Then what?

sunday_politicsI rarely watch the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland show. It is presented by Sarah Smith and Gordon Brewer. But that’s not the only reason I don’t watch it. The thing is, I don’t need to. I always know – with an adequate degree of certainty – what it will be about. I know, because I understand what is the function of the programme. It’s function is to lend the authority of the state broadcaster to whatever stories the print media has been peddling over the preceding week. In that respect, Sunday Politics Scotland is no more than a weekend version of BBC Scotland’s daily news and current affairs output. All are there merely to stamp the latest British Nationalist propaganda with the imprimatur of an institution which is able to exploit the residual respect afforded to what was once the most respected news organisation in the world.

The stories which these programmes seek to furnish with a veneer of credibility fall broadly into three categories –

  • SNP: Spawn of Beelzebub? Or imps of Satan?
  • Crisis threatens [insert name of Scottish institution or public service]!
  • Scotland: Hellhole? Or cesspit?

Whether it’s distributing incendiary baby boxes or denying jakies the gut-rot they crave, the SNP is always wrong. Whether it’s NHS Scotland or Police Scotland or anything else that might be somehow associated with Scotland, it’s a day away from total collapse, and has been since the hated SNP forced their way into government by the devious ploy of persuading people to vote for them time after time. Whether it’s potholes or potheads, Scotland is the worst. You know the sort of thing I mean. The papers are filled with it every day. A persistent current of nasty negativity, deliberate distortion and downright dishonesty.

The BBC’s role is to bring an air of gravitas to all of this. We’re all supposed to take it seriously because it was on the Beeb. All too many do just that. Because it’s TV (and radio) where time is a major constraint, what the BBC serves up is a distillation of the bile, bunkum and bullshit fed to us by the print media. A short, sharp jolt of extra-strong lies. Where the press is the hose spraying us with propaganda, TV is the hypodermic injecting it straight into the brain.

So, I don’t bother watching the likes of the Sunday Politics Scotland. If I’ve been following the news cycle, I can pretty much predict what will be on the programme. And I can be quite certain about how it will be presented.

The people, too, will be familiar types. Mostly British politicians peddling the promises and platitudes and pieties and slogans and soundbites and sophisms which are their stock-in-trade. They will point fingers of blame at one another as each denounces policies and actions they only lately espoused and will later embrace again whilst being ‘very clear’ that they have never/always favoured those policies and actions – delete as appropriate. They will condemn failures and weakness and incompetence and corruption until it seems that all is failure; all is weakness; all is incompetence; all is corruption.

They will offer alternatives that always turn out to be indistinguishable from the other alternatives. They will talk of new directions, but always it’s the same destination. They will dance the dance of faux rivalry. They will perform the familiar ritual. They will go through the well-practiced motions.

In a supporting role, the ‘experts’ are there to present selected facts with an air of scientific certainty that is supposed to be reassuring. Their task is to give an impression of order and control. The solidity of statistics and research is offered as a remedy for the rambling rhetoric of politicians.

Then there are the pundits and commentators who are brought on to interpret it all for the benefit of viewers assumed to be afflicted by the intellectual equivalent of dental caries brought on by a syrupy diet of sport, soaps and celebs.

The journalists tend to stick dutifully to a cosy consensus defined by the London-centric corporate media. They don’t see it as their job to challenge the narrative of established power. They don’t ask awkward questions. They don’t offer insightful analysis. They are as immersed in the British political system as the politicians. They are as much a part of the British establishment. They are as embedded in the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.

Other than the ‘political correspondents’ of approved publications, the talking heads seem to be drawn at random from a pool of people whose qualifications are never quite clear. Katharine Mary Grant, better known as Katie, seems typical.  Her credentials as a commentator on Scottish politics appear to consist of being a minor member of the British aristocracy who has written some children’s books and penned opinion pieces for various organs representing the more rabid and ranty fringes of right-wing British politics.

Ms Grant gives the impression of having breakfasted well on generous helpings of Smugabix. She oozes the assured, self-righteous pomposity that comes from a life of easy advantage and an absolute conviction of British exceptionalism. She is there to comment on things that she cannot possibly comprehend. It is this lack of comprehension which qualifies her to appear on the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland show. She is able to present the British establishment perspective untainted by any awareness of the reality and unsullied by any relevant experience. Being wrapped in the cocoon of a prestigious BBC current affairs programme is supposed to normalise this perspective.

180505_marchI didn’t watch the edition of Sunday Politics Scotland on which Katie Grant appeared recently. I am, however, reliably informed that, delivering her haughtily disdainful verdict on the the All Under One Banner march in Glasgow the previous day (Saturday 5 May), she posed a question which should probably be read with a tone of sneering incredulity.

It looks like a body that wants one thing. But if they ever got that thing then what would happen?

Interesting and informative as it might be to dissect and analyse this comment in some detail, I’m going to focus on the bit where she asks, presumably with an air of snide perplexity, “then what would happen?”. This is notable, not because of the dumb but proud incomprehension in the face of a massive exercise in popular democracy – as noted earlier, if Katie Grant was capable of understanding the motives and aspirations of those participating in the march she’d be useless for the BBC’s purposes – but because it is a question neither she nor any other representative of the British establishment would think to ask of the British Nationalist ‘One Nation’ project.

If that project progresses, what then? What constitutes success? What is the end-state that British Nationalists are aiming for?

We know what is the purpose and intent of this ‘One Nation’ project. We know that the British state is driven by an imperative to lock Scotland into a political union unilaterally reformed to better serve the British ruling elites. We know that they want to undo a devolution experiment which, from their perspective, has gone disastrously wrong.

We know that they want to deny Scotland’s democratic right of self-determination.

We know that they want to emasculate the Scottish Parliament.

We know that they want to dismantle Scotland’s democratic institutions.

We know that they want to prepare Scotland’s public services for sale to profiteering corporations.

We know that they want to prevent Scotland’s land and resources being taken out of the hands of grasping individuals and exploitative businesses and used for the benefit of the many.

But then what happens?

Do they suppose that the people of Scotland will meekly submit to their democratic rights being denied?

Do they imagine the people of Scotland won’t defend the only Parliament that they elect?

Do they think the people of Scotland will quietly tolerate the transfer of powers to an unelected shadow government accountable only to the British executive?

Have they even considered how the people of Scotland might react to the privatisation of precious public services such as NHS Scotland?

Have they envisaged the response when Scotland’s people are overruled on the issue of fracking just as we were on the matter of EU membership?

Suppose they proceed with their plan to absorb Scotland into ‘Greater England’, then what?

Do they really think Scotland’s independence campaign can be utterly vanquished?

Do they seriously suppose the Yes movement can be crushed out of existence?

Do they imagine the aspirations of Scotland’s people will simply evaporate?

Something close to half Scotland’s people want independence. Many more are at least content with devolution. Only a relatively tiny minority favour the anti-democratic British Nationalist project. Suppose the British state persists in pandering to that minority while contemptuously disregarding the rest, then what?


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Never mind the numbers! Feel the mood!

180505_march

A good indication of the strength of Scotland’s independence movement was apparent in Glasgow yesterday (Saturday 5 May 2018) when at least 50,000 people marched through the city in support of the cause. For every person who participated in the march there was another standing by the side of the road cheering them on or waving a Saltire from a window or showing their support by sounding their car horn as the procession passed. And for every one of them there was somebody else who, for whatever reason, was unable to be there in person but was certainly there in spirit.

But it’s not just about the numbers. It’s also about the mood. The Yes movement is, without question, as massive as ever. But there is a new mood of determination allied to a growing sense of urgency. As the march amply demonstrated, the Yes movement is rapidly gaining momentum.

Power is relative. The strength of any political movement must be assessed in comparison with the strength of its opposition. While the independence movement is growing in terms of its size, its resolve and its campaigning ability, the British political elite has probably never been in such a state of disarray. The British state is weak.

The Unionist counter-demonstration to the Yes march was tiny. The British Nationalist movement in Scotland has never been very large. Were it not for the collaboration of the British media, it would be insignificant. As people increasingly turn to alternative sources of news, analysis and commentary, the manipulative power of the traditional media diminishes. Without the normalising influence of the British state’s propaganda machine, ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism is exposed as an irrational and incoherent fringe ideology whose adherents, lacking any actual arguments, are reduced to spitting a bitter, resentful hatred which stands in stark contrast to the joyous, aspirational ebullience of the Yes campaign.

How strong is the Scottish independence movement? Strong enough! It has reached the point where it cannot be defeated by democratic means.

People need to think about the implications of that.


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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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Who are these people?

tomkinsFor many, I feel sure, the shock revelation coming out of the Hansard Society’s 15th annual Audit of Political Engagement is the discovery that as many as one in seven people in Scotland is “broadly satisfied” with the British political system. Who are these people? What do they see that the rest of us don’t? What do they fail to see that is painfully obvious to the vast majority?

What is the thought process which leads to the conclusion that the British political system is, from a Scottish perspective, even remotely acceptable far less broadly satisfactory?

What does it take to be a Unionist in Scotland today? What percentage of one’s intellect must be forsaken? What portion of one’s conscience must be denied? What part of one’s self-respect must be sacrificed?

How much must Scotland endure before British Nationalists begin to question their allegiance to a British political system which is inherently incapable of representing Scotland’s interests?

At what point do British Nationalists begin to recognise that a Union which can only be sustained with open threats, empty promises, transparent dishonesty, cancerous corruption and utter contempt for democratic principles, is a political union which is broken beyond repair?

What do British Nationalists think is going to happen? How do they imagine Scotland’s politics playing out over the coming weeks, months and years? What end-point do they envisage?

Do they suppose that the 86% who are less enamoured of the British state than themselves will just learn to live with it? Do they reckon the half of the population which wants independence will just meekly accept denial of that aspiration?

Do British Nationalists actually believe the democratic route to independence can be closed down without consequences?

Do British Nationalists genuinely think that imposition of a ‘One Nation’ British state will be the end of the matter? Do they suppose Scotland’s independence movement will simply evaporate once direct rule from London is restored?

Who are these people?


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They demand so much. They offer so little.

tomkins.pngBritish Nationalist ideologues such as Adam Tomkins insist, in ever more shrill and angry tones, that Scotland must not diverge from the rest of the United Kingdom. But these fanatics never explain why. They never explain why Scotland’s interests must always be subordinated to the demands of a British political elite which has repeatedly and decisively been rejected by the Scottish electorate. They never explain why the people of Scotland should put their faith in a British regime which has exhibited such woeful incompetence, mindless recklessness, brazen dishonesty and blatant contempt for our democratic institutions.

They never explain why Scotland should not seek solutions tailored to our circumstances and informed by the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people.

They never explain why Scotland’s economic, social and political welfare must always be sacrificed for the sake of preserving the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.

They never explain why Scotland should give up so much for a British political system which is inherently incapable of representing Scotland’s interests.

They never explain why the people of Scotland should trust British politicians who have for so long shown themselves to be unworthy. British politicians who constantly denigrate Scotland. British politicians who treat Scottish voters with open disdain. British politicians who refuse to respect the authority of the Scottish Parliament and the democratic mandate of the Scottish Government.

British Nationalist zealots like Tomkins never try to persuade us of the merits of the Union, which they appear to regard as ‘divinely ordained’. Instead, they threaten us with dire retribution should we show any heretical tendencies to put reason before faith. They demand that we submit on pain of the very ruin that their narrow, fearful, isolationist, xenophobic ideology promises us.

They cannot tell us what Scotland gets out of this Union which might compensate for the sacrifices it requires of us. They cannot tell us why Scotland must always be the exception. They cannot tell us why Scotland cannot be a normal nation. They can give no good reason why Scotland should remain party to a political union which is seriously detrimental to our national interest.

A political union which can only be sustained with open threats, empty promises, transparent dishonesty, cancerous corruption and utter contempt for democratic principles is a political union which is broken beyond repair. It is a political union which must end.


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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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Culture of the periphery

A week into my tour of the Highlands & Islands, as my all too brief stay on Orkney draws to a close, I find myself with some time to reflect on the the impressions, insights and inspirations of my travels so far.

The first thing to say is that the people I’ve met have been, without exception, wonderful. From the staff of Northlink Ferries to the wummin fae Fife driving the Scrabster bus to the chef at The Shore Hotel here in Kirkwall who stayed back after his shift to prepare a meal for me when I came in late from the meeting, they’re all a bit special.

Most special of all, however, are the folk who have organised the events and the people who have come along to those gatherings. Almost exclusively Yes people, it must be said. Those in the No camp seem as unwilling to engage now as they did throughout the first referendum campaign. Which is unfortunate. Not least because they have most to gain from hearing something other than the voice of the British state. But what can you do? There’s no way to oblige them to attend. They can’t be forced to participate. If they are determined to remain on the outside of Scotland’s constitutional debate, it’s hard to know what might draw them in.

The people I’ve been speaking to and talking with could hardly be more different. They are totally engaged and constantly thoughtful. The gathering last night in Kirkwall was typical. Twenty or thirty people crammed into a room, each with their own ideas and opinions, but all united in a shared commitment to Scotland. Each prepared to offer their considered thoughts on how best or nation’s interests are served. Each ready to have their views questioned. Each equipped to sensibly and reasonable challenge the views of others.

This is democratic politics at its best. This is how politics should be.

Some choose to put themselves outside this sphere of popular, participative politics. They opt to exclude themselves. By choice, they retreat to the periphery.

But, of course, that is not how it seems to the hard-line Unionist. From the British Nationalists’ perspective, they are the centre. By aligning themselves with the British state, they associate and affiliate themselves with what they think of as the ‘natural’ centre. For them, Scotland is the periphery. Scotland’s concerns are peripheral concerns. It is those who occupy themselves with Scotland’s concerns who are occupying the periphery.

And it doesn’t matter where they are. Politically, the centre/periphery distinction is not a matter of place. It is a state of mind.

It was, however, a geographical reference which brought this to mind. I was being taken on a tour of Skarra Brae when made some remark about Orkney being remote. This provoked an instant and indignant rejection of the suggestion. To the people who live there, Orkney is not remote. That’s not how they think of themselves. And maybe it shouldn’t be how the rest of Scotland thinks of its furthest reaches.

In an earlier article I wrote about how the Yes movement needs to be more connected. We must be careful not to squander the enthusiasm and intellect that I have encountered on my travels by being too focused on the central belt.

Perhaps more crucially, as Scotland departs the Union, we should be wary of falling into anything like the British Nationalist centre/periphery mindset.

Scotland is one nation. But it is one nation on account of a connection, not to a central structure of power, privilege and patronage, but among all of our diverse communities. A connection among people with a shared commitment to the community of communities which is our nation.

Next stop, Shetland!


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