The reluctant rebel

Perhaps there would be no “rebels” if the First Minister did a bit less asserting and rather more explaining. She could, for example, explain what she intends to do if the British government obdurately refuses to grant her precious Section 30 order. She might outline how she proposes to deal with the British state’s efforts to sabotage the Section 30 process if and when the order is granted. she might, at the very least, give some indication that she has considered these things. She might show some sign of having listened, or being prepared to listen.

Maybe she could explain why the legal validity of Scotland’s exercise of our right of self-determination cannot be based on the very same body of internationally accepted laws and conventions which are considered good enough for every other nation making the transition to independence from some anomalous constitutional arrangement.

Or the First Minister could explain why the democratic legitimacy of our referendum cannot derive from the sovereignty of Scotland’s people. She might even try to give one good reason why the people of Scotland should accept their sovereignty being compromised to satisfy the legally dubious and democratically outrageous strictures of the British state.

She could explain why, if she truly believes Scotland’s constitutional claim to be just, she is afraid of a legal challenge.

She could explain why an openly and unimpeachably democratic referendum might be rendered unacceptable to the international community simply because it hasn’t been approved by the British state.

She could try to convince the doubters of the political wisdom of discarding options as if they were of no value. She could let us in on the new thinking which says it’s a good idea to close off all routes but one and, by effectively declaring the discarded options ‘illegal’ ensure they they are closed off irrevocably and for all time.

Of course, there are no “rebels”. There are only people who are understandably worried when they see a cause to which they are devoted put in jeopardy. It isn’t good enough to just brush those concerns aside. It isn’t acceptable to treat these concerns, and those who hold them, as if they don’t matter. It is, frankly, offensive to dismiss those who are worried by accusing them of causing division. If there is division then it is entirely due to the SNP leadership’s failure to take people along with them.

Speaking as one of those being branded a “rebel”, I have to tell the First Minister that there is nothing I want more than to give her my full support. I have spent much of the last five years striving to the best of my ability to persuade everybody in the Yes movement that we all have to get behind the SNP. I am extremely perturbed to have been put in a position where I have to question the whole approach to the constitutional issue adopted by the party. But question it I must. Because my first loyalty is, not to any party or politician, but to Scotland’s cause.

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The moment

Despite being barely able to walk, I am determined that I will attend the SNP Conference in Aberdeen as a Branch Delegate. I opted out of Spring Conference because, to be frank, I didn’t feel I could cope with the crushing disappointment of another rousing speech from Nicola Sturgeon that offered absolutely nothing to the Yes movement. Not hope. Not encouragement. Perhaps not even acknowledgement.

Given all that’s going on, I should be anticipating a lively event. But I’m not. All party conferences are tightly stage-managed these days and, as in so many ways, the SNP is rather better at this than the others. I’m not complaining. I understand that conferences put political parties under such an intense media spotlight that control is necessary. I also understand that the SNP’s conferences are now such huge occasions, with upwards of 2,000 delegates, that they simply couldn’t happen were they not quite strictly regimented.

That doesn’t stop me regretting the lack of vigour this entails. Where these events used to have vitality and political electricity, they now have video and disco lighting. The latter can be switched on and off at will. The former have to be generated in the moment. What if the generator fails?

For the past week or so, I’ve been having this recurring nightmare in which Nicola Sturgeon delivers her main address to conference with all her customary professionalism and practised panache, only to be met with total silence. Rather than the expected standing ovation, her speech provokes only some muted grumbling and uncomfortable fidgeting around the packed auditorium.

It’s only a bad dream. Nicola Sturgeon will get her standing ovation. Depending on what she says, that standing ovation may be more dutiful than delirious. But I doubt if that will be picked up by the cameras. The dream is not real. But the worry which may have prompted it is quite genuine and valid. The concern that this could all go so very, very wrong so very, very easily.

Lesley Riddoch is right. This is the perfect time for Nicola Sturgeon to do something bold and decisive. But it is far from being the first such occasion. The difference now is that, where previously she had considerable leeway – people across the independence movement were prepared to cut her some slack and trust her judgement – this is no longer the case. or, at least, it is no longer as true as it once was.

If it is fair for Lesley to speculate about what Nicola Sturgeon might do in terms of seizing the moment, then it is surely legitimate to consider the consequences of failing to do so. One would certainly hope that she and her advisers are looking at things from all angles. My own sense of the the mood within the Yes movement is that, should Nicola Sturgeon fail to deliver something meaningful in terms of progressing Scotland’s cause, she stands to lose more than just her audience.

It is the perfect time for Nicola Sturgeon to seize the initiative and become the leader that the independence movement urgently requires. As with all such critical moments resting on the capability and courage of one person, it could all go horribly wrong.

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Jackal journalism!

Amidst all this knee-jerking, virtue-signalling and high-minded posturing, the individual at the centre of the matter appears to be escaping any kind of scrutiny. That individual is, not Eva Bolander, but Paul Hutcheon – lately self-styled ace investigative reporter for The Herald and now, apparently, base gossip-columnist for the Daily Record. The important issue here is not Eva Bolander’s perfectly legitimate use of an allowance deemed necessary by the Scottish Parliament, but the malicious and misleading manner in which it was reported.

Eva Bolander did nothing wrong. She is entirely blameless and completely innocent. And yet she now finds herself the target of a vicious witch-hunt. Why? And just as pertinently, why is the instigator of this undeserved harassment allowed to sit in a corner preening himself with pride in his accomplishments as a malignant mischief-maker; glorying in his power to wreak havoc on the lives of guiltless people; smirking and sniggering in the knowledge that, however recklessly and maliciously he wields this power, he does so with impunity.

This is jackal-journalism at its most debased. It is bullying at its most cowardly. It is vile. It is a blight on our media and our politics and our society.

I will not allow myself to be manipulated by the sleekit worm-tongues whose sport is poisoning the public consciousness against whatever unfortunate they consider easy prey. I know who is the real villain of the piece. And, unlike those who count him a colleague and find that reason enough to shield him from criticism, I am prepared to denounce Paul Hutcheon’s thoroughly reprehensible conduct.

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Only human

As well as observing that the British government’s “attempt to shift the blame for the Brexit fiasco […] is pathetically transparent”, Nicola Sturgeon might have remarked that it was entirely predictable. The same can be said of just about every aspect of the Brexit debacle. It was all readily foreseeable, if not in detail then at least in outline. Which makes it all the more remarkable that professional politicians failed to see how things would go. When amateur commentators such as myself can see the writing on the wall as clearly as you can see these words, it remains to be explained why the ‘experts’ didn’t. And if those to whom we entrust the conduct of our affairs didn’t see the present blame-shifting exercise coming, what else might they have missed?

I wrote the following around three years ago.

There are a couple of things we can be reasonably sure of amid all the uncertainty of Brexit. All the talk of “soft Brexit” and “transitional deals” will ultimately be exposed as whimsically euphemistic fantasy as the reality of the imposed punitive settlement bites. And blame for the inevitable impact of Brexit will be placed firmly on the shoulders of Johnny Foreigner.

When this happens, British nationalists will be incandescent with indignation that the UK is being penalised for its actions. The anger which should be directed at the British politicians who created the situation will instead be directed outwards against our neighbours. All of which will be disturbingly familiar to those who know a little of Europe’s history.

The Persuaders

(I’m sure others were making similar observations at that time. It would, however, be improper for me to associate them with my views.)

It may be that senior politicians did, in fact, recognise the inevitability of a British effort to blame ‘Johnny Foreigner’ for the travails ensuing from a spectacularly botched project to take the UK out of the EU. Perhaps they knew, but felt it politic not to say too much. What should concern us, however, is whether the decisions taken by our political leaders were affected by lack of foresight and/or reluctance to acknowledge what that foresight revealed.

Perhaps failure to anticipate the ‘blame games’ is not significant. But perhaps it is not the only failure of analysis.

As we watch the Scottish Government and the SNP leadership become ever more deeply embroiled in – and tainted by – the Brexit fiasco, we are entitled to question the judgement which brought them to this place. We may well ask ourselves how different Scotland’s situation might have been if those making the decisions had read the runes aright and adopted a more cynically realistic perspective on the entire Brexit process.

It was certainly possible to see how this process was going to pan out. The following was published on 1 March 2016, some three months before the EU referendum took place.

The dispute about EU membership is really no more than a squabble among British nationalists about how the British state is defined and which clique most faithfully represents the “One True Britain’. At base, it is a dispute between those who see the EU as a tool of British exceptionalism, and those who see British exceptionalism as requiring no such tool, and/or being diminished by it.

In a very real sense, this is not our fight. Given that independence is about extricating ourselves from the British state and ridding ourselves of the impediment of British exceptionalism, Tory bickering over who has the strongest claim to the bedraggled and besmirched mantle of British nationalism is nothing whatever to do with Scotland.

Unfortunately, being yet bound to the British state, Scotland cannot avoid being impacted by this infighting among British nationalists. But we can avoid being drawn into serving the petty purposes of either faction in this squabble. We can keep our eyes firmly on our own purposes and our own interests. We can close our eyes and ears to the blandishments and beguilements and devious pleading of British politicians and concentrate on what is best for Scotland.

EU referendum is not Scotland’s fight

It is reasonable to assume that Scotland’s predicament might have been very different had our political leaders adopted a similar perspective and acted accordingly.

I say all this by way of a wake-up call to those who slavishly adhere to the party line out of a belief that professional politicians must know better than the rest of us what is going on, and how thing will proceed. The truth is that their prescience may be no better than anyone else’s, and their decisions no more than marginally less likely to be informed by faulty analysis.

This is why we must always stand ready to question the choices made by our political leaders. To do so is, not to imply that they are unfit for the role, but to be mindful of the fact that they too can be prey to human error and folly. Even the most astute political operators sometimes get it wrong. Not even the best of us is infallible. To lose sight of the failings and frailties of the politicians we most respect and admire is to lose touch with politics on a human scale.

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Scotland the less

Kim Traynor [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

It would be good to think that this Court of Session decision would put paid to the delusion plaguing the SNP – that there is a way of fixing Brexit, either at Westminster or in the courts. Brexit can’t be fixed. British politics can’t be fixed.

It would also be good to think that this might help to dispel the various daft notions doing the rounds in the Yes movement about magic ways of making independence happen, either through a Westminster election or in the courts. Notions which, it must be said, the SNP has done nothing to discourage.

Scotland’s independence will be restored when the Scottish Government takes action to assert the primacy in Scotland of the Scottish Parliament on grounds of superior democratic legitimacy. The Scottish Parliament may then order a referendum on Scotland’s constitutional status which permits no external interference.

Contrast this with the SNP position that Scotland is incapable of holding a legitimate constitutional referendum without the immediate and intimate involvement of the UK Government. A position which is surely novel, if not unique, among all the nations which have sought independence since the dying days of the colonial era. How many of those nations actively sought to have another country dictate the rules and procedures by which which their independence referendum was conducted?

Today, many nations hold referendums on amendments to their constitutions. How many of them insist upon or even invite external interference? Imagine if the US Government proposed that the Canadian Government be given a role of any kind in a vote on amending the US constitution. Imagine if it was suggested Switzerland outsource control its referendums.

Why is Scotland always the exception? Why is Scotland’s right of self-determination different from, and less than, that of other nations? And why the hell is the SNP going along with this?

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Westminster Syndrome

For the record, I don’t think our SNP MPs need any reminding that they were sent to Westminster to settle up. not settle in. I fully understand the frustration which drives people to say such things. But I just don’t think the accusation is justified. The SNP group at Westminster works hard for Scotland and for the cause of independence. If it sometimes seems otherwise then bear in mind that they are but a small group within a largely hostile parliament, and that they are severely constrained by the arcane procedures and archaic customs of that benighted place. But I simply don’t accept that there is any danger of them forgetting why they are there. They, more than anyone, are subject to constant reminders of how alien and uncongenial the parliament of England-as-Britain is for those who come to it from the periphery of the British state and a very different political culture.

This is not to say that SNP MPs remain unaffected by the experience of being in the festering heart of British politics. Everything about Westminster is designed to impress and intimidate. The pomp and ceremony; the outlandish costumes; the anachronistic language, is all contrived to make the individual feel small and insignificant. The exaggerated theatrics are intended to invest the place and all its doings with a mighty, majestic irresistible authority. The message comes across loud and clear; submit to the system, or be irrelevant. Allow yourself to be absorbed into the system, or prepare to be crushed by it.

Remember your first day at ‘big’ school? Remember that feeling of being overwhelmed by everything? That is the feeling that Westminster is supposed to engender constantly in those sent there by voters. The great edifices and ceremonials of religion and the temples of industrial and commercial power are designed to have the same impact. They are designed to make mere people seem small.

It would be naive to think our MPs might be immune to the effect of being inside a machine built and organised to induce simpering deference. Even if that machine has lost some of its potency as a result of people having become accustomed to built environments and civil institutions on a non-human scale, the wholed Westminster thing has to make some kind of impression.

We might call it the ‘Westminster Syndrome’. A range of symptomatic attitudes and behaviours associated with being swallowed up by the British political system, particularly while not being – or resisting being – part of that culture. As with any such syndrome, the symptoms vary both in form and degree. At one extreme there is complete absorption – becoming as one with the system. These are the MPs who have taken the myth of British exceptionalism entirely to heart. The ones for whom the facade and charade of Westminster is reality. At the other end of the spectrum there is total defiance, best exemplified by the Sinn Féin MPs who refuse to take their seats. In between there varying degrees of resistance to Westminster’s influence. Some of it more for show that for any other purpose. The tolerated rebels and beloved eccentrics are part of Westminster’s mythology.

What we see in SNP MPs is, not an inclination to ‘settle in’, but a susceptibility to Westminster’s malign influence. To a varying extent, they exhibit symptoms of ‘Westminster Syndrome’. Most notably – and most disturbingly – a tendency to suppose that they may rely on the goodwill, good grace and good faith of the British establishment. A disposition to accept that part of the Westminster myth which borrows on the associations of an ancient institution and ‘old-fashioned’ values to convey the notion that the British establishment can be trusted.

There’s more than a bit of doublethink about this, of course. In one breath SNP politicians such as Ian Blackford and Pete Wishart tell us how erratic, unreliable and untrustworthy the British political elite is. In the next breath they urge us to be patient and trust that the same elite will,.in time, make good on its promises and keep faith with those who enter into electoral or parliamentary ‘arrangements’ with British political parties.

Ian Blackford strongly hints at a possible ‘deal’ with British Labour. Something short of actual coalition, but presumably some sort of confidence and supply agreement contingent on British Labour granting a Section 30 order. Mr Blackford seems to suppose that British Labour can be trusted to deliver. He appears convinced that British Labour will not to renege on any deal with the SNP group at the very first opportunity. He is evidently suffering from ‘Westminster Syndrome’.

To many – perhaps most – people in the independence movement the term ‘British Labour’ is synonymous with betrayal. Not being subject to the pernicious influence of Westminster, we are not easily persuaded to trust the party which colluded with the Tories in Project Fear. Not being prey to the effects of proximity to Westminster we are not at all inclined to rely on the goodwill, good grace and good faith of any of the British establishment parties.

We have no illusions about British politicians. We know what Ian Blackford and his colleagues seem to have forgotten – that British Nationalists will do absolutely anything to preserve their ‘precious Union’. We know, from bitter experience, that they consider dishonesty, deceit, defamation and treachery to be perfectly justifiable in the name of defending the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.

We expect nothing from British politicians but perfidy. We anticipate that they will renege on any deal. We assume that, even now, British Labour is planning how to wriggle out of its end of any bargain struck with the SNP. We realise that, in political and electoral terms, British Labour has nothing to lose by ‘doing the dirty’ on the SNP. In fact, few things would better enhance their credibility with those whose votes they are chasing than being seen to have ‘outwitted’ the hated SNP.

Perhaps the worst effect of ‘Westminster Syndrome’ is the way those afflicted get drawn into playing the British political game. There are troubling signs that some SNP MPs are being sucked into the politics of England-as-Britain to the detriment of their responsibilities to the people of Scotland. To those of us who see Westminster as already irrelevant to Scotland’s politics, this is hard to swallow.

Scotland’s interests, needs, priorities and aspirations can only be served by Scotland’s Parliament. Wheeling and dealing at Westminster is the old way. Our SNP MPs must shake off that ‘Westminster Syndrome’ and adopt a fresh mindset which puts the Scottish Parliament and Scotland’s distinctive political culture back at the centre of their thinking. Such a ‘Scotland-centred’ mindset precludes putting trust in British Labour or any part of the British establishment.

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Litany of complacency

If you didn’t already have concerns about the SNP leadership’s approach to the constitutional issue then you surely will after reading Pete Wishart’s latest blog article. It’s really no more than a restatement of the stuff we’ve been getting from various SNP worthies over the past week or two. This, it seems, is the party’s official response to the growing grumbles of dissatisfaction and increasing demands for a rethink from across the independence movement. Basically, that response boils down to a patronising insistence that dissenting voices should just shut up and leave things to the ‘professionals’. Few do patronising better than Pete Wishart.

There are a number of elements to the message being peddled by and on behalf of the SNP leadership.

Time is not a factor

Relax! No need to fret! There is no urgency! If we just keep on plodding along as we’ve been doing for the last five years then we’ll get there. There’s no need to consider what the British government might do in the meantime. We have to trust that the British establishment will behave with restraint and with respect for democratic principles.

Let’s not think about the fact that, according to the polls, five years of plodding has got us nowhere. Let’s draw a discreet veil over the conduct of the British political elite in recent, and not so recent times. Nothing bad is going to happen! It’ll take as long as it takes.

Opposition is unsustainable

The British political elite can’t go on denying us a referendum. The British public won’t stand for it! Any day now, the people who persist in electing increasing rabid right-wing governments are going to see the error of their ways and tell their political leaders to be nice to Scotland.

We don’t have to do anything. It’ll just happen. Don’t be deceived by the fact that the British parties’ opposition to a new referendum is hardening and the language growing more strident. It’s all going to crumble sometime. Honest!

A Scottish referendum can’t be ‘legal’

The only way a referendum can be ‘legal; is if it is sanctioned by the British government and conducted according to rules and procedures that meet with their approval. Never mind all the international laws and conventions guaranteeing the right of self-determination; these are all subordinate to ‘Great British Law’.

It’s not just us who are expected to accept this. Apparently, it matters not at all how unimpeachably democratic our referendum is, the entire international community will be waiting on the not from the British Prime Minister before they recognise independent Scotland.

Leave campaign strategy to us

The campaign for independence must not deviate in any way from the strategy adopted by the SNP for the 2014 campaign. It doesn’t matter how badly the Union affects Scotland, don’t mention it. Stick with the ‘positive case for independence’ and be keep on trying to find better answers to whatever questions British Nationalists throw at us.

Don’t focus on the fact that this strategy stopped having any effect after 2014. Believe us when we tell you in will work eventually. And don’t worry! We ave all the time we need!

And don’t fret! If the Section 30 process doesn’t work out despite us have all our fingers crossed then “we will have to consider a range of options”. We’re not saying what those options are; or how they can be legal when we’ve said the Section 30 process is the only legal way. It would be better if everybody just stopped talking about other options because we are committed to the Section 30 process despite the fact that we recognise it is likely to fail and we will then need those other options that we don’t want anyone talking about.

Anyway! We’ve plenty of time! Because the British political elite are basically a decent bunch and they’d never do the dirty on us.

People who question any of this are zoomers

Beware of anybody who so much as raises an eyebrow at the SNP’s ‘plans’. Denounce anyone who questions the orthodox analysis and standard conclusions. Ignore all that crazy talk about how it’s Scotland’s referendum because the people of Scotland are sovereign. Disregard the nutters who say the legal validity of our referendum rests on a solid body of international laws and conventions. Anybody who says we should go against the British state is just daft.

Pay no attention to folk who claim the democratic legitimacy of our referendum derives from the sovereignty of Scotland’s people. Obviously, we agree that the people are sovereign. Just not quite as sovereign as the British crown in the British parliament. We must remember our place.

Have you got the message? Are you all just going to settle down and stop your #DissolveTheUnion nonsense?

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