We’re off!

filthy_hands.pngIt is a happy coincidence that I set off today on a wee speaking tour just as the SNP administration sets about proving the legislative process by which Scotland will be extricated from the Union. For, make no mistake, that is what is happening in the Scottish Parliament right now. The Scottish Government’s Continuity Bill is important in its own right. As Mike Russell put it,

It is simply not acceptable for Westminster to unilaterally re-write the devolution settlement and impose UK-wide frameworks in devolved areas without our consent.

This may be read as relating specifically to the situation thrown up by the Brexit fiasco. But the obvious, unavoidable, undeniable corollary is that the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government must address, as a matter of urgency, the underlying constitutional anomalies behind the threat to Scotland’s democracy that he describes. If the British political elite can do this, what else might they do?

Our elected representatives would be derelict in their duty if they failed to take a stand in defence of Scotland’s democratic institutions. They deserve the active and vocal support of every person, in Scotland and elsewhere, who values the principles of democracy.

On a personal note, it’s only to be expected that my travelling will interfere with my blogging, at least to some extent. But I am aware that people in the Yes movement are keen to know what’s going on across the country. I’ll do my best to report from all the places I’ll be visiting over the next few weeks. Let’s keep in touch.


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Crunch time!

scotlands_parliament.pngMike Russell notes that the primary duty of the Scottish Parliament and its Members is to serve the people of Scotland and protect their interests. One would hope and expect this to be no more than a statement of the obvious. We would tend to assume that this is a sentiment with which every MSP would concur. It would seem to be a fundamental principle, that those elected to a Parliament owe full allegiance to the people who elect them. In most circumstances, this would simply be taken for granted.

But Scotland’s circumstances are exceptional. The great divide in Scottish politics is such that the allegiances of those on one side of that divide cannot be assumed.

We hear a great deal of talk about ‘divisive’ politics. Much of it is strident and angry. As if division was some horrifying new phenomenon being introduced to our politics by ‘bad’ politicians, rather than simply a perfectly normal feature of all politics. Without division, there is no politics. Politics is a contest of ideas. Democratic politics allows everybody to participate in that contest. Democracy provides a means by which the people can be active in the contest of ideas, both as advocates and as judges. In a true and properly functioning democracy, all political authority derives from the people, and only the people can be the ultimate arbiters in the contest of ideas. In an ideal democracy, all the people affected by political choices participate in the process of debate and decision-making.

It is not politicians who create division. Their role is to represent the people in the contest of ideas. To facilitate the democratic process. To conduct the process of debate and decision-making for and on behalf of the electorate.

Politicians should be judged on whether, and how well, they serve the polity. That is all. But there may be a question as to which polity they actually serve.

There are, of course, many divisions in politics. Where politicians seek to portray division as a bad thing, it will always be only very particular forms or instances of division that are condemned. Commonly, the division being denounced will be on a matter where the politician doing the condemning feels their arguments are weak. Rather than engage in the contest of ideas on a particular issue, they object to there being a contest at all. Typically, they will seek to award themselves a bye in that particular contest. They declare themselves winners, not by dint of their superior arguments, but by rejecting the idea that they should have been called upon to formulate and advance any arguments in the first place.

It goes without saying that these are politicians who cannot be judged favourably on the basis of their service to a democratic process that they are trying to obstruct and circumvent. The politician’s job is to address divisions – hopefully, in a mature and rational fashion – not to deny them. Divisions denied or inadequately addressed will tend to fester and degenerate into conflicts.

There are few, if any, trivial divisions in politics. Political divisions reflect social divisions. The contest of ideas is not an abstract intellectual exercise. The ideas being contested derive from various social imbalances, the way these are perceived and proposals for rectifying or ameliorating them. Every division is important to someone. The outcome of every bout in the political tournament impacts on real people. Politics matters to everyone.

Having said that, there is a scale of greater and lesser divisions. It must be so, for surely there is a scale of greater and lesser ideas to be contested in the political arena. While no division is totally insignificant, there are ideas – concepts – which lie at the very core of our politics, because they relate to the very nature of our politics and our society.

The greatest of divisions are, inevitably, constitutional. It is necessarily so because all other divisions ultimately come back to the matter of who decides and how the decisions are made and how they are implemented and how they are upheld and how they may be amended or rescinded. The late Tony Benn elegantly and succinctly captured the essence of constitutional politics when he formulated the five questions which must be asked of established power.

What power have you got?
Where did you get it from?
In whose interests do you use it?
To whom are you accountable?
How do we get rid of you?

However much some politicians may deny and evade and minimise and deflect, it is an incontrovertible fact that the greatest division in Scottish politics is on the matter of the Union. More specifically, to the flaws which make the Union constitutionally untenable. The asymmetry – or ‘democratic deficit’ – which means Scotland’s interests can never be adequately represented, served or protected. And the explicit denial of the principle of popular sovereignty in favour of a concept of parliamentary sovereignty which is at best archaic, and, at worst, anti-democratic.

To properly understand Scotland’s politics it is essential to understand the core constitutional issue. To adequately appreciate the ‘Grand Divide’ in Scottish politics it is necessary to grasp the ideas which lie on either side of that divide. Ideas which are being ever more vigorously contested.

Articles, long essays and entire books have been written exploring and explaining and critiquing these ideas. Here, brevity is required – even at the cost of oversimplification and generalisation.

On the one side, we have the idea of Union and those who wish to preserve an archaic, anachronistic, anomalous and evidently dysfunctional constitutional settlement.

On the other we have the idea of independence and those who favour the normalisation of Scotland’s constitutional status, the restoration of powers to the Scottish Parliament and government by a democratically elected administration.

Which brings us back to the matter of our MSPs and the question of their loyalties. Whatever else it may be, the Scottish Government’s Continuity Bill is a test of the allegiance of MSPs. In supporting or opposing the Bill they will effectively be choosing between.

  • The Scottish Parliament to which they were elected and which has genuine democratic legitimacy.
  • A different parliament in a different country with a different political culture voted by a different electorate and serving a different polity. A parliament where Scotland has little more than token representation and where sits a government with no mandate from the Scottish electorate.

The people of Scotland are surely entitled to expect that, at a minimum, those they elect to represent them at Holyrood should accept the authority of the Scottish Parliament. We might reasonably anticipate that they would acknowledge the democratic legitimacy of the Scottish Parliament and respect it’s decisions and rulings as truly representing the will of Scotland’s people.

Further, are we not entitled to insist that those we elect to the Scottish Parliament be willing to affirm the democratic right of self-determination and acknowledge that this right is vested wholly in the people of Scotland to be exercised entirely at their discretion? How can someone legitimately sit in the Scottish Parliament who denies the right of Scotland’s people to freely chose the form of government that best suits their needs?

The question for MSPs is clear and simply. Do you accept that your primary role is to serve the people of Scotland and protect their interests? Or is your allegiance to a British state which is inherently incapable of serving the people of Scotland and which is actively working against their interests in ways that are countless, but vividly exemplified by Brexit?

The people of Scotland are watching their elected representatives in the Scottish Parliament. We are waiting to see which of them deserve to be there.


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Standing up for Scotland

scotland_eu.png

Let me just get this out of the way. Brexit was probably quite feasible. It was almost certainly possible for the UK to leave the EU with minimum cost and disruption. At a guess, I’d say a successful project to effect a reasonably smooth divorce would have required two years just to prepare for a referendum, and at least five years of preparation prior to invoking Article 50. So, a decade. If a decision had been taken in 2007/8, we’d be almost there by now.

The exercise would also have demanded the commitment of some extraordinarily capable politicians and diplomats backed by a substantial network of highly qualified civil servants, specialist lawyers and trained negotiators. Simply constructing the roadmap to Brexit would need a massive effort. Developing an adequate understanding of exactly what was involved could take months of work.

All of this would depend on competent leadership. Perhaps even ‘strong and stable’ leadership. The kind of leadership that brings together all the strands of such a major undertaking – guiding, motivating and, where necessary, commanding. The kind of leadership which engages the public and earns the respect of other national leaders. The kind of leadership which wins for those who exhibit it the accolade of ‘statesman’.
It could all have been very different.

Instead of making proper preparations, the British political elite stumbled into the Brexit process with all the panache of Boris Johnson on a zip-wire. It is daily more evident that nobody in the Leave camp had a clue what was involved in taking the UK out of the EU. Nobody had thought it through. Nobody understood the implications. Nobody foresaw the problems. Nobody considered the consequences. There never was a plan. Its not even clear that anybody saw the need for a plan.

There may be some competent and capable people working behind the scenes. I have considerable, if somewhat grudging, respect for the British Civil Service. By and large, they are a very professional lot. Whether or not we approve of what they are instructed to do by their political masters, we must allow that they tend to do it with a certain quiet efficiency.

Lions they may be – at least within the context of their trade. But they are lions led by lobotomised donkeys.

The dumb, bungling, bumbling ineptitude and clumsy, cack-handed incompetence of the British political elite defies description. The best thesaurus buckles under the strain of trying to capture in words the woeful inadequacy and wretched vacuousness of them. Miserable! Deplorable! Execrable! And that’s before we get to the bumptious, self-satisfied arrogance and the barging, bullying presumption. Or the demented, deluded detachment from reality.

Never, I venture, in its entire squalid and suspiciously stained history has the Westminster system deposited on the pavement of our politics a more abominable, damnable, detestable example of its product than the current British regime.

mike_russellGiven the foregoing, it is gratifying to find Scottish Ministers, such as Mike Russell, taking a stand against that odious regime. They are, after all, our elected representatives. They have a mandate from the people of Scotland. They speak for Scotland. They would be derelict in their duty did they not denounce the reckless rabble in charge of the Brexit shambles.

Bear in mind that we voted against this. Enough people in Scotland were sufficiently suspicious of the Leave campaign in the EU referendum to produce a 62% Remain vote; against the 38% who didn’t pick up on the clues to impending catastrophe – like the presence of Nigel Farage. That’s the vote which matters to Scottish politicians. That is the verdict of the Scottish people. That is the choice the Scottish Government must seek to honour.

Of course, Scotland is still strapped to the millstone of the British state. Which means that the Scottish Government is obliged to accommodate the UK-wide Leave vote. And nobody can sensibly claim that they haven’t tried. But it’s all one way. Being part of the UK means that the democratic will of Scotland’s people is treated with total contempt. There is no attempt at accommodation or compromise on the part of the British government. Quite the contrary. They deal with Scotland’s difference by first disregarding it and then seeking to suppress it.

The whole Brexit fiasco nicely illustrates the way the Union works against Scotland. It is the relationship between Scotland and the British state in microcosm. Just as Scotland’s different choice regarding the EU is ignored and then condemned as a threat, so the distinctiveness of Scotland’s culture is being denied, decried and denigrated. Just as with the difference in regard to the EU, the next stage in the process is an attempt to eliminate the distinctiveness.

We’ve heard David Mundell speak ominously of “UK-wide common frameworks”. We’ve heard David Lidington state threateningly that “discrepancies” cannot be allowed. The message could not be clearer. Difference will not be tolerated by the British state. A common framework will be imposed regardless of the wishes of Scotland’s people. Scotland’s distinctive political culture will be eradicated in favour of a homogenised ‘One Nation’ British state.

The hope of a better, fairer more prosperous society shaped by the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people is to be extinguished.

This is what Mike Russell is standing against. It is not just a fight to protect Scotland from the most dire consequences of the Brexit debacle. It is a fight to protect Scotland’s vital public services from the worst excesses of a British ruling elite wedded to neo-liberal orthodoxy and consumed by austerity fetishism.

It is a fight to defend Scotland’s democratic institutions and processes against the dread onslaught of a vile British Nationalist ideology.

All who wish Scotland well should stand with Mike Russell and his colleagues. It’s our Government, our Parliament, our democracy. We must defend all of it.


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