To a Cunning Plan Cultist…

You fall for the old ‘more is always better’ fallacy. 6 pints of beer is ALWAYS better than 1 pint of beer in your calculations. More thoughtful calculation, however, takes due account of the fact that you only have one glass. Once it is filled, the other five pints are no use to you. They end up spilt on the floor and no use to anybody.

You have decided the goal is to get as many pro-independence MSPs as possible. I have decided the goal is to get Scotland’s independence restored. We are never going to agree because your objective is not my objective. What is important to you is not important to me.

Even if your cunning plan was as cunning as the dogma claims it is, it’s a cunning plan to flood the Scottish Parliament with pro-independence MSPs. It is NOT a plan to get independence. If the outcome sought is action taken in the Scottish Parliament for the purpose of restoring Scotland’s independence then your cunning plan doesn’t do that even if it succeeds in achieving the goal that you have set – lots and lots of pro-independence MSPs. If only you were thinking in terms of restoring independence and what that requires then it would be immediately obvious that flooding Holyrood with pro-independence list MSPs does not serve that goal. In terms of what is needed to get independence, those additional pro-independence MSPs are entirely redundant. As scientists would say, they are neither necessary nor sufficient.

As I said, my priority is restoring Scotland’s independence. I am not obsessing about getting the maximum possible number of MSP’s. These are two entirely different projects. You have a cunning plan to achieve your goal. I have a very straightforward plan to achieve mine. Your cunning plan requires something not far short of a political miracle in order to succeed, and even then it succeeds only in putting more pro-independence MSPs in the Scottish Parliament. For you, that is success. My plan aims, not at flooding the chamber with indy-friendly MSP’s, but at forcing the action which brings about the restoration of Scotland’s independence. For me, success is a Scottish Government acting through the Scottish Parliament to end the Union. What I have called #ScottishUDI.

I think my goal is more important than yours. More importantly, my goal is definitely achievable while yours is only doubtfully achievable. Most importantly of all my goal gets independence. Your goal doesn’t.

You have failed to properly analyse the problem, so obviously you’ve come up with the wrong solution. You think the problem is a lack of pro-independence MSPs and that the problem can be solved with a cunning plan to get more of them. In fact, the problem is the lack of a Scottish Government with the political will and the testicular capacity to take the necessary action in the Scottish Parliament. That problem is solved, not by flooding Holyrood with pro-independence MSP’s but by a simple majority of pro-independence MSPs willing to take the necessary action.

Without that – without an SNP administration committed to #ScottishUDI in some form, all those pro-independence list MSPs can do absolutely fuck all to bring about the restoration of Scotland’s independence. Not one fucking thing! They are not SUFFICIENT. And that SNP administration needs only an overall majority of one to initiate #ScottishUDI. So your additional list MSPs are not NECESSARY.

Again, the Yes movement most certainly has a part to play. On one thing the cunning plan cultists are correct. I totally agree that, as things stand, the SNP cannot be relied upon to initiate #ScottishUDI. THAT is what we have to change. NOT the number of MSPs in favour of #ScottishUDI. So long as that number is one more than the British parties squatting in Scotland’s Parliament, we’re golden! Only the Yes movement has the potential political clout to force the SNP to commit to #ScottishUDI prior to the next Holyrood elections. And the Yes movement’s potential to do this can only be realised if it speaks with one voice and does not divert any of its energies to any cunning plans.

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A response

The following started as a response to a comment on an earlier article by someone I assume to be Stu Campbell of Wings Over Scotland. If I have misidentified the individual in question then I apologise to both the parties concerned and to my readers. As you can see, the comment turned into a bit of an outpouring. I make no apology for this. I would only ask that as you read it you are mindful of its somewhat accidental origins. I intend this to be my last comment on the issue of ‘list parties’ and ‘cunning plans’ in general. We’ll see.

Recipe for success

It is to be expected that many of those who have been taken in by the novelty of the list party fantasy will resolve the conflict with their support for independence by convincing themselves that encouraging voters to abandon the SNP cannot possibly have any ‘unfortunate’ consequences. They are absolutely persuaded of the efficacy of their magic solution and cannot tolerate that being questioned. Not even in their own minds. Especially not in their own minds.

Life’s experience has taught me to be extremely wary of such evangelical fervour. I find cynicism a more substantial shield than delusion.

We saw – and still find – this near-religious belief in consequence-free action among those I have branded ‘The Postponers’. That is to say, those who adhere to Pete Wishart’s faith in the existence of an ‘Optimum Time’ (for a new independence referendum) which will come to us as surely as the dawn if only we take patience to a ‘higher plane’ where it morphs into a kind of intellectual hibernation. Just as ‘The Postponers’ will not entertain questions about the implications of delay, so believers in the pure power of the list party cannot abide to have their dogma challenged.

But those of us who are disinclined to abandon their intellectual capacity for the false comfort of religious faith realise that actions always have consequences. And that, especially dealing with people, and even more so when dealing with people en masse, there is no necessary mechanical relationship between the action and its consequences. People are complicated. Relationships between and among people are complicated. The relationships between deeds and their effects could hardly be the exception that the faithful need theirs to be.

The consequences for Scotland’s cause of abandoning the SNP as the lever by which our nation’s independence will be restored are potentially catastrophic. To contemplate any action which has this effect must be to gamble with the cause. One might sensibly argue that the consequences are minor. One cannot sensibly assert the absence of any consequences. To sensibly argue that the consequences are minor one would necessarily have to identify those consequences and make a persuasive case for them being trivial. One would also be obliged to rule out all other possible and possibly more serious consequences. This would be a rational response to those who question the proposed action. This would, in fact, be the rational approach to formulating the proposal. Healthy cynicism bids one question everything, first and foremost one’s own preconceptions and prejudices.

This is most assuredly not what is happening either in the case of the indefinite postponement of a new referendum or as regards a list party ‘strategy’ to flood the Scottish Parliament with pro-independence MSPs.

The list party strategy is being sold entirely and exclusively on the basis of a presumed highly desirable effect. Look at this wonderful outcome! Would you like to have this wonderful outcome? Then do as we say without question! The strategy is presumed to be ‘The Solution’ in the same way that the Union is presumed by Unionists to be the ideal constitutional settlement. Its wondrousness does not have to be proved. It just is!

I’m not buying it! Being more open-minded than adherents to the faith, I accept that it is possible the strategy might work. If absolutely everything goes as its proponents insist it will and if absolutely nothing deviates from that in the slightest way there is a theoretical possibility that the outcome might be some approximation of that which is promised. Being a cynic, however, I am bound to observe that this would not be characteristic of the real world. If things don’t always go wrong then the precautionary principle demands that we assume many things will go wrong. We plan for reality. No matter how dull and boring that may be.

I am an ‘ordinary’ person to the same extent that any of us conform to such a standard. I am a citizen of Scotland and a voter. I am not untypical of the people who must be persuaded if the list party strategy is to have any chance of working in the way its advocates insist it will. Not only am I not persuaded, but no effort is being made to persuade me. The list party strategy is being sold to me, but nobody is making a persuasive rational case for it. It is being sold to me in the same way as online adverts try to sell solutions which will transform your ten-year-old Dell laptop into a super-computer. Look at what it does! Don’t ask how it does it! And definitely don’t wonder out loud how something powerful enough to do what is promised can have no side-effects.

Open as I am to the idea that the list party strategy might work in something like the way promised I cannot accept that it is the ideal solution. Because not being blinkered by a prior commitment to this novel strategy I am unable to ignore the other strategy. The one we’ve had for as long as might as well be forever. The one we have used before. The one that is tried and tested. The one that has been examined and scrutinised and interrogated and found to have no significant deleterious consequences. The one which, even if it hasn’t been entirely successful up to now, at least has a well-established potential to bring success. Nobody, as far as I can tell, is arguing that using the SNP as the tool with which to restore Scotland’s independence cannot work. Nobody – other perhaps that the odd obvious nutter – is suggesting that using this tool that we have already fashioned for the purpose would risk catastrophe for Scotland’s cause. The thing about using the SNP as has always been the intention is that if it fails, it fails safe.

That there are problems with the SNP is undeniable. I would be the last person to deny it. I have hardly been anyone’s idea of the party loyalist. But I don’t look at the faults and failings and immediately assume the tool is fucked beyond any possible utility. I ask WHY it is not working. Or has not worked. And I conclude that it hasn’t worked because we are not using it properly. As is so often the case, it’s user-error. Rectify the user-error and we have the powerful tool we need. It is not necessary to go running around looking for an alternative. What we have is perfectly adequate for the task. What we have would be ideal if we applied our energies to deploying it in such a way as to realise its potential. And if it still fails, it fails safe. Or at least relatively safe.

I ask questions. All the time, I ask questions. I hope and strive to ask every possible question. And to recognise every possible answer. That won’t happen. But I find it a useful way of approaching problems. For example, I ask what is the worst possible outcome of the next Scottish Parliament election. (I trust we’re all agreed that this should be our focus at the moment.) I identify the worst possible outcome as the British parties retaking control of our Parliament. That is the stuff of nightmares for anyone who cares about Scotland. The alternative to an SNP administration is a ‘Scottish’ Tory government serving its masters in London without the slightest regard for the interests of the people of Scotland. It’s a no-brainer! Whatever else the Yes movement does as a force in Scottish politics we MUST ensure a decisive win for the SNP in 2021 – or whenever the election is held.

This is so important, so crucial, that it must be the focus of all our energies. We simply cannot afford to give the slightest impression that it is not vital to vote SNP. It doesn’t matter if we’re saying its OK not to vote SNP in the regional vote only, there is no way of avoiding this message spilling over into the constituency campaign. That is just one of the consequences that the list party advocates decline to address. It is a consequence which cannot sensibly be dismissed, The situation is such that even a small negative effect on the SNP vote could have massive implications.

Naturally, I also ask what would be the best outcome of the next Holyrood election. The outcome I, would wish for both in the context of good governance and in consideration of the fight to restore Scotland’s independence. The outcome I identify is a massive victory for the SNP. A substantial majority necessarily made up of both constituency and regional seats. Ideally, 50%+ in both votes. Thus we create the lever that will be strong enough to break open the British state and allow Scotland to escape the Union.

It is the only way we can create such a lever. Even if the list strategy worked perfectly and didn’t lose us the pro-independence majority and SNP administration it’s outcome would not produce a lever such as the SNP might be. We are working within the British political system. We have no choice but to do so. That is what there is until we can create and fully implement a system of our own. The British political system responds only to brute strength. It is vulnerable only to brute strength as typified by first-past-the-post, winner-take-all elections. It follows that in order to break the British state in the ways that we must be strong according to the criteria recognised by the British political system. That means channelling all our strength through one party. And only the SNP can serve this purpose.

This is not a proposal for a one-party state as some exceptionally shallow people may shrilly insist. It is a one-party solution to a particular problem. A problem which cannot otherwise be resolved.

A ‘Rainbow Parliament’ may sound wonderful. There is good reason to suppose it would be wonderful. Or pretty good. There is cause to suppose this is what will arise as Scotland develops a distinctive political ethos. But a multi-party situation would be utterly useless to the independence movement. Worse than useless. It would maximise potential divisions of the kind that the British political elite is so adept at exploiting. It just wouldn’t have the clout. It wouldn’t work. So, even if the list party strategy succeeds in it own terms, it inevitably fails in terms of restoring Scotland’s independence. And there’s always the other consequences – up to and including the risk of losing the SNP administration and/or the pro-independence majority, both of which are vital.

The worst thing about the alternative party proposals is not the disregarded potential consequences. The worst this is not the risk involved. The worst thing is that it is pointless. It is unnecessary. It serves no purpose. Not so long as we have and use the SNP. The worst thing is not that the tool we’re being offered is a very poor tool. The worst thing is that we are being asked to shun the tool that we know with something approaching absolute certainty can be effective if we use it well!

In arguing for the novelty of their wondrous solution the advocates of the various ‘cunning plans’ that have proliferated since 2014 point with bitterness at the SNP’s failures over that same period. The opportunities that have been missed. This argument only has persuasive power to the extent that we assume the SNP is necessarily like this. That it must inevitably fail us. That it will always miss opportunities. That the way things have been is the way they must always be. That the Yes movement – including SNP members – lacks the power to change things. If that is the case, Scotland’s cause is doomed.

If the Yes movement lacks the power to influence its own de facto political arm what possible hope might there be that we might influence affairs such as to bring our government home and build a better Scotland and create a better society and follow our aspirations rather than being driven by our fears. If we cannot harness the effective political power of the SNP in the service of Scotland’s cause then the question must be asked whether we are even fit to call ourselves the sovereign people of Scotland.

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The following formed part of a comment on an article I posted earlier today. My emphasis.

Clearly the list parties are a gamble but given nothing has happened in the past five years then blowing an election term or two to experiment with list parties might just be worth it.

This follows a couple of days of comments on Twitter which, while less explicit, helped reinforce the impression that the idea of handing the government of Scotland to the British Tories has already been normalised to an extent which is of very great concern to those of us who care about Scotland at least as much as we care about some narrow political agenda.

This casual, flippant acceptance of allowing the Scottish Parliament to fall back into the hands of those who would see it crippled or destroyed derives principally, if not entirely, from the promotion of so-called ‘list parties’. It is an essential part of the message being peddled by or on behalf of these parties that ‘it’s OK not to vote SNP’. This is supported by a generalised and escalating denigration of the SNP which, however justified it may be in certain specific regards, tends to obscure the fact that the single most important objective of the independence movement in relation to the next Holyrood election is ensuring the biggest win possible for the SNP.

To put an SNP administration in jeopardy on the vanishingly remote chance of getting a seat or two for some list party or parties is just plain madness. To gamble our Parliament on a bit of dubious electoral jiggery-pokery is sheer insanity. To fatally undermine the SNP at this time REGARDLESS OF ANY FAULTS OR FAILURES is tantamount to a betrayal of Scotland of the same order as that which was perpetrated in 1707.

The inanity spouted by Alyn Smith and others about ‘never closer to independence’ makes a vague kind of sense in one regard only. We have an opportunity such as has not arisen previously and such as must not be squandered as so many opportunities have over the past five years. The chance is there to use the SNP as the lever to prise Scotland out of the accursed Union. Many factors have conspired to create unprecedentedly propitious conditions. But it only works if we use the SNP.

I find it remarkable – were I given to conspiracy theories I might say suspicious – that it is precisely at this moment of unique and almost certainly never to be repeated opportunity that we are being actively encouraged to withdraw support from the SNP and turn to some cobbled-together ‘alternative’. When within the Yes movement we have people opining that a decade or more of ‘Scottish’ Tory rule “might just be worth it” something is seriously amiss.

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Divergent concerns

Given some of then things I’ve had to say about his views in the past, some might be surprised to find me agreeing with Pete “The Postponer” Wishart. They might be even more perplexed to find that I am perfectly comfortable agreeing with what he says about the new pro-independence ‘list’ parties that are starting to proliferate. They shouldn’t be. My criticisms of Pete Wishart have never been personal. It’s his attitudes and the manner in which he tends to express them which I object to. I have always allowed that he is generally an excellent constituency MP – so long as you don’t question him at all about anything – and an asset to the SNP Westminster Group – when he isn’t embarrassing them by talking about applying for the job of Speaker of the British House of Commons.

Wishart is much like Nicola Sturgeon in this regard. Probably like all politicians. He’s neither all good nor all bad. Even the most apparently simple individual can be a rather complex mix of characteristics and attributes and attitudes. Nicola Sturgeon is a fine First Minister. Pete Wishart has served Scotland well as chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee. Nicola Sturgeon’s handling of the constitutional issue has been abysmal. Pete Wishart’s thoughtlets on the scheduling of a new independence referendum are jaw-droppingly delusional. Even the worst of the British politicians squatting in the Scottish Parliament like bloated cuckoos surely have some redeeming qualities. I am open to that possibility. I do not discount it completely. Anyone?

There is nothing to disagree with in what Pete Wishart says about these new parties that are springing up promising to game Scotland’s ungameable electoral system in ways that even the founders of some of the parties have previously insisted are impossible. At best, these list parties are not a good idea. At worst, they are the worst idea imaginable. They are being sold on the basis of what they promise to achieve – a slew of additional pro-independence MSPs – without any explanation as to how this might actually be achieved. The promise to rid our Parliament of parasites the likes of Murdo Fraser and buffoons such as James Kelly and fatuous nonentities of Willie Rennies ilk holds such powerful appeal that many are accepting the claims of these new parties with a naive eagerness which might be endearing were it not for the serious implications of such folly.

If a promise is too good to be true then it almost certainly isn’t. The sensible individual embraces a healthy cynicism when approached by wannabe political leaders bearing uncommon gifts. Especially when all you are ever shown is the packaging.

Pete Wishart comes to the correct conclusions about these list parties even if he gets there by a process which is rather less forensic than we might wish. He could, for example, have highlighted the illogicality of the assurances such as that the new party will only stand candidates on the regional lists so long as the SNP is ‘guaranteed’ a Holyrood majority from the constituency vote. Firstly, there can be no such guarantee. Secondly, if there could be such a guarantee it would totally negate the claimed purpose of these list parties.

Or how about the insistence that the new parties will not be standing against the SNP and endangering an SNP administration? The only occasion when the SNP has won an overall majority was in 2011. Achieving this remarkable feat involved winning seats in almost every region (7/8). How then can these new parties put up candidates for list seats without standing against SNP candidates and thereby increasing the risk of the Scottish Parliament falling back into the hands of the British parties – a catastrophe none of us who care for Scotland want to even contemplate. And let us not forget that the only time the electoral system has been ‘broken’ it wasn’t by the gaming activities of alternative parties but by the sheer force of the electorate concentrating votes on the SNP.

I wouldn’t expect Pete Wishart to get into psephology which shows how unlikely it is that any of these alternative parties will actually win seats or the arithmetic which illustrates how easy it is for them to do massive harm while trying to win seats. There is an effective 5% threshold for being awarded seats. There is a very real risk that the alternative parties could get near enough this approximate threshold to knock out the SNP but not enough to win a seat. Thereby doing the opposite of what they proclaim as their intention. The more of these parties there are, the greater the risk of the votes that go to them being not merely wasted but, from the perspective of the independence campaign, severely counter-productive. None of them admit to this risk or if they do then they do so well away from the public eye. I consider that to be deceit of the kind that would disqualify any party from getting my vote. Deceit not dissimilar to that of pretending there is a Scottish Labour Party.

What forensic analysis shows – and there’s an abundance of it available – is that these alternative parties represent a huge gamble. A gamble, moreover, in which it is impossible to calculate the odds. We know those odds are stacked against the list parties doing what they’ve scribbled in chalk on the tin, but we have no way of working out even roughly how remote are their chances of success in their own terms. What we can discover with ease are the stakes. If these parties fail to deliver on their promises – which they all but certainly must – then all is lost. The British parties seizing back control of the Scottish Parliament is a prospect which haunts the darkest nightmares of every politically aware person in Scotland. It would be a massive, perhaps fatal blow to the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence.

But what if they succeed? What do we stand to gain? What is the prize? Nothing! No more than what we already have. There is no gain in achieving a pro-independence majority when we already have a pro-independence majority. It makes to sense whatever to put that pro-independence majority in jeopardy for the vanishingly remote possibility of maybe by some electoral fluke getting a slightly bigger majority. There is nothing that can be achieved by a majority of two which cannot be achieved by a majority of one. So why would you gamble your majority of one in the vague hope of getting something that is by any objective measure no better?

Pete Wishart sees this. Do you really want to admit to being less perspicacious than the guy who came up with the inane notion of an ‘optimum time’ for holding a new referendum? Do you really want to claim less political acuity than someone who continues to look at the Section 30 process as the “gold standard” even after it has failed so spectacularly? Do you?

What Pete Wishart fails to see are the underlying reasons for these alternative parties coming into existence in the first place. Actually, it’s worse. He recognises the cause(s) but then flatly refuses to address it/them. This is starting to sound more like the Pete Wishart we’ve come to know and observe with weary despair. Failing or refusing to address issues is something of a trademark. He acknowledges that the Gender Recognition Act was ‘problematic’. But it has been shelved so no need to think about it at all. Please don’t question Mr Wishart on social media about why the legislation was ‘problematic’ or why it was allowed to become ‘problematic’ or why it continues to be ‘problematic’, or he’ll block you. For reasons which may be understandable even if hardly admirable he is not going to allow that the GRA was a mistake. Or even that mistakes were made in the handling and presentation of GRA.

I happen to agree that the constitutional issue takes precedence and must be abstracted for the realm of public policy. But even if only for the reason that it is prompting the massive gamble of the list parties I cannot be so dismissive of what are undoubtedly genuinely held concerns about self-ID proposals and the potential impact on women – even if that impact is exaggerated for legitimate campaigning reasons. It is this discounting of the concerns of Scotland’s citizens which I find incomprehensible and reprehensible. I found it so when Pete Wishart and others were dismissing valid concerns about the First Minister’s inexplicable commitment to the patently nonviable Section 30 process. In the name of consistency and principle I must object just as strongly to the anti-GRA lobby being treated with disdain bordering on contempt – even if I do find their lobbying to be way too shrill and frenetic to have any hope of being effective.

What really irks me, however, is Pete Wishart’s profound indifference to the other dissatisfaction which he acknowledges as a motivating factor in the formation of the alternative pro-independence list parties. He recognises the disquiet, not to say distress, with which many view the SNP’s somewhat lackadaisical approach to the constitutional issue and the Scottish Governments decidedly lacklustre performance in the handling of that issue.

To put it simply, Pete Wishart is worried about how these parties will affect the SNP’s chances in the next Holyrood election. I am fearful of how they will affect the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence. We both consider these list parties a very bad idea. But for quite different reasons.

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Universalism is one of those things that you either get right away or you probably never will. The capacity to understand the concept is directly proportional to social conscience. Those who don’t get it are worthy of vigorous shunning. Mostly, they’re arseholes. Some make an effort. But they find the concept elusive. One moment they will have a firm hold on it, the next it has turned to sand and slipped through their fingers.

I wonder if it is possible to truly comprehend universalism and not embrace it with enthusiasm. What manner of creature would it be that could do this? To understand universalism and oppose it is to knowingly and purposefully disadvantage swathes of society. How might this be justified?

I am, of course, referring to social universalism. The term is also used in theology and anthropology in ways that are different but closely related. The common theme in the word and the idea of ‘all’. All are equal. Every individual ultimately belongs in a single common category regardless of how many other categories they occupy. All!

This necessarily implies that whatever applies to or is relevant to that ultimate category must, by force of logic, apply to all regardless of any other category or categories they occupy. It is universal.

Commonly, people misunderstand universalism by supposing that is is something that it is not. That it means something that it doesn’t. It does not mean that everybody is the same. It doesn’t even mean that all are equal. What it means is that all the differences and inequalities cancel each other out. That there is balance. Equilibrium.

Universalism doesn’t mean dragging everybody down to a level. Nor does it mean raising everybody up to a level. It means allowing everybody to find and maintain the level at which they are comfortable. All are equally comfortable. Contentment is universal.

The American Declaration of Independence refers to the pursuit of happiness as one of the rights common to all. An early draft, which I prefer to the one that survives, states,

We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness.

Better that it had said pursuit of contentment. Happiness is ephemeral and transitory. No normal human being can be in a state of happiness all the time. Of course, the text actually qualifies this right as the “pursuit of happiness”. Leaving open the possibility that this condition might never be attained. Or might be attained only occasionally and intermittently and not without the effort of pursuit. One might reasonably wonder what kind of right it is that one has to work for. How can something be “inherent & inalienable” and at the same time only available to those who apply themselves to the effort of obtaining it?

Contentment is a very different proposition. Any of us can find contentment as an incidental by-product of our behaviours. We don’t have to strive for it. We may simply happen upon it. Indeed, it may not be definable as contentment if its achievement is effortful. In similar contrast to happiness, contentment readily be imagined as a permanent condition. It is perfectly possible to be content all the time. Indeed, contentment better conforms to its own definition the more permanent it is.

Pursuit of happiness devolves into a constant quest for instant gratification. To whatever extent we believe we have an undeniable right to pursue we take unhappiness to be both a denial of our rights and a personal failure. Circumstances conducive to neither happiness nor contentment. Circumstances conducive only to feelings of insecurity and anxiety.

The task of government, by this argument, is not to defend the individual’s right to pursue happiness but to create and maintain conditions in which all may find contentment. The aim is not to maximise happiness with insecurity and anxiety as by-products but to optimise contentment. By definition, insecurity and anxiety must thereby by banished.

A society pursuing happiness is a frantic society. It is therefore stressed and stressful society. From which it follows that it is a diseased society in the truest of senses that it is a society devoid of ease. It is a society in which the possibility of finding contentment has been reduced to something near zero. It is a sick society within which people tend to get sick. It is a disordered society in which organisations tend to become disordered. It is a corrupt society in which institutions tend to become corrupted. It is a society such as that which we have created for ourselves.

It is a society structured according to a socio-economic system which takes as its source of motive power the tensions created by imbalance. Inequality, inequity, injustice and insecurity – the four horsemen of the stress apocalypse. It is a system which functions by breaking people and breaks people by functioning. It is a system designed to fail because it has to be constantly failing in order to work – as in facilitate the accumulation of wealth by the few while affording the many just as many moments of instant gratification as it takes to convince them that real happiness – an end to anxiety – is only a bit more pursuit away.

Just as Buzz Lightyear wasn’t flying but falling with style, so our socio-economic system isn’t succeeding but failing with profits. No amount of style will stop Buzz eventually hitting the floor in what he will always call a ‘landing’ however little it may be controlled, so our socio-economic system must always fail in ways that its apologist will always refer to as a ‘blip’ or an ‘over-correction’ no matter how much it might feel like a bruising, bone-shattering crash to the rest of us.

Universalism makes a difference. It should be regarded not as a cure for a sick society but as an essential characteristic of a well society. Universalism isn’t a fix for all our problems. But when the concept and principle of universalism is generally understood and appreciated and applied, we will know we have at the very least gone some way towards creating a society with which we may justly be content.

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Break the chain

Break the chain of infection!

Pathogens such as viruses spread along chains of infection – from infected person to new host. The only certain way to stop the spread of a virus such as Covid-19 is to break as many of those chains as possible. To starve the virus of new hosts.

The only way to break the chains of infection and starve the virus of new hosts is to isolate potential new hosts from potentially infected person. When there is no way to easily and reliably tell whether a person is infected or infectious then this means isolating every individual from every other individual. If no two individuals in a population come into contact or proximity, the virus cannot spread. There are no chains of infection along which it can travel.

The more breaks in the chain there are, the less chance there is of anyone becoming infected. None of us has any way of knowing if we are on a chain that has been broken at some prior point.

The only way to be certain that the chain is broken is to be the break.

Will you be a link in a chain of infection? Or will you be a break?

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The next trick

Joanna Cherry gets it! She understands the situation and the circumstances and the dynamics. This much is evident from her column in The National today. She sees the opportunities and the potential pitfalls. And she is not shy about presenting a perspective which contrasts sharply with that set out by Nicola Sturgeon. All of which is very welcome. We needed this.

The contradiction of Nicola Sturgeon’s cease and desist order to the independence movement is explicit enough to be effective but framed in such a way as to avoid constituting a direct challenge to the party leader. Almost as if it had been composed by a lawyer. But let us not mistake this for anything other than a challenge – not for the leadership but to the leadership of the SNP. A challenge to the ethos of small ‘c’ conservatism and hyper-caution with which the leadership has lately become imbued. A challenge to the mindset which allowed the independence campaign to become moribund long before the current public health crisis was even on the horizon.

It was always the case that the SNP, both in Edinburgh and in London, was going to have to work within the British political system even as the party sought to break Scotland free from it. That is the nature of devolution. It is the nature of the Union. It’s the realpolitik. This meant that there was always the danger of the party becoming mired in that system. It’s how the British state operates. Those challenges to established power which cannot be crushed are absorbed. Or they are absorbed only to be crushed.

This is not to imply that the SNP group at Westminster has ‘gone native’. Not completely, anyway. Nor does it imply that the party leadership, rightly centred at Holyrood, has become ‘tame’. Not completely, anyway. It is only to say that there is a necessary compromise to be made between being the radical spanner in the works of the British political system and being enough of a cog in the machine to function as an administration in Scotland and Scotland’s (token) representation in the British parliament. The barely veiled sub-text of Joanna Cherry’s article is that the current leadership has got that balance wrong.

Somebody had to say it. Somebody other than a cantankerous, irascible, contrary and most of all inconsequential old blogger, that is. Somebody with presence had to speak out. Somebody with political heft and clout. Somebody who would be listened to even by those disinclined to hear any criticism of Nicola Sturgeon or the SNP. With all due respect to Angus Brendan MacNeil MP, this was always going to be Joanna Cherry MP. Angus’s interventions have been very welcome and have served the important purpose of keeping alive the spirit of the independence movement which Nicola Sturgeon was attempting to subdue. But I’m sure he understands full well that Joanna Cherry’s voice is the one which will reach those who need to hear.

Nicola Sturgeon cannot afford to ignore either Joanna Cherry’s warning about the fate of Winston Churchill or her call for the lifting of that cease and desist order. This will have to be addressed. Concerns about her commitment to the Section 30 process were not addressed – were pointedly and even contemptuously ignored – because those concerns were not voiced by anyone of Joanna Cherry’s stature. Ms Cherry cannot be ignored. Not even the First Minister may treat her with disdain. Belatedly, the SNP leadership will be obliged to rethink its strategy of disregarding constructive criticism and closing down ‘inconvenient’ debate.

Nicola Sturgeon has proved herself as a political leader. Even before the Covid-19 outbreak hit us, she was recognised as an extraordinarily able party leader and a highly competent First Minister. She is popular and respected. Her handling of the public health crisis has greatly enhanced a reputation such as few politicians can aspire to. But, as Joanna Cherry points out, this is not enough. As Winston Churchill discovered, people always want to know what your next trick will be no matter how amazing the last one was. They always demand more no matter how much they have been given. They always ask, “What have you done for us lately?”, no matter how much you’ve done for them recently.

The electorate may be occasionally grateful, but is is always demanding. And the Scottish electorate is arguably more demanding than most.

Joanna Cherry’s intervention provides Nicola Sturgeon with an opportunity to signal a shift in strategy. It need not be dramatic. Not immediately. It need not come from Nicola Sturgeon herself in a manner which might be portrayed as a climb-down. The signal could come from anyone close to the leadership. A few names spring to mind, but I suspect none of them would be grateful is I mentioned their names in this context. Just ask yourself who among Nicola Sturgeon’s closest allies speaks with an authority to match that which Joanna Cherry brings to this issue.

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