The spirit of Scotland’s cause

I recall seeing the letter below, or one very similar, perhaps thirty years ago or more. I am grateful to a number of people for bringing it to my attention now. Making due allowance for its antiquity, for me this text embodies the true spirit of Scotland’s cause. The spirit of the campaign to #DissolveTheUnion. I urge you all to read it with an open mind, and an open heart.

Peter A Bell

LETTER on Independence from JOHN STEILL 14th Nov 1844

Sir, I know not whether you have ever thought of the subject which I am to bring under your notice, but I own it has always been a favourite theme with myself, and I address these few lines to you in particular, because I believe you have too much candour to refuse to listen to sentiments that you may be opposed to, or to pronounce opinions absurd, simply because they are not popular, and not recommended fluence.

The Union between Scotland and England was ’one of the blackest transactions in history; and, like every other measure originating in selfishness, fraud, and injustice, that Union is producing its natural fruits, and promises very soon to realize the worst consequences that our Scottish ancestors anticipated from it — to become, in short, a positive practical nuisance.

In this light the Union is already begun to be considered by many in Scotland, and I should not be surprised but an agitation may ere long be commenced on this side of the Tweed with respect to that matter, which will not merely vindicate Scotsmen from the apathetic indifference with which they have long regarded national rights, but which will, if wisely conducted, be productive of results far transcending in importance every scheme that has yet been propounded for the elevation of our land.

Deeply and conscientiously as I am opposed to the Union however, my hostility does not arise because this bad thing and the other bad thing has been done by England to Scotland. It was easy to foresee, from the nature of the compact entered into between the two kingdoms, that Scotland would be continually getting rubs of this description, and that when England had a purpose of her own to serve, however prejudicial it might be to her weaker neighbour, no obstacle would be allowed to stand in the way of its attainment.

But I base my opposition to the Union on broader ground. I see in it the reduction of my country to a state of vassalage and dependence which no man ought to brook, and which is the more intolerable when one reflects on the treasure that was wasted, the blood spilt, and the heroism displayed by our forefathers to guard their posterity against those very evils of which we have daily cause to complain. And, indeed, in thinking indignantly over these things, I often wonder all the while, whether I am treading on Scottish soil, and if it can be possible that the people I am surrounded by, are the descendants of those who fought at Bannockburn and Stirling Bridge.

It is in vain to tell me that Scotland has thriven since the Union, and that the tranquillity and ease we enjoy is not too much to pay for the annihilation of our independence and very name as a nation. Slavery might, on the same principle, be upheld as a good thing by its abettors, because the victims of that system are said to be well cared for, and to get fat under it. But I maintain that the so-called prosperity of Scotland is not owing to the Union, but to the intelligence and indomitable perseverance of Scotsmen; and I have yet to learn that the same, and even an infinitely greater, amount of prosperity might not have been the lot of our country had there been no Union at all.

Sure I am, that when Scotland had her own kings and her own parliaments, she was not behind England in the arts of civilized life, or the means of defence either; and as we contemplate her at the present day, she surpasses her southern sister in energy and enterprise, and in all those moral and physical qualities that ought to make a people prosperous and happy.

But although Scotland has thus abundantly within herself the elements of becoming a great nation, she is sternly interdicted from stretching out her arms and bringing those elements into play: England must first be consulted before a single step can be taken by Scotland in any walk of improvement; and here it is that the Union is felt to be a degrading and oppressive grievance.

Then, again, as to political advancement, the returns to Parliament demonstrate that our people are more inclined to take on the impress of democratic institutions than the English are; yet this avails us nothing, for the voice of our Scottish members, in the misnamed British Senate, is drowned amidst the tumultuous clamours of iron-hearted Tories, bloated corruptionists, and hordes of other venal creatures, who have been sent by the pure and enlightened constituencies of England to manage the business of the realm, and to bear down all opposition before them.

Nay, such is the direful effects of the Union on the progress of Scotland, that (without stopping to enumerate the instances in which it has been manifested of late) though the aspirations of the Scotch after national regeneration were to be of the most magnificent and compendious description, and enforced in Parliament by the patriotic fire and fervid eloquence of another Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, John Bull would scowl upon and laugh at all such schemes, just because he did not understand them, and had not a soul to be moved by them.

With these facts before me, and looking at the practical bearings of the whole subject, I venture to assert, that had Scotland been blessed with an independent government of her own, uncontaminated by English influence, cheering as the picture is that she now’ presents in some particulars, it would have been more cheering still.

Scottish enterprise would have had a wider field to exert itself in than it has, the land which God intended to be dug and cultivated minutely, would not have been lying waste or locked up in the custody of a few selfish aristocrats, who, besides spending the produce of it on hunting horses, idleness, and luxury, have the power, when it pleases them, to beggar, starve, and banish, the men and women born on it, and who have a better title to live by their industry on the fruits of it than their tyrants have.

The Highlands and Isles of Scotland, instead of exhibiting, as they now do, the unsightly spectacle of vast experimental gardens of misrule and despotism, would have been (under the eye of a paternal legislature of our own, always ready and on the spot to examine into the wants and necessities of those secluded regions), flourishing and productive provinces; and the chieftains living there, as Fletcher says, would have got “knocked on the head,” had they dared to tread down and rob their clansmen, as they have for half a century past done, and are still doing.

Enormous as these evils are, however, it is, I fear, almost hopeless for the people of Scotland to try and grapple with them while the Union with England continues. England is herself subject to the rod of an imperious oligarchy, whose ancestors, in the days of William the Bastard, won her by the sword, and it is the interest of these men that the privileges of their order, to pillage, and destroy mankind, should in no corner of the British empire be trenched on, or even called into question.

Hence Highland destitution and misery; hence such large ill-gotten estates as those of the Dukes of Sutherland and Buccleuch,— estates which, instead of belonging to two men, ought to be broken up and parceled out in property among tens of thousands of men.

Now, Sir, I put it to you to say, whether we, as Scotchmen, ought to endure such a state of things as this? Or whether Edward the first, better known as the Murderer of Wallace, whose fiendish hatred of Scotland was so inveterate, that he spent his last breath in maledicting her, could have desired to have our country more thoroughly under his feet than the Queen of England and her Parliament have it at this moment?

Some worthy well-meaning individuals propose to counter balance the malign effects of English ascendancy, by contending for having what they call “federal parliaments,’’ to manage local concerns. But this implies English connection, a thing I, for one, abhor; and, besides, the only benefit that a local parliament could confer upon Scotland, would be that it might save persons the expense of sending agents to London to look after their interests, which are probably as well attended to there already, as they would be even in Edinburgh; for, I believe, it is notorious, that when any local Scotch affair, not involving points of Divinity or Politics, is to be legislated on, English members do not trouble the House much with their presence, and the Scotch, in general, thereby get all their ends quietly accomplished.

Moreover, it is a degradation of the whole question, and a useless expenditure of our strength, to try and stir up a general movement for the sake of the paltry advantages that a mere federal parliament would confer on us, and Scotsmen, in volunteering their aid and countenance to forward such projects, give but too much colour to the supposition that they unintentionally act and think as if their country had always been an appendage of England, and that they are in the habit, like the Irish, of obsequiously blessing England for any little favour she might deign to dole out to them.

No! Scotland in her best days never dealt with England on these beggarly conditions, and when she comes to treat with that realm again, she will, I trust, assume an attitude that will atone for the foul stain the Union cast on her, and the parties who conclude the treaty will not be a parcel of crazed “gown-men,” who valued not national honour, provided they could get their own fanatical Presbyterian Kirk preserved, or treacherous nobles and gentry, who had often before sold their native land to her enemies; but, they will be the high-minded people of Scotland at large, who, animated by a consciousness of their own integrity and their own strength, have bravely combined to rid their country of a yoke that was gradually enslaving and destroying her, and to restore her to that rank among the States of Europe which she of old so respectably filled.

Yes, Scotland, contemned and despised Scotland, has still a soul to aspire to more dignified aims than the ability of getting a few local bills passed now and then by a sort of mock legislature of her own; and as it is no doubt taken for granted by federalists that we are to swear allegiance to the same chief magistrate that the English do, this very circumstance of itself, though we had a federal parliament sitting at the back of Saint Giles’ tomorrow, would always give England the pretense to levy what taxes she pleased on Scotland, and to enmesh us in expensive wars and other abominations, just as she is doing at present. Such, appearing, then to me to be the results of federalism, I can see no cure for the evils of the Union, no method by which the practical skill and mental resources of Scotchmen can be fully and fairly developed, both at home and abroad, but to cast off all legislative connection with England whatever, and to acknowledge no other intimacy with that kingdom than what friendly intercourse, unlimited trade, and mutual protection from unprovoked foreign aggression require.

Mankind, Sir, will not now be contented with half-and-half temporary expedients. Truth is what is sought for; and there being no denying that a crisis has arrived when Scotland, in order to keep pace with the spirit of the age, behoves to occupy a far different position from what she has hitherto done with reference to England, it is necessary that that position, to be free and unfettered, must, to all intents and purposes, be an independent and absolute, not a controllable and subordinate one. In other words, I contend for Scotland having the same power that she possessed in the days of her Alexanders, Roberts and Jameses, to enact her own laws, levy her own taxes, enter into what treaties she pleases with foreign dominions, supply her own means of defence, internally and externally; and while she studiously avoids interfering with, or encroaching on the privileges of other kingdoms, she will be as jealous and watchful in protecting herself from similar aggression.

Let Scotsmen but once in this manner assume to themselves the exclusive management of their own affairs, in their own way, and I much mistake them if they do not make Scotland, as to all that concerns her social, educational, and material weal, in reality “the envy of surrounding nations.’’

Every spot of earth capable of tillage, which is now lying barren and useless, would be brought into cultivation; pauperism, and that revolting practice which our Scottish nobles and gentry have so long with impunity, to the eternal disgrace of the nation, been permitted to indulge in, viz. the “clearing” of estates, and compulsory banishment of our fellow countrymen into foreign climes, would no more be heard of. There would be no lack of employment for every man who is able and willing to work; the deserted glens of the Highlands in particular would be re-peopled as of old with thousands of industrious mountaineers, who would have freedom to enjoy the fruits of their labour without the dread of any rapacious landlord or domineering factor to burn their houses above their heads, scatter their poor families, and expel them from their holdings.

But the question occurs, How are these animating prospects to be realized, and what mode of government. would be best suited to promote the interests of Scotsmen, and perpetually secure to them the complete enjoyment of those prerogatives and benefits I am supposing to be within their reach?

It seems to me, that, for these purposes, the Union ought to be dissolved out and out, and that the same deed which annuls the Union ought to invest every sane man, without exception, with the privilege of electing those who are to rule over him. But as the right exercise of the suffrage would be incompatible with the existence of monarchy. and a hereditary feudal aristocracy, both these useless, tyrannical, and all-devouring institutions would require to be swept away, and the nation declared to be a Republic, open to exchange commodities with the whole world, without let or hindrance.

To such an adjustment of affairs as this, the genius of our people, and the condition of our country, seem both to be peculiarly adapted, and it has the additional merit of being just and expedient in itself, and of harmonizing essentially in spirit with those enlarged schemes for the settlement of Scotland which were advocated at the time of the Union by that generous and enlightened patriot to whom I have already alluded, viz., Fletcher of Saltoun,—a man who devoted his life to the extirpation of despotism, and the establishment of freedom all the world over, and who was inspired with a detestation of English domination, and desire to advance the welfare of Scotland, which many of our noisy declaimers of this age would do well to try and imitate.

But whatever form of government the Scottish people may choose for themselves, it is manifest that an entire separation from England, in a political and legislative sense, is imperative, both for our safety and well-being. England is obviously actuated by maxims at home and views abroad, which will prove ruinous to herself, and, of course, involve in a like fate every other state that has the misfortune to be entangled with her. I ask the people of Scotland then to take these things into consideration, feebly and inadequately expressed though they be; and if my poor attempts to arouse my countrymen from their slumbers, and to touch them with a sense of the degraded position they occupy, shall have the effect of bringing an advocate into the field better qualified than I can pretend to be to go into details, and to do justice to the subject generally, I will have got my utmost wishes gratified.

Of yore Scotsmen required no stimulus to prompt them to install an energetic exertion, when their rights were trampled on, and their national honor invaded. How much stronger is the necessity now for our resuming a portion of the spirit of our ancestors, when our fatherland, in consequence of being united to England, has been sunk into a contemptible province, stripped of her very name, deprived of the power to remove those crying evils which afflict her, both socially and politically, and when she is left with no other memorials of her former dignity and independence but the moss-covered ruins of her palaces and citadels, whose gigantic fragments but too emphatically tell what Scotland once was, and what she now is.

Never was the destruction of an ancient state more complete and humiliating than that of Scotland; never did a people consent so tamely to surrender their liberties, and submit themselves to the overbearing dictation of another kingdom, as the Scotch have done. No amount of prosperity, whether commercial or agricultural, can excuse or palliate mean conduct like this; and however much we may boast ourselves of our enlightenment, and the pretended happiness we enjoy under English rule, were our unpolished, but brave, honest, and shrewd Scottish ancestors to rise from their graves, and to behold in us their descendants the wreck and prostration of that glorious principle of nationality which burned so intensely in their bosoms, and for which they so often enthusiastically fought and bled, they would utterly disown and despise us.

I am, Sir, your obedient Servant,

JOHN STEILL 14th Nov 1844

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A noxious broth

British politics is not a pretty thing to behold. Particularly now that the British Conservative Party has succumbed to its own version of the ugly factionalism which has beset the British Labour Party for decades. I have no evidence to support the contention; indeed, no evidence may exist, but I would venture that had a survey similar to that reported in The National, been conducted within British Labour at any time in the last 30 – 50 years, it would have shown remarkably similar results. Similar in that, at any given time, there would be factions within the party prepared to tolerate all manner of negative consequences – up to and including the demise of British Labour itself – in pursuit of their particular faction’s agenda.

Historically, one of the identifying characteristics of the British Conservative Party was its capacity for unity in the face of any challenge to its power. Whatever disagreements and differences may have roiled within Tory ranks, come the threat of being defeated by the detested ‘reds’, the magnificent ‘blues’ would pull together like a termite colony under attack by ants.

Anecdotally at least, one of the identifying characteristics of British Labour has been that it has more factions than members. And a significant proportion of those factions considered their policy agenda more important than winning the power to implement that agenda. A few even considered themselves more important than the party. Or, they considered themselves to be the party.

The political left in the UK has been a diminished force, in part because of its aversion to effective political power, but also due to a curious predilection for ‘defeat with honour’. The glory of the fight is appealing. The responsibility that comes with victory, maybe not so much.

Now, we have a British politics in which British Labour is as riven as ever by cliques and conspiracies, except that the lines separating the factions have become indistinct, if not blurred to invisibility. Even the factions seem to have lost cohesion. And few if any seem coalesced around anything recognisable as a firm principle.

As for the Tories; the best we might do in the way of a generous perspective is to observe that they have had less practice at this factionalism lark than the other main British establishment party. Compared to British Labour, they are rank amateurs. So it may not be so surprising that they aren’t coping at all well with the unfamiliar phenomenon of division in the ranks. It’s as if all those termites had suddenly shrugged off the bonds of colony and developed their own individual personalities and priorities and preferences. They’re all over the place!

I think the word I’m looking for here is ‘dysfunctional’. Although the term hardly does justice to the noxious broth of megalomania, avarice, ego, ineptitude, vacuity and corruption that seethes in the cauldron of the British state.

Scotland surely does not want to be a part of this.

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It is almost 15 years since American TV satirist John Colbert coined the term ‘truthiness’ to describe, as explained by Wikipedia, “the belief or assertion that a particular statement is true based on the intuition or perceptions of some individual or individuals, without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts”. Personally, I prefer the definition given by Stu Campbell of Wings Over Scotland, “things that sound as if they’re true, and which people will therefore be inclined to believe, even though they fall apart under any factual scrutiny”.

It is a useful word describing a very real phenomenon with which we are all familiar. Even if we are not acquainted with the term, I’m sure we all recognise truthiness when we encounter it. And we encounter it rather a lot. Every day, several times a day, we read and hear things said by politicians and political commentators which have the superficial appearance of truth, but which may only avoid being outright lies by virtue of some semantic technicality.

In any exchange, we are constantly looking for indicators of truth. When speaking with someone we pick up clues from their facial expressions, their posture and their gestures. When reading, we may judge the trustworthiness of a writer by their personal reputation, their academic qualifications and their experience as well as the standing of the publication in which the writing appears. But people can learn to control their body language. And even those with the most impeccable credentials are capable of deception and dishonesty.

We also look for evidence of truthfulness in the actual words spoken or written. The language used, the tone, the phrasing and more can be taken as signs. As much as anything else, the form of words used may persuade us to believe. This being so, it is only to be expected that an art and science will evolve of crafting words to simulate the qualities of truth the better to conceal dishonesty and effect deception. Thus, truthiness.

It occurs to me that what is true of of truth also holds for wisdom. If words can be crafted to give the impression of truth, they may also be contrived to have the appearance of wisdom. If truthiness, why not wisiness.

Truth withstands any amount of examination. Truthiness evaporates under any kind of scrutiny worthy of the name. Wisdom fits comfortably in a recognised and recognisable system of logic, knowledge and shared experience, while adding something new to that system or taking something novel out of it. Wisiness is just words selected for their associations and connotations.

A common manifestation of wisiness is the appeal for caution. Being generally risk averse, people are predisposed to find wisdom in any form of words advising prudence. The wisiness of the appeal for caution can be enhanced by the use of pejorative terms to describe a homogenised alternative. Anything which does not conform to the wisiness of caution is ‘hasty’ or ‘reckless’. It is entirely about the language. The words sound wise because they are chosen for that purpose. Were they genuinely wise, they would have been chosen for reasons that stand outside the words themselves.

Sometimes, of course, an appeal to caution may be truly wise. People may be generally risk averse, but they are also prone to moments of rashness. So, it may be wise, if mostly redundant, to advise people not to walk on motorways or eat unidentified mushrooms. Wisiness, however, attempts to paint wisdom onto what is actually no more than a rationalisation of fearful inaction or a cover for negligent unpreparedness.

We see much wisiness, too, in ill-informed or self-serving notions of human psychology. Notions which tend to be simplified to the point of caricature. We are told that people don’t respond well to this, or are put off by that as if human responses and preferences were amenable to mechanical explanations. But we are told this in language that oozes wisiness and sounds all the more plausible because of it.

Regular readers will by now have realised that, as I write this, I have in mind a certain trait within the Yes movement. Not that wisiness is exclusive or even particular to those associated with Scotland’s independence movement. If the concept has merit at all, it is as a phenomenon of communication generally, and not confined to a specific group or area of discourse. It is safe to say that, given a certain minimum linguistic skill, we all resort to wisiness at some time. It just happens that the Yes movement is the area of discourse with which I am most familiar. It is where I most readily and most frequently encounter instances of both truthiness and wisiness.

There is wisiness, for example, in Pete Wishart and others urging that the SNP and the Scottish Government hold off on action to resolve the constitutional issue until the arrival of some “optimal time”. This is wisiness, rather than wisdom because it cannot be amplified or explained in any terms other than its wisiness. We are asked to accept the wisdom of this advice solely on the grounds that it sounds wise. But it sounds wise, not because it fits comfortably in a recognised and recognisable system of logic, knowledge and shared experience, but because it has been expressed in terms selected with at least a little skill to sound wise. Ask even moderately probing questions about the reasoning behind the advice and the appearance of wisdom instantly vanishes.

There is little else but wisiness in the constant appeals for positivity and the condemnation of negativity. There is wisiness dripping from the pompous and vacuous rebukes delivered to those in the Yes movement who stray from the approved lexicon when addressing 2014 No voters and Unionists in general (see picture). A wisiness which presumes a profound understand of a psychology that is somehow both extraordinarily uncomplicated and common to all who voted No in the first independence referendum. By this presumption alone we know it to be wisiness and not wisdom.

Just as people need to be aware of the difference between truth and truthiness, so they need to be able to distinguish between wisdom and wisiness. Being cognisant of the devices used to manipulate perceptions and thus attitudes draws the sting of those devices. It makes us less susceptible to the blandishments of those who would mislead us – intentionally or otherwise and for good reasons or bad. Being aware makes us better consumers of media messages; better political actors; and better people.

In that last observation, at least, there is surely both truth and wisdom.

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Irrelevant babbling?

When British politicians are talking about Scotland’s politics, and particularly the constitutional issue, there is a perfectly understandable urge to simply dismiss what they say as the inane and irrelevant babbling of people who are not only abysmally ignorant on the subject but too arrogantly superior to feel the need to inform themselves. It’s only Scotland. They reckon they can say anything they like so long as there is no hint of respect. In the fervid atmosphere of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism gripping the Westminster clique, showing any hint of respect for Scotland is likely to be taken as a sign of weakness. Nobody wants to be seen as ‘weak on the Union’.

It would be a mistake, however, to discount completely statements such as Jeremy Hunt’s three ‘conditions’ for a new referendum. Scrutiny of such utterances can provide clues as to the ‘thinking’ behind them. Because, while Hunt and his ilk see no need to be properly briefed before making such statements, the content will have been influenced by their advisers. And those advisers will be at least broadly acquainted with the tactics the British state intends to use in its efforts to preserve the Union and eradicate the threat to established power posed by Scotland’s distinctive political culture.

Hunt’s first ‘condition’ is clearly repeating and reinforcing Ruth Davidson’s pretentious stipulations. British politicians of all parties will know how important it is to support Davidson and encourage the idea that she has real authority. She is the ‘Queen of the BritNats’. The native figurehead for the British Nationalist cause north of the border. She may be a nonentity whose status relies entirely on media hype; but. second only to David Mundell, she is the British political elite’s most important asset in Scotland.

This ‘condition’ also serves to obscure the fact that the Scottish Government already has a mandate for a new referendum. This is part of a wider effort to create doubt and uncertainty in order that the British media can impose a more helpful version of reality. And, of course, it oozes the contempt for Scotland’s democracy that is an essential part of any British politician’s image/

The second of Hunt’s ‘conditions’ tells us that the British establishment is fully aware of how well the ‘currency issue’ worked for the anti-independence effort in the 2014. It also tells us that they recognise how and why it worked as well as it did. Given its effectiveness, it is hardly surprising that they would wish to exploit it again. Note how Hunt picks at the scab of a debate which has raged fiercely within the Yes movement. The hope is that we will again fall into the trap that did so much to weaken the Yes cause in the first referendum campaign.

Arguably the biggest mistake made by the Yes campaign was that so many in the movement were so easily led into trying to answer the question ‘What currency?’. It is, without doubt, the most telling example of Better Together’s use of doubt as a campaigning tool. Jeremy Hunt – or, more likely, the minds directing him – is obviously intent on keeping the dispute about currency running. And, more significantly, determining the terms of that dispute. It would be gratifying to think that lessons had been learned. But I fear many in the Yes movement will once again fall for this ruse.

Hunt’s third ‘condition’ seeks to bounce the Scottish Government into an undertaking that they will accept and adhere to whatever rules the British state may set for a new referendum. This is interesting for two reasons. It suggests that the British establishment has doubts about its ability to block the democratic process in Scotland. And it hints at fears that the Scottish Government may have its own plans to take control of the entire process and cut the British government out of it completely.

There is one further point to be made here. That British politicians are now setting ‘conditions’ for a new constitutional referendum in Scotland is, in itself, informative. It tells us that they are, of course, anxious to convey the impression that they have the rightful authority to impose such conditions. It also tells us that they have all but abandoned the ‘just say no’ strategy that has been so spectacularly unsuccessful; necessitating a renewed effort to afford Ruth Davidson an aura of credibility.

It is always encouraging when ones opponents implicitly acknowledge their failures and show signs of uncertainty about their ability to succeed. Doubt works both ways.

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A nightmare scenario

As ever, Andrew Tickell does an excellent job of taking us through the rules and procedures of the Scottish Parliament. His account of how Nicola Sturgeon might force an early Scottish general election is intriguing. But there is one possible twist to the hypothetical tale which either hasn’t occurred to him or, more likely, was considered too outlandish even in an age of bizarre politics – the Grand Coalition.

Suppose that, when Nicola Sturgeon resigns as First Minister, instead of “the ridiculous spectacle of a Davidson-Leonard contest” envisioned by Andrew we had the rather less amusing spectacle of the British parties in Holyrood forming an alliance sufficiently workable to avoid “complete ungovernability”?

Is this really so difficult to imagine? It may not be easy to see such a Grand Coalition working in the longer term, but how long would it have to last in order to foil Nicola Sturgeon’s devious plan to bring about an early election? If the British parties could cobble together any kind of administration and keep it limping along for even a few weeks, Ms Sturgeon would be left looking every bit as foolish as Theresa May did in the aftermath of he snap UK general election in 2017.

There was a time when a formal association between the two main British parties – even at the North Britain branch level – would have been unthinkable. But that all changed in June 2012 with the formation of Better Together / Project Fear. That set the precedent. It is now not possible – or, at least, not sensible – to discount the possibility of a Grand Coalition of British parties in the Scottish Parliament.

Such an alliance would be justified in terms of a shared British Nationalist ideology which readily overcomes the already uncertain political differences between the British Conservative & Unionist Party in Scotland (BCUPS) and British Labour in Scotland (BLiS). Because we’ve seen it before from their predecessors, it is all too easy to imagine Leonard and Davidson sharing a platform festooned with Union flags; and to hear the grandiloquent speeches about a shared determination to “protect our precious Union” and “save Scotland from the evil of the SNP”. Rhetoric which would be echoed by their respective bosses in London, both of whom would eagerly seize the opportunity to play the ‘unity’ card in the hope of trumping the Mad Brexiteer insurgency threatening the cosy two-party arrangement which has served the British establishment so effectively for decades.

If the thought of a Grand Coalition of British parties wresting control of Holyrood from the Scottish parties doesn’t give you nightmares then reflect for a moment on the damage such an administration could do. Think of the ways it could use even temporary power to advance the ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project. The possibility of such an alliance may be remote. But the prospect is horrifying. Could Nicola Sturgeon afford to take a chance?

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In place of truth

David Mundell

There is certainly hypocrisy in David Mundell’s screeching U-turn on the matter of his willingness to serve under Boris Johnson. Just as there is dumb arrogance in Ruth Davidson’s bombastic pronouncements on the subject of a new referendum – her actual authority being in inverse proportion to her pomposity. Similarly, it is difficult to explain Richard Leonard’s dire performances at First Minister’s Questions (FMQ) without including stupidity as a significant factor.

But is there something more to all this than rank hypocrisy, vaunting arrogance and abysmal stupidity? Is it, perhaps, a mistake to dismiss such things as mere gaffes or to discount them as just evidence of the kind of character flaws which seem ubiquitous among British politicians? When taken together with the various form of dishonesty by which the British media allows the gaffes to go unreported and the character flaws unremarked, might we be looking at a much larger phenomenon?

Some time ago. in an article for iScot Magazine called ‘The death of truth’, I wrote,

It seems not enough to say that truth is being supplanted. That it is being overwhelmed by a “narrative contrary to reality”. For all its vivid persuasiveness, the concept of a “vast, permanent chasm between reality and perception” is wanting. Possibly because it leaves reality distanced, but intact. And the sense I get is, not of truth being set-aside or distorted or obscured, but of truth being demolished. Obliterated. Eradicated.

Not that I am suggesting some Orwellian plot to murder truth. But if making the concept of truth indistinct and elusive serves the agendas of a sufficient number of people with a sufficient amount of influence then what emerges from their behaviours and interactions may be all but indistinguishable from a conspiracy.

What is certain is that the British establishment has developed doubt as a powerful weapon in its propaganda arsenal. Pretty much everything that British politicians do seems designed to foster uncertainty. The British media does a bang-up job of spreading that uncertainty. This results in a generalised erosion of confidence, not only in politicians, but in the entire political system. It also leads to much confusion among voters and, at the very least, a reduced ability to make informed choices.

When people are confused and uncertain they are more easily led. Or steered. They are more readily deterred from effecting change. They are more averse to anything that can be portrayed as a risk. They are more inclined to favour the familiar and cling to the status quo.

An atmosphere of uncertainty and confusion also makes people more susceptible to anyone who offers a risk-free option. Or an option which, with the help of the media, can be portrayed as risk-free. It was doubt, generated and exaggerated by Better Together / Project Fear, which the British political elite deployed so successfully in the 2014 independence referendum. It was the plausible promise of a simplistic certainty that launched the Brexit fiasco.

Pervasive doubt leaves space for manufactured truth. When truth is diminished, reality is defined by the loudest and most intrusive voices. Last week, Mundell said he wouldn’t work with Boris Johnson. This week, he says he would. Next week, nobody is sure what he said – or when he said it.

Nicola Sturgeon is First Minister. She has the authority of that office. She has the democratic mandate. Ruth Davidson is treated by the British establishment – particularly the media – as if she has the same status as the First Minister. She is presented as speaking with similar authority. She is allowed and enabled to claim a mandate that she doesn’t possess. Keep this up for long enough and with sufficient intensity and the distinction between First Minister and nonentity is blurred. Davidson’s pronouncement are afforded a weight they cannot legitimately have.

At FMQ, Richard Leonard persists in asking questions about reserved matters. This may be, wholly or partly, attributed to stupidity. But, deliberate or not, it has the effect of causing confusion about the powers of the Scottish Parliament and makes it easier to blame the SNP administration for the deleterious impact of British government policies.

Leonard’s evident stupidity is appalling. Davidson’s pretentiousness is offensive. Mundell’s hypocrisy is disgusting. The British media’s dishonesty is despicable. But put all this together and you have a phenomenon which is quite frightening.

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If your fridge could scowl

It is always disappointing when The National appears to be picking up bad habits from the Unionist press. There is no “row” here. Ruth Davidson’s duplicity, mendacity and hypocrisy have been amply confirmed. As have her inability to grasp how democracy works; her difficulties with simple arithmetic; and her contempt for the Scottish Parliament. There is no debate about any of this. No discussion, never mind a “row”.

Nor is there any great controversy over what she says. Davidson can stand in front of a mirror practising that look of grim gravitas for the remainder of her ignominious political career. The reality remains that she does not now, nor will she ever have, the authority to dictate terms to Scotland’s democratically elected government or to impose conditions on Scotland’s right of self-determination. The deeply furrowed brow and dour set of her mouth say more about her ability to get into character on cue than about her standing in Scotland.

Ruth Davidson is a nonentity. She may be taking a turn at being leader of the official opposition at Holyrood, but given the way she and the other British politicians squatting in the Scottish Parliament conduct themselves, that title does nothing to enhance her status.

Anybody who can be replaced, even temporarily, by Jackson Carlaw is not a person of significance.

If Ruth Davidson is so insignificant, why does she have such a high public profile? If you are asking that question, you have it the wrong way round. Davidson has been given a high public profile because she is insignificant; but, for the purposes of the ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project, the British establishment finds it expedient to have her decked with the trappings and treatment associated with seniority.

The matter of status is important. In a properly functioning democracy, where all legitimate political authority derives from the people, status must be earned. It is in the gift only of the people, and must be won from them. But that takes time and effort. It requires talent and ability and the attributes of personality and character which combine to make charisma. Wouldn’t it be more ‘efficient’ if a suitably tractable individual could be given the appearance of those qualities and properties? What if those abilities and attributes could be applied to a person as paint is applied to woodwork? What if the desired image could be manufactured? What if the image could be tailored to the individual and, more importantly, the purpose for which that individual is being used?

Fortunately – or regrettably, depending on your perspective – the art and science of the marketing industry has provided the tools for the job. Those tools have been developed to the point where status is now a commodity to be purchased – like electricity or internet access. Celebrity can be mass-produced and celebrities can be manufactured like motor vehicles – each specified for a particular market. Would you like yours camp with sequins? Or serious in a suit? Or down-to-earth in shirt-sleeves and chinos?

Ruth Davidson is just such a product of the image industry. Her status is as illusory as the ‘gifts’ of somebody off of one of them reality TV shows. She is an appliance being used by the British establishment for a particular purpose. Like a toaster or a washing machine. She has no more claim to genuine political status than your vacuum cleaner. And rather less authority than your radio alarm clock.

Why would a fridge-freezer be the subject of a political “row”?

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