A nightmare scenario

As ever, Andrew Tickell does an excellent job of taking us through the rules and procedures of the Scottish Parliament. His account of how Nicola Sturgeon might force an early Scottish general election is intriguing. But there is one possible twist to the hypothetical tale which either hasn’t occurred to him or, more likely, was considered too outlandish even in an age of bizarre politics – the Grand Coalition.

Suppose that, when Nicola Sturgeon resigns as First Minister, instead of “the ridiculous spectacle of a Davidson-Leonard contest” envisioned by Andrew we had the rather less amusing spectacle of the British parties in Holyrood forming an alliance sufficiently workable to avoid “complete ungovernability”?

Is this really so difficult to imagine? It may not be easy to see such a Grand Coalition working in the longer term, but how long would it have to last in order to foil Nicola Sturgeon’s devious plan to bring about an early election? If the British parties could cobble together any kind of administration and keep it limping along for even a few weeks, Ms Sturgeon would be left looking every bit as foolish as Theresa May did in the aftermath of he snap UK general election in 2017.

There was a time when a formal association between the two main British parties – even at the North Britain branch level – would have been unthinkable. But that all changed in June 2012 with the formation of Better Together / Project Fear. That set the precedent. It is now not possible – or, at least, not sensible – to discount the possibility of a Grand Coalition of British parties in the Scottish Parliament.

Such an alliance would be justified in terms of a shared British Nationalist ideology which readily overcomes the already uncertain political differences between the British Conservative & Unionist Party in Scotland (BCUPS) and British Labour in Scotland (BLiS). Because we’ve seen it before from their predecessors, it is all too easy to imagine Leonard and Davidson sharing a platform festooned with Union flags; and to hear the grandiloquent speeches about a shared determination to “protect our precious Union” and “save Scotland from the evil of the SNP”. Rhetoric which would be echoed by their respective bosses in London, both of whom would eagerly seize the opportunity to play the ‘unity’ card in the hope of trumping the Mad Brexiteer insurgency threatening the cosy two-party arrangement which has served the British establishment so effectively for decades.

If the thought of a Grand Coalition of British parties wresting control of Holyrood from the Scottish parties doesn’t give you nightmares then reflect for a moment on the damage such an administration could do. Think of the ways it could use even temporary power to advance the ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project. The possibility of such an alliance may be remote. But the prospect is horrifying. Could Nicola Sturgeon afford to take a chance?



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In place of truth

David Mundell

There is certainly hypocrisy in David Mundell’s screeching U-turn on the matter of his willingness to serve under Boris Johnson. Just as there is dumb arrogance in Ruth Davidson’s bombastic pronouncements on the subject of a new referendum – her actual authority being in inverse proportion to her pomposity. Similarly, it is difficult to explain Richard Leonard’s dire performances at First Minister’s Questions (FMQ) without including stupidity as a significant factor.

But is there something more to all this than rank hypocrisy, vaunting arrogance and abysmal stupidity? Is it, perhaps, a mistake to dismiss such things as mere gaffes or to discount them as just evidence of the kind of character flaws which seem ubiquitous among British politicians? When taken together with the various form of dishonesty by which the British media allows the gaffes to go unreported and the character flaws unremarked, might we be looking at a much larger phenomenon?

Some time ago. in an article for iScot Magazine called ‘The death of truth’, I wrote,

It seems not enough to say that truth is being supplanted. That it is being overwhelmed by a “narrative contrary to reality”. For all its vivid persuasiveness, the concept of a “vast, permanent chasm between reality and perception” is wanting. Possibly because it leaves reality distanced, but intact. And the sense I get is, not of truth being set-aside or distorted or obscured, but of truth being demolished. Obliterated. Eradicated.

Not that I am suggesting some Orwellian plot to murder truth. But if making the concept of truth indistinct and elusive serves the agendas of a sufficient number of people with a sufficient amount of influence then what emerges from their behaviours and interactions may be all but indistinguishable from a conspiracy.

What is certain is that the British establishment has developed doubt as a powerful weapon in its propaganda arsenal. Pretty much everything that British politicians do seems designed to foster uncertainty. The British media does a bang-up job of spreading that uncertainty. This results in a generalised erosion of confidence, not only in politicians, but in the entire political system. It also leads to much confusion among voters and, at the very least, a reduced ability to make informed choices.

When people are confused and uncertain they are more easily led. Or steered. They are more readily deterred from effecting change. They are more averse to anything that can be portrayed as a risk. They are more inclined to favour the familiar and cling to the status quo.

An atmosphere of uncertainty and confusion also makes people more susceptible to anyone who offers a risk-free option. Or an option which, with the help of the media, can be portrayed as risk-free. It was doubt, generated and exaggerated by Better Together / Project Fear, which the British political elite deployed so successfully in the 2014 independence referendum. It was the plausible promise of a simplistic certainty that launched the Brexit fiasco.

Pervasive doubt leaves space for manufactured truth. When truth is diminished, reality is defined by the loudest and most intrusive voices. Last week, Mundell said he wouldn’t work with Boris Johnson. This week, he says he would. Next week, nobody is sure what he said – or when he said it.

Nicola Sturgeon is First Minister. She has the authority of that office. She has the democratic mandate. Ruth Davidson is treated by the British establishment – particularly the media – as if she has the same status as the First Minister. She is presented as speaking with similar authority. She is allowed and enabled to claim a mandate that she doesn’t possess. Keep this up for long enough and with sufficient intensity and the distinction between First Minister and nonentity is blurred. Davidson’s pronouncement are afforded a weight they cannot legitimately have.

At FMQ, Richard Leonard persists in asking questions about reserved matters. This may be, wholly or partly, attributed to stupidity. But, deliberate or not, it has the effect of causing confusion about the powers of the Scottish Parliament and makes it easier to blame the SNP administration for the deleterious impact of British government policies.

Leonard’s evident stupidity is appalling. Davidson’s pretentiousness is offensive. Mundell’s hypocrisy is disgusting. The British media’s dishonesty is despicable. But put all this together and you have a phenomenon which is quite frightening.



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Noises off

Ian Murray applauds Richard Leonard for “listening to voters and acting so swiftly to change party policy”. But those of us who don’t possess a pair of Union Jack boxer shorts far less an entire suit cut from the ‘butcher’s apron’ may be considerably less impressed. Not being deluded British Nationalist ideologues, we will be aware that however dutifully Leonard’s announcement of support for a ‘confirmatory vote’ is applauded by the faithful (defined as those from whom Leonard has not yet received a complimentary dagger), the whole thing is totally meaningless.

Outside the orange-tinted ambit of Murray’s hard-line Unionism, we are well aware that so-called ‘Scottish Labour’ is not a real political party and that British Labour in Scotland (BLiS), as it is more truthfully called, has only cosmetic autonomy and absolutely no authority to make policy independently of its parent party.

The fact that Scottish Labour’s Executive Committee has endorsed Leonard’s call for the ‘party’ to back a confirmatory vote on any Brexit deal with Remain as an option on the ballot paper is of academic interest only to an academic whose paint has all dried. It is, to borrow a particularly apt theatrical term, noises off. Noises made offstage during a performance which are intended to be heard by the audience. Noise, in turn, may be defined as the part of a signal which carries no useful information.

If this conjures an image of Richard Leonard standing in the wings muttering random words and phrases solely for effect while being pointedly ignored by the main actors and barely impinging on the consciousness of the audience, then you’ve pretty much got the picture.

For the lolz, let us play the part of that ennui-afflicted academic and look at what it is Richard Leonard and Ian Murray are getting so excited about. Let’s see if we can tease from the BLiS statement what it is that they think is meaningful. Or what they want us to think is meaningful.

Firstly, there is talk of “a confirmatory vote on any Brexit deal”. Note the word “any”. Which seems to imply the possibility of a choice between or among more than one deal. But just about every politician and high official in the EU has stated in the most unequivocal terms that there will be no further negotiation. Negotiations are closed. Negotiations shall under no circumstances be reopened. The parrot is dead, Richard! It is not just resting! It is deceased! Expired! Kicking the cage and making out that it twitched is just plain dishonest!

There is only one deal. The deal that there is. The deal that has already been rejected rejected repeatedly by the British parliament. It is the pig that David Cameron wouldn’t stick his member in even after Theresa May put her best lipstick on it. There is only ‘Theresa May’s deal’. And, in the words of the statement issued by Richard Leonard, “Theresa May’s deal is dead”.

So, what is this “confirmatory vote” about? Is Leonard seriously proposing that there should be a referendum on whether to accept a dead deal? Or is he trying to peddle the notion that there might be a different, non-dead deal? Is he, in blithe disregard of everything that has been said by EU politicians and officials, clinging to the fantasy of fresh negotiations?

Or, as seems more likely, is the term “confirmatory vote” no more than noises off? Just sounds made for the sake of making sounds?

The other bit of noise that stands out is “Remain as an option on the ballot
paper”. What does our terminally bored academic make of that? Being an academic it is likely that no amount of tedium could stop her asking what Remain actually means. What does it refer to? And why does Richard Leonard not explain it any more than he does his concept of a “confirmatory vote”? Why are these terms just pumped out and left floating in the air like farts?

Even if Article 50 is revoked, there can be no return to the status quo ante. Too much has already happened. Too much damage has already been done by the bewildering madness of dumping all the solutions that the EU has come to provide for no sufficient reason and without either a viable plan or a credible alternative.

Even if there was the realistic possibility of a Remain victory in this referendum that Leonard makes noises about, there is certainly no political will to act on that choice. A 3-option referendum – Deal / No deal / Remain – is surely an idiocy too far even for BLiS. But the reality is that, even if there could be clear and deliverable options, there is no outcome of any UK-wide referendum on the EU which wouldn’t leave in exactly the same bind.

What is the point of a policy statement from a pretendy party which has no authority to formulate policy? What is the point of a referendum where the options cannot be defined and/or couldn’t be delivered? What is the point of BLiS?

More importantly, why is Scotland still being made to play a bit-part in this very British farce?



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A British accommodation

leonard_rennieThe latest bit of British jiggery-pokery with the EU power grab represented a potentially tricky situation for Richard Leonard and Willie Rennie. Their first instinct, as always, is to blame the SNP. But the sheer brazenness of the Tories’ cack-handed chicanery made things somewhat easier for the other British Nationalist parties. Not even with the worst #SNPBAD will in the world could Leonard and Rennie enthuse about the latest addition to the BritSpeak dictionary redefining ‘consent’ as… well… anything said or not said. To do so would leave them looking foolish as well as treacherous. And they prefer to do just one at a time.

Spare a thought for Ruth Davidson. She gets no choice in the matter. Looking daft and despicable is in her job description.

It would be folly, however, to mistake the position taken by Leonard and Rennie for anything akin to an honourable defence of Scotland’s interests. The dilemma for them is that, while they are happy to cooperate with the British Government’s efforts insofar as they are directed against the hated SNP, they are ever mindful that Holyrood represents their best – and in the case of the LibDems their only – chance of any meaningful political status. British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) craves a return to power in Scotland – even if it is on Tory coattails. For Willie Rennie, the prospect of a token post in a British party coalition at Holyrood allows him to cling to hope of a Dead Stoat Cloak.

Nothing would please Leonard and Rennie more than a ‘strategic retreat’ by the British government that would allow them to resume full participation in the ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project. They would be delighted if their Tory allies in London were to contrive an amendment to the amendment which was just less brazen and cack-handed enough for them all to get back into bed together again.

Of one thing we can be sure. If the British government does move on the Power Grab Clause, it will be solely for the purpose of finding an accommodation with the British politicians squatting in the Scottish Parliament. Scotland’s interests will not be a consideration.


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