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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Scotland the brand! Scotland the nation!

saltireI have particular reason to be aware of the importance of branding. In what is now very much a previous life, I gloried in the self-conferred job title of ‘Corporate Imaging Consultant’. I’m not sure how often or how much the jargon impressed. But I made a sort of living out of the work, which involved all aspects of a business’s ‘public facing’ communication, from logo, stationery and mission statement to website, print advertising and promotional materials. It was work that I enjoyed – mostly! The job required a combination of creative design, cognitive psychology and a certain degree of IT skill. It could be very satisfying.

There are two ways a business can be successful. It can succeed at selling products or services. Or it can succeed by creating a brand. If you’re selling products or services in a dynamic market, you have to be constantly innovating and adapting to the changing environment. The product or service you’re selling may change from year to year, or possibly even more frequently. And the ‘story’ you’re telling about that product or service will also have to change. It will need to be constantly revised and updated to reflect changes in the product or service and/or changes in the market.

If you create a successful brand, it never changes. Or very, very rarely. The ‘story’ associated with the brand is constant and consistent. Maintain the brand identity and reputation and you can use it to sell pretty much any product or service – so long as it doesn’t damage the brand’s public image. This affords great flexibility. While the feet of the business are paddling furiously under the surface in an effort to keep abreast of the market and, hopefully, ahead of competitors, the brand glides gracefully and serenely in the public gaze.

Branding is important. Branding is crucial. You don’t mess with the brand!

An effective brand doesn’t sell a product or service. It conveys a set of values and associations; as well as various abstract qualities, such as speed or comfort or reliability. It doesn’t make you want something. It makes you feel something. Perhaps more than anything, the brand offers reassurance. A brand which represents the appropriate values and associations allows the prospective purchaser to feel confident that they are making a wise choice.

Unless you’re a British Nationalist politician, you can probably see where this is going.

There is no doubt that ‘Scotland’ is a brand. There is no question that, as a brand, it is hugely successful and immensely valuable. In fact, ‘Scotland’ is a ‘meta-brand’. It is a brand which, when overlaid on it, supplements and augments a corporate brand. Spring water is good. Scottish spring water is better. Scottish spring water is automatically and always better. It is better, not on account of the product – although this must be of a suitable quality – but on account of the ‘Scottish’ branding.

Unless you’re a British Nationalist politician, you’ll be able to see the value in this. You’ll be able to see how ‘Scotland’, the brand, gives producers and providers an edge. You’ll understand how it adds a premium.

There is no escaping the fact that ‘Scotland’ the brand is in jeopardy. It is under threat of being diminished and diluted and discredited. So-called ‘Union Jackery’ is a very real phenomenon. Particularly in the case of food and drink, the Scottish brand, is being actively eroded by an onslaught of Union Jack (mis)labelling which is totally inexplicable and unjustifiable in business terms. You don’t mess with the brand!

So, how are we to explain this phenomenon? What might trump the value of the ‘Scottish’ brand? We can surely discount a commercial motive. It is simply not credible that anyone could suppose this ‘Union Jackery’ might improve the market appeal of the products involved. You just don’t mess with the brand! There is almost always a cost to doing so. Spring water that is selling well because of its ‘Scottish’ branding isn’t going to sell better by having the values and associations of that brand undermined.

If anybody calling themselves a ‘Corporate Imaging Consultant’ recommended switching the branding from ‘Scottish’ to ‘British’ then they shouldn’t just be sacked, they should be forced to change their own name and live out the rest of their deservedly miserable lives as ‘Garry Glitter’.

The only other thing that might override the economic imperative is some pressing political consideration. There is no commercial logic to the destruction of ‘Scotland’, the brand. But there may be political logic. If you are a ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist politician who believes as an unshakeable tenet of that vile ideology that Scotland was ‘extinguished’ by the Union; and whose driving ambition is to make that obliteration a reality.

Ruth Watson is being perfectly honest when she says that #KeepScotlandTheBrand is “not party political”. Nor is the campaign to save ‘Scottish’ branding directly linked to the campaign to the Yes movement. But ‘Scotland’ is more than a commercial brand. It is not possible to entirely separate the effort to preserve Scotland’s name and commercial value as a brand from the fight to defend Scotland’s identity and political distinctiveness as a nation.

Everybody in Scotland should be part of both campaigns. Unless you’re a British Nationalist politician.


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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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Long live the Queen!

ruth_davidsonThe British media in Scotland aren’t always negative. We are accustomed to a daily diet of unremitting gloom, doom and despair served up by journalists who have made a career of portraying Scotland as a country made entirely from dreich held together by dour. All is crisis and chaos. Unless it’s catastrophe and collapse. If the nominally Scottish media are analogous to a window through which Scotland both observes itself and puts itself on display to the world, then the typical  hack spends their days smearing the glass with excrement and bile.

Apparently, there is only one good thing about Scotland. One palely gleaming pearl of hope in the mire of misery. One reason for journalists to exercise the muscles of positiveness which would otherwise surely atrophy. One thing in all of Scotland about which they can wax enthusiastic. Ruth Davidson!

And why not? Why shouldn’t they lionise her? She is, after all, a creature of the media’s creation. A Frankenstein’s monster made from photo-opportunities and vacuous pronouncements stitched together with spin. It is the media who have elevated Davidson to the status of Queen of the BritNats. It is only the constant and vigilant protection of the media which allows her to continue pretending to a status that she could never hope to earn on her own.

The British state needed a ‘personality’ to be the face of the ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project in Scotland. The British political elite required a leader for hard-line Unionists to rally around. The narrative of British propaganda demanded someone who could be portrayed as a heroic blend of Boudicca, Churchill and Thatcher  – with a dash of Molly Weir. Someone to play the role of bold defender of the Union standing with her finger in the dyke holding back the tide of democratic dissent threatening the settled order.

Ruth Davidson got the part by default; British Labour in Scotland being unable to field a candidate who might survive internal party strife long enough to serve the British state’s purposes. That potential for a certain longevity was pretty much the only thing Davidson had going for her. The rest had to be constructed. She had to be given a make-over. She was shoved in one end of the British media sausage-making machine a third-rate party place-filler with no discernible talent. She emerged the same bag of fatuous hypocrisy and unabashed dishonesty, but now bulked with the breadcrumbs of interchangeable stock positions; artificially coloured with off-the-shelf charisma; seasoned with carefully controlled controversy; and enclosed in a protective skin that lends her the deceptive sheen of a serious politician whilst concealing the unappetising insipidness of the content.

But the Queen of the BritNats sits on a rickety throne. Her crown is on a shoogly peg. The pedestal upon which she has been raised must be constantly steadied and shore up. The British political establishment has invested too much in Ruth Davidson to let her fall. No matter how often or how badly she succumbs to arrogant stupidity, she must be protected. Her every clumsy stumble has to be presented as deft politicking. Each ill-thought utterance has to be imbued with gravitas. The contradictions and inconsistencies must be spun as intellectual complexity.

So it is that we get headlines such as ‘Ruth Davidson throws down gauntlet to May on immigration, NHS and tax‘ above cloyingly sycophantic articles written by journalists more accustomed to churning out dire pieces in the ‘Scotland is a hellhole’ genre. The purpose here is to present Davidson as a significant actor in Scottish and British politics. Someone who matters. Someone who has influence. Someone who can get things done. Someone who can be effective. Someone capable of bringing about change.

And it is all completely, utterly, ludicrously false!

Ruth Davidson is not a significant actor. She has no power. She has no authority, She can do nothing of any import whatsoever.

It’s all a sham. It would require a massive injection of substance to qualify as smoke and mirrors. It is a deception. Yet another confidence trick being played on the people of Scotland by the British establishment. The lectures and speeches and stage-managed public events and strictly controlled TV appearances, are all just theatre. None of what you see and hear is real. None of it matters.

The idiom of throwing down a gauntlet suggests a serious challenge. We are supposed to believe that Davidson is standing up to her generally reviled boss. We are supposed to be duped into thinking of Davidson as an effective shield against the worst excesses and ineptitude of the British government. Essentially, we are supposed to see Davidson as either – or both – an alternative to Theresa May and to Nicola Sturgeon. She is either Prime Minister-in-waiting or First Minister-in-waiting depending on the demands and expediences of the moment.

She is neither! But that won’t deter the British media. So long as Ruth Davidson remains a useful tool of the British establishment, they will continue to treat this commonest of commoners like political royalty.


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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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