Identifying the problem

Boris Johnson is not Scotland’s problem.

Brexit is not Scotland’s problem.

The horribly dysfunctional British political system is not Scotland’s problem.

None of this is Scotland’s problem, unless we choose to make it our problem. Which is what Ian Blackford seems to be doing. He seems to be of a mind to treat England’s self-inflicted woes as part of Scotland’s domestic politics when we really need to be developing a mindset which places this firmly in the category of external affairs.

Boris Johnson, Brexit and the dysfunctional British state are not the reasons Scotland needs urgently to restore its independence. The reason is that the Union makes these things Scotland’s problem when they most definitely are not.

The Union renders Scotland subject to the vagaries of the Westminster/Whitehall machine. The Union makes Scotland’s democratic choices conditional on England’s concurrence and the British political elite’s approval. The Union stipulates that the likes of Boris Johnson will speak for Scotland regardless of how much we despise and detest everything that he represents.

Boris Johnson is not Scotland’s problem.

Brexit is not Scotland’s problem.

The ineptitude and maliciousness and corruption of the British political elite is not Scotland’s problem.

Scotland’s problem is the Union. The solution is obvious. We must dissolve the Union. Why won’t Ian Blackford just say so?

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The BBC won’t change

Good to see the SNP taking a more robust position on the British media. It won’t make any difference, of course. The BBC is part of the British establishment. It is the voice of the ruling elite. It would be folly to imagine that voice might serve anything other than the interests of the ruling elite.

Even if there is an Ofcom investigation, and even if the BBC is found to have breached any law, regulation or code of conduct, it will not change. Even if it is ruled that the BBC has been wilfully dishonest, it will not change. It will not change because it cannot change. It cannot change because it is part of the British establishment. The BBC can change only if and to the extent that the British establishment changes.

Right now, the entire British state is in full defensive mode. Other, perhaps, than in time of war, the British establishment has never been more resistant to change. At such times, the tendency is to look backwards. To cling to the past. To hold to a standard based on a mythical golden age. Any more realistic standard is just too much of a challenge. The British establishment is not going to change. So the British media are not going to change.

In truth, the fundamental nature of the British state has not changed in more than three centuries. There has been no revolution such as is required to destroy and replace the ruling elite. All that has changed are the methods by which that ruling elite maintains its structures of power, privilege and patronage. And even that boils down to the one thing – manipulation. The British establishment has grown more efficient at manipulating people. It has improved the apparatus by which public perceptions are managed. The British propaganda machine is second to none. And better than most because it has had such a long period of uninterrupted development serving the same purpose. Serving the same ruling elite.

This machinery of manipulation is now so deeply entrenched and woven into British society as to have become all but invisible and undetectable. The disinformation, distortion and dishonesty of the British media tend not to be seen as such by those who identify as British because it is so much part of the culture in which they have been embedded all their lives and generation after generation.

Even those who operate this machinery of manipulation are not necessarily fully aware that what they are doing is propaganda. It is entirely possible that the people responsible for BBC Question Time genuinely believe they are doing an excellent job. They believe they are presenting the truth because they have never questioned the truth they are presenting. They have never learned to question it. Their capacity for questioning has been excised. The manipulators are effective because they themselves are products of the machinery of manipulation.

The BBC will not change. The British media will not change. Only we can change. People can recover the capacity to question. They can become aware of the machinery of manipulation and its methods. And, being aware, they can be resistant to its effects. They may even break the machinery.

So, it’s good that Keith Brown is publicly denouncing the BBC. Not because it will bring about change in the corporation, but because it may prompt a few more people to question the version of the truth that is being fed to them.

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Down among the dreck and the dross

When I say that I feel soiled just responding to a newspaper article in which Nigel Farage is quoted I’d ask you to believe that this is not mere rhetoric. Imagine, then, how I feel about being obliged to agree with him. The political discourse around Scotland’s constitutional issue very possibly ranks among the most dishonest in the world. In fact, I can’t think of a single honest thing any British Nationalist has ever said on the matter. Those who regard the preservation of the Union at any cost as their divinely-ordained mission will lie unabashedly in the service of their vile, anti-democratic ideology. The independence debate is dishonest entirely because the British state’s propaganda machine has made it so.

Nigel Farage is the lowest form of political life. (Some may protest the qualifier.) But that is not to say he is ineffective. He may not be smart, but he possesses low cunning in abundance. He may lack charisma, but he is adept at insinuating himself into the affections of the politically illiterate and the intellectually inadequate. He may be totally unprincipled, but this hardly matters when you have no conscience.

You have to be clever to build. You have to be clever to demolish without harm. You don’t have to be clever to destroy without concern for the consequences.

Blend the worst qualities of the oleaginous, lip-licking lounge lizard with the sleekit, scavenging opportunism of the urban fox and the cold, mechanical callousness of the crocodile and the resultant creature would shun the company of Nigel Farage for fear of being tainted. Would that more voters had the standards of that monstrous chimera.

But, for all his obnoxiousness, Farage cannot be dismissed. Especially when his message of mindless hate is being echoed within Scotland’s Yes movement. You don’t have to be all that astute to realise who Farage is appealing to. His language precisely matches that of the more fanatical voices among Yes/Leave voters. The Europhobes. The isolationists. You can probably put names to the description. They certainly know who they are.

The worst of these openly boast that they will vote No in any independence referendum which does not overturn the Scottish electorate’s democratically declared preference that Scotland should remain in the European Union. Others may be less forthright but nonetheless seize on any opportunity to attack the SNP and undermine the Yes movement.

I confess to having great difficulty getting my head around the mind-bending inanity of this. These are people who say that they want the people of Scotland to decide the direction their nation takes. Except, it seems, when they choose the ‘wrong’ direction. Then these nominal independence supporters insist that Scotland must be overruled by voters in England.

They will join the chorus of protests against the British establishment’s refusal to respect Scotland’s democratic choices while themselves refusing to accept the result of the EU referendum.

Most confusing of all is their position on the matter of Scotland making a choice about EU membership. It is an inescapable fact that the EU referendum represented the best test of Scottish voters’ views on the issue that is possible this side of independence. Especially when combined with the repeated votes for the SNP in elections where the party stands on an explicit ‘Independence in Europe’ platform, there can be absolutely no doubt that this is the favoured policy.

It is equally obvious that there cannot be a specific test of Scottish voters’ views on the issue until after independence. That’s the independence that these people propose to vote against.

It’s absolute madness!

Furthermore, the Europhobes will commonly accuse those of us who point out this madness of wanting to deny the people of Scotland a say on the issue of EU membership. This despite the fact that, as far as I am aware, nobody has ever suggested that the Europhobes would be prevented from campaigning for such a referendum post-independence. Indeed, it isn’t really possible to see how they might be prevented from doing so.

In fact, it is they who don’t want such a referendum. Because they know how difficult it would be to gather the necessary support. So, instead, they want to allow the imposition of the Brexit we voted against.

The Europhobes and isolationists in the Yes movement are every bit as dishonest as the Mad Brexiteers and just as contemptuous of Scotland’s democracy as British Nationalists. That is why Nigel Farage sees them as natural allies.

And now I must away and steep myself in bleach.

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The British media are lying to you!

Question Time does not bar people from its audience because they have held elected office or are political activists.

There is a selection process to ensure a range of views are heard and last night’s QT audience included supporters of different political parties, including the SNP.

BBC spokesperson

The truth. The partial truth. And anything but the truth.

The British establishment long since mastered the art of prevarication, obfuscation, equivocation and falsification. Its broadcasting arm deploys these as casually as you and I blink. and almost as frequently. The BBC’s response to those protesting the blatant padding of the Question Time audience stands as an object lesson in how to tell a lie without actually saying anything that is untrue.

It is almost certainly true that the makers of the programme do not deliberately exclude from the audience people who have “held elected office or are political activists”. But this is not the substance of the complaint. The purpose of the denial is to create the impression of wild allegations having been made.

Nobody, to the best of my knowledge, has accused the BBC or its agents of barring people on the grounds of their political activism or past political office. The charge is, rather that people seem to have been selected on the basis of their known British Nationalist affiliation. How else to explain the extraordinary number of prominent hard-line Unionists who find their way into the studio?

While the claim that there is no process actively barring people of a certain political persuasion, it is rather noticeable that precious few former or serving SNP politicians are selected.

It is undoubtedly true that there is a “selection process”. And that this process serves to “ensure a range of views are heard”. Again, the denials and assurances divert from the complaint. Yes, it is possible for pro-Independence views to be heard. But they rarely are. Just as it possible for pro-independence politicians and activists to be selected. But they rarely are.

It is not a matter of absolutes, but of balance. The BBC (or its agents) can disprove accusations of exclusion simply by pointing to a lone SNP Councillor in the audience – regardless of whether that individual has been allowed to speak. They can refute allegations that a range of views are not being aired by referring to a solitary pro-independence comment. The question is, how accurately does the programme as a whole reflect the political reality? And the answer has to be, not well. In fact, not at all.

BBC Question Time is propaganda. What it presents to the viewing audience is, not a reflection of the way things actually are, but a contrived impression of the way the British establishment thinks things should be. The way British Nationalists desperately want things to be. And the way an uber-parochial, curiosity deficient, intellectually indolent London-centric media elite suppose things to be.

This grotesque fairground-mirror portrayal of politics is particularly, painfully evident when Question Time ventures into Scotland precisely because the political reality here departs so markedly from the British standard. A contrast that the people of Scotland have much cause to celebrate, even as they deplore the BBC’s evident inability to be honest with them.

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You were warned!

As you read reports such as ‘Alarm call on £800m ‘shared’ post-Brexit funding for Scotland‘, always keep in mind that dread phrase “UK-wide common frameworks”. The issue is not that funding will be withheld from local authorities in Scotland but that it will be controlled by that horrifying echo of British imperialism the ‘UK Government in Scotland’. Or, as it is known to those aware of the British political elite’s malign intent, the unelected and unaccountable shadow administration being established to take over powers stripped from the Scottish Parliament.

Funding is everything. Control the money and you have a stranglehold on even the ‘most powerful devolved administration in the world’. After the Union itself, Westminster’s ultimate control of the purse-strings is what makes devolution meaningless. Worse! It’s what allows the British state to use devolution as a weapon against the democratically elected Scottish Government.

That weapon has not been as effective as the British establishment might as hoped. Successive SNP administrations have managed to avoid the worst of the political and fiscal traps. But London has also long been looking at the potential to use local government as a means of bypassing and undermining Holyrood. This has, of course, been made easier by the fact that, in an act of political self-harm which must be utterly baffling to onlookers, voters have handed control of many local authorities to the British parties.

Put the pieces together. The British state’s imperative to eliminate the threat to its supremacy posed by the Scottish Parliament and the SNP. The opportunity Brexit has offered to unilaterally alter the devolution settlement, seize control of funding and impose “UK-wide common frameworks”. The readiness of the British parties to let Councils be used as a Trojan horse. It all adds up to only one thing – the creeping restoration of direct rule from London with Holyrood, if it survives at all, left to manage the stuff that the British would rather not be blamed for.

You were warned!

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The rise and pratfall of the British political leader

Say what you will about her, but it must be allowed that, at the time of her elevation to the office of British Prime Minister, Theresa May at least looked like a politician. Depending on your prejudices, that may not be much of a compliment. But I suspect it’s the closest thing to flattery she is likely to get – at least until after she has departed the scene and the hagiographers descend upon her reputation like vulture morticians bearing buckets of theatrical makeup.

Nobody can sensibly claim that Boris Johnson looks anything like a senior politician. Or perhaps he too closely resembles what we have come to expect of British politicians. The fact that Boris Johnson can be seriously considered for the role of head of any government not created using stop-motion animation says much about the parlous condition of British politics and the British state. But it also says something about the prevailing cultural idea of what constitutes, or qualifies as, a political leader.

I am not entirely innocent of the tendency to look at the past through rose-tinted non-prescription lenses. But it seems to me that British Prime Ministers used to have a certain presence. The earliest ones I can remember – Sir Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan, Sir Alec Douglas-Home – gave the impression of belonging where they were. They wore their status lightly. They seemed cast from an ancient mould.

Looking back, it seems that cracks in that mould started to become evident with the appointment of Harold Wilson. Leaving aside the politics and the paranoia, Wilson was different on account of the props. It may be argued that a plummy accent and patrician air are props every bit as much as a Gannex coat and a pipe. But the former are props for radio and town hall hustings and village fete openings. The latter are the highly visual props of the television age. Wilson marked the beginning of major shift in the public perception of political leaders. This was the start of a process which, hopefully, has reached its nadir with Boris Johnson.

There was a brief harking back to the old idea of what a ‘proper’ British Prime Minister looks like with Edward Heath and, to an extent, James Callaghan. Almost as if the public had a premonition of where this was leading and tried to change course. But that ancient mould was finally and irrevocably smashed by Margaret Thatcher.

Where Wilson’s image was all personal gimmick, Thatcher was a fully-fledged compromise between the ‘men in grey suits’ and a rising breed of political technocrats who brought the techniques of the marketing industry to the realm of politics and wedded the two so completely that they would become indistinguishable and inseparable.

In Thatcher we saw the birth of the political leader as a tabula rasa – a blank sheet on which could be written whatever the immediate expediencies and exigencies of power required. When the sheet became too worn for further palimpsests, Thatcher was unceremoniously dumped and replaced by John Major – a sheet very much more blank than was required. A sheet so blank that no matter what was written on it the blankness prevailed. Major didn’t match up to the old idea of what a political leader should be. And he didn’t provide enough material for the image-makers to work with.

Tony Blair had that material. With sequins! Wilson’s mass media image was makeshift. Thatcher’s famously required a massive makeover that transformed everything from her hair and her clothes to her posture and even her voice. Blair came fully-formed – the first British Prime Minister seemingly born to fit the technocrats’ artfully crafted public perception of a fitting political leader. If Thatcher was a blank sheet, Blair came in pastel colours, scented and with a daily inspirational message printed along the bottom.

As it turned out, Blair was all charisma and no character. All platitude and no principle. All practised sincerity and no personal or political substance. A slick suit, a warm handshake and a smile whose reptilian character was only clearly visible to those who looked at him askance to avoid being dazzled by his radiated magnificence.

He’s the straight-talking guy in shirtsleeves rolled up in a way that suggests the attentions of an assistant with a measuring tape and the coffee-mug that was acquired three weeks ago for this impromptu moment and the throw-away lines distilled by a team of PR professionals from the excretions of a thousand focus groups and the air of a man on a mission, but don’t let any of his self-righteousness get on your clothes or you’ll never be rid of the stain or the stink.

It’s all a thin wash of watery paint on the surface of a flimsy vessel into which is poured whatever kind of political gruel is deemed likely to be lapped up by the media whilst being bland enough to avoid giving offence to the few thousand voters who actually decide elections.

That is what passes for the qualities of leadership among the British political elite. Talent and ability are regarded as dangerous. Principles and a social conscience are anathema. Because power and status are relative, everyone who is – or imagines themselves to be or aspires to be – a member of that elite is motivated to suppress any talent or ability which might prove a threat to whatever power and status they regard as theirs.

It is a system which rewards conformity and promotes mediocrity while tolerating ineptitude. A system which puts inordinate value on harmless novelty and transient celebrity. A system that produces as candidates for political leadership people who run the gamut from dull and doltish through inept and inadequate and damaged and deficient to deluded and dangerous.

Viewed from this perspective, Boris Johnson may be the very model of a modern British Prime Minister. No more erudite orators or bold reformers or impressive statesmen or adroit political operators. Just a mop-headed clown grinning and guffawing as his scrotum gets caught in the spokes of his bicycle wheel. What larks!

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What is independence?

My first article for today having been destroyed by a failure of the WordPress autosave function, I offer this brief comment as an addendum reinforcing a point made in an earlier piece called A strategy for penetrating No territory.

Prompted by a claim made on Twitter, I sought to establish whether anybody had actually ever heard any independence supporter say that there is “no such thing as independence”. To date, Jim Fairlie seems to be unique. But the responses indicated something interesting. And something which is not sufficiently recognised. People define independence in different ways.

Obviously, British Nationalists present independence – for Scotland, at least – as something outlandish and scary. Despite the fact that many nations have managed to achieve independence, and many more have survived very well as independent states, British state propaganda would have us believe that Scotland is the exception. For Scotland, independence is a leap into the unknown. A terrifying adventure in uncharted territory. Complete nonsense, of course. But the British media has been quite successful in attaching such fearful connotations to the idea of independence.

Mr Fairlie, as I understand it, entertains notions of independence which many would consider rigidly ‘isolationist’. A personal definition of independence which derives from a combination of his bitter resentment of the success of the ‘gradualist’ wing of the SNP – which he fervently opposed – and his equally bitter hatred of the EU. But don’t take my word for it. I’m sure Jim would be happy to explain his idea of the one and only thing that independence can mean.

I’m curious to know if anyone has ever heard an SNP supporter say that there is “no such thing as independence”.— Peter A Bell #DissolveTheUnion (@BerthanPete) May 16, 2019

Within the Yes movement, our cherished diversity ensures that there are almost as many definitions or descriptions or explanations of independence as there are people defining, describing and explaining. This is generally regarded as one of the Yes movement’s great strengths. But for a political campaign, such vagueness is fatal.

A political campaign must be sharp and focused. It must be possible to state its purposed unambiguously and coherently in a few words. Nobody should be in any doubt what the campaign is about. Especially the activists fighting that campaign.

This is why we should now be conducting a campaign to dissolve the Union. Because that objective encapsulates the core purpose of the independence cause. It precisely states the aim of every single independence supporter, regardless of how they define the term.

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