Waiting for Brexit?

Anybody who imagines the outcome of Brexit will ever be clear is living in a world of woefully naive fantasy. That outcome is as clear now as at ever will be. It is certainly clear enough for the purposes of Scotland’s cause. It became clear enough for the cause of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status the moment our 62% Remain vote was contemptuously dismissed by the British political elite. And further clarified when our democratically elected representatives were excluded from was laughably called the Brexit negotiations.

The outcome of Brexit is that the UK’s relationship with the EU, and the rest of the world, will be in chaotic flux for decades. And we will know no more of the true situation at any given time than the British state wants us to know. There will be no clarity. And if you are ever given to understand that there is clarity, beware! You are being lied to!

Those of us who do grown-up politics long ago realised that what matters about Brexit – as with so many things – is, not the reality, but the perception. And who controls the tools by which perception is manipulated? The British state!

Regardless of what happens, Brexit will be portrayed as a success. Even as the Civil Contingencies Act is invoked and the devolved administrations are ‘suspended’ and people are rioting in the streets, we will be told that extraordinary measures are necessary to defend the success of Brexit against the efforts of a few ‘malcontents’ to undermine it.

Untold millions of pounds will be thrown at particular problems, not in the hope of solving them, but to make them appear less like problems. The beneficiaries of this state beneficence will not, of course, be the people most affected by thing like shortages of medicines, but the corporations hired to impose strict rationing and weed out those who are deemed to be causing the shortages by demanding medicines that they don’t really need – according to that stern-looking lady in what looks like a supermarket checkout operator’s tabard.

But let’s suppose for a moment that there was the possibility of a Brexit outcome that is clear. Let’s imagine the idea of clarity about the Brexit outcome is more than just an infantile notion and a desperate rationalisation of inaction. What is the outcome that obviates the need to dissolve the Union? What Brexit outcome changes the independence cause in any way?

Why wait for clarity that you’re never going to get about an outcome that is of no significance?

If, as some claim, Nicola Sturgeon is waiting until the Brexit outcome is clear, then she is a fool. And I am absolutely certain that Nicola Sturgeon is no fool. She is certainly not stupid enough to make a new referendum entire contingent on something that she is trying to prevent. Whatever the explanation is for the lack of action to resolve the constitutional situation, waiting for Brexit surely can’t be any part of it. It remains a mystery.



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The country formerly known as Scotland

I sincerely hope that the First Minister is not taken in by this talk of a “rebranding exercise”. I trust she is aware that this is merely a precursor to, and preparation for, major constitutional reform which will be conducted over the heads of Scotland’s elected representatives and without the consent of Scotland’s people.

Prior to the 2014 independence referendum, people were warned that a No vote would be regarded by the British state as a licence to do what they want with Scotland. What they want is to lock Scotland into a political union on their own terms. A unilateral redefining of Scotland’s constitutional status without any consultation and in total contempt of democratic principles.

This had hardly got underway when the EU referendum came along and shifted the political ground. But Brexit did not deter or hamper the project to lock Scotland into a unilaterally redefined Union. On the contrary, it provides the ideal opportunity. Which people were also warned about prior to the vote in 2016.

To put it briefly and in the simplest of terms – the UK was constitutionally redefined by joining the EU (as it became). It stands to reason that the UK will again undergo constitutional redefinition on leaving the EU. The British political elite has ensured that Scotland, together with the other devolved parliaments, has been all but entirely excluded from the Brexit process. Therefore, the British political elite is ideally placed to dictate the form of the redefinition which the UK will undergo.

Brexit is the British state’s chance to close and barricade the democratic route to restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. This was going to happen anyway. But Brexit makes it easier to ensure that democratic niceties don’t interfere with the process of tightening England-as-Britain’s grip on Scotland and reinforcing the structures of power, privilege and patronage which constitute the British state.

This isn’t something that is going to happen. It is something which is happening right now. The “rebranding exercise” is part of it. The ‘UK Government in Scotland’ is part of it. The ‘UK-wide common frameworks’ are part of it. The ‘EU power grab’ was part of it. The ghastly ‘unionjackery’ defacing our foodstuffs is part of it. Mundell’s new castle in Edinburgh is part of it.

And still people refuse to see!

The anti-democratic British Nationalist ‘One Nation’ project is behind schedule – by about a year. The Article 50 extension granted by the EU gave us a year’s grace. A year in which we could have acted to save Scotland. A year which has been wantonly squandered.

I genuinely despair for our country. The ‘One Nation’ project is gathering pace. The Scottish Parliament is in recess. The Scottish Government seems paralysed. SNP politicians talk as if delay is a consequence-free option. The Yes movement is marching but, for want of political leadership and an actual campaign strategy, it is going nowhere.

Brexit will soon be upon us. The jaws of the ‘One Nation’ project will close. Holyrood, no more! Dignity, fairness and respect, no more! Democracy, no more! Hope, no more!

But doubtless Nicola Sturgeon will “slam” the UK Government in a Tweet.



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Soft targets

This more assertive attitude from the SNP is certainly welcome. But it continues to be directed at the wrong target. It is not the Tories, in particular, who make a mockery of Scotland’s democracy. It is the Union. By focusing on the Tories, the SNP risks giving the impression that things might somehow be better if British Labour was in power at Westminster. The reality is that, while things might be different in certain respects, the Union would remain.

It is not what one or other of the British parties does with the power afforded them by the Union that is problematic for democracy, but the fact that the Union affords them that power. It is the Union that mocks Scotland’s democracy.

Of course, there are reasons enough to detest the Tories. But even in a world where Tory policies weren’t abhorrent, democracy must abhor the fact that those policies can be imposed on Scotland regardless of the will of Scotland’s people. Back in the real world where Tory policies are abhorrent, it is the fact that Tory governments can be imposed on Scotland that makes a mockery of our democracy. The Union is always the problem.

Even during those relatively rare periods when Scotland actually gets the the Westminster government that its people vote for, our democracy is mocked by the fact that this is no more than a coincidence. Scotland’s votes count only when, and on condition that, England agrees. The Union allows Scotland to make democratic choices. But the Union only allows those choices to be effective when they are the same as the choices made by England. The Union does that. Not the Tories.

The focus on Brexit also seems wrong. In the first place, it represents only a particular instance of Scotland’s democratic will being treated with contempt. The insistence that Scotland will not be allowed to exercise its right of self determination is every bit as offensive to democratic sensibilities.

And why would anybody imagine that things might have played out differently had there been a British Labour government in London? Brexit is a product of the British political system. The British Labour and Unionist Party is a component of that system in exactly the same way that the British Conservative and Unionist Party is. The forces which are driving Brexit would have acted on a British Labour government just as they have acted on a Tory one. The detail might have differed – the names, the faces, the rationalisations. The ultimate result would have been the same.

If it wasn’t one British government, it’d be another British government. It is wasn’t Brexit, it’d be something else. If it wasn’t now, it’d be later.

The common thread in all of this is the Union. The Tories and Brexit may be easier targets for the SNP. But unless and until people clearly understand that these are merely proxies for the Union then they may be left thinking that Scotland’s democracy could be rescued by making cosmetic changes to the British government and/or by the calamitous Brexit project being abandoned.

It is surely time for the SNP to unambiguously identify the Union as the the true blight on Scotland. The only way to ensure that our democracy isn’t turned into a mockery is to #DissolveTheUnion as a matter of the utmost urgency.



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Noises off

Ian Murray applauds Richard Leonard for “listening to voters and acting so swiftly to change party policy”. But those of us who don’t possess a pair of Union Jack boxer shorts far less an entire suit cut from the ‘butcher’s apron’ may be considerably less impressed. Not being deluded British Nationalist ideologues, we will be aware that however dutifully Leonard’s announcement of support for a ‘confirmatory vote’ is applauded by the faithful (defined as those from whom Leonard has not yet received a complimentary dagger), the whole thing is totally meaningless.

Outside the orange-tinted ambit of Murray’s hard-line Unionism, we are well aware that so-called ‘Scottish Labour’ is not a real political party and that British Labour in Scotland (BLiS), as it is more truthfully called, has only cosmetic autonomy and absolutely no authority to make policy independently of its parent party.

The fact that Scottish Labour’s Executive Committee has endorsed Leonard’s call for the ‘party’ to back a confirmatory vote on any Brexit deal with Remain as an option on the ballot paper is of academic interest only to an academic whose paint has all dried. It is, to borrow a particularly apt theatrical term, noises off. Noises made offstage during a performance which are intended to be heard by the audience. Noise, in turn, may be defined as the part of a signal which carries no useful information.

If this conjures an image of Richard Leonard standing in the wings muttering random words and phrases solely for effect while being pointedly ignored by the main actors and barely impinging on the consciousness of the audience, then you’ve pretty much got the picture.

For the lolz, let us play the part of that ennui-afflicted academic and look at what it is Richard Leonard and Ian Murray are getting so excited about. Let’s see if we can tease from the BLiS statement what it is that they think is meaningful. Or what they want us to think is meaningful.

Firstly, there is talk of “a confirmatory vote on any Brexit deal”. Note the word “any”. Which seems to imply the possibility of a choice between or among more than one deal. But just about every politician and high official in the EU has stated in the most unequivocal terms that there will be no further negotiation. Negotiations are closed. Negotiations shall under no circumstances be reopened. The parrot is dead, Richard! It is not just resting! It is deceased! Expired! Kicking the cage and making out that it twitched is just plain dishonest!

There is only one deal. The deal that there is. The deal that has already been rejected rejected repeatedly by the British parliament. It is the pig that David Cameron wouldn’t stick his member in even after Theresa May put her best lipstick on it. There is only ‘Theresa May’s deal’. And, in the words of the statement issued by Richard Leonard, “Theresa May’s deal is dead”.

So, what is this “confirmatory vote” about? Is Leonard seriously proposing that there should be a referendum on whether to accept a dead deal? Or is he trying to peddle the notion that there might be a different, non-dead deal? Is he, in blithe disregard of everything that has been said by EU politicians and officials, clinging to the fantasy of fresh negotiations?

Or, as seems more likely, is the term “confirmatory vote” no more than noises off? Just sounds made for the sake of making sounds?

The other bit of noise that stands out is “Remain as an option on the ballot
paper”. What does our terminally bored academic make of that? Being an academic it is likely that no amount of tedium could stop her asking what Remain actually means. What does it refer to? And why does Richard Leonard not explain it any more than he does his concept of a “confirmatory vote”? Why are these terms just pumped out and left floating in the air like farts?

Even if Article 50 is revoked, there can be no return to the status quo ante. Too much has already happened. Too much damage has already been done by the bewildering madness of dumping all the solutions that the EU has come to provide for no sufficient reason and without either a viable plan or a credible alternative.

Even if there was the realistic possibility of a Remain victory in this referendum that Leonard makes noises about, there is certainly no political will to act on that choice. A 3-option referendum – Deal / No deal / Remain – is surely an idiocy too far even for BLiS. But the reality is that, even if there could be clear and deliverable options, there is no outcome of any UK-wide referendum on the EU which wouldn’t leave in exactly the same bind.

What is the point of a policy statement from a pretendy party which has no authority to formulate policy? What is the point of a referendum where the options cannot be defined and/or couldn’t be delivered? What is the point of BLiS?

More importantly, why is Scotland still being made to play a bit-part in this very British farce?



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Remember when

Call me nostalgic, but I rather miss the days when an emphatic vote for the SNP would be hailed by the party leadership as a victory for the independence movement.

Formal declaration to come, but clear now that @theSNP has won the Euro election emphatically – we are on course to take 3 out of 6 seats. A historic victory. And Scotland has rejected Brexit again. 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🇪🇺🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) May 26, 2019

None can claim that the vote for the SNP in the European Parliament elections is not emphatic. Not quite, it seems, the 40+% I personally had hoped for. That would have required that a few more independence supporters get off their arses and make the tiny effort required to register their vote. And/or that a few more Green voters put the increasingly urgent need to save Scotland from rampant ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism before loyalty to their party.

I guess we have to remind ourselves that neither of these things is likely to happen. Just suppose a scenario in which a 40+% vote share for the SNP was required in order to maintain a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament. Being realistic, does anyone genuinely suppose that, even then, people would not find excuses for not going to the polling place? Does anyone seriously imagine that, even in circumstances of such pressing need, those die-hard Green voters might be persuaded to vote tactically for the SNP?

There will always be people who find it easy to forgive themselves for failure to do what is required. For failure to do what they know to be right. Frustrating as it undoubtedly is, campaigners must accept that, however successful they may be in impressing on voters the need to act, there will always be some who simply won’t convert awareness at an intellectual level into appropriate action. People die in house fires because they are compelled, even in the face of horrific death, to rescue some trinket.

It always helps if you can blame someone else for your failure to take appropriate action. British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) might be in a slightly less parlous condition had it not developed a capacity for blaming voters and/or the SNP which is now instinctual.

Nicola Sturgeon – Scotland’s First Minister – has nobody else to blame. The entire Yes movement looks to her for leadership. When, at a moment of triumph for the SNP, independence doesn’t even warrant a mention, Yes activists are entitled to feel aggrieved. And all who recognise the need for bold, decisive action to end the Union are entitled to feel deeply concerned.



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The final message

The First Minister calls on Scotland’s voters to send a Brexit message to Westminster. But didn’t we already do that? Didn’t we send a very clear message when we voted almost 2 to 1 to Remain part of the EU? Wasn’t that message contemptuously ignored by the British political elite?

Send a message that “Scotland has had enough of being ignored”, says Nicola Sturgeon, even as she urges us to once again invite the imperious disdain of the British state.

We are up to our chins in British shite and using our last breath before being submerged to tell the British political elite, yet again, that they only get to shite on us one more time. Or maybe two. Almost certainly no more than three. Then they’ll get their final warning. Aye!

Of course we will vote SNP on Thursday 23 May! What other option is there? But, as we do, let us consider that it is surely time to stop offering up our faces to be spat upon by British Nationalists. It is surely time to stop hoping that Westminster will listen and start demanding that the Scottish Government does.

It is surely time to tell our First Minister that the only message we want to send to the British government is one giving notice of our intention to dissolve the Union.


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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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