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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It is time!

Nicola Sturgeon is to be commended and admired for sticking with her effort to mitigate the appalling folly of Brexit. But surely she must now accept that this effort has been in vain. Nothing now can prevent Scotland being dragged out of the EU against the will of the people of Scotland and on terms that the First Minister has clearly indicated are totally unacceptable even given her willingness to abide by the UK-wide Leave vote.

That sufferance of Scotland’s voice being ignored was, in itself, a massive compromise. Some would argue that it was already a compromise too far. It has to be the last such compromise.

Let us, for the moment, set aside partisan politics and policy agendas. Let us, instead, consider the matter of fundamental democratic principle. Let us focus on the fact that all legitimate political authority derives from the people.Government requires the consent of the people. Policies imposed absent popular consent lack democratic legitimacy. Government that disregards the will of the people is not democratic. Government which acts contrary to the expressed will of the people is, by definition, anti-democratic.

The Union is a constitutional device which allows the British government to treat the will of Scotland’s people with coldly calculated contempt. Brexit represents merely one particularly egregious example of this callous disdain for democracy. The Union is anti-democratic. The Union facilitates an ongoing breach of that most essential democratic principle – the people of Scotland are sovereign!

And let us be bold enough to talk, not just of principle, but of pride. Our pride must count for something. The pride of the people of Scotland must have some worth. We must cling to our self-respect all the more determinedly in the face of the corrosive contempt exhibited by the British political elite which would otherwise strip us of any regard we have for ourselves. If we do not respect ourselves; our capacities and capabilities and qualities as a nation, then how can we protest the disrespect shown to us by others? If we do not take pride our democracy, how might we expect others to do so. If we do not defend our sovereignty, who will?

More than any other individual, we look to our First Minister to represent Scotland’s attitude to itself. More than anyone else, it is Nicola Sturgeon who bears responsibility for asserting our sovereignty and defending our democracy.

It is time, Nicola! It is time to take a stand for principle! It is time to take a stand for pride! It is time to take the bold and decisive action which will end the Union and restore the sovereignty of Scotland’s people!

It is time!


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Is it me?

This is video from the Women for Independence AGM. At 50 minutes we hear the First Minister answering a question about the timing of action to resolve Scotland’s constitutional issue. I find her response both disappointing and disturbing?

It is disappointing that Nicola Sturgeon sees fit to dismiss the #DissolveTheUnion hashtag with a joke. If it was that easy, she says, she would have done it long ago. We are told that there are no “shortcuts” to independence. As if anybody thought there was. As if that is what the hashtag refers to. It is extremely disappointing that Nicola Sturgeon has so woefully misunderstood the import of the hashtag.

#DissolveTheUnion is not the simplistic demand that the First Minister seems to have taken it for. In fact, it is rather insulting that she could think Yes campaign activists might be so naive. It suggests she may have badly lost touch with a grassroots movement which, I can assure her, is considerably more sophisticated than she appears to suppose. Nobody is foolish enough to imagine that the restoration of Scotland’s independence is a simple matter. Everybody is well aware of the nature of the opposition we face.

#DissolveTheUnion is intended to suggest a changed mindset in our approach to the independence project. A mindset imbued with the sense that we are, not supplicants petitioning for some boon from a superior authority, but a sovereign people insisting that our right of self-determination be respected. It implies rejection of the British political elite’s asserted power of veto over our fundamental democratic rights. It says that we do not accept the notion of independence being something that is in the gift of the British state. It says independence is not theirs for the giving, but ours for the taking.

There is nothing naive or simplistic about the thinking behind this hashtag. It denotes a significant and necessary shift in our thinking about the manner in which the independence campaign should be conducted. I had hoped, and expected, that Nicola Sturgeon would understand this. I have been left deeply disappointed by her remarks.

Even more disturbing, however, is the First Minister’s insistence that we should not concern ourselves with process. Apparently, the process by which we achieve our goal is unimportant. Apparently, we can afford to disregard that process. We must put all our efforts into selling the idea of independence and trouble ourselves not at all about the means and methods by which this goal might be realised.

I find this astounding. It seems obvious to me that one of the greatest impediments to the restoration of Scotland’s independence is that fact that the constitutional process is all but entirely determined and controlled by the British state. It occurs to me to wonder how we might hope to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status whilst the process by which this would come about is so entirely in the hands of forces which are resolved to deny even our fundamental democratic right to choose the form of government which suits us best.

Here’s our First Minister telling us that process is not important. And I am unable to understand how that can possibly be so. I’m listening to the politician I most trust and respect – someone the entire Yes movement looks to for leadership – and what she’s saying simply makes no sense.

Is it me? Am I missing something? Have I got it so seriously wrong? Is it really nonsense to suppose that, in order to restore our independence, we must first seize control of the process by which our independence will be restored?


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How Scotland invited Brexit

peoples_vote_logoOf course a Remain vote in Scotland won’t be respected! In the unlikely event that Scotland for a People’s Vote get their way and a second EU referendum is called, Scotland’s democratic choice will be treated with the same contempt as previously. Why would anyone imagine that it might be otherwise? The abiding purpose of the Union is to serve as a constitution device by which the sovereignty of Scotland’s people can be denied. Is it really credible that the political elite of the British state would have the power to totally discount inconvenient democratic votes and not use that power?

How often must it be pointed out that Brexit is not the problem? Brexit is a symptom. The Union is the problem. It is the Union which makes it possible to impose Brexit on Scotland against the democratic will of Scotland’s people. Just as it is the Union which empowers the British state to impose on Scotland austerity and the bedroom tax and the rape clause and Trident and Iraq and Universal Credit and a whole catalogue of other abominations which are politically alien, economically damaging and socially corrosive.

None of these things would be possible if the people of Scotland were able to fully and effectively exercise the sovereignty which is theirs by right. They only happen because the Union makes it possible. This affront to modern democracy is the ineluctable outcome of the political union bequeathed to us by the predecessors of today’s British ruling elite. In a democracy, politicians only have such power as the people allow them. That archaic and anachronistic political union, devised for purposes which had absolutely nothing to do with the welfare of Scotland and its people, has provided British politicians with an extraordinary power. A power which is the very antithesis of democracy. A power which is, in essence, anti-democratic.

Over the decades, that power has been used, abused, honed and adapted. It has evolved as society and politics has evolved. But always in such a way as to maintain the power to deny the sovereignty of Scotland’s people.

This power was affirmed, and augmented, in 2014 when the people of Scotland were harried, cajoled, intimidated, induced and deceived into voting No in the first Scottish independence referendum. In doing so, they not only registered their acceptance of the grotesquely asymmetric and self-evidently dysfunctional Union, the actually went further by effectively granting the British state licence to do as it pleased in, to and with Scotland.

That is why Brexit is happening. Because we, the people allowed it.. As a nation, we invited it. It doesn’t matter whether you voted Leave or Remain in 2016. Because in 2014 Scotland voted to render your vote meaningless.

Of course a Remain vote in Scotland won’t be respected! As far as the British state is concerned, we squandered our right to be respected when we voted No.

Which still leaves the question of what the Scottish Government’s position should be on a so-called #PeoplesVote. The choices are, to oppose it, to support it or to remain passively indifferent to it. The First Minister has gone for the second option. One must suppose she did so after much consideration and consultation with her advisers. In a development which will shock precisely nobody, not everyone agrees that this is the right choice.

Pete Wishart MP is one senior SNP figure who has expressed misgivings.

I have big concerns about supporting a second Brexit vote and I am particularly anxious about supporting such a vote without any guarantees that our choice in Scotland will be respected next time round.

Well! He’s had his answer on that one! He got it from John Edward, speaking on behalf of Scotland for a People’s Vote. Responding to questions about what would happen if Scotland again voted Remain and the UK voted Leave he said,

If that happens, that happens and a decision would be taken after that.

Glossing over the unpleasantly dismissive tone, this would seem to rule out any kind of assurance that Scotland’s democratic will would be respected. And it raises the question which is fundamental to all of this. Who decides? When John Edward says that a decision on whether to respect Scotland’s vote would be taken after the event, who does he envisage making that decision? Who else but Westminster! Who else but the British political elite which, citing the Union and the 2014 referendum result, asserts a veto over Scotland’s democratic will.

What the Union means, given the overweening power of the British executive, is that the British Prime Minister can overrule the whole of Scotland. Your vote only counts if Theresa May permits it. Is that democracy? Is it the democracy you want? Is it the democracy to which you are entitled?

John Edward goes on to say,

This is a … discussion today on a People’s Vote on Europe, on nothing else. It’s not a party political movement. It’s not anything to do with the constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom. This is solely about a People’s Vote.

With all due respect to the former head of the European Parliament Office in Scotland, this is the most appalling drivel. It is ludicrous to suggest that the constitutional question of the UK’s membership of the EU can be isolated from the constitutional issue of whether Scotland remains part of the UK. The two are inextricably linked. Each has huge implications for the other. It defies all sense to imagine that a “People’s Vote” can possibly be abstracted from the matter of the “constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom”. John Edward himself acknowledges the inseparability of the two issues when he assumes that Westminster will decide after the vote whether Scotland’s choice is to be respected. Westminster is only able to assert this veto over Scotland’s democratic will because of the “constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom”. The British political elite can only trample all over Scotland’s democracy because the Union affords them the authority and the justification for doing so. The Union is the problem!

Pete Wishart’s concerns are valid. Self-evidently so. Because, while Scotland for a People’s Vote has no power to offer the guarantee that he is looking for, John Edward’s remarks on the subject are sufficiently redolent of the British state’s attitude that we may, for present purposes, treat his as the voice of the British political elite. There will be no guarantee that “our choice in Scotland will be respected next time round”. To be honest, I suspect Pete knew the answer before he asked the question.

But are those concerns, valid as they may be, reason enough to object to the First Minister’s decision to support a #PeoplesVote? I don’t think so. As I have stated repeatedly in the context of British Nationalist efforts to deny Scotland’s right of self-determination and prevent a new independence referendum, democracy is a process, not an event. It is never a good look to be demanding that people should not have a vote. As has been amply demonstrated by Ruth Davidson’s shrill and borderline despotic ‘No to indyref2!’ campaign.

By mounting a ‘No to #PeoplesVote!’ campaign, Nicola Sturgeon would invite discomfiting comparisons with anti-democratic British Nationalists. Best to avoid that.

Opposing a #PeoplesVote was not a viable option for the First Minister. It would risk her looking too much like the Tories. And, attracted as I am to the idea of remaining detached and indifferent, taking no position would risk looking as vacillating and indecisive as British Labour. On balance, supporting a second EU referendum was probably best.

There are other arguments, of course. Pete Wishart also raises the worry that, should a #PeoplesVote set a precedent, this precedent would be used against the independence cause. He envisages a problematic situation following a Yes vote in the next independence referendum.

… unreconciled Unionists would be working non-stop from the day after the referendum to ensure that a successful outcome would be overturned. Every apparatus of state would be deployed and they would ensure that the worst possible “deal” would be offered to the Scottish people in the hope that their Union could be rescued.

There are several things wrong with this scenario. Not least, the notion that Scotland would inevitably be the weaker party in negotiations with the British state. I find no good reason to suppose that this would be the case. On the contrary, I reckon Scotland would be in an extremely strong position.

But the ‘confirmatory referendum’ problem is very easily resolved. In fact, it won’t even be a problem. Because there must be a second referendum in any case. There will have to be a referendum to approve Scotland’s new written constitution. Those “unreconciled Unionists” would be demanding a referendum that was already going to happen. Not that this can be expected to stop them. Looking ridiculous has never been a deterrent before.

Pete Wishart also exhibits the very mindset that we must rid ourselves of if the Yes campaign is to succeed. In the above quote he approaches the issue from the perspective of ‘us’ trying to sell or defend the idea of independence. We need to turn that on its head, We must force ‘them’ to sell and defend their Union. Given what has already been observed about the nature of that Union and its deleterious implications for Scotland, that would be a daunting task.

We may not have valued our sovereignty well enough in 2014. But once we take back the capacity to fully and effectively exercise that sovereignty, I dare any power to try and wrest it from us.


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To bleat, or to snarl?

nicolaWe have to be cautious about the language of politicians. A literal interpretation of what is said may not always be a reliable indicator of intent. When listening to what politicians say, it is always best to be mindful of the wider political context as well as being attentive to the precise form of words used.  Politicians will, for example, make demands of their opponents, not in any hope or expectation that these demands will be met, but in order to highlight their unwillingness or inability to deliver. So, when it is reported that Nicola Sturgeon has “repeated her call for an extension to the Article 50 Brexit negotiating period”, we should not automatically assume that an extension to the Article 50 Brexit negotiating period is what she wants, anticipates, or even considers possible.

Throughout the Brexit fiasco, the largest part of the First Minister’s strategy has been to look reasonable and accommodating relative to the clown troupe actually conducting the process. A strategy which, it must be said, has not severely tested Nicola Sturgeon’s abilities as a politician. Theresa May being to the craft of diplomacy as an inebriated hippopotamus is to the art of the unicycle, looking deft by comparison is hardly difficult. If the aim is to appear ready and willing to explore all options, it makes perfect sense that the possibility of extending the Article 50 negotiating period should be mentioned – even if there is no realistic prospect of such an extension being requested by the British government or much chance of it being granted by the EU.

Talk of further dragging out the agony of Brexit negotiations may be no more than a bit of politicking. The aim may simply be to pile further embarrassment on the British political elite. It’s an easy win for Nicola Sturgeon. If Theresa May rejects the idea of asking for an extension, she looks unreasonable. If she does request an extension, she looks weak. And if/when the request is refused, she suffers yet more humiliation.

But, if we are taking due account of the whole political context, then we are obliged to consider the possibility that this is not mere gamesmanship. We have to ask ourselves whether, in this instance, a superficial reading of Nicola Sturgeon’s words may be all there is to it. We must wonder whether her suggestion that the Article 50 negotiations might be extended beyond two years is, in fact, a clue to her thinking on the independence project. If the First Minister is serious about wanting to give the British government more time to work out some kind of Brexit ‘deal’, what might this tell us about her attitude to the how and the when of action to resolve the constitutional issue?

We cannot be oblivious to the fact that those I refer to as The Postponers are part of the the context in which Nicola Sturgeon made her remarks. She will be listening to all manner of voices as she explores the options available to her. All sorts of people will be seeking to influence her thinking – including those who advocate delaying any action until some undefined – and undefinable – ‘optimal time’. There are people, some of whom may be close to Nicola Sturgeon, who favour allowing ruinous Brexit to proceed. Their thinking is that if enough people are subjected to enough pain then enough of them will turn to independence.

If this strategy seems crude and cruel and callous, that’s because it is. It is also a massively flawed strategy, as I have sought to explain elsewhere. But we cannot know to what extent The Postponers have ‘got to’ the First Minister. We have to at least consider the possibility that they have managed to convince her. We would be remiss if our analysis did not take due account of the possibility that Nicola Sturgeon has been persuaded to further postpone confrontation with the British state.

That confrontation is inevitable. It is an unavoidable part of the process by which Scotland’s rightful constitutional status will be restored. There is nothing to be gained by putting off that confrontation. The British establishment’s determination to lock Scotland into a ‘One Nation’ British state is not going to diminish. We are not going to discover some magical new independence message. However disastrous Brexit is, the British media will manipulate the perception of it just enough to prevent the backlash hoped for by those who insist that ‘Brexit is the key’. The dynamic of relative power is not going to be shifted in Scotland’s favour by anything that the British state does. That shift can only happen when we make it happen.

I listen to people in the Yes movement who suppose they can game the British political system and what I hear is a flock of sheep earnestly discussing the best strategy for hunting wolves, while the wolves get on with doing what comes naturally to them. With the SNP Conference looming, let’s hope that Nicola Sturgeon’s call for an extension to the Article 50 Brexit negotiating period doesn’t turn out to be the bleating of someone who has joined that flock.


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No British veto on Scotland’s democracy!

back_in_boxIt is always gratifying to see British Nationalists squabbling amongst themselves. But the main thing we should take from all of this is the British parties’ shared conviction that the British political elite holds the power of veto over Scotland’s right of self-determination.

The right of self-determination is vested wholly in the people of Scotland, to be exercised entirely at our discretion. That is how democracy works. By their arrogant, presumptuous insistence that they have authority to deny or constrain the right of self-determination the British parties reveal their contempt for democracy.

Nicola Sturgeon could give the Yes movement great encouragement by taking the opportunity at the SNP Conference in October to disabuse the British ruling elite of this notion. Nobody realistically expects her to use the occasion of her Conference address to announce a timetable for action to resolve the constitutional issue. But she has to give the Yes movement something. And declaring that, whatever form this action might take and whenever it might happen, there will be no Section 30 request would send precisely the right message to both Yes activists and British Nationalists.

To petition the British government for a Section 30 order is to acknowledge the veto they assert. Nicola Sturgeon must reject this assertion. As Scotland’s First Minister, it is her solemn duty to defend the democratic rights of Scotland’s people. No democratic right is more fundamental than the right to choose the form of government that best suits our needs. The British political elite must not be allowed to limit or deny this right.


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