Three of the best

depute_leader_candidatesOnce again, SNP members have been faced with the difficult task of choosing among candidates of the highest calibre. Whoever wins, the contest has proved yet again that the SNP has a wealth of talent at its disposal. It has also demonstrated the strength of the party’s internal democracy. The manner in which these contests are conducted is a credit to the party and to the distinctive political culture which the British state is determined to eradicate.

My approach to differentiating the three candidates involved focusing, not only on the personal qualities and abilities of the individuals, but also on the fit between those attributes and the role of Depute Leader as I understand it. I was also mindful of the role(s) currently being filled by the candidates and how this might be affected by being elected.

My conclusion was that Julie Hepburn is the candidate best suited to the role of Depute Leader.

To some extent, this choice was influenced by the fact that I am persuaded that both Chris McEleny and Keith Brown have much to offer in other ways. And that being Depute Leader might actually limit them unduly. I see Keith as a projects man. His talents are best deployed if he has a sort of ‘roving commission’ to step into situation where strong leadership and effective management skills are required.

Chris, I’d like to see leading moves to secure (or restore?) strong representation for local government within the party as part of the wider reorganisation that is ongoing – even if only slowly.

Most importantly, however, I am firmly convinced that Julie is best qualified and most capable in relation to what I consider the three most important aspects of the Depute Leader role at this critical time for the SNP and the independence project. Without going into detail, these relate to –

  • Connecting (networking) the branches and groups within the party.
  • Connecting the membership with the party leadership.
  • Connecting the party with the wider independence movement.

Whoever wins, these must be their priorities. I’m sure each of the candidates would bring something to the role of Depute Leader. I am certain that Julie would bring something extra.


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New referendum! New mindset!

If an independence referendum were to be called today and the SNP go it alone and be the official ‘Yes’ campaign and it’s SNP versus everyone else, we will lose based solely on voting history. – Chris McEleny

referendum_2018_petitionIf the Yes campaign is to succeed in the coming independence referendum we urgently need a fresh mindset. Sorry, Chris! But this is not it.

Let me say first of all that, having seen him perform in two Depute Leader contests, I have considerable respect for Chris McEleny. I have not the slightest doubt that he is destined to play a major role in Scotland’s politics. But I would suggest that he might benefit from shaking off some of the more conventional thinking that is evident from his views on the new independence referendum.

In some respects, Chris has already done this. He has been prepared to break from the herd and at least put a time-frame around the new referendum. He has said that the vote should be held within eighteen months. Which is a considerable improvement on the indefinite postponement being advocated by some in the SNP. But eighteen months is plenty of time for the British state to do massive damage to Scotland’s democratic institutions and public services. As with the more tremulous Postponers, I’ve yet to hear him explain how he’d go about preventing ‘One Nation’ British Nationalists wreaking the havoc that they promise.

A curious thing about Chris’s approach – which seems to be fairly typical of what is becoming the conventional thinking on the matter – is the insistence that “we need to think differently”, quickly followed by a ‘plan’ for the new Yes campaigned so closely modelled on the first one as to be barely distinguishable. Meet the “new Yes Scotland team”! Just like the old Yes Scotland team!

The other thing that puts Chris with the conventional thinkers is the idea that a constitutional referendum can be reduced to a mathematical formula. If our ambitions are limited by “voting history” then we will never even aim for anything, far less achieve it. The nature and form of our activism cannot be dictated by history if we are to have any hope of shaping the future. We will not do what needs to be done by succumbing to the notion that we can only ever do what has been done.

The whole point of campaigning is to make future outcomes different from past outcomes.

I have never heard anybody suggest that the SNP “go it alone”. Never! I constantly hear people insisting that the SNP is not the whole of the independence movement. But I have yet to hear anybody make the claim that it is. I really don’t know what purpose is served by incessantly denying something which, not only isn’t asserted, but is actually impossible.

What needs to be recognised is that the SNP is the political arm of the Yes movement. The independence campaign desperately needs an injection of hard-headed political realism. We have to stop pandering to the various factions which, for whatever reason, resent the SNP’s crucial role. We have to face up to them and tell them straight that the sniping has to stop. We have to get across to every Yes supporters the reality of our situation. Which is that the sure way to lose is to fight the same campaign we fought for the 2014 referendum.

We have to drive home the hard political reality that we will only win by putting the full weight of the Yes movement behind Nicola Sturgeon.

It’s not that complicated! The effective political power provided by the SNP is essential to the independence project. As a political party constrained by its constitution as well as the policies and positions approved by its members, the SNP cannot change to accommodate the diversity of the Yes movement. Therefore, the Yes movement must accommodate the SNP.

It’s not that difficult! The Yes movement doesn’t actually have to change. It doesn’t have to ‘become’ the SNP. It only has to recognise that the movement is not the campaign. The Yes movement and the SNP remain distinct. But both serve a campaign. And that campaign has to be fronted by the SNP for the glaringly obvious reason that the SNP is at the front of the campaign. It is at the point where the independence movement comes up against the British state.

What is the point of the Yes movement putting its weight behind some “new Yes Scotland team” when, almost by definition, that “team” can have no effective political power? A team which is formed for the very purpose of pandering to the factions whose aversion to effective political power outweighs their commitment to the cause of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status.

The Yes movement doesn’t need to be told to “embrace moderate views, socialist philosophies, environmental, radical and democratic thinking”. The Yes movement already does that. The Yes movement is diverse, open and unconstrained. It doesn’t need this to be mediated by a “new Yes team” which will no more represent all of that immensely broad character than the SNP does.

The Yes movement must feed its power directly into a Yes campaign which, in contrast to its own character, is united, focused and disciplined. Like a real, professional political campaign has to be.

This united, focused and disciplined campaign must go on the attack in a way that simply didn’t happen in the 2014 effort. The Union has never been so fragile. It has never been so vulnerable. The Yes campaign must exploit the British state’s weaknesses as ruthlessly and relentlessly as may be consistent with fighting a principled campaign.

The solidarity, focus, discipline and aggression of that campaign then needs to be put at the service of the SNP and, ultimately, Nicola Sturgeon.

The power of the Yes movement must not be diffused by being filtered through some compromise ‘team’. It must not be diverted to some substitute ‘leader’. The power must be directed where it will be most effective.

That is realpolitik. That is how we win.


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From outside the soundproof room

Julie Hepburn
Julie Hepburn

I’m not sure why Julie Hepburn has called for calm in the “row” over the timing of the next independence referendum. I wasn’t even aware that it was a “row”. I was under the impression there was an attempt to have a discussion. And that discussion is not just calm, but becalmed. It’s going nowhere. Because the different perspectives on the issue are being debated in quite separate spaces.

The only ones who appear other than calm are those frantically trying to close down the debate altogether. Or, at least, to close down that part of it which going on in the space marked ‘Public’. The attitude seems to be that it’s OK for politicians and prominent figures to express a view on the matter of when the new referendum should be held, but that anybody else doing so is ‘divisive’ and ‘damaging’.

I have been called a “hysterical agitator” for presuming to disagree with Pete Wishart. Apparently, getting elected bestows omniscience. Simply being an MSP or MP implies possession of profound knowledge and great wisdom. (We have to wonder what went wrong in the case of Richard Leonard.) To question the pronouncements of our political leaders is, it seems, an act of heresy. Pete Wishart is fantastic. He shits fantastic pearls of fantastic wisdom that the rest of us swine aren’t equipped to appreciate. We should all just shut up and stop asking awkward questions about the emperor’s fantastic new clothes.

Pete Wishart’s fine. As I’ve said elsewhere, he’s an excellent constituency MP and has been doing a damn fine job as chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee. But he is about as all-knowing and all-wise as the Wizard of Oz. There is something rather ridiculous about idea that his is the ultimate word on anything. His opinion on the matter of when the next independence referendum should be held is no more valid that anybody else’s. Like any opinion, it is only as good as the evidence and reasoning on which it is based. Like any opinion which has been publicly stated, it is there to be challenged. Like any opinion which is genuinely held and openly expressed, the person holding and expressing it should be willing and able to defend it.

But that’s not what’s happening. It’s as if Pete Wishart and Chris McEleny and Keith Brown and the rest are talking at us from inside a sealed and soundproofed room. Everything being said outside that room is being widely represented as an irrelevant and unwelcome intrusion. If we are not being told to shut up, we’re being told to calm down. Which is no more appropriate.

Julie Hepburn says,

We undoubtedly have a mandate for an independence referendum, and I trust our First Minister to make the right judgement when the time comes and have every confidence our views as SNP members will greatly inform that decision.

There is absolutely no question about the mandate. And we have every reason to trust Nicola Sturgeon’s judgement. But we have to wonder how the views of SNP members – or the wider Yes movement – might “greatly inform” the decision on the date of the new referendum if those voices are silenced or dismissed, as some very evidently want. And we have to wonder how anybody can become aware of the pros and cons of the various positions if there is no debate in which the arguments are comprehensively rehearsed.

Julie Hepburn goes on to say,

But if we continually focus on the when, then I believe we risk neglecting the more fundamental question of how – how to do we win an independence referendum?

In this, we see again a disturbing failure to appreciate or acknowledge why the issue of timing is critical. If we do not focus on the when then we risk neglecting the fundamental issue of what the British political elite will be doing while Julie Hepburn is busy trying to “build a renewed case for independence” – whatever that might mean. If it actually means anything at all.

The “case for independence” is like one of those Lego kits that has all the parts for building a particular thing – a moon buggy, for example. You can dismantle it and put the bits back together in all manner of different ways. But you’re never going to end up with anything better than the moon buggy. Once you’ve built the moon buggy, you have your moon buggy. There is no extra super moon buggy that can be built from the available parts.

British Nationalists are, of course, perfectly content that the Yes movement should devote all its resources and energies to endlessly reconfiguring the case for independence. They’re always going to demand a better moon buggy. That process is potentially infinite. It takes us precisely nowhere. They, meanwhile, sit there with a grotesque, dysfunctional contraption of randomly assembled Lego parts feeling no need at all to explain what it’s meant to be. They just stick a Union flag on it and it gets to be whatever they want it to be.

At the risk of stretching the analogy beyond breaking point, the timing of the referendum is crucial because British Nationalists have already started stealing our Lego parts. Some of us are warning about this process of attrition. We’re doing so calmly. Maybe Julie Hepburn and her colleagues should consider opening the door of that soundproof room so they can hear us. They might even think about coming out and actually talking to us.


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The options

procrastinationI am aware that many in the SNP and the wider Yes movement want this debate about the timing of a new independence referendum to just stop. Pete Wishart may be one of those who wish it had never started. Or so it would seem from his flat refusal to answer questions about his own highly controversial position or to engage in any way with those responding to his call for indefinite postponement of the referendum. On Twitter, there has been a steady drip of people urging an end to the discussion. Apparently, we’re not supposed to entertain any difference of opinion. Pretty much everybody agrees that timing of the referendum is critical. So critical that we must avoid talking about it. No, I don’t get it either.

Personally, I’m glad the issue has come to the fore. Unlike Pete Wishart, I am more than happy to have an open and frank debate. I don’t see how this debate might be avoided. It’s the elephant in the room. And it’s not easy to sweep an elephant under the carpet. If the discussion gets heated, that’s a measure of its importance. It’s not a reason for closing down the debate, as some wish to do.

If people don’t want to participate in the debate, that’s OK. But don’t tell me or anybody else that we should shut up about the matter just because it makes you uncomfortable. Your comfort is not my concern. And don’t tell me or anybody else to shut up because the debate is ‘damaging the Yes movement’. If the Yes movement isn’t robust and resilient enough to cope with vigorous debate than it’s unlikely to be fit to go up against the might of the British state.

Discussion of the timing of the referendum has been valuable, not least on account of the way it has revealed the attitudes of some of our elected representatives. The British parties, needless to say, have no role in the debate. We are all aware of British Nationalists’ fervent, anti-democratic opposition to the exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination.

We can safely discount the British politicians who exhibit such disdain for democracy, not to mention contempt for the people of Scotland and their Parliament. But what of the others?

Pete Wishart has nailed his colours unequivocally to the spectral mast of a ghost ship called ‘Optimum Time’. Others, such as Chris McEleny, have exhibited a greater sense of urgency. Which, to be frank, was hardly difficult. Now we have Keith Brown, who seems to be telling us that it doesn’t matter how urgent the situation may be, the SNP isn’t ready. Here’s a senior figure in Scotland’s independence party; the de facto political arm of the independence movement, telling us that putting a timescale on the referendum is the wrong priority. Groping for a term to apply to that attitude, the (printable) one that comes most readily to mind is ’lackadaisical’.

It seems Keith Brown expects the tides and currents of politics to cease and desist while the SNP gets its act together. Which makes him a bit of a Cnut. (Note to historians: Cut me some slack, eh! It’s a good line.)

The most sensible comment I’ve heard so far from any SNP politician is Angus MacNeil’s observation.

Some people think you can only ever have two referendums ever. And when you’ve got that into your heads, then you become afraid of having it in case you lose it.

Pete Wishart’s afraid of losing because he thinks the country isn’t ready. Keith Brown’s afraid of losing because the SNP’s not ready. I’m afraid of losing because of what will then happen to Scotland. But I’m just as afraid of what will happen to Scotland if we delay the referendum. Because it’s the same fate either way.

The thing that’s missing from comments about timing of the referendum made by SNP politicians is any acknowledgement of what the British government is likely to be doing while we procrastinate. We have British politicians openly talking about unilaterally rewriting the devolution settlement and powers being stripped from the Scottish Parliament with the threat of further rolling back of devolution. We hear them state their intention to impose “UK-wide common frameworks” that only the terminally naive suppose will be limited to the likes of food standards and animal welfare – although that would be bad enough.

We are told that, in the new ‘One Nation’ British state, “discrepancies” across the four nations will not be tolerated.

We are warned that the British political elite will not allow anything to damage their “precious, precious Union”.

Even if we couldn’t work it out for ourselves, we are now being explicitly told what fate awaits Scotland if the monstrous ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project is not halted.

And yet our politicians seem oblivious. Not once have I heard any of them address this threat to Scotland’s democracy. I have been deeply immersed in the debate about when we should hold the referendum. I have yet to find any Postponer who is willing to even acknowledge that the British government will be doing something while the SNP sorts out it’s internal organisation and Pete Wishart waits for a burning bush to tell him of the coming ‘Optimum Time’. (Note to Biblical scholars: Give me a break, eh! It’s a nice image.)

It’s as if, in the scenarios they consider, the British government ceases to exist. The British political elite is simply disregarded. The British state’s pressing imperative to lock Scotland into a ‘reformed’ Union is just ignored. The ongoing ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project isn’t a factor. It doesn’t figure in the Postponers’ calculations when they’re considering timing of the new referendum.

Caution may be advisable in certain circumstances. Nobody can sensibly contest the fact that the SNP’s ‘gradualist’ strategy has been successful to date. But the gradual approach has no defined end-point – unless and until you create one. At some juncture, you have to make the final leap. You have to do something bold. You have to act.

All this talk of waiting for ‘optimal conditions’ to spontaneously emerge from the political ether and stopping the political roller-coaster so the SNP can change it’s underpants totally misses the point. The choice is not between going now (September) and losing, or going at some later date (defined only vaguely or not at all) and winning. The choice is between the absolute certainty of the British Nationalist project relentlessly eroding Scotland’s democracy at an accelerating pace, or the possibility of stopping that project in it’s tracks before it can do irreversible damage.

Of course, it’s just a possibility. But it’s the only chance we have. There’s a good reason the Postponers are reluctant to discuss their alternative plan for stopping, or even slowing, the British Nationalist juggernaut. They don’t have one!


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The shackles are ready

shackles_by_gengen35-d50v113I suppose eighteen months is, at least superficially, better than the indefinite postponement of a new independence referendum being proposed by Pete Wishart. And I know Pete Wishart will protest that indefinite postponement is not what he is proposing. But the “optimum” time cannot be defined – not even by Mr Wishart or any of his supporters – and it most certainly can’t be predicted months or, if some have their way, years in advance. If the time-frame lack any identifiable fixed point then the timescale is, by definition, indefinite. Pete Wishart’s protestation won’t change that, no matter how engorged with indignation they are.

Another thing those advocating this indefinite, or protracted, delay are unable or unwilling to explain is how they intend to deal with the actions of the British government during this period of procrastination. The British Nationalist ‘One Nation’ project is not going to be put on hold while Scotland dithers at the behest of Pete and The Postponers. That project will proceed regardless. And no part of that project is concerned with presenting Scotland’s independence movement with the “optimum conditions for success”. On the contrary, it’s all about preventing the people of Scotland from exercising their democratic right of self-determination – ever!

A document came to my attention today. It purports to be an outline of the main provisions of a “New Act of Union” being drafted by a group calling itself the Constitutional Reform Group. Readers can visit this group’s website and judge for themselves the extent to which those involved represent anything other than the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.

I cannot testify as to the provenance or authenticity of this document. What I can say is that it is a true and accurate representation of the British Nationalist dream. And Scotland’s nightmare.

  • Part of a nation could decide to remain in the UK.
  • UK Parliament is sovereign.
  • UK Parliament permission required for independence referenda.
  • UK Parliament MPs form the upper chamber for the Parliaments of Scotland, Northern Ireland & Wales.
  • Monarch can amend an Act of Parliament.
  • Life peerages continue.
  • UK parliament controls public borrowing of all nations.
  • “Central taxes” controlled by UK Parliament.
  • Barnett formula abandoned.
  • New Public Borrowing Board controls public spending of the nations’ Parliaments.
  • New “Bank of the UK” controls UK central banking.
  • Duty of all public authorities to “protect the UK as a whole”.
  • Legal systems of the nations legislated for by the UK Parliament.
  • Unified Civil Service for the whole UK.
  • Gaelic excluded from the new Act of Union referendum.
  • 16 and 17-year olds excluded from the referendum.
  • Reserved or “Central” matters include the Crown, UK constitution, Devolution Legislation, Foreign Affairs, EU membership, treaties & conventions, Defence, NATO, Human Rights, Economy, Tax, Currency, Law & Order, National Security, Immigration, Emergency Powers, Political Parties, Civil Service.
  • UK Parliament can add areas to list of “Central Powers”.

Are you worried yet?

The Postponers aren’t. They seem oblivious to the very existence of a project to realise all or any of the above. They appear unaware that locking Scotland into this nightmarish new Union is a major imperative for the British state. They behave as if the British state is benign. They want us to behave as if Scotland’s democracy isn’t under real and imminent threat. They us to disregard the fact that everything we value in our nation is in serious jeopardy.

Even a delay of eighteen months gives the British state time to implement, in part if not in whole, its plans to constitutionally redefine the UK, and the status of the ‘peripheral’ nations, within a ‘reformed’ political union devised without any reference to the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland or our elected representatives.

Are you angry yet?

You should be. But we must not let that anger dissipate in a pointless and ineffectual outburst of rage. We must use that anger to energise demands for a referendum in September 2018. Then we must set about creating the “optimum conditions for success”, rather than waiting in the hope that, if we wait long enough, they will arise spontaneously.

We must use that anger to overcome the paralysis induced by fear of losing by ‘going too soon’. Fear which blinds some to the fact that waiting too long has precisely the same consequences, but makes them a certainty.

We must direct that anger where it belongs; aimed at those who would impose on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland their repugnant, grotesque, horrifying vision of ‘Greater England’.

We must demand that the Scottish Government act to defend Scotland’s democratic institutions, distinctive political culture and essential public services against a British Nationalist onslaught which is already in progress.

We must stand united. We must be as one in our determination to stop this onslaught. We must give our full support to Nicola Sturgeon and her ministers as they confront the might of jealous Britannia.

Even eighteen months is a potentially fatal delay. We must not wait!


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