Bold words

Bold words from Ian Blackford. We get a lot of bold words. What we don’t get is much in the way of effective action. The SNP’s Westminster leader assures us that he and his colleagues “will not sit idly by” while a British government led by Boris Johnson imposes a no-deal Brexit on Remain-voting Scotland. But what can they actually do?

It looks very much as if the SNP’s obsession with Brexit has blinded them to the fact that it stands as but one particularly egregious example of how the Union impacts Scotland. They seem to have forgotten that their purpose is, not merely to stop Brexit, but to stop Scotland’s democratic will being rendered null and void by a political union which acts to deny the people of Scotland the full and effective exercise of their sovereignty.

It appears that the SNP will do anything to stop Brexit except pursue, as a matter of urgency, the restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status.

What is this talk of a no-confidence motion but yet another instance of the SNP dutifully abiding by the rules and procedures of the British political system? A system designed to protect and preserve the structures of power, privilege and patronage which constitute the British state. A system which, not at all incidentally, treats Scotland’s elected representatives with cold contempt. If there was any possibility of a no-confidence motion threatening established power, the SNP would be prevented from following that procedure.

And make no mistake, once Boris Johnson becomes Prime Minister, as is generally expected, he immediately embodies established power. No matter how much of an idiot he may be, or what kind of jeopardy he promises, he is the British Prime Minister. The status of that high office must be maintained whoever the incumbent may be. Because, as with the absolute monarchy from which it derives, all power flows from that office and depends on its status.

When the SNP is not targeting Brexit, they’re targeting the Tories. And when they’re not targeting the Tories, they’re targeting whoever happens to be the British Prime Minister. The one thing they never seem to target is the Union. Which is more than a little disappointing given that the Union is the issue. Whatever party is in power at Westminster; whoever happens to be Prime Minister, and whatever policy is being imposed of Scotland against the will of the people, it is the Union which empowers that party, enables that Prime Minister and facilitates the imposition of policies which are anathema to Scotland.

Put a different party in government! Nothing changes for Scotland! Install a different Prime Minister! Nothing changes for Scotland! Succeed in stopping a particular policy being imposed! Nothing changes for Scotland! Nothing changes for Scotland so long as the Union maintains its baleful influence over our land.

Nothing changes for Scotland until we #BreakTheUnion. The only way to break the Union is to #BreakTheRules. The SNP isn’t even trying to break the Union because the SNP isn’t prepared to break the rules of the British political system.

We have a problem. The problem is that the SNP is the problem. The further problem is that only the SNP can resolve this problem. And the problem with that is that to resolve the problem the SNP would have to do the very thing which is the cause of the problem because they refuse to do it.

Until the SNP is prepared to confront the British political elite with more than bold words from Ian Blackford, Scotland’s cause is stalled. Becalmed at the very moment when it should be driving forward with every ounce of energy the Yes movement can put behind it.



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Wrong target

Why? Why is Ian Blackford demanding the release of the “Boris Johnson bust-up tape“? Of what possible concern is this to the people of Scotland? It’s not as if we are currently deceived about Johnson’s character. Few, if any at all, are in need of being disabused of notions that the man is other than unworthy for public office, low or high. The content of this recording could add nothing useful to our knowledge.

It is not Johnson’s behaviour that Ian Blackford should be deploring, but the fact that such an individual as we already know him to be can be imposed on Scotland by a combination of British Tories in thrall to a demented British Nationalist ideology and English voters whose appreciation of democratic politics has been so soured by experience and media manipulation as to bid them see in Johnson some manner of dragon-slaying hero.

If Ian Blackford’s purpose is to ensure that Johnson’s elevation is thwarted, again we must ask why? How is Scotland served by preventing Boris Johnson becoming British Prime Minister only to hand the role to someone who is different only in the particulars of his unsuitability for that role?

Mr Blackford’s outrage is surely justified; and may well be regarded as virtuous as his demands are reasonable. But he should be wary. British politics is so corrupt that even to touch it with the barge-pole of condemnation is to risk contamination. Better to stand aside from and above the mess.

Better to direct that outrage and condemnation at the device by which Scotland is made subject to the vile machinations of the British political parties and the irrational whims of the English electorate. Rather than urging the release of some entirely redundant evidence of Boris Johnson’s debauchery, Mr Blackford would be more usefully employed demanding Scotland’s release from the abomination that is the Union.



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The mechanical and the organic

There’s a strong sense that Ian Blackford is being politic. That he is saying what was required in response to direct criticism. I do not get the impression that this is a thoughtful response. The sentiment is worthy. But sentiment alone is not sufficient.

The criticism that the wider Yes movement is being ignored by the SNP is dismissed with just the right amount of sincerity tinged with precisely the correct degree of indignation. The warmth of the reassurance is nicely calculated. The idea of a shared aim is well conveyed. But what does any of it mean in practical terms?

I want to know how, exactly, we are all supposed to “work collectively together”. I know the Yes movement takes lectures from nobody when it comes to networking and cooperation. I also know that the SNP runs a formidable election-winning machine. What I want to know is how the various components might be brought together to develop and conduct an effective referendum campaign.

I know that Nicola Sturgeon is just the kind of political leader the nation needs at this time. I know that the Yes movement has evolved to find find leadership as it is required. But can Nicola Sturgeon provide the leadership that the Yes movement needs. And can the Yes movement accept Nicola Sturgeon as the source of that leadership?

I know that a political movement and a political party are very different beasts. How might both be harnessed to a campaign which stands apart from both party and movement?

I appreciate the conciliatory tone of Ian Blackford’s remarks. But I want to hear his thoughts on how party and movement arrive at a functioning accommodation. Or, if that is too much to ask, at least some indication that he and his colleagues are thinking about the practical aspect of that accommodation.



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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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Why are we waiting?

Ian Blackford is undoubtedly correct when he says that “there is no such thing as a good Brexit“. It is certainly the case that there is no form of Brexit that negates the democratic will of Scotland’s people, who voted decisively to remain part of the EU. There is no form of Brexit which does anything other than demonstrate the British state’s contempt for Scotland – and for democracy.

So, what is unclear? What might be revealed by this ‘clarity’ we’re told we must wait for? What might we see when the “fog of Brexit clears” that is any different from the festival of incompetence we’ve watched spiralling into a catastrophic fiasco over the last 30 months?

What are we waiting for?

It is understandable that the SNP does not oppose a so-called ‘People’s Vote’? Opposing the people’s right to directly vote on fundamental constitutional issues is not a good look. Anybody who has watched British Nationalists “becoming increasingly strident, increasingly shrill, in their insistence that there must not be another Scottish independence referendum” knows just how ugly such anti-democratic rhetoric can be.

But is supporting calls for a ‘People’s Vote’ any better? Is it appropriate for the SNP to participate in a campaign to revisit the UK-wide Leave vote? What would be the purpose of a new EU referendum? If the purpose was to allow the people of Scotland an opportunity to reconsider an earlier choice in the light of significantly altered circumstances, then demanding a ‘Peoples Vote’ would be democratically warranted. But there is not the slightest indication that the people of Scotland want a chance to change their minds. Or that they would do so given the opportunity. In fact, the signs are that Scotland would vote Remain by an even bigger margin than the original 62%.

The only purpose of a ‘People’s Vote’ is to allow England to have a change of heart. By supporting a new referendum on EU membership the SNP is effectively saying that they are happy for Scotland’s fate to once again be placed in the hands of voters in England. The party might insist that Scotland’s vote in such a referendum be respected. But that isn’t going to happen. It isn’t going to happen because the Union absolutely requires that Scotland’s democratic will be subordinate to England’s. Just as it absolutely requires that Scotland’s interests must be subordinate to those of the British state. The very best that we could realistically expect is an assurance from the British political elite that Scotland’s vote would be ‘taken into consideration’. And we all know what such assurances are worth.

The SNP should have taken a neutral position on a ‘People’s Vote’ – neither supporting nor opposing. It’s England’s Brexit. It’s England’s problem. If they want a fresh vote on EU membership in the hope of resolving the problem, let them get on with it.

The position that the SNP has taken – actively demanding another vote – looks like nothing more than another delaying tactic. Another way of putting off effective action to resolve the real constitutional issue facing Scotland. Not Brexit, but the Union which denies the people of Scotland full and effective exercise of their sovereignty.

Unless and until we #DissolveTheUnion, the British state’s contempt for Scotland made so egregiously evident by Brexit will continue. Ian Blackford says,

It is the job of the Scottish Government to protect the interests of Scotland.

What are they waiting for?


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Worthy winners

Ian Blackford had a hard act to follow in Angus Robertson and it would not be contentious to say that, for many in the SNP, his background in the financial industry made him a controversial choice to lead the SNP group at Westminster. I think we can safely say that all such doubts have been dispelled by Blackford’s performance in the role.

It might be argued that Jeremy Corbyn’s all but total abdication of his duty as leader of the official opposition in the British parliament provided Blackford with a relatively easy opportunity to shine. It could equally be said that he had exceptional responsibility thrust upon him and that he has acquitted himself admirably in the face of growing hostility towards SNP MP’s and increasingly bitter contempt for Scotland at the heart of the British political system.

Mike Russell’s appointment as Scotland’s Brexit Minister also raised a few eyebrows. Not that anybody doubted his abilities. You don’t survive five years as Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning without being an adroit politician and tough operator. But there was a certain feeling that Mike Russell’s political career had peaked and that, in selecting someone in the “twilight stage of his political career”, Nicola Sturgeon may have been underestimating just how demanding the Brexit brief was going to be.

As it turned out, Ms Sturgeon’s judgement has been fully vindicated. The Brexit brief has even more demanding than anyone could have imagined. And Mike Russell has been more than up to the task. It is no exaggeration to say that he has been outstanding in the role and totally worthy of the confidence the First Minister had in him.

Given the way SNP MPs are treated by the British political elite, and the manner in which the British establishment has sought to exclude the Scottish Government from the Brexit process, it might be tempting to cast Ian Blackford and Mike Russell in the role of underdogs. I prefer to think of them as unlikely heroes. Unquestionably, they are deserving joint winners of The National’s politician of the year accolade.


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Playing the game

scotlands_parliamentThe British establishment hates and fears the SNP because it is truly an alien force in their midst. It operates within the British political system, but is not part of the British political system. It has been inserted into the structures of power privilege and patronage which define the British state, but is is not beholden to those structures. It has been imposed upon established power by the people of Scotland, but refuses to accept that the latter are, as a consequence and condition, subordinate to the former.

By the British political elite’s own rules, the SNP formally represents the people of Scotland. It not only forms the administration at Holyrood, it also has the largest number of MPs, outnumbering all the British parties combined. In itself, this would not be a problem. It becomes a problem for the British establishment because the SNP doesn’t just insist on representing the people of Scotland, it insists on being accountable solely and exclusively to the people of Scotland.

From the British establishment’s point of view, this makes the SNP a serious menace. It cannot be controlled. It is not susceptible to the customary blandishments or vulnerable to the usual threats. At Westminster, the SNP group is taking the arcane rules and archaic procedures which are supposed to baffle and foil ‘rogue elements’ and turned those tools of suppression into weapons of mass disruption. The managers have no sanctions that aren’t likely to rebound on them. The manipulators can get no purchase. The ‘men in suits’ have no influence.

Conventional power always begets a countervailing power. The SNP represents an element of that countervailing power manifested in ways and places that the conventional power of the British establishment is totally unaccustomed to, unprepared for and bemused by. It’s just not supposed to be this way!

Some will seek to dismiss the SNP Westminster group’s behaviour, accusing them of ‘playing games’. But politics is a game. Or, at least, it is closely akin to a game in that it involves moves and counter-moves. The moves being made by Ian Blackford and his troops are not at all whimsical. The disruptive tactics are part of a larger strategy. There is a point to all of this which will become evident in due course.

In the meantime, British establishment figures will continue to protest. They will object indignantly that the SNP is not ‘playing the game’. The real reason for their discomfiture, however, is that the SNP is playing the game rather too well.


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