Your daily disappointment

Pete Wishart demands that the British state play nice. Tommy Sheppard pleads for more powers. Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny plan for the failure of whatever ‘Plan A’ is. The common thread running through all of these is reliance on the goodwill of the British political elite.

When will the SNP wake up to the fact that there is no goodwill? What does it take for Pete Wishart to realise that the British state is never going to play nice? Has Tommy Sheppard really not figured out yet that devolution is dead? Do Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny seriously imagine that the British establishment is going to stand idly by while the SNP runs through an entire alphabet of plans?

There are few enough certainties in politics that we would be wise to anchor our thinking in the ones that we have. One such certainty is that Scotland’s independence cannot be restored whilst adhering to the laws, rules and procedures which have been put in place to protect and preserve the Union. Another is that there is no route to independence which does not pass though a point where there is direct and acrimonious confrontation with the British state.

These truths are self-evident. As self-evident as the fact that real power is never given, only taken, Or the fact that the people of Scotland are sovereign. Or the fact that the Union serves to deny the people of Scotland full and effective exercise of the sovereignty that is ours by absolute right.

The British political elite will never admit these truths. And it’s beginning to look like SNP politicians will never recognise these certainties.

Pete Wishart seems intent on making the existing bureaucratic set-up work more efficiently. Tommy Sheppard seems eager to improve devolution. Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny have a plan.

The other common thread here is the total lack of any sense of urgency and, as far as one can tell, no awareness at all of the things that are troubling Yes campaigners. I will not presume to say most, but certainly many in the Yes movement are concerned, not that the present arrangements aren’t working as well as they might, but that those arrangements are about to be swept away completely by a system which sidelines Scotland’s elected representatives altogether.

Many of us are concerned, not about the difficulty of getting more devolved powers, but about the ease with which powers can be stripped away.

Many of us are worried, not about whether we can win a pro-independence majority in the next Holyrood election in 2021, but whether there will even be a Scottish Parliament six months from now.

While SNP politicians seem to be settling in for the long haul, many of us in the Yes movement see a real and imminent threat to Scotland’s democratic institutions and the essential public services that depend on our our ability to maintain and develop a distinctive political culture We genuinely and justifiably fear for our nation.

We look to the SNP for bold, decisive action to save Scotland from the menace of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism. We look to the SNP for political leadership. And we are constantly disappointed.



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Forever Yes!

However interesting or, very occasionally, insightful Pete Wishart may be, he can always be relied upon to spoil the statesmanlike pose he seeks to strike by saying something profoundly stupid. In this case it’s the truly inane notion that anybody might suppose a second referendum defeat would be “consequence-free”. I confidently assert that nobody has ever made such a claim and that nobody actually believes such obvious idiocy.

So why does Pete Wishart feel the need to call in aid such a clownish straw man? Perhaps because his analysis is so shallow and weak it needs whatever straw man it can clutch at.

What Pete Wishart says about Canada’s federal system and Quebec’s place within it is interesting. His conclusion that there can be no way to replicate such a federal structure in the UK could quite reasonably be described as insightful – even if it is hardly a novel or, indeed, an uncommon insight. But he utterly fails to follow through the logical implications for any comparison between Scotland’s independence cause and the cause promoted by the Parti Quebecois. He notes the huge differences between the two situations, then abandons rational analysis to conclude that, despite these massive differences, the fate of Quebec’s independence movement would be exactly matched in Scotland were we also to lose a second independence referendum.

Apart from his pursuit of John Bercow’s job, Pete Wishart is probably best known for his hyper-cautious approach to a new constitutional referendum in Scotland. In numerous articles and statements he has made it clear that he favours indefinite delay. He believes in something called the ‘Optimal Time’ – a perfect moment when all circumstances align so as to make victory for Yes absolutely certain. He also believes that it is possible to predict this moment many months in advance – although he has never, to the best of my knowledge, explained how the ‘Optimal Time’ might be identified. He has never, as far as I am aware, set out the criteria by which the ‘Optimal Time’ might be defined.

Believing that losing a second referendum could be “consequence-free” seems almost sensible compared to believing in the ability to foresee something which can’t even be described.

But Pete Wishart’s faith is more than a match for any reasoned argument about the difficulties of predicting something which we will only be able to recognise after it has happened. And maybe not even then. His faith in the wisdom of indefinitely delaying a new referendum is sufficient to overcome any concerns about the implications of such a course of inaction. He really does seem to believe that delay is “consequence-free”.

His belief in a mystical ‘Optimal Time’ is such that every analysis must be bent to its service. Thus, he is no doubt genuinely incapable of seeing that the impossibility of a Quebec-style constitutional settlement; the fundamental nature of the British state; and the motivations of Scotland’s independence cause all conspire to make it extremely unlikely that Scotland’s civic nationalist movement would be affected by a second defeat in any way similarly to Quebec’s sovereigntist movement.

Quebec’s independence movement has largely died because it was possible to find a constitutional settlement within the federation which was satisfactory. Scotland’s independence movement won’t die because the Union makes a satisfactory settlement impossible.

Independence is inevitable, and the independence cause indefinitely sustainable, because any constitutional arrangement within the UK which succeeds in terms of the aims, ambitions and purposes of the British state necessarily fails in terms of the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people.

Of course, losing a second referendum would not be “consequence-free”. But what Pete Wishart determinedly refuses to recognise is that the consequences of delay are no different from the consequences of defeat. To assume the ability to survive the former is to assume we would survive the latter.

There are many ways in which the independence cause might suffer another setback. But I know the Yes movement well enough to realise that nothing would break its spirit more certainly than looking back and seeing that we lost because we were afraid to try.

There is no ‘Optimal Moment’ waiting to be discovered. There is only the moment you seize and make of what you can.

Let’s talk!

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

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

I do not charge a fee.

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

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

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

Loose talk

A few days ago I chided a fellow pro-independence blogger for “peddling the idea that the mandate for a new independence referendum is entirely conditional on Brexit”. It is bad enough that we have the British media distorting facts and deceiving the public without sections of the Yes movement parroting the British state’s propaganda. And it’s worse still when the disinformation is coming from a senior SNP politician.

Writing in The National, Pete Wishart says,

Such is our endorsement of a People’s Vote that we have unconditionally given our support to a second EU referendum, regardless of its outcome, and without any guarantees for our nation or acknowledgement of a future vote in Scotland. Without the inclusion of a set of conditions we could be expected to “respect’” the outcome even if it meant that Scotland was taken out of the EU against its will again.

If somehow a People’s Vote is successful we remove the very conditions that makes Scottish independence a majority position amongst the Scottish people. Critically, we also remove the specified condition of the current mandate included in our manifesto in 2016.


Why a People’s Vote causes all sorts of problems for independence

Two paragraphs. Two seriously misleading statements. The assertion that Brexit was “the specified condition of the current mandate included in our manifesto in 2016” is just plain untrue. As I pointed out in that previous article,

This is based solely on a single phrase abstracted from a section of the SNP’s 2016 election manifesto – “taken out of the EU”. But it doesn’t just say “taken out of the EU”. It says “…or if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will” (my emphasis). You can’t pretend those words aren’t there just because it suits your argument.

A bad place

Don’t take my word for it. Read the SNP 2016 Manifesto for yourself. There is nothing vague or ambiguous about the relevant paragraph. It is perfectly clear that being “taken out of the EU” is merely given as an example of “significant and material change”. The clue is in the words “such as”.

I’m not sure how the myth of Brexit being a “specified condition” got started. I do know that the British media apply themselves diligently to promulgating such myths. And I can understand this. That’s their job. They manipulate public opinion by manipulating the facts. Being part of the British establishment, it is entirely unsurprising that the British media spin stories in whatever way best serves the interests of established power.

What I find inexplicable is that Yes supporters should go along with the deception. I can’t believe that they are knowingly aiding and abetting the British state’s anti-SNP propaganda effort. Although this may be true in a very few cases, for the most part the best, if nonetheless profoundly regrettable, explanation is mere intellectual indolence. Laziness! Checking facts is a task. Questioning one’s own assumptions and preconceptions doesn’t come naturally. It calls for a conscious effort. Not to mention awareness that healthy scepticism begins at home. Questioning all media messages is important. Being prepared to question one’s own understanding of things is crucial. But going with what you ‘know’ is easier. Following your prejudices requires less effort than interrogating them.

In an ideal world, everybody in the Yes movement wouldn’t make a statement such as ‘Brexit was the specified condition of the current mandate included in our manifesto in 2016’ without asking themselves if this was correct. It’s a useful habit to acquire. For SNP politicians such as Pete Wishart, it should be instinctive.

Certain statements should ring alarm bells. They should immediately prompt questions about accuracy and veracity. And about advisability. No professional politician or competent political campaigner should ever make a statement without first asking themselves whether, and how, it can be defended. Which means asking how the statement will be misrepresented by their political opponents and hostile media. For political campaigners, statements about the aims and purposes of the campaign call for particular care. Politicians must be particularly cautious with references to party policies and positions.

As Pete Wishart stated that the SNP has “unconditionally given our support to a second EU referendum, regardless of its outcome, and without any guarantees for our nation” those alarm bells should have been deafening. Is this really the party’s position? How likely is it that an astute political operator such as Nicola Sturgeon would adopt such a position? How credible is it that she would casually commit to a totally unspecified arrangement? Are we to believe that she would voluntarily squander her options in the manner suggested?

Did Pete Wishart ask himself any of these questions? Apparently not! But he can be sure that others are now asking some very serious questions about his judgement.


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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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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_hold

That 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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