Threat and response

Should Nicola Sturgeon call for a second referendum on Scottish independence to happen before the United Kingdom exits the EU?

filthy_handsThis question, posted on Quora, isn’t really sensible. There can be no doubt that Scotland must have a new independence referendum before the UK exits the EU. Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t have a choice in the matter. Circumstances dictate the absolute necessity of a referendum no later than September 2018. The only issue exercising the First Minister’s political judgement is the timing of the announcement.

It is important to understand that Brexit is not the principal causal factor in this. There was always going to be another referendum. While accepting the result of the 2014 vote, we also have to recognise that it did not settle the matter. The No vote was won on an entirely false prospectus and by methods which were dubious in the extreme.

Restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status remains the determined aspiration of something close to half of Scotland’s population. Much as British Nationalists might wish it, the Yes movement isn’t going anywhere. Democracy is a process, not an event. There was always going to be another independence referendum because the democratic process demands it.

Having said this, it cannot be denied that Brexit is a major aspect of the context within which that democratic process is taking Scotland inevitably and inexorably towards a new referendum and dissolution of the Union. The fact that Scotland is being dragged out of the EU despite a decisive Remain vote (62%) stands as a glaring illustration of the fact that Scotland’s interests cannot ever be adequately represented within the UK. Brexit exemplifies the fatal flaws in the current constitutional settlement in a particularly forceful manner.

There must be a new independence referendum because the alternative is to accept that the democratic will of Scotland’s people counts for nothing. This conflicts with the First Minister’s solemn duty to the nation. That conflict can only be resolved by a plebiscite which affords the people an opportunity to assert their primacy and reject a political union in which the principles of democracy are always subordinate to the whims of a British political elite.

Just as Nicola Sturgeon has no choice but to honour the democratic will of Scotland’s people, so she is duty-bound to defend Scotland’s interests in all things and at all times. The office of First Minister requires her to stand against any threat to Scotland’s economic, democratic and social well-being. The role demands that Nicola Sturgeon do all in her power to protect Scotland’s economy, democratic institutions and essential public services. All of these are menaced by the imperatives of the British state.

Driven by those imperatives, the British government will seek to exploit the circumstances of Brexit in order to ‘deal with’ what is perceived by the British political elite – with perfect justification – as a challenge to the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. Leaving the European Union necessitates the constitutional redefining of the UK. The British government will seize this opportunity to unilaterally redefine Scotland’s status within the UK – effectively locking Scotland into a political union without reference to Scotland’s people or our elected representatives.

As part of this effort to neutralise the wave of democratic dissent risen in Scotland, the British government will systematically strip Holyrood of its powers, transferring control from the democratically elected Scottish Parliament to an unelected and unaccountable shadow administration at the Scotland Office.

The so-called ‘Brexit power grab’ is the thin end of a very nasty wedge. Anybody who imagines that it will stop at powers relating to animal welfare and food standards is dangerously naive. There is every reason to expect that the ‘UK-wide common frameworks’ being touted will rapidly extend and expand until even Scotland’s precious public health service is in the hands of those who regard it as an asset to be stripped.
We know that these things will happen because British politicians such as David Mundell have made no secret of their intentions. We know that these things will happen because they are already happening.

We can be sure, also, that while emasculating the Scottish Parliament the British government will also introduce measures for the purpose of making an independence referendum ‘unlawful’ and/or unwinnable. If the democratic route to independence is likely to be used, it must be closed off. If the people of Scotland might presume to exercise their democratic right of self-determination, that right must be denied.

Nicola Sturgeon must be aware of the threat. As First Minister, she cannot ignore that threat. She must also know that the threat is not from Brexit, but from the political union which allows a British political elite to dispose of Scotland as may be expedient and with total contempt for the democratic will of Scotland’s people. The obvious and only solution is to dissolve that political union. A measure which must be ratified by Scotland’s electorate in a referendum.

Finally, we cannot disregard the matter of electoral politics. As well as be First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon is Leader of the Scottish National Party. A party which is unequivocally and unconditionally committed by its constitution to the restoration of Scotland’s independence. A party which has also become Scotland’s main party of government. She has a responsibility to the SNP’s 120,000+ members and all the voters who have given the party a mandate to govern Scotland. This mandate, and her duty as party leader, oblige Nicola Sturgeon to call a new referendum.

To squander that mandate and disrespect the principal aims and objectives of the SNP would be unthinkable. Almost certainly, it would also be electorally disastrous. Sturgeon must have at least half an eye on the Scottish Parliamentary elections in 2021. She is certainly cognisant of the precarity of the pro-independence majority at Holyrood and, therefore, of the SNP administration.

As an astute political operator, Nicola Sturgeon will have realised that one of the aims of the British establishment is to get the Scottish Parliament back under the control of the British parties, as was always intended. Only a relatively tiny decline in the SNP vote in 2021 would allow the British parties to take power – even if they had to form a ‘Grand Coalition’ in order to do so.

Failure to hold a new independence referendum would be catastrophic, not only for the electoral fortunes of the SNP, but for the status and authority of the Scottish Parliament.
Taking all of the foregoing into account, it is clear that Nicola Sturgeon must act. This leaves only the question of the form which this action takes and the timing of a public declaration.

There is no question that there will be a new independence referendum. Currently, there is a heated debate within the SNP and the Yes movement concerning the matter of when this referendum should be held. There is no debate about whether it should happen. On one side of this debate there are those who are concerned about the consequences of failing to secure a Yes vote in the referendum. They want to postpone the referendum indefinitely. Or, to be as fair to them as is possible, they want to defer the referendum until some some ‘optimum time’ which remains undefined, probably undefinable and certainly impossible to predict as would be required.

On the other side of the debate are those who recognise the threats described above. They are aware of the serious and imminent jeopardy facing Scotland. and they know that the consequences of the Yes side losing in the referendum are functionally identical to the consequences of not holding the referendum at all. In either scenario, the same fate awaits us. The only difference is that not holding the referendum makes that fate a certainty.

The imposition of a repugnant, anti-democratic ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist agenda can only be avoided by dissolving the Union. Nicola Sturgeon must begin this process with a view to having the dissolution affirmed by the people of Scotland in a referendum to be held no later than September 2018.

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No shortcuts

saltire_euI suppose we take it for granted that people associated with Scotland’s Yes movement will have more respect for the principles of democracy than British Nationalists. Not that this would be difficult. On a daily basis, British politicians – particularly those squatting in the Scottish Parliament – are at pains to demonstrate their disdain for voters as well as their sneering contempt for the institutions and processes of democracy. British Nationalism is anti-democratic. To be a British Nationalist is to believe that political authority derives from the monarch, rather than from the people. And that the exercise of fundamental democratic rights is legitimate only to the extent that the outcome serves the interests of the British state. It is an abiding tenet of British Nationalist ideology that the people are subordinate to parliament.

The concept of parliamentary sovereignty is anathema to the Yes movement. We hold this truth to be self-evident – the people are sovereign. We hold it to be the single most important defining characteristic of true democracy that ultimate political authority is vested wholly and exclusively in the people. We tend to assume that awareness of and regard for the basic precepts of democracy is common to the entire Yes movement. Carolyn Leckie shows why we should, perhaps, be more cautious about that assumption.

Not that I’m saying Carolyn is anti-democratic in the way that British Nationalists are. It’s just that she hasn’t thought things through. She hasn’t asked the important questions about her suggestion that the SNP should “pledge” a post-independence referendum on Scotland’s relationship with the European Union. Most obviously – at least to those of us who relate all policy proposals to the ideals of democracy – she has failed to consider the question of a democratic mandate.

Carolyn chooses to disregard the fact that ‘Independence in Europe’ is the official policy of the Scottish National Party. She appears to attach no significance whatever to the fact that this position has been repeatedly and comprehensively endorsed by the party membership.

Worse still, she opts to disregard the fact that remaining a full member f the EU is the settled will of Scotland’s people. We voted 62% Remain, in the best test of public opinion that we can possibly have this side of independence. Carolyin Leckie not only expects Nicola Sturgeon to set aside the democratic will of party members, she wants them to show the same contempt for the electorate as is habitual among British Nationalists. All in the name of political expediency.

I have an alternative suggestion. Instead of pandering to minority Leave voters to the extent of affording them parity of status with the Remain majority, let’s try being honest with them. Let’s tell them that the question of Scotland’s membership of the EU is a settled matter. If they want a referendum on the issue then they are perfectly at liberty to campaign for one after Scotland’s independence is restored.

And if they, or Carolyn Leckie, want to change the SNP’s position on EU membership then they can do it the democratic way. They can join the party, pay their dues, and work through the internal democratic procedures.

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Strong and stable… suckers!


The following is an extract from my article in the April edition of iScot Magazine.

There was always something very fishy about the idea of Ruth Davidson as the protector of Scotland’s interests. The Tories’ betrayal of Scotland’s fishing industry reveals just how misplaced was the trust put in Davidson by those in our fishing communities who voted, first to keep Scotland in the UK, then to take the UK out of the European Union. To people outside those communities, this always looked like serial self-harm. To many, it seemed inexplicable that folk who make their living from the sea should continue to put such faith in politicians who had spent three years demonstrating, on an almost daily basis, the extent to which they had misled, deceived and downright lied to the people of Scotland during the first independence referendum.

When it was revealed that the UK Government’s Brexit ‘deal’ with the EU involved the Common Fisheries Policy effectively being retained for nearly two years longer than had been promised, there was no great surprise amongst those who have their finger on the pulse of Scottish politics. While the less well-informed were expressing various degrees of shock and dismay at this blatant breach of trust, the attitude of those more aware of the realities of Scottish politics was nicely summed up by Holyrood magazine editor, Mandy Rhodes,

What was more surprising to me was that fishermen, who so loathed the Common Fisheries Policy, were prepared to put their faith in the same Conservatives that took them into it, to then take them out of it with no equivalent pain. They were expendable then and they are expendable now.

There is evidently a curious psychology at play here. Ms Rhodes is far from alone in being perplexed by the readiness of the fishermen to believe the promises of those who have so frequently and comprehensively shown themselves to be unworthy of anyone’s confidence. How is such behaviour to be explained?

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The tool

ff_davidson.pngAs we wearily condemn yet another instance of British betrayal, let us not forget the role played by the media in this latest bit of unabashed duplicity. The mainstream media helped peddle the utterly false notion of Ruth Davidson as a significant political leader commanding a small but powerful group of “Scottish Tory” MPs; regularly attending cabinet meetings at Downing Street, and exerting real influence within the British Government. It was all lies!

There is no such group! There are only British Tory MPs, some of whom happen to have managed to get themselves elected in Scotland. Those British Tory MPs take their orders from Theresa May and the British Tory Whips at Westminster, not Ruth Davidson. Other than for the purposes of the occasional photo-opp, there is no place reserved for Davidson at British cabinet meetings. On a scale of one to ten, Davidson’s influence isn’t on the scale of one to ten. In terms of British politics, she is several promotions away from the rank of nonentity.

Which is not to say she isn’t useful to her masters in London. It was expedient to market Davidson in Scotland as a politician of some substance in the hope of persuading voters here that there might be some point in voting for Tories. Affording their leader a high media profile was like giving Pan Drops to the Tory faithful in North Britainshire. Being crowned Queen of the BritNats helped persuade hardline Unionists to abandon British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) in favour of the British Conservative & Unionist Party in Scotland (BCUPS). Elevating Davidson to the status of First Minister-in-waiting was a ploy to divert attention from Nicola Sturgeon and maybe even diminish her in the eyes of the more gullible consumers of British propaganda.

In all of this, the British media have been totally complicit. They lie to us in order that the British political elite may more effectively deceive us. They mislead and misinform us to facilitate the duplicity and mendacity of British politicians. As part of the British establishment, the British media naturally serves established power. It cannot be otherwise. Considerations of veracity and accuracy simply don’t enter into it. Truth is whatever serves the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.

Ruth Davidson is a tool. She has been coldly utilised by her superiors in the British Tory party. She has been professionally exploited by the British media. When her usefulness is at an end – which may be far sooner than she would like – Davidson will be discarded like a snottery hanky.

But waste no pity on the wretch. She chose the role of puppet. As a British Nationalist, she is content to sacrifice her dignity for the greater glory of the British state. She could have chosen differently. She could have chosen to serve the people of Scotland. She could have chosen to serve democracy. She didn’t. Hell mend her!

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Beware of BritNats!

nhs_threatShona Robison is, of course, quite correct to highlight the threat to Scotland’s health service posed by Brexit. Talk of “an immigration system that works for the whole of the UK” from the British government makes no more sense than anything else about the entire Brexit fiasco. Devising such a system in the face of the diverse and diverging needs, priorities and aspirations of the four nations would be a massively complex and problematic task. A task which, on the basis of all available evidence, we must therefore assume to be well beyond the capacities of the current London regime.

It is inevitable that a BritNat Brexit imposed on Scotland by this regime will do real and serious harm to NHS Scotland. Pandering to a xenophobic obsession with immigration is bound to have an adverse impact on workforce recruitment and retention. We can only guess at the deleterious effects of Scotland being dragged out of the EU agencies which facilitate cooperation in medical research, recognition of qualifications, drug approvals and much more. Our enforced isolation from the single market can hardly be less than catastrophic for Scotland’s burgeoning life science industries. The British political elite have no answers to questions about the rights of Scottish patients to access treatment in the EU – only vacuous, patronising platitudes.

All of this is bad enough. But there is an additional threat which Shona Robison does not mention. The threat of Scotland’s cherished public health service being laid bare to the ravages of predatory US corporations – sacrificed by a British state desperate to secure anything that can be presented as a shiny new transatlantic trade deal.

Does anybody seriously believe that the ‘UK-wide common frameworks’ which the British government proposes to inflict on us have anything at all to do with making Scotland’s healthcare system work better for patients? Given what we know of the British political elite’s obsession with austerity and rigid adherence to neo-liberal orthodoxies, is it not infinitely more likely that the purpose is to prepare NHS Scotland for large-scale privatisation? As a non-negotiable condition of any deal, those ravenous corporations will demand the removal of such inconveniences as a Scottish Parliament and Government committed to the principles of universal healthcare free at the point of need.

The obvious ‘solution’ is to take control of NHS Scotland out of the hands of Scotland’s democratically elected representatives and hand it to a shadow administration which is not accountable to Scottish voters. An unelected quasi-government, based at the Scotland Office, which can be relied upon to give precedence at all times and in all matters to the interests of the British state and its corporate clients over the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people.

And why wouldn’t they? Why would the British state not adopt this ‘solution’? After all, when Scotland voted No in 2014 we gave the British political elite licence to do whatever they want with our nation. Why would they not take full advantage of that licence?

Those who voted No may protest that this is not what they voted for at all. But it’s a bit late now to start thinking about consequences. They should have read the small print. They should have heeded the warnings.

The mistake Scotland made in 2014 must be rectified. If Scotland’s precious NHS is to be rescued from the menace of rabid British Nationalism then the licence that was so recklessly given to the British state by that No vote must be revoked. All of Scotland’s vital public services, along with the distinctive political culture and democratic institutions which sustain them, are put in jeopardy by being party to a political union which renders us powerless to protect them. That political union must be dissolved.

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We’re off!

filthy_hands.pngIt is a happy coincidence that I set off today on a wee speaking tour just as the SNP administration sets about proving the legislative process by which Scotland will be extricated from the Union. For, make no mistake, that is what is happening in the Scottish Parliament right now. The Scottish Government’s Continuity Bill is important in its own right. As Mike Russell put it,

It is simply not acceptable for Westminster to unilaterally re-write the devolution settlement and impose UK-wide frameworks in devolved areas without our consent.

This may be read as relating specifically to the situation thrown up by the Brexit fiasco. But the obvious, unavoidable, undeniable corollary is that the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government must address, as a matter of urgency, the underlying constitutional anomalies behind the threat to Scotland’s democracy that he describes. If the British political elite can do this, what else might they do?

Our elected representatives would be derelict in their duty if they failed to take a stand in defence of Scotland’s democratic institutions. They deserve the active and vocal support of every person, in Scotland and elsewhere, who values the principles of democracy.

On a personal note, it’s only to be expected that my travelling will interfere with my blogging, at least to some extent. But I am aware that people in the Yes movement are keen to know what’s going on across the country. I’ll do my best to report from all the places I’ll be visiting over the next few weeks. Let’s keep in touch.

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Time to take!

800px-Treaty_of_UnionThere’s a problem in all of this talk of ‘amending’ Brexit-related legislation. To be more accurate, there are a great many problems in all this. But I want to focus on just one. Or maybe two, if something else occurs to me while I’m writing, as often happens.

The problem I’m referring to is hinted at in the phrase “powers [the devolved parliaments] were given under the devolution settlements”. Language matters. Words have consequence. It would be gratifying if The National could eschew language quite so characteristic of the British state’s approved narrative. A more thoughtful formulation would refer to “powers acquired by the devolved parliaments”. See the difference?

Power is not given. Power is taken. It is only from the perspective of a mindset which regards the British state as a beneficent, paternalistic, divinely-ordained entity that power is granted as a boon to humble petitioners. Examined through the lens of ‘realpolitik’, it becomes clear that little packets of power are grudgingly conceded only where this is considered to ultimately benefit the ruling elites.

Devolution is not about giving power. It is about withholding power. It is entirely concerned with retaining the power to grant power. Or to withhold it. Or to unilaterally amend the terms on which it is granted. Or to withdraw it completely. Devolution within the British state is not intended to enhance democracy. It is intended to buttress and secure the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.

The devolution process itself is an affirmation of conventional power’s claim to ultimate authority. To talk of power being “given” is to accept that claim. If we are to effect meaningful change, we would do well to first change the way we think about the way things are. We are unlikely to make much progress towards changing the way we think about things unless and until we learn to be more mindful of the words we use to describe those things. And a good place to start would be with the way we talk and write and think about the very essentials of our politics.

The change to which Scotland’s Yes movement aspires will only come about if and when we challenge and dismantle entrenched assumptions about the fundamental constitutional foundations on which the entire edifice of our politics is constructed. Anything else is mere constitutional tinkering. And we’ve had more than enough of that.

We see just how entrenched those assumptions are, not only in the notion of devolution being a process by which power is “given”, but also in the idea that there is a ‘fix’ for the defects and deficiencies of the Union. Devolution itself is, of course, sold on that basis. But we see the same mindset in, for example, the demand by Liz Murray of Global Justice Now that the Trade Bill be “amended to fix” legislation which, among other equally horrendous prospects, would let the British state flog off Scotland’s public health service to predatory corporations.

Such a ‘fix’ may be possible. But it would not be a real solution. Because the ‘fix’ would be entirely owned by established power. The British state would retain the power to alter or abolish the ‘fix’. Or to implement it in ways which were neither envisaged nor intended by those demanding the amendment to the legislation. So long as ultimate power lies with the British state, no ‘fix’ can be secure. Therefore, there can be no ‘fix’.

Just as there is no Brexit ‘deal’ which makes it OK to totally disregard Scotland’s 62% Remain vote in the EU referendum (the only real test of opinion we can have this side of Independence Day), so there is no ‘fix’ for any Brexit-related legislation proposed by the British government which can possibly be satisfactory.

If we really want to ‘fix’ things for Scotland, we must go much deeper than the political fudging, legislative fiddling and constitutional tinkering which is all that is on offer from those determined to preserve their power, privilege and patronage at any cost to the people of these islands. The ‘fix’ we need will not be given. It must be taken.

Devolution has become simply another weapon in the British state’s armoury. The existing constitutional arrangement is broken beyond repair. The Union must be dissolved.

Dissolving the Union is the starting point for genuine, meaningful, progressive change. Only when we rid ourselves of this grotesque constitutional anomaly will the people of Scotland be able to fully exercise the sovereignty that is ours by right.

Only by asserting and affirming our sovereignty through the agency of the Scottish Government and the authority of the Scottish Parliament will we be able to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status.

It’s time to stop thinking in terms of what the British state might be prepared to give us. It’s time to start working on taking what is ours.

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