It is what it is

So, the BBC is as much a part of the British establishment as the monarchy, the City of London and the Palace of Westminster. What’s new?

So, being part of the British establishment, the BBC operates on the assumption that there is no act or conduct or policy, however heinous it might be considered in any other context, which cannot be justified in the name of defending or advancing the interests of the British state. This is no more a revelation than the fact that Andrew Neil is a self-regarding, self-important, self-serving bladder who nonchalantly admits to giving free rein to the personal prejudices which bid him afford the status of truth to anything negative about those who challenge his notions of British exceptionalism.

The things Andrew Neil says on air about the SNP and the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament and Scotland in general don’t have to pass some test of accuracy or veracity. They simply have to be “credible” to someone who regards all these things with sneering contempt. And Neil is hardly unique. The BBC is stuffed with his ilk.

So Ofcom, itself yet another tentacle of the British establishment, has been confronted with an example of the BBC’s dishonesty and partiality too egregious to be ignored. Shit happens!

Nothing will be changed by this damning indictment of the BBC and one of its pet celebrities. The ethos of complacent superiority which suffuses the corporation’s management will not be affected. The habitual incompetence and unprofessional conduct of the ‘talent’ will go unchecked. The BBC will still be the BBC. Andrew Neil will still typify the close-minded pomposity of London-centric British journalists with their cosy consensus about the way things are and should be.

Which is not intended to imply that we shouldn’t be outraged and disgusted by the casual misrepresentation of facts and the contrived manipulation of information to fit a British nationalist narrative. Only that we should realise this is a commonplace. A constant. A fact of life.

There is actually nothing at all extraordinary about what Andrew Neil did. It is happening all the time even if it is very rarely officially acknowledged – and even more rarely officially condemned. The British media serve only the British establishment. In doing so, they are subject to ethical constraints loose enough to be effectively non-existent. There is nothing we can do to alter this. And we can’t be angry all the time.

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Passion and despair

I am passionate about independence. I am passionate about independence because I am passionate about justice. I detest injustice. I abhor unfairness. I execrate social, political and economic arrangements which are fuelled by exploitation and inequity and insecurity. I despise the elites who contrive and perpetuate gross social imbalances for their own social, political and economic advantage.

I am passionate about independence because I am passionate about democracy. I hold these truths to be self-evident: that the people are sovereign; that the sovereignty of the people is absolute and inalienable; that all legitimate political authority derives from and returns to the people. Only by way of fully functioning participative democracy can the people be an effective countervailing force with the capacity to confront entrenched elites and challenge established power.

I am passionate about restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status because the Union is a grotesque constitutional anomaly by which the people of Scotland are denied the full and effective exercise of the sovereignty which is theirs by right. The Union is an affront to justice and an insult to democracy. The structures of power, privilege and patronage which constitute the British state represent the very antithesis of fundamental democratic principles.

In every fibre of my being and every fraction of my intellect I carry the conviction that, in the name of justice and democracy, the Union must be dissolved and constitutional normality reinstated in Scotland. Only by breaking free of the British state can Scotland realise its potential as a nation and work towards its aspirations as a society.

I am not passionate about the Scottish National Party. I am a member of the SNP. I support the party in various ways. I campaign for its candidates in elections. I celebrate its electoral successes. But I can’t say I’m passionate about it. The very notion of being passionate about a political party seems distinctly odd – even a bit disturbing.

Just as trade unions are the means by which individuals exercise power in the realm of employment, so political parties are the means by which we exercise power in the sphere of public policy. Both offer individuals the opportunity to combine and act collectively. Both serve an entirely practical purpose. I favour the SNP because it is the best tool for the job.

As the party of government, the SNP has proved to be remarkably effective. The bit of the party leader’s address to conference which catalogues the administration’s past achievements and declares its future intentions is never problematic for Nicola Sturgeon. They don’t get everything done. They don’t get everything right. But they earn the highest accolade that a political party in Scotland might hope for – they’re a’ right. The people are the ultimate arbiters of whether a government is doing an acceptable job. The fact that the SNP has a minimum lead of around 24 points over the British parties, despite the rabid hostility of the British media and the rest of the British establishment, proves that I’m far from alone in reckoning that, when it comes to government, the SNP is simply the best tool for the job.

Some would say that they’re the only tool available. Certainly, the British parties have disqualified themselves from government by their refusal to respect the sovereign will of Scotland’s people and their open contempt for the Scottish Parliament. They don’t even pretend to serve Scotland’s interests. They serve only the British state. The SNP’s lead over the British parties may, in part, be explained by the fact that, in electoral terms, they and the British parties are not really in the same race. The SNP is at least attempting to appeal to the entire nation. The British parties are just squabbling over the diminishing British Nationalist vote.

There are rational reasons to elect an SNP government. Nobody votes for any of the British parties in the belief that Scotland would be better governed by them. People vote for the British parties solely in the fervent hope of preserving the Union, at whatever cost to Scotland.

As the party of independence, it is even more obvious that there is no alternative to the SNP. Only the SNP is in a position to provide the effective political power without which the independence movement cannot prevail against the British state. Anyone who disputes this can safely be dismissed as a fantasist.

But being the one and only party of independence puts an onus on the SNP to find an accommodation with the wider independence movement. And to do so as a matter of urgency. Similarly, the wider Yes movement must find an accommodation with the SNP. Yes activists outwith the SNP must accept that, while the Yes movement is wonderfully diverse, the SNP cannot have the same kind of flexibility. Just about every policy agenda imaginable can exist under the umbrella of the Yes movement. The SNP, as a political party, can only stand on that policy agenda which has been approved by its members.

In matters of policy there can only be tolerance and the realisation that no policy agenda is worth the beer-mat it’s scribbled on unless independence is achieved. Where the SNP and the Yes movement will find a workable accommodation is, not on matters of policy, but on the fundamental principles of justice and democracy discussed above.

The best that can be said of the SNP in this regard is that it has a great deal of work to do. Some of the things Nicola Sturgeon said in her address to the SNP Spring Conference give great cause for concern. Let’s take a look at a few quotes.

We must recognise that these are different times and new circumstances. This isn’t a re-running of 2014. The UK that existed then does not exist any more. Our approach must be different.

I would wholeheartedly endorse this statement, but for the fact that nothing in what follows matches up to the sentiment. Everything that is known about what Nicola Sturgeon calls “our strategy to win our country’s independence” suggests the intention to take precisely the same approach as for the 2014 referendum. (I’ll come back to that word “win” later.) Take this, for example,

We are establishing a non-party Citizens’ Assembly so that people from across Scotland can guide the conversation.

While I enthusiastically welcome anything that seems intended to encourage engagement with politics and facilitate participation in the democratic process, in terms of the independence campaign is this not looking like a revamped Yes Scotland? Does it not seem that, just as in 2012, the SNP feels the need to put in place some sort of buffer between itself and the wider independence movement? Whatever else it may be, The Citizens’ Assembly has the appearance of a device to keep the Yes movement at arms length.

Is another talking shop what the independence movement needs at this juncture? Look at what Nicola Sturgeon said the Citizens’ Assembly will be “tasked with considering”.

What kind of country are we seeking to build?

How can we best overcome the challenges we face, including those arising from Brexit?

And what further work should be carried out to give people the detail they need to make informed choices about the future of the country?

Again, Mike Russell will set out more details shortly, and seek views from other parties on the operation and remit.

Haven’t we done all this? Haven’t we been ‘having this conversation’ for at least seven years? What is the point? How does any of this relate to the ‘different approach’ to the independence campaign which is required?

What the Yes movement needs right now is, not more research or more analysis or more discussion, but more leadership!

And so I can announce today that we will now launch the biggest campaign on the economics of independence in our party’s history

Isn’t that exactly the basis on which the 2014 campaign was fought? Wasn’t one of the main problems with the campaign that we allowed British Nationalists to take the debate onto the ground of economics so that we were prevented from discussing it as a constitutional issue?

Why is Nicola Sturgeon pandering to British Nationalists’ endless demands for more and better answers rather than demanding at least some answers from those who are determined to preserve an iniquitous constitutional arrangement?

There is no economic case against independence. Why, then, must there be an economic case for independence?

You cannot answer a constitutional question with a calculator!

For all her fine words about “our approach must be different”, Nicola Sturgeon can’t help drifting back to the same approach as was ultimately unsuccessful in the 2014 referendum campaign because she hasn’t changed her thinking since then. She’s coming at it with the same mindset. A mindset which is fatally flawed. A mindset which is evidenced by her characterisation of independence as a “prize” which must be “won” rather than as an absolute right which the British state is trying by devious means to withhold from the people of Scotland.

The SNP and the Yes movement must be purged of the idea that independence is something for which we must qualify in a series of tests set and marked by the British political elite. If we take this approach, there will always be another test. And there will always be at least one test which we cannot pass no matter how many Citizens’ Assemblies we task with finding the ‘correct’ answers.

Nicola Sturgeon again,

Independence is about the children we can lift out of poverty. And the fairer, more equal society we can create. That starts with building confidence in the economic case. Answering people’s questions. Addressing their concerns. And inspiring them about the future.

No! Independence is about rectifying the constitutional anomaly which allows the imposition on Scotland of the policies which cause children to be in poverty. It is the policies we then choose as an independent nation which will lift those children out of poverty. And it sure as hell doesn’t start with validating a lack of confidence about Scotland’s ability to manage its affairs. Or endlessly answering questions whose sole purpose is to create the impression of doubt. Even the attempt to answer such questions fosters uncertainty. It’s not more answers we need but better questions of our own. Questions that expose the true nature of the Union.

Despair seems to be my default state at the moment. Nicola Sturgeon’s conference address did nothing to dispel that despair. Reading it, I get the clear impression of an SNP leadership set on once again allowing the British establishment to set the agenda, determine the rules of engagement, and control the process. It’s just as well I wasn’t there to hear it.

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The right way

Mike Russell will be doing no more than stating the obvious if he chooses to tell the SNP Conference that restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status must be done “the right way”. Who is arguing that it should be done the wrong way? This is just one of those glittering generalities with which politicians like to pepper their speeches to gatherings of the party faithful. It’s emotionally appealing. Even intellectually appealing, in a very superficial way. As with most such rhetorical devices, the glitter starts to come off once we start to ask the kind of questions the rhetoric is intended to preempt and evade.

Precisely what is meant by “the right way”? The glibly facetious answer, of course, would be “my way”. Saying that things must be done “the right way” is not dissimilar to insisting that “there is no other way”. In the family of propaganda phrases, they are close cousins. Both refer, not to a policy or course of action which is provably necessary or preferable according to any objective criteria. Glittering generalities, by definition, allude to high value concepts which tend to attract approval even in the absence of any solid information or reasoned argument. When a politician says “there is no other way” people are likely to solemnly agree whether or not they know what the “way” is, and without considering whether there are alternatives. It is a lightly disguised emotional appeal to the desire to be regarded as realistic and sensible. Or to avoid being labelled a woolly-minded dreamer who fails to appreciate the harsh realities.

Likewise, nobody wants to be perceived as being inclined to do things wrongly. So, when a politician states that things must be done “the right way”, we will tend to respond unthinkingly with approval. This approval is then associated with whatever “way” said politician is proposing even though the details remain unspecified.

Obviously, Mike Russell’s speech to Conference will be intended to gain approval for the course of action set out by Nicola Sturgeon in her recent statement on a new independence referendum. The glittering generality about doing things “the right way” is intended to attract such approval in spite any misgivings about that course of action. Or doubts about the appropriateness of the word “action”.

Just as “no other way” is supposed to steer us away from asking about alternatives, so “the right way” is meant to prevent questions about how this claim is justified on behalf of the SNP leadership’s chosen course of action.

It seems to me that, in relation to taking forward the cause of independence, there are two contending definitions of “the right way”. The British way involves recognising the concept of parliamentary sovereignty. It involves accepting the supremacy of Westminster. It involves allowing that “the right way” is whatever way the British state defines. It involves legitimising the authority of the British political elite to decide the rules and control the process by which constitutional change might happen.

It necessarily and inevitably involves denying the sovereignty of Scotland’s people – even while insisting that the people of Scotland are sovereign. It involves an intractable contradiction. Either the people of Scotland are sovereign, or our democratic will can be overruled by a clique of British politicians. Both things cannot be true.

Let’s just be clear that, when Mike Russell talks about “the right way”, he is referring to the British way. When he trots out the glittering generality, this is what he is asking SNP members to approve.

I have another definition of “the right way”. I maintain that “the right way” must adhere to fundamental democratic principles. I maintain that the principle of popular sovereignty must be upheld in all circumstances. I maintain that there can be no compromise with the alien doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty which is not fatal to the principle that all legitimate political authority derives from the people. I maintain that the sovereignty of the people is absolute and inalienable.

I maintain that the right of self-determination is absolute and inalienable.

I maintain that there is the “right way”, and there is the British way. And these are totally irreconcilable.

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The ups and downs

I might despair less if, while they “brush off Tory claims a Section 30 order would be blocked“. the SNP leadership showed some sign of recognising that the problem isn’t the request being denied, but the request being made. The right of self-determination is inextricably bound up with sovereignty. The people of Scotland are sovereign. Therefore, we ‘own’ the exclusive right to decide the constitutional status of our nation and to choose the form of government which best suits our needs. To request a Section 30 order is to allow that the British state has the legitimate authority to deny our right of self-determination. Requesting a Section 30 order is tantamount to declaring that the people of Scotland are NOT sovereign. Because sovereign people don’t need permission to exercise their sovereignty.

Even if we set aside this utterly unanswerable reason for eschewing a Section 30 request, there is at least one more compelling reason for doing so. It might not be refused. The politically astute course for the British state to take would be to grant the request, thus giving the British government a significant say in the technicalities and practicalities of the referendum. A Section 30 order having been requested and granted, a new ‘Edinburgh Agreement’ would then have to be negotiated. By taking the Section 30 route, the Scottish Government would effectively have agreed that the referendum could not proceed in the absence of such an agreement.

We can be sure of two things. We can be certain that the British side would hold the Scottish Government to this undertaking not to proceed without an agreement. And we can be certain that the British side would do everything it could to ensure that there was no agreement. This wouldn’t be difficult. The British would simply have to insist on terms that the Scottish Government could not possibly accept. The exclusion from the franchise of 16 and 17-year olds, for example. Or a new version of the infamous ‘40% rule’.

I might despair less if, while evidently determined to contrive the righteous grievance of a Section 30 refusal, the SNP leadership showed some sign of recognising that control of the process would be a very high price to pay for this political bauble.

My heart lifted a little when Nicola Sturgeon announced the intention to legislate for a new independence referendum in the Scottish Parliament. My heart sank again when it became clear that the legislation she has in mind would involve a denial of the sovereignty of Scotland’s people and a failure to seize control of the process by which we might exercise our right of self-determination.

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How to lead

Nicola Sturgeon cannot have it both ways. She cannot sensibly or credibly insist on the sovereignty of Scotland’s people while meekly accepting the British state’s authority to deny our right of self-determination. If we are truly sovereign, then none can legitimately deny or constrain our right to exercise that sovereignty.

By acknowledging the supremacy of the British parliament, Nicola Sturgeon is compromising our sovereignty in a manner that is wholly inconsistent with the fundamental principles of sovereignty and totally incompatible with the role to which she aspires as leader of Scotland’s independence movement.

I am NOT saying that Nicola Sturgeon is unfit for that role. What I am saying is that she must fit herself to it. She must put independence at the centre of her thinking. She cannot proceed as if sovereignty is a boon in the gift of the British state, to be granted or denied on the whim of British politicians. She must embrace the idea of sovereignty as absolute and inalienable. She must strenuously reject any notion that there can be some compromise between Scotland’s popular sovereignty and the parliamentary sovereignty imposed by the British state.

Quite simply, a denial of our right of self-determination IS a denial of our sovereignty. It is nonsensical to assert sovereignty while accepting that our right of self-determination can be denied.

Above all, anyone who hopes to lead Scotland must recognise that the sole aim of the independence movement is the dissolution of the Union. It is the Union which affords a spurious legitimacy to the anti-democratic British Nationalist dogma spouted by David Lidington and his ilk. It is the Union which, from its inception, has served as a device by which to prevent the people of Scotland exercising the sovereignty that is theirs by right.

So long as Nicola Sturgeon is talking about saving the UK from Brexit rather than saving Scotland from the Union, she is not giving the independence movement the leadership that it requires.

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I read the news today…

Oh boy! It’s like the last couple of months didn’t happen. Which shouldn’t be surprising given that the last three years have been like a grindingly self-indulgent director’s cut of Groundhog Day. Lot’s of stuff happening. But nothing changing.

For several weeks I have tried to avoid reading the news. I’ve picked up bits and pieces here and there. But I’ve actively shunned the detail. Returning to it over the last few days, I’m struggling to find anything that so much as hints at this lengthy hiatus. I pity the folk at The National who have to contrive something even mildly interesting with only the insipid gruel of political inertia to work with.

Nicola Sturgeon deserves some credit, I suppose. She has at least tried to give them something to work with. All those announcements about an impending announcement helped to fill the column inches. There must have been great relief when the endlessly heralded announcement actually arrived. Although, as it turns out, those journalists are still having to work hard to generate anything akin to excitement.

One of the reasons I stopped writing articles here – and why I disengaged from social media – is that I had nothing new to say. How could I? As nothing new was happening, there was nothing that I hadn’t already commented on repeatedly and at length. I don’t get bored. But I recognise that I could get boring. It seemed the only way to avoid this was to stop commenting altogether.

I do get angry, however. And disappointed. And frustrated. Which is another reason I felt I had to take a break. I was waking up angry every morning and going to bed angry every night, That’s not conducive to health. When anger is combined with powerlessness, the product is stress. I confess to being particularly susceptible to such stress. Not least because of the strength of my commitment to the cause of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. A commitment which is unequivocal and unconditional.

To all those who have contacted me during my self-imposed exile, I offer my grateful appreciation for your concern, and my sincere apologies for not responding. My purpose was, not to be discourteous, but to properly disengage. To respond would have been to engage; and would have defeated my purpose.

I’d love to say that I’ve been prompted to write again by some significant development. It would be great if I felt I had something new to say. But, reading Nicola Sturgeon’s recent statement purporting to set out a “plan” for taking the cause of independence forward, I found nothing that I had not commented on previously. Everything I might wish to say about this “plan” has already been said in articles such as the following –

At a time when Scotland needs bold, decisive leadership, Nicola Sturgeon opts for cautious, vacillating political manoeuvres. If the SNP will only fight the fights it is assured of winning, who will fight the fights that need to be fought?

There is a point at which engaging with Westminster becomes indistinguishable from being just another cog in the British political machine. A point at which the effective political power which the SNP provides to Scotland’s independence cause becomes an end in itself. A point at which the means becomes more precious (to the party) than the end.

I’m still angry. But, these days, I’m angry at people I really don’t want to be angry with. Or, to put it another way, people who really shouldn’t be making me angry.

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