Speech: Hope Over Fear 2019

The people of Scotland are sovereign!

There is no qualifier appended to that statement.

No ifs or buts. No conditions or caveats. No question. No argument. No equivotation. No ambiguity.

The people of Scotland are sovereign.

There’s a tendency to use that phrase quite glibly.

Even that great champion champion of people power, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has insisted that the government must honour the choices of the people.

So long as it’s the right kind of people making choices he agrees with.

But what are WE saying when we assert that the people of Scotland are sovereign?

We are saying that all legitimate political authority derives from the people.

We are saying that the people are the ultimate arbiters in all matters of public policy.

We are saying, quite simply, that THE PEOPLE DECIDE!

WE DECIDE!

THE PEOPLE OF SCOTLAND ARE SOVEREIGN AND WE DECIDE!

312 years ago, the ruling elites of both Scotland and England conspired together to impose on Scotland a political union which denies the sovereignty of Scotland’s people.

The Union is a constitutional device by which the people of Scotland are prevented – PROHIBITED – from fully and effectively exercising the sovereignty that is ours BY ABSOLUTE RIGHT!

312 years ago, a tiny elite of those privileged by birth or wealth claimed to speak for Scotland. The descendants of that elite; the inheritors of that privilege, still claim to speak for Scotland.

I have a message for them. YOU DO NOT SPEAK FOR SCOTLAND ANY MORE!

WE SPEAK FOR SCOTLAND!

THE PEOPLE OF SCOTLAND HAVE FOUND THEIR VOICE!

We have found our voice and we are saying THE PEOPLE OF SCOTLAND ARE SOVEREIGN AND YOU WILL RESPECT THE SOVEREIGNTY OF SCOTLAND’S PEOPLE!

To the British political elite I say, the days when you could, with impunity, overrule and override the democratic will of Scotland’s people ARE AT AN END!

THOSE DAYS ARE OVER!

FINISHED!

But we also need to send a message to our own political leaders – to Scotland’s political leaders. We must FORCEFULLY remind them that the sovereignty of Scotland’s people IS NOT NEGOTIABLE!

We are asserting our sovereignty and we will not have it traded away for WORTHLESS BRITISH PROMISES!

We will not have our sovereignty compromised in a desperate and futile effort to find a path to independence which adheres to the rules made by British Nationalists for the purpose of preserving their precious Union at any cost.

We will not have our sovereignty sacrificed to make life easier for the people we elect to defend our sovereignty.

OUR SOVEREIGNTY WAS SOLD THREE CENTURIES AGO. IT WILL NOT BE SOLD AGAIN!

We must not grow complacent because we have an SNP administration in Edinburgh and a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament.

Our First Minister, our Scottish Government and ALL our MSPs must be repeatedly, constantly, incessantly, EMPHATICALLY reminded that THE PEOPLE OF SCOTLAND ARE SOVEREIGN!

But let’s end on a positive note. Let’s make Nicola Sturgeon a promise. Let’s offer her a solemn undertaking.

If she has the bottle to confront the British state…

If she is bold enough to defy British rules…

If she demonstrates determination to break the Union that was imposed on Scotland 312 years ago…

… WE WILL BACK HER TO THE HILT! 100%! OUR MINDS; OUR MONEY; OUR MUSCLE! WHATEVER SHE NEEDS!

We give this undertaking! We make this promise! And WE ARE THE SOVEREIGN PEOPLE OF SCOTLAND!



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Ineffectual!

It was entirely predictable that British Nationalists would seek to create new impediments to holding a referendum and further obstacles to achieving a Yes vote should their efforts to deny Scotland’s democratic right of self-determination fail. Knowing the British mentality as we do, this anti-democratic manoeuvring was only to be expected. The British political elite always play by the rules. So long as they are allowed to write the rules; and to change them at will and without notice; and to have one set of rules for themselves and another for everybody else. The effort to ‘rig’ the process was readily anticipated and was, in fact, foretold by several commentators.

Nobody is surprised. Except, apparently, the SNP. The people we’d hope would be more politically astute than most appear to have been naive enough to suppose the British establishment would actually respect democratic principles. Nicola Sturgeon continues to be totally and unshakably committed to the Section 30 process despite the inevitability of the British political elite using that process to thwart democracy. Our First Minister remains completely deaf to the growing clamour within the Yes movement warning of the danger of trusting the British government. She remains oblivious to the voices urging her to immediately seize control of the entire referendum process in the name of preserving Scotland’s democracy. Despite the obvious anti-democratic intent of the British political elite, Nicola Sturgeon still seems happy to cede to them all the authority they need to ‘rig’ the process.

There are protests. Keith Brown says “the Tories are holding democracy in contempt”. Well of course they are, Keith! What did you expect? More importantly, what do you intend to do about it? He insists, yet again, that the Scottish Government has a mandate for a new referendum and that to refuse to recognise that mandate constitutes contempt of Scotland’s Parliament. But there is not so much as a hint that he and his colleagues have any intention to respond purposefully to this attack on Scotland’s democratic institutions.

It’s the same with Brexit. We get entirely redundant daily reminders from Ian Blackford and others about how catastrophic Brexit will be and how awful it is that this is being imposed on Scotland against the will of the Scottish people. But, apart from the incessant lament, what has the Scottish Government actually done to prevent Scotland being dragged out of the EU despite our emphatic Remain vote? They say this is unacceptable. But they seem content to accept it.

Already I can hear the pathetic bleating issuing from those with minds so effectively colonised as to render them incapable of thinking outside the British box. What can we do? We have no power! We have to obey the rules! We can’t be seen to do anything naughty! What do you expect?

[Insert appropriately expressive expletive!]

We can do whatever we are sufficiently determined to do! We have whatever power we choose to assert! We are under absolutely no obligation to obey any rules other than those we make for ourselves! We have to be seen to be willing to defend our democracy! I expect our politicians to do the job we elected them to do!

I don’t dismiss the difficulties involved in confronting the British state. Those difficulties have been aggravated by five years of inaction. They will only get greater with every day that passes without the bold, decisive action which is required to stop the British Nationalist juggernaut crushing our our democratic institutions.

The Scottish Government must recognise that the British state is absolutely determined to close all democratic routes to independence. They must realise that only democratic route to independence we can rely on is the one we create for ourselves and over which we retain total control. A process made by the Scottish Government working through the Scottish Parliament with the support of the sovereign people of Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon must explicitly reject the authority of the British political elite to interfere in any way in process by which Scotland decides the matter of its constitutional status and chooses the form of government which best suits the needs of Scotland’s people. The First Minister must abandon the Section 30 process. She must insist that the British state, its agencies and its proxies are entirely excluded from Scotland’s constitutional decision-making process, in accordance with international laws and conventions. The SNP’s whole approach to the constitutional issue must be subject to an immediate, urgent and rigorous review.

Circumstances demand a mindset very different from that which is presently in evidence. How can we claim to be ready and determined to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status if we aren’t even prepared to take control of the process by which constitutional normality will be restored?

How can we even claim to deserve independence if the government we elect is prepared to let a government entirely lacking in democratic legitimacy make the rules for us?

How can we claim that the people of Scotland are sovereign while our own elected leaders are in thrall to the sovereignty of the British parliament?

One word, more than any other, comes to mind when I look at the Scottish Government’s handling of the constitutional issue – ineffectual! Against all the evidence to the contrary, they still proceed on the basis that the British will respect democratic principles. They continue to suppose that there is a path to independence abiding by the rules made by the British state for the purpose of preserving the Union at any cost. They persist in imagining that there must be a route to independence which avoids direct and almost certainly acrimonious confrontation with the British establishment. This is all delusion. And it is delusion which threatens to be fatal to Scotland’s cause.



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Relying on alchemy

Another serving of stale platitude purée from Ian Blackford. Chunks of it don’t even make sense.

Asked if he was disappointed support for independence wasn’t higher, Blackford said he thought that people were waiting to “see the direction of travel” over the course of the last few years.

Waiting to see what has already happened? Really?

Perhaps Ian Blackford could tell us exactly how long he reckons it will take for the reality of Brexit to hit home. He might even hazard a guess at how many mandates the SNP administration in Edinburgh will have by the time it does. Or maybe he’ll just keep spouting this kind of drivel so that he doesn’t have to admit the plain folly of shackling the independence cause to something that the SNP couldn’t hope to influence, far less control. Like hitching Scotland’s cause to a runaway truck and hoping it heads in the direction of a referendum.

Day in and day out I have people telling me that Mr Blackford and his colleagues know what they are doing. That they have a ‘secret plan’. That claim ceased to be credible some time ago. The SNP leadership staked everything on Brexit while tragically failing to recognise that it is not the reality of Brexit that matters, but the perception. And who controls all the main tools for manipulating public perceptions?

The SNP has got the independence project into a mess. I have no interest in recriminations. But can we please just recognise a failed strategy when it is slapping us repeatedly about the face. Can we get past the denial and start figuring out how to rectify the mistakes of the past five years.

The leaden lump of the SNP’s strategy isn’t going to turn to gold no matter how long it’s left steeping in the noxious alchemists’ brew of Brexit. Ian Blackford might as well stop throwing banalities and bromides into the cauldron.



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Ghosts of referendums past

It’s that day again! The 18th of September has rolled around again in the relentless way that anniversaries tend to do. It is now a firmly established tradition that, on and about this day each year, we are regaled with reminiscences of the 2014 independence referendum and prompted to revisit our own memories of that time. Countless articles will be written each trying to extract some meaning from the anniversary – or to impose some meaning on it.

Five years!

That’s approximately 200 million heartbeats for the average person. Or a single parliamentary term. If you’ve been married for five years then you will almost certainly not be giving each other symbolic gifts made of wood. The English language has five vowels and human beings have five senses. If astrology is your thing, the number five is lucky for Gemini and Virgo. But if you really were lucky astrology would never have become your thing. In numerology there are five core numbers. If you’re into numerology then you may be well-placed to count your blessings that you dodged the astrology bullet. The earthworm has five hearts. I have no idea how many times they beat, individually or in aggregate, in the space of five years.

It’s amazing what you find out when you’re looking for a novel hook on which to hang an article. Something to provide context. Something to lend significance. Something to help capture and express my personal feelings on this notable day.

David Bowie is always good for a bit of inspiration. Better him than Orwell or Arwood or Bradbury or any of the other dystopian writers to whom my mind tends to turn when I look around me at the world. And there just happens to be a Bowie song called Five Years! Obviously, that can’t be mere coincidence. Ask any astrologer or numerologist.

In his Ziggy Stardust persona, having just learned of Earth’s imminent demise, Bowie laments, “Five years, that’s all we’ve got!”. So much for escaping dystopian visions! But the phrase does resonate on this fifth anniversary of the 2014 independence referendum. Because that’s pretty much what I was saying in the aftermath of that event.

To be totally accurate, I wasn’t actually saying we had five years to rectify the tragic mistake that Scotland made on Thursday 18 September 2014. It’s just the way it turned out. My early ‘calculations’ had to be adjusted to take account of intervening events and developments so that it ended up being five years. Allow me a bit of latitude here, please. Taken as a whole, my message over the past five years has been, “Five years! That’s all we’ve got!”.

In September 2014 I argued that the earliest possible date for a new referendum was September 2018. By 2016, following the EU referendum, I was arguing that September 2018 should be assumed to be the latest date for a new constitutional plebiscite. The subsequent extensions to the Article 50 transition period pushed that date back a year to September 2019. So, five years. That’s all we had. And now we’ve had it.

Scotland’s independence movement has had five years in which to regroup after the setback of the 2014 referendum. Five years to reorganise. Five years in which to evaluate the previous campaign. Five years in which to formulate and hone a strategy for the next campaign. Five years of opportunity. What do we have to show for it?

Essentially, we have nothing to show for it. Things have happened. People looking for silver linings can point to those things and feel good about the situation. But little has changed. The things that have happened don’t all join up into something that qualifies as significant change. In terms of the independence campaign, we are now where we were, not five years ago, but nearer ten. The major issue then was the demand for a referendum versus the British state’s arrogant and obdurate denial of our right to have that referendum. What has changed? The First Minister continues to issue almost daily appeals for the powers to hold a ‘legal’ referendum. Other than the increasingly vicious contempt with which these entreaties are met, what has changed? In this regard, the last five years might as well not have happened.

Six and a half years ago we had a date for a referendum. Now, we don’t even have that!

The Yes movement has not been idle for those five years. I have watched it mature into a movement with massively more power and potential that was the case going into the 2014 campaign. But that power is wasted because the movement is rudderless. The potential is being squandered because it has no outlet other than marches and rallies and a proliferation of ancillary projects. In all of that five years, no meaningful progress has been made in forging the vital link between the Yes movement and the SNP. It would be easy to descend into the ‘blame game’ on this point. And to some extent we have no choice but to go there. Understanding why something has failed is a prerequisite of rectifying it. But, for present purposes, it is sufficient to note that we’ve had five years to do this and we have made no discernible progress.

In the course of that five years the SNP has gone from being effectively absent from the independence campaign to being so utterly preoccupied with Brexit as to make that period of absence look like meaningful engagement. While much of the left in Scottish politics has, with some justification, been criticised for being ‘in’ the independence campaign but not ‘of’ it, the SNP is ineluctably ‘of’ it but not ‘in’ it. It is the party of independence – of that there can be no doubt. But it seems not to have been an active participant ‘in’ the independence campaign since 2014. When I think back over the past five years, my overall impression is of the SNP being on the fringes, I hear what Nicola Sturgeon and other SNP politicians say. But I can’t help feeling that their words are reaching me having had to penetrate a bubble. And I can’t figure out whether it is they who are inside the bubble, or me.

It’s been five years. I expected more. Like everybody else I know in the Yes movement, five years ago I was filled with hope and enthusiasm and determination and confidence and the absolute certainty that Scotland’s cause would prevail. Five years on, there are more and more days when those feelings come to me only as pale ghosts.



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Inappropriate language

I don’t need an opinion poll to tell me “it would be unacceptable for any government in Westminster to block Scotland’s democratic right to choose“. This is not a matter of opinion. It is an incontrovertible fact that nobody has the legitimate authority to deny Scotland’s right of self-determination; least of all the entity from which Scotland is ‘seceding’.

I know I quibble about the language used by SNP politicians such as Ian Blackford and John Swinney. But language is important. Issues are perceived as being defined by the language politicians use. Particularly when operating in a hostile media environment, politicians have to be constantly aware of which narrative they are following. They must be on their guard against slipping into the pervasive narrative of that hostile media. They need to be ever mindful of the language they use.

Of course it would be “unacceptable” for the British government to “block Scotland’s democratic right to choose”! But it would be more than that. It would be wrong! In every sense of the word, it would be wrong! Even to attempt to deny the fundamental democratic right of self-determination is wrong. It cannot be right. It cannot rightfully be done.

Every word spoken by Scotland’s elected representatives should be informed by an unshakeable belief in Scotland’s cause. Every utterance must be couched in the language of an independent nation. There can never be the slightest suggestion of concessions which could be seen as compromising the sovereignty of Scotland’s people.

If Scotland’s right of self-determination is not subject to the approval of the British political elite, how much less might it be affected by the vagaries of opinion polls. Only the Parliament elected by the people of Scotland has the legitimate authority to determine whether there is sufficient demand to warrant a constitutional referendum in Scotland. Our Parliament has already made that determination. Opinion polls are irrelevant. The notion that the opinions of people furth of Scotland might have some bearing on the matter of a new independence referendum is beyond ridiculous. It is a matter for the Scottish people alone.

So why the hell is Ian Blackford hailing this poll as “significant”? Why is he not challenging the narrative which imbues it with significance? Why is he using such inappropriate language?



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That was NOT the question!

John Swinney is not one of the people I usually associate with the SNP’s notoriously clumsy political communication. I have always considered him one of the party’s sharpest minds. Which makes it all the more perplexing that he should so thoughtlessly misrepresent the 2014 referendum by claiming that “Scotland voted to remain as part of the United Kingdom”. We most decidedly did not!

It is not possible for Scotland’s people to have voted to remain part of the UK because that question was never put to them. The question on the ballot paper five years ago was ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’. There was no mention of remaining part of the UK.

There will be those who insist that there is no difference between saying No to independence and saying Yes to the Union. Thus exhibiting a woeful shallowness of thinking such as I never supposed John Swinney might fall prey to.

For a start, the question actually asked makes independence the contentious issue which it should never have been. Independence is not contentious. Independence is normal. Independence is the default status of nations. To discover how fundamentally slanted the question is, just imagine it being put to the people of any other nation. They would consider it ridiculous and offensive. Not only, or even primarily, because their nation already is independent, but because it would never occur to them that this status is something which could or should be called into question.

Not only did the question on the 2014 ballot paper make independence the contentious issue, it ensured that the Yes campaign was built around a contested concept. There was then, and still is, no single agreed definition of independence. The term, as it applied to Scotland, meant many different things to different people. Myriad individuals and groups within the Yes movement all presented voters with their own conception of and vision for independence. The Yes campaign became a confusing fog of competing messages and was thereby rendered very much less effective than it might have been.

Because independence is a contested concept, it is inherently susceptible to being misrepresented and burdened with all manner of prejudicial associations. It was, in other words, highly vulnerable to precisely the kind of negative propaganda effort to which the anti-independence campaign predictably resorted.

When people voted No in 2014 they were not voting FOR anything. They were voting AGAINST an idea of independence as something abstruse and fearful They were voting AGAINST what they had been led to believe was a “leap in the dark”; a voyage into uncharted waters where lurked ravenous monsters. They were voting AGAINST a nightmarish vision painted by a malignant rabble of liars and deceivers in the British government, the British parties and Better Together / Project Fear; with the willing assistance of the British media.

They most assuredly were not voting to remain in the UK.

Contrary to the impression given by John Swinney, the people of Scotland have never given their consent to the Union. They have never been asked. I would suggest that it is long past time this democratic deficiency was rectified.



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Crises and choices

John McDonnell offers an interesting argument for preserving the Union. Filter out the word-spray intended to put a patina of sense on that argument and what remains is the proposition that the more successive British governments do harm to Scotland the less feasible democratic constitutional reform becomes. The inescapable logic being that doing harm to Scotland is an effective way of preserving the Union. Which necessarily implies that those who wish to preserve the Union are powerfully motivated to do harm to Scotland.

This is not a new argument, of course. It is simply a variation on the theme of constant crisis as a means of social control. A theme familiar from the writings of George Orwell and other peddlers of dystopian visions. Perpetual war is probably the most common form of constant crisis. But this looks like it may soon be be knocked off the top spot by climate change. And, as you would expect, the dismal science of economics is always a contender.

Constant crisis is a particularly useful tool for social control because it is flexible enough to be adapted for almost any set of circumstances. The nature of the crisis is, obviously, an important factor. It needn’t be something as serious as armed conflict – which includes such as the ‘War on Terror’ and the ‘War on Drugs’. It can be something relatively low-key – such as the economic instability which is an ever-present background hum in our lives.

Just as the intensity of that background hum can can be turned up or down as may be expedient, so the manner in which the constant crisis is related to individuals and groups can be fine-tuned to maximise the coercive effect. This can go from the constant crisis being the problem which regrettably requires that people be controlled, to people resisting control being the problem on account of the crisis.

Evidently, John McDonnell feels the need to ramp up the threat level. Brexit isn’t enough. In his desperation to convey a sense of crisis he throws climate change and child poverty at us as well. With all this going on, so the argument goes, it would be irresponsible to indulge the democratic right of self-determination. It is only a matter of adjusting the size and shape of the crisis and pretty much anything can be portrayed as an indulgence or a distraction or a waste of resources.

What is missing from McDonnell’s ‘thinking’ is any consideration of the fact that circumstances are the product of choices. A chain of causal connections links the nature of present circumstances to past choices. The matter of how and by whom those choices are made can never be irrelevant. Constitutional politics is concerned with the core questions of who decides, how those decisions are arrived at and the processes by which decisions are implemented. Constitutional debate can never be a mere indulgence.

If the crisis being deployed as a justification for compromising democracy is real, it is a product of self-evidently bad choices made by the British political elite. If the crisis is false or exaggerated, it’s because the British political elite choose to deceive us. Why, then, would we trust their choices? Why would we entrust them with the power to make choices that affect Scotland? Why would we not choose to make those choices ourselves?



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