Talk to the hand?

On Chris McEleny’s point regarding a manifesto commitment – a Manifesto for Independence – to which all pro-democracy parties might subscribe, I am in total agreement. I started a Facebook group called White Rose Rising as an experiment to look into the feasibility of uniting the Yes movement in a project to formulate just such a Manifesto for Independence. The results have not been promising. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. It speaks more to the factors at play within the Yes movement which militate against unity. The Yes movement has been infected by factionalism. Factionalism kills movements.

Worse! It kills movements whilst leaving untouched the cause which inspired it. The cause remains in the hearts and minds of people. But it is tinged with bitter hopelessness because the movement which gives the cause effect is absent.

If we could create this ‘independent’ Manifesto for Independence it would be outside the realm of party politics while being available to any party as a constitutional addendum to their own policy manifesto. This would have numerous advantages. The public tend to be more accepting of ideas that are not associated with political parties. Let’s not go into the rights and wrongs of this here. Let’s just accept that, as a general rule, people are more amenable to proposals that are seen as not serving partisan interests.

Another important advantage would be that the pro-independence parties would not be competing on the constitutional issue – other than in terms of their commitment to the Manifesto for Independence and the credibility of their undertaking to deliver what it promises. They would have a common manifesto pledge. There could be no arguments about process because that process would be set out in the Manifesto for Independence.

The idea is undoubtedly sound. Whether it’s feasible or not is another matter. Personally, I have little hope that the Yes movement is capable of turning itself into the kind of political force that would be required to ‘persuade’ the parties to accept the Manifesto for Independence. Particularly the SNP. And let’s face it, if the SNP go into the next Holyrood election still dragging the millstone of their commitment to the Section 30 process, Scotland’s cause is monumentally screwed. We would still be obliged to try and ensure that the party won and was in a position to form an administration. But only because the alternative is unthinkable. Nobody wants to wake up on the day after the vote to find that the British parties in control of the Scottish Parliament and Jackson Carlaw FM leaving a thick slime trail of smirking smugness everywhere he goes. Or should that be an even thicker slime trail of even smirkier smugness?

We would be obliged to work for an SNP victory knowing that because Nicola Sturgeon was cling still to the British state’s ‘gold standard’ trap, the cause of independence would be doomed to remain stalled for the foreseeable future. I don’t want to think about what kind of future that would be.

Chris says “there is a need to have a grown-up conversation with all pro-independence parties” apparently referring not only to the Scottish Greens but also to the proliferation of pop-up parties seeking to exploit frustration with the SNP. I wonder if he’s ever tried to have a “grown-up conversation” with the evangelicals preaching the truly miraculous properties and powers of their cunning plans. I have. It was never a happy experience for someone who takes a rational, pragmatic approach to politics.

Like it or loathe it, and as unquestionably helpful as a common Manifesto for Independence would be, it is the SNP that matters. It is the SNP that must be pressed into renouncing the Section 30 process. It is the SNP that we will rely on to lend effective political power to Scotland’s cause. It’s entirely in Nicola Sturgeon’s hands. We can have all the “grown-up conversations” we can cram into whatever time Scotland has left. It will all be for nothing if the lady ain’t listening.

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The train now standing…

The guy who only a few months ago said “We’ve never been closer to independence!” has a hard neck talking about “showboating chaff” from others. And why does Alyn Smith devote so much space to publishing his CV? Is that supposed to impress us? There are, in the Yes movement, many people who could produce an even more impressive account of the effort they have devoted to Scotland’s cause over far more decades than Alyn Smith can claim. And, unlike Mr Smith, doing so unpaid.

He dismisses talk of process. He insists we concentrate on policy. After 20 years in politics you’d think he’d have learned that without process policy goes nowhere. Without process there is no movement. To be so disdainful of process is like saying you don’t care if a vehicle actually runs so long as it is fitted with all the latest technology.

The reality, I suspect, is that Mr Smith doesn’t want to discuss process because he has absolutely nothing to say on the subject. He sure as hell doesn’t want to answer question about the Section 30 process. He won’t explain how it can possibly deliver to a free and fair referendum. He doesn’t want to explain how it can ever be a route to independence.

He is right about one thing. We do need to persuade people. I totally accept that the “gentle persuasion” favoured by him and his pal Pete “The Postponer” Wishart is one way to go about it. Just not the only way! And I would gently point out to both of them that no amount of “gentle persuasion” is going to persuade people to board a train that isn’t going anywhere because the tracks of process haven’t been laid.

Alyn Smith and Pete Wishart want to lure people onto the independence train with talk of how the rail system might be financed and how much more comfortable the seats could be. They are content for the train to remain in the station for as long as it takes to fill it with passengers. But the people running the station are idiots and the place is ablaze. Mr Smith and Mr Wishart look at the encroaching flames and the imminent inferno and tell us we should tolerate being scorched because the fire is driving more people to board the train regardless of the fact that it’s going nowhere.

I want people on that train too. But I reckon we’ll get more travellers if we can assure them that the tracks are laid and a route planned that doesn’t involve trying to get the train to go where the tracks don’t go – as in Pete Wishart’s drivel about a detour to visit the EU. And, more to the point, a route that doesn’t involve running into buffers before the train even leaves the burning station – as in the British state’s ‘gold standard’ Section 30 route.

This is the last train. It may be the last train ever. But it’s certainly the last train for a long while. It has to go. When people see that it is actually getting out of the blazing station and going somewhere, they will rush to get on board. They won’t be deterred by the knowledge that the train is going to a place they’ve never been before, and will have to learn about as we travel and after we arrive. They will be exited by the prospect and confident that they can deal with any problems along the way and cope with whatever challenges being in a new place might bring.

People will board the independence train when the crew inspires confidence. If their questions about departure time and journey time are met with quotes from the company’s sales brochures then they are going to be sceptical about the ability of the crew to get them safely to their destination. They will wonder why the train manager is giving them his spiel about company policy on smoking when they’ve asked what time the train is leaving. They will be irked when the train manager launches into a glowing, travel-brochure account of the destination when they inquired about any track and signal work that might cause delays in getting to that destination. They’ll be seriously worried when they ask about the driver’s qualifications and experience only to have their attention drawn to how good she looks in the uniform.

Those on board and those still milling on the platform will all be baffled and horrified if the train manager shrugs off persistent questions by telling everybody that the train can’t go until the crew gets permission from the station-master. Who happens to be the one setting all the fires in the station. The one who wants to keep the train in the station because he’s destroying all the food outlets on the concourse and he knows the train’s catering service is sufficiently well-stocked to provide for him and select members of his staff – so long as everybody else is put on meagre rations.

The analogy may have been overworked, but it serves well to convey an idea of Scotland’s present predicament. Maybe, too, it serves to help us see what needs to be done to get us out of this predicament. We know there is only this train and this crew. We know what our destination is. Even if we don’t have a detailed street map and recent photographs of important landmarks and architect’s plans of every building, we know it’s where we must go – because staying is not a viable option. We know all of this, and knowing all of this we know that our best hope of getting out of the burning station and at least setting off on our journey is to urge a better performance from the team running the train.

We have to demand that the train leave now! If that means leaving without the station-master’s permission, so be it. Because the tracks are clear, at least to the first bend. Those tracks are not going to vanish or become impassible just because we didn’t get a form signed by an official who doesn’t even work for this rail company – our rail company. Because, you see, it’s our train. They’re our tracks. We are all shareholders. We own the train and we are entitled to use the rail network to go wherever we choose.

All aboard!!!

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Give cancer a chance?

Less than a year ago if you’d uttered the term “UDI” in conversation with a group of SNP members there would have been at least one pant-wetting incident and quite possible a hospitalisation. Or at least the attendance of paramedics. Talking about Scotland following any route to independence other than the ‘gold standard’ cul-de-sac chosen by our First Minister was generally regarded as heresy. Those guilty of pointing out the all too evident flaws in what was proclaimed to be the only true path to independence might well anticipate being introduced to exceptionally well heated accommodations in the belly of a giant male effigy wrought in wicker. How times have changed!

It seems like only yesterday that Nicola Sturgeon thought it appropriate to entertain a Women for Independence gathering with a wee routine roundly mocking the idea of dissolving the Union. Would she give that same performance now? Certainly not if she is as aware as she should of the mood in the party and the rest of the Yes movement. The WfI ladies may have thought it hilarious back then. Today, Nicola would be lucky to get a polite and plainly forced guffaw. The mood has shifted dramatically.

Certainly, there is no outward sign from the SNP political leadership and/or senior management that they realise the extent to which discourse within the independence movement has transformed over recent months. But we wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, expect that there would be an immediate and evident reaction. It takes time for such change to filter through and be assessed. And this is as it should be. Humza Yousaf and Pete Wishart (Aye! Him again!) have lately provided ample evidence of the dangers inherent in thoughtless, mindless, reckless knee-jerk reaction. Particularly on social media. Just as a car needs both an accelerator and a brake, political parties need both radical and conservative elements. The latter serve as a governor which prevents the radicalism running wild and becoming extremism or just plain idiocy. So it’s good that the party leadership should take a slightly cautious approach.

By the same token, the leadership must take care lest the mood of the membership runs ahead of them. As is likely to happen through being over-cautious. Given that the SNP high heidyins have gained a reputation for near-pathological hyper-caution, we would be justified in taking the lack of movement on their part as a continuation of the inertia that has beset the independence cause since 2014. If that proves to be the case, it’s as much our fault as theirs. Their resistance to change can only be effective if our insistence on change is inadequate. If there is no movement, push harder!

While it is now possible to discuss #ScottishUDI without fear of being stoned to death, there are hold-outs. There are still people who, while recognising that there are certainly problems with the Section 30 process, can’t quite bring themselves to cast off the old gods of meek compliance in order to fully embrace the new doctrine of constructive defiance. There are, rather amazingly, still people who opine that the Section 30 process should be given one more chance. It shouldn’t! It mustn’t!

The most common argument deployed in advocating another go at the utterly discredited Section 30 process is that we must be seen to have tried everything before doing something else. What this argument tends to avoid saying is that we must try everything repeatedly before moving on. Also left out is the bit about who exactly it is that we must convince that we’ve tried everything else before considering something else. Often, it’s a a creature called a ‘softno’ which we have to please. At times we are advised that we mustn’t disturb the delicate sensibilities of recent converts to Yes. By this account, Scotland’s cause hangs on the shoogliest of pegs and Scotland is largely inhabited by egos fragile as the finest porcelain.

The ‘softno’ may not be entirely a creature of myth. But has it ever been sighted outwith its natural habitat in focus groups? Even if these beasties are real, does it make sense to fashion an entire campaign that is limited by their sensitivities? If we are targeting only these ‘softnos’, or if we’re eschewing certain campaign strategies and tactics out of consideration for them, is it not likely that we will fail to reach those of a more robust constitution? There may be pockets of ‘softons’ surviving in the wild. But they are not the only prey out there. If we hunt armed only with feather dusters we won’t bring down any Unionists who are made of sterner stuff. and we need their votes too.

If the ‘softno’ is so rare as to only ever have been seen by pollsters, the wavering Yes voter is a seriously endangered species. It may be too early to tell – who knows what might appear from the mist-shrouded forests of lockdown – but I doubt if there is a viable breeding population. Be honest! Have you ever heard a credible account of a Yes supporter, fresh to the cause or otherwise, who went back over to the dark side? Is it not more common to find these new converts more evangelical on the matter of independence than is seemly? Whisper it! Their fervour can be a bit embarrassing betimes. It’s hard to imagine anything a fellow Yes supporter might do or say to drive them away. When people make the journey from No to Yes, they come not as visitors but as new residents – here to stay and welcome.

The trouble with caution is that it so readily descends into fearful inertia. We’ve borne witness to this over the last five years as the Scottish Government and the SNP totally stalled the independence campaign and by some accounts allowed it to roll backwards.

The reality is that when the argument is made for having another roll of the loaded Section 30 dice, the ‘softnos’ and wavering Yessers serve merely as proxies for the British establishment and its propaganda machine. It is an argument from a still colonised mind. It is an argument which fails to escape the Little Box of Britishness that the BBC and the rest devote so much effort to squeezing us into almost from the moment we are born anywhere in England-as-Britain’s periphery. The problem lies not with the attitudes and sensibilities of the people our campaign seeks to address, but in the mindset of those who continue to insist that we only address them in language constrained by a British etiquette that acts as a form of censorship and/or induces insidious self-censorship. And what is true of language is just as true of action. The colonised mind works like shackles that inhibit an deter movement.

The most significant growth in the Yes movement in its early days was fuelled by people inspired to cast off the shackles of their colonised minds by a combination of circumstances which either no longer pertain or which have weakened in terms of their ability to influence over the years. There are still many people in the Yes movement – including the SNP – who have not entirely freed their minds from colonisation. and a few whose minds may have been in a sense and to some extent recolonised as a result of their immersion in the British political mire. I think a name may immediately spring to mind. As much as we have to address those who may now be having doubts about their commitment to the Union, we need to help those in our midst who are yet to lose the vestiges of a mindset instilled by the British propaganda machine in diverse ways and over generations.

People are not inspired by inaction. Why would they be? We are venturing into new territory with the fight to restore Scotland’s independence. Hesitation and timidity will be fatal to our cause. Be need to be bold and assertive and ambitious and determined. The Section 30 process has no place in the mindset required for this fight. In truth, it never had a place in Scotland’s politics any more than a malignant tumour can be said to have a place in a body. It’s long past time that malignancy was excised completely. Nobody wants to give cancer a chance.

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Who knew?

I see people are at last waking up to the constitutional implications of Brexit. Talk from Michael Gove of creating a legally defined internal market in the UK has prompted a flurry of panicky criticism from the likes of Scotland’s Constitution Secretary, Mike Russell and outraged condemnation from columnists such as Ruth Wishart. Apparently, there is a serious threat to the devolution settlement involved in the UK’s slapstick departure from the European Union. It seems the British political elite is intent on exploiting Brexit as an opportunity to undermine the Scottish Parliament. It seems that while the unquestionably and inevitably dire economic consequences of this economic vandalism were obvious to one and all, the equally certain and unavoidable constitutional implications somehow got missed. Who knew?

Well, everybody? Or at least anybody who wasn’t too distracted by the all too credible accounts of economic catastrophe to think it through. Even when the EU referendum was still no more than an ominous prospect and the term ‘Brexit’ was not yet on everybody’s lips, the fact that quitting the EU would cause constitutional as well as economic upheaval was glaringly obvious. But, as always, the spotlight fell on the latter while the former was afforded almost no attention. When I say “always” I am, of course. thinking of the 2014 referendum campaign. A constitutional issue all but totally obscured by a thick smog of economic disputation.

There are reasons for this. Whenever established power is talking about something it’s wise to ask what it is that they are avoiding talking about. And when established power is looking for something a topic that serves to obfuscate, they turn to economics. Three things make economics ideal for the purposes of generating a propaganda smoke-screen. Firstly, the sheer volume of material available. Cross the economists’ collective palm with enough silver and they will churn out an utterly bewildering mass of charts and graphs and statistics and reports and analyses and forecasts. More than enough to bury any subject that established power would prefer to keep off the agenda.

Secondly, economics is the go-to topic for scare-stories and doom-mongering. Rosy pictures are also available if required. But Jeremiads are the economist’s speciality. Bad news is headlines. Good news is ‘and finally’. And when politicians have little or nothing to offer then their only resort is to paint the alternative as worse.

Thirdly, nobody understands it. Economic arguments can be as arcane as you want. And if people begin to get a handle on the intricacies you can always introduce more. This is great if you want people to switch off or if you want to portray opponents as too stupid to grasp the ‘science’. Having made things too massively complicated for people to be able to discern the facts you’re seeking to conceal, you can then make yourself a popular hero by ‘clarifying’ and ‘simplifying’ the economics – a process which involves omitting the facts you’re trying to conceal.

So the constitutional implications of Brexit didn’t get much of a look in. Constitutional politics is dismissed as not being about real life in the real world. As if economics was! Those rights and freedoms are all very well, but will you be paying more tax? That’s the important question. Why are you fretting about democracy when people are homeless and hungry? It’s nice to have aspirations, but they just aren’t economically viable. We have to make the hard choices. There is no other way!!!

But those constitutional implications were always there. When I explained my support for Remain in the 2016 EU referendum, economics didn’t get a mention. Not that I was unaware of the economic issues. I just didn’t attach much significance to them. The economy is like the weather. It’s considerably less predictable and no more controllable. There are periods of sunshine and spells of rain. You have to get through them. That’s all.

Neither did I explain my support for Remain by great enthusiasm for the EU. I am conscious of the benefits it has brought to a Europe previous blighted by bloody and seemingly incessant conflict. I’m aware of its failings. It’s a human contrivance. I don’t expect it to be perfect. I’m content if it sort of works for the most part.

By far the biggest part of my personal argument for a Remain vote was my concern for how the established power of the British state would exploit the chance to redefine the UK for the purposes of a British Nationalist agenda. I knew for certain that they would not miss the opportunity. The UK was redefined on joining what was to become the EU. It seemed obvious that it would have to be redefined again on leaving. Having just been given a fright in the independence referendum as well as having their hive mind focused by the electoral successes of the SNP, it seemed obvious that the British establishment would be intent on doing whatever was required to preserve the Union.

And so it has transpired. It’s no surprise at all. Why would it be? We were told! Only a year ago, since discarded Scottish Secretary David “Baron Snackbeard” Mundell was banging on about “UK-wide common frameworks”. A term which at the time I warned should send a chill down the spine of anyone who placed the smallest value on Scotland’s distinctive political culture. Or, for that matter, our democracy.

If only that elephant in the room had been brilliant orange and decked with sleigh-bells and fairy-lights! Maybe more people would have noticed it.

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It rather goes without saying that I agree with every word Jim Fairlie has written. The expression ‘of one mind’ has rarely been more apt. There are, however, one or two matters that are worthy of comment.

I think it important to be totally honest about the extent to which the independence movement has allowed itself to be manipulated by the British state’s propaganda machine and the ruthless political wiles which have been honed over centuries and are now deployed with the casual ease of second nature become first instinct.

When I talk about the independence movement, I mean the WHOLE independence movement. The fact that we’ve fallen into the habit of referring to ‘the SNP and the wider independence movement’ as if they were two quite distinct entities nicely illustrates the very point that Jim Fairlie makes about divide and conquer which the British state tends to deploy as a matter of course having learned nothing from the lessons of history. I freely, if somewhat shamefacedly, confess to having myself too often and too readily made this overly strong distinction between what are actually just aspects of the same phenomenon. This despite the fact that I am aware of the manipulation that’s in play. Which perhaps attests to the insidious power of that manipulation. I need to be more aware! We all do!

Saying that reference to the independence movement should at all times include the SNP is not, however, the same as saying that the movement behaves as one. The only point on which I diverge slightly from Jim Fairlie’s analysis is when he asserts that “our support has the elasticity and determination to take the strain of process debates to agree a strategy that will deliver independence”. I’m not so sure of either the elasticity or the determination. Not because the capacity or potential is lost to to the movement but because the will to tap that capacity and realise that potential has been overtaken by a combination of weariness and frustration.

In the period immediately following the tragedy of 2014 I frequently opined that the Yes movement had matured since its inception in the early years of the first independence referendum campaign. There was ample evidence of this maturity in the way the movement acted. But even as I delighted in it I could not help but be aware that just as purposeful maturity followed the often clumsy enthusiasm of youth, so it was the precursor to old age and decrepitude. The observation that youth is wasted on the young applies. The Yes movement has aged rapidly under the stresses and tensions of the last few years. And it’s starting to show.

I remain to be persuaded that the creaking joints and aching muscles of the Yes movement are capably of responding to the urging its now wise old brain. Nothing would please me better than to be proved wrong. It would gladden my heart greatly were the independence movement able to “agree a strategy that will deliver independence” and unite behind that strategy. But I see little evidence of that. And considerably more evidence that, as will happen with movements which are vulnerable to the malign influence of the British state’s tactics, diversity has become division has become factionalism – the cancer that kills any movement.

These personal doubts aside, I am in full agreement with Jim Fairlie. Not only in respect of his analysis but also with regard to his conclusions and recommendations. The strategy he outlines is the strategy behind which the entire independence movement SHOULD unite. It is not only obviously that right strategy it is the only strategy. It might be amenable to the odd tweak here and there – greater emphasis on renouncing the Section 30 process, perhaps – but we genuinely have run out of options. And we’re running out of time. Whatever motivates those who insist we must give the failed strategy one more try – and I accept that this is well intended – they are wrong. We can argue later about the wisdom of treating the Section 30 process as our ‘gold standard’ when it was always one of the British state’s ploys. Right now, we need to move on. And we need to do so while there is still hope that the ageing Yes movement can be roused to one final effort.

Which brings me to my final point. The strategy outlined by Jim Fairlie – a strategy which differs in no significant way from that which I have long advocated – has obvious implications for the coming Scottish Parliament elections and how they are fought by and on behalf of the SNP. But it is important to recognise that the implications are more far-reaching. This change of approach must be informed and underpinned by a fresh mindset. This is not merely tinkering with tactics. Adopting the strategy urged by Jim Fairlie, along with the appropriate shift of mindset, changes the fundamental nature of the independence movement. And it changes our nation.

The Scotland which approaches the constitutional issue as a nation determinedly asserting the sovereignty of its people and the exclusive competence of its Parliament is a very different entity from the country which behaved as a subordinate meekly petitioned a superior for the boon of permission to exercise an inalienable democratic right. It is a Scotland acting as a nation. It is a Scotland people can more easily envisage being a nation. It is a Scotland at last ready to cast off the Union and restore its rightful constitutional status.

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It’s all ours to take!

I always read – and reread – Joanna Cherry’s column in The National with great interest – and great care. She is, after all, a highly respected lawyer with a strong track record in representing Scotland’s interests and a well-established reputation for clear and often novel thinking on the constitutional issue. What she says matters. Her opinions carry weight. Her perspective is influential. She is a person of some consequence and when she speaks or writes on matters of constitutional law her utterances should be attended to minutely.

I’m a big fan of the law. Lawyers? Maybe not so much! But the law as a concept, in my view, ranks among the greatest of humankind’s contrivances. Perhaps the greatest. For without it civilised human society as we know it could not exist. I like rules. Not rules for their own sake, but rules which fulfil a function. Arbitrary or pointless or unfair or unenforceable rules are more hindrance than help and tend to defeat the purpose of rules, which is to make behaviour predictable. Large, complex societies could not function without the rules which allow each to know with a fair degree of confidence what the other will do in any given situation. Or, at least, to be cognisant of the range of options available within the law.

We must have confidence in the law and the parameters of behaviour it defines in order to function. When we enter into a contract we have to be confident that that it will be honoured. When we walk down the street we have to be confident that the person coming towards us isn’t going to knock us down and rob us. We fear and detest lawlessness because it erodes our confidence that the world and society will work the way we expect it to.

It is the law which allows us this confidence. The better the law, the greater the confidence and the better society functions. The quality of the law, at least for the lay person, may best be assessed in terms of two criteria – clarity and fairness.

The other reason I’m a big fan of the law is language. To some, the language of the law may seem convoluted and impenetrable. But I find the quest for precision very satisfying. I refer, of course, to the best of the law. Because language can as readily be deployed to obfuscate as to clarify. But when the law at its best defines something then there is absolutely to room for doubt about what that thing is. Whether it is ownership rights or contractual obligations or what is acceptable or otherwise in terms of social behaviour, the more tightly it is defined the more likely it is that the law will be applied similarly in all cases and the more fair the law will be perceived to be.

Fairness is entirely about perception. Justice is what is dispensed by the courts. But that which a court of law deems just, people may well perceive as unfair. And, to a significant degree, if it is regarded as unfair then it is unfair. Good law may thus be defined as law which tends to produce outcomes which are both just and fair. That is to say that good law produces outcomes which satisfy both the precise demands of justice and the more nebulous human sense of fairness. Good law is that which is perceived to be fair by both those it favours and those it does not. By this definition, good law is a rarity. The exception to the rule. But we do the best we can.

All of this is by way of preamble to my comments on Joanna Cherry’s article. As I say, I have read and reread the piece and paid close attention to both the words and the language. Words convey meaning. Language conveys ideas. I want to understand both what Ms Cherry is saying and what she is thinking. I am ever mindful that she is both a lawyer and a politician, with all that this implies.

There’s bits I like. There’s bits I don’t like. I really like this bit,

From time to time activists send me lengthy legalistic arguments about Scotland’s nebulous status in the Union which they believe, if ventilated in “the international courts”, would lead to Scotland’s independence. I’m afraid that belief is misguided. There is no legal shortcut to independence.

I like it particularly because she goes on to stress that “The route to independence is through the ballot box.” It is gratifying to have this point expressed by someone of Joanna Cherry’s standing in Scotland’s independence movement. The “lengthy legalistic arguments” are part of a particular discourse in the constitutional debate which I refer to as ‘cunning plans’. Among those who want it, there have probably always been diverse views on how best to achieve the restoration of Scotland’s independence. For the most part, we no longer consider gathering in a field to smite one another with sharpened metal implements an appropriate way of pursuing a political objective. Although the politics we have may at times fall not far short of that level of brutality. But within the range of behaviours deemed acceptable there is room enough for a considerable variety of proposed solutions.

That there may have been something of a proliferation of ‘cunning plans’ – political, legal and electoral – over the last few years is, I would contend, a measure of popular frustration both with the enmeshing tangle of the British legal and constitutional framework and the SNP administration’s failure to navigate a path through that tangle. People are irked because they see unfairness in what is held to be the law and the people they hoped and expected would rectify this unfairness have not done so. Have made no progress towards. Have failed even to address in a way which inspires confidence.

It is possible that some elements of some of these ‘cunning plans’ may have some utility in the fight to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. I can say only that I have not seen anything that seems useful. For the most part, these ‘cunning plans’ are ill-conceived, ill-considered and over-elaborate. Betimes it seems that those concocting these ‘cunning plans’ suppose that complexity is the key to credibility. My experience is that, either at or just beyond the second ‘if’ of the ‘cunning plan’ it enters the realm of fantasy politics. If this and if that then bring on the pastel-hued unicorns.

Scotland’s independence will not be restored by endless courtroom wrangles over this and that piece of the constitutional jigsaw puzzle. Nor will it be restored by way of the electoral system, no matter how much the arithmetic kaleidoscope is shaken. Joanna Cherry is right. The route to independence is through the ballot box. The people will decide. Not the courts nor the roll of electoral dice. The people must decide on the specific question of whether to discontinue the political union with England. They will deliver this decision by means of voting in a referendum. And that decision will be binding on all.

Which brings me to the bits that I don’t like about Joanna Cherry’s column. Or, at least, the parts I like less.

I strongly disapprove of the reference to a “wildcat or illegal referendum”. In the first place, I have no idea what a “wildcat” referendum might be other than that it is what British Nationalists will call any referendum that they disapprove of. And they have made it clear that they disapprove of any referendum. So, according to them, any referendum we might have would be a “wildcat” referendum. British Nationalists will deploy the term “wildcat” to exploit its connotations of impetuosity and recklessness. They will use it to suggest that any referendum is unofficial, unsanctioned, unauthorised and therefore illegitimate. Language matters! That term, and that type of language, should never be uttered by any SNP politician. Particularly one as prominent and respected as Joanna Cherry.

Nor should she be lending credibility to the concept of a referendum being “illegal”. If for no other reason than that it makes no sense. How could there be such a thing as an “illegal” referendum? If it is not sanctioned by the relevant and legitimate authority then it is not a referendum and cannot happen as a meaningful exercise. If it is declared “illegal” by some authority other than the relevant and legitimate one, then it is the declaration that is meaningless and the referendum perfectly legal.

What matters is not legality but democratic legitimacy. The democratic legitimacy of the authority sanctioning the referendum and the democratic legitimacy of the process involved in conducting the referendum. So long as there is that democratic legitimacy, mere local legality is meaningless.

Joanna Cherry states the issue rather succinctly,

My interest is in the question of how Scotland might hold a legally sanctioned referendum on the question of independence without having to be dependent on the Westminster Government’s permission.

Mine too, Ms Cherry! And I know that the reason the SNP has not found a way through that “enmeshing tangle of the British legal and constitutional framework” is that there is no way through. There is no path to independence within the legal and constitutional framework that has evolved as a carapace for the Union. Therefore, there is no possibility of a referendum that is ‘legal’ in the eyes of a British state unimpeded in its adopting of positions by considerations of fairness or justice or democratic principle.

I get the sense – and it is no more than a personal impression – that Joanna Cherry is aware of the futility of seeking accommodation and cooperation from the British political elite. I strongly suspect she realises that neither Plan A nor Plan B is viable; nor any plan which allows that the British state can have political authority absent any semblance of democratic legitimacy. I get the feeling that Joanna Cherry may be edging towards the position so ably declared by Jim Fairlie only a few weeks ago.

For a change, the headline over Jim’s column stated the point very succinctly.

Scotland must reassert its sovereignty to decide its constitutional future

Scotland! Assert! Sovereignty! Constitution! Those four words sum up the true solution to Scotland’s constitutional conundrum. Because in reality there is no conundrum. Only the Scottish Parliament has democratic legitimacy in Scotland. Therefore, only the Scottish Parliament can have the political authority to sanction a referendum to decide Scotland’s constitutional status. As Jim Fairlie says,

There is a road through this impasse however. It is bold. It is forthright, and it answers only to the people of Scotland.

More and more people are coming to the same conclusion. Scotland’s predicament has become such that it is increasing ridiculous to think in terms of the British state granting its gracious consent, by way of a Section 30 order, to the people of Scotland exercising their fundamental right of self-determination (Plan A). It is just as ridiculous to entertain notions of the British state acknowledging the competence of the Scottish Parliament in constitutional matters by way of the same Section 30 process. If the Scottish Parliament has that competence then it has it by virtue of its democratic legitimacy and not by the good grace of jealous Britannia.

Even if Plan A and/or Plan B were viable they would not satisfy Scottish aspirations. Maybe there was a time when we would have been content with independence as a gift from the British state. (Or maybe there wasn’t and that at least partly explains the tragedy of 2014.) But no longer! No longer will Scottish aspirations be satisfied by anything less than the independence that we take for ourselves. For it to be our independence it must be restored by a process sanctioned by our Parliament and none other!

It’s our nation! It’s our right of self-determination! It’s our referendum! It has nothing to do with Westminster and Westminster should have no role or presence in a process entirely made and managed in Scotland under the auspices of Scotland’s democratic institutions.

What we urgently need is to hear this bold and forthright position declared by our political leaders. Or, at least, by those among our political representatives who possess the fortitude to show leadership. Could this be Joanna Cherry?

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Precious to whom?

Yet the most devastating finding in today’s new poll is that people in England identifying as Conservative supporters are evenly split on the subject with 49% saying they support independence against 51% who were opposed.

Nearly half of Tory voters in England back English independence, poll finds

Think about it! If almost half of voters in England want to see an end to the Union then this is likely to be true also of English people living and voting in Scotland – at least to some extent. An approach to the constitutional issue which framed it as a campaign to end the Union – effectively restoring the independence of both countries – is likely to appeal to more of those people than a campaign which is presented as being all about getting something for Scotland. Especially when that something is portrayed as negatively as Scottish independence is by the British media.

Scotland’s cause may have been to some degree anti-English historically. But for a handful of holdouts who imagine history to have a rewind and pause function, it has not been about ‘the English’ for many decades.The modern independence movement is not concerned with the ancient animosities which poisoned the relationship between our two nations. Scotland’s cause experienced a reformation in the 20th century and our modern civic nationalism is concerned only with building a new relationship between Scotland and England. A relationship informed by 21st century democracy rather than one derived from archaic political, social and economic thinking.

More and more people are recognising that the Union is an obstacle to achieving that new relationship. More and more people in both our nations are realising that the Union is ‘precious’ only to a pustule of privilege within a relatively small constituency which pines for a world to which they cannot return any more than that handful of holdouts who refuse to accept that “Those days are past now; and in the past they must remain,”. Or that when Scotland does “rise again” it will not be a Scotland of warlike and warring clansmen, but as a Scotland capable of preserving the best of its traditions while casting off the worst of its old arrangements. A Scotland still holding to core principles, but happy to abandon outmoded practices.

Scotland will be transformed by the restoration of our independence. But the same is true for England. The England of today is as much a product and function of the archaic, asymmetric and anti-democratic Union as is Scotland. Both nations have been shaped by the increasing toxic relationship fostered by a political union forged, not in friendship and trust but in enmity and suspicion. A political union devised exclusively for the purposes of the privileged few and at whatever cost to the many who have been stripped of their power by just such devices as the Union. The Union which is ‘precious’ only to those intent on maintaining the structures of power, privilege and patronage which underpin and sustain an elite which today wears the face of Boris Johnson and which promises tomorrow to wear something even uglier.

As much as it is time to end Scotland’s status as the annexed territory of our southern neighbour it is time to relieve England of its status as the political and economic plaything of a decadent and decaying elite.

To this highly appealing end, we must rethink our whole approach to the constitutional issue in Scotland. We must reshape the mindset which bids us petition for that which we need only assert. We must reframe the constitutional question as frank, honest and penetrating scrutiny of the Union rather than a test of Scotland’s fitness for something that is ours as a nation as much as sovereignty is the inalienable possession of the individual. Framed thus, constitutional normalisation can be shown to serve not only the citizens of both Scotland and England-as-Britain but democracy itself.

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How to stop a pandemic

Take very special note of those last three words in Devi Sridhar’s quoted remarks. The words “chains of infection” provide the most apt description of the problem. We must break all chains of infection so as to be able to claim a measure of success. Obviously, we have had considerable success. But as long as one chain remains it can grow and branch and grow again.

The only certain way to break chains of infection is to starve the virus of new hosts. The only effective way to do this is to isolate everybody and keep them isolated until there are no more chains of infection. If this is not possible, then you get as close to it as you can. Success in eradicating the virus from a population is a function of the degree of success in achieving total isolation.

Isolation happens at the level of the individual and takes two form – distance and barrier. Or, obviously, some combination of the two. The more effectively distance is maintained the less need there is for some form of barrier – which could be anything from a simple face-mask to a full Hazmat suit. The converse is also true. Distance isolation hardly matters if you’re fully suited up. But the less complete and reliable the barrier isolation the more need there is to maintain distance isolation.

All of which sounds like little more than ‘common sense’. But the most important bit is yet to come. Because all chains of infection must be broken, and because there is no way to know if you are a link in a chain of infection until after you’ve functioned as a link and because you have no way of knowing if the chain of infection you might be on will be broken by someone else, you have to proceed as if you are a link in a chain of infection and must be the break. You be the break in the chain of infection by implementing the strictest isolation you are capable of and maintaining it as long as possible.

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A ‘promising’ proposal

It takes a lot of flawed thinking to believe in the magical powers of these new pop-up list parties and their cunning plans to game the voting system. But that’s OK. Because there are myriad ways for thinking to be flawed. I shall mention just three. Let’s call them.

  • Arithmetic/plan conflation
  • Virtue by association
  • Partial assessment

To illustrate the first of these, let me put a proposition to you. I want every pro-independence voter to give me £100. I plan to accumulate £100,000,000. I then plan on using this to get another £100,000,000. I will then have £200,000,000 which I will use to do whatever each of you considers to be your most favoured amazing and wonderful things.

How many of you immediately reached for the ‘Pay Now’ button? Probably not many. Your first instinct would be to ask questions about the plan. My response is to insist that you look at the arithmetic. Given the number of pro-independence voters it is perfectly feasible to raise £100,000.000 in the way I propose. And look at the amazing and wonderful things! £100,000,000 plus £100,000,000 is £200,000,000. And look at the amazing and wonderful things! The arithmetic checks out. And look at the amazing and wonderful things!

If your thinking isn’t flawed, you recognise that the arithmetic and the plan are quite separate and different things and that the fact the arithmetic works doesn’t mean the plan works. You also recognise that however amazing and wonderful the promise it is worthless if it isn’t connected to the proposal by a viable plan.

The kind of flawed thinking I’ve called virtue by association is the rich vein of human folly which confidence tricksters and political charlatans throughout the ages have sought to mine. The mother lode of mindlessness. Having lent their proposal superficial and spurious credibility by quoting some numbers that add up, the shyster will then produce the promise – an outcome described using an array of constantly repeated glittering generalities. Glittering generalities are words and phrases laden with positive connotations and associations but with no substance or core meaning. Glittering generalities – often combined with plausible science or mathematics – is the language of dishonest politics and dubious marketing.

The idea is that having impressed with the unarguable science (or arithmetic), the snake-oil salesman of instructional fable then dazzles the dupe with a promise that blazes with the light of a million suns so that they fail to notice the absence of any plan linking the proposal to the promise. No mapped path from one to the other.

A marketing phrase which neatly combines the plausible science with the glittering generality is ‘Up to 100% effective!’. This pill is ‘up to 100% effective in relieving pain’. This disinfectant kills ‘up to 100% of known household germs’ (note too the additional qualifiers ‘known’ and ‘household’). This snake-oil is ‘up to 100% effective in curing up to 100% of the ailments listed’.

This tactical voting strategy is ‘up to 100% effective in ensuring more pro-independence MSPs and/or fewer Unionist MSPs!’. And if you have any lingering doubts about the promise, just look at the proposal! Look at the arithmetic! Look at how the arithmetic works! Look at how amazing and wonderful the promise is! Just don’t look for the plan that connects the proposal to the promise. And if you do look for that plan and fail to find it then that is because you fail to understand the arithmetic and/or you don’t value the promised outcome as you would if you were a true believer.

Anyone who has sought to engage with proponents of pop-up list parties will find something eerily familiar in the foregoing.

Partial assessment describes the flawed thinking that the snake-oil salesman (other gender identities are available) is seeking to exploit. What matters to the shyster and the political propagandist alike is not only what the target audience/market/constituency thinks about what’s being sold but what they don’t think about at all. The ‘other stuff’. The stuff that is not covered by either the proposal or the promise. The implications and consequences that flow from the entire package – incomplete as that entire package may be.

Partial assessment involves weighing the proposed solution to a problem – which may or may not be real or as serious as it is made out to be – only against the promise attached to it. It involves excluding all negatives. All the pros and none of the cons. Well! Maybe one very trivial con just for appearances.

The word ‘partial’ is relevant in both its sense of ‘incomplete’ and its sense of ‘favouring’. Never mind the quality! Feel the width! Never mind the risk! Look at the prize! Don’t think about what you stand to lose! Look at what you might win!

Charlatans have descended on Scotland’s politics the way pickpockets descend on tourist hot-spots. Frustration with the SNP attracts power-hungry chancers like blood in the water attracts flesh-hungry sharks. Opportunity breeds exploitation. A fox with a full belly will try to catch and kill anything which is both edible and available. Individuals driven by ambition and factions driven by ideology will scavenge for power wherever it may be found. If sufficiently driven, they will resort to any means to seize the smallest scrap of power. Just as long as it isn’t power of the type or in the measure which brings with it responsibility.

It takes a lot of flawed thinking to believe in the magical powers of these new pop-up list parties and their cunning plans. It takes only a little rational thinking to see though the scam. For Scotland’s sake, make sure rationality wins.

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I am not a pigeon

I am not sure which of my personalities is writing this. I don’t know if it’s the virulently anti-SNP blogger who undermines the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence with incessant vicious attacks on Nicola Sturgeon – as described by Pete Wishart and similarly shallow-minded individuals – or the mindless party loyalist who considers independence to be ‘all about the SNP’ and is a devoted member of the Nicola Sturgeon personality cult as portrayed by various online commentators giving vent to absolute conclusions about who I am on the basis of one uncomprehended Tweet or the title of one unread article or some uninformed third-party account of my opinions and attitudes.

I am, if you believe those total strangers who purport to know my mind better than I do, both unquestioningly loyal to the SNP and implacably opposed to the SNP. I am, by various accounts, simultaneously obsessive in my veneration of Nicola Sturgeon and in my hatred of her. I am at one and the same time someone who is totally committed to the restoration of Scotland’s independence and someone who is determined to obstruct and impede progress towards this worthy goal.

And all of these things are true… partly… sort of. Like most people, I don’t fit easily (or willingly) into any hole designed for a pigeon. I am not a pigeon.

Who I am depends on what you ask me. Ask me how I feel about the SNP and I will reach for words such as disappointed, frustrated, angry, impatient, perplexed, exasperated and more in the same vein. For some, this can mean nothing other than that I am fervently opposed to the SNP. Ask me what I think of the SNP and I will state with the confidence of protracted and thorough consideration that the party is the only source of the effective political power without which no strategy fro restoring Scotland’s independence can possibly succeed and therefore absolutely essential to that process. For some, this can mean only that I am a mindless party loyalist who discounts all other parts of the Yes movement.

Not being a pigeon I can’t comment on a pigeon’s capacity for pragmatism. All I can say is that my own is considerable. I can recognise that a coat is threadbare, torn and dirty while being pragmatic enough to accept that wearing it is better than succumbing to hypothermia. I am certainly pragmatic enough to use that coat in preference to freezing to death if it is merely a little ill-fitting or unfashionable.

Ask me how I feel about Nicola Sturgeon and I will freely admit to being slightly in awe of her. I truly admire her abilities as a politician and insofar as I can discern these from a distance, her qualities as a person. I respect and trust her. Just not totally and implicitly. Ask me what I think of Nicola Sturgeon and I will say that for all her undeniable abilities and qualities she is as prone to misjudgement and folly as any other human being. Or maybe just a wee bit less prone. Perhaps that is part of what makes her a bit special.

Not being a pigeon confined to a hole, I can quite comfortably feel great admiration for Nicola Sturgeon and recognise when she has made a mistake. I don’t hate her for her mistakes. If human error was cause for hatred then there would be more hatred in the world than any one planet might contain. I regret her misjudgements and decline to draw a veil over them other than in circumstances where those misjudgements are trivial enough that they fail to tip the scales when weighed against Scotland’s cause and Scotland’s interests. Where I judge the misjudgements to be serious, I will question and criticise and challenge. Because I am not a pigeon.

I am not extraordinary in any way other than that I may think more deeply and analytically than most people. This is not a boast. It is perfectly possible for these traits to be faults. It is possible to think so deeply about things that one never reaches any kind of conclusion. It is possible to be analytical to the point that it becomes nit-picking. But it is essential to think beyond the shallows of superficial presentation and analyse beyond the facile explanations. It may, for reasons of practicality, be necessary settle upon a conclusion and call a halt to the analysing. But this should always be done reluctantly. It should never be done lightly. It should never leave important questions unasked. It should never be a compromise that you are uncomfortable with.

You should not go easily into a pigeon-hole of your own making. You are not a pigeon.

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