Comparing offers

I see at least two problems with what Nicola Sturgeon is saying on the subject of a referendum. Firstly, what she is not-quite-promising is inadequate. Secondly, too many people simply don’t believe her not-quite-promises anymore. At a media briefing yesterday Sturgeon was asked if she would press on with legislation to hold a Holyrood-backed referendum if the British Prime Minister snubbed her request for a Section 30 order. She said she would. But that commitment was subject to so many loose conditions as to make it utterly meaningless. It amounts to her saying that a referendum will maybe happen before the end of 2023 unless it doesn’t in which case it might happen after 2023 it all depends on things that I can’t define right now.

I have often said that we need our First Minister to take an approach to the constitutional issue which is bold, decisive, determined and imaginative. Nicola Sturgeon’s approach is none of these things. She is not prepared to step outside the lines drawn by the British state to protect their ‘precious’ Union. She lacks the tenacity to hold to a position against challenges from what she clearly regards as a higher authority. She has not had any fresh thinking on the constitutional issue since taking office. And her own words, despite the bravado of the presentation, betray a reluctance to make firm decisions.

Some will reject these accusations out of hand. They may even cite evidence that ‘proves’ how wrong my assessment is. But this only demonstrates the curious contradictions in Nicola Sturgeon’s style. Nobody should deny that she has skills. The greatest of these being her presentational abilities. She is always in control. And always the pawn of life’s vagaries. She is always strong. And always vulnerable. She is always unyielding. And always ready to compromise. She is always assertive. And always ambivalent. She’s a great listener. And she has no interest in what you’re saying because she knows she’ll always have an answer. She can act any part at any time. Which is a great skill for any politician to have. They can be all things to all people. And since they all have a vote, that may be the only skill they require.

Unfortunately for such a politician, this skill does not age well. The more it is relied on, the more people begin to notice the absence of anything else. The longer it is deployed, the less convincing the performances become because the audience has seen it all before. Nicola Sturgeon has been on stage for 14 years.

Returning to the constitutional issue specifically, there is another problem with the ambiguity and vacillation and timidity in Sturgeon’s approach. It makes things too easy for those who would challenge her. The less bold, decisive, determined and imaginative she is, the less bold, decisive, determined and imaginative they have to be in order to appear more bold, decisive, determined and imaginative. Look at Alex Salmond, for example.

It’s easy for a politician as skilled as Alex Salmond to look the part when he’s being compared to Nicola Sturgeon. It’s a simple matter for him to appear – and be portrayed as – the bold, decisive, determined and imaginative leader that Scotland’s cause craves. Being a rebel in the company of those who have no capacity for rebelliousness takes little effort. So it is that Alex Salmond can be presented as the radical independentista when in reality there is very little that’s radical about his approach to the constitutional issue. In fact, he’s so good at it that he’s even convinced many in his own Alba Party. Whatever he says, his more ardent supporters hear the voice of Wallace reborn. Or at least a worthy successor. He ain’t all that!

Nicola Sturgeon has set her sights so low that pretty much any offer Salmond makes is going to look better. And, being the crafty politician that he undoubtedly is, he not-quite-promises no more than he has to. No more than will seem a prize next to the not-quite-promises Sturgeon is putting on the table. Sadly for Scotland, neither of them is offering what we need at this time of our nation’s great peril.

We are the people. We get to set our sights as high as we want and that is the vision with which our would-be political leaders must compete. Try this little experiment, if you will. As you consider how to vote in the coming election; as you think about the outcome you want, don’t compare the offer being made by one politician with the offer being made by another. Compare both their offers to your own aspirations for Scotland. Ask yourself if either is adequate. Then ask yourself whether you are prepared to settle for less than you have a right to demand.

27 thoughts on “Comparing offers

  1. “It amounts to her saying that a referendum will maybe happen before the end of 2023 unless it doesn’t in which case it might happen after 2023 it all depends on things that I can’t define right now.”

    I think that sums up the current First Minister’s strategy quite neatly.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. “Politics is the art of the possible”, no? So surely all the voter can do is to take the best offer available?


      1. True, for some no doubt, but a more extreme position could easily lack the level of mass backing needed to succeed.
        In the end beggars can’t be choosers …


  3. “Ask yourself if either is adequate. Then ask yourself whether you are prepared to settle for less than you have a right to.”

    Neither is perfect. And if it was it might only be for me. And not everyone would have the same view as me. I can compare what is being offered with one another and my own perception of the ideal elective. And choose.

    I can select SNP1/SNP2 or SNP1/ALBA2. Or neither i.e. don’t vote.

    I agree that the ALBA/Alex Salmond presentation looks more radical than it maybe is compared to SNP/Nicola Sturgeon’s (at best) conservative approach.

    What sways me is the record of the leader of the new party. He

    first delivered an SNP led Scottish government
    delivered an Independence referendum
    learns from mistakes
    is politically dextrous and agile
    is not afraid to change tack in an evolving situation

    All these things are not what define Nicola Sturgeon and the current SNP leadership as a whole.

    After nearly 7 years of false starts and false promises laced with caveats heavily underpinned with provisos I have little faith in the current SNP leadership.

    But Nicola Sturgeon is merely the custodian of the leadership. She won’t always be there. She is passing through.

    So it is down to trust. But trust based on credibility.

    So I will vote SNP on the constituency in an effort to avert the British getting into power in Holyrood whilst indicating on the List via an ALBA bollot that I wish for much faster advancement on the Cause of Scotland.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. I wish a politician would come out and say that a referendum is Scotlands concern, and no other country has a say in it.
    What’s so difficult about that?

    Liked by 9 people

    1. Aye. They keep banging on about a referendum being ‘legal’ and ‘constitutional’ and ‘respected by the international community’. But the relevant law says that the exercise of the right of self-determination is entirely a matter for the nation or people directly concerned. International law prohibits external interference. And why would the international community respect us if we’re not even prepared to take what is ours?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Well the moot point is surely whether in international constitutional law HR would be considered the successor to the pre-Union Scots parliament, as I think it was so declared when it first sat, or OTOH whether it is seen as no more than a creature of WM/the UK government, and thus subordinate. Do the Scottish government and parliament derive their power from WM or directly from the Scottish people? A sovereign state or a glorified local authority??

        Is there an international lawyer in the house?


        1. There’s no point looking to lawyers to resolve a constitutional matter. It is purely political. The ‘ruling’ comes not from some court but from the people. If the people elect a government on a mandate to assert the primacy of that parliament and that parliament agrees, it’s a done deal. The lawyers come along afterwords to tidy up the paperwork.

          Liked by 2 people

  5. I don’t think that everyone that has joined or has a belief in the Alba party are blind idiots. I for one take on board all that you say. With your years of knowledge and experience, I think you know what you are talking about.

    I agree that the most obvious and best answer is to fix the SNP and get them back on track and settle down all this woke-ness to manageable levels in line with the demographics of the population. But it has taken several years for the SNP to get to the state it now is and it will not be a quick fix. Removing Nicola Sturgeon and her husband would at first glance appear to be a significant fix. This depends on who replaces them, and your suggestions on who that might be indicate that them going is not part of the fix. Never having been a member I do not know what you and other like-minded members can do to fix it from your positions. It seems the swell against you is currently too strong.

    So its fair to say that, given the state of the SNP, Alba has brought hope, but those of us hoping are not daft enough to think that Alex Salmond has his white charger parked outside Ellon HQ. What we have now is a choice and its early days, it might come to nothing but it might rise and become strong. We might be in this for the long game, which is regrettable but possibly all there is to it. But with the SNP as is, there actually is no game. Nicola Sturgeon has let us down and it’s likely now that many of us will not see Scotland restored in our lifetime.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I think you’d be surprised how many people actually do “think that Alex Salmond has his white charger parked outside Ellon HQ”. It’s worrying how similar the two fan clubs are. I even have people telling me it doesn’t matter what Alex Salmond says because he has a secret plan. Sound familiar?

      I think many of those who have made the jump from the SNP to Alba have mere swapped one frying pan for another slightly shinier frying pan. And they’re telling themselves they’ve made a brilliant choice because they didn’t land in the fire.

      Liked by 3 people

          1. It is rumoured that a cushy jobs awaits her at the UN. I am sure her husband would be willing to follow her and leave his current position open. Although if certain other rumours are true, the two of them are there for a few years yet.


  6. ‘Underpromise and Overdeliver’ is a logical strategy

    I’ve no doubt that the big tactical prize Alba would love is:
    -SNP with plenty of MSPs, no longer dependent on Green Party and a sizeable Alba presence
    -Pro-Independence altogether able to muster 2/3 of the MSPs needed to be able to call for another election if that were needed (for example to finally put Manifesto for Independence to the electorate after missing the boat this time).

    That’s a VERY difficult target so I’m not surprised that AS refused to be pinned down on a definition of his Supermajority sound byte; falling short of 2/3 would be labelled ‘failure’ and would make using even a very healthy majority harder.

    We faced a loosing stalemate, the introduction of Alba has (necessarily) upended things. It remains to be seen where the pieces will land. Some politicians are more relaxed about catching the pieces and coping with uncertainty than others.

    I’ve deliberately avoided the question of a single party SNP majority because I honestly don’t know if that would be a catalyst for action or an endorsement of inactivity and other policies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You maybe want to have a wee think about that dissolving the Parliament business. Even if someone was to table a resolution to dissolve a pro-independence Parliament (It doesn’t matter how YOU see it. It’s a pro-independence Parliament as far as the general public is concerned.), thus making themselves and their party rather unpopular, such a resolution would require that not less than two-thirds of the total number of seats for members of the Parliament – or 86. Unless your fantasy politics can concoct a way to reach that number without SNP MSPs voting for it, it won’t happen.

      The greatest number of seats Alba can have is 32. This would require every single one of their candidates to win. I can’t think of any credible circumstances in which this might happen, but the need for credible circumstances doesn’t seem to be generally respected these days, so we’ll indulge the fantasy and assume that this actually happens. To this we might add the Scottish Greens. Maybe another half a dozen votes. But only if all of them support the resolution. Allow for the possibility of a handful of SNP ‘rebels’ intent on ending their political careers and you get a massively optimistic total of 40 – 45. About half of what’s required.

      Of course, there’s always the British parties. You might turn to them for help and pick up another handful of votes. But that seems unlikely given the ultimate purpose of the resolution and the natural reluctance of the British parties to face the verdict of electors.

      What this means, of course, is that nobody would move the resolution in the first place. Without being assured of success (there is no ‘respectable defeat’ in this), nobody would take the chance. It would be staking a claim to the most pathetically pointless political gesture in history.

      This nicely illustrates my point about foolish claims made by Alba supporters and the failure to question these claims.


  7. To be honest I don’t think anybody has any seriously thought-through plan except those who are suggesting some sort of manifesto for independence or who are committed to holding a referendum asking the people of Scotland if they would like to end the Union. I do not see any of these people being taken at all seriously though, and when I see the headlines on the tabloids as I walk past in the supermarket, I see the propaganda machines are working well to foster a degree of stupidity among the population that would probably not understand any serious plan towards independence if it were spelled out in words of one syllable.

    I really do wish people were able reasonably to see issues without painting them over with sectarian shite and personality cults. I also wish that I would come into a huge amount of money so I could use it to make a real difference, and that the planet was not about to suffer toxic collapse. Unfortunately I cannot find any genies.

    The words I read in this bloggosphere, written by both bloggers and commentators, are amongst the sanest and most intelligent conversations I can find on the interwebs. And yet we are vilified and castigated.

    My only hope is that ALBA will fire up the populist imagination and make a difference to parliament, but I fear that the propaganda machines have already been so successful that if ALBA does return members, then parliament will only become a forum for recrimination, stupidity and shite. Meanwhile independence will be further kicked down the road and the British state will do its worst.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. As you rightly point out, such a move would be impossible without SNP backing and then all Independence Parties would need to stand on the Manifesto for Independence (as you suggested, this should have been done this May but unfortunately your case was ignored).

    Granted, both events seem equally unlikely at the moment.

    I agree there is no way to solve this without the SNP
    There is no way to solve the SNP mess without a big change in party direction
    At present, I have to admit prospects for SNP change look poor. The current leadership are ‘doubling down’ on delaying Independence & might yet sabotage SNP constituencies with their petulance towards other parties.

    A big or Super majority does, however, give possible alternative routes.

    Nicola Sturgeon would then need to explain why she rejects these (admittedly imperfect) possibilities.

    Over the past five years Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly blocked Independence using three excuses:

    ‘Wait & see about Brexit’ and/or ‘let’s try to save the U.K. from Brexit’
    -this has largely dissolved and morphed into ‘we are too wee, poor & stupid to tackle economic effects of Brexit without the British’ i.e. let’s wait decades -that is truly shocking from a supposed Independence leader and needs constant challenge.

    ‘Johnson says No to my begging pleas for S30’
    -I agree with you that S30 should be repudiated. A plebiscite election under a Manifesto for Independence may be technically harder for Unionists to block/boycott than a Referendum without S30 or direct UDI based on elected representatives. Making a plebiscite election possible sooner than 2026 if the SNP wish it makes that excuse a little less tenable.

    ‘COVID just because etc’
    -More work countering this excuse is needed but it hinges on demonstrating ‘we need Independence to tackle COVID & economic effects’. I hear beginnings of this from Alba but much more is needed from all pro Independence groups rather than lamely accepting we can’t be Independent until our grandchildren have fixed this mess working within the Union.

    It is immensely sad that we are having to try to box a supposed Independence supporting FM into actually getting on with the job -but that is where we are.

    I certainly don’t think Alba is a panacea, nothing will happen without the SNP

    We can at least start dismantling the roadblocks on the road to Independence that Nicola Sturgeon has erected. Some of the tools to do that are imperfect but we can try. This needs pressure within the SNP and from outside.

    Why does persuading Unionists to change seem easier than current SNP leadership?

    Liked by 3 people

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