Shifting sands #2

In part one of this article I described how my thinking about various aspects of the constitutional issue and the coming election had changed over time. In passing, it is worth noting how totally the two are bound up together. The issues of independence and the Scottish Parliament election cannot be separated. If you’re talking about one, you’re talking about both. This is, or should be, the independence election. One way or another, this election will have profound implications for Scotland’s cause. The cause of restoring Scotland’s independence. Either the outcome of the election is such as will allow us to end the abomination that is the Union and restore our nation’s independence, or we face the disabling of our democracy and the dismantling of our institutions and the destruction of our identity.

Previously, I stated that the best outcome would be a Scottish Government elected on an unequivocal Manifesto for Independence (MfI) with an incontestable mandate. This required that the SNP include the main points of the MfI in the party’s own election manifesto. Getting them to do this should have been the focus of the entire independence movement over the past year. Instead, there was no focus at all. It proved impossible to get the independence movement to unite enough to pursue independence.

But that’s past now. We just chalk it up as yet another squandered opportunity. If we choose not to shape events then we have to deal with the reality that unfolds before us. That reality is that there will be no independence super-mandate. There will be no Scottish Government with a absolute commitment to take specified action within a defined timescale for the purpose of initiating and pursuing a process by which Scotland’s independence will be restored. It’s just not happening.

Instead – and always stipulating that things may change before I’ve finished writing this – what it looks like we’ll get is another SNP administration headed by Nicola Sturgeon and nothing to look forward to but another five years of fevered inaction on the constitutional issue. Lot’s of talk. Nothing actually happening. As well as a perhaps slightly diminished rabble from the three British parties, the SNP will be joined at Holyrood by a contingent from Alba Party and the British rabble will get George Galloway for company. Hell mend them! Altogether an interesting parliament from the perspective of the interested observer. But what use is it? How well might it serve the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence?

It is certain that we cannot rely on the SNP/Nicola Sturgeon doing what is required. They might yet surprise us by adopting the Manifesto for Independence. But it has to be said that this looks very unlikely. It is not the case that Sturgeon has lost her desire for independence. It’s undeniably the case that she has lost her passion for independence. These days, it’s no more than a preference. The SNP could have been in a position to make independence as inevitable as they keep telling us it is. They chose not to. As a member of the party I want the leadership to know that this is a dereliction that I do not forgive and shall not forget.

Great claims have been made for what Alba Party will do. None of the these claims has been accompanied by an explanation as to how they will do it. It is certain that we cannot rely on even a friendly opposition party doing what is required. Parties not in government are limited in what the can do. And what they can do largely relies on the effective political power of a sympathetic administration. However, given that the best option has been thrown away, we’ll have to make the best of what we have. To that end, we should take a look at the material we have to deal with. We should have a better idea of what that is now that Alex Salmond has set out Alba’s approach to the constitutional issue. (We already know that the SNP’s approach to the constitutional issue is not to approach it too closely.)

I’ve selected a few passages from Salmond’s portentously titled A NEW DECLARATION FOR SCOTLAND which I think give an idea of Alex Salmond’s thinking on the matter and therefore, presumably, what Alba’s approach to the constitutional issue might be supposing any of the party’s candidates are returned. It has to be said that it will only be an idea as to what their offer is. Because for what is supposed to be a major declaration Salmond’s statement is rather vague on some crucial points.

After a preamble setting his speech in the context of the Declaration of Arbroath – but not, I hope, inviting comparisons – Alex Salmond begins to look like he’s getting to the point.

The appeal for Scottish independence cannot – should not – be restricted by party. No one party has the ownership of Scottish independence. It is rooted in the sovereignty of the people, all of the people.

Strong on rhetoric, as one would expect. But what about substance. It’s a bit of a straw man. As far as I am aware, and I’ve been taking a deep interest in these matters for a very long time, nobody has ever suggested that the appeal for Scottish independence could or should be “restricted by party”. I’ve never encountered one party claiming “ownership of Scottish independence” – whatever that means. If anyone knows of such a thing I’d be obliged if they would share that information. So what are we to make of this remark. Ironically, even as he says it’s not about party he makes it about party. This is nothing more than a barely disguised dig at the SNP. It’s a rather silly attempt to put the SNP back in a place from which it has never departed.

But who could argue with the declaration that the appeal for the restoration of Scotland’s independence is “rooted in the sovereignty of the people”. Those words will come back to haunt him just shortly.

Boris Johnson has already declared he will ignore an SNP victory as a basis for a referendum. But even if he can ignore a party, he cannot ignore a Parliament and a nation.

Yes, he has. Although quite why that might be worth noting is a mystery. If, as Salmond states, the right of self-determination is rooted in the sovereignty of Scotland’s people then Boris Johnson’s opinion on the matter should be of no consequence. It is not an SNP victory that is the “basis for a referendum”, it is the sovereignty of the people.

It’s a bold person indeed who understates the British Prime Minister’s ability to “ignore a Parliament and a nation”. Even without all his recent practice, there is absolutely no reason to suppose that Boris Johnson is less adept than any other British Prime Minister at showing contempt for the Scottish Parliament and nation. This is an unsupported assertion. Unfortunately, all too much of what we hear from Alba is in the form of unsupported assertions. I had hoped this speech would fill in some of the blanks. It is the very nature of the Union that it gives the British political elite unlimited power to ignore Scotland.

Our task is therefore to give voice to Scotland’s modern Community of the Realm. To demand self-determination. To assert nationhood and the need for respect and equality across these islands. That can start in the Scots Parliament immediately following the election of a #Supermajority of independence supporting MSPs.

On the subject of unsupported assertions, here’s another. Again disguised by fine rhetoric we have the claim that the election of a supermajority alone is all that’s required to instantly trigger all the things referred to in the fine rhetoric.

Deliver that #Supermajority and Parliament then issues a clear and unmistakable instruction to the Scottish Government to open negotiations with Whitehall on independence.

Really? Is that how it works? There may well be a parliamentary procedure which enables the issuing of such an instruction to the Scottish Government. If there is, then I’m sure an experienced hand like Alex Salmond will know about it. It would be nice if he was to share a wee bit. It would help to win over old cynics like myself if we were reassured about such things. Doubtless I’ll be slated for even asking the question. But somebody has to. Who initiates this parliamentary procedure? To what extent does it require the cooperation of the Scottish Government? What part does the Presiding Officer play in all of this?

Credit where it’s due. At least we get a mention of the Scottish Government. The whole speech gives the distinct impression of trying to sideline the Scottish Government and minimise its role. Recognising the authority of the Scottish Parliament is a good thing. Just not so good when it’s done even to a limited extent in a partisan effort to discount the party of government.

That should happen in week one of the new Parliament.A standing Independence Convention can then be established, drawn from all of Scotland’s elected representatives, to give support and substance to the Scottish Government’s independence negotiating position.

Alex Salmond has a deserved reputation as a smart political operator. I’m perfectly sure that were it he who was heading the Scottish Government he’d be insisting that it was best to keep options open on timing. On the other hand, given who is the presumptive First Minister, Salmond might be quite justified in seeking to pin her down like this. Nicola Sturgeon has a record of being very, very relaxed about appointments she makes with the people.

The Independence Convention is an essential but obvious move. This could almost have been taken straight from the Manifesto for Independence.. Which is a promising sign. But the stuff about the powers and authority of the Scottish Parliament is also very reminiscent of MfI, except that it is much less explicit. Why not? If Alex Salmond is talking about asserting the primacy of the Scottish Parliament, which given what he is saying must happen subsequently he must be, then why not come right out and say so?

Mike Russell’s ludicrous 11-point plan implies that the SNP will declare Holyrood Scotland’s only legitimate parliament when he says that they’d go ahead with a referendum even against the wishes of the UK Government. That could only be done if the Scottish Parliament had the powers over the constitution which are currently withheld by the British state. And the scottish Parliament can only have those powers if they are taken. So why not say upfront that this is what is intended? Why go all around the houses? Why leave so much unsaid. It’s what people want hear!

A section 30 referendum could be part of that, as could a plebiscite, or another democratic test as could domestic legal action or international and diplomatic initiatives, as could peaceful and popular demonstration.

And there it is! The turd in the teapot! If the Section 30 process is acceptable to Alex Salmond then he is no different from Nicola Sturgeon. He also needs to realise that there is no possibility of a Section 30 referendum qualifying as a free and fair exercise of our right of self-determination. Was Salmond not just talking about the sovereignty of Scotland’s people? How can he speak of the significance of popular sovereignty and a few moments later say that it’s OK by him if that sovereignty is compromised.

I have to say I was expecting this. Some other remarks made recently by Salmond strongly suggested that he favoured the Section 30 process. Or at least that he was happy to accept it. The form of words used here suggests to me that he may have been asked by his colleagues to tone it down a bit. But I’m not buying it. The statement that a section 30 referendum could be part of the process by which Scotland’s independence is restored is false. A Section 30 request, granted of denied, cannot and must not be part of that process. It is Scotland’s right of self-determination. There is no role for any parliament, government or agency other than the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government and such agencies as they may appoint. When we exercise our right of self-determination this must be done free of all external interference. This is not negotiable. The sovereignty of the Scottish people is not negotiable.

With an Independence #Supermajority, resistance from Westminster to Scotland’s renewed Claim of Right will crumble.

Like hell it will! The British will not so easily let go of Scotland. They will only do so when there is no other option. But why is resistance from Westminster even an issue? Why is the restoration of our independence dependent on that resistance crumbling? What the hell does it have to do with Westminster? By what right does the British political elite involve itself in something which by all international laws and conventions is a matter for the people of Scotland alone?

By what right do Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond propose to invite the involvement of the British political elite in a democratic exercise that is exclusively for the people of Scotland?

This is thin gruel being passed off as a rich broth. There is no point in a supermajority if those who trumpet its wondrous properties are unable to demonstrate that can be used for the purposes of Scotland’s cause.

There is no point in Alba even if the party’s approach to the constitutional issue is no more different from the SNP’s than Alex Salmond’s speech indicates.

There is no point in Alex Salmond if he can’t offer the independence movement with the leadership Nicola Sturgeon has so signally failed to provide.

Now that the possibility of a supermandate is dead the supermajority is the best we’re going to get. But that doesn’t mean it’s good enough. On the basis of evidence to date, it just isn’t.

15 thoughts on “Shifting sands #2

  1. Once more I wish you were wrong but suspect you’ve got it about right. I too was disappointed in the references to Westminster but at least he wasn’t referring to it as gold standard.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Thanks, Peter – I regret to say that I agree with you entirely. The regret isn’t because it is you saying it, but because I wasn’t expecting anything else from Salmond redux.

    There is a worrying streak of hero-worship in Scottish politics which overrides any critical faculty in usually sensible people – see, for examples, Iain Lawson and Barrhead Boy. I’m currently on the shit-lists of both Sturgeon and Salmond supporters because I’m – and always have been – more interested in policies than people. Alba just isn’t filling the necessary policy gap, so I can’t support them.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. The SNP claimed ownership of Scottish Independence by opposing the Martin Keatings court case and saying he had no right to question the Scottish Parliament.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. I’m not feeling as negative as that.
    I feel that Alex is keeping the options open here. With the movement currently so polarised, I understand his need to assert to the Nicola fans that they alone cannot claim ownership of sovereignty decisions. And also to assert that he and HIS supporters are not rejecting her ideas and assuming that a section 30 order WON’T be part of the process. It was in 2014.
    In his references to legal, diplomatic and civil protest aspects, I see him referring to the few things that Scots collectively CAN do.
    While awareness and support are higher than in 2012-2014, we face a MUCH harder battle than then. I said to folk after the 2014 defeat, that independence doesn’t go from possible to impossible. What happens is like many other opportunities in life. Each opportunity missed simply makes it harder.
    We now lack EU protection and direct rule is being imposed. The UK Government has been alerted to the risk that we’ll escape. Brexit makes our resources even more vital to England. A corrupt establishment stranglehold over our media and institutions seems to emanate from both London AND Edinburgh. While covid and brexit are an economic catastrophe due to hit us any day.
    Against this we have only two real tools. Popular support, and gradual escalation of pressure, on Government by the populace.
    Where Alex is likely to have an edge over Nicola, is in strategically co-ordinating a gradual escalation of that pressure. Coupled with some opportunism. A commitment to peaceful means doesn’t have to restrict the public to occasionally-voting bystanders.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The SNP’s Manifesto is still to be published. It might surprise us all but I doubt it. It’ll probably say the Scottish government/Parliament governs for everybody not just independence supporters and any indyref must be legal; it will probably not specify whether it should be legal under Scots law, English law or international law. It’ll say there’s not enough support yet for independence and probably ignore the fact that it’s Westminster’s intention to absorb Scotland entirely and mothball Holyrood.

    If the SNP gets an overall majority on the constituency seats, Nicola Sturgeon will consider the existing glacial pace towards independence is the correct course of action. In that case, we can kiss goodbye to independence altogether. Fewer constituency seats and more list seats in the hands of a more radical (I don’t mean a Che Guevara type) independence party might have changed things.

    We’ll know quite soon if Scotland is going to be shackled to England forever. At the moment my mood, after reading your article, is a bit down. Here’s hoping something changes in the world of Scottish politics.

    I’m still voting SNP/ALBA – more in hope than expectation.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Well, fine for the description of the present situation. But how about an attempt at an analysis of why we have come to this point? Is it credible that the UK state has knobbled Sturgeon? Has the presence of UK government functionaries allowed MI5 to get a toe-hold into the SNP? Etc.
    Only by knowing what has happened and who exactly we are fighting against can we really attempt to put things right. Assuming we can find out, or at least make a reasonable guess.
    As it is I also will be SNP 1, Alba 2. but not with any great expectations.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree that analysis of how we got here would be both helpful and interesting. But it can’t be my focus at the moment. There are surely lessons to be learned from looking back. But none, I think, which might usefully our present situation.


  7. ask for an interview with Alex Salmond and ask him directly “Great claims have been made for what Alba Party will do. None of the these claims has been accompanied by an explanation as to how they will do it.” He gave James Kelly an interview and the MSM aren’t falling over each other to interview him, i think you’d be in with a shout.

    Liked by 6 people

  8. Well said, Peter. I held back retweeting your first blog until I read the second. Have now retweeted both. Our only choice is SNP 1 and Alba 2. All the pressure is on AS to deliver for Scotland and I’ll go with that. Let’s give him support.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Why don’t we have a home grown referendum set up and authorised by the Scottish Government. If the people of Scotland are sovereign then we do not need to seek permission from any other Government.

    Liked by 5 people

  10. I don’t read the bit about “section 30 could be a part..” in quite the same way as you Peter. I see it is an appeal to snp loyalists not to discount alba ‘cos their preferred route may still be considered…. I can imagine Alex gritting his teeth whilst writing/saying those words, and thinking” aye, right, and my aunt mabel is dolphin”…. The other options are there…. The inclusion of reference to s30 is not saying we ‘will’ ask for permission…. It’s a possibility only. And not a very probable one, but if that’s what you want you can still vote for alba… We have to remember Alba still needs to win votes to have any prospects of having any impact. (and I prefer to talk about alba rather than Alex. Personality politics is not healthy, and even the party leader will acknowledge he can be seen as “marmite”. Using his name rather than the party name is playing into the hands of the unionists (and the snp leadership).


    1. The very mention of Section 30 is offensive – unless it’s to utterly repudiate it. Neither Alex Salmond nor anyone else should be pandering to those who imagine the Section 30 process can possibly allow a free and fair exercise of our right of self-determination. It is NOT an option. And if Salmond isn’t bold enough to say so then he is not the person Scotland’s cause requires.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I agree Peter. It is essential that we don’t play by the rules set by the Tories or any other opposition political party for that matter. You have stated many times that conflict is perhaps inevitable and I agree. The alternative might very well be a velvet divorce. However, if it is to be acrimonious then perfidious Albion will be the loser we know that & so do they. They may very well point their blunderbuss at us filled with threats, lies & subterfuge but if they pull the trigger all they will do is shoot their own leg off.

    Liked by 1 person

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