The big ‘what if?’

When waiting becomes established as the political strategy of choice, all you do is wait. Waiting is what you plan for. If you are a political leader who has let it be known that waiting is your preferred strategy, your most loyal and trusted advisers will constantly assure you that it is best to wait. Eager to tell you what they believe you want to hear, they will have an endless supply of justifications for waiting at the ready.

One such justification that is being bandied around at the moment is the supposed need to wait and see whether Brexit actually happens. Brexit might yet be called off, goes the argument. And that would change everything, wouldn’t it?

Would it?

Nicola Sturgeon took a gamble when she associated action to resolve the constitutional issue so closely with Brexit. She was betting that people would be smart enough to realise that we are not seeking to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status because of Brexit, but because the Union gives the British political elite the power to impose Brexit on us regardless of our democratic wishes.

In the unlikely event that Brexit is stopped, will that be because the British state has suddenly decided to respect Scotland and its people? Of course not! So why should it make any difference whatever to the independence cause?

It doesn’t matter whether Brexit actually goes ahead or not. Because Brexit is not the problem. The problem is an archaic, anachronistic, asymmetric political union which functions as a constitutional device by which the people of Scotland are denied the full and effective exercise of the sovereignty which is theirs by absolute right.

If past experience is a true guide, those peddling this particular justification for further delay will protest that they understand this perfectly. But ‘other people’ don’t. Which, unless they are arrogantly claiming some extraordinary perspicacity, is profoundly insulting to those ‘other people’.

Nicola Sturgeon gambled on people understanding that Brexit is merely a particularly egregious illustration of how badly Scotland fares within the Union. She bet on them realising that Brexit is just the current context for a political struggle that was born with the Union. A struggle which has not changed in its fundamental motivations since the Union was imposed on us. A struggle in which Brexit is just a fleeting episode.

When I hear people wonder what if Brexit doesn’t happen, I fear Nicola Sturgeon may have lost that bet.

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What this Panelbase survey suggests is that over 40% of Scotland’s people are content that we should be dragged out of the EU against our wishes and in a manner which is either disastrous or catastrophic. For every five people you encounter today, two will settle for Scotland being treated with calculated contempt by a British political elite rather than take responsibility for their own future.

If you are taking the bus to work and it’s full, more than twenty of your fellow passengers are prepared to sacrifice Scotland’s prosperity, democracy and dignity in the name of a political union which serves only to deprive Scotland of the power to protect its prosperity, democracy and dignity. Unless it’s a double-decker, of course. In which case, there’s around thirty people on that bus who would willingly throw you and your family under the wheels of the British Nationalist juggernaut.

In all of Scotland, that’s approximately 1.6 million voters who are intent on the Union at any cost.

How depressing is that?

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Context and process

Nicola Sturgeon’s response to suggestions – or hints – regarding alternative ways to take forward Scotland’s independence project will doubtless be portrayed by the British media with lurid headlines proclaiming a ‘major split in the SNP’. The first thing to, therefore, is to ignore the British media. Which is almost always good advice anyway.

Restoring Scotland’s independence will always require a referendum. As far as I can make out, nobody has suggested differently. What is being discussed is, not the requirement for a plebiscite, but the form of the process leading to a vote, and the nature of the proposition to be voted on.

Mhairi Hunter implies that winning a referendum is the only possible way to start the independence process. She appears to believe that a fundamental constitutional issue can hinge on relative trivialities such as opinion polls and party policy. This hardly seems realistic.

And it places wholly unnecessary constraints on the independence movement. Why should we be slaves to the polls? Why should SNP policy limit our thinking about ways to realise the aim of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. Surely, the independence project is too important – and now too urgent – to be hobbled in this way. Surely, we must be prepared to explore every possible avenue in our effort to rescue Scotland from the scourge of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism.

A referendum cannot be the start of the “independence process”. The 2014 referendum came after years and decades of campaigning. It could not have happened without the Scottish Parliament being reconvened and the SNP’s landslide victory in 2011. These things, and more, were as much a part of the independence process as the referendum. They were prerequisites for the referendum just as winning the referendum would have been a prerequisite for the negotiations which would have followed. It’s all part of the process.

We have to be prepared to examine that process to see if things could be done differently. We cannot be fixated on doing things in a particular way just because that’s how they were done before. I don’t doubt that the process followed by Alex Salmond for the 2014 referendum was appropriate – and probably necessary – at the time. But times have changed. Circumstances have changed. The entire context of Scotland’s independence campaign has altered dramatically in less than a decade. It is simply not reasonable to suppose that the same process must remain appropriate. We must be prepared to at least consider the possibility that it may be entirely inappropriate.

Angus MacNeil tweeted, “No UK Government stood in the way in 2014 … Same again with this positive call from the FM”.

No UK Government stood in the way in 2014 … Same again with this positive call from the FM— Angus B MacNeil MP (@AngusMacNeilSNP) December 3, 2018

This is not strictly correct. The UK Government fought tooth and nail to prevent any Scottish independence referendum ever taking place. They only relented after the voters broke the system and elected a majority SNP administration in the 2011 Holyrood election. And because they thought they couldn’t lose. Neither of these things is true today. The SNP’s majority was wiped out in 2016 due to the combined impact of the independence vote being split and tactical voting by British Nationalists. And the British establishment is now all too well aware that its grip on Scotland is more tenuous than at any time since the early decades of the Union.

These two factors alone represent hugely significant changes to the context of the independence campaign. And that’s before we start to consider things such as EVEL, Brexit and the power-grab. Not to mention the increasingly blatant contempt for Scotland being exhibited by the British political elite.

Reading Nicola Sturgeon’s remarks, I get a distinct sense that the First Minister is intent on adhering to the process followed by her predecessor. In my view, this would be a fatal error.

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Know your enemy!

This is superb stuff from Keith Brown. My only criticism is that he reserves his condemnation for the Tories when British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) has been just as silent and complacent in the face of the British government’s “malign neglect” of Scotland’s voice.

Are British Labour MPs from Scottish constituencies incensed by the Scottish Government being excluded from the Brexit negotiations? I see no sign of it! Are British Labour MSPs loudly protesting the British political elite’s calculated contempt for Scotland’s people and democratic institutions? Not that I’ve heard! Is Richard Leonard taking to his feet at FMQ’s to angrily denounce the British state’s “malign neglect” of Scotland and demand to know what the First Minister intends to do in response? Not a bit of it!

It is a mistake to identify the democratic deficit exclusively with the Tories. The root of Scotland’s problem lies, not with a political party, but with an ideology which is common to all the British parties – British Nationalism.

The present Tory administration in London may be an affront to rationality and basic human decency, but it is the Union which is the massive insult to democracy. The Union which both those Tories AND British Labour are determined to preserve at any cost to Scotland.

By all means, be outraged by the callous inhumanity, catastrophic incompetence and dumb hubris of the Tories. But know that it is the Union which empowers them to impose their malignant ideology on Scotland. And know that, so long as British Labour in Scotland gives its first loyalty to the Union and the British state, they have no more to offer Scotland than the Tories.

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Scotland? What Scotland?

Theresa May has ignored Scotland throughout the whole Brexit process, and excluding The National in this way simply underlines how she is running scared of answering tough questions.

The stuff about Theresa May “running scared” of difficult questions makes for great political rhetoric. But, as I’m sure the First Minister is well aware, it doesn’t quite reflect the reality.

Theresa May is not afraid of tough questions, for two reasons. Firstly, as a professional politician, she is trained to deal with hard interrogation. And, as the British Prime Minister, she has a small army of advisers whose task it is to ensure she is thoroughly briefed and equipped with well-rehearsed responses for any question.

This, incidentally, is how she will deal with Jeremy Corbyn in the proposed TV .debate’. She will be armed with a sword of stock phrases and a shield of glittering generalities. Corbyn will have nothing but a water-pistol loaded with vacuous slogans and the Pac-A-Mac of his self-righteousness.

Then there’s the arrogance. I have not the slightest doubt that Theresa May considers herself an excellent orator and debater. Again, she has a small army of people around her whose jobs rely on assuring their charge of her shining brilliance after every performance – no matter how dire that performance may have been. May, like most senior British politicians, exists in a bubble of near-adulation that shields her from both criticism and reality. She is entirely oblivious to the ineptitude that is clearly apparent to detached observers. And almost entirely unaware of how widely she is detested.

This conceit of herself makes her unafraid. The protective phalanx of minders makes her self-assured.

The significant point in the above quote is right at the start. When Nicola Sturgeon says “Theresa May has ignored Scotland throughout the whole Brexit process”, she hints at what is actually behind decision to exclude The National from her press event. The British establishment has discovered the power of ignoring.

We exist in a world of media. We swim in a sea mediated messages. If something isn’t trending on Twitter or the subject of Facebook fury, it barely exists. If it doesn’t warrant a mention in the crowded 15-20 minute space of rolling news, then it isn’t happening. If it isn’t being talked about by the Andrews Marr and Neil, it just isn’t important.

The British establishment has deployed the ignoring strategy as one strand of its effort to diminish Scotland in the public consciousness. They denigrate our public services, delegitimise our democratic institutions and trivialise Scottish issues They aim to eradicate our distinctive political culture.. They seek to obliterate our national identity in a storm of unionjackery.

The National would seem an obvious target for this studied ignoring. May’s lackeys doubtless thought it in keeping with the ignoring agenda to exclude the paper which, almost uniquely, presents the news from a Scottish perspective. Very evidently, they got it wrong.

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What’s the word?

I have always eschewed the use of terms such as “traitor” or “quisling” when referring to those who stand in fervent opposition to the restoration of Scotland’s independence. Indeed, I have frequently chided my fellow Yes supporters for resorting to such inflammatory language. But this leaves us with a problem.

There are people who, while claiming to be “proud Scots” or even “real Scots” (whatever that means) nonetheless strive to do actual harm to Scotland. They actively try to deter inward investment. They seek to dilute the Scottish brand. They denigrate Scotland’s public services and physical infrastructure. They undermine public confidence in our democratic institutions. The worst of them constantly portray Scotland as a place fraught with crisis and chaos; a ‘failed state’; some kind of third-world hell-hole.

The shorthand for all of this is the sub-text underlying all Unionist rhetoric and British Nationalist propaganda – TOO WEE! TOO POOR! TOO STUPID!

The problem is this. If, as I am wont to insist, we should not call such people “traitors”, what should we call them? What would be an appropriate alternative epithet for someone whose purpose is to sabotage Scotland’s economy; destroy our public services; eliminate our distinctive political culture; and obliterate our national identity?

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Mystery prize?

I am baffled. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why Mike Russell continues to cling to the hope that there might be a “better deal for Scotland” in sight. There is no reason to suppose that Jean-Claude Juncker is only joking when he says there will be no return to the negotiating table if the ‘deal’ is rejected by the British Parliament. There is no way for the EU to offer Scotland a separate arrangement keeping us within the European single market and customs union. And it’s an absolute certainty that the British government isn’t going to seek such an arrangement on Scotland’s behalf – or agree to it if, by some unknown means, the EU were to make the offer despite having said that there would be no further negotiation. So, where is this ‘deal’ going to come from? Who are these “others” with whom the Scottish Government is going to work in order to secure the ‘deal’?

Mike Russell does not strike me as the type to indulge in wishful thinking. Presumably, he has identified some way that a special arrangement for Scotland might be achieved. Presumably, he has a realistic hope of success in this venture. I just can’t figure out how. What am I missing?

I sincerely hope I’m missing something. Because the alternative is that Mike Russell’s talk is just another delaying tactic putting off the moment when Nicola Sturgeon must take some kind of decisive action to resolve the constitutional issue. If, as I strongly suspect, this special deal for Scotland is a political impossibility, then talk of it can only be an attempt to rationalise more of the waiting which seems to have become established as the Scottish Government’s main strategy.

There really can’t be any justification for further delay. Even if a deal to keep Scotland within the European single market and customs union was a realistic prospect, it is not what we voted for. It would not negate that 62% Remain vote. To even consider such a deal is to contemplate compromising Scotland’s democracy in a manner and to an extent that even those who understand the rationale for compromise will find very hard to accept.

It’s not all or only about Brexit. Even if it were possible to significantly mitigate the impact of Brexit, as Mike Russell appears to believe, this would do absolutely nothing to address the grotesque constitutional anomaly which makes it possible for the British ruling elite to treat Scotland with utter contempt. And inevitable that they will continue to do so.

So long as we are bound by the anachronistic, anti-democratic Union, the people of Scotland will be denied full and effective exercise of our sovereignty. If we accept Scotland being dragged out of the EU contrary to the will of the people – regardless of the terms – then we will be expected to endure further and greater abuses at the hand of a British political elite resolved to impose its ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist ideology on Scotland.

It is time for Mike Russell and all of us to acknowledge that, even if there was some Brexit ‘deal’ that we’d be prepared to accept, however reluctantly and at whatever cost, beyond that lies another affront to our democracy and insult to our pride that we will not wish to tolerate. And beyond that, another. on and on. Worse and worse. Until we end the Union.

Why wait? It is time!

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