Face off!

There is a tone of bemused incomprehension in David Mundell’s remarks concerning the Scottish Government’s position in the current wrangle over powers. He simply cannot understand why the Scottish Government refuses to bend to the will of the British state. The concept of a fundamental principle is totally lost on him. Accustomed to a political culture in which supposedly cherished precepts are reduced to mere trade goods, Mundell is obviously deeply perplexed by the SNP administration’s disinclination to do business.

Mundell clearly supposes that a vote of the Scottish Parliament might be bought with a meaningless ‘concession’. As a mark of the British political elite’s contempt for Scotland, this would be bad enough. But the assumption that the Scottish Government might be had so cheaply may signal something arguably far worse than mere disdain for Scotland and its people.

Most of us, it is safe to assume, recoil in disgust from the uber-patriotic ideology encapsulated in the expression, ‘My country! Right or wrong!’. How much more repugnant is this kind of mindless exceptionalism when it relates, not to a country, but to a particular ruling elite and the political system by which it maintains its status. A certain commitment to the land one calls ones own may be normal, even admirable. But unthinking devotion to a select group and dogmatic belief in this group’s righteousness is the very essence of extremism.

David Mundell is genuinely shocked that anyone should challenge the authority of the British political elite with which he identifies. He is sincerely baffled by the SNP’s refusal to accept the supremacy of Westminster and their insistence that the will of the Scottish Parliament must be respected. He must know, at some level, that the ‘concession’ being offered by the British government is as worthless as the tawdry beads and shiny baubles with which European imperialist colonisers sought to purchase the servitude of indigenous peoples. But Scotland is supposed to be grateful for whatever it receives. We have no right to anything. Whatever the British state may offer is to be accepted with humility. The value of the ‘concession’ lies, not in its effect, but in the fact that it is being proffered at all by our superiors.

The SNP isn’t playing the British political game of token opposition readily bought-off with some trinket. They were supposed to follow the example of British Labour in Wales and meekly accept Westminster’s authority to seize devolved powers in return for a totally unconvincing assurance that this would be temporary.

The dispute between Westminster and Holyrood is not mere haggling over powers. It is a truly momentous clash of political cultures. On one hand we have the openly anti-democratic ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism so ably represented by David Mundell. On the other, we have a political culture based on fundamental democratic principles such as popular sovereignty and the right of self-determination being defended by the SNP. The latter is alien and incomprehensible to the former.

Depending on who prevails, Scotland’s democracy will either survive and prosper, or be crushed out of existence. Mundell and his fellow British Nationalists may be incapable of appreciating the Scottish Government’s stance, but they certainly recognise the threat posed to the established order by the wave of democratic dissent rising in Scotland.


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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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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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Politics meets physics

pushedCarolyn Leckie informs us that she finds it tiresome to be told that, regardless of their standing in the Yes movement, non-members of the SNP do not enjoy the same status within the party as those who actually pay their dues as members. It irks her, apparently, that SNP activists have the gall to insist that she has less right to influence party policy than those who devote their time and resources to working through the SNP’s democratic internal procedures.

Imagine my dismay.

I don’t suppose Ms Leckie is much interested in the actual views of an actual SNP member; preferring her own grotesque caricature of blind party loyalty, bigoted intolerance and political sectarianism. But what I find tiresome are the entirely redundant reminders that the SNP is not the independence movement. What irks me is the notion that it’s frightfully clever and a sign of great political sophistication to contradict a claim that nobody has ever made.

What irritates me is high-minded lecturing about the vital importance of “broad alliances” when I am aware that it was the SNP which, prior to the first independence referendum, set up Yes Scotland precisely to facilitate such alliances. I surely won’t be the only SNP member to find this supercilious scolding all the more annoying when I recall so vividly the hours spent on streets and doorsteps and on campaign buses and in meeting halls the length and breadth of the country in the company of similarly motivated people from across every divide in Scottish society bar the one that separates those who aspire to a better, fairer, more prosperous nation from those devoted to the preservation of an anachronistic and dysfunctional political union at whatever cost to Scotland.

I wonder at the lack of self-awareness which allows Carolyn Leckie to recognise that the Scottish Government is being pounded daily by the media while rebuking those who seek to defend against this propaganda onslaught for supposedly succumbing to the temptation to denounce anyone who criticises the Scottish Government or deviates from SNP policy. To point out the folly of those within the Yes camp who thoughtlessly parrot the British Nationalist narrative of the mainstream media is in no way equivalent to branding them “some kind of traitor to the Yes movement”; and to suggest that it is seems no more than an attempt to silence those who condemn pointless sniping at the SNP administration.

Nobody is suggesting, or ever has suggested, that the SNP administration should be immune from criticism. But those who have sense enough to recognise how essential the SNP is to the independence project should also be sensible enough to avoid the temptation to denounce the Scottish Government or the party on the basis of smears, distortions and downright lies promulgated by media they know to be massively prejudiced. And those who dont have the wits to avoid this temptation fully deserve whatever condemnation comes their way.

Which brings me to another thing that I find tiresome. Namely, those whose eagerness to flaunt their non-SNP credentials overwhelms their intellectual appreciation of realpolitik. I am irked by someone who can acknowledge that the SNP is by far the “largest chunk [of the independence movement] , in terms of both activists and voters” but then insist that it is the SNP which must accommodate the minority who have “no strong affinity with the party”.

To put it bluntly, what is being suggested is that the leadership of the SNP should disregard the membership and the policies and positions developed by the party as whole to do the bidding of that part of the Yes movement which chooses not to participate in the process of developing those policies and positions.

Stripped of all the fine rhetoric about broad alliances this can be seen for the totally unrealistic nonsense that it is.

Carolyn Leckie is so intent on delivering her three lessons that need to be taken on board by both the SNP leadership and the party’s activist base that she remains woefully oblivious to even the possibility that it might be she and others who opt for waggy-fingered lecturing over open-minded listening who have lessons to learn.

Let’s not get side-tracked by puzzling over an appropriate way of responding to the haughty presumption that bids such people think they have the right and the authority to dictate to the SNP leadership and party activists. Let us, instead, remain focused on a rational consideration of the lessons that might usefully be taken on board by those who prefer to pontificate from the giddy heights of the moral and intellectual superiority they supposedly gain by standing proudly aloof from the hot, sweaty, noisy engine-room of democratic politics.

The SNP is the de facto political arm of Scotland’s independence movement. The Yes movement needs to learn, not just to acknowledge this incontrovertible fact, but to embrace it. The Yes movement needs to learn to celebrate the fact that the independence project at last has access to effective political power. Most crucially, the Yes movement needs to learn how this effective political power can be used most effectively. And, just as importantly, how the SNP cannot be used.

The SNP cannot possibly be a vehicle for every pressure group, political faction and policy agenda in Scotland. It can only ever be a vehicle for the policies and positions determined and/or approved by the membership. These constraints cannot simply be ignored. The party cannot realistically be expected to bend to the whim of any or every part of a Yes movement which is so extraordinarily diverse.

The SNP not only isn’t the independence movement, it cannot possibly be the independence movement. It is, by any reasoned analysis, impossible for the SNP to be the independence movement. Which only makes the incessant reminders that it isn’t the independence movement all the more irritatingly, irksomely, tiresomely superfluous.

Next lesson! The SNP is absolutely essential to the independence movement. It is the de facto political arm of the independence movement. It has taken decades to grow that political arm. The independence movement will not quickly grow another political arm should this one be lost or crippled. So the Yes movement needs to learn to look after it. It doesn’t matter a **** whether or not you like the SNP, it’s all you’ve got. Its all you’re going to get in anything remotely close to the time-frame within which we must act if Scotland is to be saved from the ravages of a rampant One Nation British Nationalist ideology.

The Yes movement needs to learn, if not to love the SNP, then at least to accept the vital role that the party plays in achieving the aims of the Yes movement. (I might add that political progressives also need to learn that, whatever their opinion of the SNP, it represents their best and almost certainly their only hope of maintaining a political environment in which progressive politics can at least survive.)

Let’s now put these two lessons together and see where that takes us. We know two things. We know that the SNP is absolutely vital to the independence project in that effective political power is required and only the SNP is in a position to provide that effective political power. We know that the SNP cannot be the independence movement in that it cannot accommodate within itself all the diversity of the independence movement. What conclusion do we arrive at when we put these two pieces of knowledge together?

The obvious conclusion is that it must be the wider independence movement which accommodates the SNP. There is no other way that it can work. The error made by Carolyn Leckie and all too many others is to start from the conclusion that the SNP must do all the work needed to facilitate those “broad alliances” and work backwards from that shaping their arguments to serve this preconception.

The Yes movement must learn that, to succeed, there is no alternative but to accept the SNP as it is. Because, even if the party was as susceptible to external pressure as some want it to be, not even internal influence is going to change the SNP into something that accords with every facet of the Yes movement. I repeat! The SNP cannot possibly be the independence movement. It can only be a tool of the Yes movement. And the Yes movement better learn how to use that tool both thoroughly and quickly.

The analogy (recently adapted slightly) which seems to find most favour with those who have appreciated the realpolitik goes like this –

  • The SNP is the lever by which Scotland will be extricated from the Union.
  • The Scottish Government, and particularly the First Minister, represents the fulcrum on which that lever moves.
  • The Scottish Parliament is the solid ground on which the fulcrum rests.
  • The Yes movement is the force which must be applied to the lever in order to make it work.

Remove, disable or weaken any part of this arrangement, and the entire effort fails. Perhaps the best lesson a non-SNP member can learn is some basic Newtonian physics.

NOTE: It was necessary to edit this blog as, when I started writing it, the article appeared under a different by-line.


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Vive la difference!

jackie_baillieThe deal to save BiFab is, of course, wonderful news for the communities that would have been severely affected by closure. It is also a bright day for Scottish politics. There is no doubt at all that this deal would not have happened without the intervention by the Scottish Government. And every reason to suppose that it would not have been achieved, or even attempted, by the British parties. The Tories would have shrugged off the suffering of people and families, insisting that their lives were a necessary sacrifice on the altar of ‘market forces’.

British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) would have been paralysed with indecision and riven by internal squabbling. One faction would want to throw taxpayers’ money at the problem. Another faction would quietly relish the closures and ensuing devastation of communities as a useful example of capitalist failure. They’d have held lots of meetings and marches and rallies at which career politicians would jostle for media attention. Once the media lost interest, so would BLiS. The yards would have closed. livelihoods would have been lost. BBC Scotland would find a way to blame the SNP.

So, what is it that allows the SNP to succeed in these situations where the British parties have a record of inaction or failure? I would suggest that it largely comes down to a question of attitude. Where Tories would look at the BiFab situation and see it in terms of economics and BLiS would see it only as a political difficulty (or opportunity), the SNP tends to see a problem affecting people that needs a practical solution.

Where Tories ask how the situation can be rationalised and BLiS ask how the situation can be exploited, the SNP ask only how it can be sorted.

In an article for the January issue of iScot Magazine I wrote,

“What is significant is that the SNP administration seems to have been intent on finding the measures which might be effective regardless of dogma or popularity. No ‘focus groups’. Just expert panels. And no ‘Big Fix!” hype. No suggestion of simple solutions. No suggestions of solutions at all. Just the idea of progressive change – over time-scales that pay scant regard to the kind of electoral imperatives that drive other parties.”

I get annoyed at people who make facile generalisations about politicians and political parties being ‘all the same’. Clearly, they aren’t. Quite evidently, there is something different about the way successive SNP administrations go about the job of running Scotland’s affairs. Something that allows them to achieve things that British parties couldn’t.

In that iScot Magazine article I put this difference down to Scotland’s electoral system and the way it has facilitated the emergence of a distinctive political culture. I argue that the SNP is different because it was better placed to adapt to, and take advantage of, the new political climate in a way that the ‘old’ parties aren’t.

“The SNP has enjoyed electoral success – winning every election for ten years – because, as a party new to government, it is open to a new political culture in a way that the British parties cannot be – due to historical factors and the intrinsic nature of the British political system within which they are embedded.”

The SNP is attuned to Scotland’s political culture in a way the the British parties are not. The party is embedded in that political culture in a way the British parties can’t be. We see the evidence of this, not only in major achievements such as saving BiFab, but also in relatively small things that nonetheless represent a more progressive politics than we’d previously been accustomed to. Baby boxes are one example. And the changes to the tax system which, while small in terms of their impact on people’s pockets, are highly significant in that they are a break with the old ways.

Not that Scotland’s politics has totally rid itself of the old ways. Difference is relative. As much as we see the difference between the SNP and the British parties in the actions of the former, that difference is also evident in the way the latter behave.

Look at the reactions from the British parties to the news announcement of the deal to rescue BiFab that was so skillfully brokered by the SNP administration. Neither Willie Rennie nor Jackie Baillie so much as acknowledge the efforts of the Scottish Government.

But that kind of bitter, partisan pettiness is the old politics. Now is a time to celebrate Scotland’s new politics. Just don’t expect that any of the British politicians squatting in Scotland’s Parliament will join in the celebration.


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The options

procrastinationI am aware that many in the SNP and the wider Yes movement want this debate about the timing of a new independence referendum to just stop. Pete Wishart may be one of those who wish it had never started. Or so it would seem from his flat refusal to answer questions about his own highly controversial position or to engage in any way with those responding to his call for indefinite postponement of the referendum. On Twitter, there has been a steady drip of people urging an end to the discussion. Apparently, we’re not supposed to entertain any difference of opinion. Pretty much everybody agrees that timing of the referendum is critical. So critical that we must avoid talking about it. No, I don’t get it either.

Personally, I’m glad the issue has come to the fore. Unlike Pete Wishart, I am more than happy to have an open and frank debate. I don’t see how this debate might be avoided. It’s the elephant in the room. And it’s not easy to sweep an elephant under the carpet. If the discussion gets heated, that’s a measure of its importance. It’s not a reason for closing down the debate, as some wish to do.

If people don’t want to participate in the debate, that’s OK. But don’t tell me or anybody else that we should shut up about the matter just because it makes you uncomfortable. Your comfort is not my concern. And don’t tell me or anybody else to shut up because the debate is ‘damaging the Yes movement’. If the Yes movement isn’t robust and resilient enough to cope with vigorous debate than it’s unlikely to be fit to go up against the might of the British state.

Discussion of the timing of the referendum has been valuable, not least on account of the way it has revealed the attitudes of some of our elected representatives. The British parties, needless to say, have no role in the debate. We are all aware of British Nationalists’ fervent, anti-democratic opposition to the exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination.

We can safely discount the British politicians who exhibit such disdain for democracy, not to mention contempt for the people of Scotland and their Parliament. But what of the others?

Pete Wishart has nailed his colours unequivocally to the spectral mast of a ghost ship called ‘Optimum Time’. Others, such as Chris McEleny, have exhibited a greater sense of urgency. Which, to be frank, was hardly difficult. Now we have Keith Brown, who seems to be telling us that it doesn’t matter how urgent the situation may be, the SNP isn’t ready. Here’s a senior figure in Scotland’s independence party; the de facto political arm of the independence movement, telling us that putting a timescale on the referendum is the wrong priority. Groping for a term to apply to that attitude, the (printable) one that comes most readily to mind is ’lackadaisical’.

It seems Keith Brown expects the tides and currents of politics to cease and desist while the SNP gets its act together. Which makes him a bit of a Cnut. (Note to historians: Cut me some slack, eh! It’s a good line.)

The most sensible comment I’ve heard so far from any SNP politician is Angus MacNeil’s observation.

Some people think you can only ever have two referendums ever. And when you’ve got that into your heads, then you become afraid of having it in case you lose it.

Pete Wishart’s afraid of losing because he thinks the country isn’t ready. Keith Brown’s afraid of losing because the SNP’s not ready. I’m afraid of losing because of what will then happen to Scotland. But I’m just as afraid of what will happen to Scotland if we delay the referendum. Because it’s the same fate either way.

The thing that’s missing from comments about timing of the referendum made by SNP politicians is any acknowledgement of what the British government is likely to be doing while we procrastinate. We have British politicians openly talking about unilaterally rewriting the devolution settlement and powers being stripped from the Scottish Parliament with the threat of further rolling back of devolution. We hear them state their intention to impose “UK-wide common frameworks” that only the terminally naive suppose will be limited to the likes of food standards and animal welfare – although that would be bad enough.

We are told that, in the new ‘One Nation’ British state, “discrepancies” across the four nations will not be tolerated.

We are warned that the British political elite will not allow anything to damage their “precious, precious Union”.

Even if we couldn’t work it out for ourselves, we are now being explicitly told what fate awaits Scotland if the monstrous ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project is not halted.

And yet our politicians seem oblivious. Not once have I heard any of them address this threat to Scotland’s democracy. I have been deeply immersed in the debate about when we should hold the referendum. I have yet to find any Postponer who is willing to even acknowledge that the British government will be doing something while the SNP sorts out it’s internal organisation and Pete Wishart waits for a burning bush to tell him of the coming ‘Optimum Time’. (Note to Biblical scholars: Give me a break, eh! It’s a nice image.)

It’s as if, in the scenarios they consider, the British government ceases to exist. The British political elite is simply disregarded. The British state’s pressing imperative to lock Scotland into a ‘reformed’ Union is just ignored. The ongoing ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project isn’t a factor. It doesn’t figure in the Postponers’ calculations when they’re considering timing of the new referendum.

Caution may be advisable in certain circumstances. Nobody can sensibly contest the fact that the SNP’s ‘gradualist’ strategy has been successful to date. But the gradual approach has no defined end-point – unless and until you create one. At some juncture, you have to make the final leap. You have to do something bold. You have to act.

All this talk of waiting for ‘optimal conditions’ to spontaneously emerge from the political ether and stopping the political roller-coaster so the SNP can change it’s underpants totally misses the point. The choice is not between going now (September) and losing, or going at some later date (defined only vaguely or not at all) and winning. The choice is between the absolute certainty of the British Nationalist project relentlessly eroding Scotland’s democracy at an accelerating pace, or the possibility of stopping that project in it’s tracks before it can do irreversible damage.

Of course, it’s just a possibility. But it’s the only chance we have. There’s a good reason the Postponers are reluctant to discuss their alternative plan for stopping, or even slowing, the British Nationalist juggernaut. They don’t have one!


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Seeing the change

Kevin McKenna’s perspective on Scottish politics, while better than most, continues to be marred by a tendency to succumb to the cosy consensus of the mainstream British media. He correctly identifies the way Brexit has altered the whole dynamic of Scotland’s constitutional debate. But only insofar as that debate is conducted in the language of economics. He perceives the opportunity that the grim car crash of Brexit offers to the SNP. But hardly rises above the salacious, sensationalist style of the British gutter press as he describes this opportunity only in terms of political scavengers feeding on economic roadkill.

Of course, McKenna is far from alone in imagining independence is entirely a matter of economics. Large parts of the Yes movement regard the issue in the same way. Not a few prominent SNP politicians come at the whole subject of Scottish independence as if it was all about the money.

The anti-independence campaign’s principal weapon has always been doubt. In order to most effectively deploy this weapon it was necessary to move the battle onto the ground of high finance, where the British state could field its cavalry of ‘independent economic experts’ bearing lances of doom-laden data; wielding swords of portentous statistics; protected by the armour of corporate media; augmented by journalist mercenaries; supported by the spear-carriers of the British political parties; provisioned by the quartermasters of big business; blessed by the priesthood of broadcast punditry; cheered on by a rag-tag rabble of banner-waving British Nationalist zealots, spittle-flecked bigots; posturing patriots; prostituting functionaries, attention-seeking celebrities and forelock-tugging sheeple. Such was the army sent forth by the ruling elites of the British state on a mission to defend their power, privilege and patronage. Such was Project Fear.

The constitutional issue was reframed as an economic problem which the Yes campaign had to solve while the No campaign reserved to itself the exclusive authority to unilaterally and arbitrarily redefine the terms of the question so that no answer was ever correct or sufficient. And there the debate remains. Having followed the British state’s forces onto the battleground of budgets and borrowing and debt and deficits and currency and credit and money and markets, the independence movement now faces the daunting task of shifting the debate back where it belongs – in the realm of constitutional justice.

You can’t address democratic deficiency with an abacus. You can’t solve the issue of sovereignty with a slide-rule. You can’t answer a constitutional question with a calculator.

For commentators such as Kevin McKenna, Brexit impinges on the constitutional question only in terms of its economic impact. The advantage to “the Scottish nationalists” is crudely represented as a chance to exploit the economic consequences of a catastrophe wrought by a weak, inept and irresponsible British political establishment totally in thrall to a manic clique of zany xenophobes, demented isolationists, deluded exceptionalists and nut-job nativists. There is little room left for discussion of the constitutional aspects of the Brexit process. And little enthusiasm among political journalists for exploring those aspects.

The tragedy is that so many of those who should be leading the independence campaign are instead being led into this same shallow, simplistic analysis. There is a view, apparently quite widely held within the SNP and the wider Yes movement, that the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence is best served by having the Brexit fiasco run its ill-fated course in the callous hope and justified expectation that the ensuing economic suffering will drive Scottish voters to the lifeboats of secession.

Other than passing mention of the fact that Scotland is being dragged out of the EU against the will of it people, there is little or no acknowledgement of a constitutional dimension to Brexit. Among all the talk of imminent economic catastrophe, there is no very evident appreciation of Brexit as an impending threat to Scotland’s democracy. In the case of political commentators such as Kevin McKenna this is merely disappointing. In prominent SNP politicians it is disconcerting and distressing.

Which brings us back to Mr McKenna’s perspective on Scottish politics, and his propensity for shovelling the same dross as the mainstream British media, even if speckled with the odd glint of distinctive perspicacity. In his closing paragraph we find recognition of the massive grass-roots Yes movement whose existence is rarely, if ever, acknowledged by London-centric media accustomed to associating the independence issue entirely and exclusively with the SNP.

But McKenna immediately spoils the impression of an astute and informed journalist by dropping back into the narrative of the mainstream British media. Having risen above the herd by mentioning the “network of Yes groups all across Scotland”, he promptly rejoins it by talk of these groups “demanding more autonomy from SNP central control”. As anybody even marginally involved in the Yes movement will confirm, there is not now nor was there ever anything even vaguely resembling “SNP central control”. Indeed, a common and persistent complaint throughout the first referendum campaign was of inadequate direction from either Yes Scotland or the SNP.

If Kevin McKenna genuinely supposes the Yes movement is merely a tool of the SNP, and isn’t just saying this for effect, then he is woefully ignorant of the facts.

McKenna’s sadly distorted view of the Yes movement is only confirmed by talk of Yes activists’ “abuse of independence supporters who do not favour the SNP”, as if this was a prevalent attitude among independence campaigners and a ubiquitous feature of their online rhetoric. There is certainly widespread criticism, even condemnation, of those who advocate for British Nationalist parties and politicians while purporting to be part of the Yes movement.

From time to time, disapprobation of this duplicity may be expressed in robust terms. But, if one is properly mindful of the hypocritical contradiction involved in claiming that urging people to vote for British establishment parties is consistent with the aims of the independence campaign, then the criticism and condemnation is entirely warranted. Resorting to the term ‘abuse’ is a well-establish device by which those so inclined seek to obscure and divert attention from the real issue.

If Kevin McKenna truly had a finger on the pulse of Scottish politics then he might sense a growing rejection of the idea that independence is an economic issue rather than a constitutional matter. He might detect increasing dissatisfaction with the ‘wait until the ordure enters the air-con’ approach to Brexit. He might notice a greater emphasis on the constitutional implications of Brexit.

He might even discover that, contrary to the fallacy he perpetuates, the Yes movement is tending more and more towards acceptance of the fact that the SNP is the de facto political arm of the independence movement. There is increasing recognition of the crucial role of the party in providing the effective political power that is essential.

He might find that it is this pragmatic appreciation of the part which the SNP must play which is driving criticism of those who continue to insist that independence can be achieved by some alternative means – the details of which are never explained.

Were Kevin McKenna more attuned to the everyday realities of Scottish politics and less influenced by the cosy consensus of his colleagues in the British media, he might observe a change in the whole tenor of the constitutional debate. He might feel the tide turning.

Things have changed. But not only because of Brexit. And probably not in the limited and superficial ways Kevin McKenna imagines.


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