I have questions

Like many people in Scotland, I suspect, I have been struggling to come to terms with a seemingly inexplicable contradiction. I can illustrate the problem with a couple of comments culled from Twitter – both from Nicola Sturgeon. (Ignore the BBC Tweets as you would normally.)

The first is a near-perfect political statement. The wording, the tone, the content, the entire package is almost flawless. I’d advise any politician to avoid phrases such as “I’ve made clear”. If you have made something clear then it should be clear and it must therefore be entirely redundant to state that you’ve made it clear. If you feel the need to state that you’ve made it clear then this can only be because you haven’t, in fact, made it clear at all. Or so people will tend to assume. It is one of those overused phrases which have come to suggest the very opposite of what it says. It’s the kind of thing people use when they want to caricature a generic politician. Unless you want to be that caricature, don’t say “I’ve made it clear”. You might as well end every statement with the words “Honest! Would I lie to you?”.

A textual analysis of that first post would strongly suggest an exceptionally astute politician and a very capable communicator. It’s hard to believe that the second example was authored by the same person. The words “It’s got nothing to do with the constitution” would be woefully naive enough coming from any politician. But from the leader of a party which has a fundamental constitutional issue at its very core, it is nothing short of jaw-droppingly stupid.

The leader of a party which has as its principal aim the restoration of Scotland’s independence should never be caught talking down the importance of constitutional matters. Their every instinct should be tuned to emphasising the overarching importance of the constitution. Because the constitution is about who decides. It is about where power lies and how it is used. It is about political legitimacy and authority. The constitution, and any issues or questions relating thereto, takes precedence over all matters of policy. It must do. Because the constitution defines, describes and delineates decision-making authority in all matters of policy. It is senseless to claim that anything has “nothing to do with the constitution” because the constitution has something to do with everything.

It is a doubly foolish remark on account of the angry denial of constitutional relevance being immediate followed by an observation which points up the relevance of the constitution as well as anything might. When Nicola Sturgeon says “the ‘stay at home’ message remains in place in 3 of the 4 UK nations” she is referring explicitly and directly to the constitutional issue of policy decision-making power. The contradiction is jarring. The statement as a whole speaks of a politician quite unlike the one revealed by the first Tweet. It suggests a politician who simply doesn’t understand the function and purpose of the constitution. How can the person who is so dismissive of the constitution possibly be the leader of a party whose constitution declares its first aim to be arguably the most fundamental constitutional reform there can be?

That is the nub of it. That is what I and others find both perplexing and disturbing. On the one hand we have someone who is all but universally acknowledged to be an outstanding politician. Someone who earns all the plaudits that come her way. Someone who deserves the trust that is placed in her by the public. Someone who, with due regard for her feminist credentials, is worthy of being described as ‘statesmanlike’.

On the other hand we have someone who bears ultimate responsibility for bringing the independence campaign to a grinding halt. It can readily and persuasively be argued that the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence has gone backwards under her stewardship. We look at Nicola Sturgeon’s record as First Minister and see mostly uncommon competence. We look at her record as de facto leader of the independence movement and see only serial misjudgement. We watch in admiration her handling of the current public health crisis. We watch in horror her handling of the constitutional issue. It’s as if we are looking at two different people.

Retiring SNP MSP James Dornan is also perplexed, it seems. If I understand aright from his column in The National, Mr Dornan is baffled by the fact that some people who in his opinion “should know better” are troubled by the ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ situation described above. He seems to be perplexed about why we are perplexed about the perplexing contradictions in Nicola Sturgeon’s comments and the curate’s egg of her performance.

In keeping with this incomprehension, Mr Dornan seems unable to distinguish between the SNP as an administration and the SNP as a political party. Not exactly a trivial distinction. He also appears to be a bit confused about the purpose of political campaigning. He is dismissive, if not disdainful, of those who maintain discourse in “their own bubble of like-minded people”. He neglects to explain how it can be both “their own bubble” and a bubble they share with “like-minded people”. More importantly, how and where does he imagine discourse relating to a particular issue might proceed other than in just such a bubble. Is it not to be expected that those involved in a campaign should be “like-minded”?

Contrary to what James Dornan seems to suppose, there is nothing at all wrong with ‘preaching to the choir’, as some would put it. How else might a campaign be developed and maintained other than by those involved talking to each other?

As if we didn’t already have a considerable surfeit of perplexity, I am unable to understand why the First Minister’s unquestionably laudable handling of the coronavirus pandemic would forfend criticism of Nicola Sturgeon’s performance in other areas. The good must be weighed with the bad. It might sensibly be argued that the good outweighs the bad. But it cannot reasonably be maintained that the good completely eradicates the bad. I recall being counselled by a very close friend who had a hard neck giving anybody relationship advice. He said that when a man sees a beautiful woman – poised, elegant, decorous – he should always bear in mind that she farts in bed. We all have our faults. Nobody is perfect. Although, if James Dornan is to be believed, Nicola Sturgeon comes very close. So long as we completely disregard the reality of what she has done to the independence campaign.

But, unsurprisingly, Mr Dornan agrees with Nicola Sturgeon that there should be no independence campaign at this time. We are all supposed to sit at home thinking about nothing else but Covid-19. We all must be totally and exclusively focused on coronavirus-related matters. To entertain so much as a passing thought on any matter other than the mono-crisis is to show callous disregard for those who have died, scant concern for those who may die and disrespect for the front-line key-worker heroes and angels who care for the suffering.

I exaggerate for effect, of course. James Dornan doesn’t go to such lengths. Although others certainly do. Nonetheless, his attitude is painfully reminiscent of the dour religionists who blighted many a childhood holiday on the Isle of Arran with the diktat proclaimed on behalf of a deity with too much time on her hands (she shouldn’t have made so much) that Sunday must be a day of profound and often inelegantly contrived inactivity. I well recall the swings and roundabouts ironically made equal in their uselessness by chains and padlocks. I still can hear the stern warnings from the Joysucker General’s deputies that to contemplate the kicking of a football on the Sabbath would result in consignment to a hell which to my child’s mind at least, could not possible be worse than the one I had to endure on a weekly basis.

One might wonder whether James Dornan is toying with damnation (inc. hellfire) by taking time out from his fretting over the virus to write a newspaper column. That, as they say, is between him and his conscience.

Similarly, Mr Dornan and those who populate his “bubble of like-minded people” take the view that all of politics and most of life has been brought to a halt by Covid-19. Which rather seems like conceding victory to the virus. This isn’t managing a crisis. It is being dominated by it. Managing a crisis is, almost by definition, keeping as much as possible as normal as possible under the circumstances. Which, incidentally, is what makes the First Minister’s management of the situation so admirable. She may not have been able to keep very much very normal, but she succeeds in persuading people that this is what she is striving for. And that the measures she has taken are normal under the circumstances.

I have to tell James Dornan that politics does not stop for a virus. Politics doesn’t stop for anything. All of life is politics. So long as there is human life there will be politics. Because politics is the management of power relationships – from the interpersonal all the way to the international and sooner than many imagine, the interplanetary. All human interactions are transactions conducted in the currency of power. From chimpanzees grooming in the forests of tropical Africa to ambassadors manoeuvring in the UN building in New York, it’s all politics. From the minute to the monumental, it’s all the power trades and trade-offs which allow society to function. Negotiations continue.

You can’t stop politics. Your involvement only ends with death. Sometimes not even then. You can opt out of certain aspects of the negotiations. But the politics goes on without you. And it may not be possible to catch up.

Here’s James Dorman,

Now, I’m a pretty tribal political animal but I would not be comfortable at all if our party was trying to put independence at the forefront of our thinking just now. Thankfully, outside of a few loud voices in Westminster and some activists online I think most of the party would agree with me.

Concentrate on seeing our people safely through this virus, get politics back to normal, or as normal as anything is going to be after this pandemic, and I have no doubt we will see the support for independence rise substantially.

James Dornan: Why independence cannot be the SNP’s priority for now

I have some questions. I have so many questions!

Those loud voices at Westminster and online may be few, but does that make them wrong? Why are there no such voices in Holyrood? Why only Westminster and online? Isn’t the Scottish Parliament the place where we would hope and expect voices to be raised in defence of Scotland’s cause?

Has the public really suspended all concerns other than the virus? Does Mr Dornan suppose we think and talk about nothing else? Given that it ranged over a multitude of topics which could not even pretend to be coronavirus-related, how strongly would James Dornan have disapproved of the WhatsApp video chat I enjoyed (and I mean enjoyed!) with a well-known independence activist yesterday?

How can independence not be the SNP’s priority now and always? How can independence not be at the forefront of the party’s thinking now and always? Has Mr Dornan ever read the party’s constitution? Has the commitment to restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status been removed?

Do any of of us need James Dornan to tell us that the public health crisis must be the Scottish Government’s priority right now? Would it not be more helpful if he used his column to explain why this necessarily means that the SNP and everybody else must cease and desist from all independence-related activity and even discussion until we’re told it’s OK to carry on?

Is James Dornan genuinely so ignorant of the real, on-the-ground effects of lockdown as to be unaware that there are thousands of people who are neither front-line nor key-workers but who are stuck at home abiding by our First Minister’s strictures and with little else to do but engage with others online? Is he truly oblivious to the opportunity that this affords the Yes campaign? Why is he so determined that we should not seize this opportunity? Why the intense effort by the SNP leadership to close down completely the entire independence campaign?

Does James Dorman seriously imagine that we will just be able to pick up where we left off? (Does anyone think that was a good place anyway?) Is he really pinning all our hopes for independence on a grateful electorate rewarding Nicola Sturgeon for her handling of the crisis – even when she herself has declared that “it’s got nothing to do with the constitution”?

Is James Dorman persuaded that the virus has stopped the forces of British Nationalism to the same extent as he hopes to stop the campaign for independence? Have his years in politics taught him nothing?

On one thing James Dorman and I agree. We are most certainly beset by “opportunists seeking to gain advantage, not for the cause of independence but for themselves”. We have the ‘cunning plan’ parties looking to exploit the very dissatisfaction with the SNP that he and his “bubble of like-minded people” have engendered. But what of those who are trying to silence Yes activists and put the entire independence campaign into a covid-induced coma? Should we not reckon on them having an agenda? Should we not suppose that they too are seeking advantage for themselves or something that is definitely not the campaign for independence?



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It’s not rocket surgery!

It is actually very simple. There are no circumstances in which we do not need an SNP administration following the next Scottish Parliament elections. NO circumstances! Regardless of whether the party makes any sort of commitment regarding independence, we still have to ensure an SNP administration.

I shouldn’t have to explain why this is. But for those already reaching for their ‘independence isn’t all about the SNP’ boilerplate, I’ll gently suggest that they still their jerking knees long enough to reflect on the alternative to an SNP administration.

Let me put it bluntly. If in the coming Holyrood election campaign you are not working flat out for the biggest SNP win possible, then you might as well go and work for the Tories. Because if we don’t get that decisive SNP win Jackson F Carlaw gets the keys to Bute House.

So, that’s our first priority sorted out. The second priority is to have that SNP administration committed to bold, decisive action in the first half of its term to facilitate the exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination. A firm commitment. An iron-clad commitment. A commitment with a date and a timetable attached.

A commitment, what is more, to a process which keeps the organisation and management of the referendum entirely within Scotland. A commitment which categorically excludes any involvement from the British state or its agents.

I like to think of this as a Manifesto for Independence. Something quite separate and isolated from a party manifesto. A Manifesto for Independence to which any party or candidate might sign up regardless of their own policy platform or political agenda.

This Manifesto for Independence should be written by the Yes movement and presented to all of the parties standing in the election along with an ultimatum – a promise and a threat. Those who sign up to the Manifesto for Independence will have the electoral support of the Yes movement. Those who do not may anticipate the Yes movement’s best efforts to wipe them off the political map completely.

Forming and campaigning for cunning plan parties doesn’t make it onto our list of priorities. Because if our effort to ensure an SNP administration with a working majority fails then any MSPs from those parties will be powerless to do anything. And if that effort succeeds then those extra MSP’s will be superfluous to our needs.

Told you it was simple! Two priorities! Two tasks! Get on with it!



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The line

…eventually even the meekest in Scotland will run out of cheeks to turn.

Wee Ginger Dug: There’s only one cure for British exceptionalism

How long have I been hearing assurances that the next straw will be the one that breaks the camel’s back of Scottish apathy and alienation? How often have my expressions of weary disgust at being defecated upon by the British state been met with exhortations to suffer yet more British contempt in the name of independence. Always just a bit more.

Whence this craven conviction that the road to independence must be paved with the mistakes, misdeeds and malign actions of others? Whither the proud principle that our fate should lie in our own hands?

British exceptionalism cannot be cured. Not least because the effort to cure it would only be required were the British exceptional. Exceptionalism isn’t susceptible to remedy or vulnerable to attack because it feeds on both triumph and victimhood. Exceptionalism is equally affirmed as either oppressor or oppressed. British exceptionalism shifts effortlessly from ‘Poor Old England Suffering The Slings And Arrows Of A Cruel World’ to ‘Brave Little England Triumphing Over Seemingly Unbeatable Odds’ to ‘Great Britain A Force For Good In A World That’s Just Not English Enough’ and back again. Exceptionalism means never having to say you’re ordinary.

How likely is it that British exceptionalism might be undermined by continuously submitting to the impositions of a British political elite so replete with self-regard as to be unable to conceive of regard for others?

Why would we want to cure British exceptionalism anyway? It’s their affliction. Let England-as-Britain tend to its own problems. We have our own problems that urgently demand our attention. Perhaps the greatest of these being a willingness to pander to British exceptionalism by meekly accepting the defamation, degradation, abasement, exploitation and humiliation served up by coldly contemptuous British ruling elite.

It’s not a cure for British exceptionalism that we require. Its a corrective for our own pusillanimous behaviour. Dutifully dancing in a rain of British effluent to the martial anthems of imperial Britannia does not betoken a nation capable of asserting its sovereignty, far less a nation preparing to do so. A policy of accommodating and appeasing British exceptionalism can never serve Scotland’s cause. If people are persuaded that being abused will bring rewards then they will tend to suffer abuse willingly and go on suffering abuse until a line is drawn. It is long past time to draw that line.

We cannot cure British exceptionalism. But we may at any time of our choosing decide that we will no longer be the inferior by which England-as-Britain measures its superiority.



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Misplaced concreteness

I do believe that dismissing their efforts as “gaming the system” should not be the knee-jerk response of any movement embracing diversity and democracy.

Ruth Wishart

But apparently you believe it’s OK to dismiss as a “knee-jerk response” the arguments of those who question the feasibility, utility and wisdom of pop-up parties exploiting understandable dissatisfaction and impatience with the SNP’s handling of the constitutional issue.

The pro-independence troops comprise hundreds of thousands of true believers, but within that overarching ambition lie very many different views as to how it might be most effectively realised. This is no more than healthy.

Ruth Wishart

For a movement, perhaps. But it’s not “healthy” for a campaign. A campaign needs to be unified, focused and disciplined. In many ways the very opposite of a movement. People must decide whether they are content to be part of a diverse movement which supports the idea of independence or whether they want to be part of a campaign to actually get Scotland’s independence restored. It is, of course, possible to be both. But if the former gets mistaken for the latter then the latter is fatally undermined.

The enemy being anyone who has demonstrated the absolutely criminal behaviour of disagreeing with your view.

Ruth Wishart

That is one of the all-time great cop-outs. It’s saying you don’t have to deal with my arguments against your position because my arguments are prompted solely by the fact that you are disagreeing with me. It is making the debate about the disagreement rather than about the position that is being disagreed with. It is making the difference in views the issue so as to avoid having to deal with criticism of the content of those views.

Should I add “black-and-white thinking” to the ridiculously long and ever-growing list of things that don’t “help the independence cause”? Or should I consider the possibility that there’s more than a bit of black-and-white thinking involved in regarding black-and-white thinking as a necessarily bat thing. In fact, it is very often helpful to reduce a disputed issue to its basic elements. Abstracting an issue from “life, real life” can be an effective way of clarifying the matter. What is important is to remember that your abstraction must fit back into “life, real life” when you’re done with it. So long as one assiduously avoids what Alfred North Whitehead called the fallacy of misplaced concreteness black-and-white thinking is another tool in the analytical thinker’s toolbox.

Which, not at all coincidentally, is precisely the fallacy which characterises the diverse notions of a ‘cunning plan’ that will circumvent the voting system and flood the Scottish Parliament with pro-independence MSPs. Proponents of these ‘cunning plans’ afford to the outcome they desire a concreteness which rightfully belongs only to an objective assessment of what the ‘cunning plan’ is actually capable of achieving in “life, real life”.

I have explained this fallacy elsewhere. I shan’t repeat myself here. I would, however add a further point to what I’ve previously said about the ‘Cult of the Cunning Plan’ misidentifying the problem as being a lack of pro-independence MSPs. Another mistake they make is assuming that the ‘SNP 1&2’ strategy has failed. It has only failed if one defines success in a very particular way. Think more deeply about what the slogan is for and why it is such a powerful campaign message and it becomes clear that the strategy has actually been quite successful.

In another of those unremarkable non-coincidences, dismissing the ‘SNP 1&2’ strategy as a failure turns out to be an illustrative example of black and white thinking.



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

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

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

And I feel fine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For how long?

Forever!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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To a Cunning Plan Cultist…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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