Options and priorities

As I have said on many occasions, the most valuable thing a political leader can have is a range of options. I have also acknowledged Nicola Sturgeon as a worthy pupil of one of the most astute politicians of our time – her erstwhile mentor, Alex Salmond. So I find it totally inexplicable both that she should discard options for taking forward the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence and that she should do so by choosing a route so fraught with potential pitfalls.

Unlike many other SNP members and a good number of my fellow Yes activists, I was perfectly content that the MacNeil/McEleny ‘Plan B’ resolution was rejected. I won’t go through all the reasons for this here, but they included the First Minister’s concern about distraction as well as recognition of the difficulties involved in making an election work as a substitute for a referendum. And the fact that a conference resolution isn’t needed for Plan B. The SNP can just stick in their manifesto for any election a declaration that a favourable outcome will be taken as a mandate to start negotiations. Who’s going to object? Apart from the usual suspects

I suggested then that Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny might have had more success putting forward an amendment to the resolution in the names of John Swinney and Maree Todd, which they have now done; although I don’t for one moment suppose my words had any bearing on that decision. Besides, I also advised that they should drop their ‘Plan B’ and instead submit an amendment advocating a greater sense of urgency from the Scottish Government and exhorting the First Minister to keep her options open on on the matter of process rather than insisting on rigid adherence to procedures established by the British government. Obviously, Angus and Chris have not heeded this part of my advice.

I take the view that getting Plan A right is vastly more important than having a backup plan. Not least because, should Plan A fail, it’s unlikely that there will be an opportunity to resort to Plan B. If the British establishment is aware of the potential of Plan B, and how could they not be, then they will have a countermeasure ready to be deployed.

Nicola Sturgeon is absolutely correct in sating that focus must be on her plan. Where I part company with her is that I insist this focus shout take the form of critical scrutiny, rather than obedient acceptance.

I suggest that the four SNP MPs now backing a Plan B route to independence would serve Scotland’s cause better were they to take the lead in questioning the efficacy and wisdom of following the Section 30 route.



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No more Septembers

There were a number of reasons I campaigned for a new independence referendum in September 2018. It was an available date four years on from the first referendum; a perfectly adequate interval for those who consider such things important. It allowed for a summer campaign, which give advantage to the campaign which can put boots on the ground. The Yes movement was strong and becoming more mature, And, of course, a September 2018 referendum was intended to preempt Brexit; avoiding the economic fallout and constitutional consequences of that greatest of British follies – so far.

As it turned out, Brexit was deferred for a year. This gave the Scottish Government a year’s grace in which to advance the independence cause. That year has been squandered in a manner which rather justifies my concerns. And it allowed more time for signs of wear to appear in the independence movement.

All of these things I wrote about in some detail and spoke about with some passion at the time. But there were also reasons I was more reluctant to talk about. I discerned potential weaknesses in the SNP, both as a party and as an administration, and developing vulnerabilities in the Yes movement. I was concerned that the SNP administration might become tired and the leadership complacent.

I was aware that the longer a party remains in office the more susceptible it is to accusations of having ‘run out of steam’, And how susceptible to ‘scandals’ – real or maliciously contrived.

I feared the party might suffer problems as it sought to adjust and adapt to its rapid growth after initial enthusiasm stopped distracting folk from the daunting task the SNP faced in reforming itself.

I worried that the Yes movement might fall foul of the factionalism which seems always to attend grass-roots progressive movements. (Is there any other kind?) I worried to that, lacking structures and leadership and being battered by disappointments and anti-climaxes, the Yes movement might succumb to ennui and frustration and just begin to fade away.

In short, I saw the possibility of the independence movement as a whole deteriorating. Not massively. But from a very a very high base to a more sustainable level. I reckoned the independence movement would be at its peak around September 2018. After that, I wasn’t so sure.

Let me be clear! I am not suggesting that the independence movement has broken down or that the SNP has lost its way or that the Yes movement has grown stale and fragile. Merely that things have changed. And the independence campaign must change accordingly. We are none of us what we were even as recently as five years ago. This is reflected in the organisation we form to fight our campaign, and so must also be taken due account of in the campaign itself.

Perhaps the biggest threat to the integrity of any political party or movement is factionalism. By which I mean, not the ordinary discussions and debates and differences of opinion that are inevitable when a number of individuals band together for a common purpose. That is usually healthy and helps the grouping to develop its ideas and arguments. What I am referring to is the kind of factionalism which involves small, or relatively small, cliques forming within the main grouping to pursue, under the ‘flag’; of the grouping, an agenda not agreed by the group as a whole. The key thing here being that the faction seeks to pursue this agenda while retaining and exploiting its identity as part of the larger grouping.

The faction is like a parasite, drawing on the facilities and influence of the organisation for its own ends. Like many parasites elsewhere in nature, the faction can be quite harmless. Its activities need not impact on the ‘parent’ grouping significantly. The organisation may be able to accommodate the faction’s agenda. In principle, at least, it is even possible that the faction might provide some benefit to the organisation.That they may have a symbiotic relationship. Although, by the time that happens it will probably have ceased to be thought of as a faction and will have been reabsorbed into the main grouping.

But factions can also be a powerfully disruptive and even destructive force. If the faction’s agenda, or the methods and rhetoric by which it pursues its aims, are sufficiently at odds with the agreed purpose of the main grouping, conflict will almost inevitably ensue. It is not uncommon that both (or all) sides in this conflict will claim rightful ownership of the organisation and its identity – as well as its assets. It can get nasty.

Another thing about factions is that they tend to proliferate. I won’t get into the whole business of prevailing and countervailing forces here. Suffice it to say that the more powerful the prevailing force, the more it will define the countervailing force. If an organisation develops one faction this implies that it is the kind of organisation (prevailing force) that is prone to developing factions (countervailing forces) and so it is likely that it will develop more factions. It’s very much like playground ‘gangs’ or the way cliques form in the workplace. The same processes are in play. The consequences can be trivial, or not.

The reason I wanted the new referendum in 2018 was that I wanted to get it done before the Yes movement succumbed to the factionalism which I saw in its future. I am surprised and delighted to realise that I may have been overly pessimistic about this. Apart from the usual self-righteous radical factions that nobody takes too seriously, the Yes movement has not developed anything like the proliferation of factions that might have been expected of such a huge and diverse grouping. This is a testament to the power of the common objective which binds the entire grass-roots independence movement.

We would be wise, however, never to lose sight of the fact that our movement is vulnerable to ‘splits’. The fact that it hasn’t done so to any consequent degree up until now is something to celebrate. But we should remain vigilant. The tendency to factionalism is still there within the Yes movement. And, even where the factions themselves are harmless or helpful, their tendency to proliferate may be problematic.

Groups! We’ve all seen the proliferation of Yes groups over the last seven years or so. We have tended to think of this as a good thing. And, mostly, it is. But it often happens that groups are competing for the same constituency. And this can frequently be for no better reason than that somebody has thought of a better name for the group. So they set up their own.

We see it also with things like hashtags. No sooner does someone come up with a hashtag pertinent to the independence cause than somebody else decides they can ‘improve’ it. A seemingly trivial thing. But it is a symptom of a much bigger issue. One of the major weaknesses in the 2014 Yes campaign was the lack of a single, coherent message. In a single-issue political campaign, it is essential that everybody involved should have the same objective. And that they should be able to describe that that objective in a consistent manner. There was never an undisputed concept of independence. And a campaign cannot be effective if it is based on a disputed concept. Bear this in mind when you hear talk of finding or concocting a ‘better’ independence message. The 2014 campaign was badly weakened by so many people trying to find that magical form of words that would convey the wonders of being just an ordinary nation.

The Yes movement is excellent because it makes us all activists. But there is a pervasive notion that it has made us all experts. Nobody can come up with any suggestion without a chorus of people saying, “I’ll just polish that for you.” With the result that we never have a settled campaign message, or voice, or strategy. We have a proliferation of the things. Which, in campaigning terms, is effectively the same as having none.

Now, we have a proposal for a tactical voting plot which is supposed to defeat the d’Hondt system and ensure a pro-independence majority. I have expressed concerns about this proposal in the face of levels of enthusiasm which are tending to overwhelm reasoned evaluation of the plan. An additional worry is that it may prompt the kind of proliferation that is a common feature of factionalism. Once one person or group has a great idea for ‘gaming’ the voting system, what’s the betting others will think they can improve on it.

The ‘Wings Party’ proposal is critically dependent on a number of factors. Not the least of these is that it it be ‘the only game in town’. But, given our experience in other areas, what are the chances of that? And it’s no good pleading that it would be stupid to have two or more independence-only list parties.That would only prompt a dispute about which of the ‘factions’ was most stupid.

I don’t know this would happen. Not in the same way as I know that the sun will rise in the east, But I do know that what the independence movement needs most urgently is a coming together. We must resist factionalism. We must halt the proliferation of individual mini-campaigns and pull the whole movement together behind a single, concentrated effort.

That effort has to start long before the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections. By encouraging the idea that it is okay to leave things until the 2021 election, the ‘Wings Party’ proposal, and all the little cousins it may engender, risks blinding people to the more immediate and lethal threat to the very elections on which they want us to depend. The threat to all of Scotland’s democratic institutions.

I won’t be discussing the ‘Wings Party’ again if I can possibly avoid it. I won’t be thinking on a time-scale that stretches all the way to 2021. I want to get back to matters which are pertinent right now – such as the effort to persuade the Scottish Government of the need for bold, decisive, urgent action and the folly of going down the Section 30 route. There’s time enough to think about the 2021 election when we can be sure there will still be a Scottish Parliament in 2021.

A great opportunity was missed in September 2018. We look like missing the opportunity of September 2019. There may be no more Septembers.



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Is he mad?

The fact that Michael Fry draws parallels with Catalonia suggests, however expert he may be on the glories of capitalism, he is not qualified at all to pontificate on matters constitutional. You don’t have to be a professor of constitutional law to know that the constitutional circumstances in Scotland and Catalonia are entirely different. So different that no meaningful comparisons can be made beyond the fundamental principle of the right of self-determination.

I suspect a professor of constitutional law would be more likely to award Michael Fry a rap on the knuckles than a passing grade were he to encounter the following argument.

“All-party agreement to the referendum rules is vital, and cannot be won in Scotland alone.”

That is just wrong in every way. If by “all-party agreement” he means the political parties, then what he seems to be saying is that the referendum rules would require a unanimous vote in parliament. Where is this stipulation made? Where does this appear in any internationally recognised law or convention regarding the right of self-determination?

But it gets worse! Apparently, we don’t only require a unanimous vote in the Scottish Parliament, we need the approval of Westminster as well! And that statement can only be taken to imply that Westminster’s approval would also have to be unanimous. There’s setting a high bar for Scotland’s right of self-determination, and there’s putting that bar into a deep space trajectory. And all this when there should be no bar at all. International convention prohibits interference in the referendum process by the state from which ‘secession’ is being sought. Michael Fry, on the other hand, maintains that such interference isn’t only lawful, but an actual requirement for legal validity.

The following would have our professor of constitutional law reaching for his rapping stick again.

“There is altogether a great weight of evidence that Scottish independence will come only by following the legal, constitutional route through agreement with the UK and not in defiance of it.”

What evidence? We can discount all the drivel about Catalonia because the constitutional differences make comparisons meaningless. What other evidence is there? I’m not seeing any. And it would take some powerful evidence to persuade me that there can possibly be a route to independence adhering to the laws, regulations, rules and procedures put in place by the British state for the purpose of preserving the Union.

Going even further, as Michael Fry recommends, and giving British Nationalists at least one and possibly more effective vetoes over the referendum would surely be a recipe for closing the democratic route to independence altogether and for all time.

(On the subject of time, you may note that Michael Fry would have us take a route which is “longer and drearier”, but nowhere does he address to consequences of further delay.)

The reality is that there is no route to restoring Scotland’s independence via a process designed and controlled by those who are fanatically opposed to Scotland’s independence being restored. There is no route which doesn’t involve breaking the British state’s rules. There is no route which avoids direct confrontation with the British state. Such is Michael Fry’s concern with making the process impeccably legal (according to British laws) he isn’t even aware that he’s making it impossible.

This entire article has been written for one reason. It is nothing more than a contrived legalistic rationalisation of the Scottish Government’s ‘strategy’ of waiting for the next thing that has to be waited for while never challenging the authority of the British state to deny or constrain or circumscribe Scotland’s right of self-determination. And, for goodness sake, don’t mention the Union!

I could maybe get to grips with this if Michael Fry was just asking me to trust Nicola Sturgeon and her team. But he is insisting that I should put my faith in the goodwill, honour and democratic principles of a British political elite that treats me and my country and the principles of democracy with open contempt. Is he mad? Or does he think I am?



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Bad doctor!

To be fair to Paul Kavanagh, the headline on his column in The National is rather misleading. He doesn’t actually say “Scottish independence is about escaping the UK’s Brexit fantasies“. But it would be understandable if he did. Because this is precisely what the Scottish Government has done. Intentionally or otherwise, it has linked the independence cause so intimately and inextricably with Brexit that it is now common to hear people say a new referendum cannot happen if Brexit is called off. Or that no action can be taken to move the independence project forward until after Brexit has happened.

Rarely, now, is independence or a new referendum discussed without Brexit being mentioned. Nicola Sturgeon may occasionally make some passing remark saying it’s not all about Brexit, but a few throw-away lines cannot outweigh the months and years of talk that has been all but exclusively about Brexit.

Scottish independence is NOT about escaping the UK’s Brexit fantasies; as I am sure Paul Kavanagh realises. In fact, it is now apparent that the Scottish Government isn’t even trying to effect Scotland’s escape from Brexit fantasies. To the very limited extent that the First Minister has revealed her intentions, these would appear to be to let Scotland be dragged out of the EU against the will of Scotland’s people and then maybe do something at some unspecified time after that.

The Scottish Government’s remit is to save Scotland from Brexit. Not to prevent it happening altogether. I, for one, would never give them a mandate to disrespect England’s voters the way the British political elite disrespects Scotland’s voters. While the Scottish Government is busy failing to thwart the democratic will of England’s voters, the British government is being allowed to get away with denying the democratic will of Scotland’s people. Am I the only one who sees something wrong with this picture?

Scottish independence is NOT about escaping the UK’s Brexit fantasies. It is about escaping the Union which gives the British state the power to impose Brexit on us. Brexit is merely a current, and particularly egregious example of how the Union leaves Scotland at the mercy of a corrupt and incompetent British political elite and an English parliament that has NO democratic legitimacy in Scotland. What is the point of escaping Brexit while the Union remains? It will only be a matter of time before the British state once again treats Scotland’s voters with the same contempt shown when Scotland’s Remain vote was summarily dismissed and our elected representatives excluded from negotiations.

Brexit is but a symptom. The Union is the disease.

Right now, the Scottish Government isn’t even treating the symptom effectively while apparently having forgotten about the disease entirely. Lashing the independence cause to the millstone of Brexit was a very bad idea. Failing to attack the disease of the Union has been a fateful mistake. I don’t know if it is possible to recover from these errors of judgement. But I know the Scottish Government has to try.



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Harvie’s havers!

Well! That was disappointing! I read the headline and supposed we might be in for some serious, hard-headed thinking about the strategy for the new referendum campaign. I wasn’t long in being disabused of that notion.

It all started so well, with talk of the fundamental constitutional argument for independence. This gave the impression that Patrick Harvie was about to put that fundamental constitutional argument right where it belongs, at the very heart of the campaign.

Then he wrote of “…the need for the campaign to draw strength from its diversity…” and instantly dispelled any notion I’d had that Patrick Harvie might be about to contribute some significant insight. And, as if to confirm that this wasn’t just a momentary lapse, he comes out with this,

“…rather than expecting every Yes voter to bury the rest of their politics. There will never be a majority if independence appeals only to those who feel motivated by flags and patriotism…”

Our Patrick seems to have a bit of a thing about flags. Were I in a more light-hearted frame of mind after reading his article, I might have asked if his mummy had been frightened by a banner when she was expecting him. He certainly seems to suppose that they carry some dark meaning. I look at a Saltire and see only an emblem of Scotland and its people. Goodness knows what ghastly horrors poor Patrick sees.

What is perplexing is that, having correctly identified the essence of the constitutional argument – that the people of Scotland are sovereign and they alone should decide the nation’s future – he seems to forget it completely. Having paid lip service to this fundamental idea, he goes on to imply that, when you “bury” the rest of politics, all that’s left is “flags and patriotism”. What happened to that core idea that the people are the legitimate source of legitimate political authority? What happened to the “basic democratic argument, that it’s the people who live in Scotland who should decide the country’s future”?

The point that Patrick Harvie so tragically misses is that this is precisely what is left when you strip away all the various policy agendas. It all comes down to the question of who decides. To say that “flags and patriotism” is all you have left when these policy agendas are taken out of the equation is to put “flags and patriotism” where the fundamental constitutional argument should be. I don’t suppose, given his pathological aversion to such things, that this was Patrick Harvie’s intention. Which kinda makes it worse. Because one might have hoped that he would have put some thought into and article which is purports to be advising us on how to fight the next referendum campaign.

I sincerely trust nobody is listening to his advice. Because he clearly hasn’t a clue. After identifying the fundamental issue of the campaign, he woefully fails to follow the thought. If it’s the fundamental issue, then it’s what the campaign has to be all about. You don’t identify that core issue and then just drop it to and go off on a speculation spree about stuff that is not and cannot be part of your campaign strategy. You cannot sensibly base a campaign strategy on what your opponents might do or what might happen if something else doesn’t.

You can campaign for a thing. Or you can campaign against a thing. But in all cases it must be absolutely clear what the thing is. You cannot campaign either for or against a disputed concept. It has to be something on which there is general agreement within your campaign. Otherwise, your campaign spends all its time disputing the concept concept instead of campaigning for it.

The undisputed concept of the independence campaign is not independence. Because independence is a disputed concept. There are myriad definitions and explanations of independence. It means different things to different people. The one thing they all have in common is the desire to #DissolveTheUnion.

Patrick Harvie doesn’t understand the basics of a political, as opposed to and electoral, campaign. A single issue campaign must focus on that single issue. So, totally contrary to what Patrick Harvie commends, it is absolutely essential that Yes campaigners to “bury the rest of their politics” for the duration of the campaign and to try and persuade voters to do the same. To set aside those policy agendas until after independence is restored. To get voters to focus on the fundamental constitutional issue.

I realised as soon as he wrote of “the need for the campaign to draw strength from its diversity” that Patrick Harvie was making a tragic error. He is confusing the movement with the campaign. The Yes movement draws its strength from its diversity. But what is diversity in a movement is division and diffusion in a campaign.

Ignore Patrick Harvie. There are three key words you should remember when considering the shape and form of the new referendum campaign – SOLIDARITY! FOCUS! DISCIPLINE!



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All the policies anybody could want!

It’s not often any thinking person finds cause to agree with the odious Jackie Baillie, but she is perfectly correct in reminding her bosses that ““Scottish party policy is very clear”. It is very clearly as arrogantly anti-democratic as Tory policy on the matter of Scotland’s right of self-determination. As dogmatically anti-democratic as the policies of all the British parties. They all state emphatically that their policy is to deny Scotland’s democratic right of self determination. Each is as anti-democratic as they others.

Where Baillie bids farewell to reality and departs for the land of dumb delusion is when she says,

… Labour’s position on Scotland’s future is a decision for Scottish Labour, which the UK party must accept.

This is just wrong. There is no ‘Scottish Labour Party’. There is only the British Labour Party. The entity calling itself the ‘Scottish Labour’ is, in fact, ‘British Labour in Scotland’ (BLiS). Not being a party, BLiS has absolutely no policy-making powers. And no party may present different policies to different constituencies. That’s the law! One party! One policy! The reality that Jackie Ballie has lost her tenuous grip on is precisely the opposite of what she asserts. British Labour’s position on Scotland’s future is a matter for British Labour. And the pretendy wee party in Scotland must accept that policy.

It gets weirder. Because, notwithstanding Ballie’s tantrums, British Labour’s policy on the matter of a new independence referendum actually accords with that of BLiS, even though there is no need for it to do so. British Labour’s 2017 election manifesto spells it out in no uncertain terms. In a section titled – with unwittingly hilarious irony and characteristic hypocrisy – ‘Extending Democracy’, we find the following.

Labour opposes a second Scottish independence referendum. It is unwanted and unnecessary, and we will campaign tirelessly to ensure Scotland remains part of the UK. Independence would lead to turbo-charged austerity for Scottish families.

British Labour Manifetso 2017

Evidently, democracy isn’t to be extended as far as Scotland. That passage could have been written by Jackie Baillie herself. Or any British Nationalist ideologue from any of the British parties. So what is she making such a fuss about?

It seems she’s upset about some remarks made by one of her many superiors which, on the face of it, appear to state another British Labour policy which is perfectly clear. Former Scottish Labour Party chairman Bob Thomson points out that McDonnell’s position is “a restatement of existing, long-standing Scottish Labour Party [sic] policy”. He reminds all concerned that policy dates from the 1989 Claim of Right,

…which was signed by every Labour MP – including Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling – except Tam Dalyell and endorsed by the annual conference of the Scottish party.

Bob Thomson goes on to explain,

This position has never been rescinded. There is also a lot of hypocrisy from Labour MPs and MSPs who support a second referendum on Brexit but oppose a second referendum on independence, the democratic principles are the same. (emphasis added)

The particular and relevant “democratic principle” to which Bob Thomson refers is stated in the opening words of the 1989 Claim of Right.

We, gathered as the Scottish Constitutional Convention, do hereby acknowledge the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs…

Claim of Right 1989

This is as explicit an acknowledgement of Scotland’s right of self-determination as we might wish for.

Remember what I said about “One party! One policy!”? Well, it seems I was wrong. Because British Labour clearly has two policies (at least) on the matter of Scotland’s right of self-determination. John McDonnell says one thing, backed-up by British Labour’s extant endorsement of the Claim of Right. Jackie Baillie says the opposite supported by British Labour’s 2017 general election manifesto. British Labour simultaneously acknowledges and denies Scotland’s right of self-determination.

Confused? You will be! Because, while the position referred to by John MCDonnell must take precedence over that stated by Jackie Baillie – he speaking for the real party while she speaks for a bit of the pretendy one (don’t ask!) – that isn’t British Labour’s true position. Their true position is the one stated by Baillie. The anti-democratic position which denies Scotland’s right of self-determination is the reality behind the soothingly democratic facade presented by McDonnell.

As I wrote at the time,

John McDonnell is undertaking to respect the Scottish Parliament. not now but at some unspecified time in the future, because he is as certain as he needs to be that there will be no Scottish Parliament by that time.

He is undertaking to respect the democratic will of the people of Scotland, not now but at some unspecified time in the future, because he is confident the Tories have a plan to ensure that the people of Scotland are prevented from ever deciding the constitutional status of our nation or choosing the form of government that best suits our needs.

John McDonnell is attempting to deceive the people of Scotland in the name of preserving the Union. Don’t be fooled!

Read the words!

You could devote time and effort to untangling this web of lies and deceit. Or you could simply accept that it is a web of lies and deceit and that this is all you need to know.



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Read the words!

If I am cynical about British Labour it’s for good reason. This is a party of back-stabbers who have no qualms about turning their blades on voters should self-interest demand it. They betrayed Scotland for their precious Union before. They will do so again. They colluded with the Tories in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum campaign because of their mutual interest in maintaining the structures of power, privilege and patronage which constitute the British state. Those structures have not changed. Nor has the shared imperative of the British establishment parties to keep a political system which serves them well, even as it fails the people in all manner of tragic ways.

In an otherwise rather silly column which imagines British Labour supporting independence, Kevin McKenna notes that their operation in Scotland hasn’t changed since the British parties lost control of Holyrood. Discussing what he persists in calling ‘Scottish Labour’, McKenna observes that British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) “has been in retreat for 12 years”. It is a commonplace of Scottish political commentary that this retreat has been into a bubble of bitter resentment towards both the SNP and the voters who had the effrontery to rob BLiS of what they regard as their entitled status in Scotland. A resentment so corrosive that neither rational nor creative thinking can survive.

It’s difficult to know whether the resentment which has paralysed BLiS for all that time also infected the rest of the party, or whether the resentment is simply more concentrated in BLiS, them being more directly affected. What we can know for certain is that, in terms of policy, there is but one British Labour. If BLiS didn’t adapt to Scotland’s new political and electoral reality in 12 years, neither did British Labour as a whole.

The question that arises is why would British Labour change now. If, indeed, it has genuinely changed in the ways that many seem to suppose are implied by John McDonnell’s ‘promise’ that British Labour would not block a new Scottish independence referendum.

I look at this ‘promise’ with the jaundiced eye of my cynicism and I smell deviousness and duplicity. This is, of course, the hallmark stench of British politics. But the stink seems particularly strong around John McDonnell’s comments. My first thought is that this is a ploy to split the pro-independence vote in Scotland. A ploy which, were it effective, would serve both to undermine the independence movement and weaken the SNP. There is obvious advantage here for both British Labour and the British Nationalist ideology it shares with other British establishment parties.

So what! I hear some in the Yes movement say. If BLiS drops its dogmatic opposition to anew independence referendum this only strengthens the mandate to hold such a referendum. But that mandate requires no strengthening. It is already as strong as it needs to be – and then some. And British Labour are not in power at Westminster. They are not in a position to decide whether the British parliament should grant gracious consent allowing Scots to exercise the fundamental right of self-determination. So John McDonnell is giving us precisely nothing with his ‘promise’ not to block a new referendum even if we are naive enough to suppose that promise would be kept should it be put to the test.

McDonnell is aware that a large proportion of traditional British Labour voters in Scotland support the restoration of Scotland’s independence and that many of them have been ‘lending’ their votes to the SNP knowing that this is the only way to achieve that objective. He will know, also, that many of those people are itching to get back to voting as their fathers did and their fathers before them. They feel a certain loyalty to British Labour – or to the values which British Labour once represented – and they will seize on any excuse to return to the fold. John McDonnell’s ‘promise’ provides that excuse.

This still leaves the question of why McDonnell has decided to make this ‘promise’ at this time. But we’ve already seen that the ‘promise’ isn’t worth much even if taken at face value. And its value gets increasing dubious the more closely we scrutinise it. Let’s remind ourselves of his precise words.

The Scottish Parliament will come to a considered view on that and they will submit that to the Government and the English parliament itself.

If the Scottish people decide they want a referendum that’s for them.

We would not block something like that. We would let the Scottish people decide. That’s democracy.

There are other views within the party but that’s our view.

Note the final sentence. That’s a get-out clause if ever there was one. Who is he referring to when he says “our view”. How are we to be sure that view prevails against those “other views within the party “. Note what he doesn’t say. He doesn’t say that this is now official arty policy. His words can easily be interpreted, or portrayed, as implying that the matter is being debated within the party. There is nothing conclusive there. Nothing anybody should be clinging to.

Perhaps even more significantly, note the use of the future and future unreal conditional tense. The Scottish Parliament “WILL COME to a considered view”; “they WILL SUBMIT that to the Government”; “we WOULD NOT block something like that”; “we WOULD LET the Scottish people decide”.

At no time does John McDonnell acknowledge the existing mandate. At not time does he recognise that the Scottish Parliament has already “come to a considered view”. Nowhere does he mention that this “considered view” has already been submitted to “the Government and the English parliament [sic]”. To do so would be to respect the authority of the Scottish Parliament. Which no British Nationalist politician can or will ever do.

Nor will they respect Scotland’s people. John McDonnell also says,

“If the Scottish people decide they want a referendum that’s for them.”

He refuses to allow that the Scottish people have already made known their choice in this matter by voting for parties with a clear manifesto commitment to holding a new referendum.

It may be thought that John McDonnell is taking a bit of a risk with this ‘promise’ to break with British Nationalist dogma and respect democratic principles. What if British Labour does end up in power and all the conditions he stipulates are met? Wouldn’t that make it awkward for British Labour to renege? Which brings us, finally, to an answer to the question of why this ‘promise’ is being made now.

John McDonnell is a professional politician and so is not inclined to take risks where the cost would fall on himself or his party. Therefore, he must have reason to be sure that British Labour will never be put in the position of being expected to honour his ‘promise’. He would only make such a promise if he was confident that the Tories were about to apply a ‘final solution’ to the Scottish problem.

John McDonnell is undertaking to respect the Scottish Parliament. not now but at some unspecified time in the future, because he is as certain as he needs to be that there will be no Scottish Parliament by that time.

He is undertaking to respect the democratic will of the people of Scotland, not now but at some unspecified time in the future, because he is confident the Tories have a plan to ensure that the people of Scotland are prevented from ever deciding the constitutional status of our nation or choosing the form of government that best suits our needs.

John McDonnell is attempting to deceive the people of Scotland in the name of preserving the Union. Don’t be fooled!



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