The formula

There’s a distinct note of desperation in the way senior SNP figures can’t speak of the Ashcroft poll without using terms such as “phenomenal”. Like those people at major celebratory events who are trying just that wee bit too hard to look like they’re having the most fun anyone has ever had. Who are they trying to convince?

In Keith Brown’s case, that would be us – party members and the rest of the Yes movement. The SNP leadership has seized on the Ashcroft poll with the eagerness of someone accused of a serious crime who has suddenly been offered an alibi. At last! Something they can represent as vindicating the relentless waiting that has become their only discernible strategy.

But all the purple prose and rhetorical superlatives cannot long divert from the fact that, approaching five years after the first referendum, the independence cause has not been advanced one millimetre by anything attributable to the SNP. It will be protested that they are doing stuff now, such as Citizens’ Assemblies and the Referendums Bill. But that merely prompts questions about why these things weren’t done two or even three years ago.

By their reaction to the Ashcroft poll, if nothing else, the SNP demonstrates the importance it attaches to such indicators of the public mood. So the fact that the polls have barely twitched while the British political elite has been behaving like a troupe of demented clowns must say something about the SNP’s ‘strategy’. And nothing very complimentary. If there was a ‘secret’ plan to take advantage of the disarray among British Nationalist politicians then it has been so secret as to leave no impression either on the polls or on the consciousness of observers.

And before the idiot SNP-haters get their smug faces on, this also demonstrates that the Yes movement can’t do it alone. Because nothing the Yes movement has done in the last few years has had a significant impact on the polls either. If anything, this simply proves the need for the SNP and the Yes movement to work together.

But even if all the parts of the independence movement were working well together, they would still require some kind of strategy. And ultimate responsibility for setting that strategy must rest with the SNP. The Yes movement has a vital role to play in developing the strategy. Having no hierarchical structures of its own, however, the Yes movement has to rely on leadership provided by the SNP. The SNP has not done nearly enough to connect with and draw on the people power and campaigning resources of the Yes movement. The Yes movement has to do better at utilising the political power and organisational resources of the SNP.

Kenny MacAskill’s criticisms of the First Minister may be largely, if not wholly, justified. But this is not a time for recriminations. Opportunities have missed. Time has been squandered – in particular the extra year’s grace afforded by the Article 50 extension. Rather than making us bitter or despondent, this should goad us into efforts to make up for the time that has been lost and create new opportunities to replace those that have been missed.

Developing an effective campaign strategy requires that the SNP and the Yes movement work together. As I wrote three months ago – evidently to no avail,

An accommodation must be found. Factionalism is most certainly not any kind of solution. It is, in fact, a way of avoiding the difficult task of finding that accommodation between the SNP and the Yes movement – and among all the elements of the independence cause – which will allow each and all to be effective.

In the Yes movement, we have come almost to worship diversity as the greatest of virtues. For a movement, this may be true, But for a campaign, the greatest virtue is solidarity. In celebrating our diversity, we have fallen into the habit of talking about our differences, rather than that which we hold in common. Recognition that “we all want the same thing” tends to come as an afterthought to lengthy discussion of distinctive policy platforms – if it comes at all. We talk about our respective visions for Scotland’s future, relegating consideration of the key to that future to somewhere lower down the agenda.

The single point at which all the elements of the independence cause meet is the Union. The thing that everybody in the independence movement agrees on is that the Union must end. It cannot even be said that all agree on independence. Because there are differing ideas about what independence means. There is no ambiguity whatever about the imperative to end the Union.

It is a happy coincidence that the point at which all the elements of the independence campaign come together also happens to be the British state’s weakest point. So, let’s not talk of factions. No faction is going to prise Scotland out of its entanglement in the British state. This will only be achieved by the four constituent parts of the independence campaign acting in accord. The SNP as the lever. The Scottish Government (Nicola Sturgeon) as the fulcrum. The Scottish Parliament as the base. The Yes movement as the force.

And let us all agree that the object we are acting against is the Union.

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Waiting for worse

What’s going on in the upper echelons of the SNP? What is the current thinking on Scotland’s predicament? Is there a plan, or even an intention, to address the constitutional issue? When is the First Minister going to act, and what is she going to do?

These are the questions preoccupying many, perhaps most, people in the Yes movement. We are all looking for clues. We scrutinise every statement made by Nicola Sturgeon and every article written by senior figures in the SNP seeking some indication of what the immediate future holds. As often as not this turns out to be a disappointing and even a depressing activity.

Pete Wishart’s latest musings and mutterings from Perthshire is a case in point. Anyone looking there for hints as to the SNP’s thinking would come away wondering if the party leadership is even aware of Scotland’s predicament. They might well suppose there is no constitutional issue at all for all the attention it gets. They would be in no doubt that, for Mr Wishart at least, the overriding concern is. not so much Scotland’s fate as the party’s – and his own – electoral fortunes.

Clues come early. The article is titled The total humiliation of Ruth Davidson. The very first sentence reads “the Scottish Tories are in trouble”. This sets the tone for the whole article. Now, I’m sure we all relish Ruth Davidson’s embarrassment. But the fact that Davidson’s abasement is now a commonplace of Scottish politics rather takes the edge off the schadenfreude. I’m equally sure that most people in Scotland are perfectly OK with the Scottish Tories being in trouble. But I suspect many will feel that, however delightful the turmoil it has provoked in the Scottish branch of the British Conservative & Unionist Party, the implications for Scotland of Boris Johnson’s elevation to the role of Prime Minister are of considerably greater importance.

There is passing mention of the fact that Johnson being PM means a majority of Scottish voters would vote for independence. But nothing at all about whether or when they might get the opportunity to vote for independence. It is clear that, for Pete Wishart, what matters is the fact that Johnson is an “electoral liability”

Of course, electoral success for the SNP is important. Indeed, it is crucial to Scotland’s cause. If only there were any indication that Pete Wishart sees Ruth Davidson’s woes in that context. But it seems that the constitutional context figures in his thinking hardly at all. The entire focus is on winning the next election.

Having read his article, I anticipate more than a few comments about Pete Wishart being overly concerned with keeping his seat. I would invite those contemplating such comments to grow up and have a wee think. Of course the man is concerned to keep his seat! Why wouldn’t he be? What is wrong with that? Pete Wishart is a career politician. It has been a very successful career. It stands to reason that he would not wish it to end in electoral defeat.

Winning Perth and North Perthshire for the SNP is Pete Wishart’s job. Of course it is important to him. He serves his constituents well. And, simply by holding that seat in the British parliament he makes a valuable contribution to the cause of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. Criticising him for wanting to win is just plain stupid.

What is troubling is the thought that this latest article from Pete Wishart might tell us something about the attitudes and priorities of the SNP leadership. It is one thing for individual elected members to give precedence to their electoral prospects. That, as has been noted, is their job. Getting elected is their immediate task. But the party as a whole has wider concerns and different priorities. We would hope that these concerns and priorities are shared by those who lead the party. Those who are also the nation’s political leaders.

I have frequently observed that the SNP is very good at winning elections. Perhaps not so good at single-issue political campaigns. It is only to be expected that they will play to their strengths. Which suggests that an electoral route to independence might well be their preference. That the ‘Plan B’ proposed by Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny is actually the ‘Plan A’. It may well be that the SNP is pinning the hopes of the Yes movement on an early UK general election and a big win. And it’s not only Pete Wishart giving this impression. Angus Robertson also seems to think the mandate for a referendum needs yet more confirmation.

If this is the way the SNP leadership is thinking then it would certainly explain the present inaction. As ever, it seems to be a case of waiting for the British government to do something. Waiting for events to play out. Waiting for ‘clarity’. Waiting for the ‘right time’. Waiting.

In electoral terms, this may be a valid strategy. If your opponents are in disarray and making themselves unelectable it makes sense to let them get on with it. When the votes are counted in Perth and North Perthshire it makes no difference whether Pete Wishart has won or the Tories have lost. Pete returns to Westminster either way. In the context of the independence campaign, however, waiting for our opponents to lose just won’t work. Because the things that are an electoral liability for the Scottish Tories and causing Ruth Davidson great embarrassment are developments which strengthen the British Nationalism which is the real threat to Scotland.

My fear is that the SNP leadership may have come to confuse and conflate electoral success for the party with success for the independence cause. But beating the Tories is not enough. The Tories are not the problem. The Union is the problem. Even the total collapse and disintegration of the British Conservative & Unionist Party does not spell victory for Scotland’s cause. It means only the advent of an even greater threat to Scotland’s democracy. Defeating the Tories will only leave us facing an even more determined and more ruthless manifestation of British Nationalism.

Personally, I’d rather not wait for that.

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A question of courage

A remark by Dr Craig Dalzell on his Common Green blog caught my attention. In an article discussing the post-independence fate of the British state’s nuclear arsenal on Scottish soil, he writes,

… it may be that the Scottish Government simply isn’t brave enough to demand the removal of the weapons…

Controversial as this statement may be, it was not what was suggested that struck me, but my reaction to it. Six months ago – maybe even three months ago – I would have responded angrily that it is totally ridiculous to imagine the SNP would renege on its commitment to remove this abomination from our land. I would have objected strongly to the suggestion that an SNP administration might go into talks with the British government unprepared and timid.

I would have pointed out what a strong hand the Scottish side in talks on the independence settlement would have. I would have mercilessly mocked the notion that SNP politicians could be unaware of that strength, or unwilling to use it.

Don’t get me wrong! I continue to be absolutely persuaded that arrangements for the removal of Trident will be a very important part of the settlement. The British state’s weapons of mass destruction must go. That is a political imperative. The precise nature of the arrangements will depend on a number of factors. But the bottom line is a red line. Trident must go!

No sane, sober and sensible person supposes that the whole shebang will be shut down and shipped out on day one. The single strong card that the Brits will have is safety. And that card trumps pretty much everything. The Scottish Government cannot set an unrealistic deadline for removal of the British state’s nuclear paraphernalia. It may be that the Scottish Government cannot set any kind of deadline at all without risking accusations of compromising safety for the sake of politics. But, whatever the arrangements are, it must be clear that the end-point is the total removal of Trident.

Personally, I favour the ramping rent solution. Craig Dalzell nicely sets out the problems – and potential problems – with a leasing arrangement. The danger that the Scottish exchequer grows over fond of – or reliant on – the revenue. The risk that a short-term lease becomes a long-term lease and then a rolling lease. I believe these issues can be overcome by making the lease increasingly expensive for the British state – rent rising annually by a percentage that also increases – so that there is a financial imperative to move out but no political pressure which might be portrayed as the Scottish Government lacking due concern for safety.

Also, revenue from the lease should be ring-fenced for one-off capital projects that otherwise would be unlikely to be funded. That way, Scotland’s budget doesn’t become dependent on income from the lease.

All of which is by way of an aside. The discussion of options relating to removal of Trident is interesting. But what troubled me about Craig Dalzell’s comment was the suggestion that ” the Scottish Government simply isn’t brave enough”. And the fact that, unlike a few months ago, I now felt disinclined to reject this out of hand.

I now find my self obliged to consider the possibility that the Scottish Government just isn’t brave enough. The long months, stretching into years, of hesitancy and prevarication and general reluctance to confront the constitutional issue has drained the confidence that I once had in the SNP and in Nicola Sturgeon.

The other day, as I was writing about the implications for Scotland of Boris Johnson being anointed British Prime Minister, I paused to reflect on how the Scottish people would react to something like the Scottish Parliament being ‘suspended’. Obviously, there would be anger. But I was surprised to find that, in my imagining, the anger was directed, not at Boris Johnson, the British state or the Union, but at the First Minister and the Scottish Government and the SNP. Being able to imagine something doesn’t make it true or likely. But continuing to envisage it, not in a reverie, but in the light of cold political analysis, causes alarm bells to ring.

The great American aviation pioneer and author, Amelia Earhart, once said,

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.

For far too long the de facto political arm of Scotland’s independence movement has been characterised by indecision and inaction. Whatever good the SNP administration has been doing – and it is undeniable that it has done a great deal of good – in terms of providing leadership for the independence movement and taking forward Scotland’s cause, the SNP’s performance has fallen far short of the hopes and expectations of many in the Yes movement. Opportunities have been missed. Initiative has been lost. Momentum has been squandered.

Maybe it’s true. Maybe the Scottish Government just isn’t brave enough.

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Limp gestures

I am not at all averse to gesture politics. Political gestures can be very effective. Given that they are intended only to attract attention or create an impression, it is difficult for them to fail. And it is perfectly possible for the political gesture to have an impact far greater than the minimum intended. If you doubt me, consider that we are right now celebrating the outcome of arguably the biggest political gesture ever. Neil Armstrong’s small step onto the surface of the moon was the culmination of a political gesture of almost unimaginable magnitude.

On 25 May 1961 when President John F Kennedy made that historic speech in which he committed the USA to a manned moon landing within the decade he was responding to the Soviet Union’s successes in the area of space exploration with a bit of willy-waving on a grand scale. Look at the numbers. By 1967 the Apollo employed more than 400,000 people who spent $200bn in today’s money – 4% of the entire federal budget.

The willy they built – better known as the Saturn V – stood 111 metres tall and weighed over 3,000 tonnes. Waving this particular willy required 6.35 million kilograms of thrust.

As a political gestures go, the Apollo programme is unlikely to ever be surpassed. Fifty years on, the world is still in awe of the Apollo 11 mission’s achievement. So, let’s not dismiss gesture politics.

The SNP Westminster group’s commitment to sit with their arms folded when Theresa May makes her final Prime Ministerial appearance in the House of Commons isn’t quite on the same scale. Which doesn’t mean it isn’t important. But it isn’t. The gesture pales into insignificance, not next to the Apollo space programme, but in comparison to those same MPs’ walkout during Prime Minister’s Questions a little over a year ago.

That’s the problem with political gestures. You’ve always got to top the last one. Unless, like Apollo, it’s one that cannot ever be topped. When a political gesture falls flat its like you wave your willy only to have it drop off and roll down a drain. At which point the willy-waving metaphor just got distinctly uncomfortable.

But a political gesture doesn’t only have to be impressive in relative terms. In absolute terms, it must also meet the expectations of whichever constituency you are seeking to impress. Or satisfy their hopes. Given what Scotland’s independence movement expects from the SNP, declining to applaud Theresa May cannot but look utterly pathetic. If your audience is hoping for the moon, don’t expect them to get exited by being presented with some tawdry bauble.

Right now, a large and growing part of the Yes movement is expecting the SNP to stand up to the bullying British political elite. They hope to see the SNP defying the asserted authority of the British state. They want the SNP to do something bold and decisive.

We’re not asking the SNP to send a man to the Moon. But we are looking for a lot more than them thumbing their nose at some silly convention.

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Bold words

Bold words from Ian Blackford. We get a lot of bold words. What we don’t get is much in the way of effective action. The SNP’s Westminster leader assures us that he and his colleagues “will not sit idly by” while a British government led by Boris Johnson imposes a no-deal Brexit on Remain-voting Scotland. But what can they actually do?

It looks very much as if the SNP’s obsession with Brexit has blinded them to the fact that it stands as but one particularly egregious example of how the Union impacts Scotland. They seem to have forgotten that their purpose is, not merely to stop Brexit, but to stop Scotland’s democratic will being rendered null and void by a political union which acts to deny the people of Scotland the full and effective exercise of their sovereignty.

It appears that the SNP will do anything to stop Brexit except pursue, as a matter of urgency, the restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status.

What is this talk of a no-confidence motion but yet another instance of the SNP dutifully abiding by the rules and procedures of the British political system? A system designed to protect and preserve the structures of power, privilege and patronage which constitute the British state. A system which, not at all incidentally, treats Scotland’s elected representatives with cold contempt. If there was any possibility of a no-confidence motion threatening established power, the SNP would be prevented from following that procedure.

And make no mistake, once Boris Johnson becomes Prime Minister, as is generally expected, he immediately embodies established power. No matter how much of an idiot he may be, or what kind of jeopardy he promises, he is the British Prime Minister. The status of that high office must be maintained whoever the incumbent may be. Because, as with the absolute monarchy from which it derives, all power flows from that office and depends on its status.

When the SNP is not targeting Brexit, they’re targeting the Tories. And when they’re not targeting the Tories, they’re targeting whoever happens to be the British Prime Minister. The one thing they never seem to target is the Union. Which is more than a little disappointing given that the Union is the issue. Whatever party is in power at Westminster; whoever happens to be Prime Minister, and whatever policy is being imposed of Scotland against the will of the people, it is the Union which empowers that party, enables that Prime Minister and facilitates the imposition of policies which are anathema to Scotland.

Put a different party in government! Nothing changes for Scotland! Install a different Prime Minister! Nothing changes for Scotland! Succeed in stopping a particular policy being imposed! Nothing changes for Scotland! Nothing changes for Scotland so long as the Union maintains its baleful influence over our land.

Nothing changes for Scotland until we #BreakTheUnion. The only way to break the Union is to #BreakTheRules. The SNP isn’t even trying to break the Union because the SNP isn’t prepared to break the rules of the British political system.

We have a problem. The problem is that the SNP is the problem. The further problem is that only the SNP can resolve this problem. And the problem with that is that to resolve the problem the SNP would have to do the very thing which is the cause of the problem because they refuse to do it.

Until the SNP is prepared to confront the British political elite with more than bold words from Ian Blackford, Scotland’s cause is stalled. Becalmed at the very moment when it should be driving forward with every ounce of energy the Yes movement can put behind it.

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Bad advice

Is any of this so surprising? The Hope Not Hate survey merely highlights a trend which has been apparent for some time. It’s helpful to have that trend confirmed. But how helpful depends on how the information is used. How it feeds into the political thinking and strategies of the main players.

The bold thing to do is to try and catch the trend early and ride it to a preferred outcome. The cautious choice is to wait and see how the trend goes before doing anything.

No prizes for guessing which approach is favoured by the SNP. If caution doesn’t win the day in Scotland’s party of government and the de facto political arm of the Yes movement, it’s because hyper-caution has already done so. Rarely has any political party enjoyed so much reason to be confident. Never, I suspect, has cause for confidence had so little visible effect. The SNP behaves as if it is the one facing electoral obliteration and not the British parties.

The trend highlighted by the Hope Not Hate survey is exceptionally strong. Strong enough to be showing dramatic shifts in voter attitudes. This suggests it is unlikely to be a long-term trend. Dramatic swings tend to trigger powerful corrections. Catch the trend too late and you may get caught in the backwash. Wait too long and you miss it altogether.

The SNP seems unwilling to take any risks at all. Not even where there is the possibility of a massive pay-off and little downside. The party is tentatively edging along that fine line between risk aversion and total paralysis. Which is difficult to explain under the circumstances. This is a party which enjoys unprecedented levels of support. And support which has remained remarkably solid for an exceptional length of time. No party in history, I suspect, has seen its opponents in such a state of self-destructive disarray. The power differential between the SNP and the British parties in Scotland is massive.

But you’d never guess any of this from the way the party behaves.

All I’m looking for is a sense of urgency. Scotland’s predicament warrants it. Right now, watching the Scottish Government is like watching firefighters polishing their appliances while your house is ablaze. It’s no wonder that, within the Yes movement, enthusiasm is turning to impatience; impatience to frustration; and frustration to anger. All aggravated by the fact that, with a few notable exceptions, the SNP leadership acts as if the Yes movement doesn’t exist or isn’t worth bothering about.

As I do what little I can to promote the sense of urgency I feel the situation requires, I get a great many clichés thrown at me by people who find them a convenient substitute for thinking. Typical of these is the one about how you should never interrupt your enemy when they are making mistakes. Really?

What happens if you don’t interrupt your enemy while they’re making mistakes? They keep on making mistakes! And if those mistakes are hurting people, people keep on getting hurt. Meanwhile, you’re not taking advantage of those mistakes. Because the cliché says you mustn’t. So, just by thinking about it for a moment, we discover that this is just about the worst advice that could be given to any political campaign.

But it looks very much as if the SNP is heeding just such dreadful advice. The Hope Not Hate survey suggests the party’s opponents are making some whopping great mistakes. And the SNP is declining to take advantage.

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Wrong target II

Once again, I find myself unable to be shocked by this ‘revelation’. I, and many others, were warning well ahead of polling in the 2014 referendum that one obvious consequence of a No vote would be increased, and more brazenly invasive, efforts to bypass and undermine the Scottish Parliament.

Holyrood’s fate was sealed in 2007 when voters ended the British parties’ domination by electing an SNP government. The British state’s imperative to rein in Scotland’s democracy was made all the more urgent when, in 2011, the Scottish electorate casually broke the system which had been designed to ensure that the Scottish Parliament would always be under the control of one or more of the British establishment parties.

The enthusiasm of British Labour in Scotland for devolution was almost entirely a function of their belief that this would guarantee them a permanent power-base in Scotland. Their Tory partners were prepared to tolerate devolution only because they were confident that, whatever power the Scottish Parliament might afford British Labour, it would always be insufficient to pose a threat to a Tory government in Westminster. And, of course, because they were assured that the Union would never be compromised. For all the rhetoric, when it comes to keeping Scotland in check, British Labour is considered a safe pair of hands by the British establishment.

No voters handed the British political elite a licence to dispose of Scotland as they pleased. Did hose No voters seriously imagine the British political elite wouldn’t use that licence to the full? What was it about the history of the British state and its treatment of Scotland which led them to this staggeringly naive belief?

For those of us not afflicted by this credulousness, it comes as no surprise whatever to find British politicians conspiring to emasculate Scotland’s only democratically legitimate parliament. The Union requires this. The fact that the Scottish Parliament represents a form of democracy which cannot be managed by the apparatus of the British state means that it must be crippled or destroyed. No challenge to established power can be tolerated. Any moves towards restoring to the people of Scotland the sovereignty which is theirs by absolute right must be thwarted. Dissent must be rendered manageable. Distinctiveness must be wholly eradicated. All in the name of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism.

What is disappointing – if not, in the light of late experience, surprising – is to find SNP politicians presenting this assault on Scotland’s democracy as exclusively, or even particularly, a Tory project. This implies a disturbing failure to recognise the nature of Scotland’s predicament. A predicament which cannot be resolved to the satisfaction of democratic principles simply by a change of government at Westminster, or the installation of a new British Prime Minister in Downing Street.

Correspondence, both private and public, with others in the Yes movement leads me to the certainty that I am not alone in the fervent wish that SNP politicians would desist from treating Scotland’s cause as a mere party political contest with the British Tories and afford that cause its deserved status as a battle for the integrity of Scotland’s democracy.

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