A place of political unreality

…this argument comes from a place of political unreality.

Andrew Tickell: Home Rule in this reactionary UK would not answer our problems

Reading Andrew Tickell’s column in The Sunday National this morning, the phrase “a place of political unreality” struck a chord. This, I thought to myself, could be the strapline for ‘brand Scotland’. We are become a land where fantasy politics reigns. A nation where the product of a fevered imagination can immediately acquire the status of a proposal worthy of serious consideration. If you can think it, it can happen. The divide between political reality and unreality has been blurred out of existence.

Andrew was referring to the particular political fantasy of ‘home rule’ as lately propounded by Alba Party MP Kenny MacAskill. But there are so many other aspects of Scotland’s political discourse that he could have been writing about. Federalism, for example. A close cousin to home rule, a ‘federal solution’ is Gordon “The Interventionist” Brown’s pitilessly flogged dead horse du jour – and every ‘jour‘. There’s nothing oor Gordy likes better than strutting the stage like a tent preacher evangelising about the golden glories of a federal Britain. That his ‘vision’ is pure delusion matters not at all.

We cannot entirely discount the possibility that Brown actually believes his federalist fairy tale. Frankly, that’s a matter best left between him and his therapist. It is tempting to see his barely coherent rambling as purposeful; part of a British Nationalist effort to muddy the constitutional waters. It certainly does that. But it is less certain that this is Brown’s sole or main motive. It’s at least equally possible that this is just a doddering old political has-been desperately trying to seem relevant in a political environment changed beyond his understanding.

There is no doubt that some of those whose ‘thinking’ on the constitutional issue comes from a place of unreality really do believe the stories they tell. Both Alba Party/Alex Salmond devotees and SNP/Nicola Sturgeon loyalists tend to fall into the category of ‘true believers’. Express the slightest doubt about Alba’s ability to transform Scotland’s politics or the SNP’s determination to deliver a free and fair referendum and you will condemned as a heretic by the offended tribe while being hailed as a prophet by the other. What you will not get is any attempt to allay your doubts or answer your questions or rebut your criticisms or address your concerns. Not only must the fantasy be adopted as truth, it must be embraced whole and with the required degree of enthusiasm. The similarities with fundamentalist religion are marked and disturbing.

It’s not a matter of minor quibbles either. The doubts are serious. the questions are fundamental. The criticisms are fatal. The concerns are justified. But there is no communication across the divide between political fantasy and hard reality. They are two quite distinct realms. And the former seems to be expanding while the latter is in retreat. Andrew Tickell easily dispels the home rule fantasy in a couple of paragraphs.

Firstly, this argument comes from a place of political unreality. This UK Government has no interest in this kind of reform agenda. If anything, this ­Conservative administration has shown every desire to contract – rather than expand – the sphere of devolved ­authority. But even more fundamentally – why would anyone want the UK to retain these responsibilities?

If the sight of Boris Johnson dragging his gusset around the sands of Carbis Bay doesn’t persuade you of the advantages of an independent foreign and ­defence policy, look at it this way. If the state of the health service is important enough for you to devolve, if education and ­justice and the environment are matters you would like to see determined in ­Edinburgh rather than ­London, why would you want questions of who we sell bombs to and in what quantity, of who we wage aggressive war against – to be determined by Her ­Majesty’s Government in London?

The same arguments hold for Brown’s federalist fairy tale. The British political elite has no interest in a new constitutional settlement which would reduce its power. Scotland’s people would have no interest in a new constitutional settlement which left the nation powerless in crucial areas of policy. To this I would add the impossibility of negotiating a new settlement that would be accepted as fair while England-as-Britain enjoys the disproportionate power afforded it by the Union. For either a home rule or federal ‘solution’ to even get out of the starting blocks the parties must come to the talks as equals. In other words, Scotland’s independence would have to be restored before negotiations could even begin. Then independent Scotland would have to be persuaded to hand back to the British big chunks of the power newly restored to it. Good luck with that!

None of these arguments touch the fantasists, however. They are impervious. That place of unreality is a fortress of faith. A keep of absolute conviction. The main divide in Scottish politics long ago ceased to be the ‘traditional’ left/right rivalry of British politics. For at least twenty years the constitutional issue has dominated. But that has now given way to an even more unbridgeable divide – that between mindsets so alien to one another that there can be no common ground. Nor even a common language.

Unionists believe in a status quo which no longer exists. British Nationalist believe in a reborn imperialist ‘Great Britain’ that can never exist. Alba Party devotees believe in an imminent mass awakening to their truth. SNP loyalists believe every word that Nicola Sturgeon utters. None of them talks to the others. None of them listens. None of them has more than a very tenuous grip on reality.

Scotland has become a place of political unreality. It’s not a good place to be a political realist.

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11 thoughts on “A place of political unreality

  1. The starting point for any case for Scottish independence has to be the realisation that the British state is antiquated, corrupt, undemocratic, and dysfunctional and there is no credible path to reform. Worse than that, the British state is on a path to ever greater corruption and dysfunction.

    However, I think that having sipped from the poisoned chalice, many Scottish politicians, who supposedly support independence, rather like the taste. And that ‘support for independence’ is a pose that has carved out and sustained a rather comfortable position for themselves within the existing order.

    Which should all be a warning that independence is not an end in itself. It’s a path to a place where it is possible but not inevitable that Scotland will be able to create better and fairer institutions of government, institutions that have proper checks and balances, that are transparent and accountable to the people of Scotland. We should not indulge in the fantasy that in an independent Scotland, Scottish politicians will be inherently less corrupt, prone to lying and the sorts of abuses that are currently commonplace in Westminster. Or the fantasy that once independence is won, those in positions of power will want to create a system that serves the broad interests of the population at large rather than their own self-interest.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. “However, I think that having sipped from the poisoned chalice, many Scottish politicians, who supposedly support independence, rather like the taste. And that ‘support for independence’ is a pose that has carved out and sustained a rather comfortable position for themselves within the existing order.”

      That’s what I have b been trying to say for years, and you nail it in a paragraph.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I get your point but would a written constitution not mitigate some of the sleaze inherent in politics?


  2. By the looks of things, the main reason there is zero contact with ALBA and SNP, is because the First Minister is dead set against it.
    A bit like Labour in Scotland’s approach to SNP, in fact.
    Now SNP is doing same to ALBA!
    As to the recent Kenny MacAskill idea, I am rather lost by that.
    I just can’t figure him out on this at all.
    It makes no sense, and I am pretty sure most folks who have put some degree of trust or if you prefer “Faith” in ALBA will be of the same puzzled view.
    There can be,there will never be, any degree of Independence within UK.
    It will never work. It is simply impossible!

    It is either actual Independence or what we have at present, with varying degrees of London impositions along the way, a few extra little bits of Devolved this and that, thrown in for good measure.
    That is not much use to us.
    One would have expected something far more sensible from MacAskill, but, and it has to be said, this is the guy who merged Police and Fire services in Scotland.
    He steamrollered this thru, against much opposition from those involved in those services, and many of us were totally against it, and saw no real need for it.
    I will agree with MacAskill on some things, but not on others.
    So, while I myself have turned to ALBA, more in hope and out of frustration with, and exasperation with SNP, I am quite prepared to be critical at same time.
    I would like to think others would be like minded, and it does not end up as SNP is today, for it is this very lack of open criticism of such things, that has lead us to where are, now.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. The main reason there is zero contact with ALBA and SNP is that this is the real world, not a movie. Here in the real world that contact was going to be problematic even with the best will in the world on both sides. But here in the real world there was never any real prospect of any goodwill whatever. If, as seems to be the case, Alba entered the political arena with a strategy that depended crucially on the cooperation of another political party then they’re not just daft they’re fucking insane.


  3. How depressing, if you’re correct in your analysis then the only outlook is perpetual deadlock. Can we not at least hope for something much better?


    1. You can hope for Harry MacPotter in plaid and woad waving his twig to the sound of the trilling harps that signal a dream sequence. There is no constraint whatever on what you can hope for. Go for it!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Peter I don’t think you understand what is happening within ALBA. It involves no fantasy, simply a need to DO SOMETHING to further the cause of independence. There is a strong sense of the magnitude of the task at hand, and a practical determination to get on with it.


    1. Do what? Doing something just to make yourself feel better is perfectly valid. So long as you don’t pretend to yourself or others that what you’re doing has some value beyond that. Sorry, Geoff, but I’m not that concerned about your feelings. What I consider is the effect. What will be the effect of your activity beyond the fact that it makes you FEEL that you’re doing something.

      As well as the actual practical effect of what you’re doing, we have to consider timescale. Every day several times a day I have to remind someone that time is a real thing. That it matters. They will insist that they’re perfectly well aware of the urgency of Scotland’s predicament even as they propound some ‘plan’ which if it had any useful effect at all it could not possibly do so in less than twenty or thirty years.

      Which is how long it’s likely to take before Alba Party stands a chance of becoming the party of government.

      It is only the Scottish Government that can take the action required. And that action has to be taken in time for it to take effect IN THIS PARLIAMENTARY TERM! That means in the next two years. TWO YEARS! NOT TWENTY!

      What is Alba doing that will have an effect in the next few months? What CAN Alba do that will have the required effect in the next few months. We must assume that whatever Alba intends to do it must be effective almost immediately because it can only be effective by utilising the power of the Scottish Government. It’s safe to assume that will take some time as it’s an indirect effect.

      Sturgeon is either totally inept as a political strategist, or she is infinitely more brilliant than anybody gives her credit for. If she is intent on indefinitely postponing action on the constitutional issue then Alba is playing a vital role in her plans. With so many people looking to Alba to save the situation and not her, she is under far less pressure than she might have been if all those people had remained in or close to places where they could bring pressure to bear. If she didn’t plan it this way then she must want to believe she did. Because it’s perfect for her.

      For months I have been asking what Alba might actually do – in strictly practical terms – to initiate the process by which Scotland’s independence will be restored within the space of the next six to twelve months. For months before that I was asking similar questions of the other ‘list parties’. I have yet to receive a meaningful response. All I get is lots of stuff I already know about how the SNP has failed. That and a load of pish about how I must be a Unionist because blah! blah! fucking blah!

      So! You’re up, Geoff! Tell me! Bear in mind that I know what needs to be done and I know what is actually possible here in the real world. So tell me how Alba intends to contribute to getting done what needs to be done. No waffle. No magic. Just the actual practical actions.

      I’ll wait.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. “It’s not a good place to be a political realist.”

    Maybe. But maybe the opposite. For all the different camps – on both pro or anti-Indy sides – there are activists who hold extreme views. On the Indy side, if they’re in camp A then camp B stinks. But on the anti-indy side, then as far as they’re concerned both pro-indy camps stink. And there’s opportunity there for some on the Indy side to have much in common with those on the Unionist side – as if they’re extreme, they agree with the unionists about either camp A or camp B stinks. And that’s opportunity for the realist, to whom camp A neither stinks nor doesn’t stink, same for camp B. That opportunity basically is, I think, sensible criticism of all camps, A, B and the unionist camps C, D etc.

    You can see this in operation below the line on MSM in a way, if you know the various posters’ positions, by checking who agrees with whom, and how many upvotes they get.

    Whether we like it or not, nothing is going to happen with this 3rd Covid wave arriving, until we see how that works in terms of illness, not just numbers of cases. And where I live, I know it’s here (not me myself yet thank goodness). So this watching and observing, and contributing, helps to pass the time at sea.


  6. Alba are a distraction at this time. Worse than that, they are a diversion. They add nothing to the drive for independence but, handily for the Union, divert energies needlessly into internal wrangling among Indy supporters.

    Contrary to popular belief, I am not a Nicola loyalist. I simply realise the SNP are the only party that can deliver independence (whether you like it or not) and, as the leader of that party, Sturgeon is integral to achieving it (again, whether you like it or not). If you want “a war without end” then join the whinge fest over at Alba and wait decades, or longer, for any chance of independence.


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