Bullet dodged

I didn’t notice a formal request from the First Minister to the British Prime Minister for a Section 30 order. But the British government has apparently rejected it anyway. Which will come as something of a relief to Nicola Sturgeon. Or at least it should. Nobody of consequence has ever accused the woman of stupidity. Obduracy, maybe. A tendency to tunnel-vision, perhaps. Control freakery, certainly. But not stupidity. So she surely must recognise the risk of getting what she says she wishes for. You’d think so, anyway. Wouldn’t you?

Imagine for a moment that Nicola Sturgeon’s address to conference-like thing had included a passage such as the following.

I have today written to the Prime Minister proposing early discussions between our governments to agree an Order under section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 that would enable a referendum to be legislated for by the Scottish Parliament.

If this looks slightly familiar it’s because it paraphrases the letter Sturgeon sent to Theresa May the last time – nearly four and a half years ago – she took a notion to be shooed away like a bothersome child and generously let all of Scotland share her humiliation (picture below).

Doubtless this announcement would have elicited virtual adulation and a virtual standing ovation from the virtual delegates. Picture the scene had it been an actual conference rather than one for the Zoomers.

Let me know if I’m making excessive demands of your imagination, but I’d like you to deploy it once more and suppose that Boris Johnson had responded with all the alacrity exhibited by his spokesbladder here in the disappointingly real world. And I want you to imagine that he agreed. Suppose he said something like,

Aye! Nae bother, hen! ‘S a’ wan tae me, darlin’! Here! Tak wan fur later an’ a’!

Sorry! I’m not very good at posh English accents. And I wouldn’t want to be accused of ‘cultural appropriation’. But you get my drift. Nicola says pretty-please. Boris comes right back with a yes. Which one of them is looking terrified now? Which one has had the smug troweled onto their face?

Shallow thinkers and knee-jerkers will declare this a triumph and a total vindication of the Sturgeon doctrine. But is Sturgeon herself shallow-minded enough to think she has won something significant? Has she won anything at all?

Since this is my blog and my game of pretend and if you don’t like it I won’t let you play, let’s stretch the fantasy a bit more. Let’s suppose Boris didn’t just say yes to a Section 30. What if he added that Nicola should get on with it. What if he said Covid is no excuse for continuing to deny the people of Scotland the opportunity to exercise their right of self-determination? Cue more mindless cheering from the Sturgeon/SNP loyalists? Probably! No thinking required!

In fact, this would put Nicola Sturgeon in a tricky predicament. I expect she would maintain her customary poise and composure. Outwardly she’d display a business-like demeanour with just a hint of chuffed-as-fuck-wi’-masel’. But if she has any political awareness whatever, the elegant swan the public sees will be attached to the hardest-working webbed feet in Christendom.

Before explaining why Nicola Sturgeon should be extremely worried in the scenario described I should note that it is a very improbable scenario. Even if Boris Johnson or whatever monkey he’s hired to do his clever for him realised how clever it would be to grant the Scottish First Minister’s petition, both Boris and his clever-monkey would certainly be clever enough to recognise that the constituency to which Boris addresses his electoral appeal would not be clever enough to recognise the cleverness. They would see only him giving in to that jumped-up Jockess bitch. And great would be their displeasure.

It’s not going to happen. In fact, we can now say that it hasn’t happened. It’s all pretend. But, like I said, it’s my pretend and my blog to STFU and read on!

Let’s look at two of the problems that would fall on Sturgeon like a skip-load of tartan shoes should Boris say yes to her Section 30 request and tell to get on with it. The ‘get on with it’ bit totally blows her Covid caveat out of the water. That’s her get-out-of-jail-almost-free card should she find it inconvenient to honour her not-quite-a-promise of a referendum. (I almost wrote ‘new referendum’ but remembered in time that this is not what she is proposing. As far as can be discerned her plan-like thing is to blow the dust of a decade off the first referendum and, as The Beach Boys sang, Do It Again). Musical interlude.

Welcome back!

Sturgeon could, of course, turn around and call Boris a reckless, irresponsible fool for demanding she go ahead with an independence referendum in the teeth of a public health crisis. You’re pretty much always on safe ground calling Boris Johnson a buffoon. Only buffoons object. But this is bound to lead to a clamour of demands that she explain why the referendum is so uniquely impacted by Covid-19. That would be embarrassing. If Boris is saying there is no reason Covid-19 should prevent a referendum going ahead and Nicola is saying there is, then it’s bound to occur to even the brain-deadest of brain-dead British media copy-monkeys to ask her what the reasons are. And if you think the British media would be self-conscious about simultaneously saying it is madness to talk about a referendum when there’s a pandemic and it’s cowardly of Sturgeon to use the pandemic as an excuse for not taking up noble Boris’s gracious offer, then you have never read The Daily Express. So well done you!

But the awkwardness occasioned by whipping away Sturgeon’s Covid-19 safety-net is just the icing on the cake. The cake is control. Or at the very least, powerful influence. In granting a Section 30 request the British Prime Minister may impose whatever conditions they wish. Not excluding those which squirm into their head in moments of greatest British Nationalist fervour. The British Prime Minister has at their disposal the power afforded them by the Union. The short version of which states that the ruling elite of England-as-Britain shall hereby henceforth and in perpetuity be empowered and authorised to do WTF it wants with and to Scotland.

Thus are honourably rebellious Scots crushed. Not by the broadsword and boot-heel of the British military but by the traitorous concessions and craven compromises of Scotland’s own political elite. Was it not ever thus?

By the simple expedient of attaching a rag-bag of conditions to the Section 30 order, the British Prime Minister can make a free and fair referendum impossible or unwinnable. Or, from the British Nationalist point of view, unlosable. By fiddling with the franchise or insisting on a qualified majority or setting a time limit which leaves only an unfavourable date for the vote or by manipulating the question or demanding a third option so as to split the independence vote or by some other devious means that I’m not devious enough to think of, the British state could sabotage the entire process. Should Sturgeon protest, she’d be accused of all sorts and nothing flattering.

The British could insist on an Edinburgh Agreement II then drag out the negotiations for months or years. Or scupper those negotiations by making demands that the Scottish Government cannot accept. Or that it cannot accept without incurring the wrath of Scotland’s electors.

For the moment it seems Boris is still saying no. Or rather, now is not the time. Nicola Sturgeon dodged the bullet of a highly conditional Section 30 order for now! If she persists in tweaking the tiger’s tail of fate then one of these times she’s gonna get bit! The big question is, does she even recognise the risk? Or is she so wedded to the British state’s ‘gold standard’ that she remains blind to the danger?

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15 thoughts on “Bullet dodged

  1. She’s not stupid,, neither is she ignorant of the risks entailed if the clown were to “permit” a highly-qualified S30 request. Nor is she ignorant of alternative ways to assert Scotland’s independence without a referendum. But I fear that her decision making is based on the objective of choosing whatever strategy ensures independence is kicked furthest down the road, and that would be losing an S30 referendum. That is why she will keep asking.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. There will ALWAYS have to be a referendum. It’s only a question of how and when and what form the referendum will take.

      I dismiss the conspiracy theories about Sturgeon’s intentions and motives with measurably less confidence than once I did.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. I’d be happy with a confirmatory referendum 2-3 years into our existence as an independent state, where the question is “Do you want to continue as an independent state, or would you like to commence negotiations on a new treaty of union with England ?” Works for me.


        1. Well, that’s one person it “works for”. Although in fact it doesn’t work at all. A referendum must be binary in all its aspects. Otherwise, you get a result without a decision and years of squabbling over what the outcome actually means. To function as a referendum there must be two options each of which is distinct, defined and deliverable. Distinct as in the options must be significantly different one from the other. Defined as in there must be no doubt what each option means. This must be established at the outset and must not be allowed to change during the course of the campaign. Deliverable as in… well… able to be delivered. It must be something which can actually be done. And done by the government holding the referendum and the parliament authorising it. Delivery must not be conditional on any further events or developments.

          What works for you fails most of these tests. It need only fail one.

          The above is not opinion. It simply describes what referendums are. It is, for all relevant purposes, fact. Where opinion comes into it is regarding things such as the process leading to the referendum, the scheduling of the referendum, which is to say where it comes in the process and not necessarily a fixed date. My own view is that the referendum should come quite early in the process while people are still engaged and before the British have time to do their worst. The original Manifesto for Independence spelled out the process very concisely. First, assert the primacy of the Scottish Parliament. Second, recall Scotland’s MPs to join a national body that will oversee the conduct of the referendum. Third, propose dissolution of the Union subject to a referendum. Fourth, hold a referendum on the question of the Union that referendum being wholly made and managed in Scotland.

          There is plenty of leeway within this process to allow the Scottish Government, Parliament and National Convention options at each stage. An overly prescriptive process is rigid and therefore more susceptible to breakage. At each stage, Scotland’s democratic institutions are acting while the British state is forced into reacting.

          Importantly, such a process – the one set out in the Manifesto for Independence (original) or something very similar – is easy to understand. It is transparent. People have to know and understand what is being done if they are to feel that they are part of doing it. Otherwise, it quickly becomes something that is being done to them. There’s no easy recovery from that. This need to feel part of what’s happening is also a major factor in dictating that there must be a referendum and that it must come early in the process or at least be firmly tied to other parts of the process so that people came be assured that it will happen even if no date has been set.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Accepting that it’s your fantasy and your rules – there is no chance of Boris ever granting a Section 30. His leadership is tenuous within is party and their 80 seat majority just about keeps the lid on the hardline unionists like Habib and Gove and others. Also where an indyref2 section 30 goes a border poll in Ireland would surely follow because the elections will provide the same scenario within 6 months here.

    Also accepting that there is a more straight forward referendum question and mandate that precludes the need for a Section 30 – there is a reality which Sturgeon has to play in which doesn’t allow indulgences in flights of fantasy. That said, I think any valid justification of delay on a referendum no longer exists and I think your view of the SNP and their prevarication will be found to be entirely accurate if there is no referendum before the end of 2023 which means in reality it needs to be announced in the next 6 months.

    It never ceases to amaze me how independence advocates target the SNP instead of those in Scotland against independence. Surely persuading those still No is more constructive than swiping at the SNP for not moving fast enough on indyref2 over the last 7 years.

    I hope there is a referendum in Scotland asap and I believe it will happen before the end of 2023 at the latest.


    1. I don’t know why you’re amazed. The logic is perfectly straightforward. I’m sure we both recognise that the SNP is vital to the process of restoring Scotland’s independence. The difference between us lies in the fact that I care about ensuring the SNP is fit for this purpose.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. You’re pretty much describing what happened in 2014 with Cameron. Although, when Gordon Brown was PM, Cameron and Osborne approached him to bounce a referendum on Scotland. Brown thought not because it would upset the Scots if the initiative came from London – and it would not be good for Labour both south and north of the Border. After the 2011 election results, the Scottish ex Secretary of State grandees wanted Cameron to insist on a referendum within three months because they knew the then First Minister would not be prepared for it. Cameron divvied up the Section 30 on the proviso a referendum was held within a certain timescale which infuriated the then First Minister but they decided to call him on his bluster and give him his referendum which did not please him at the time.

    The then First Minister prevaricated even then and in 2012 made Nicola Sturgeon the minister for the referendum. The then First Minister wanted a third option on the ballot paper because he felt Scotland was not ready to vote for independence and when it came to the meetings with UK Gov to pin down a date and do pre-negotiations – he blustered and couldn’t be pinned down to confirm anything at meetings so no progress was made and time was repeatedly wasted. Things only moved forwards when the current First Minister decided to go for it and the meetings between her and the then rep for UK Gov was Michael Moore (note UK Gov said she was one tough negotiator) – and so the 2014 referendum came to fruition.

    The then First Minister was bounced into having a referendum when he didn’t want it. And as a few of his aides said during the campaign – he was often the AWOL First Minister, skipping off here there and everywhere when he was supposed to be taking an interest in and signing off sections of the proposed White Paper. He went off to China and elsewhere and could not be pinned down. His aides said that he’d appointed the current First Minister with responsibility for the 2014 referendum in order that she would take the flack ‘if things went awry’. Then after the referendum No result – off he went again and the current First Minister, as ever – stuck with things and took the flack. As seems to be the role the then First Minister has habitually assigned to her.


    1. This wins the Tom Gordon award for devious spin. But there’s always the one thing that lets it down. One thing that gives the game away. Not uncommonly, it’s weh the one doing the spinning gets carried away with themselves and goes a bit to far. As you do with the pish about Salmond just popping over to China on a whim. Unfortunately for your smear attempt, it is common knowledge that such trips are arranged months in advance often after many more months of negotiation. The notion that a senior UK politician could wheech himself off to China on a whim is risible. Almost as risible as the basic premise of the smear attempt. Which is that Alex Salmond – Aye! OUR Alex Salmond! – was trying to AVOID the limelight.

      Less obvious but still jarring is the claim that Alex Salmond (The fact that you can’t even bring yourself to write his name is a clue to your prejudice.) “wanted a third option on the ballot paper”. Not true. He didn’t want a so-called third option because he’s not stupid. He knows that referendums must be binary but was also aware that the British government was contemplating an ‘enhanced devolution’ option so as to soak up some of the votes that might otherwise have gone to independence. So, at conference(?) he dropped a hint about a possible third option knowing that if the British believed he wanted it they would immediately rule it out.

      There is something quite ugly about this effort to rewrite history for the sole purpose of denigrating a man whose only crime is to make Nicola Sturgeon feel a bit insecure.


      1. “After the SNP landslide in the Scottish elections of 2011, I made another attempt to revive the devo max argument by means of a third question on the ballot paper, creating a choice between independence, radical devolution and the status quo. Three-way constitutional referendums are not unknown. Indeed the Cabinet Office itself organised one in Newfoundland in 1948.”

        “I believe in Scottish independence. My mandate was to hold a referendum with independence on the ballot paper. I have always thought that it is possible to win such a vote. However, as I remarked to the Welsh politician Dafydd Wigley during the referendum campaign, a punter who places an each-way bet still wants his horse to win the race” “…Cameron was having none of the three-way referendum…”.

        “Therefore, Cameron made his red line in negotiations the requirement for a single question in the belief that NO would score a comfortable victory….”

        “In contrast to that absolute strategic objective the tactical consideration of having devo max on the ballot paper was very much of secondary importance. There has been some debate as to whether this was a real position of mine or merely a negotiating posture. The truth is it was both”.

        From pages 22 and 23 of ‘The Dream Shall Never Die: 100 Days That Changed Scotland Forever” – Alex Salmond


        1. I recall reading that and being quite perplexed by it. It seems to make little sense and is very different from the story going around at the time. But regardless of which version of this particular episode is closest to an accurate account, I don’t see any reason to alter my assessment of your comments as a petty smear-job. As implied by the reference to Tom Gordon, it’s not the facts that matter so much as the manner in which they are selected and presented. If you had hoped your malign intent was concealed, you hoped in vain. It’s as plainly evident as in any of Tom Gordon’s ‘Scotland as hellhole’ pieces.

          What I’m struggling to understand is the motive behind this effort to totally ruin Alex Salmond’s reputation. As if enough had not already been done to the man. The obsession with kicking him unceasingly begins to look pathological. I’d commend counselling. But I’m fairly sure there aren’t enough counsellors to cope with the vicious mob intent on harassing Salmond to the grave. Ugly! Ugly! Ugly!

          I won’t encourage your vileness by responding again.


  4. Another thing to bear in mind to look at the big picture for reflection, is that whilst we were all laughing at Ed Miliband and the large coterie of Labour MPs trained up to Scotland in the latter stages of the 2014 referendum; Miliband was being criticised for wasting time in Scotland because Labour were attempting to game for the 2015 General Election and were trying to persuade Alan Johnson to take on the role of Labour leader. At this point Alasdair Campbell and Peter Mandelson were trying to persuade Miliband that a deal with the SNP ‘should be embraced’ for the purposes of beating the Conservatives in the 2015 GE – and they made moves with Geoff Aberdein etc to sound out Salmond as Deputy Prime Minister. So perhaps the then First Minister had several distractions during the 2014 referendum – and who knows, maybe the current UK political situation lends itself to anti-Sturgeon SNP politicians having their heads turned.

    Sillars accused Nicola Sturgeon of fuelling anti-Englishness, of being too anti-Westminster. MacAskill was calling for Home Rule a short time ago. The interesting thing about the current First Minister is that with her it is Scotland first – but for some reason she is the one solely accused of being other. Which is interesting for observers contemplating the psychology of the different factions in what used to be a cohesive independence movement but now seems to be pushed around a chess board by influencers with a curious mix of motivations.

    In 10 years time – one hopes there will be at least one reliable narrator to compile an honest narrative of ‘events’.


    1. I don’t fancy your chances of that job. The stuff about Alex Salmond being considered for the position of Deputy Prime Minister is so far-fetched one has to be slightly concerned for the health of the mind that birthed such fantastical nonsense.


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