The worthy and the trivial

For those of us still trying to get our heads around the idea of Donald Trump being President of the United Sates of America, the thought of Boris “Smell My Farts” Johnson as British Prime Minister may be just too much of a challenge to our strained sense of humour. The joke has been taken too far.

Both appointments, one a frightening reality the other, as yet, merely a fearful prospect, speak eloquently of the ‘interesting times’ in which we are cursed to live. Both men are, to use that well-worn euphemism for freaks, eccentrics. Neither would have been a credible candidate for high political office in a world where rationality was even an infrequent visitor.

Even if the lunatics had taken over the asylum, these are not the people they would have chosen to run the establishment on their behalf. Even lunatics have standards, Even lunatics have a capacity for embarrassment.

Another thing these individuals have in common is that neither has any kind of democratic mandate in Scotland. Not so surprising in the case of the Trumpotus. Despite the fact that they claim for their President the title of ‘Leader of the Free World’, Americans aren’t about to accept that the people of the ‘Free World’ should have any say in who is awarded that title. Fair enough! Trump may have the power to melt the world and everything in it, but he has no influence over public policy in Scotland. Well, no direct influence.

British Prime Minister Boris “What Japes” Johnson, on the other hand, would exercise powers over Scotland akin to those of an absolute monarch, without so much as our sullen acquiescence far less our explicit consent. He might well think it a wizard wheeze to abolish the Scottish Parliament. Which he can pretty much do with the stroke of a half-chewed crayon.

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In the British state, a total lack of democratic legitimacy can trump even the democratic legitimacy of a Parliament elected by proportional representation. And that is the problem.

That Boris “Pardon My French” Johnson can become British Prime Minister is merely a symptom of our present political malaise. That he can lay waste to Scotland’s democracy on a whim is an inherent function of the Union. Why, then, do we have people saying that Boris “Gaping Fly” Johnson becoming British Prime Minister is the last straw when they have previously been content to accept a political union which is an ongoing insult to the people of Scotland and an affront to democracy?

As someone who has all his life sought the restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status, I suppose I should welcome any support for that cause no matter what prompts it. But pardon me if I am somewhat irked that people can be compelled by gross buffoonery when they have for so long been complacent in the face of gross constitutional injustice.

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Don’t ask! Take!

3. The prospect of an even more hard-line Brexiteer now becoming PM and threatening a no deal exit is deeply concerning. Added to the experience of the past three years, this makes it all the more important that Scotland is given the choice of becoming an independent country.— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) May 24, 2019

That’s my emphasis on the above Tweet from Nicola Sturgeon; part of the First Minister’s characteristically gracious but pointed statement responding to Theresa May’s much-anticipated resignation announcement. I highlight it as an example of the kind of talk that brings me to the verge of despair. The kind of talk which tells of a mindset that is totally inadequate for the purpose of taking forward the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence.

Power is never given. Power is only taken.

This is not just an iron law of politics, it is inescapable logic. The power to bestow is merely the prettily painted face of the power to withhold. The converse of, and stolid attendant to the power to give is the power to deny or deprive. The power to take. Thus, power that is given is not real power at all. It cannot be when the acquisition of it is conditional on the consent of another and the ongoing possession of it depends on the other’s continuing approval.

The very act of requesting power acknowledges the other’s superordinate status. And, by necessary implication, the subordinate status of the petitioner. One only asks if one is prepared to accept refusal. And if refusal is unacceptable, then asking is pointless – unless the purpose is to signal weakness.

Why would we ask for something that is ours by absolute right?

This mindset has to change. The ‘petitioner mindset’ demeans us all. It begs the question, can we really call ourselves a nation if we allow that our nationhood is in the gift of what is, for all relevant purposes, a foreign power?

Nations don’t ask if they can be nations. Nations assert their nationhood. Independence is the starting point. The normal condition. The default status. It is anything other than independence which must ask permission to pertain.

The predecessors of today’s British political elite were ‘given’ power over Scotland by the grasping, self-serving, corrupt antecedents of today’s ideological Unionists. Ever since, the Union has served as a constitutional device by which the sovereign people of Scotland are denied the full and proper exercise of their sovereignty. That sovereignty remains ours. It is inalienable. We no more require Westminster’s consent to exercise it than we require their permission to breathe.

We must, as a matter of the utmost urgency, rid ourselves of the insidious notion – inculcated over more than three centuries of domination that has been sometimes brutal, sometimes subtle – that the supremacy claimed by the British state over Scotland is rightful. It is not! It cannot be! And it must be forcefully rejected!

Scotland looks to our elected leaders to assert and affirm the sovereignty of Scotland’s people. Not merely as a form of words in some declaration, but in fundamental practical ways. We look to our elected representatives and the only Parliament with democratic legitimacy in Scotland to defend our inalienable rights by their every word and deed.

Nicola Sturgeon is clever, astute, principled and determined. She is, without question, the most fitting political leader for Scotland at this time. But we need her to be, not just clever, but bold. Not just astute, but decisive. Not just principled, but fervent in pursuit of those principles. Not just determined, but assertive, even aggressive in demanding respect for the sovereignty of Scotland’s people and Scotland’s status as a nation.

We will get behind you, Nicola. But not if you are standing at England’s door with a begging bowl.

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Who to trust?

Always one to look for the silver lining, I reckon a very important lesson can be learned from the appalling way that EU citizens from outwith the UK have been treated. Bearing in mind that the British government is responsible for the arrangements under which local authorities administer the vote, it is clear they cannot be trusted to do the job properly. It appears they have brought the same tragic incompetence to the running of this election as to the entire Brexit fiasco.

Scotland cannot continue to be subject to this gross ineptitude. Nor is it reasonable to expect that we should let a hostile British government, or its agencies, have any role in the administration of a new independence referendum.

I have long stressed how important it is that, when we hold a new referendum, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament should control the whole process. That there should be no role whatever for the British government at any stage of that process.

If people have been denied a vote in the European Parliament elections due to an ‘administrative error’, imagine what a hostile British government might do to sabotage a referendum to end the Union.

What’s that you say? They would never stoop so low? Really? Can we be absolutely sure of that? With the threat of rabid British Nationalism looming, can we afford to take a chance?

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The aim

I think after all of the experience of the last three years, Scotland should have the opportunity to decide whether we want to become an independent European nation.

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland

First Minister,

As you will surely be aware, the constitution of the Scottish National Party states the aims of the party as follows –

(a) Independence for Scotland; that is the restoration of Scottish national sovereignty by restoration of full powers to the Scottish Parliament, so that its authority is limited only by the sovereign power of the Scottish People to bind it with a written constitution and by such agreements as it may freely enter into with other nations or states or international organisations for the purpose of furthering international cooperation, world peace and the protection of the environment.

(b) The furtherance of all Scottish interests.

Constitution of the Scottish National Party

The first of these aims could just as readily stand as a mission statement for the entire independence movement. That is why the Scottish National Party is the de facto political arm of that movement. That is why you, as leader of the party, are the person to whom the Yes movement looks for leadership. That is why, ultimately, you are the individual in whom is invested the hope and trust of every man, woman and child who is part of the Yes movement.

It is that single objective which unites us. Regardless of our views on any issue of public policy, we are all bound by that common purpose. Whatever differences there may be in our vision of Scotland’s future, we all share that same aspiration – the restoration of Scottish national sovereignty by restoration of full powers to the Scottish Parliament.

There is no ambiguity about that stated aim. There is no equivocation. No caveats or conditions. No reservations or qualifications or provisions. It embraces and enshrines the essential principle of democracy – that all legitimate political authority derives from the people. That the people are sovereign. It is a complete, concise and coherent statement. It says all that need be said. Understand that statement, and you understand everything that matters about Scotland’s independence cause.

To reject that statement would be to reject democracy. To fail to vigorously and unhesitatingly pursue the aims set out in that statement would be a betrayal of Scotland’s interests and Scotland’s cause.

So, First Minister, please allow me to suggest a couple of amendments to the comment you made to Andrew Marr.

I think after all of the experience of the last three HUNDRED years, Scotland should DEMAND that it become an independent European nation AGAIN!

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Identifying the problem

Boris Johnson is not Scotland’s problem.

Brexit is not Scotland’s problem.

The horribly dysfunctional British political system is not Scotland’s problem.

None of this is Scotland’s problem, unless we choose to make it our problem. Which is what Ian Blackford seems to be doing. He seems to be of a mind to treat England’s self-inflicted woes as part of Scotland’s domestic politics when we really need to be developing a mindset which places this firmly in the category of external affairs.

Boris Johnson, Brexit and the dysfunctional British state are not the reasons Scotland needs urgently to restore its independence. The reason is that the Union makes these things Scotland’s problem when they most definitely are not.

The Union renders Scotland subject to the vagaries of the Westminster/Whitehall machine. The Union makes Scotland’s democratic choices conditional on England’s concurrence and the British political elite’s approval. The Union stipulates that the likes of Boris Johnson will speak for Scotland regardless of how much we despise and detest everything that he represents.

Boris Johnson is not Scotland’s problem.

Brexit is not Scotland’s problem.

The ineptitude and maliciousness and corruption of the British political elite is not Scotland’s problem.

Scotland’s problem is the Union. The solution is obvious. We must dissolve the Union. Why won’t Ian Blackford just say so?

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What is independence?

My first article for today having been destroyed by a failure of the WordPress autosave function, I offer this brief comment as an addendum reinforcing a point made in an earlier piece called A strategy for penetrating No territory.

Prompted by a claim made on Twitter, I sought to establish whether anybody had actually ever heard any independence supporter say that there is “no such thing as independence”. To date, Jim Fairlie seems to be unique. But the responses indicated something interesting. And something which is not sufficiently recognised. People define independence in different ways.

Obviously, British Nationalists present independence – for Scotland, at least – as something outlandish and scary. Despite the fact that many nations have managed to achieve independence, and many more have survived very well as independent states, British state propaganda would have us believe that Scotland is the exception. For Scotland, independence is a leap into the unknown. A terrifying adventure in uncharted territory. Complete nonsense, of course. But the British media has been quite successful in attaching such fearful connotations to the idea of independence.

Mr Fairlie, as I understand it, entertains notions of independence which many would consider rigidly ‘isolationist’. A personal definition of independence which derives from a combination of his bitter resentment of the success of the ‘gradualist’ wing of the SNP – which he fervently opposed – and his equally bitter hatred of the EU. But don’t take my word for it. I’m sure Jim would be happy to explain his idea of the one and only thing that independence can mean.

I’m curious to know if anyone has ever heard an SNP supporter say that there is “no such thing as independence”.— Peter A Bell #DissolveTheUnion (@BerthanPete) May 16, 2019

Within the Yes movement, our cherished diversity ensures that there are almost as many definitions or descriptions or explanations of independence as there are people defining, describing and explaining. This is generally regarded as one of the Yes movement’s great strengths. But for a political campaign, such vagueness is fatal.

A political campaign must be sharp and focused. It must be possible to state its purposed unambiguously and coherently in a few words. Nobody should be in any doubt what the campaign is about. Especially the activists fighting that campaign.

This is why we should now be conducting a campaign to dissolve the Union. Because that objective encapsulates the core purpose of the independence cause. It precisely states the aim of every single independence supporter, regardless of how they define the term.

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A strategy for penetrating No territory

200,000 people signing a petition does not, of course, signify increased support for independence. Impressive as the figure may be, it’s only about 10% of the existing support for independence. To put it in context, the Yes movement can put that number of feet on the streets.

Maintaining an appeal to the base is unquestionably essential. A political campaign which wins converts while losing its core vote is almost certainly doomed to fail. But, equally, if the entire effort is devoted to holding on to existing support then where is the winning surge going to come from?

In principle, it is possible that the same campaign strategy might serve both to retain and increase support. The evidence suggests, however, that this is not so in the case of Scotland’s independence campaign. The basic strategy of pounding out a positive case for independence focused on social and economic benefits hasn’t changed since the 2014 campaign. It has developed. The arguments have improved. But they are still the same arguments. And they are still arguments about policy. The kind of arguments used in an election campaign.

That these arguments are effective in retaining support is clear. Despite there being no let-up in British Nationalist propaganda over the period since the first vote, there has been no measurable reduction in support for independence. Significantly, however, neither has there been any marked increase. The evidence is all but conclusive. The old strategy was very successful in taking support to the 50% level, and has been remarkably effective in holding it there against a relentless onslaught of propaganda and all the disadvantages the Yes campaign has in terms of communicating its message. But it has not won any new support.

There is no great mystery to this. The people who have already been won over to Yes are those who have gained access to information beyond that which is provided by the mainstream media. They are educated. They are easy to retain because education is not easily lost. You can’t ‘unknow’ something. And once someone has been made aware of the lies and distortions peddled by the British media, the propaganda ceases to have any effect.

Many have made the journey from No to Yes. Whatever the claims of social media trolls, nobody goes from Yes to No.

It follows, therefore, that the people who have not yet made the journey from No to Yes are those who have not yet gained access to the same information as those who have made that journey. The question is why. Without understanding why they have not accessed the information, there is no possibility of devising ways to ensure that they do.

What we know for certain is that the strategy of broadcasting a ‘positive case for independence’ won’t do it. We know it won’t do it because it hasn’t done it. That has been the strategy for at least seven years now. And the polls remain stubbornly stuck at 50%. It’s not working because the message simply isn’t reaching into that other 50%. Which is just another way of saying the people who make up that 50% don’t have access to the information.

It doesn’t matter whether this lack of access to information is due to the obstacles created by the British media or the inadequacy of the signal or simply a refusal to listen on the part of No voters. The result is the same. People are not making the journey from No to Yes because they are not even aware that such a journey is possible.

What must the Yes campaign do to address the issue of information starvation? How might the Yes campaign ensure that its signal penetrates deeper into that 50% on the No side of the constitutional divide?

The task is made simpler by first eliminating the things that can’t be done, or can’t be done in time – as well as the things that have been tried without success. There is not much that can be done about the obstacles created by the British media. The lies must be rebutted and the disinformation corrected. But, if the Yes signal isn’t getting through then neither are the rebuttals and corrections. A careful calculation must be made as to what resources should be committed to setting the record straight – bearing in mind that this comes at some cost to the strength of what we are calling the Yes signal.

People can’t be obliged to receive that signal. They can’t be required to tune in to it. They can’t be forced to open their minds. The further the Yes signal travels into No territory, the less chance there is that it will be received. Obviously, there comes a point at which the effort just isn’t worth it. Ultimately, there is a point at which it doesn’t matter how strong the Yes signal is, there is nothing there that is capable of picking it up.

But that still leaves a lot of No territory which can be reached if the Yes signal is strong enough and if people can be induced to tune in. There is more than enough potential support within range to ensure a decisive Yes vote. It is this reachable No territory that the Yes campaign strategy must target. The aim of the strategy must be to strengthen the Yes signal and prompt people to receive it.

There are two ways to strengthen the Yes signal. It can be strengthened by adding to it. And it can be made more powerful by being more focused. The thing that is added must be new. It must be something which is not already part of the ‘positive case for independence’. It must also be dramatic. It is the combination of novelty and drama which will seize attention and induce people in No territory to tune in.

Focus is achieved by making the message contained in the Yes signal comprehensible, coherent and consistent. Short, sharp and simple. Never drifting from the core message. Always ensuring that the signal is directed at, and the message framed for, the reachable population in No territory.

This population is not inclined to listen to that ‘positive case for independence’. Many become less inclined to tune in the more this ‘positive case’ impinges on their consciousness. Encouraged by the British media, they have grown resistant to it. What else is the ‘vile cybernats’ propaganda about if not to discourage and dissuade people from accessing information carried by the only channels that are readily available to the Yes campaign?

A significant number of those disinclined to tune in to the ‘positive case for independence’ are, however, increasingly ready to question the status quo. They are daily more disenchanted with the British political elite and the British political system. They are beginning to wonder about the Union.

These are the people who must be targeted by a revised Yes campaign strategy. Alongside the ‘positive case for independence’, and at least matching it in all respects, there must be a ‘negative case against the Union’.

This has the added advantage of uniting the entire Yes movement, including the SNP. It facilitates the solidarity which the Yes campaign requires by distilling the message down to the one fundamental on which all can agree. While they all might hope for – or demand! – different things out of independence, all know that without ending the Union nobody gets anything.

If 200,000 people will sign a petition for independence, how many more might sign a petition against the Union? The cause of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status will take a mighty leap forward the day the SNP decides to ask the one question that really matters. Should we #DissolveTheUnion?
The day they, and the rest of the Yes movement launch a campaign strategy designed to ensure that the answer is a resounding YES!

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