Scotland’s cause

Five days is a long time between blog posts. I usually reckon on three articles a week being the minimum requirement for a political commentary blogsite such as this. The more so since events seem to move so fast these days. Or is it my thinking that is slowing down? Probably a bit of both. The hiatus was not because I’ve nothing to say. On the contrary. It is more a case of having too much to say and finding it difficult to get the thoughts organised so as to present them in a coherent and readable way. It is also because so little of what I have to say is new. Mostly, it’s stuff I’ve been saying for years. I dislike repeating myself. And after a while trying to find new ways of saying the same things becomes a chore.

One problem with analytical thinking – which is what I strive for – is that there is almost always a ‘but’. Few things are clear-cut. Absolutes are rare. Analytical thinking involves being aware of the ‘buts’. Ideally, all of them. That is what we are trying to do when we think analytically.

Defining terms is another problem. Particularly when it comes to conveying the product of analytical thinking. Words can have different meanings, or senses, in different contexts. They may also be understood differently by different people. In an effort to ensure accuracy and avoid ambiguity, it is easy to be diverted into long-winded explanations of how particular terms are being used in a particular context. Then, having hopefully defined your terms as well as you might, you must maintain consistency. You must use the word in the same way at all times. Or be obliged to explain the intended meaning anew.

There is one more problem confronting the political blogger which is worthy of mention – the reader. It is an abiding fact of life for all political commentators that their writing will be woefully misunderstood and/or willfully misrepresented by some part of their audience. However careful you are about how you express yourself, it is likely that you’ll find yourself spending an inordinate amount of time correcting those who feel qualified to tell others what you’ve said or what you ‘actually’ mean despite having themselves totally failed to grasp the point. Or having understood perfectly well what was meant but, for whatever malign reason, hoping to persuade others that you’ve said something else entirely. They can get away with this because very few people will check. Few will take the time and trouble to go to the source – if a source is identiied – to find out for themselves. The result is guilt by accusation. Allegations readily become established facts in the minds of the intellectually incurious or indolent.

This guilt by allegation is perhaps best exemplified by the way anyone who criticises the self-ID aspect of the Scottish Government’s proposed reforms of gender recognition law being accused of ‘transphobia’. It may well be that you have not said anything negative about transgender people at any time or in any circumstances. There is no evidence to support the allegation. But evidence is rarely asked for and never provided. If I was guilty of even a fraction of what I have been accused of at one time or another, I’d surely be the worst human being who has ever lived. The mundane reality, of course, is that I am just ordinary. Not saintly. Not beastly. Just ordinary.

The contention that there is always a ‘but’ hardly needs illustration. Allowing for no exceptions whatever is the mark of a bigot. Most of us aren’t bigoted. At least, not to the extent of excluding ‘but’ from our vocabulary and our thought processes. More commonly, people just don’t think things through. They arrive at a conclusion which pleases them and supposing the job to have been done, think no further. If they did, they’d eventually arrive at a ‘but’. They just need prompting to go that far. It can be very difficult to persuade them to think it through to the ‘buts’. Occasionally, it proves quite impossible.

For example, it is now commonplace to find people stating that the SNP has given up on independence and should be abandoned. The obvious ‘but’ here is the one that reminds us of the fact that the SNP is the party of government. Which then prompts the ‘but’ about this not necessarily always being the case. In turn, this prompts the ‘but’ about the urgency of Scotland’s predicament. The circle is then closed by looping back to the assertion that the SNP won’t do anything about restoring indepence. If instead of looping back, the thinking followed the path of logic, it ultimately comes to the conclusion that however useless the SNP may be these days, we cannot afford to just abandon it. There may be a lot of ‘buts’ along the way. But that is where you are bound to end up if you are being realistic. But the people who have already settled on the undeniable fact that the SNP is no longer serving Scotland’s cause tend to be reluctant to admit that this thought is not the whole story. There’s almost always a ‘but’. Analytical thinking is littered with them.

But there are exceptions to the ubiquity of ‘but’. These are rare. Even the statement that deliberately killing another person is wrong is subject to the ‘but’ of self-defence. (Having said which, it is necessary to stipulate that there are, of course, crimes for which there can be no ‘but’. Rape being perhaps the prime example.) But there is one instance which comes to mind where there cannot possibly be a ‘but’ because to append a ‘but’ doesn’t merely qualify the intitial statement, it totally negates it. I refer to the statement that the people (of Scotland) are sovereign. Sovereignty is absolute. Being sovereign could quite accurately and adequately be defined as being imbued with the status for which there are no ‘buts’. The sentence that begins, “The people of Scotland are sovereign, but….”, makes no sense because as soon as the ‘but’ is added sovereignty is denied.

It may quite sensibly and justifiably be said that the people of Scotland are sovereign but we are prevented from enjoying the full and proper exercise of our sovereignty by the Union. Note, however, that the ‘but’ here qualifies the exercise of sovereignty and not the actual concept of sovereignty. The concept of sovereignty does not allow any qualification.

Here are more examples of instances where the ‘but’ is indispensible. I attended the All Under One Banner (AUOB) event in Glasgow last Saturday (6 May). But I did not complete the march and didn’t get to the rally. Problems with my feet and legs meant I was forced to head home early. I thought the event was very good. But I have serious doubts about its effectiveness. Attendance was extremely good by current standards. But not big enough to have any political impact. The atmosphere was very reminiscent of the Yes movement at its peak. But that is not someting to celebrate if it says we have failed to make any progress or adapt to altered circumstances.

I quit the march for health reasons. But it may not have been entirely coincidental that my decision to give up and go home was made shortly after hearing the first ‘Tories out!’ chant. I confess that my heart sank all the way to my aching legs when I heard this. The sentiment may be laudable. But it is only tangentially, at best, related to the constitutional issue. Ridding ourselves of Tory government is entirely incidental to restoring our independence. The reasons for ending the Union are infinitely more fundamental than party politics. Those who understand those reasons would continue the fight to restore Scotland’s independence even if it didn’t mean an end to Tory rule. They would continue because what they are fighting for is an end to British rule!

As I said, I didn’t make it to the rally on Glasgow Green and so didn’t hear any of the speakers. I understand from various reports that the word ‘sovereignty’ was much mentioned. But I wonder how many of those speakers think of popular sovereinty in the absolute terms I have described. How many of them have explicitly repudiated the Section 30 process as an unjustifiable constraint on the exercise by the people of Scotland of our right of self-determination? If they have not done this then we must assume they are, at the very least, open to the idea of a Section 30 referendum. Which necessarily implies that they are prepared to say, in effect, “The people of Scotland are sovereign but we may only exercise that sovereignty with the gracious consent and willing cooperation of the British state.”. Which is exactly the same as saying, “The people of Scotland are sovereign, but the people of Scotland are not sovereign.”. Sovereignty is, by definition absolute, unconditional and indivisible. Because being sovereign means being the ultimate arbiter of legitimate political authority.

There cannot be two ultimate authorities. If you concede that the British state has an effective veto over the exercise of our sovereign right of self-determination then you are saying that the British state is the ultimate arbiter of legitimate political authority. You are saying that the people of Scotland are subordinate to the British ruling elite. You are accepting the very thing the independence movement is supposed to be fighting against. I just wonder how many of those talking about sovereignty have thought it through to this extent.

Another word that I’m told was often heard from the stage at the #AUOBGlasgow rally is ‘unity’. Everybody talks about ‘unity’. But when it comes to the crunch, how many are prepared to make the necessary compromises? Everybody wants unity, it seems. But strictly on their terms. For many (most?) of the leading figures in the independence movement, unity appears to imply others joining with them on their conditions. This from my Twitter timeline says it well.

As part of this process of gathering my thoughts, I wonder if ‘unity’ is the appropriate word. Language matters. It shapes the way we think. Observing the efforts to create (or restore?) unity in the Yes movement I am put in mind of a child playing with magnets. There’s probably not a single person reading this who hasn’t tried to push together the like poles of two magnets. The invisible but powerful force keeping them apart is endlessly fascinating. What I see is people trying to create unity by pushing together things that can no more be conjoined then the like poles of two magnets – multiplied many times. What I see is a definitively futile exercise.

Another way of thinking about it is to imagine a box containing a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle made up of one piece from each of 1,000 different jigsaw puzzles. Obviously, that jigsaw puzzle is never going to be completed. But all the pieces can coexist in the same box and even go under the common name of a jigsaw puzzle.

Pushing together all the factions within the Yes movement is impossible because you’ll always end up with instances of two like poles confronting. But no matter how disparate the jigsaw puzzle pieces, they can all be brought together in the same box. First we must create the box. Then we must generate a magnetism which will draw all those magnets into the box where, through the transformative power of the mixed metaphor, they become jigsaw puzzle pieces.

OK! The metaphors are a mess. But the analogy works, if you’re prepared to work with it. Let’s drop the term ‘unity’ with it’s implications of some kind of homogenised mass conforming to the properties of the dominant ingredient. Let us instead talk of solidarity and it’s implications of many parts coming together to form a unified whole while each maintains its own integrity. A coming together not for the sake of empowering a particular agenda, but a combining of forces for a common purpose. That purpose is the magnetism in my mess of metaphors. It’s the easy bit. It can only be one thing; the one purpose whis is common to every part of the Yes movement regardless of any other agenda. Our common purpose is to end the Union and thereby restore Scotland’s independence. Just that! Nothing more! Nothing else! No ‘buts’! End the Union!

That’s the purpose sorted. We already have it – difficult as that may be to believe when looking at the behaviour of certain of the individuals, groups and organisations which have attached themselves to Scotland’s cause. What we lack is the box. You do remember the jigsaw puzzle box, I hope! What we have failed to do is create a place to which the magnetism of the common purpose might draw all the diverse factions within the independence movement. None of the existing boxes will do because they are boxes created for purposes other than the common one. Purposes that cannot be shared by all the factions. Purposes which relate not at all or only very tentatively to the common purpose of ending the Union. Most commonly, perhaps, the purpose of winning elections and so gaining the rewards that this entails.

We need a campaign to end the Union. A professionally formulated and managed campaign that everyone in the independence movement can work with regardless of their own political agenda. This is hardly a radical idea. But the present approach assumes that we must first achieve ‘unity’ in the Yes movement before creating the campaigning organisation to which I refer. At present, when political actors speak of ‘unity’ we can never be certain what they actually want to do with this ‘unity’. Are they asking us to unite behind them? Are they asking us to unite behind their agenda? How many of these political actors are taking advantage of the ambiguousness of the term ‘independence’ to use it as a euphemism for their own agenda? How many of them are reluctant to speak in terms of ending the Union because that is too specific to be a cover for their own agenda?

What if they were forced to speak in terms of ending the Union by the existence of an active and well-supported campaign for that specific purpose – the common purpose at the heart of Scotland’s cause? What if Saturday’s march had been part of this campaign – with everybody on the march there for the same purpose?

It is not possible to build an effective single-issue political campaign around a contested concept. You cannot effectively campaign for or against something that is undefined. The concept of independence is undefined. It means different thing to different people. It does not refer to something specific and so is susceptible to being hijacked for a variety of purposes. Which means that the campaign is not focused. It is not coherent. It is not consistent. It is not cohesive – it does not tend to bring together efforts to achieve a clearly defined objective. A campaign against the Union can achieve the concentration, consistency, coherence and cohesiveness that a campaign for independence cannot.

A campaign for independence makes independence the contentious issue. It makes independence the thing that must be ‘proved’. But independence is normal. It is the Union that is anomalous. It is the Union that is abnormal. It is the Union that is the aberration. It is the Union which should be in dispute.

A campaign for independence will always be reactive – responding to attacks on the idea of independence propagated by those whose purpose is to preserve the Union regardless of the cost to Scotland.

A campaign against the Union can be proactive – attacking the Union by propagating the truth of what it costs Scotland.

The frustration felt by myself and others is due to the fact that we now know exactly what has to be done in order to restore Scotland’s independence. But none of our politicians or parties or nominally pro-independence groups and organisations is proposing to do what needs to be done. They all shy away from it, because it requires that they be bold and assertive and even aggressive in pursuing Scotland’s cause. They all avoid facing up to the reality of our situation. Or they are prioritising their agenda and partisan interests over Scotland’s cause.

Saturday’s march and rally was an exercise in nostalgia, harking back to and seeking to revivify a campaign from the past. That campaign belongs in the past. We have to move on. We must have a campaign that is relevant to the situation that exists now. Launch that campaign and it will gather the support of the entire Yes movement and beyond. Perhaps we might call that campaign Scotland’s Cause.

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13 thoughts on “Scotland’s cause

  1. As you note, Peter, we do appear to have a developing problem with many pro Independence folk, regards SNP.
    While we all admire the brilliance of Stuart Campbell and Wings Over Scotland, it is rather less so, when reading much of the comments by others.
    Those who want to see SNP loose this amount of MPs and that amount of MSPs, etc, seem to miss the points made about Scotland being the biggest loose in that situation.
    However, it is SNP leadership, and a manipulated membership, that has brought on this backlash against it.
    Scotland cannot afford to have less SNP MPs just now.
    But what I would hope for, is that SNP branches start demanding more from their MPs, and if they are too willing to stay with London rule, they deselect them, and get others who will go all out for Independence.

    There are those who say they will vote ALBA next time. My concerns with ALBA candidates is splitting the SNP vote, for at present, I don’t think ALBA has the momentum needed to win at the next UK General Election, thus we have to try someway, to force SNP into action.
    ALBA, by the way, also needs to change tact in trying to get Independence.
    However, if this time round SNP keep up with the exact same approach as the past 8 years, and then loose MPs as a result, the Independence movement will turn against them enough to replace them totally.
    It’s just that we don’t have that much time left to wait that long.

    But, (there’s that word again) when we have senior figures in SNP going on about how they will force Labour to do this or that, and even to the extent they hope to undo Brexit, and so on, then we wonder what World they live in, for they are doing the exact same thing that got us nowhere over the past few years, and they just help to keep the tories in power in London.
    They are oblivious to all of this, and unfortunately, don’t appear to care how bad it looks, and how much we are angered by it.
    Unless they see some sense soon, SNP won’t have to worry about how many MPs /MSPs they get in future.
    This looks like it really will be SNP’s last chance, ever!!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Whilst I agree with most of what you say, we need to get the solidarity back into the YES movement. The SNP, currently, are the means to legislation and political agitation. It appears, even since the leadership election, that Indy is not on their priority list! They are even contradicting themselves and we’ve heard nothing from Hepburn, supposedly Indy Minister. You’d think that they would have had an Indy plan formulated during the leadership campaign, to be launched on day one by the First Activist. However, the First Activist failed at the first hurdle missing the March on Saturday for another event.
    The unity will be around election times, wether it’s party or country first. We need as many Indy supporting MP/MSP’s as possible, irrespective of party.
    Independence will never be won at Westminster!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. During the second World War “the Allies” had a common goal, namely to defeat the common enemies of Nazi Germany (and Imperial Japan).

    Capitalist USA, Communist USSR and the British Empire came together not through wanting to create a brave new World but because they just wanted to make sure that the vile Nazi regime would not be in charge.

    So Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill submerged, or perhaps simply ignored, their (Grand Canyon wide in most respects) differences with the result that Hitler and his henchmen were overcome.

    Scotland’s common enemy is the British Union.

    So maybe those that purport to support Scotland’s Cause should drop the chants of “Tories Out” and “Make Poverty History!” and replace them with “British Out!” and “Make The Union History!”


  4. ‘The people are sovereign’ is a very British/British Dominion monarchal idea complete with unicorns swathed in mist.

    It implies that ‘the people’ have absolute power because they were selected by God, or something (or at least those over the age of 16 with citizent status as defined by the government). Like the people of France have absolute power to give the nuclear launch codes to Emmanuel Macron or Marie LePen or somebody because everone in France has an expensive party hat and an orb.

    I think the term mostly serves to subconciously support the British status-quo.

    If you’re bothered about the sovereign, ‘I want a republic’ is a lot more to the point.


      1. When you use the slogan ‘the people are sovereign’, what you really mean is that the people are empowered by the authorities to bless the delegation of authority (aka sovereignty) to the authorities. In this case that means the results are government/parliament, and the means is democracy.

        The people (undefined) are not, and never will be sovereign as they will always be unable to excercise general authority because the result would be ‘anarchy’ (but the views of two-year-olds would be interesting). You can look up the meaning of the word ‘sovereign’ in political and general terms if you wish, but I very much doubt that you are an anarchist. As such, by using the term you are arguing for the political system status quo. I have no idea what your views are on the monarchy, but in this context the monarch is a rubber-stamp operation.

        A lot of people use this slogan without ever bothering to wonder about what they are talking about, using it solely because they think it sounds good.


  5. Now the National seems to be promoting a crowdfunder for “Republic” – a UK organisation with the aim of making “Britain” a Republic. I quote:

    We want to see the monarchy abolished and the King replaced with an elected, democratic head of state.

    In place of the King we want someone chosen by the people, not running the government but representing the nation independently of our politicians.

    Find out more about Britain's Head of State [link]
    What will change in a republic? [link]</i>"

    That’s the UK, not Scotland, except as part of the UK.

    We’re being played for suckers, not for the first time.


    1. WordPress screwed closing tag there, last 3 lines should be plain text.

      Anyways, the message is plain to see – republicans in Scotland are being taken for a ride, and you can see this by the number of new aggressive republican posters in forums who have not the slightest interest in Independence for Scotland. So it’s just one more message to distract from Independence – End the Union – whichever genuine message you prefer. As Peter and duncanio have pointed out.

      Sich a Parcel of Fools in a Nation.

      And by “Nation” I mean Scotland not Britain.


      1. I would agree with your point of pro republic folks in Scotland being taken as fools here.
        England will never abolish its beloved Monarchy. The Establishment will never let it happen to begin with, and all of England’s nationalistic identity is totally bound up in its Monarchy. We saw that very clearly this past weekend.
        True, there will always be those who want to see an end to Monarchy in that country, but it looks like that group will be forever in the minority.

        However, I find one of the main reasons of the anti monarchy folk to be the wrong reason.
        Quite a few complain bitterly about “Privilege” and inherited wealth, and so on.
        That in my view, should not be the main reason for not having a King or Queen as Head of State, For there will always be those who are born into a privileged family, and those born into wealth.
        There are lots of such examples everywhere.
        In USA, only the very richest, will ever make it to The White House.
        The Labour politician Tony Benn, was against the Monarchy in England, not because of wealth, etc, but because of the actual power the Monarchy still has.
        The fact the previous Queen didn’t make much use of it, and allowed each Government to do as it pleased, doesn’t make any difference.
        Scotland had a whiff of that Royal power, and/or influence.
        Australia saw the full use of that Royal power in the early 1970s when the Governor General dismissed the Labour Government on his own accord, but by using the power he had under the Crown, and the fact that it happened at all as late as 1975 was astonishing, but as it suited the conservative opposition of the day, they were more than happy to go along with it.
        But I doubt Australia would tolerate the same thing today.
        Yet it is one notable example of Royal power.

        As far as Scotland is concerned, as I’ve said previously, its not so much Monarchy, as having our Head of State being the same one as England’s and being based in London.
        Scotland must have its own Head of State, here in Edinburgh, not London.
        And that hardly looks like it will ever be another Monarch.
        There are still Jacobites around though, who would wish to see the Stuarts restored for Scotland, or someone from that line, but that sounds too much like wishful thinking these days.
        But the same point there, is we have our own Head of State.

        So, anyone here trying to end the “UK ” Monarchy have got it wrong. They are wasting their time, and are looking at things from a UK wide view, not a Scottish one.
        And we saw where trying to save England from itself leads us, when we witnessed Nicola Sturgeon throw all her effort into trying to stop Brexit for UK. It became the entire focus of SNP, and a total distraction from getting Independence.
        It looks like some folks are out to repeat that same mistake!

        Liked by 1 person

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