Let me make it clear from the outset that I support Ash Regan’s bid to become leader of the Scottish National Party and thence First Minister of Scotland. I have to clarify this because some of what I am about to say may be taken by some as an attempt to undermine her campaign. That is not the intention at all. But much as I hope Ash Regan wins this leadership contest, my main concern remains that there should be a viable plan to restore Scotland’s independence. Given that this is my overarching priority, it would be strange if I didn’t mention what I see as possible weaknesses in Ash Regan’s proposals.
I support Ash Regan because she is the only one of the three candidates actually talking about a process that might lead to independence. The others talk only of “increasing support”, with no fresh thinking on how this might be achieved. Ash Regan appears to offer a break with the stale dogma of the Sturgeon doctrine which has left Scotland’s cause languishing and moribund for more than eight years. That Ash promises this break is reason enough to want her elected – especially as she is also proposing some much-needed reforms to the party’s internal structures, processes and procedures. But if the new ideas she brings to Scotland’s cause are only appealing because they are new, then the cause itself does not benefit. So, I make no apologies for acting as Devil’s Advocate and picking at any loose threads I find.
Stated as simply as may be possible, Ash Regan’s plan is to use an election as a vote on independence. Some will insist that there is nothing new in this and refer to the MacNeil/McEleny ‘Plan B’ and/or Nicola Sturgeon’s de facto referendum ‘plan’. But what Ash Regan is talking about is different from these. Where both these earlier ‘plans’ were no more than precursors to the Section 30 process, Ash wants to treat all Scottish and UK elections as formal exercises of our right of self-determination. Or at least, this is as I understand it. Although she also seems to be talking about an extraordinary Scottish Parliament being used for this purpose. This lack of clarity is a weakness ─ albeit a minor one, which might alternatively be regarded as ‘flexibility’.
That, basically, is it! The ‘four pillars’ Ash presents are not so much to explain her plan as justify it. Individually and collectively, the pillars try to pre-empt criticism of her plan on the basis that the British state is likely to just say no. It is, after all, what the British state has been saying for decades, with the single exception of David Cameron’s ‘generosity’ in allowing a referendum in 2014. Considering the consistency of this refusal to facilitate the exercise of our right of self-determination ─ while never explicitly denying that Scotland has this right ─ would tend to make our default assumption be that Ash Regan’s plan would encounter the same attitude. The ‘four pillars’ are Ash’s attempt to persuade us that our default assumption should, on the contrary, be that the British state would see elections as valid independence votes in the same way that Ash does. Which brings me to the first of my major concerns.
I am less worried about how the British state views the proposal to use elections as a constitutional plebiscite than how this will be regarded by the people of Scotland. I know there is polling which indicates majority public agreement that using elections in this way is perfectly valid. But a lot of effort over a great many years has gone into convincing people that what they want, need and are entitled to is a referendum. Either all that effort has been for nothing, or the idea of a referendum continues to have a powerful appeal. Polling suggests that appeal can be easily overcome and public affections transferred to Ash Regan’s plan. But that is the situation before the power of the British propaganda machine is turned on that plan. There has to be a real possibility that those years of ‘selling’ the idea of referendum could be turned against the independence campaign as the British seek to portray the new plan as ‘cheating’. I am not the only one tugging at loose threads here. Not all of those who are will be doing so in a spirit of constructive criticism.
How effective are those ‘four pillars’ in supporting the contention that the British state will recognise Ash Regan’s plan as a valid method of restoring Scotland’s independence? Ash herself seems supremely confident.
Bluntly, there is no possibility of the UK government not agreeing, as demonstrated in the 65 examples of countries that have left the UK or British Empire.
There is a 100% success rate in those countries getting the UK government to the negotiating table after an initial refusal. It is not credible to suggest anything else, the UK government will even concede this fact.Take a stand, and deliver
I regret to say that I find this all rather naïve. Scotland is different. Direct comparison with any of those 65 other countries cannot be realistic. Of all those countries, only Scotland is geographically contiguous with England. That fact alone is significant. It becomes massively more significant when one considers the wealth of Scotland’s resources that are relatively easily accessible due to this geographical contiguity. But the Union isn’t ‘precious’ to the British only on account of the resources that it puts under their control. Arguably much more important is the fact that possession of Scotland is vital to the British state’s conceit of itself as a powerful island nation. As I have argued elsewhere, the Union is ‘precious’ to the British because possession of Scotland is an existential issue. For all the reasons set out in that article, we can expect that the British will fight even harder to hold onto Scotland than they did for any of those other countries. We can expect that they will fight dirty. British exceptionalism allows them to do so without whatever it is that ruling elites have instead of feelings of guilt.
Any process intended to restore Scotland’s independence can only be credible to the extent that it does not rely on the honest and honourable cooperation of the British state.
Ash Regan obviously doesn’t agree. The ‘four pillars’ are an attempt to justify her confidence that the British will go along with her plan. ‘Pillar 1’ refers to the Smith Commission and the following passage from its report.
It is agreed that nothing in this report prevents Scotland becoming an independent country in the future should the people of Scotland so choose.Report of the Smith Commission for further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament
Being Devil’s Advocate requires that one be able to argue your opponents’ case as well as your own. Putting myself in the shoes of a British Nationalist responding to this point, I say that while nothing in the Smith Commission report prevents Scotland becoming an independent country in the future should the people of Scotland so choose, this doesn’t mean that there is nothing at all preventing Scotland becoming an independent country. As a British propagandist tasked with defending the Union, I would have a long list of ‘reasons’ why Scotland can’t or shouldn’t be an independent country, regardless of what the Smith Commission report says. Ash sees that statement as conclusive. I can guarantee that the British won’t see it in the same light at all.
‘Pillar 2’ deals with international recognition ─ not of Scotland’s independence, but of UK and Scottish elections as valid democratic exercises. The argument goes that since the international community accepts the outcome of UK and Scottish elections in terms of electing parliaments and governments, it will surely also accept elections as legitimate exercises of Scotland’s right of self-determination. That would depend very much on the content of the manifestos offered by the pro-independence parties. As Ash refers only to “a collection of manifesto pledges to become independent” without being more specific, it is not possible to judge how likely it would be that these “manifesto pledges” would be sufficient to transform an election into a formal exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination.
Let’s suppose the manifestos are crafted so as to leave no room for doubt that the election is in fact a referendum on independence. The problem is that the UK Supreme Court (UKSC) has ruled that there cannot be a referendum on Scottish independence absent the consent of the British state. Does this include an election masquerading as a referendum ─ and doing so convincingly? We can be sure the British are not going to agree that the election is a referendum. Isn’t this effectively no different from them denying permission for a referendum? Does the UKSC ruling apply? Is there anything to prevent the British state saying that the election can be valid as an election but not as a constitutional plebiscite because the constitution is reserved and the British state says no? Would the UKSC agree? If it came to that, would the International Court of Justice accept this argument? Remember that we are talking here not about what is ‘just’ or even ‘fair’, but what is within the law.
I’ll remind readers once again that I am purposefully picking holes in Ash Regan’s case here. The purpose being not to destroy that case, but to ensure that it is indestructible.
The hole asking to be picked in ‘Pillar 3’ is much as with ‘Pillar 2’. Ash Regan says,
We do not need to ask Westminster’s permission to hold an election on a date and time that suits us. There is no legal method to stop the Scottish Parliament from deciding when it wants an election, in the same manner the UK government can decide when it wants one.
This may be so. But do we need Westminster’s permission if the election is a de facto referendum? I am not arguing that this is the case. I merely pointing out that this is an argument likely to be deployed by the British state. Ash needs to have a response prepared.
‘Pillar 4’ is a serious test of credulity. The argument here is that, regardless of what the politicians may say, we can rely on the soundness of British democracy to ensure that Scotland is fairly treated. Can I have been wrong in thinking for all those years that the whole point of seeking the restoration of independence is the fact that British democracy does absolutely nothing to ensure fair treatment for Scotland? Am I mistaken in thinking that all the things that have been done to Scotland over the centuries up to and including prohibiting the exercise of our inalienable right of self-determination have all been perfectly in keeping with the British state’s idea of democracy? Ash argues that deep down the British state is fundamentally bound by democratic principles. All I can say is that those bindings must be very loose.
In this respect, Ash Regan is failing to distance herself from the Sturgeon doctrine, which holds that if we just keep demonstrating more and more support for independence, the British state must ultimately relent and allow something which is emphatically contrary to its own interests for no reason other than that democracy demands it. Aye, right!
Ash Regan talks of taking control of the process of restoring independence. To me, that means cutting the British out of that process altogether. Because the British are never going to do anything other than seek to use whatever influence they are allowed to sabotage the process. It cannot be otherwise. We cannot sensibly assume that the British state will act so much against its own interests simply to protect democratic credentials for which it has shown little regard to date.
There is a school of ‘thought’ that criticism of a plan, however well-intended, cannot be legitimate unless accompanied by a persuasive alternative. Think about that for a moment. What this school of ‘thought’ is saying is that we shouldn’t identify problems unless we have solutions. I trust the idiocy of this is obvious. How can we possibly arrive at solutions unless the problems have first been identified? I have sought to identify some problems with Ash Regan’s plan. That is an entirely legitimate exercise in its own right. It allows others to consider those potential problems and devise possible solutions. Or to argue that they are not actually problems at all. Which is not to say that it is sufficient simply to dismiss the issues raised.
Of course, I have considered the matter of how we get past these problems. That’s what the #ManifestoForIndependence and #ScottishUDI were all about. It was an exploration of ways of truly taking control of the process. Those tempted to respond to this article with “Aye! But what would you do?” should read this article before doing so. As ever, I stand ready to answer sensible questions and entertain reasoned suggestion in the comments.
To conclude, let me reiterate my support for Ash Regan. She is undoubtedly the ‘independence candidate’. This remains true even if her proposals are not yet fully-formed. She has already broken through a previously impregnable barrier simply by daring to talk of alternatives to the failed Sturgeon doctrine. Whether or not she succeeds in her attempt to become party leader, Ash has provoked a discussion that will not now be easily suppressed. I applaud her for that.
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10 thoughts on “Shoogly pillars”
I would have to agree with more or less all of that, Peter, but it is to be hope that, if elected as leader, she will quickly learn that she is being naive about the British State which exists separately from the UK or even England. Scotland does, indeed, represent its sense of itself as a world figure, and any leverage it might have with America – which is minimal at best, but which confers some international status if only because we tend to follow American foreign policy slavishly now – would be diminished, if not extinguished with Scottish independence. I think she is learning on the hoof, and that speaks well for her as a future leader. Humza is as close to Sturgeon as it is possible to get without changing sex, which is the very last thing we need, and Kate, though she is likeable and decent, is too soft to stand up to the ‘woke’ elements in the party or to the Greens, who will also wish to cling on to power. Ash Regan will need to divest the party of both – and quickly and ruthlessly – or she will find herself wading through political treacle with these relentless cultural Marxists and Queer Theory proponents who will do everything they can to delay and frustrate independence in favour of their own agenda. Anyone who has a vote but who does not see that only Ash Regan can pull the party back from the brink and have any hope of standing up to the British State, because she is willing to co-operate with those who are bringing plans to the fore, who actually know what they are talking about, is being wilfully blind.
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“the British State which exists separately from the UK or even England”
A crucial point not generally understood.
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These are good questions for which, as you imply, there are no easy answers …
… other than to assert the sovereignty of the people of Scotland in determining for themselves the form of government that they so wish.
The biggest step that Ash Regan, in my view, has to take is to state unequivocally that Independence will be declared when the criterion that any ‘manifesto’ describes has been met.
If – when – the British say ‘No’ then simply channel Canon Kenyan Wright and tell them the people say ‘Yes’. If they refuse to recognise then tell them ‘No trade it is then. We’ll be for keeping the oil, gas, fresh water, whisky et al. You can have the debt’.
This might not be the #ManifestoForIndependence that you have described but it is a stake in the ground.
One that must surely get the support of those wishing for Independence and inspire those waverers by having the courage of your convictions.
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Peter, perhaps the time is right for you to re-publish your Manifesto for Independence and ensure it is forwarded to Ash Regan and her supporters?
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It doesn’t seem to matter how often I do that. Just as well I’m not sensitive about being ignored.
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Interesting article Peter, however IS there a defence for the union? anyone who has looked at the case will surely see that there’s no defence.
Ash Regan admits that she looked into independence before voting in 2014, her then (English husband) was confident that there was no case for Scottish independence and that his wife would vote no, but when Regan looked into the details she soon realised that Scotland could not afford to stay in this union.
The defence for the union is built upon what’s best for England and their obedient House Jocks nothing else, via a web of lies and deceit.
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Reblogged this on Ramblings of a now 60+ Female.
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The first step is getting Ash Regan elected. As far as I can see, she is the only candidate committed to reconvening soon some form of the ‘postponed’ Special Conference scheduled for 19th March, which would have been a deliberative exercise for the membership. Members have been preparing for that conference with a broad range of ‘process’ options which urgently need internal scrutiny and approval/rejection as appropriate. Lets get Ash elected.
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” Any process intended to restore Scotland’s independence can only be credible to the extent that it does not rely on the honest and honourable cooperation of the British state.”
Indeed , Peter . I was a little surprised at Ms Regan’s assertion that the Brit State ” can’t refuse ….” . Yes , they can , more importantly , they will . Like you though , I come to build-up , not tear-down Ash’s candidacy .
Elsewhere * ……… It will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention these last 7/8 years that the SNP ( surely no one believes the series of statements by the likes of McDonald , Smith n now some hitherto faceless non-entity being fast-tracked to prime-troughing position Queerist ie McPherson are random off-the-cuff remarks and not the brazen * outing * of the Sturrell policy of death to Independence by neglect , suffocation of dissent and the importation of lunatic * gender * ideology ? ) are openly declaring Independence is now * officially * off the agenda – though doubtless will still be pulled out of the hat a few weeks before every election . However , that trick has become totally boring and predictable and less n less people will be taken-in by it in future elections .
Now there can be absolutely no doubt ….Ash Regan represents not just the best hope for the salvation of the SNP and our Aspiration ; she represents the last hope. AOTA eg anyone other than Ash and it is definitively over
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Looks like HY has appropriated Ash’s pillars, now outed himself as a metaphor thief?
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