Be honest! When you read the words “calling for a referendum in this way in the middle of the pandemic is not right” at the end of this piece in The National, do you immediately think of the British Prime Minister’s official spokesman? Or is the first name the pops into your head Nicola Sturgeon? In fact, with only minor changes, the entire statement from Boris Johnson’s mouthpiece could have come from the First Minister. I don’t know about you, but that worries me.
But what did Sturgeon actually say?
If people in Scotland vote for a party saying ‘when the time is right, there should be an independence referendum’, you cannot stand in the way of that – and I don’t think that is what will happen.
Cue uproarious applause and rapturous cheering from the Sturgeon claque filling the front stalls. Well, maybe not quite filling. Time was there wouldn’t be a seat in first six rows that wasn’t occupied by the Sturgeon faithful. I doubt that would be the case now, supposing a proper conference wasn’t impossible due to a combination of the public health emergency and the SNP leadership’s reluctance to face the party’s rightful owners. You’d have to be an unthinkingly devoted follower to cheer such faint-hearted, mealy-mouthed pabulum. You’d need to be pathologically credulous to believe the individual who uttered those words is somebody who’s ready and willing to confront the British state in the fight to restore Scotland’s independence. You’d have to be devoid of critical faculties to hear this from the de facto leader of Scotland’s cause and not at least wonder if maybe she could show a wee bit more enthusiasm. I mean, it’s hardly William Wallace’s address to Scottish army, is it?
Aren’t we lucky some camp follower captured that historic moment on their phone.
It is just such insipid, uninspiring language which prompts Alex Salmond to criticise Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue for its lack of urgency. It is just such lawyer-speak laden with conditions and qualifications which justifies Salmond’s criticism. Well, that and six-going-on-seven years of timorous inaction which has seen the independence movement driven up the Section 30 blind alley and abandoned there.
But what about Alex Salmond? His rhetoric may be more stimulating. But he has the advantage that he is not going to be obliged to deliver. If we are listening critically to what Sturgeon says then should we not be at least as cautious about accepting at face value what Salmond says? If he is attacking Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue for lacking urgency shouldn’t we immediately examine his suggested approach to get a measure of his own sense of urgency? After all, doesn’t experience tell us that politicians are never more vociferous in their condemnation of some aspect of another’s character or behaviour than when they are seeking to divert attention from similar failings of their own? As a general rule, do we not tend to assume that the politician(s) most loudly condemning incompetence and/or corruption in their rivals are the ones most guilty of incompetence and/or corruption?
In condemning Sturgeon’ lack of urgency, Salmond says,
…it is fundamentally true that Boris Johnson will find it substantially more difficult taking on a Parliament with an independence supermajority representing a country than he will in framing the debate as party against party, Prime Minister against First Minister.
When a politician says that something is “fundamentally true” alarm bells should sound. As when the guy in the pub with twelve watches on each arm tells you they’re genuine Patek Philippe “Honest!”, you should be wary. There’s just a chance they could be fake.
Of course, we don’t want to think a friend would try to sell us a dodgy Rolex. Neither do we want to think our heroes lie to us. Alex Salmond is a hero of the independence movement. If he tells us that the dial being inscribed ‘Roleks’ only makes the watch more valuable, we want to believe him. When our hero tells us that something is not merely true but fundamentally true, the only thing left to ask is what kind of stone the tablets are made of. It’s only the exceptionally sophisticated political commentators and cynical old bastards who are appropriately sceptical.
I fit into latter category. So I naturally wonder if it really is “fundamentally true” that a supermajority of pro-independence MSPs in the Scottish Parliament will make it “substantially more difficult” for Boris Johnson to be the anti-democratic British Nationalist arse that he has always been. What is it about a supermajority that causes him particular problems? What new power does this supermajority bestow on the independence movement? What existing power does it augment in such a ways as to make it problematic for the British Prime Minister when it never was before?
Nothing obvious springs to mind. Which is odd, given that we’re talking about something which is supposedly “fundamentally true”. You’d think that if something was “fundamentally true” then the truth of it would be readily apparent. But I am bereft of ideas as to how this supermajority affects the political dynamic in ways that would make it “substantially more difficult” for Boris Johnson to continue as before. It’s not as if this supermajority can actually do anything that would affect the British political elite. It is almost entirely symbolic. An ineffectual political gesture. It would be different, perhaps, if the media were to lend force to this gesture by demanding that Johnson respect the will of Scotland’s people. It might be different if the British parties in Scotland were less contemptuous of the Scottish Parliament. But none of that is going to happen.
The truth is that the Union gives the British state such overwhelming power that the makeup of the Scottish Parliament hardly matters at all. The British parties being ousted in 2007 was a matter of considerable concern to the British establishment. This was not supposed to happen. But the SNP in government has turned out to be far less of a threat to the Union than it was thought it might be. And, of course, the British state has taken steps to negate any potential threat to the Union. The process of stripping powers from the Scottish Parliament has begun. Control of funding and procurement is being tightened to secure the British state’s stranglehold on the Scottish Government. Most of the infrastructure is in place for an unelected and unaccountable shadow administration which will take over many of the most important functions of government in Scotland. Scotland’s democratic institutions are to be dismantled. Scotland’s distinctive political culture is to be eradicated. Scotland’s identity as a nation is to be erased.
What can a supermajority do in the face of such overwhelming power? The Alba Party approach to the constitutional issue states that when a supermajority is returned the Scottish Parliament will instruct the Scottish Government to open negotiations with Whitehall with a view to restoring Scotland’s independence. What is the Parliamentary procedure for this? Is it even possible given an SNP controlled Scottish Government which we must assume will be unwilling to go along? If Alba can’t explain in some detail how they’ll make good on this promise, why should I believe them? More to the present point, why would Boris Johnson be worried? Why shouldn’t he just dismiss it as nothing more than claymore-rattling?
Alex Salmond’s approach certainly sounds to be imbued with a greater sense of urgency than Nicola Sturgeon’s. But then, that’s not difficult given that the latter evinces no sense of urgency whatever. Is there any reason to suppose that the former’s approach is significantly better in this regard? What’s the action plan? Here’s what Alex Salmond says follows on from that rather dubious thing about instructing the Scottish Government to open independence negotiations..
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.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.
Other than saying the Scottish Parliament should, by some unspecified process, force an unwilling Scottish Government to open negotiations with what we can confidently predict will be an even more unwilling British government within a week, there is no time-scale for the things that might ensue. Salmond is a bit vague about this. No less vague than Sturgeon is about how she intends to proceed. Both put a Section 30 referendum at the top of their agenda. So we must take it that neither is too troubled about ensuring the exercise of our right of self-determination is free and fair. Both seem to think the Section 30 process will serve Scotland’s cause. There is nothing to pick and choose between them on this point.
Similarly, neither seems to have much of a plan for when the Section 30 request is snubbed. And no plan at all in the event of it being granted. Sturgeon says she will proceed with a referendum regardless. But she provides no further details. Salmond talks of “domestic legal action or international and diplomatic initiatives” as well as some kind of “peaceful and popular demonstration”. No further information is offered. And none of that seems to suggest any more sense of urgency than Sturgeon. We are not told what form the domestic legal action might take. But we can safely assume that it won’t be a speedy process. Although it might look faster than a speeding bullet compared to those diplomatic initiatives. Talk of a civil disobedience campaign – if that is what is what is being implied – suggests action which can’t even start until the pandemic is over and its aftermath dealt with. Again, exactly the same time-frame as Sturgeon. So where is the greater sense of urgency Salmond implicitly lays claim to when he criticises Sturgeon?
What is ‘fundamentally true’ is that neither Sturgeon nor Salmond is offering what Scotland’s cause requires. It is fundamentally true that both are seeking electoral success. It is fundamentally true that Sturgeon relies on the carrot of a new referendum and the stick of the British parties in her pursuit of votes. It is fundamentally true that Salmod relies on the stick of an SNP government with a record of failure to advance Scotland’s cause and the carrot of a supermajority.
It is fundamentally true that both those sticks are real.
It is fundamentally true that Sturgeon’s carrot is looking less tempting having been dangled before us for such an inordinate length of time.
It is fundamentally true that Salmond’s carrot is like showing a starving man a glossy picture of a double fish supper. It will tempt him, but do nothing to satisfy his hunger even if he gets hold of it..
It is fundamentally true that neither Sturgeon nor Salmond shows any sign of fresh thinking on the constitutional issue.
It is fundamentally true that neither evinces the sense of urgency Scotland’s predicament demands.
It is fundamentally true that Scotland’s cause continues to be poorly served by Scotland’s political leaders.
7 thoughts on “Fundamentally true”
‘Fundamentally true’ only really happens if there are 2/3 of MSPs prepared to call an election and then stand on The Manifesto for Independence (that we missed out this election).
That threat poses a British dilemma but needs leadership prepared to face the full wrath of the British.
You are correct, anything short of that 2/3 in truth is only ‘A tad more difficult’ for the Tory Government.
2/3 and a leadership prepared to follow the hard route is a different target; falling short is even more damaging if it’s spelled out.
Not sure whether it would be better to have the courage to spell this out or not.
You seem to have fallen badly for the myth of supermajority. I’ve explained this so often you’ll just have to forgive me if I copy and paste a reply to someone on Fecalboak who was peddling the same fantasy.
“There is no “2016 Devolution Scotland Act”. So that’s your credibility shot right away. You probably mean the Scotland Act 2016, which amended the Scotland Act 1998. So the provisions to which you refer – if they exist – will be found in the latest revised version of the Scotland Act 1998. How you manage to ‘know’ of these supposed provisions when you don’t even know where to look for them is for you to explain.
Let’s remind ourselves what you originally claimed.
“A supermajority, however, grants additional powers in Holyrood such as the ability to call a plebiscite election at a moment’s notice.”
The Scotland Act 1998 (hereinafter referred to as the Act) contains NO provisions relating to a “plebiscite election”. Indeed, I doubt mention of a “plebiscite election” will be found in any legislation anywhere in the UK. I could be mistaken about that. But probably not given the political connotations of the term ‘plebiscite’ as noted by Professor Richard Rose, Director of the Centre for the Study of Public Policy and Professor of Politics at the University of Strathclyde.
“Plebiscite is a negative term referring to an unfair and unfree vote in an undemocratic political system. It was a favourite device of French Emperors Napoleon Bonaparte and Louis Napoleon to endorse their charismatic leadership. Hitler and Mussolini held plebiscites in which rejection of the dictator’s proposal was unthinkable.” (t.ly/ENpB)
But I digress. The point is that there is no provision which gives a supermajority (defined for the purposes of the Act as two-thirds of the total number of seats for members of the Parliament) the “ability to call a plebiscite election”. So that part of your claim is total pish.
The most likely candidate to meet your claim – actually, the ONLY candidate – would be Section 3 of the Act, which deals with extraordinary general elections. (t.ly/AZW2)
(Note how I provide links to material. That’s the grown-up way to do this.)
Section 3(1)(b) isn’t relevant. It deals with the calling of an extraordinary general election in the event that the Scottish Parliament fails to elect a First Minister. Which leaves us with Section 3(1)(a).
In fact, it is the Presiding Officer (PO) who calls an extraordinary general election. That may seen as hair-splitting. But this is the law we’re talking about. Much can turn on the most finely differentiated point.
Section 3(1)(a) of the Act provides that
“the Presiding Officer shall propose a day for the holding of a poll if the Parliament resolves that it should be dissolved and, if the resolution is passed on a division, the number of members voting in favour of it is not less than two-thirds of the total number of seats for members of the Parliament”
Your claim of an “ability to call a plebiscite election AT A MOMENT’S NOTICE” [my emphasis] is looking pretty shaky even without any further explanation. Which is why I asked you to describe the process. Sensible people reading your assertion would surely wonder if ANYTHING can be done by the Scottish Parliament “at a moment’s notice”. If so, it’s certainly not this. Let’s look at a bit of reality – if you don’t find that too painful.
For the Scottish Parliament to be dissolved in order to force an extraordinary general election, this must be proposed by a Member of the Scottish Parliament in accordance with Standing Orders. (For the purposes of this exercise we shall assume that the resolution is accepted by the PO.) The resolution would then be debated and amendments considered and all the usual trappings of parliamentary procedure. So the “moment” has well and truly passed.
But who would propose the dissolution of the Parliament? Surely no MSP would do this – or be permitted to do it by their party – without being assured of success. In a matter such as this there is no respectable defeat. Presumably, your thinking is that the resolution would be proposed by an Alba Party MSP. Whoever it was, they would first calculate their chances of success. This is a big deal. A pro-independence party is trying to bring down what in the eyes of the electorate and the world is a pro-independence (SNP) Scottish Government. They are proposing to dissolve a pro-independence Parliament. This is not going to be a good look even if anybody was interested in trying to spin it as such.
But let’s suppose our supposed proposer to be unconcerned about such political niceties. They would surely be concerned about the numbers. They wouldn’t want to attempt something that had absolutely no chance of success. They, or a more politically aware and numerate of their party colleagues would do some quick arithmetic. The arithmetic being the only bit of the whole thing that is quick.
Two-thirds of the total number of seats for members of the Parliament is 86. The greatest number of seats Alba Party 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 the sort of thing that holds much interest for you, 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. Our hypothetical proposer 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.
Are you beginning to get it now, Iain? Your claim is not just false, it is ludicrous. And yet these are the kind of claims which are being made by and on behalf of Alba Party and other peddlers of the supermajority myth. Voters expectations are being raised in ways that cannot possibly be realised. And that is never a good thing.”
Peter: I am not trying to be contrary or rude because I would never doubt your sincerity or your total commitment to independence, and you know that I have the greatest respect for you and your arguments, but you do exactly what everyone else does – you stick to to the rules.
Holyrood is the creature of Westminster. Why should we adhere to the Scotland Act at all? Why should we stick to anything whatsoever that emanates from either? At the point when we are prepared to say: fkuc Westminster; sc**w Holyrood, will be the point when we are ready to embrace independence. I am not suggesting that we abandon legitimacy and democracy and legality, but that we take the necessary steps towards our goal by refusing to be bound by rules that are intended to thwart. The Scotland Act and its amended version are simply legislative chains.
All the politicians and many of the people who support them, all of the pro independence parties and the people who support them are not yet prepared to kick the rules into touch. We could have been gone long since by a democratic, legitimate and legal route that was not a referendum had the politicians of the party that supposedly seeks independence been prepared to do that.
They weren’t and they still aren’t. We were too supine and compliant to dissent from their tedious orthodoxy. Some peoples, living under far worse than Westminster, have managed to do it. Eventually, Ireland, our only domestic example, had to do it. Imagine emerging from under the thumb of the Soviet Union and being prepared to do it? Imagine the courage of the Slovenians when the former Yugoslavia collapsed, with the Serbs on their border? When we are prepared to confront Westminster and the British State, in their weakened state after Brexit, we will regain our independence. Not before then. I’ll make this post my last for a while, and thank you for your indulgence. I wish you well.
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I’m sorry if I gave the impression that I was suggesting we “stick to the rules” Nothing could be further from my mind. I recall a hashtag that I used for a while which better expressed my view – #BreakTheRulesBreakTheUnion. But now that you mention it I realise that I’ve missed out something from the article. I had intended to say something about how both Salmond and Sturgeon are sticking to the rules and how both of them are therefore bound to fail. I forgot. I just forgot. Like I forget so many things these days.
I think if you imagine the missing two paragraphs, Lorna, the article will make more sense to you. It might even make more sense to me.
SNP 64 + ALBA 22 = ???? + Greens It IS only arithmetic after all. Not quite all 32 Alba candidates as you claim Peter. It is important, as you stress to get the detail correct, and to say that a scenario is “Impossible” is simply UNTRUE – and that is never a good thing.
Maybe someone said this already, but is it not possible that Salmond’s inclusion of an S30 as something that “could be possible” is really no more than a bit of lip service to the ‘general understanding’ at the moment (thanks to Sturgeon et al) among voters that an S30 carries some kind of weight?
He gives it no more import than any of the other possible routes that have been touted up to now. I reckon he’s only mentioning it because he’s ‘expected’ to. Just my opinion of course…
Another thought provoking blog
From you Peter.
I’ve said it many times, and it isn’t new.
People make change, not politicians.
Lorna is right to.
A people’s National assembly ,from across Scotland.
Iceland did it, we can to.
We do not have a democratic parliament , yet,
Until we the people , make the change,
Holyrood is from the Westminster cess pit story book.
We have to make it ours.
The SNP, ALBA and greens might be
Wafting carrots under our noses,
Let’s show them we have the big stick!
Let’s us lead.
Onwards and upwards