposed as the thing which will give decisive impetus to the independence campaign.

This is deplorable, and potentially dangerous, nonsense. There will be neither clarity nor any moment of epiphany. Relations between the UK and the EU will be in flux for decades. The ‘deal’ will be a fudge and there will be just as many accounts of what Brexit ‘really means’ after it has supposedly happened as there have been to date.

The theory that people will be firmly nudged towards Yes by the reality of Brexit is fatally flawed for another reason. It is not the reality that matters. What matters is the perception. And who controls the apparatus by which public perception is manipulated? The British state, of course! Even if it were true that “Brexit is the key!”, that key is entirely in the hands of a British state with a massive propaganda machine at its disposal.

I don’t want the key to Scotland’s future in the hands the British political elite. I want the key to Scotland’s future firmly in the grasp of Scotland’s people. I urge that we seize that key with all due haste rather than wait in the hope that it will fall into our hands.

I reluctantly acknowledge that there will be no referendum on Thursday 20 September 2018. History will judge whether I was right to press for this date. But my main purpose in pressing for action at the earliest opportunity remains valid. All too evidently, there is still a need to inject a sense of urgency into the independence campaign.

It was immensely heartening to see elected SNP politicians on the stage at the Hope Over Fear Rally. The warmth with which they were received by the crowd in George Square – by no means all ‘natural’ SNP supporters – clearly indicated how welcome this engagement is. There was a palpable sense of something akin to relief that here, at last, was some sign of the de facto political arm of the independence cause reaching out to connect with the grassroots Yes movement in a way that the bulk of the Yes movement is now reaching out to the SNP.

I am surely far from alone in entertaining the fervent hope that the appearance of SNP elected members at a Hope Over Fear Rally, and the manner in which they were welcomed, signifies something meaningful for the independence cause. Perhaps a start to restoring a unity which has, on occasion, seemed a bit fragile. Perhaps something more.

But the impetus which will drive the final stage of our project to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status will not come from those SNP politicians alone. That impetus must come from rank-and-file SNP members and the grassroots Yes  movement. We must stand ready to provide that impetus. We must continue to demand action. We must be determined to break the Union.


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