Backing off

pw_holdWe have here a curious instance of someone getting the point, then losing it. Pete Wishart lights upon a highly significant observation, only to immediately walk away from it in his eagerness to get back to comfortable and comforting platitudes about “new independence case”.

Difficult as it may be for some to believe, there was a time when there were genuinely Scottish Conservatives who really were regarded as the defenders of ‘Scottishness’. As Pete acknowledges, in the decades following WW2 that ‘Scottishness’ was threatened by a “pervasive, unifying British identity”. It was Conservatives, and particularly rural Conservatives, who stood for all that was distinctively Scottish.

In part, those Scottish Conservatives were standing against the homogenising influence of post-war socialism. But they were also resisting the rise – or should we better say, the resurrection – of a form of British identity which had its roots in the idea of the UK as a ‘Greater England’ within which all the constituent parts, but particularly Scotland, were to be subsumed.

Sound familiar? What those Scottish Conservatives were resisting was an earlier, less aggressive, less extreme form of the ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism which today threatens Scotland’s distinctiveness.

This is, of course, an oversimplification. But there is an essential truth here which Pete Wishart first notes, then chooses to disregard. The Scottish Conservatives of that post-war era won support in rural Scotland (and to some extent in urban areas as well) in large part because they tapped into a popular mood which valued Scottish distinctiveness and rejected the concept of a ‘One Nation’ British state.

What is perplexing is that, having picked up on something which has obvious relevance to the constitutional debate today, Pete Wishart declines to explore its implications. If opposition to ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism was a significant influence on attitudes and electoral choices in rural Scotland then, might it not be an important consideration now? If people in rural communities placed such value on ‘Scottishness’ then, is it not reasonable to assume that they might still do so?

Of course, that was fifty years ago. Times have changed. But have those attitudes also changed? Is that not, at the very least, a question worth asking?

The Scottish Conservatives have certainly changed. In fact, they no longer exist as a political party. As part of the blight of Thatcherism, they were absorbed into the British Tories. Today, the term ‘Scottish Conservatives’ is as much a deceptive misnomer as ‘Scottish Labour’. But the popular regard for Scottish distinctiveness that helped fuel electoral support for Scottish Conservatives half a century ago hasn’t necessarily disappeared along with distinctive Scottish Conservatism. In fact, subsequent SNP electoral success in former Scottish Conservative strongholds such as Perthshire suggests that this desire to maintain a distinct Scottish identity may still be a powerful motivating factor for voters.

Might it not, therefore, be a latent force for Scotland’s independence campaign? If the Scottish Conservatives of old could tap into a vein of opposition to the threat of a “pervasive, unifying British identity” back then, why should the independence movement not exploit that same well of popular feeling today?

Other things have changed since a vote for the Scottish Conservatives meant a vote for ‘Scottishness’. Scotland’s distinctiveness has changed dramatically in both form and degree. Whatever ‘Scottishness’ meant fifty years ago, today it refers to a distinctive political culture. To whatever were the historical and cultural connotations of the term has been added a brand of politics which contrasts starkly with that of the British state. A more progressive and humane politics which is increasingly at odds with the harshness and coldness and downright cruelty of British politics.

There is more that is distinctive now than there was then. More that is worth defending.

The threat has also changed. The “pervasive, unifying British identity” has metamorphosed into an ugly, bitter brand of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism which poses a real and imminent threat, not only to Scotland’s distinctive political culture, but to the very democratic institutions and process which have been the source of that distinctiveness. British Nationalism is no longer merely concerned with suppressing ‘Scottishness’. It seeks to destroy ‘Scottishness’ at its roots.

The threat is greater now. There is more that must be resisted.

The obvious conclusion from all of this is that the Yes campaign should take the form of a bastion against the threat posed by this pernicious British Nationalist ideology. What would seem to logically follow from the first part of Pete Wishart’s analysis is that the Yes campaign should go on the attack against a project which would subsume Scotland into a homogenised British state.

I surely can’t be the only one who is perplexed at the way Pete Wishart side-steps the pachyderm in the parlour to get to the comfy chair of his preconceived notions about a “new independence case”.

Even if there was anything “new” to be said about independence, what is the point of presenting this to people who aren’t listening because they’ve already decided that independence isn’t happening? What purpose is served by putting all the resources of the Yes campaign into polishing a proposition which is already as perfect as any political proposition might be?

Why is Pete Wishart so resistant to the idea of doing something new? He almost makes the case for a Yes campaign focused on vigorously defending what Scotland has and aggressively attacking that which puts it in jeopardy. But then he backs off from this and takes refuge in a rather less politically ‘brave’ obsession with being ‘positive’. He almost gets there. But then he chooses to let the British Nationalists off the hook. Why?


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The ‘sweet spot’ of catastrophe

pw_holdThat was hard work! I just read Pete Wishart’s latest ‘contribution’ to the ongoing debate about the timing of Scotland’s new independence referendum. Actually, I’ve read it three times now. And I’m still no clearer about the reasoning behind his determination to indefinitely postpone the vote. I find lots of things in the veteran SNP MP’s most recent blog. Reasoning is conspicuous only by its absence.

I find contradiction and inconsistency. As when, towards the end of the article, he claims he wants to “rescue our nation from a disastrous Brexit and a UK determined to erode out [sic] national Parliament”, but only after “Brexit impacts and people actively want out of an isolated, desolated UK”. And only after giving the British political elite all the time it needs to pursue the ‘One Nation’ project that is already in progress.

At least he acknowledges the British Nationalist threat to the Scottish Parliament; even if only in a casual aside, complete with clumsy spelling error, which suggests he doesn’t take that threat very seriously. It is possible, I suppose, to see this as progress – given that he previously appeared totally oblivious to the jeopardy facing Scotland’s democratic institutions. But I’m still finding absolutely no sense of urgency. As with Brexit, the impression is that Pete Wishart is content to let the damage be done in the hope that this will provoke a reaction which favours the independence cause.

It seems that the ‘optimum conditions’ Pete Wishart is seeking involve Scotland suffering massive economic harm and imposed constitutional ‘reform’ that may well be irreversible. As a political strategy, this leaves something to be desired.

Some will doubtless protest my mentioning one of several spelling errors. They will say that it is petty to point out things like ‘countries’ instead of ‘country’s’. They will insist that these are trivialities. That they are meaningless. But consider the context. Pete Wishart himself acknowledges how critical the issue of timing of the new referendum is and the importance of the debate. His interventions suggest he believes he brings something significant to this debate. So you’d think he’d at least do a basic spell-check. Perhaps get somebody to take a look over his text prior to publication.

Even if you’re prepared to shrug off the spelling errors, you surely must have cringed as mightily as myself at Pete Wishart’s use of the term “sweet spot” in relation to the impact of Brexit on Scotland. Words matter! Especially in politics. We have to seriously question the political judgement of somebody who uses such inappropriate language when referring to potentially catastrophic impact of Scotland being dragged out of the EU against the wishes of the Scottish people and without even the semblance of a plan.

“Sweet spot”!? Really? Get a grip, Pete!

The failure to address criticism of his argument for indefinite postponement is, perhaps, explained by the way Pete Wishart chooses to frame the discussion. He says,

The debate seems to centre round whether we should proceed with a referendum simply because we currently posses [sic] a mandate or whether we hold one when there is good evidence it can be won.

This is one of those occasions when the word ‘disingenuous’ comes in very handy. It serves us well if the aim is to avoid the bluntness of terms such as ‘self-serving’ and ‘dishonest’. We might also reach for phrases such as ‘unfortunate misapprehension’ in euphemistic preference to ‘wilful misrepresentation’. Or ‘regrettable oversimplification’ rather than ‘deliberate distortion’.

I have been closely following the debate about timing of the new referendum. I have never seen anybody suggest that “we should proceed with a referendum simply because we currently posses a mandate”. Certainly, the fact that the Scottish Government has a mandate is among the arguments against indefinite postponement. But it is just as certainly not the sole argument.

By framing the debate as “simply” a matter of possessing a mandate, Pete Wishart obviously hopes to evade the more complex issues and the awkward questions being asked. Such as how he proposes to justify failure to act on the mandate. In future, when the SNP goes to the people of Scotland asking for a mandate, how does he suggest party campaigners and supporters respond to those who point to evidence that the SNP cannot be trusted to use that mandate?

Pete Wishart seems perfectly prepared to treat the existing mandate with a disdain barely distinguishable from that exhibited by British Nationalists. But he is evidently not prepared to deal with the consequences. For all he has to say on the topic, we could be forgiven for thinking he doesn’t even recognise that there shall surely be consequences.

His framing of the debate sets this fallaciously simplistic portrayal of the mandate issue in opposition to the very rational-sounding proposition that the referendum should be held “when there is good evidence it can be won”. Excitement mounts as we anticipate long-awaited answers to questions about how those ‘optimum conditions’ are defined and how they are to be predicted an unspecified length of time in advance.

In what appears to be a stab at a literary device to build tension, Pete then proceeds to describe, at considerable length, what does not define ‘optimum conditions’. Or is it what defines what ‘optimum conditions’ are not? It’s difficult to tell. And, frankly, by the time we’ve waded through this section it’s hard to care.

Pete Wishart devotes well over 300 words to the matter of what ‘optimum conditions’ are not. It would be interesting if we could compare this directly with the attention he gives to explaining what ‘optimum conditions’ actually are. But I’ve searched in vain for anything resembling a clear and explicit definition.

If I was asked to summarise Pete Wishart’s argument it would go something like this –

OBEY THE POLLS!

That’s it! That’s really all there is to it. Don’t do anything while the polls are saying the ‘optimum conditions’ don’t exist. Wait until the polls offer “good evidence” that those still undefined ‘optimum conditions’ are going to exist at some undefined – and almost certainly undefinable – time in the future.

To be fair, Pete does offer some advice on “what we need to do to start to move towards ‘optimal conditions’”. At which point, those conscious of the urgency of Scotland’s situation will probably be sitting with their head in their hands sobbing in frustration and despair. I know I was.

What then follows does nothing to alleviate that frustration and despair. Pete’s advice is to make a “new case” for independence. But what he goes on to describe is nothing more than a rerun of the first referendum campaign. There is absolutely nothing “new” in what he proposes. His great idea is to revisit the narrative dictated by Project Fear. He’s not talking about fighting a new referendum campaign. He’s talking about resuming the old one. Which probably stands to reason as he doesn’t want a new referendum.

If we follow Pete Wishart’s advice we will engage in a campaign for a referendum, that isn’t happening because the ‘optimum conditions’ don’t exist, using the tactics and arguments that all too evidently failed to create the ‘optimum conditions’ in 2014.

And still there is not a word about how he intends to address what the ‘One Nation’ project implies for Scotland. Not a word about how the British state is to be prevented from unilaterally ripping up the devolution settlement; emasculating the Scottish Parliament; eradicating our distinctive political culture and decimating our public services while we dither and waver at the insistence of Pete and the Postponers.

Again, and again, and again! The consequences of attempting to save Scotland from the British Nationalist ‘One Nation’ project and failing are no different from the consequences that flow from failing to try. Pete Wishart flatly refuses to address or consider or even acknowledge the consequences of indefinitely postponing our new independence referendum.

If I come across as exasperated and angry it’s because I am not deceived. I know that the British state is not benign. It is because I am not complacent. I know what the British state intends. It is because I am seriously afraid for what will happen to Scotland if we do not make a stand now!


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From outside the soundproof room

Julie Hepburn
Julie Hepburn

I’m not sure why Julie Hepburn has called for calm in the “row” over the timing of the next independence referendum. I wasn’t even aware that it was a “row”. I was under the impression there was an attempt to have a discussion. And that discussion is not just calm, but becalmed. It’s going nowhere. Because the different perspectives on the issue are being debated in quite separate spaces.

The only ones who appear other than calm are those frantically trying to close down the debate altogether. Or, at least, to close down that part of it which going on in the space marked ‘Public’. The attitude seems to be that it’s OK for politicians and prominent figures to express a view on the matter of when the new referendum should be held, but that anybody else doing so is ‘divisive’ and ‘damaging’.

I have been called a “hysterical agitator” for presuming to disagree with Pete Wishart. Apparently, getting elected bestows omniscience. Simply being an MSP or MP implies possession of profound knowledge and great wisdom. (We have to wonder what went wrong in the case of Richard Leonard.) To question the pronouncements of our political leaders is, it seems, an act of heresy. Pete Wishart is fantastic. He shits fantastic pearls of fantastic wisdom that the rest of us swine aren’t equipped to appreciate. We should all just shut up and stop asking awkward questions about the emperor’s fantastic new clothes.

Pete Wishart’s fine. As I’ve said elsewhere, he’s an excellent constituency MP and has been doing a damn fine job as chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee. But he is about as all-knowing and all-wise as the Wizard of Oz. There is something rather ridiculous about idea that his is the ultimate word on anything. His opinion on the matter of when the next independence referendum should be held is no more valid that anybody else’s. Like any opinion, it is only as good as the evidence and reasoning on which it is based. Like any opinion which has been publicly stated, it is there to be challenged. Like any opinion which is genuinely held and openly expressed, the person holding and expressing it should be willing and able to defend it.

But that’s not what’s happening. It’s as if Pete Wishart and Chris McEleny and Keith Brown and the rest are talking at us from inside a sealed and soundproofed room. Everything being said outside that room is being widely represented as an irrelevant and unwelcome intrusion. If we are not being told to shut up, we’re being told to calm down. Which is no more appropriate.

Julie Hepburn says,

We undoubtedly have a mandate for an independence referendum, and I trust our First Minister to make the right judgement when the time comes and have every confidence our views as SNP members will greatly inform that decision.

There is absolutely no question about the mandate. And we have every reason to trust Nicola Sturgeon’s judgement. But we have to wonder how the views of SNP members – or the wider Yes movement – might “greatly inform” the decision on the date of the new referendum if those voices are silenced or dismissed, as some very evidently want. And we have to wonder how anybody can become aware of the pros and cons of the various positions if there is no debate in which the arguments are comprehensively rehearsed.

Julie Hepburn goes on to say,

But if we continually focus on the when, then I believe we risk neglecting the more fundamental question of how – how to do we win an independence referendum?

In this, we see again a disturbing failure to appreciate or acknowledge why the issue of timing is critical. If we do not focus on the when then we risk neglecting the fundamental issue of what the British political elite will be doing while Julie Hepburn is busy trying to “build a renewed case for independence” – whatever that might mean. If it actually means anything at all.

The “case for independence” is like one of those Lego kits that has all the parts for building a particular thing – a moon buggy, for example. You can dismantle it and put the bits back together in all manner of different ways. But you’re never going to end up with anything better than the moon buggy. Once you’ve built the moon buggy, you have your moon buggy. There is no extra super moon buggy that can be built from the available parts.

British Nationalists are, of course, perfectly content that the Yes movement should devote all its resources and energies to endlessly reconfiguring the case for independence. They’re always going to demand a better moon buggy. That process is potentially infinite. It takes us precisely nowhere. They, meanwhile, sit there with a grotesque, dysfunctional contraption of randomly assembled Lego parts feeling no need at all to explain what it’s meant to be. They just stick a Union flag on it and it gets to be whatever they want it to be.

At the risk of stretching the analogy beyond breaking point, the timing of the referendum is crucial because British Nationalists have already started stealing our Lego parts. Some of us are warning about this process of attrition. We’re doing so calmly. Maybe Julie Hepburn and her colleagues should consider opening the door of that soundproof room so they can hear us. They might even think about coming out and actually talking to us.


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The options

procrastinationI am aware that many in the SNP and the wider Yes movement want this debate about the timing of a new independence referendum to just stop. Pete Wishart may be one of those who wish it had never started. Or so it would seem from his flat refusal to answer questions about his own highly controversial position or to engage in any way with those responding to his call for indefinite postponement of the referendum. On Twitter, there has been a steady drip of people urging an end to the discussion. Apparently, we’re not supposed to entertain any difference of opinion. Pretty much everybody agrees that timing of the referendum is critical. So critical that we must avoid talking about it. No, I don’t get it either.

Personally, I’m glad the issue has come to the fore. Unlike Pete Wishart, I am more than happy to have an open and frank debate. I don’t see how this debate might be avoided. It’s the elephant in the room. And it’s not easy to sweep an elephant under the carpet. If the discussion gets heated, that’s a measure of its importance. It’s not a reason for closing down the debate, as some wish to do.

If people don’t want to participate in the debate, that’s OK. But don’t tell me or anybody else that we should shut up about the matter just because it makes you uncomfortable. Your comfort is not my concern. And don’t tell me or anybody else to shut up because the debate is ‘damaging the Yes movement’. If the Yes movement isn’t robust and resilient enough to cope with vigorous debate than it’s unlikely to be fit to go up against the might of the British state.

Discussion of the timing of the referendum has been valuable, not least on account of the way it has revealed the attitudes of some of our elected representatives. The British parties, needless to say, have no role in the debate. We are all aware of British Nationalists’ fervent, anti-democratic opposition to the exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination.

We can safely discount the British politicians who exhibit such disdain for democracy, not to mention contempt for the people of Scotland and their Parliament. But what of the others?

Pete Wishart has nailed his colours unequivocally to the spectral mast of a ghost ship called ‘Optimum Time’. Others, such as Chris McEleny, have exhibited a greater sense of urgency. Which, to be frank, was hardly difficult. Now we have Keith Brown, who seems to be telling us that it doesn’t matter how urgent the situation may be, the SNP isn’t ready. Here’s a senior figure in Scotland’s independence party; the de facto political arm of the independence movement, telling us that putting a timescale on the referendum is the wrong priority. Groping for a term to apply to that attitude, the (printable) one that comes most readily to mind is ’lackadaisical’.

It seems Keith Brown expects the tides and currents of politics to cease and desist while the SNP gets its act together. Which makes him a bit of a Cnut. (Note to historians: Cut me some slack, eh! It’s a good line.)

The most sensible comment I’ve heard so far from any SNP politician is Angus MacNeil’s observation.

Some people think you can only ever have two referendums ever. And when you’ve got that into your heads, then you become afraid of having it in case you lose it.

Pete Wishart’s afraid of losing because he thinks the country isn’t ready. Keith Brown’s afraid of losing because the SNP’s not ready. I’m afraid of losing because of what will then happen to Scotland. But I’m just as afraid of what will happen to Scotland if we delay the referendum. Because it’s the same fate either way.

The thing that’s missing from comments about timing of the referendum made by SNP politicians is any acknowledgement of what the British government is likely to be doing while we procrastinate. We have British politicians openly talking about unilaterally rewriting the devolution settlement and powers being stripped from the Scottish Parliament with the threat of further rolling back of devolution. We hear them state their intention to impose “UK-wide common frameworks” that only the terminally naive suppose will be limited to the likes of food standards and animal welfare – although that would be bad enough.

We are told that, in the new ‘One Nation’ British state, “discrepancies” across the four nations will not be tolerated.

We are warned that the British political elite will not allow anything to damage their “precious, precious Union”.

Even if we couldn’t work it out for ourselves, we are now being explicitly told what fate awaits Scotland if the monstrous ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project is not halted.

And yet our politicians seem oblivious. Not once have I heard any of them address this threat to Scotland’s democracy. I have been deeply immersed in the debate about when we should hold the referendum. I have yet to find any Postponer who is willing to even acknowledge that the British government will be doing something while the SNP sorts out it’s internal organisation and Pete Wishart waits for a burning bush to tell him of the coming ‘Optimum Time’. (Note to Biblical scholars: Give me a break, eh! It’s a nice image.)

It’s as if, in the scenarios they consider, the British government ceases to exist. The British political elite is simply disregarded. The British state’s pressing imperative to lock Scotland into a ‘reformed’ Union is just ignored. The ongoing ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project isn’t a factor. It doesn’t figure in the Postponers’ calculations when they’re considering timing of the new referendum.

Caution may be advisable in certain circumstances. Nobody can sensibly contest the fact that the SNP’s ‘gradualist’ strategy has been successful to date. But the gradual approach has no defined end-point – unless and until you create one. At some juncture, you have to make the final leap. You have to do something bold. You have to act.

All this talk of waiting for ‘optimal conditions’ to spontaneously emerge from the political ether and stopping the political roller-coaster so the SNP can change it’s underpants totally misses the point. The choice is not between going now (September) and losing, or going at some later date (defined only vaguely or not at all) and winning. The choice is between the absolute certainty of the British Nationalist project relentlessly eroding Scotland’s democracy at an accelerating pace, or the possibility of stopping that project in it’s tracks before it can do irreversible damage.

Of course, it’s just a possibility. But it’s the only chance we have. There’s a good reason the Postponers are reluctant to discuss their alternative plan for stopping, or even slowing, the British Nationalist juggernaut. They don’t have one!


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The shackles are ready

shackles_by_gengen35-d50v113I suppose eighteen months is, at least superficially, better than the indefinite postponement of a new independence referendum being proposed by Pete Wishart. And I know Pete Wishart will protest that indefinite postponement is not what he is proposing. But the “optimum” time cannot be defined – not even by Mr Wishart or any of his supporters – and it most certainly can’t be predicted months or, if some have their way, years in advance. If the time-frame lack any identifiable fixed point then the timescale is, by definition, indefinite. Pete Wishart’s protestation won’t change that, no matter how engorged with indignation they are.

Another thing those advocating this indefinite, or protracted, delay are unable or unwilling to explain is how they intend to deal with the actions of the British government during this period of procrastination. The British Nationalist ‘One Nation’ project is not going to be put on hold while Scotland dithers at the behest of Pete and The Postponers. That project will proceed regardless. And no part of that project is concerned with presenting Scotland’s independence movement with the “optimum conditions for success”. On the contrary, it’s all about preventing the people of Scotland from exercising their democratic right of self-determination – ever!

A document came to my attention today. It purports to be an outline of the main provisions of a “New Act of Union” being drafted by a group calling itself the Constitutional Reform Group. Readers can visit this group’s website and judge for themselves the extent to which those involved represent anything other than the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.

I cannot testify as to the provenance or authenticity of this document. What I can say is that it is a true and accurate representation of the British Nationalist dream. And Scotland’s nightmare.

  • Part of a nation could decide to remain in the UK.
  • UK Parliament is sovereign.
  • UK Parliament permission required for independence referenda.
  • UK Parliament MPs form the upper chamber for the Parliaments of Scotland, Northern Ireland & Wales.
  • Monarch can amend an Act of Parliament.
  • Life peerages continue.
  • UK parliament controls public borrowing of all nations.
  • “Central taxes” controlled by UK Parliament.
  • Barnett formula abandoned.
  • New Public Borrowing Board controls public spending of the nations’ Parliaments.
  • New “Bank of the UK” controls UK central banking.
  • Duty of all public authorities to “protect the UK as a whole”.
  • Legal systems of the nations legislated for by the UK Parliament.
  • Unified Civil Service for the whole UK.
  • Gaelic excluded from the new Act of Union referendum.
  • 16 and 17-year olds excluded from the referendum.
  • Reserved or “Central” matters include the Crown, UK constitution, Devolution Legislation, Foreign Affairs, EU membership, treaties & conventions, Defence, NATO, Human Rights, Economy, Tax, Currency, Law & Order, National Security, Immigration, Emergency Powers, Political Parties, Civil Service.
  • UK Parliament can add areas to list of “Central Powers”.

Are you worried yet?

The Postponers aren’t. They seem oblivious to the very existence of a project to realise all or any of the above. They appear unaware that locking Scotland into this nightmarish new Union is a major imperative for the British state. They behave as if the British state is benign. They want us to behave as if Scotland’s democracy isn’t under real and imminent threat. They us to disregard the fact that everything we value in our nation is in serious jeopardy.

Even a delay of eighteen months gives the British state time to implement, in part if not in whole, its plans to constitutionally redefine the UK, and the status of the ‘peripheral’ nations, within a ‘reformed’ political union devised without any reference to the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland or our elected representatives.

Are you angry yet?

You should be. But we must not let that anger dissipate in a pointless and ineffectual outburst of rage. We must use that anger to energise demands for a referendum in September 2018. Then we must set about creating the “optimum conditions for success”, rather than waiting in the hope that, if we wait long enough, they will arise spontaneously.

We must use that anger to overcome the paralysis induced by fear of losing by ‘going too soon’. Fear which blinds some to the fact that waiting too long has precisely the same consequences, but makes them a certainty.

We must direct that anger where it belongs; aimed at those who would impose on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland their repugnant, grotesque, horrifying vision of ‘Greater England’.

We must demand that the Scottish Government act to defend Scotland’s democratic institutions, distinctive political culture and essential public services against a British Nationalist onslaught which is already in progress.

We must stand united. We must be as one in our determination to stop this onslaught. We must give our full support to Nicola Sturgeon and her ministers as they confront the might of jealous Britannia.

Even eighteen months is a potentially fatal delay. We must not wait!


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Stand by your words

pw_scotsmanI tend not to complain about ‘online abuse’. As a denizen of social media and someone with strong views on a variety of subjects, I get my share of insults, threats and smears. I don’t concern myself unduly about it. There’s a couple of reasons I don’t get all worked up about this abuse. For one thing, there’s no way to prevent it. Like junk mail, spam email and unsolicited calls, unwelcome or offensive comments are part of the price we pay for the facility. And I reckon it’s a price worth paying.

I’m not about to nail up my mailbox to avoid getting yet another Farmfoods flyer or offer of no-questions-asked life insurance for the over-50s. I deal with it. I put the ‘offending’ material in the recycling bin.

I don’t – and never have – put so many filters on my email account that nothing gets through. Modern email system filter spam so effectively that it is hardly an issue any more. But even back when spam was rampant I resigned myself to the far from onerous task of cleaning out junk from my inbox a couple of times a  day. I was fine with it because what I got in return was a marvellous facility which allowed near-instantaneous global communication at no measurable monetary cost.

Similarly, social media is an excellent way to engage with people at a distance. It is open and accessible and relatively unconstrained. It is a truly democratic medium which provides a venue for unlimited discussion and commentary. I value that. I value it greatly. That some individuals use this facility in ways that I find distasteful is a vanishingly trivial consideration when compared to the benefit of having such an arena for public debate.

Not everybody has the same access to language. We are not all equally erudite and. We don’t all possess well-developed communication skills. We don’t all express ourselves in the same way. Social media gives everybody a voice regardless. And I heartily approve of that – even when that voice is is saying things I don’t agree with or find offensive.

There are limits, of course. Incitement to violence or hatred cannot be tolerated. But, in the interests of preserving this unprecedented facility for democratic debate, I’m prepared to be exceptionally tolerant. I think we should set the bar as low as possible so as to enable the widest engagement and participation. I am more concerned by those who would raise that bar so as to exclude than by permissiveness. I am prepared to pay the price of occasionally being exposed to abusive material because I appreciate the value of what I get in return. I see it as a transaction. And, by an incalculable margin, I am getting the best part of the deal.

There’s another reason I don’t complain about ‘online abuse’. When I make a statement or a comment, I do so having considered carefully what I am saying. It is for this reason that I have a self-imposed bar on posting if I’ve had three drinks. I know that, by the time I’ve finished my third drink – less if it’s one of the strong beers I tend to favour, my judgement is significantly impaired. So I stay away from Facebook and Twitter. I will only say something if I’m prepared to stand by it. And it’s probably not going to be easy to defend some drunken rant.

If I get it wrong, as I inevitably will from time to time, I want to be as comfortable as anyone can be with taking responsibility for my errors. I could never be at ease with being guilty of letting alcohol speak for me. Inebriation is a choice, not an excuse.

Not everybody is so cautious. Sometimes, even in sobriety, people make ill-judged comments or ill-considered statements. And they are duly discomfited when it comes to taking responsibility for their misjudgement. All too often, they are not prepared to face the consequences of their folly. It is an all too common trait on social media that those who have made rash statements that they are not prepared to defend or equipped to elucidate seek to hide in a fog of claims of ‘abuse’ rather than deal with the scrutiny in a mature manner.

I don’t complain about ‘abuse’ because I am not one of these people. And I would abhor to be thought of as one.

Pete Wishart is making a big fuss about ‘abuse’ following his recent article proposing indefinite postponement of the new independence referendum. (And yes! It is ‘indefinite’. If no timescale is defined then it is, by definition, indefinite.) I have seen little of this claimed ‘abuse’ as I was blocked from following his Twitter account at an early stage. Ostensibly, this was because I called him a ‘poster boy’ for British Nationalist extremists. In reality, all I did was point out that Scotland In Union had adopted him as their ‘poster boy’.

To my way of thinking, the fact that his publicly expressed views on the subject were finding favour with the lunatic fringe of Unionism was quite relevant to the debate on the timing of the new referendum. A debate which Pete wishart ourports to want.

Although I’ve seen little of the “attacks” Pete Wishart has made the topic rather than the one he supposedly wants to discuss, and nothing that I considered “extraordinary”, I accept that there may have been comments which could be described as abusive. That may be unfortunate. But it is no more than that. I most certainly isn’t the major issue for the SNP or the Yes movement that is being claimed.

It would be easy to dismiss this as ‘just Twitter’ but I know that environment reasonably well and I have to conclude we might have an issue and ­difficulty in our movement.

This is patent nonsense! What Pete Wishart defines as ‘online abuse’ is no more prevalent in the Yes movement than across Twitter in general. And if he wants to claim otherwise then he should present some of the “evidence” that he insist is so essential to debate. Nor are the “attacks” on him any more vehement or offensive than the generality of such material on Twitter. All Pete Wishart ‘suffered’ was the same stuff we all have to put up with. His ‘suffering’ is not exceptional. It is no more than the relatively infinitesimal price we all pay for access to an exceptionally open, democratic forum.

So why the almighty fuss? A fuss which, inevitably, has been seized upon by the British media as yet another stick with which to beat Scotland’s independence movement.

Some have opined that Pete Wishart’s statement urging indefinite postponement of the referendum was a “calculated stunt in order to help him retain his seat in any forthcoming general election”. They regard his motives as calculated self-interest. They have seen his tantrums over commonplace Twitterpish as a deliberate attempt to smear the independence movement for his own ends.

I disagree. To me, Pete Wishart’s intervention has all the hallmarks of utter thoughtlessness. He simply didn’t think it through. He doesn’t even seem to have realised that his stated position would be controversial. There is no malice. Just some foolishness. Which can surely be forgiven. Especially in the case of someone who has been such a diligent and doughty defender of Scotland’s interests in the vipers’ nest of British imperiousness that is Westminster.

There is a problem. But it is not the problem that Pete Wishart imagines. What is causing great frustration and even some anger among even his staunchest supporters is the disconnect between his stated desire for debate about the timing of a new referendum and what I shall graciously describe as his disinclination to engage meaningfully with the very debate which he has provoked. He says,

We need these debates. Positions have to be challenged and analysed. Evidence has to be presented and judgements have to be made.

But when perfectly reasonable questions are asked of his position – when valid observations and legitimate criticisms expressed and necessary clarifications sought, he blanks and blocks and bleats about ‘abuse’ rather than address the issue. He hides behind a fuss about abuse because, as all evidence to date suggests, he is incapable of dealing with scrutiny of his proposal and/or unprepared to take responsibility for what looks very much like an ill-judged outburst which he now regrets.

That is the problem here. Not the behaviour of a few individuals on Twitter, but Pete Wishart’s failure or refusal to engage. This is not the behaviour people expect from a politician of his stature and experience. If he has a case for indefinite delay of the  referendum then he should make that case using all the skills we see him deploy in the Commons chamber and the Scottish Affairs Committee which he chairs so effectively.

If he has ‘mis-spoken’ – as I strongly suspect – then he should demonstrate his strength of character by acknowledging his mistake.

Attempting to cover his embarrassment by deploying the chaff of whining about ‘online abuse’ is not acceptable. It does not reflect well on him. It is beneath him.

Never doubt Pete Wishart’s commitment to the cause of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. Never doubt his willingness to work and readiness to sacrifice for the people and nation he so ably represents. Respect the man’s achievements and the capacities and personal qualities that he has brought to cause and party.

Never question his loyalty! Just fucking don’t!


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Considering consequences

pw_siuAssuming, as we must, that Pete Wishart is not entirely delighted at having been appointed poster-boy for the uglier fringes of anti-democratic ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism, he will doubtless be glad of the succour offered by Andrew Tickell. The veteran SNP MP will surely be aware that there’s precious little support for his call to inaction across the Yes movement.

Having trained as a lawyer, Andrew Tickell will probably be aware of the Latin term argumentum ad verecundiam. The rest of us may be more familiar with the English translation argument from authority, or appeal to authority.

Pete Wishart’s public intervention is helpful, not least because his description of the lie of the land better reflects the ambivalent conversations between independence supporters you hear behind closed doors than the noisy certainties which dominate pro-indy debates in public about where Nicola Sturgeon should turn from here.

I don’t doubt that this reflects Andrew’s experience. But, despite his derisive dismissal of alternative accounts as “noisy certainties”, there is no reason to suppose that his experience is any more valid or representative of reality than, say, my own. I have no way of knowing the extent of his eavesdropping on “conversations between independence supporters”. For all I know, he may devote an inordinate amount of time to this pursuit. It may well be that these overheard conversation really were as “ambivalent” as he claims. He may consider that he has amassed sufficient evidence to justify his conclusion. But is it sufficient to satisfy those whose minds are open to alternative accounts?

In recent months I have travelled all over Scotland meeting and talking with individuals and groups from just about every part of the Yes movement. I found very little sign of the “ambivalence” to which Andrew refers. On the contrary, and despite my expectations, these “conversations between independence supporters” revealed a calm, considered confidence that a new referendum in September 2018 is advisable or essential or both.

Just as Andrew’s argument from the unverifiable authority of unquantified private conversations among unidentified independence supporters isn’t quite as conclusive as he might wish us to believe, so Pete Wishart’s exclusive claim to ‘pragmatism’ isn’t finding the unquestioning acceptance he seems to think it deserves. The implication that those who reject his appeal to inertia are being impractical, or overly emotional, is actually quite offensive. The people I speak to aren’t driven by mindless nationalistic fervour. They are at least as capable of rationally assessing the political situation as Pete Wishart is.

Speaking to voters on the doorsteps in his Perth and North Perthshire constituency may give Pete Wishart some insight. But there is no reason to suppose this trumps insights gained by talking to people in Troon and Thurso and Elgin and Lerwick and Glasgow and Portree and Dunfermline. And Pete Wishart’s preference for indefinitely deferring a new independence referendum is finding very little favour in any of those places.

It is arrogant folly of the worst kind to dismiss the views of these people as “noisy certainties”. Messrs Wishart and Tickell would be well advised to at least consider the possibility that the activists who are the bedrock of the Yes movement may be perfectly qualified to reach their own conclusions about the best way forward. If they reject the hyper-cautious approach being commended by a handful of independence supporters it may well be for very sound reasons. Perhaps, like me, they’ve noticed something missing from Pete Wishart’s argument. Perhaps, like me, they’re still waiting to be told what criteria might be used to assess this “optimum time”. Perhaps, like me, they’re still curious as to how this “optimum time” might be predicted months in advance. Perhaps, like me, they’re left wondering how Pete Wishart can be so absolutely certain that September 2018 isn’t the “optimum time”.

Maybe, like me, they’ve considered another big hole in Pete Wishart’s argument. While he frets anxiously and dolefully about what he supposes will be the impact of holding the referendum ‘too soon’ and losing, he appears to have given no thought at all to the consequences of postponing a vote until such time as the portents are entirely auspicious and victory is absolutely assured. Or, to put it another way, never!

Perhaps, like me, those Yes activists who disagree with Pete Wishart have filled in the gaps for themselves. Perhaps, like me, they’ve considered the potential consequences of losing a September 2018 referendum and not holding a referendum in September 2018. Perhaps, like me, they’ve realised that the consequences are precisely the same in both scenarios. Perhaps, like me, they recognise that the only difference is that doing it Pete Wishart’s way makes those consequences a certainty.

Perhaps, like me, they know that the only chance we have of avoiding the onslaught of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism is to go for a referendum in September 2018 and put all our energies into making that the “optimum time”.


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