I am not a pigeon

I am not sure which of my personalities is writing this. I don’t know if it’s the virulently anti-SNP blogger who undermines the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence with incessant vicious attacks on Nicola Sturgeon – as described by Pete Wishart and similarly shallow-minded individuals – or the mindless party loyalist who considers independence to be ‘all about the SNP’ and is a devoted member of the Nicola Sturgeon personality cult as portrayed by various online commentators giving vent to absolute conclusions about who I am on the basis of one uncomprehended Tweet or the title of one unread article or some uninformed third-party account of my opinions and attitudes.

I am, if you believe those total strangers who purport to know my mind better than I do, both unquestioningly loyal to the SNP and implacably opposed to the SNP. I am, by various accounts, simultaneously obsessive in my veneration of Nicola Sturgeon and in my hatred of her. I am at one and the same time someone who is totally committed to the restoration of Scotland’s independence and someone who is determined to obstruct and impede progress towards this worthy goal.

And all of these things are true… partly… sort of. Like most people, I don’t fit easily (or willingly) into any hole designed for a pigeon. I am not a pigeon.

Who I am depends on what you ask me. Ask me how I feel about the SNP and I will reach for words such as disappointed, frustrated, angry, impatient, perplexed, exasperated and more in the same vein. For some, this can mean nothing other than that I am fervently opposed to the SNP. Ask me what I think of the SNP and I will state with the confidence of protracted and thorough consideration that the party is the only source of the effective political power without which no strategy fro restoring Scotland’s independence can possibly succeed and therefore absolutely essential to that process. For some, this can mean only that I am a mindless party loyalist who discounts all other parts of the Yes movement.

Not being a pigeon I can’t comment on a pigeon’s capacity for pragmatism. All I can say is that my own is considerable. I can recognise that a coat is threadbare, torn and dirty while being pragmatic enough to accept that wearing it is better than succumbing to hypothermia. I am certainly pragmatic enough to use that coat in preference to freezing to death if it is merely a little ill-fitting or unfashionable.

Ask me how I feel about Nicola Sturgeon and I will freely admit to being slightly in awe of her. I truly admire her abilities as a politician and insofar as I can discern these from a distance, her qualities as a person. I respect and trust her. Just not totally and implicitly. Ask me what I think of Nicola Sturgeon and I will say that for all her undeniable abilities and qualities she is as prone to misjudgement and folly as any other human being. Or maybe just a wee bit less prone. Perhaps that is part of what makes her a bit special.

Not being a pigeon confined to a hole, I can quite comfortably feel great admiration for Nicola Sturgeon and recognise when she has made a mistake. I don’t hate her for her mistakes. If human error was cause for hatred then there would be more hatred in the world than any one planet might contain. I regret her misjudgements and decline to draw a veil over them other than in circumstances where those misjudgements are trivial enough that they fail to tip the scales when weighed against Scotland’s cause and Scotland’s interests. Where I judge the misjudgements to be serious, I will question and criticise and challenge. Because I am not a pigeon.

I am not extraordinary in any way other than that I may think more deeply and analytically than most people. This is not a boast. It is perfectly possible for these traits to be faults. It is possible to think so deeply about things that one never reaches any kind of conclusion. It is possible to be analytical to the point that it becomes nit-picking. But it is essential to think beyond the shallows of superficial presentation and analyse beyond the facile explanations. It may, for reasons of practicality, be necessary settle upon a conclusion and call a halt to the analysing. But this should always be done reluctantly. It should never be done lightly. It should never leave important questions unasked. It should never be a compromise that you are uncomfortable with.

You should not go easily into a pigeon-hole of your own making. You are not a pigeon.



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The viability test

If Plan A can work, then why are its proponents completely unable to explain how it will work? If the Section 30 process is a viable route to independence then it should be possible to describe each step in that process. Those steps should individually be credible and in aggregate lead to a free and fair referendum. Why is it that none of those who insist that the Section 30 process must adhered to are able or willing to lay out the process that they have in mind when they refer to that process? Why is it that nobody who claims that Plan A will work is prepared to even respond meaningful to any enquiry about the details?

All we know about Plan A – the Section 30 process – from direct observation is that it has a near perfect record of failure. The only time it even came close to working was 2014. But even though the 2014 referendum happened, the circumstances were totally different. Those circumstances will never arise again. We have to consider whether Plan A is viable now. And since 2014 Plan A has only failed. Requests for a Section 30 order have either been refused or they have not been made because refusal was a certainty. Plan A falls at the second hurdle. The first being persuading the Scottish Government to request the Section 30 order in the first place.

We either know or, mindful of the precautionary principle, we must assume from the available evidence that Plan A is bound to fail. The usual thing would be for the proponents of the plan to seek to persuade others of its viability. The absence of any meaningful effort to make a case for Plan A stands as further evidence that it is not viable. Simply asserting that it is the only ‘legal and constitutional’ process does not constitute a case. It is perfectly possible for a process to be both ‘legal’ and ‘constitutional’ and still be totally unworkable. Besides which, the onus is on the advocates of the British state’s “gold standard” to clearly demonstrate that the Section 30 process is ‘legal and constitutional’. And that it is the only process that is ‘legal and constitutional’. Otherwise, their claim is mere empty assertion.

Plan A’s proponents repeat like some kind of religious mantra the claim that refusal of a Section 30 order is “untenable”. But what does that even mean? I know that the word ‘untenable’ means unjustifiable and/or indefensible. But what does it mean in this context? Suppose we accept that continued refusal of a Section 30 order is, indeed, ‘untenable’. Suppose that it had shot straight to the top ten of the most ‘untenable’ things ever. Suppose it is now holding the number one spot despite numerous challenges from accomplished exponents of the unjustifiable and indefensible such as Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and the Israeli government. In what way does this make Plan A viable?

The insistence that continued refusal of a Section 30 order is ‘untenable’ is intended to suggest that the British Prime Minister is bound to back down. But why would they? Why should the British Prime Minister be in the slightest bit troubled by the fact that their position is unjustifiable and indefensible when there is nothing in law that requires them to justify or defend that position? The language is intended to imply that the position of denying a Section 30 order cannot be maintained indefinitely. But the reality is that it can be maintained indefinitely – and beyond. We know, or must assume this from the evidence. That evidence being the effortless ease with which the position has been and is being maintained.

The British Prime Minister’s refusal of a Section 30 order only becomes unsustainable – rather than merely ‘untenable’ – when there is a cost pursuant to that refusal which is greater than the benefit derived. There is no cost. The benefit is massive. Unless that changes, Plan A cannot sensibly even pretend to be workable.

If it is so certain that Plan A is not viable, why propose it? Why insist on it? That is for the advocates of Plan A to explain. But we might wonder why those who propose an alternative approach might demand that Mike Russell start the run up to the permission hurdle immediately. Why else but to demonstrate to the voting public that Plan A falters even at the first hurdle of getting the Scottish Government to submit a request, and so strengthen the case for their Plan B. Whether the Scottish Government refuses to submit a request or submits a request that is refused, the need for an alternative is more obvious and persuasive.

At this point we may postulate a position which is both untenable and unsustainable. If Mike Russell refuses to act on the demand to submit a Section 30 order he will be in a position that cannot be justified or defended and which could be electorally very costly for the SNP. And if the request is submitted only to be treated as contemptuously as its predecessors, Plan a is once again shown to be unworkable. Which is good news for Plan B.

But is Plan B good for Scotland’s cause? That’s a separate topic. It will be up to Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny to persuade us that Plan B is viable. They’ll have to do a lot better than the proponents of Plan A.



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The Plan!

By all means read all of Joanna Cherry’s column. But focus on those last three paragraphs. They contain three very significant messages.

The Brexit process has very clearly illustrated the limits of devolution. So, while SNP MPs must do the job we were elected by our constituents to do at Westminster, the reality is that only action taken in Scotland to gain independence can secure a future where this sort of unwanted chaos cannot happen again.

Action taken in Scotland! Presumably, action taken in the Scottish Parliament. Is this not what some of us have been saying for a while now? The Scottish Parliament is the locus of Scottish political authority. Westminster has precisely no democratic legitimacy. Only the Scottish Parliament can speak and act for the people of Scotland whom all legitimate political authority derives.

It’s great to see an increase in support for independence in the opinion polls, but this, together with the SNP riding high in the polls, takes us no further forward unless we have a plan for how to secure our independence and what to do with it.

Unless we have a plan! Suggesting that we presently lack a plan. Something an increasing number of people are beginning to recognise. Joanna Cherry appears to be acknowledging that commitment to the Section 30 process does not constitute “a plan for how to secure our independence”. Unless I am reading too much into her comments, Ms Cherry may be the first senior SNP figure to break ranks on this. And what a welcome breakthrough this would be.

Those who want to discuss and debate such plans are to be applauded. The time for avoiding discussion of Plan B is over. That discussion and proposals like those of the Common Weal for a resilient Scotland should be centre stage if, as mooted, the SNP conference and national assemblies go online this autumn.

No ambivalence or ambiguity here. This amounts to a demand that the SNP leadership cease and desist from blocking discussion of alternative strategies for taking forward the fight to restore Scotland’s independence.

I still have concerns. My fear is that rather than opening up discussion of alternative strategies the party will restrict discussion to the Plan B being promoted by Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny. The major issue I have with that is that this Plan B does not replace the current failed and failing Section 30 approach. It merely anticipates the next humiliating cycle of our First Minister going to Boris Johnson as a supplicant petitioning her superior for the boon of permission to exercise an inalienable democratic right – and being unceremoniously told to f*** off!

Angus and Chris are basically saying of the Section 30 process “One more chance!”. I maintain that we all should be saying “Never again!”. No more of this indignity! No more validating the British state’s claim to a veto over our right of self-determination! No more bargaining with the sovereignty of Scotland’s people!

The Section 30 process must be renounced. It must be explicitly and emphatically rejected. Discussion of alternative strategies must not be restricted to the MacNeil-McEleny Plan B but must be opened up to approaches which eschew the British state’s “gold standard” in measures to protect and preserve the Union.

As Joanna Cherry says, we need a plan designed to secure our independence. No ‘plan’ which is crucially dependent on the full, willing and honest cooperation of the British political elite can possibly qualify as a plan designed to restore Scotland’s independence. To the extent that the MacNeil-McEleny Plan B still involves the Section 30 process it is as much a plan to fail as the approach to which Nicola Sturgeon has wedded herself.

We have one more chance. We must learn the lessons of past failures. It is not merely a case of renouncing the Section 30 process. We urgently need to go back to first principles. We need to redefine our goal; reframe the entire constitutional issue, and devise a strategy appropriate to this reframing.

But first we must adopt a new mindset. Scotland is not an equal partner in a democratic political union. Scotland is effectively the annexed territory of England-as-Britain. British Nationalists want to formalise this annexation to create a single state moulded in the image of Boris Johnson’s Brexiteer Britain. They intend that Scotland, together with the rest of what British Nationalists regard as England-as-Britain’s periphery – be subsumed into what will effectively be Greater England – an indivisible and indissoluble state. Scotland will cease to exist other than as a marketing brand.

We don’t just need a plan. We need it urgently. We need it to work. We need it to work first time and with all possible haste. We do not need a Plan B for the next time Plan A fails. We need a new Plan A that succeeds.



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Section 30 is a lie!

Another senior SNP figure tries to silence those pointing out that so long as it remains committed to the Section 30 process the party is not offering voters a route to independence. And it is downright dishonest to claim otherwise. That’s right! That’s what I’m saying! Alyn Smith and his ilk are lying to us. And the lies have to be called out.

The truth is that the Section 30 process CANNOT be the democratic route to independence that it pretends to be. That is not its purpose. That is quite contrary to its purpose. Section 30 was slipped into the Scotland Act 1998 to satisfy those in the British establishment who were only prepared to tolerate devolution on the strict condition that the Union was safeguarded. To imagine that there might be a route to independence within a legal and constitutional framework designed for the preservation of the Union is nothing short of idiocy. Almost as idiotic as the claim that “we’ve never been closer to independence”. A line that has been discreetly dropped from Alyn Smith’s rhetoric.

That was a lie of another sort. It was a lie so transparent as to be almost comical. As, in its way, is the only marginally more subtle effort to pin the blame for the party’s failures in relation to the constitutional issue on the public heath emergency. The truth is that the fight to restore Scotland’s independence long since ran onto the rocks of Nicola Sturgeon’s inexplicable devotion to the British state’s “gold standard” in maintaining its grip on our nation at whatever cost to the Scottish people.

I issue this challenge to Alyn Smith or anyone else who continues to insist that we must abide by the Section 30 process. Explain, in step-by-step detail how the Section 30 process can possibly take us from where we are now to a referendum and the restoration of Scotland’s independence, or admit that you have been lying to the party membership and the people of Scotland.

Enough of the lies!



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Your masters’ voice

When will people realise that the BBC is a British institution and that it can only behave accordingly. The BBC is the British state broadcasting to Scotland. It doesn’t matter where its operations are located, it can never be Scottish. It can only be British and therefore it can only treat Scotland with disdain and contempt. Anything that is British must take precedence over everything that is Scottish.

Read the statement made by a BBC spokesperson. They genuinely cannot conceive of how it can possibly be wrong to give what is happening in England-as-Britain priority over what is relevant to Scotland. The fact that doing so risked causing confusion which might even lead to people dying is of absolutely no consequence. The only criterion is the degree of Britishness involved.

Even if you strip away all of the politics, what the BBC did was wrong in terms of basic good news broadcasting practice. But that too counts for nothing when the BBC assigns values to news. The content isn’t even considered. The assessment never gets past the fact that one is British and one is Scottish. Some primal instinct set unreachably deep in the lizard-brain of the organisation compels the BBC’s Britishness. It cannot be other than it is.

Which is not to say that the BBC as an institution cannot or should not be a model for public service broadcasting that is Scottish. Appending the word ‘Scotland’ to ‘BBC’ does not make the BBC Scottish any more than appending the word ‘Mars’ would make it Martian. Public service broadcasting that is truly Scottish is Scotland holding up a mirror to itself and telling the world how we would like to be seen. It is us talking among ourselves about ourselves and our perspectives on Scotland and the rest of the world. And it is us talking to the rest of the world from our perspective.

BBC Scotland is the British state transmitting TO Scotland. It is the British establishment talking AT Scotland. And it has but one message. Its purpose is to constantly remind us that British is best. That we are not important. That we are not respected because those who accept that they are less cannot be due respect.

However refined the delivery may be, the BBC is the voice of an imperial force addressing annexed territory.



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The fartmills of your mind

People don’t so much fear change as resent it. One of the myriad curiosities of human nature is that we come equipped with this truly remarkable pattern detecting and modelling machine – surely the most complex and powerful device in the known universe – the primary purpose of which is to build models of our environment which allow us to foresee possible changes in that environment, and yet we have this distinct tendency to proceed as if nothing will change. We tend to suppose – or act as if – the way things are is the way they will always be. At some level or in some part of the tangled psychology which informs and instructs our behaviour, we choose to ignore the dynamic four-dimensional model generated by the most powerful predictive algorithms churned by the most powerful computer in the universe and focus instead on that old familiar photograph.

Why do we have this tendency? Perhaps it’s because we suffer from prediction fatigue. Sometimes the dynamic model is just too dynamic for us and we take refuge in a place where things are more static and manageable. Maybe it’s one of those homeostatic feedback systems and the notion of an unchanging environment operates like a governor which prevents the dynamic model running wild. Not a perfect solution. But evolution isn’t working to a plan. Natural selection naturally selects the first thing that works and only tweaks the solution it has settled on if that solution has a statistical tendency to impair our capacity to reproduce relative to some other mutational novelty.

Explaining why we resent rather than fear change may be easier. We resent change because the ‘now’ that we’ve subconsciously chosen to cling to is the baseline for the dynamic models – the maps by which we chart a course through our physical, social and temporal environment. When the baseline changes, the model must be revised. (More precisely the ‘screen grabs’ we’ve taken from the model have to be updated. The model itself is constantly being revised. It is dynamic.) This is effortful. So we resent it. We resent change which requires us to alter our perceptions our preconceptions and/or our plans. Rather a lot of human behaviour can be explained by laziness.

Such indolence has a cost. If we too resolutely adhere to those outdated ‘screen grabs’ from the dynamic model we may be ill-equipped for, and adversely impacted by, such change as may occur. When this happens, we tend to blame the change rather than our own intellectual inertia. Another quirk of human nature. Rarely is it entirely true when an individual insists that they are no part of the problem, the problem is the entire problem. We are all actors in our own lives – even if betimes it seems we are merely bit players, extras and support acts.

It would be deceivingly simplistic to think of this tendency to refer to an unchanging snapshot of our world as absolute. It is just a tendency. That tendency can be strong or weak varying among individuals and over time. We would not survive long if we weren’t keeping an eye on the dynamic display as well as the snapshot. It may reasonably be argued that much and perhaps all human error and folly can be understood in terms of a failure to properly balance the two perceptions.

Scotland’s cause has been serious afflicted by just such a failure to give appropriate weight to the static model which is good enough for immediate and superficial purposes and the dynamic model which is essential to a more long term and profound understanding of the environment. If we are subconsciously selecting a way things are to be our ‘the way things will always be’ it stands to reason that the one selected will tend to be the one which pushes itself forward most forcefully. You might suppose it would most likely be the pleasing snapshot of a sunny reality. In fact, it can just as readily be a disturbing image of a very dark reality. Basically, when things are good, we tend to behave as if they will always be good and when things are bad we tend to be convinced they’ll never get better. Either of these states, if allowed to persist, can result in the kind of behaviour we call a lapse of judgement.

The campaign to restore Scotland’s independence has been beset by lapses of judgement. Which does not make it unusual in any way. It was ever thus.

I pressed for a referendum in September 2018 or no later than September 2018. That date wasn’t picked out of a hat. It was the product of long consideration and analysis as unfettered by assumptions and preconceptions as any individual’s might be absent specialised training. My thinking on the matter was not, for example, shackled to any notion of a ‘right time’. I considered the matter on the basis, not only of what conditions and circumstances would most closely approach some ideal, but on what circumstances were more or less likely to arise and how conditions were more or less likely to develop.

I focused on the dynamic model generated by my brain – or mind.

I do not claim to have foreseen the SNP’s present travails in any precise detail. Nor do I claim to have predicted any aspect of the British government’s frighteningly erratic and irrational behaviour. But I did take account of the ways in which circumstances and conditions could worsen as well as improve over time.

I do not claim to have foreseen the Alex Salmond affair. But I knew with something approaching certainty that something like that would happen. If the British state is determined to dig some dirt on a leading figure in a cause then eventually dirt will be dug. If a party stays in power long enough then it will eventually suffer the effects of internal tensions and external pressures. If a movement survives long enough the energy which drove it will dissipate and it will eventually succumb to factionalism as some try to renew that energy while others seek to scavenge what remains for personal or partisan advantage.

In short, I foresaw that things would start to go all to fuck at some point and knew that it was essential to move forward the fight to restore Scotland’s independence before that happened – regardless of what other circumstances prevailed. Either we got it done by September 2018, or the chances of it getting done started to diminish.

I was not wrong. Nicola Sturgeon got it wrong. I could take a stab at explaining why she got it wrong when she decided to wait in the hope the the British government would by its actions cause people to look more favourably on independence. I could probably find some explanation as to why she failed to appreciate that things could get worse as well as better and that it might be better to act before things got worse.

But I’m depressed enough about it all without delving into the motives and motivations of the players. There is no satisfaction in watching events unfold as you feared they would. There is only despair in fearing things will now unfold in the way you anticipate. There is little comfort in saying, “Ah telt ye!”. That said, I must take what comfort I may. If people had listened to me (and a few others who I don’t presume to speak for) we would not be where we are. We would by now have restored Scotland’s independence and would be congratulating ourselves on having the foresight to move when we did.



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Lost comment

I posted a comment yesterday on a thread started by one of those cunning plan cult people in which I pointed out a few things that needed to be pointed out despite being perfectly obvious to anybody who care to think about things. As far as I can determine, that thread has now been deleted. In anticipation of this very thing, I kept a copy of the comment. It saves me having to do it all again.

A perfect example of thinking only as far as leaves your preferred conclusion intact. You don’t even address the ‘gamble’ aspects of the issue. Which is understandable given that you want everybody else to ignore that gamble. It hardly suits your purposes to draw further attention to it by addressing concerns about it. You disregard the problematic bits of the arithmetic. And you disregard the fact that politics is about more than just arithmetic. There’s the people stuff!

There is no evidence that the [SNP] parliamentary party is “losing us support”. And I never said or implied that it was. That’s because, unlike you, I am honest. I’m not pretending you said stuff that you didn’t. You’d do well to lose that habit. It makes you look very like the kind of sleekit politician you claim you don’t want to be.

In the reality which causes you such inconvenience, support for the SNP is currently at extraordinary levels. And if it’s not rising that’s probably because it has no further to go.

But let’s get back to that constrained thinking. The thinking which doesn’t include questioning your own prejudices, preconceptions and assumptions. Take this comment for example.

The parliament is largely useless as a means to gain independence, unless enough independence MSPS are elected, to push the SNP into more urgent action.

Again, we have a politician’s trick. State something that is true then associate with it something that is at best highly dubious or unproved and at worst a deception or a lie. The first part of the above statement is totally true. In terms of the constitutional issue – which MUST be separated from matters of policy – the Scottish Parliament is useless without a majority committed to a process that will lead to the restoration of Scotland’s independence.

But then you try to piggy-back on this statement of evident truth the highly contentious – but for you very convenient – notion that the desirable outcome suggested in the first part of the statement is achievable by doing precisely what it is that you want to do. Sensible persons should be immediately suspicious. It’s just too convenient – for you!

In order to dissect the dubious claim we must make some very bold assumptions. And that is an understatement. We must assume that it is actually possible to game the electoral system in such a way as to get elected the “independence MSPS” that just happen to be the ones you are promoting. This involves ignoring realpolitik. Which I’m never comfortable doing. But needs must.

Forcing ourselves to remain blind to all the difficulties involved, we assume you have been successful in getting those non-SNP MSPs into the Scottish Parliament. You now expect us to just accept that this is the only or best way to “push the SNP into more urgent action”. You hijack the truth of the first part of the statement and use it to give a lick of truthiness to the thing you want others to believe.

But what if we don’t just give up thinking at this point. What if we choose to scrape off the varnish of truthiness to examine what lies beneath. (Pun unapologetically intended.)

The fact that the SNP needs to be pushed necessarily implies that they have won the election with enough seats to form the administration. It also necessarily implies that they are in a sufficiently strong position to take that “more urgent action”. But if the SNP is in such a strong position, how might they be pushed? You seem to be suggesting that those cunning plan party (CPP) MSP’s would hold some sort of parliamentary threat over the head of the SNP administration. A threat which could only be to withhold support for all or part of the program on which the SNP was elected.

You are asking voters, having voted for a party on the basis of its manifesto, to then vote for a ‘party’ which intends to block – or threaten to block – the very program for which they are voting. How stupid do you think voters are?

Think it through and what you find is that these CPP MSPs can only be either redundant or irrelevant. If there is an SNP administration committed to a Manifesto for Independence, they are redundant. Because there is already the commitment and the numbers needed to act on that commitment. If there is an SNP administration still committed to the Section 30 process or, nightmare scenario, no SNP administration at all, then the CCP MSPs can’t put any pressure on that administration without behaving in a way that will outrage the voters and delight the British Nationalists.

Let’s finish by taking the true part of your comment and thinking it through rather more thoroughly than you find ‘helpful’. Clearly, we do need an SNP administration. And we need that administration to have renounced the Section 30 process. But is it not obvious when you actually THINK about it that the SNP has to renounce the Section 30 process BEFORE the election. The party can’t go into the election talking about the Section 30 process only to drop it after having been elected on that basis.

Additionally, the more effective political power the SNP has the better it will be able to implement an alternative process. So, those of us who are thinking in terms of Scotland’s cause rather than our own political careers ask what best achieves this. What best enhances the effective political power of the SNP administration?

The answer is obvious. Mandate! The bigger the mandate, the better equipped the Scottish Government is to confront the British state – as it must. The mandate is measured in votes. So it follows that the more votes the SNP gets, the more powerfully armed it is for the fight. You want to take votes away from the SNP. You want to weaken that mandate. (And FFS! don’t start going on about unused mandates. That’s the past. We’re discussing a totally different situation.)

I want the SNP to have that huge mandate. That big stick to wave at the British political elite. You want to siphon off some of that power for yourself. Fuck you!

Thinking rationally about the best imaginable outcome of the election in terms of Scotland’s cause that would be an SNP majority government, committed to a Manifesto for Independence and armed with over 50% of the vote on both ballots. THAT would be the lever we need. THAT is what we should be aiming for.

THAT is where you get to when you think it through with Scotland’s cause at the forefront of your mind.



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It’s the waiting…

I see Pete “The Postponer” Wishart has issued his call to inaction again. All across Scotland his battle-cry echoes, “Once more unto the waiting room, dear friends, once more!”. Apparently, the fight to restore Scotland’s independence must wait while Pete trains a troupe of line-dancing ducks. As rationalisations for indefinite delay go, this has the advantage of novelty. But it is otherwise less than persuasive. Don’t get me wrong! I wish Pete well in his duck-choreographing efforts and I’ll probably watch the YouTube video when he finally manages to get them all in a row; but I may not be alone in holding to the opinion that of all the things that Scotland needs right now, performing farmyard fowl comes pretty low on the list. Just above a second spike of coronavirus infections.

I am curious, however. I’d like to know what he means by “another dead end”. In the title of his latest paean to procrastination he asks ‘PLAN B. PANACEA OR ANOTHER DEAD END?’. What might be the first “dead end” implied by the question? What else could it be but PLAN A? So we must assume, as no other candidate plans are mentioned. Is this Pete Wishart acknowledging that the Section 30 process is a “dead end”? Or is it just more evidence that he talks – and types – faster than he thinks. Never mind the meaning! Look at the cleverness!

Why ask if ‘Plan B’ might be a panacea anyway? Has anybody claimed that it might have the power to cure all ills? Come to that, has anybody claimed that it might be the “solution to all our indy woes”? Or that it could “break the constitutional stand off and get us swiftly and easily to independence”? Who has described ‘Plan B’ in such terms? When? Where?

Don’t ask Pete! (No! Seriously! Don’t ask him. He doesn’t like being asked questions about anything he’s said or written. He gets very upset if people don’t simply accept his pronouncements as gospel. Don’t you know who he is?) It seems he doesn’t know either. Having just told us what he insists people have said it is, he poses the question, “But what exactly is plan B?”. Call me picky, but should he not have asked that question first? Should he not have told his readers what was about to get the benefit of his disparagement? Did he not just give the impression that he knew what ‘Plan B’ was? Or at least enough to know what it was described as? Confused? Just wait! (To coin a phrase.)

Pete Wishart then tells us that “no one has actually outlined what the exact proposal is”. But we know that’s not true. And so does he. Because he goes on to refer to and describe the proposal that Chris McEleny and Angus MacNeil had developed in sufficient detail to be put to conference – and be met with boos from the audience and behaviour from the party bosses that was hardly less reprehensible. Having said that ‘Plan B’ had never been explained Pete Wishart then goes on to explain ‘Plan B’ in the very terms of the explanation he says has never been given. Aye! I know!

To confuse matters further, Wishart then makes some fairly good points about the proposal he says he’s unfamiliar with because “no one has actually outlined what the exact proposal is”. Don’t ask me how that’s possible. More importantly, don’t ask him. Anything. Ever. He doesn’t like it.

I have always been supportive of Chris McEleny and Angus MacNeil not because I agree with their proposal or think it a workable idea but because they at least want to have a discussion about the SNP’s approach to the constitutional issue, while Pete Wishart and others want only to close that discussion down. Wishart says he proposes to “ask a few gentle but searching questions” about ‘Plan B’. We might wonder how he proposes to do that when he says he has no way of knowing exactly what ‘Plan B’ is. We might also wonder why, if it is considered essential that “gentle but probing questions” are asked of a proposal that’s more caricatured than described, similar questioning of ‘Plan A’ is strictly prohibited.

As my regular readers will both be aware, I have been asking searching and latterly non-too-gentle questions about the Section 30 process for years. Just as I have been asking probing questions about Pete Wishart’s notion of an ‘optimal time’ to act on the independence issue. I have had no answers on either matter.

The strategy will be familiar to those who paid attention during the 2014 referendum campaign. The approach taken by the SNP and the Yes movement then was that we had to ‘make the case for independence’. Having put the onus on ourselves, the anti-independence campaign immediately and predictably set about demanding answers to questions asked only because asking them suggested doubt. As any sensible person would have anticipated, the questions were endless and the answers never sufficient even if they were acknowledged as having been given.

Meanwhile, there was no questioning of the Union. The entire campaign proceeded – with the full concurrence of the SNP and the bulk of the Yes movement – on the promise that the UK is unquestionably satisfactory and independence has to be proved a worthy and workable alternative. But no proof could ever be enough. No test could ever be passed. The case for independence can never be made to the satisfaction of the British establishment. And the SNP insist that the British establishment must be the ultimate arbiter.

Pete Wishart insists that “the SNP will enter the next Holyrood election with a route map to secure our nation’s independence”. Why, then, will he not explain that “route map” at least as well as he wants ‘Plan B’ explained? If he is so confident that the SNP’s approach is the right one and that it is winning, why the refusal to set out the steps in the process? He says the SNP has a “route map”. But there are only two points on this so-called route map. The destination – independence – and a starting point which is wherever he needs it to be in order to make that destination seem reachable. A route map, as the term suggests, portrays a route. It lays out all the critical points which must be passed through in order to reach the destination. Nobody in the SNP leadership or the second tier that Wishart occupies is able (or willing) to tell us what any of those critical points are, far less how we get by them.

He dismisses ‘Plan B’ as impossible because the British state can and will just say no and we must accept that refusal because to do otherwise would give them further grounds for saying no.

Isn’t that the very definition of the Section 30 process?

One thing Pete Wishart says caught my attention for reasons other than its evident ridiculousness.

There are only two ways to pursue independence, one is with the participation of the UK state, the other is through a unilateral declaration. 

He almost gets it here. Quite unwittingly, I’m sure, Pete Wishart comes tantalisingly close to pinning an essential idea. It may well be true to say that there are only two ways to pursue independence. But then he succumbs to his inability to question his own assumptions and preconceptions. That he accepts the ‘right’ of the UK state to participate in the process is symptomatic of a colonised mind. That he finds anathema the very idea of Scotland being proactive and assertive speaks of a mind that has fallen prey to British propaganda portrayal of Scotland as ‘Too wee! Too poor! Too stupid!”.

If there are only two ways to pursue independence then one – the one favoured by Pete Wishart and those above him in the SNP hierarchy – is not merely with the “participation” of the UK state, but with the full, honest and willing cooperation of the British state. That is what the Section 30 process requires.

The other way is for Scotland to take responsibility for itself and its own future. To reject the Section 30 process as a constitutional trap laid by the British state and recognise that the only process by which we can successfully pursue the restoration of our independence is a process which we create for ourselves.

One other thing is worth remarking on. When I visited Pete Wishart’s blog there were several comments on it. Not one of them favourable. Many of them highly critical. This is a marked change from a year or so ago, when he could confidently anticipate a sympathetic audience for his brand or timorous complacency trying to pass itself off as political nous. A tide is turning. Given that Wishart dutifully parrots the party line, might we hope that he will notice the rising waters threatening to sweep him away along with all the other worshippers at the altar of the ‘Gold Standard’. Might he recognise that party members, Yes activists and voters will not much longer tolerate the SNP leadership’s obdurate adherence to a process that simply cannot move Scotland’s cause forward.

Maybe. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Take a number. Mr Wishart will show you to the waiting room.



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As things stand, Scotland falls

I realise Shona is trying to smile through the pain here. Using humour to cork her bottled anger. But I’m obliged to take her to task for a particular comment. She writes,

Perhaps Johnson imagines the MP for Orkney and Shetland is in fact in favour of bypassing the referendum process and going for UDI?

I can’t let that one slip by. It just isn’t the case that UDI means “bypassing the referendum”. UDI – or more precisely and to avoid just such confusion – Scottish UDI is simply another route to a referendum. An alternative to the Section 30 process which is so greatly admired by both our First Minister and any British Nationalist you might care to mention. The Section 30 process that Nicola Sturgeon refers to as the “gold standard”. She’s almost correct. The Section 30 is the BRITISH gold standard. That’s why it’s in the Act of the British parliament which serves to justify the withholding of powers which rightfully belong with the Scottish Parliament.

Section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 is a constitutional catch-all in case anybody found a loophole elsewhere in the legislation by which Scotland might challenge the Union. It’s there to give the British Prime Minister authority to strip even more powers from the Scottish Parliament. It’s there as the British state’s safeguard against the Scottish Parliament becoming troublesome. It’s there to reassure those who thought devolution would put their precious Union in jeopardy.

It’s there to maintain the pretence of a democratic route out of the Union within the legal and constitutional framework of the British state. It’s actual purpose is to allow the British Prime Minister an effective veto over the right of self-determination which, according to international laws and conventions, cannot be denied or constrained.

Failing an outright veto, the Section 30 process (NOT the legislation but the established process) affords the British state a role in Scotland’s exercise of the right of self-determination such as is deprecated by international laws and conventions. A role which can all too readily be used to sabotage the entire exercise.

It’s easy to see why the Section 30 process might earn the “gold standard” accolade from those who are determined to formalise the 313-years of annexation by having Scotland subsumed into a ‘Greater England’ called Britain. It’s not so easy to see why the Section 30 process is so favoured by the de facto figurehead in the fight to restore Scotland’s independence. Not easy at all. Impossible, in fact.

A thought occurs. Nicola Sturgeon is reputed to be a smart lawyer. Given the true nature of the Section 30 process, I’m prepared to venture a small wager that had she been involved in the negotiations she would have fought tooth and nail to have Section 30 removed. Now, she all but signs a pledge to it in her own blood. Section 30 hasn’t changed. What has?

Maybe it’s the weight of the irony that’s getting me down. Or maybe it’s reading comments from within the Yes movement which help to feed and amplify and propagate the British Nationalist / Nicola Sturgeon line that Scotland pursuing withdrawal in the more normal way would be “illegal and unconstitutional”.

The Section 30 process will not work as a route to independence. That is not its purpose. That would be totally contrary to its purpose. It follows, therefore, that there must be an alternative process. A process entirely made and managed in Scotland under the auspices of the Scottish Parliament and other of Scotland’s democratic institutions – even if those institutions have to be created.

It is this alternative process – actually the ‘default’ process to the extent that there is such a thing – which is referred to as #ScottishUDI. At the very heart of that process lies a referendum. Far from #ScottishUDI bypassing or foregoing or excluding a referendum, it is entirely built around the principle of popular sovereignty. It is NOT as liars on both sides of the constitutional divide maintain, a means of preventing the people of Scotland from having the final say. #ScottishUDI is the only way the people of Scotland will have their say.

Section 30 is all about denying and curtailing democracy. #ScottishUDI is all about enabling and facilitating democracy.

It hardly matters. As we move into the end-game of the constitutional battle, the process of locking our ancient and once-proud nation into a Union which defines Scotland as an integral part and mere region of an indivisible and indissoluble British state, is considerable in advance of any moves towards independence. Which is inevitable because there are no moves towards independence. Nicola Sturgeon remains immovably wedded to the Section 30 process. Unless and until she and her party and her government explicitly vacate and renounce their absolute commitment to that process there can be no moves towards independence.

It appears that the lady is not for turning.

Things can change. As I’m sure someone will point out under the illusion that uttering such banalities makes them seem wise. But, as things stand, Nicola Sturgeon is not going to be persuaded from the folly of committing to a process which is critically dependent on the full, willing, unstinting and honest cooperation of the very people most determined to ensure that Scotland never regains her self-respect never mind her independence.

Those people are winning.

To prevent the British Nationalist juggernaut crushing Scotland out of existence, the Section 30 process must go! Or Nicola Sturgeon must go! But only if she is replaced by someone who is prepared to face up to the reality of Scotland’s predicament.

That is not going to happen.

It’s not going to happen because there is nothing and nobody to make it happen. The only possibility of ‘persuading’ Nicola Sturgeon to abandon the Section 30 process was a unified Yes movement. And there’s as much chance of that as there is of Nicola Sturgeon unilaterally declaring Scotland independent.

As things stand, Scotland falls.



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Dipped in Brit

Scots budget underspend will help fight virus carers ‘not coping’

The above headline in The National fair got my vital juices flowing this morning. The term ‘budget underspend’ is kind of a trigger for me. What it triggers is not exactly anger but intense frustrated irritation. The sort of thing that makes you clench your fists and half scream half growl through gritted teeth. I don’t know how to write that sound. The scream would be ‘aaarrrgh!’. The growl would be ‘grrr’. So I suppose noise I’m talking about would be something like ‘grrraaarrrghgrr’. But I’m not writing that. It may sort of convey what I’m trying to describe, but it looks ugly on the page. And it causes my spellchecker to start writing her resingation leter. Anyway! You know what I mean!

Where was I?

Oh yes! Language! Language matters. Language matters a lot. I don’t mean language as in English or Hindi. Obviously, if I was writing this in Hindi few of you would be able to read it. And I’d be off to the hospital with a suspected stroke. No! It’s not just which language you use, but how you use the language you use. The terms you choose. The context. The semantics and the pragmatics and the semiotics and all that stuff. (How do you spot a linguist? They all have lots of tics!) Stuff we don’t concern ourselves with as we communicate with each other. Things that we are all expert in without necessarily knowing the ‘proper’ words for them. It’s knowing the ‘proper’ words that separates the ‘experts’ from the rest of us. Things that professional communicators are supposed to know something about even if not enough to make it into the category of ‘expert’.

Journalists are professional communicators. They mediate messages. They are one of the main links between us and ‘out there’. The world. Journalists are trained how to use language. Which starts with learning how language is used. If you are aware of the way people express their thoughts then you can describe and explain the world in terms that people will best understand. There’s more to it, of course. A lot goes into a journalist’s training. They have to learn about the way print, broadcast and online media function at a technical level and how they operate as businesses and how to avoid buying your round in the pub and probably a couple of other things.

Training is important. Journalism is a profession with very stringent ethical standards and a powerful commitment to public service. I think it was Paul “Scalphunter” Hutcheon who told me that. Or maybe it was Tom “Hellhole Scotland” Gordon.

To be a lot more fair than most journalist seem to manage, they’re not all like that. There are a few who actually take at least a bit seriously at least some of that stuff about professional standards and public service. I’d even be prepared to accept that the bulk of them start out that way. They genuinely believe that they are setting out on a mission to speak uncomfortably disruptive truth unto power on behalf of the many. But something happens to them along the way. At some point they find themselves speaking appropriately mediated truth unto the powerless on behalf of the few.

A formalised understanding of how people express their thoughts not only makes it possible to describe the world accurately in a way that people understand, it also makes it possible to have people understand the world inaccurately by the way it is described. Journalists are not just messengers. They are mediators. They process messages for onward transmission in a form that serves the intended purpose of the author. They manipulate messages. They make their living from manipulating messages on behalf of others. The others being whoever is prepared to pay them. Or whoever they choose to seek/accept payment from out of a closed group defined by the ability to pay to have messages manipulated. The powerful. Even if only relatively.

In the main, journalists work for established power. They may do so as indirectly as is required to ease any residual conscience. But most journalists by far work for established power. They manipulate messages on behalf on established power. They manipulate truth for the benefit of those whose interests are best served by ensuring that truth is never spoken unto the powerless.

They don’t necessary lie outright. There is rarely any need. People can be deceived in many ways just by the way language is used. A mediated – manipulated – message may contain nothing that is untrue. It may contain only verifiable facts. And still it can deceive. The information can be filtered. The facts can be purposefully selected or omitted. The components parts of the message can be ordered in a particular way either for emphasis or to ‘adjust’ their perceived importance or relevance. Or to make it either more likely or less likely that selected parts of the message are received. All of this is related to language and its use. It’s not just the words chosen.

But words matter too. Especially the words in the headline and standfirst – the bit right at the beginning and usually in bold. The former is almost bound to be read. The latter is likely to be read if the headline succeeds in seizing the attention of the reader. (Something similar is true for viewers and listeners whose attention may be captured using different means.) Words matter. Words matter if they are read – if the message is received. Words also matter even if they are not read. Because the words used by the media tend to become the currency of public discourse. To a very significant extent, the media defines the terms of debate. Journalists take the language we use for our purposes and return to us the same language, but formed for other purposes. The purposes of those who own the media and/or pay the journalists. To a very significant extent, this returned – mediated, manipulated – language then comes to be the language which informs public discourse. You see where this is going? You see how it works?

Language itself creates and recreates the contexts in which language is used. But the tendency must always be for the language to favour or at least shield established power. Without exercising any direct ‘Orwellian’ control, the system works in favour of the powerful. In a very real sense, we all end up doing the same. To the extent that we use the language favoured by the powerful, we favour the powerful. We help to make that language and all its purposefully attached associations and connotations a defining part of the social and political environment. We do for free what journalists get paid to do. We probably don’t do it as effectively as they do. But there’s more of us. Each of us need only do a little bit even in the most half-arsed way and the aggregate has a major effect on that social and political environment.

It’s a self-perpetuating, self-reinforcing process. It would be to the general advantage of those in the sub-basements of the structures of power, privilege and patronage which serve the few at perpetual cost to the many if the cycle was broken. Why hasn’t it been broken? Good question! So glad you’re still here to ask it more than 1200 words in.

The simple answer is that the cycle hasn’t been broken because it’s a self-perpetuation and self-reinforcing process. The advantage of this being true is almost certainly going to be outweighed by it being judged unhelpful – perhaps facetious. As if I would ever!

We need an explanation which is at least sightly better lest readers get to 1300 words only to feel cheated.

Remember the headline I began with? If so, well done you! I had to scroll back to the top of the page to remind myself. Remember the fuss I made about the language? Specifically the term “budget underspend”? What was all that about? And how does it relate to all that other stuff?

What the term “budget underspend” refers to is a fiscal phenomenon more usually called a ‘budget surplus’. In fact, it is always called a budget surplus. With only very rare exceptions. I’ll venture that the only exception anybody reading this is aware of is when the budget surplus in question is the Scottish Government’s budget surplus. What’s the difference, you ask? Aren’t ‘underspend’ and ‘surplus’ just different words for the same thing?

Again! Good question! Maybe even better than the one I remarked on earlier. My answer is that maybe they could be different words for the same thing, but in the context they definitely are not. In the context, ‘underspend’ implies something unplanned. A failure to meet set spending levels. A failure to effectively manage the budget. Even a failure to properly fund essential public services. All negative associations and connotations. All associations deployed through the media by those whose purpose is to undermine the Scottish Government, the SNP administration, the Scottish Parliament and all of Scotland’s democratic institutions.

Now you’re asking the best question of them all. Given the foregoing, what the [EXPLETIVE DELETED] is that word doing in a headline on the pages of The National? Why is a newspaper which is explicitly in favour of the restoration of Scotland’s independence and broadly supportive of the SNP administration using such language? Why do they use a word which would be more at home in one of those British Daily Express headlines breathlessly ‘informing’ us that the Scottish public are FURIOUS about something. Commonly something the Scottish public is largely unaware of or all but totally uninterested in. In this case, the fact that the Scottish Government has a budget surplus such as it always has because it is required to by law. Well, they couldn’t possibly (almost wrote ‘credibly’! Hah!) suggest that anybody might be FURIOUS about a budget surplus, could they? The term ‘budget surplus’ has entirely positive connotations. It’s the pursuit of a budget surplus and all the pursuant benefits which is used to rationalise the British state’s austerity economics. It has to be a good thing. And we don’t say good things about the uppity Jocks if we’re a journalist whose mortgage payments won’t be met just dodging rounds in the pub.

In Scotland, a budget surplus is unexceptional. It is unremarkable. It is commonplace. Everybody who cares about such things knows about it and doesn’t care. Call it an ‘underspend’, however, and the propaganda potential becomes significant. So that is what journalists in the service of the British state do.

But Roxanne Sorooshian – whose byline appears under the headline for which she may or may not be responsible – isn’t one of that disreputable breed, is she? She’s a Deputy Editor at The National! What the [EXPLETIVE DELETED] is going on? Isn’t it obvious? She must be a mole planted by the British Security Service to disrupt the independence campaign. I have it from a reliable source in a very fetching tinfoil Trilby.

Or it’s simple carelessness. But that doesn’t seem like a satisfactory explanation either. After all, it’s always called a ‘budget surplus’. It’s “budget underspend” that’s the unusual term. If it was a case of inattention then you’d expect there to be a default to the most common term. The default would be ‘budget surplus’. It’s where you’d go if you were on autopilot. Using the pejorative terminology must be intentional.

Well, yes! If you mean intentional in the sense of non-accidental. But not if you mean it in these sense of (invariably malign) intent. A better term might be ‘unwitting’.

What this demonstrates is the extent to which the heavily propaganda-laden language of the British state has permeated and tainted Scotland’s media environment. It must be effectively impossible to train as a journalist without getting the stuff on your hands and up your nose and in your hair. Every journalist comes dipped in Brit. So maybe we should cut The National some slack.

But I’m not going to. Because language matters. The National Is a great asset to the independence movement. It has the potential to be a great asset to Scotland. It could be the catalyst for a whole new Scottish media environment. But not so long as it remains contaminated by the British media culture. Not until it is rid of any tendency to call a surplus an overspend.



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