The cornered beast

back_in_boxAbout a month ago I warned that the British political establishment was in the process of ramping up its propaganda campaign against the SNP administration (see below). This wasn’t exactly a bold prediction. As all but the most passive consumers of British media output in Scotland will be aware, Project Fear did not stop after the 2014 referendum. The British state’s campaign of lies, distortion, smears and denigration has become an incessant, ubiquitous background hum to Scottish politics. But it became apparent some weeks ago that the effort to weaken the Scottish Government, delegitimise the Scottish Parliament and undermine confidence in Scotland’s public services was being intensified.

I do not intend to discuss what many will regard as the most obvious evidence of the renewed vigour with which the British political elite is now pursuing those regarded as a threat to the integrity of the British state. The allegations against Alex Salmond are extremely serious, suspiciously timely and dubious for a number of reasons. Suffice it to say that this may be one occasion when the supposed offences turn out to be the least of the story once the whole of that story is told. I would add only that the gluttonous glee with which British politicians and commentators have descended on the affair (see Alex Massie* for a sickening example) betokens their frenzied eagerness to find – or fashion – any stick with which to beat the hated SNP.

Signs of this frenzy are all around us. Just the other day, once respected newspaper The Scotsman carried a story under the headline Call for SNP to investigate Yes groups on Facebook. The piece was a transparently obvious attempt to exploit the ongoing controversy over social media content and to contrive a link between the SNP and current candidate for demonisation, Iran, by way of some questionable Facebook page purporting to support the Yes campaign.

The article is instantly recognisable as a rather clumsy bit of propaganda. Although the fact that the ‘source’ is Murdo Fraser suggests that the failure to distinguish between the SNP and the Yes movement may be a matter of genuine ignorance. It is surpassing easy to believe that Mr Fraser might be dumbly unaware that the SNP has absolutely no authority to “investigate” the Yes movement.

Whether born of knowing malice or just plain stupidity, this is a smear story. It should be treated with appropriate contempt.

As should the latest bit of madness from The Herald‘s David Leask. The gloriously demented headline invites us to Meet the McBots: how Scottish cyber activists try to game Twitter. We are then taken on a mercifully short meander through the garishly surreal fun-house of David Leask’s imagination.

The story revolves around a conspiracy theory conjured by some ‘expert’ with links to some Nato think-tank. According to his ‘research’, the “cyber activists” of the headline – pro-independence Twitter users to the rest of us – have been creating “McBots”, or artificial automated accounts, in order to “game” social media algorithms and get a particular hashtag trending.

attacks_on_snpThe hashtag in question is #DissolveTheUnion. I am familiar with it because, to the best of my knowledge, I am its author. I started using the hashtag some time ago to signify support for the idea of a more assertive approach to the process of restoring Scotland’s independence. Obviously, it has nothing whatever to do with the allegations against Alex Salmond. Although it will be unsurprising to anybody who is even vaguely aware of what is going on in Scottish politics that there is a considerable overlap between the people seeking a sense of urgency in the independence campaign and those commenting on a story involving the man who is regarded as a leading figure in that campaign.

Along come’s Mr Occam with his razor and poor Leasky’s latest bit of daftness is left in shreds on the floor of his comfortably upholstered accommodations. To whatever extent the hashtag #DissolveTheUnion may have trended on Twitter, this can most readily – not to mention rationally – be explained by the sheer number of Yes supporters using it in their perfectly legitimate Twitter accounts.

Expect more such nonsense. And much worse. The British state is a cornered beast. It is very much more dangerous than might be supposed from looking at the puny efforts of David Leask and Murdo Fraser.

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The SNP needs a jolt of Yes energy

nicolaThat was all going swimmingly… until the final paragraph. Lesley Riddoch’s analysis of the BBC’s “problem of properly representing Scotland” is, as we would expect, accurate and insightful. Although I would suggest that, given the corporation’s remit to preserve the integrity of the UK, the question is, not so much whether senior BBC managers can personally accept the possibility of Scottish independence, but whether they can allow this possibility to be publicly acknowledged.

It is slightly curious, too, that Ms Riddoch neglects to mention the extent to which British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) is embedded in BBC Scotland. Perhaps she thought that, since her focus was the constitutional issue, it was acceptable and appropriate to gloss over the party political aspects of the BBC’s “problem of properly representing Scotland”. Or maybe she just considered it redundant to remind us of BBC Scotland’s tendency to look and sound like the broadcasting arm of BLiS.

These quibbles aside , Lesley Riddoch has it about right with regard to what I have referred to as the “jarring disconnect” between the BBC and Scotland’s politics.

In Scotland, the concept of independence has been normalised. In the BBC, it never can be. The big question, therefore, is this – how can the BBC possibly serve an audience in Scotland when it is so evidently inherently incapable of relating to that audience?

She’s not far off the mark in her criticism of the SNP either. Even someone like myself, who is often accused of ‘blind partisan loyalty’, can readily agree with Ms Riddoch’s conclusion that the party is failing to provide the leadership that the independence movement requires – and requires rather urgently.

Two things need further explanation hear. Firstly, the concept of leadership has to be understood in this context, not as the movement being led by the SNP, but as the movement taking its lead from the SNP. This is very much in keeping with what Lesley Riddoch sees as a “miss by the SNP”.

At the start of 2018, Nicola Sturgeon famously called for “a new spirit of Scottish assertiveness“. It has to be said that, while the “emboldened, more confident and more assertive nation” that she envisaged emerging in the course of this year has been increasingly evident on the streets and on the web, it has been noticeably less evident in the SNP’s rhetoric on the constitutional issue.

There is no doubt that the SNP could have done a great deal more to reflect the growing assertiveness of the grassroots independence campaign and help convey to a wider public the sense of anger and urgency which is now as much part of the spirit of the Yes movement as hope and determination.

Whether this would have influenced the output of BBC Scotland in any way is questionable. But the effort should be made – and be seen to be made.

The second thing that needs to be expanded upon is the facile accusation of ‘blind partisan loyalty’ levelled against those who are willing to run the gauntlet of such vacuous vilification in order to emphasise the crucial role that the SNP plays – as a party and as an administration – in providing the focus for the coming referendum campaign and the effective political power which that campaign requires. Stating that the SNP is essential to the independence cause is not evidence of blinkered loyalty to the party, but of commitment to the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence combined with a pragmatic appreciation of how this will be achieved.

Which brings us to where Lesley Riddoch goes wrong. The suggestion that even a “properly organised and funded Scottish Independence Convention” might be some kind of alternative to the SNP is fallacious. I wrote the following a year ago, and have found no reason to change my view since then.

I have great difficulty seeing how SIC can credibly speak for the grass-roots Yes movement when it is so predominantly given over to a relatively small but inordinately assertive faction founded on a simplistic belief that ‘radical’ is synonymous with ‘righteous’.

Most of all, I worry that SIC has no popular mandate; nor any means of acquiring one. I worry, too, that the SIC – and thereby the aforementioned faction of ‘righteous radicals’ – intends to ‘piggy-back’ on the electoral mandate of the SNP in a way that will be found unacceptable by the party’s membership and considered inappropriate by the general public.

In order to succeed, the independence movement needs effective political power. In order to be effective, that political power must have democratic legitimacy. It is not obvious how SIC might achieve this. It’s not even clear that the importance of democratic legitimacy is recognised by those in charge of SIC.

All of this remains true no matter how much the SNP is seen as failing – or inadequately serving – the cause of independence at any given moment. The party may occasionally disappoint. But that cannot be a justification for giving up on it and directing our energies elsewhere. Rather, when we feel that the SNP is flagging, we should be motivated to redouble our efforts to get it back on track.

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A pointless currency plan

moneyRather than “Common Weal campaigners say start new currency on day one of independence“, the headline should read “Common Weal wants to postpone independence until 2025!“. Because that is the real story here. Scratch the surface of Common Weal’s ‘radical’ currency proposal and you find a stolidly conservative reluctance to rock the constitutional boat.

The significant part of Common Weal’s plan has nothing to do with currency. Although an ‘independent’ Scottish currency pegged at parity to sterling is more of a variation on what has been proposed by the Sustainable Growth Commission (SGC) than a massive departure from it. And that remains the case even if the comparison is with the rather dubious representation of the SGC report’s recommendations offered in the article rather than with what that report actually said.

The claim that “the Growth Commission’s plans would likely result in Scotland being without its own currency for 15 years” is based on a highly prejudiced reading of the document combined with Common Weal’s own very questionable timetable for achieving independence. The SGC report doesn’t actually stipulate a period of ten years for the transition from sterling to a Scottish pound. Sensibly, it leaves that transition period undefined. Such a transition cannot possibly follow a predetermined time-scale. It is circumstances which will influence the pace. Management of Scotland’s currency arrangements must be a matter for government of the day.

That is what independence means. A government yoked to a ‘plan’ devised prior to independence by some group or organisation with no mandate can hardly be described as independent.

So, let’s set aside the currency aspect of the Common Weal ‘plan’ and look instead at what really matters. Namely the proposal to postpone a new referendum until 2021 and then delay the actual break from the UK for at least another three years on top of that.

The prospect of being thirled to the British state for another seven years has to be horrifying for anyone who is aware of what that implies for Scotland. But what is truly shocking is that Common Weal appears to have taken no account whatever of what is happening in the real world outside the economic models that they love to play with. They abstract issues such as currency from the complexity of real-world politics and deal with it in isolation; in the process, forgetting that this abstracted portion must, at some point, be related to the whole again.

Common Weal’s ‘plan’ for postponing action on the constitutional issue takes absolutely no account of what the British government is, and will be, doing while they work out the currency arrangements to their own satisfaction. Nor does it take any cognisance of the attitudes and priorities and preferences of the electorate. It is quite blind to the Yes movement and oblivious to its activities. Currency is their focus. Realpolitik must not be allowed to impinge.

All of which is largely, if not entirely, explained by the left’s near-pathological aversion to effective political power. To say that groups such as Common Weal have no interests in political power such as actually gets things done would be a gross understatement. They actively shun any contact with or consideration of it. The result is analysis which is, at best, inadequate. If the idea works in their nice clean abstract model, that is sufficient. Implementing it in the messy arena of politics is not a concern.

The question of where the British political elite will take Scotland in the next seven or eight years is never asked. The matter of what the independence campaign will do in response is not addressed. Delay is presented as a consequence-free option. Like so much of the ‘intellectual’ left in Scotland, Common Weal only thinks about being independent. The fairly important matter of becoming independent doesn’t enter into their calculations at all.

Common Weal’s currency plan is nonsense. Not because it wouldn’t work. It is almost certainly no less feasible than most of the other currency proposals that are floating around. In fact, it’s neither particularly radical nor very novel. We’ve heard it all before from others who imagine independence to be and economic rather than a constitutional issue. Their currency plan is nonsense because it takes no account of where Scotland will be in 2025 if we fail to act on the constitutional issue as a matter of urgency.

Common Weal’s plan is nonsense because, even if the currency bit of it was a work of pure genius, the vacuous naivety of the rest of it means that there will be no opportunity to implement the currency bit. By 2021 we may not even have a Scottish Parliament. Absent urgent action to prevent it, Holyrood will, at the minimum, be stripped of powers that would be required to hold a free, fair and winnable referendum. Where is the sense in a plan which critically depends on a referendum which is made massively unlikely by the same plan?

What is the point of a plan which might deliver a shiny new independent currency, but which all but certainly precludes actual independence?

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Proper respect for No voters

project_fearHaving been surprised, and not a little irked, to discover that a total lack of gender-balance on a panel had suddenly become something to brag about, I was tempted to give up on Carolyn Leckie’s article as just another condescending lecture from the happy-clappy faction of the Yes movement urging tip-toe eggshell-treading in the vicinity of No voters when I encountered the claim that “people have valid reasons and feelings for voting No”. Supposing we were about to be presented with some of these “valid reasons”, I thought it might be worth wading through the cloying self-righteousness of Ms Leckie’s sermonising in the hope of finally getting some clues as to that most mysterious of beasts, the ‘positive case for the Union’.

It was a forlorn hope. Having hinted at a revelation, Ms Leckie left us hanging. The ‘positive case for the Union’ remains as elusive as Ruth Davidson when the subject of ‘dark money’ is raised and as impenetrably baffling as a Richard Leonard speech.

Instead of the rational justifications for voting to give the British political elite licence to dispose of Scotland as it pleases that we’d been teased with, what we got was the facile argument that the constitution is subordinate to “bread-and-butter concerns” and an inane admission that “not everything in the garden will miraculously turn rosy after independence”. As if anybody had ever claimed that it would. And as if the ability to address those “bread-and-butter concerns” wasn’t absolutely dependent on the core constitutional issue of sovereignty.

All of which is unfortunate. Because I would have been delighted to discover how No voters continue to justify that choice. From where I stand, what distinguishes No voters from Yes voters is that the former unthinkingly accepted the lies, smears, insults and threats of Project Fear while the latter saw right through them. Some of them believed the Better Together propaganda for no better reason than that it was British. For those whose first and abiding loyalty is to the British state and its ruling elites, no reflection was required. Voting No was as innate as the gag reflex.

Others, we are assured, voted No having given the matter some thought. I had hoped that Ms Leckie was going to throw some light on how these people came to the conclusion that keeping Scotland bound to the British state was the best option. I genuinely want to understand the reasoning process involved. I would really like to be assured that there was one.

I really want to know what it was about the anti-independence case that No voters found intellectually persuasive. I would be fascinated to hear their reasons for continuing to be convinced by that case even after it has been conclusively shown to have been utterly dishonest. I need to understand the mentality that can insist a No vote was ‘right’ when they know that it was sold to them on a totally false prospectus.

It is a truism that the first step on the road to recovery is to acknowledge the problem. If people are to change, they must take responsibility for past choices and actions. But the essence of Carolyn Leckie’s remonstrance is that we in the Yes movement must never ask No voters to take responsibility for their choice. We are supposed to persuade them to make a different choice whilst assuring them that we don’t consider their previous choice to have been in any sense wrong.

Following a comment that is offensively dismissive of the work put in by those who pound the streets delivering leaflets and the Herculean effort of those who organise marches, Ms Leckie ends by telling us that “to achieve success, we have to confront the hard stuff too” – as if leafleting and organising marches wasn’t “hard stuff”. But she herself is not prepared to take on the hard task of confronting No voters with the hard truth that their reasons for voting No were not valid. She insists that we must never ask No voters to confront the consequences of their choice.

The real “hard stuff” of the coming campaign involves forcefully impressing on people the harsh reality of what the Union means for Scotland, and what it will mean in the very immediate future if we do not act as a matter of urgency. We cannot possibly do this without categorically rejecting any suggestion that there can possibly be “valid reasons” for favouring a political union which precludes adequate representation of Scotland’s interests and prohibits the proper exercise of popular sovereignty.

No voters are not misguided children who need to be shielded from the implications of their actions. They must be afforded the respect due to mature individuals capable of acknowledging past mistakes and accepting that they were maliciously misled. That is the starting point for the journey from No to Yes.

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Now is the time

The point about independence being the subject of the first clause in the SNP’s constitution is a fair one. The aspiration to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status really does infuse everything that the party does. Although, of course, it must these days concern itself also with matters relating to its role as the party of government.

The decisions have already been made. The electorate has granted the current SNP administration a mandate to hold a new independence referendum and this has been approved by the Scottish Parliament. All that is left is to declare the date. And that is a matter for Nicola Sturgeon. she was elected leader because the membership trusts her judgement. We gave her the job. Now we must let her do it.

Which is not to say that SNP members and the wider Yes movement shouldn’t be offering Nicola Sturgeon every ‘encouragement’ to act as a matter of some urgency. Indeed, a public clamour for a new referendum is just what the First Minister wants and needs. But a conference resolution specifying a date for the vote – which is what some people seem to want – would diminish the authority of the elected party leader. Even if carried such a motion could not possibly be binding on Ms Sturgeon. She cannot be forced by conference to act against her own judgement. If she was unable to accept the date set by conference, she would placed in the situation of having to defy the conference or resign.

The place for word on the new referendum is in Nicola Sturgeon’s address. And there really has to be something meaningful and substantial about the referendum in her speech. Back in June, I was rather critical of Nicola Sturgeon’s speech to the Spring Conference in Aberdeen. I pointed out that there was something missing.

What many of us did hope for was some sense of awareness of the precariousness of Scotland’s situation and the need for urgency in addressing the threat to our Parliament and our democracy. At the very minimum we expected an acknowledgement of the rising power and presence of the Yes movement. We were given neither.

When Nicola Sturgeon said that we should not focus on the when of independence, that felt like a rebuke to a Yes movement which is increasingly concerned that the the consequences of delaying the referendum are not being recognised or appreciated by the SNP leadership. Those concerns most certainly aren’t being addressed by senior SNP politicians. And those who hoped for better from Nicola Sturgeon must now be feeling extremely disappointed.

I fully recognise that this is a difficult decision. Whatever date Nicola Sturgeon chooses for the new referendum she will have to face, not only the virulent condemnation of the British establishment, but also an onslaught from those within the Yes movement who can’t resist the urge to tell the world that they think she’s got it wrong.

Nonetheless, this is a time to be bold, decisive and assertive. Among all the factors Nicola Sturgeon is required to consider, she must take account of the fact that the independence cause desperately needs some strong and positive leadership right now. And I mean, right now! Whatever Iain Macwhirter may say (The SNPs legendary party unity could be finally about to crack), the patience exhibited by members suggests that party solidarity is holding up very well. That the party and the Yes movement are prepared to wait until October – despite being poised for action – demonstrates just how much Nicola Sturgeon is trusted.

But there is a limit. The power of the Yes movement cannot be contained indefinitely. Nicola Sturgeon would be well advised to keep this in mind as she writes her speech for the SNP Conference in October.

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It’s the constitution, stupid!

nicola_speechThe hope of “clarity on the shape of Brexit” is as forlorn as the hope that the Scotland’s constitutional issue might be fairly dealt with by the British media. As the likelihood recedes of the final ‘deal’being anything more than an almighty fudge, awaiting something definitive looks less and less like a rational reason for delay and increasingly like an excuse.

We have known all we need to know about Brexit since 23 June 2016, when Scotland voted 62% Remain only to be told that the democratic will of Scotland’s people counts for nothing in the UK. By that date, it was already perfectly clear that Brexit was going to be an economic, diplomatic and constitutional mess. The campaign, which Mad Brexiteers treated like a TV game show, was evidence enough that nobody within the British political elite had a clue what the EU is and the way it works, far less how to take the UK out in anything remotely resembling an orderly fashion

If Brexit is a trigger for a new independence referendum then that trigger was pulled more than two years ago. We’ve waited for the flash. We’ve waited for the bang. We’ve waited for the recoil. Are we now being asked to wait until the bullet rips through Scotland shredding our democracy and pulping our public services?

The idea that the alternative to prevarication is to act “just because of a date on a calendar” doesn’t make any more sense than hitching the new referendum to a Brexit process over which the Scottish Government has no control and vanishingly little influence. Dismissing dates on calendars is, frankly, daft. Dates are meaningful. If they aren’t, why do people keep banging on about 29 March 2019 – so-called Brexit Day?

Dates are important because time is important. In regard to the new referendum, time is crucial. Because the British Nationalist ‘One Nation’ project is not on hold while we dither. It is gathering pace.

But we don’t hear much about that. There is endless talk about Brexit. But we barely hear a mention of the real and abiding reason for wanting independence. The reason that has existed as long as the Union. The reason that has now become an urgent imperative. We need to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status, not because of Brexit, but because the Union is, and always has been, a device by which the people of Scotland are denied the exercise of their sovereignty.

The date on the calendar is significant because each passing day brings us closer to the point where Scotland is effectively locked into a political union on terms unilaterally determined by the British political elite.

The clock is ticking. Time is running out. If Scotland is to be rescued from the onslaught of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism, Nicola Sturgeon must act boldly, decisively and promptly.

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Disaffected Tories need a home

Ashley GraczykMichael Fry unabashedly entertains the notion that removing or reducing extraordinary impediments that limit ability to fully participate in the democratic process amounts to having the state “select for its favours one particular category of person”, and that this presages total state selection of candidates for elected office. But that may not be the worst of the silliness on display here.

Mr Fry’s account of Ashley Graczyk’s “conversion” is woefully misguided. Her every comment on the matter indicates that she was not so much won over to the SNP and convinced by the case for independence as driven to abandon the Tories and reject the Union. Her conversion is attributable less to a glorious epiphany about the merits of the SNP and the benefits of independence and more to a grim realisation of how appalling the present-day Tory party is and recognition of the fact that the Union is irreparably broken and increasingly deleterious to Scotland.

This throws a very different light on the vocal condemnation of the Tories which Michael Fry finds distasteful and considers counter-productive. While it may be reasonable to have some qualms about the manner in which execration of the Tories is sometimes expressed, the example of Ashley Graczyk strongly suggests that we should doing much more to encourage Conservatives – and conservatives – in Scotland to question their allegiance to a party which bears little relation to the one which enjoyed such massive support in 1955. And which suffers fatally by comparison.

By the same token, the manner of Ms Graczyk’s conversion implies that, at least as much as we try to win we should Tories over to the idea of independence, we should be urging them to question their assumptions and preconceptions regarding the Union. We should be doing all we can to induce them to take a long hard look at what the Union actually means for Scotland.

Of course, the SNP must always strive to be the natural home for all who put the welfare of Scotland’s people before the dubious interests of the British state. It is, after all, the national party of Scotland. The party of the entire nation. But there can be nothing wrong with pointing out to genuinely Scottish Tories that they are in the wrong place.

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