Not good enough!

The LibDems are throwing vows at the Scottish electorate again. I’m sure we all remember the one that was signed by the then LibDem leader, Nick Clegg, a couple of days before the 2014 vote. Now Jo Swinson is promising “practical steps to ensure that Scotland and Wales both have strong voices in the future of the family of nations”. It’s déjà vu all over again!

Of course, Swinson could only sensibly make this promise if the one made more than five years ago hadn’t been honoured. Even in the crazy world of British politics it wouldn’t make any sense to offer in an election manifesto something that had already been delivered. In 2014 we were assured that Scotland would “lead” if we did not leave. The voters chose to accept that offer. But instead of the promised leading role, we got EVEL.

The promise to ensure that Scotland has a “strong voice” in the UK has to be treated with great scepticism. Even if it was possible, why would we want a “strong voice” in the UK when we can have a strong voice in the world simply by dissolving the Union and becoming a normal country once more?

But it isn’t possible. We know that Swinson’s promise won’t be kept for two reasons. Firstly, the fact that the LibDems are proven liars. Secondly, the fact that the main purpose of Union is to ensure that Scotland cannot have a meaningfully influential role in the UK.

The Union is a constitutional device by which the people of Scotland are denied the full and proper exercise of their sovereignty. This, too, is proved by observable the reality. Scotland actually has a strong voice. The Scottish Parliament is our voice. But the British establishment parties deny the authority of the only parliament which has democratic legitimacy in Scotland. When our Parliament. When our Parliament says there is a mandate for a new independence referendum, the British parties simply refuse to recognise the validity of that mandate.

Scotland has a strong voice in the large number of SNP MPs we elect. But when they try to speak in the British parliament they are treated with utter contempt.

Scotland has a strong voice in it’s people. But when the people of Scotland vote decisive in favour of remaining part of the EU, we are told our vote doesn’t count. It doesn’t count because the Union decrees that, no matter how strong it may be, Scotland’s can never be stronger than that of England-as-Britain.

On Thursday 12 December, we have an opportunity to speak loud and clear to Jo Swinson and her counterparts in the other British establishment parties. By voting in overwhelming numbers for SNP candidates in the coming UK general election we can send the message that we do not want a “strong voice!. We want an equal voice! And the only we can have an equal voice is by dissolving the archaic, anomalous, grotesquely asymmetric Union and restoring Scotland’s status as a normal independent nation.



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Johnson’s game

During the 2014 referendum campaign when Better Together / Project Fear was peddling scare stories about Scotland being expelled and excluded from the European Union, one of the reasons I gave for discounting this possibility was the fact that the EU bureaucracy takes a pragmatic rather than a dogmatic approach to such issues. That pragmatism means they tend to be somewhat flexible in seeking to find ways of resolving issues which entail as few complications as possible. Which is why they would all but certainly have opted for the two successor states solution had Scotland voted Yes.

Boris Johnson has evidently learned the lesson of the EU’s pragmatism and flexibility. He took advantage of it to secure the semblance of a ‘new deal’ despite the EU insisting that negotiations were closed. He obviously assumes he will be able to pull off the same trick as regards securing something that can be portrayed as a ‘trade deal’ before the end of the transition period.

There is no way a fully worked-out trade deal can be completed in the time available. Not even if the UK administration was remotely competent. The evidence of Brexit tells us they are anything but that. Johnson is depending on the EU going along with his little ploy just for the sake of not stirring up a crisis.

Expect a rerun of the antics leading up to Johnson declaring that he had squeezed a brilliant new deal out of the EU. The trade negotiations will involve incessant carping about the EU not cooperating and trying to bully ‘poor little Britain’. Meanwhile, the tiniest movement on the part of the EU will be declared a major concession and a triumph for ‘powerhouse Britain’. The British will take exorbitant credit for anything that can be spun as a success by the British media. All criticism will be deflected onto the EU bureaucrats and, if possible, political opponents.

The EU could put a stop to these silly games. But they won’t. That would involve taking a firm stance of the kind that is not compatible with pragmatism.



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Hope versus experience

Ian Blackford’s insistence that the next British Prime Minister will somehow be compelled to grant a Section 30 order is beginning to sound a bit desperate. Almost as if he’s trying to convince himself that respect for democracy will be the deciding factor. His entire argument hinges on the British political elite deciding that the imperative to preserve the Union is outweighed by the demands of democratic justice.

Does Jackson Carlaw sound like someone who has any understanding of democracy, far less respect for it, when he says “we will never give Nicola Sturgeon #IndyRef2” ? Does Boris Johnson’s bombastic ranting about “once in a generation” give the impression that he’s prepared to make any concessions to democracy?

However hard Ian Blackford tries to persuade himself, and us, that democracy must surely prevail, we cannot long avoid the reality that Carlaw’s ignorant, arrogant bluster represents the true attitude of the British establishment. And that includes Jeremy Corbyn.

Just as Ian Blackford entertains quaint notions about the British state deferring to fundamental democratic principles, so some are naive enough to suppose that Corbyn is different. Gerry Hassan’s rose-tinted, starry-eyed perspective is illustrative. Apparently,

Corbyn and McDonnell are not “against” Scottish independence per se. They believe in the principle that such a decision is fundamentally up to the people of Scotland. In this they recognise “the sovereignty of the Scottish people” which many pro-union politicians pay lip service to and which the Commons unanimously accepted in July 2018. They take it as a given.

If that is so, then why do they so assiduously avoid giving any firm commitment to a new referendum? While Ian Blackford strives, by force of rhetoric alone, to make the case that British intransigence on the constitutional issue is ‘unsustainable’, Corbyn is working just as hard to maintain a position which differentiates British Labour from their Tory cousins while not actually making any concessions at all.

According to Gerry Hassan,

Corbyn and McDonnell do not believe in the UK in the way that previous Labour politicians did. They see the UK as a force for imperialism, reaction and militarism around the world. This brings them to align themselves with a position which is anti-British establishment and notes its attachment to the politics of the union and its geopolitical interests. Scottish independence, they understand, is a body blow to such pretensions and power politics.

The idea of British Labour being “anti-British establishment” is every bit as fantastical as Ian Blackford’s notion that the British political elite might put respect for democracy before its own geopolitical interests. Gerry Hassan fails to see that it is precisely because those interests make preservation of the Union an overriding imperative that Corbyn would never be permitted to put the Union in jeopardy even supposing he was minded to do so. It is because of the British state’s pretensions to being “a force for imperialism, reaction and militarism around the world” that locking Scotland into the Union is an absolute necessity.

The obligations of democracy are as nothing compared to the dictates of the British state’s ambition.

Gerry Hassan ends by asking,

But does Labour have the political will and imagination to break with the last vestiges of the conservative elements of labourism as well as the ancien regime which has for too long defined power and privilege across the UK?

Pinning one’s hopes on that ever happening is, if anything, even less realistic than trusting that the next British Prime Minister might acknowledge Scotland’s right of self-determination and respect the democratic will of the Scottish people.



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Confusion and betrayal

There is no confusion at all about British Labour’s position on independence. Or their position on a new referendum. Their position on both is exactly the same as the position of the other British political parties. They are fervently opposed to independence and absolutely determined that there should be no new referendum. If there is any mystery here it concerns why anybody would be in the slightest doubt about Jeremy Corbyn’s British Nationalist leanings.

If people are confused it can only be because they’re making the two-fold error of listening to what Corbyn and other British Labour mouthpieces say and supposing these utterances should be taken seriously. They hear the inconsistencies and contradictions and strive to figure what is true. The reality is very simple. None of it is true!

All British politicians are bound by the imperative to preserve the Union. That imperative overrides everything. It certainly overrides considerations of democratic principle. It even overrides electoral expediency. Although some British politicians think they can conceal the truth of the matter in a fog of words. Hence the inconsistencies and contradictions. Hence the confusion among those who attend to the words instead of looking to what lies behind them. Instead of looking to the underlying imperative.

Not that Corbyn et al will be at all troubled by any confusion they cause. Where it is necessary to have different messages for different constituencies, inconsistency and contradiction are unavoidable. The idea then is to make a virtue of necessity. To ensure that the confusion is used to advantage. If your position is sufficiently vague and ambivalent, then it can be whatever you need it to be at any given time or whatever circumstances may arise. More importantly, it can be whatever potential voters want it to be.

More commonly than any of us like to admit, our electoral choices are emotional rather than rational. We like to think we’re making decisions on the basis of factual information and rational assessment. We are not comfortable admitting the extent to which facts and figures are used to put a varnish of reason on conclusion that owe more to our hormones than our neurones.

There are a great many ‘traditional Labour’ voters in Scotland who no longer vote according to tradition – mainly because they support the restoration of Scotland’s independence. A significant proportion of these ‘traditional Labour’ voters crave an excuse to get back to what was good enough for their forebears. If Corbyn says something that allows them to rationalise reverting to their old ways, they will seize it with relish. They will go back to voting for British Labour candidates having convinced themselves that the party is committed to ‘allowing’ a new independence referendum. They will even be able to quote something Jeremy Corbyn has said to ‘prove’ that they are not being conned.

These ‘traditional Labour’ backsliders will be aided in this process of rationalising their instinctual choice by the rhetoric of the other British parties as they accuse British Labour of planning to betray the precious Union by conspiring and colluding with the hated SNP.

Anybody in Scotland who votes for a British Labour candidate on the grounds that the party will ‘countenance’ a new independence referendum is a gullible fool. Even if Jeremy Corbyn were to become British Prime Minister – and there’s very little chance of that – he would be no more likely to respect the democratic will of Scotland’s people than Boris Johnson. When it comes to the ‘Scottish problem’, there is not a scintilla of difference between them.

No British politician will respect Scotland’s democracy if doing so puts their precious Union in jeopardy. If you vote for any of the British parties, you are voting to be treated with contempt. There’s no need to be confused about that.



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Neither grit nor gumption

It is clear from the comments on this article (Corbyn to be quizzed over next indyref as he begins whirlwind Scottish tour) that I am far from being the only one who is utterly baffled by Nicola Sturgeon’s position. She concedes that the UK Government has the authority to disallow an independence referendum, but demands that they refrain from exercising that authority. Instead of maintaining that the requirement for a Section 30 order is illegal and unconstitutional, she insists that it is, in fact, the only ‘legal and constitutional’ process, but claims that it would be undemocratic for the UK Government to utilise the authority that the process affords it.

I just don’t get it! I’ve tried a dozen ways of putting into words what the First Minister’s position is, and there is no way that it makes any sense. It is certainly possible for something to be both lawful and undemocratic. But to say that something is constitutionally legitimate but undemocratic seems like an obvious contradiction in terms.

How can authority be democratic, but exercise of that authority not? Surely if acting on the authority is contrary to the principles of democracy, then the authority itself must be likewise.

Ruth Wishart wrote recently about how she has come to abhor the word “allow” precisely because of its use in the context of a new independence referendum. I suspect she will be as offended as I am at being told that “Jeremy Corbyn will be under pressure to say when exactly he will allow a second independence referendum”. Not, you will note, under pressure to explain what makes him suppose he has the authority to deny Scotland’s right of self-determination. Not under pressure to explain why the exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination should require his consent. Merely under pressure to say when he might give that gracious consent.

Of course, were he asked to justify his presumption, Corbyn need only refer to the words of Scotland’s First Minister, who has repeatedly conceded that authority. It’s hard to imagine anyone in the Scottish Government or the Scottish media putting him under any kind of pressure to justify, in terms of democratic principles rather than Nicola Sturgeon’s stated position, how anybody might have the power of veto over a nation’s right of self-determination.

Scotland’s political leaders evidently lack the grit and the gmption to challenge the asserted authority of the British state. And, of course, it suits the media to paddle in the shallow waters of trivial questions about when something might happen rather than venture into the deeps of why it is being allowed to happen at all. Why risk the dangerous currents of political controversy when it’s so easy to create a simple but titillating drama out of timing whilst remaining close to the shore of mass entertainment?

It would come as a tremendous shock to all if Corbyn were to specify when he would grant permission for the people of Scotland to exercise our right of self-determination – were he ever in a position to do so. That’s not how the game is played at all. He has to pretend that there is actually a likelihood of him being the British Prime Minister. He has to pretend that he would respect the right of Scotland’s people to decide the constitutional status of our nation. The Media and the politicians have to go along with this pretence. Everybody knows that it’s a sham. Everybody knows that, in the unlikely event of there being a British Labour government after the election, Corbyn will be every bit as bound by the imperative to preserve the Union as Boris Johnson or anyone else who might be a candidate for the role of British Prime Minister.

In terms of Scotland’s cause, it makes absolutely no difference whatsoever what the outcome of this election is. That outcome will be a British government and a British Prime Minister. And no British government or British Prime Minister is ever going to allow the Union to be put in jeopardy.

Which is why it makes no sense to concede that the British state has the rightful authority to disallow a referendum. Or to allow it only under conditions determined by the British political elite. If you accept that the British state has this authority, and that the authority is ‘legal and constitutional’, what possible grounds can there be to complain when that authority is used?



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A glorious U-turn!

When Ruth Wishart says “we can chuck away that cap and fight for our own future“, is she joining the growing chorus urging that the First Minister abandon her commitment to the Section 30 process and instead dedicate herself to a referendum entirely made and managed in Scotland? If so, her voice is a welcome and very powerful addition to that chorus.

Might we hope that others will follow suit? I wonder how many people, at all levels in the SNP and across the Yes movement, share the concerns that have been expressed about the Section 30 process but are wary about putting their head above the parapet. I wonder what it would take to instill the intestinal fortitude necessary for them to speak up. I wonder if encouragement from someone of Ruth Wishart’s standing might tip the balance in that regard.

It’s easy enough for me to criticise Nicola Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue. I have neither position nor status in the SNP. I have nothing to lose by asking the awkward questions about the Scottish Government’s strategy. I am free to think the unthinkable and say the things that many would prefer were left unsaid. My first loyalty is to Scotland’s cause, not to any political party or leader.

For others, it’s not so easy. Because they have a more powerful sense of loyalty to the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon; or because they are bound by collective responsibility; or because it involves their career and ambitions, dissent has a cost for them which it doesn’t have for somebody like myself. I can have some sympathy with their dilemma. I derive no satisfaction from being a dissenting voice. I would much rather I didn’t have to ask those awkward questions and express those concerns. I do it because it needs to be done. And because I can.

I know I’m not alone. I know that many others share my concerns about the Section 30 process. I cannot believe that there are not people in the upper echelons of the party who also see the problems and pitfalls. I expect there are more than a few who are struggling with the dilemma. Do they speak out and face the inevitable accusations of disloyalty as well as the displeasure of the party leadership? Or do they remain silent despite their fears that commitment to the Section 30 process could very well prove to be seriously detrimental to the cause of independence?

If one or two people in positions of significant influence were to express doubts about the Section 30 process it might well open the floodgates. If dissent grows to a level that Nicola Sturgeon can no longer ignore, what then? If she comes under serious pressure to “chuck away that cap and fight for our own future”, how might she respond?

There would seem to be three basic options. She could attempt to face down her critics. She could stick fast to her insistence that the Section 30 process is the only possible route to a new independence referendum and defy anyone to contradict her. At the other extreme, she could threaten to stand down as party leader and/or as First Minister. The former would tend to harden opposition to her approach and make her situation worse. The latter would have repercussions that I prefer not to dwell upon.

The third option is for Nicola Sturgeon to change her approach. If she is unable to address, far less allay, concerns about the Section 30 process – which is, self-evidently, the case – then those concerns must be valid. Being valid, they provide ample justification for declaring that the Section 30 process has been rendered infeasible by the intransigence of the British political elite. Not to mention their duplicity, mendacity, hypocrisy and treachery.

That the Section 30 process will have to be abandoned at some point is beyond doubt. By its very nature, it can only lead to a free and fair referendum with the goodwill, good grace and good faith of the British establishment. It only works if the British government cooperates fully and respectfully to achieve an outcome to which it is implacably opposed.

Moreover, the Section 30 process provides the British political elite with the means to readily prevent the outcome to which it is implacably oppose. Put it all together and it’s plain to see that, not only is the Section 30 process unlikely to work as Nicola Sturgeon hopes, it would be little short of a miracle if it did. There are more and better reasons for rejecting the Section 30 process than for committing to it. It would be to Nicola Sturgeon’s credit if she were to acknowledge those reasons. And the sooner the better.



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Empty lines

On December 12th, voters have the chance to send Boris Johnson a message and escape this Brexit fiasco once and for all.

The above quote is attributed by the Sunday National to SNP candidate for West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine, Fergus Mutch. It is not an original line. In fact, it is the line being pushed across the entire SNP election campaign at the moment – complete with the social media hashtag, #StopBrexit, and a rather intrusive gif. It’s a good line. That is to say, it sounds good. It has the superficial appeal common to all such glittering generalities. But neither Fergus Mutch nor, as far as I can determine, anyone else who speaks for the SNP has seen fit to explain or expand on the line in a way which might lift it out of the category of an emotionally appealing phrase amenable to being repeated with great conviction despite being devoid of supporting information or reason.

It looks good in a Tweet. It doubtless sounds good when parroted on the doorsteps. But what if somebody asks the obvious questions? What happens if Fergus Mutch, or any of the SNP campaigners instructed by the party to deploy this line, encounters an awkward bugger like myself who isn’t about to be satisfied with facile sloganeering?

What happens if somebody asks what message is being sent to Boris Johnson? Or why there might be any point in sending him any message at all?

What happens if somebody asks how this “Brexit fiasco” might be either escaped or stopped? What happens if they insist on being given an explanation of the process by which voting in a particular way – presumably for their local SNP candidate – on 12 December leads either to Scotland escaping an imposed Brexit or Brexit being stopped altogether?

Is it fair, or sensible, to send out candidates and campaigners to sell this line to voters without arming them to deal with such questions? And, if they have been armed with the answers, where might the rest of us access the relevant information?

While I’m on the subject of awkward questions, were we not assured that independence was to be at the heart of the SNP’s election campaign? Dare I suggest that #DissolveTheUnion is a lot closer to what we were promised than #StopBrexit. And it has the advantage of being something that could actually be done.



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