The big wolf in little wolf’s clothing

richard_leonardWhen an anonymous “insider” speaks of “an opportunity to prove that Scottish Labour is not a branch office” what they actually mean is a chance to perpetuate the ancient deceit that ‘Scottish’ Labour is something more than a branch office.

Of all the con tricks played on the people of Scotland by the British establishment this may well be the most insidious. For decades, the notion of ‘Scottish’ Labour as a meaningful alternative to the Tories has helped to ensure that the British state’s grip on Scotland is maintained. By the simple expedient of having the media treat British Labour’s operation in Scotland as if it is a real political party with real leaders and real policies, the people of Scotland have been duped into supposing that voting Labour is the way to effect change.

But the very notion of ‘Scottish’ Labour as a distinct, autonomous political party represents a jarring contradiction. On the one hand, we have British Labour insisting that the UK is ‘One Nation’ and playing the ‘class solidarity’ card. (They also characterise themselves as ‘internationalist’ but claim that this ‘class solidarity’ cannot function across borders.) On the other, we have the same two-faced British politicians saying that Scotland is different enough from the rest of the UK (rUK) to require its own policies. Which is it?

Of course, we know that Scotland does have its own distinctive political culture. And that the political cultures of Scotland and rUK are diverging at an accelerating pace. In all areas, Scotland requires policies which are tailored to the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people. This can only be achieved if those policies are formulated by politicians who are accountable to the people of Scotland. Politicians who respect the authority of the Scottish Parliament. Politicians who acknowledge the sovereignty of Scotland’s people. In short, Scottish politicians.

It should go without saying – but, regrettably, doesn’t – that this does not mean Scottish in any ethnic sense. Being Scottish is not about a common heritage, but a shared commitment. Scotland needs Scottish politicians in the sense of needing politicians who are committed to serving the interests of the nation and its people. In this, Scotland is no different from any other nation. All nations demand of their political class that its first allegiance must be to the nation and people. All nations’ demands in this respect are satisfied to a greater or lesser extent according to the health of their democracy. Scotland’s demands are particularly ill-served due to the pernicious nature of the political union imposed on the nation more than three centuries ago. The well-being of Scotland’s democracy is cause for grave concern.

All of this presents a dilemma for the British parties in Scotland. They are British. Their allegiance is to the British state. They are ineluctably committed to the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. Their needs are British needs. Their priorities are British priorities. Their aspirations are British aspirations. And yet they must canvas electoral support from an electorate increasingly aware of the difference between British and Scottish.

As noted earlier, British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) seeks to resolve this dilemma by deception. They pretend to be a separate political party. They profess an autonomy that they simply cannot have. Every so often they proclaim policies which, superficially at least, are distinctively Scottish. But it is all empty rhetoric. It is all a sham. Policy is determined by the British party. BLiS can publish the glossiest manifesto imaginable, it counts for nothing. Because, just as Scotland is always subordinate within the British state, so ‘Scottish’ Labour is always the underling to British Labour.

Even in devolved areas, policy is always subject to London’s approval. All policy must conform to the British Labour party line. Talk of BLiS having its own tax policy is beyond nonsensical. It is political flimflammery of the most vacuous sort.

A vote for British Labour in Scotland is not a vote for ‘something different’. It is not a vote for change. It is not a vote for progress. It is a vote for the British state. It is a vote for British rule. It is a vote for the British Nationalist ‘One Nation’ project, with all the continuing and worsening misfortune that this implies for the health of Scotland’s democracy.


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Yawn!

richard_leonardI don’t care. I’ve thought about it. I’ve tried very hard to think why I should care about the internal squabbling of the British parties in Scotland. But I can’t think of a single good reason.

Of course, I object to the way they treat the Scottish Parliament – our Parliament – with open contempt. I am appalled by behaviour. I deprecate their abysmal failure to perform the function of a democratic opposition. But I can’t bring myself to care about their bickering amongst themselves.

It’s increasingly as if the British parties have opted out. It’s like they have little or nothing to do with Scotland’s politics. Our Parliament and Government function despite the presence of British parties rather than because of any contribution they make. The Scottish parties – mainly the SNP – get on with the business of running the country as best they can given the crippling constraints of devolution and the need to constantly mitigate the economically destructive and socially corrosive policies imposed on Scotland by the British regime. Meanwhile, the British parties are preoccupied with their own petty concerns. At best, they are an irrelevant sideshow. At worst, a malign hindrance.

Over the last couple of decades, Scotland has developed its own distinctive political culture. The British parties are not involved. Not in any meaningful sense. Certainly not in any constructive way. They stand apart by choice. They choose to remain aloof from our politics. They decline to engage. They want to do British politics in the British way. They don’t really understand Scotland’s new politics. They want no truck with it and wouldn’t even if they were capable. They crave a return to the old ways. They hunger for the restoration of the old order.

The British parties are an ever more alien presence in Scotland. The more alien they become, the less I care about them.


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The habit of malice

jenny_marraUnless Jenny Marra had good reason to believe her claim of a £300,000 “golden goodbye package” then the claim was a malicious untruth. If she cannot demonstrate that she had reasonable grounds to suppose the figure she quoted was accurate then she must, perforce, be branded a liar.

Of course, we know from the Alistair Carmichael affair that, among British politicians, lying to smear political opponents is, not on acceptable, but expected. Should Ms Marra be unable to offer a sufficient explanation for her behaviour we must not expect that she might be condemned by other British politicians. Or that she would be disciplined by British Labour. That’s just not the British way.

At the time of writing, Jenny Marra has not offered any sensible explanation for asserting that Ms Lesley McLay was being given £300,000 by Tayside Health Board. An assertion which we know to have been totally false. Her ‘defence’ appears to be that she was obliged to make up a figure because Tayside Health Board had not told her what the actual figure was. Although it also seems that she neglected to ask them what the actual figure was. So that ‘defence’ looks about as substantial as Danny Alexander’s chin.

More extraordinary than this inane rationalisation is Ms Marra’s insistence that Tayside Health Board should flout its legal and contractual obligations to a former employee. A demand which would be outlandish coming from any politician, but which is truly outrageous when it comes from the convener of the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee – which is charged with scrutinising the financial performance and general governance of public bodies such as Tayside Health Board.

Jenny Marra might have survived her original offence, whether that offence was wilful dishonesty or just an embarrassing misjudgement born of mindless malice towards the SNP of the sort that has been so long actively encouraged by the British parties that it is now habitual. But it is difficult to see how she can possibly continue as convener of the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee having evinced such a cavalier attitude to legal and contractual compliance.


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Scotland’s tragedy

corbyn_leonardI don’t suppose I was the only one to predict that British Labour would quickly find a way to back off from their momentary and superficial solidarity with the SNP in defence of Scotland’s democracy. They appear to have found a route back to the customary British Nationalist contempt for Scotland by way of a political fudge which attacks the detail of the ‘power grab’ whilst leaving untouched the underlying principle that the British political elite can do whatever it likes to Scotland.

To anyone with a modicum of respect for democracy, it matters not a jot whether powers that rightfully belong with the Scottish Parliament are withheld for seven years or five years or one minute. What matters is that the British state is asserting the authority to arbitrarily and unilaterally alter the terms of the constitutional settlement, not only without the consent of Scotland’s democratically elected representatives, but against the will of Scotland’s people as expressed by the only Parliament which has democratic legitimacy in Scotland.

British Labour’s amendment is as much a denial of the sovereignty of Scotland’s people as the British Tories’ Clause 15. Will their MPs from constituencies in Scotland continue what British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) started? Or will they cravenly abandon Scotland to the onslaught of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism? Expectations must be low.

When ‘Scottish Labour’ MSPs voted with the Greens, SNP and Liberal Democrats to withhold legislative consent for the British state’s EU Withdrawal Bill, many of us suspected that this was no more than a meaningless gesture. They were able to pose as stout defenders of devolution safe in the knowledge that their British Labour colleagues and Tory allies at Westminster would ensure they were never required to take it any farther.

British Labour is a party of the British establishment. It is always going to betray Scotland in favour of the British state. It is one of the mysteries of Scottish politics that there are people who have yet to learn this lesson. There are those for whom the gesture is enough. They will always forgive BLiS’s failure to stand up for Scotland so long as they are tossed the bone of an occasional token effort.

This is Scotland’s tragedy.


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To see oursels as ithers see us

 

pushedMatt Halliday’s tale of disenchantment with British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) is very familiar. He is far from the first former British Labour member to note with distaste how the party’s operation in Scotland has come to be defined almost entirely by its bitter resentment of the SNP. He is not alone in observing how this mindless hatred of the SNP has been exploited by the British Tories in Scotland, allowing them to manipulate BLiS to the extent that there is no longer any meaningful distinction between (or among) the British parties in Scotland. They are all British Nationalists.

The British parties in Scotland do not – indeed, cannot – offer policies tailored to the needs, priorities and aspirations of the Scottish people. In part, this is because they are not real political parties. They have no meaningful autonomy. They cannot formulate policy independently of the main party. Even if the British parties in Scotland possessed the political will to devise policies to address Scotland’s particular circumstances, if those policies didn’t conform to those of the parent party, they’d be overruled.

Increasingly, however, that political will is lacking. In fact, within the British parties there is a growing aversion to any acknowledgement of Scotland’s distinctive political culture. British Labour will talk of ‘solidarity’, while their British Conservative counterparts speak of ‘unity’. But behind the superficially differentiated rhetoric lies the same ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist ideology.

Matt Halliday has evidently recognised this. Being politically aware, he has quickly come to recognise that Scotland does have a political culture quite distinct from the British political culture which prevails in the rest of the UK (rUK); and that the British parties in Scotland simply don’t fit in this political culture. Something he has in common with many English people who move here. Hence, English Scots for Independence.

People like Matt have a perspective which is not readily available to those who have been immersed in Scotland’s political culture as it has developed. They see the difference more clearly because, having experienced both political environments, they are in a position to compare.

When he says that “the SNP’s vision for Scotland, and the type of politics they use to try and achieve that vision, is the politics that I want to be involved in”, what Matt Halliday is recognising is that the SNP is different from British Labour in Scotland because it does fit in Scotland’s distinctive political culture. It is a Scottish political party, rather than a British political party. Having come to maturity as a party of government within the context of Scotland’s democratic institutions and proportional electoral system, the SNP has been able to adapt in a way that parties embedded in a British political culture could not.

Listen to what Matt Halliday is saying. It may be as close as you’ll get to seeing ourselves as others see us.


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The impossible dream

fantasyKevin Pringle, a man who knows whereof he speaks, confirms in his final verdict on the feasibility and likelihood of a federal UK what many of us have been saying for a very long time,

I think that independence is more realistic.

The reason is simple. The things Kevin Pringle rightly identifies as the basic (minimum?) conditions for an acceptable – and therefore potentially viable – federal Britain are the stuff of fantasy politics.

Written constitution? No chance!

Economic policy that works for all the nations and regions? Unimaginable!

Divested of post-imperial pretensions? Don’t be silly!

All of this, together with anything else that so much as resembles modern democracy, is anathema to the ruling elites of the British state. Talk of imposing a working federal arrangement on the British state makes about as much sense as talk of squeezing me into a tutu and having me perform with Scottish Ballet.

And there’s another problem, quite apart from the fact that federalism and the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state are mutually exclusive forms. For a federal arrangement to be feasible it would not only have to be fair and equitable, it would have to be seen to be fair and equitable. Which means that the negotiation of the arrangement would have to be seen to be fair and equitable. Which, in turn, could only be the case if all the parties involved participated in those negotiations on the basis of parity of power, equality of status and mutual respect. Which, to close the circle, could only be possible if those parties to the negotiations were already independent nations.

Independence precedes and is a prerequisite for the negotiation of any constitutional arrangement which involves the ceding or pooling of sovereignty. Only independence permits the full exercise of sovereignty which provides the rightful authority to cede or pool sovereignty.

Federalism cannot proceed from the British state any more than pea and ham soup can proceed ‘fae a chicken’.

Independence is, not only more realistic, but essential and inevitable. Any constitutional arrangement which succeeds in terms of the imperatives, aims and objectives of the British state necessarily fails in terms of the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people. It is not remotely possible that negotiation of a new constitutional settlement could command the confidence of Scotland’s people other than in the wake of the dissolution of the Union.

The now ritualised espousing of federalism by British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) is not a case of them genuinely exploring constitutional options. It is a case of them striving for relevance in a political environment where absolute commitment to the preservation of the British state is increasingly regarded as an untenable oddity.


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A British accommodation

leonard_rennieThe latest bit of British jiggery-pokery with the EU power grab represented a potentially tricky situation for Richard Leonard and Willie Rennie. Their first instinct, as always, is to blame the SNP. But the sheer brazenness of the Tories’ cack-handed chicanery made things somewhat easier for the other British Nationalist parties. Not even with the worst #SNPBAD will in the world could Leonard and Rennie enthuse about the latest addition to the BritSpeak dictionary redefining ‘consent’ as… well… anything said or not said. To do so would leave them looking foolish as well as treacherous. And they prefer to do just one at a time.

Spare a thought for Ruth Davidson. She gets no choice in the matter. Looking daft and despicable is in her job description.

It would be folly, however, to mistake the position taken by Leonard and Rennie for anything akin to an honourable defence of Scotland’s interests. The dilemma for them is that, while they are happy to cooperate with the British Government’s efforts insofar as they are directed against the hated SNP, they are ever mindful that Holyrood represents their best – and in the case of the LibDems their only – chance of any meaningful political status. British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) craves a return to power in Scotland – even if it is on Tory coattails. For Willie Rennie, the prospect of a token post in a British party coalition at Holyrood allows him to cling to hope of a Dead Stoat Cloak.

Nothing would please Leonard and Rennie more than a ‘strategic retreat’ by the British government that would allow them to resume full participation in the ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project. They would be delighted if their Tory allies in London were to contrive an amendment to the amendment which was just less brazen and cack-handed enough for them all to get back into bed together again.

Of one thing we can be sure. If the British government does move on the Power Grab Clause, it will be solely for the purpose of finding an accommodation with the British politicians squatting in the Scottish Parliament. Scotland’s interests will not be a consideration.


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