‘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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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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