The SNP needs a jolt of Yes energy

nicolaThat was all going swimmingly… until the final paragraph. Lesley Riddoch’s analysis of the BBC’s “problem of properly representing Scotland” is, as we would expect, accurate and insightful. Although I would suggest that, given the corporation’s remit to preserve the integrity of the UK, the question is, not so much whether senior BBC managers can personally accept the possibility of Scottish independence, but whether they can allow this possibility to be publicly acknowledged.

It is slightly curious, too, that Ms Riddoch neglects to mention the extent to which British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) is embedded in BBC Scotland. Perhaps she thought that, since her focus was the constitutional issue, it was acceptable and appropriate to gloss over the party political aspects of the BBC’s “problem of properly representing Scotland”. Or maybe she just considered it redundant to remind us of BBC Scotland’s tendency to look and sound like the broadcasting arm of BLiS.

These quibbles aside , Lesley Riddoch has it about right with regard to what I have referred to as the “jarring disconnect” between the BBC and Scotland’s politics.

In Scotland, the concept of independence has been normalised. In the BBC, it never can be. The big question, therefore, is this – how can the BBC possibly serve an audience in Scotland when it is so evidently inherently incapable of relating to that audience?

She’s not far off the mark in her criticism of the SNP either. Even someone like myself, who is often accused of ‘blind partisan loyalty’, can readily agree with Ms Riddoch’s conclusion that the party is failing to provide the leadership that the independence movement requires – and requires rather urgently.

Two things need further explanation hear. Firstly, the concept of leadership has to be understood in this context, not as the movement being led by the SNP, but as the movement taking its lead from the SNP. This is very much in keeping with what Lesley Riddoch sees as a “miss by the SNP”.

At the start of 2018, Nicola Sturgeon famously called for “a new spirit of Scottish assertiveness“. It has to be said that, while the “emboldened, more confident and more assertive nation” that she envisaged emerging in the course of this year has been increasingly evident on the streets and on the web, it has been noticeably less evident in the SNP’s rhetoric on the constitutional issue.

There is no doubt that the SNP could have done a great deal more to reflect the growing assertiveness of the grassroots independence campaign and help convey to a wider public the sense of anger and urgency which is now as much part of the spirit of the Yes movement as hope and determination.

Whether this would have influenced the output of BBC Scotland in any way is questionable. But the effort should be made – and be seen to be made.

The second thing that needs to be expanded upon is the facile accusation of ‘blind partisan loyalty’ levelled against those who are willing to run the gauntlet of such vacuous vilification in order to emphasise the crucial role that the SNP plays – as a party and as an administration – in providing the focus for the coming referendum campaign and the effective political power which that campaign requires. Stating that the SNP is essential to the independence cause is not evidence of blinkered loyalty to the party, but of commitment to the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence combined with a pragmatic appreciation of how this will be achieved.

Which brings us to where Lesley Riddoch goes wrong. The suggestion that even a “properly organised and funded Scottish Independence Convention” might be some kind of alternative to the SNP is fallacious. I wrote the following a year ago, and have found no reason to change my view since then.

I have great difficulty seeing how SIC can credibly speak for the grass-roots Yes movement when it is so predominantly given over to a relatively small but inordinately assertive faction founded on a simplistic belief that ‘radical’ is synonymous with ‘righteous’.

Most of all, I worry that SIC has no popular mandate; nor any means of acquiring one. I worry, too, that the SIC – and thereby the aforementioned faction of ‘righteous radicals’ – intends to ‘piggy-back’ on the electoral mandate of the SNP in a way that will be found unacceptable by the party’s membership and considered inappropriate by the general public.

In order to succeed, the independence movement needs effective political power. In order to be effective, that political power must have democratic legitimacy. It is not obvious how SIC might achieve this. It’s not even clear that the importance of democratic legitimacy is recognised by those in charge of SIC.

All of this remains true no matter how much the SNP is seen as failing – or inadequately serving – the cause of independence at any given moment. The party may occasionally disappoint. But that cannot be a justification for giving up on it and directing our energies elsewhere. Rather, when we feel that the SNP is flagging, we should be motivated to redouble our efforts to get it back on track.


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Conspiracy as an emergent property of organisations

The following is adapted from an article titled Unconscious bias
which was originally published by Indyref2 on 15 August 2016.

bbc_north_britainWhen assessing the BBC’s coverage of Scottish politics and the now undeniable bias in favour of the British establishment it would be a mistake to think in terms of a formal conspiracy. If you’re imagining a cabal of managers, producers, directors, journalists and presenters secretly conniving together to do down the SNP and the independence movement, you are entertaining a fantasy. There is no organised plot. Nor is there any need for such a thing. What, with hindsight, has all the appearance of having been carefully contrived is, in fact, no more than the incidental outcome of an ‘organic’ process with no purpose or direction.

Just as ‘misreporting’ may be indistinguishable from deliberate dishonesty, so what looks like a conspiracy may be only a mirage. It may be no more than the impression left on history by lots of unconnected, or only loosely connected, events. It may be a pattern without a plan. It may be conspiracy as an emergent property of an organisation which, not being effectively managed towards its true purpose, tends towards the dominant agenda within its own structures.

All that is required for the appearance of conspiracy to emerge is that there should be a sufficient number of people; with a sufficient amount of influence; and a sufficient commonality of interest.

This is what has happened in the BBC. And most particularly in BBC Scotland. It is not wholly accurate to say that either is institutionally biased; although the BBC is undoubtedly the broadcasting arm of the British establishment and can be expected to behave accordingly. It would be more apt to describe BBC Scotland as organisationally, or structurally, biased. Over time, a self-perpetuating and self-reinforcing process has led to the organisation being populated with people drawn from, or with intimate connections to, a Scottish political establishment that was, for a formative period of decades, the almost exclusive province of British Labour in Scotland (BLiS). BBC Scotland is stuffed with people who still regard what they like to call “Scottish Labour” as rightfully the dominant force in Scottish politics. Many are inclined to treat it as if it still is. They genuinely see nothing wrong in packing every studio panel with BLiS worthies because they cannot accept how irrelevant the pretendy wee party has become.

The inevitable corollary to this collective and largely unconscious (or unthinking?) pro-British/pro-union/pro-BLiS bias is antipathy to the SNP. After all, the SNP has not only supplanted BLiS as the primary force in Scottish party politics, but also represents a threat to the British state, which the BBC is institutionally inclined to regard as the ‘natural order’.

Obviously, this is a problem. For the public service broadcaster to have succumbed to organisational bias is a very serious issue for the functioning of democracy in Scotland. But in order to properly address a problem it is first necessary to understand it. To think in terms of conspiratorial plotting is to miss the point. This is a management problem. Or, more precisely, a problem of management failure.

I have no background in broadcasting. But the basics of good management are pretty much universal. They apply to every organisation. And it is glaringly obvious to me that BBC management has failed abysmally. I firmly believe that the BBC is institutionally sound. Moreover, I regard it as a crucial bastion of public service broadcasting. I have to recognise, however, that the BBC is in danger of being delivered into the hands of those who, for political or commercial motives or both, would see it destroyed. It is being betrayed by a generalised failure of management.

It’s unlikely that there are any high-level meetings of BBC executives at which a propaganda strategy against Scotland’s independence movement is discussed and formulated. It is improbable that instructions go out from senior managers to be acted upon by the lower echelons. It’s actually worse than that. BBC management have, by their incompetence, permitted the development of an environment – an ethos – in which these things, quite literally, just happen.


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A jarring disconnect

bbc_union_at_any_costI realise that Alex Salmond is being politic when he says that the situation has “seemingly been resolved“. But, of course, it hasn’t. The Wings Over Scotland YouTube channel may have been restored but, at the time of writing, Peter Curran’s channel has not. To the very limited extent that the process by which these channels were targeted has been explained, it appears that it was the same in both both cases. So, why has one been restored and the other not?

Could it have anything to do with the fact that Wings Over Scotland has a higher public profile? Or is it just another instance of incompetence on the part of BBC management? Did they think, by backing down on Wings Over Scotland, they’d done the minimum necessary to placate an extremely irate public? Or did the just forget about the other channel they’d targeted?

All of which amounts to no more than a wee sampling of the questions that remain to be answered by the BBC. From where I’m standing – and I suspect I’m far from alone in this – two possible explanations present themselves. Either this was a politically motivated action launched by the BBC on its own initiative; or it was a politically motivated action launched by the BBC at the behest of some third party. The circumstances make it impossible to plausibly deny the political motivation. To even attempt such a denial would only further damage what little credibility the BBC retains in Scotland.

The key questions here relate to who within the BBC makes these decisions and on what authority. It is important not to get carried away with conspiracy theories. It seems highly unlikely that there is, within the ranks of BBC bureaucracy, a coordinated and continuing plot to undermine Scotland’s independence campaign. Not least because there is so little reason to believe that there is, within the ranks of BBC bureaucracy, anybody capable of managing such a complex long-term project.

It is, in fact, easier to believe that it is all an accident. At least in the sense that there is no planning of particulars or consideration of consequences. No great conspiracy is necessary to explain the BBC’s behaviour in what we must bear in mind is merely a highly visible example of the kind of political bias that has been so much part of the media landscape in Scotland for so long that the general public had ceased to notice it. It is precisely because people such as Peter Curran and Stu Campbell throw a spotlight on the bias that they have been targeted. And, make no mistake, more would have followed if the BBC and/or the ‘third party’ had got away with it.

This political bias is not – or, at least, is not necessarily – a sign of some carefully orchestrated plan to counter Scotland’s independence movement. Rather, it is a symptom of an ethos in which the structures, systems and processes of the British state are unquestioningly assumed to be the norm. ‘British’ is the standard by which all things are judged. Anything perceived as challenging this unexamined assumption of British superiority is automatically and unthinkingly regarded as being outwith the realm of ‘normal’ politics. The customary rules don’t apply. There is a pervasive attitude that it’s only those uppity Jocks, so it doesn’t matter.

This attitude isn’t confined to the BBC. It infects the entire British establishment. It can be seen in the treatment of SNP MPs at Westminster. It can be seen in the contempt shown by the British political elite for the Scottish Parliament. It can be seen in the way the British parties squatting in the Scottish Parliament constantly seek to denigrate Scotland.

It can be seen in the behaviour of the British media – and the BBC in particular.

Who made the decision to have those two YouTube channels taken down? Almost certainly some anonymous and insignificant BBC functionary. On what authority? None was needed. These sites being something to do with Scottish (non-British) politics, it was simply taken for granted that it would be acceptable, if not expected. Normal constraints and considerations didn’t apply. Such is the ethos that prevails within the BBC.

There is a massive and jarring disconnect here. In Scotland, the concept of independence has been normalised. In the BBC, it never can be. The big question, therefore, is this – how can the BBC possibly serve an audience in Scotland when it is so evidently inherently incapable of relating to that audience?


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A can of worms

alex_salmondThat someone as prominent as Alex Salmond has elected to intervene in what I wearily suppose will shortly be dubbed the ‘Wingsgate’ scandal, is quite significant. If nothing else, it serves to demonstrate just how important alternative media have become.

His intervention is doubly significant for the fact that, as well as concisely stating the points that the BBC must respond to in relation to its evidently selective and seemingly ill-founded copyright infringement complaint against Wings Over Scotland, Mr Salmond has broadened the issue to include the rights of persons appearing in the excerpts which have been removed from the public domain due to the BBC’s action. And he has introduced the further matter of the BBC’s apparent failure to remove material which has been found to be in breach of its own guidelines.

It looks increasingly like the corporation has opened a very large can of worms here. And that this can of worms may well keep on getting bigger as the ‘Wingsgate’ affair becomes a vehicle for other long-festering grievances against the BBC. This is the sort of thing which can lead to demands for some kind of public inquiry as a plethora of issues previously dismissed as trivial and/or exceptional are resurrected and tagged onto or rolled into the one which has sufficient mass and momentum to carry them.

That the BBC has got itself into this situation amply demonstrates the dumb arrogance of unaccountable power. Anyone with so much as the tip of their smallest finger on the pulse of Scottish politics could have predicted the furore which would ensue from closing down the Wings Over Scotland YouTube channel. Either the BBC was aware of the hornets’ nest that it was poking and simply didn’t care, or it was allowing decisions to be made by people lacking even a basic awareness of what they were dealing with. Whichever it was, it looks like an appalling failure of management.

And where is the outcry from self-styled ‘professional’ journalists? Where are the frenzied denunciations of ‘gagging’ and high-minded defences of freedom of expression? Mainstream journalists managed to work themselves into a steaming lather of righteous indignation over perfectly justified criticism of certain members of their cosy little clique. But they are curiously silent in the face of an all too real attack on free speech that is ominously reminiscent of TV stations being closed down by some tyrannical regime.

Perhaps Alex Salmond’s intervention will rouse those somnolent and indolent hacks. But if the evidence of the past is any guide their mercenary ire will directed, not against the BBC, but against Salmond. If these loyal servants of the British state are true to tediously predictable form then we can expect that ‘Wingsgate’ will be spun as the SNP trying to ‘intimidate’ and ‘silence’ the BBC.

It’s all very British.


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Then what?

sunday_politicsI rarely watch the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland show. It is presented by Sarah Smith and Gordon Brewer. But that’s not the only reason I don’t watch it. The thing is, I don’t need to. I always know – with an adequate degree of certainty – what it will be about. I know, because I understand what is the function of the programme. It’s function is to lend the authority of the state broadcaster to whatever stories the print media has been peddling over the preceding week. In that respect, Sunday Politics Scotland is no more than a weekend version of BBC Scotland’s daily news and current affairs output. All are there merely to stamp the latest British Nationalist propaganda with the imprimatur of an institution which is able to exploit the residual respect afforded to what was once the most respected news organisation in the world.

The stories which these programmes seek to furnish with a veneer of credibility fall broadly into three categories –

  • SNP: Spawn of Beelzebub? Or imps of Satan?
  • Crisis threatens [insert name of Scottish institution or public service]!
  • Scotland: Hellhole? Or cesspit?

Whether it’s distributing incendiary baby boxes or denying jakies the gut-rot they crave, the SNP is always wrong. Whether it’s NHS Scotland or Police Scotland or anything else that might be somehow associated with Scotland, it’s a day away from total collapse, and has been since the hated SNP forced their way into government by the devious ploy of persuading people to vote for them time after time. Whether it’s potholes or potheads, Scotland is the worst. You know the sort of thing I mean. The papers are filled with it every day. A persistent current of nasty negativity, deliberate distortion and downright dishonesty.

The BBC’s role is to bring an air of gravitas to all of this. We’re all supposed to take it seriously because it was on the Beeb. All too many do just that. Because it’s TV (and radio) where time is a major constraint, what the BBC serves up is a distillation of the bile, bunkum and bullshit fed to us by the print media. A short, sharp jolt of extra-strong lies. Where the press is the hose spraying us with propaganda, TV is the hypodermic injecting it straight into the brain.

So, I don’t bother watching the likes of the Sunday Politics Scotland. If I’ve been following the news cycle, I can pretty much predict what will be on the programme. And I can be quite certain about how it will be presented.

The people, too, will be familiar types. Mostly British politicians peddling the promises and platitudes and pieties and slogans and soundbites and sophisms which are their stock-in-trade. They will point fingers of blame at one another as each denounces policies and actions they only lately espoused and will later embrace again whilst being ‘very clear’ that they have never/always favoured those policies and actions – delete as appropriate. They will condemn failures and weakness and incompetence and corruption until it seems that all is failure; all is weakness; all is incompetence; all is corruption.

They will offer alternatives that always turn out to be indistinguishable from the other alternatives. They will talk of new directions, but always it’s the same destination. They will dance the dance of faux rivalry. They will perform the familiar ritual. They will go through the well-practiced motions.

In a supporting role, the ‘experts’ are there to present selected facts with an air of scientific certainty that is supposed to be reassuring. Their task is to give an impression of order and control. The solidity of statistics and research is offered as a remedy for the rambling rhetoric of politicians.

Then there are the pundits and commentators who are brought on to interpret it all for the benefit of viewers assumed to be afflicted by the intellectual equivalent of dental caries brought on by a syrupy diet of sport, soaps and celebs.

The journalists tend to stick dutifully to a cosy consensus defined by the London-centric corporate media. They don’t see it as their job to challenge the narrative of established power. They don’t ask awkward questions. They don’t offer insightful analysis. They are as immersed in the British political system as the politicians. They are as much a part of the British establishment. They are as embedded in the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.

Other than the ‘political correspondents’ of approved publications, the talking heads seem to be drawn at random from a pool of people whose qualifications are never quite clear. Katharine Mary Grant, better known as Katie, seems typical.  Her credentials as a commentator on Scottish politics appear to consist of being a minor member of the British aristocracy who has written some children’s books and penned opinion pieces for various organs representing the more rabid and ranty fringes of right-wing British politics.

Ms Grant gives the impression of having breakfasted well on generous helpings of Smugabix. She oozes the assured, self-righteous pomposity that comes from a life of easy advantage and an absolute conviction of British exceptionalism. She is there to comment on things that she cannot possibly comprehend. It is this lack of comprehension which qualifies her to appear on the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland show. She is able to present the British establishment perspective untainted by any awareness of the reality and unsullied by any relevant experience. Being wrapped in the cocoon of a prestigious BBC current affairs programme is supposed to normalise this perspective.

180505_marchI didn’t watch the edition of Sunday Politics Scotland on which Katie Grant appeared recently. I am, however, reliably informed that, delivering her haughtily disdainful verdict on the the All Under One Banner march in Glasgow the previous day (Saturday 5 May), she posed a question which should probably be read with a tone of sneering incredulity.

It looks like a body that wants one thing. But if they ever got that thing then what would happen?

Interesting and informative as it might be to dissect and analyse this comment in some detail, I’m going to focus on the bit where she asks, presumably with an air of snide perplexity, “then what would happen?”. This is notable, not because of the dumb but proud incomprehension in the face of a massive exercise in popular democracy – as noted earlier, if Katie Grant was capable of understanding the motives and aspirations of those participating in the march she’d be useless for the BBC’s purposes – but because it is a question neither she nor any other representative of the British establishment would think to ask of the British Nationalist ‘One Nation’ project.

If that project progresses, what then? What constitutes success? What is the end-state that British Nationalists are aiming for?

We know what is the purpose and intent of this ‘One Nation’ project. We know that the British state is driven by an imperative to lock Scotland into a political union unilaterally reformed to better serve the British ruling elites. We know that they want to undo a devolution experiment which, from their perspective, has gone disastrously wrong.

We know that they want to deny Scotland’s democratic right of self-determination.

We know that they want to emasculate the Scottish Parliament.

We know that they want to dismantle Scotland’s democratic institutions.

We know that they want to prepare Scotland’s public services for sale to profiteering corporations.

We know that they want to prevent Scotland’s land and resources being taken out of the hands of grasping individuals and exploitative businesses and used for the benefit of the many.

But then what happens?

Do they suppose that the people of Scotland will meekly submit to their democratic rights being denied?

Do they imagine the people of Scotland won’t defend the only Parliament that they elect?

Do they think the people of Scotland will quietly tolerate the transfer of powers to an unelected shadow government accountable only to the British executive?

Have they even considered how the people of Scotland might react to the privatisation of precious public services such as NHS Scotland?

Have they envisaged the response when Scotland’s people are overruled on the issue of fracking just as we were on the matter of EU membership?

Suppose they proceed with their plan to absorb Scotland into ‘Greater England’, then what?

Do they really think Scotland’s independence campaign can be utterly vanquished?

Do they seriously suppose the Yes movement can be crushed out of existence?

Do they imagine the aspirations of Scotland’s people will simply evaporate?

Something close to half Scotland’s people want independence. Many more are at least content with devolution. Only a relatively tiny minority favour the anti-democratic British Nationalist project. Suppose the British state persists in pandering to that minority while contemptuously disregarding the rest, then what?


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Not settling for less

bbc_union_at_any_costIt’s like being promised a new house only to find that what you’re actually getting is a garden shed. Not a top-of-the-range garden shed, but the smallest, cheapest, flimsiest, most low-spec garden shed on the market. It looks great in the brochure. But the one you’re getting isn’t painted. And, if you look closely just below that image in microscopic lettering are the words “Not shown actual size”. The attractive young lady in the bikini pictured gazing up in delighted wonder at the imposing edifice is actually only four foot three inches tall. You feel disappointed. You feel cheated. You feel Scottish.

Even if you don’t fully comprehend all the stuff about budgets and production costs and all the jargon of the TV industry, it’s easy to understand the difference between standard definition (SD) and high definition (HD). Anybody who has a fairly modern TV can appreciate the fact that HD is very much better than SD. For most of us, I suspect, HD is now the standard. It’s what we expect. SD actually stands for sub-standard definition. What the BBC is offering us is sub-standard. That crappy wee garden shed isn’t even made out of real wood.

But there’s more! Belatedly realising that the uppityness of the Jocks has now reached such a level that the ingrates decline to be fobbed-off with factory rejects, the BBC amended its offer. On 14 March 2018, Chris Roswell (Head of Regulation & Economics – a BBC title if ever I heard one) wrote to Ofcom (PDF) advising that the new BBC Scotland channel would only be broadcast in sub-standard definition part of the time. The great news was that the BBC had graciously deigned to provide the quality of picture viewers in Scotland pay for a few hours in the evening. The letter was (not really) signed, yours in anticipation of some grateful forelock-tugging from those pestilential provincials.

It has to be said that Mr Roswell (HoRE) took some of the shine off this grand new offering when he gleefully proclaimed that it didn’t involve spending any more of Scottish licence fee-payers’ money in Scotland. Due to “recent technology changes” the shabby little garden shed could be equipped with the luxury of a fourth wall (part-time only) at no additional cost.

We’re told nothing about the nature of those “technology changes”, and whether they are anything to do with the fact that the HD for the new BBC Scotland channel is being provided by taking it from the children’s channel, CBBC (in Scotland only). Will we, I wonder, be able to truly enjoy that glorious HD knowing it’s been stolen from our own bairns?

Am I the only one struck by the apparent effort the BBC puts into avoiding viewers in Scotland with the services we pay for? It’s almost as in there was something in the corporation’s charter about ensuring Scotland is always relatively worse off. The attitude seems to be that the BBC may grudgingly make some kind of gesture if we make a big enough fuss, but on no account must this amount to anything approximating the kind of public service broadcasting provision a real nation might enjoy.

It’s not about the money. We know that licence fee revenues raised in Scotland are sufficient to pay for a full broadcasting service. It’s as if the service provided by the British state broadcaster is being purposefully curtailed and diminished. It’s as if we are being deliberately short-changed. And not necessarily or entirely for financial reasons.

We swim in a media sea. We are immersed in it. There is no part of our lives that is not touched by the media. We view the world and ourselves through a media lens. Increasingly, we interact with others only through media. Our culture evolves in and is conveyed by the media. Our political discourse conforms to the demands of the media. It is baffling that people scoff at the idea of media studies as a ‘serious’ academic subject when the media looms so massively in all our lives. We live in a world made of media. So it stands to reason that established power will seek to control the media. And to use the media as a means of control.

Whether anyone in the BBC would admit it, or even be aware of it, that is what lies behind the extraordinary effort to detract from broadcasting in Scotland – even as they try to look as if they’re providing shiny new services. The British state requires that Scotland must be less than it might be. Therefore, the media in Scotland must be less than it might be. It is not a question of resources. The BBC’s stranglehold on Scotland’s media is both practical and symbolic. In practical terms, it prevents Scotland from either perceiving or presenting itself in they way we would choose were we permitted to do so. Symbolically, the BBC’s dominance of Scotland’s media represents the supremacy of the British state; while the paucity of the service provided by the BBC reinforces Scotland’s subordinate status within the UK.

Some in Scotland are content to settle for a dilapidated garden shed, so long as it has a Union flag flying above it. Others want the house we’re paying for.


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The options

procrastinationI am aware that many in the SNP and the wider Yes movement want this debate about the timing of a new independence referendum to just stop. Pete Wishart may be one of those who wish it had never started. Or so it would seem from his flat refusal to answer questions about his own highly controversial position or to engage in any way with those responding to his call for indefinite postponement of the referendum. On Twitter, there has been a steady drip of people urging an end to the discussion. Apparently, we’re not supposed to entertain any difference of opinion. Pretty much everybody agrees that timing of the referendum is critical. So critical that we must avoid talking about it. No, I don’t get it either.

Personally, I’m glad the issue has come to the fore. Unlike Pete Wishart, I am more than happy to have an open and frank debate. I don’t see how this debate might be avoided. It’s the elephant in the room. And it’s not easy to sweep an elephant under the carpet. If the discussion gets heated, that’s a measure of its importance. It’s not a reason for closing down the debate, as some wish to do.

If people don’t want to participate in the debate, that’s OK. But don’t tell me or anybody else that we should shut up about the matter just because it makes you uncomfortable. Your comfort is not my concern. And don’t tell me or anybody else to shut up because the debate is ‘damaging the Yes movement’. If the Yes movement isn’t robust and resilient enough to cope with vigorous debate than it’s unlikely to be fit to go up against the might of the British state.

Discussion of the timing of the referendum has been valuable, not least on account of the way it has revealed the attitudes of some of our elected representatives. The British parties, needless to say, have no role in the debate. We are all aware of British Nationalists’ fervent, anti-democratic opposition to the exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination.

We can safely discount the British politicians who exhibit such disdain for democracy, not to mention contempt for the people of Scotland and their Parliament. But what of the others?

Pete Wishart has nailed his colours unequivocally to the spectral mast of a ghost ship called ‘Optimum Time’. Others, such as Chris McEleny, have exhibited a greater sense of urgency. Which, to be frank, was hardly difficult. Now we have Keith Brown, who seems to be telling us that it doesn’t matter how urgent the situation may be, the SNP isn’t ready. Here’s a senior figure in Scotland’s independence party; the de facto political arm of the independence movement, telling us that putting a timescale on the referendum is the wrong priority. Groping for a term to apply to that attitude, the (printable) one that comes most readily to mind is ’lackadaisical’.

It seems Keith Brown expects the tides and currents of politics to cease and desist while the SNP gets its act together. Which makes him a bit of a Cnut. (Note to historians: Cut me some slack, eh! It’s a good line.)

The most sensible comment I’ve heard so far from any SNP politician is Angus MacNeil’s observation.

Some people think you can only ever have two referendums ever. And when you’ve got that into your heads, then you become afraid of having it in case you lose it.

Pete Wishart’s afraid of losing because he thinks the country isn’t ready. Keith Brown’s afraid of losing because the SNP’s not ready. I’m afraid of losing because of what will then happen to Scotland. But I’m just as afraid of what will happen to Scotland if we delay the referendum. Because it’s the same fate either way.

The thing that’s missing from comments about timing of the referendum made by SNP politicians is any acknowledgement of what the British government is likely to be doing while we procrastinate. We have British politicians openly talking about unilaterally rewriting the devolution settlement and powers being stripped from the Scottish Parliament with the threat of further rolling back of devolution. We hear them state their intention to impose “UK-wide common frameworks” that only the terminally naive suppose will be limited to the likes of food standards and animal welfare – although that would be bad enough.

We are told that, in the new ‘One Nation’ British state, “discrepancies” across the four nations will not be tolerated.

We are warned that the British political elite will not allow anything to damage their “precious, precious Union”.

Even if we couldn’t work it out for ourselves, we are now being explicitly told what fate awaits Scotland if the monstrous ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project is not halted.

And yet our politicians seem oblivious. Not once have I heard any of them address this threat to Scotland’s democracy. I have been deeply immersed in the debate about when we should hold the referendum. I have yet to find any Postponer who is willing to even acknowledge that the British government will be doing something while the SNP sorts out it’s internal organisation and Pete Wishart waits for a burning bush to tell him of the coming ‘Optimum Time’. (Note to Biblical scholars: Give me a break, eh! It’s a nice image.)

It’s as if, in the scenarios they consider, the British government ceases to exist. The British political elite is simply disregarded. The British state’s pressing imperative to lock Scotland into a ‘reformed’ Union is just ignored. The ongoing ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project isn’t a factor. It doesn’t figure in the Postponers’ calculations when they’re considering timing of the new referendum.

Caution may be advisable in certain circumstances. Nobody can sensibly contest the fact that the SNP’s ‘gradualist’ strategy has been successful to date. But the gradual approach has no defined end-point – unless and until you create one. At some juncture, you have to make the final leap. You have to do something bold. You have to act.

All this talk of waiting for ‘optimal conditions’ to spontaneously emerge from the political ether and stopping the political roller-coaster so the SNP can change it’s underpants totally misses the point. The choice is not between going now (September) and losing, or going at some later date (defined only vaguely or not at all) and winning. The choice is between the absolute certainty of the British Nationalist project relentlessly eroding Scotland’s democracy at an accelerating pace, or the possibility of stopping that project in it’s tracks before it can do irreversible damage.

Of course, it’s just a possibility. But it’s the only chance we have. There’s a good reason the Postponers are reluctant to discuss their alternative plan for stopping, or even slowing, the British Nationalist juggernaut. They don’t have one!


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