Brit-watching

scotlands_parliamentWhen Winston Churchill quipped that the British never draw a line without blurring it he probably intended it as humour of the faux self-deprecating variety. But many a true word is spoken in jest, as Theresa May’s shifting and squirming on her Brexit white paper so amply demonstrates. Not so much a stance on principle as a stance on castors, the easier to be pushed and pulled to and fro by the warring factions of the British Conservative party.

It’s an entertaining spectacle. For those of us whose focus is on Scottish politics, Brit-watching has become an amusing pastime. Like looking at pond-life through a microscope, or gazing at the eddies and currents of a fast-flowing stream, it can be absorbing almost to the point of being addictive.

The danger is that we, or our political leaders, take it all too seriously. There is a risk that our choices and decisions may tend to be overly bound up with the chaotic antics of the British political elite. There are altogether too many influential figures in the SNP and in the wider Yes movement who urge that we should take our lead from what the British government does. That we should wait and see what they do. That we should bide our time and let events run their course.

Maybe I’ve got this whole independence thing wrong, but I thought the whole purpose was to get away from having decisions made for us by a British political elite that has neither democratic legitimacy nor accountability in Scotland. I was under the impression that the whole point of the independence cause was to put decision-making power back in the hands of the Scottish people where it belongs.

If the ultimate purpose of the Yes movement is to reassert the sovereignty of the people of Scotland then, as many have pointed out, we have to start be insisting on the exercise of that sovereignty. In order to become independent we must start acting like we’re independent. If the decision-making power which rightfully belongs in Scotland is to be brought home to Scotland then it is essential that we stamp the authority of the Scottish people and their democratically elected Parliament and Government over the process by which our nation’s independence is restored.

Fascinating as it certainly is as a piece of political farce, the pond-life twitchings and squirmings of the British political elite cannot be allowed to determine how the campaign to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status proceeds. The decision as to how and when that process continues can only be taken in Scotland by those with proper democratic authority and in consideration solely of the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people.

It matters not at all whether and for how long Theresa May can postpone her own demise and continue to patch up the gaping cracks in her administration, the fundamental constitutional issue remains. That issue must be decoupled, not only from the Brexit process, but from the entire British political system.

Scotland’s constitutional future is a matter for the people of Scotland alone. The first thing we need to bring home is the whole process of dealing with an issue which is entirely ours. We need to be perfectly clear that Westminster has no legitimate say in the matter. We have to explicitly reject the authority of the British political elite.

To paraphrase Ayn Rand, the question isn’t whether they will let us, but whether we will allow them to stop us.


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The hyena’s view

hyenaI smiled at the reference to Theresa May’s “Chequers Brexit compromise plan“. Whether or not it is accurate to call it a “compromise” is open to debate. The term has overtones of a strong negotiating position which are inappropriate. It suggests that May has a range of options. It implies that she’s in a position to play a game of give and take. In reality, what came out of the Chequers meeting was, not so much a compromise negotiating position, more a reluctant and partial acknowledgement of how little scope for negotiation the UK Government has. It was a compromise only in the sense of hubristic delusion seeking an accommodation with harsh reality.

But it was the word “plan” which provoked most amusement. What was set out in the statement issued after the Chequers meeting doesn’t amount to a plan. We might call it a wish-list, but for the fact that the list contains so many things that are unwanted by and/or unacceptable to so many of the parties whose agreement is essential if the “plan” is to mean anything at all.

When Nicola Sturgeon and Mike Russell gave the ‘Chequers Accord’ a cautious welcome as showing some signs of a dawning appreciation of reality, I suspect what they had in mind was the final paragraph of the statement which pretty much accepts that the “plan” is going to fail. It is just so characteristic of the whole Brexit shambles that a document which purports to set out a firm negotiating position concludes by making it clear that nothing is firm at all. The list of demands is immediately followed by a declaration of readiness to retreat from those demands, or abandon them completely.

Donald Trump sees this. He is not a clever man. He is, however, possessed of a conscienceless animal cunning such as might allow even a person of low intellect to survive and prosper in business and, apparently, US politics. He is a quintessential bully who acquires the sensation and superficial appearance of strength by placing himself in opposition to weakness. He would not be where he is did he not have an unerring instinct for weakness in others. When Trump evidently regards the British political elite with the casual contempt of a predator for its prey, that is an assessment we can trust.


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Brexit is NOT the problem!

saltire_euThere’s a lot of remarkable stuff going on in politics at the moment. You hardly need yet another commentator telling you what an unmitigated shambles the entire Brexit project is. You can probably do without some blogger groping for adjectives to describe the British political elite responsible for this debacle within a fiasco within a thing that we don’t even have a word for yet. Most of you will understand well enough the implications of recent developments in the increasingly farcical process in which, two years on from that fateful referendum, British politicians continue to squabble like bagged cats over what they want Brexit to mean.

You’ll doubtless have had your fill of articles attempting to read the entrails of the eviscerated ‘Chequers Accord’ and enumerate all possible permutations of resignations, alliances, leadership challenges, snap elections and the rest. You’ll have read or listened to so many ‘experts’ offering different accounts of ‘What It All Means’ that you may not have a clue what any of it means, but at least you have some idea of what some of it might mean depending on what the rest of it turns out to mean.

You’ll be dizzy from having things presented from every conceivable angle and perspective. You’ll be weary. I sympathise. Really! I do! But I crave your indulgence as I briefly discuss a remarkable thing that is not much remarked upon.

I refer to the curious fact that, despite everything that has happened and is happening, there are still people insisting that we should wait and see what happens next before acting to extricate Scotland from a political union which has gone from being merely deleterious to being downright disastrous.

What is it that these people imagine might happen which could possibly make the Union acceptable? The arguments for procrastination fall into three broad categories. There’s the ‘Wait For Clarity’ argument. This is the plea that we bide our time until is becomes fully apparent what the Brexit ‘deal’ is. Let me just repeat here something mentioned earlier. It is now two years since the EU referendum and we are still waiting for the plan and/or proposals which, in a scenario where sanity got a bit-part, should have been worked out long before the referendum was even contemplated. What rational reason is there to suppose that any kind of ‘clarity’ might emerge from the noxious fog surrounding the Brexit process?

The analogy I’ve used previously, but which bears repeating, is being pushed off a high building. You don’t have to wait until you hit the pavement to know that it isn’t going to end well. The British political elite is intent upon dragging Scotland off a very high building. It rather goes without saying that we did not consent to this. In fact, most of us are loudly objecting to being pulled over the edge by the Mad Brexiteers with their magic parachutes woven from inane jingoism, tawdry bunting and wishful thinking. But our protests are going unheeded.

The Mad Brexiteers insist – not without a certain perverse justification – that we gave them a licence to push or drag us off any tall structure of their choosing by voting No in 2014. So we should just shut up and enjoy the thrill of plummeting into the abyss.

This first category of postponers and prevaricators argue that the people of Scotland need to know all the details before they can be asked to resist. They need to know precisely the height of the building and exactly what kind of terrain they’ll be landing on – along with lots of stuff about wind direction and velocity and how much change they’ll have in their pockets. They say that, as soon as we see absolutely every bit of information there is and ever can be about the falling process, we’ll be better able to judge whether the inevitable high-velocity interaction with the ground is something we’re prepared to contemplate. And they expect this information to become available any day now.

Any.

Day.

Now.

Next, we have the ‘Wait For Three Buses!’ argument. According to this argument, Brexit isn’t so much like Scotland being dragged off a tall building as Scotland being thrown under a bus. The advice is that we should stand by while the people of Scotland are thrown under the wheels of this bus so they’ll know the pain of allowing themselves to be thrown under the wheels of a  bus and learn from this that being thrown under a bus is not a good thing. Possibly every bit as bad as meeting the pavement after a brief vertical trip.

The more enthusiastic advocates of this course of action prefer that we wait until there are two or three buses bowling along in our direction so that the people of Scotland get doubly or triply mangled. Just to ensure that they learn that lesson.

The theory seems to be that, once they know what a damned good bus-mangling is really like, the people of Scotland will rise up against those who visited this misfortune on them. Presumably gathering their dismembered limbs, splintered bones and smashed organs as they do so.

Then there’s the ‘Wait In Hope’ argument. Maybe Brexit won’t be so bad. Maybe it’ll have it’s good points. Like Hitler being an animal-loving vegetarian.

Or maybe it won’t happen at all. Maybe the British political elite will suddenly be overcome by late onset sanity and they’ll cancel the whole exercise claiming it was all just a jolly jape and asking if we can’t take a joke.

Needless to say, I reject all of these arguments. There is no possibility of any ‘clarity. I happen to think we should be protecting Scotland from traffic hazards. And it doesn’t matter how shining bright Brexit turns out to be, or even that it doesn’t happen. Because we didn’t consent to it! It is being done to us without our consent. It is being done to us despite the fact that we refused consent. It is being done to us against our strenuous objections.

That is the issue. Not Brexit, but the political union which empowers the British political elite to push Scotland off tall buildings or under buses. Brexit is merely a symptom. The Union is the disease. Brexit is a manifestation of the fatal flaws in a constitutional arrangement which Scotland should never have been subjected to. A constitutional arrangement which no sane, sober and sensible citizen of Scotland would accept were it being offered now.

Brexit has exposed the asymmetry of power which is built into the Union. An inherent imbalance which means that, within the UK, Scotland’s interests can only be served if and to the extent that they happen to coincide with the interests of England’s political, social and economic elites. Something that happens ever more rarely as Scotland develops a distinctively outward-looking, inclusive, progressive political culture while the rest of the UK (rUK) retreats into a narrow, insular, fearful British Nationalism.

Brexit has brought into sharp focus the denial of popular sovereignty which is the other fatal flaw of the Union. The sovereignty of Scotland’s people is denied in favour of the sovereignty of the British crown in the British parliament. Which increasingly means autocratic rule by the executive of the British government.

These fatal flaws have existed since the Union was imposed on Scotland. They didn’t arise with Brexit. They won’t be resolved regardless of how the Brexit shambles plays out. Or, at least, they won’t be resolved in a manner that any democrat could consider tolerable.

The British political elite does not see the democratic deficit as a problem They regard it as an essential aspect of the Union. When Scotland’s interests are subordinated to the interests of the British government’s clients, that is the Union doing precisely what it was intended to do.

When the Union enables the British political elite to deny Scotland’s democratic right of self-determination and treat our democratic institutions with open contempt, that is the Union serving the purpose for which it was devised.

The British state doesn’t see the Union as the problem. For the British state, the Union is the solution. Their response to protests against the imbalance of power is to further entrench that imbalance whilst decimating and emasculating Scotland’s democratic institutions. Their response to efforts to ensure the people of Scotland can fully exercise the sovereignty that is theirs by right is to strip Scotland of the means by which sovereignty might be exercised whilst bolstering the power wielded over Scotland by the British government.

Brexit is not the problem. The Union is the problem. And it is a problem which needs to be addressed as a matter of the utmost urgency. More and more people are recognising just how real and imminent is the threat of rabid British nationalism. Paul Kavanagh, for example, writes today,

The independence movement needs to stop talking about the best time for an independence referendum, and start talking about the dire necessity for one.

We cannot afford to prevaricate. We cannot afford to hesitate. We must dissolve the Union. We must do it now!


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All for power

chequersThe entire Brexit process continues to be precisely the mess it was bound to be. It is simply not possible to embark on such a complex and problematic process as extricating the UK from the EU with no preparation, no plan, no leadership and no unity of purpose without ending up in just the hopeless muddle we now see.

It was always the case that, in the circumstances, it would be the EU which would decide the terms of the new settlement with the UK. All that was left for Theresa May and what I suppose we must refer to as her administration, was to maintain the appearance of meaningful negotiation whilst gravitating towards the ‘deal’ that was going to be imposed on the UK regardless of anything notionally agreed by her cabinet.

There was never any question of a good ‘deal’. There was never a choice between a ‘hard’ or a ‘soft’ Brexit. Such notions only take on a deceptive semblance of sense when set alongside the irredeemable inanity of Corbyn’s vacuous sloganeering. ‘Brexit for Jobs’ may not be the most grotesque gobbet of political jingoism ever coined. But, given that ‘War is Peace’ was already taken, it’s not a bad effort.

To the extent that the British political elite’s efforts have been bent to securing the best Brexit deal, ‘best’ is only and exclusively defined in terms of what serves the interests of the British political elite. The overarching imperative has been, not to repair, but to fix. Not to find solutions, but to conceal the dearth of them. Not to mitigate the impact on the UK of a majestically bad choice, but to minimise the damage to the Conservative Party and the British establishment – which, for most purposes, may be regarded as the same thing.

It is all about power, of course. It’s always about power. But the contest is not between the UK and the EU. The power struggle is internal to the British state. The EU is merely a proxy in a fight for preeminence among various factions within the British ruling class. What is, perhaps, slightly curious is that there is little or nothing to differentiate these competing cliques. There aren’t even discrete groups. There are no fixed loyalties, either to personalities or principles. There is only a loose mesh of constantly shifting alliances. A roiling sub-Machiavellian broth of intrigue and counter-intrigue.

There is barely any longer even the pretence of politics as a contest of ideas. This is politics stripped of all the particulars of policy positions and the trappings of parliamentary protocol and the performance of public engagement. British politics is moving away at an accelerating pace from orbit around the question of how we are governed and coming to revolve entirely around the matter of who rules.

To properly understand what is happening in the realm of politics it is necessary first to identify the imperatives which drive the various actors in the process. There never was an imperative to take the UK out of the EU. The European Union, for all it’s undoubted faults and failings, has provided the context for an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity on our continent. Whatever it’s deficiencies and defects as a human-contrived institution, as an experiment in post-imperial international association, the EU has been an outstanding success. It is often found wanting. But it works. It works about as well as we might reasonably hope.

Brexit makes no sense. There is neither need nor justification for taking the UK out of the EU. Brexit cannot possibly improve the UK’s political or economic relations with the rest of Europe. The UK already had the best ‘deal’ it could possibly get. The EU had already made all the concessions and accommodations that could possibly be made. Which is why the UK Government now finds itself forced to seek a Brexit ‘deal’ which is as close as it can get to the pre-Brexit position whilst retaining the ability to pretend that they’ve achieved both ‘real Brexit’ and the better arrangement that was promised. A feat well beyond the meagre capacities of Theresa May and her administration.

Brexit only makes sense in terms of what some have referred to as a right-wing coup. Although the ‘right-wing’ bit may suggest a degree of ideological refinement for which little evidence can be discerned. There is nothing sophisticated about this coup. There is no ideal at its heart. Only a raw, visceral, opportunistic lust for power.

That this coup, and the squabble over its ownership, will result in serious casualties is not in doubt. The economy will suffer. Democracy will suffer. People will suffer. But the prize that those involved crave is the kind of power that need not ever concern itself with such suffering.


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A question of trust

ruth_davidsonFar from the least of the problems with Theresa May’s latest attempt to make the rough-hewn square peg of Brexit fit the well-formed round hole of reality is the question of trust. For example, when the British government undertakes to pay “due regard” to European Court of Justice (ECJ) rulings relating to the rules the UK will share with Brussels, why would anyone assume this to mean that the British government will respect those rulings? Anyone even minimally aware of the British state’s record in relation to such undertakings would have to be exceedingly sceptical. Anyone familiar with ‘The Vow’ made to Scotland in 2014 would openly scoff at the notion of trusting the British political elite.

If there was any intention to respect ECJ rulings, why not just say so? Why not make that commitment explicit? Why resort to such vague terms? When such woolly language is used it becomes a matter of how it is defined. And of who does the defining.

This being the British political elite, it is safe to assume that they reserve to themselves the role of ultimate arbiters in this, as in all things. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to expect that “due regard” might be defined in the same self-serving manner as the British political elite defines the “consent” of the Scottish Parliament to whatever it is that the British political elite wants to do to Scotland. Thus, the British government will be deemed to have given “due regard” to any ECJ ruling if –

(a) the ruling is accepted
(b) the ruling is ignored
(c) the ruling is rejected

To most of us, I’m sure, this is the stuff of Orwellian madness. But, to those mired in the dogmatic exceptionalism of British Nationalist ideology, it all seems perfectly reasonable. The reasonableness derives from it being British, regardless of the content. This may seem improbable. Many will ask how it is possible – absent some pathology – for any human intellect to deny such glaring inconsistency, contradiction and illogic. But we are dealing here with minds capable of the kind of doublethink which allows British politicians to pay lip service to Scotland’s Claim of Right whilst using those same lips to spit on Scotland’s right of self-determination.

And there is no escaping the fact that the British government actually drafted an amended the Scotland Act which Jonathan Mitchell QC condemned as “a rapist’s theory of consent”.

30 (4) For the purposes of subsection (3) a consent decision is—
(a) a decision to agree a motion consenting to the laying of the draft,
(b) a decision not to agree a motion consenting to the laying of the draft, or
(c) a decision to agree a motion refusing to consent to the laying of the draft;

In any negotiation there must be trust. There must be a certain minimum confidence that the parties to the negotiation are acting in good faith. There must be a reasonable expectation that undertakings made will be honoured. The British political elite has shown itself to be deceitful, duplicitous and dishonest. They cannot be trusted. Therefore, there can be no basis for agreement.

If there is no reason for the EU to trust the British state, there is even less cause for Scotland to do so. We trust the British government at our peril. We are paying a steep price for having believed British politicians in 2014. The cost of trusting them now will be far, far higher.


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They never learn

douglas_ross

Once again, a British politician falls victim to that particular mix of prideful ignorance and vaunting arrogance which attends upon the dumb exceptionalism of British Nationalist ideology. what is remarkable here is, not the answer given by Guy Verhofstadt, but the fact that Douglas Ross asked the question in evident expectation of the response he wanted rather than the response that Guy Verhofstadt had previously given.

Ross doesn’t even have the excuse that he was ignorant of that earlier response. He actually referred to it as he asked the question anew. He was fully aware of Verhofstadt’s stated position that there is no obstacle to Scotland’s membership of the EU. But he still anticipated being given the answer that suited his agenda. He seemed to genuinely believe that, being British, he’s entitled to expect that others will adjust their positions to accommodate his purposes.

I haven’t the slightest doubt that Ross was both surprised and offended by Verhofstadt being so disobliging. He certainly won’t acknowledge, to himself or anyone else, that he did something really stupid. In his mind, the question was perfectly valid and sensible. Verhofstadt is entirely at fault for giving the wrong answer.

And nobody should imagine that this episode will deter British Nationalists from continuing to peddle the nonsense that independent Scotland must inevitably be expelled/excluded from the EU – and every other international body. Just as Ross supposed Guy Verhofstadt would indulge his prejudices, British Nationalists shall persist in the belief that the rest of the world must naturally pander to their petty and petulant need to see retribution visited on Scotland for daring to challenge the divinely ordained British state.


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If the Union offends thee…

ian_blackfordAlong with Mike Russell, Ian Blackford is emerging as one of the heroes of Scotland’s independence movement. Unquestionably, this is because both these individuals are unafraid to reflect in their rhetoric some of the indignation and anger felt by people across Scotland and beyond.

What may seem strange to some is the extent to which the British establishment seems oblivious to and/or disdainful of this outrage. The British political elite appears genuinely incapable of appreciating how its behaviour is viewed in Scotland. Either that, or they simply don’t care. Or maybe there is some awareness, but it is countered by powerful denial. I suspect there is an element of all of these at work.

There are certainly those in the British political parties who simply cannot understand why anybody would challenge the authority of the British state or question the efficacy and desirability of British governance. To them, the British ruling class is a natural phenomenon, much like the winds and the tides. They take for granted the British ‘right to rule’ just as they do the air that they breathe. when Ian Blackford and Mike Russell talk about the deficiencies and failings and offences of the British state, they might as well be speaking the Gaelic for all the British understand of what they say.

Some, no doubt, are just as aware of these deficiencies, failings and offences as Blackford and Russell and the rest. But, from the arrogant and perverse perspective of British exceptionalism, getting away with these things is a mark of superiority. They not only don’t care about the harm they do, they revel in it. Gross abuse of power and abysmal incompetence are, like the elaborate raiment and ornate headgear sported by aristocracy, the ostentation which signifies status.

Then there are those who simply blank out the discomfiting reality. We see all to clearly in aspects of the Brexit fiasco the astounding capacity for denial that exists within the ranks of the British political elite. If they are capable of deluding themselves about how that whole bourach is going, it’s easy to see how David Mundell might have convinced himself that he really does speak for Scotland and that we all respect and admire him just as we love and adore Ruth Davidson.

What this all adds up to is a British state which is sick to its core. Chronically sick. Terminally sick. From Scotland’s perspective, ending the Union will be like amputating a diseased limb.


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