I object!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Now is the time!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s talk!

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

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

I do not charge a fee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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What is independence?

My first article for today having been destroyed by a failure of the WordPress autosave function, I offer this brief comment as an addendum reinforcing a point made in an earlier piece called A strategy for penetrating No territory.

Prompted by a claim made on Twitter, I sought to establish whether anybody had actually ever heard any independence supporter say that there is “no such thing as independence”. To date, Jim Fairlie seems to be unique. But the responses indicated something interesting. And something which is not sufficiently recognised. People define independence in different ways.

Obviously, British Nationalists present independence – for Scotland, at least – as something outlandish and scary. Despite the fact that many nations have managed to achieve independence, and many more have survived very well as independent states, British state propaganda would have us believe that Scotland is the exception. For Scotland, independence is a leap into the unknown. A terrifying adventure in uncharted territory. Complete nonsense, of course. But the British media has been quite successful in attaching such fearful connotations to the idea of independence.

Mr Fairlie, as I understand it, entertains notions of independence which many would consider rigidly ‘isolationist’. A personal definition of independence which derives from a combination of his bitter resentment of the success of the ‘gradualist’ wing of the SNP – which he fervently opposed – and his equally bitter hatred of the EU. But don’t take my word for it. I’m sure Jim would be happy to explain his idea of the one and only thing that independence can mean.

I’m curious to know if anyone has ever heard an SNP supporter say that there is “no such thing as independence”. pic.twitter.com/dNIYBpSsmf— Peter A Bell #DissolveTheUnion (@BerthanPete) May 16, 2019

Within the Yes movement, our cherished diversity ensures that there are almost as many definitions or descriptions or explanations of independence as there are people defining, describing and explaining. This is generally regarded as one of the Yes movement’s great strengths. But for a political campaign, such vagueness is fatal.

A political campaign must be sharp and focused. It must be possible to state its purposed unambiguously and coherently in a few words. Nobody should be in any doubt what the campaign is about. Especially the activists fighting that campaign.

This is why we should now be conducting a campaign to dissolve the Union. Because that objective encapsulates the core purpose of the independence cause. It precisely states the aim of every single independence supporter, regardless of how they define the term.


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The final message

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

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

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

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

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


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The point of it all

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Monomania

Ruth Davidson, who supposedly wants us all to stop talking incessantly about independence, never stops talking about independence – claiming that Nicola Sturgeon never stops talking about independence and wanting her to stop talking about independence.

Meanwhile, the people who never want to stop talking about independence accuse Nicola Sturgeon of not wanting to talk about independence; want her to start talking about independence; and want want Ruth Davidson to stop talking about stopping independence.

There’s a reason we don’t see much political satire on TV these days. It would be too difficult to distinguish between an episode of Spitting Image and an edition of the Andrew Marr Show.

But – and I’m going to shock you here – Ruth Davidson is right. She’s right accidentally, coincidentally and for the wrong reasons. But, this being Ruth Davidson, she has to take what she can get. It’s unlikely she’ll ever do better.

She’s right to talk about independence all the time because the constitutional issue is, ultimately, the only issue that really matters. All other political questions always come back eventually to the matter of who decides. We all should follow Ruth Davidson’s example. We SHOULD be talking about independence all the time.

The First Minister of Scotland and leader of what is effectively the political arm of the independence movement certainly should be talking about little else but the constitutional issue. Because any and all other issues facing Scotland crucially depend on how we answer the question of what constitutes legitimate political authority in Scotland.

Ruth Davidson will, of course, insist that the people of Scotland answered this question in 2014. She will obdurately continue to insist on this no matter how often it is explained to her how the right of self-determination works or how it is possible for a referendum to produce a result, but not a decision. As I wrote some months ago,

Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum is illustrative. While it was perfectly clear that a Yes vote meant independence by way of a reasonably well described process, there was no indication whatever of what a No vote meant. Initially, it was said to be a vote for the status quo. As the referendum campaign progressed, however, all manner of stuff was hooked onto the No vote – up to and including ‘The Vow’.

In practice, a No vote meant whatever the British establishment wanted it to mean. This turned out to be pretty much the opposite of everything that had been promised. And something very, very far from the status quo that was originally offered. Thus, the referendum produced an indisputable result, but no decision. Because the No option was effectively undefined, a No vote in the referendum could not settle the issue. There was nothing to settle on.

Alpacas might fly

Superficially, the 2014 referendum result may seem to imply the people of Scotland opting to forego the opportunity to be a normal democratic nation where important decisions affecting people’s lives are made by a parliament and government they elect. From the self-serving perspective of British Nationalists, the 2014 referendum result had to be interpreted as the people of Scotland saying they wanted ultimate political power to lie, not in their own hands, but in the hands of the British political elite of which Davidson flatters herself to think she is a part.

No account of Ruth Davidson’s character would be complete without the terms ‘superficial’ and ‘self-serving’.

To be scrupulously fair to Davidson, there is little to indicate that she is intellectually equipped to comprehend that a referendum might produce a result without a decision. It is certain that, being immersed in and suffused with British political culture, basic democratic principles such as self-determination and popular sovereignty must be alien and anathema.

Ruth Davidson is what she is because that is what the British establishment requires her to be. She is what she is because that is what she had to be in order to serve the British ruling elite and, thereby, have some kind of political career. She is what she is because that is all she is capable of being.

Ruth Davidson never stops talking about independence, not because she recognises the importance of the constitutional issue, but because it’s the only thing she supposes she understands. The tragedy is that she really, really doesn’t.


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Campaigners or counsellors?

Does it ever occur to Carolyn Leckie and all the other happy-clappers telling Yes activists they should be “listening to and empathising with someone not convinced by the case for independence” that there may be a very good reason why those Yes activists find this so difficult? Have they ever stopped to consider the possibility that, right-on and virtuous as it may appear, giving people free rein to parrot the British Nationalist propaganda they’ve absorbed may not be the super-solution they suppose it to be? Have they, for even one moment, entertained the possibility that, trendy as the culture of counselling may be, it might actually be the wrong approach?

If everybody is listening, what are they listening to? If Yes activists are intent on trying to empathise with those who are filled with fear and self-doubt, who is going to challenge their fears and question the cause of their self-doubt?

The reason Yes activists find it difficult to listen to people who are “not convinced” by “the case for independence” may be that they’ve heard it all before and know the trepidation to be irrational. They know that there is no real basis for the fear and self-doubt. They know that the scare stories have been comprehensively and repeatedly debunked.

They know that these people remain “unconvinced”, not because they haven’t been given ample opportunity to voice their ‘concerns’ and have them addressed, but because THEY are not listening.

Or perhaps Yes activists find it difficult to listen to the “unconvinced” because they recognise that the fears are not genuine. That they are post hoc rationalisations of a position arrived at, not through reason, but through prejudice or simple inertia.

Fear is the ugly offspring of ignorance. It is a void. A space in which imagination is not tamed by the constraints of knowledge. A space which the mass media have evolved to populate with monsters.

All the people who are amenable to being persuaded by the ‘positive case for independence’ have already been persuaded. What remains are the mindless bigots and people who have grown comfortable with their ignorance. People who are content with their imaginings. People who don’t really want to know. People who don’t want to make the effort to think. They will not be provoked to think by being given ’empathetic’ assurances that it’s OK to embrace ignorance.

If someone expresses the firm belief that independence would leave Scotland without a functioning currency then, however baseless it may be, that belief is not going to be undermined by sympathetic noises signalling a readiness to accept that this a real possibility which they have every right to be concerned about. Ignorance should always be challenged.

If we are to listen to those who cling to their faith in the British state despite all that has happened, then we are entitled to demand that they explain their beliefs and account for their fears and justify their lack of confidence.

The Yes campaign in the 2014 referendum was hamstrung by an obsession with being ‘positive’. It was hobbled by notions of commanding some sort of moral and ethical high ground while our opponents were left to dominate the battlefield of realpolitik. It was crippled by a reluctance to go on the offensive against propaganda-fed ignorance and debilitated by a conviction that minds could only be changed by being inoffensive to the point of being ineffectual.

It’s time to be assertive. It’s time to be aggressive. It’s time to stop being so defensive and apologetic and self-critical and start vigorously, ruthlessly denouncing the British Nationalist ideology which threatens our democracy.

No, Carolyn! I will not listen patiently while people talk Scotland down. And I can no more empathise with the idea that we are inadequate and unworthy than I can with the belief that the affairs of humankind are overlooked by a great wizard in the sky.


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