All our eggs in one Brexit

scotland_euIn a recent article I had some strong words to say about the notion that ‘Brexit is the key’ to Scotland’s independence. I continue to be alarmed at the number of potentially influential voices within the Yes movement who are prepared to stake everything on Brexit. An already substantial, and arguably increasing, part of the discourse around the constitutional question has moved away from the core issue of the Union to focus on the impact of Brexit. Many seem to have abandoned, to some degree at least, the effort to make the case for independence on its inherent merits – or against the Union on its fatal defects – choosing to rely instead on a perverse, and almost certainly forlorn, hope that Brexit will affect people’s lives so dramatically and so detrimentally that they will immediately demand the ‘solution’ of independence.

That Brexit will be detrimental to most people is hardly in doubt. What is, at the very least, questionable is whether the impact will be dramatic enough to have the effect hoped for by those who would have us pin all our hopes on it.

As I pointed out in that earlier article, it is not the reality of Brexit which matters, but the perception.

And who controls the apparatus by which public perception is manipulated? The British state, of course! Even if it were true that “Brexit is the key!”, that key is entirely in the hands of a British state with a massive propaganda machine at its disposal.

I was prompted to revisit this thought on reading that, in a survey conducted by Deltapoll for the Guardian, no less than 60% of respondents agreed with the statement.

I no longer care how or when we leave the EU,
I just want it all over and done with.

The opinion piece by Rafael Behr in which this poll is mentioned argues that voters have already switched off. Behr concludes,

It is possible that all of the ideological and technical squabbling, the factional bickering that has consumed politics since the referendum, will turn out to have been only the preamble. And what it will all come down to in the end is a contest between two gut propositions that have very little to do with the EU. For leave: just get on with it. For remain: please just make it stop.

Now! I know that this was a UK-wide survey and that it may not accurately reflect the mood in Scotland. But it serves to illustrate and reinforce the point that popular attitudes to Brexit have more to do with how it is perceived than with any actual effect. How it is perceived by the general public may be very different from the way it is appreciated by the likes of Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp. And this is especially true if, as we may reasonably assume will be the case, those popular perceptions are manipulated by British media in such a way as to suit the purposes of the British establishment.

Let us not forget that Brexit itself is largely – some would claim entirely – the product of a decades-long campaign of disinformation, distortion and dishonesty conducted by large sections of the British press determined to destroy the entire European project.

It is reasonable, therefore, to expect that the British media will do what it can to encourage the attitude of apathy and ennui identified by the Deltapoll survey and summarised so succinctly by Rafael Behr. And it is not unreasonable to anticipate that this effort by the British media to encourage disengagement will have some effect in Scotland. Especially as it also serves the British Nationalist cause and so is bound to be promoted by the BBC.

That effect need not be large to be catastrophic for the independence campaign. The British state need only defer some of the impact of Brexit for a few months; and/or disguise the reality with help from the media, and the moment is gone. The impetus is lost. The opportunity is squandered.

Putting all our independence campaign eggs in one Brexit basket is an enormously risky strategy. Gonnae no dae that!


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The vanishing road

road_closedI would certainly prefer to be discussing the duration of a transition period between the decision to dissolve the Union and actual independence rather than the length of a delay in making that decision. But there is something else we must bear in mind regarding the “final principle that applies when it comes to project management”. We may not have a choice.

It’s all very well to say that we can pick any two out of ‘cheap’, ‘quick’ and ‘good’. But choices are constrained by circumstances. And the aspect of those circumstances which seems little considered is the reaction of the British state to the prospect of losing Scotland.

It is rightly pointed out that sketching plans for the future requires making certain assumptions. The manner in which the British state conducts itself would seem to loom large in any independence scenario. And yet, beyond a rather casual discounting of a “Madrid style campaign of political repression”, there’s precious little discussion of how the British state will behave. Or, more pertinently, the assumptions it would be prudent to make about how it will behave.

In this regard, the discussion of a transition period resembles ‘wait and see’ talk of postponing a new referendum. In nether case do we find any recognition of the fact that locking Scotland into a political union is an absolute imperative for the British state. Factoring that imperative into our thinking, along with what we know of how the British state responded in 2014 when it began to look like Scotland might vote Yes, the only sensible conclusion is that we must anticipate that the British establishment will resort to desperate measures. We certainly cannot afford to underestimate their capacity for the very lowest of low politics.

In terms of those project management options, it seems likely that, at least to some extent, both ‘cheap’ and ‘good’ may have to be sacrificed in favour of ‘quick’.

This, too, is true of both the transition period and the scheduling of a new referendum. In both cases, we are almost certainly going to be obliged to compromise on cost and quality in order to get the thing done quickly. There’s no point in complaining. There was always going to be a price to pay for the No vote in 2014. Part of that price is that the democratic road to independence is now much narrower and daily more littered with obstacles.

How long before that road becomes impassable, or is closed altogether? Is a three year transition period even a choice? And, even if it is a choice now, will it still be a choice should The Postponers get their way and there is a delay of one, two or even three years before that transition period can commence?

What mischief might be wrought on Scotland between now and 2025?


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Being positive is not enough

pw_holdThere are two strands of opinion within the Yes movement which I have been particularly critical of over the past few months. I call them ‘The Postponers’ and ‘The Persuaders’.

(I interrupt myself at this point to deal with those who, having read that opening sentence, are already poised over their keyboards ready to pound out some pompous diatribe denouncing the appalling practice of ‘labelling’. My advice to these people is that, instead of pestering me with their inane drivel, they bugger off over to Twitter and start a campaign to have all the nouns removed from dictionaries. #DownWithNouns)

Where was I? Oh yes! I have dealt with ‘The Postponers’ often and at length. Although I have touched on the need for a new mindset and a different attitude as we approach the new referendum, there still needs to be some discussion about the way we conduct the Yes campaign this time. The story of a former Tory councillor having declared her support for independence is an ideal hook on which to hang some remarks about ‘The Persuaders’ and their thinking on the matter.

‘The Persuaders’ is a shorthand term for those who insist that the way to win the new referendum is to gently and delicately woo ‘soft No voters’ with the ‘positive case for independence’. According to this theory, we shall lure these wavering No voters by presenting them with a sufficiently appealing, but always realistic, vision of an independent Scotland. We will win them over by telling them believable tales of economic prosperity illustrated with colourful graphs and charts and peppered with impressive statistics.

If ‘The Persuaders’ have it right, we will start the necessary thousands on that journey from No to Yes by painting a picture of independent Scotland as an enlightened and socially progressive place where inequality and injustice are at least addressed and alleviated by public policy rather than being engendered and exacerbated by it.

Crucially, ‘The Persuaders’ insist that we must never so much as hint at the idea of No voters having got it wrong in 2014. We must assiduously eschew the slightest suggestion that they are in any way responsible for the consequences of their choice. We must never, by word or gesture, hint at the notion that voting No was a mistake. Whatever repercussions it entailed, voting No was a perfectly valid choice. Mentioning the ready availability of information which would have prompted a different choice is taboo. As is any reference to how obviously false the No prospectus was.

No voters effectively gave the British political elite a blank mandate and invited them to fill it in with whatever suited their British Nationalist agenda. They gave the British state licence to do what they pleased with Scotland. And that licence has been used with great relish to our severe detriment. But we are prevailed upon by ‘The Persuaders’ to studiously avoid  making any connection between that No vote and everything that has ensued – from EVEL to Brexit to the ‘power-grab’ and the accelerating erosion of Scotland’s democracy.

‘The Persuaders’ have this unshakeable conviction that all the independence campaign needs in order to win is a better message. A more positive message. A brighter, shinier, glossier message. They are driven by the belief that there exists somewhere a form of words which will change minds in the way that a magic spell might transform a frog into a prince.

There is a problem with this theory. We’ve already done all that. We’ve done every conceivable Yes message – and a few barely conceivable ones. We’ve done the relentlessly positive campaign. Independence is not a complex idea. There are only so many ways that such a fundamentally simple concept can be described or explained. Eventually, the plethora of different descriptions and explanations becomes confusing and meaningless. The effort to find the sharpest and most effective message leads only to a message which is diffuse and vague and devoid of any impact.

The 50% of voters who are already Yes represents pretty much everybody who either doesn’t need any persuasion or has already been persuaded by the tactics of the 2014 Yes campaign. The other 50% is pretty much entirely made up of people who either can’t or won’t be persuaded by any positive message no matter how slick it is. If they were going to be persuaded by that positive vision of independence it would have happened by now. The Yes movement has been offering them that message for more than six years. ‘The Persuaders’ have convinced themselves that it is only a matter of time – and constant repetition – before the message takes effect. How much time will it take? How much time do we have? ‘The Persuaders’ are adamant that the positive independence message needs to be refined just a little bit more and it will become the alchemical formula by which the base metal of No will be transmuted into the gold of Yes.

It is not going to happen.

Ashley Graczyk’s account of how she came to support the independence offers a clue to a more promising strategy. If Ms Graczyk is to be believed – and I find no reason to doubt her – she was prompted to reconsider her position on the constitutional issue, not by the persuasive power of a positive vision, but by a dawning awareness of the negative impact that the Union has on Scotland. Listen to what she says,

I came to the realisation that to preserve and protect the values we have in Scotland we cannot have policies imposed on us from Westminster that jar with the kind of Scotland we are trying to build. So simply, we need independence.

It wasn’t the prospect of a future independent Scotland that persuaded her. It was the reality of the present-day UK.

This tells us how we should approach the new referendum campaign. Of the 50% that polls indicate (probably wrongly) are still No around 20 points can be written off as hard-line Unionists and ideological British Nationalists who would rather burn on the bonfire of the British state than bask in the warm glow of an independent Scotland. Another 20 points can be disregarded, but not discounted. These are the ranks of the disengaged and the resolutely apathetic. We shall return to them.

The final ten points represents the prime target of the Yes campaign. These are the people who are mistakenly identified by ‘The Persuaders’ as ‘soft Nos’ who can be won over by addressing their doubts about independence. But, as pointed out earlier, all the evidence indicates that these doubts have long been impervious to the unrelenting blandishments of determinedly positive Yes campaigners. There simply is no reason to suppose that this is going to change. In place of reason, ‘The Persuaders’ have amassed huge stocks of hope – almost all of it forlorn.

Those ‘soft Nos’ would be more usefully regarded as people who are entertaining doubts about the Union. People like Ashley Graczyk. People whose inertia will be overcome, not by a promise, but by a protest. The way to win these people over is to feed their doubts about the Union. To play upon their uncertainty by making a powerful but honest case against the Union. We have ample ammunition. We simply have to overcome our reluctance to use it. We have to rid ourselves of our addiction to the sense of superiority which comes with being positive.

There is no disgrace or dishonour in fighting against something if it is wrong. The Union is wrong. It is wrong for Scotland. It is arguably wrong for all of the people of these islands. So let’s put an end to it. Then we can devise something better.

Finally, I said we’d get back to the alienated and apathetic who, in my admittedly oversimplified map of Scotland’s electorate, make up that 20% between the wavering Unionists – defined as people who have not yet learned to question the Union – and the entrenched British Nationalists – defined as people who insist that the Union must never be questioned. While the waverers make up the 10 points that would be sufficient to give Yes a conclusive victory, it is worth noting that the strategy of mounting a hard anti-Union campaign is more likely to reach the alienated and apathetic than any amount of positive campaigning for independence.

Anger is a more effective antidote to apathy than aspiration. You won’t sell independence to people who are so disengaged as to be deaf to any entreaties. But you just might rouse a few of these people from their apathetic somnolence if you can make them angry. If they cannot be roused to anger at all it just might be by a campaign pointing out the iniquities of the British state. By targeting those wavering Unionists with an anti-Union campaign, we might actually engage with some of those who suppose they can opt out of politics.

Making a positive case for independence is essential. But it is clearly not enough. We need something extra. There really is no way to further enhance the Yes message. We need to augment the campaign for independence with a campaign against the Union. A campaign to dissolve the Union.


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It’s what we make it

saltire_breakoutI have news for Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp. Brexit is not the only thing happening in the world. It’s not even the only thing happening in Scotland. Were he but able to tear his attention away from Brexit for a second he might notice a few other things going on. Things that might just throw his nice tidy independence timeline into disarray.

Scour that timeline as you may, you will find no mention of the steps the British government will be taking in order to make a new independence referendum impossible or unwinnable of both. Which is odd given that Gordon otherwise seems to suppose the British government to be the only effective actor in all of politics. His timeline is almost entirely a tale of what the British elite does, and how the Scottish Government might react.

No account is taken of the fact that the British state has already started to strip powers from the Scottish Parliament and explicitly signalled its intention to further undermine Scotland’s democratic institutions. The timeline totally ignores the unelected and unaccountable shadow administration under David Mundell which is being readied to take over powers stripped from Holyrood. It blithely disregards things like the transfer to the ‘UK Government in Scotland’ of powers over the franchise. Simply by excluding 16 and 17-year olds Mundell could deal a crippling blow to any new independence referendum. And that’s just one example. Spend a few moments reflecting, in a way Gordon signally fails to do, on the myriad ways the British government might seek to thwart the democratic process.

It seems that the whole Brexit bourach looms so large in Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp’s view that he seems oblivious to the British Nationalist ‘One Nation’ project that is running in parallel with it. A project which, more importantly, would be proceeding regardless of Brexit. Concern for the economic impact of Brexit is understandable. But it should not blind us to the fundamental constitutional issue and the threat to Scotland’s democracy.

While the casual disregard for this real and imminent constitutional threat is perplexing, the stuff about asking for a Section 30 Order is just bloody annoying. I know that Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp is fully aware of the importance of reframing the arguments for the new referendum. He knows what reframing means. He is well aware of how it works. He appreciates that it involves altering perceptions by changing the way an issue is presented. So why is he still mired in the now outmoded mindset of the 2014 referendum? Why is he still thinking in terms of independence being something that is in the gift of the British state, rather than something that is Scotland’s natural right?

Why does he continue to maintain that Scotland’s constitutional status has to be negotiated with the British government as if it required their agreement, rather than simply the expressed will of Scotland’s people?

Why does he so readily accept the notion that the British political elite might have the legitimate authority to veto the right of self-determination that is vested wholly in the people of Scotland?

We do not need Westminster’s permission to exercise our right of self-determination. We don’t need the British political elite’s approval to end a political union in which we are equal partners. The British has neither the right nor the authority to demand that we pass some contrived test in order to qualify for independence. Unless, of course, we afford them that authority. Unless we choose to concede that right.

The approach outlined by Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp is demeaning. The time for asking is past. This is the time for taking.

More and more people in the Yes movement are coming to this conclusion. The idea of Scotland as a supplicant petitioning a superior power for the granting of a constitutional boon is being rejected as inappropriate, offensive and politically ill-judged.

Which brings us to the final flaw in Gordon’s independence timeline. As well as neglecting to have due regard for the British Nationalist ‘One Nation’ project and woefully failing to reframe the issue, no account is taken of the momentum building in the Yes movement. Across Scotland, thousands of individuals and groups are poised, ready for a new referendum campaign. How long does Gordon imagine the enthusiasm and energy can be kept on hold? The reserves are not infinite. At some point, either the dam bursts or the reserves begin to deplete faster than they can be replenished.

People will weary of waiting. They need to act. They will tire of marching. They need to get somewhere. They will only endure so much. They need to see an end to it.

It is time for bold, decisive, assertive action. It is time to do, rather than be done to. It is time for defiance, not compliance. It is time to assert the sovereignty of Scotland’s people. It is time to dissolve the Union and dare the British political elite to stand in Scotland’s way.


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Brit-watching

scotlands_parliamentWhen Winston Churchill quipped that the British never draw a line without blurring it he probably intended it as humour of the faux self-deprecating variety. But many a true word is spoken in jest, as Theresa May’s shifting and squirming on her Brexit white paper so amply demonstrates. Not so much a stance on principle as a stance on castors, the easier to be pushed and pulled to and fro by the warring factions of the British Conservative party.

It’s an entertaining spectacle. For those of us whose focus is on Scottish politics, Brit-watching has become an amusing pastime. Like looking at pond-life through a microscope, or gazing at the eddies and currents of a fast-flowing stream, it can be absorbing almost to the point of being addictive.

The danger is that we, or our political leaders, take it all too seriously. There is a risk that our choices and decisions may tend to be overly bound up with the chaotic antics of the British political elite. There are altogether too many influential figures in the SNP and in the wider Yes movement who urge that we should take our lead from what the British government does. That we should wait and see what they do. That we should bide our time and let events run their course.

Maybe I’ve got this whole independence thing wrong, but I thought the whole purpose was to get away from having decisions made for us by a British political elite that has neither democratic legitimacy nor accountability in Scotland. I was under the impression that the whole point of the independence cause was to put decision-making power back in the hands of the Scottish people where it belongs.

If the ultimate purpose of the Yes movement is to reassert the sovereignty of the people of Scotland then, as many have pointed out, we have to start by insisting on the exercise of that sovereignty. In order to become independent we must start acting like we’re independent. If the decision-making power which rightfully belongs in Scotland is to be brought home to Scotland then it is essential that we assert the authority of the Scottish people and their democratically elected Parliament and Government over the process by which our nation’s independence is restored.

Fascinating as it certainly is as a piece of political farce, the pond-life twitchings and squirmings of the British political elite cannot be allowed to determine how the campaign to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status proceeds. The decision as to how and when that process continues can only be taken in Scotland by those with proper democratic authority and in consideration solely of the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people.

It matters not at all whether and for how long Theresa May can postpone her own demise and continue to patch up the gaping cracks in her administration, the fundamental constitutional issue remains. That issue must be decoupled, not only from the Brexit process, but from the entire British political system.

Scotland’s constitutional future is a matter for the people of Scotland alone. The first thing we need to bring home is the whole process of dealing with an issue which is entirely ours. We need to be perfectly clear that Westminster has no legitimate say in the matter. We have to explicitly reject the authority of the British political elite.

To paraphrase Ayn Rand, the question isn’t whether they will let us, but whether we will allow them to stop us.


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They never learn

douglas_ross

Once again, a British politician falls victim to that particular mix of prideful ignorance and vaunting arrogance which attends upon the dumb exceptionalism of British Nationalist ideology. what is remarkable here is, not the answer given by Guy Verhofstadt, but the fact that Douglas Ross asked the question in evident expectation of the response he wanted rather than the response that Guy Verhofstadt had previously given.

Ross doesn’t even have the excuse that he was ignorant of that earlier response. He actually referred to it as he asked the question anew. He was fully aware of Verhofstadt’s stated position that there is no obstacle to Scotland’s membership of the EU. But he still anticipated being given the answer that suited his agenda. He seemed to genuinely believe that, being British, he’s entitled to expect that others will adjust their positions to accommodate his purposes.

I haven’t the slightest doubt that Ross was both surprised and offended by Verhofstadt being so disobliging. He certainly won’t acknowledge, to himself or anyone else, that he did something really stupid. In his mind, the question was perfectly valid and sensible. Verhofstadt is entirely at fault for giving the wrong answer.

And nobody should imagine that this episode will deter British Nationalists from continuing to peddle the nonsense that independent Scotland must inevitably be expelled/excluded from the EU – and every other international body. Just as Ross supposed Guy Verhofstadt would indulge his prejudices, British Nationalists shall persist in the belief that the rest of the world must naturally pander to their petty and petulant need to see retribution visited on Scotland for daring to challenge the divinely ordained British state.


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What do we want?

scotlands_parliamentMost people in Scotland want independence. They just don’t realise that the thing they want is called independence. They would vote for the powers that come with independence. But they shy away from voting for independence itself. Why is this?

In part,of course, it is because the British propaganda machine has been working very hard for a considerable time to make independence seem like a big scary thing. The status that other nations regard as normal is, in Scotland’s case, portrayed as a dark and dangerous condition fraught with uncertainty and risk.

But the Yes movement must also take some responsibility for the strange contradiction whereby people say they want the Holyrood to have the powers of the Parliament of an independent nations, but without Scotland being an independent nation. The Yes campaign in the 2014 referendum and since has allowed the British state’s portrayal of independence to go unchallenged. We tried to concoct a ‘pick ‘n’ mix’ range of of independence ‘flavours’ so there might be a version that each individual and group could get behind. We should have been working to get everybody behind the one simple idea of independence.

It would be gratifying to think lessons have been learned. Unfortunately, I don’t think they have. We still have different parts of the Yes movement treating independence as a massively complex issue and promoting a plethora of highly detailed ‘solutions’. We still have too many groups competing with each other as they try to sell their particular brand of independence.

This reflects the diverse, open, unconstrained nature of the Yes movement. That is important and must be preserved. But the Yes campaign has to be different. It has to be unified, focused and disciplined.

If the Yes movement is to be the force behind an effective Yes campaign, it must unite around a single, clear, concise concept of independence. It must concentrate all its efforts on promoting a common vision. It must find leadership without adopting leaders.

To avoid the mistakes of the past, the Yes movement has to reframe the issue. We must rid ourselves of the mindset which has us asking the British state to lend its powers to the Scottish Parliament. We must develop a mindset which has us demanding powers which rightfully belong to us, but which are being wrongfully withheld by the British state.

The people of Scotland are sovereign. The Union is an impediment to the exercise of that sovereignty. The solution is to dissolve the Union.


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