Today marks the fifteenth anniversary of what I regard as a highly significant day in Scotland’s history. 15 years ago today, Scotland got its first government of the democratic era. On Monday 3 September 2007 the Scottish Executive became the Scottish Government ─ officially even if not legally. Some dismiss this as a mere cosmetic exercise. At the time, many did. But presentation is important. As is language.
Alex Salmond, the then First Minister, was well aware of just how important this change was. He realised that the way people think about things is powerfully influenced by the way we represent them and talk about them. He knew that the British political elite didn’t want the people of Scotland to perceive the devolved administration as a real government. It was important that they think of the Scottish Parliament as a real parliament. This was, after all, what was supposed to kill the independence campaign ‘stone dead’. But the people had to be given a constant reminder that the administration was less than a real government. There could be only one government ─ the British government. In one of his first acts as First Minister, Alex Salmond transformed Scotland’s perception of the minority administration he led after the 2007 Holyrood elections. Overnight, it became a government.
Legally, it’s still the Scottish Executive. The fact that only the most fanatical British Nationalists now use this term as a pejorative amply demonstrates what the purpose was in naming the devolved administration thus. It was always intended as a slight.
The change of title has had a transformative effect on Scotland’s politics. Not that alone, of course. But it is unlikely that the Scottish Parliament would have come to be generally regarded as the locus of our politics quite as quickly or as completely had Salmond not had the nous to recognise the need to alter the way people thought about the administration. If the administration was seen as something less than a real government then the parliament would surely be perceived as less than a real parliament. A real parliament such as might cast doubt on the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty. Westminster can only be sovereign if in people’s minds, it is the only real parliament. If the sovereignty of Scotland’s people was to be affirmed then it must be possible for them to imagine Scotland’s democratic institutions as being equivalent to the democratic institutions of independent nations. The name ‘Scottish Executive’ served as a constant reminder that Scotland’s parliament and government are subordinate to the structures of power, privilege and patronage which constitute the British state. Alex Salmond rectified that. An achievement which should be applauded and celebrated.
The importance of perceptions is, as we would expect, well known to the British political elite. How important can be gauged by their response to changes in the way the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government are regarded both within Scotland and abroad. The Scotland Office is still the Scotland Office. But the term ‘UK Government in Scotland’ has been introduced to directly compete with the term ‘Scottish Government’. Just as colonial governments of the past erected great fortresses to intimidate the indigenous population as well as palatial residences and impressive administrative buildings to remind the natives of their inferior place in the decreed ‘natural order’, so the British government has planted Queen Elizabeth House in the middle of Scotland’s capital city. These things are neither incidental nor trivial. They are the actions of a country clinging to its imperialist past. They are the actions of a country in the grip of an increasingly extreme British Nationalist ideology. To tolerate these things without protest is to nourish a viper in Scotland’s bosom.
Of course, the Scottish Government still isn’t actually like the governments of other nations. The Scottish Parliament isn’t the equivalent of the parliament of a normal nation. The Scottish Parliament is less than it should be given that it uniquely has the democratic legitimacy that derives from being directly elected by Scotland’s people. It is less because the British ruling elites continue to withhold the powers that rightly belong with the only institution entitled to be regarded as the real Parliament of Scotland. The Scottish Government is less than it should be because it continues to be hobbled by the devolution settlement. What has changed since 1999 when the Scottish Parliament reconvened is that it is now possible to envisage a Scottish Government that is the same as the governments of normal nations. It is now possible to think of the Scottish Parliament having the status and powers that other nations hold to be theirs by absolute right.
The ‘cosmetic’ change implemented by Alex Salmond 15 years ago has had massive implications for normalisation of the idea of restoring Scotland’s independence. That’s why I have 3 September marked on my calendar.
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14 thoughts on “On my calendar”
Good article Peter, Alex Salmond should be seen as the national hero he is, it was very shrewd of him to change the name, and place in the minds of Scots the words Scottish Government.
If we want be a independent country, we need to start acting like one, and that goes for our current government as well. It might be too late for Sturgeon though as she’s done a hell of a lot of damage to the indy cause over the last few years, and many indy minded folk don’t trust her anymore with good reason not to.
Oh to have Salmond back at the helm of the SNP.
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I wouldn’t recommend Alex Salmond for the leadership role of the party even if this was a realistic possibility. Right now, what the SNP needs is an effective administrator with a feel for the party’s constitution and internal procedures. The party has to get its own house in order and allow members the kind of influence they used to enjoy. Once that is done, then will be the time to appoint a charismatic figure to the role.
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” Right now, what the SNP needs is an effective administrator with a feel for the party’s constitution and internal procedures.”
Well don’t keep us all in suspense Peter who did you have in mind?
“Once that is done, then will be the time to appoint a charismatic figure to the role.”
I thought we didn’t have any time left.
In reality Peter, Sturgeon and Murrell pull the strings, and there’s not a snowballs chance in hell of an effective administrator as you put it, doing anything, bar one or two in the SNP (the rest have exited) the rest of the SNP MPs and MSPs are quite content to keep their snouts pressed firmly into the taxpayers trough, and to not rock the gravy boat.
Like the rest of us Peter you realise that there is no plan, other than hoping than we can recapture the SNP after Sturgeon stands down.
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I have no thoughts on who might make an effective party leader at the moment. It’s all academic anyway as there is absolutely no will within the SNP to oust Sturgeon.
What I realise is that we are stuck with what we’ve got. The SNP is the party of government. Nicola Sturgeon is party leader and First Minister. Neither of these things is going to change any time soon. Probably not even at the 2026 Holyrood elections as, even if Sturgeon steps down, her replacement will be as close to a clone as possible.
It’ll almost certainly be too late by then, anyway. The UK general election will come first. ─ no later than January 2025 and almost certainly no later than this time next year. At that election, Truss will become Tory leader (speculation not prediction) and British Prime Minister having stood on a fervently British Nationalist platform. England-as-Britain will give her a mandate to sort out the Scotland problem once and for all. She will proceed to do this with great gusto ─ not least because she will be looking over her shoulder at the lingering and looming presence of her predecessor. Truss will feel compelled to out-Boris Boris. The other British parties will be compelled to try and out-Truss Truss. All of which adds up to hard times for Scotland.
The infrastructure for an unelected and unaccountable shadow administration is already in place and operating from Queen Elizabeth House. Alister “Union” Jack was appointed precisely because he was deemed the best person to handle the task of preparing this shadow government. It’s unlikely he’ll last long at the helm of that entity. Truss will want her own appointee. The job will go to one of her favoured supporters. Or possibly to one of her more threatening opponents. It would not be at all surprising if Boris Johnson was given the job. Although it’s not likely that he’d take it.
But that’s getting too far into speculation. The immediate issue for Scotland’s cause is that it can only go forward if the Yes movement can unite sufficiently to be strong enough to put pressure on Sturgeon. A glance at social media will show how unlikely that is.
All of which suggests that Scotland’s cause is fucked. There is every reason to presume that it is fucked. The one remaining scintilla of hope is that having jumped through a few more British hoops Sturgeon realises that I am right. Not just me, of course. All of those who now accept that there is no “legal and constitutional” route to independence while the British political elite is allowed to determine what is legal and constitutional. I look at Sturgeon and see a piece of radical grit that has been pearlized by being trapped in the British political process. It is possible that with a hard enough knock, the shell of calcium carbonate will be broken and the jaggy bit exposed.
What is not speculation is the fact that Scotland’s cause is now wholly dependent on how Nicola Sturgeon wants to define her place in history. She can be a world statesperson or she can be Scotland’s hero. Probably not both. Our sole task as independence activists is to try and persuade her that being Scotland’s hero is the better option.
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I can’t argue with any of that Peter.
Alex Salmond is not called ‘Smart Alex’ for nothing. Yes, the Unionists intend it as a disparaging comment intended to imply that’s he’s arrogant and too big for his boots. Whatever, he outsmarted them. If only we had some of that know-how in our Scottish Parliament today.
Another important date, I believe, was 2 days ago: 1st September 2022. This was the official opening of the “UK Government in Scotland’s” headquarters by Westminster’s man in Edinburgh, House Jock Alister Jack.
That was not what was important though.
What was important was the relatively small but significant gathering of Scottish Independence protesters on the concourse outside Queen Elizabeth House on the same day. People were there to mourn the Scottish victims – all of us, past and present – of the British Union these past 315 years and to inform the lackeys inside the building and the British government at large that they do not represent us, we do not acknowledge them as our masters, they are not welcome and that these squatters have been formally served a Notice to Quit the nation of Scotland.
This may have been largely symbolic. But, as with language, symbolism is important.
As with the 3rd September, the 1st September will be marked in my diary going forward.
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I sincerely hope there will be a lot more demonstrations outside the headquarters of the British state’s colonial administration-in-waiting.
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Remember , remember the 3rd of September
Let Scots forget the 5th of November .
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Reblogged this on Ramblings of a now 60+ Female.
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Naming it Scot Gov was an astute move but a name change was not enough on its own, it has to be combined with actions. For example, Alex never cleared out the couple of thousand unionist-placed ‘elite’ personnel who run all SG departments and the hand-picked boards/management of hundreds of public bodies, and replacing them with nationalists who have the right skills and allegiance only to a Scot Gov and not to UK Gov. Fowk cannae ser twa maisters, as we have subsequently found out with ongoing disasters in most policy areas, and many look rather intentional. A unionist meritocratic elite will always undermine Scotland’s development. Second thing he should have done was start to get the SG to act more as if it were an independent gov. That would require the culture change I allude to above but could also involve new initiatives such as creation of shadow SG departments for reserved powers, and other strategic national initiatives in readiness for independence. So a name change alone is not enough, and the way it all mis-functions since 2014 it might as well go back to being the ‘executive’.
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You’re dead right AB, a new name doesn’t betoken structural change . The infrastructure of colonial rule was left largely unchallenged . I don’t detect any great hunger in the present Scottish government for real structural change . It’s all about gradualism, economic orthodoxy , identity politics and playing the game of regional administration . There is too much store laid on the notion of the leader figure . The great man/woman saviour theory of history still dominates the political narrative in these parts . Let’s get away from the cult of charismatic heroes , of stage managed epic figures with their their clique of spads , roadies , image /ego massagers and stipendiary hingers -on . Power must be taken not pleaded for through the Westminster theatre of the absurd..
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That’s aboot the size o hit Brian; as Fanon said, the people need to throw their bourgeois overboard.
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The advantages of hindsight, Alf? It was a different world. It can be hard to appreciate just how different things were.
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Perhaps mair common sense than hindsight, Peter, and postcolonial theory offers us the well-trod template, to either liberation or continued cultural assimilation and oppression, for anyone who claims an interest in independence.
Given the history of decolonisation, only an inept elected nationalist government leadership would keep the same senior colonial administrators in post, and therefore the same ‘establishment’, which is where power really lies. What Albert Memmi called ‘the watchdogs of colonialism’. Left in post they were able to ‘hound’ the former FM, snap at others and divide the movement – and they are still busy destroying Scotland from the inside.
Scotlan haes been a muckle mankit colonial slump fer ower chree hunner year an thon haes tae bi weel dicht oot!
Our understanding of what independence is (it is decolonisation) and how this process is played out (postcolonial theory tells us) therefore remains rudimentary. Though there are signs the penny is beginning tae drap, for some at least.
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