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 be 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 stamp 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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Now as then

I came across this when I was looking for something else. It is a transcript of a speech I gave at Yes Dundee’s Yes Cafe in Roseangle Art Gallery, Dundee on Saturday 1 March 2014. Bearing in mind that this is pre-EVEL, pre-Brexit and pre-Sustainable Growth Commission, it is notable that the fundamental case for dissolving the Union hasn’t changed at all. It has simply grown more urgent.

saltire_breakoutI have been a supporter of independence all of my life. Or, as I prefer to put it, an advocate of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status.

I put it that way because, for me, this is first, last and always a constitutional issue. I accept the inevitability of all the talk about economics and currency and all the rest. I understand the necessity for it. But these are peripheral issues.

The referendum is not really about what currency we use, or whether we will be a few pounds richer or poorer, or how much “clout” we have in the world. It is about how we think of ourselves, our communities and our nation.

It is about whether we see ourselves as being a nation at all. Or whether we see ourselves as merely a region within the British state.

A nation is its people. And let me be quite clear that, when I talk about the people of Scotland, I am not referring to the kind of “Scottishness” in which the likes of Alistair Darling profess such puffed-up patriotic pride while all the time talking Scotland down.

I take no particular pride in being Scottish. Pride is for personal achievements. All I had to do was be born in Fife to a mother who was herself born in this very city and a father who, somewhat inconveniently for my argument, contrived to get himself born in Australia. But you take my point. I was born Scottish. There was no effort or personal sacrifice involved.

So-called New Scots – Asians, East Europeans and the rest – have more right to express pride in being Scottish than I do. Because they have made a conscious decision to be Scottish.

Being Scottish is not about a common inheritance. It is about a shared commitment.

So when I talk about the nation of Scotland I am talking about the people of Scotland. And when I talk about the people of Scotland I mean those who have made a commitment to the nation and its people. And if that sounds like some kind of circular argument I make no apology for that. I see no reason why a nation need be defined by reference to anything outwith itself.

We are a nation not because others say that we are. We don’t need anybody else’s permission to be a nation. We are a nation because we say we are.

But what kind of nation are we? Obviously, that depends on what kind of people we are.

The anti-independence campaign likes to pretend that nationalists like myself are claiming some kind of “Scottish superiority”. They like to put about the notion that we are saying that people in Scotland have different, and somehow “better” attitudes than people in the rest of the UK. It’s all lies, of course.

All we claim is that there is a distinctive political culture in Scotland. Not unique. Not necessarily better. But different from the rest of the UK.

This should not be a controversial claim. Voting patterns alone should make it evident that Scotland has a distinctive political culture even if it wasn’t already glaringly obvious from the fact that we are having this referendum!

We need independence so that the policies which affect our lives can be informed by our own political culture rather than the political culture of the British state. Is that too much to ask?

What makes Scotland’s political culture different? Ultimately, it must be the people. Because it is people who shape the political culture. But that does not imply that individuals in Dundee or Dunfermline have attittudes that are markedly different from those of individuals in Doncaster or Durham.

We can all be offended by the injustice of the bedroom tax and the obscenity that is Trident.

It merely means that those attitudes are expressed differently through the local institutions and processes of democracy so as to produce a distinctive political culture.

People are pretty much the same the world over. But political cultures vary tremendously. Why should it be such a dreadful thing for Scotland to have its own political culture?

We want independence, not because we regard ourselves as superior, but because we refuse to accept that we are inferior.

We refuse to accept that we are less than the people of other nations who take their independence for granted.

So, if the kind of nation we are depends on the kind of people we are, what kind of people are we? In a very real sense, that is what will be determined by this referendum and the campaign leading up to the vote.

How that campaign is conducted will say a lot about who we are. Which is why I so deeply resent the way that the British parties in Scotland are behaving. But that is a whole other topic.

Let’s consider instead what the vote says about us. Think about the question we are being asked.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Can you imagine that question being asked in any other country? Can you conceive of the people of any other nation even considering the possibility of answering No to that question?

The fact that we are asking this question of ourselves tells us what kind of people we have been. People who have, for too long, been meekly content to accept a subordinate status within a union that was contrived in a different age for purposes that were never relevant to us.

A union that we, the people, had no part in creating or sanctioning. An anachronistic, dysfunctional, corrupt union which serves none of the people off these islands well.

A union which was always intended to serve the purposes of the ruling elites. A union which, in that regard if no other, has not changed one iota in the last three centuries.

A union that sucks the human and material resources out of our nation and in return gives us government by parties that we have emphatically rejected at the polls.

A union that imposes policies which are anathema to our people. Policies which have been rejected by our democratically elected representatives.

A union which, were we being given that option now, not one of us would vote to join – but which we are nonetheless being asked to vote to remain in.

All of this and more is what we have accepted in the past. And our acceptance of all this has defined us in the eyes of our neighbours, the world, aye! and ourselves.

Ladies and gentlemen, I put it to you that the fact that we are asking ourselves this question says nothing very flattering about who we have been in the past.

The way in which we answer the question can change all that. It can change the way we see ourselves in the future. It can change the way others perceive us. It can change who we are. And by changing the kind of people we are and how we think of ourselves it can release the forces which will change the nation.

Or it can do the other thing. We can vote No and confirm that we are to be no more than that which we have been. That we will not be what we aspire to be. That we choose not to be all that we might be.

I ask you again, ladies and gentlemen, can you imagine the people of any other nation making such a demeaning choice?

If we vote No, will we ever again be able to look one another in the eye?

Ladies and gentlemen, I said earlier that i wasn’t particularly proud of being Scottish. I explained that this was because there was no personal achievement involved. No effort. I didn’t have to do anything in order to become Scottish. So I see no cause for pride.

But I do take pride in my country. I am proud of Scotland. Not a vaunting, strutting, flag-waving, belligerent, “my country right or wrong” kind of pride. A quiet, cautious, conditional, pragmatic kind of pride. I want to be proud of my country. I want Scotland to be a country I can be truly proud of.

I see no possibility of Scotland being that country while it remains part of the British state. We are told that, with a bit of constitutional tinkering here and there Scotland can be “as good as independent”. That is a fallacy.

The only ones who have the legitimate authority to decide what powers the Scottish Parliament has are the people of Scotland themselves. So long as that power remains in the jealous grasp of the British state, Scotland will be less than a nation and its people will be diminished accordingly. The more so if they actually consent to this condition.

This referendum is not about money or oil or monarchs. And it certainly isn’t about Alex Salmond. It is about you. It is about us. It is about the people of Scotland and what kind of people we are.

This referendum is about the most fundamental constitutional issue of all – sovereignty. The sovereignty that rightfully rests with the people of any nation.

This referendum is about whether we are the kind of people who will carelessly allow that sovereignty to be usurped by the ruling elites of the British state, or whether we are the kind of people who will seize to ourselves the power to shape our own destiny.

I’ll vote Yes, not because I am inspired by a great past, but because I aspire to a better future.

I’ll vote Yes, not because I’m resentful about what has been done but because I’m hopeful about what can be done.

I’ll vote Yes, not for anything that is promised, but for everything that is possible.

I’ll vote Yes, ladies and gentlemen, and for the sake of Scotland; for the sake of Scotland’s people; for the sake of Scotland’s future; and for the sake of your own modest pride, I urge you to do likewise – VOTE YES!


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Who are these people?

tomkinsFor many, I feel sure, the shock revelation coming out of the Hansard Society’s 15th annual Audit of Political Engagement is the discovery that as many as one in seven people in Scotland is “broadly satisfied” with the British political system. Who are these people? What do they see that the rest of us don’t? What do they fail to see that is painfully obvious to the vast majority?

What is the thought process which leads to the conclusion that the British political system is, from a Scottish perspective, even remotely acceptable far less broadly satisfactory?

What does it take to be a Unionist in Scotland today? What percentage of one’s intellect must be forsaken? What portion of one’s conscience must be denied? What part of one’s self-respect must be sacrificed?

How much must Scotland endure before British Nationalists begin to question their allegiance to a British political system which is inherently incapable of representing Scotland’s interests?

At what point do British Nationalists begin to recognise that a Union which can only be sustained with open threats, empty promises, transparent dishonesty, cancerous corruption and utter contempt for democratic principles, is a political union which is broken beyond repair?

What do British Nationalists think is going to happen? How do they imagine Scotland’s politics playing out over the coming weeks, months and years? What end-point do they envisage?

Do they suppose that the 86% who are less enamoured of the British state than themselves will just learn to live with it? Do they reckon the half of the population which wants independence will just meekly accept denial of that aspiration?

Do British Nationalists actually believe the democratic route to independence can be closed down without consequences?

Do British Nationalists genuinely think that imposition of a ‘One Nation’ British state will be the end of the matter? Do they suppose Scotland’s independence movement will simply evaporate once direct rule from London is restored?

Who are these people?


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Decline to cringe!

scotlands_parliamentI’m not sure why we should be expected to pay any heed whatever to Lord Lang of Monkton and/or Lord Forsyth of Drumlean. The very manner in which they demand to be addressed resonates with a presumption of privileged power which is an affront to democracy. They, along with their 800-odd colleagues in the British Parliament, are products of the system of patronage which rewards loyal service to the few at whatever expense to the many. Their aristocratic titles signify their tried and tested allegiance to established power.

Lang and Forsyth speak for nobody other than the pampered elites of the British state. A fact only underlined by their having previously held the position of the British state’s representative in Scotland. They played no legitimate part in Scotland’s democracy then. They have no legitimate role in Scotland’s democracy now.

What these ermined nonentities say is of interest only because the attitudes evinced are not peculiar to denizens of the House of Dead Stoat Cloaks but characteristic of the entire British political elite. Contempt for the concerns of the electorate and disdain for the essentials of democracy are hallmarks of the British political system.

Note how those concerns are dismissed as mere ‘grievances’, absent any attempt to address the cause of the complaint. Note how care for constitutional matters is brushed aside as if the fundamentals of democracy are of no consequence.

Note, also, how Their Bladderships accuse the Scottish Government of neglecting “education, the economy and all the other matters that are their responsibility”, not because the SNP administration isn’t fulfilling its responsibilities in these areas, but because it is doing so differently, and with a degree of success which is an increasing embarrassment to a British political elite with its constant mantra of ‘no other way’ as it piles the gross iniquities of austerity on the absurd inequities of neo-liberal orthodoxy and the perpetual inequalities of British ‘demockracy’.

Thus, they display those other defining characteristics of the British ruling elite – duplicity, mendacity and a burning, bilious resentment of any challenge to or questioning of the imperious authority of the British state.

Imagine describing your ailments to your GP only to have them dismiss this as a tedious cataloguing of mere symptoms. Consider your reaction should your doctor inform you that they attach no importance whatever to respiration and blood circulation and that, instead, health is to be measured by the quality of your apparel and the contents of your wallet. This would surely be cause for alarm. But, ludicrous as the proposition may be, it is directly analogous to the narrative being peddled by the men in the polecat coats.

It matters not at all what is the cause and content of your grievance. You are not entitled to have a grievance against the British political elite. Nor do you, or your elected representatives, have any right to meddle in matters of political power and rightful authority and democratic legitimacy such as are the concern of constitutional politics. As a citizen of a subordinate region of the realm, you are supposed to know your place on the unimportant periphery of a ‘One Nation’ British state, and behave accordingly.

You are supposed to cringe. You may choose not to.

The spluttering indignation expressed by Lang and Forsyth is occasioned by the fact that more and more people in Scotland are declining to cringe in the way we’re meant to. The more we assert and exercise our democratic rights, the greater their outrage.


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To kneel? Or to stand?

For all Partick Harvie’s fine wordsgreer_harvie_greens.jpg, the tremulous vacillation and pathetic submissiveness exhibited by Ross Greer reminds us that there is only one political party that is, by virtue of its binding constitution, unequivocally and unconditionally committed to the restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status – the Scottish National Party.

Whilst all support for the cause of independence is, of course, very welcome, those who are dedicated to this cause simply cannot afford to rely on politicians who so meekly accept the asserted superiority of the British state in what is supposed to be a political union in which both (all?) parties are equal.

The right of self-determination – as enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations – is vested wholly in the people of Scotland, to be exercised entirely at their discretion. Scotland’s electorate has provided the Scottish Government with a mandate to hold a new referendum and, by necessary implication, the delegated authority to decide how and when that mandate will be exercised. This mandate has been affirmed by the Scottish Parliament. The only Parliament with democratic legitimacy in Scotland. The only Parliament which truly represents the democratic will of Scotland’s people.

And that is an end of it!

No organisation or entity has the legitimate political authority to deny Scotland’s right of self-determination. No law or regulation can be valid which denies or constrains a fundamental, inalienable democratic right.

The British state’s claim to ultimate authority can only be enforced if we, the people of Scotland, voluntarily submit to their imperious diktat in the manner suggested by Ross Greer.

A new independence referendum is ours to demand. Independence is ours to take.

As Ross Greer has so amply demonstrated, only the SNP can properly and effectively serve as the political arm of Scotland’s independence movement. Where others bow before the self-proclaimed superiority of the British political elite, Nicola Sturgeon – as Scotland’s First Minister and as Leader of the Scottish National Party – is bound by a solemn and binding duty to defend Scotland’s democracy.

At a time when Scotland’s democracy is under severe and imminent threat from a rampant British Nationalist regime in London, every true democrat in Scotland must examine their conscience as they ask themselves whether they should kneel alongside Ross Greer, or stand behind Nicola Sturgeon.


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