Wincing and recoiling

snp_conferenceDo you ever read something that makes you physically wince? I flinched twice reading George Kerevan’s article. I cringed when i read this “the Scots electorate (mercifully) is having a year off”. Aye, George! Because voting is such an onerous task we should be glad of anti-democratic British Nationalists like Ruth Davidson who want to relieve us of the chore. Participating in the democratic process is such a burden we should happily do the bidding of those who advise us to sit down, shut up and eat our cereal.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was some way we could all just disengage from politics altogether? Wouldn’t it be great if there was some elite prepared to relieve us of the need to think about all that politics stuff? Wouldn’t it be a mercy if we were given two years off from the grind of democracy? Or five? Or fifty?

That five minute walk to the polling place is hellish enough. But then they make you pick up a pencil and make a mark on a bit of paper! Sometimes, you even have to think about where you’re putting that cross! (Yes! A cross! That’s two – count them! – TWO pencil strokes!) And you might be asked to do this TWICE in the one year! It’s inhuman!

Of course, it’s not just the voting that’s a massive imposition. All that politics nonsense takes up so much space in the newspapers and so much airtime on TV and radio. Think how much more sport there could be in the papers if it weren’t for all those column inches being devoted to stuff about health and education and welfare. Think how many more soaps could be crammed into a day if they would just stop putting politicians on. Who needs it? We pay those politicians to run the country. Can they not just get on with it? Do they have to be pestering us all the time?

I’d barely recovered from the physical impact of that little gobbet of thoughtlessness when I was made to recoil again; this time at the suggestion that,

This upcoming spring conference will be the last at which the SNP top brass can remain silent on the referendum question.

What!? The SNP leadership can remain silent about the new referendum at next month’s conference!? They can get through the whole two days without so much as mentioning it!? As they say on Twitter, WTF!?

I know George noticed the All Under One Banner march in Glasgow on Saturday 5 May. I know he’s aware of it, because he mentions it in the very next sentence. What does he think those 50,000 people were marching for? Longer tea-breaks!?

In theory, I suppose it’s possible that there were people on that march whose enthusiasm for independence wasn’t matched by a sense of urgency. It was a very large gathering. Perhaps I missed the banners saying ‘POSTPONE THE REFERENDUM’. Maybe I failed to hear the chants of, ‘what do we want? Independence! When do we want it? When Pete Wishart is satisfied that we can’t possibly lose!’.

Or perhaps I read the mood correctly. Perhaps there was a feeling of urgency in the air. Perhaps there is an expectation that the SNP will respond to that sense of urgency. Perhaps a large proportion of those people are anticipation something more than silence on the referendum question when the party meets in Aberdeen next month. Perhaps a significant number of those people will be bloody annoyed if all they get is silence from the “SNP top brass”.

One thing I can say for certain about the people on that march – they know the value of participative democracy. They don’t think of participation in the democratic process as a chore to be avoided if at all possible. They aren’t content to sit down, shut up and eat their cereal. That march was democracy in action. Those people, and the thousands more who were with them in spirit, were insisting on having their say.

The SNP leadership better be listening. And they damn well better have a good response. Silence will not satisfy those people. Silence is not an option.


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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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Will you stand?

When I took to the stage at Glasgow Green after the magnificent All Under One Banner march from Kelvingrove Park on Saturday, I spoke without notes. The following is partly a transcript of my address based on Martin Hannan’s report in The National, and partly the speech I would like to have made. Little of it is based on personal recollection, as I confess to having been quite overcome by the immensity of the occasion.

auob_stageI have supported independence all my life. I joined the SNP as soon as I was eligible. That was in 1962, when I was aged 12. A lot has happened in the fifty odd years between then and now.

I remember Winnie Ewing’s stunning Hamilton by-election victory in 1967.

I well recall the hard graft of the two UK general elections of 1974 – both winter campaigns.

I remember the British Labour betrayal of Scotland in 1979 and the ugliness of the Thatcher years which ensued.

But we got past all that. We got over it. We survived it. And here we are, 50-odd years on, in May 2018.

May is a significant month. It was on 12 May 1999 that the Scottish Parliament was reconvened by Winnie Ewing – three decades after her historic victory.

At last, Scotland had a real Parliament again!

On 3 May 2007 there was an election which shocked the British parties and broke their stranglehold on Holyrood. On 11 May, SNP administration was sworn in and Alex Salmond became First Minister.

Somewhat inconveniently for my rhetoric, it was 3 September 2007 before we were finally rid of the derisory ‘Scottish Executive’.

At last, Scotland had a real Government again!

In the years since then, Scotland has developed an increasing distinctive political culture. As far as the limits of devolution allow, Scotland has been doing things its own way.

At last, Scotland was acting like a real nation again!

And the British political elite doesn’t like it!

Friends! Over the years of campaigning to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status there were times when I felt great elation. There were times when I felt bitter disappointment. But always I felt quietly confident that our cause would prevail.

Lately, however, I have felt something else. I have felt anger. And I have felt fear.

I have felt anger at the British state and its utter contempt for our Parliament and its disrespect for our Government and its disdain for our people.

I have felt fear for what British Nationalists will do if we fail to stop them. They will emasculate our parliament. They will dismantle our democratic institutions. They will eradicate our distinctive political culture. They will sacrifice our public services on the altar of private profit.

Friends! I will not let my anger turn to impotent rage or misdirected hate. I will not let my fear turn to tremulous hesitancy or paralysed inaction.

I will hold fast to my fear. I will be motivated by it. I will raise aloft my anger. I will be energised by it. And I will make a stand against the rolling juggernaut of anti-democratic ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism which is threatening this country.

Will you stand with me?

Will you stand in defence of Scotland’s Parliament?

Will you stand in defence of Scotland’s Government?

Will you stand in defence of Scotland’s public services?

Will you stand in defence of Scotland?


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Never mind the numbers! Feel the mood!

180505_march

A good indication of the strength of Scotland’s independence movement was apparent in Glasgow yesterday (Saturday 5 May 2018) when at least 50,000 people marched through the city in support of the cause. For every person who participated in the march there was another standing by the side of the road cheering them on or waving a Saltire from a window or showing their support by sounding their car horn as the procession passed. And for every one of them there was somebody else who, for whatever reason, was unable to be there in person but was certainly there in spirit.

But it’s not just about the numbers. It’s also about the mood. The Yes movement is, without question, as massive as ever. But there is a new mood of determination allied to a growing sense of urgency. As the march amply demonstrated, the Yes movement is rapidly gaining momentum.

Power is relative. The strength of any political movement must be assessed in comparison with the strength of its opposition. While the independence movement is growing in terms of its size, its resolve and its campaigning ability, the British political elite has probably never been in such a state of disarray. The British state is weak.

The Unionist counter-demonstration to the Yes march was tiny. The British Nationalist movement in Scotland has never been very large. Were it not for the collaboration of the British media, it would be insignificant. As people increasingly turn to alternative sources of news, analysis and commentary, the manipulative power of the traditional media diminishes. Without the normalising influence of the British state’s propaganda machine, ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism is exposed as an irrational and incoherent fringe ideology whose adherents, lacking any actual arguments, are reduced to spitting a bitter, resentful hatred which stands in stark contrast to the joyous, aspirational ebullience of the Yes campaign.

How strong is the Scottish independence movement? Strong enough! It has reached the point where it cannot be defeated by democratic means.

People need to think about the implications of that.


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New referendum! New mindset!

If an independence referendum were to be called today and the SNP go it alone and be the official ‘Yes’ campaign and it’s SNP versus everyone else, we will lose based solely on voting history. – Chris McEleny

referendum_2018_petitionIf the Yes campaign is to succeed in the coming independence referendum we urgently need a fresh mindset. Sorry, Chris! But this is not it.

Let me say first of all that, having seen him perform in two Depute Leader contests, I have considerable respect for Chris McEleny. I have not the slightest doubt that he is destined to play a major role in Scotland’s politics. But I would suggest that he might benefit from shaking off some of the more conventional thinking that is evident from his views on the new independence referendum.

In some respects, Chris has already done this. He has been prepared to break from the herd and at least put a time-frame around the new referendum. He has said that the vote should be held within eighteen months. Which is a considerable improvement on the indefinite postponement being advocated by some in the SNP. But eighteen months is plenty of time for the British state to do massive damage to Scotland’s democratic institutions and public services. As with the more tremulous Postponers, I’ve yet to hear him explain how he’d go about preventing ‘One Nation’ British Nationalists wreaking the havoc that they promise.

A curious thing about Chris’s approach – which seems to be fairly typical of what is becoming the conventional thinking on the matter – is the insistence that “we need to think differently”, quickly followed by a ‘plan’ for the new Yes campaigned so closely modelled on the first one as to be barely distinguishable. Meet the “new Yes Scotland team”! Just like the old Yes Scotland team!

The other thing that puts Chris with the conventional thinkers is the idea that a constitutional referendum can be reduced to a mathematical formula. If our ambitions are limited by “voting history” then we will never even aim for anything, far less achieve it. The nature and form of our activism cannot be dictated by history if we are to have any hope of shaping the future. We will not do what needs to be done by succumbing to the notion that we can only ever do what has been done.

The whole point of campaigning is to make future outcomes different from past outcomes.

I have never heard anybody suggest that the SNP “go it alone”. Never! I constantly hear people insisting that the SNP is not the whole of the independence movement. But I have yet to hear anybody make the claim that it is. I really don’t know what purpose is served by incessantly denying something which, not only isn’t asserted, but is actually impossible.

What needs to be recognised is that the SNP is the political arm of the Yes movement. The independence campaign desperately needs an injection of hard-headed political realism. We have to stop pandering to the various factions which, for whatever reason, resent the SNP’s crucial role. We have to face up to them and tell them straight that the sniping has to stop. We have to get across to every Yes supporters the reality of our situation. Which is that the sure way to lose is to fight the same campaign we fought for the 2014 referendum.

We have to drive home the hard political reality that we will only win by putting the full weight of the Yes movement behind Nicola Sturgeon.

It’s not that complicated! The effective political power provided by the SNP is essential to the independence project. As a political party constrained by its constitution as well as the policies and positions approved by its members, the SNP cannot change to accommodate the diversity of the Yes movement. Therefore, the Yes movement must accommodate the SNP.

It’s not that difficult! The Yes movement doesn’t actually have to change. It doesn’t have to ‘become’ the SNP. It only has to recognise that the movement is not the campaign. The Yes movement and the SNP remain distinct. But both serve a campaign. And that campaign has to be fronted by the SNP for the glaringly obvious reason that the SNP is at the front of the campaign. It is at the point where the independence movement comes up against the British state.

What is the point of the Yes movement putting its weight behind some “new Yes Scotland team” when, almost by definition, that “team” can have no effective political power? A team which is formed for the very purpose of pandering to the factions whose aversion to effective political power outweighs their commitment to the cause of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status.

The Yes movement doesn’t need to be told to “embrace moderate views, socialist philosophies, environmental, radical and democratic thinking”. The Yes movement already does that. The Yes movement is diverse, open and unconstrained. It doesn’t need this to be mediated by a “new Yes team” which will no more represent all of that immensely broad character than the SNP does.

The Yes movement must feed its power directly into a Yes campaign which, in contrast to its own character, is united, focused and disciplined. Like a real, professional political campaign has to be.

This united, focused and disciplined campaign must go on the attack in a way that simply didn’t happen in the 2014 effort. The Union has never been so fragile. It has never been so vulnerable. The Yes campaign must exploit the British state’s weaknesses as ruthlessly and relentlessly as may be consistent with fighting a principled campaign.

The solidarity, focus, discipline and aggression of that campaign then needs to be put at the service of the SNP and, ultimately, Nicola Sturgeon.

The power of the Yes movement must not be diffused by being filtered through some compromise ‘team’. It must not be diverted to some substitute ‘leader’. The power must be directed where it will be most effective.

That is realpolitik. That is how we win.


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Who are these people?

tomkinsFor many, I feel sure, the shock revelation coming out of the Hansard Society’s 15th annual Audit of Political Engagement is the discovery that as many as one in seven people in Scotland is “broadly satisfied” with the British political system. Who are these people? What do they see that the rest of us don’t? What do they fail to see that is painfully obvious to the vast majority?

What is the thought process which leads to the conclusion that the British political system is, from a Scottish perspective, even remotely acceptable far less broadly satisfactory?

What does it take to be a Unionist in Scotland today? What percentage of one’s intellect must be forsaken? What portion of one’s conscience must be denied? What part of one’s self-respect must be sacrificed?

How much must Scotland endure before British Nationalists begin to question their allegiance to a British political system which is inherently incapable of representing Scotland’s interests?

At what point do British Nationalists begin to recognise that a Union which can only be sustained with open threats, empty promises, transparent dishonesty, cancerous corruption and utter contempt for democratic principles, is a political union which is broken beyond repair?

What do British Nationalists think is going to happen? How do they imagine Scotland’s politics playing out over the coming weeks, months and years? What end-point do they envisage?

Do they suppose that the 86% who are less enamoured of the British state than themselves will just learn to live with it? Do they reckon the half of the population which wants independence will just meekly accept denial of that aspiration?

Do British Nationalists actually believe the democratic route to independence can be closed down without consequences?

Do British Nationalists genuinely think that imposition of a ‘One Nation’ British state will be the end of the matter? Do they suppose Scotland’s independence movement will simply evaporate once direct rule from London is restored?

Who are these people?


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Sage advices

then_what

Having dealt with the matter of the relationship between the Yes movement and the SNP in an earlier article, I should probably address Carolyn Leckie’s ‘sage advices’ on the matter of when the new referendum should be held. At least this gives me the opportunity to heartily agree with one point that she makes.

I suspect the main reason why Ruth Davidson, Richard Leonard and Willie Rennie are so hostile to a referendum during this parliamentary term is because they fear defeat. They rate their chances of ousting the SNP from power at Holyrood higher than their chances of winning a second No vote.

Absolutely correct! And one of the reasons I find the position taken by Pete (Wishart) and the Postponers so unacceptable. The idea of indefinitely delaying the referendum feeds all too neatly into the British parties’ anti-democratic campaign to deny Scotland’s right of self-determination.

Of course, they would never admit that they want to deny the people of Scotland a right guaranteed by no less than the Charter of the United Nations. The British parties don’t do that kind of honesty. Instead, they will simply keep on insisting that “now is not the time”. An assertion for which the very determined could find expedient justification at any time. Which means that it is effectively identical to the argument for indefinite delay being peddled so vigorously by Pete and the Postponers.

The difference – and pretty much the only difference – between the anti-democratic British Nationalists and Pete Wishart is that, while he still supposes there might be a new referendum at some undefined time in the future, Ruth Davidson, Richard Leonard and Willie Rennie) are determined that the referendum be postponed until such time as the British government, to which they give total allegiance, has implemented measures to ensure that a new referendum is impossible and/or unwinnable.

On this matter, uniquely, I am prepared to ‘trust’ the British parties. I have not the slightest doubt that, given the time and space Pete and the Postponers wish to afford them, the British political elite will introduce new impediments to the exercise of our democratic rights. They will,over the period between now and the next Holyrood elections, take action to eliminate the threat of democratic dissent and eradicate Scotland’s distinctive political identity.

Like Pete Wishart, Carolyn Leckie seems to be prepared to gamble that they won’t. She seems ready to bet Scotland’s future on the hope that the British state will turn out to be more benign than all its history and Scotland’s experience suggests. She’s content to delay the referendum trusting that the British state will play nice and forego the opportunity offered by Brexit to unilaterally rewrite the devolution settlement redefining Scotland’s status within a political union ‘reformed’ without any reference to the people of Scotland or our elected representatives. She’s prepared to take the chance that maybe the British state won’t seek to satisfy its long-standing imperative to lock Scotland into the Union.

The British parties in Scotland don’t just rate their chances of seizing control of Holyrood in 2021, they regard it as a racing certainty. It is what they are planning for. They know that they only have to erode a relatively tiny part of the SNP vote to be in a position to oust them – even if this involves forming a ‘Grand Coalition’ of Unionist parties in order to do so. They know that they can rely on help from the British media and the rest of the British establishment. They know that, in addition to the delegitimising and disempowering of the Scottish Parliament that has already begun, there will be a campaign of smears, distortions, scaremongering and lies such as to make Project Fear look honest and principled by comparison.

They don’t just hope to oust the SNP in 2021, they aim to do so by whatever means they deem necessary. They expect to put an end to Scotland’s dream well before then. But the next Scottish Parliament elections are intended to be the ultimate subordination of Scotland. The final solution to the Scottish problem. The realisation of a ‘One Nation’ British state that will last a thousand years. Greater England at last!

Either Postponers such as Carolyn Leckie and Pete Wishart are unaware of the threat to Scotland’s democratic institutions, political culture and public services; or they are in denial about the jeopardy in which our nation finds itself; or they are naive enough to imagine the British state will now, all of a sudden, start to show Scotland the respect that it never has shown in all the centuries since this benighted Union was foisted upon us. Whichever it is, we heed their ‘sage advices’ at our peril.


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