Off the fence

I have stayed out of the sex/gender debate which is causing ructions and ruptures within the SNP. I have steered clear of it for a number of reasons. The debate itself may fairly be described as ‘toxic’. With two camps firmly entrenched and lobbing gas grenades at one another the last place you want to be is in no-man’s-land, where you’re likely to find yourself engulfed by a poisonous cloud whichever way the wind blows. I have something of a reputation for a decidedly ‘robust’ debating style. I am no more averse to undermining the character and credibility of an opponent than were the great orators of ancient Athens. But there is always a point to my insults. They are, I hope, measured. Calculated to serve a substantial argument. The sex/gender debate appears to consist of little else but profound unpleasantness entirely for its own sake.

Another reason for shunning what I shall continue to call a debate solely for want of a better term, is that I prefer to try and focus on the constitutional question. I regard this as, by far, the most important issue in Scotland’s politics at this time. Inevitably so given that there is no aspect of public policy which lies outwith the scope of constitutional politics.

Then there’s the fact that I don’t understand the sex/gender debate. Not that I don’t understand the issue. But that I don’t understand why it is an issue. Or, at least, why it is so much of an issue that those who become involved in discussing it tend to be instantly stripped of all decency, decorum and dignity. That sex/gender is non-binary is, to my mind, quite uncontroversial. I long ago realised that both both biologically determined sex and socially defined gender are points, or bands, on a spectrum – or, better still, areas in a matrix – which may be more or less sharply delineated and which may – within limits – shift over time.

Regarding sex/gender thus, it becomes easy to accept as part of a broader normality sexual orientations and gender roles which cannot be accommodated by a concept of normality derived from the idea of sex/gender as binary. Normality itself is not binary. Instead of thinking in terms of an oppositional normal and abnormal, we relate better to reality by thinking in terms of many different normals. Instead of two exclusive categories, we have a richer and more satisfying single inclusive category.

There is still abnormality in the sense of the pathological. But this relates to sexual behaviour rather than the matter of where a person is placed – or where they place themselves – in the maleness/femaleness matrix. It may well be argued that, in terms or sex/gender identity, the only abnormality is the claim to be entirely one or the other. We can only sensibly talk about certain traits and characteristics being dominant. We are, each and every one of us, a mix of male and female. For the most part, we are predominately one or the other. But it is almost certainly impossible to be all male or all female. Nature just doesn’t work that way.

Given all of this, it stands to reason that an enlightened society will recognise the individual’s right to have some say in defining their sex/gender. It may even be maintained that this is a human right as well as a civil right. What it cannot be, however, is an absolute right. There are practical considerations. And where there are practical considerations there has to be compromise.

The large, complex societies in which the vast majority of are embedded, and on which we all depend, simply would not be feasible were we unable or unwilling to compromise. Democracy itself is just such a compromise. Each of us is a sovereign individual with free will. We choose to compromise by pooling part of our individual sovereignty so that society as a whole can function. Look, and you will find such compromises everywhere; in your own life and those of others. You will also see people who are reluctant to compromise. Or who refuse to do so. Or who do so inadequately. Adolescence is a period when human beings tend to struggle with these compromises. Some people struggle with them all their lives.

Treating sex/gender as if it was binary is one of those compromises. There are contexts in which it is necessary to draw a dividing line between the ‘two sexes’ simply so as to make the day-to-day functioning of society possible. There are elements of society’s institutions and infrastructure which cannot accommodate every part of the sex/gender matrix. Resource limitations prohibit it. It is not possible to have separate toilet facilities for every single one of the sex/gender orientations which can exist ‘in nature’, far less all those which may be conceived of and adopted by individuals constrained only by the scope of their imagination. Our towns and cities would be toilets in more than a metaphorical sense.

Obviously, I exaggerate in order to make the point that compromise is necessary. Even in relation to something as essential as one’s sex/gender identity, there must be a trade-off between being true to oneself and enjoying the benefits of modern society.

The good news is that the contexts in which such compromises must be made have been greatly reduced over the years. The extent, severity and rigidity of the compromise has also lessened with ongoing social reform. The institution of marriage being a good example of a context which has ceased to demand that sex/gender be treated as binary. Marriage now accommodates more forms of normality than it did only a few years ago.

Things change. Mostly, they change quite slowly. Although it would be more true to say that they change at a human pace. A pace suited to society as whole rather than the preferences of individuals. Perhaps it’s maturity that allows me to accept with equanimity the fact that some things don’t change as much or as quick or in the way that I want. Or maybe it’s just that I’m getting older. Mainly, I think, it’s because I have come to understand the processes involved in social evolution. Processes which are broadly analogous to biological evolution. The fittest reforms survive. Where fitness refers to the best fit with what already exists. Change which is a poor fit tends not to survive.

It’s a homeostatic process. Albeit a less than perfectly efficient one. (Something else that society has in common with organisms.) There are forces driving change. There are forces resisting change. Ideally, this results in a compromise which suits nobody particularly well, but which works acceptably well for everybody – as in society as a whole. Otherwise, escalating conflict reduces the space available for compromise. Which is what seems to have happened in the case of the sex/gender issue.

The greatest enemy of compromise is dogmatic absolutism. There are always groups in society made up of people who have succumbed to this particular form of human folly. Groups characterised by the conviction that they have discovered ‘The One True Way!’. Just such a group has coalesced around the idea that there should be absolutely no contexts in which sex/gender may be treated as if it were binary. This, regardless of society’s capacity to accommodate every single form of normal. Regardless of the practicalities. Regardless of the consequences. No compromise!

In case you hadn’t noticed, that was me coming down off the fence firmly on the side of those who regard this manifestation of dogmatic absolutism as an assault on women’s rights. I am persuaded that, while it may be no part of the intention, massively eroding or entirely eradicating the contexts in which the compromise of a binary concept of sex/gender is acceptable will adversely affect those for whose benefit this compromise was settled on. I am convinced that it is a maladaptive reform. It’s a seriously bad fit with society as it exists. It is impractical.

I do not condemn those who advocate strongly for this reform. As already noted, society needs movements which push the envelope, or they stagnate. But their demands are objectively unreasonable. And, as so often happens with such absolutist cliques, unreasonable has morphed into unreasoning. It is one thing to have the courage and strength of one’s convictions. It is quite another to be convinced that the righteousness of a cause transcends the obligation to adhere to appropriate standards of conduct.

It is now beyond question that there are elements within the SNP, and/or close to the leadership, prepared to stoop to quite appalling behaviour in pursuit of their ‘radical’ political agenda. People are being hounded out of their earned positions and from the party on trumped-up allegations of anti-Semitism. There is a viciousness to the assaults on dissenting figures which is deeply troubling. A calculated, sulphurous intensity which I can well imagine might frighten some. And for every one that is successfully driven out by this onslaught, many more are intimidated and deterred from speaking out. Which, of course, is the intention.

I am not easily intimidated. I will not be deterred. I find I must speak out.

I simply do not comprehend how such corrosive factionalism has been permitted to exist and thrive within the party with which I have been happy to associate myself for 57 years. The malign intolerance being exhibited and the despicable manner in which it operates seems totally alien. It has no place in any political party. And if it is not excised promptly and thoroughly people are likely to conclude that there is no place in the party for them.

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Presumption of guilt

Presumption of innocence does not apply to Donald Trump. He is to be presumed guilty until proven guilty. Even if he is proved innocent, we should probably continue to presume him guilty, just as a precaution. Trump never looks more guilty than when he is protesting his innocence. He’s like the guy sprawled in the gutter wearing only what you like to think is his own vomit but insisting that he’s not drunk. The more sober he says he is, the more inebriated he seems. Even if there is a perfectly innocent explanation for his predicament that doesn’t involve consumption of ill-advised quantities of alcohol, you’re still going to entertain the suspicion that he’s very, very pished.

Trump is prostrate in the political gutter, awash with lies and deceit, proclaiming his honesty and sincerity in a manner that makes him less believable with every utterance.

Two examples of his dishonesty stand out. The first is when he insists that US corporations have no interest in “the NHS”. Even if that predatory interest was not as evident as I have previously pointed out (, we know that he is now contradicting an earlier statement when he was quite explicit about US trade negotiators setting their sights on “the NHS”. Plus we have the recently revealed documents which confirm that “the NHS” is very much on the table.

Trump is lying.

The second lie is evident when you ask why Trump is telling the first lie. He has previously been far from reticent about the fact that US corporate hyenas regard “the NHS” as a juicy bit of prey. Why is he now saying that “the NHS” is so unpalatable even those corporate hyenas aren’t tempted. Could it be that he has been asked to say this by his British hosts? Might he have been nobbled?

It’s easy enough to imagine friend and fellow liar Boris Johnson having a quiet word in Trump’s ear, explaining that he was getting an increasingly hard ride on the issue of “the NHS” and, pretty please, could Donald help out his old Tory chums.

Trump has obliged. The nonsense about wanting nothing to do with “the NHS” is clearly intended to spike the guns of those warning about Tory plans to give US corporations unprecedented access as part of a desperately needed trade deal. Trump is interceding in the general election campaign on behalf of the Tories. Which is precisely what we would expect after he promised to stay out of it.

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Demands and threats

There seems to be a general assumption that the string of ‘ifs’ which leads to a hung parliament means an enlarged SNP group would be ‘kingmakers’. Or, as Nicola Sturgeon puts it in what looks rather like an attempt to lower expectations, a “strong, progressive influence”. If she is trying to stop people getting too carried away, she may have good reason.

If it is supposed that the SNP group of MPs will wield significant power over British Labour in a hung parliament, we must ask what is the nature of that power. It is not enough simply to look at the numbers and say that, because SNP cooperation is needed to get over the line separating government from opposition, the SNP will be in a position to make major demands. Nicola sturgeon has even gone so far as to list those demands. That list, as reported by this newspaper on 25 November, includes,

  • Stop Brexit
  • End austerity
  • Abandon Universal Credit
  • Axe the two-child benefit cap
  • Grant a Section 30 order

I doubt that many outside the ranks of irredeemable and irremediable Tory loyalists would take exception to anything in Sturgeons catalogue of demands. But are they attainable? Are they deliverable? How might British Labour respond were they to be handed this list in the course of post-election haggling among the parties at Westminster?

Having witnessed the strenuous, contorting effort they’ve made to avoid having a clear position on Brexit, does anybody believe British Labour is even capable of adopting a firm stance on the issue? Going from wherever they might be as you read this to an unwavering commitment either way doesn’t look at all like a journey Jeremy Corbyn is ready to undertake. This is the ‘leader’ who says he would remain neutral in any new EU referendum.

If the Tories can claim to be ending austerity, so can a British Labour administration. Whether this will be noticeable on the ground is a very different matter.

British governments tend not to do anything bold if they have a ready excuse for not doing so. Abandoning Universal Credit may well be that kind of bold action. It would be too expensive! It would cause even more disruption and suffering! Better to fix it than forsake it!

Axing the two-child benefit might be a concession British Labour could offer. But only so they could accuse the SNP of rejecting the chance to end an iniquitous Tory policy when it turned out to be the only concession and not enough to win their support.

The Section 30 order has been dealt with at length elsewhere. No British government is going to facilitate any process which puts their precious Union in jeopardy. For all British Labour’s efforts to differentiate themselves from the Tories’ hard-line anti-democratic position, they have no more intention of cooperating in the Section 30 process than any of the other British parties. They are certainly not going to grant permission for a new independence referendum until and unless they can be sure of being able to sabotage the process at some later stage.

On that final – and some would say most crucial – demand, British Labour would be likely to try and string the SNP along as much as possible. Hence the deliberate vague and open-ended ‘undertakings’ on the matter. They can put off even responding to the Section 30 request for as long as they wish.

It’s not looking too promising for Nicola Sturgeon’s list of demands. So, how might she react to these demands being rejected – either outright or by implication? What can she threaten Jeremy Corbyn with in order to compel his compliance?

There are, in principle, three ‘big sticks’ Sturgeon might be able to wave. She could threaten to enable a Tory government. She could threaten to bring down a British Labour government. Or she might be in a position to threaten to force another election. Another election would be no more likely to resolve things than the last one or this one. But the SNP would be vilified for forcing the people of the world’s greatest democracy to go out and vote. Don’t they know that’s not how democracy is supposed to work!

Enabling a Tory government and bringing down a British Labour government may seem like the same thing. That’s because they are. They just happen at different times. The threat to enable a Tory government would be wielded during initial efforts to reach an arrangement. The threat to bring it down would hang over a British Labour government for as long as it lasted. However, Nicola Sturgeon has decisively ruled out the SNP ever allowing the Tories back into power should they be ousted. So that threat is not available. Whether or not one approves, it is an option binned.

What we are left with is the SNP making demands backed up with the threat that, unless these demands are met, they might bring down the British Labour government at some point in the future. One would hope that this point remained undefined. To commit to taking action at a particular time or under specified conditions would severely limit room for movement.

How serious, from British Labour’s perspective, is this threat? Not very. In fact, it’s barely a threat at all. Nothing that isn’t happening right now, or is immediately imminent, can be considered a threat. Especially when pretty much the entire political environment is consists of threats of one kind or another. Once they were in power, it would be very easy for British Labour to call the SNP’s bluff. Bringing down a British Labour government, with the corollary of letting the Tories back in, would seem to be a draught of political hemlock for the SNP.

Would they do it? More to the point, can Nicola Sturgeon make Jeremy Corbyn believe that the SNP would be so bold as to effectively usher the Tories back into government. It is feasible. There is a line that Sturgeon could take which might see the SNP through the ‘scandal’ of ‘sabotaging’ a ‘progressive’ British Labour administration. It could be maintained that it is actually British Labour’s fault. They could be portrayed as the ones who have behaved in such a way as to make it impossible for the SNP to continue propping them up.

If this line was used in conjunction with saying it made no difference to Scotland which party was in power at Westminster, it could at least take the edge of the inevitable storm of vilification from the British media. But it would be massively risky. Does Nicola have the bottle? Can she convince Corbyn she does? Personally, I doubt it.

The SNP’s influence over a minority British Labour administration would be minimal. Because the only thing they can threaten them with would almost certainly do the SNP more harm.

It all comes down to one simple fact – Scotland’s interests cannot be served within the UK. Our MPs cannot wield meaningful power, or influence, in the parliament of England-as-Britain because the system is set up to ensure that Scotland (and all the periphery of England-as-Britain) will always be subordinate. That is what the Union is for.

If we send 45 or 50 or more SNP MPs to Westminster expecting them to be a major force, we are likely to be disappointed. But we absolutely must elect as many SNP MPs as possible because only thus can we keep alive the possibility of escaping the Union and bringing all of our government home.

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The dictates of conscience

Most SNP members will, I think, know what George Kay means when he refers to a “darker group”. When the existence and activities of this “darker group” are taken together with what many people – myself included – consider to be the highly dubious nature of the allegations against Neale Hanvey this whole affair begins to look far from as clear-cut as Nicola Sturgeon suggests.

The Neale Hanvey affair raises a number of issues – all of them controversial. These include matters relating to the SNP’s internal disciplinary procedures; the activities of pressure groups within or close to the party; broader questions of loyalty and trust; and, of course, the issue of freedom of expression and the limits imposed on it.

All of these issues must be set aside for the time being. Important as they are, they must not be allowed to distract from the most immediate and pressing task – maximising both the number of pro-independence MPs and the SNP vote. This should be the only consideration for pro-democracy voters in the Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath constituency.

Being realistic, however, we have to accept that people can hardly help but be influenced to some extent by recent events. Nobody can tell them who to vote for. But any political party is entitled to expect that its members will support and campaign for the official candidate. They are certainly entitled to have rules against party members supporting and campaigning for candidates other than the official one. You’ll notice that Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t suggest SNP activists go to work for the Scottish Greens candidate. The rules apply to the party leader the same as to everyone else.

Asking SNP members to direct their efforts to helping official party candidates in neighbouring constituencies seems reasonable enough. Until we consider what these elections are really supposed to be about. The fundamental purpose is to elect the individual considered by the largest number of voters in a constituency to be the best person to represent the constituency’s inhabitants at Westminster. Elections have become all about parties and leaders. Which isn’t an entirely bad thing. Political parties are, after all, the means by which citizens exercise collective power in the sphere of public policy. And party leaders have a very important role to play, as Nicola Sturgeon is so amply demonstrating. But that fundamental purpose remains. We vote for candidates to represent our community as well as for parties to represent our ideology or political aims.

Campaigning for official candidates in neighbouring constituencies satisfies the latter, but not the former. It’s a question of how much weight we afford each of these purposes. Personally, I would not be uncomfortable with the idea of campaigning for candidates elsewhere. We do that in by-elections anyway. What would trouble me is not campaigning for a local representative. That seems like forsaking an important democratic responsibility.

Ultimately, we all vote according to the dictates of our conscience. We each must decide our own priorities. Voters in Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath simply have more to consider than most of us. For some, it will be easy. The party has declared Neale Hanvey persona non grata. Nicola Sturgeon herself has pronounced him guilty of making anti-Semitic comments despite the fact that he denies holding such views and without any kind of hearing that I am aware of. For some party members, that will be enough.

But what if, having interrogated your conscience, you still believe Neale Hanvey is the best person to represent you and your community in the British parliament? What if you have serious doubts about his guilt? What if you have reason to suspect he has been maliciously targeted by some “darker group”? What if you believe in due process and the presumption of innocence? What if you have a well developed sense of fairness?

I don’t live in the Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath constituency. I don’t know Neale Hanvey. It’s not for me to judge whether he might be the best MP for that community. But, having pondered the other issues, I cannot in good conscience do other than agree with George Kay. There is something not right about this whole affair. And Neale Hanvey deserves the benefit of any doubt.

Furthermore, I am deeply concerned about the way accusations of various forms of bigotry are used by assorted cliques as bludgeons to silence those who challenge their political agenda. As offensive as anti-Semitism, racism, sexism etc. undoubtedly are, what amounts to heavy-handed political censorship, intimidation and repression cannot be any more acceptable. A stand must be taken against those who would maliciously exploit our revulsion at such bigotry to incite baseless hatred every bit as vile as that directed at various minorities by the abysmally ignorant.

I disagree with George Kay on one point. I definitely have a problem with the SNP taking the action it did. I consider that, having vetted and selected Neale Hanvey, the party owed him a measure of loyalty. Other than that, I have looked to my conscience and I too have come to the conclusion that, regardless of what the personal consequences might be and for whatever it may be worth, I am obliged to give my support to Neale Hanvey.

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A man of many 'qualities'

Did you gag on the sickening hypocrisy of Jackson Carlaw talking about respecting democratic votes and honouring promises? This coming from someone in thrall to a British Nationalist ideology which says that democratic votes are only to be respected when doing so doesn’t compromise the Union or threaten the structures of entrenched power, unearned privilege and corrupt patronage which define the British state. An ideology which insists that the democratic choices of the people of Scotland are only valid when they happen to coincided with the choices of voters in England-as-Britain.

To compound this sickening hypocrisy, a man closely associated with the false promises of the anti-independence campaign presumes to lecture us about the importance of good faith. And even as he does so he lies. He trots out the threadbare falsehood about an undertaking that the 2014 referendum would be a “once in a generation” occurrence. Of course, no such undertaking was ever made. Indeed, no such undertaking could be made. Jackson Carlaw exhibits the British Nationalists’ characteristic ignorance of and contempt for democracy when he imagines any politician might have the authority to impose constraints or conditions on a nation’s right of self-determination.

Scour the Edinburgh Agreement as you may, you will find no mention of any ‘once in a generation” promise. Nor will you find it in the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013. Or in any other agreement, act or formal accord associated with the 2014 referendum. The “once in a generation” thing simply doesn’t exist. It never existed. Carlaw is a liar.

Carlaw is also a craven coward. Had he the courage of his British Nationalist convictions then he would take responsibility for his own anti-democratic dogma rather than trying to rationalise it by reference to an entirely mythical promise.

Hypocritical, duplicitous, mendacious and cowardly. Such are the ‘qualities’ British Nationalists bring to our politics. Scotland can do better.

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A poll worth heeding

There are a couple of things worth noting about the YouGov poll which suggests a Conservative win with a substantial majority. The first is that it is very likely to be accurate. This because voting intentions in England, where UK general elections are decided, are based very substantially on Brexit. These voting intentions are fixed. They are unlikely to change because nothing about Brexit is going to change. Or, at least, nothing is going to change soon enough or dramatically enough to have any impact on voting intentions. Nothing is happening with the Brexit process. Not that is visible to the public, antway. And none of the parties are going to change their stance on the Brexit issue during an election campaign.

It is significant, too, that none of the 68 Tory MPs giving Boris Johnson a working majority is likely to be a ‘rebel’, They wouldn’t have been selected as candidates if they were not as committed to taking the UK out of the EU at any cost as their leader.

The second thing to note is that, as is commonly the case, Scotland cannot affect the outcome of this UK general election. The most Scottish voters might hope to do is slightly reduce the Tory majority. They can only do that by voting for their SNP candidate. As has been true for many years now, there is absolutely no point in voting for British Labour in Scotland. I dislike the expression “wasted vote”. As far as I am concerned, participation in the democratic process is always worthwhile. But a vote for British Labour in Scotland is certainly futile if the intention – or the hope – is to influence the outcome at UK level.

In Scotland, British Labour is irrelevant and the Conservative Party is anathema.

We have to think, calmly and rationally about what is the best outcome for Scotland in the coming election. A good case can be made for a British Labour minority government supported by a substantial SNP presence at Westminster. But we have no way of bringing about that outcome. Or even of contributing to it in any effective way. Whatever British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) may tell you, there is simply no possibility of them enjoying a miraculous resurgence. And, even if that miracle were to happen, the election would still be decided in England.

The best outcome that is actually achievable is a massive win for the SNP. A win on a scale that shakes the British establishment. A win so big it cannot be ignored.

What does Scotland gain from returning upwards of 50 SNP MPs? We know that the SNP provides the most vigorous opposition to the Tories at Westminster. Even if this opposition cannot have much actual effect because of the way the odds are stacked against them – both numerically and procedurally – it is SNP MPs who speak, not just for Scotland, but for democracy, decency and political sanity. It is SNP MPs who ask the awkward questions. It is SNP MPs who defend our NHS and other essential public services. It is SNP MPs who truly hold the Tory government to account in a way that only those with very long memories will recall British Labour doing.

No British government is ever going to facilitate or cooperate with any process which puts their ‘precious’ Union in jeopardy. That includes the Section 30 process to which the First Minister is so inexplicably committed. In terms of Scotland’s cause we must therefore consider what might best serve that cause when the time comes to seek the restoration of Scotland’s independence with the consent of the Scottish people but absent the involvement of the British state. Unquestionably, Scotland’s cause is best served by maximising demonstrable support for the SNP – the only party which is unconditionally and unequivocally committed to independence.

That commitment to independence necessarily entails so much more. It entails a commitment to protecting Scotland’s democracy; to defending the Scottish Parliament; to preserving our ability to develop a distinctive political culture informed by the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people. It entails dedication to maintaining our essential public services, such as NHS Scotland, and defending them against predation by corporate hyenas.

Even if you are not yet persuaded that Scotland’s interests can only be secured by ending the Union with England-as-Britain, a vote for the SNP is much more than a vote for independence. It is, first and foremost, a vote for al the positive things mentioned above. But it is also a vote against the chaos and corruption of British politics. It is a vote against a system which imposes Tory governments on Scotland regardless of how we vote – along with all their socially corrosive and economically destructive policies.

It is a vote against a political system which so favours a corrupt and incompetent elite as to allow Boris Johnson to become Prime Minister. It is a vote against a system intent on maintaining established power, privilege and patronage while actively excluding the worthy and the talented.

It is a vote against an archaic and grotesquely asymmetric political union which denies the people of Scotland the full and effective exercise of our sovereignty. It is a vote against everything that England-as-Britain has become and will become as its decline into ugly right-wing nationalism continues.

The YouGov poll has to be taken seriously. We must anticipate Boris Johnson continuing as British Prime Minister, but armed with a solid majority in the British parliament and emboldened by his victory. A Boris Johnson made all the more dangerous by being afforded almost unfettered power. A Boris Johnson determined to earn that most ominous of epithets – strong leader.

Behind this gleeful, gloating, malignant child-clown, a British government intent on locking Scotland into the Union and dragging us along on its wildly erratic journey into the political, diplomatic and economic unknown – leaving behind it a wasteland of public services in which the poor and the powerless must survive however they may.

The only thing which can function as a buffer between this and Scotland is a strong, determined and assertive SNP government in Scotland supported by a massive SNP presence in the British parliament. It may be that we have the former. On Thursday 12 December we must ensure that we have the latter. For Scotland’s sake, we must all vote SNP.

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Preparing the hyena feast

The article in The National under the headline Corbyn reveals unredacted document showing ‘NHS is on the table in trade talks’ refers throughout to “the NHS”, implying a single entity. This is misleading. There are, in fact four quite separate and distinct public health services in the UK.

  • NHS Scotland
  • NHS England
  • NHS Wales
  • Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety for Northern Ireland

We may, however, assume that the US corporations seeking access to and control of “the NHS” think of it as a single entity even if, as we should expect, they are sufficiently well informed to be aware of the reality. What is certain is that they will want the same access to and control of all four health systems. And, with the support of the US Government, they will demand that the UK Government facilitate this as a condition of any trade deal.

We know also that, post-Brexit, the UK Government will be so desperate to conclude a trade deal with the US which can be spun as an example of the benefits of leaving the EU that they will agree to pretty much any and all conditions set by the US negotiators. We must ask ourselves, therefore, how the UK Government might go about facilitating this ‘sell-off’ of all four health services as part of a single deal given that there are significant differences in the way they are structured, funded and managed. We should also ask ourselves what demands the US negotiators might make in this regard.

It seems extremely likely that the US negotiators will want the four health services combined under a common UK-wide framework. Which is handy, because the UK Government has prepared for just such an eventuality. Readers may recall discarded Scottish Secretary David Mundell referring to these “UK-wide common frameworks” on numerous occasions – and with great relish as he at the time supposed he would be in charge of the Scottish bit of these common frameworks through the shadow administration called ‘UK Government in Scotland’. We may also note that these “UK-wide common frameworks” are openly being discussed in relation to agriculture, agricultural support, fisheries etc.

While there has been no mention of a “UK-wide common framework” for health services we would anticipate that any proposals of this nature would be kept under very tight wraps. Tighter even than those that secured – or failed to secure – the document Jeremy Corbyn now claims to have in his possession. Even if no specific proposals exist, which seems highly unlikely given the language of the aforementioned document, the UK Government has seized powers which could provide the means to ‘surreptitiously’ force the four health services into adopting common practices in various areas – notably, powers over public procurement.

Additionally, the UK Government has seized powers over elements of reciprocal healthcare, which would allow them to claim some kind of precedent for the imposition of a common framework in other aspects of health services. We know how that argument goes – there is already a “common UK-wide framework” in respect of that, and this is closely associated with that, so obviously there should also be a “UK-wide common frameworks” for this.

And let us not forget the provisions of Section 30 of the Scotland Act (1998), which gives the British Prime Minister sweeping authority to unilaterally alter which powers are devolved and which reserved. Read with due trepidation.

“Her Majesty may by Order in Council make any modifications of Schedule 4 or 5 which She considers necessary or expedient.”

Taken altogether, we may safely conclude that the intention of the UK Government is to effectively abolish the separate health services by absorbing them into NHS England in order to present a more tempting prey for America’s corporate hyenas. We can be sure that NHS Scotland will be particularly targeted due to the fact that those predators find distinctly unpalatable the Scottish Government’s commitment to preserving a genuine public health service founded on a principle of universality that is alien and anathema to them.

Some will protest that this is overstating the threat to NHS Scotland. Can we afford to take the chance?

PS – How could I have forgotten this? ‘Boris Johnson warns SNP will ‘forfeit all right’ to manage NHS‘?

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