Crunch time!

scotlands_parliament.pngMike Russell notes that the primary duty of the Scottish Parliament and its Members is to serve the people of Scotland and protect their interests. One would hope and expect this to be no more than a statement of the obvious. We would tend to assume that this is a sentiment with which every MSP would concur. It would seem to be a fundamental principle, that those elected to a Parliament owe full allegiance to the people who elect them. In most circumstances, this would simply be taken for granted.

But Scotland’s circumstances are exceptional. The great divide in Scottish politics is such that the allegiances of those on one side of that divide cannot be assumed.

We hear a great deal of talk about ‘divisive’ politics. Much of it is strident and angry. As if division was some horrifying new phenomenon being introduced to our politics by ‘bad’ politicians, rather than simply a perfectly normal feature of all politics. Without division, there is no politics. Politics is a contest of ideas. Democratic politics allows everybody to participate in that contest. Democracy provides a means by which the people can be active in the contest of ideas, both as advocates and as judges. In a true and properly functioning democracy, all political authority derives from the people, and only the people can be the ultimate arbiters in the contest of ideas. In an ideal democracy, all the people affected by political choices participate in the process of debate and decision-making.

It is not politicians who create division. Their role is to represent the people in the contest of ideas. To facilitate the democratic process. To conduct the process of debate and decision-making for and on behalf of the electorate.

Politicians should be judged on whether, and how well, they serve the polity. That is all. But there may be a question as to which polity they actually serve.

There are, of course, many divisions in politics. Where politicians seek to portray division as a bad thing, it will always be only very particular forms or instances of division that are condemned. Commonly, the division being denounced will be on a matter where the politician doing the condemning feels their arguments are weak. Rather than engage in the contest of ideas on a particular issue, they object to there being a contest at all. Typically, they will seek to award themselves a bye in that particular contest. They declare themselves winners, not by dint of their superior arguments, but by rejecting the idea that they should have been called upon to formulate and advance any arguments in the first place.

It goes without saying that these are politicians who cannot be judged favourably on the basis of their service to a democratic process that they are trying to obstruct and circumvent. The politician’s job is to address divisions – hopefully, in a mature and rational fashion – not to deny them. Divisions denied or inadequately addressed will tend to fester and degenerate into conflicts.

There are few, if any, trivial divisions in politics. Political divisions reflect social divisions. The contest of ideas is not an abstract intellectual exercise. The ideas being contested derive from various social imbalances, the way these are perceived and proposals for rectifying or ameliorating them. Every division is important to someone. The outcome of every bout in the political tournament impacts on real people. Politics matters to everyone.

Having said that, there is a scale of greater and lesser divisions. It must be so, for surely there is a scale of greater and lesser ideas to be contested in the political arena. While no division is totally insignificant, there are ideas – concepts – which lie at the very core of our politics, because they relate to the very nature of our politics and our society.

The greatest of divisions are, inevitably, constitutional. It is necessarily so because all other divisions ultimately come back to the matter of who decides and how the decisions are made and how they are implemented and how they are upheld and how they may be amended or rescinded. The late Tony Benn elegantly and succinctly captured the essence of constitutional politics when he formulated the five questions which must be asked of established power.

What power have you got?
Where did you get it from?
In whose interests do you use it?
To whom are you accountable?
How do we get rid of you?

However much some politicians may deny and evade and minimise and deflect, it is an incontrovertible fact that the greatest division in Scottish politics is on the matter of the Union. More specifically, to the flaws which make the Union constitutionally untenable. The asymmetry – or ‘democratic deficit’ – which means Scotland’s interests can never be adequately represented, served or protected. And the explicit denial of the principle of popular sovereignty in favour of a concept of parliamentary sovereignty which is at best archaic, and, at worst, anti-democratic.

To properly understand Scotland’s politics it is essential to understand the core constitutional issue. To adequately appreciate the ‘Grand Divide’ in Scottish politics it is necessary to grasp the ideas which lie on either side of that divide. Ideas which are being ever more vigorously contested.

Articles, long essays and entire books have been written exploring and explaining and critiquing these ideas. Here, brevity is required – even at the cost of oversimplification and generalisation.

On the one side, we have the idea of Union and those who wish to preserve an archaic, anachronistic, anomalous and evidently dysfunctional constitutional settlement.

On the other we have the idea of independence and those who favour the normalisation of Scotland’s constitutional status, the restoration of powers to the Scottish Parliament and government by a democratically elected administration.

Which brings us back to the matter of our MSPs and the question of their loyalties. Whatever else it may be, the Scottish Government’s Continuity Bill is a test of the allegiance of MSPs. In supporting or opposing the Bill they will effectively be choosing between.

  • The Scottish Parliament to which they were elected and which has genuine democratic legitimacy.
  • A different parliament in a different country with a different political culture voted by a different electorate and serving a different polity. A parliament where Scotland has little more than token representation and where sits a government with no mandate from the Scottish electorate.

The people of Scotland are surely entitled to expect that, at a minimum, those they elect to represent them at Holyrood should accept the authority of the Scottish Parliament. We might reasonably anticipate that they would acknowledge the democratic legitimacy of the Scottish Parliament and respect it’s decisions and rulings as truly representing the will of Scotland’s people.

Further, are we not entitled to insist that those we elect to the Scottish Parliament be willing to affirm the democratic right of self-determination and acknowledge that this right is vested wholly in the people of Scotland to be exercised entirely at their discretion? How can someone legitimately sit in the Scottish Parliament who denies the right of Scotland’s people to freely chose the form of government that best suits their needs?

The question for MSPs is clear and simply. Do you accept that your primary role is to serve the people of Scotland and protect their interests? Or is your allegiance to a British state which is inherently incapable of serving the people of Scotland and which is actively working against their interests in ways that are countless, but vividly exemplified by Brexit?

The people of Scotland are watching their elected representatives in the Scottish Parliament. We are waiting to see which of them deserve to be there.


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Queen to…

white_queenFor some months now I have been attempting to placate those who have expressed impatience with Nicola Sturgeon by assuring them that she has a plan. A plan which involves letting the British government make the case for the moves she intends to make. Moves such as the introduction of the Continuity Bill. It has been a matter of gradually ramping up the response level as the actions of British Ministers grow more explicitly confrontational.

It’s all about proportionality. For many of us, it was plain enough to see that the British government intended to use the Brexit process as an opportunity to weaken the Scottish Parliament – which British Nationalists regard as a potential obstacle to their ‘One nation’ state; not to mention it being a deterrent to the kind of predatory corporate interests with which the British state will be obliged to do business after Brexit. But this was not necessarily evident to the general public. The First Minister has to be able to explain her actions with reference to things actually said and done by British Ministers.

Not that it will make any difference to the media. They will portray Nicola Sturgeon as the intransigent aggressor regardless. According to the British media, David Lidington didn’t threaten to strip powers from the Scottish Parliament and declare the intention to impose ‘UK-wide common frameworks’ that would eliminate “discrepancies” among the nations of the UK. He didn’t declare, in effect, that it is unacceptable for Scotland to have policies developed for Scotland’s needs and priorities; implemented by a government with a mandate from the Scottish people; scrutinised, amended and approved by a parliament with genuine democratic legitimacy. Instead, we are to have forced on us policies and ‘solutions’ devised by people who are not accountable to the Scottish electorate and whose priorities are those of their masters in London.

And the British media’s spin on this? Nicola Sturgeon ‘rejects’ an ‘offer’ from the UK Government. The FM is perfectly aware that this kind of distortion of the facts cannot be prevented. All she can do is wait long enough for the media’s dishonesty to be apparent to as many people as possible.

The First Minister’s actions may seem to be one step behind the British government. But you can be sure her thinking is several moves ahead. Things are moving inexorably towards a new independence referendum in September 2018. The Yes movement need only stand firm with Nicola Sturgeon and her Ministers. The British political elite will do the rest.

PS – Apart from the stated purpose of the Continuity Bill, who has figured out what else it does?


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Standing up for Scotland

scotland_eu.png

Let me just get this out of the way. Brexit was probably quite feasible. It was almost certainly possible for the UK to leave the EU with minimum cost and disruption. At a guess, I’d say a successful project to effect a reasonably smooth divorce would have required two years just to prepare for a referendum, and at least five years of preparation prior to invoking Article 50. So, a decade. If a decision had been taken in 2007/8, we’d be almost there by now.

The exercise would also have demanded the commitment of some extraordinarily capable politicians and diplomats backed by a substantial network of highly qualified civil servants, specialist lawyers and trained negotiators. Simply constructing the roadmap to Brexit would need a massive effort. Developing an adequate understanding of exactly what was involved could take months of work.

All of this would depend on competent leadership. Perhaps even ‘strong and stable’ leadership. The kind of leadership that brings together all the strands of such a major undertaking – guiding, motivating and, where necessary, commanding. The kind of leadership which engages the public and earns the respect of other national leaders. The kind of leadership which wins for those who exhibit it the accolade of ‘statesman’.
It could all have been very different.

Instead of making proper preparations, the British political elite stumbled into the Brexit process with all the panache of Boris Johnson on a zip-wire. It is daily more evident that nobody in the Leave camp had a clue what was involved in taking the UK out of the EU. Nobody had thought it through. Nobody understood the implications. Nobody foresaw the problems. Nobody considered the consequences. There never was a plan. Its not even clear that anybody saw the need for a plan.

There may be some competent and capable people working behind the scenes. I have considerable, if somewhat grudging, respect for the British Civil Service. By and large, they are a very professional lot. Whether or not we approve of what they are instructed to do by their political masters, we must allow that they tend to do it with a certain quiet efficiency.

Lions they may be – at least within the context of their trade. But they are lions led by lobotomised donkeys.

The dumb, bungling, bumbling ineptitude and clumsy, cack-handed incompetence of the British political elite defies description. The best thesaurus buckles under the strain of trying to capture in words the woeful inadequacy and wretched vacuousness of them. Miserable! Deplorable! Execrable! And that’s before we get to the bumptious, self-satisfied arrogance and the barging, bullying presumption. Or the demented, deluded detachment from reality.

Never, I venture, in its entire squalid and suspiciously stained history has the Westminster system deposited on the pavement of our politics a more abominable, damnable, detestable example of its product than the current British regime.

mike_russellGiven the foregoing, it is gratifying to find Scottish Ministers, such as Mike Russell, taking a stand against that odious regime. They are, after all, our elected representatives. They have a mandate from the people of Scotland. They speak for Scotland. They would be derelict in their duty did they not denounce the reckless rabble in charge of the Brexit shambles.

Bear in mind that we voted against this. Enough people in Scotland were sufficiently suspicious of the Leave campaign in the EU referendum to produce a 62% Remain vote; against the 38% who didn’t pick up on the clues to impending catastrophe – like the presence of Nigel Farage. That’s the vote which matters to Scottish politicians. That is the verdict of the Scottish people. That is the choice the Scottish Government must seek to honour.

Of course, Scotland is still strapped to the millstone of the British state. Which means that the Scottish Government is obliged to accommodate the UK-wide Leave vote. And nobody can sensibly claim that they haven’t tried. But it’s all one way. Being part of the UK means that the democratic will of Scotland’s people is treated with total contempt. There is no attempt at accommodation or compromise on the part of the British government. Quite the contrary. They deal with Scotland’s difference by first disregarding it and then seeking to suppress it.

The whole Brexit fiasco nicely illustrates the way the Union works against Scotland. It is the relationship between Scotland and the British state in microcosm. Just as Scotland’s different choice regarding the EU is ignored and then condemned as a threat, so the distinctiveness of Scotland’s culture is being denied, decried and denigrated. Just as with the difference in regard to the EU, the next stage in the process is an attempt to eliminate the distinctiveness.

We’ve heard David Mundell speak ominously of “UK-wide common frameworks”. We’ve heard David Lidington state threateningly that “discrepancies” cannot be allowed. The message could not be clearer. Difference will not be tolerated by the British state. A common framework will be imposed regardless of the wishes of Scotland’s people. Scotland’s distinctive political culture will be eradicated in favour of a homogenised ‘One Nation’ British state.

The hope of a better, fairer more prosperous society shaped by the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people is to be extinguished.

This is what Mike Russell is standing against. It is not just a fight to protect Scotland from the most dire consequences of the Brexit debacle. It is a fight to protect Scotland’s vital public services from the worst excesses of a British ruling elite wedded to neo-liberal orthodoxy and consumed by austerity fetishism.

It is a fight to defend Scotland’s democratic institutions and processes against the dread onslaught of a vile British Nationalist ideology.

All who wish Scotland well should stand with Mike Russell and his colleagues. It’s our Government, our Parliament, our democracy. We must defend all of it.


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Independence is not a “Left Alternative”

A timely and necessary reminder from Jason Michael that not everyone wearing a Yes badge is equally committed to independence.

Random Public Journal

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By Jason Michael

Scottish independence is about Scottish independence. When we allow it to be attached to other political ideologies we alienate potential independentistas, and run the risk of losing another referendum. Independence is for all of us.

There was a while in the Yes movement when the term “left” or “radical alternative” was almost synonymous with at least the public face of the campaign for independence. Those voices advocating such political novelties as “progressive politics” and “new leftism,” thanks to the amplifying effect of social media, gave the impression of being at once the heart and the advance guard of the entire movement, but nothing could have been further from the truth. What we have discovered in the pregnant pause between the last independence referendum and the next is that the backbone of the independence movement is a centrist to left-of-centre Scottish working class, not at all always…

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Here we go again!

moneyThe very first thing that George Kerevan and others must learn is to distinguish between the movement and the campaign. The things that work for a political movement are not necessarily the things that work for a political campaign. They are very different things.

Diversity can be a very good thing for a political movement. But, in a political campaign, diversity can all too readily become division. In a political campaign, solidarity is more important than diversity.

A movement may benefit greatly from openness to all manner of ideas. A campaign must be totally focused on its objective.

The absence of constraints may enable a political movement to grow and develop. A campaign requires discipline.

The movement is the marching. The campaign is the battle.

That is the starting point. Without a firm grasp of the essential difference between the movement and the campaign as a foundation, any thinking on the nature, structure and function of either – but particularly the latter – is almost certainly going to be fatally flawed. Evidence of that flawed thinking abounds here.

Apparently, “activists are angry they are not getting a political lead”. Really? Maybe activists are getting a political lead but simply don’t recognise it as such because it’s subtle and nuanced and nobody is explaining it to them because their thinking has run aground on the reef of glib phrases such as “activists are angry they are not getting a political lead”. Maybe the political lead that activists are getting from Nicola Sturgeon is that they are the ones who must take the political lead at this time.

If you haven’t already made up your mind that there is no political lead being given, perhaps you won’t be deaf to the political lead that is being given. Maybe you’ll hear the subtext in pretty much everything the First Minister has been saying on the subject of a new independence referendum over the past couple of years. A subtext which is asking for substantial and evident public demand for that new referendum. Sometimes, the people must lead. Sometimes, the people must be the ones to drive events.

Nicola Sturgeon has a mandate for a referendum. The British establishment refuses to recognise that mandate. The British parties squatting in the Scottish Parliament will not even accept the authority of the assembly to which they have been elected. What Nicola Sturgeon wants is for us to strengthen her hand. That is the political lead she is providing. If only activists were more prepared to listen and less eager to criticise. If only prominent figures in the party were better able to convey to activists what is being asked of them.

We are constantly being told that we must learn the lessons of the first independence referendum campaign. Almost daily, we are solemnly advised that we should not repeat the same mistakes. As if anybody actually thought that would be a good idea. That’s right up there with sage counsel about not holding the referendum at the wrong time. Just in case the movement to have the referendum at the wrong time should gain any momentum.

This sort of inanity tends to come from the same people who berate the SNP and the whole independence movement for failing to scrutinise the reasons the Yes campaign didn’t win in 2014. I don’t know where these people have been for the past three and a half years, but I’ve attended countless meetings in that time. At pretty much every one of those meetings – particularly in the early months – the matter of the first referendum campaign was one of the main subjects under discussion. Anybody who suggests there has been no post-mortem on the 2014 referendum doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

Of course, you can’t learn from past mistakes unless and until you understand them. Far too much of the analysis that has been done focused on what the Yes campaign did wrong. Because that’s what was being looked for, that is what was found. Asking different questions provides a fresh perspective and new insights. If you really want to learn from a past campaign, there’s only so much you can glean from looking at the losers. Additional and, perhaps, more useful lessons can be learned by looking at the winners.

By asking different questions and re-framing our inquiry we can free ourselves from facile, but fixed, assumptions.

The assumption that “the indy case bombed on the currency question” perfectly exemplifies the product of shallow analysis. Not that the “currency question” wasn’t a failing of the Yes campaign. Just that it wasn’t the failing that so many assume. They fail to fully understand the issue because they approach it as something the Yes campaign did wrong without considering the possibility that it was something that the No campaign did right.

It is painfully easy to imagine the smug, self-satisfied, sneering grin on Blair McDougall’s face as he watched the Yes movement tear itself to shreds over the ‘currency issue’. It sickens me to think of his drooling, orgasmic glee at a success made all the more pleasurable by the surprising ease with which so many Yes activists were manipulated. Better Together/Project Fear hardly had to bother attacking the Scottish Government’s position on currency. At any given time, about a third of the Yes movement was doing the work for them.

The British establishment didn’t have to concern itself with distracting attention from the weakness of its position, because the Yes campaign seemed oblivious to that weakness. The threat to unilaterally abolish the currency union was an act of political desperation. It wasn’t calculated. It wasn’t thought through. It was so massively flawed that it would have collapsed completely if the Yes movement had so much as glanced at it. But by far the most vocal part of the Yes movement was far too busy attacking Alex Salmond. Instead of asking awkward questions about George Osborne’s ‘plan’, they were preoccupied with parroting the British media’s demands for a ‘plan B’.

The Yes campaign’s mistake in 2014 wasn’t a failure to properly answer questions about currency. It was a failure to ask the right questions. All the effort went into echoing the No campaign’s complaints that the currency position hadn’t been adequately explained, and almost no effort went into explaining it.

The truth is that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the Scottish Government’s position on currency. It was precisely what it purported to be – the best solution, on balance, for both Scotland and the rest of the UK.

More importantly, there was nothing in the Scottish Government’s position on currency – and the rest of the ‘White Paper’ – which couldn’t be supported by the entire Yes movement without any cost to their diverse political agendas.

Inducing the Yes movement to undermine its own ‘manifesto’ was surely one of the big wins chalked up by Project Fear. If the ‘currency issue’ contributed to the outcome of the 2014 referendum, it was because a significant part of the Yes campaign opted to run with the narrative generated by the British state’s propaganda machine.

People often ask what the No campaign in the new referendum will look like. They wonder what arguments Project Fear 2 might deploy now that it has been comprehensively and conclusively established that the No vote in 2014 was won on a prospectus of lies, smears, false promises and empty threats. It’s a good question. The answer may be that they don’t really need to make much effort. If George Kerevan’s article is any indication, the anti-independence campaign can simply rely on the Yes movement making the same mistakes as before.


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Hard questions for No voters

sunday_telegraph_liddington

To the very limited extent that the British political elite can be said to have a ‘strategy’ in relation to Brexit this can be summed up as follows:

  • Muddle along with one eye on Nigel Farage and the other on the right-wing British media.
  • Whatever the British media respond to positively, pretend it’s what you planned all along.
  • Whatever the British media respond to negatively, blame it on the EU and/or the SNP.

Either bold and powerful Britannia is using her might to mould the future according to her iron will; or plucky little Britannia is being beaten down by foreign bullies and undermined by the treachery of her servants. The one certainty in the whole sorry farce of Brexit is that none of those perpetrating this act of political and economic vandalism will be in any way responsible for the damage caused. What cannot be claimed as their glorious triumph will always be someone else’s ignominious failure.

Some will insist that this is just the nature of politics. They will point out that it was ever thus. They will label naive any who suggest it might be otherwise. So inured are we to the deceit, duplicity and dishonesty that characterises the conduct of British politics that we tend to regard hope for better as something only for credulous children. If there is a line that the British establishment might cross in its abuse of trust and contempt for people, that line never seems to be quite within reach.

Here in Scotland, Unionists demand ever greater sacrifice in the name of preserving the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define their British state. They insist that we meekly accept every insult to our dignity and every assault on our rights for the sake of maintaining a system that serves the few at the expense of the many, because ‘there is no other way’. There is no fate which might befall us as part of their British state that wouldn’t be massively outdone in sheer horror by the consequences of seeking to escape that fate. The line can always be moved to keep the Union this side of intolerable.

It is the very definition of an abusive relationship.

At what point do those demanding sacrifice in the name of the Union start to ask if the sacrifice is worth it? For those who voted No in the 2014 independence referendum, is there such a thing as enough? Is there anything the British political elite might do which would provoke them to question the choice they made?

The claim trumpeted by the Sunday Telegraph that “Nicola Sturgeon’s government” is attempting to “seize control of key trade powers” goes well beyond mere media spin. It is more than just a political lie. It is a grotesque perversion of truth. In the first place, the “powers” referred to are in devolved areas. Even if we set aside for the moment the fact that all powers over public policy rightfully belong with the Parliament with the democratic legitimacy which comes from being elected by Scotland’s people, these are powers which should reside with the Scottish Parliament according the British state’s own self-serving rules.

And how might the Scottish Government hope to “seize control” of those powers? The British state refuses to recognise the democratic mandate given to the SNP administration by Scottish voters. Just as the British politicians who squat in the Scottish Parliament refuse to accept its authority. Scotland’s democratic apparatus is being systematically weakened and delegitimised as the British executive awards itself ever greater authority to unilaterally rewrite the devolution settlement. What capacity has the Scottish Government to “seize” anything?

Will Unionists in Scotland shrug off the gross falsehood? Will they expect the rest of us to do likewise? Will those who condemn the British state’s dishonesty be spuriously denounced as indulging in the ‘politics of grievance’?

Will the British parties in Scotland continue to collude with the British state as it dismantles devolution? Will their remaining members and supporters continue to put partisan allegiance before the needs, priorities, aspirations and democratic rights of Scotland’s people?

When will Unionists in Scotland think to ask what David Liddington means when he talks of the “national interest”? What might make them reflect whether this “national interest” coincides or conflicts with Scotland’s interests? What might prompt them to wonder why Scotland’s democratically elected representatives are being excluded from all discussions pertaining to this supposed “national interest”?

Anyone who values Scotland’s distinctive political culture would have experienced a chill of dark foreboding on hearing David Mundell talk of “UK-wide common frameworks”. What then are we to make of Liddington warning that “discrepancies between [sic] the UK’s four nations” are not to be tolerated? Surely all but the most fervent British Nationalist ideologue must now recognise this as a blatant and explicit threat to Scotland’s democracy.

Not before time, the constitutional implications of Brexit are emerging from the noxious fog of lies and distortion generated by the British establishment. It is now clear that, if the Scottish people, their Government and their Parliament do not act to prevent it, Scotland will be subsumed in a ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist state, with little hope of relief. The threat is real. The threat is imminent. The threat is evident. The British political elite isn’t even trying to conceal its malign intent.

Those who voted No in 2014 must now ask themselves if this is what they signed up for. And they better ask this as a matter of the utmost urgency. If Scotland does not give notice of its intention to dissolve the Union by September 2018, it may well be too late.


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Don’t complain!

Has Duncan Hothersall called Nicola Sturgeon a ‘grievance-monkey’ yet? Wouldn’t be like him to miss an opportunity to deploy that one. Having a distinct aversion to industrial-grade Scottish cringe and a grovelling, obsequious regard for the British ruling elites that makes Uriah Heep look about as ‘umble as Kanye West, I tend to avoid his Tweets. But it’s easy enough to imagine the bitter we blob of BLiS-bile’s sneering reaction to the First Minister’s fury at Scotland yet again being treated with utter contempt by the British state.

For British Nationalists like Hothersall this is, of course, exactly as it should be. From their perspective, it is not only right that Scotland isn’t represented in important discussions, it is absolutely necessary – lest we ‘Uppity Jocks’ get ideas above our station and start imagining that we are actually equal partners in the Union. Every once in a while – or on a daily basis – we need to be reminded that significant affairs of state are best left to adroit political tacticians such as David Davis. It must occasionally be pointed out to us that, when it comes to having a voice in the world, we should count ourselves blessed to have the oratorical grace and power of Boris Johnson. And we must never be allowed to forget the strong and stable leadership provided by Theresa May.

What’s all the fuss about anyway? What does it matter if the individual who actually has a democratic mandate to represent Scotland was pointedly excluded from the meeting of the Brexit ‘Squabble Cabinet’ at Chequers? What does it matter if even the British state’s man in Scotland, David ‘Snackbeard’ Mundell, wasn’t invited? Michael Gove was there! And didn’t his grandma once work in a fish-shop in Aberfeldy? Or was it Aberdeen? One of those Aber-places. Although it might have been Wales. Whatever! There’s nothing to complain about. Or, as Duncan Cringemonkey would say, you’re just being a ‘grievance-monkey’.

Which, come to think of it, is a bit of a strange idea. Suppose you went to your doctor with some debilitating disease and he dismissed you as an ‘ailment-monkey’. I’m going to hazard that you’d be less than content with this response.

Still! That’s the crazy world of British politics! You may not like it. But don’t you dare complain!


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Conjuring an image

mad_max.jpgDavid Davis is a fool. And we don’t even have to examine the ludicrous demands he’s making of the EU in order to know this. The fact that he introduced the imagery of the ‘Mad Max’ movie franchise to already demented rhetoric of the Mad Brexiteers shows him to be a buffoon. These things stick. The official title of ‘Better Together’ fell into immediate and lasting disuse once it was leaked that those labouring in the British state’s anti-independence lie factory referred to their work as ‘Project Fear’.

That is how it is known to this day. Mention the No side in the first independence referendum campaign and chances are the words ‘Project Fear’ will be uttered – invariably with a grimace of disgust entirely appropriate to such an unprincipled and disreputable project.

Now, the ‘Mad Max’ allusion will forever be associated with Brexit. Nobody will remember that this refers to the film’s eponymous hero. The name will conjure only thoughts of a war-ravaged landscape and people reduced to a pitiful, primitive subsistence under the heel of vicious gangs which can’t be criminal because they’re the only law there is.

Mentioning ‘Mad Max’ was a mistake. The kind of clumsy misstep that marks a politician as inept and inexpert. Or as someone who just doesn’t care. Someone who is so persuaded of their entitlement and righteous superiority that they can speak and act on a whim knowing they will never have to suffer any unfortunate consequences.

Much in the way Mad Brexiteers believe, with all the conviction of the religious zealot, that haughty Britannia must suffer no repercussions as she stumbles drunkenly out of the EU, attempting a theatrical flounce but managing only to get her feet tangled in the tawdry, mouldering robes she dragged out of the dusty imperial dressing-up box.

When he isn’t conjuring dystopian metaphors for Brexit, Davis is to be found applying his meagre talents to contriving ever more contorted euphemisms for having cake and throwing it under the tracks of one of those crushing, flattening, bulldozing leviathans that tend landfill sites. This time, it was ‘mutual recognition’. Which translates as the UK getting to pick and choose which bits of EU regulation it will abide by, and the EU respecting this. For Davis and the rest of his clown troupe, ‘mutual’ means “we do as we please, and you are pleased with what we do”.

There is probably something Orwellian about this. But that may be one literary allusion too many.


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Down with breathing!

hold_breathImagine, if you will, a survey which asked respondents for their views on breathing. Imagine 68% of those respondents indicating that they either had no strong feelings on the matter or were actively opposed to the process of respiration. How would we makes sense of it? Apparently, two-thirds of the population want breathing stopped. If the survey is to be believed, there’s a significant majority in favour of mass suffocation.

I’m not aware of any such survey. But I’m just as perplexed by actual research which indicates large numbers of people opposed to human rights. According to a report published by the Scottish Human Rights Commission outlining the findings of a YouGov survey, only 17 per cent of Conservative voters are human rights supporters. This suggests that a massive 83% of Tory voters reject the idea of human beings having fundamental rights. Assuming that Tory voters are included in the category of ‘human’, more than three quarters of them want to be stripped of their own basic rights.

This is every bit as incomprehensible as being anti-breathing. And not just because the figure is so high. It would be startling if even one person scorned something that is essential for life. It is surely just as remarkable that anybody should spurn the principles which make life tolerable.

According to the research, 51% of SNP voters are also at best ambivalent about human rights. While that number doesn’t have quite the jaw-dropping impact of the Tory’s 83% opposition to human rights, SNP voters can’t really afford to be smug. That’s still a majority who, if we interpret their votes literally, disagree with the idea that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

That’s a majority who, based on their responses to the survey, think it’s OK to discriminate on the basis of race, colour, sex, language or religion.

It’s a majority who don’t agree that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

It’s a majority in favour of slavery and the slave trade.

It’s a majority in favour of people being subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

It’s a majority in favour of arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

It’s a majority who reject the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Of course, most of these people would almost certainly deny most or all of the above. They’d deny that they favour slavery and racial discrimination and arbitrary imprisonment without trial and the use of torture. They would probably insist that this is not what they meant when they repudiated the concept of human rights. They might even dispute the definition of human rights being used. Even when it is pointed out to them that it’s the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948, they’ll still insist that their own definition takes precedence.

They’ll say that, when they voted against human rights, they were voting against convicted terrorists being allowed to go free. They were voting against prisons being like luxury hotels. They were voting against the ‘political correctness’ that forces employers to take on barely educated black people when there are plenty of better qualified white people available.

Explaining why people would, apparently, eschew their own fundamental rights is difficult. But it may be easier to understand the disparity between Tory and SNP voters. They read different newspapers. They listen to different voices. They have a different world-view.

This is both cause and effect. They see the world differently because of the media messages they consume. And they consume those media messages because they seek confirmation of their world-view. If you think suspected terrorist shout be tortured to extract information, you’ll tend to avoid publications which denounce torture and those who advocate it. You’ll tend to favour newspapers which tell you torture is a good thing. You’ll derive satisfaction from reading stories of how torture was used to acquire intelligence which led to some murderous plot being thwarted. You won’t learn of the abundant research indicating that torture is woefully ineffective as a means of acquiring useful information.

It’s not a full explanation, of course. People are complex. And so are the issues. But, if nothing else, it illustrates an important point. A properly functioning democracy relies on informed consent. It depends on at least a significant part of the electorate actually knowing what they’re voting for – or against. Which leads to questions about the duties and responsibilities of information providers. That means the print and broadcast media.

Let’s look on the bright side, shall we? If, as is not entirely improbable, the Daily Express ever decides to denounce the fad of breathing as a dastardly plot by evil Eurocrats bent on undermining traditional British values, this could prove to be a very Darwinian solution. Would it be such a tragedy if three out of every four Tory voters chose to demonstrate their superior British stoicism by holding their breath until they expired?


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Seeing the change

Kevin McKenna’s perspective on Scottish politics, while better than most, continues to be marred by a tendency to succumb to the cosy consensus of the mainstream British media. He correctly identifies the way Brexit has altered the whole dynamic of Scotland’s constitutional debate. But only insofar as that debate is conducted in the language of economics. He perceives the opportunity that the grim car crash of Brexit offers to the SNP. But hardly rises above the salacious, sensationalist style of the British gutter press as he describes this opportunity only in terms of political scavengers feeding on economic roadkill.

Of course, McKenna is far from alone in imagining independence is entirely a matter of economics. Large parts of the Yes movement regard the issue in the same way. Not a few prominent SNP politicians come at the whole subject of Scottish independence as if it was all about the money.

The anti-independence campaign’s principal weapon has always been doubt. In order to most effectively deploy this weapon it was necessary to move the battle onto the ground of high finance, where the British state could field its cavalry of ‘independent economic experts’ bearing lances of doom-laden data; wielding swords of portentous statistics; protected by the armour of corporate media; augmented by journalist mercenaries; supported by the spear-carriers of the British political parties; provisioned by the quartermasters of big business; blessed by the priesthood of broadcast punditry; cheered on by a rag-tag rabble of banner-waving British Nationalist zealots, spittle-flecked bigots; posturing patriots; prostituting functionaries, attention-seeking celebrities and forelock-tugging sheeple. Such was the army sent forth by the ruling elites of the British state on a mission to defend their power, privilege and patronage. Such was Project Fear.

The constitutional issue was reframed as an economic problem which the Yes campaign had to solve while the No campaign reserved to itself the exclusive authority to unilaterally and arbitrarily redefine the terms of the question so that no answer was ever correct or sufficient. And there the debate remains. Having followed the British state’s forces onto the battleground of budgets and borrowing and debt and deficits and currency and credit and money and markets, the independence movement now faces the daunting task of shifting the debate back where it belongs – in the realm of constitutional justice.

You can’t address democratic deficiency with an abacus. You can’t solve the issue of sovereignty with a slide-rule. You can’t answer a constitutional question with a calculator.

For commentators such as Kevin McKenna, Brexit impinges on the constitutional question only in terms of its economic impact. The advantage to “the Scottish nationalists” is crudely represented as a chance to exploit the economic consequences of a catastrophe wrought by a weak, inept and irresponsible British political establishment totally in thrall to a manic clique of zany xenophobes, demented isolationists, deluded exceptionalists and nut-job nativists. There is little room left for discussion of the constitutional aspects of the Brexit process. And little enthusiasm among political journalists for exploring those aspects.

The tragedy is that so many of those who should be leading the independence campaign are instead being led into this same shallow, simplistic analysis. There is a view, apparently quite widely held within the SNP and the wider Yes movement, that the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence is best served by having the Brexit fiasco run its ill-fated course in the callous hope and justified expectation that the ensuing economic suffering will drive Scottish voters to the lifeboats of secession.

Other than passing mention of the fact that Scotland is being dragged out of the EU against the will of it people, there is little or no acknowledgement of a constitutional dimension to Brexit. Among all the talk of imminent economic catastrophe, there is no very evident appreciation of Brexit as an impending threat to Scotland’s democracy. In the case of political commentators such as Kevin McKenna this is merely disappointing. In prominent SNP politicians it is disconcerting and distressing.

Which brings us back to Mr McKenna’s perspective on Scottish politics, and his propensity for shovelling the same dross as the mainstream British media, even if speckled with the odd glint of distinctive perspicacity. In his closing paragraph we find recognition of the massive grass-roots Yes movement whose existence is rarely, if ever, acknowledged by London-centric media accustomed to associating the independence issue entirely and exclusively with the SNP.

But McKenna immediately spoils the impression of an astute and informed journalist by dropping back into the narrative of the mainstream British media. Having risen above the herd by mentioning the “network of Yes groups all across Scotland”, he promptly rejoins it by talk of these groups “demanding more autonomy from SNP central control”. As anybody even marginally involved in the Yes movement will confirm, there is not now nor was there ever anything even vaguely resembling “SNP central control”. Indeed, a common and persistent complaint throughout the first referendum campaign was of inadequate direction from either Yes Scotland or the SNP.

If Kevin McKenna genuinely supposes the Yes movement is merely a tool of the SNP, and isn’t just saying this for effect, then he is woefully ignorant of the facts.

McKenna’s sadly distorted view of the Yes movement is only confirmed by talk of Yes activists’ “abuse of independence supporters who do not favour the SNP”, as if this was a prevalent attitude among independence campaigners and a ubiquitous feature of their online rhetoric. There is certainly widespread criticism, even condemnation, of those who advocate for British Nationalist parties and politicians while purporting to be part of the Yes movement.

From time to time, disapprobation of this duplicity may be expressed in robust terms. But, if one is properly mindful of the hypocritical contradiction involved in claiming that urging people to vote for British establishment parties is consistent with the aims of the independence campaign, then the criticism and condemnation is entirely warranted. Resorting to the term ‘abuse’ is a well-establish device by which those so inclined seek to obscure and divert attention from the real issue.

If Kevin McKenna truly had a finger on the pulse of Scottish politics then he might sense a growing rejection of the idea that independence is an economic issue rather than a constitutional matter. He might detect increasing dissatisfaction with the ‘wait until the ordure enters the air-con’ approach to Brexit. He might notice a greater emphasis on the constitutional implications of Brexit.

He might even discover that, contrary to the fallacy he perpetuates, the Yes movement is tending more and more towards acceptance of the fact that the SNP is the de facto political arm of the independence movement. There is increasing recognition of the crucial role of the party in providing the effective political power that is essential.

He might find that it is this pragmatic appreciation of the part which the SNP must play which is driving criticism of those who continue to insist that independence can be achieved by some alternative means – the details of which are never explained.

Were Kevin McKenna more attuned to the everyday realities of Scottish politics and less influenced by the cosy consensus of his colleagues in the British media, he might observe a change in the whole tenor of the constitutional debate. He might feel the tide turning.

Things have changed. But not only because of Brexit. And probably not in the limited and superficial ways Kevin McKenna imagines.


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