Murky and dirty and suspicious

The title of this piece echos the words used by Rev Stu Campbell on Wings Over Scotland to describe events surrounding the trial of Alex Salmond. Having remained sensibly silent about both the trial and the “events surrounding” it, now that the trial has ended with Salmond completely exonerated I can state openly that this is the verdict I both hoped for and expected. Alex Salmond is innocent of all charges other than that of being a human being with his own assortment of the flaws and frailties that this implies. The jury in a trial is required to have regard only for the evidence presented. But outside of that context and as individuals, we judge a person’s character not only by the defects and deficiencies our common humanity bequeaths us but by the manner in which they compensate for their weaknesses and failings. It has long been my personal judgement that Alex Salmond has amply earned the benefit of any doubt.

The charges against Alex Salmond never seemed credible to me. The behaviour of which he was accused is such that one would expect there to be a history which at least hinted at an inclination to inappropriateness in his dealing with females in his circle. That there was no such history I found perplexing. Especially so given the seriousness of some of the alleged offences. It is my understanding that examination of such offences with the benefit of hindsight tends to reveal a trail of lesser incidents leading back through the life of the perpetrator. In Salmond’s case, there was no such trail. Not evidence of innocence such as might qualify to be presented in court, perhaps. But sufficient to raise reasonable doubts in the mind of a disinterested observer.

Neither would my personal regard for Salmond count as evidence in a criminal trial. The fact that what I know of the former First Minister leads me to assume him to be a man of some integrity would not serve as admissible testimony in his defence. But, again, it sufficed to raise serious questions about how likely he was to be guilty as charged. I believe Alex Salmond to be possibly the most acute and adept political operator of our times. Not a great man, perhaps. But unarguably a great politician. Ironically, it is those characteristics which might be considered flaws which did most to persuade me that the charges against him were false. Salmond is, I think, a man who takes inordinate pride in his accomplishments. He sets great store by his political legacy. He values his reputation. That he would jeopardise his legacy and his reputation for momentary sexual gratification always struck me as being hugely unlikely.

One does not get to be a political operator of Alex Salmond’s rank without being an extraordinarily calculating individual. A well-developed capacity for Machiavellian scheming may be the overarching attribute of those most proficient in the art and science of politics. Salmond is known to enjoy a flutter. But he is, I believe, very far from being a reckless gambler. While betting on horses may satisfy some audacious facet of his make-up, he brings to his pastime the same shrewdness which serves him so well as a professional politician. I always wondered how someone so intuitively calculating could be as impetuously incautious as to do the things of which he was accused.

It is said that Salmond is a very tactile man. He is reputed to be given to contact which implies a certain casual, non-threatening, almost naive intimacy. My suspicion is that this behaviour is part conscious effort to win trust and part (over-?) compensation for the coldness which comes with a calculating nature. We live in a time when any physical contact is subject to scrutiny and analysis far beyond the instinctive understanding of gestures processed instantly and continuously as part of an act of communication. Touching can all too readily be regrettably misinterpreted – or maliciously misrepresented.

There is probably not a man in all of Scotland born before 1970 who could not be plausibly accused of some kind of sexual misconduct on the basis of behaviour towards women genuinely considered at the time to be no more than a bit forward at worst. There may be no man of my generation – born in 1950 – who, if he has any sensitivity at all, does not regret the gauche and even crass insensitivity of his youth. I trust and believe that many (most?) of us who are parents to boys have taught them to better respect women. I know that girls have been taught to demand the respect that they are due.

Alex Salmond walked free from court into a world in turmoil. This will not be unfamiliar territory for him. I am satisfied that justice has been done. I am certain that justice remains to be done in relation to the “murky and dirty and suspicious” events surrounding his trial. I am satisfied that it will be. I am certain that Alex Salmond has already calculated how he will help to ensure that it is.


For anyone with an interest in the murky and dirty and suspicious events referred to, Craig Murray’s blog is a must-read. You should also take a look at Grouse Beater‘s musings on the matter.



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White Rose Revolution

The rose of all the world is not for me.
I want for my part
Only the little white rose of Scotland
That smells sharp and sweet—and breaks the heart. *

When it was suggested to me that there might be interesting parallels to be drawn between Scotland’s independence cause and the Arab Spring revolutions which took place at the start of this decade, I was sceptical. I could see the attraction of ‘Scottish Spring’ as a rhetorical device. But the Arab Spring is described by Wikipedia as “series of anti-government protests, uprisings, and armed rebellions that spread across North Africa and the Middle East in the early 2010s”. One doesn’t immediately associate the Yes movement with words like “uprising” or even “revolution”. And certainly not with “armed rebellion”. It is not at all unreasonable, however, to characterise events such as the All Under One Banner (AUOB) marches and rallies or the Hands Off Our Parliament (HOOP) demonstrations as “anti-government protests”. Perhaps there is something in the idea after all.

When I was at school history was taught as a catalogue of significant dates, crucial events, particular locations and important people which had to be memorised, because they were memorable. A claim contradicted by the fact that I almost immediately forgot almost all of them. Only later did I come to think of history as a process, or a network of processes, in which all those dates, events, places and people were connected in complex ways. At which point, history got interesting. Not least because, if everything was part of the same great historical mesh, then this meant that insignificant dates, trivial events, ordinary places and ‘common’ people were as much part of history as the things deemed worthy of inclusion in that catalogue.

From this perspective, the Arab Spring and the Yes movement are part of the same process. They are inevitably connected in some way – even if the connection is a bit tenuous and not immediately obvious.

The problem with thinking of history as a single process is that, in order to discuss any part of it, one must choose a starting point. And that choice will always be somewhat arbitrary. The starting point I select may not be the one others would opt for. Likewise, the connections I perceive may not be regarded by others as particularly meaningful or illuminating. Our view of history can be quite subjective.

Looking for a pattern – a number of points in the process of history that seem to form a trail which passes through the Arab Spring as it follows the inexorable flow of time – my mind lighted on 25 April 1974 in Lisbon, Portugal. On that date, a military coup was launched to overthrow the authoritarian Estado Novo regime. Hardly the first time that has ever happened. What was unusual in this instance, however, was the fact that the military coup was itself taken over by an impromptu campaign of peaceful civil resistance. A grassroots uprising which led to the restoration of democracy in Portugal with hardly a shot fired.

This is, of course, an oversimplification of these events. But what we are looking for here are large scale patterns rather than the fine grain of history. And what is significant for our purposes is the upsurge of popular dissent and non-violent action in support of democracy. Already we can discern aspects of Portugal’s Carnation Revolution which may presage the Arab Spring more than thirty years later. Already we may choose to see certain vague foreshadowings of Scotland’s Yes movement.

But history provides another piece of the pattern that fits nicely between the Carnation Revolution and the Arab Spring in the form of the so-called ‘Colour Revolutions’. This term refers to a number of related movements that appeared from around the turn of the century in the Balkans and countries of the recently collapsed Soviet Union. The media have a tendency to lump together lots of things that happen in the same time period or in the same geographical location and apply a label that can be used as shorthand for what may, superficially at least, appear to be a single phenomenon. The media’s judgement is not entirely or consistently reliable in these matters. The advantages of concision often take precedence over the demands of accuracy. But, again, for present purposes the broad and loose categories used by the media will suffice.

Under the rubric of ‘Colour Revolutions’ we will find such diverse events as Georgia’s Rose Revolution in 2003 and in Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004, although the term may be traced back to the 1986 ‘Yellow Revolution’ in the Philippines – which is often considered the first example of a new kind of non-violent popular uprising. Once you start looking for connections you start to find them everywhere.

What links all of these, from the Carnation Revolution in Portugal to the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and on even to the Blue Revolution in Kuwait (2005) and the Saffron Revolution in Myanmar (2007) is the idea of People Power. These revolutions may have had differing objectives and varying degrees of success, but all grew out of a dawning realisation that ordinary people might do extraordinary things if they combine in defiance of the established order.

For me, the event which best encapsulates this awakening of popular power was the moment on December 21 1989 when the crowd turned on Romania’s dictator President, Nicolae Ceaușescu, as he was making a speech from the balcony of the Central Committee building overlooking what is now Revolution Square. It started with some booing and heckling such as would be considered totally unremarkable at a speech in, say, George Square, Glasgow. But under the heel of Ceaușescu’s repressive regime, such behaviour was unthinkable – until it wasn’t.

The video of Ceaușescu’s last speech should be required viewing for everybody. It serves as a potent reminder, to the powerful and powerless alike, of how fragile established power actually is when it is confronted by mass dissent.

It is the notion of an awakening of people power which is captured in the term ‘Arab Spring’. Spring is the season of renewal. Of fresh beginnings. Of blossoming life. It conjures thoughts of emerging from the cold and the dark into the warmth and the light. It suggests an end to the old order and the birth of a new society. Spring is a time of relief and a time of promise.

Is this not precisely how we like to think of the restoration of Scotland’s independence? Does not the concept of restoration fit perfectly with the idea of Spring? Is it really so ridiculous to think that there might be a Scottish Spring that is in some meaningful way similar to the Arab Spring? Might not Scotland have its own version of a Colour Revolution

Any suggestion that the people of Scotland are suffering oppression such as existed in Romania under Ceaușescu or East Germany under the Stasi is likely to be indignantly rejected. And rightly so. But oppression takes many forms. We are not denied the right to vote. But the Union means our democratic will can be treated with a contempt which differs only in degree from that in which democratic rights were held by the likes of Nicolae Ceaușescu. We may not need to fear being dragged from our beds in the early hours to be bundled off to some Soviet gulag or hell-hole Egyptian prison. But the Union means that people we would happily welcome to our country and embrace as part of our community are being dragged from their homes and sent to places like Dungavel; or being bundled onto planes and dispatched to who knows what fate in the places from which they fled to seek succour in Scotland.

And what is the denial of Scotland’s democratic right of self-determination if not a form of oppression? The fact that it is not as brutal as the oppression imposed under some regimes is only of consequence to those who set their moral compass by such regimes. Oppression need not be brutal to be effective. Insidious indoctrination and pernicious propaganda may work just as well as the fist and the rubber hose. Imprison the mind and there is no need of steel bars and iron shackles. Military occupation is entirely redundant if the minds of the people have been colonised.

Is there any less call to shake off this oppression just because it is not directly comparable with the worst oppression ever suffered – or ever imagined? Where is the line to be drawn? At what point do we say “Enough!”?

There is a powerful sense at large that Scotland is awakening. It is easy to see how the Yes movement might fit in that pattern which runs from Portugal’s Carnation Revolution to the Arab Spring. Of course, we do things our way. As circumstances differ, so will the form of the awakening of people power. Constitutional particulars separate Scotland’s independence cause from that of Catalonia. But we are as one in our shared determination to assert and defend the right of self-determination. The same fundamental democratic principles form the common thread which runs through all the non-violent revolutions of the past few decades regardless of how dissimilar the specific conditions which have provoked popular uprisings.

As people take to the streets in their thousands to defend our nation’s democracy and a growing clamour demands an end to the Union, it is clear that nothing can stop Scotland’s White Rose Revolution!

This is our Scottish Spring!


*Hugh MacDiarmid

This article was originally published in iScot Magazine last year.
Rather obviously, it was written before the COVID-19 outbreak.
You are invited to use your imagination.



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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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Section 30 is not Scotland’s salvation

I wonder if those who say things like “we are not at the end of the Section 30 order road” have ever stopped to think about what a Section 30 order actually is. When I hear people insisting that a Section 30 order is absolutely required for a referendum on restoring Scotland’s independence to be ‘legal and ‘binding’, I tend to wonder if they have considered what a Section 30 order is for and why this ‘loophole’ was made part of the Scotland Act 1998. After all, we know that the core purpose of the legislation is, not to empower the Scottish Parliament, but to keep it in check. We know that the devolution experiment never had anything to do with addressing the democratic deficit imposed by the Union or improving Scotland’s governance, but was always about creating a new and superficially more democratic framework within which powers could be ‘managed’ without the risk of compromising the Union. So why would the legislation include a provision for granting additional powers to the Scottish Parliament?

The answer, of course, is that it doesn’t. As becomes immediately clear when one reads the relevant text at Section 30(2).

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

Scotland Act 1998

Expressed in a less legalistic, and more forthright, fashion what this says is that the British Prime Minister – currently a malignant child-clown named Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson – can alter the powers of the Scottish Parliament whenever they want and in any way they deem “necessary or expedient” for their purposes – that purpose being ever and always the preservation of the Union. I think it’s fair to say that Section 30 isn’t sounding like quite the boon to Scotland some seem to suppose it to be. It is simply another device by which the British state may rein in the Scottish Parliament. Or, at least, that was the intention. Belt and braces legislation. Just in case there were any loopholes which might allow Holyrood more power than was intended, Section 30 allows the British political elite to quickly patch up any chink in the armour protecting the Union.

You may be asking how, if the purpose of Section 30 is to provide extra protection for the Union, did it come to be used to secure a ‘legal and binding’ independence referendum in 2014? To understand how this came about you need know just one thing – Alex Salmond is a lot smarter than David Cameron. Alex Salmond played Cameron like the proverbial old fiddle. He knew his opponent and was keenly aware that he could rely on a mix of hubris, arrogance and ignorance to enable him to extract what he wanted from the then British Prime Minister. And what he wanted was, not the Section 30 order itself, but the Edinburgh Agreement that accompanied it.

Of course, the drafters of the legislation never envisaged Section 30 being used in this way. They assumed the Scottish Parliament would always be controlled by the the British parties; who would never do anything to jeopardise the Union. That’s the way the electoral system was set up. Not, as some imagine, to keep the SNP out, but to keep some combination or permutation of British parties perpetually in. Another safeguard for the Union. You may be starting to discern a pattern.

Alex Salmond is a brilliant political operator. A master of the art of keeping open as many options as possible and a man who can calculate, on the fly, all the values in a complex trade-off. Setting a precedent by requesting a Section 30 order was dangerous because, on the face of it, this might limit the options available in the future. Remember that, in 2012, Salmond had little reason to suppose that a referendum could be won. He was pretty much bounced into going for it because, in 2011, the Scottish electorate broke the voting system in a way that not even Alex Salmond could have predicted. He had to declare the referendum. And he would do his utmost to win it. But he was also planning for the loss and looking to get as much out of the whole exercise as he could.

Aware that the precedent-setting risk involved in requesting a Section 30 order was at least mitigated and almost certainly negated by the unlawfulness of any attempt to deny the right of self-determination, Salmond figured the trade-off was worth it to secure the Edinburgh Agreement and, crucially, formal recognition of Scotland’s right of self-determination by the British state. Asking permission from Cameron must have grated severely on Salmond’s Scottish sensibilities. But, ever the pragmatist, he got on with doing what was necessary.

So, to summarise – the purpose of Section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998, is to afford the British Prime Minister the legal authority to unilaterally and arbitrarily alter the powers of the Scottish Parliament. So much for the ‘most powerful devolved parliament in the world’!

Alex Salmond used the Section 30 procedure to manipulate David Cameron into formally acknowledging Scotland’s right of self-determination as part of a subsidiary plan to ease the way for a new referendum in the event that the 2014 vote went the wrong way.

Salmond realised that this could not set an awkward precedent as the Section 30 procedure would always be trumped by international laws and conventions relating to the right of self-determination. Which does not mean that we should take the British government to court – whatever that may entail. What it means, and what Salmond no doubt intended, is that the British state is powerfully deterred from taking the Scottish Government to court. It is highly unlikely that any constitutional court, including the UK Supreme Court, would uphold the British government’s right to exercise what is effectively a veto over Scotland’s right of self-determination. To do so would be to strike down the Charter of the United Nations. No constitutional court would risk its credibility in this way. No judge would want that on their Debrett’s entry, or their Wikipedia page.

The question, therefore, is not whether we are “at the end of the Section 30 order road”, but whether we should be on that road at all.

Some insist that a Section 30 order is required to make a referendum legal. This is the colonised mind speaking. Note how such people constantly fret about the legality of what Scotland does and its bearing on independent Scotland gaining recognition by the international community. Note how they rarely, if ever, think about questioning the legality of what the British state does. They never ask how a law prohibiting or constraining a fundamental democratic right can possibly be valid. The British political elite has only to assert a power, and the colonised mind unthinkingly accepts it. The superiority of the British state is mindlessly assumed.

What matters in relation to the right of self-determination is, not formal legality, but democratic legitimacy. So long as the process by which the right of self-determination is exercised can be shown to be open and democratic, any law purporting to prohibit or constrain that right cannot itself be legitimate. Especially when that law is imposed by a parliament and a government which itself lacks even the semblance of democratic legitimacy. Who says so? Well, among others, the British government. It is stated with great clarity and concision in the British government’s statement(s) to the International Court of Justice inquiry as to whether the declaration of independence by the provisional institutions of self-government of Kosovo was in accordance
with international law.

5.5 Consistent with this general approach, international law has not treated the legality of the act of secession under the internal law of the predecessor State as determining the effect of that act on the international plane. In most cases of secession, of course, the predecessor State‟s law will not have been complied with: that is true almost as a matter of definition.

5.6 Nor is compliance with the law of the predecessor State a condition for the declaration of independence to be recognised by third States, if other conditions for recognition are fulfilled. The conditions do not include compliance with the internal legal requirements of the predecessor State. Otherwise the international legality of a secession would be predetermined by the very system of internal law called in question by the circumstances in
which the secession is occurring.

5.7 For the same reason, the constitutional authority of the seceding entity to proclaim independence within the predecessor State is not determinative as a matter of international law. In most if not all cases, provincial or regional authorities will lack the constitutional authority to secede. The act of secession is not thereby excluded. Moreover, representative institutions may legitimately act, and seek to reflect the views of their constituents, beyond the scope of already conferred power.

WRITTEN STATEMENT OF THE UNITED KINGDOM

It is abundantly clear that there is no necessity to follow the Section 30 procedure. So the question becomes one of what, if anything, makes it desirable to do so? And that is a far more difficult question, because it concerns subjective judgement Personally, I just hope that those ‘influencers’ who are advocating for the Section 30 procedure have actually thought it through. And, if our elected leaders are opting for the Section 30 procedure, I feel entitled to demand to know why, and to be assured that they have fully considered the kind of implications outlined in a previous article.



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The snarling of the beast

It was always going to happen. British Nationalists were always going to find something to latch onto. They were always going to find some vulnerability that they could exploit. Simply be virtue of the fact that they were constantly attacking Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP on any grounds however spurious, it was pretty much inevitable that one of those attacks would find some wee tear that they could pick at. When you blast away in all directions with a scatter-gun then you’re almost bound to eventually at least graze one of your chosen targets.

Although, for obvious reasons, not much was said about it at the time, this was part of the reasoning behind the drive to hold a new referendum last September. It seemed obvious that, given the British establishment’s frenzied determination to find – or fashion – some dirt on a senior SNP figure, the longer this effort was allowed to continue the greater the chances that it would have some measure of success.

Forget the ‘conspiracy theories’ about highly placed British civil service ‘moles’ in the SNP administration with orders to sabotage one or more SNP politicians at the first opportunity. I’m not saying the British establishment is not capable of such conduct. Only that they are probably not competent. Appalling as the British political elite may be, civil servants are generally decent people with a strong sense of duty and very much focused on their careers. They are not easily corrupted.

And it isn’t necessary anyway. Civil servants are just people and subject as all of us are to human folly and frailty. One of them was going to screw up in some way at some point. And it is becoming clearer by the day that there were one or two senior civil servants in the vicinity of the First Minister who are perhaps more prone to human weaknesses and defects of character than most. And certainly more so than is desirable in a senior civil servant.

It was only a matter of time. The more time they were allowed, the greater the chance that British Nationalists would strike lucky.

Why a civil servant and not one of the senior SNP politicians themselves? Why was it more likely that a crack would eventually appear in the machinery of the Scottish Government rather than in any of its leading personalities? Simply because those leading personalities are the first generation of front-line figures in a new party of government. They haven’t risen to power through established structures which could help them over humps and cover their arses where necessary. In order to get there, they’ve had to keep their noses, not merely clean as in free of dangling snot, but clean as in pristine. Antiseptically clean.

What makes the allegations against Alex Salmond less than credible is the fact that his reputation is of such immense value to him, together with his awareness that the British establishment and its media hyenas were constantly raking through his bins looking for any titbit they could exploit. In all of history, few politicians have come under such intense and prolonged scrutiny. British Nationalist frustration at being unable to find anything is palpable. Those less prejudiced might consider the failure of such a massive effort to find evidence of wrongdoing to strongly suggest that no such evidence exists.

Similar considerations apply regarding the insinuations against Nicola Sturgeon. Together with the confused and contradictory nature of those insinuations. Almost as if her attackers are trying to cover all possible permutations of wrongdoing regardless of whether they make any sense. Which leads us to consider the reputations of those attackers compared with that of Nicola Sturgeon.

That there is a smear campaign against both Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon is certain. Since at least 2007, there has not been a moment when there wasn’t some kind of smear campaign against one or both of them either in progress or in preparation. The current exercise in negative propaganda appears to be gaining more traction than any that have gone before. But this may be a function of the resources that are being applied to the effort rather than an indication of any substance behind the allegations and insinuations.

Of one thing we can be fairly sure; this smear campaign is opportunistic rather than conspiratorial. A senior civil servant has behaved in a manner that is dubious, at best. The British Nationalist beast’s primitive instincts have been triggered as it senses potential weakness. It is responding with all the petty, mindless viciousness we’ve come to expect from politicians bred in the British political system.


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The cornered beast

back_in_boxAbout a month ago I warned that the British political establishment was in the process of ramping up its propaganda campaign against the SNP administration (see below). This wasn’t exactly a bold prediction. As all but the most passive consumers of British media output in Scotland will be aware, Project Fear did not stop after the 2014 referendum. The British state’s campaign of lies, distortion, smears and denigration has become an incessant, ubiquitous background hum to Scottish politics. But it became apparent some weeks ago that the effort to weaken the Scottish Government, delegitimise the Scottish Parliament and undermine confidence in Scotland’s public services was being intensified.

I do not intend to discuss what many will regard as the most obvious evidence of the renewed vigour with which the British political elite is now pursuing those regarded as a threat to the integrity of the British state. The allegations against Alex Salmond are extremely serious, suspiciously timely and dubious for a number of reasons. Suffice it to say that this may be one occasion when the supposed offences turn out to be the least of the story once the whole of that story is told. I would add only that the gluttonous glee with which British politicians and commentators have descended on the affair (see Alex Massie* for a sickening example) betokens their frenzied eagerness to find – or fashion – any stick with which to beat the hated SNP.

Signs of this frenzy are all around us. Just the other day, once respected newspaper The Scotsman carried a story under the headline Call for SNP to investigate Yes groups on Facebook. The piece was a transparently obvious attempt to exploit the ongoing controversy over social media content and to contrive a link between the SNP and current candidate for demonisation, Iran, by way of some questionable Facebook page purporting to support the Yes campaign.

The article is instantly recognisable as a rather clumsy bit of propaganda. Although the fact that the ‘source’ is Murdo Fraser suggests that the failure to distinguish between the SNP and the Yes movement may be a matter of genuine ignorance. It is surpassing easy to believe that Mr Fraser might be dumbly unaware that the SNP has absolutely no authority to “investigate” the Yes movement.

Whether born of knowing malice or just plain stupidity, this is a smear story. It should be treated with appropriate contempt.

As should the latest bit of madness from The Herald‘s David Leask. The gloriously demented headline invites us to Meet the McBots: how Scottish cyber activists try to game Twitter. We are then taken on a mercifully short meander through the garishly surreal fun-house of David Leask’s imagination.

The story revolves around a conspiracy theory conjured by some ‘expert’ with links to some Nato think-tank. According to his ‘research’, the “cyber activists” of the headline – pro-independence Twitter users to the rest of us – have been creating “McBots”, or artificial automated accounts, in order to “game” social media algorithms and get a particular hashtag trending.

attacks_on_snpThe hashtag in question is #DissolveTheUnion. I am familiar with it because, to the best of my knowledge, I am its author. I started using the hashtag some time ago to signify support for the idea of a more assertive approach to the process of restoring Scotland’s independence. Obviously, it has nothing whatever to do with the allegations against Alex Salmond. Although it will be unsurprising to anybody who is even vaguely aware of what is going on in Scottish politics that there is a considerable overlap between the people seeking a sense of urgency in the independence campaign and those commenting on a story involving the man who is regarded as a leading figure in that campaign.

Along come’s Mr Occam with his razor and poor Leasky’s latest bit of daftness is left in shreds on the floor of his comfortably upholstered accommodations. To whatever extent the hashtag #DissolveTheUnion may have trended on Twitter, this can most readily – not to mention rationally – be explained by the sheer number of Yes supporters using it in their perfectly legitimate Twitter accounts.

Expect more such nonsense. And much worse. The British state is a cornered beast. It is very much more dangerous than might be supposed from looking at the puny efforts of David Leask and Murdo Fraser.


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A can of worms

alex_salmondThat someone as prominent as Alex Salmond has elected to intervene in what I wearily suppose will shortly be dubbed the ‘Wingsgate’ scandal, is quite significant. If nothing else, it serves to demonstrate just how important alternative media have become.

His intervention is doubly significant for the fact that, as well as concisely stating the points that the BBC must respond to in relation to its evidently selective and seemingly ill-founded copyright infringement complaint against Wings Over Scotland, Mr Salmond has broadened the issue to include the rights of persons appearing in the excerpts which have been removed from the public domain due to the BBC’s action. And he has introduced the further matter of the BBC’s apparent failure to remove material which has been found to be in breach of its own guidelines.

It looks increasingly like the corporation has opened a very large can of worms here. And that this can of worms may well keep on getting bigger as the ‘Wingsgate’ affair becomes a vehicle for other long-festering grievances against the BBC. This is the sort of thing which can lead to demands for some kind of public inquiry as a plethora of issues previously dismissed as trivial and/or exceptional are resurrected and tagged onto or rolled into the one which has sufficient mass and momentum to carry them.

That the BBC has got itself into this situation amply demonstrates the dumb arrogance of unaccountable power. Anyone with so much as the tip of their smallest finger on the pulse of Scottish politics could have predicted the furore which would ensue from closing down the Wings Over Scotland YouTube channel. Either the BBC was aware of the hornets’ nest that it was poking and simply didn’t care, or it was allowing decisions to be made by people lacking even a basic awareness of what they were dealing with. Whichever it was, it looks like an appalling failure of management.

And where is the outcry from self-styled ‘professional’ journalists? Where are the frenzied denunciations of ‘gagging’ and high-minded defences of freedom of expression? Mainstream journalists managed to work themselves into a steaming lather of righteous indignation over perfectly justified criticism of certain members of their cosy little clique. But they are curiously silent in the face of an all too real attack on free speech that is ominously reminiscent of TV stations being closed down by some tyrannical regime.

Perhaps Alex Salmond’s intervention will rouse those somnolent and indolent hacks. But if the evidence of the past is any guide their mercenary ire will directed, not against the BBC, but against Salmond. If these loyal servants of the British state are true to tediously predictable form then we can expect that ‘Wingsgate’ will be spun as the SNP trying to ‘intimidate’ and ‘silence’ the BBC.

It’s all very British.


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