Glittering generalities an unasked questions

In the party-political discourse around Scotland’s constitutional issue, what passes for variety is the difference between the disappointments that are anticipated and those which come as something of a surprise to even the most cynical among us. As an example of the latter category, we might look to Murdo Fraser’s reaction to the Pope’s suggestion that said issue had been resolved by ‘the English’. Fraser, a man known, shall we say, for his strong Protestant ethic in all matters other than work, Tweeted,

I don’t do religion. But I am reliably informed that it is unusual for someone of Murdo Fraser’s persuasion to ask the Protestant God to look kindly upon the Catholic Pope. I cannot testify from personal observation, but I am assured that ‘God bless the Pope!’ is among the less commonly heard phrases chanted by supporters of the Rangers football team. This explains the surprise. The disappointment being that Murdo Fraser is a Member of the Scottish Parliament.

The anticipated disappointments arose from news about the Special Democracy Conference that the SNP has pencilled in for March of this year, and news from the special independence national assembly that Alba Party has just held. Both events purport to be for the purpose of “full and open” debate about the way forward for Scotland’s cause. As expected, the Alba event has produced nothing new and the SNP appears to have ensured that their event won’t produce anything new either.

We await full details of what was discussed at the Alba conference. But from Alex Salmond’s reported remarks it seems safe to assume that the party came out of the event the same as it went in. They want a plebiscitary election.

The SNP event is yet to happen, but the announcement of the resolution to be ‘debated’ makes it perfectly clear what they want. They want a plebiscitary election.

Given this similarity, you might suppose the parties could put up a united front. That’s not happening. While they agree on the matter of a de facto referendum, they differ sufficiently on detail to ensure continuing ‘rivalry’. Which is not to say that the details on which they differ are insignificant. The issue of time enters the equation, as ever. While the SNP gives the impression of being happy to put off the de facto referendum to the latest possible date, Alba wants it at the earliest possible date. While Sturgeon’s original unconsidered suggestion of using the next UK general election as a de facto referendum remains front and centre in the planned conference debate, the inclusion of the 2026 Holyrood election as an option seems to confirm that she is looking for a way out of her ‘Plan A’ for ‘Plan B’.

Rightly so. Even if we accept the notion that a plebiscitary election might further Scotland’s cause ─ which I do not ─ the arguments against using a Westminster election are powerful and the arguments for choosing a Scottish Parliament election in preference very persuasive. What the change of tack confirms is that barely a moment’s thought went into the ‘plan’ announced Sturgeon when she revealed her intention to have the draft Referendum Bill referred to the UK Supreme Court (UKSC) ─ another thing explicable only as an idea hatched in haste, if not panic. Sturgeon had to do something. More accurately, she had to do nothing while using her considerable presentational skills to make it appear as something.

Be that as it may, we are where we are. It seems likely that the SNP will opt for the Holyrood election as the de facto referendum. Sturgeon will be relieved to get out of her original plan without being seen to do a screeching U-turn on the matter. She won’t have to admit that using a Westminster election was always a daft idea. At the same time, she will hold up the decision to go with a Holyrood election as an example of her party’s internal democracy in action. Something which her loyal supporters can use as a response to critics who point to the way the party’s internal democracy has diminished under Sturgeon’s leadership. Job done!

Assuming the SNP conference goes as expected, we are back to a state of perfect alignment between them and Alba, with both now wanting to use a Holyrood election as the de facto referendum. Although the SNP still wants to use the UK general election first, with the Holyrood election as a second bite of the cherry should they fail to get their teeth into the first one. United front? Dinnae be daft! While the SNP is talking about a Westminster election which could be as late as autumn 2024 then the Holyrood election scheduled for 2026, Alba wants to use some parliamentary jiggery-pokery to force an extraordinary election in October 2023. Like all of Alba’s plans, this one is totally reliant on the cooperation of the SNP. Much as all the pro-independence parties’ plans are dependent on the goodwill of the British state. And with much the same expectation of coming to fruition.

Like all Alba’s demands of the SNP, this one looks to be inviting refusal which can then be used as a cudgel with which the Alba tribe can assail the SNP tribe on the social media battleground. The Alba idea is to use the Scottish Parliament’s powers to “alter the terms of the Scotland Act 1998 which govern how the Parliament is run“, as explained by Stu Campbell at Wings Over Scotland. Where currently two-thirds of MSP votes is required for the Parliament to dissolve itself and force an extraordinary general election, this could make a simple majority sufficient. All quite doable. But not without the political will of the party of government ─ the SNP/SGP alliance. And that’s where it starts to look like rather less of a practicable idea.

Alba Party has no power; no leverage and negligible influence. This is not intended to belittle the party. It is simply a statement of fact. The SNP, by contrast, has all the power and can pretty much do as it pleases. In such circumstances, logic bids us assume that the SNP preference will prevail at all times. We must therefore ask why early dissolution of the Parliament might be the SNP’s preferred course of action. I can think of no reason why they would favour early dissolution. On the contrary, the now obvious fact that there has been no planning or preparation means that the SNP’s preference must be to play for time ─ not so much to afford them time to think as to defer the moment when it becomes impossible to conceal the fact that there has been no strategic thinking at all in Sturgeon’s SNP.

Thus, it is all but certain that, when all the special conferences are done and the chairs stacked, what we can expect to emerge is a ‘plan’ to put off delivery of ‘indyref2’ for more than three years. At which time, it won’t actually be a referendum which is delivered, but an election pretending to be a referendum. The very terms ‘referendum’ and ‘democracy’ and even ‘independence’ have been added to the mass of glittering generalities deployed by politicians to distract and deflect from what are the important details of the proposals common to both the SNP and Alba and common to both a Westminster and a Holyrood de facto referendum. There are a multitude of questions that remain unasked concerning the precise form and purpose of the proposed de facto referendum, regardless of who is proposing it or what date they have in mind.

Let’s take a look at what the two parties are saying. There are two parts to what I suppose we must refer to as the draft resolution to be put to the SNP’s non-urgent emergency assembly. Emphasis is mine.

If a majority of those voting in the election vote SNP – or if the combined votes for the SNP and any other party with which it has reached a pro-independence agreement in advance of the election constitute a majority of votes cast – we will consider that a mandate to enter negotiations with the UK Government to secure independence.


The SNP will make clear that it is asking people to vote SNP in that election to indicate support for a referendum.

If the SNP wins a majority of Scottish seats, it will take the demand for the necessary transfer of power to the UK Government.

Should that demand – backed by the Scottish people – be denied again, the SNP will contest the Scottish Parliament election in 2026 as a de facto referendum.

It is always hard to tell what Alba is proposing because most of their spokespersons and almost all of their supporters talk of nothing but the SNP. Ask what Alba policy is and you’ll be told what SNP policy isn’t. The party’s website is no help. But there is this from the page promoting the special assembly. In what appears to be an official strategy paper presented to the assembly, under the heading ‘Recommence Campaign for a Section 30 Order’ we find the following,

The Supreme Court ruling has no impact on the ability to establish the section 30 route to independence. There are a minimum of four parliamentary mandates for a referendum and the majority feeling of the meeting was that Westminster should not be let off this hook.

Independence Strategy Paper to ALBA Special Assembly

This seems to be in keeping with Alba’s 2021 election manifesto.

The answer to one of the unasked questions is that what Alba and the SNP/SGP present as an independence referendum not only isn’t a referendum, it isn’t about independence at all. Look behind all the glittering generalities and you find all our leading politicians acceding to the British state’s asserted supremacy. They are all set on compromising the sovereignty of Scotland’s people by allowing the British state a veto on the exercise of our right of self-determination. None of them is proposing a referendum on independence. What they are talking about is a referendum on begging the British Prime Minister’s permission to do something we have an inalienable right to do. It is not possible that the Scottish people can be sovereign and subject to the whim of what is effectively a foreign government.

If, as I will insist with my last breath, the people of Scotland are sovereign and we vote Yes in a genuine independence referendum then that is an end to the matter. Nobody can gainsay that choice. It is as if carved in stone. It is the will of the people and that overrules all else.

Yet both Alba and the SNP disagree. They say that voting Yes in what they tell us is an independence referendum means only that we are endorsing their intention to trade our sovereignty for worthless assurances of cooperation from the British political elite in a process intended to achieve something to which they are fanatically opposed. As far as our political leaders are concerned, when we think we’re expressing our wish to restore Scotland’s independence, what we are actually doing is giving our agreement to them inviting the British state to interfere in our exercise of our right of self-determination.

What is worse is that the circumstances dictate that we must vote Yes ─ or whatever substitutes for Yes in a de facto referendum ─ because the consequences of voting No would be catastrophic. This results in the insanely ludicrous situation where a vote that is supposed to be for restoring our nation’s independence becomes a vote against the sovereignty of Scotland’s people and for the sovereignty of the British parliament.

As far as I can tell as I was unable to attend, no other options were even discussed by the Alba assembly that was supposed to be about finding “the way ahead for Scottish Independence”. It’s a certainty the SNP leadership won’t allow any fresh thinking to enter their domain. I recently summarised the constitutional issue strategies of all the parties.

  • Scottish National Party (SNP)
    By various means, attempt to persuade the British government to grant a Section 30 order.
  • Scottish Green Party (Scottish Greens)
    By various means, attempt to persuade the British government to grant a Section 30 order.
  • Alba Party (Alba)
    By various means, attempt to persuade the British government to grant a Section 30 order.
  • British Conservative Party (Tories)
    Preserve the Union at any cost.
  • British Labour Party (Labour)
    Preserve the Union at any cost.
  • British Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems)
    Preserve the Union at any cost.

That is a recipe for aridity of discourse and paralysis of action. This is where our politicians have led us. Scotland’s cause is being failed or betrayed by our entire political class. And they’re being allowed to get away with it.

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26 thoughts on “Glittering generalities an unasked questions

  1. PS: Posted that link solely because I am an Admin on Indy/Live, please see it as impartial on that basis – and sorry it became as large, I didn’t realise that would happen when posting.


  2. Peter – there is 1 major key difference a lot wider than a fag paper (are we still allowed to say fag ?) SNP policy as far as I can see is to use the pleb election to enable a referendum. ALBA policy is to use the pleb election as a mandate to begin independence negotiations. The preferred timescales are also very different, SNP 2026 , ALBA 2023 – citing the “no ifs, no buts” (fags again) announcement. Final point – something very different was proposed as a possible route at the ALBA conference yesterday – you can probably guess what it was. ALBA will hold a Nat Council meeting mid-Feb to finalise its policy on this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I address these points in the article. Given that both Alba and the SNP remain wedded to the Section 30 process, by definition both can only be talking about using the plebiscitary election to enable a referendum IF their British superiors will allow it.

      In the article, I quote the SNP draft resolution.

      “If a majority of those voting in the election vote SNP – or if the combined votes for the SNP and any other party with which it has reached a pro-independence agreement in advance of the election constitute a majority of votes cast – we will consider that A MANDATE TO ENTER NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE UK GOVERNMENT TO SECURE INDEPENDENCE.”

      Forgive the ‘shouting’ but I need to highlight that final part. Which, if I am not mistaken, is precisely the same as your “a mandate to begin independence negotiations”. Except for the fact that I have the SNP’s statement in writing while I have yet to see any unequivocal statement of anything from Alba. Which may be policy, of course. The less the party actually says, the more its members and supporters are free to make up whatever is expedient. If nothing is committed to a permanent record then anything can be claimed ─ or denied.

      I referred to the different timescales in the article. Although I am realistic enough to also note that it’s hardly a coin-toss as to whose timescale will prevail. As you seem to have missed that bit, I’ll repeat it here.

      “Alba Party has no power; no leverage and negligible influence. This is not intended to belittle the party. It is simply a statement of fact. The SNP, by contrast, has all the power and can pretty much do as it pleases. In such circumstances, logic bids us assume that the SNP preference will prevail at all times.”

      I don’t do the kind of fantasy politics in which the underdog wins in the end for no better reason than that they are the underdog and their victory makes good theatre.

      I have no idea as to what that “something very different” and, as I was unable to attend, no way of knowing. Experience tells me it’s unlikely I’ll see anything in print or pixels about it from Alba. I know it couldn’t have been #ScottishUDI. You can probably guess why. But I won’t leave you hanging. There is nobody better qualified than myself to explain the thinking behind #ScottishUDI. I was not invited to speak. Nor did anyone from Alba contact me to seek my input. This is NOT to say that I ‘own’ the idea and nobody else gets to talk about it. It is merely to say that if people do want to talk about #ScottishUDI they should first seek to be as well-informed as possible.

      I want to hear an explicit, unequivocal and OFFICIAL repudiation of the Section 30 process before I’m prepared to accept any party as the ‘party of independence’. You might pass that on to the Alba NEC. I suspect that would be just as pointless as passing it on to the SNP’s NEC.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Here is a youtube link to the Alba “Special Assembly ”

    starts around 15 minutes in.

    I don’t have the free time right now to sit through all 2 hours 30 minutes.

    Perhaps if someone here does watch it they could post a comment
    summarising noteable utterances/developments, with timestamp(s)?



    1. I’m never going to have 2hrs 30mins to watch something when I’ll be no further forward afterwards. It’s official policy and position statement I want to see. And I want them in writing so I can study them. Political parties should be open to scrutiny.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There is no ALBA official policy yet. The 2 events in Perth and Edinburgh are to feed in thoughts & ideas from ALBA members and others – the meetings were open to all – imagine ! ALBA policy will be discussed (maybe not finalised) at a meeting of Nat Council in mid Feb, open to ALBA delegates only. ALBA is not wedded to the section 30 process , but as long as it remains an option for the scottish government is not prepared to rule it out. One assumption you made Peter which is totally incorrect is that ALBA would see a de-facto referendum as a means to enable a successful S30 application – definitely not. A de-facto referendum for ALBA if successful is a vote to commence independence negotiations – I expect this to be confirmed at the Nat Council meet in Feb.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. But there is an “official policy”. Having committed to the Section 30 process ─ see the 2021 election manifesto ─ that remains Alba policy until it is changed. If the party doesn’t explicitly repudiate the Section 30 process, then the stench of it will linger. That’s why repudiation of Section 30 is right at the top of the #ManifestoForIndependence, remember?

          Liked by 1 person

  4. ‘It seems likely that the SNP will go for the Holyrood option’

    I think it is more than ‘likely’ otherwise Sturgeon doesn’t get out of the predicament she put herself in. So it looks like 2026 before anything happens. And that amounts to nothing in practical terms.

    Your route to freedom looks increasingly more attractive. But with Alba and the SNP/Greens ploughing the same furrow, who is going to drive the car to the destination?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Precisely the thought that I was considering how best to express. I thought maybe a situation vacant ad – Wanted: Party of Independence – Must be serious about restoring Scotland’s independence. No Section 30 time-wasters! Previous applicants (SNP, Alba) need not reapply, unless they really enjoy being told to fuck off.

      What do you think?

      Liked by 5 people

      1. What’s to be done? (Vladimir Lenin).

        Are the Bolsheviks allowed to apply for the job?

        A bit of oomph is needed from somewhere or Scotland stagnates – even more than it has over the past 8 years or so.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ha Ha, given the premature (I’m being kind – it is Sunday) nature of your assumptions about ALBA policy on independence maybe you should wait a week or two before posting the wanted ad.


  5. What Ding Dong wrote.

    It is all so terribly depressing as nothing will happen after 2026 either… Bow down to the Section 30. Vote SNP or there is no hope. Vote SNP and there is no hope either. Vote Alba and there is no hope. Give up hope and there is no hope. Its hopeless! I hope I am wrong but I have a feeling I ain’t.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I find it unfortunate that SNP didn’t keep with the simple majority of MPs elected to Westminster, to demand Independence, as used to be the policy.
    Everyone clearly understood that policy. Even Margaret Thatcher!
    But no one understands SNP policy today.
    As for ALBA, I have become very disappointed in their own approach, which as you say Peter, isn’t any better.
    Regards MSP Fraser of the tories, and The National story on the Pope, 2 things. First, Pope Bergolio was an absolute fool (and he often is) to mention the subject and while I am no fan of the present Pope, that The National spun the Pope’s words in certain way like it did, was quite wrong.
    The National does itself no favors when it deliberately misrepresents what was said, or intended to be understood. And with this Pope, he oftentimes speaks in such a manner, we have to be careful what he means.
    We would expect journalists worth their calling to do better.
    As for the insane tory MSP, we don’t expect any better from that creep!


      1. Aye Peter, the Pope and the maist o’ the elected political class, especially them holed up in Holyrood.


  7. I don’t know what ALBA will do in February, Peter, but we can be fairly sure that the SNP will slither out of their 2023 commitment to a pleb GE election. It just would not wash, anyway.

    The SC of the UK ruling went way, way beyond its remit and the parameters of the case to include Quebec and Catalunya in its deliberations. Effectively, the court was saying that Westminster is sovereign in all and every circumstance and there is no way, no route for Scotland to leave the Union. That should have been the point at which Sturgeon crashed the SG and called an election because that was real, measurable interference in natural justice, let alone any other kind. She did nothing but bleat, as per, and the whole thing was kicked back into the long grass until this March conference.

    If the SNP/Greens hang on to the S30 nonsense, then ALBA will, too, always open to a loose alliance with said SNP/Greens. Ruling it out would stymie any last lingering hope of sanity prevailing, or, at any rate, trigger a drop in SNP self-interest. However, a S30 Order is not ALBA policy as such, and it is beginning to adopt the all-purpose, multi-faceted approach to any and all routes open to us – which is sensible. I’m not on Twitter, but I dip in occasionally if I get a tip-off that something interesting is happening. Chris Law is getting a hammering from Twitter followers for trying to claim that, if Sunak goes for a S35 against the Scottish GRR, it would be a huge interference in Holyrood legislation. He is being laughed out of court and, to boot, many of those on Twitter who are Scots, are calling for Sunak to bring it on and crush this legislation precisely because the Scottish population is is totally opposed by a huge majority.

    It will be very interesting to see how the SNP and Greens defend their position on this legislation because that would require them to defend their position on the impact of the legislation on UK legislation which would prove to be profound – as they were warned. I have no doubt that, unlike Holyrood, Westminster will have the evidence to hand. So, do they throw all females and children in Scotland and the UK under the bus in an effort to show that Westminster is interfering? Dear me. I’ll give her a few weeks maximum if this S35 Order goes ahead, slightly longer if it doesn’t. Either way, she has met her nemesis. If ALBA has any sense, it will emphasise the huge gulf on this issue between itself and the SNP/Greens, and keep on hammering in the wedge. After Sturgeon has departed, only sustained pressure on the SNP will force it to come to terms with the other independence parties. If not, it cannot survive. It does not deserve to, but, as you keep pointing out, rightly, it is the only show on the road at the minute. That will not always be the case.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Your mention of sturgeon 2crashing” the Scottish Government in response to the UK Supreme Court ruling yet again put me in mind of Norway breaking the Union with Sweden. That is where we find the closest parallel to Scotland’s situation. Had referral of the draft Referendum Bill been done for this purpose, I would have hailed it is an excellent bit of politicking. But if that had ever been the intention then the Referendum Bill would surely not have been so weak. She’d have wanted it to be clear(er) that it was Scotland’s right of self-determination that was being denied. As things stand, it could be argued that our right of self-determination was not denied because what was proposed in the Bill was not an exercise of our right of self-determination.

      That’s all just war-gaming in our heads, of course. But it would be good if somebody in the SNP/Scottish Government could learn to do this.

      I strongly suspect you’re correct about Alba sticking with its present commitment to the Section 30 process. Perhaps, however, you are being over-generous in attributing this to a desire to keep open the possibility of some kind of “alliance” with the SNP/Greens. You’d have to be seriously delusional to imagine that remains a possibility after the way BOTH parties have behaved since Alba was launched. I’d put it down to political cowardice. Another thing the two parties have in common.

      The left in Scotland imagines the people want radical solutions. They don’t. As a populace, we like radical talk, but back away when it comes to radical action. We’ve bred timid politicians as a result.

      I’m a bit disappointed with Chris Law. I thought he would be more ready to stand up to Sturgeon’s clique. We cannot know what kind of pressure he is under. The same goes for other SNP MPs and MSPs.

      The GRR thing remains an inexplicable complication. If this is the ground on which Sturgeon has chosen to confront the British establishment, having eschewed the opportunity of the UKSC ruling, then she is too stupid to survive another day. In reality, I just don’t see her as having the capacity for that kind of forward-thinking. I get the impression of something closer to panicked flailing than Machiavellian plotting.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I don’t think I’m delusional about an alliance, Peter. I know, and ALBA knows, that this is all but impossible with the SNP, but it keeps the window open a crack, I suppose, and avoids outright hostilities. As you say, there was never any intention that the SC of the UK court would bring forward anything different from what it did. That it went so much further could have been an opportunity, but I think we all have to accept that it is a case of a serious lack of nous combined with a serious lack of strategy, together intended to procrastinate forever on independence. I doubt that the GRR was a plan for confronting the UKG. It would show a determination that the SNP/Greens simply do not have or intend to have, a cunning that has been noticeable by its absence from SNP circles. I am beginning to wonder if they have seriously believed that this bilge would seduce the Scottish public, followed by the English/Welsh public in a kind of naive ‘just be kind’ sort of utterly middle-class way? If so, they have seriously underestimated the bulk of the Scottish population, not to mention the rest of the UK’s population. The only people it appears to have seduced are those politicians who have not even worked out the implications for the whole of the UK. Sex and/or money, the two great trip wires for politicians and those in lofty positions. In this instance, I think it might be both, given that paraphilias are far more prevalent than once believed and that the American billionaires backing this stuff might appeal to the SNP’s latent neoliberalism. The Greens as mad as a box of frogs.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. I might reluctantly concede that a decision to make the 2026 Holyrood election the trigger to withdraw from the Union could be a pragmatic one if the intervening time was actually going to be used to make concrete and strategic preparations for, if necessary, declaring independence unilaterally; which seems to me an essential intention before attempting to negotiate with Westminster.
    Preparations such as: ensuring control over money raised in taxes before sending it to WM, restoring direct shipping to/from EU for essential imports and exports, beginning to enable Scottish control of the renewable energy generation and ensuring Scotland gets the benefits.. etc… all of which should, of course, have been done in the quieter years since 2014…
    But of course it won’t, I have seen no sign of any effective strategic thinking and planning in any level of UK and Scottish national/regional government in the last few decades.
    I’m still glad to have made the move to Scotland when I did, but I have no confidence in any of the present batch of political parties doing anything other than (metaphorically, mostly) filling their pockets before they fall enough out of favour to have to retire to the executive board/ after-dinner circuit.
    I am trying to reduce mental inflammation over this by focusing on making things in my small circle of influence as good as they can be.. perhaps in the end that’s all we can actually do while staying sane. Thank you (all) for an excellent article and comments. Best wishes.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The Scots may yet surprise you, and secure liberation. Or maybe they will simply continue to perish. These are the only two possible outcomes.

      Liked by 2 people

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