I shall start with a couple of confessions. This article isn’t really all about James Kelly. Filling an entire blog post with stuff about him would be a challenge even for someone as famously verbose as myself. I don’t like the guy. That’s my second confession. I’m not prone to instant dislikes. As far as I am aware, I’ve never met the laddie. My dislike for him is, I admit, somewhat irrational. Of course, there’s the blatantly partial censorship on his site, which I naturally detest. But the feeling predates my personal experience of this censorship. I can’t explain it. Something about the guy just makes my skin crawl. And sometimes you just have to go with your instincts. How’s that for full disclosure?
I say the article isn’t about James Kelly. What I should say is that it is not only or entirely about him. I just use him as an example because I stumbled across one of his recent blogs. And because I don’t like him. From where I sit outside the festering pustule of SNP/Alba tribal infantilism, I see the Yes movement of which I was once so proud and the cause which I have embraced all my life both brought to ruin by a plague of faith, fantasy and folly. The evidence of this is to be found in social media and the somewhat thinned but still considerable ranks of (nominally) pro-independence blogs.
The politicians are far from blameless, of course. But here I want to focus on the harm done by what I shall refer to as vocal activists. James Kelly is a vocal activist. He’s far from the worst of the breed I’m castigating here. But he is representative.
As I said, I came across this article of his which I know must be recent because it concerned Ian Blackford’s comments suggesting the SNP was out to kick the referendum can way down the road again using the Ukraine situation as an excuse. I’m not linking to the article because I refuse to promote sites that practice heavy-handed censorship. Find it yourselves if you’re interested enough. Truth to tell, I totally agree with the main thrust of the piece. I even admire the method by which Kelly highlights the pusillanimous procrastination of the SNP. He makes the telling point that there has not been a single year in the last half-century without an event such as the SNP might use as an excuse for yet further delay. All good. The problem comes in the final paragraph.
We as an independence movement don’t have to continue going pointlessly round in circles like this. There’s a political party out there that doesn’t just believe in independence as a nice idea in the abstract, but actually wants to achieve it in the real world, and with an appropriate sense of urgency. Please consider giving Alba your first preference vote in the local council elections in May, and let’s see if we can get the campaign for independence firmly back on track.
It is this drivel that prompts me to wonder whether Kelly is stupid or dishonest.
Not just him, of course. There are numerous pro-Alba blogs out there peddling the same snake oil. Just as there are numerous blogs pandering to the SNP/Sturgeon loyalists with their unshakable faith in the infallibility of their leader. And just as there are countless camp-followers cheering on their tribal champions from the terraces of Twitter and the corporate boxes of Facebook. Fantasy! Faith! folly! The trident gouging the heart of the once great Yes movement.
Try this experiment. Read that paragraph I’ve quoted but in your imagination have the words spoken by Tony Blair. Or Margaret Thatcher. Or Boris Johnson. This will bring home to you just what a vacuous pile of pish it is. Banal sloganeering. Empty rhetoric. Words devoid of substance. The spiel of the spiv. Is he touting for votes or trying to sell timeshare?
What he says about the SNP is certainly true. But that doesn’t make the rest of it valid or credible. It’s a basic propaganda ploy. Get the audience nodding in agreement by feeding them stuff they’re bound to agree with then slip in the crap you’re flogging in the hope it will inherit some of that agreement. And quickly back to the noddable stuff before anybody questions what they’re agreeing with. Crude, for sure. But people still fall for it.
One thing you can be sure of is that nobody will be subjecting that paragraph to critical scrutiny via below-the-line comments. That is not allowed. Not on Kelly’s site nor any of the pro-Alba sites I’ve visited. The operators of these sites will commonly deploy the old ‘abuse’ defence if challenged about their censorship. Of course, you’ve no way of knowing if this is true as the supposedly offending material has been censored. In my experience, it makes not the slightest difference how you express yourself, if you are asking awkward questions or making discomforting points or highlighting inconvenient facts, you will be censored.
The SNP loyalists are no less intolerant of critical scrutiny. But their preferred remedy is the pile-on-and-shout-down tactic. Any awkward questions etc. Get quickly buried under an avalanche of jibes, taunts and insults. Not to mention the incoherent rants.
Let’s look at that paragraph. It nicely encapsulates the vapidity of Alba’s offer. First, we have the pretentiousness of presuming to speak for the entire independence movement when the real purpose is an electoral sales pitch for a fringe political party. I had not intended that this post be a comparison between Alba and SNP. But I can’t help but note certain striking similarities. The latter also has taken to claiming ownership of Scotland’s cause. Inevitably, it has done so more effectively because it has the advantage of being the party of government. But the basic principle is the same. Each tribe is seeking to make of the movement an exclusive club with itself in the role of gatekeeper. I don’t know about anybody else, but I find that objectionable no matter who is doing it.
Then there’s the passing reference to what may be Alba’s main selling point – SNP bad, ergo Alba good. The SNP is “going pointlessly round in circles”. Alba is not the SNP. Therefore, Alba is going places. The reality, of course, is that if the SNP was going round in circles on the constitutional issue at least it would be moving. The problem with the SNP is that it isn’t moving at all. Support for Yes has flatlined in the polls since Sturgeon took over largely because her entire approach to the constitutional issue is decade-old leftovers. The SNP isn’t driving Scotland’s cause because the party hasn’t even thought about how best to do that. Where the SNP is doing nothing by choice, Alba is doing as little or less because there is nothing it can do. The SNP’s BIG LIE is that it will restore Scotland’s independence. Alba’s BIG LIE is that it can. Or at least that it can achieve something.
Alba supporters like to insist that their party is not anti-SNP. Never more fervently than when they’re having a go at their ‘rivals’ by suggesting that they “just believe in independence as a nice idea in the abstract”. This is another bit of good old-fashioned propaganda. Misrepresenting your opponents is particularly useful when you’ve nothing much to say for yourself. The SNP certainly leaves itself open to such allegations. But only from a very simplistic perspective. So long as you don’t think about it too much or too deeply then it can certainly seem like the SNP’s commitment to independence is superficial. The last this the propagandist wants is for people to start thinking. should they do so they might begin to wonder how the accusation that they only think of independence as no more than a “nice idea” sits alongside the more credible criticism that the SNP fails abysmally when it comes to selling independence as a “nice idea” in its own right, instead presenting it only as a means to various ends.
Having thus undermined the SNP – albeit it in a ‘not anti-SNP way’, of course – Kelly goes for the hard sell and in doing so reveals what he is all about – votes for Alba. Partisan advantage. The overriding interest here is not the restoration of Scotland’s independence but electoral success and the power that comes with it. It simply cannot be about driving independence, as the party’s 2021 election manifesto claimed. The hard political fact is that Alba cannot achieve that kind of power on anything like a useful timescale. Talk of getting the campaign for independence “firmly back on track” is cheap. Ask Alba members what it is they propose to do and how they propose to do it and when we might expect to see some results and you are liable to find yourself blocked or censored or denounced as a ‘yoon agent’ or a slave to Sturgeon or some such pish. What you will not get are any answers.
Next month, it will be a year since I published two articles (here and here and see also here and here) describing just how ludicrous were Alba’s claims about its potential for a measure of success in the Holyrood election and how fantastical its talk of a ‘supermajority’ and forcing a plebiscitary election and how nonsensical its condemnation of the SNP’s ‘both votes’ strategy. The substantive points in those articles have never been refuted by Alba. There has been no attempt at a reasoned rebuttal. After all this time I think we must conclude that it isn’t going to happen. This suggests that I got it pretty much spot on. Alba’s 2021 election campaign, as well as being horribly ill-thought, was dishonest and deceitful. Thus it remains.
We are all familiar with the faith-position of the Sturgeon/SNP loyalists. Trust the party! Have faith in Nicola! Just believe and everything will be fine! Oh! And FFS #WheeshtForIndy! What needs to be recognised is that Alba’s offer is no less worthless. We can blame the SNP for getting us into this situation, but that won’t alter the situation. That situation – that predicament can be summed up in a few incontrovertible statements of fact.
- Only the Scottish Parliament can restore Scotland’s independence.
- Only the Scottish Government can initiate the process by which independence will be restored.
- Only the SNP is the party of government. (I’m not forgetting the Greens. I’m disregarding them.)
- Only the SNP is going to be the party of government for as long as it matters.
- At no point does Alba enter into the equation.
Alba is not now the party of government in Scotland and it is not going to be the party of government in the time it would have to become the party of government in order to do what it says it intends to do because there is no process by which this can happen. In theory – a fantastical theory, to be sure, but such is the stuff of Scottish politics these days – Alba could become the party of government at the next Scottish Parliament elections in 2026. But this is not a Holyrood movie. In real life, such things don’t happen. It makes absolutely no sense for us to gamble on Alba making substantial gains in 2026.
Two further points. We can’t afford to gamble on there being another election to the Scottish Parliament as we know it. I don’t make predictions, but I will sketch a likely scenario. The Tories hang on to Boris Johnson for the time being. They let him soak up all the shit heading the way of the party and the British government over the next year or two. In time for the 2024 UK general election, they dump Boris and with him much of the shit he’s absorbed. (To be fair, a lot of that shit oozed out of him in the first place.) The replacement leader is sold as the new broom that will sweep clean. A fresh start always appeals to voters and the stinkier the recent past the fresher and more alluring even the stalest of supposed fresh starts will seem. The Tories fight the election on this fresh start idea coupled with the kind of British Nationalist jingoism seen in the Leave campaign for the EU referendum.
The Tories win the election and proclaim it a mandate to ‘reform’ the Union creating an ‘indivisible and indissoluble’ British state. The British government finishes the job of dismantling the devolution settlement and reining in the Scottish Parliament. Political power is relocated to the UK Government in Scotland. Scotland ceases to exist as a distinctive entity and is finally absorbed into Greater England.
Even if Alba could win a substantial number of seats in 2026 they will be seats in a Parliament stripped of its power to restore Scotland’s independence. We cannot afford to gamble on the British not doing what it has intimated it wants to do – finalise the annexation of Scotland.
Even if we were to take this gamble and win, we would be left with the further gamble that Alba would actually be meaningfully different from the SNP+SGP we have at the moment. Even now, it is not clear how Alba’s approach to the constitutional issue differs from that of the SNP. Section 30 process, anyone? Who is to say that Alba won’t let us down just as the SNP has?
Add kit all up and what Alba demands is that we take a monumentally huge series of gambles with the nation of Scotland at stake. and we don’t even know what we get if we win all of them. This is not the hard-headed, pragmatic politics that Scotland’s predicament demands. It is the polar opposite. It is the politics of fantasy and delusion.
Follow the logic of the statements set out above and there is only one possible conclusion. If Scotland’s independence is going to be restored then this must be done by the present Scottish Government within the term of this Parliament. It’s either that, or it doesn’t happen. Those are the two choices. And no amount of empty, SNP-baiting rhetoric from Alba will make the slightest difference. If you are not making the effort to force a change of approach by the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government then you are not working for Scotland’s cause. Alba actually undermines the fight to restore Scotland’s independence by diverting energy that should be going into a campaign aimed principally at Nicola Sturgeon. She and the cabal now running the SNP are surely grateful to Alba. Much as Salmond’s party likes to imagine itself a threat to the SNP. The reality is that Sturgeon and her clique are duly thankful that so many of those who might otherwise have proved troublesome have been removed from the board and put in the box of pointlessness that is Alba.
Alba is for people who have given up on the SNP. The problem there is that for the reason previously stated, you cannot give up on the SNP without giving up on independence because to give up on the SNP is to give up on the Scottish Government and… well… you know the rest.
So, I’m sure, does James Kelly. I don’t think he is stupid. That may be an excuse for some of the other Alba-devotee bloggers. It is definitely true of many SNP/Sturgeon loyalist bloggers. There is some serious stupidity there! But I’ve answered my own question. Kelly is not stupid. As he would have to be to fail to work out that Alba is an exercise in desperate futility born of understandable frustration which, being unaddressed, has grown to anger and the vituperativeness which characterises the tribal conflict with the SNP. He, along with many of the other bloggers who have ‘gone over’ to Alba must be aware of the hard political and electoral realities. For the most part, they just aren’t stupid enough to be oblivious. Unless they so choose. Which is just another form of stupidity.
Does this mean that James Kelly and his ilk must be dishonest? I guess it must. But there’s no way of knowing to what extent they are being dishonest with themselves. I don’t see malice here. Merely folly. Tremendous folly. Fantasy-folly such as, in conjunction with the faith-folly of SNP/Sturgeon loyalists, is certain to prove catastrophic for Scotland’s cause.
This article is already over-long. There’s a reason for that which I shall come to in a moment. First I must deal with the inevitable retorts demanding to know what my ‘solution’ is. This is just evasion and diversion, of course. It’s a way of avoiding the criticisms and concerns and questions rather than dealing with them. Besides, it is plainly evident from what I write here and in earlier articles what ‘my solution’ is. Indeed, the ‘solution’ itself is plainly evident without my pointing it out if only people would think things through. I presented ‘my solution’ in the run-up to last year’s Holyrood election. In numerous articles on this site and in countless social media posts I repeatedly stated the blindingly obvious fact that if only the SNP has a chance of being the party of government and only the government can initiate the process by which the Scottish Parliament dissolves the Union then the only thing that would adequately serve Scotland’s cause would be a (necessarily SNP) Scottish Government elected on a #ManifestoForIndependence – preferably with a ‘supermandate’. Which is to say a safe working majority and over 50% on both ballots.
That didn’t happen. Because not enough people were prepared to put in the effort that would have been required to give Sturgeon a scare. Too many people were instead putting their energies into what they imagined or pretended was an ‘alternative’ to the SNP. It wasn’t. It couldn’t be. Because there was zero chance of it becoming the party of government and almost as little possibility of it gaining any influence at all. All that stuff about a ‘supermajority’ and the rest was just pish, as has been demonstrated.
It didn’t happen at the election. But that did nothing to alter the fundamental fact that only the present SNP+SGP/Scottish Government can take the necessary action. Rather than give up on the SNP the Yes movement (as was) should have doubled and redoubled the pressure on Sturgeon with mass demonstrations and ‘virtual’ campaigning. It still remains the case that only the present SNP+SGP/Scottish Government can take the necessary action. And it is daily more evident (see Ian Blackford’s recent remarks) that it will only happen if the people force the government’s hand.
There is no alternative! When people respond to this immutable truth by insisting that there is absolutely no way to influence the SNP leadership then they are saying there is no way to have the action taken which will lead to the restoration of our independence. They won’t admit that this is what their resignation to SNP intransigence implies. To believe the myth of Alba as an alternative to the SNP you have to believe things that are incompatible, contradictory and mutually exclusive. For example, you have to believe that it is possible to give up on the Scottish Government doing what is required while believing that what is required will be done when only the Scottish Government can do it. For another example, you have to believe that you don’t have the power to influence the Scottish Government but you do have the power to replace that government when there is no process by which this can be done in, to coin a phrase, a timely manner.
To believe in Alba as an ‘alternative’ you have to simultaneously believe that restoring Scotland’s independence is a matter of the utmost urgency and that it can be put off until after the next election. Or the one after that. Or the one after that.
To believe in Alba as an ‘alternative’ you have to believe that British Nationalism is a real and immediate threat and that the British Nationalists will defer their project until it is convenient for you to try and stop them.
It is utter madness! And I have to deal with this insanity every day. This is why this article is so long. I had to get some stuff off my chest because I am once again buckling under the strain of trying to use reason to argue people from a position that was not arrived at by way of reason but by way of faith, fantasy and folly. I may well ‘go dark’ for a spell.
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