Political Campaigning for Dummies #1

Since it appeared in The National on Thursday 14 February, Andrew Wilson’s latest column has provoked a considerable amount of comment. It is safe to say that almost all of this comment has been highly critical. All of those which I’ve seen express various degrees of outrage at one of our First Minister’s advisers urging the ‘softest possible form of Scottish independence’. None of those that I’ve seen show any evidence that the individual commenting on Andrew’s article has taken the trouble to read it first.

The fact is that the words ‘softest possible form of Scottish independence’ do not appear anywhere in the piece. What Andrew actually says, after some discussion of aspects of the Sustainable Growth Commission’s report, is,

In the parlance of Brexit, we offer the softest of possible changes to the current arrangements, not the hardest.

Andrew Wilson: Next Scottish White Paper will learn from 2014 – and from Brexit

He is talking about changes to particular arrangements in the period immediately after independence. Using the “parlance of Brexit” may have been an unfortunate choice of rhetorical device, but it is no more than that – a rhetorical device. What he is saying is that the transition to independence should take the least disruptive course rather than the most disruptive. A statement which is only controversial if one is committed to maximising tumult and turbulence in the early years of Scotland’s restored independence. Or, to put it another way, you’d have to be some kind of nutter to be outraged by what Andrew Wilson actually said.

There is much to criticise in Andrew’s article. For example, his claim that the “first and most striking lesson” that the independence campaign might take from the Brexit fiasco is that we need “a prospectus and a rigorous plan”. He would say that, wouldn’t he? Given that he’s in the business of developing that prospectus and that plan.

Fortunately, Andrew is not – so far as I am aware – involved in planning the campaign which will take us to independence. The prospectus and plan to which he refers are really just attempts to explain. And, as Ronald Regan observed in one of his lucid moments, “If you’re explaining, you’re losing!”.

The “first and most striking lesson” to be taken from the Brexit mess is that a political campaign needs a comprehensible and unambiguous objective. That aim must also be deliverable. But first and foremost it must be absolutely clear what the campaign’s purpose is. You can’t even begin to formulate a prospectus and plan unless and until you establish what it is that the campaign aims to achieve.

That the Leave campaign failed in this regard is evident from the fact that much, if not all, of the early debate concerned the meaning of Brexit. A debate which was not in any sense resolved by Theresa May explaining that “Brexit means Brexit”. It is a measure of the laminar shallowness of this remark that, had you entertained an idea of Brexit as a sugar-coated dung beetle, May’s ‘explanation’ would have done absolutely nothing to disabuse you of this notion.

I hate to remind you. But Theresa May is the British Prime Minister and the person in charge of taking the UK out of the EU. A fact which makes the idea of Brexit as a sugar-coated dung beetle seem sensible and credible by comparison.

Having taken a lesson from the Leave campaign’s abysmal failure to precisely define its aim, how might the Yes movement do better. It’s safe to assume that most people would say the objective is the restoration of Scotland’s independence. But, as we discovered during the 2014 referendum campaign, the concept of independence is open to almost endless interpretation. The Yes movement spent pretty much the entire campaign trying to explain what independence means; what independence is. There were almost as many different explanations as there were people doing the explaining. Every one of those explanations invited demands for further explanation from an anti-independence campaign intent on sowing doubt and confusion. And every one of those demands drew the Yes campaign into further attempt to explain.

If it’s true that “when you’re explaining, you’re losing”, then the Yes campaign was losing big-style.

What is required is a tighter ‘mission statement’. One that states exactly what it is that is the end being pursued by the campaign. That is where #DissolveTheUnion comes in. It serves admirably as that comprehensible and unambiguous objective. There is no ‘flavour’ of independence which does not require the dissolution of the Union which is the antithesis of independence. The fundamental and essential aim of the independence cause is to bring an end to the Union. The break it. To consign it to the history from which it emerged and to which it remains incorrigibly bound.

The other lesson for today is not to trust the British media. It is remarkable that this lesson has yet to be learned by so many in the Yes movement. Of all people, you’d think those who are part of the campaign which is most commonly the target British media dishonesty would be familiar enough with the methods used to manipulate perceptions to avoid being taken in. But evidently, this is not so.

As has been pointed out, the words which caused offence did not appear in Andrew Wilson’s column. So, where did they come from? They came from headlines such as the one pictured from The Herald. People should know by now that the headline does not provide an indication of what the story below it is about. The headline tells you what the author and/or the publication want you to think the story is about. The headline is the first thrust in the process of manipulating the reader’s perception of the story. It plants the seed of deception which will then be fed by the standfirst and watered by the next few paragraphs. The default assumption when looking at any political story in the British media is that the headline is a lie.

There are abundant clues to tell the active consumer of media messages that they are being fed lies. There’s the fact that it’s The Herald, for a start. Then there’s the by-line. Tom Gordon is arguably the British media’s most adept exponent of anti-Scottish spin. He has played a major role in creating a genre of stories portraying Scotland as a dystopia where all is calamity and failure – unless it’s catastrophe and collapse. Having helped create the ‘Scotland as Hell-hole’ genre, Tom Gordon has very much made it his own. Tales of dysfunction and disaster in NHS Scotland are his speciality. Misrepresenting someone associated with the SNP is something Gordon does while roosting upside-down in his cave.

The ‘single quotes’ are another giveaway. They pretty much always tell the reader that what’s enclosed has owes its origins to the professionally fervid imagination of some mercenary hack. In the instance under discussion, the ‘single quotes’ scream out that the words within them were not actually spoken or written. Or, at least, they do for the minimally astute consumer of the British media’s output. Which clearly doesn’t include those denouncing Andrew Wilson for something he didn’t say.

Surely one of the most basic lessons to be learned by anyone hoping to be part of a political campaign is that your shouldn’t embrace your opponents’ propaganda. And you sure as hell shouldn’t promulgate that propaganda by parroting it all over social media. If, as a campaign activist, you are saying the same things as the opposition campaign, you are in desperate need of shutting the f*** up and applying such wit as you possess to reflecting on your behaviour.

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Of divides and loyalties

SNP depute leader Keith Brown says the poll showed Labour could not stop the Tories in Scotland. But, in truth, British Labour in Scotland has no real interest in stopping the Tories in Scotland. Their imperatives are –

  • to punish the SNP and anybody who votes for them
  • to regain the status they consider theirs by right
  • to reassert the British parties’ control of the Scottish Parliament

The first imperative is spiteful. The second is self-serving. The third is treacherous. Petty, partisan and perfidious. We could be describing any of the British parties currently squatting in Scotland’s Parliament.

The problem for British pollsters and the British analysts who analyse their polls and the British commentators who comment on both the polls and the analysis, is that the British two-party context is no longer relevant in Scotland. Regarding Scotland’s politics through the prism of the British political system became inappropriate in 1999, when the Scottish Parliament reconvened. Increasingly so ever since. But British pundits don’t seem to have realised this yet. And the British media, for the most part, stubbornly denies that there is a distinctive Scottish politics.

British chatterers’ and British scribblers’ first instinct is to regard Labour/Left versus Tory/Right as the default divide in all ‘domestic’ politics. I’m not sure to what extent this is even true in England these days. It certainly isn’t applicable in Scotland. The defining divide in Scottish politics is constitutional. It is Nationalist versus Unionist.

Not that this excludes or ignores the many other divisions in society which are supposed to be managed by the democratic process. It’s just that the constitutional divide has come to encompass things like class and ideology. In one sense, this makes Scottish politics simpler – because, crudely speaking, everything ultimately boils down the constitutional issue. In another sense, it makes Scottish politics more complicated because the constitutional issue is an additional element which must be considered. Or should be considered.

All too often, it isn’t. Analysts and commentators coming at Scotland’s politics from within the bubble of the metropolitan cosy consensus inevitably find it difficult to take account of the fact that what they regard as ‘the Labour vote’ is at least as likely to be the ‘Tory vote’ on account of the constitutional divide. They find it difficult to take account of this only if they even realise that it is a real phenomenon.

And where these British analysts and commentators do acknowledge that the dividing line between British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) and the British Conservative and Unionist Party in Scotland (BCUPS) is somewhat blurred, they tend to talk in terms of ‘tactical voting’. It is NOT tactical voting.

When BLiS voters put their cross next to a BCUPS candidate or party – or, to a lesser extent, vice versa – they like to call it ‘tactical voting’ because this puts a sheen of rationality on a choice made solely on the basis of emotional and often fervent loyalty. Loyalty to the British state. Fealty to the British ruling elites. Devotion to the emblem of British Nationalism.

All of which can be a cause of confusion and consternation to those British pollsters and British analysts and British commentators who share these loyalties so innately and deeply that it is extremely problematic for them to conceive of their being alternative loyalties and a defining political divide between the two.

We have all heard British pundits react with incomprehension when confronted by Scotland’s independence movement. They simply can’t grasp; or can’t take seriously, the proposition that there may be significant numbers of people in their imagined British nation who owe their loyalty to something other than the British state, the British ruling elites and the Union flag.

They simply don’t get that British Labour in Scotland has no real interest in stopping the Tories because they share a loyalty that overrides mere partisan interest. They don’t fully understand that politics in Scotland is an existential battle. Either Scotland survives, or the British establishment prevails. Those are the options. That is the choice facing Scotland’s people. It is my passionate hope that most voters will choose Scotland.

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Preparing for a pillow fight

There are two fallacies in this article about Progress Scotland which, because they are so enthusiastically embraced by so many in the Yes movement, drive me to despair.

Firstly, there is the fallacy of ‘clarity’ about Brexit. The one thing that can never come out of the Brexit mess is clarity. The UK’s relationship with the EU and the rest of the world will be in a state of turbulent flux for many years. Probably many decades. Nothing useful can be known about it. As evidenced by the list provided.

But by the end of April the Brexit fog should have lifted to some extent anyway. Voters should know if the UK has left the EU, and if it has crashed out without a deal or left with May’s deal, perhaps with a tweak to the political declaration (the non legally binding part of the agreement she struck with the EU).

What part of that makes the slightest difference to the fact that Scotland voted against Brexit? What difference does any of it make to the fact that our democratic choice was treated with utter contempt by the British state? What difference does it make to the fact that this contempt is not only facilitated by the Union, but rendered inevitable by it?

The worrying thing about the whole Progress Scotland thing is that the entire project appears to be founded on the assumption that the Scottish Government will not use the mandate that it has. It assumes that the Scottish Government will do nothing to prevent Scotland being dragged out of the EU against the will of the people. It assumes that the Scottish Government will fail in its solemn duty to defend Scotland’s interests. And fail catastrophically.

A corollary of all this is that the Scottish Government is content that Scotland should continue to be treated with contempt ‘for the time being’. Certainly, there is no indication that the Scottish Government intends to do anything to change this situation.

The second fallacy is the notion that there is some mystical form of words by which the ‘positive case for independence’ will be made irresistible to those as yet unpersuaded. How can there possibly be a “fresh case for Yes”? Even ignoring all the campaigning that went before, since at least 2012 countless groups and organisations have been presenting their own ‘vision’ of independence. Over a period of around seven years, every possible formulation of the independence ‘message’ has been presented.

Indeed, this was a large part of the reason the Yes campaign was less effective than it should have been. There was no single, clear, concise campaign message. There were countless different messages. The campaign was diffuse, vague and confusing – if not actually confused. The campaign had thrust, but no sharp point. As I have said before, we took a pillow to a sword fight.

Independence is not a complex concept. So why are people trying to make it so? Who benefits from this unnecessary complexity? Our political leaders and others in a position to influence the Yes campaign strategy are falling once again into the trap of taking on an obligation to answer any and all questions posed by those resolved to preserve the Union at any cost. They are, at least tacitly, accepting the proposition that it is only when all these questions have been answered satisfactorily that Scotland will qualify for dependence.

The idiocy of this should be obvious. In the first place, there is no limit to the questions that can be posed. Once you accept that you have to explain yourself, the demand for further explanation is potentially infinite. And the explanations can never be satisfactory when the ones asserting the role of ultimate arbiters are the ones who are resolve to preserve the Union at any cost.

Advocates of the ‘pillow’ strategy will protest that it is not those resolved to preserve the Union at any cost who are being addressed. They will insist that it is ‘soft Nos’, or some such elusively defined group. But this is British politics. What matters is not reality, but perception. And who controls the overwhelmingly powerful machinery for manipulating perceptions? Why! It’s those resolved to… you know the rest. If no other lesson is drawn from the 2014 referendum campaign could it please at least be the fact that it doesn’t matter how often or how thoroughly or how comprehensively or even how convincingly questions are answered and/or explanations provided, the British state’s propaganda apparatus will endure the general perception that no satisfactory answers or explanations have been forthcoming. And if at any time it seems that the answers and explanations provided might gain some traction on the terrain of public opinion, the British state’s propaganda apparatus will move, not just the goalposts, but the entire bloody pitch!

There are, in fact, a multitude of lessons to be learned from the 2014 referendum campaign. I despair, not least, because it looks like all of those lessons are being ignored in favour of airy-fairy notions of a ‘fresh case for Yes’ or promised ‘clarity’ or an ‘optimal time’ out there somewhere that will come to us if we just wait long enough.

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Talking good! Kettling bad!

I can’t say I find anything particularly disturbing about Police Liaison Officers (PLO) contacting event organisers. Police Scotland’s role involves facilitating lawful public demonstrations and protecting those participating. If, as seems to be the case, PLOs are merely seeking information about upcoming events, what possible harm is there? The more event organisers and Police Scotland talk to one another, the better.

As we know from the All Under One Banner marches, close cooperation between Police Scotland and the organisers has helped to ensure that these events go off without any trouble.

It’s always healthy to be slightly suspicious of the authorities. But it’s far from healthy to let this descend into paranoia. If folk want to make a fuss about police methods, they should object loud and long to the practice of ‘kettling‘; which is nothing more than unlawful detention. Police Scotland needs to be made aware of the extent to which this practice anger and alienates members of the public who would otherwise be appreciative and supportive of their service.

I have only ever experienced ‘kettling’ once. And then only briefly. But I really didn’t like the way it made me feel – despite the fact that I understood why it was being done. Even the memory of it continues to disturb me. I’m not sure Police Scotland is taking due account of the impact this practice has on the law-abiding people who are subjected to a form of imprisonment without cause or explanation.

Since I’m on the subject, I’ll also point out that ‘kettling’ is a very lazy and ineffective and inefficient form of policing. Lazy, because it is policing people instead of crime. Ineffective, because the people who are likely to be disruptive are familiar with police procedures and absent themselves as soon as they see preparations being made for ‘kettling’. Inefficient because it requires large numbers of officers to do nothing other than aggravate peaceful demonstrators while potential trouble-makers are long gone.

Police Scotland should keep talking to event organisers. But they need a rethink on ‘kettling’.

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Out of time

I probably shouldn’t dwell on it, but I can’t help pondering how different things might have been if we’d had a new independence referendum on Thursday 20 September 2018. Looking back may be futile. But looking to the future has rarely been more disturbing and depressing. So indulge me! Allow me this brief reverie. Who knows? It may even prove illuminating.

Suppose we’d had that referendum in 2018. Suppose we’d won. Four months on we’d be well into the process of getting Scotland out of the Union – instead of being in the position of desperately struggling to keep Scotland in the EU – in keeping with the wishes of 62% of the Scottish voters who expressed a preference in the 2016 EU referendum.

If the Brexit process hadn’t ground to a total halt as everybody tried to figure out the implications of the decision to normalise Scotland’s constitutional status then at least we wouldn’t be part of the mess. By now, we might well have agreement from the EU that Scotland would effectively be treated as the continuing state after 29 March 2019.

There is no reason to suppose that the British government’s handling of the Brexit process would have been any less catastrophically inept. Scotland’s elected representatives – along with those of the other ‘peripheral’ parts of the UK – had been denied any meaningful role in the process. So taking them out of the equation with a Yes vote couldn’t really make much difference. Of course, the (r)UK position would be considerably weaker given that they could not claim to speak for Scotland. And given that they would no longer have any claim on Scotland’s resources. But it’s hard to imagine how this could make things any worse than May and her fractious rabble managed even while the UK was relatively intact.

Obviously, there would still be ‘issues’. Many of these would impinge on Scotland. But, as a de facto independent nation, we would have effective input. We would have a say in how these issues were resolved. Scotland’s interests would be represented in a way they never could be as a mere adjunct of England. Which is not to say that we would get everything we wanted from either the EU or the rump UK. But whatever compromises were made would be our compromises. They wouldn’t be compromises made on our behalf without consultation or consideration.

We might well suppose that the departure from the EU of those who actually voted for this – England and Wales – would be made easier in our imagined scenario. It is at least probable that a Yes vote in Scotland’s referendum would prompt a reunification vote in Ireland. Thus resolving cleanly, democratically, peacefully and in a most rational manner, the Irish border/ Good Friday Agreement problem which has been the greatest obstacle to a Withdrawal Agreement not wholly reliant on Santa Claus pulling some ‘alternative arrangements’ out of his sack. (You’ll understand that I didn’t really want to write ‘sack’.)

Had Scotland voted Yes on Thursday 20 September 2018, the increasingly ludicrous Brexit farce played out in Westminster and in the media over the last few months would have been largely avoided. Although this may be to underestimate the capacity of the British political elite to render farcical pretty much anything it is associated with. But this is my reverie. So I get to give them the benefit of whatever doubt I can scrape up. I elect to suppose that, as January 2019 passes, the Brexit thing would be going swimmingly. Even if some way from Olympic-standard synchronised swimming.

Then there’s the parallel negotiations between Scotland and rUK and between Scotland and the EU. The latter would be at an advanced stage by now. With Scotland taking on the UK’s membership of the EU there really wouldn’t be that much to negotiate. Think of it as Scotland inheriting the UK’s EU member’s uniform and having it adjusted to fit. Given that whatever negotiations were required would be conducted in a spirit of trust and constructive good will, there would surely be no impediment to reaching agreement amicably and rapidly. Instead of regarding 29 March with dread, we would be looking forward to Scotland taking its place as an independent nation in the European Union.

As such, Scotland would require a written constitution. An interim constitution to take effect on Independence Day is little more than a formality. It need only establish the basics – which are uncontroversial. We know they are uncontroversial because, if they were at all controversial they wouldn’t belong in an interim constitution. Work on a full draft constitution is ongoing and we can anticipate this this would have accelerated following the Yes vote last September.

It’s more difficult to say what would be happening on the rUK front. British Nationalists have vowed all manner of retribution should Scotland’s people presume to assert their sovereignty. But I seriously doubt that there will be UK Border Agency machine gun towers along the border and RAF bombs raining down on Glasgow Airport. It’s possible that aliens might take advantage of the situation to launch the invasion of Scotland they’ve been planning since Grmthul descended from Blntrmed with the Cclt of Dryf. We’ll take our chances with a bit of intergalactic conflict. We’ll have more immediate, and proximate, ‘foes’ to deal with. Although some of them do have the appearance of alien creatures struggling to maintain human form. Aye! That’s you, Michael Gove!

In reality, or as close to it as we might get in a purely hypothetical exercise, the British establishment is likely to opt for a rather more pragmatic approach than is to be found in the spittle-flecked rhetoric of British Nationalist fanatics. There’s every chance the British political elite will claim independence was being gifted to Scotland by an endlessly beneficent British state which had, of course, always respected the democratic right of Scotland’s people to choose their nation’s status and the form of government that best suits their needs. In much the same way as the 2014 referendum was graciously presented to Scotland by a kindly British Prime Minister, and Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.

There is no rational reason why dissolving the Union should not be a fairly straightforward matter. It’s not like there isn’t a lot of precedent to draw on. It’s basically a question of attitude. The Brexit mess may give cause to doubt that British politicians are capable of the spirit of trust and constructive good will I mentioned earlier. But we can help them find that spirit by presenting them with as conclusive a Yes vote as we can muster. Assuming an effective registration drive, 60% of an 85% turnout would suffice. That’s 51% of the electorate. 65%, or just over 55% of the electorate would be better. 70% (59.5%) would silence all but the most fanatical British Nationalists and force the British political elite to behave like grown-ups. Or, perhaps, delegate that task to professional civil servants.

Had we voted Yes in a referendum on Thursday 20 September 2018, we could now be be in a place indistinguishable from that where we find ourselves at the start of February 2019. We could be assured of our EU membership, with all the positives that this implies for our economy and society. Our EU citizenship would be secure. Our freedom of movement would be secure. Our access to the single market would be secure. More importantly, these things would be secured on terms freely negotiated by the people elected or appointed to represent Scotland. Politicians and civil servants whose imperatives are informed by the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people.

And what if we’d voted No in September 2014? Well, we’d surely be pretty much where we are now. We really had nothing to lose.

Of course, British Nationalists would be bawling about how this had killed the independence movement ‘stone dead’. Rhetoric which would, if history is any guide, be parroted by many in the Yes movement. But these protestations would be no more valid after two referendums than at any other time. However often the people of Scotland inexplicably vote to remain shackled to the British state, they cannot vote away the right of self-determination that is vested wholly in the people to be exercised entirely at their discretion. In terms of the cause of independence, a No vote in a referendum is merely a setback. It does nothing more than delay the inevitable. And the authority to determine the duration of that delay lies entirely with the Scottish people.

Had we voted No in September 2018 we’d be facing precisely the same threat to Scotland’s democracy that confronts us now. We’d be getting dragged out of the EU. Just as we are now. We’d be listening to warnings about shortages of food and medicine. Just as we are now. We’d be looking at the prospect of economic chaos and civil disturbance and martial law. Just as we are now. We’d be seeing powers stripped from the Scottish Parliament and anticipating further assaults on our democratic institutions. Just as we are now. We’d be f***ed! Just as we are now.

But at least we’d have tried to avoid all this. At least we’d have made the effort. At least we’d have shown some resolve to save Scotland from the depredations that come with the Union.

Now, it may be too late. Awakening from my reverie, I must face the reality that we are, if not already too late, then fast approaching a point when that will be the case. It is unlikely that anything other than the most bold and assertive action by the First Minister can possibly prevent us being dragged out of the EU – with all that this implies. None of it good.

Nicola Sturgeon seems no more disposed to take such action than she did in September 2018. Despite everything that has happened since that regrettable outcome in 2014, and despite the real and imminent threat to Scotland’s democracy and identity, the SNP administration’s attitude to taking the cause of independence forward appears unchanged. Their strategy is still a mystery. Their intentions unclear.

Right now, we have even less to lose by bold, decisive action than we did last September. Right now, the threat is greater than it has ever been. Right now, the need for urgency should be absolutely compelling. But I see little sign that any of this has touched our political leaders.

We are almost out of time. And I don’t know if I can face the prospect of sitting here in four months time contemplating what might have been.

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I’d like to thank Dave Coull for the following, which was originally published as a comment on Scot Goes Pop. I republish it here, with his kind permission, as it provides timely and valuable context for discussion of UDI.

In August 1914, Britain declared war on Germany. War is something done by Declaration, because it does not require the agreement of the other party. However, when it was announced that there would be an Armistice from the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, this was an “Announcement”, not a “Declaration”, because Germany had agreed.

When I declared my house a smoke-free zone, that was a Declaration. I did not consult my neighbours. I did not ask anybody likely to visit my house if that would be okay. I just declared that, if they were visiting my house, and they wanted to smoke, they would have to go outside.

Declarations are ALWAYS “unilateral”. Saying “unilateral declaration” is like saying “wet water”. The first word is superfluous.

So, what’s the point of this stupid expression?

The expression “UDI” was invented in 1965. It did not exist at all before that year. I was in my mid-20s, and I was already a “veteran” of five years in the British armed forces, when the expression “UDI” was first invented. I can remember the exact circumstances of it being invented very well. There was a lot of talk in the press and media about a “Unilateral Declaration of Independence” by the racist government of the apartheid regime in Rhodesia.

Rhodesian “UDI” did in fact happen. But in the end the country got into such a mess, they had to ask the British Government to step in to help to sort it out. As a result. “UDI” carries connotations of both illegality and failure.

But, of course, there have been other Declarations of Independence. Most famously, the one whose anniversary gets celebrated every Fourth of July. That one doesn’t carry connotations of illegality and failure. Why not?

The answer to the question, “why not?”, is because, although the British Government refused to recognise that Declaration of Independence to begin with, it nevertheless succeeded. Within ten years, a lawyer from Boston, Massachusetts, was presenting his credentials to King George as the first Ambassador of the USA, and even lawyers in London were producing proofs that it had all been perfectly legal all along.

But of course it was “unilateral”. Declarations are ALWAYS unilateral. “UDI” is like saying “wet water”. It’s a bloody idiotic expression, and the only reason for using it is to link a Declaration with the Rhodesian failure, instead of with the American success. Stop it. Stop playing the game according to rules laid down by agents of the British State. Stop talking about UDI. It’s stupid.

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Beware the liars!

Lot’s of things annoy me. It’s the ‘Grumpy Old Man’ syndrome. Age brings the knowledge and experience to better recognise all manner of faults and follies. And, often, less reticence about commenting on these. If one is fortunate, or blessed with a sufficient degree of self-awareness, age also brings the capacity to control anger. To harness it for constructive purposes rather than allowing to become destructive, incoherent rage. Like the song says, anger is an energy. Sometimes, I get quite energised.

Among the things that irks me greatly in the context of the online political debate for which I have a certain enthusiasm, is a particular form of dishonest arrogance amounting, at the extreme, to offensive idiocy. I refer to the practice of telling people what they think rather than asking them. You will all have seen some manifestation of this unfortunate habit. In perhaps it’s most common form it is found in comments which commence, “So you think…”, going on to expound some demented interpretation of what has been stated. Often so demented as to have no evident connection to what has been stated.

“I want Scotland to be a normal independent nation.”

“So you think it’s OK to barbecue babies!”

At another level, we find this curious claim to know another person’s mind better than they themselves do expressed in a more detailed pronouncement prefixed by a phrase such as, “So what you are actually saying is…”. This is followed by some gross distortion of what has, in fact, been said. A falsification which may be malicious, but which is at least as likely to be the consequence of ignorance prideful enough to discount the need for niceties such as research.

This annoys me. The people who indulge in this kind of puerile behaviour annoy me. James Kelly annoys me.

You probably haven’t heard of this James Kelly. He has a blog called ‘Scot Goes Pop’ which sometimes offers mildly interesting analysis of polls. He should stick to that. Because when he starts telling his readers what others views, attitudes, opinions and positions are, he embarrasses himself with his ill-informed presumption.

It was recently brought to my attention that, in a fit of grotesque hauteur, Kelly had taken it upon himself to inform those readers that I was an advocate of a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) as a means of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. This came as a great surprise to those who informed me of Kelly’s dishonesty, and to anybody who, unlike the hapless Kelly, had taken the trouble to inform themselves. Needless to say, it also came as both a shock and an irritation to me as I had always supposed myself to be totally dismissive of the very concept of UDI. In fact, I had written frequently and at length about how inappropriate and inapplicable it is in the the context of Scotland’s constitutional issue.

Apparently, the bold Kelly knows better. Apparently, I am an ardent proponent of UDI. Apparently, I only needed some presumptuous little creep to point it out to me. You can imagine how grateful I am to said presumptuous little creep for putting me right on the content of my own mind.

I was not alone in being maliciously misrepresented by Kelly. Craig Murray was likewise informed that his position wasn’t what he’d always supposed it to be. He too was generously afforded the benefit of Kelly’s corrective wisdom. But Craig Murray was at least able to respond directly pointing out that Kelly is nowhere near as clever as he imagines. Not that Kelly paid the slightest attention. After all, what does Craig know about his own views on the process by which the independence campaign moves forward? Kelly is arrogant enough to suppose that his personal ‘interpretation’ takes precedence.

I was not able to directly refute Kelly’s lies because I am blocked from commenting on his blog. He denies this, of course. But he also claims that there is no means of blocking users on the blogging platform that he uses. Which, you won’t be surprised to discover, is another lie.

James Kelly has now followed up his original lies with another article which is, if anything, even more brazenly dishonest. I am not providing a link to it because I despise liars and don’t believe they should be encouraged or supported in any way.

The gist of Kelly’s fetid little diatribe is that, although I state that I do not advocate UDI, I actually advocate UDI. According to Kelly, everything I have said about UDI means the opposite of whatever I’ve said. The explanation for this weird perspective – insofar as there is one – appears to be that Kelly holds with the view that Scotland was ‘extinguished’ by the 1707 Acts of Union and that the only way Scotland’s constitutional status can be altered is with the gracious consent of the British political elite.

This objectionable absurdity was promulgated as part of the British state’s anti-independence propaganda effort during the 2014 referendum campaign. I shan’t trouble with refuting this nonsense here, Others have already done a more than adequate job in that regard. I would simply note that the individual now propounding the notion that Scotland doesn’t exist professes to be a supporter of the Yes movement.

It is this belief in the non-existence and powerlessness of Scotland which allows Kelly to stick a woefully simplistic UDI label on any suggested process which does not involve the democratically elected representatives of Scotland’s people going cap-in-hand to Westminster as supplicants craving favour from a power which is superior despite not having any mandate from the people of Scotland.

Thus, Kelly boldly asserts that what has come to be known as the #DissolveTheUnion position is promoting UDI, despite the complete and comprehensive rejection of UDI which is one of the defining features of that position. We have to keep reminding ourselves that James Kelly knows what any position is better than the people who subscribe to that position. You may opine that this makes him something of an arse. I couldn’t possibly comment.

Had this arse thought to do a little research; or – perish the thought – had he deigned to ask one of those who subscribe to the #DissolveTheUnion position what it means… But that was never going to happen. And, even if Kelly was informed of the facts, there is no reason to suppose he wouldn’t simply ignore them – as he did Craig Murray’s intervention – in favour of his own ‘superior’ knowledge.

For the benefit of those who are interested in the truth and wish some clarification, I am probably as well qualified as anyone to explain what is implied by #DissolveTheUnion. Certainly better qualified than James Kelly, notwithstanding his vaunting self-regard. I can claim to be so qualified on the grounds that I have been ‘officially’ credited by some ‘academics’ as the originator of the hashtag.

Let’s be clear about a couple of things! #DissolveTheUnion does not mean UDI. I do not advocate UDI – quite the contrary. James Kelly is obdurately and shamelessly lying on at least these two counts.

The thinking behind #DissolveTheUnion derives from the concept of framing/reframing. This is too complex a matter to describe in detail, and any attempt at a brief summary by me would doubtless meet with the disapproval of Bill Dale. What is relevant here is the very simple idea of turning an argument around. Reformulating the issue in a way that induces people to think differently about it. Or merely to think about it.

Those who subscribe to the #DissolveTheUnion position are persuaded that, for various reasons, it would be a mistake to adhere to the process which was followed in the 2014 referendum. What, for convenience, we refer to as the Section 30 process. Realising that a process in any way influenced by the British state is unlikely to be the best way forward – for reasons which should be obvious – an alternative is required.

Recognising also that there is no route to independence which does not involve breaking the rules devised by the British state for the purpose of preserving the Union, it is clear that the process chosen must involve more defiance than compliance. With characteristic opinionated finality, James Kelly asserts that,

Neither the Scottish government, nor the Scottish Parliament, has the legal power to “dissolve the union”.  There is no debate to be had over that – it is simply a fact.

He might as well have advised us to give up our aspirations. Because there is no way that either the Scottish government or the Scottish Parliament can possess that “legal power” until we overcome the obstacle of the British state withholding the relevant “legal power” from our Parliament.

Nothing happens unless and until the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament does something that it does not have the “legal power” to do. Nothing changes until the asserted authority of the British state to deny or constrain our right of self-determination is challenged – and defeated!

This is how Norway launched the process which led to the dissolution of the political union with Sweden. Norway breached the terms of that union and defied the Swedish state to stand in its way.

It is important to understand that this is not an alternative to a referendum. There can be no significant constitutional change without the informed consent of the people. The suggestion, by Kelly or anyone else, that those who favour the #DissolveTheUnion process are opposed to a referendum is either ignorant drivel or a malicious lie.

#DissolveTheUnion is merely a different process leading up to a referendum. Instead of pleading with our masters in London for permission to exercise or right of self-determination – or exercising it in a manner constrained by the British state’s self-serving rules – we assume the right to hold that referendum. We challenged the legitimacy of the British state’s effort to prevent or limit the exercise of our right of self-determination.

In the process, we turn the entire referendum debate on its head. No longer is the burden of ‘proof’ with those who propose normalising Scotland’s constitutional status. Instead, the onus is on those who would preserve the constitutional anomaly of the Union.

By declaring the dissolution of the Union on a given date, subject to a referendum on a given date, We have a fait accompli. The Union is effectively dissolved. British Nationalists must argue a case for the Union rather than against independence. While the Yes movement has the comparatively simple task of mounting a campaign against a Union whose detriment to Scotland has become painfully obvious.

Ironically, it would also achieve the one thing James Kelly talks sense about. It would inspire the people of Scotland. It would immediately arouse increased support for the Yes campaign.

Of course this is a bold move! Of course it is radical! But nothing less will suffice. So please beware of those peddling falsehoods about ideas they don’t understand.

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