Thank you!

It’s long past time I did one of my far too infrequent thank you messages to all those who support this site with donations. The generosity is remarkable. Maybe people aren’t total shite after all.

Sincerely

Peter A Bell



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A home for hope?

Like many people, I have come to regard Joanna Cherry as the person who might jolt the SNP leadership out of the cloth-eared inertia which has beset the party since 2014 and left the independence campaign run aground on a reef of obdurate hyper-caution. I saw in Ms Cherry someone who might look at the increase in support for independence indicated by polls over the past year and rather than unthinkingly accepting this as a vindication of the SNP’s approach to the constitutional issue, would ask the awkward questions. Such as, why only over the past year? Circumstances have been close to ideal for an anti-Union campaign since Friday 19 September 2014. Since then, there have been numerous opportunities to further Scotland’s cause. All of them were missed. Why? If the SNP’s approach to the constitutional issue is appropriate and effective, why was there no evidence of this over a period of five years or more?

I thought Joanna Cherry might be the bold voice within the SNP pointing out the unpalatable facts. Such as the hard reality that high and rising support in the polls is utterly meaningless in the absence of a process by which that support is connected through actions and decisions to an outcome. Strength of public opinion alone changes nothing without the means to translate it into effective political power. The SNP in government is supposed to is supposed to provide that means. Instead, the party’s leadership remains absolutely committed to a process – Section 30 – which does not connect to anything. And now has indefinitely postponed action even on a process which suits only the purposes of the British state.

I was encouraged in my hopes of Joanna Cherry when I read that she was urging the SNP to accept that the anti-Brexit campaign was over and lost. I would have been happier if she were to explicitly acknowledge that the obsession with Brexit should never have been permitted to supersede and supplant the commitment to restoring Scotland’s independence which gets top-billing in the party’s own constitution. But we take what we can get.

Some will say that it is pointless harking back to the past. Generally, these would be the people who stand to be embarrassed by the past. Their sensitivities should not be allowed to stand in the way of learning lessons from past mistakes. Not only has the current leadership of the party failed to learn any lessons, it is in denial about there being anything to learn. Nicola Sturgeon – for it is she as First Minister and party leaders who must shoulder the blame – has ignored and/or denigrated anyone who suggests alternative approaches which take due cognisance of past errors.

But we are where we are. Even if all too many in the Yes movement imagine we’re in a different place altogether. We must move on. With each passing day the need to extricate Scotland from the Union grows more urgent. Only the SNP can provide the means to translate popular support for Scotland’s cause into effective political action on behalf of that cause. I had come to look on Joanna Cherry as the individual who, with popular support of her own, might snap the SNP leadership out of its Brexit-induced torpor and make it fit for purpose.

Imagine my disappointment when I got to the final third of Joanna Cherry’s column in The National only to find something that reads like it has been pinched from Pete Wishart’s blog. She does that thing that so many SNP politicians do. She reaches out to the British state’s propagandists and validates their carping. She hints at fresh thinking, then proceeds to trot out stale material left over from the 2014 referendum campaign. She says, “we need to advance a fresh positive case for an independent Scotland”. No we don’t! We need to advance the idea that independence is simply normal. We need to make the case that it is the Union which is the constitutional anomaly and that Brexit isn’t the problem. The problem is the Union which allows the British political elite to ignore the democratic will of the sovereign people of Scotland in all matters and at all times!

She goes on,

This means providing answers to the questions that in the full glare of an independence campaign will come into focus…

No it doesn’t!

Joanna Cherry needs to ask how these questions are brought into focus, by whom and for what purpose. Only by asking such questions might the realisation dawn that these questions are brought into focus through British propaganda fed to us through the British media on behalf of the British state for the purpose of manufacturing doubt about independence.

She says,

From my experience talking to voters these questions revolve around three issues: the economy and concern about what currency an independent Scotland will use, including whether we could be forced to join the euro; how the process of accession to the EU would actually work, and how to maintain cross-border trade with England.

But where did these people get the questions form? The got them from the British media! The vast majority of voters have neither immediate interest in nor any knowledge of these matters. They are told by the media that it is absolutely vital that they get an answer to the ‘What currency?’ question. So the think they need an answer to that question – notwithstanding the fact that even if any answer they could be given constituted real knowledge, it would be knowledge that they could do nothing with. And whatever answer they are provided with and however comprehensive and convincing that answer is, the British media will tell them that they didn’t get an answer and they will thereby suppose that they didn’t get an answer and they will be outraged despite the fact that they had previously accepted an answer that is of no real use to them to a question it would never have occurred to them to ask in the first place.

Even if the ‘What currency?’ question is answered there is no answer that can be given that doesn’t spawn a score of other questions. Merely by being asked every one of those questions generates doubt. By attempting to answer them the SNP validates the questions asked, amplifies the doubt and prompts further doubt-inducing enquiries.

Joanna Cherry says,

These are all legitimate questions.

No they’re not!

The ‘legitimate’ question would be is Scotland capable of managing its monetary affairs? Why doesn’t that question “come into focus”? Because attempting to answer that question would cause the British political elite considerable and obvious difficulty. So they use the facile ‘What currency?’ question to divert attention.

The same or similar applies to every other question. Politics for Dummies! When your opponent asks a question the purpose is rarely if ever to elicit useful information. Always assume malign intent. Always ask yourself what question is not being asked. Then ask it!

How do I know all this? Because it is exactly what happened in the first referendum campaign!

I have grown accustomed to SNP politicians and Yes activists behaving as if Scotland needed to pass an exam to even be allowed to exercise the right of self-determination that is ours by absolute right. I had hoped that Joanna Cherry would be different. I had hoped that she would understand the need to reframe the constitutional issue and rethink the campaign strategy. If not quite dashed, that hope is now seriously undermined. Which leaves me with a genuinely legitimate question. If not Joanna Cherry, then who?



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Never mind the journey! Look at the destination!

It isn’t difficult to understand why Alyn Smith is so anxious to steer discussion away from independence and the process by which it will be restored to Scotland. It’s easy to see why he wants to talk about the conjectural policies of a hypothetical SNP administration in an imagined future rather than the process by which that future might be realised or the strategy by which that process might be implemented.

He casually dismisses the referendum which in all circumstances will be essential to the process of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. He disdainfully sweeps aside any and all alternatives to the Section 30 process as unworthy of consideration. He declines to address the frustration with SNP strategy on the constitutional issue which has led directly to people seeking magical solutions to a political problem.

Of course, Alyn Smith insists that he’d be delighted to discuss these matters. But he chooses not to do so because they are “not that interesting to anyone but us”. By “us” he presumably means party members and the rest of the Yes movement. Apparently, we are not important enough for him to engage with. Why would he trouble himself with the nuts and bolts of process or the complexities of campaign strategy when there’s a crop of glittering generalities and elegant soundbites to be harvested in talk of policy? Why focus on the difficulties of the journey when you can paint whatever picture of the future might tempt your present audience to choose your vehicle?

He is delighted to discuss process having just airily rejected the idea of that being “anything other than a Section 30 Order”. He is delighted to talk about process. Just not with anybody who recognises the critical importance of following a process that actually connects to the desired outcome. He is delighted to talk about strategy. But not with anybody who has actual ideas about strategy.

Alyn Smith doesn’t want to talk about process lest someone ask how the Section 30 process to which he is wedded might actually work – as in take us to a referendum and/or the end of the Union. He doesn’t want to discuss strategy lest he be asked to account for the mistakes, missteps and missed opportunities of the past five years.

Mostly, he doesn’t want anybody pointing out that while he is chasing the “centre ground of middle Scotland” he risks losing the core support of the Yes movement; lured away by opportunists seeking to exploit frustration with the SNP for the sake of personal and/or partisan agendas which reduce Scotland’s cause to a mere marketing device.

Am I alone in noting the jaw-dropping contradiction to which Alyn Smith himself seems totally oblivious? He rightly states that “independence is not a luxury, it is essential…”. But given this acknowledgement that independence is the prerequisite for everything that we aspire to for Scotland how might we explain Alyn Smith being so uninterested in the “how” of restoring Scotland’s independence?



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The Union abides

Union no more

Ruth Davidson will fail to save the Union from whom or what? The Union isn’t under threat. Nobody is doing anything that threatens the Union. What is meant by “fail” anyway? The notion that the Union is going to self-destruct is utterly deluded.

In order to define failure in this context it is first necessary to understand the purpose of the Union. Only when the Union’s capacity to fulfil this purpose can it be said to be failing. Only when it ceases to fulfil its function altogether can it be said to have failed.

The purpose of the Union is to give England-as-Britain a permanent and significant advantage in the management of its relations with Scotland. Or, to put it another way, the Union serves to keep Scotland at a disadvantage relative to England-as-Britain. It does this in a number of ways, not the least of which is denial of the sovereignty of the people of Scotland.

If anything, this denial of our sovereignty has become ever more explicit over recent years. Imposing Brexit on Scotland contrary to the democratic will of the people of Scotland is a particularly egregious example of our sovereignty being denied. Our votes counted for nothing. The so-called “power-grab” of competencies being repatriated from the EU is another. When the British Prime Minister refuses a Section 30 request they are exercising powers associated with absolute monarchy. They are saying that the people of Scotland in their nation, the British Prime Minister is sovereign.

It is the Union which permits and enables this denial of our sovereignty. The Union absolutely requires that the sovereignty of the people of Scotland must be denied. The British Parliament may endorse Scotland’s Claim of Right, But it does so fully aware that the Union makes the endorsement a meaningless gesture.

So, where are the signs of failure? It seems that portents of the Union’s imminent collapse are being seen in the antics of the current regime in London. But British Governments have been riddled with incompetence and corruption for all of the three centuries of the Union. These governments come and go and the only thing that differentiates them is the amount of avaricious bungling they manage to cram into their period in office. The Union abides!

The behaviour towards Scotland of the Boris Johnson Clown Troupe provides ever more and better cause for Scotland to end the Union. But there is no reason to suppose that mere continuation of the British political elite’s centuries-old custom of contempt intimates the imminent spontaneous disintegration of the Union. It never did before.

The Union is not failing. The Union is working perfectly. There has been no measurable or meaningful shift of power in Scotland’s favour. Nor shall there be. The Union continues to lurk like some malign, anti-democratic beast prowling just beneath the deceptively bright surface of Scotland’s politics.

The Union won’t fail. It sure as hell isn’t depending on Ruth Davidson preventing it from doing so. Only if and when the Scottish Government, mandated by the people of Scotland, seeks and obtains the authority of the Scottish Parliament so to do will the Union end. Only bold, decisive action by the Scottish Government can save Scotland’s democracy and identity.



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Know your power

Boris Johnson’s ‘sheer might’ may be the stuff of fantasy. It may, in fact, be “dishonest weakness”. Maybe it does reveal “a fantasising, insecure, bullying Prime Minister, leading a fantasy fuelled, and failing, administration”. But it’s evidently enough. However fantastical may be the “sheer might” of the UK, the Union is clearly sufficient to its purpose.

Mike Russell – or Michael Russell as it seems we must now refer to him – is a politician. One would therefore be forgiven for supposing that he’d be aware that power is relative. What matters in the context of the constitutional issue is not the “sheer might” of the UK in relation to the rest of the world, but the power relationship between the British state and Scotland. From that perspective, the might of the Union is as sheer as it needs to be.

It’s all very well to illuminate the grotesquely asymmetric nature of that power relationship – which Michael Russell does exceedingly well – but what I and I’m sure many others want to know is whether and when the SNP intends to do anything to alter that power relationship so that it ceases to disfavour Scotland to the extent that he so ably describes. He makes a great job of conveying the gross injustice of the Union. But he has nothing to say about the SNP’s plans for rectifying the situation.

Michael Russell’s words are nicely chosen to provoke anger at the democratic iniquity of the Union. But he offers no constructive outlet for that anger. So he should not be surprised if that anger turns inward.

You may have noted that I asked only whether and when the SNP intends to do anything to alter the power relationship between Scotland and the British state. I made no mention of how this might be done. That’s because there really is only one way a power relationship may be re-balanced and that is by bold, assertive action taken by the disadvantaged party.

Power begets power. Power accrues to itself. It would seem that the default tendency of power relationships is to favour established power. Given that established power controls the terms on which power is distributed and exercised it is only to be expected that the rules will be such as to preserve and maintain the arrangement which has allowed established power to become and remain the dominant party. But the relationship is not as fixed and immutable as this suggests. No matter how one-sided, power relationships are still subject to a dynamic.

One of the ways in which established power achieves and maintains dominance is by asserting power on the basis of asserted power. Once a certain form and level of power is accepted, it becomes the foundation for further claims to power. The dynamic would tend always to totalitarianism and stagnation but for the disadvantaged party’s capacity to challenge asserted power by asserting its own power. It may seem that the default tendency of power relationships is to favour established power. In reality, however, the dynamic favours equilibrium within a range of power differential that is liveable for both or all parties.

There is no prevailing power without countervailing power. Because prevailing power gives rise to countervailing power. The potential of countervailing power is always there awaiting agency. We look to the SNP to give agency to the countervailing power which challenges the prevailing power of the British state. The “sheer might” of the British state relative to Scotland is a function of the Union. The obscene imbalance of power is the purpose of the Union. All the power over Scotland asserted by the ruling elites of England-as-Britain derives from the Union. Nothing changes in Scotland’s favour unless and until that power is challenged.

It is not necessary to wonder how the prevailing power of the British state might be challenged because countervailing power is not only born of prevailing power but defined by it. Countervailing power can do no other than take the shape of the space left to it by prevailing power. The exercise of countervailing power is, if not dictated, then certainly constrained by the space in which it can operate. Countervailing power redresses insupportable imbalances by testing the limits of that space. That is what the SNP is supposed to be doing. That is what the SNP is not doing.

What I want to say to Michael Russel and Nicola Sturgeon and all our elected representatives is this. By all means try to increase awareness of the appalling nature and effect of the Union. By all means seek to inspire with visions of a better future liberated from the shackles of an anachronistic and inherently anti-democratic political union. But unless you also show willing to be the agent of Scotland’s countervailing democratic power, what the hell use are you?



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So what?

Apparently, those pesky Russkies may have been interfering in the UK’s democratic processes. Or maybe they haven’t. I’m tempted to congratulate our new Russian overlords on finding the UK democratic processes with which they interfered. Or not. But in an effort to avoid sarcasm I’ll simply wonder how they hoped to figure out how their interference would interact with the interference carried out by other governments. Including the UK government. If, of course any governments interfered at at all. Because the evidence seems not very evidence-like. In fact, I’d like to see some evidence that the evidence is evidence. But that’s just me slipping into facetiousness again.

Not that I’m saying the alleged interference by the Russians (and assorted others) didn’t happen as alleged. In fact, my default assumption would be that there was foreign interference in the alleged democratic processes. Allegedly. Because that’s what states do. It’s what they’ve always done. I’ll warrant there isn’t a nation in all the world or in all of history that didn’t attempt to influence the course of events in some other nation at some point. They’re all at it! WE are at it! Everybody’s doin’ it! Everybody always has done it. It’s politics.

Long, long before Machiavelli was born state actors were being Machiavellian. There never was a state actor that didn’t think itself the most masterful practitioner of the Machiavellian dark arts since Machiavelli. Or before. They all think they’re running the world. They all see themselves as the ‘Great Engineer’ manipulating the levers of espionage and diplomacy to ensure advantage. And they all fail more or less disastrously more or less all the time.

All that changes is the technology. The underlying motivations and machinations haven’t changed. When carrier pigeons were cutting edge technology the coded messages strapped to their legs concerned precisely the same kind of things that now fly massively farther and faster and in infinitely more indecipherable form courtesy of the carrier pigeon’s successors. State actors have always wanted to know what other state actors are doing and thinking and thinking of doing. And they’ve always sought to manipulate what others do, think and think of doing. It’s kinda their job. Otherwise they’d be state non-actors.

In one of those curious quirks of human nature, these state actors simultaneously think themselves the secret bee’s covert knees when it it comes to the state acting and fret endlessly that other state actors might be out-Machivelliing them with devious new devices and gadgets and techniques and methods. State actors are desperately in need of counselling. But who can they trust!?

What we are being encouraged to worry about is nothing more than the environment in which politics proceeds. Of course, we should be on the lookout for serious abuses. But if any of those state actors had found a way of interfering in the affairs of other states that was effective in any significant way even in the face of efforts to counter that interference then, by definition, we wouldn’t even know about it. And all that would happen if we found out would be a shift to a new reality that was a product of the same process that was the product of the old reality. It to would be a political reality that had been subject to interference and manipulation and, just as importantly, the measures implemented to prevent interference and manipulation every bit as much as the old reality.

If you want to worry about Russian interference in Scottish elections and referendums then you are, of course, perfectly at liberty to do so. But doing so makes no sense unless you also worry just as much about American interference and EU interference and Israeli interference and Chinese interference and – worst culprit of all – British interference.

I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark here and venture that most people aren’t looking to expand their worry-list to anything like that extent.

What can’t be cured must be endured! There are many ills in life for which we are well-advised to develop coping mechanisms given the remoteness of the possibility of a solution. By far the most effective way of coping with and minimising the impact of unwelcome external interference in the democratic process is mass engagement and participation. State actors become small in the presence of the people united.

The Russkies almost certainly do have their tentacles reaching into Scotland. But when there is a frantic pointing at them and their activities (alleged) then my first response is to wonder which state actor’s activities I’m being distracted from. Being in Scotland, I don’t have to wonder long.



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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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Is this enlightenment?

I have just been reading my good friend Tommy Sheridan’s impassioned condemnation of slavery and racism. As ever, I have questions. I always have questions. Certain of these questions are perennial. Questions such as: Where does it end? Where is the line to be drawn? Who decides?

Of actions I ask: Why? For what purpose? What is the intent? What does the action hope to achieve? What are its likely effects?

If statues, why not buildings? If we are to destroy statues because they memorialise those who built massive fortunes on a foundation of unimaginable human misery then what about the buildings which memorialise those same people? Where is the line to be drawn? Where does it end? Who decides?

Is it wise to leave such decisions to the mob? Is it not characteristic of mobs that they are notoriously poor at imposing limits? Is it smart to have the criteria by which things are selected for destruction set by those most driven by the basest urges? Is it sensible to have the scale of destruction limited only by the human capacity for destructiveness?

What is the purpose of destroying statues honouring plainly dishonourable men? Is it to make a statement to the effect that we do not honour them? In which case, how can we in good conscience continue to enjoy the benefits of other products of slave-traders’ philanthropy – or troubled consciences? Do we not honour these men more by using the schools, libraries, museums etc. donated by them in the hope of immortality or constructed in their memory by those who sought a portion of that immortality – or to profit from said construction?

If destroying statues of those whose immense wealth derived from savage exploitation of human beings is a gesture protesting racism rather than or as much as a gesture protesting slavery, then what is the deeper purpose? Setting aside the atavistic self-indulgence which doubtless drove at least a few of that Bristol mob, what was the intent of the protesters? What did they hope to achieve by their action? What is their ultimate aim?

Do they hope to eradicate racism? Is that not a forlorn hope? Is not the capacity for irrational hate as much a part of human nature as the equally unreasoning if much less lamentable capacity for love?

Is it their purpose to address the myriad social ills which flow from the expression of racism? Do they hope to eliminate racism made manifest as in the killing of young black men by white authority? In which case, what is the connection between the two – the destruction of a statue and the manifestation of racism? In what way does the former impact the latter?

Few would deny that the intention is worthy – and those few are themselves unworthy – but is the action effective? Does it serve a worthy purpose? Might there be some good that flows from the protest much as ill flows from that which is being protested?

Others may have questions of their own. Some may have questions for me. In response to the foregoing some might demand to know what I have done to combat racism. I would reply simply that I have not committed any racist acts. I did not commit any racist acts yesterday. I have no racist acts planned for today. And if things proceed according to habit and custom, I shall commit no racist acts tomorrow.

Thus have I combated racism. In this way I shall continue to combat racism. By being aware of the capacity for racism that is in me, and keeping it there – where it belongs. By acknowledging that this capacity for racism is part of my evolutionary inheritance. By knowing that it need not be part of the person that is me. By choosing not to allow that latent racism any space in my conscious self.

Humanity is not divided into racists and non-racists. The divide is between potential racists and those who have realised that potential. Between those who recognise that racism is out of place in civilised society and those who suppose that because it is part of human nature it must be part of the ‘natural’ order.

I cannot in all honesty say that I am unhappy about the destruction of memorials to those who claimed a ‘god-given’ right to profit from one of the more appalling manifestations of racism. But I question whether it does anything by way of spreading enlightenment.



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Due process matters

I’ve signed the online petition for First degree murder charges against Derek M. Chauvin. Why don’t you?

Tommy Sheridan

I have not signed this petition and neither do I intend to. I am happy to explain why. The reason I decline to sign the petition can be summed up in two words – due process. The due process that was denied to George Floyd. To deny due process to the individual accused of killing George Floyd is to compound the alleged offence.

Abuse of the authority of public office is a serious offence. It is particularly heinous when the perpetrator is a law enforcement officer entrusted with extraordinary powers over citizens. Abuse of that power undermines the rule of law which is the foundation and supporting framework of civilised society.

Denial of due process undermines the rule of law. In cases where the offence itself abuse of authority – which is in all instances a denial of due process – particular care must be taken to ensure that the tendency to undermine the rule of law is not aggravated by further denial of due process.

That George Floyd was denied due process and the protections he was entitled to under the law is undeniable. In all but the most exceptional of circumstances people afforded due process and the protections of the law do not end up dead by the actions or neglect of law enforcement officers.

Where a citizen does end up dead or injured whilst in the custody of police officers then all the circumstances of the incident must be thoroughly investigated and appropriate action taken against any person suspected of having committed an offence. Due process demands that all aspects of both the investigation and any subsequent action be conducted according to law and by the duly constituted authority.

It is for that duly constituted authority to determine whether further action is called for and what form that action should take. It is for the prosecuting authority to decide whether and what charges should be brought against any person accused of an offence. There is no place for mob rule in due process.

Far from the least of the considerations which must inform the prosecuting authority’s decision on how to charge a person accused of an offence is the viability of the prosecution. It is a matter of what can be proved in a court of law. It may reasonably be maintained that no prosecution is preferable to a failed prosecution. And that conviction on a lesser charge is better than acquittal on a greater charge.

There are a multitude of very sound reasons why public opinion should not be a factor in the deliberations of the prosecuting authority any more than it should inform the judgement of the court in which the case is pursued. Justice is only served by judgement stripped of emotion.

The anger, fear and hatred of the mob is no less an unacceptable intrusion into due process than the emotions of a police officer who abuses his or her power. I will not be part of that mob. I will not contribute to that intrusion. I will not sign that petition.



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It’s the end of the world as we know it

It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it
And I feel fine
REM

Today (Wednesday 13 May 2020) marks 55 days since I last left the house. Almost eight weeks. 1,320 hours. 79,200 minutes. 4,752,000 seconds.

And I feel fine.

I have adjusted to the lockdown with no apparent effort and no perceptible ill-effects. After 4,752,000 seconds it has become my ‘new normal’. I have adjusted. Our household has adjusted. My wife and I have found it perhaps surprisingly easy to do so. There are a number of reasons for this. Neither of us has any enthusiasm for the kind of soap-opera drama that so many people seem to suppose constitutes normality. We quite enjoy each other’s company. After 35 years together we have learned how to be together. We like enough of the same things and agree on enough issues to a sufficient degree that conflict simply doesn’t arise. Forced by the circumstances of raising a family while both working two jobs, we have fallen into the habit of sharing the workload. There is little discussion of who does what. We just get stuff done.

We both like routine. Novelty and excitement are for youngsters and people with non-standard brain chemistry. We pretty much do the same things at the same time every day. It’s what we are comfortable with.

We are free enough to do things we like doing. Disciplined enough to do things we must do. Intelligent enough to recognise the things we can’t do. Mature enough to accept the things we cannot change.

Judy is working from home. Her job is such that all she really needs – apart from her knowledge, skills and personal qualities – is a phone, a computer and a broadband connection. All of which we have. She has long been accustomed to conference calls and online meetings. Making this work for events which were previously deemed to require physical presence has at times been a challenge. But she enjoys a challenge.

I am retired. But I have never completely lost the habits of a working life. I have found it helpful to preserve the ‘hooks’ of a normal working day – a start and finish time and various breaks. These are not rigidly adhered to. But they provide a framework for my days. A framework which I can make fit with my wife’s inevitably less flexible routine.

Creating a suitable working environment necessitated some expenditure on new office equipment. Which suited me fine as I’m a dab hand at the online shopping; and package tracking is the only form of sport in which I engage. I’m a bit of a tech-geek. Selecting, buying and setting up new computer equipment is my idea of fun. And I’ve nothing else to spend my pension on these days.

I just don’t go out. I reckon that if you’re going to do lockdown then you should do lockdown. If the advice is to stay at home, then stay at home. Not that I needed any advice. I understand enough about how viruses behave in populations to know that the only way to be sure of not finding yourself on a chain of infection that only exists because someone has failed to break it, is to be the break that others have failed to make. The only certain way of stopping a virus from spreading through an entire population is to ensure that no two people in that community ever come into whatever proximity the virus requires in order to pass from infected individuals to new host individuals. That this may be impractical should not deter us from getting as close to total social distancing as human ingenuity will allow.

So, I just don’t go out. My wife goes out to provide us with the necessities of life. But she keeps these trip to a minimum; observes strict social distancing practice while away from the house, and ‘decontaminates’ when she returns. All of which is our new normal. We’re fine with it.

I’m not being smug. I know our household may be far from typical. I know lockdown affects people in different ways; because people are not all alike and neither are their circumstances. I recount all of this merely to make the point that life in lockdown can be perfectly liveable. People can adjust. Circumstances can be modified. It can all be made fine. Mostly.

People will always require other people – for purely practical reasons, if nothing else. What lockdown is teaching us – if we are willing to learn – is that we maybe don’t need others as much or as often as we thought. We’re discovering that we can do without – or do it ourselves. Hair-cutting has been an issue for a great many people. It may be trivial compared to, for example, having a tumour removed but it nicely illustrates the problems thrown up by the lockdown. I have cut my own hair for many years. I have professional-quality electric hair-clippers which I run across my head every two weeks or so. Obviously, I’m not fussed about style. My hair-style is whatever is left after the clippers are put away. Lockdown hasn’t affected my hair-care regime in the slightest. I’m fine.

Judy is another matter. She is accustomed to having her hair cut and styled professionally. Understandably, she is not looking forward with any great enthusiasm to the day the man from Amazon delivers the professional-quality hairdressing tools I will be using on her head. I’m not exactly thrilled about it myself. My first job when I left school was in a barber shop. I have cut hair. Men’s hair. More than half a century ago. I’m a bit rusty. But needs must. If you find yourself in a similar position then I recommend you just keep telling yourself that it has to be easier than DIY dentistry. I can testify to the fact that home dentistry is not remotely fine.

You may also want to take my word that you better get used to home hairdressing, if not home dentistry. Because it really is the end of the world as we have known it. There is no ‘when this is over’. There is no ‘back to normal’. It is best to suppose that everything you once considered normal now isn’t. The phrase ‘new normal’ shouldn’t be taken to imply some minor tweaks here and there. It implies major changes to every aspect of everyone’s life. Or so we should assume. If we are to avoid a massive culture-shock, we had better start thinking very differently about how we are going to live in the future.

Responsible politicians have made a start on gently introducing the idea that none of us is getting our old life back. A few have recognised the need to assiduously avoid making bold promises about what it’ll be like ‘when this is over’. Our own First Minister was an early adopter of cautionary language about what the future holds. On 23 April, the First Minister unveiled the Scottish Government’s framework for decision making which contains an entire section called ‘Adjusting to a New Normal of Living with the Virus’. The words that struck me most powerfully are ‘living with the virus’. Not beating it. Not taming it. Not curing it. Living with it!

For how long?

Forever!

This may be unsaid. The politicians may not be spelling it out. But it stands to reason that if, as Nicola Sturgeon said “the virus will not have gone away” even if and when we figure out how to control it then we have to think in terms of “coexisting with the virus”, as Italy’s PM Giuseppe Conte put it. There will always be viruses. This coexistence is not a temporary arrangement.

Note that both these politicians spoke of “the virus”, obviously referring to Covid-19. But Covid-19 is only the latest such pathogen to threaten the world. There have been others before – Spanish Flu and HIV for example. There will be others in the future. Even if and when we learn to “control” Covid-19 – and bear in mind that “control” of the virus itself means reorganising our lives – we will have to consider the general and constant and unending threat of viruses and other pathogens. We cannot now become unaware of the threat that they pose.

The world ‘forgot’ Spanish Flu. But that was a world without the web. We now possess something akin to a ‘species consciousness’. However much some may want to, awareness of pandemic disease cannot now be eliminated. And, being aware, we are compelled to act. It is not viruses that have changed – any more than they have always changed as they mutate. Nor is it human physical vulnerability that has changed. Although changes to the environment wrought by humans cannot be other than a major factor in pandemics. What has changed is our awareness. Our consciousness Our knowingness. We cannot unknow what we have learned. We cannot lose a consciousness that exists independently of us. We cannot become unaware when awareness is common to all of humanity.

The monster has come out from under the bed and is looming over us with its teeth bared. The monster is still there when you turn on the light.

Blame the scientists! If they hadn’t found ways of detecting viruses and gained an understanding of how they affect the human body and how they spread and how they can be stopped from spreading and how they can be prevented from killing us, we could be comfortably unaware. We could be blissfully ignorant. We could all be dead. And I do mean all of us. All bliss and comfort could come to a ghastly end with an extinction level pandemic. The remarkable thing about the Covid-19 pandemic is not how the world reacted but that it reacted at all. For the first time ever we’ve had something that is at least an approximation of a global response to a global threat. Setting aside the politics of the thing for a moment (longer if we can get away with it) what happened is that scientists in China identified the virus very early. They then notified the world. The world decided the best way to counter the threat. The world implemented all the necessary measures and maintained them until the threat was reduced to a manageable level. Run closing credits!

That’s the fictional version. It wasn’t quite like that. But what matters is that we now know that it could be like that. We know there’s things we can do. So now we’re obliged to do them. And, being obliged to do them, we will feel compelled to do them better. We’ll do better next time. It’ll be fine. Maybe.

We’ve been lucky. It may not feel like it. And to whatever extent this is ever over we will doubtless then put all the success down to our own ingenuity and effort while blaming someone else for the failures. That process has started already. Sometimes I think the viruses deserve to win. But not this time, I think. Because we’ve been lucky. Even if it turns out that there is no Covid-19 vaccine. Even if it transpires that there is no acquired immunity. Even if the hidden effects of the virus now being discovered prove as big a killer as the effects which were more immediately obvious, still we have been lucky.

We are fortunate that this was not an extinction level pandemic. We can thank who- or whatever it is we’re in the habit of thanking for things that we have nobody to thank for that this was not an extinction level pandemic. We can light a candle or slit the throat of a baby cow or whatever it is we generally do to propitiate the supernatural entities which could have visited an extinction level pandemic on us if such had been their whim but instead blessed us with Covid-19. We’ve been very, very lucky.

Had “the virus” satisfied only a few more criteria and/or better satisfied the criteria that it did then we would have been in a condition for which epidemiologist have coined the term ‘fucked’. Our state of readiness was such that we’d have been past the point of no return on the road to extinction before the first emergency cabinet meeting was convened.

Here is what you need to know! That virus already exists. Or it could come into existence at any moment. Viruses, like everything that is (sort of) alive is the product of random mutation. Random! It takes no more effort for a virus to be deadly than it does for it to be relatively harmless. It’s just a matter of luck. Our luck. Given that we must work on the assumption that all viruses are harmful to humans and none are truly harmless, the odds are tipped very slightly in favour of the big killer emerging. Which means the odds are against us. Viruses are everywhere and constantly mutating in the same random way as didn’t quite make Covid-19 THE ONE. It’s like a planet-sized game of Russian Roulette in which viruses are the chambers in a gun pointed at humanity’s head and one of those viruses (at least one) is the live round which will blow us all away. In this analogy, the trigger is pulled when THE ONE enters the human population.

You’re probably wondering what THE ONE will be like. You may be curious to know what it is that makes it THE ONE. Don’t bother! It could be any of numerous permutations of any of numerous characteristics. It would be possible to describe THE ONE. But THE ONE that turns out to be THE ONE might be nothing like THE ONE that has been described. It doesn’t matter. There is no way to prevent any of these permutations arising and no way to counter its effects once it finds a host. The only hope is to either stop THE ONE from getting into the human population or to prevent it becoming a pandemic when it does.

All viruses have the potential to be THE ONE. THE ONE could be any virus. Which means that, given our new awareness, we have to assume every virus is THE ONE, and act accordingly. Unless we are prepared to be exterminated, we are going to have to prepare to meet every new viral infection as if it heralds an extinction level pandemic.

The good news (about bloody time!) is that it can be done. Those generous, beneficent fates have given us a practice run. They’ve given as a warning. We know what must be done. We know how to defeat a pandemic. We know that this will require the total transformation of the world as we have known it on a timescale that would make the most hyper-Panglossian of state planners weep tears of blood in utter despair. But we know. And knowing, we have no excuse for not doing.

It may be the end of the world as we know it. But we can all still be fine. It’s just that it’ll be a new fine.

This article was originally written for iScot Magazine
but I missed the deadline.



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