So misidentifying!

With apologies to Ray Davies.

I was prompted to write this article in part by a recent blog piece by my good friend, Tommy Sheridan and partly by numerous Tweets championing some of the worst follies of the self-styled alternative independence parties. Tommy’s essay labours under the title Scottish #MaxTheYES Strategy is Alive and Kicking Unionists Into Touch. Needless to say, I have questions. The questions that should have been asked not just before Tommy’s article was published, but before the whole ‘list party’ idea gained any traction. Too late now!

Also, I came across the quote in the image above and immediately thought of the so-called alternative independence parties. Which, come to think of it, might be better referred to as the alternative to independence parties. Because whatever they’re campaigning for it isn’t independence. The quote is so apt I feel I must use it again.

Whenever a theory appears to you as the only possible one, take this as a sign that you have neither understood the theory nor the problem which it was intended to solve.

Karl Popper

I am not about to begin and end every paragraph with apologies for upsetting people. Partly because that stuff gets very tedious very quickly. Mostly because it would be insincere. I aim to upset people. If nobody is upset I don’t consider I’ve done my job properly. So I’ll get this out of the way now and then folk can get on with being offended if that’s their thing. I’m not saying everybody associated with the alternative independence parties is malign. Some undoubtedly are. If for no other reason than that it’s the sort of project that attracts people with personal and partisan agendas. As does the entire Yes movement. Independence is a powerful bandwagon. Lots of people want to hitch a ride on it. Not all of them have independence as their first priority. Some not even as their second or third priority.

Most of the people supporting these list parties have just been taken in by the rhetoric. They are being exploited. More precisely, their frustration with the SNP and their detestation of the British Tory government are being exploited. Angry, frustrated people are ripe for exploitation. They mean no harm. They are convinced they’re doing the right thing. When you’re frustrated and angry you tend to grab at the first thing that comes along looking like it may relieve the frustration and provide a target for the anger. You tend not to ask the questions it would be wise to ask.

Nor am I picking a fight with Tommy. It’s not him or any individual I’m criticising. It’s the concept. The idea. The folly. It just happens that the title of Tommy’s article encompasses three aspects of this folly. The hashtag #MaxTheYes refers to the idea of a super-majority. “Kicking Unionists Into Touch” refers to getting rid of Unionist MSPs. The word “strategy” refers to… what?

The cunning plan parties certainly have a strategy for selling themselves. They use some fairly standard techniques. Simplisms, slogans, pseudo-science and sound-bites. Rehearsed scripts that have little in the way of substance and lots in the way of hype. They are sold on a prospectus which describes miraculous solutions for what the propaganda identifies as problem. It is only when you ask if these problems are real and whether the solutions are either necessary or sufficient that you begin to discover the vacuity of the whole enterprise. And begin to piss-off a few people in the process.

There’s a strategy for getting people’s votes. But is there a strategy for doing something practical to advance Scotland’s cause. If there is, I’ve yet to find it. It’s pointless asking. If you ask any questions which don’t stem from the assumption that the sales patter is based on either science or scripture according to taste then you’ll be told you’re ignorant or stupid or a Unionist plant or a secret Tory. What you won’t get is any explanation of what these snake-oil parties intend to do for the independence cause if elected. And there’s a very good reason for that. They can’t do anything. They have a strategy for getting elected. They have no strategy after that. They’ll deny the former. They’ll wax disingenuous or evasive or both about the latter.

Or they start banging on about the numbers. Like politics is nothing but arithmetic! That’s what the people who designed the voting system thought. Arithmetic didn’t stop the people of Scotland bucking the numbers and voting in a majority SNP government in 2011. They’ll rattle of their spiel about hundreds of thousands of votes “wasted” because the party they wanted to win didn’t. As if getting those votes on the regional list ballot was sufficient in itself to win. As if it was a first past the post election. Which it isn’t, of course. It’s a proportional system. A rather messy proportional system. But one that has worked rather well for the independence cause up until now.

Theyll tell you the numbers don’t lie. To which the one word response is “shite!”. No! Not “shite!”. GERS! Same thing, really. Next GERSday when they start going on about how it’s all rubbish, what do the Unionists respond with? You’ve got it! The numbers don’t lie. Letters don’t lie either. Phonemes don’t lie. But we can all put letters together to write a lie. We can all use our voices to tell a lie. It’s all about how you put them together. What context you put them in. What context you leave out. GERS demonstrates this every year. The British media does it every day. If you doubt me go take a look at Talking Up Scotland where you’ll find hundreds of examples gathered by Professor John Robertson of numbers being used to lie in newspaper articles and TV and radio ‘news’ reports. And there is the point. Numbers themselves don’t lie. But they can be used to tell lies. They can be used to mislead. They can be used to sell the magical properties of snake-oil.

The whole thing about kicking Unionist MSPs out of Holyrood is a clear instance of misidentifying the problem. So long as they are in the minority, MSPs from the British parties are not a problem for Scotland’s cause. They can’t do anything to obstruct or hinder action to restore Scotland’s independence taken by the Scottish Government. They are ineffectual. They provide headlines for the British media. But the headlines would appear anyway. Even if Unionist MSPs were reduced to one solitary, sorry soul the headlines would change only in that they would start screeching about how Scotland is a one-party state and how broken the the Scottish Parliament is.

The response when you point out that Unionist MSPs aren’t actually the problem is most commonly to accuse you of wanting more Unionists in the Scottish Parliament. Which you will immediately notice does not address the issue. The issue being that they are misidentifying something as a problem so they can sell their ‘solution’. Which is a bit fraudish, isn’t it?

The necessarily fake ‘solution’ for this misidentified problem is, of course, to replace those ineffectual Unionist MSPs with MSPs from the snake-oil parties. Which is nice for those parties and very nice for the individual(s) elected. But what practical use is it to Scotland’s cause? It turns out that when you examine the situation as thoroughly and dispassionately as possible you find that there is nothing they can do. Those Unionist opposition MSPs were ineffectual not because they were Unionists but because they were in opposition. They were in the minority.

And they were there for a purpose. Those Unionist MSPs are there because people persist in voting for Unionist parties. Which they are entitled to do. In Scotland, they are also entitled to representation. We have an electoral system which ensures a proportional parliament. A Parliament which as accurately as possible reflects the votes cast. This system does its job rather well. The Scottish Parliament scores well on various measures of proportionality.

The snake-oil parties propose to make our Parliament less proportional. Either they do this for the purpose of maliciously undercutting the Scottish Parliament’s democratic credentials and authority; or more likely, they just haven’t thought things through that far. They stopped thinking at the point where their ‘solution’ seemed to work. You can only claim to have truly thought things through when you think past the point where you cease to be comfortable. Only when you get into the area where you’re uncomfortable will you find the questions you should be asking. Only there will you find the actual problem(s) and be able to start looking for real solutions.

Unionist MSPs in a minority at Holyrood are not a problem for Scotland’s cause. No doubt I’d cheer as loud as anybody if the likes of Jackie Baillie or Willie Rennie got kicked out by the voters. But I wouldn’t cheer as long. Because I have wits enough to realise how vanishingly little good it does beyond that momentary gratification. I have sense enough to know that it’s not Unionist MSPs in our Parliament that’s the problem, it’s the British parties in Scotland. And we won’t be rid of them until we’re rid of the Union.

The idea of a super-majority is also a case of misidentifying the problem and so coming up with a ‘solution’ which if we were being generous we would call silly. The problem is not too few pro-independence MSPs. There is nothing that can be done with a super-majority which can’t be done with a simple majority. Nothing relevant to this discussion. Unless you’re planning on bringing down a pro-independence government, a super-majority is mocked by chocolate teapots for its lack of utility. There is literally no post-election scenario in which any number of these snake-oil parties’ MSPs could do anything. Nothing useful, anyway. They could probably be an inconvenience to the pro-independence government. Politics being what it is that might well happen. Because it’ll be the only time those MSPs get any attention from the British media. And you can bet they’d be hungry for attention.

I’m not going to run through those potential post-election scenarios here. I’ve already done it elsewhere and I really don’t like repeating myself. Mainly because the message probably isn’t getting across anyway. Think it through for yourselves. Maybe that’ll get the message across. There is no scenario in which those snake-oil party MSPs are not either powerless or redundant or both.

A super-majority sounds good. If you don’t bother to think about it too much – or at all – you could easily be convinced that it’s a very-good-bigger-than-the-other-guy thing. That’s kinda what the words “super” and “majority” convey. But unless there’s qualified majority voting it makes no practical difference. And there’s no qualified majority voting in any situation that could be relevant to the independence cause. The idea of a super-majority is just the shiny bauble that distracts you from the realpolitik.

You only reach the conclusion that gaming the voting system is a good idea if you start from the wrong place. You don’t get there if you start by asking what best serves the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence. You only get there if you start by asking what will get me or my party a slice of that Scottish Parliament pie.

Scotland’s politics is a mess right now. There is all manner of craziness going on. It’s like coronavirus isn’t the only infection that’s arrived on our shores. We may feel smug when we look across the Atlantic or across our southern border. But the madness is here too. Part of that madness is the loss of pragmatism. When pragmatism is lost, all manner of fantasies and delusion rush to fill the void. Add fervour to fantasy or dogma to delusion and you have a mix which can only be either toxic or explosive. Scotland’s predicament is perilous and urgent. Rarely have level-heads and rational minds been more needed. Rarely have they been so overwhelmed by the human tendency to fuck things up.

I’m pretty sure I’m not misidentifying the problem.

42 thoughts on “So misidentifying!

  1. How very SNP if you. No mention of the quality of the Scotland we want to create, the ideals of fairness, justice, decency and the rule of law. I’m a member of the SNP but I question the Murrels’ commitent to anything or snyone other than themselves.

    zyes lets have a Scotland riddled with the corruption and duplicity of Poluce Svotland abd the current COPFS. No matter that largely innocent people are hounded for daring to question the status quo and thst freedim if soeech is under threat in thr mist egregious manner. No matter that conspiracies against some of our greatest heroes for independence are not only rife but pernicious, caustic and chronic.

    You’re a coward. You just want what you want and damn the rest, even if the innocent go to jail and the guilty get off scot free as long as they give you what you want you’ll be happy.

    I want a better world than you can even see. An independent Scotland with some sense of honest, decent government, not the corrupt shite you are peddling here.


    1. I have to admire the commitment to your brief El Tigre 🙂 …. “ignore the topic …. just get the corruption thing in” 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. There are so many good points in this article, and so well made, I won’t highlight any one – or even just some – of them as it would be unfair on the others left out.

    Suffice to say I completely endorse all of it.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I couldn’t resist this though:

    Why not use AIPS to refer to the “Alternative Independence Parties”? After all, they simply mimic one another’s pitch to voters. If the cap fits …

    Or, as an ‘alternative’ to AIPS, perhaps LIPS (List Independence Parties)? It too has a ring to it …

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I can see the argument for giving the SNP my second vote. It allows those British parties representation in Holyrood. I’d sooner drink a cup of snot.

    The way I see it, the SNP needs a proper opposition, one that is working in Scotland’s interests, not England’s, so rather than having my No2 vote discounted to a tenth of the value for a Tory or Labour vote, I’ll put it towards a Scottish party.

    My big worry with this election is the stench coming from the SNP. Too many people are talking about abstaining with their No1 vote.

    If the Vatican couldn’t cover up their paedophilia scandal, the SNP have no hope of keeping the lid on their amateur hour one.

    Best that they clean the Augean Stables before the media pile in just before the election to remind everyone how foul they are.

    Round about mid April our enemies in the MSM are going to be champions of Salmond and Women’s Rights. They are going to deliver a massive blow if the SNP don’t display some canny footwork. It doesn’t have to be fair or logical to sway just enough of the voters.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m focused on restoring Scotland’s independence. That’s my priority. For me, it’s not an extra. It’s not something that maybe gets tacked onto a long list of moans and wants.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Peter, I feel that in your devotion to both votes snp you are willfully missing the point. The sole reason i quit the current “new” snp in 2014 at Nicola’s coronation was because i feared the “peronist” playbook of husband and wife team would do nothing but cultivate the seeds of rotting out the snp from within. I do not trust nor have i any confidence in the current leadership of your new snp so will gladly support any democratic alternative party or individual independents who openly support Scottish Independence.
    You rightfully interpret the current voting set up at holyrood as proportional in the regional list system however you fail to highlight why the inherint inclusion of qualative majority voting which would allow holyrood government to resign if it chose to do so forcing a new election. Why is that?
    My belief is that if we want to consider our country to be independent we must act like it and if that means upsetting our democratic opponents by using holyroods “super majority” mechanism to take our case back to the Scottish people for their views and endorsement via plebicite and referendum.
    It is for this reason that I support “max the yes”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “holyroods “super majority” mechanism” …. it’s what? Please specify the basis and workings of this “mechanism”.


      1. At present Holyrood parliament and the sitting govt wether minority or majority cannot be dissolved or dissolve itself outwith the fixed electoral timetable unless a majority threshold of 75% of elected members vote for dissolution leading to a new election.


      2. Sorry, what’s the point of winning a “super majority” …. only to dissolve Parliament and have another election? What could a second election deliver that the first didn’t apart from a bemused and possibly resentful electorate?

        Liked by 2 people

        1. For once, we are in total agreement. Imagine going into an election telling voters that your aim is to bring down the pro-independence government and force another election. Who the hell would vote for that?

          But the snake-oil peddlers have to say this because it’s the only answer they have when it’s pointed out they they will be able to do precisely nothing for the independence cause.


      3. Simple…. just give the 834,788 SNP list votes that were taken away by the system and therefore not used in 2016 to greens and.. BANG… we have a supper majority


    2. You lost me at the word “devotion”. If you think that’s appropriate then everything after that is based on a false premise and there is no point in me reading it.


  6. Peter … not recorded but at the end of Twa Auld Heids I said I would recontact you fairly shortly – it has a bearing on what you have posted above where I am not sure you have thought the matter through as thouroughly as needed.

    I use one extract from Lady Carmichael (I know you know the source and its fullest extent from another of your posts), this:

    ” It is, however, those representatives constituting the Parliament, and not the individual voters, who are the decision-makers in relation to the introduction, promotion and passing of legislation. I do not accept as correct the pursuer’s characterisation of individual voters as the decision-makers in relation to the introduction promotion or passing of particular pieces of legislation.”

    It does have a bearing on List Parties, and whether they can or cannot influence proceedings in the Parliament, that I believe is not as black and white as you seem to deem it – but that is not the critical aspect I wish to discuss with you – I’ll be in touch.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Only one thing determines whether parties can do anything for the independence cause in Parliament. If they are the party of government, they can. Otherwise, they can’t. Nothing Lady Carmichael says alters the way Parliament works.


      1. “Nothing Lady Carmichael says alters the way Parliament works.” Precisely . it confirms the status quo, it is an absolute in our understanding – and that has an importance – for discussion when I make contact, Peter!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Just before that quote, Lady Carmichael said this:

      The representatives derive their authority from the voting decisions of the pursuer and others enfranchised to vote in the election. The proportions in which representatives from different parties, and independent candidates, are elected will no doubt affect what bills come to be introduced, what bills come to be passed, and the terms in which they come to be passed.

      and to me that implies an integrity in the voting process and decisions. If a substantial amount of those enfranchised try to “game” i.e. fiddle, the system, that detracts from the integrity of the Parliament itself.

      And it is the Parliament as a whole that gives authority to the bills that come to be passed, and the terms in which they come to be passed.

      Destroy the integrity of the Scottish Parliament, and destroy the authority of its bills. As Peter says:

      Those Unionist MSPs are there because people persist in voting for Unionist parties. Which they are entitled to do. In Scotland, they are also entitled to representation. We have an electoral system which ensures a proportional parliament. A Parliament which as accurately as possible reflects the votes cast.

      If from a fiddled non-representative maxing the YES parliament a Bill such as the short Referendum Bill gets passed but challenged by the UK Gov, it is far more likely to be struck down. Bye bye referendum, bye bye Independence, bye bye 22 years of reputation of the Scottish Parliament, and the exact opposite effect from what was wanted to be achieved, would be achieved.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I always get a bit twitchy when I see Popper quoted. The chunk in question may be mildly appropriate, but it is worth noting that Popper’s positions on many matters, including the so called philosophy of science for which he became famous, are retrograde and regressive. They take no account of actual history and perpetuate a number of rather unpleasant right wing delusions. But I guess that this is not the place to get bogged down in deconstructing Popperian pomposity.

    My mind remains open on the matter of the list vote. I wonder also what might happen if a prominent independence supporting individual without party allegiance were to stand on one of the lists as simply an individual supporting independence without party allegiance. If you were to do so, or Paul C or G Beater or whoever, you would get my vote 🙂

    As somebody said above, this SNP desperately needs an independence supporting opposition that is mature enough not to engage in sectarianism. And I still do not see how a list vote for the SNP is anything other than a minuscule fraction of the value of a list vote for any unionist party.

    I fear though that sectarianism is simply part of the political landscape in this country, deliberately whipped up at every opportunity by the massed forces of unionism.

    I liked Kevin McK’s piece in today’s paper. I also don’t give a toss who is speaking or making a point. I argue against or for ideas, which do not on the whole give a toss who espouses them.

    As always I thank you for this well crafted feast of interesting ideas upon which to ruminate at breakfast.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Peter doesn’t do numbers Duncan. He advocates voting so that lots of Tory list MSPs get in to somehow satisfy proportionality – try selling that round the doors!


    1. I didn’t quote or cite Popper’s entire works. Just those words. The whole point of such quotes is that they are not subject to their original context. They are being placed in a new and quite possible markedly different context. Quoting Hitler doesn’t make you a Nazi sympathiser.

      The idea of the SNP needing a pro-independence opposition ignores YET AGAIN the concept of time.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. As it stands at the moment there is going to a lot of time to continue to talk about the hope of one day maybe having a referendum if the Brits allow it about becoming independent. A pro independence opposition to the current SNP could also take place within the SNP.


        1. I refuse to accept the way things are at the moment and shall continue to fight to change the way things are. To my mind that’s what it means to be an activist. I’ll persist in demanding that the SNP adopts a #ManifestoFor|Independence right up to the day the party’s manifesto is published. Even if I’m the only one doing it. I won’t give up.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. I see a few detractors appearing to disagree with what is a well written and logical article. What they are saying is they don’t want proportional representation if it doesn’t give them the result they want, they presumably must prefer the Westminster system. They probably forget the current system gave the SNP the foothold in the parliament to build on.

    The reason there are British parties in Holyrood is because, as you say, people are voting for them. So it’s not the British parties that you need to overcome but to change the mindset of their voters, not sure you achieve that by trying to nullify their vote. If they are not represented then how could you ever persuade them to support independence, why would they believe they would have any more say afterwards. They are more likely decide Holyrood should be abolished.

    This is one of your best articles, in my opinion anyway.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This would make a great deal more sense if it were not also true that Unionism has been gaming and gerrymandering the voting system for years. The modified d’Hondt system used at Hollyrood does indeed offer a reasonable way of proportionally representing the share of the vote that political parties receive. It was however put in place to ensure no party (ie the SNP or any other independence supporting party) gains an overall majority. The powers of unionism know very well that dropping bits of paper into ballot boxes is a tiny, over exaggerated element of the political process, and that they can manipulate voters in just the right ways just before any election.

      The fact remains that the current SNP does not have a coherent strategy towards independence, nor one that asserts the sovereignty of the Scottish people. The attraction of so called alternative independence parties to those of us fed up with entryism, factionalism and sycophancy to Westminster is precisely that they are not the SNP and promise to concentrate only on constitutional matters while supporting the government in domestic matters. But realistically, the only way that alternative list party members would be able successfully to pursue this policy is if the SNP did not have an overall majority and the government became some sort of coalition. Otherwise alternative list party members will become part of the howling opposition, easily lumped in with unionists.

      Somehow it has come to pass that old fashioned independence supporters, whose allegiance to the SNP was always pragmatic, have to persuade not only withering unionists that independence is surely a good idea now that the British State is daily displaying its perfidy for all to see, but also to remind the SNP in power that independence was the whole point of the party being there. At the same time we are bombarded by the constant refrain about independence never being so close, all we have to do is hunker down, forget about the materiality of sex, ignore rumours of potential dodgy dealings at the heart of government and support the SNP, for it is only the SNP that will deliver independence. Maybe that is the so, but “never so close” will stretch out for many years to come, and the independent country that emerges will remain attached to British systems of sinecure power and patronage like an inadequate teenager.

      There has to be some way through this shitey mess.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. That’s just the way of politics, successful parties will always attract those that see it as just a career move, I don’t think it unique to the SNP or it is possible to totally eliminate this, some conmen (or women) are very good at it.

        You seem to want absolute purity in government, I don’t believe that exists anywhere, why would Scotland be any different. Independence comes with all the warts of government, it will in fact become worse if we have total control of all our finances. The best you can do is try and legislate against it, but it will never be perfect.

        The AMS system used at Holyrood seem to have worked pretty well as far as I can see, people will tactically vote in the constituency vote, you can’t stop that. It’s much harder to manipulate the list vote unless you know you are taking the constituency seats. The STV system used for council by-elections is much easier to manipulate, in fact it gives unionist multiple votes until one of their candidates is elected. I suspect that’s by the unionist parties are so keen to move more power to councils, a low turnout plus a voting system easier manipulated.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. By the way …. the homiletic snippet from Popper:

    Whenever a theory appears to you as the only possible one, take this as a sign that you have neither understood the theory nor the problem which it was intended to solve.

    Is most sensibly applied to his own labours, which saw in every scientific development in history exactly the same logical process.

    I rest my case 🙂


    1. I didn’t quote or… Ach! Never mind! You’re obviously determined that quoting somebody means you’re sympathetic to ALL their views. Which is total shite, of course. But not my shite.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Not in the slightest Peter. I do not believe that you advocate every last word Popper wrote because you plucked a snippet from his work. I just wanted to point out that the quote in question nicely deconstructs his entire project. That’s all. It’s not in the least personal. I thought you would get that. Sorry if I did not make this clear.


  10. Reblogged this on Ramblings of a now 60+ Female and commented:
    “Most of the people supporting these list parties have just been taken in by the rhetoric. They are being exploited. More precisely, their frustration with the SNP and their detestation of the British Tory government are being exploited.”
    I couldn’t agree more.

    Liked by 2 people

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