Whoever wrote the headline on George Kerevan’s column in The National today (Cost of living horrors should be launchpad for fresh Yes push) did the man no favours. A headline suggesting a “fresh Yes push” as a reaction to the “cost of living horrors” sits uncomfortably with an article in which George is highly critical of the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government for being overly reactive. And, by implication at least, insufficiently proactive. Admittedly, this criticism relates to fiscal policy, in particular, various ventures into the realm of public ownership. But the principle is the same. If a government is doing no more than responding to developments, it inevitably fails to give the impression of being in charge. Similarly, if a political campaign – such as the fight to restore Scotland’s independence – exhibits no strategy of its own but behaves like a cork in the ocean carried hither and thither by the actions of opponents, then that campaign can only make such progress as its opponents allow. And we know that the effort to win more people over to the Yes side has made precisely no progress in the last eight years.
George Kerevan is certainly correct to say that the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government has been reactive. Think of the many measures intended to mitigate some onerous imposition by the British state. Such mitigation is reactive by definition. To what extent criticism on this basis is legitimate is a matter open to debate. What is undoubtedly true is that it conveys the impression of a subordinate administration doing the bidding of its superiors. Which is is pretty much the case. But it isn’t, or shouldn’t be, the impression Nicola Sturgeon is aiming for. Her entire performance since taking office has been geared to looking almost presidential. Not at all a bad thing from the perspective of a committed independence supporter pragmatic enough to know the cause needs strong leadership. However, it is impossible to convincingly maintain this presidential facade when you are seen to be led by the nose with Boris Johnson holding the tether.
George Kerevan also criticises this reactive tendency on the grounds that it prompts piecemeal action and legislation. It’s hard to see how it might be otherwise. If the government is only nationalising the bits of a sector that are in trouble then the taxpayer ends up with all the problems of that sector and none of the profits which, in a just and balanced economy, would offset the local problems. This is fair criticism. To which the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government would undoubtedly respond that it lacks the powers to do more – or to be more proactive. Which is a reasonable argument.
George immediately identifies the reason for the Scottish Government lacking the powers it requires. No disrespect to the man, but it hardly takes a genius to figure it out. The Scottish Government lacks the powers it needs because the Scottish Government has failed to take those powers. Instead, the SNP Scottish Government has chosen to behave as if those powers rightfully belong with the British parliament in London rather than the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. The latter ‘owns’ those powers on the basis of the impeccable democratic legitimacy it derives from being elected by the people of Scotland – who are sovereign. The former claims those powers on the basis of monarchical authority and the fact that nobody has presumed to challenge that authority in any meaningful way.
Power is never given Power is only taken. That which is given is not power but merely administrative function.
Having thus identified the cause of the Scottish Government (more correctly Scottish Parliament but gies a brek, eh!) lacking the powers it needs as its own failure to take same, George suggests a solution. Take the powers! Act as if the powers are yours and they will be for so long as you can prevent the British state from taking them back. Do what needs to be done and dare the British to stop you or attempt to undo what you’ve done. If you are not prepared to both take powers and defend them once taken then you probably weren’t qualified to have those powers in the first place.
However, having earlier criticised the SNP Scottish Government for a piecemeal approach to privatisation (and mitigation?) what does he then do but commend precisely the same kind of piecemeal action in taking powers.
The FM has to lead by being prepared to defy the UK Treasury on social spending priorities. She has to create a public energy corporation and take state control of energy production – both to capture the windfall profits being hoovered in by the international oil and gas monopolies, and to reduce costs to households.
Even if it is possible to take just the power needed to deal with a range of separate “social spending priorities.” it would, I suspect, be surpassingly difficult to defend those small and narrow powers against seizure by the British state. Each could be effectively ‘surrounded’ and captured. Surely the only way to go about taking power is to take it all. Only by taking all the powers is it possible to be certain of all the powers necessary to govern according to the needs, priorities and aspirations of the governed. Only by taking all the powers can we be sure of having the powers required to defend the powers we’ve taken.
We take the powers we rightfully own from the political elite which illicitly withholds them by asserting the primacy of the Scottish Parliament on the basis of its democratic legitimacy and the sovereignty of Scotland’s people. Let the British political elite challenge this! Let them go to court and argue that Westminster has greater democratic legitimacy than Holyrood. Let them argue that the people of Scotland are not sovereign. Let them argue that Scotland is not a nation and that the people, therefore, have no right to determine Scotland’s constitutional status. Let them argue that the people of Scotland are disqualified by the Union from choosing the form of government that best serves their needs, priorities and aspirations. Let them argue all of this and let them be heard by all the people of Scotland all the people of these islands and all the people of the world.
I find in George Kerevan’s thinking the kind of hitch or disconnect that I see in so much commentary on the constitutional issue. Even from some of the most highly respected figures in the Yes movement. I shall attempt to illustrate what I mean with two quotes from George’s column.
Independence is about taking power in Scotland, or it is about nothing.
Who could disagree? That one short sentence captures the essence and the entirety of Scotland’s cause. Independence! Nothing less! Nothing else!
But then there’s this
To be charitable, Nicola might believe she can win a court case to establish the right of Holyrood to hold a second referendum regardless of Westminster’s wishes. And that, if so, world opinion will force Boris Johnson to accept the outcome of such a unilateral referendum.
The emphasis is mine. I want you to ponder those words for a moment. Or perhaps you don’t need to. Perhaps the oxymoron hit you between the eyes immediately you read it as it did myself. What is being referred to here is the exercise by the people of Scotland of their absolute, exclusive and inalienable right of self-determination. To even imply that such an exercise might be anything other than unilateral is to invite incredulity and mockery. Who does George suppose is meant by the ‘self’ in self-determination? Can he possibly imagine it might mean the people of Scotland and whoever else cares to join in? Can he possibly think it might mean the people of Scotland plus the government of a neighbouring country? Exercise of the right of self-determination is unilateral by definition and by dint of international laws and conventions.
The process by which Scotland’s independence is restored must start with asserting the primacy of the Scottish Parliament. It must start with the Scottish Parliament seizing all the powers it needs to fully restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status and to hold that power and that status regardless of any attempt to deprive us again. Asserting the primacy of the Scottish Parliament has to be the first stage of the process because anything else that anyone might suggest as part of the process must be sanctioned by Scotland’s only Parliament.
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