Fine words

Ian Blackford portentously declares that the next UK general election will be “one of the most important in Scotland’s history”. If we are to take him at his word, we must know what makes it so. What is it about this election that makes it so significant for Scotland? How might the election impact Scotland? In what way will the outcome of the election determine Scotland’s future?

What are Ian Blackford’s – and, we must assume, the SNP’s – priorities in this election? What do he and they hope to get out of it?

Of course, as Mr Blackford speaks, there is no election. Under the terms of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, the next UK general election isn’t due until 5 May 2022. Few people, however, expect the current regime to last that long. The smart money isn’t betting on anything right now. But there is talk of opposition scheming to bring down the government and force an election in December. Spare a thought for the canvassers and leafleters who will have winter weather to contend with.

What you may have noted is that this date is beyond the most recent Brexit deadline. So it’s not at all clear what the point might be in “putting Scotland’s opposition to Brexit” at the heart of the election campaign, as Ian Blackford states is the SNP’s intention. Whatever else might be achieved, there is no way for an election to turn back the clock or alter the past. By December, Brexit will be a fait accompli. Scotland will have been wrenched from the EU against the will of the Scottish voters. By December, the deluge of Mad Brexiteer triumphalism provoked by a no-deal Brexit may just be starting to abate. The harsh realities of Brexit may even be beginning to bite despite the British government’s efforts to bury them under a pile of money and propaganda.

Is Ian Blackford suggesting that the SNP will be asking people to vote for them as a protest against Brexit and/or the contempt shown for Scotland’s democratic will by the British establishment? It’s a strategy of a sort, I suppose. But ‘Vote SNP as a futile gesture’ is hardly the most compelling campaign slogan ever devised.

Maybe the SNP is hoping for a further extension in the further hope that there may yet be hope of stopping Brexit. Some hope! It is true that the British parliament has passed legislation which will force the British Prime Minister to request another Article 50 extension if, by October 19, he hasn’t managed to persuade MPs to vote for either the ‘deal’ that they’ve already repeatedly rejected or a ‘new deal’ which currently exists only in Boris Johnson’s roiling imagination. Commentators are busy speculating about the possibility that the malignant child-clown might simply ignore this legal requirement.

There is little reason to suppose Boris Johnson might be prevented from breaking the law by a personal moral code evidently even less substantial than the ‘new deal’ which hasn’t actually been proposed and which the EU isn’t actually prepared to negotiate even if it actually had been proposed. But Boris probably won’t have to risk whatever penalty he might incur by defying the law and refusing to ask for more time. There’s a very good chance that the EU will not grant this request; especially if there are no fresh proposals – not involving wishful thinking and magic – which might break the deadlock. Johnson need only deploy the dithering and bluster which are his political stock in trade and the UK leaves the EU at 23:00 on 31 October by default.

The hope of stopping Brexit is looking rather forlorn. Opposition after the fact is a decidedly hollow basis for an election campaign. Indeed, the SNP might be well-advised to avoid any mention of Brexit, lest they remind voters of just how ineffectual their opposition has been. What else might they say about Brexit other than that they failed to prevent it being imposed on Scotland. Perhaps the campaign slogan might be ‘At least we tried!’.

Fortunately, Ian Blackford isn’t suggesting a campaign which relies entirely on a combination of credit for effort and post hoc protest. Alongside that “opposition to Brexit” at the heart of the SNP campaign will be a demand that Scotland’s people be given “our right to choose our own future with independence”. Which immediately prompted me to wonder why we are asking for this right if it is already ours. If it’s a right it requires no permission. If it’s ours we have no need to seek that permission. Already this second prong of the SNP’s election campaign strategy is starting to look as wobbly as the first.

What Ian Blackford is referring to is, needless to say, the Section 30 order that our First Minister has declared essential for a ‘legal’ independence referendum. On the matter of the process which must be followed to make the referendum legitimate, Nicola Sturgeon is in full agreement with those who are determined to ensure that a referendum doesn’t happen. You may count me among those who find this a curious position for the First Minister to have contrived for herself. She has committed to a process which is fraught with problems and pitfalls and, in doing so, she has ruled out all other options by effectively branding them illegal. You may count me among those who find this squandering of options totally incomprehensible.

But let us set aside, for the moment, the fact that the Section 30 process is undoubtedly toxic. Let us consider only the demand for a Section 30 order as a plank in the SNP’s platform come the next UK general election. Various questions may be asked of such a demand. Is it reasonable? How you answer that will depend on whether you recognise the toxic nature of the Section 30 process. And whether the question relates to the reasonableness of the requesting or the granting. A better question might ask if it is reasonable to be required to ask for permission to exercise a right which you already have the right to exercise. However, we’ve already covered that ground.

Another question that might be asked of a demand made as part of an election campaign is whether it is realistic. Is it possible for the demand to be met? How likely is it to be met? Is there any point to it?

The answer to these questions depends on the outcome of the election. Whether the demand is realistic or attainable or meaningful is all down to the make-up of the House of Commons in the wake of the election. Rather helpfully, Stu Campbell on Wings Over Scotland has done the arithmetic for us. He has modelled various scenarios ranging from the highly probable to ludicrously fantastical. In none of these scenarios does the SNP Westminster group end up in a position to secure that Section 30 order. Even winning 51 of Scotland’s 59 seats, the SNP simply wouldn’t have the necessary numbers.

None of Stu Campbell’s scenarios had the SNP win all the seats. But I suspect the end result would be the same. Whatever the weight of public support for independence it will always be outweighed in the British parliament by the overwhelming majority of Unionist MPs. The obvious conclusion being that it is utterly pointless to suppose Scotland’s independence might be restored via Westminster. It will only be restored by the Scottish Government acting through the Scottish Parliament in a way that breaks the British state’s rules but with the support of the Scottish people.

In summarising, let’s look at what Ian Blackford said,

The SNP will be putting Scotland’s opposition to Brexit and our right to choose our own future with independence at the heart of the contest… 

Scots urged to register to vote ahead of ‘crucial’ General Election

In the next UK general election, it looks like the SNP will be campaigning to stop something that’s already happened and to get something we already have by demanding something they can’t get and which they shouldn’t be asking for because asking for it does harm and getting it does even more harm.

You may count me among those who are not at all impressed. Not for the first time, Ian Blackford offers fine words which leave the parsnips quite devoid of butter.



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Fearing success

It’s not that “all attempts at socialism in the rest of the world have failed“. It’s just that any attempts at progressive reform which fail are labelled ‘socialist’ by people like Michael Fry. It’s an easy cop-out. It saves them having to explain why the political and economic system they favour militates so strongly against progressive reform. Or, more pointedly, why they favour a system which makes progressive reform so difficult.

It remains a matter of amazement to me that the disasters of capitalism seem to have prompted not a single second thought on the part of at least one rightward-leaning Scottish newspaper columnist. But Michael Fry and his ilk have an easy cop-out for that too. When capitalism fails catastrophically, as it does repeatedly, they simply say that this was not ‘real’ capitalism. Or that it was the ‘wrong kind’ of capitalism.

Add to such self-serving semantic sleight of hand the ludicrous hyperbole used in describing the policies of a pragmatically left-of-centre administration and what results is a distinct impression that Michael Fry’s greatest worry is that the Scottish Government’s progressive policies won’t fail.



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Section 30 won’t work

Great argument from Stu Campbell at Wings Over Scotland. Unfortunately, he comes to the wrong conclusion. We don’t need a Plan B. We need a better Plan A.

The problem with a creating a Plan B is that this assumes you’re going to get a second bite at the cherry. The attitudes and behaviour of the British political elite strongly suggest that this is not a safe assumption. We would certainly be wise to proceed as if we anticipated getting only one shot; if for no other reason than to eliminate any residual complacency and replace it with the necessary – and unquestionably warranted – sense of urgency that is currently missing from the Scottish Government’s approach.

What is the common factor in all these electoral calculations which lead to “OUTCOME: NO INDYREF”? Section 30! The problem is not the electoral arithmetic but the Scottish Government’s insistence on adhering to a process which, As WOS has shown, leads in every conceivable, barely conceivable and inconceivable scenario, to “OUTCOME: NO INDYREF” and, therefore, no independence.

Any outcome which doesn’t lead to the Union being dissolved in the very short term provides the British establishment with opportunities to create new and increasingly intractable obstacles to restoring Scotland’s independence. If we don’t get Plan A right, you can just forget the rest of the alphabet.

There is no route to independence through the twisting and shifting pathways created and controlled by the British state for the purpose of protecting and preserving the Union. Quite why anybody would think there might be is a total mystery given that this involves disregarding such a glaring contradiction. If we want independence, we must break the Union. And if we are determined to break the Union then we must be prepared to break the rules imposed in the name of and for the sake of the Union. Why is that not obvious?

There is another common factor in all the scenarios Stu Campbell has prepared. The all lead, not just to “no indyref”, but to the inevitable conclusion that the Section 30 process must fail. And when it fails, we are right back in the position of having to break the rules to break the Union. So why go through all that crap just to end up right back where we are now except with new difficulties to overcome in order to attain our goal?



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I don’t get it!

I don’t get it. Nicola Sturgeon says, “No Westminster government, of any party, has the right to stand in the way of the sovereign right of the people of Scotland to determine their own future.” If that is the case, then why is she intent on asking their permission? Why would you beg consent if consent isn’t required? If the British state has no right to stand in our way, why is Nicola Sturgeon behaving as if they do?

The people of Scotland are sovereign! There is no ‘but’ at the end of that statement. There cannot be. In one breath she says that the people of Scotland have a sovereign right to determine their own future. In the next she says that this supposedly sovereign right is subject to the approval of the British political elite. Both things cannot be true. Sovereignty cannot be conditional.

I don’t get it. Nicola Sturgeon says that another election win will “reinforce” this sovereign right that is, apparently, only sovereign in a certain ‘political’ sense. It’s only a ‘sort of’ sovereignty. Why would that sovereignty need to be reinforced unless it was in doubt? Nicola Sturgeon may entertain such misgivings, but I sure as hell don’t!

I don’t get it. Why would anybody imagine an election victory for the SNP would demolish the British establishment’s opposition to a new referendum? It never did before. The SNP has enjoyed almost unprecedented electoral success over the past few years and British antipathy to the idea of Scotland exercising its sovereign right of self-determination has only become more fervent. Opposition to a new referendum hasn’t been weakened by SNP election wins, it has grown more desperately resolute.

To summarise; Nicola Sturgeon wants us to do something she insists we have to do despite the fact that the sovereignty she claims means that we absolutely do not have to do it, in the hope that doing this thing will have an effect that it never did before.

I just don’t get it!



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#AUOBPerth March & Rally

The following is the text of a speech delivered at the
#AUOBPerth March & Rally on 7 September 2019.

Five years ago, at about daft o’clock in the morning of Friday 19 September, I walked out of that building over there feeling pretty bloody dejected. I’d been at the count for the 2014 independence referendum and, of course, by that time we all knew the outcome.

We’d lost.

The day before – Thursday 18 September – something truly extraordinary happened. What we had in Scotland on that day was democracy in its purest form. For 15 hours the people of Scotland held in their hands total political power. TOTAL political power.

By the early hours of the Friday morning we knew that, as a nation, we’d chosen to hand that power back to the British political elite. No wonder I was bloody dejected.

I don’t have to tell you. Most of you here will be well aware of how that No vote struck us down.

But we weren’t down for long! Within hours, the Yes movement was revitalised and reinvigorated. Within hours, our networks were buzzing again. Within hours, we were off our knees and on our feet!

Looking around me today I see that, five years on, we are still standing! We are standing tall! We are standing strong! We are standing and we are marching and we are working to rectify the mistake we made five years ago!

We are still Yes! We are all Yes! We are always Yes!

I was surprised at how quickly the Yes movement recovered. But not half as surprised as our opponents. They thought the independence campaign would just evaporate! They thought Scotland had been put back in its place; back in its box! They thought we’d give up!

I have a message for all those who would deny Scotland its rightful status in the world. We are NEVER giving up! NEVER!

You can disrespect us. You can decry us. You can denigrate us. But you cannot deter us and you can NEVER defeat us!

A cause whose time has come will not be denied! Democracy will not be denied! Scotland will not be denied!

Independence is inevitable. It is inevitable because any constitutional settlement which succeeds in terms of the aims, ambitions and objectives of the British state necessarily fails in terms of the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people.

Which is just a fancy way of saying that independence is inevitable because we will not settle for anything less!

I say that independence is inevitable. But that doesn’t mean we should not or need not be concerned about how we get there. When I say “how we get there” I mean both the process by which we come to a referendum and the manner in which we conduct the campaign to win that referendum.

In relation to both the process being followed and the campaigning strategy, I have been somewhat critical of our First Minister and the SNP leadership. There are, I’m sure, those among you who will consider that an understatement.

I have been critical of what I regard as wasted time and squandered opportunities. I cannot help but note that, despite an insistence on the efficacy of an approach which mirrors that taken in the 2014 campaign, the polls have barely twitched in all the five years since then.

I ask the question – if this relentlessly ‘positive’ approach is effective, where is the effect?

I ask the question – if the strategy of selling independence on the doorsteps like an over-50s insurance plan is the way to succeed, why have the sales figures flat-lined?

I ask the question – why is this strategy not being scrutinised and radically different alternatives considered?

I have been critical of the lack of urgency in Nicola Sturgeon’s approach. Her calmness amidst the chaos of British politics is admirable. But Scotland’s predicament is parlous. The threat to our democratic institutions and our essential public services and our very identity as a nation is real and imminent.

When you see the sole of a boot about to come crashing down on your face, that is not the time to be passively pondering the pattern of the tread. That is the time to be taking evasive or defensive action!

I have been critical of Nicola Sturgeon’s obstinate commitment to the Section 30 process. I don’t have time to go into detail on why I consider this to be folly. I will make only one point.

Nicola Sturgeon insists she will adhere to the Section 30 process because she wants to avoid any legal challenge to the outcome of the referendum. I say we should have no fear of such challenges.

If Scotland is not prepared to face challenges – in court or anywhere else – to its constitutional claim, and the always democratic means by which that claim is pursued, then Scotland is not ready to be restored to the status of an independent nation.

Independent nations which are worthy of that designation do not seek to avoid such challenges. They stand ready to confront and defeat them.

If Scotland’s cause is worthy; as I believe it to be…

If Scotland’s cause is just; as I believe it to be…

If Scotland’s cause is righteous; as I believe it to be…

…then it is a cause that we should be prepared to fight for. And it is a cause that we should be prepared to defend against any and all challenges!

The choice now confronting everybody who calls Scotland their country is between the Scotland we know, the Scotland we aspire to, the Scotland we hope to bequeath to future generations; and a Scotland conscripted into the service of those forces which put Boris Johnson in power!

We must recognise and convey to others that it is the Union which gives Boris Johnson power over Scotland.

It is the Union which allows the British political elite to impose austerity on Scotland.

It is the Union which allows them to treat the democratic will of Scotland’s people with cold, callous contempt.

Brexit isn’t the problem – the Union is the problem!

Tory austerity isn’t the problem – the Union is the problem!

Boris Johnson isn’t the problem – the Union is the problem!

We have a way out. It is a way which may not be simple, but is certainly uncomplicated. We must dissolve the Union.

We must persuade the people of Scotland of the urgent need to dissolve the Union by informing them in an honest and forthright manner about what the Union means for our nation and our democracy and our dignity.

We must then hold a referendum in which we ask them the question, do you want to dissolve the Union?

And we must fervently hope that, having learned the harsh lessons of the mistake we made in 2014 and for the sake of all Scotland’s future generations, the people answer YES! YES! YES!



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Locked in!

When politicians start ruling on what is and isn’t democratic, you know the political system is broken. When that politician is Boris Johnson, you know the political system is diseased unto death.

In a properly functioning political system, it should never be necessary for anyone to rule on the democratic legitimacy of any action or process or policy. It should be obvious. There should never be any doubt because the criterion for assessing democratic legitimacy is so simple and all-encompassing – the people decide.

That’s it! That’s the only rule. At every opportunity, the people decide. Wherever there is doubt, the people decide. If the people have the final say, it’s democratic. If the people are prohibited or prevented from having the final say, it’s undemocratic. If the role of the people as the final arbiters in all matters concerning the nation is in any way limited or constrained, it is undemocratic. If politicians seek to usurp that role, that is undemocratic. If the status of the people as the source of all legitimate political authority is fully recognised – in principle and in practice – that is democratic. If that status is contemned, that is undemocratic.

The very last people who should rule on what is and isn’t democratic ere those who wield the power that is authorised and legitimised by being ruled democratic. That is a recipe for despotism.

I’m sure Boris Johnson entertains a conceit of himself as a benign despot. I have not the slightest doubt that when he looks in the mirror, the face he sees staring back at him is the face of a strong leader such as has historically come to England’s aid in her time of need – rather than the pouting, smirking balloon-face of a petulantly malicious child-clown that the rest of us see. His is a mind in which despotism is easily rationalised as a firm hand on the rudder of state. In that mind, democracy is whatever serves this warped, deluded self-image.

Boris Johnson supposes himself a born leader; the inheritor of all the qualities which define the heroes who inhabit the Great British Myth from Saint George, Slayer of Dragons to Saint Margaret, Destroyer of Communities. If he is destined to lead, the people must be fated to follow. Is that not the natural order?

If there is one thing worse than a wannabe autocrat in a position of political power, it is the people who pander to the delusion in order to turn political power to their own purposes. Purposes which are rarely of the benign sort which might be pursued by less devious means. Purposes which can be discerned by noting the things that are declared ‘undemocratic’.

We should be able to dismiss the nonsense about there being a “very clear promise” attached to the 2014 referendum stating that it would be a “once in a generation event”. This is a lie. There never was any such promise. Nor could there be. No politician can constrain the inalienable right of self-determination. Even if such an undertaking had been given and could be valid, in order to be so it would have to be enshrined in the legislation relating to the referendum, or in the Edinburgh Agreement. Next time some British Nationalist comes out with this drivel about “once in a generation”, ask them to show you the relevant legal provision. Ask them to tell you the precise wording of the alleged promise. Just don’t ask them how it could possibly be democratically legitimate as this would require an understanding of democratic principles that is evidently absent from British Nationalist ideology.

We should be able to discount this “once in a generation” lie. But we have to allow for the British media’s efforts to give such lies the status of truth, if only by means of repetition without challenge. The BBC and the British press will, as a matter of habit and practice, insinuate the idea into the public consciousness. That’s their job, as they see it.

But this may not be the worst of it. We are well-advised to attend carefully to what British politicians say so as to discover what they are thinking. And the most telling part of Boris Johnson’s reported remarks is not the the old lie about a “once in a generation” promise. A disturbing hint of what noxious notions are gestating in the British Prime Minister’s mind is to be found in the following,

I think that it’s odd that both Jeremy Corbyn and the SNP claim to be attached to democracy when their mission is to smash up the oldest and most successful political partnership in history, in the form of the Union …

Boris Johnson: ‘No reason’ for second Scottish independence referendum

The bit about Jeremy Corbyn is just another lie, of course. Corbyn is avery bit as much a British Nationalist as Boris Johnson. What is significant in this remark in the clear implication that proposing to dissolve the Union is undemocratic. The utterance falls just short of declaring that the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence is undemocratic.

When politicians start ruling on what is and isn’t democratic, you know the political system is broken. When that politician is Boris Johnson, you know the political system is diseased unto death.



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No sympathy for Unionists

Andrew Tickell is hardly the first to suggest that we all should sympathise with “the very sorts who really bought into Better Together vision of Britain“. That we should show some understanding for people who were grievously deceived. That we should be supportive of people who have suffered a great loss.

Maybe so. But, while I don’t for one moment doubt Andrew’s sincerity, I often sense a measure of self-indulgence about the more extravagant displays of fellow feeling. More than a hint of self-righteousness. Perhaps a pinch of condescension. All bound together with a generous helping of moral superiority. Virtue-signalling is very much the dish of the day.

I am generally in favour of sympathy. If I say society has deteriorated over recent decades largely due to a declining capacity for human empathy, this may be more than just the tendency to rose-tinted hindsight which often comes with age. But if sympathy is a scarce and, arguably, diminishing resource, should it not be apportioned judiciously. As individuals, we cannot possibly sympathise with all who may be deserving. If this ever were possible, advances in communication mean that there are now vastly more calls on our sympathy than we can hope to satisfy.

Unless we’re Luddite hermits, we spend much of our days immersed in stories and images evidencing man’s inhumanity to man in graphic and gory detail. Rolling news on TV and online is a litany of atrocities, each with its list of victims for whom we are expected to grieve. We are obliged to be selective. We must be parsimonious with our sympathy lest we be reduced to a dessicated husk, sucked dry of all emotion. And if this makes us seem betimes hard-hearted or heartless, then I’m sorry. But only as sorry as I can afford to be.

Where should those suffering No voters be placed as we prioritise the calls on our stock of sympathy? What is it they have lost? Only their illusions. The scales have fallen from their eyes and, discomfiting as this may be, it hardly compares with the loss of limbs or loved ones. An emotional attachment has been severed. But the wound bleeds only in the sense of an over-contrived metaphor.

Losing something to which we are inexplicably and irrationally bound is part of the human experience. It can be painful. But it can also be formative. Before we lavish too much sympathy on Unionists coming to terms with the collapse of so much that had seemed to them solid and dependable, consider the true nature of their plight. Theirs is not a loss of the kind that leaves an aching void that can never be filled. It is more in the nature of a moving on. What they feel is, not the life-blighting pain of bereavement, but the passing pangs of nostalgia. They have not been permanently deprived of something irreplaceable. They have shed the burden of something that has proved unworthy.

Listen to those who have made the journey from No to Yes. Do they seem bereft? Do they give the impression that a part of their being has been stripped from them leaving a raw and festering wound that will not heal? Or is it more as if a layer has been peeled away to reveal something fresh and fulfilling?

Losing the Union doesn’t leave you alone. It leaves you in better company. It does not call for sympathy. It is cause for celebration.



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