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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Petulant children and mindless vandals

James Kelly MSP
James Kelly MSP – Petulant child? Or mindless vandal?

When Alex Salmond talks about the way the British parties at Holyrood are behaving in relation to the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act (OBFA) his anger is genuine, palpable and fully justified. He allows his emotions to show to an extent which is rare in politicians. I think that is very much to his credit.

We should all be angry about this. Regardless of what interest we have in football; or our political or religious affiliation; or even any informed and considered opinion of the legislation, we should all be outraged by the way British Labour in Scotland (BLiS), in particular, has sought to exploit the issue solely to satisfy a base and vulgar urge to land some sort of blow on the SNP.

This has nothing whatever to do with whether or not OBFA is effective as a weapon in the fight against sectarianism. If that were the case then BLiS and their Tory allies would be proposing changes to the legislation in order to make it more effective.

Claims that this is not the way to tackle the blight of sectarianism beg questions about what other measures might. That the legislation is unlikely to be one hundred percent effective in eradicating sectarianism cannot, in itself, justify removing it from the statute books. Society uses laws, not only as a means of eliminating or minimising anti-social behaviour, but as markers which signal moral or ethical stance. Laws serve as a statement of our shared mores and standards. We don’t make laws against rape and murder in the hope or expectation that this will put an end to such offences.

We make such laws not least to define and formalise society’s attitude to certain behaviours. The effectiveness of OBFA in combating sectarianism may well be less important than its utility as a means of re-shaping public attitudes. The mere fact of the law’s existence may impact on awareness and perception of sectarian behaviour which is so ingrained as to have become accepted as an inherent and ineluctable aspect of our society.

We are entitled to wonder why certain politicians want this signal of social disapprobation removed. In fact, we have a duty and a responsibility as citizens to demand to know what motivates politicians who object so strongly to legislation which, even if it does nothing else, attaches a social stigma to behaviour which none of them would publicly admit to finding anything other than totally abhorrent.

It has nothing whatever to do with justice. Nobody has suffered any injustice as a consequence of the legislation. There is no human or civil right to public expression of sectarian abuse or provocation which might be infringed. To claim that OBFA unfairly targets football supporters is like saying drunk driving legislation unfairly targets motorists. Regrettably, football matches and their environs is where you find overt sectarian abuse just as the road network is where you find drunk drivers.

It has nothing whatever to do with responding to public demand. All the evidence is that OBFA is approved by an overwhelming majority of people in Scotland. The campaign to repeal OBFA totally disregards the views of Scotland’s people. Those responsible for this campaign exhibit a casual, sneering, supercilious contempt for the public which is now firmly established as a defining characteristic of the British parties in Scotland.

The only thing driving this campaign is British Labour in Scotland’s burning, bitter, intellect-crippling resentment of the SNP. There may be an argument that OBFA should never have made it to the statute books. Or that it should not have been enacted in its present form. There was ample opportunity to advance those arguments as the legislation made its way through Parliament. Self-evidently, no such case was ever adequately made. The legislation was passed by the Scottish Parliament. The only Parliament with any democratic legitimacy in Scotland. The only Parliament which has the rightful authority to represent the will of Scotland’s people. The Parliament which speaks for Scotland. That Parliament spoke for Scotland when it declared our rejection of sectarianism and our determination to drive it from the sphere of our nation’s public life.

To now repeal OBFA is to retract that declaration. It is a very different proposition to not implementing the measure in the first place. To now remove it from the statute books is to recant our previously stated detestation of sectarian bigotry. It is to say that sectarianism in football maybe isn’t so bad after all. Actively renouncing our refusal to tolerate sectarianism has to be perceived as demonstrating a willingness to tolerate it.

Such a momentously regressive change to our social conventions would be difficult to justify under any circumstances. To do it for reasons no more worthy than the pettiest of political point-scoring is the conduct of a petulant, over-privileged child or a mindless political vandal.

No wonder Alex Salmond is angry. Aren’t you?


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