The Union is not an option!

Imagine I had the power to decree that your vote only counts if I agree with it. Imagine I had the power to stipulate all that your democratic choices are always conditional on my approval. Imagine I told you this stipulation would be enshrined in the constitution. Would you,

  1. Laugh in my face
  2. Spit in my face
  3. Punch me in the face

While the last of these would surely be considered excessive, and the second socially unacceptable, none of these adverse reactions would be deemed irrational. Generally speaking, it would be considered quite natural that you should forcefully reject such an anti-democratic proposal.

And yet this is precisely the situation that British Nationalists insist we accept. As a voter in Scotland, you are expected to meekly accept that your vote only counts on those occasions when it coincides with the vote of your counterpart in England. We are told we must accept, without demur, a constitutional arrangement whereby one voter in England can effectively cancel every vote cast by a citizen of Scotland.

Let’s say there are 4,000,000 voters in Scotland. Suppose all of them vote in a binary poll for ‘White’. In England, the corresponding 4,000,000 voters also vote ‘White’. So far, so good. But the 4,000,001st voter in England votes ‘Black’. Instantly, the votes of every single one of Scotland’s citizens are totally discounted. They are rendered meaningless.

Some will respond that this is just the way democracy works. The majority wins. But it is not democracy when the voters in one country can be outvoted by the voters in another.

The 2016 EU referendum was a particularly egregious example of this happening in the real world rather than in the realm of the hypothetical. It was far from the first instance. As far as UK Governments are concerned, Scotland only rarely gets what it votes for. But, because it was as binary as our hypothetical illustration, the EU referendum brought this grotesque constitutional anomaly into stark relief.

This anomaly is very much enshrined in the British constitution. It is often pointed out that the UK doesn’t have a written constitution. It would be more correct to say that the UK lacks a formal, coherent constitution. The constitution, such as it is, will be found scattered throughout a huge body of statutes, treaties, conventions and precedents. The Acts of Union are an important – I would contend crucial – component of that dispersed, vague, ambiguous and highly ‘elastic’ constitution.

It is the Union which gives effect to the situation described at the start of this article. It is the Union which creates the circumstances in which Scottish votes only count to the extent that they concur with at least the same number of English votes.

Unionists and British Nationalists will argue that this is no more than democracy in action. The majority wins. The minority is left to suck it up. In the British political system, it’s winner-take-all. If you’re not first past the post, you’re nowhere. But this argument absolutely requires that those making it are able and willing to completely deny Scotland’s status as a nation, as well as the observable reality of Scotland’s distinctive political culture. The grotesque constitutional anomaly embedded in the Union can only be rationalised by regarding Scotland as but a ‘region’ of a ‘One Nation’ British state. Or ‘Greater England’, as it is often called.

By accepting the Union one accepts that Scotland is no more distinct from England than any one of that nation’s counties. One is also accepting that there are (at least) two classes of voter; and that the lesser of these is the Scottish voter. The Union truly is a constitutional device by which the people of Scotland are denied the full and effective exercise of their sovereignty. The Union is a denial of that sovereignty in favour of the sovereignty of a divinely-ordained monarch whose powers are administered by an executive which, to the limited extent that it can be described as having been elected, is the choice of England’s electorate only. Said executive operating under the auspices of a parliament which is massively dominated by England’s elected representatives.

Needless to say, I do not accept any of this. I do not accept the denial of popular sovereignty. I do not accept the sovereignty of ‘the crown in parliament’. I do not accept the democratic legitimacy of a parliament which is neither elected by nor accountable to the people of Scotland. I utterly reject the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.

One would expect that, while she would doubtless wish to express the foregoing in her own way, the leader of the Scottish National Party would be in pretty much full accord with these sentiments. But I’m not so sure.

Nicola Sturgeon describes a so-called ‘people’s vote’ as “the only option, within the UK, that would allow Scotland’s democratic wish to remain in Europe to be respected.” She might well have added, “So long as England’s voters agree!”

Why would we want a second EU referendum? Scotland voted Remain. Decisively! Who in Scotland is clamouring for a chance to change their mind? A second EU membership referendum has only one purpose – to afford the people of England a chance to change their collective mind. Why does our vote only count if voters in England ‘ratify’ it?

Why aren’t Scotland’s voters worthy of respect in their own right?

I would be delighted if our First Minister were to explicitly acknowledge the subordinate status of Scotland and its people withing this benighted Union. But I am perplexed and concerned that, by actively supporting the idea of a new EU referendum, she appears to be accepting all the things that I, as a lifelong advocate of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status, categorically reject.

Seeking England’s endorsement of our democratic choice to remain in the EU should not be an option at all for those who wish Scotland to be a normal independent nation once again. If that is the only option “within the UK”, then remaining within the UK cannot be an option. It is time to #DissolveTheUnion.


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The snarling of the beast

It was always going to happen. British Nationalists were always going to find something to latch onto. They were always going to find some vulnerability that they could exploit. Simply be virtue of the fact that they were constantly attacking Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP on any grounds however spurious, it was pretty much inevitable that one of those attacks would find some wee tear that they could pick at. When you blast away in all directions with a scatter-gun then you’re almost bound to eventually at least graze one of your chosen targets.

Although, for obvious reasons, not much was said about it at the time, this was part of the reasoning behind the drive to hold a new referendum last September. It seemed obvious that, given the British establishment’s frenzied determination to find – or fashion – some dirt on a senior SNP figure, the longer this effort was allowed to continue the greater the chances that it would have some measure of success.

Forget the ‘conspiracy theories’ about highly placed British civil service ‘moles’ in the SNP administration with orders to sabotage one or more SNP politicians at the first opportunity. I’m not saying the British establishment is not capable of such conduct. Only that they are probably not competent. Appalling as the British political elite may be, civil servants are generally decent people with a strong sense of duty and very much focused on their careers. They are not easily corrupted.

And it isn’t necessary anyway. Civil servants are just people and subject as all of us are to human folly and frailty. One of them was going to screw up in some way at some point. And it is becoming clearer by the day that there were one or two senior civil servants in the vicinity of the First Minister who are perhaps more prone to human weaknesses and defects of character than most. And certainly more so than is desirable in a senior civil servant.

It was only a matter of time. The more time they were allowed, the greater the chance that British Nationalists would strike lucky.

Why a civil servant and not one of the senior SNP politicians themselves? Why was it more likely that a crack would eventually appear in the machinery of the Scottish Government rather than in any of its leading personalities? Simply because those leading personalities are the first generation of front-line figures in a new party of government. They haven’t risen to power through established structures which could help them over humps and cover their arses where necessary. In order to get there, they’ve had to keep their noses, not merely clean as in free of dangling snot, but clean as in pristine. Antiseptically clean.

What makes the allegations against Alex Salmond less than credible is the fact that his reputation is of such immense value to him, together with his awareness that the British establishment and its media hyenas were constantly raking through his bins looking for any titbit they could exploit. In all of history, few politicians have come under such intense and prolonged scrutiny. British Nationalist frustration at being unable to find anything is palpable. Those less prejudiced might consider the failure of such a massive effort to find evidence of wrongdoing to strongly suggest that no such evidence exists.

Similar considerations apply regarding the insinuations against Nicola Sturgeon. Together with the confused and contradictory nature of those insinuations. Almost as if her attackers are trying to cover all possible permutations of wrongdoing regardless of whether they make any sense. Which leads us to consider the reputations of those attackers compared with that of Nicola Sturgeon.

That there is a smear campaign against both Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon is certain. Since at least 2007, there has not been a moment when there wasn’t some kind of smear campaign against one or both of them either in progress or in preparation. The current exercise in negative propaganda appears to be gaining more traction than any that have gone before. But this may be a function of the resources that are being applied to the effort rather than an indication of any substance behind the allegations and insinuations.

Of one thing we can be fairly sure; this smear campaign is opportunistic rather than conspiratorial. A senior civil servant has behaved in a manner that is dubious, at best. The British Nationalist beast’s primitive instincts have been triggered as it senses potential weakness. It is responding with all the petty, mindless viciousness we’ve come to expect from politicians bred in the British political system.


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The deadly Section 30!

There appears to be a general assumption that (a) Nicola Sturgeon will renew the request for a Section 30 order with a view to holding a new independence referendum; and (b) that Theresa May will refuse. If I have learned anything in more than half a century observing politics – and people – it is that one should beware of easy assumptions.

I have made my views on asking for a Section 30 order plain on many occasions. It would be a mistake. I take the view that the British Prime Minister cannot have a veto over the right of self-determination that is vested wholly in the people of Scotland and guaranteed by the Charter of the United Nations. To ask Westminster’s permission for a referendum is to acknowledge and affirm their authority to refuse that permission and, thereby, effectively veto the exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination.

One response to this is that the precedent has been set by Alex Salmond going down the Section 30 route for the 2014 referendum. I reject this argument. I maintain that Salmond had options and chose the Section 30 route only because that was judged to be the best option in the circumstances which prevailed at the time. I see no reason why this should have the effect of precluding all other options for all time.

Those circumstances no longer prevail. The entire political environment has altered dramatically since 2014. To choose the Section 30 route even in such drastically different circumstances could be argued to imply that it is the appropriate or sole option in any circumstances. Asking for a Section 30 order again really would set a precedent. Granting the British political elite a veto over Scotland’s right of self-determination once can be seen as politically astute. Doing so twice would surely be political folly.

The argument goes that Theresa May will refuse the Section 30 order and Nicola Sturgeon can then claim that she tried that route and has now been forced by British intransigence to go another way. That’s really not a good look. Doing something only because you’ve been forced into it doesn’t give the impression of being in control. Going that other route should be a matter of choice. It should be seen as decisive action, rather than compelled reaction.

But what if Theresa May doesn’t refuse that Section 30 order? Suggesting this possibility usually elicits a response querying why she would allow it. What possible reason could Theresa May have for granting a Section 30 order? I can think of one. It’s all about control of the process.

If Theresa May grants a Section 30 order this means that there must be a new agreement between the two governments establishing the ground rules for the referendum. By asking for the Section 30 order, Nicola Sturgeon would be accepting the need for such a negotiated agreement. Theresa May would then make demands that Nicola Sturgeon couldn’t possibly agree to – such as a qualified majority requirement or the exclusion from the franchise of 16/17-year olds. No agreement! No referendum!

Requesting a Section 30 order is a lose/lose scenario for Nicola Sturgeon. Either way, she ends up having to find another way forward having been made to look weak and having afforded the British political elite an authority to which they are not entitled. The First Minister must seize control of the process from the outset.


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Monday morning

As I listen to the First Minister announce the latest deferment of action to resolve the constitutional issue I feel like I’m travelling towards a tiny but piercingly bright pinpoint of light at the end of a long dark tunnel. It is impossible to tell how long the tunnel is or how fast I’m travelling as there are no points of reference. Sometimes, the light seems to be getting closer. But either it recedes again or this was merely an illusion. Recently, I’d swear the light was growing dimmer. But that too may be just my imagination.

The times when the light appears closer are such as when I read that a substantial majority of people now regard it as inevitable that Scotland’s independence will be restored. Most, it seems, believe we will reach the end of this tunnel eventually. Only a few think the journey will be so long that it’s not worth giving any thought to getting there.

Then I read that even the optimistic people are thinking in terms of journey times stretching from 5 to 15 years, and the light retreats again.

It occurs to me that, on those occasions when I suppose the light to be brightening, I am deceived by the fact that the claustrophobic blackness of the tunnel is becoming more ominously intense.

In my gloomy imagining, this darkness has substance. It is thick and viscous and travelling through it is like struggling through an increasingly glutinous. cloying mess. A mess that threatens to defeat and engulf me before I get to the end of the tunnel.

I know with absolute certainty that the destination is attainable. But the tunnel is an ever more hostile environment. The walls are closing in. The darkness is suffocating. The urgency of the need to escape grows even as the possibility of doing so is pushed frustratingly further from me.


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The big ‘what if?’

When waiting becomes established as the political strategy of choice, all you do is wait. Waiting is what you plan for. If you are a political leader who has let it be known that waiting is your preferred strategy, your most loyal and trusted advisers will constantly assure you that it is best to wait. Eager to tell you what they believe you want to hear, they will have an endless supply of justifications for waiting at the ready.

One such justification that is being bandied around at the moment is the supposed need to wait and see whether Brexit actually happens. Brexit might yet be called off, goes the argument. And that would change everything, wouldn’t it?

Would it?

Nicola Sturgeon took a gamble when she associated action to resolve the constitutional issue so closely with Brexit. She was betting that people would be smart enough to realise that we are not seeking to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status because of Brexit, but because the Union gives the British political elite the power to impose Brexit on us regardless of our democratic wishes.

In the unlikely event that Brexit is stopped, will that be because the British state has suddenly decided to respect Scotland and its people? Of course not! So why should it make any difference whatever to the independence cause?

It doesn’t matter whether Brexit actually goes ahead or not. Because Brexit is not the problem. The problem is an archaic, anachronistic, asymmetric political union which functions as a constitutional device by which the people of Scotland are denied the full and effective exercise of the sovereignty which is theirs by absolute right.

If past experience is a true guide, those peddling this particular justification for further delay will protest that they understand this perfectly. But ‘other people’ don’t. Which, unless they are arrogantly claiming some extraordinary perspicacity, is profoundly insulting to those ‘other people’.

Nicola Sturgeon gambled on people understanding that Brexit is merely a particularly egregious illustration of how badly Scotland fares within the Union. She bet on them realising that Brexit is just the current context for a political struggle that was born with the Union. A struggle which has not changed in its fundamental motivations since the Union was imposed on us. A struggle in which Brexit is just a fleeting episode.

When I hear people wonder what if Brexit doesn’t happen, I fear Nicola Sturgeon may have lost that bet.


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Context and process

Nicola Sturgeon’s response to suggestions – or hints – regarding alternative ways to take forward Scotland’s independence project will doubtless be portrayed by the British media with lurid headlines proclaiming a ‘major split in the SNP’. The first thing to, therefore, is to ignore the British media. Which is almost always good advice anyway.

Restoring Scotland’s independence will always require a referendum. As far as I can make out, nobody has suggested differently. What is being discussed is, not the requirement for a plebiscite, but the form of the process leading to a vote, and the nature of the proposition to be voted on.

Mhairi Hunter implies that winning a referendum is the only possible way to start the independence process. She appears to believe that a fundamental constitutional issue can hinge on relative trivialities such as opinion polls and party policy. This hardly seems realistic.

And it places wholly unnecessary constraints on the independence movement. Why should we be slaves to the polls? Why should SNP policy limit our thinking about ways to realise the aim of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. Surely, the independence project is too important – and now too urgent – to be hobbled in this way. Surely, we must be prepared to explore every possible avenue in our effort to rescue Scotland from the scourge of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism.

A referendum cannot be the start of the “independence process”. The 2014 referendum came after years and decades of campaigning. It could not have happened without the Scottish Parliament being reconvened and the SNP’s landslide victory in 2011. These things, and more, were as much a part of the independence process as the referendum. They were prerequisites for the referendum just as winning the referendum would have been a prerequisite for the negotiations which would have followed. It’s all part of the process.

We have to be prepared to examine that process to see if things could be done differently. We cannot be fixated on doing things in a particular way just because that’s how they were done before. I don’t doubt that the process followed by Alex Salmond for the 2014 referendum was appropriate – and probably necessary – at the time. But times have changed. Circumstances have changed. The entire context of Scotland’s independence campaign has altered dramatically in less than a decade. It is simply not reasonable to suppose that the same process must remain appropriate. We must be prepared to at least consider the possibility that it may be entirely inappropriate.

Angus MacNeil tweeted, “No UK Government stood in the way in 2014 … Same again with this positive call from the FM”.

No UK Government stood in the way in 2014 … Same again with this positive call from the FM https://t.co/jk4la0Qbwk— Angus B MacNeil MP (@AngusMacNeilSNP) December 3, 2018

This is not strictly correct. The UK Government fought tooth and nail to prevent any Scottish independence referendum ever taking place. They only relented after the voters broke the system and elected a majority SNP administration in the 2011 Holyrood election. And because they thought they couldn’t lose. Neither of these things is true today. The SNP’s majority was wiped out in 2016 due to the combined impact of the independence vote being split and tactical voting by British Nationalists. And the British establishment is now all too well aware that its grip on Scotland is more tenuous than at any time since the early decades of the Union.

These two factors alone represent hugely significant changes to the context of the independence campaign. And that’s before we start to consider things such as EVEL, Brexit and the power-grab. Not to mention the increasingly blatant contempt for Scotland being exhibited by the British political elite.

Reading Nicola Sturgeon’s remarks, I get a distinct sense that the First Minister is intent on adhering to the process followed by her predecessor. In my view, this would be a fatal error.


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Scotland? What Scotland?

Theresa May has ignored Scotland throughout the whole Brexit process, and excluding The National in this way simply underlines how she is running scared of answering tough questions.

The stuff about Theresa May “running scared” of difficult questions makes for great political rhetoric. But, as I’m sure the First Minister is well aware, it doesn’t quite reflect the reality.

Theresa May is not afraid of tough questions, for two reasons. Firstly, as a professional politician, she is trained to deal with hard interrogation. And, as the British Prime Minister, she has a small army of advisers whose task it is to ensure she is thoroughly briefed and equipped with well-rehearsed responses for any question.

This, incidentally, is how she will deal with Jeremy Corbyn in the proposed TV .debate’. She will be armed with a sword of stock phrases and a shield of glittering generalities. Corbyn will have nothing but a water-pistol loaded with vacuous slogans and the Pac-A-Mac of his self-righteousness.

Then there’s the arrogance. I have not the slightest doubt that Theresa May considers herself an excellent orator and debater. Again, she has a small army of people around her whose jobs rely on assuring their charge of her shining brilliance after every performance – no matter how dire that performance may have been. May, like most senior British politicians, exists in a bubble of near-adulation that shields her from both criticism and reality. She is entirely oblivious to the ineptitude that is clearly apparent to detached observers. And almost entirely unaware of how widely she is detested.

This conceit of herself makes her unafraid. The protective phalanx of minders makes her self-assured.

The significant point in the above quote is right at the start. When Nicola Sturgeon says “Theresa May has ignored Scotland throughout the whole Brexit process”, she hints at what is actually behind decision to exclude The National from her press event. The British establishment has discovered the power of ignoring.

We exist in a world of media. We swim in a sea mediated messages. If something isn’t trending on Twitter or the subject of Facebook fury, it barely exists. If it doesn’t warrant a mention in the crowded 15-20 minute space of rolling news, then it isn’t happening. If it isn’t being talked about by the Andrews Marr and Neil, it just isn’t important.

The British establishment has deployed the ignoring strategy as one strand of its effort to diminish Scotland in the public consciousness. They denigrate our public services, delegitimise our democratic institutions and trivialise Scottish issues They aim to eradicate our distinctive political culture.. They seek to obliterate our national identity in a storm of unionjackery.

The National would seem an obvious target for this studied ignoring. May’s lackeys doubtless thought it in keeping with the ignoring agenda to exclude the paper which, almost uniquely, presents the news from a Scottish perspective. Very evidently, they got it wrong.


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