Playing the game

scotlands_parliamentThe British establishment hates and fears the SNP because it is truly an alien force in their midst. It operates within the British political system, but is not part of the British political system. It has been inserted into the structures of power privilege and patronage which define the British state, but is is not beholden to those structures. It has been imposed upon established power by the people of Scotland, but refuses to accept that the latter are, as a consequence and condition, subordinate to the former.

By the British political elite’s own rules, the SNP formally represents the people of Scotland. It not only forms the administration at Holyrood, it also has the largest number of MPs, outnumbering all the British parties combined. In itself, this would not be a problem. It becomes a problem for the British establishment because the SNP doesn’t just insist on representing the people of Scotland, it insists on being accountable solely and exclusively to the people of Scotland.

From the British establishment’s point of view, this makes the SNP a serious menace. It cannot be controlled. It is not susceptible to the customary blandishments or vulnerable to the usual threats. At Westminster, the SNP group is taking the arcane rules and archaic procedures which are supposed to baffle and foil ‘rogue elements’ and turned those tools of suppression into weapons of mass disruption. The managers have no sanctions that aren’t likely to rebound on them. The manipulators can get no purchase. The ‘men in suits’ have no influence.

Conventional power always begets a countervailing power. The SNP represents an element of that countervailing power manifested in ways and places that the conventional power of the British establishment is totally unaccustomed to, unprepared for and bemused by. It’s just not supposed to be this way!

Some will seek to dismiss the SNP Westminster group’s behaviour, accusing them of ‘playing games’. But politics is a game. Or, at least, it is closely akin to a game in that it involves moves and counter-moves. The moves being made by Ian Blackford and his troops are not at all whimsical. The disruptive tactics are part of a larger strategy. There is a point to all of this which will become evident in due course.

In the meantime, British establishment figures will continue to protest. They will object indignantly that the SNP is not ‘playing the game’. The real reason for their discomfiture, however, is that the SNP is playing the game rather too well.

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Scotland the brand! Scotland the nation!

saltireI have particular reason to be aware of the importance of branding. In what is now very much a previous life, I gloried in the self-conferred job title of ‘Corporate Imaging Consultant’. I’m not sure how often or how much the jargon impressed. But I made a sort of living out of the work, which involved all aspects of a business’s ‘public facing’ communication, from logo, stationery and mission statement to website, print advertising and promotional materials. It was work that I enjoyed – mostly! The job required a combination of creative design, cognitive psychology and a certain degree of IT skill. It could be very satisfying.

There are two ways a business can be successful. It can succeed at selling products or services. Or it can succeed by creating a brand. If you’re selling products or services in a dynamic market, you have to be constantly innovating and adapting to the changing environment. The product or service you’re selling may change from year to year, or possibly even more frequently. And the ‘story’ you’re telling about that product or service will also have to change. It will need to be constantly revised and updated to reflect changes in the product or service and/or changes in the market.

If you create a successful brand, it never changes. Or very, very rarely. The ‘story’ associated with the brand is constant and consistent. Maintain the brand identity and reputation and you can use it to sell pretty much any product or service – so long as it doesn’t damage the brand’s public image. This affords great flexibility. While the feet of the business are paddling furiously under the surface in an effort to keep abreast of the market and, hopefully, ahead of competitors, the brand glides gracefully and serenely in the public gaze.

Branding is important. Branding is crucial. You don’t mess with the brand!

An effective brand doesn’t sell a product or service. It conveys a set of values and associations; as well as various abstract qualities, such as speed or comfort or reliability. It doesn’t make you want something. It makes you feel something. Perhaps more than anything, the brand offers reassurance. A brand which represents the appropriate values and associations allows the prospective purchaser to feel confident that they are making a wise choice.

Unless you’re a British Nationalist politician, you can probably see where this is going.

There is no doubt that ‘Scotland’ is a brand. There is no question that, as a brand, it is hugely successful and immensely valuable. In fact, ‘Scotland’ is a ‘meta-brand’. It is a brand which, when overlaid on it, supplements and augments a corporate brand. Spring water is good. Scottish spring water is better. Scottish spring water is automatically and always better. It is better, not on account of the product – although this must be of a suitable quality – but on account of the ‘Scottish’ branding.

Unless you’re a British Nationalist politician, you’ll be able to see the value in this. You’ll be able to see how ‘Scotland’, the brand, gives producers and providers an edge. You’ll understand how it adds a premium.

There is no escaping the fact that ‘Scotland’ the brand is in jeopardy. It is under threat of being diminished and diluted and discredited. So-called ‘Union Jackery’ is a very real phenomenon. Particularly in the case of food and drink, the Scottish brand, is being actively eroded by an onslaught of Union Jack (mis)labelling which is totally inexplicable and unjustifiable in business terms. You don’t mess with the brand!

So, how are we to explain this phenomenon? What might trump the value of the ‘Scottish’ brand? We can surely discount a commercial motive. It is simply not credible that anyone could suppose this ‘Union Jackery’ might improve the market appeal of the products involved. You just don’t mess with the brand! There is almost always a cost to doing so. Spring water that is selling well because of its ‘Scottish’ branding isn’t going to sell better by having the values and associations of that brand undermined.

If anybody calling themselves a ‘Corporate Imaging Consultant’ recommended switching the branding from ‘Scottish’ to ‘British’ then they shouldn’t just be sacked, they should be forced to change their own name and live out the rest of their deservedly miserable lives as ‘Garry Glitter’.

The only other thing that might override the economic imperative is some pressing political consideration. There is no commercial logic to the destruction of ‘Scotland’, the brand. But there may be political logic. If you are a ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist politician who believes as an unshakeable tenet of that vile ideology that Scotland was ‘extinguished’ by the Union; and whose driving ambition is to make that obliteration a reality.

Ruth Watson is being perfectly honest when she says that #KeepScotlandTheBrand is “not party political”. Nor is the campaign to save ‘Scottish’ branding directly linked to the campaign to the Yes movement. But ‘Scotland’ is more than a commercial brand. It is not possible to entirely separate the effort to preserve Scotland’s name and commercial value as a brand from the fight to defend Scotland’s identity and political distinctiveness as a nation.

Everybody in Scotland should be part of both campaigns. Unless you’re a British Nationalist politician.

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For the sake of sanity

nhs_threatI sincerely hope people read this article in full. Morag and Ulrich Fischer provide an insightful and informed overview of Scotland’s mental health services. It’s by no means an entirely favourable review. It is clear that much remains to be done. Overall, the article conveys a distinct sense of hope and confidence. But there are also evident concerns.

These concerns relate, in some measure, to the fact that Scotland’s mental health services are under serious pressure. But such pressure is an inherent characteristic of a genuine public health system in which the overarching principle of universal care free at the point of need must be fully honoured while striving to resolve the intractable problem of potentially infinite demand chasing severely limited resources. That is what our health workers do. All of them. Doctors and managers and nurses and cleaners and all the rest. They cope with the demands. They manage the resources. They deal with the pressure. That is their job. And, whatever the British politicians squatting in the Scottish Parliament say, they do that job remarkably well.

When elective and/or non-critical procedures are postponed in order to free-up capacity to deal with some extraordinary demand, this is not a failure on the part of health service workers as those British politicians would have you believe. This is just them doing their job.

In order to do this job; in order to cope with the pressure, there is one thing that the people who run Scotland’s NHS absolutely require above anything else – even money. They need control. Without an appropriate level of control, normal workaday pressure becomes intolerable stress. It is not pressure that breaks systems or people. It is the stress of responsibility without authority; expectation without capacity; aspiration without hope; pressure without control.

There are striking parallels between factors affecting the mental well-being of individuals and those which impact on the functional ‘health’ of groups, organisations, communities and even nations. Lack of control is one example. Insecurity is another. When an individual is under pressure to perform (or conform) but is deprived of the relevant choices, that individual will experience stress and suffer a deterioration in their mental health. This will always be the case. Only the degree of deterioration will vary from person to person.

Similarly, when an organisation, community or nation is under pressure to achieve defined goals while being denied the decision-making power that is required, that entity too will tend to become dysfunctional.

Insecurity arises when such ability to choose as the individual may possess – or believe they possess – comes under threat. Or when whatever limited decision-making power exists within the organisation, community or nation is perceived to be in jeopardy.

Morag and Ulrich Fischer recognise the threat. They feel the insecurity. Having described the successes and ongoing efforts and continuing progress in Scotland’s mental health services, they issue a stark warning.

All this might be under threat should we allow Westminster to ride roughshod over devolved powers.

That warning must be heeded. We must not allow Westminster to strip powers from the Scottish Parliament. We must cease to tolerate the withholding of powers that rightfully belong with the Scottish Parliament.

We must categorically reject the British state’s asserted veto over Scotland’s right of self-determination.

We must loudly and vehemently denounce the anti-democratic British Nationalists who would deny us the opportunity to choose a different way.

We must dissolve the Union!

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The only test

moneyWhile not taking a position either for or against immediate implementation of an independent currency, I am obliged to note a rather obvious flaw in Richard Murphy’s criticism of ‘sterlingisation’ as a transitional option. His analysis appears to assume that the rUK government will invariably follow a path on monetary policy which is detrimental to Scotland’s economy. At the very least, he seems to anticipate that the rUK government will tend to act against, or in reckless disregard of, Scotland’s economic interests. How realistic is this?

Until such time as the economies of Scotland and rUK diverge significantly, it is likely that the same monetary policy will accommodate considerable difference in fiscal policy. One might wonder what is the point of rushing to set up an independent currency and all the accompanying institutions and apparatus if the monetary policy choices, being constrained by broadly the same internal and external circumstances, turn out to be identical.

One might well ask what monetary policy choices the rUK government might make which would be detrimental to Scotland but not to rUK. What scope might there be for decisions on interest rates, for example, which would harm Scotland’s economy but have no negative impact on the economy of rUK?

It is easy to see how this might come to be the case in the longer term. But there is no way of knowing in advance to what extent and at what pace the economies might diverge. That would depend very much on the fiscal and social policies followed in each and how these affect the economy as a whole. Initially, and in the short term, monetary policy is likely to be of little importance. And the governments of both nations will know well in advance that the point is approaching when differences in the shape and performance of their economies render a common monetary policy untenable.

That is why what actually matters is, not what currency arrangements Scotland has immediately upon independence being restored, but that the democratically elected government has the power to alter those arrangement as it sees fit, acting in Scotland’s interests.

So-called ‘sterlingisation’, or even full currency union, are both viable options. As, of course, is an independent currency. There is no single currency arrangement which is absolutely guaranteed to be the best arrangement in all circumstances and for all time. All options have pros and cons; political as well as economic; now and, potentially, in the future. What is absolutely crucial is that the government of independent Scotland should have the capacity to manage the nation’s currency arrangements according to the circumstances which prevail and the best information available about how those circumstances are going to change.

Even more crucial, perhaps, is that the people of Scotland have full confidence in our ability to manage our currency arrangements and every other aspect of our nation’s affairs. For, if we lack that confidence, how can we even contemplate independence?

It is essential, also, to realise that we are under no obligation to satisfy the British state that we have the ‘correct’ currency arrangements worked out in advance in order to ‘qualify’ for independence. If that were the case, than independence would never happen. If we afford the British state the authority to set tests that we must pass, they will never allow that Scotland has qualified.

Only one test matters. Only one test is relevant. Only one test is legitimate. And that is a test of the will of the sovereign people of Scotland.

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Every little thing they do

trump_balloonCould this be the deceptively thin but darkly portentous end of a metaphorical wedge? We know that the British political elite are motivated to seek, contrive and exploit every opportunity to undermine the Scottish Government. Devolution itself, initially intended as a device to kill the cause of independence “stone dead”, latterly has been reshaped as a political and economic weapon wielded against the SNP administration.

Powers over such things as taxation and welfare have been transferred to the Scottish Parliament, not for the purpose of further empowering the Parliament or improving Scotland’s governance or enhancing our democracy, but as a complex of political and fiscal traps designed to make life as difficult as possible for the Scottish Government and force the SNP administration into implementing unpopular policies. The British parties would then reap the benefit of the SNP’s declining electoral fortunes without the need to improve their own appeal to voters.

To work effectively, a tax/benefit regime must function as a coherent, integrated system. Having partial control over disparate bits of that system is just about the worst imaginable arrangement. Having control divided between two administrations operating in increasingly divergent political cultures and under very different sets of priorities, is a form of fiscal madness. Unless, of course, the intention is that the whole thing should fail, with blame for said failure being heaped onto the shoulders of the Scottish Government.

It is surely a source of huge frustration to the British political elite that the SNP administration has so adroitly managed to avoid the worst of these political and fiscal traps. Thanks to the efforts of people such as John Swinney, Derek Mackay and the remarkable Jeane Freeman, the newly devolved powers over tax and welfare have been deployed in such a way that the Scottish Government’s reputation has been enhanced rather than destroyed, and the SNP’s popularity with the electorate remains undiminished.

But the imperative to force failure on Scotland remains. So it is that, to give but one example, Police Scotland was long denied VAT exemption so that the British media could trumpet endlessly and gleefully about the ‘crisis’ facing the service and its always imminent bankruptcy.

So why wouldn’t the British establishment’s first thought in the situation under discussion not be to seize the opportunity to create a problem for the Scottish Government? At the very least, they get a chance to accuse the SNP administration of pursuing another ‘grievance’ against the UK Government. As if simply labelling it a ‘grievance’ invalidated the complaint.

I’m not suggesting that Theresa May invited Trump to visit just so Police Scotland would be hit with a massive bill. Although, on the basis of all evidence, it would be foolish to discount the possibility of any manifestation of political insanity. But it is more probable that, like so much of what the current UK Government does, this situation was totally unplanned and completely unforeseen. Nonetheless, it seems the first thought on encountering the situation was to use it as a means of damaging Police Scotland and, thereby, the Scottish Government.

It’s a matter of attitude. And the British establishment’s attitude towards Scotland is one of increasing hostility. An ethos has developed within the apparatus of the British state that regards an aggressively uncooperative stance towards Scotland as the default. This is not accidental. This is an ethos which has been purposefully fostered by a British political elite eager to roll back the experiment of devolution which has failed both as a means of halting Scotland’s march to independence and as a weapon against political forces which presume to challenge the established order.

The real story here is, not a £5 million bill being foisted on Police Scotland despite all considerations of precedent and basic fairness, but the fact that this sort of behaviour is now standard operating procedure for a British government determined to bring Scotland to heel. It will only get worse so long as Scotland remains in a political union which gives British politicians the means and the licence to treat us with utter contempt.

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Mind your language!

saltire_breakoutIt is disappointing to find The National referring to “the NHS”, as if there were a single UK-wide health service. The British media and the British political parties habitually conflate NHS Scotland with NHS England in order to taint the Scottish health service with the defects and failings of its English counterpart. If it is to effectively offer an alternative perspective on Scotland, it is essential that The National avoids such misleading terms.

As we gear up for a new referendum campaign, we must all play a part in reframing Scotland’s political discourse. When the British propaganda machine refers to “the NHS” this is not mere carelessness. It is intentional. It is part of a purposeful effort to confine the narrative to a particular frame – the frame of a ‘One Nation’ British state. We must emphatically reject this frame. We must reclaim our language. We must create our own narrative. We must reframe our entire political discourse.

Scotland is a nation. It is not part of another nation. We are not seeking independence from another nation. Scotland is not ‘un-independent’. Scotland is an independent nation within a political union. We are not seeking independence from ‘Britain’. Britain does not exist as a country. It exists only as a convenient myth created by and on behalf of a British ruling elite. Britain is not a nation. It is the structures of power, privilege and patronage which support and sustain that ruling elite. It is a system by which the few ensure that their interests are served at the expense of the many.

The political union which has been imposed on Scotland is democratically unsustainable because it denies Scotland’s status as a nation and prohibits the effective exercise by Scotland’s people of the sovereignty that is inalienably theirs. Historically, the British state has maintained its grip on Scotland by persuading enough of us that we are subordinate. Language plays a huge part in this process. The wilful discounting of Scotland’s separate health service being just one example.

With the evolution of a distinctive and increasingly divergent political culture in Scotland, more and more people are questioning the myth of the British nation and challenging the asserted authority of the British political elite. People are no longer inclined to meekly accept that Westminster can have a veto on their right of self-determination. People are more inclined to openly and loudly protest the efforts to subordinate Scotland to the British Crown in the British Parliament.

Realising that the Union can no longer be held together with pomp, pageantry and propaganda, the British establishment has resolved to formally strip Scotland of its status as a nation using the opportunity presented by Brexit.

If we are to successfully resist this malignant ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project, we must escape the mindset inculcated in us over generations of immersion in a narrative shaped by, and for the purposes of, the ruling elites of the British state . We must do this in ways large and small. By insisting on the distinction between NHS Scotland and the rapidly disintegrating remnants of England’s health service. By exacting respect for our democratic institutions and elected representatives. By requiring an end to the withholding of powers from the Scottish Parliament.

By demanding that the Union be dissolved.

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yesIn order to take this swivel-eyed scaremongering about Siol nan Gaidheal seriously, you have to believe some stuff that is every bit as crazy as the delusional drivel subscribed to by that insignificant band of brain-dead ‘blood and soil’ nationalists. You have to believe that Scotland in 2018 is just like Germany in 1928, with social and economic conditions and a political culture which combine to provide fertile ground for the rise of fascism.

You must also believe that Siol nan Gaidheal is, not a semi-detached support group for the socially inadequate, scientifically illiterate and pathologically sad, but a terrifying reincarnation of Hitler’s Nazis, faithful to the obscene original in every sordid detail and just as politically effective.

You then must eschew all further reflection that might risk exposing the insulting ridiculousness of this demented fantasy and proceed directly to death-camps on the outskirts of Auchterarder where Siol nan Gaidheal‘s psychopathic minions implement the ‘Final Solution’ to the ‘White Settler’ problem with all the cold, heartless, mechanical efficiency for which the Gaelic master-race is renowned.

Those who seek to put Siol nan Gaidheal on a historical pedestal alongside the Nazis would doubtless respond to my dismissive attitude by insisting that there are similarities between the ideologies and by incessantly referring to Karl Popper’s Paradox of Tolerance. But similarity doesn’t imply equivalence any more than correlation implies causality. And, while they bang on about Popper, they assiduously ‘forget’ to mention that what he was warning against was unlimited tolerance of the intolerant, Which, to the best of my knowledge, nobody has proposed. I certainly did not.

At no time did Popper suggest we abandon all reason and sense of perspective and treat every instance of vaguely politically organised intolerance as if it represented an immediate threat to democratic civilisation. It is worth contrasting his reasoned argument with the grotesque exaggerations and frantic virtue signalling of the Angry Villagers.

Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.

What Jason Michael and others are presenting is an absolutist perversion of Popper’s analysis in which suppression is the first resort rather than the last and rational assessment of the threat is foregone altogether. It is a form of madness on a par with anything spouted by Siol nan Gaidheal. and arguably more pernicious. Because, while the threat to democracy posed by Siol nan Gaidheal is too small to be measured, the absolute intolerance proposed by Jason Michael is a very real threat to the Yes movement.

I repeat, with not the slightest hope that the import of the words will register on those intent on engineering an irrational fear of Siol nan Gaidheal, that nobody is suggesting unlimited tolerance of fascism. My own remarks on the matter are perfectly clear despite much malicious misrepresentation by others. Far from suggesting unlimited tolerance, I don’t suggest any tolerance at all. I merely point out that the Yes movement, as it is presently constituted, has no mechanisms by which to suppress – or exclude – any individual or group. Further to this, I assert that creating such mechanisms necessarily and irrevocably alters the fundamental nature of the Yes movement – in ways that many might regard as unfortunate, if not catastrophic.

Unlike Jason – who apparently believes that the people of Scotland are one Siol nan Gaidheal slogan away from descent into rabid fascism – I am totally confident that society as whole is perfectly capable of providing the appropriate level of suppression whenever it may be required. There is no need to destroy the Yes movement in order to save Scotland from the Siol nan Gaidheal bogey-man. Scotland does not so readily succumb to bogey-men.

Which brings us to the final bit of Jason’s inanity which I intend to address in what will be my last contribution to an exchange which has been as depressing and dispiriting for me as I’m sure it has been for all who value the Yes movement.

In the article referred to earlier I set out what I consider makes the Yes movement special, if not unique.

The Yes movement that I have known and cherished is open and inclusive. It is totally open and inclusive. It is open and inclusive, not because those who are part of the Yes movement choose that it should be so, but because it is incapable of being anything else. By it’s very nature, the Yes movement cannot be other than open and inclusive. It is devoid of the capacity to be exclusive. It lacks the structures, the hierarchies, the regulations and the apparatus required in order to formally include or exclude anyone.

Jason, and others, are quite explicit about their desire to destroy the fundamental character of the Yes movement by creating mechanisms by which any group or individual might be excluded. They say it’s only in relation to Siol nan Gaidheal. But when did it ever happen that the power of patronage was left unused having become available? Once mechanisms exist by which inclusion may be offered or exclusion threatened, that power will be used. That’s just the way the world is. That’s just the way people are.

I made myself unpopular by asking awkward questions about who exactly would wield this power of patronage newly created within what was formerly known as the Yes movement. Once the principle is accepted that inclusion in the Yes movement is conditional on satisfactorily passing a test of motives (Or whatever other tests may be devised. They tend to proliferate.), then all motives must be scrutinised. And some authority has to do the scrutinising. Some authority has to administer the test. Some authority has to adjudicate on who is deemed fit to be part of the Yes movement. Who would take on this authority?

Jason imagines he gets around this issue by proposing that it should be a matter of “general consensus”. More acute readers would immediately think of the obvious question which Jason is at pains to avoid either asking or answering – who decides when this “general consensus” has been arrived at? All this does is shift the power of patronage dangerously towards anonymity. It resolves precisely nothing.

Creating mechanisms by which any individual or group can be excluded and placing inclusion in the gift of some self-appointed, unaccountable clique spells the end of the Yes movement as we have known it. Worse! It destroys the essential inclusive character of the Yes movement for no good reason. It serves no purpose which is not already very adequately fulfilled by society as a whole.

At best, it is wantonly irresponsible. At worst, it is yet another attempt by some elitist clique to take ownership and control of the Yes movement. Either way, it is intolerable.

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