Misplaced concreteness

I do believe that dismissing their efforts as “gaming the system” should not be the knee-jerk response of any movement embracing diversity and democracy.

Ruth Wishart

But apparently you believe it’s OK to dismiss as a “knee-jerk response” the arguments of those who question the feasibility, utility and wisdom of pop-up parties exploiting understandable dissatisfaction and impatience with the SNP’s handling of the constitutional issue.

The pro-independence troops comprise hundreds of thousands of true believers, but within that overarching ambition lie very many different views as to how it might be most effectively realised. This is no more than healthy.

Ruth Wishart

For a movement, perhaps. But it’s not “healthy” for a campaign. A campaign needs to be unified, focused and disciplined. In many ways the very opposite of a movement. People must decide whether they are content to be part of a diverse movement which supports the idea of independence or whether they want to be part of a campaign to actually get Scotland’s independence restored. It is, of course, possible to be both. But if the former gets mistaken for the latter then the latter is fatally undermined.

The enemy being anyone who has demonstrated the absolutely criminal behaviour of disagreeing with your view.

Ruth Wishart

That is one of the all-time great cop-outs. It’s saying you don’t have to deal with my arguments against your position because my arguments are prompted solely by the fact that you are disagreeing with me. It is making the debate about the disagreement rather than about the position that is being disagreed with. It is making the difference in views the issue so as to avoid having to deal with criticism of the content of those views.

Should I add “black-and-white thinking” to the ridiculously long and ever-growing list of things that don’t “help the independence cause”? Or should I consider the possibility that there’s more than a bit of black-and-white thinking involved in regarding black-and-white thinking as a necessarily bat thing. In fact, it is very often helpful to reduce a disputed issue to its basic elements. Abstracting an issue from “life, real life” can be an effective way of clarifying the matter. What is important is to remember that your abstraction must fit back into “life, real life” when you’re done with it. So long as one assiduously avoids what Alfred North Whitehead called the fallacy of misplaced concreteness black-and-white thinking is another tool in the analytical thinker’s toolbox.

Which, not at all coincidentally, is precisely the fallacy which characterises the diverse notions of a ‘cunning plan’ that will circumvent the voting system and flood the Scottish Parliament with pro-independence MSPs. Proponents of these ‘cunning plans’ afford to the outcome they desire a concreteness which rightfully belongs only to an objective assessment of what the ‘cunning plan’ is actually capable of achieving in “life, real life”.

I have explained this fallacy elsewhere. I shan’t repeat myself here. I would, however add a further point to what I’ve previously said about the ‘Cult of the Cunning Plan’ misidentifying the problem as being a lack of pro-independence MSPs. Another mistake they make is assuming that the ‘SNP 1&2’ strategy has failed. It has only failed if one defines success in a very particular way. Think more deeply about what the slogan is for and why it is such a powerful campaign message and it becomes clear that the strategy has actually been quite successful.

In another of those unremarkable non-coincidences, dismissing the ‘SNP 1&2’ strategy as a failure turns out to be an illustrative example of black and white thinking.

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20 thoughts on “Misplaced concreteness

  1. I’ve always thought of the ‘movement’ as providing the arena where alternative ideas are tossed around, debated and argued about, options refined and policy possibilities fermented. Once a campaign commences the distillation process of exchanging views and opinions, however forcefully put and passionately held, should cease and all in favour of the common objective should coalesce around a common means of achieving that end.

    If the public perceive the prior disputatious discussion as being the policy then they will conclude that we are confused and don’t know what we are talking about. If, on the other hand, we present a united front with easily understood means and goals then we are likely to obtain their trust and, therefore, support & votes.

    To the latter end, I think our message should be kept simple. “Vote SNP 1&2” at Holyrood elections gets this across to the person on the street without any requirement for explanation.

    Similarly when it comes to winning a plebiscite for returning Scotland’s government the message or ‘mission statement’ should be kept simple (but not vague). “Vote Yes for Democracy” or some such would do that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your first paragraph nicely summarises the difference between a movement and a campaign. It is a lesson many have yet to learn. As is the fact that if you have to explain your campaign message then it is not a campaign message. You have a tightly defined objective. The message must serve that objective ‘out of the box’ – without any caveats or conditions.

      ‘SNP 1&2’ is just such a message. People are fond of saying that it has failed. I respond by pointing to the fact that we have had an SNP administration since 2007. The biggest threat to this has been campaigns aimed at diluting the ‘SNP 1&2’ message. Absent those campaigns, the SNP/pro-independence majority would be considerably more secure.

      Why does ‘SNP 1&2’ work? It works because it addresses the REAL problem – and does so effectively. The problem IS NOT a lack of pro-independence MSPs. A majority is a majority. There is nothing that needs to be done to initiate the process by which independence is restored which can’t be done with a simple majority of SNP MSPs. There is nothing that needs to be done to follow that process which requires a huge majority of pro-independence MSPs. Especially if they have been elected at the cost of an SNP-only majority and cannot be relied upon to support an SNP administration when it matters.

      The aim is NOT to get the maximum number of pro-independence MSPs possible but to get the maximum number of SNP MSPs by maximising the number of list seats won by the SNP. This CANNOT be achieved by competing with the SNP for votes on the regional ballot. The ideal in terms of maximising the number of SNP MSPs is for absolutely everybody who votes SNP on the constituency ballot to also vote SNP on the regional ballot. That must inevitably give the SNP the maximum number of list seats that can possibly be won given whatever number of seats are won by the SNP on the constituency vote. So LOGICALLY we should be aiming to get as close to that ideal as possible. Competing with the SNP is the very last thing we should be doing as this runs counter to what we are seeking to achieve and risks getting neither the maximum number of SNP MSPs nor any fringe party MSPs in compensation.

      ‘SNP 1&2’ is the simplest possible message aimed at the simplest possible way of achieving what is required. These fringe parties are trying to do something extra. They are trying to achieve something which IS NOT required. And in the process, they are putting in jeopardy the SNP majority which is absolutely crucial if our independence is to be restored. Because the alternative to that SNP administration is Jackson fucking Carlaw as First Minister with Wille fucking Rennie as his fucking deputy!!! DO YOU WANT THAT ON YOUR FUCKING CONSCIENCE?

      Of course, it is not ONLY a matter of getting an SNP administration. Although, given the alternative, this is essential regardless of any other consideration. The ideal in terms of the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence is an SNP administration with a working majority AND a cast-iron commitment to moving decisively on the constitutional issue in the first half of the parliament. THAT is what the entire Yes movement should be working towards. Diverting any of our energies and resources to other projects is sheer madness at this time.

      We need a MASSIVE online campaign DEMANDING that the SNP commit to a new strategy. A bold strategy. An assertive, aggressive strategy. Only the Yes movement has the power to force the party to commit to doing what is needed and only the party can supply the effective political power to deliver what the Yes movement demands. It’s political symbiosis. It’s a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s the Lever Analogy made real!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Absolutely agree, Mr Bell, that is what needs to happen, and I think that, if the SNP did this the other pro indy parties would disappear like snow off a dyke. If they don’t, and they didn’t when they were warned about the possibility of other pro independence parties arising – I know because I, for one, said this would happen in umpteen posts and comments – they will face, eventually, a pro indy party standing in the FPTP – or, at least, the threat of it. It is not just indy that has been ignored: it has also been the rights of half the population, and, if that goes on, we cannot possibly win indy. Women voted against indy, 57% or so, in 2014, and a mass removal from the SNP will end the dream. This aspect of the problem is even more pressing and potentially more damaging than a rival pro independence party – and I have been trying to get that across for some time, too.

        Can it all be down to SNP ‘cosiness’ with the status quo, devolution? Some of it can, I think, but most of it, I would suspect, is down to the economic clout that Westminster and Whitehall would be prepared to wield against Scotland. We see this already with both Brexit and the pandemic strategy where we apparently cannot deviate from the script. I think that Nicola Sturgeon has been warned and threatened in a very civilized fashion, of course, much as the Scots pre 1707 were threatened and cajoled into the Union after the engineered Darien disaster. I believe this is the real source of the stalemate, and that is why I believe that we must – absolutely must – take the constitutional question out of the domestic arena and place it four-square on the international stage. It is the unwillingness to stand up to Westminster and confront the reality of our situation that has caused this stasis, and, unless the SNP gets its digit out and starts to make moves towards independence, the whole enterprise will fall. The only way that that can be done is to put pressure on the SNP on the independence question. Writing/sending emails won’t be enough: we need to be prepared to crowdfund a constitutional commission.

        If the Treaty is no longer extant, why did Cameron feel the need to commission two constitutional academic lawyers to research it with a view to telling us we had been subsumed, but never used it in 2014? Because the implications of the Treaty showed that England-as-the-UK’s position was untenable, that is why, but, because so many of us have been foolish enough to accept the Unionist bilge that passes for constitutional knowledge, we will be ambushed with the Treaty when independence negotiations start, no matter how we win our independence, Westminster and Whitehall quite prepared to try and con us out of our sets and resources that are protected under the terms of the Treaty. So much more sensible to ‘sound’ the Treaty in international law and have it adjudicated upon by international law, as it must be as an international agreement. A second indyref has always been a self-made trap that suited the Unionists, British and English Nationalists.


      2. ”The biggest threat to this has been campaigns aimed at diluting the ‘SNP 1&2’ message.”

        ‘’SNP 1&2’ is the simplest possible message aimed at the simplest possible way of achieving what is required.”

        And yet you and your buddy Campbell, the other Campbell, have played a major part in all of this ”diluting” with the campaign that you’ve carried out in running Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP down to the ground constantly. What did you expect to see happen when you have been basically backing the Machiavellian man who has a ”cunning plan” for quite some time now? For all your highfalutin language, egocentric claptrap, neither of you seem able to see the wood for the trees.


  2. From the speech which never was: ” And we certainly aren’t closer to independence than we were at 7am on the morning of Thursday 18 September 2014 when, for the next 15 hours the people of Scotland held in our hands total political power.”

    It is on that thought, Peter, where, I choose in our current circumstances to think differently from you, and where I believe your more recent thoughts on the role of the Yes Movement can be effective.

    At the next Scottish Election, all those who vote will pass political power to 129 individuals. How they in turn will act in using the power granted to them is for me the central question, not which Party they may ascribe to. One could assume they will act completely in accord with “A Party Manifesto”. I believe that to be a dangerous assumption – unless in advance – each candidate who seeks the power of an MSP is asked a series of questions which allow one to judge how they will act as individual MSPs. Questions such as these:

    If you are sure that there will be repeated requests from the Scottish Government for the granting of a Section 30 order, in which year of the current Fixed Term Conservative Majority UK Government do you have hopes they might just say yes? 2020? 2021? 2022? 2023? 2024?

    What would you do if in any of those years, or in them all, if the answer was always NO!

    If the answer was always No – would you vote in the Scottish Parliament in favour of a process which led to a Declaration of Independence, followed by a Confirmatory Referendum?

    What if the UK Government was watching a growing rise in the polls for independence, and a growing number of MSPs looking likely to vote for UDI – and in response the UK Government said YES you may have a Referendum – here are the conditions that will apply – the first of which is a threshold of say 60% – the second of which is a condition that bo further referendum on Scottish Independence may be held until a “generation” has passed of say 25 years – would you be prepared to accept that offer, with those or like conditions?

    No matter how diverse, the Yes movement is unified on the desire for independence, I wish it were as obvious that those we elect were as unified in that desire, and in the manner by which it was to be achieved.

    I suggest it is time for the Yes Movement to ask very direct questions of the candidates who seek their Yes votes.


    1. It’s Scotland’s right of self-determination. It has nothing to do with Westminster – and Westminster must have nothing to with it. This must be part of the commitment the SNP makes. prior to the election. This is what the Yes movement must squeeze out of the party that is its de facto political arm. There should be no need to put these questions you suggest to the candidates because all the relevant question should be answered in the manifesto to which they commit. NOT a party manifesto! An INDEPENDENCE manifesto. Instead of farting about with pop-up fringe parties trying to exploit dissatisfaction with the SNP why don’t we concentrate on drafting that Manifesto for Independence so that it can be pressed on the SNP?


      1. Crikey …we edge somewhat closer.

        Real iife – Westminster, the Establishment, and the forces they command will throw everything they can at us – you know that Peter, don’t dismiss it as though it was an irrelevance – what we do and how we organise must take it into account – precisely to achieve our right of self determination. We have cold calculating enemies, 100% opposed to the cause of independence – they won’t simply disappear, they, whether you or I like it, will have their say.

        You equally appear to dismiss the questions I suggest be posed, all I ask is that you ponder, even for a second, what answers might be obtained from say, Pete Wishart v Angus Macneil or Nicola Sturgeon v Alex Salmond, or Joanna Cherry v Angus Robertson. Questions breed answers – and for me the answers are important if we are to have politicians who are hell bent, no equivocation, not only on achieving independence, but equally clear on how they intend to achieve it.


        1. “Westminster, the Establishment, and the forces they command will throw everything they can at us – you know that Peter, don’t dismiss it as though it was an irrelevance”



        2. “You equally appear to dismiss the questions I suggest be posed…”

          Equally to what? I haven’t dismissed anything. Here’s what I actually said, “There should be no need to put these questions you suggest to the candidates because all the relevant question should be answered in the manifesto to which they commit.” That is NOT dismissing those questions. It is ensuring they are answered. And answered in a manner which is actually useful.

          Let’s have a wee think about your idea of asking candidates questions. Let’s ask the first question that should be asked. The one you evidently didn’t bother to ask. Why? For what purpose? You have neither power nor authority over these candidates. What are you going to do if they give the ‘wrong’ answer? What can you do? It would be a totally pointless exercise.

          Ask the questions before they become candidates? How? How do you get to be part of the candidate selection process?

          What’s left? It would seem the ‘plan’ might be to stand candidates who gave the right answers against the candidates who didn’t. Do I really have to explain what a totally fucking insane ‘plan’ that would be? The most likely outcome by far would be that neither candidate gets elected. I’m beginning to think you actually want Jackson Carlaw as First Minister.

          The biggest threat to the independence movement would appear to be an epidemic of fantasy politics at the very time when we need to be as pragmatic and hard-headed as possible.


      2. (Slight tangent – if a partly written post appears – apologies in advance – I typed something and it disappeared before I finished – where I know not!).

        Are you saying I should not ask questions, and decide how to vote dependent on the answers I receive.

        Like you Peter, I am trying to find ways that will help me, and perhaps others, make decisions on the make-up of the next Scottish Parliament, and questioning, how each of the 129 MSPs to be, would act, when they are asking for our votes – as candidates for those positions – seems to me to be not entirely unreasonable.

        If, for instance, you achieve the Independence Manifesto you suggest, and it were adopted by the SNP, it would be where I would go with my questions to see if I found the answers I wanted. I suspect it would, however, I would still remain in favour of asking candidates a range of questions along the lines of those I posted earlier.


        1. And if those candidates give you the ‘wrong’ answers? What then?

          You seem to be missing the point that even if they get every single answer to every one of your question as wrong as it’s possible to imagine, you still have to vote for the SNP candidate. Unless you’re ready to help Jackson fucking Carlaw into Bute House. The only very small upside of which is that it would piss Ruth Davidson off massively.

          You may not be happy about that situation. But fantasising about giving the SNP a bloody nose and suffering no ill consequences is probably not the best way to come at an issue.

          The appropriate way to come at it is dictated by logic. If you can’t change the situation in which you are obliged to vote for a party with which you are dissatisfied and it is impossible to change that situation – as it undoubtedly is! – then your sensible alternative is to try and change the party into something you can be less dissatisfied with.

          But I have explained this so often and in so many different ways, all the time aware that it shouldn’t need to be explained, that I feel like I’ve wandered into a debate with religious fanatics.

          NOTE – Just read that penultimate paragraph and despite being a bit of a mess it kinda says what I wanted to say. So I’m not editing it,


      3. Peter … to a small, but I believe germane, extent I have to enter the world of “known unknowns”, I have my doubts but I hope you might just join me.

        We do not currently know the when, nor the what – of what may follow, however I believe it is reasonably certain that later this year we will hear from Alex Salmond. Will what we hear affect the SNP? Will it affect the Yes movement? If so, how will it affect either or both? I do not seek to pretend that I know the answers to either, but it is with that potential event in mind that – in very small part – I have quite deliberately adopted the manner of thinking that I am following, that of asking the questions to which I refer.

        May I suggest one potential outcome, with a modicum of certainty, is that there will be a conflict between those who wish to follow, and only follow, a S30 route and those who believe the time has come for UDI and a confirmatory referendum. Not only might that happen, but there are many who already insist it must happen.

        May I further opine that that clear difference of opinion over the route to adopt will appear both within the SNP and within the Yes movement, and will, at least in part, be prompted by, and perhaps centred on, the words and actions of Alex Salmond.

        May I further suggest that divergence of opinion already exists. You exemplify it, Peter. I will refrain from suggesting its current dimensions. I do however harbour the belief that when Alex Salmond speaks, its dimensions, the extent of the differences over either route, will appear more clearly, and in both more robust and dramatic fashion, both within the SNP and within the Yes movement.

        I accept I could be entirely wrong, it could all be sweetness and light, there will be no disagreements, the future course of action will be clear, and we can all vote SNP1&2 and gain Scotland’s independence – why on earth should I ever have had any questions?

        But there is my problem I do have questions! Can I without any doubts whatsoever be entirely clear (as of now) on that which I will be voting for – example – will it be an endless S30 or UDI?

        Sorry, my friend, we part company on this – I believe questions are important – they are the only means by which to elicit answers.


        1. Again you grossly misrepresent me by implying that I don’t consider questions important. I’m not going to bother providing the evidence which shows how wrong you are as you seem quite content with being wrong.

          Questions are important. But they have to be the right questions. The information they elicit should be meaningful and useful. Asking questions just for the sake of it is, by definition, pointless.

          I leave this topic with one final thought. Presumably, you intend putting these questions to SNP candidates – perhaps among others. Although it’s not at all clear how you intend to get these people to submit to your interrogation, let’s use our imaginations and suppose that you can. As I understand it, you would basically be seeking to discover whether the SNP candidate is genuinely committed to the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence. But if he isn’t, and he’s an SNP candidate in an election, wouldn’t he have been lying about this for years?

          Ask – or at least propose and hope to ask – all the questions you like of candidates. I may even attend to the answers. But I would still prefer to have the party explicitly committed to a Manifesto for Independence. An undertaking to do that which may be necessary to have Scotland’s independence restored within a specified timescale. That would be worth more than all the questions anybody might ask individual candidates. It would answer those questions on behalf of all the candidates.


  3. Peter. I think the failure is based on the fact that Tories and other unionists get free seats, if we vote SNP one and two.

    I am very loyal to the SNP. I have never considered using my second vote as a vote against the unionists, until now. I will find it difficult not to vote SNP with both my votes. However the logical side of my brain says something different. Getting rid of 10 or 15 unionists is not a bad thing,as long as the SNP command 50% plus on the first past the post seats.

    Why should unionists , who get tiny amounts of actual votes. Then be rewarded for their failure by getting turny up medals. I still haven’t decided what I am going to do yet , but will certainly be considering it.

    The other issue is the SNP leadership. Surely if they are not doing what they are supposed to be doing in progressing independence. Then we need to challenge them. I can’t think of any other way of doing this at the moment. There is a brick wall erected when anyone questions their strategy.

    We are in a very difficult situation!


    1. ” I think the failure is based on the fact that Tories and other unionists get free seats, if we vote SNP one and two”.

      This is not strictly true. If the SNP got the same level of support on the List ballot as they are currently forecast to get on the constituency one, they will possibly get a 27 seat majority in Holyrood. With some of that vote leaking to the Greens as it appears to be, the SNP only get a possible 19 seat majority, though that “shouldn’t” matter too much with Green seats. If the SNP list vote goes lower because the ISP (or who-ever) pinch some from them, obviously the SNP seat share goes even lower but there is no guarantee the ISP would get any if they only take 3-4% which is entirely likely. It is the Unionists that gain seats in that scenario.

      This isn’t too much of a problem if the current SNP poll ratings continue into next year But if they slip back to the mid-forties, the Greens and ISP leech off about 10 points of their List vote and the Unionists mount another successful “joint campaign”, its “brown trouser time”.

      The whole ISP approach only makes sense if the SNP get the kind of vote they are currently predicted to get and the ISP can guarantee getting a very large proportion of the SNP’s List vote. Unfortunately the vast majority of SNP voters, being just folks going about their daily lives, will not be aware of the ISP’s (or who ever’s) grand plan and will just reflexly vote SNP 1 & 2. Only a very few of “those in the know” and suitably motivated will split their vote. It is a stunningly risky plan and unless something completely out of the blue happens to make it more viable I will not be participating in it.

      Liked by 1 person

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