Past shame and present pride

chris_mcelenyRoughly enough years ago to be called half a century without fearing accusations of glib exaggeration, there occurred one of the more shameful episodes of a youth not notably lacking in moments that seem cruelly immune to the blessed relief of deteriorating memory. It was late summer and I’d been tipped-off about the possibility of a job with an outside contractor at Rosyth Dockyard. It was construction work – general labouring – and paid reasonably well. I was young and fit, well-accustomed to hard work, with wits and experience enough to be confident that I could dodge the more onerous and arduous aspects of such employment.

Most importantly, it was short-term. The last thing I was looking for was a career and a pension. I just wanted to make enough cash to survive on for a month or two. And by ‘survive’ I mean drink, dance and treat young women in a manner that the older me recalls with shudder. It was the 1960s. I was a teenager. The future was the weekend. Anything much beyond that was a mystery and a matter of almost total indifference.

So, I duly roll up at the gates of HM Dockyard in Rosyth ready for a job interview which, if things went true to form, would amount to little more than providing evidence of life and a National Insurance number. It was an era of full employment and jobs of this menial nature were fairly easy to come by. Which meant that employers tended to treat workers with something which, to the inexperienced eye, might have been mistaken for respect, but which was in reality no more than moderate caution born of a desire to put off as long as possible the trouble and inconvenience of having to find a replacement minion.

Arriving at the timber and glass cubicle of the security checkpoint, I was confronted by an MoD polis with a hat, a badge and a degree in supercilious officiousness who informed me I’d need a pass then slapped a sheet of paper and a pen on the counter in front of me in a manner which managed to imply that he doubted my ability to deal with a task that involved reading and writing. As I set about proving him wrong, he rattled off a stentorian monologue which I seem to recall made repeated mention of the Official Secrets Act, as well as something about penalties – which may have included transportation to Van Diemen’s Land and/or being hanged by the neck until dead. Or it may just have been the way he said it. I really didn’t care. It was Monday morning. My greatest fear was, not antipodean banishment or the gibbet, but that the gaffer might ask me to start right away and thus deny me the opportunity to spend the day in the pub getting used to the idea of not being able to spend my days in the pub for a while.

I duly filled in the form and handed it to this staunch guardian of all that Her Britannic Majesty might take a fancy to. He glanced at it only briefly before tearing it in two and discarding the pieces with a choreographed precision which suggested a practised performance akin to a military salute. In what seemed part of the same manoeuvre, he placed a fresh copy of the form before me declaring, “Ye cannae pit Scoattish!”

“Eh?”, I enquired with all the respectful courtesy I was able to muster in what were rapidly degenerating into trying circumstances.

“Ye cannae pit Scoattish!”, he responded, rather unhelpfully reiterating the point that I was not permitted to enter my nationality as ‘Scottish’ – such as had always been my habit. No more helpfully, the officer went on to state that it was also forbidden to enter ‘Welsh’ or ‘Irish’ in the space reserved for indicating ones nationality. Before I could finish wondering why on Earth I might wish to claim either of these nationalities, my interlocutor (for I did not yet regard him as my tormentor) finally got to the nub of the matter.

“Ye cannae pit Scoattish, Welsh or Irish,” he intoned with the demeanour of a man weary of explaining something which he considered too much part of the natural order to warrant any explanation at all. “Ye huv tae pit British or English.”

I baulked at this. “But I’m Scottish!”, I protested in a voice which may have been less proud than I’d like to think and more plaintive than than I’d like to admit. Let’s blame the hangover.

“No if ye want a pass, yer no!”, responded the man who had by now graduated to the full status of tormentor. “If ye want a pass, ye huv tae pit British or English!”, he insisted.

I was in a quandary. I needed the job. But, as a lifelong Scottish nationalist, how could I deny my true Scottish identity? How could I betray my deeply held political convictions? How could I subordinate my principles to the imperious demands of the British state?

Quite readily, as it turned out. Under pressure, I caved in. I folded like the proverbial cheap suit. I made a choice that I have been deeply ashamed of ever since. I wrote ‘British’.

This episode has haunted me for decades. But it was brought vividly to mind as I read about recent developments in Chris McEleny’s discrimination case against the MoD. The manner in which he has been treated by his employers is ample evidence that attitudes have changed little in the 50 years since I was told I had to renounce my Scottish identity if I wanted to work in a British state facility.

David Mundell almost said something truthful when he controversially claimed that Scotland is not a partner in the UK, but is merely a part of the UK. In reality, Scotland is neither. We are not regarded by the British political elite as partners in a political union. Neither are we seen as part of a British state which this elite holds to be its exclusive province. We are perceived to be, and treated as, part of an owned periphery.

Britain is not a country. It is the structures of power, privilege and patronage which serve the ruling elites at the expense of the rest. It is not a place, but a system. It is not geographically defined. It is primarily defined by what is excluded. Faithful servants of the British state who belong to this excluded periphery, such as David Mundell, exist in a grey area of more or less grudging tolerance. The centre is England. But only in a very vague way. Less uncertain is the periphery’s status as ‘Greater England’.

To be Scottish (or Welsh, or Irish, or Cornish etc.) within the British state is to be a second-class citizen – at best. For a long time, this has not been explicit. It has become more overt particularly as Scotland has developed a distinctive political culture, an increasingly assertiveness and a form of democratic dissent which challenges the structures of the British state.

The response of the British establishment is a crude effort to re-impose control and a fearful defensiveness which has engendered and empowered a truly nasty ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist ideology.

Half a century ago, I was confronted by the precursor of this ideology. I failed to take a stand then. For that reason, if no other, I heartily applaud the stand being taken by Chris McEleny. Never again should anyone who calls themselves Scottish be forced by the apparatus of the British state to chose between their identity and their livelihood. Never again should anyone in Scotland have to suffer dislocation and intimidation at the hands of the British state on account of their pursuit by democratic means of political and constitutional reform.

It is time to put a stop to this. It is time to dissolve the Union.


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Spot the coup!

filthy_handsNews that the Home Office will no longer speak to MSPs about their constituents on immigration matters comes little more than a week after we learned that MSPs are being obstructed from helping constituents with problems claiming benefits. New procedures instituted by the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) mean that MSPs may no longer contact Job Centre staff directly in an effort to resolve constituents’ problems. Regardless of how urgent the situation, they are now required to submit an enquiry by email and await a written response. Now it has been revealed that the Home Office is refusing to engage with MSPs wishing to discuss immigration issues affecting individuals and families in their constituencies.

In both cases, these new arrangements apply only to MSPs. MPs will not be similarly impeded in their efforts to help members of the public. It is difficult not to see a pattern emerging here. Especially when these recent developments are placed alongside other evidence of the British establishment’s increasing antipathy towards the Scottish Parliament. Take, for example, Ruth Davidson’s endlessly repeated insistence that there is ‘no demand. for a new independence referendum in brazen contempt of a decision taken by the Scottish Parliament.

Or the UK Government’s wilful failure to engage with the Scottish Government over the Brexit process.

Or the high-handed, imperious manner in which the UK government swept away the fundamental principle that powers not specifically reserved to Westminster are devolved.

This goes beyond mere ignorance of or disdain for the devolution settlement. What we are seeing is a purposeful and concerted effort to undermine and delegitimise the Scottish Parliament.

This is not new. Devolved powers over income tax and welfare are little more than a clumsily contrived collection of fiscal and political traps and pitfalls that have only been substantially avoided thanks partly to the artlessness of their construction but mainly to the skill and determination of people such as John Swinney, Derek Mackay and Jeane Freeman. Devolution was never more than a device by which to placate democratic dissent whilst continuing to withhold powers from the Scottish Parliament. Latterly, it was transformed into a political weapon deployed against the SNP, the Scottish Government and now the Scottish Parliament itself.

What is different now is that all pretence has been dropped. The attacks on Scotland’s democratic institutions have become as open and unsubtle as the attacks on Scotland’s public services. The effort to diminish and denigrate the Scottish Parliament is being ratcheted up at the same time as the British state’s presence in Scotland is being enhanced and promoted. There is nether accident nor coincidence in the fact that MSPs are being hampered in the performance of their duties whilst the British state pours resources into building up the ‘UK Government in Scotland’. It is not mere happenstance that the British media is redoubling its efforts to raise the profile of British Nationalist politicians like Ruth Davidson whilst shielding them from proper scrutiny.

This is an assault on Scotland’s democracy. This is an effort aimed at eradicating Scotland’s distinctive political culture. This is the British Nationalist ‘One Nation’ project in action. This is a political coup in progress.


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Scotland’s champion

james_wolffeIt is interesting that James Wolffe QC “wants the case thrown out right at the start”. Does this indicate at last the sense of urgency that many of us have been seeking from the SNP administration? It would be gratifying to think so.

Be that as it may, we can certainly welcome the tone of the Lord Advocate’s submission to the UK Supreme Court. It represents an explicit and forceful challenge to the arrogantly assumed supremacy of Westminster and the idea that the British ruling elites can dispose of Scotland as they please. It may be seen as asserting on behalf of the Scottish Parliament a democratic legitimacy which Westminster lacks. Behind the legalese lies the simple claim that the Scottish Parliament truly speaks for Scotland in a way that Westminster never can.

This is important. This is crucial. Our Parliament is the foundation on which our democracy is built. It is the soil from which has grown Scotland’s distinctive political culture. It is the guardian of our precious public services. It is the guarantor of our right of self-determination. The facilitator of our capacity to choose the form of government which best serves the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people.

The people of Scotland are sovereign. The Scottish Parliament gives agency to that sovereignty. It is the alternative – and the antidote – to the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. It is what stands between us and the anti-democratic British Nationalist ‘One Nation’ project. It must be defended by every means available to us. It must be defended in the courts. If necessary, it must be defended on the streets.


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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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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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