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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Shall there be a Scottish Parliament?

national_power_grabThere shall be a Scottish Parliament. But only if we are prepared to fight for it.

There shall be a Scottish Parliament. But not if we allow the British political elite to have its way.

There shall be a Scottish Parliament. But we must now decide, as a matter of great urgency whether it is to be a Parliament which exists and functions only by the grace and favour of the British state, or a Parliament which exists by the command of Scotland’s people and functions as the instrument of their democratic will.

This matters. It is important. It is crucial. It matters because the fundamental nature of our Parliament, and the manner in which it operates, reflects and defines what kind of nation Scotland is and what kind of people we are. If we are to be a nation where all political authority derives from the people, we must fight to be that kind of nation. If we, the people of Scotland, are to be sovereign in our own land, we must forcefully affirm and vigorously defend our sovereignty.

The Scottish Parliament is the rock upon which our sovereignty rests. It is the sole guarantor of our democracy. It is the only Parliament with democratic legitimacy in Scotland. It is not just the Scottish Parliament, it is the Parliament of Scotland. It belongs to the people of Scotland.

Only the people of Scotland possess the rightful authority to define and constrain the powers of our Parliament. The British government – unelected by and unaccountable to the people of Scotland – has no such authority. A lawfully established and democratically elected Parliament cannot be subordinate to any external power that is not ultimately answerable to the people of Scotland. The attempt by the British political elite to assert supreme authority over the Scottish Parliament is an assault on democracy. It is an affront to the nation of Scotland. It is an insult to the people of Scotland.

The time has come to choose what kind of people we are and what kind of nation we want Scotland to be. The time has come to decide where power lies now and in the future. Will it lie with a Scottish Parliament serving the needs, priorities and aspirations of the people of Scotland? Or is power to be usurped by faceless, unelected, unaccountable appointees of the British state serving only the structures of power, privilege and patronage which advantage the few at increasing cost to the many?

There shall be a Scottish Parliament. But only if we resolve to make it so.


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Crunch time!

scotlands_parliament.pngMike Russell notes that the primary duty of the Scottish Parliament and its Members is to serve the people of Scotland and protect their interests. One would hope and expect this to be no more than a statement of the obvious. We would tend to assume that this is a sentiment with which every MSP would concur. It would seem to be a fundamental principle, that those elected to a Parliament owe full allegiance to the people who elect them. In most circumstances, this would simply be taken for granted.

But Scotland’s circumstances are exceptional. The great divide in Scottish politics is such that the allegiances of those on one side of that divide cannot be assumed.

We hear a great deal of talk about ‘divisive’ politics. Much of it is strident and angry. As if division was some horrifying new phenomenon being introduced to our politics by ‘bad’ politicians, rather than simply a perfectly normal feature of all politics. Without division, there is no politics. Politics is a contest of ideas. Democratic politics allows everybody to participate in that contest. Democracy provides a means by which the people can be active in the contest of ideas, both as advocates and as judges. In a true and properly functioning democracy, all political authority derives from the people, and only the people can be the ultimate arbiters in the contest of ideas. In an ideal democracy, all the people affected by political choices participate in the process of debate and decision-making.

It is not politicians who create division. Their role is to represent the people in the contest of ideas. To facilitate the democratic process. To conduct the process of debate and decision-making for and on behalf of the electorate.

Politicians should be judged on whether, and how well, they serve the polity. That is all. But there may be a question as to which polity they actually serve.

There are, of course, many divisions in politics. Where politicians seek to portray division as a bad thing, it will always be only very particular forms or instances of division that are condemned. Commonly, the division being denounced will be on a matter where the politician doing the condemning feels their arguments are weak. Rather than engage in the contest of ideas on a particular issue, they object to there being a contest at all. Typically, they will seek to award themselves a bye in that particular contest. They declare themselves winners, not by dint of their superior arguments, but by rejecting the idea that they should have been called upon to formulate and advance any arguments in the first place.

It goes without saying that these are politicians who cannot be judged favourably on the basis of their service to a democratic process that they are trying to obstruct and circumvent. The politician’s job is to address divisions – hopefully, in a mature and rational fashion – not to deny them. Divisions denied or inadequately addressed will tend to fester and degenerate into conflicts.

There are few, if any, trivial divisions in politics. Political divisions reflect social divisions. The contest of ideas is not an abstract intellectual exercise. The ideas being contested derive from various social imbalances, the way these are perceived and proposals for rectifying or ameliorating them. Every division is important to someone. The outcome of every bout in the political tournament impacts on real people. Politics matters to everyone.

Having said that, there is a scale of greater and lesser divisions. It must be so, for surely there is a scale of greater and lesser ideas to be contested in the political arena. While no division is totally insignificant, there are ideas – concepts – which lie at the very core of our politics, because they relate to the very nature of our politics and our society.

The greatest of divisions are, inevitably, constitutional. It is necessarily so because all other divisions ultimately come back to the matter of who decides and how the decisions are made and how they are implemented and how they are upheld and how they may be amended or rescinded. The late Tony Benn elegantly and succinctly captured the essence of constitutional politics when he formulated the five questions which must be asked of established power.

What power have you got?
Where did you get it from?
In whose interests do you use it?
To whom are you accountable?
How do we get rid of you?

However much some politicians may deny and evade and minimise and deflect, it is an incontrovertible fact that the greatest division in Scottish politics is on the matter of the Union. More specifically, to the flaws which make the Union constitutionally untenable. The asymmetry – or ‘democratic deficit’ – which means Scotland’s interests can never be adequately represented, served or protected. And the explicit denial of the principle of popular sovereignty in favour of a concept of parliamentary sovereignty which is at best archaic, and, at worst, anti-democratic.

To properly understand Scotland’s politics it is essential to understand the core constitutional issue. To adequately appreciate the ‘Grand Divide’ in Scottish politics it is necessary to grasp the ideas which lie on either side of that divide. Ideas which are being ever more vigorously contested.

Articles, long essays and entire books have been written exploring and explaining and critiquing these ideas. Here, brevity is required – even at the cost of oversimplification and generalisation.

On the one side, we have the idea of Union and those who wish to preserve an archaic, anachronistic, anomalous and evidently dysfunctional constitutional settlement.

On the other we have the idea of independence and those who favour the normalisation of Scotland’s constitutional status, the restoration of powers to the Scottish Parliament and government by a democratically elected administration.

Which brings us back to the matter of our MSPs and the question of their loyalties. Whatever else it may be, the Scottish Government’s Continuity Bill is a test of the allegiance of MSPs. In supporting or opposing the Bill they will effectively be choosing between.

  • The Scottish Parliament to which they were elected and which has genuine democratic legitimacy.
  • A different parliament in a different country with a different political culture voted by a different electorate and serving a different polity. A parliament where Scotland has little more than token representation and where sits a government with no mandate from the Scottish electorate.

The people of Scotland are surely entitled to expect that, at a minimum, those they elect to represent them at Holyrood should accept the authority of the Scottish Parliament. We might reasonably anticipate that they would acknowledge the democratic legitimacy of the Scottish Parliament and respect it’s decisions and rulings as truly representing the will of Scotland’s people.

Further, are we not entitled to insist that those we elect to the Scottish Parliament be willing to affirm the democratic right of self-determination and acknowledge that this right is vested wholly in the people of Scotland to be exercised entirely at their discretion? How can someone legitimately sit in the Scottish Parliament who denies the right of Scotland’s people to freely chose the form of government that best suits their needs?

The question for MSPs is clear and simply. Do you accept that your primary role is to serve the people of Scotland and protect their interests? Or is your allegiance to a British state which is inherently incapable of serving the people of Scotland and which is actively working against their interests in ways that are countless, but vividly exemplified by Brexit?

The people of Scotland are watching their elected representatives in the Scottish Parliament. We are waiting to see which of them deserve to be there.


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Queen to…

white_queenFor some months now I have been attempting to placate those who have expressed impatience with Nicola Sturgeon by assuring them that she has a plan. A plan which involves letting the British government make the case for the moves she intends to make. Moves such as the introduction of the Continuity Bill. It has been a matter of gradually ramping up the response level as the actions of British Ministers grow more explicitly confrontational.

It’s all about proportionality. For many of us, it was plain enough to see that the British government intended to use the Brexit process as an opportunity to weaken the Scottish Parliament – which British Nationalists regard as a potential obstacle to their ‘One nation’ state; not to mention it being a deterrent to the kind of predatory corporate interests with which the British state will be obliged to do business after Brexit. But this was not necessarily evident to the general public. The First Minister has to be able to explain her actions with reference to things actually said and done by British Ministers.

Not that it will make any difference to the media. They will portray Nicola Sturgeon as the intransigent aggressor regardless. According to the British media, David Lidington didn’t threaten to strip powers from the Scottish Parliament and declare the intention to impose ‘UK-wide common frameworks’ that would eliminate “discrepancies” among the nations of the UK. He didn’t declare, in effect, that it is unacceptable for Scotland to have policies developed for Scotland’s needs and priorities; implemented by a government with a mandate from the Scottish people; scrutinised, amended and approved by a parliament with genuine democratic legitimacy. Instead, we are to have forced on us policies and ‘solutions’ devised by people who are not accountable to the Scottish electorate and whose priorities are those of their masters in London.

And the British media’s spin on this? Nicola Sturgeon ‘rejects’ an ‘offer’ from the UK Government. The FM is perfectly aware that this kind of distortion of the facts cannot be prevented. All she can do is wait long enough for the media’s dishonesty to be apparent to as many people as possible.

The First Minister’s actions may seem to be one step behind the British government. But you can be sure her thinking is several moves ahead. Things are moving inexorably towards a new independence referendum in September 2018. The Yes movement need only stand firm with Nicola Sturgeon and her Ministers. The British political elite will do the rest.

PS – Apart from the stated purpose of the Continuity Bill, who has figured out what else it does?


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