They demand so much. They offer so little.

tomkins.pngBritish Nationalist ideologues such as Adam Tomkins insist, in ever more shrill and angry tones, that Scotland must not diverge from the rest of the United Kingdom. But these fanatics never explain why. They never explain why Scotland’s interests must always be subordinated to the demands of a British political elite which has repeatedly and decisively been rejected by the Scottish electorate. They never explain why the people of Scotland should put their faith in a British regime which has exhibited such woeful incompetence, mindless recklessness, brazen dishonesty and blatant contempt for our democratic institutions.

They never explain why Scotland should not seek solutions tailored to our circumstances and informed by the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people.

They never explain why Scotland’s economic, social and political welfare must always be sacrificed for the sake of preserving the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.

They never explain why Scotland should give up so much for a British political system which is inherently incapable of representing Scotland’s interests.

They never explain why the people of Scotland should trust British politicians who have for so long shown themselves to be unworthy. British politicians who constantly denigrate Scotland. British politicians who treat Scottish voters with open disdain. British politicians who refuse to respect the authority of the Scottish Parliament and the democratic mandate of the Scottish Government.

British Nationalist zealots like Tomkins never try to persuade us of the merits of the Union, which they appear to regard as ‘divinely ordained’. Instead, they threaten us with dire retribution should we show any heretical tendencies to put reason before faith. They demand that we submit on pain of the very ruin that their narrow, fearful, isolationist, xenophobic ideology promises us.

They cannot tell us what Scotland gets out of this Union which might compensate for the sacrifices it requires of us. They cannot tell us why Scotland must always be the exception. They cannot tell us why Scotland cannot be a normal nation. They can give no good reason why Scotland should remain party to a political union which is seriously detrimental to our national interest.

A political union which can only be sustained with open threats, empty promises, transparent dishonesty, cancerous corruption and utter contempt for democratic principles is a political union which is broken beyond repair. It is a political union which must end.

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Beware of BritNats!

nhs_threatShona Robison is, of course, quite correct to highlight the threat to Scotland’s health service posed by Brexit. Talk of “an immigration system that works for the whole of the UK” from the British government makes no more sense than anything else about the entire Brexit fiasco. Devising such a system in the face of the diverse and diverging needs, priorities and aspirations of the four nations would be a massively complex and problematic task. A task which, on the basis of all available evidence, we must therefore assume to be well beyond the capacities of the current London regime.

It is inevitable that a BritNat Brexit imposed on Scotland by this regime will do real and serious harm to NHS Scotland. Pandering to a xenophobic obsession with immigration is bound to have an adverse impact on workforce recruitment and retention. We can only guess at the deleterious effects of Scotland being dragged out of the EU agencies which facilitate cooperation in medical research, recognition of qualifications, drug approvals and much more. Our enforced isolation from the single market can hardly be less than catastrophic for Scotland’s burgeoning life science industries. The British political elite have no answers to questions about the rights of Scottish patients to access treatment in the EU – only vacuous, patronising platitudes.

All of this is bad enough. But there is an additional threat which Shona Robison does not mention. The threat of Scotland’s cherished public health service being laid bare to the ravages of predatory US corporations – sacrificed by a British state desperate to secure anything that can be presented as a shiny new transatlantic trade deal.

Does anybody seriously believe that the ‘UK-wide common frameworks’ which the British government proposes to inflict on us have anything at all to do with making Scotland’s healthcare system work better for patients? Given what we know of the British political elite’s obsession with austerity and rigid adherence to neo-liberal orthodoxies, is it not infinitely more likely that the purpose is to prepare NHS Scotland for large-scale privatisation? As a non-negotiable condition of any deal, those ravenous corporations will demand the removal of such inconveniences as a Scottish Parliament and Government committed to the principles of universal healthcare free at the point of need.

The obvious ‘solution’ is to take control of NHS Scotland out of the hands of Scotland’s democratically elected representatives and hand it to a shadow administration which is not accountable to Scottish voters. An unelected quasi-government, based at the Scotland Office, which can be relied upon to give precedence at all times and in all matters to the interests of the British state and its corporate clients over the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people.

And why wouldn’t they? Why would the British state not adopt this ‘solution’? After all, when Scotland voted No in 2014 we gave the British political elite licence to do whatever they want with our nation. Why would they not take full advantage of that licence?

Those who voted No may protest that this is not what they voted for at all. But it’s a bit late now to start thinking about consequences. They should have read the small print. They should have heeded the warnings.

The mistake Scotland made in 2014 must be rectified. If Scotland’s precious NHS is to be rescued from the menace of rabid British Nationalism then the licence that was so recklessly given to the British state by that No vote must be revoked. All of Scotland’s vital public services, along with the distinctive political culture and democratic institutions which sustain them, are put in jeopardy by being party to a political union which renders us powerless to protect them. That political union must be dissolved.

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A sick and twisted ambition

ni_terror1It is difficult to fathom the attitude of the British political elite. What is the thinking behind their evident disdain for the Good Friday Agreement? What is the supposed gain which is deemed to be worth the possibility of reigniting bloody conflict in Northern Ireland? What is the ‘end-game’? What is the ultimate objective?

Assuming that those driving the Brexit process have some destination in mind – even if they lack any evident plan for getting there – what might that place look like? Given the huge risks that they are prepared to take, and the sacrifices that they are demanding of all of us, what end could possibly justify the means? What vision so enchants the Mad Brexiteers that they will gamble all to achieve it? What siren song lures them so irresistibly to the rocks and reefs of Brexit?

What manner of ‘Promised Land’ do British Nationalists envisage? What paradise do they see where the rest of us see only several kinds of hell? Obsessive ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism is on the march. But where do they think they are taking us?

Is it possible that they suppose imposing a hard border in Ireland won’t endanger the fragile peace there? Or have they recognised the potentially disastrous consequences and decided that it is a price worth paying for their ‘dream’?

Is it possible that they believe their blatant assault on Scotland’s democratic institutions won’t provoke a serious reaction? Or have they foreseen that reaction and calculated that they have the capacity to deal with it?

What is going on in their minds? What kind of mentality is it which could contemplate a resumption of ‘The Troubles’, and consider it no obstacle to their purpose?

ni_terror2It has been suggested that the British government is being just as reckless with what Theresa May describes as their “precious, precious Union”. It is often said, not without some justification, that the behaviour of the current London administration implies it has no interest in preserving the Union. But this apparent equanimity in the face of renewed terrorist violence and the dissolution of the UK may be suggestive of something other than dumb ignorance of, or disdainful disregard for, consequences. It may be evidence of a prideful faith that the will of the British political elite and the superiority of the British state will always prevail.

What manner of ideology is it which proceeds on the basis of an assumed ability to override the will of the people?

Think about that for a moment. Consider that what inspires these British Nationalists is the notion of a British state under a regime which is capable of crushing a terrorist threat as readily as it can subdue democratic dissent. What kind of regime would that be? What kind of state are they seeking to create?

What sick, twisted ambition is driving the British Nationalist project?

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It’s Our Parliament!

If the independence movement was looking for a new slogan, we could hardly want for anything more timely and apt than IT’S SCOTLAND’S PARLIAMENT! It would be difficult to think of a form of words which better encapsulates the essence of our campaign. Few phrases could more accurately and effectively sum up our purpose. Those three words reflect a growing mood of indignation and anger in Scotland. That the British political elite appear dumbly oblivious to this mood is yet one more measure of their contempt for Scotland’s distinctive political culture and the democratic institutions which sustain it.

It is interesting, also, to note the difference between this phrase and the language used by the independence campaign in the past. In the 1970s the slogan was IT’S SCOTLAND’S OIL! Then, the debate centred on our nation’s resources. The change to IT’S SCOTLAND’S PARLIAMENT! illustrates a move away from the shifting terrain of economic argument to the infinitely more satisfying and relevant ground of constitutional assertion.

It is Scotland’s Parliament. It is the only Parliament which has any democratic legitimacy in Scotland. It is the Parliament which is elected by the people of Scotland. It follows, therefore, that it is the Parliament which speaks for the people of Scotland. All legitimate political authority derives from the people. The authority of the Scottish Parliament is the authority of the Scottish people. However it is said, it all comes back to the incontrovertible fact the it is our Parliament.

The Scottish Parliament belongs to the people of Scotland. And it is in jeopardy.

Holyrood is the locus of Scottish politics. It is where our national politics happens. It is the place that Scottish people look to for political leadership. Whatever the issue, it is increasingly the expectation that it is the Scottish Parliament that will deal with it. But it wasn’t meant to be this way. It was never intended that Holyrood would be a real national parliament. It was only ever meant to be a ‘pretendy wee parliament’. A ‘glorified parish council’. It was certainly never envisaged that Holyrood might supplant Westminster as Scotland’s principal democratic institution. But that is what has happened.

The origins of this can be traced to the moment in 2007 when Alex Salmond made what will surely come to be recognised as one of those announcements which signal a significant change in the course of a nation’s history. The then First Minister in Scotland’s first SNP administration declared that the deliberately demeaning term ‘Scottish Executive’ was to be abolished. Henceforth, it was to be the Scottish Government.

This apparently trivial change was truly transformative. From that moment, Scotland had a real Government as well as a real Parliament. That small change triggered the process by which perceptions of Scotland’s politics and democratic institutions were dramatically altered.

There was more to it than than simply changing the name, of course. The SNP administration had to act like a real Government of a real nation. The First Minister had to behave like the real political leader of a real nation. This they did. Subsequent SNP administrations reinforced the impression of being a real Government. It may reasonably be argued that Alex Salmond’s successor, Nicola Sturgeon, has Actually surpassed her mentor in terms of the extent to which she is regarded as a significant and respected figure on the world stage, as well as being Scotland’s undoubted political leader.

Scotland now has it’s own political culture; its own democratic institutions and processes; it’s own Government, and it’s own Parliament. And the British establishment does not like this. They do not like it at all. And the intend to do something about what they perceive as a serious threat to their “precious, precious Union”.

Scotland’s political distinctiveness is seen as a challenge and an obstacle to the ‘One Nation’ project which is the rotten core of British Nationalist ideology. The eradication of this distinctiveness is, for British Nationalists, an imperative. The Scottish Parliament is the beating heart of Scotland’s democracy. For the ‘One Nation’ project to succeed, that heart must be stilled.

We cannot let this happen. This is our Parliament. it belongs to the people of Scotland. It belongs to all the people of Scotland. The Scottish Parliament must be defended, not for party or politics, but in the name of democracy.

On Friday 23 March there will be a demonstration at Holyrood. In a symbolic gesture, a ring of people will form around the building which houses Scotland’s Parliament. It is a gesture of defiance against the forces which are seeking to undermine our Parliament, diminish our Government, eradicate our political culture, expose our public services to the ravages of corporate hyenas and, ultimately, erase the very idea of Scotland as a nation.

The people of Scotland must defend the Parliament of Scotland. It is essential that the symbolic defensive wall encircling Holyrood for the Hands Off Our Parliament demonstration be representative of all Scotland’s people. Just the people. No flags. No banners. No badges. Only the people of Scotland united in sending out a clear and unambiguous message,


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Culture of the periphery

A week into my tour of the Highlands & Islands, as my all too brief stay on Orkney draws to a close, I find myself with some time to reflect on the the impressions, insights and inspirations of my travels so far.

The first thing to say is that the people I’ve met have been, without exception, wonderful. From the staff of Northlink Ferries to the wummin fae Fife driving the Scrabster bus to the chef at The Shore Hotel here in Kirkwall who stayed back after his shift to prepare a meal for me when I came in late from the meeting, they’re all a bit special.

Most special of all, however, are the folk who have organised the events and the people who have come along to those gatherings. Almost exclusively Yes people, it must be said. Those in the No camp seem as unwilling to engage now as they did throughout the first referendum campaign. Which is unfortunate. Not least because they have most to gain from hearing something other than the voice of the British state. But what can you do? There’s no way to oblige them to attend. They can’t be forced to participate. If they are determined to remain on the outside of Scotland’s constitutional debate, it’s hard to know what might draw them in.

The people I’ve been speaking to and talking with could hardly be more different. They are totally engaged and constantly thoughtful. The gathering last night in Kirkwall was typical. Twenty or thirty people crammed into a room, each with their own ideas and opinions, but all united in a shared commitment to Scotland. Each prepared to offer their considered thoughts on how best or nation’s interests are served. Each ready to have their views questioned. Each equipped to sensibly and reasonable challenge the views of others.

This is democratic politics at its best. This is how politics should be.

Some choose to put themselves outside this sphere of popular, participative politics. They opt to exclude themselves. By choice, they retreat to the periphery.

But, of course, that is not how it seems to the hard-line Unionist. From the British Nationalists’ perspective, they are the centre. By aligning themselves with the British state, they associate and affiliate themselves with what they think of as the ‘natural’ centre. For them, Scotland is the periphery. Scotland’s concerns are peripheral concerns. It is those who occupy themselves with Scotland’s concerns who are occupying the periphery.

And it doesn’t matter where they are. Politically, the centre/periphery distinction is not a matter of place. It is a state of mind.

It was, however, a geographical reference which brought this to mind. I was being taken on a tour of Skarra Brae when made some remark about Orkney being remote. This provoked an instant and indignant rejection of the suggestion. To the people who live there, Orkney is not remote. That’s not how they think of themselves. And maybe it shouldn’t be how the rest of Scotland thinks of its furthest reaches.

In an earlier article I wrote about how the Yes movement needs to be more connected. We must be careful not to squander the enthusiasm and intellect that I have encountered on my travels by being too focused on the central belt.

Perhaps more crucially, as Scotland departs the Union, we should be wary of falling into anything like the British Nationalist centre/periphery mindset.

Scotland is one nation. But it is one nation on account of a connection, not to a central structure of power, privilege and patronage, but among all of our diverse communities. A connection among people with a shared commitment to the community of communities which is our nation.

Next stop, Shetland!

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A mighty force

I’m suffering from blogger’s guilt. A blog is a hungry and a demanding beast. It wants to be fed all the time. Fail to feed it, and it whines and nags and nips and nibbles at your conscience until you’re forced to bash out something just to appease the monster.

Not that I don’t have lots to say. But I feel a certain responsibility to consider whether people want to hear it. Or read it. I know, for example, that more than a few people are uncomfortable with some of the things I say about the way the Yes movement behaved in the first referendum campaign. Others are disinclined to listen to the arguments for #Referendum2018; having already made up their minds that delay – undefined if not indefinite – until some ‘optimum’ moment – undefined if not indefinable – is the smart strategy.

My views on how the new referendum campaign should be conducted by no means find favour with everybody. And I often get an adverse reaction to some of the things I say when talk turns, as it invariably does, to the economic arguments which are imposed on the constitutional debate.

It is a token of how open-minded people in the Yes movement are that they are prepared to turn out, even in the most atrocious weather, to take part in events.where I’m speaking. I have the utmost respect and affection for these people. These are good people. These are the people who make democracy work.

There are things that people don’t really want to hear. But the people I’m meeting still want these things to be said. If that sounds contradictory then all I can offer is the truism that people are complicated. Let’s leave it at that.

I think it is generally accepted that the first referendum campaign transformed Scottish politics. The media and the British establishment are desperate to drag us back to the arid rhetoric, monochromatic simplicity and faux rivalries of the old two-party politics. But the Yes movement is not for abandoning the rich vein of political discourse uncovered during the two-year period leading up to the vote in September 2014. I am forcefully reminded of this every time I attend an event such as the one in Tain last night (Monday 5 March).

A couple of dozen people defied the rain and the cold and the snow still piled deep everywhere to gather together in a room in the Duthac Centre (see picture above) to give me a fair hearing and then point out where I’d got it wrong. The discussion went on for almost three hours, and we still weren’t done. As ever, the business of the evening was conducted in a spirit of goodwill, high spirits and great comradeship. It was productive. But it was also good fun.

I have always thought that the Yes movement is something special. The more I meet with the people who are part of this great popular phenomenon, the more I am convinced that we are witnessing a powerful wave of democratic dissent such as has rarely been seen. The Yes movement is a mighty force made up of people who are simultaneously ordinary and remarkable.

I always come away from these occasions having learned something. I also come away thinking this Yes movement of ours can achieve anything. If that mighty force is tapped and deployed and channelled in the right way, nothing that the imperious British state can do will prevent the restoration of Scotland’s independence.

Now that I’ve tossed a few morsels to the blog monster, I can start preparing for the next event on my wee Highlands & Islands tour, which is at the Pentland Hotel in Thurso this evening. Maybe I’ll see you there.

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The ties that bind

solas_viewBest laid schemes of mice and men, eh? Good intentions, road to hell and all that. As I set out on my wee speaking tour of the Highlands & Islands I also set myself the task of writing regular updates. Due to various technical and human factors, that hasn’t been happening. Technical factors such as the lack of internet access. Human factors such as me being a lazy so-and-so who is all too easily distracted by stuff.

So it is that I find myself sitting in my room in Melbost, near Stornoway writing this instead of getting out and about. Having said that, it is a very nice room with a lovely view (see above). Which is unfortunate when someone is as easily distracted as myself.

The crossing from Ullapool to Stornoway was very restful. The driver managed to hit every bump and pothole on the water and, while I don’t suffer mal de mer, I found myself quite unable to walk around the good ship Pitchy McYawface. My old legs aren’t that good on terra firma, these days. As I quickly discovered, they’re worse than useless in the Greim bidhe on the MV Loch Siphort in even moderately choppy seas.

No internet, of course. And l soon wearied of the sights out the window. When you’ve seen one wave, you’ve pretty much seen them all. And if there were to be one awesome enough to be worthy of my attention, to be honest, I would rather not see it coming. Other than the waves, there was just grey. There was greenish grey and bluish grey and some grey that was almost black and some grey that was almost white. But mostly, it was grey. I tried playing a game of ‘Name The Grey’ – there are supposed to be fifty, I believe. But after slate, dove, battleship and a couple of others that I may have made up, the entertainment value of the exercise just couldn’t justify the effort involved.

So I spent the time reading and dozing and writing a few notes. And congratulating myself on getting bits off French and Latin and Gaelic into one paragraph.

A couple of hours in, the sun did break through the blue-grey sky to shine on the green-grey sea. So there was some excitement as the sky took on the glint of steel and the water the sheen of gunmetal. But, really, they’re just other names for grey. I only wish I’d thought of them when I was playing that game.

Then, suddenly, like the adverts intruding when you’re watching a black and white film, there was colour. We were approaching Stornoway. There were no more ruts and ridges for the boat driver to aim at, I was able to walk again, the green of Lewis’s low rolling hills hove into view and there was phone service.

Let me stress here that I’m not complaining. As a child, I used to go regularly on the ferry to the Isle of Arran. (I also have vague memories of the Queensferry Crossing when it was on, rather than over, the Firth of Forth.) The boat trip was always a big part of the holiday. It was exciting. It still is. I really enjoy it.

Part of that enjoyment is the thrill of being in a different, almost alien environment. Part of the pleasure – for those not distracted by serious nausea – lies in the fact that there is no longer solid ground beneath you. Everything feels different. Everything looks different. It may not be ‘other-worldly’, but it’s certainly ‘other-placely’.

Part of the pleasure, too, is the sense of being disconnected. Cut-off. Isolated. For someone accustomed to easy access to every form of communication, that sense of isolation can feel a bit scary. But scary in the same way that a roller-coaster is scary. It’s controlled danger. Just enough danger to be thrilling without actual fear for life.

Islands are a bit like that. Not that they’re scary places. But that they’re disconnected. Like boats. No matter how effectively technology builds links to the other world of the mainland, an island is always a place apart. Island people are, to a degree, people apart. If just visiting an island can make you feel some of the same sensations of being on a boat at sea, it stands to reason that living on an island must have some lasting effect.

Although I’m only here briefly, my excursion to Lewis has served as a useful and timely reminder that Scotland is neither wee nor homogeneous. By many measures, ours is actually a middling-size nation. Somehow, a two and three-quarter hour ferry journey is a more powerful reminder of how large Scotland is than a six hour road trip.

Experiencing the ‘empty’ spaces of Scotland, such as on the bus journey from Inverness to Ullapool and the crossing to Stornoway, also brings home the fact that Scotland is a land of dispersed and diverse communities. It must surely be a special force which binds those communities together into the nation we know Scotland to be.

Which, not at all coincidentally, is precisely what I was speaking about in Inverness on the first stop of my tour. And what I shall be speaking about in Tain tomorrow evening. If only somebody would remind me of the venue.

I always say, after these events, how stimulating, invigorating and inspiring they are. That’s because it’s invariably true. The gathering at Inverness Caledonian Thistle Social Club last Friday evening (2 March) was certainly no exception. I didn’t do a head count, but there must have been forty or fifty people there. Men, women of all ages, and even a few children. A mixture of Yes campaign activists from various parties and organisations as well as individuals who came along just . All engaged, informed and enthusiastic.

It was a crowd which, in its way, was as diverse as Scotland’s communities. Just as those communities come together around the idea of Scotland the nation, so the Yes movement comes together around a shared commitment to the cause of protecting and improving that nation.

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