The beast beneath

There’s a delicious parody of Boris Johnson’s supporters in The National today. Shona Craven’s cleverly crafted lampoon takes us through a series of specious arguments and self-serving rationalisations of the sort offered up by Johnson’s apologists as he tramples on every democratic principle he can find like a child in a tantrum stamping on their toys. The line separating burlesque from reality all but disappeared the day Boris Johnson became British Prime Minister. But Shona manges to find that line and remain so precariously on the side of the sendup that one could be forgiven for occasionally wondering whether her article is mockery or reportage.

The following will give a flavour of the piece.

Some commentators are saying that if the Supreme Court agrees with the Court of Session’s ruling, the Prime Minister will have to recall parliament, or resign, or throw himself in a ditch. What those people don’t seem to understand is that these are extraordinary times, which call for an extraordinary leader. A leader who isn’t like all those other namby-pamby politicians. A leader who is a real person, just like you and me – except stronger and cleverer, obviously. A leader who will go to the EU summit and square up to his opponents, humiliating the girly swots who want to keep the peace in Europe because they’re rubbish at fighting, and banging together any heads that are buried in negative impact assessments.

Amusing as this piss-take may be, there is a serious point being made. Shona Craven shows how a very reasonable-sounding argument can form the foundation for an edifice of increasingly extreme propositions, each borrowing from the faux rationality of those that preceded it. Departing from the hardly controversial suggestion that extraordinary circumstances might benefit from extraordinary leadership, we journey through series of plausible and persuasive points until we arrive at a place that seems like where we ought to be despite the fact we’re pretty sure we didn’t want to go there.

At every convenient point on this journey we are reminded that our guides and companions are people just like us; lest we suppose ourselves being led by anyone who could possibly have an ulterior motive. We are further reassured to know that the man at the helm is also just like us. So we should not be concerned by how closely he and his crew resemble the very people we set out to escape.

Once we accept that we need a strong leader, we can then be persuaded that it defeats the purpose to have people questioning his judgement and impeding his efforts to deal with whatever crisis it is that has persuaded us of the need for a strong leader. Once these hindrances are removed it makes perfect sense to do away with the institutions within which they operated and through which they were empowered to limit our strong leader’s scope for action.

If these institutions no longer exist, then what is the point of the processes and procedures which maintain them? Wouldn’t we be wise to rid ourselves of the costly, and now pointless, exercise by which we appoint people to represent our interests? What’s the point in having a strong leader if you still have to make choices and decisions for yourself? Don’t we all have busy lives? Don’t we all have better things to do? Aren’t we all suffering from democracy-fatigue?

Shona Craven’s column is part parody, and part allegory. While you may be amused by the parody, you should also be alarmed by the allegory. Her article – and perhaps this one – should be read alongside a transcript of Boris Johnson’s toe-curling yet sinister ‘People’s Question Time‘ exercise back in August. As you read, reflect on the fact that authoritarian regimes tend to arrive without fanfare. They come garbed in the humble raiment of sweet reason and benign intent. We do well to look for the beast beneath.



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Corruption breeds corruption

I love the passion Tommy Sheridan injects into his articles. And few things rouse that passion more than the British honours system and the House of Lords.

Like so many things associated with the British states, the British honours system is corrupt. But this doesn’t necessary imply that honours systems themselves are a bad thing. I like to imagine that Scotland might have some sort of arrangement by which people who have acted with particular distinction in the service of community or nation receive recognition. A system which is not corrupt. A system which operates to the general benefit without bestowing individual privilege.

The problem, of course, would be ensuring that such a system didn’t become corrupt. That seems to be a tendency when people are involved. But I don’t think it’s beyond the wit of man – or woman – to devise a system which has adequate built-in checks and balances.

Which is yet another condemnation of the British honours system. If, as I assume, it is perfectly possible to devise a system which is neither corrupt nor corruptible, why has the British system been allowed to become ever more corrupt? I would suggest it’s because it is British. It is inextricably tied up with the structures of power, privilege and patronage which constitute and define the British state.

I would be not at all displeased if independent Scotland demonstrated that it is possible to have an honours system which is not corrupt so long as the state itself is not corrupt.

As to the House of Lords, I find it almost as offensive as Tommy does. But I am cautious about calls for abolition. For one thing, the House of Lords does serve a purpose. There are what are called ‘working Peers’ who actually do a job – scrutinising and amending legislation etc.

More importantly, the House of Lords can be, and often has been, a check on executive power. And if there is one thing the British state needs it is some kind of check on executive power. Any kind! Recent events serve to illustrate this need very starkly.

Of course, the way members of the House of Lords are appointed is as much part of that corrupt system of power, privilege and patronage as the honours system. I am most decidedly not arguing that it should be retained. And perish the thought that Scotland would ever emulate such an appalling institution.

I am cautious about calls for abolition solely because I am concerned about what would replace the House of Lords. More particularly, I’m concerned about who would decide what the replacement would be. Bad as the House of Lords is, I can easily imagine something worse. And if I was looking for a way of making it worse then I’d assign the task of designing a replacement for the House of Lords to the British political elite.

Corruption breeds only further corruption.



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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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