The millstone of policy

I never cease to be taken aback by the number of people who voluntarily join discussions on social media fully determined that they will not be influenced by the discussion they’re joining. What is the point? Those who are open to having their views modified through engagement with others seem to be the exception. But rarest of all are those who actually hope that their perspective will be challenged in the course of debate. I count myself part of this latter category. I do so without pride or boastfulness. I regard it as nothing more than normal to come to a discussion purposefully to have one’s attitudes and prejudices and preconceptions put to the test. Having one’s thinking on a matter changed by input from others shouldn’t be regarded as a defeat – which is how all too many seem to see it. You don’t lose from having your perspective altered by new information or better explanation. You are not made less by having your errors corrected. No attitude should be immutable. No conclusion should be final. No opinion should be humble. A mind that is frozen in a fixed state is a crippled mind.

Another thing that surprises me about online discussions is the extent to which the arguments don’t change. As well as being open to having one’s thinking on a matter altered by engagement with other minds I look on it as an opportunity to hone my own arguments. Excepting only heavily qualified statements, one should never publish anything one is unable or unwilling to defend. If you make a claim or express a view you should be able and willing to back it up with facts and/or rational arguments. Otherwise, you’re not discussing you’re proselytising. Not that there’s anything wrong with proselytising. But one shouldn’t confuse it with debate.

My views on Scotland’s constitutional issue are firm, rather than fixed. I can be comfortable with them being so because my take on things has been developed over a very long time during which it has been subject to all manner of challenges. I have defended my thinking on the matter to the best of my ability and where I could not adequately defend it I have either altered my thinking or developed better arguments in its defence. Discussion with others is essential to this process. It frequently happens that some comment on Twitter, for example, will prompt me to consider a new line of argument or to further develop an existing one. It was just such a comment that inspired this article.

I have long maintained that in pursuit of Scotland’s cause there is no alternative but to use the SNP as the source of effective political power. Not because I have an affinity for the modern SNP or because I consider the party under Nicola Sturgeon to be the best that the independence might hope for, but because the SNP is the party of government right now and right now is when action is required that only the Scottish Government can take. Frankly, this is not a perspective that should need to be defended, founded as it is on hard, objective, observable facts. It is a fact that the situation is urgent. It is a fact that only the Scottish Government can effectively address this situation. It is a fact that the SNP is the party of government and will be for the entire period within which the situation must be addressed. Because it is a fact that the situation is urgent. Because it is a fact that the threat to Scotland’s political distinctiveness and national identity from rampant British Nationalism is real and imminent.

Unfortunately, these facts seem not to carry their due weight with some folk. Curiously, they will acknowledge – or at least not deny – these facts but still refuse to accept that there is no alternative to the SNP. It is very difficult to get to grips with such illogic. How might rational minds engage with minds which see facts and logic as mere inconveniences that can readily be discounted? How might you make the case that the world is round to someone who does not dispute any of the evidence for roundness yet persists in maintaining that the world is flat. Rational arguments are powerless against a position that is founded on faith. Faith that is open to rational argument ceases to be faith.

The comment which prompted me to write this came from someone who, as far as I am able to discern, accepts the reality of Scotland’s predicament and acknowledges the urgency of the situation. I intend to respect their anonymity so let’s suppose that this is the case even if it makes of them a person imagined for illustrative purposes. This imagined person knows that the situation is desperate and that only the Scottish Government has the ability to address the situation and that only the SNP is the party of government and will be for as long as is relevant. They know all this and they claim to be committed to Scotland’s cause. Yet they decline to give the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government anything of the support it will require to do what is required. They refuse this support either because they’ve given up hope of the SNP doing what is required or because they have been persuaded that there is an ‘alternative’ – or both. It would be perfectly appropriate if the term ‘doublethink’ popped into your head at this juncture.

The comment which brought me here, however, particularly referenced a third reason/rationalisation for declining to support the SNP in its role as the sole source of the effective political power on which the independence movement relies. This support is refused on the grounds that the SNP in its role as the party of government is pursuing policies that the commenter dislikes with some fervour. It is not relevant to the point being made here, but it happens that I share this commenter’s attitude to the policy in question – namely, GRA reform and especially the self-id aspect of the proposals.

In response, I stated that the constitutional issue must be considered in isolation from all matters of policy and expressed the wish that more people might understand this and the reasons for it. Re-reading my response before posting, it occurred to me that perhaps the reason people don’t ‘get’ that the constitutional issue is a special case or understand the reasoning might be because this has not been adequately explained. The fact that the constitutional issue must be divorced from policy issues is something I have stated so often I may be guilty of assuming it is a well-understood point. Evidently, it isn’t. Let’s see if we can rectify that.

I detest repeating myself. But I’ve had to resign myself to this being unavoidable. One of the greatest difficulties I find when writing about the independence issue is finding new ways of saying things I’ve said many times previously. I have a good vocabulary and access to excellent thesauruses. Still, it can be a real problem repeatedly expressing the same thoughts without using the same language every time. So I’d ask that long-time readers bear with me as I once again go over what it is that sets constitutional politics apart from ‘ordinary’ politics. Put as succinctly as may be, the latter is the politics of policy while the former is the politics of principle. More precisely, constitutional politics is concerned with the principles which govern power. It about how power is used. ‘Ordinary’ or party politics is about what power is used for. Already we can see a clear distinction between the two.

The first function of constitutional politics is to answer the five questions about power as attributed to the late Tony Benn. I shall paraphrase these as follows.

  • What is the extent of the power exercised by government and how is it constrained?
  • How is power legitimately acquired?
  • In whose interests is power exercised?
  • To whom and by what means is power accountable?
  • How can power be removed?

The second function of constitutional politics is to state the principles which must inform the exercise of power. These functions may be thought of as the practical and the ethical or moral functions of the constitution.

The thing the constitution must never do is impinge directly and in prescriptive manner on issues of policy. The constitution is the permanent and unchanging foundation of the nation. The ideal constitution would never need to be amended. In practice, of course, the best we can usually manage is to make changing the chanstitution a difficult and lengthy process. The winds and tides which take policy this way and that must not be allowed to affect the constitution. Likewise, the constitution must not reduce government’s ability to navigate as the weather demands. The constitution lays down the red lines that prevent political expediency becoming the dominant or only criterion for policy. Governments must be free to plot a course within those red lines.

The constitution is the ultimate reference against which policy is assessed. It follows, therefore, that the constitution must be as concise, clear and unambiguous as human wit can contrive. Ideally (again!), there should never be need for any debate about whether and how a particular aspect of the constitution is relevant to a particular policy. Realistically (again!) this is rarely achievable. But it should always be the aim. Likewise, policy should ideally be formulated in such a way as to avoid challenge on grounds of constitutionality. The two things – the practical and the moral – work together best by never impinging on on another. One might even say that the extent to which the separation of constitutional and party politics is maintained serves as the measure of a healthy politiy.

The right of self-determination is the right of all nations and peoples to chose the form of government that best serves their needs, priorities and aspirations. The matter of the form of government is purely and entirely and exclusively a constitutional question. It is the province of constitutional politics. ‘Ordinary’/party politics deals with the matter of who will govern the nation. Constitutional politics deals with the matter of how the nation is governed. Party politics deals with the policies which direct the affairs of the nation. Constitutional politics deals with principles which define the nation.

For someone who so intensely dislikes repetition I seem to have said the same thing rather many times. But it is a point which cannot be laboured too much. Constitutional and ‘ordinary’ politics are very different beasts. They can exist together. They do not mix well. Constitutional politics in particular is detrimentally affected by ‘contamination’ with the politics of policy. Think of it this way! If one aspect of policy is allowed to intrude in constitutional debate why not all aspects of policy? If one aspect of policy is so privileged, what criteria are applied in the granting of this privilege? How does one avoid claims that other aspects of policy meet those same criteria? How does one answer those claims?

If one matter of policy insinuates itself into a constitutional debate it inevitable opens the door for myriad others. Unless all aspects of policy are included then there will always be the potential for claims that some aspect is being unfairly or unreasonably excluded. At some point far in advance of all aspects of policy gaining admission to the constitutional debate that constitutional debate ceases to be a constitutional debate. It becomes a policy debate. Indeed, the inevitability of this means that it ceases to be a constitutional debate the very moment the first policy issue is admitted. The die is then cast. There is no avoiding the constitutional issue becoming lost in a fog of policy debate.

This is not mere theorising. We have seen in practice how the fundamental constitutional issue which is supposedly the matter under discussion vanishes all but entirely under a welter of policy positions and agendas. We need look no further than Scotland’s own constitutional issue and the first referendum campaign to see what happens when constitutional debate is contaminated by matters of policy.

Nowhere is the danger of allowing policy to intrude on constitutional debate more starkly illustrated than in the case of the Scottish Government’s GRA reform proposals. Given the SNP’s responsibility to the independence movement it was – and let us not mince words here – criminally irresponsible to embark on such a massively controversial project while delaying action to resolve the constitutional issue. This is political madness of the kind that were it to feature in a work of fiction you would scoff mightily at the implausibility of it. Who the **** would be so ******* stupid? – would be the question on everyone’s lips.

I get angry writing about it. So I’ll move on.

We are where we are. Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP leadership have been guilt of some serious failures and failings. They have made some horrendously bad choices. The question for the Yes movement now is whether and how badly we let the ineptitude of our political leaders adversely impact the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence. Just because the SNP went along when the British state sought to make the 2014 referendum campaign a debate about policy rather than principle doesn’t mean we have to accept that this is how it must be. Just because the SNP/Scottish Government is pursuing policies so controversial they seem almost designed to negatively affect the constitutional campaign doesn’t mean we have to allow the campaign to be derailed as a consequence. We can choose to create and conduct a proper constitutional debate despite the SNP. We can choose not to let that debate be contaminated by policy issues.

We can choose not to have the constitutional issue dragged down by the millstone of policy argument that it has been burdened with. But we better choose quickly. Time is tight.



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55 thoughts on “The millstone of policy

  1. This and yesterday’s “Time is tight” post go a long, long way in helping me untangle and understand your position that the SNP and the Scottish Government are completely separate from the personalities that currently hold positions of influence and power in said organisation/institutions. I’m glad I persisted 😉

    What’s probably tripping up people is the sad state of presentational and presidential politics where Nicola Sturgeon is the SNP / Scottish Government and vice versa. So, in a sense, the commenter cannot really be faulted as that’s the game that is currently being played. That it’s a strategy that’s being deliberately pursued by the media/policy advisors makes it all the harder to separate the two.

    Once you manage to dig yourself out of that mess then life becomes a lot simpler and the choices are clearer. Alas, there are still no answers to the predicament of inaction we are currently in as the leadership raised the drawbridge some time ago.

    Liked by 8 people

  2. Hi Peter,
    What i like reading your posts is that i don’t even have to be open minded 🤣, you express my views much much clearly that my frenglish could try to attempt. A Constitionnal issue is not linked with policy … nor economic matters; but that to be understood by people who very often want to make it difficult for themselves just because they can, or have lot of spare time, or like the sound of their own voice or have other agendas…is something that needs to be repeated … endlessly and especially here. Good luck with that 🤣. Take good care. Paul

    Liked by 2 people

  3. “Iomadh taing!” (Many thanks!), Peter, for your good articles – especially with today’s subject matter! You often prove why you have:’Thinker. Listener. Talker. Reader. Writer’ after your name. You do use an impressive vocabulary and woe betide any ‘British nationalists’ who are foolish enough to tackle you!

    My own writing is done in my second language – which became my main one – however, although I’m rusty with what was my original Scottish Gaelic, it still serves when replying to British National’s comments. Today, though, I’m happy using a spot of Gaelic in my reply to you and keep doing what you do so well!

    Unfortunately, Scotland’s current political situation is nowhere near as healthy as it could have been; however, there’s a strong, but quiet. background mood within our electorate that would respond to good political leadership; so, a little more peaceful and calm patience, and I believe that our cause will become irresistibly strong!

    Thanks again,

    Ewen

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I see all the chaps are in agreement, Peter, and my comments do not appear. Ah well. In a nutshell why I will never again vote SNP although I will vote for independence. So long as the chaps can’t see what the sensible thing to do is, no point, really.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I wasn’t being sexist, Peter, merely ironic, I promise you. The sensible thing to do – it was always the sensible thing to do – is to help women expose the trans issue for what it is and rout it out of independence politics. The two – in common with women’s rights and trans rights – are completely incompatible for the reasons I outlined in my comment which was deleted. Had the camps been exposed earlier, the Allies taken footage earlier, the regime would have fallen earlier. That was my point. I’m sorry you didn’t understand it and its relevance to the campaign for independence. Perhaps a reference to Vercingetorix, leader of the Gauls against Julius Caesar? The Gauls forced all the women and children out of the hilltop fort because they needed to conserve the food and water for themselves, to enable them to fight. The women and children died between the two armies. The Gauls were routed. Vercingetorix was held captive and later strangled. Most of his people – those who were not slaughtered, the majority – were taken captive to Rome. The point? Sacrificing the women and children did no good in the end. Sacrificing people who are your friends, your family, the oppressed is pointless because it does no good in the end. Expose the trans movement for what is actually is, not for what they want us all to believe it is. I hope this comment will survive.

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    1. I have to tell you that no comment was deleted. That is just not something I do. The comment never arrived.

      If I may presume to offer some advice. I find it helpful to keep a copy of anything I submit online. Sometimes I will draft the comment in a word processor – I like Focus Writer – then paste it into the text box. Otherwise, just before I hit the submit button I key Ctrl + A then Ctrl + C to copy all text to the clipboard. I use Ditto clipboard manager so I have a good, searchable archive of stuff I’ve posted in the last few days.

      I apologise if this is teaching my granny to suck eggs. Just trying to help. I value your contributions highly. I’m sure other regular commenters feel the same.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Peter, There are 3 planks to your argument as I read it and I agree with all three. However, by claiming that the SNP is the only route to Independence as it is currently in power and won’t be supplanted any time soon, that it shows no desire or preparation to achieve independence, and that the constitutional situation is extremely urgent you reach an impasse, and have to recognise that independence cannot be achieved – unless there is a major change in the SNP – possibly the re-democratisation of the party and/or the removal of the current “leadership” group. Since you discount the possibility of ALBA having any influence on the situation in the timescale necessary (I disagree but bear with me) then logically you should be strongly proposing a membership revolt within the SNP as the only means of achieving independence in the necessary timescale. Good luck with that.

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    1. If you recall, we were both involved in trying to provoke or at least facilitate a “membership revolt” of a sort when we created ‘SNP Members for Independence’. That effort was not hugely successful, although I think it did lead to other things that have been more high-profile.

      All I do is describe the current situation as it is and go where the logic leads me. The unavoidable conclusion given prevailing circumstances is that it’s too late to start thinking about alternatives to the SNP. There simply isn’t time to make any alternative effective enough to be of any use to Scotland’s cause. Nor is there time to effect reform (or revolt) within the SNP. Just as there is no process by which Alba can get into a position to significantly influence the SNP leadership, there is no process by which that leadership can be changed. Even if there was, it is unlikely that a change of leadership would have the desired effect.

      Process is the test. If you say you are going to achieve some political objective but cannot describe a credible process by which this can happen then it is 99.9% certain that you’re talking a load of shite. Imagine Douglas Ross claiming he’ll be the next FM, as leaders of the British parties have done before. Test his assertion by asking him to describe the process by which he anticipates this coming about. He will either have no answer or his answer will involve something beyond miraculous, such as a 60% swing from SNP to Tory.

      I have thought A LOT about the process by which Scotland’s independence will be restored. My thinking on the matter has changed over the years as circumstances have developed. Since 2014 the options have narrowed. And so has the window of opportunity. As things stand there is only one process that can lead to the restoration of Scotland’s independence. And that process is crucially dependent on the Scottish Government. Therefore, it is dependent on the SNP.

      It has to be the present Scottish Government because that’s all we’ve got. The task facing the Yes movement, therefore, has to be pressuring Nicola Sturgeon not only to hold a referendum in 2023 but to ensure that it is the right kind of referendum. A referendum that works as part of the process that leads to independence being restored.

      If someone knows of another process besides the one I’ve described repeatedly, I’d love to hear of it. Lots of people dispute what I say. Nobody offers a different proposal that is actually feasible. Either it requires time we don’t have or magic that doesn’t exist.

      That Alba has no influence whatever on the SNP is simply another statement of observable fact. Nothing about Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue has changed. If there was any effective influence in play we’d see the effects. If the effects are invisible then the claimed influence cannot be demonstrated.

      It is certainly possible for Alba to become an influence. But that would require that they adopt an approach to the constitutional issue that is radically different from Sturgeon’s. An approach that is founded on the process that works. That could have a dramatic impact and start to make things a bit uncomfortable for Nicola Sturgeon. Alba is neither different enough from the SNP nor radical enough on the constitutional issue to make any real impact. If it was, I’d be all for it. But so long as Alba is prioritising its electoral fortunes over Scotland’s cause it can never be the force that’s required.

      My advice to Alba would be to stop trying to get elected and start trying to be the radical force driving the fight to restore Scotland’s independence. The party CAN’T become a political force for Scotland’s cause by pursuing the electoral route. That takes far too long and imposes too many constraints. Alba can only become a significant player by becoming the public face of that part of the Yes movement which doesn’t blindly follow Nicola Sturgeon.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Peter, there will always be opportunities for referendum for those who thinks it is the way to proceed. I don’t think it is the trigger for Indy, it will be as a confirmation if necessary. As you said policy should be detached from the Constitutionnal issue. Involving policy or economy in Scotland’s debate for Independence, in a frame where Unionism can and will pull the strings is a receipe for a 50/50ish wich is not for me really ealthy. Imagine we win 51% of the votes, unionists at it during the first parliamentary mandate, undermining everything…that is a receipe for another referendum to rejoin and there will be no delay with it, no section 30 and another 50/50ish result etc…etc… Unionist where taken aback in 2014, in 2 weeks they corrected the shot and won the 50/50ish, they won’t do the mistake again. If policy is not the battlefield, political party are not vehicles. Then what ? History told us that Unions for example could be the vehicle. That is to be restored it will take ages. The issue here is that people are not angry, destitute “enough” to trigger a massive revolt. They think they are not and honestly that is a kind if reality we are supposed to believe in. “Give them games and bread” that what solved the Romans up-risings…nothing has changed. And what if we approach the issue from another angle? The psychatric one. Supposing that a vote is necessary in the first place. It might be completely foolish but i keep going anyway. Supposing 80 % of the yessers won’t change their mind ( to be on the safe side). If we look at it, what is going on amongst a fringe of the Nonos is completely equivalent to hostages and the Stockholm Syndroms… If therefore a population (or populations) is adressed with the right therapy…!? A population or populations representing i would say 15 to 20 % of the electorate, to be on the safe side again, could be targetted. No policy involved, no economic issues that could be argued endlessly just make them realize that they are in a dominated/dominant situation, that the ” it could be worst” is an illusion, because after all that is the fear lying underneath all this and the reason for the “status quo”; and never forget that arguing on policy or economy will never work in that 300 years old Unionist frame. If that is the way to go over the 50/50ish line, it could be as well the way to keep gaining people’s mind during the first Parliamentary mandate and gather the Opinion minds when the Union will try to undermine any progress. We have to think differently, approach the matter differently then why not this as an idea ? Approaching wellknown psychatrists, people who were in that situation, authors on the subject like that Japonese guy hostage during the Lima event etc, etc… It costs barely nothing and it will put away the ” narrowing window “to a non relevant issue, issue linked with policy and economy by the way, an issue that is not linked with the Constitutionnal debate as we want to place it 😉. Take care. Paul

        Liked by 3 people

  7. Yes, bushgeoff: a coup from within the SNP is the only practical means, with full-hearted support for such action from without, by which the direction of the SNP can be changed. The captain and the cohort must go. It is not a question of whether the SNP can be changed in time; it is actually that the SNP must be changed in time. Those who steer the ship and those who support those who steer the ship (and for very different reasons, because the wokerati, the devolutionists and the Greens) all support the ruling SNP for own reasons, in order to push through their own preferred agendas which simply do not chime with most of their members or, indeed, those who have left the SNP). You have nailed the crux of the matter: the present SNP leadership will not do anything to bring about independence because its agenda does not chime with that of most others not within the charmed circle. The SNP leadership and cohort need to be exposed to the majority of members of the party, plus to all those who would vote for independence, regardless of allegiance, in an attempt to show that the ball is rolling once more. If the SNP as constituted is not changed, there is no hope of independence soon or at any time until the pressure builds to the extent that something will give.

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    1. Referencing my last response to Geoff, explain the process by which there might be an “internal coup” within the SNP. Your task is actually even more challenging than that. Because not only do you need a process that leads to a coup, the coup must bring about the change you/we want. There is no realistic prospect of any kind of coup, far less one that brings to the fore a more radical element of the party prepared to undertake the inevitable confrontation with the British state.

      We can’t gamble on such a massively unlikely development. We must proceed on the assumption that the present Scottish Government is all we have to work with.

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  8. “… My advice to Alba would be to stop trying to get elected and start trying to be the radical force driving the fight to restore Scotland’s independence. The party CAN’T become a political force for Scotland’s cause by pursuing the electoral route. That takes far too long and imposes too many constraints. Alba can only become a significant player by becoming the public face of that part of the Yes movement which doesn’t blindly follow Nicola Sturgeon… ”

    Indeed. My point precisely, Peter. Not just radical, but that other ‘r’, ruthless. Expose the full horror of GRA reform, ruthlessly. Expose the full horror of the Brexit shortages to come, ruthlessly. Expose the full horror of nearly eight years of stasis, ruthlessly – and without pandering to any section of society that might not follow independence wholeheartedly. We can no longer afford to tippy toe around Unionists and sundry other anti independence elements so that feelings are not hurt. Those feelings hurt Scotland and Scotland’s people every single day. It is an existential moment for Scots and Scotland, and for women and girls and children. Fight back – together – or we all lose.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I’ve had a post go missing here as well Peter – I wonder what happened to it ? But here it is again – from memory. UKIP & the Brexit party never succeeded in having an MP elected to Westminster (defections aside) , but here we are, out of the EU. How did they succeed in exerting the pressure required to make THAT happen ? They posed a threat to the Tories’ future electoral success , that’s how.

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    1. UKIP was pushing at an open door. Besides, the fact that UKIP did does not necessarily imply that Alba can. The situations are quite different. Alba poses precisely no threat to the SNP at the moment. And the moment is all that matters. One of the many contradictions in Alba’s rhetoric is the fact that they tell us one minute that they are different from the SNP because they recognise the urgency of the situation, then the next minute they’re telling us we have to wait because it’ll take time for them to become effective.

      Realistically – let me repeat that very important word – REALISTICALLY, how long might that be? To answer that we need to consider first where Alba would have to be in terms of electoral success etc. to become a concern for the SNP. Then we have to consider on the basis of available evidence whether Alba’s leadership is capable of taking the party to that level. whether Alba has an offer that is going to attract voters. What we might think of as the ‘product’. Only then can we estimate how long it might take for Alba to be viewed as an electoral threat by the SNP. There are a lot of moving parts. But this is doable.

      One of the difficulties, however, is yet another of those contradictions that riddle rhetoric. On the one hand, we have Alba telling us they will put pressure on the SNP by becoming an electoral threat. On the other, we have Alba reassuring voters that Alba is not out to threaten the SNP so it is safe to vote for them.

      But let’s get back to considering the matter f time rather than just wishing it away as you and your fellow alba devotees tend to do. What would it take to make Alba a credible electoral threat; what are the possibilities for them doing so; and can it be done within the relevant time frame? That time frame is no more than 4 years and probably only 2. And that it the point at which the effect will have done its work. In reality, the time frame is much tighter because the effect is unlikely to be immediate but will build over time (there’s that word again!).

      It might well be argued that to achieve what it claims it will, Alba would have to be pressing the SNP now. The reason is that success requires success. People won’t start using Alba as a device to put pressure on the SNP until they can see that Alba is a device that is capable of putting pressure on the SNP. Voters won’t flock to the party in numbers until they see it having an effect. The only way to see any effect at all right now is to set aside reality and go heavy on the wishful thinking. People look at Alba and see a firing party. The party lacks credibility as a political force because it doesn’t look like a political force and it doesn’t do what a political force does.

      A rather obvious way to be seen as an electoral threat is to win elections. But for that to happen there must be elections. The council elections don’t really count as you get so much less bang for a council election win than for a gain in a Scottish or UK general election. If alba had won three seats at the Holyrood election last year that would have been a big deal. To be a similarly big deal in the council elections alba would have to win a significant percentage of all council seats in the country. We are talking dozens of seats. Perhaps scores. There are 1,227 council seats up for grabs on 5 May. To make any kind of impression Alba would have to win, I reckon, around 50. Anthing less will be discounted.

      Even 50 seats in council elections won’t be seen as a major threat by the SNP. Because these are the council elections. The SNP still dominates the polls for both Westminster and Holyrood. what the wins would do is give Alba a bit of credibility. That would be something to build on. But that building will take time.

      There is no time. The next electoral contest – barring by-elections – will be the UK general election probably mid to late 2024. The big problem there is that this is probably already too late. But let’s suppose there is still a chance. There’s no reason to suppose the SNP will have changed by then. Of course, the referendum in 2023 could totally alter the landscape. It could be a referendum that leads to independence – in which case Alba will be as redundant as the SNP is triumphant. Or it could be a total flop – in which case the possibility of another referendum any time soon is off the table and, again, there is nothing for Alba to achieve.

      For the sake of discussion, let’s imagine the referendum having a null effect. Let’s just think about that UK general election and suppose the SNP goes into it still showing no signs of having been in the slightest bit influenced by Alba. The SNP’s offer to voters will be pretty much as it has been for what is starting to seem like forever. The big factor in that election will be the explicit threat of imposed constitutional ‘reform’ which locks Scotland into a Catalonia-like situation. The British parties will all be talking about ‘securing the Union’. The Tories because that’s what appeals to its key voters and as a distraction from the party’s corruption and incompetence. Labour because they have to follow the Tories. Under these circumstances of such a looming threat, Scotland’s voters are going to stick with what they know. They are not going to risk splitting the pro-independence vote and losing ground to the British parties. Alba will be portrayed as the high-risk option – with considerable justification. The result will be a minimal impact at the polls.

      That leaves the Scottish Parliament elections in 2026. But by then it will definitely be too late. So we needn’t bother with that.

      Alba isn’t going to become a real threat to the SNP by way of electoral success. The only other way would be steady growth in the party’s polling figures. Especially if this was at the expense of the SNP. Which it almost inevitably would be. For that to happen Alba would have to be offering something special. Something quite radical. I’ve covered this before. If Alba forgets about trying to win elections – because that can’t help them – and instead n trying to win independence supporters, then it can make life awkward for the SNP. It will have to be something big and showy and controversial. Alba is not big and isn’t going to get big time to achieve what it saysis its goal. when you’re not big, you make yourself look big. Observe the attention Nigel Farage and George Galloway get from the media. There’s a lesson there for Alba.

      The trouble is that Alba is no more for learning lessons than the SNP is. The party is looking for success by ‘traditional’ means. It’s trying to take on the SNP at their own game. It needs to be a game-changer. But there is no sign that the Alba Party leadership is willing to be bold in contrast to Nicola Sturgeon’s timidity. There is no REASON to think Alba is going to become a political force by way of a genuinely radical offering on the constitutional issue. So there is no RESON to suppose Alba might begin to make things awkward for the SNP. And if they don’t do that, they can’t have influence. They can’t apply pressure.

      There is one further thing to consider. But this comment is already too long. So I’ll settle for simply mentioning it now in the hope that it will be something you’ll think about. Suppose Alba does become a threat to the SNP, how will the latter buy off the former. What is Alba going to demand and what will they do in return so as to no longer be that threat? And what happens when they cease to be a threat?

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      1. Point of fact Peter. I am not an ALBA devotee, although I am of course an ALBA member. I am independence devotee, plain and simple, I’d probably still be an SNP member if I thought the leadership was intent on independence.

        The UKIP / Brexit party parallel is completely relevant, you can’t just dismiss a logical argument by saying the situation is “different”. The specific situation is different from UKIP/Brexit of course it is. But if you need an exact comparison to persuade you then you’ll find such comparisons very hard to find – in any situation. This is one thing about thinking, you have to be able to extrapolate from one situation to another similar one and acknowledge that there are indeed similarities if not 100% congruence.

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        1. It seems you missed the bit where I said UKIP was pushing at an open door. THAT is the main difference. If you now want to claim Alba is also pushing at an open door with the SNP that that’ll be yet another contradiction to add to the list.

          UKIP took advantage of an existing situation. The media had been running an anti-EU campaign for forty years. A big part of the Tory party sympathised with UKIP. There was already a considerable antipathy to the EU among voters. Alba has none of these advantages. THAT is the difference. I’m just not in denial of such things. I don’t have to be. I have no tribal loyalties to be conflicted.

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      2. Peter – seems there is no way to reply to a reply to a reply. You just might be incorrect about the open door, I know it is your blog and all but I’ve been at 2 gatherings in the last 3 days where both ALBA and SNP members were present, many open doors in evidence. None of the SNP “leadership” team was at either event I grant you.

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        1. I’ll have to look into threading replies.

          Hmmm… The default is supposed to be nesting 5 deep. Mine was set to 3. I don’t think I did that. Anyway! I’ve increased it to the maximum. By the time it gets to 10 deep nobody will have a clue what they’re commenting about.

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        2. If Alba was in any way comparable with UKIP we’d have seen the effect by now. It didn’t take Farage a year to start making an impact. For all the reasons I’ve given, UKIP was effective out of the box.

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            1. UKIP might as well not have existed before 2014. That’s when it was rated as a “major party” for the local elections. It was the EU referendum that gave UKIP prominence. There is no equivalent for Alba.#

              Also, UKIP was highly distinctive. It was not similar even to the Tories. Alba has no distinctiveness at all. On the only issue that matters – the constitutional question – it is indistinguishable from the SNP. If Alba took a hard line against the Section 30 process in the same way that UKIP did against the EU. it would be a different matter.

              Alba has totally failed to utilise its one big advantage. Being a fringe party, it can be as radical as it needs to be to get attention. The party needs a Farage-figure. Instead, it’s got Nicola Sturgeon’s teacher.

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                1. You’re starting to look a bit desperate here. There is no evidence of Alba having any impact on the SNP. There is no reason to suppose it will any time soon. But vote Alba because UKIP!!!

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                  1. You know that “Vote ALBA because UKIP ” is not my argument, I was pandering to your desire for people to think, and suggesting you might care to do the same, sauce for the goose etc

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                    1. I have thought. And having thought I have concluded that there is no relevant comparison between UKIP and Alba. The factors which allowed UKIP to become influential simply don’t exist for Alba. The argument that UKIP did it, therefore, Alba can ios what has not had the benefit of sufficient thought. But that is true of so much of what we get from Alba.

                      Alba is NOT going to become a force in politics by winning elections. At least not in time to be any use to Scotland’s cause. If Alba is all about independence then they should be seen to be putting saying what needs to be said before electoral success. Curiously, the best way for Alba to win support is for it to stop trying so hard to win votes. Stop trying to appeal to the electorate and start representing the voice of dissent in the Yes movement.

                      I don’t know about anyone else, but I thought that’s what Alba was going to be. BIG disappointment!

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                    2. Peter – you are tying yourself in knots here, while carefully failing to acknowledge that your arguments about UKIP’s applying power without electoral success, UKIP being successful straight out of the box, and there being no difference between SNP and ALBA on the constitutional issue have been utterly demolished by the simple use of facts.

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                    3. What facts? The whole Alba=UKIP thing is just speculation. And the only facts available state quite clearly that there is absolutely no difference between Alba and SNP as far as the constitutional issue is concerned. Both accept a Section 30 request as the starting point. Both say that things should proceed even if the Section 30 order is refused. Neither says what they will do if the Section 30 order is granted. Neither explains how they will proceed if it is refused. All that they have said is only enough to make the Section 30 request look stupid as well as offensive to those who adhere to the principle of popular sovereignty.

                      No difference!

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                2. UKIP was founded in 1993. It took over 20 years for them to lose the “fringe status” and start having an effective impact on Tory policy and force a Brexit referendum. If we apply the same conditions to Alba, we will be well into the 2040s before they become “effective”. Do we have the time to wait for Alba to do that? There is no indication the electorate see them as anything other than “fringe” for now, and the foreseeable future.

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              1. Peter see also ALBA Manifesto page 5 – Subject Independence:

                The Independence Convention (comprised of all of Scotland’s elected representatives and others) WOULD RE-ASSERT SCOTLAND’S CLAIM OF RIGHT. It would underline that it is the people of Scotland who are sovereign, not the UK Parliament.

                Please show me these words in any SNP manifesto to demonstrate your point about there being no distinction between ALBA and SNP.

                If you are going to propose that these is no difference between the parties on the constitutional question, you do need to keep up to date.

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                1. FACTS: again P5 of the current ALBA Manifesto:

                  The Scottish Government have effectively handed the UK Govt and Boris Johnson a veto over Scotland’s constitutional future. ALBA believes that this is unacceptable and that this situation cannot be allowed to continue.

                  I don’t see any support for S30 in that statement Peter – do you ?

                  However please don’t let any of the facts I have presented to you sway your faith (yes faith – I remember a time when you claimed not to do faith) in your own untenable arguments, you’ll be right of course.

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                  1. It is because I don’t have the giant blinkers of your unquestioning faith that I can see the words on page 9.

                    “The Scottish negotiating position should include, but not be restricted to, a formal demand for a Section 30 Order.”

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                    1. I have no faith, let alone unquestioning faith. But you are not reading the most up to date manifesto pal, Page 9 is about tackling the cost of living crisis. (NOW Scotland call it the Cost of Union crisis which I like) Would you like me to send you a more up to date manifesto ?

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                    2. Does the new manifesto explicitly renounce the position taken in the 2021 manifesto? Even supposing it does, if Alba can make such a massive change in such a short space of time how can I have any confidence they won’t change back again? If the party has come out against the Section 30 process – and therefore in direct opposition to Nicola Sturgeon’s position – how come it’s only you telling me about it? How come it isn’t being trumpeted by the British media? Or is that down to the great conspiracy against your party?

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                    3. Peter, read on down Page 5, the part you have quoted is a criticism of the SNP, not an endorsement of its policies, let alone an adoption of those policies. Its a sad state of affairs when a) you deny facts which undermine your earlier arguments b) deliberately misinterpret things you read and c) fail to admit that you are wrong when the facts say otherwise. Thing is I am sceptical about everything, you are also, but with the sole exception of your own arguments.

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                    4. I’ve read it! There is NOTHING there that changes the party’s 2021 position on Section 30. FFS! I WANT there to be something there! I’ve scoured every document and statement and interview involving Alba HOPING to find something that is significantly different from the SNP on the constitutional issue. I just don’t have the tribal attitude to see something that isn’t there.

                      Get back to me when you can show me an explicit statement from someone with the authority to speak for Alba Party – such as Alex Salmond – repudiating the Section 30 process. Let me hear Salmond say that the Section 30 process is WRONG and that Nicola Sturgeon is WRONG to be so wedded to it. Don’t try to browbeat me into accepting your highly imaginative interpretation of some empty words in a manifesto. It won’t work.

                      Read Lorna’s comment about Alex Salmond’s juggling. She’s spot on! He’s played it all wrong. He’s still thinking like an SNP politician. It’s still all about winning elections. But that is NOT going to happen quickly enough for Alba to gain the influence it requires. Enjoy the fantasy while you can, my friend. Reality is going to leave you with a very sore arse.

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                    5. I already have a sore arse so it makes no difference. I have heard with my own hearing-aided ears from AS repudiating the S30 process and NS’s devotion to it, but that’s probably not enough for you. What is the point in coming back to you with any evidence, you’ll only invent some ill-founded curmudgeonly objection to it.

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                    6. Hearsay is not evidence. If Alex Salmond’s position is as you say then why has he not gone public with it? Because it can’t be his position until he does. As things stand, Alba Party has TOTALLY failed to distinguish itself from the SNP on the constitutional issue. Contrast this with the GRA issue where Alba has taken a very definite stand opposed to what the SNP is doing. If your BELIEF about Alba’s stance on the constitutional issue (specifically Section 30) has any foundation in reality, why can’t you show me a statement of that position which is just as clear as the party’s statement on GRA.

                      Of course, I don’t expect a meaningful response at all, far less actual solid incontrovertible evidence of Alba opposing the Section 30 process. All I anticipate is some evasive pish about “curmudgeonly objections”.

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                    7. Read the manifesto again Peter, just f****** read it, again. Page 5. Eventually, if you read it often enough you will realise just what it actually says. I’m off out canvassing shortly, so ctf for now

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                    8. Thanks for the offer, BTW. But I have a copy of Alba’s council election manifesto. I know the party’s position on the Section 30 process hasn’t changed. It still anticipates a S30 request (or ‘demand’) being the first move. So, no different from the SNP. Page 5 –

                      “Indeed, the Scottish Government have yet to even request the transfer of powers from Westminster, through a Section 30 Order, which is one way to enable that Referendum to take place.”

                      And what does the document say about Alba’s alternative way to “enable that Referendum to take place”. Fuck all! Some drivel about “establishment of an Independence Convention”. What does that even mean? How is this Independence Convention to be formed? How can it be done by Alba? How can it be done without the active cooperation of the Scottish Government? How can it have democratic legitimacy without the participation of the Scottish Parliament? What connects this imagined body to a full and proper exercise of our right of self-determination?

                      It’s empty rhetoric, Geoff. I can remember a time when you would at least have been sceptical about such vacuous nonsense. What happened?

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                1. Of course. Cameron called the EU referendum thinking it would be a clear if not easy win for Remain. The British parties generally didn’t become anti-EU until after the referendum.

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  10. Strongly agree with the need to clearly distinguish constitutional issues from policy issues, the failure to do so damages debate and allows those opposed to independence to conflate the problem to their advantage.

    An independent Scotland’s position on, for example, nuclear weapons is one to be determined only after we have the means to independently decide such things. Yet, we allow a hostile press to ask what the SNP/Alba position on such things will be post independence.

    Respectfully, I would urge the current independence supporting parties to accept that their utterances on such post independence policy matters are, at best, irrelevant and, in most instances, damaging to the cause. Better, I think, to embrace this situation and use it to the advantage of focussed debate.

    I would advocate that all independence supporting parties adopt into their own constitution a commitment to dissolution upon the achievement of independence. This has the benefit of preventing journalists and opposition politicians from attacking statements on future policy desires, and in doing so undermining the principles of independence to an easily confused public.

    Much better to answer such future policy questions with “I can’t answer that question, that is a question for the Scottish people, a question that can only be asked, and answered, by a people given the independence and autonomy to determine their own future “.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. You are perfectly correct John. Unfortunately, for every voice in support of your argument, there are 10 more that demand the SNP (who alone seem to cop for this) put forward a detailed plan for every possible occurrence post independence. It would be understandable if these voices were unionist ones, but unhappily they are mostly (allegedly) pro-Independence. After all, why would unionists interfere with indies who are doing their job for them.

      One prominent blogger has accused another of being a “crypto unionist” for voicing your arguments, specifically on the existence of the monarchy (however, he shoots himself in the foot when he admits his own commitment to independence is on a shoogly peg if the newly independent Scotland is initially a Constitutional Monarchy and not a Socialist Republic from day one. Apparently a UK-wide CM is more appealing than an independent Scottish one to him). Other voices want similar detailed plans for their pet issues, though, obviously, only if it agrees word for word with their own vision. In each case, they question the SNP’s commitment to independence if they do not do as they demand, or, worse, announce something on it that is not a mirror of their own thoughts.

      I would dearly love the situation you describe to be the backdrop to the next Indie campaign. Unfortunately, neither Unionists nor their unwitting allies in the Indie movement will allow it. In this position, the SNP are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.

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      1. PS Missing posts are most likely down to WordPress. Always “Copy” your post before posting it. And be prepared for it to appear twice (or multiple times) after you have attempted to post several times “apparently” unsuccessfully. All this especially if it tells you are not logged in on it (when you were) and asks you to log in again.

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      2. Yes, I understand the temptation to answer every policy question in advance but it is, I think, a trap of our own making. Aside from the arguments made above, doing so suggests only a narrow range of possible policy outcomes, inevitably representing a left of center viewpoint.

        Those with a different political slant will never see their preferences represented in a post independence policy discussion, this is bound to make them even more entrenched in an anti independence stance. If they cannot see a future in which their views are represented can you not forgive their reluctance to consider independence.

        If it is difficult to avoid commenting on future policy post independence then list the range of options that will be available. Most observers, whatever their politics, will see an option they can agree with which may allow them to consider the benefits of independence afresh.

        We must accept that independence might result in a right of center party forming our government. It wouldn’t be my preference but if that is what the people of Scotland elect then so be it.

        Current discussion gives conservatives no option but to oppose independence. We have to give a vision which accepts their views but males it locally accountable.

        I must admit to fearing for the wellbeing of independence bloggers. During a long and protected period of nothing much happening the need to produce content must be difficult and some appear to have fallen into a rabbit hole. We all want the same thing and it’s hard to watch some turning their guns on their natural allies

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  11. Peter, I have been following your argument around the assertion that the SNP is the only party who can give Scotland independence, along with your replies to challenges to this idea.
    In my head I agree with your logic but my gut feeling is that I still do not trust the SNP enough to give them my vote.
    Immediately I am struggling with how to vote in this week’s Council elections as I have candidates from SNP, Green, Labour, Conservative and LibDem in my ward. I have already ruled out the last four but am unsure as to whether or not to give the SNP my support. The candidate seems a decent man, not one of the wokerati or the ‘Sturgeon can do no wrong’ group, but my gut tells me that his not speaking out against the party hierarchy, along with others in the same positon, makes him complicit. The alternative is to vote for ‘none of the above’ and spoil my ballot paper, as I had to do with the constituency vote in last year’s Holyrood election.
    Currently I am more likely to do the latter as I feel that a vote for the SNP would just encourage them to think that the tactic of pulling the wool over the eyes of voters is successful.
    Any thoughts would be appreciated though I cannot guarantee that I would follow your advice, though I would give it careful consideration.

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    1. I do not presume to advise anyone as to how they should vote. What I seek to do is provide information and perspective that may help make choices better informed. Today’s article is an example of this.

      Nor have I asserted that “the SNP is the only party who can give Scotland independence”. I would never refer to the SNP ‘giving’ us independence. That would never be my choice of words. And it is not that the SNP is the “only party” that can do what is necessary. It is more correct to state that only the Scottish Government that can do what is required. In principle, any party – Alba, for instance – could act IF it was the party of government. It just happens that the SNP is the party of government at the moment. And the moment is all that matters. It’s not about the party. It’s about the effective political power that only a duly elected government can have.

      In today’s article I say,

      “Frankly, I don’t care who you vote for. Barring a massively unexpected result, the outcome of the council elections is unlikely to have any significant implications for the constitutional issue – that being my greatest concern.”

      Which would suffice as a response to your comment. Although it might not be as helpful as you would wish. Then again, it may be more helpful than you first suppose. From what you say, the SNP candidate is not a bad choice. In terms of the constitutional issue, the SNP is never a bad choice. A vote for the SNP will always be a vote for independence – even if it doesn’t mean much in practice. Maybe that’s the best you can do. If you can’t vote for what you want at least vote to do the least harm.

      I have a feeling that was the direction you were headed anyway. Just remember! I didn’t advise you!

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