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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Disaffected Tories need a home

Ashley GraczykMichael Fry unabashedly entertains the notion that removing or reducing extraordinary impediments that limit ability to fully participate in the democratic process amounts to having the state “select for its favours one particular category of person”, and that this presages total state selection of candidates for elected office. But that may not be the worst of the silliness on display here.

Mr Fry’s account of Ashley Graczyk’s “conversion” is woefully misguided. Her every comment on the matter indicates that she was not so much won over to the SNP and convinced by the case for independence as driven to abandon the Tories and reject the Union. Her conversion is attributable less to a glorious epiphany about the merits of the SNP and the benefits of independence and more to a grim realisation of how appalling the present-day Tory party is and recognition of the fact that the Union is irreparably broken and increasingly deleterious to Scotland.

This throws a very different light on the vocal condemnation of the Tories which Michael Fry finds distasteful and considers counter-productive. While it may be reasonable to have some qualms about the manner in which execration of the Tories is sometimes expressed, the example of Ashley Graczyk strongly suggests that we should doing much more to encourage Conservatives – and conservatives – in Scotland to question their allegiance to a party which bears little relation to the one which enjoyed such massive support in 1955. And which suffers fatally by comparison.

By the same token, the manner of Ms Graczyk’s conversion implies that, at least as much as we try to win we should Tories over to the idea of independence, we should be urging them to question their assumptions and preconceptions regarding the Union. We should be doing all we can to induce them to take a long hard look at what the Union actually means for Scotland.

Of course, the SNP must always strive to be the natural home for all who put the welfare of Scotland’s people before the dubious interests of the British state. It is, after all, the national party of Scotland. The party of the entire nation. But there can be nothing wrong with pointing out to genuinely Scottish Tories that they are in the wrong place.


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Playing the game

scotlands_parliamentThe British establishment hates and fears the SNP because it is truly an alien force in their midst. It operates within the British political system, but is not part of the British political system. It has been inserted into the structures of power privilege and patronage which define the British state, but is is not beholden to those structures. It has been imposed upon established power by the people of Scotland, but refuses to accept that the latter are, as a consequence and condition, subordinate to the former.

By the British political elite’s own rules, the SNP formally represents the people of Scotland. It not only forms the administration at Holyrood, it also has the largest number of MPs, outnumbering all the British parties combined. In itself, this would not be a problem. It becomes a problem for the British establishment because the SNP doesn’t just insist on representing the people of Scotland, it insists on being accountable solely and exclusively to the people of Scotland.

From the British establishment’s point of view, this makes the SNP a serious menace. It cannot be controlled. It is not susceptible to the customary blandishments or vulnerable to the usual threats. At Westminster, the SNP group is taking the arcane rules and archaic procedures which are supposed to baffle and foil ‘rogue elements’ and turned those tools of suppression into weapons of mass disruption. The managers have no sanctions that aren’t likely to rebound on them. The manipulators can get no purchase. The ‘men in suits’ have no influence.

Conventional power always begets a countervailing power. The SNP represents an element of that countervailing power manifested in ways and places that the conventional power of the British establishment is totally unaccustomed to, unprepared for and bemused by. It’s just not supposed to be this way!

Some will seek to dismiss the SNP Westminster group’s behaviour, accusing them of ‘playing games’. But politics is a game. Or, at least, it is closely akin to a game in that it involves moves and counter-moves. The moves being made by Ian Blackford and his troops are not at all whimsical. The disruptive tactics are part of a larger strategy. There is a point to all of this which will become evident in due course.

In the meantime, British establishment figures will continue to protest. They will object indignantly that the SNP is not ‘playing the game’. The real reason for their discomfiture, however, is that the SNP is playing the game rather too well.


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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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