Political Campaigning for Dummies #1

Since it appeared in The National on Thursday 14 February, Andrew Wilson’s latest column has provoked a considerable amount of comment. It is safe to say that almost all of this comment has been highly critical. All of those which I’ve seen express various degrees of outrage at one of our First Minister’s advisers urging the ‘softest possible form of Scottish independence’. None of those that I’ve seen show any evidence that the individual commenting on Andrew’s article has taken the trouble to read it first.

The fact is that the words ‘softest possible form of Scottish independence’ do not appear anywhere in the piece. What Andrew actually says, after some discussion of aspects of the Sustainable Growth Commission’s report, is,

In the parlance of Brexit, we offer the softest of possible changes to the current arrangements, not the hardest.

Andrew Wilson: Next Scottish White Paper will learn from 2014 – and from Brexit

He is talking about changes to particular arrangements in the period immediately after independence. Using the “parlance of Brexit” may have been an unfortunate choice of rhetorical device, but it is no more than that – a rhetorical device. What he is saying is that the transition to independence should take the least disruptive course rather than the most disruptive. A statement which is only controversial if one is committed to maximising tumult and turbulence in the early years of Scotland’s restored independence. Or, to put it another way, you’d have to be some kind of nutter to be outraged by what Andrew Wilson actually said.

There is much to criticise in Andrew’s article. For example, his claim that the “first and most striking lesson” that the independence campaign might take from the Brexit fiasco is that we need “a prospectus and a rigorous plan”. He would say that, wouldn’t he? Given that he’s in the business of developing that prospectus and that plan.

Fortunately, Andrew is not – so far as I am aware – involved in planning the campaign which will take us to independence. The prospectus and plan to which he refers are really just attempts to explain. And, as Ronald Regan observed in one of his lucid moments, “If you’re explaining, you’re losing!”.

The “first and most striking lesson” to be taken from the Brexit mess is that a political campaign needs a comprehensible and unambiguous objective. That aim must also be deliverable. But first and foremost it must be absolutely clear what the campaign’s purpose is. You can’t even begin to formulate a prospectus and plan unless and until you establish what it is that the campaign aims to achieve.

That the Leave campaign failed in this regard is evident from the fact that much, if not all, of the early debate concerned the meaning of Brexit. A debate which was not in any sense resolved by Theresa May explaining that “Brexit means Brexit”. It is a measure of the laminar shallowness of this remark that, had you entertained an idea of Brexit as a sugar-coated dung beetle, May’s ‘explanation’ would have done absolutely nothing to disabuse you of this notion.

I hate to remind you. But Theresa May is the British Prime Minister and the person in charge of taking the UK out of the EU. A fact which makes the idea of Brexit as a sugar-coated dung beetle seem sensible and credible by comparison.

Having taken a lesson from the Leave campaign’s abysmal failure to precisely define its aim, how might the Yes movement do better. It’s safe to assume that most people would say the objective is the restoration of Scotland’s independence. But, as we discovered during the 2014 referendum campaign, the concept of independence is open to almost endless interpretation. The Yes movement spent pretty much the entire campaign trying to explain what independence means; what independence is. There were almost as many different explanations as there were people doing the explaining. Every one of those explanations invited demands for further explanation from an anti-independence campaign intent on sowing doubt and confusion. And every one of those demands drew the Yes campaign into further attempt to explain.

If it’s true that “when you’re explaining, you’re losing”, then the Yes campaign was losing big-style.

What is required is a tighter ‘mission statement’. One that states exactly what it is that is the end being pursued by the campaign. That is where #DissolveTheUnion comes in. It serves admirably as that comprehensible and unambiguous objective. There is no ‘flavour’ of independence which does not require the dissolution of the Union which is the antithesis of independence. The fundamental and essential aim of the independence cause is to bring an end to the Union. The break it. To consign it to the history from which it emerged and to which it remains incorrigibly bound.

The other lesson for today is not to trust the British media. It is remarkable that this lesson has yet to be learned by so many in the Yes movement. Of all people, you’d think those who are part of the campaign which is most commonly the target British media dishonesty would be familiar enough with the methods used to manipulate perceptions to avoid being taken in. But evidently, this is not so.

As has been pointed out, the words which caused offence did not appear in Andrew Wilson’s column. So, where did they come from? They came from headlines such as the one pictured from The Herald. People should know by now that the headline does not provide an indication of what the story below it is about. The headline tells you what the author and/or the publication want you to think the story is about. The headline is the first thrust in the process of manipulating the reader’s perception of the story. It plants the seed of deception which will then be fed by the standfirst and watered by the next few paragraphs. The default assumption when looking at any political story in the British media is that the headline is a lie.

There are abundant clues to tell the active consumer of media messages that they are being fed lies. There’s the fact that it’s The Herald, for a start. Then there’s the by-line. Tom Gordon is arguably the British media’s most adept exponent of anti-Scottish spin. He has played a major role in creating a genre of stories portraying Scotland as a dystopia where all is calamity and failure – unless it’s catastrophe and collapse. Having helped create the ‘Scotland as Hell-hole’ genre, Tom Gordon has very much made it his own. Tales of dysfunction and disaster in NHS Scotland are his speciality. Misrepresenting someone associated with the SNP is something Gordon does while roosting upside-down in his cave.

The ‘single quotes’ are another giveaway. They pretty much always tell the reader that what’s enclosed has its origins in the professionally fervid imagination of some mercenary hack. In the instance under discussion, the ‘single quotes’ scream out that the words within them were not actually spoken or written. Or, at least, they do for the minimally astute consumer of the British media’s output. Which clearly doesn’t include those denouncing Andrew Wilson for something he didn’t say.

Surely one of the most basic lessons to be learned by anyone hoping to be part of a political campaign is that your shouldn’t embrace your opponents’ propaganda. And you sure as hell shouldn’t promulgate that propaganda by parroting it all over social media. If, as a campaign activist, you are saying the same things as the opposition campaign, you are in desperate need of shutting the f*** up and applying such wit as you possess to reflecting on your behaviour.


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Out of time

I probably shouldn’t dwell on it, but I can’t help pondering how different things might have been if we’d had a new independence referendum on Thursday 20 September 2018. Looking back may be futile. But looking to the future has rarely been more disturbing and depressing. So indulge me! Allow me this brief reverie. Who knows? It may even prove illuminating.

Suppose we’d had that referendum in 2018. Suppose we’d won. Four months on we’d be well into the process of getting Scotland out of the Union – instead of being in the position of desperately struggling to keep Scotland in the EU – in keeping with the wishes of 62% of the Scottish voters who expressed a preference in the 2016 EU referendum.

If the Brexit process hadn’t ground to a total halt as everybody tried to figure out the implications of the decision to normalise Scotland’s constitutional status then at least we wouldn’t be part of the mess. By now, we might well have agreement from the EU that Scotland would effectively be treated as the continuing state after 29 March 2019.

There is no reason to suppose that the British government’s handling of the Brexit process would have been any less catastrophically inept. Scotland’s elected representatives – along with those of the other ‘peripheral’ parts of the UK – had been denied any meaningful role in the process. So taking them out of the equation with a Yes vote couldn’t really make much difference. Of course, the (r)UK position would be considerably weaker given that they could not claim to speak for Scotland. And given that they would no longer have any claim on Scotland’s resources. But it’s hard to imagine how this could make things any worse than May and her fractious rabble managed even while the UK was relatively intact.

Obviously, there would still be ‘issues’. Many of these would impinge on Scotland. But, as a de facto independent nation, we would have effective input. We would have a say in how these issues were resolved. Scotland’s interests would be represented in a way they never could be as a mere adjunct of England. Which is not to say that we would get everything we wanted from either the EU or the rump UK. But whatever compromises were made would be our compromises. They wouldn’t be compromises made on our behalf without consultation or consideration.

We might well suppose that the departure from the EU of those who actually voted for this – England and Wales – would be made easier in our imagined scenario. It is at least probable that a Yes vote in Scotland’s referendum would prompt a reunification vote in Ireland. Thus resolving cleanly, democratically, peacefully and in a most rational manner, the Irish border/ Good Friday Agreement problem which has been the greatest obstacle to a Withdrawal Agreement not wholly reliant on Santa Claus pulling some ‘alternative arrangements’ out of his sack. (You’ll understand that I didn’t really want to write ‘sack’.)

Had Scotland voted Yes on Thursday 20 September 2018, the increasingly ludicrous Brexit farce played out in Westminster and in the media over the last few months would have been largely avoided. Although this may be to underestimate the capacity of the British political elite to render farcical pretty much anything it is associated with. But this is my reverie. So I get to give them the benefit of whatever doubt I can scrape up. I elect to suppose that, as January 2019 passes, the Brexit thing would be going swimmingly. Even if some way from Olympic-standard synchronised swimming.

Then there’s the parallel negotiations between Scotland and rUK and between Scotland and the EU. The latter would be at an advanced stage by now. With Scotland taking on the UK’s membership of the EU there really wouldn’t be that much to negotiate. Think of it as Scotland inheriting the UK’s EU member’s uniform and having it adjusted to fit. Given that whatever negotiations were required would be conducted in a spirit of trust and constructive good will, there would surely be no impediment to reaching agreement amicably and rapidly. Instead of regarding 29 March with dread, we would be looking forward to Scotland taking its place as an independent nation in the European Union.

As such, Scotland would require a written constitution. An interim constitution to take effect on Independence Day is little more than a formality. It need only establish the basics – which are uncontroversial. We know they are uncontroversial because, if they were at all controversial they wouldn’t belong in an interim constitution. Work on a full draft constitution is ongoing and we can anticipate this this would have accelerated following the Yes vote last September.

It’s more difficult to say what would be happening on the rUK front. British Nationalists have vowed all manner of retribution should Scotland’s people presume to assert their sovereignty. But I seriously doubt that there will be UK Border Agency machine gun towers along the border and RAF bombs raining down on Glasgow Airport. It’s possible that aliens might take advantage of the situation to launch the invasion of Scotland they’ve been planning since Grmthul descended from Blntrmed with the Cclt of Dryf. We’ll take our chances with a bit of intergalactic conflict. We’ll have more immediate, and proximate, ‘foes’ to deal with. Although some of them do have the appearance of alien creatures struggling to maintain human form. Aye! That’s you, Michael Gove!

In reality, or as close to it as we might get in a purely hypothetical exercise, the British establishment is likely to opt for a rather more pragmatic approach than is to be found in the spittle-flecked rhetoric of British Nationalist fanatics. There’s every chance the British political elite will claim independence was being gifted to Scotland by an endlessly beneficent British state which had, of course, always respected the democratic right of Scotland’s people to choose their nation’s status and the form of government that best suits their needs. In much the same way as the 2014 referendum was graciously presented to Scotland by a kindly British Prime Minister, and Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.

There is no rational reason why dissolving the Union should not be a fairly straightforward matter. It’s not like there isn’t a lot of precedent to draw on. It’s basically a question of attitude. The Brexit mess may give cause to doubt that British politicians are capable of the spirit of trust and constructive good will I mentioned earlier. But we can help them find that spirit by presenting them with as conclusive a Yes vote as we can muster. Assuming an effective registration drive, 60% of an 85% turnout would suffice. That’s 51% of the electorate. 65%, or just over 55% of the electorate would be better. 70% (59.5%) would silence all but the most fanatical British Nationalists and force the British political elite to behave like grown-ups. Or, perhaps, delegate that task to professional civil servants.

Had we voted Yes in a referendum on Thursday 20 September 2018, we could now be be in a place indistinguishable from that where we find ourselves at the start of February 2019. We could be assured of our EU membership, with all the positives that this implies for our economy and society. Our EU citizenship would be secure. Our freedom of movement would be secure. Our access to the single market would be secure. More importantly, these things would be secured on terms freely negotiated by the people elected or appointed to represent Scotland. Politicians and civil servants whose imperatives are informed by the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people.

And what if we’d voted No in September 2014? Well, we’d surely be pretty much where we are now. We really had nothing to lose.

Of course, British Nationalists would be bawling about how this had killed the independence movement ‘stone dead’. Rhetoric which would, if history is any guide, be parroted by many in the Yes movement. But these protestations would be no more valid after two referendums than at any other time. However often the people of Scotland inexplicably vote to remain shackled to the British state, they cannot vote away the right of self-determination that is vested wholly in the people to be exercised entirely at their discretion. In terms of the cause of independence, a No vote in a referendum is merely a setback. It does nothing more than delay the inevitable. And the authority to determine the duration of that delay lies entirely with the Scottish people.

Had we voted No in September 2018 we’d be facing precisely the same threat to Scotland’s democracy that confronts us now. We’d be getting dragged out of the EU. Just as we are now. We’d be listening to warnings about shortages of food and medicine. Just as we are now. We’d be looking at the prospect of economic chaos and civil disturbance and martial law. Just as we are now. We’d be seeing powers stripped from the Scottish Parliament and anticipating further assaults on our democratic institutions. Just as we are now. We’d be f***ed! Just as we are now.

But at least we’d have tried to avoid all this. At least we’d have made the effort. At least we’d have shown some resolve to save Scotland from the depredations that come with the Union.

Now, it may be too late. Awakening from my reverie, I must face the reality that we are, if not already too late, then fast approaching a point when that will be the case. It is unlikely that anything other than the most bold and assertive action by the First Minister can possibly prevent us being dragged out of the EU – with all that this implies. None of it good.

Nicola Sturgeon seems no more disposed to take such action than she did in September 2018. Despite everything that has happened since that regrettable outcome in 2014, and despite the real and imminent threat to Scotland’s democracy and identity, the SNP administration’s attitude to taking the cause of independence forward appears unchanged. Their strategy is still a mystery. Their intentions unclear.

Right now, we have even less to lose by bold, decisive action than we did last September. Right now, the threat is greater than it has ever been. Right now, the need for urgency should be absolutely compelling. But I see little sign that any of this has touched our political leaders.

We are almost out of time. And I don’t know if I can face the prospect of sitting here in four months time contemplating what might have been.


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Beware the liars!

Lot’s of things annoy me. It’s the ‘Grumpy Old Man’ syndrome. Age brings the knowledge and experience to better recognise all manner of faults and follies. And, often, less reticence about commenting on these. If one is fortunate, or blessed with a sufficient degree of self-awareness, age also brings the capacity to control anger. To harness it for constructive purposes rather than allowing to become destructive, incoherent rage. Like the song says, anger is an energy. Sometimes, I get quite energised.

Among the things that irks me greatly in the context of the online political debate for which I have a certain enthusiasm, is a particular form of dishonest arrogance amounting, at the extreme, to offensive idiocy. I refer to the practice of telling people what they think rather than asking them. You will all have seen some manifestation of this unfortunate habit. In perhaps it’s most common form it is found in comments which commence, “So you think…”, going on to expound some demented interpretation of what has been stated. Often so demented as to have no evident connection to what has been stated.

“I want Scotland to be a normal independent nation.”

“So you think it’s OK to barbecue babies!”

At another level, we find this curious claim to know another person’s mind better than they themselves do expressed in a more detailed pronouncement prefixed by a phrase such as, “So what you are actually saying is…”. This is followed by some gross distortion of what has, in fact, been said. A falsification which may be malicious, but which is at least as likely to be the consequence of ignorance prideful enough to discount the need for niceties such as research.

This annoys me. The people who indulge in this kind of puerile behaviour annoy me. James Kelly annoys me.

You probably haven’t heard of this James Kelly. He has a blog called ‘Scot Goes Pop’ which sometimes offers mildly interesting analysis of polls. He should stick to that. Because when he starts telling his readers what others views, attitudes, opinions and positions are, he embarrasses himself with his ill-informed presumption.

It was recently brought to my attention that, in a fit of grotesque hauteur, Kelly had taken it upon himself to inform those readers that I was an advocate of a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) as a means of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. This came as a great surprise to those who informed me of Kelly’s dishonesty, and to anybody who, unlike the hapless Kelly, had taken the trouble to inform themselves. Needless to say, it also came as both a shock and an irritation to me as I had always supposed myself to be totally dismissive of the very concept of UDI. In fact, I had written frequently and at length about how inappropriate and inapplicable it is in the the context of Scotland’s constitutional issue.

Apparently, the bold Kelly knows better. Apparently, I am an ardent proponent of UDI. Apparently, I only needed some presumptuous little creep to point it out to me. You can imagine how grateful I am to said presumptuous little creep for putting me right on the content of my own mind.

I was not alone in being maliciously misrepresented by Kelly. Craig Murray was likewise informed that his position wasn’t what he’d always supposed it to be. He too was generously afforded the benefit of Kelly’s corrective wisdom. But Craig Murray was at least able to respond directly pointing out that Kelly is nowhere near as clever as he imagines. Not that Kelly paid the slightest attention. After all, what does Craig know about his own views on the process by which the independence campaign moves forward? Kelly is arrogant enough to suppose that his personal ‘interpretation’ takes precedence.

I was not able to directly refute Kelly’s lies because I am blocked from commenting on his blog. He denies this, of course. But he also claims that there is no means of blocking users on the blogging platform that he uses. Which, you won’t be surprised to discover, is another lie.

James Kelly has now followed up his original lies with another article which is, if anything, even more brazenly dishonest. I am not providing a link to it because I despise liars and don’t believe they should be encouraged or supported in any way.

The gist of Kelly’s fetid little diatribe is that, although I state that I do not advocate UDI, I actually advocate UDI. According to Kelly, everything I have said about UDI means the opposite of whatever I’ve said. The explanation for this weird perspective – insofar as there is one – appears to be that Kelly holds with the view that Scotland was ‘extinguished’ by the 1707 Acts of Union and that the only way Scotland’s constitutional status can be altered is with the gracious consent of the British political elite.

This objectionable absurdity was promulgated as part of the British state’s anti-independence propaganda effort during the 2014 referendum campaign. I shan’t trouble with refuting this nonsense here, Others have already done a more than adequate job in that regard. I would simply note that the individual now propounding the notion that Scotland doesn’t exist professes to be a supporter of the Yes movement.

It is this belief in the non-existence and powerlessness of Scotland which allows Kelly to stick a woefully simplistic UDI label on any suggested process which does not involve the democratically elected representatives of Scotland’s people going cap-in-hand to Westminster as supplicants craving favour from a power which is superior despite not having any mandate from the people of Scotland.

Thus, Kelly boldly asserts that what has come to be known as the #DissolveTheUnion position is promoting UDI, despite the complete and comprehensive rejection of UDI which is one of the defining features of that position. We have to keep reminding ourselves that James Kelly knows what any position is better than the people who subscribe to that position. You may opine that this makes him something of an arse. I couldn’t possibly comment.

Had this arse thought to do a little research; or – perish the thought – had he deigned to ask one of those who subscribe to the #DissolveTheUnion position what it means… But that was never going to happen. And, even if Kelly was informed of the facts, there is no reason to suppose he wouldn’t simply ignore them – as he did Craig Murray’s intervention – in favour of his own ‘superior’ knowledge.

For the benefit of those who are interested in the truth and wish some clarification, I am probably as well qualified as anyone to explain what is implied by #DissolveTheUnion. Certainly better qualified than James Kelly, notwithstanding his vaunting self-regard. I can claim to be so qualified on the grounds that I have been ‘officially’ credited by some ‘academics’ as the originator of the hashtag.

Let’s be clear about a couple of things! #DissolveTheUnion does not mean UDI. I do not advocate UDI – quite the contrary. James Kelly is obdurately and shamelessly lying on at least these two counts.

The thinking behind #DissolveTheUnion derives from the concept of framing/reframing. This is too complex a matter to describe in detail, and any attempt at a brief summary by me would doubtless meet with the disapproval of Bill Dale. What is relevant here is the very simple idea of turning an argument around. Reformulating the issue in a way that induces people to think differently about it. Or merely to think about it.

Those who subscribe to the #DissolveTheUnion position are persuaded that, for various reasons, it would be a mistake to adhere to the process which was followed in the 2014 referendum. What, for convenience, we refer to as the Section 30 process. Realising that a process in any way influenced by the British state is unlikely to be the best way forward – for reasons which should be obvious – an alternative is required.

Recognising also that there is no route to independence which does not involve breaking the rules devised by the British state for the purpose of preserving the Union, it is clear that the process chosen must involve more defiance than compliance. With characteristic opinionated finality, James Kelly asserts that,

Neither the Scottish government, nor the Scottish Parliament, has the legal power to “dissolve the union”.  There is no debate to be had over that – it is simply a fact.

He might as well have advised us to give up our aspirations. Because there is no way that either the Scottish government or the Scottish Parliament can possess that “legal power” until we overcome the obstacle of the British state withholding the relevant “legal power” from our Parliament.

Nothing happens unless and until the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament does something that it does not have the “legal power” to do. Nothing changes until the asserted authority of the British state to deny or constrain our right of self-determination is challenged – and defeated!

This is how Norway launched the process which led to the dissolution of the political union with Sweden. Norway breached the terms of that union and defied the Swedish state to stand in its way.

It is important to understand that this is not an alternative to a referendum. There can be no significant constitutional change without the informed consent of the people. The suggestion, by Kelly or anyone else, that those who favour the #DissolveTheUnion process are opposed to a referendum is either ignorant drivel or a malicious lie.

#DissolveTheUnion is merely a different process leading up to a referendum. Instead of pleading with our masters in London for permission to exercise or right of self-determination – or exercising it in a manner constrained by the British state’s self-serving rules – we assume the right to hold that referendum. We challenged the legitimacy of the British state’s effort to prevent or limit the exercise of our right of self-determination.

In the process, we turn the entire referendum debate on its head. No longer is the burden of ‘proof’ with those who propose normalising Scotland’s constitutional status. Instead, the onus is on those who would preserve the constitutional anomaly of the Union.

By declaring the dissolution of the Union on a given date, subject to a referendum on a given date, We have a fait accompli. The Union is effectively dissolved. British Nationalists must argue a case for the Union rather than against independence. While the Yes movement has the comparatively simple task of mounting a campaign against a Union whose detriment to Scotland has become painfully obvious.

Ironically, it would also achieve the one thing James Kelly talks sense about. It would inspire the people of Scotland. It would immediately arouse increased support for the Yes campaign.

Of course this is a bold move! Of course it is radical! But nothing less will suffice. So please beware of those peddling falsehoods about ideas they don’t understand.


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Too timid to win?

Ruth Wishart asks, “does hesitancy now really help the cause?”, and rightly concludes that it does not. But what of hesitancy’s sibling, timidity? Ms Wishart neglects to ask whether or how the cause of restoring Scotland’s might be served by approaching the project with anything less than total commitment and absolute determination.

Having decided that action to resolve Scotland’s constitutional issue should not be further postponed, why so half-hearted about the nature of that action? Having quoted Cannon Kenyon Wright’s resounding affirmation of the ultimate authority of the people, why immediately contradict this assertion by allowing that the British political elite may constrain the authority of the people? Either the people are the source of all legitimate political authority, or they aren’t. If you concede that the British state may overrule or limit that authority, then you are putting the British political elite above and before the people.

When the British Prime Minister says, “We are the state, and we say No!”, did Canon Kenyon Wright insist we should respond saying, “We are the people, and we say Yes… so long as that’s OK by you!”? He did not!

Why then does Ruth Wishart say we, the people of Scotland, should limit ourselves to a “consultative, advisory referendum”? What is the “legal impediment” to holding a fully-fledged, binding referendum if not the voice of the British establishment maintaining that it’s authority supersedes that of the people? How might we ever restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status so long as we are too timid to defy that voice?


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Loose talk

A few days ago I chided a fellow pro-independence blogger for “peddling the idea that the mandate for a new independence referendum is entirely conditional on Brexit”. It is bad enough that we have the British media distorting facts and deceiving the public without sections of the Yes movement parroting the British state’s propaganda. And it’s worse still when the disinformation is coming from a senior SNP politician.

Writing in The National, Pete Wishart says,

Such is our endorsement of a People’s Vote that we have unconditionally given our support to a second EU referendum, regardless of its outcome, and without any guarantees for our nation or acknowledgement of a future vote in Scotland. Without the inclusion of a set of conditions we could be expected to “respect’” the outcome even if it meant that Scotland was taken out of the EU against its will again.

If somehow a People’s Vote is successful we remove the very conditions that makes Scottish independence a majority position amongst the Scottish people. Critically, we also remove the specified condition of the current mandate included in our manifesto in 2016.


Why a People’s Vote causes all sorts of problems for independence

Two paragraphs. Two seriously misleading statements. The assertion that Brexit was “the specified condition of the current mandate included in our manifesto in 2016” is just plain untrue. As I pointed out in that previous article,

This is based solely on a single phrase abstracted from a section of the SNP’s 2016 election manifesto – “taken out of the EU”. But it doesn’t just say “taken out of the EU”. It says “…or if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will” (my emphasis). You can’t pretend those words aren’t there just because it suits your argument.

A bad place

Don’t take my word for it. Read the SNP 2016 Manifesto for yourself. There is nothing vague or ambiguous about the relevant paragraph. It is perfectly clear that being “taken out of the EU” is merely given as an example of “significant and material change”. The clue is in the words “such as”.

I’m not sure how the myth of Brexit being a “specified condition” got started. I do know that the British media apply themselves diligently to promulgating such myths. And I can understand this. That’s their job. They manipulate public opinion by manipulating the facts. Being part of the British establishment, it is entirely unsurprising that the British media spin stories in whatever way best serves the interests of established power.

What I find inexplicable is that Yes supporters should go along with the deception. I can’t believe that they are knowingly aiding and abetting the British state’s anti-SNP propaganda effort. Although this may be true in a very few cases, for the most part the best, if nonetheless profoundly regrettable, explanation is mere intellectual indolence. Laziness! Checking facts is a task. Questioning one’s own assumptions and preconceptions doesn’t come naturally. It calls for a conscious effort. Not to mention awareness that healthy scepticism begins at home. Questioning all media messages is important. Being prepared to question one’s own understanding of things is crucial. But going with what you ‘know’ is easier. Following your prejudices requires less effort than interrogating them.

In an ideal world, everybody in the Yes movement wouldn’t make a statement such as ‘Brexit was the specified condition of the current mandate included in our manifesto in 2016’ without asking themselves if this was correct. It’s a useful habit to acquire. For SNP politicians such as Pete Wishart, it should be instinctive.

Certain statements should ring alarm bells. They should immediately prompt questions about accuracy and veracity. And about advisability. No professional politician or competent political campaigner should ever make a statement without first asking themselves whether, and how, it can be defended. Which means asking how the statement will be misrepresented by their political opponents and hostile media. For political campaigners, statements about the aims and purposes of the campaign call for particular care. Politicians must be particularly cautious with references to party policies and positions.

As Pete Wishart stated that the SNP has “unconditionally given our support to a second EU referendum, regardless of its outcome, and without any guarantees for our nation” those alarm bells should have been deafening. Is this really the party’s position? How likely is it that an astute political operator such as Nicola Sturgeon would adopt such a position? How credible is it that she would casually commit to a totally unspecified arrangement? Are we to believe that she would voluntarily squander her options in the manner suggested?

Did Pete Wishart ask himself any of these questions? Apparently not! But he can be sure that others are now asking some very serious questions about his judgement.


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Kick the box!

Michael Fry correctly points out that “there is a crucial margin of sceptical voters, 5 or 10% of the whole electorate, needing to be converted to the cause of independence”. While he doesn’t say as much, the clear implication is that this “crucial margin” is “sceptical” about independence. That may be true of some. But at least as many are, for the very reasons so eloquently set out in the article, likely to be sceptical about the Union. After all, it is the Union which is allowing a disastrous Brexit to be imposed on an unwilling Scotland.

It is, therefore, the Union which is threatening the “personal interest” which Mr Fry seems to suppose is the overriding – if not the only – consideration for voters. So it stands to reason that many who voted No in 2014 because they calculated this would make them richer – or, at least, safeguard their personal wealth – are now busy at their abacuses rerunning those calculations in the light of Brexit.

Of course, in the real world, not everybody is primarily motivated by greed. And vanishingly few are motivated solely by greed. For most people, “personal interest” will be one consideration among many. Michael Fry might be startled to discover that there are even those who will gladly sacrifice some part of their personal interest for what they regard as a more vital cause and/or a more worthy principle.

Not everybody sees politics as merely a matter of economic management. Not everybody is concerned only with having the economy managed for their personal benefit. Those who are not sociopaths are, by definition, burdened with a social conscience. How heavily this weighs is a matter of individual character. As is willingness to bear the discomfort of what can often be an awkward load. But, in general, people will assess public policy and government action on criteria other than the impact on their own bank account.

Such people will see Brexit as more than just the act of economic self-harm it undoubtedly is. They will see it also as an act of social and cultural vandalism. They will see it as an insult to rationality. They will see it as an affront to democracy. And they will tend to address it as such, even at some personal cost.

In terms of the conduct of the independence campaign, however, all of those beginning to be sceptical of the Union can be counted pretty much the same. Whether they are concerned for the welfare of their own bank balance or for the welfare of society as a whole, they are starting to wonder if it is the Union, rather than independence, which represents the greatest threat.

The part of that “5 or 10% of the whole electorate” which is ripe for plucking by the independence campaign is the part which is increasingly dubious about or disgruntled with the Union. It is people who won’t be “converted to the cause of independence” by promises of personal gain, national prosperity and social progress. They won’t be converted by even the most perfectly formed independence ‘message’ for the simple reason that they are not listening to that message. They won’t start to listen until there is a loosening of the Union’s grip on them, and their grip on the Union.

The reason Michael Fry sees “no surge in public opinion likely to carry us past 50% in indyref2” can be summed up in one word – inertia. The “crucial margin” needs a jolt of political action to break that inertia. It needs to be induced to review it’s assumptions about and attachment to the Union. Only when that crucial margin starts to question the efficacy and basis of the Union will it become open to the independence message.

It’s a double, or even a treble win for the independence campaign. Because the jolt of political action may also stir the apathetic, and it will certainly energise the already enthusiastic.

Scotland desperately, urgently requires bold, decisive, assertive action from the First Minister. Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t just need to think outside the box, she needs to step outside it and give it a hefty kick.


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STFU about UDI!

The concept of a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) is inappropriate and inapplicable. Scotland is neither a colony nor a possession. Ask the analytical questions. From what would we be unilaterally declaring independence? England? Scotland hasn’t been annexed by England. Suppose England wanted to declare it’s independence. What would it be declaring independence from? Itself? The UK? The UK isn’t a nation. It is a political union. Leaving a political union isn’t at all equivalent to declaring independence.

Forget UDI! It shouldn’t even be mentioned in relation to Scotland’s independence cause.

What people actually mean when they refer to UDI; what they mistakenly identify as UDI, is a process in which a declaration of intent to change Scotland’s constitutional status precedes a plebiscite to ratify that proposed change.

The closest analogy may be the dissolution of the political union between Norway and Sweden. A union which was, in some significant respects, similar to that between Scotland and England. Certainly, it was the cause of the same kind of tensions between the two nations.

With all the usual caveats about the dangers of simplification, the story starts, as all such stories must, with the nation that wishes to dissolve the union breaking the rules which bind it together. Norway declared its intention to set up its own consular service thus breaching the terms of the political union which reserved foreign policy to Sweden. Sweden refused to recognise the legislation passed by the Norwegian parliament and the Norwegian government resigned; provoking a constitutional crisis when it proved impossible to form a new government.

To resolve the issue of Norway’s constitutional status, the Storting (Norwegian parliament) voted unanimously to dissolve the political union with Sweden. This was on 7 June 1905. Crucially, in order to seize total control of the process, Norway avoided the offer of a negotiated settlement which would have allowed Sweden a measure of influence. Instead, the Storting immediately scheduled a referendum for 13 August – around nine weeks after the vote to dissolve the union.

That referendum resulted in a ‘Yes’ vote of 99.5%.

It shouldn’t be difficult to work out from this how Scotland should proceed. And it has absolutely nothing to do with UDI.


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