A question of courage

A remark by Dr Craig Dalzell on his Common Green blog caught my attention. In an article discussing the post-independence fate of the British state’s nuclear arsenal on Scottish soil, he writes,

… it may be that the Scottish Government simply isn’t brave enough to demand the removal of the weapons…

Controversial as this statement may be, it was not what was suggested that struck me, but my reaction to it. Six months ago – maybe even three months ago – I would have responded angrily that it is totally ridiculous to imagine the SNP would renege on its commitment to remove this abomination from our land. I would have objected strongly to the suggestion that an SNP administration might go into talks with the British government unprepared and timid.

I would have pointed out what a strong hand the Scottish side in talks on the independence settlement would have. I would have mercilessly mocked the notion that SNP politicians could be unaware of that strength, or unwilling to use it.

Don’t get me wrong! I continue to be absolutely persuaded that arrangements for the removal of Trident will be a very important part of the settlement. The British state’s weapons of mass destruction must go. That is a political imperative. The precise nature of the arrangements will depend on a number of factors. But the bottom line is a red line. Trident must go!

No sane, sober and sensible person supposes that the whole shebang will be shut down and shipped out on day one. The single strong card that the Brits will have is safety. And that card trumps pretty much everything. The Scottish Government cannot set an unrealistic deadline for removal of the British state’s nuclear paraphernalia. It may be that the Scottish Government cannot set any kind of deadline at all without risking accusations of compromising safety for the sake of politics. But, whatever the arrangements are, it must be clear that the end-point is the total removal of Trident.

Personally, I favour the ramping rent solution. Craig Dalzell nicely sets out the problems – and potential problems – with a leasing arrangement. The danger that the Scottish exchequer grows over fond of – or reliant on – the revenue. The risk that a short-term lease becomes a long-term lease and then a rolling lease. I believe these issues can be overcome by making the lease increasingly expensive for the British state – rent rising annually by a percentage that also increases – so that there is a financial imperative to move out but no political pressure which might be portrayed as the Scottish Government lacking due concern for safety.

Also, revenue from the lease should be ring-fenced for one-off capital projects that otherwise would be unlikely to be funded. That way, Scotland’s budget doesn’t become dependent on income from the lease.

All of which is by way of an aside. The discussion of options relating to removal of Trident is interesting. But what troubled me about Craig Dalzell’s comment was the suggestion that ” the Scottish Government simply isn’t brave enough”. And the fact that, unlike a few months ago, I now felt disinclined to reject this out of hand.

I now find my self obliged to consider the possibility that the Scottish Government just isn’t brave enough. The long months, stretching into years, of hesitancy and prevarication and general reluctance to confront the constitutional issue has drained the confidence that I once had in the SNP and in Nicola Sturgeon.

The other day, as I was writing about the implications for Scotland of Boris Johnson being anointed British Prime Minister, I paused to reflect on how the Scottish people would react to something like the Scottish Parliament being ‘suspended’. Obviously, there would be anger. But I was surprised to find that, in my imagining, the anger was directed, not at Boris Johnson, the British state or the Union, but at the First Minister and the Scottish Government and the SNP. Being able to imagine something doesn’t make it true or likely. But continuing to envisage it, not in a reverie, but in the light of cold political analysis, causes alarm bells to ring.

The great American aviation pioneer and author, Amelia Earhart, once said,

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.

For far too long the de facto political arm of Scotland’s independence movement has been characterised by indecision and inaction. Whatever good the SNP administration has been doing – and it is undeniable that it has done a great deal of good – in terms of providing leadership for the independence movement and taking forward Scotland’s cause, the SNP’s performance has fallen far short of the hopes and expectations of many in the Yes movement. Opportunities have been missed. Initiative has been lost. Momentum has been squandered.

Maybe it’s true. Maybe the Scottish Government just isn’t brave enough.



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Bring down the clowns!

It has, for very good reason, grown all too easy to dismiss the actions of the British state in relation to Scotland as being motivated by pettiness or as the result of incompetence. We see in the likes of Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson (Not to mention the Tory leadership candidates rejected in their favour. Imagine how that must sting!) bumbling clowns playing to an audience so beguiled by the bright lights and sequin sparkle as to think this performance important politics and the tawdry, torn and precariously tilting big-top in which it is being enacted the only place of any consequence.

The clowns know their audience well. They know how it likes to watch the whiteface abuse and humiliate the auguste. They are aware that the loudest and most demonstrative section of the audience identifies with the superior status of the lead clown. They are conscious of how this claque subconsciously associates its myriad hate-figures with the inferior and afflicted fall-guy.

When Hunt, or another of his British ilk, throws a custard pie in Nicola Sturgeon’s face, the audience screams with amused delight as they see in their lumpen imagination Britannia’s bold favourite asserting dominance over her possessions and inflicting defeat and mortification on those who dare challenge her divinely-ordained status. The clowns are adept at pandering to the basest urges of their audience. And should that audience’s enthusiasm for the circus show any signs of flagging, the media is ready to play ringmaster, urging the crowd to renewed frenzies of righteous outrage and vicarious triumph.

To those of us catching glimpses of this spectacle through gaps and rents in the fabric of the circus tent, it seems just that – a show; an entertainment; an interlude. We may readily forget that such performances are, not mere distractions from the serious business of the British state, but the actual conduct of that business. We tend to abstract performances such as the Tory leadership contest from the context of British state affairs and lose sight of the fact that this really is the British political elite doing its day job. We tend to see the clowns as stage actors playing a part when, in fact, they are state actors playing with the lives of real people and the fate of nations.

When the British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs withdraws his office’s support for overseas trips made by Scotland’s First Minister, we should not take this lightly. We should not see it as just a clown lashing out with a flimsy paper plate piled high with harmless foam. We should not regard it as only a bit of macho posturing in the hope of impressing the select few who will select the next British Prime Minister not least on the basis of how ‘tough’ the candidate promises to be with those uppity Jocks.

We must take this seriously. We must see this as offensive action on behalf of the ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist ideology which now stands as the greatest threat to Scotland since England’s armies northwards rushed rebellious Scots to crush.

We must see this for the anti-democratic abuse of power that it truly is. We must recognise that this is a senior Minister of the British state seeking to impede the democratically elected First Minister of Scotland in the performance of her solemn duty to the people of Scotland.

We must know this as one of the most explicit manifestations to date of the British state’s imperative to crush democratic dissent in Scotland and eradicate our distinctive political culture.

The First Minister’s primary responsibility is for Scotland. She is wholly and solely accountable to the people of Scotland. The sworn duty of our First Minister is, first and foremost, to safeguard and further Scotland’s interests in accordance with the mandate afforded by the electorate. Whether or not you voted for Nicola Sturgeon or her party, she represents all of Scotland – nation and people – at home and abroad. That is democracy.

To slight our First Minister, as the British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has done, is to slight Scotland. To show contempt for the office of First Minister is to show contempt for the people of Scotland who own that office regardless of who the incumbent may be. To attempt to prevent our First Minister from performing her duties and fulfilling her responsibilities is an offence against Scotland’s democracy. To offend against democracy is to offend against all the people who serve and are served by democracy.

We must take this action by the British establishment as a declaration of war. A war to be fought, not with swords and spears on some blood-soaked field, but with truth and justice in the arena of democratic politics. A war, not against a foreign invader, but against an increasingly alien political culture and an appallingly pernicious ideology.

A war, not to assert dominance over another land or people; nor even to defend our own land and people against overt subjugation, but to affirm the fact that Scotland exists as a nation and defend the principle that legitimate political authority in Scotland derives solely and exclusively from the people of Scotland.

Our First Minister acts with that authority. Her every word and deed carries the authority of the people of Scotland. Notwithstanding the pretensions of
certain media-hyped nonentities, Nicola Sturgeon is the head of Scotland’s democratically elected Government sitting in the only Parliament with democratic legitimacy in Scotland.

This is a war, not against England, but against the Union which perverts and corrupts relations between our two nations while encouraging debauched and feckless British politician to presume themselves above the will of Scotland’s people and beyond the reach of our reproach.

Nicola Sturgeon is under attack because the forces behind both Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson are aware of how crucial she is to Scotland’s cause. We have to take seriously the threat of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism. And we can only counter that threat by dissolving the Union and restoring constitutional normality to our nation.



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I object!

The First Minister may “have no objections to people who are against independence” but I most certainly do. She seems to imagine that denying the right of Scotland’s people to decided the Scotland’s future is but a small, and easily tolerated, part of the Unionist argument against independence. She is wrong. It is the whole of the Unionist argument and it cannot be tolerated.

It is impossible to argue for the preservation of a political union which denies the sovereignty of Scotland’s people without arguing for the denial of the sovereignty of Scotland’s people. And I am no more prepared to tolerate that than I would an argument that people could be sold into slavery. Because that is how fundamental the right of self-determination is to democracy.

Just as it is not possible to legitimately lay claim to democratic credentials while arguing in favour of slavery, so it is not possible to credibly assert adherence to democratic principles while defending and commending a constitutional settlement which rides roughshod over one of democracy’s most basic precepts.

(I realise that simply by writing the word ‘slavery’ I’m inviting British Nationalists to accuse me of saying Scotland’s people are slaves. But I learned long ago that idiots will be idiots. If you try to make allowances for all the idiocies of British Nationalism, you’ll never say very much at all.)

Of course I object to being told that I am unworthy to exercise the sovereignty that is mine by right lest my choices impinge on the preferences of England’s voters.

Of course I object to being told that politicians such as those responsible for the Brexit shambles have more right to decide the future of my country than I do.

Of course I object to being told that political authority derives ultimately from a divinely-ordained monarch rather than the people.

Of course I object to the fact that a parliament in which the people of Scotland have no effective influence is superior to the parliament which we actually elect.

Of course I object to being told that Scotland is ‘Too wee! Too poor! Too stupid!” to be a normal nation and must, instead, be subject to the ministrations and impositions of a British political political elite I know to be incompetent and corrupt and lacking any democratic mandate.

Of course I object to “people who are against independence”. How could I not object when these people are opposed to values and principles that are part of who I am? How could I not object when, wittingly or otherwise, these people argue for the eradication of so much that I consider indispensable in the name of a Union they consider more precious than democracy?

How could I not object to the preservation of a Union which is an affront to democracy and an insult to the people of Scotland?



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Now is the time!

I am surely not alone in appreciating the irony of the First Minister’s comment about not squandering valuable time. Four years and eight months after it became plain to see that another referendum would be required our elected leaders are only now talking about introducing the necessary legislation. Legislation that will not be passed by MSPs until the end of this year. By which time fully five years will have elapsed without any action to address the constitutional issue.

Nor, as far as can be determined, has there been any planning for a new campaign. There may, of course, have been much activity behind the scenes. Activity to which the rest of us have not been privy. But all available evidence suggests that here has been no fresh thinking at all. Statements and remarks from those ‘leading SNP figures’ who might be expected to have at least an inkling of Nicola Sturgeon’s intentions almost invariably refer to some variation on the theme of ‘getting the positive case for independence out there’. In other words, a repeat of the 2014 referendum campaign.

The impression that there has been no new thinking on a second independence referendum campaign is only reinforced by the First Minister’s talk of taking the Section 30 route again. I am surely not the only one to react with despair and not a little anger to talk of meekly petitioning the British political elite for permission to exercise the right of self-determination which is the inalienable entitlement of Scotland’s people.

The only vaguely hopeful sign is that FM has intimated she doesn’t intend to go cap in hand to Theresa May (and it will be Theresa May) immediately. It seems that she is keeping her options open on the timing of her humiliating mission. Which leaves the slight hope that she is preserving the option to eschew the Section 30 process and all the problems that it implies. If, however, the Section 30 route is written into the legislation then, barring a late amendment in the Scottish Parliament, those problems become inescapable.

Suppose the First Minister’s pleading falls on deaf ears, as expected. What happens then? The British government will claim that, by requesting the gracious consent of a failed and doomed Prime Minister, the Scottish Government has conceded that it cannot proceed without that consent. Will an alternative course of action be written into the legislation? It would seem that is has to be. Otherwise, the First Minister will be obliged to go back to the Scottish Parliament for approval of this alternative. More delay.

What might this alternative course of action involve? An ‘advisory’ referendum of some sort, perhaps. Followed by further months of wrangling with the British government. Maybe a belated realisation that there can be no new referendum without seizing total control of the entire process. That Westminster has to be cut out altogether. But this would require a decidedly inelegant U-turn on the earlier legitimising of the British state’s authority to deny Scotland’s right of self-determination. If the Scottish government is maintaining that the British government cannot reverse its acknowledgement of Scotland’s right of self-determination as per the Edinburgh Agreement, how can the Scottish Government then insist on its right to reverse its recognition of the British state’s authority to deny Scotland’s right of self-determination? It looks very much like the kind of self-serving double standards we so deplore when it is deployed by the British political elite. And it will surely lead to yet more time-consuming ‘discussions’ between the two governments.

Why request a Section 30 order at all when it is sure to be refused? Requesting a Section 30 order and proceeding without one both lead to precisely the same confrontation with the British government. But requesting a Section 30 order severely weakens the Scottish Government’s position.

Let’s talk!

I enjoy visiting groups throughout Scotland to talk about the constitutional issue.

I will travel anywhere in Scotland if it is at all practical.

I do not charge a fee.

I do not ask for expenses but will accept contributions if offered.

I aim to cover all costs from donations to this site.

If you would like to discuss a visit to your group please email speaker@peterabell.scot

What if the request is not refused? A possibility little considered by commentators. Politically, however, it could be the British state’s smartest move. Giving the Scottish Government permission to proceed with a new constitutional referendum allows the British establishment to avoid much of the backlash that refusal would entail. And it would allow the British political elite a degree of influence over the process which could even allow them to sabotage that process.

By requesting and accepting a Section 30 order the Scottish Government commits to proceeding only on the basis of a formal agreement between the two sides. It would be very easy for the British side to prevent any such agreement. Or, at least, to render negotiations interminable. All they’d have to do is demand something that the Scottish Government cannot possibly agree to – such as the exclusion of 16- and 17-year olds.

Once again, this leads to confrontation. That confrontation is inevitable. There is no path to the restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status which does not pass through a point at which there is direct and potentially acrimonious confrontation with the British state.

Even if taking the Section 30 route didn’t do anything else; even if it didn’t mean that the Scottish Government would be approaching that point of confrontation weakened by having already conceded so much, there would still be the matter of time. Long months and years have already been squandered. It is only the stunning incompetence of the British political elite which has put off the full impact of Brexit’s constitutional implications. Further delay poses an unacceptable risk that Scotland may find itself locked into an anomalous and dysfunctional political union on terms imposed by ‘One Nation’ British Nationalists.

Attempting to restore Scotland’s independence while adhering to laws and procedures purposefully designed to preserve the Union is, self-evidently, a doomed enterprise. That point of confrontation with the British state must come. We must approach that confrontation on our own terms and with all our strength intact. We must decide which of the British state’s rules is to be broken. We must decide the manner in which it is broken. We must decide when it is broken. If we do not, then the British state will. And it will do so in a way that seriously, perhaps fatally, disadvantages the independence cause.

The common thread running through all of these issues is the Union – effectively, a constitutional device by which the people of Scotland are denied the full and effective exercise of their sovereignty in order that the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state may be preserved. For the sake of Scotland and in the name of democracy, the British state must be broken. The Union must be dissolved. And now is the time.



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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”. pic.twitter.com/dNIYBpSsmf— 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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The final message

The First Minister calls on Scotland’s voters to send a Brexit message to Westminster. But didn’t we already do that? Didn’t we send a very clear message when we voted almost 2 to 1 to Remain part of the EU? Wasn’t that message contemptuously ignored by the British political elite?

Send a message that “Scotland has had enough of being ignored”, says Nicola Sturgeon, even as she urges us to once again invite the imperious disdain of the British state.

We are up to our chins in British shite and using our last breath before being submerged to tell the British political elite, yet again, that they only get to shite on us one more time. Or maybe two. Almost certainly no more than three. Then they’ll get their final warning. Aye!

Of course we will vote SNP on Thursday 23 May! What other option is there? But, as we do, let us consider that it is surely time to stop offering up our faces to be spat upon by British Nationalists. It is surely time to stop hoping that Westminster will listen and start demanding that the Scottish Government does.

It is surely time to tell our First Minister that the only message we want to send to the British government is one giving notice of our intention to dissolve the Union.


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The point of it all

Factionalism! The reef upon which radical politics so frequently founders. My ism is better than your ism! Only I represent the One True Way! You are failing The Cause! Therefore I must start my own Faction in order to follow the One True Way and further The Cause!

And let us draw a discreet veil over the fact that The Cause can hardly be furthered by splitting its support. Make that a heavy tarpaulin, because this is a fact so blindingly obvious that the standard discreet veil will hardly suffice to conceal it.

While you’re about it, you’d best ensure the tarpaulin is big enough to cover something else The Splitters would much rather not draw attention to. Namely, that the battle to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status must, perforce, be fought from within the British state. Because that is where Scotland is. Duh! The campaign must be conducted according to the rules, procedures, conventions and practices of the archaic and little more than nominally democratic British political system. (At least up to the point where those rules etc. must be broken. But that’s another matter.)

The British political system is profoundly and inexorably adversarial. It operates on a ‘rule of twos’. Thus, the two-party system. Thus also, winners and losers. One winner takes all. All losers cease to be of any consequence bar the one loser chosen to be representative. Government and Official Opposition. Another binary. It is a system which, by design and evolution, excludes factions – and, thereby, excludes radical politics.

The constitutional battle is no exception. It, too, must be binary. Not least for the purposes of propaganda, there must be an ‘Us’ and a ‘Them’. Good guys and bad guys. Colonists and indigenous peoples unjustly contesting the colonists’ claim to ’empty lands’. Unionists and nationalists. Because the British ruling elite controls the media, as well as for more prosaic reasons of electoral reality, the ‘Them’ to their ‘Us’ is and will be for as long as matters to any of us, the Scottish National Party. It is the political arm of the independence movement. Any ‘alternatives’ might as well not exist for all the impact they will have on the British state.

Bear in mind, also, that this is a British state which recognises only brute power. It is a near-impregnable object. It may only be breached by a massive force focused on a single point.

The Splitters will, of course deny the very thing that gives them their name. They will insist that they are not splitting support for The Cause as they are still supporting The Cause – but in their own manner and under their own banner. Remaining stubbornly blind to the inescapable logic that having their own manner and banner definitively implies a split.

The factions proliferate. The forces for reform are scattered. Diversity becomes division becomes diffusion becomes disadvantage becomes defeat.

It has taken decades to get the SNP in a position to be the effective political force that the independence cause absolutely requires. It would be an act beyond political madness to discard that tool at this crucial time in the hope of being able to fashion a new one. Or, even worse, an entire tool shed full of new and untested devices.

I criticise the SNP. Not because I want to replace it with something better, but because I want to make it something better, I want it to be the effective political force the independence cause needs. I want it to be the political arm of the Yes movement. And I recognise that it is not doing particularly well in this regard.

But I don’t only blame the SNP for this. The Yes movement has made great strides towards accepting, if not exactly embracing, the SNP as its political arm. This effort has not been adequately reciprocated by the party. It all to often appears as if the effort is being rebuffed. This is a tragic mistake. There are good reason why the SNP, as a political party, must be wary of close association with external bodies. Especially when those bodies are as powerful as the Yes movement. But it is up to the party to find a way. It is up to the SNP to be different from other political parties. That is what the people of Scotland, and certainly those in the independence movement, have come to expect.

But many in the Yes movement expect too much of the SNP. They expect it to mirror the Yes movement in ways that are quite impossible for a political party. And, if the SNP stops being a (successful) political party, it stops being the tool that the Yes movement needs.

An accommodation must be found. Factionalism is most certainly not any kind of solution. It is, in fact, a way of avoiding the difficult task of finding that accommodation between the SNP and the Yes movement – and among all the elements of the independence cause – which will allow each and all to be effective.

In the Yes movement, we have come almost to worship diversity as the greatest of virtues. For a movement, this may be true, But for a campaign, the greatest virtue is solidarity. In celebrating our diversity, we have fallen into the habit of talking about our differences, rather than that which we hold in common. Recognition that “we all want the same thing” tends to come as an afterthought to lengthy discussion of distinctive policy platforms – if it comes at all. We talk about our respective visions for Scotland’s future, relegating consideration of the key to that future to somewhere lower down the agenda.

The single point at which all the elements of the independence cause meet is the Union. The thing that everybody in the independence movement agrees on is that the Union must end. It cannot even be said that all agree on independence. Because there are differing ideas about what independence means. There is no ambiguity whatever about the imperative to end the Union.

It is a happy coincidence that the point at which all the elements of the independence campaign come together also happens to be the British state’s weakest point. So, let’s not talk of factions. No faction is going to prise Scotland out of its entanglement in the British state. This will only be achieved by the four constituent parts of the independence campaign acting in accord. The SNP as the lever. The Scottish Government (Nicola Sturgeon) as the fulcrum. The Scottish Parliament as the base. The Yes movement as the force.

And let us all agree that the object we are acting against is the Union.


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