A bad place

I’ve just read yet another blog peddling the idea that the mandate for a new independence referendum is entirely conditional on Brexit. 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.

And you can’t escape the import of that extract. Unless you wilfully distort it by excluding a big chunk of the text and even more of the context, that paragraph sets down two separate and non-mutually exclusive situations in which the Scottish Parliament “should have the right to hold another [independence] referendum”. Those two situations are –

(a) “if there is clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preferred option of a majority of the Scottish people”

AND/OR

(b) “if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014”

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”. Unfortunately, those who come to this section of the SNP manifesto having already made up their minds what it says tend to be oblivious to the bits that contradict their preconceptions.

It could easily be argued that it was a mistake to include that example. It may be maintained that by doing so the SNP was inviting precisely the kind of distorted interpretation presented in Barrhead Boy’s article, and so many other places besides. That British Nationalists would twist the words to suit their malign purpose was to be expected. The fact that so many in the Yes movement are happily parroting this British Nationalist propaganda is one of the reasons I have lately come to despair for the cause of independence.

Another reason is glib utterances such as “we do not have any instant easy fixes that can magically be deployed”. I am not aware that anybody has ever suggested any “instant easy fixes”. So this is, essentially, nothing more than a rather silly straw man deployed in preference to actually addressing the alternative process implied by the hashtag #DissolveTheUnion. The attitude seems to be that, if you don’t understand an idea and can’t be bothered making the effort, then simply dismiss it with some trite phrase.

But, a couple of days ago in the course of a near day long series of exchanges on Twitter, a realisation gradually dawned on me. It wouldn’t matter if there was an “instant easy fix”. Or, at least a relatively straightforward process by which we could advance the independence cause. It wouldn’t matter because what certainly seems to be the entire Yes movement has convinced itself that the process must be complex and convoluted in order to be ‘real’.

This notion is, I think, closely associated with the notion that the process must be ‘legal’. By which is generally meant, in accordance with whatever laws, regulations and rules devised by the British state are deemed to be relevant. The British political elite make hoops and we must jump through them. Once we have jumped through all the hoops, we’ll have completed a process that is ‘legally watertight’.

There is an obvious problem with this which, for all that it is so obvious, seems to elude those who insist on accepting ‘British’ as the definitive standard in all things. There is no limit to the number of hoops the British state can set up for us to jump through. So long as we meekly accept that we must jump through their hoops, they will always produce another one.

There is no route to independence which does not pass through a point at which there is direct and possibly unpleasant confrontation with the British political elite. If you are trying to contrive some ‘legal’ device by which to bypass that point, you are wasting time and resources. If you are not prepared to face that confrontation, then you are not committed to the cause of independence.

There is also a less obvious issue with this notion of ‘legality’. The relevant standard by which to assess the process whereby Scotland’s independence is restored is democratic not legal. So long as that process by which Scotland’s people exercise their right of self-determination is wholly and transparently democratic, then it cannot be ‘illegal’.

I am now resigned, however, to the fact that this fundamental truth is not going to gain anything like the required traction in the Yes movement. I don’t know how many times I’ve explained what that passage from the SNP manifesto actually says. Even though it’s written in English plain enough that you’d have to be motivated to misunderstand it. Nobody is listening! Likewise, the point about democratic legitimacy being more relevant than legislative compliance. Nobody is listening! Also the exploration of bold and decisive action – necessarily outwith what is permitted by the British state – to resolve the issue of Scotland’s constitutional status. Nobody is listening!

Another thing occurred to me in the course of that Twitter exchange. I’ve found myself in a place where Yes supporters frustrate and annoy me more than British Nationalists. That’s not a place I want to be.


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Seduced?

The National concludes an article on the latest frantic manoeuvrings in the grotesque Brexit farce with the words, “There was scepticism over how it would work.” In this instance, it was referring to a draft bill that “could see Brexit reversed”.

The bill would give the Prime Minister and Parliament six weeks to reach a consensus on a way ahead.

If they can’t agree, then May would be forced to either extend or revoke Article 50 unilaterally.

You can see why there are doubts about the viability of this scheme. But those eight words at the end of a piece in The National could apply to Brexit itself as well as pretty much everything Brexit-related. And particularly to all the measures being suggested as ways to resolve the situation created – or, at least, given force – by the 2016 EU referendum. There is cause for serious scepticism about how any such effort would work. They are products of denial about just how totally irreparable the situation is. Quite simply, Brexit can’t be fixed.

When David Cameron opened the can clearly labelled with a warning that the contents were potentially lethal he released a host of highly venomous worms. Those nasties are not going back in the can. To egregiously mix my metaphors, the genie of narrow, insular, xenophobic, supremacist British Nationalism isn’t for returning to its bottle. The Leave vote carried by England’s voters (with a little help from Wales) gave licence to the basest, meanest, shallowest and most mindless political dogmatism. No matter how it plays out, Brexit will poison British politics for decades to come.

Not even stopping Brexit will prevent this. In fact, revoking Article 50 would only serve to concentrate and strengthen the poison. Not that this should be seen as an argument against revoking Article 50. It is merely to point out that if this is done in the hope of resetting everything to some pre-Brexit state of relative political stability, then that is a woefully forlorn hope. Polls suggest that anti-EU sentiments are as prevalent now in England as they were in 2016. It’s as if the further the Brexit process descends into chaos the more support for it hardens. The more clear it becomes how much Brexit is going to hurt, the more a perversely macho and ominously militaristic ‘Empire / Dunkirk / Blitz / 19666 World Cup’ spirit is invoked. Desolation? Devastation? Ruination? Is that all you’ve got? Bring it on! We can take it! ‘Cos we’re British, innit!

The Mad Brexiteers are going to be just as angry at being denied the masochistic rapture of a catastrophic Brexit as others are at being subjected to its cruelty. That anger may dissipate over time. But it will do a lot of damage while it is a significant factor in British politics.

Brexit can’t be fixed. Not even by stopping it. Anybody working on the assumption that there is a way of resolving the Brexit situation is operating on a false premise. There is no resolution. No prevention. Only damage limitation.

But it is not only the ‘usual suspect’ who are hooked on the notion that Brexit can be fixed – either by changing it or by stopping it. The otherwise very sensible SNP also seems to have been entranced by the notion. Go the increasing annoyance of many in the party and the wider independence movement, Nicola Sturgeon et al seem to be prioritising relieving the UK of Brexit over relieving Scotland of the Union.

So intent is the SNP on saving England from its own folly that one of the most influential and, dare I say, revered figures in the party has recently set out a quite astounding proposal. speaking at an event in support of a ‘people’s vote’, Joanna Cherry MP said,

I believe that, ultimately, what may be required is a temporary cross-party UK Government to seek an extension of article 50, to hold a second EU referendum and then revoke art 50, before holding a General Election.

This is being talked about by many commentators, including influential commentators in Scotland such as Dr Kirsty Hughes of the Scottish Centre for European Relations and Lesley Riddoch the pro-independence journalist…

I confess, I had not heard this suggestion before. Or it might be more accurate to say that it hadn’t previously caught my attention. I may have seen some mention of the idea, but dismissed it for the nonsense it so evidently is. Not that this has prevented others enthusing about it. Lindsay Bruce, for example. penned an article for Wings Over Scotland in which he even suggests that this coalition might attract some “disgruntled Tories”. Think about that for a moment. The SNP subsumed into a UK coalition government dominated by British Nationalists and including Tories. Try selling that one on the doorsteps in Glasgow and Dundee!

Claims are made for the efficacy of this ‘unity government’ which rival in hyperbole even 1960s TV washing powder commercials. The amazing things it can do include, not only fixing Brexit, but getting Scotland a new independence referendum and a host of new powers for the Scottish Parliament in the meantime. It will, proponents assert, give Scotland a stronger voice in the British parliament and make everybody think the SNP is wonderful and persuade thousands of ‘undecideds’ that they should opt for independence. Truly, the Cillit Bang of coalitions.

But the claims made for this coalition idea are all empty assertions not supported by any facts, evidence or reasoned argument. Simply saying “the SNP will be better placed to ensure Scotland’s voice is heard” doesn’t make it true.

In reality, there is absolutely no reason to suppose that being subsumed in a coalition UK government dominated by British Nationalists would strengthen the SNP Westminster group’s position in any way. Even at an intuitive level, this seems exceedingly unlikely. Just putting the reality of the situation into words reveals how counter-intuitive is the notion that it makes the group better able to represent Scotland’s interests.

Fantasy politics and wishful thinking aside, being subsumed in a coalition UK government certainly doesn’t strengthen the SNP group and would almost certainly constrain it in ways that don’t apply to opposition parties. For all the unthinking enthusiasm greeting this notion in some quarters, I have yet to see any mention of a single thing that the SNP could do in such a coalition that it cannot do now. Nothing! Not a solitary thing.

We are assured that the SNP would be able to demand all sorts of concession in return for allowing itself to be subsumed in a British Nationalist coalition. But scrutinise this assurance for even a few seconds and it evaporates. Ask the important and relevant questions. Why would the SNP be offered any meaningful concessions? Why would they be offered any concessions at all? If such a coalition came about it would be politically impossible for the SNP to refuse to join it. Especially after having shown enthusiasm for the idea. British Labour, who would dominate the coalition, need only decline to offer any concessions and dare the SNP to put the coalition in jeopardy.

And even supposing concessions were offered, could the British Nationalists be trusted to honour their commitments? History suggests otherwise. History suggests you’d have to be a complete idiot to put your faith in any promises made to Scotland by any British party or politician. How easily some people forget.

Oh! But the coalition could stop Brexit! Or it could reopen the negotiations that the EU has stated emphatically will not be reopened! Really? This British Nationalist coalition will be dominated by British Labour. Do they look like they might be ready to revoke Article 50? How many of their MPs would rebel against such a move? And even if the EU could somehow be persuaded to reopen negotiations despite having stated repeatedly and with increasing insistence that they will not do so, does British Labour look any more capable of negotiating a ‘deal’ than their fellow British Nationalists in the Tory party? I don’t think so!

You can be absolutely certain that no SNP MP would be allowed anywhere near those negotiations. It is a flagrant denial of political reality to suppose that British Labour would want to strengthen the SNP in any way. They want to destroy the SNP. Anybody who hasn’t realised that by now must have their head up their arse. British Labour’s only reason for inviting the SNP into a coalition would be to control or constrain them. To limit their options. To weaken them. And they would only associate the SNP with the Brexit negotiations in order to blame them when things went wrong.

That’s real-world politics!

But let’s suppose there were concessions offered, despite British Labour having neither a need nor an incentive to do so. would they be meaningful at all? We’ve already seen how massively dubious is the notion that this coalition could or would stop Brexit. What about the ‘powers’ that might be promised to the Scottish Parliament?

Firstly, we have to acknowledge – if we’re being realistic – that all indications are that the British state is intent on reducing the powers of the Scottish Parliament – if not on abolishing it completely. This subject has thoroughly enough dealt with elsewhere, so there’s no need to rehash it now. We may simply note that the EU power-grab is a very real thing. As is the shadow administration being set up by David Mundell. Anybody who thinks that’s an end to the stripping of powers from Holyrood is deluded.

But this may not prevent the promising of further powers. So, if we have any sense, we must ask why the British establishment would promise new powers when its purpose is to undermine the Scottish Parliament. There are two reasons.

Devolution has always been more about withholding powers from the Scottish Parliament than granting them. Crucially, what is granted can be withdrawn. Real power is never given. Real power is taken. Power that is given is not real power. But in light of the licence given to it by the No vote in 2014, the British establishment went further. Rather than being a tool by which the power of the Scottish Parliament could be controlled, devolution was forged into a weapon to be wielded against the hated SNP. The manner in which limited powers over such as tax and welfare were framed was intended to set numerous political and fiscal traps for the SNP administration. This too is a topic which has been dealt with at length elsewhere. The only reason there is not more evidence of these political and fiscal traps is that the SNP administration showed itself to be remarkably adept at avoiding them.

What does this have to do with powers which might be offered to the Scottish Parliament for the purpose of luring the SNP into a coalition? Quite simply, with the EU power-grab the British state now controls procurement and standards. It has always controlled the budget. Budget! Procurement! Standards! Control these, and you control everything. Whatever powers may be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, policy can always be ‘guided’ in whatever direction the British state desires through its control of the key powers.

Powers promised as part of any coalition deal would be completely meaningless. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be offered.

It is, when you stop to think about it, blindingly obvious that the SNP has nothing to gain from allowing itself to be subsumed in a British coalition. And that’s before we consider the damage that would be done in terms of support for the party. The independence cause has nothing to gain from this daft coalition idea. The new referendum that might be promised and then might be allowed to actually happen is already ours. It is not in the gift of Westminster.

A Section 30 concession could be an even worse trap than those devolved tax and welfare powers. Going down the Section 30 route means accepting that the referendum could only go ahead on the basis of an agreement between the two governments. Edinburgh Agreement 2! The British government need only seek to impose unacceptable conditions – such as a qualified majority – and there’s no agreement and therefore no ‘legal’ referendum. The independence cause is advanced not one millimetre.

More importantly, Scotland gains nothing from the SNP being subsumed in this putative British Nationalist-dominated coalition. The party that is supposed to be Scotland’s voice in Westminster would be all but entirely silenced. If you think the British media ignores the SNP now wait until they are in a coalition with Jeremy Corbyn as its official spokesperson.

Of course, this multi-party coalition is too unlikely to be taken seriously. But it must be of some concern that senior figures in the SNP and the Yes movement are even talking about such a thing. It suggests to me that they have lost sight of the goal. They have been fatally distracted by Brexit. And, perhaps, fatally attracted to the convoluted games of British political. Too intent on proving how good they are at playing those games.

This is deeply regrettable. The idea that there is a path to independence through the arcane workings of Westminster is sheer folly. No matter how adept SNP MPs may be at navigating the maze. Scotland’s rightful constitutional status will not be restored by becoming part of apparatus of the British state. The very thing we seek to break with.

If Joanna Cherry is offering an insight to the way SNP MPs are thinking; if they truly have been seduced by British politics to the extent that she implies, then it is clearly well past time we brought them home.


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A third force?

Leaving aside for a moment the whole Brexit fiasco – doubtless to everyone’s great relief – it is worth noting that there is something rather interesting happening here as what in another time would have been referred to as the ‘minor parties’ at Westminster challenge, not only the government, but also the official opposition.

From a Scottish perspective, much of what has been happening in politics over the past three decades can be viewed as an increasingly desperate effort on the part of the British establishment to get back to ‘business as usual’. The British media, even more than British politicians, has evinced an almost frantic desire to return to the simplicities and certainties of the old British two-party politics that prevailed until the upstart SNP came along and made things complicated.

And now Westminster has been infected. The efforts to stifle, suppress and sideline the SNP contingent in the British Parliament have been to no avail. They’ve tried everything from EVEL to drowning out SNP MP’s contributions in the chamber with a cacophony of babble and barnyard noises. They’ve denied the SNP group at Westminster the opportunity to debate issues that have profound implications for Scotland. They’ve all but entirely excluded the SNP administration in Edinburgh from Brexit (sorry!) negotiations. They’ve worked assiduously to keep SNP politicians off our TV screens.

Despite all this, those pestilential ‘Nats’ persist in conducting themselves as if a clear and incontrovertible mandate from the electorate entitled them to a significant participatory role in the British political system. What the hell is wrong with these people!? They act as if being the third largest group at Westminster could possibly compensate for their appalling Scottishness.

Why can’t they just accept that their party, like their piffling little country and its pretendy wee parliament, is entirely peripheral to the ‘real’ politics of the British state? Why can’t they settle for the privilege of being allowed to sit on the glorious green benches in the divinely ordained ‘Mother of Parliaments’? Why do they insist on interfering in important matters best left to the British political elite?

The fact that the ‘smaller parties’ are uniting to confront the two ‘main parties’ is a highly significant development. It may not yet be an all-out revolt against the old order, but it sows the seeds. If the British establishment’s customary tactics of divide-and-rule can be overcome once, then this opens the way for further challenges to established power.

British politics is not evolved to cope with a third force. It has historically survived by eliminating potential threats early in the game; either by crushing them or by assimilating them. While being large enough and effective enough to have an impact at its heart, the SNP is sufficiently alien to the British political system to be quite indigestible. It cannot simply be absorbed. And it has proved remarkably resistant to being crushed. It is thus placed to be the core around which other elements of the political and geographical periphery might coalesce to form a third force capable of challenging, not only the old Tory/Labour duopoly, but the very structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.


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A significant day

The following is partly based on my notes for a speech given at the Hope Over Fear Rally in George Square, Glasgow on Saturday 15 September 2018.

“They wouldn’t be that stupid!” Thus did Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp pronounce his verdict on the UK Government. Admittedly, he was responding to the provocative suggestion that the British state might, at some point in the foreseeable future, declare the Scottish National Party a proscribed organisation. The founder and CEO of Business for Scotland (BfS) was answering questions from the audience at a meeting in the Grampian Hotel, Perth on Thursday night (13 September) jointly organised by Yes Perth City and SNP Perth St Johnstoun Branch. A packed room at the sell-out event had just watched Gordon give a slickly professional presentation setting out an economic case intended to bolster the constitutional demand for independence. Nobody does this better. Whether he is explaining how Scotland is economically disadvantaged by being part of the UK or setting out his vision of a new kind of ‘economics with a social conscience’, Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp presents his material with the confidence, conviction and comfortable good-humour of a man totally on top of his subject. On matters economic, he is utterly convincing. On venturing into the realm of politics, perhaps less so. It should be made clear, at this juncture, that the notion of the SNP being banned under UK law did not come from some bampot in a Bacofoil bunnet. The remark was made by a well-known and highly respected local Yes activist who was seeking to make a point about the lengths to which the British establishment might go driven by the imperative to maintain the British state’s grip on Scotland. The point being made was that we underestimate the manifest stupidity of the British political elite at our peril. I’ve no doubt there was a time prior to the 2016 EU referendum when the invariable response to suggestions that the British government might try to extricate the UK from the EU without so much as the pretence of any planning was, “They wouldn’t be that stupid!”. I know for a fact that right up to the moment Theresa May’s administration called a snap general election in 2017 there were people insisting that, “They wouldn’t be that stupid!”. Going back through the less recent history of the British state I’m certain one could identify any number of episodes which were, or could quite justifiably have been, preceded by the exclamation, “They wouldn’t be that stupid!”. Any expression of doubt about the British political elite’s capacity for stupidity risks giving the impression of naivety. Out of respect for Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, I’ll put it no more strongly than that. We would be stupid to imagine that the British state is benign. We would be stupid to ignore the fact that the British state is founded on a political union which contrives to deny to the people of Scotland the due and proper exercise of their sovereignty. We would be stupid to disregard the fact that the British state has already seized powers which must rightfully belong to the Scottish Parliament as the only Parliament with democratic legitimacy in Scotland. We would be stupid to neglect the fact that the British state has already awarded itself the legal authority to strip further powers from the Scottish Parliament at will. Or that it is in the process of establishing the necessary apparatus to administer those powers in the form of the ominously titled ‘UK Government in Scotland’. We would be stupid to remain oblivious to the British state’s efforts to marginalise the Scottish Government; delegitimise the Scottish Parliament; and, by means of a relentless propaganda campaign of distortion, disinformation and denigration, to undermine confidence in Scotland’s democratic institutions and public services. We would be stupid to suppose that there is no purpose to all of this. We would be stupid to imagine the purpose might have anything at all to do with serving Scotland’s interests. Given what is at stake, we cannot afford to be naive. We cannot afford to be complacent. We cannot afford to be stupid. “Brexit is the key!” This is another phrase that has remained firmly lodged in my mind following Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp’s presentation. The theory being that once the – presumably ‘unfortunate’- reality of Brexit fully impacts on the people of Scotland they will flock to the independence cause. I have a few problems with this. For a start, there is the perversity of wishing on the people of Scotland the worst that Brexit might bring. Call me old-fashioned, but I see it as the role of the progressive Yes movement to oppose every harmful policy that the British state seeks to impose on Scotland. Furthermore, I regard it as the solemn duty of the Scottish Government to protect us from such harm. The idea of facilitating potentially catastrophic damage for political gain is something I find utterly reprehensible and totally repugnant. Even if the gain were to be an end to the Union. Another problem with the ‘wait and see’ strategy is that it is quite falsely portrayed as a consequence-free option. I have yet to find any advocate of postponing action on the constitutional issue until ‘after Brexit’ who is even prepared to acknowledge that the British government will not be idle while we dither. The project to lock Scotland into a unilaterally rewritten constitutional arrangement is not going to be put on hold for the convenience of the hesitant and indecisive elements of the Yes movement. The process by which Scotland’s status within the UK is redefined continues independently of the Brexit timetable. That process is already in train. It is happening now. There is absolutely no rational reason to suppose it will be suspended until ‘after Brexit’. What does that phrase even mean? How might ‘after Brexit’ be defined? Brexit isn’t an event or an occurrence. It is a condition. It is a new and continuing reality – constitutional, economic, diplomatic, social, cultural and everything else. Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp spoke of a ‘Brexit deal’ as something being signed, sealed and delivered – with a full-stop gesture for emphasis – as if we are all going to awake one morning to a definitive awareness of all that is implied by being dragged out of the EU against our democratic will and without any plan or preparation. It is this awareness, together with an immediate tangible impact on pockets, which is proposed as the thing which will give decisive impetus to the independence campaign. This is deplorable, and potentially dangerous, nonsense. There will be neither clarity nor any moment of epiphany. Relations between the UK and the EU will be in flux for decades. The ‘deal’ will be a fudge and there will be just as many accounts of what Brexit ‘really means’ after it has supposedly happened as there have been to date. The theory that people will be firmly nudged towards Yes by the reality of Brexit is fatally flawed for another reason. It is not the reality that matters. What matters is the perception. And who controls the apparatus by which public perception is manipulated? The British state, of course! Even if it were true that “Brexit is the key!”, that key is entirely in the hands of a British state with a massive propaganda machine at its disposal. I don’t want the key to Scotland’s future in the hands the British political elite. I want the key to Scotland’s future firmly in the grasp of Scotland’s people. I urge that we seize that key with all due haste rather than wait in the hope that it will fall into our hands. I reluctantly acknowledge that there will be no referendum on Thursday 20 September 2018. History will judge whether I was right to press for this date. But my main purpose in pressing for action at the earliest opportunity remains valid. All too evidently, there is still a need to inject a sense of urgency into the independence campaign. It was immensely heartening to see elected SNP politicians on the stage at the Hope Over Fear Rally. The warmth with which they were received by the crowd in George Square – by no means all ‘natural’ SNP supporters – clearly indicated how welcome this engagement is. There was a palpable sense of something akin to relief that here, at last, was some sign of the de facto political arm of the independence cause reaching out to connect with the grassroots Yes movement in a way that the bulk of the Yes movement is now reaching out to the SNP. I am surely far from alone in entertaining the fervent hope that the appearance of SNP elected members at a Hope Over Fear Rally, and the manner in which they were welcomed, signifies something meaningful for the independence cause. Perhaps a start to restoring a unity which has, on occasion, seemed a bit fragile. Perhaps something more. But the impetus which will drive the final stage of our project to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status will not come from those SNP politicians alone. That impetus must come from rank-and-file SNP members and the grassroots Yes  movement. We must stand ready to provide that impetus. We must continue to demand action. We must be determined to break the Union.

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Hear the fear

britsThree things are evident in the response of British politicians to the SNP’s proposed day of action and, indeed, to any form of democratic engagement with or on the part of the ‘ordinary’ people of Scotland. The first and, perhaps, the most obvious is their contempt for the democratic process. Or, to be more precise, their disdain for any form of democratic activity which they do not control. People doing politics is not the British way. The British tradition is that politics should be left to the professionals. Politics is the business of a self-defining and self-perpetuating elite. Other than on the few occasions when they are shepherded into polling pens, the sheeple should not presume to participate.

The British ruling elite regards democracy as an indulgence to be grudgingly bestowed upon a generally unqualified and undeserving population in carefully controlled portions. Too much democracy, like too much alcohol or too much sugar or too much money, is bad for those not equipped by breeding and schooling to deal with it. Political power is a privilege. And privilege is, by definition, for the privileged alone.

So it is that also evident from the content and tone of British politicians’s utterances is their eagerness for a swift return to the comfortable formality of a terpsichorean two-party system. The SNP is hated not least because it declines to fall into step with this well-choreographed routine, preferring to dance to the tune of Scotland’s distinctive political culture. The SNP is regarded as dangerous and threat to the British state because it knows the steps of the British political ballet well enough to join in when this suits its purpose. And that purpose tends to be to trip British politicians.

Nowhere is the British establishment’s disdain for democracy and contempt for the electorate more evident than in the fanatical opposition to a new constitutional referendum. The principle of popular sovereignty is anathema to British Nationalists; whose ideology coalesces around the concept of ‘the Crown in Parliament’ and political authority emanating from a divinely ordained monarch. This is the tenuous foundation on which rest the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. Structures which are threatened by the fundamental democratic principle that the people are the sole legitimate source of all political authority.

When British politicians feverishly denounce the idea of Scotland’s people exercising their right of self-determination, their voices tremble with the dread knowledge that a new constitutional referendum will bring those structures of power, privilege and patronage crashing down.


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‘Twixt desert and mountain

pfgPublication of the SNP administration’s Programme for Government (PfG) is welcome, if for no other reason than that it provides some real politics for us to chew on rather than the meagre fare of what has been a particularly vacuous ‘silly season’. Pretty much anything would be a treat after a diet of smears, sensationalised trivia and the festival of stupidity that is Brexit.

Impressive as the PfG is – and there’s some fairly bold stuff in there – it will be subjected to the customary mindless pillorying by the British politicians squatting in the Scottish Parliament on seats that should be occupied by a functioning opposition. They will castigate it for reasons that are inconsistent and contradictory and, not infrequently, inane. They will criticise it in ways that raise doubts about whether they’ve actually read it. They’ll excoriate policies that they’d previously embraced and bemoan the absence of policies they’d previously condemned.

In short, the British parties will continue to behave like ill-bred bairns. They will continue to disgrace Scotland’s Parliament, besmirch Scotland’s politics and embarrass Scotland’s people.

The public will doubtless continue to ignore these British politicians; as they have done for the eleven years that they’ve been electing SNP governments on the grounds of general competence and satisfactory performance. The whining and carping of the British parties has become no more than the background noise to a political culture in which they are increasingly struggling to find any relevance. The crashing disconnect between the crisis, calamity and catastrophe stricken Scotland they proclaim and the Scotland of everyday lived experience reflects, and is reflected in, the disconnect between the British parties and Scotland’s people.

Intellectually crippled by bitter, resentful hatred of the SNP and fanatically obsessed with preservation of the British state at any cost, the British parties have almost totally lost touch with the realities of Scottish politics, and seem daily more out of place in Scotland’s distinctive political culture.

The British media echo and amplify this weird and woeful perspective on Scotland and, accordingly, the people of Scotland tend more and more to dismiss and disregard them. The traditional media is losing something more than its audience. It is losing its authority. Respect has been squandered as trust has been betrayed. A media sector which is 80%-90% supportive of British Nationalist ideology cannot speak meaningfully to an audience which is at least 50% opposed to that that ideology. People just stop listening.

What the representatives and agents of the British establishment say about Scotland’s politics can safely be ignored. For the most part, they are not talking to us or even about us. They are blaring propaganda at us from a place outside the Scotland we know.

If Nicola Sturgeon has a problem it is not with these representatives and agents of an increasingly alien British state. The downside of quiet competence is that it doesn’t ignite any fires. The disadvantage of a moderately good record in government over a long period of time is that it becomes the norm. It comes to be taken for granted. There is a danger that voters – especially those who have forgotten the past or never known anything different – will suppose that this quiet competence is just the way things are. There is a risk that the satisfactory record may cease to be associated with an SNP administration. Voters might suppose that the gains of the last decade are secure. Or that further progress might be won regardless of who they vote for.

The SNP could well be a victim of its success. It may have so firmly established principled pragmatism as the ethos of the Scottish Government that voters will think it a fixed attribute – a constant on which they can rely even as administrations change.

Nicola Sturgeon has to tread a cautious path between the desert of dull managerialism and the mountain of raised expectations. Whether the SNP administration’s Programme for Government achieves this remains to be seen. But one thing is certain. It is not the verdict of the British parties and the British media which matters. The people of Scotland will decide.


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The SNP needs a jolt of Yes energy

nicolaThat was all going swimmingly… until the final paragraph. Lesley Riddoch’s analysis of the BBC’s “problem of properly representing Scotland” is, as we would expect, accurate and insightful. Although I would suggest that, given the corporation’s remit to preserve the integrity of the UK, the question is, not so much whether senior BBC managers can personally accept the possibility of Scottish independence, but whether they can allow this possibility to be publicly acknowledged.

It is slightly curious, too, that Ms Riddoch neglects to mention the extent to which British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) is embedded in BBC Scotland. Perhaps she thought that, since her focus was the constitutional issue, it was acceptable and appropriate to gloss over the party political aspects of the BBC’s “problem of properly representing Scotland”. Or maybe she just considered it redundant to remind us of BBC Scotland’s tendency to look and sound like the broadcasting arm of BLiS.

These quibbles aside , Lesley Riddoch has it about right with regard to what I have referred to as the “jarring disconnect” between the BBC and Scotland’s politics.

In Scotland, the concept of independence has been normalised. In the BBC, it never can be. The big question, therefore, is this – how can the BBC possibly serve an audience in Scotland when it is so evidently inherently incapable of relating to that audience?

She’s not far off the mark in her criticism of the SNP either. Even someone like myself, who is often accused of ‘blind partisan loyalty’, can readily agree with Ms Riddoch’s conclusion that the party is failing to provide the leadership that the independence movement requires – and requires rather urgently.

Two things need further explanation hear. Firstly, the concept of leadership has to be understood in this context, not as the movement being led by the SNP, but as the movement taking its lead from the SNP. This is very much in keeping with what Lesley Riddoch sees as a “miss by the SNP”.

At the start of 2018, Nicola Sturgeon famously called for “a new spirit of Scottish assertiveness“. It has to be said that, while the “emboldened, more confident and more assertive nation” that she envisaged emerging in the course of this year has been increasingly evident on the streets and on the web, it has been noticeably less evident in the SNP’s rhetoric on the constitutional issue.

There is no doubt that the SNP could have done a great deal more to reflect the growing assertiveness of the grassroots independence campaign and help convey to a wider public the sense of anger and urgency which is now as much part of the spirit of the Yes movement as hope and determination.

Whether this would have influenced the output of BBC Scotland in any way is questionable. But the effort should be made – and be seen to be made.

The second thing that needs to be expanded upon is the facile accusation of ‘blind partisan loyalty’ levelled against those who are willing to run the gauntlet of such vacuous vilification in order to emphasise the crucial role that the SNP plays – as a party and as an administration – in providing the focus for the coming referendum campaign and the effective political power which that campaign requires. Stating that the SNP is essential to the independence cause is not evidence of blinkered loyalty to the party, but of commitment to the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence combined with a pragmatic appreciation of how this will be achieved.

Which brings us to where Lesley Riddoch goes wrong. The suggestion that even a “properly organised and funded Scottish Independence Convention” might be some kind of alternative to the SNP is fallacious. I wrote the following a year ago, and have found no reason to change my view since then.

I have great difficulty seeing how SIC can credibly speak for the grass-roots Yes movement when it is so predominantly given over to a relatively small but inordinately assertive faction founded on a simplistic belief that ‘radical’ is synonymous with ‘righteous’.

Most of all, I worry that SIC has no popular mandate; nor any means of acquiring one. I worry, too, that the SIC – and thereby the aforementioned faction of ‘righteous radicals’ – intends to ‘piggy-back’ on the electoral mandate of the SNP in a way that will be found unacceptable by the party’s membership and considered inappropriate by the general public.

In order to succeed, the independence movement needs effective political power. In order to be effective, that political power must have democratic legitimacy. It is not obvious how SIC might achieve this. It’s not even clear that the importance of democratic legitimacy is recognised by those in charge of SIC.

All of this remains true no matter how much the SNP is seen as failing – or inadequately serving – the cause of independence at any given moment. The party may occasionally disappoint. But that cannot be a justification for giving up on it and directing our energies elsewhere. Rather, when we feel that the SNP is flagging, we should be motivated to redouble our efforts to get it back on track.


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