War of words

I hope I am wrong, but I foresee lazy television journalists and news columnists demanding a supermajority for every piece of challenging legislation that passes through the parliament, in much the same way that they turned the phrase “once in a generation” into a totemic principle.

Stuart Cosgrove: A supermajority is on the cards, but should we really need one?

Stuart Cosgrove makes an interesting and potentially very important point. I’m grateful to him both for bringing it up and for reminding me that, having mentioned it in passing somewhere, I had intended to come back to the issue and explore it further. Needless to say, I forgot. I’m doubly appreciative of the reminder given that there’s so little happening in the election campaign at the moment. Apparently, somebody died. I’m assuming it was the person responsible for making pretty much everything work. Because pretty much everything seems to have ground to a standstill since the chap’s demise. I don’t recall this much fuss when the real Prince died almost exactly five years ago.

Returning to Stuart Cosgrove’s point about unintended consequences I must be mindful that these lurk everywhere. The other day, I posted on Fecalboak an image of a headline from The Scotsman – Nicola Sturgeon to fall short of majority as Alex Salmond’s Alba Party deprives SNP of key list seats, poll shows – intending to highlight the fact that the British media were already preparing the ground for the anticipated discounting by the British political elite of votes for pro-independence parties other than the SNP. Cue a small torrent of comments based on the ludicrously mistaken assumption that I was in agreement with the headline rather than pointing out the kind of propaganda we can expect to see more of once the new operative takes over from their deceased colleague and the election campaign grinds back into motion. Here’s an example.

Ah well, that’ll be that then. Ffs Peter, who gives a fuck what they think? We already know they’re going to ignore anything we do or say. Honestly, this sounds like something Willie Rennie would say.

That’s not even the most idiotic of the reactions. And if I’m not careful I could inadvertently provoke a similar storm of stupid when discussing the ways in which the idea of a supermajority might come back to bite various bums. Much, as Stuart Cosgrove notes, in the way that the apparently innocent phrase ‘once in a generation’ has left its teeth marks on certain posteriors.

It occurs to me also that I may find myself accused of inconsistency. I have previously said that it was a mistake for the Yes movement to fall prey to the self-censorship that can so easily arise from trying too hard avoid saying anything that our opponents might weaponise against us. As the ‘once in a generation’ idiom proves, they’re capable of fashioning a cudgel from even the most innocent of expressions. Trying not to give them sticks with which to beat us has the effect of letting them dictate the terms of debate. Being over-cautious can lead to paralysis. One can be so afraid of saying the wrong thing that one ends up saying nothing. Or, worse still, talking entirely in over-scripted and over-rehearsed soundbites.

That warning and advice is not invalidated by also suggesting that we should be aware of the implications and connotations and associations of the terminology we use, as well as the various ways in which our words can be misinterpreted or misrepresented. Which is what I’m saying about the term ‘supermajority’. Knowing how such a term may be turned against us allows us to prepare for when it is. It doesn’t necessarily mean we must elide the word from our lexicon. Although I’m certain there will be those who convince themselves that this is what I’m ‘actually’ saying, regardless of the words written.

We are all aware of how that fateful phrase ‘once in a generation’ has come to haunt Scotland’s cause. I don’t doubt there are times when both Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon wish they’d never offered up that particular hostage to fortune. What makes it truly regrettable is that they could easily have left it out. It wasn’t essential. There are other ways of saying the same thing. Not so with the word ‘supermajority’. It’s not a throwaway remark. It refers to a very specific concept. A concept which is very much part of this election campaign. There isn’t really an alternative. There may be other ways of saying the same thing. But none, I suspect, that wouldn’t sound painfully contrived. We’re stuck with it now.

It will be used in ways not intended by those who have made it central to this election campaign. I’ll credit Alex Salmond and Alba Party with authorship in the knowledge that this will annoy the skitters out of the AFI lot and probably others. What’s life without a bit of idle mischief, eh? Those “lazy television journalists and news columnists” that Stuart Cosgrove spoke of will wrench the term ‘supermajority’ from its context and shoe-horn it into places it does not rightly belong. This malicious reinterpretation will be picked up by the British parties who will argue that because a supermajority is used in one context it must therefore be applicable in all contexts. Or at least all the contexts which suit the purposes of British Nationalist propaganda.

Perhaps the most obvious example would be an independence referendum. The argument will go that because a supermajority has been required in order to make the referendum happen then the referendum itself must be subject to a supermajority stipulation. The non sequitur is of no importance. The British propaganda machine feels no embarrassment. The argument may be foolish. But looking foolish has never deterred a British Nationalist. Look at Douglas Ross!

And the argument isn’t entirely without merit – of a sort. It is far from uncommon for constitutional referendums or parliamentary resolutions to require a qualified majority. It is often the case, for example, that amendments to the constitution will require the votes of two-thirds of legislators. This fact will doubtless be used to lend weight to the argument that ending the Union cannot happen unless supported by two-thirds of those who vote. Or even two-thirds of the electorate. A significant obstacle.

Anticipating this argument we can be ready with the response that where a qualified majority is required this is written into the constitution. The UK has no written constitution. Practice relies heavily on precedent. And the precedent is that only a simple majority is needed. If a supermajority is required for our independence referendum, why was it not required for the EU referendum? Are those insisting on a qualified majority for this and that in Scotland comfortable with this being applied consistently across the UK? Sauce! Goose! Gander!

I have no idea if any of this has occurred to Alex Salmond. But I’d be surprised if it hadn’t. He’s pretty sharp. But perhaps he should do more to emphasise the exceptional nature of the supermajority that he is talking about. Maybe he could make an effort to stress that the supermajority as he sees it is for a very particular purpose. He could try to avoid some of those unintended consequences.

16 thoughts on “War of words

  1. It was Edward Heath who used the phrase, ‘the unacceptable face of capitalism’ referring to the unethical practices of Lonrho and it was always used by his opponents then and subsequently out of context whenever they were arguing against capitalism per se.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Whenever you hear “once in a generation” here are 3 replies:

    Theresa May – House of Commons – 4th December 2018:

    “Ultimately membership of any union that involves the pooling of sovereignty can only be sustained with the consent of the people.”

    David Davis – Marr Show – 10th March 2019:

    “There is no other treaty in the world I am aware of where a sovereign nation undertakes to join up, and can only leave when the other side says so.”

    Attorney General Geoffrey Cox: House of Commons: 12th March 2019.

    “A sovereign state has the right to withdraw if a treaty is no longer compatible with its fundamental interests.”

    Just wish any of those were constantly repeated by SNP or Alba MPs in the House of Commons, constantly repeated in blogs and also appeared on Billboards across Scotland.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. You would think if it was that easy then they would do it.

      I have long thought that for Salmond and Sturgeon its more about their Rock star status, than any talents they have for nation building.

      If they had been active in Czechoslovakian politics 30 odd years ago, I am sure the country would still be intact.

      Off course there would be 30 years flouncing on and off stage and banging the table between times.


  3. The problem is not the use of any word in particular, generation, supermajority, the problem is the MSM and we all know it. So lets fix the problem rather than let its existence inhibit our right to speak freely. How ? – I don’t know right now but we have to find a way, protests at Pacific Quay (both parts), disruption of the truly awful foreign-owned unionist press.


    1. Unless you’re talking about state censorship back by draconian laws, I don’t see how you might hope to prevent the media saying whatever they want. Even if you succeed in that, what are you going to do about the politicians? They misrepresent ‘once in a generation’. How are you intending to silence them.


  4. The facts are, Peter, that we require no supermajority, we require no PRE independence referendum, but probably a ratifying one, we require no referendum whatsoever. What we do require is to state unequivocally that we are leaving the Union: do your worst. Until we are prepared to do that, and accept the consequences, independence will remain a pipe dream. People and governments take liberties because we let them. Stop letting them.

    If there is a majority of seats for pro independence parties, we invite Westminster to negotiate with us as to the mutual details, but we are leaving the Union. If we attain a majority of votes (the much-vaunted supermajority) spread across all the pro independence parties, again, we invite Westminster to the party, AFTER informing them that we are now independent, as from 6 May. If we manage to take a majority of seats and a majority of votes, bye, bye Union.

    Now, all we need is the government that will do that. Unfortunately for us, the SNPG never bothered its sweet little butt to inform the international community that we are following international rules, not arbitrary Westminster ones. At least Alec Salmond has had the wit to do that. If Westminster reneges, we cast our eyes across the water to NI where taking to the streets and making your views known seems to be a rite of passage for NI youth, and hint hard, all the while alerting the foreign press and media to our plight. We didn’t have to be flustered by the ‘once in a generation’ trope. All we had to do was shout ‘dead in a ditch’ each time it was raised, raise the middle digit and carry on.

    Same goes for women in our fight against the incursion of the trans lobby. Just say NO very loudly and very firmly, then start taking positive action. There really is no other way if you don’t want to be overrun. You just stop being nice. You can be nice and co-operative again when you’ve seen them off. No room for compromise till you’ve won.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That “we require no referendum whatsoever” may be true in a strictly legal sense. In a political sense, however, it is very necessary. Not least because it is what people have come to expect. Mainly because there is no better way to test the will of the people on a single issue than a democratically legitimate referendum.

      The various ‘plans’ that have been mooted are not so much arguments about whether or not we have a referendum as a debate about how we get to that referendum. It’s a debate about at what point in the process it is appropriate to have a referendum.

      Unfortunately, it is still also an argument about hoe that referendum is authorised and conducted. The whole idea of needing permission from and inviting the participation of the British state should have been dead and buried long since. It survives solely because Nicola Sturgeon still clings to it. And now because Alex Salmond has joined her in making the Section 30 process ‘respectable’.

      A lot of people are putting a lot of faith into these two politicians. I think we’ll all live to regret that.


      1. People have come to expect it because they have been told that’s what they have come to expect, Peter. Simple as that. It has taken on a life of its own because it suited the British State after 2014, and now suits the SNPG in order to delay independence indefinitely. Why have the UN Charter at all? Why have prohibitions against colonialism as a means to thwart a people’s independence? Why have the Treaty and Acts of Union? Why have sovereignty of the people? Why have a parliament at Holyrood? Why bother to elect MPs and MSPs? Why not abolish elections altogether and hold endless referendums – which, remember, can be lost just as elections can be lost?

        Although I fully recognize why Alec Salmond took the decision to hold a referendum in 2014, I have to say that it has been our bane ever since then. Anyone who has bothered to look deeply into the result of that referendum – putting aside all other aspects which seem now to have been not quite sound with that referendum – he or she could come to no other conclusion than that a Unionist alliance was formed between three groups: Scottish Unionists (who were outnumbered comprehensively by Scottish independistas); rUK voters (almost three-quarters of all rUK ‘residents’ voted NO, but that is in the past); and EU residents (about 57% of all EU residents in Scotland at that time, who, I’m sure, will have come to regret their totally unwarranted opposition to another people’s independence, but that is in the past, too).

        In 2016, two-thirds of Leave voters had been previous NO voters, a third previous YES voters, but because of the UK set-up, with England outvoting everyone else several times over, Scotland lost that one, too. Another referendum would be another trap. I’m not saying we definitely wouldn’t win it, but I am saying that there is no guarantee that we would. Another loss would destroy this country’s confidence to exist and the UKG would have easy picking for its absorption policies. In fact, the runes would suggest that we’d lose again, even if only marginally, as happened in the second Quebec indyref, in an alliance between Anglophones and native Quebecois Unionists, not because the Union is good but because people can be manipulated by bribes and promises and threats, as happened in Quebec. I would bet my bottom dollar that that is precisely what would happen, as the UKG copied Canadian tactics. They were quite sickening.

        I know that Alec Salmond has also given the green light to another S30 Order, which, in turn, lends credence to another indyref, and I do find that regrettable, although understandable in that nothing should be ruled out or in. I don’t really give a stuff how we get our independence, although I would concede that it should be legal, democratic and legitimate. That does not mean that there is no other route than a referendum; that does not mean that a plebiscitary election is not all of those; and it does not mean that there are not other routes equally legitimate, democratic and legal. In the end, it comes down to one thing: what the hell are the politicians prepared to do to regain Scotland’s independence? Stick with one route or do the unthinkable (well, I think about it quite a lot) and confront Westminster, and the Unionists, with a legal, democratic and legitimate fait accompli, while, at the same time, showing the international community that we are joining them as a nation again? All we need is one country to recognise us and that’s that. Do either Nicola Sturgeon or Alec Salmond have the bottle? That is the only question we should be asking at this juncture?

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Reading that fiery call to arms Lorna, I realize that their is stomach a plenty in the rank and file.

    Its just the Generals are miles behind the lines sitting in a Jacuzzi and moving their toy ducks about.

    Has any army in history had such pusillanimous leadership?


  6. ”’It occurs to me also that I may find myself accused of inconsistency.”

    That’s been the name of your game for years on end now, day after day in some instances, Peter. Fess up, FGS. It’s the stark reason for many, many independence supporters avoiding your site like the plague.

    And then we’ve got your acolyte Lorna returning from spouting her ”see me” tommy rot posts (because no one else sees her) on WoS. See me. See me. Says she. I can’t bear it if you don’t see me. What a sad place to find yourself in, Lorna. Big fish (y) in a very small smelly pond. She continues to tell us that that a referendum isn’t necessary. In other words the people of Scotland aren’t sovereign and they shouldn’t have their say. Lorna says, ”just say NO very loudly and very firmly.” Aye right that’ll work. The International community will listen to and go along with a couple of TOTAL nonentities like Peter and Lorna from Scotland. Eh? Who the hell are they, they’ll say? And meanwhile they’ll ask where’s Nicola? You know the woman who has worked her backside off for Scotland 24 x 7 whilst the Peters and Lornas of the world have done sweet Fanny Adams for anyone. Other than try to bolter their own flagging egos.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Years ago i remember reading an article by a Chilean refugee who had been imprisoned and tortured by the Military Junta and one phrase has always stuck in my head:

      ‘Everyone is entitled to their opinion and everyone is entitled to voice that opinion’

      Petra, maybe you should take heed of those wise words before you go off on another rant.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Petra: you don’t know me, I don’t know you. I won’t speak for Peter except to say that he has done more than his bit for independence. I have tried to do my bit, too. I hate to disillusion you, but, no, I may have an ego – doesn’t everyone, including you? – but trying to be in the limelight does nothing for me at all. I write because I can’t talk. I find talking very difficult, I find people very difficult, so I have written all my life to try and express myself. I know I’m a nonentity. I’m not sure I have ever wanted to be anything else. Stupid I am not, however. You have totally misunderstood my post and totally misunderstood why I cannot support the FM. I think you are going to be extremely disappointed after the election, but that’s for you to come to terms with. Have a good day.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Not an original idea, and apologies to Peter who may have already suggested this elsewhere, but why, if the seats and/or votes in May show a majority in favour of Indendence, do we not recall the Westminster MPs plus the former MEPs not yet back in politics (eg Christian Allard and Heather Anderson) to form a Scottish Grand Committee and have a vote on independence. Following a Yes, we then ask Westminster to start negotiations
    The Grand Committee vote would give us international credibility and we would then be in a position to set up the mechanisms for an independent state, while working with Westminster on how to share out assets and liabilities. Only after people could see how an independent Scotland would function, would we have a ratifying referendum under our own control, franchise and rules.


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