Then what?

I have, in recent years, developed something of a passion for artfully crafted detective fiction. I relish Val McDermid’s convoluted and intertwining plots and the way in which they are resolved without resort to anything more than human ingenuity working within the constraints of reality. By contrast, I thoroughly despise fantasy fiction in which absolutely anything can happen because the writer can always call on magic to work things out.

Political speculation should be like a good detective story. It has to be rooted in the possible. If the course of speculation comes to rely on magical interventions then it has gone seriously astray at some point. For political speculation to be valid and illuminating there must always be a logical next step. Or, on occasion, no next step. As with fictional criminal investigations, dead-ends are allowable. Magic solutions are not.

It is only in fantasy fiction that there can be an infinite number of possibilities – including all those which are unknowable. In real life, options are always limited and, therefore, potentially knowable. Political speculation is rewarding only to the extent that deals with knowable options. What links those options to create a chain of events is the aims and motives of the political actors involved. Identify the imperatives which drive political actors and this will be your guide as to which options are most likely to be favoured.

When the question is, “What next?”, the answer must always be something which is possible and something which is satisfactorily explained by the motives of whoever decides what’s next. Of necessity, the default assumption must be that choices are rational and informed. If it is assumed that anybody might do anything regardless of consequences then reasoned speculation becomes no better than fantasy. Human error and folly represent departures from the path of logic and good sense, so can only be taken into account after that path has been mapped.

At the moment, there is much speculation about what Nicola Sturgeon is likely to do over the coming days and weeks. Much of this speculation concerns the speech that she will make to a rally in George Square on Saturday 2 November. Quite why there is any speculation at all is something of a mystery. Imagining she might say something sensational or surprising supposes that there are lots of things that she might say – including a number of things that nobody has thought of. That is fantasy.

Other than the customary mix of ‘poor us’ indignation, well-worn platitudes and rousing rhetoric, there is only one thing Nicola Sturgeon might say that is of any significance at all. She will almost certainly put a date on her appointment with humiliation at the hands of Boris Johnson. The rally, hosted by The National, will be the perfect place to announce that she has written to the British Prime Minister ‘demanding’ that he grant permission for the people of Scotland to exercise their inalienable right of self-determination.

This ‘demand’ is totally unenforceable, of course. Given that making unenforceable demands is tantamount to asking to be made to look embarrassingly weak and ineffectual, we are entitled to wonder why our First Minister would do such a thing in our name. But we’ll come to the matter of motives later. For now, let’s focus on speculating about what happens next.

There are three ways in which Boris Johnson might respond on receiving the invitation to humiliate Scotland’s First Minister. He could accede to the demand. He could issue an immediate formal rejection. Or he could do nothing – treating the ‘demand’ for a Section 30 order with precisely the same contempt that his predecessor showed for the earlier ‘request’.

It may safely be assumed that Johnson will not buckle under the force of Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘demand’. It is conceivable that he might think to wrong-foot her by declaring – or, at least, signalling – his willingness to oblige only to then find a string of reasons to delay the formal granting of the Section 30 order. But this is improbable given that he can achieve the same effect without conceding anything.

For similar reasons, Johnson is unlikely to formally dismiss the demand. Why commit to anything when doing nothing serves your purposes at least as well? A disdainfully dismissive “Now is not the time!” worked perfectly well for Theresa May. There is no reason to suppose it won’t work for Johnson. Nicola Sturgeon had no effective response to that airy dismissal. She was left hanging helplessly right up until Theresa May departed the scene. It makes sense for Johnson to just ignore the demand.

What does Nicola Sturgeon do then? What options does she have? There might have been several courses of action open to her had she not effectively declared all of them ‘illegal and unconstitutional’. Had somebody speculated that she might squander her options in this way, I would have dismissed the notion as far too irrational. But that is the reality with which we have to deal. Having stated that the Section 30 process is the only ‘leg and constitutional’ way to go, Nicola Sturgeon has no viable alternative. Her only option is to try and force Boris Johnson to grant a Section 30 order by resorting to the courts.

Taking the matter to court could be problematic, however, if there has been no formal rejection of the ‘demand’. The issue would still be pending. No action would have been taken by Boris Johnson against which the courts could rule. It might be that the Scottish Government could ask the court to order a formal response. At which point, Johnson need only issue a refusal. Which puts the Scottish Government back where they were – with no option other than to try to get the courts to reverse that refusal.

Assuming the courts would even entertain such a request, Johnson need only revert to the plea that “Now is not the time!”. He would simply argue that the whole Brexit thing made it impossible to have an independence referendum at the moment. He would have a very strong case. Especially as the Scottish Government itself has helped make the case for him by insisting that Brexit was going to cause all manner of problems.

The sensible money would be on Johnson winning. Or, at best, the courts falling back on some kind of fudge that kicked this particular can of constitutional hot potatoes down the road and into the long grass of painfully mixed metaphors.

What then for Nicola Sturgeon’s cunning strategy of handing power to Boris Johnson while throwing away all her own options? Taking the issue to court is a massive gamble. Because, if at the end of the process she is still left without a Section 30 order, it’s over! There is nowhere else for her to go. The entire independence project will have been driven down a cul-de-sac – with no way back.

It is at this point that proponents of the Sturgeon strategy resort to magic; if they have not done so earlier. Their only response to this perfectly reasonable train of speculation is an appeal to have faith in Nicola. She has, we are assured, ‘something up her sleeve’. A magic wand, perhaps? She has cards that she has been playing close to her chest. Although they cannot be cards from a normal pack as those have all been accounted for. She has a ‘secret plan’. Although this would involve there being options available to her that are entirely mysterious to everyone else.

Which brings us to the matter of motive. Why has Nicola Sturgeon adopted this strategy? What imperative is driving her choices? One would like to think that the imperative was the restoration of Scotland’s independence. But that is problematic. Because there is no credible scenario in which the strategy serves that aim. Even if all that unseemly scrabbling through the courts led to the granting of a Section 30 order, it would be trivially easy for the British government to sabotage the process by imposing unacceptable conditions.

And, of course, the British state will not be idle whilst all the legal wrangling is going on. Even Nicola Sturgeon has acknowledged that the Scottish Parliament is likely to be ‘neutralised’ in one way or another. There isn’t any secret about the unelected and unaccountable shadow administration poised to take over powers stripped from Holyrood. The British executive has, in the course of the Brexit fiasco, secured and enhanced its ability to unilaterally rewrite the constitution so as to lock Scotland into an ‘indivisible and indissoluble’ British state.

Nobody who supports Nicola Sturgeon’s commitment to the Section 30 process has attempted to address any of the concerns about the strategy. Nor have they been able to offer an explanation of how the strategy might lead to independence which does not ultimately rely on magic – or fantasy politics.

If the restoration of Scotland’s independence is not the driving imperative, what is? That is a question which I have been very reluctant to address, even as I pointed out all the massive flaws in the strategy. Three explanations – or partial explanations – occur to me.

Nicola Sturgeon is a lawyer. Which suggests that she is, by inclination and training, highly risk-averse. It is barely an exaggeration to say that a lawyer would rather lose than win by risking being held to blame for losing. So long as they can say that they adhered strictly to the rules, it is the rules that will be blamed for failure rather than them. If Nicola Sturgeon’s strategy fails, as it seems it must, then she can claim that she was only obeying the law.

This is important for the second explanation of Nicola Sturgeon’s political choices. Acting ‘lawfully’ – adhering strictly to what established power has decreed ‘legal and constitutional’ regardless of considerations of political effectiveness – is important for her future career. She is, of course, perfectly entitled to think about her own future. Failure to do so would betoken recklessness of an order which would make her unsuited to any leadership role. Ideally, personal ambition would be kept quite separate from political duty. In looking to explain an extremely dubious political strategy, however, we cannot wholly discount a lapse in this separation.

The third possible explanation for Nicola Sturgeon adopting this dubious strategy is probably the most troubling. Perhaps she genuinely believes it will work. I’d rather not speculate on what might induce her to believe that.

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28 thoughts on “Then what?

      1. Birds of a feather right enough. You may also have noticed that genuine Independence supporters have been leaving the site in their droves (or banned) leaving a handful of stalwarts attempting to combat a site infested with Unionists now.


    1. I am aware of the Claim of Right. I’m also aware of everything that has happened since then. Looks like you’re the one who has a bit of catching up to do.

      List the things that the British government was prevented from doing by the Claim of Right. Did it stop them spitting on Scotland’s Remain vote? Did it stop the EU power grab? Did it stop them excluding the Scottish Government from the whole Brexit process?

      How much regard for the Claim of Right did Nicola Sturgeon show when she committed to the Section 30 process?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. What on earth are you going to do Peter when your time runs out in relation to writing your anti-SNP blogs? Nicola Sturgeon will get a Section 30 Order and will hold Indyref2 next year. The question that you should be asking is ”then what” for you. Continue scribbling your fantasy fiction?


    2. I read thru all of that debate just there.
      I found it a total waste of time!
      MP Ian Blackford didn’t say anything we don’t already know.
      He didn’t say much I found useful, I have to say.


  1. The FM has said that the s30 route is the only way forward. If the UK government refuses to accede to her demand, surely her next step is to resign.


    1. Then what? Get Peter Bell to fill her post? And then maybe he’d tell us in detail how exactly he’d get us our Independence .. Not.


      1. Peter.A.Bell,is not an elected politician.
        He comments on things as he sees them.
        Just now, he doesn’t see anything the elected political figures are doing, that is rational, or helpful to getting Independence.
        If this much fabled Section 30 is given, and an Independence Vote comes of it, next year, I’m sure Peter will be pleased. But he simply points out the flaws on over reliance with that particular route, without any alternative,.
        Why is it such an awful thing to ask these questions?
        And why is it wrong to point out that waiting ’till end of next year, will see Scotland outside of EU?

        It is a bit much, to be accused of being anti Independence, for raising these issues, the SNP leadership continually do not answer.
        I would also point out, that Independence, is not the sole preserve of SNP only, but we do acknowledge, they are the lead political group for it, at this moment in time.
        Hence the concern of many, over what looks like a less than full proof strategy.

        Liked by 4 people

  2. Peter, I am disappointed that you limit yourself to simply criticising the First Minister – if you know where the independence magic wand is – you should tell us.
    Getting IndyRef2 of any of the 3 English Tory parties is obviously not going to be easy – how would you do it?
    The EU will only accept an independent Scotland if Independence has been secured legally – what legal route have you identified


      1. Why shouldn’t we question you, Peter? You’ve got a great deal to say about the FM’s tactics (some of which she won’t be divulging … even to you) to achieving Independence, but little to say about how you’d actually go about doing so. It reminds me of the usual, lazy culprits, within a work’s team, who constantly criticise everything that’s proposed, but when they’re asked to submit their proposals they back off. Usually because they don’t have any bright ideas to contribute. Being destructive rather than constructive.

        And we don’t have to question them, Nicola Sturgeon, at all, Peter. Nicola Sturgeon has informed us that she’ll request a Section 30 order (get it one way or another) and that Indyref2 will be held next year. She’s asked us on numerous occasions to get behind her and campaign. The Civil Service have been preparing for Indyref2 for over 2 year now. The Referendum Bill is progressing rapidly through Parliament. The Scottish Investment Bank will be up and running early next year. The Electoral Commission is involved in Indyref2 discussions. The Unionists at Holyrood have been doing their utmost to stymie every aspect of it, including trying to change the wording on the ballot paper. To my mind most people seem to have accepted that Indyref2 will take place next year, that is other than people like you.

        Your whole blog is also based on the premise that Boris Johnston will continue to be PM following a GE, when in fact, not fiction, that might not be the case at all.


  3. Those that can are MSP`s, throughs that arent, BLOG.
    I am more than certain you will have a witty retort, please
    save it for someone how cares about your comments.


  4. Yep, I was told, in person, by Keith Brown, that a Sec. 30 would be acceeded ? to by the Tories.
    That was before Mr. Johnson took over. Of course that’s much, much, more less likely now. As in nane.And there was no second route.
    What successful commander in any campaign decides on a particular strategy, and none other.
    Successful commanders need courage, resourcefulness, strategy and the ability to change tack as needed.
    Ms. Sturgeon was a lawyer, aye, but how good a lawyer. As in any walk of life, you have good, no sae good, and brilliant. Or in that line of work, called QC’s.
    During the American Civil War, Mr. Lincoln, for the first two years, was bedivilled by poor commanders, claiming not enough men,or equiptment, or the terrain wasnae right. It wisnae ever them. Until U S Grant, a ex-shop assistant and a bit of of a drunk, came along. Phil Sheridan, L. Chamberlain, a schoolteacher.
    Good administrators do not neccessarily make good commanders.
    Monty and Rommel. Montgomery waited until he had overpowering force of men and equiptment, Rommel had his brilliance. But ran out of fuel.
    Who do we have waiting.


    1. ”What successful commander in any campaign decides on a particular strategy, and none other.”

      Successful commanders in any campaign never shoot their mouths off. Tell anyone most of all the enemy what they plan to do.

      And as far as courage is concerned Nicola Sturgeon, with constant threats of being assassinated (and worse) is prepared to stand in front of a massive crowd in Glasgow at the weekend. Do you know of any other UK leader (or even Worldwide) willing to do so?


  5. “Bowanarrow !!
    October 27, 2019 at 18:22

    Those that can are MSP`s, throughs that arent, BLOG.
    I am more than certain you will have a witty retort, please
    save it for someone how cares about your comments.”

    Why bother your wee heid reading the article then.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sturgeon does not want to have to initiate an Indyref because she knows as its stands she will lose again.
    She would not bother at all -as things are fine as they are- Yet she has the 200k AUOB marchers breathing down her neck and another 100K SNP activists keen to get back campaigning.
    So she bangs the table and Johnson (who has a similar party to placate) refuses curtly.
    Both leave with faces saved.
    Both kick the can down the road till the next election whenever that is.
    It is ironic that the YES movement seems to be undergoing some kind of self-questioning process at the moment.
    If you ask me the last few years have been too intense and a necessary return to dull as a ditch politics is needed for the next few years.


  7. The thing that bugs me:
    If we are sovereign, then why do we not act in a sovereign manner and simply declare the Treaty of Union no longer applies to Scotland. We can have a confirmatory referendum after if necessary, and the beauty of doing it that way is that we can prevent foreign controlled parties participating.
    It seems to me that with suitable preparation that is a perfectly sensible way.
    After all did any of the previously Iron Curtain countries ask the Soviet Union for the equivalent of a S30 before declaing independence?
    And how many of them were refused recognition?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What I find strange Gordon is that every blog is focussed on dissing Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, in line with dozens of Unionist newspapers. When “dismantled” every blog is just repeating the same stuff (and nonsense), with a wee tweak here and there. There are hundreds of Unionists to choose from to undermine, but no there’s nought be said about any of them. There are thousands of facts, such as in relation to our our wealth, that could be advertised on here. Facts that would enlighten the readers, and maybe help to “convert” them, but no, no sign of them either. What we should be asking is ….. is this site “rational or helpful” to achieving our Independence.


    1. Petra, there is indeed plenty of facts that we can point out to many folks, regards Independence, and Peter’s blog has done just that, at times. And sometimes, he will write something, some of us, are not entirely in agreement with.
      But it is also the case, that as things are, SNP leadership does appear to be pinning all of its hopes on a strategy full of risk.
      There will be few commentators who outline those very real risks, as well as Peter A. Bell, does.
      As for Wings, and Stu Campbell, he simply points out what has been said by others, and then what they say now, which is different. He has it all on print. He has it on video too! The fact that what he points out happens to be the truth, and his reading of events turns out almost as predicted, is not his fault!

      The First Minister gets plenty enough praise, and many of us do defend her, and SNP in many ways, many times.
      But here, we focus on the Independence question, and it is not a case of “Dissing” the First Minister, tho a few who reply to posts have been known to do just that, but of simply asking relevant, and important questions of this particular course.
      For questions do need to asked.
      The present Section 30 policy has gotten us nowhere to date. Also, as many have made mention of, the SNP has had no effective policy with keeping Scotland within EU, as it continually follows the London line. It is very well to complain, but it was SNP politicians who stood in House of Commons and declared grandly, and proudly, Scotland will not be taken out of EU against its will. They are the ones who told Scotland, and the World, they would not allow it.. They ain’t saying that today, but now complaining it is about to happen, anyway!
      Many of us, do not consider this present way, the best way. Because, clearly it isn’t the best way.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Peter is right. these are facts.

    lets look at the facts shall we…..

    Holyrood is a subordinate devolved legislature of Westminster.

    it has devolved powers, it doesn’t have reserved powers, as per the Scotland act(s) etal, and it doesn’t have any powers, now classified under “EU retained law” as per the UK WAB 2016.

    there is no “vow” promise in any UK statute legislation, which cements the permanence of Holyrood, which was proven as fact by the recent UK supreme court case which specified the sewel conventions and all other associated schedules (inc schedule 5 section 30 powers) as nothing more than conventions which the superior representative parliament of Westminster can simply IGNORE.

    the SNP manifesto(s) clearly languish in the realm Peter states.
    the SNP in all elections previously, since devolution, and very recently in 2016, 2017, and 2019 have adhered to the devolution route of determining the will of the people of Scotland. via referendum by a section 30 order.

    the SNP won the 2016 Scottish elections (with a minority) before the EU ref, on a mandate of referendum via devolved process….. the sewel conventions.

    they then won a majority* the UK election in 2017 on a manifesto of…..
    “oh please please respect the devolved process and grant wee Holyrood a section 30 agreement please please”,
    tying the result of an agreement on section 30 to the back of a one nation tory Brexit UK govt ran by bloody BORIS under which the highest court in the system found the sewel conventions and devolution as nothing but ars* parchment for boris to wipe with whenever he wants (see WAB 2016; Hendry viii powers over statutory instruments)

    these are all facts. not conjecture. the SNP “as of yet” have adhered to the devolved process to enable independence, MAINLY imho due to the fact we are, were, and are still for now, within the EU, because we could only negotiate and or accede to EU membership after independence if we followed the “constitutional frameworks of the member state”…. by leaving via the mechanisms (however convoluted and acrimonious) available, in said member state.

    BUT…… that’s the state of play FOR NOW.

    there is still no constitutional prohibition (bar EVEL) over the MPs in Westminster from constituencies of Scotland being elected on a explicit mandate trigger for direct independence negotiations with Westminster.

    if the SNP change tact at this UK election, and veer from the devolved route (wtf would you run a devolved mandate process request through Westminster ffs?!?!) to a direct route, then you have a consistent indyref process running through every election…….

    every devolved election the SNP can run Holyrood and ask and ask for a s30……. as they do now…
    but at every UK election….. the SNP manifesto should simply read:-

    “2/3rd majority of SNP Mps elected by 60% of total electorate (60% of 4.3m voters) mandates direct negotiations between scotlands MPs and Westminster on a divorce settlement for independence”.

    job done. we either win in a referendum on 50%+1 equals a Yes vote (if they ever agree), or we win an unequivocal mandate to negotiate the independence settlement in a UK election with 60% support of the registered electorate and 2/3rds majority of Scottish MPs….. or we don’t win, and the UK continues on its path of one nation boris Brexit britian with Scotland in tow…….

    at least a change of tact can still come,…. and if it does it creates two fronts in which to fight for independence…… but the cards to the chest and constant waiting for a declaration of intent to go begging to Westminster for its agreement, with proclamations from SNP that BORIS AND CO WILL AGREE……. the faithful may imagine the SNP and Nicola have a plan, but I lack faith in a flawed tactic such as devo only indyref demands…..

    ill be the first to eat my hat when and if the SNP prove me wrong.

    that provision requires, a change in tact and as of yet….. they’ve fought it, as recently as the SNP conference. I coined the #SNPshitebags and I stand by it till they prove me wrong. hurry up and please prove me wrong Nicola lol

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Very interesting article, Peter. I agree with you, but really hope you’re wrong.

    You haven’t read much fantasy fiction though, have you?

    In every good adult fantasy novel, the limits to powers are clearly defined, which is a great deal more than can be said for the current Westminster setup.

    I really fear for Scotland’s future if we don’t get out soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Enjoyed The Wasp Factory and The Bridge still haunts my imagination many years after reading it. I don’t recall reading any of his science fiction works. I was past my SF phase some years before his books were first published.

      Liked by 1 person

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