The train now standing…

The guy who only a few months ago said “We’ve never been closer to independence!” has a hard neck talking about “showboating chaff” from others. And why does Alyn Smith devote so much space to publishing his CV? Is that supposed to impress us? There are, in the Yes movement, many people who could produce an even more impressive account of the effort they have devoted to Scotland’s cause over far more decades than Alyn Smith can claim. And, unlike Mr Smith, doing so unpaid.

He dismisses talk of process. He insists we concentrate on policy. After 20 years in politics you’d think he’d have learned that without process policy goes nowhere. Without process there is no movement. To be so disdainful of process is like saying you don’t care if a vehicle actually runs so long as it is fitted with all the latest technology.

The reality, I suspect, is that Mr Smith doesn’t want to discuss process because he has absolutely nothing to say on the subject. He sure as hell doesn’t want to answer question about the Section 30 process. He won’t explain how it can possibly deliver to a free and fair referendum. He doesn’t want to explain how it can ever be a route to independence.

He is right about one thing. We do need to persuade people. I totally accept that the “gentle persuasion” favoured by him and his pal Pete “The Postponer” Wishart is one way to go about it. Just not the only way! And I would gently point out to both of them that no amount of “gentle persuasion” is going to persuade people to board a train that isn’t going anywhere because the tracks of process haven’t been laid.

Alyn Smith and Pete Wishart want to lure people onto the independence train with talk of how the rail system might be financed and how much more comfortable the seats could be. They are content for the train to remain in the station for as long as it takes to fill it with passengers. But the people running the station are idiots and the place is ablaze. Mr Smith and Mr Wishart look at the encroaching flames and the imminent inferno and tell us we should tolerate being scorched because the fire is driving more people to board the train regardless of the fact that it’s going nowhere.

I want people on that train too. But I reckon we’ll get more travellers if we can assure them that the tracks are laid and a route planned that doesn’t involve trying to get the train to go where the tracks don’t go – as in Pete Wishart’s drivel about a detour to visit the EU. And, more to the point, a route that doesn’t involve running into buffers before the train even leaves the burning station – as in the British state’s ‘gold standard’ Section 30 route.

This is the last train. It may be the last train ever. But it’s certainly the last train for a long while. It has to go. When people see that it is actually getting out of the blazing station and going somewhere, they will rush to get on board. They won’t be deterred by the knowledge that the train is going to a place they’ve never been before, and will have to learn about as we travel and after we arrive. They will be exited by the prospect and confident that they can deal with any problems along the way and cope with whatever challenges being in a new place might bring.

People will board the independence train when the crew inspires confidence. If their questions about departure time and journey time are met with quotes from the company’s sales brochures then they are going to be sceptical about the ability of the crew to get them safely to their destination. They will wonder why the train manager is giving them his spiel about company policy on smoking when they’ve asked what time the train is leaving. They will be irked when the train manager launches into a glowing, travel-brochure account of the destination when they inquired about any track and signal work that might cause delays in getting to that destination. They’ll be seriously worried when they ask about the driver’s qualifications and experience only to have their attention drawn to how good she looks in the uniform.

Those on board and those still milling on the platform will all be baffled and horrified if the train manager shrugs off persistent questions by telling everybody that the train can’t go until the crew gets permission from the station-master. Who happens to be the one setting all the fires in the station. The one who wants to keep the train in the station because he’s destroying all the food outlets on the concourse and he knows the train’s catering service is sufficiently well-stocked to provide for him and select members of his staff – so long as everybody else is put on meagre rations.

The analogy may have been overworked, but it serves well to convey an idea of Scotland’s present predicament. Maybe, too, it serves to help us see what needs to be done to get us out of this predicament. We know there is only this train and this crew. We know what our destination is. Even if we don’t have a detailed street map and recent photographs of important landmarks and architect’s plans of every building, we know it’s where we must go – because staying is not a viable option. We know all of this, and knowing all of this we know that our best hope of getting out of the burning station and at least setting off on our journey is to urge a better performance from the team running the train.

We have to demand that the train leave now! If that means leaving without the station-master’s permission, so be it. Because the tracks are clear, at least to the first bend. Those tracks are not going to vanish or become impassible just because we didn’t get a form signed by an official who doesn’t even work for this rail company – our rail company. Because, you see, it’s our train. They’re our tracks. We are all shareholders. We own the train and we are entitled to use the rail network to go wherever we choose.

All aboard!!!



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Section 30 is a lie!

Another senior SNP figure tries to silence those pointing out that so long as it remains committed to the Section 30 process the party is not offering voters a route to independence. And it is downright dishonest to claim otherwise. That’s right! That’s what I’m saying! Alyn Smith and his ilk are lying to us. And the lies have to be called out.

The truth is that the Section 30 process CANNOT be the democratic route to independence that it pretends to be. That is not its purpose. That is quite contrary to its purpose. Section 30 was slipped into the Scotland Act 1998 to satisfy those in the British establishment who were only prepared to tolerate devolution on the strict condition that the Union was safeguarded. To imagine that there might be a route to independence within a legal and constitutional framework designed for the preservation of the Union is nothing short of idiocy. Almost as idiotic as the claim that “we’ve never been closer to independence”. A line that has been discreetly dropped from Alyn Smith’s rhetoric.

That was a lie of another sort. It was a lie so transparent as to be almost comical. As, in its way, is the only marginally more subtle effort to pin the blame for the party’s failures in relation to the constitutional issue on the public heath emergency. The truth is that the fight to restore Scotland’s independence long since ran onto the rocks of Nicola Sturgeon’s inexplicable devotion to the British state’s “gold standard” in maintaining its grip on our nation at whatever cost to the Scottish people.

I issue this challenge to Alyn Smith or anyone else who continues to insist that we must abide by the Section 30 process. Explain, in step-by-step detail how the Section 30 process can possibly take us from where we are now to a referendum and the restoration of Scotland’s independence, or admit that you have been lying to the party membership and the people of Scotland.

Enough of the lies!



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Building blocks

Always one to look for the silver lining I’m taking some comfort from the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic has at least put a stop to the inane “never closer to independence” drivel we used to get from Alyn Smith. I was curious to see what replacement drivel he’d come up with (Partly joking, Alyn!) so I checked out his column in today’s National. Imagine my surprise when I found him talking about independence in defiance of Nicola Sturgeon’s strictures on the matter. He appears to have picked up on the developing theme in Scotland’s political discourse which acknowledges that the restoration of Scotland’s independence must have its place in the discussion about shaping a post-pandemic world. Jonathon Shafi has authored a fine introduction to what promises to be a lively and productive debate.

This is, of course, quite contrary to the tone and content of Nicola Sturgeon’s infamous cease and desist message to independence activists. It is gratifying to see that her ill-thought instruction to stop all campaigning may not have had as much influence as I feared. On reflection, it never could. As if I needed further cause to condemn the foolishness of that statement, I now realise that it was pointless and silly for another reason. There was never any way that independence could be excluded from discussion of what we seek to build once we can regard the pandemic as over. Imagine if someone suggested that all campaigning on the climate issue had to stop. Imagine trying to discuss the future without taking account of what environmental campaigners are saying. It would be nonsensical.

It is just as nonsensical to exclude Scotland’s constitutional issue. Or, indeed, any constitutional issue. Because, as I have noted many times before, the constitution is fundamental. Constitutional politics directly addresses issues of power, legitimacy and accountability. You cannot deny the primacy of constitutional politics without dismissing the matter of sovereignty. You cannot sensibly discuss decisions relating to sweeping reforms without considering the question of who ultimately makes these decisions; how the decisions are made; who is responsible for implementing the decisions; who has the rightful authority to enforce the decisions. All of this comes under the heading of constitutional politics. It is never not the time to be talking about such things.

Those who say, “Now is not the time!” have an agenda. You can be fairly certain that it is not entirely about human suffering, the tragic loss of life and the grief of the bereaved. There are those who will insist or imply that to think and talk of anything other than the pandemic and its human cost is to be heartless and inhumane. You don’t need a powerful memory to recall a time when there was a different reason for now not being the time. And one before that. And before that. The fact is that those who have power will always find a justification (or rationalisation) for deferring discussion of who has power; how that power is acquired; in whose interests power is exercised; to whom is power accountable, and by what means or process is power transferred.

Alyn Smith says something that is definitely not drivel.

All the problems we face are global, be it climate change, organised crime, the migration crisis or indeed a fight against a pandemic. We need an organised structured co-operation to do that. Of the bodies available to us – the UN, G20, World Trade Organisation, Nato and the EU – we’re not eligible for G20, the WTO is creaking from crisis to crisis, Nato is about defence and the UN in the absence of agreement has no teeth. The EU is it, and if it didn’t exist we’d want to invent something like it.

This is, in its essence, a potent statement of the task facing all of us – and I do mean all of us – as we deal with the damage done by the Covid-19 pandemic. In terms of the broad sweep and relentless flow of history, the deaths will be the least of that damage. There is nothing we can do for the dead but mourn them and remember them. There is much that we can and must do for the living of this and future generations. As Alyn Smith notes, accomplishing any meaningful part of the task we face, and achieving so much as a fraction of the potential it presents, will require structures capable of cooperating on a global scale. Where I part company with Alyn is his tendency to think at too large a scale. What he says about the EU is undoubtedly true. It is a bold and largely successful experiment in post-imperial international association which may well hold lessons for us – good and bad – as we strive to build those new structures. But it’s the wrong scale.

Jonathon Shafi recognises the importance of scale.

In a word gripped by a pandemic, economic crisis, climate change and intensifying geopolitical rivalries, the whole conversation around the veracity of small, independent, self-sustaining nations will transform. Local control will, I suspect, gain in popular support – especially as transnational institutions fail to deliver the solidarity their populations expect, and as free-market capitalism lies exposed and undermined even by the American state whose hegemonic position in the world was key in bringing about globalisation as we know it.

Small, independent, self-sustaining nations! That is the scale at which we should be thinking. Nations can be problematic. But they work. They are the evolved solution to the seemingly insuperable difficulties of unnaturally large communities. They are the largest unit of socio-economic organisation with which people can identify. A nation is a community of communities. At its best, the nation can emulate – though rarely if ever replicate – the cohesiveness of smaller communities. The nation has to be the default base unit of global cooperation because, if one maintains that the formation and management of those structures should be done with the informed consent and willing participation of the people, then that cohesiveness is essential.

The UK, as presently structured, fails abysmally to meet the criteria for the kind of small, internally cohesive nations which can be the building blocks of global cooperation. Dismantling the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state must be a priority. That starts with the abolition of the Union.

Now is the time to be talking about independence. Now is the time to be planning the restoration of Scotland’s independence in order that we may be the small, independent, self-sustaining and cohesive nation that the new world demands. As I wrote in an earlier article,

We are told that we will emerge from the pandemic into a world that is significantly, if not massively changed. It is an undeniable fact of life that if the forces of democracy don’t manage the change then other forces will. And we may not like the society that they create.



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Know thine enemy!

It’s not deluded Unionists we need to be concerned about. Rather, it is those individuals in influential positions within the independence movement who imagine that Boris Johnson’s denial of Scotland’s right of self-determination is “utterly unsustainable”. Or that “the Tory position will not hold”.

For a start, it is not a “Tory position”. It is the position of the British state. It is the position of all the British parties, no matter how they dress it up in the hope of deceiving voters in Scotland. This is not a party political issue. Scotland’s predicament would be the same no matter who was occupying Downing Street.

For some time now I have been expressing concerns about the Scottish Government’s approach to the constitutional issue. In doing so, I have stated that Section 30 of the Scotland Act (1998) is not there to facilitate the granting of new powers to Holyrood. It is there to allow the British Prime Minister to alter the competencies of the Scottish Parliament in whatever way he chooses. In an attempt to refute this point, an apologist for the Union claimed that the British Prime Minister could not fiddle with the list of reserved powers without first getting the nod from the British parliament.

According to this Unionist, the assertion that the British Prime Minister could ‘revise’ the powers of the Scottish Parliament at will was false because the Tories won’t always have a majority at Westminster. But, as I then pointed out, the British parties WOULD always have a majority at Westminster. Approval for stripping powers from the Scottish Parliament will always be a mere formality in the parliament of England-as-Britain.

Alyn Smyth is guilty of the same erroneous thinking as those who go on Yes marches with banners and chants demanding “Tories out!”. Ours is not an anti-Tory campaign. It is an anti-Union campaign. To lose sight of this is to forget the whole point and purpose of the Yes movement. Of course, it would be great to ‘get rid of the Tories’. Just as it would be wonderful to get rid of Trident. But these are secondary aims. They are contingent on the restoration of Scotland’s independence. It is this that must be the focus of our campaign. And of the efforts of our elected representatives.

Every bit as misguided as the idea that the Tories are the problem rather than the Union – and probably more dangerous – is the notion that the British establishment’s position is “unsustainable”. It is deluded to suppose that this position “will not hold”. The reality is that the British political establishment can not only maintain its anti-democratic denial of Scotland’s right of self-determination, it can also implement whatever measures are deemed necessary to ensure that the people of Scotland are never allowed to chose the form of government that best suits our needs.

This is not to say we should just give up. We must not succumb to pessimism or be daunted by the armour which protects established power. But we must properly appreciate the nature of the forces defending the British state’s structures of power, privilege and patronage. Those defences are not going to crumble under a barrage of righteous outrage however rousing the rhetoric of SNP MPs.

Scotland’s cause cannot rely on the British establishment having a change of heart. If Scotland’s independence is to be restored then it must be restored DESPITE the fervent opposition of the British political elite. Not because we’ve shamed them or won them over. The British state has no shame. And no heart.



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Never closer, my arse!

Independence has never been closer. What has been done to Scotland (and I say that very deliberately) since 2016, coming hard on the heels of the independence referendum in 2014, will I believe deliver our independence.

This quote from Alyn Smith nicely encapsulates the self-satisfied, self-deluding, intellect-denying vacuousness that seems to have infected everybody with a nominal leadership role in the SNP.

By what measure has independence “never been closer“? I have previously noted how over the past eight years or so we have had a period of absolute certainty that there would be a referendum; a period when we knew with a very high degree of confidence the timeframe for that referendum; and actual date for a referendum; a well–defined route to independence; an SNP majority in the Scottish Parliament; and 56 out of 59 SNP MPs. Any one of these would count as being closer to independence than we are now because now we have none of these.

Some shallow-minded dolt will almost certainly point out that we also had only around 30% support for independence in the polls while now it is nearer 50%. Doesn’t that count as “closer”? Well, no! It doesn’t! For the glaringly obvious reason that the final 5-10 percentage points may be massively more difficult to achieve than the previous 20 points. Do I really have to explain why this is?

Then there’s that bit about how independence will be delivered by “what has been done to Scotland”. Not what we do! Not what our elected representatives do! Not what our Government does! Not what our Parliament does! Independence arrives courtesy of what is done to Scotland by the British political elite!

Apparently, there’s no need to worry about how we’ll achieve those final 5-10 points. All we have to do is let the British political elite do their worst and eventually, when enough people are suffering sufficient hardship, independence will surely follow.

There are some rather obvious flaws with this cunning plan. Not least the fact that, if we claim independence is our right, then it should be seized as such. Not arrive as a consequence of us meekly accepting the iniquitous impositions of the Union. Restoring our nation’s independence must surely be an active process involving all who regard it as something worth exerting themselves for.

Another problem with Alyn Smith’s cunning plan is that it’s not the way things are that matters so much as the way things are perceived. And who controls the machinery by which public perceptions are manipulated? The British state!

Yet another problem is the well-established if counter-intuitive fact that that people tend to cling to the status quo all the more desperately the worse that status quo becomes. The less people have, the more determined they are to keep what little is theirs.

What the hell kind of attitude is this from SNP politicians who are supposed to be committed to both the restoration of Scotland’s independence AND the furtherance of all Scotland’s interests. It seems we are now being told that we can only have the former if we’re prepared to let the latter slide.

I will not accept this! And before the usual suspects pile on, I will not be silent!



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Gold standard for the goose…

Alyn Smith says “Scotland cannot be dragged out of Europe against the wishes of our people“. Meanwhile, the article notes that the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill passed its second reading in the British parliament with a majority of 124 and that this “means the UK is on its way to finalising its divorce from Brussels by the January 31 deadline”.

Which is it?

It seems odd to say this after the half-arsed slapstick of the UK Government’s handling of the Brexit process, but I have a fairly good idea of how Scotland will be dragged out of the EU with the rest of the UK at the end of January. I have absolutely no idea how Alyn Smith proposes to prevent this. He says it cannot happen. But gives no clue as to what might stop it happening.

Alyn Smith is in good company. As recently as August 2019 Ian Blackford Tweeted “I will not allow Scotland to be dragged out of the EU against its will”. This is typical of the SNP leadership’s rhetoric on the matter of Brexit. But there is, as yet, no substance behind the fine sentiments.

In this, we find echoes of the party’s statements regarding the refusal of a Section 30 order. It is declared ‘unsustainable’. But at no time are we told what is to prevent Boris Johnson from continuing to refuse a Section 30 request. Or, indeed, simply to ignore the request indefinitely.

The refusal of a Section 30 order is denounced as undemocratic. But so is the imposition of Brexit. And, just as the latter is proceeding despite the protestations, we are offered no explanation as to why the former will not do likewise.

Our First Minister is famously determined to ensure that everything the Scottish Government does as it pursues Scotland’s cause is in accordance with what the British state defines as “legal and constitutional”. That is her “gold standard”. Here’s the thing! By that same “gold standard”, imposing Brexit on Scotland is perfectly “legal and constitutional”. Refusing a Section 30 order is not contrary to any British law or constitutional provision.

Within the Union, it is constitutionally perfectly legitimate that Scotland’s 62% Remain vote should count for nothing. That is the principal effect of the Union. Within the Union, Scotland’s needs, choices, priorities and aspirations must always be subordinate to the interests of England-as-Britain.

Similarly, there is nothing in Section 30 of the Scotland Act (1998) that provides for the Scottish Government requesting a transfer of powers to hold a referendum, far less anything compelling the British Prime Minister to do so. Or even to respond to a request!

Boris Johnson is adhering to the same “gold standard” that Nicola Sturgeon has adopted as her guiding imperative.

To define either or both the imposition of Brexit or denial of a Section 30 order as illegal and unconstitutional we must refer to the very body of international declarations and conventions which Nicola Sturgeon insists are superseded by the “gold standard” of the British state’s self-serving laws and unwritten constitution.

It’s a puzzle, right enough!



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Loose lips

Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh devotes much of her column in The National today to a valiant attempt to repair some of the damage done by her colleagues who apparently thought it a good idea to follow up the stirring event in Glasgow on Saturday with a stunningly ill-considered attack on the Yes movement’s online activists in The Herald the following morning. Acknowledging that “pro-indy bloggers do great work” may go some way to placating those who were understandably perplexed and offended to learn from Neil Mackay that the SNP had declared “war on the cybernats”.

Mackay’s “exclusive” rehashing a stale gobbet of Unionist propaganda was laced with quotes from a trio of SNP worthies from which the former editor who oversaw the demise of the Sunday Herald was able select the words which would help him spin some shallow, lurid sensationalism from a tired, trite trope. Angus Robertson, Alyn Smith MEP and Stewart McDonald MP were reported as referring to online Yes activists using terms such as “cowards”, “creepy”, “snarling”, “vicious”, “nasty” and “vile”. Hard-hitting stuff.

Could these “leading figures” in the SNP be talking about the same people Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh later praised for doing “great work”? Well, of course not! Not according to Stewart McDonald, at any rate. Apparently, when he said what he is reported as saying, he didn’t mean to offend any of the people who were offended.

The thing is, Stewart, when you loose a salvo from a blunderbuss hoping for the effect of a sniper rifle, you are almost inevitably going to be obliged to then spend an inordinate amount of time and effort picking pellets from the posteriors of those who would be your friends and allies.

Stewart McDonald, too, takes to the pages of The National to proclaim that The Herald’s “”awful ‘cybernat’ headline pissed me off“. He seems genuinely taken aback to find that the thoughtful, measured comments which he could swear were what he fed in, came out after ‘processing’ by Mackay sounding more like the demented ranting of a thoroughly lubricated pub pundit.

Mr McDonald seems like a decent sort of person. I understand him to be a very effective MP who does excellent work for party, nation and cause. To the best of my knowledge he has expressed no ambition to abandon this work in favour of pursuing the office of Speaker of the House of Commons. For which he is to be applauded. But his evident naivety in dealing with the media is cause for concern.

The pressing issue for @NicolaSturgeon as party leader is that alarm bells didn’t ring in the minds of leading figures in the SNP immediately on receiving a call from somebody like Neil Mackay.— Peter A Bell #DissolveTheUnion (@BerthanPete) May 6, 2019

As I commented on Twitter a couple of days ago, it simply isn’t acceptable that senior figures in the SNP should be so lacking in circumspection when dealing with journalists. It is a failing which, as party leader, Nicola Sturgeon really must address as a matter of urgency. Frankly, it beggars belief that experienced politicians should be unaware of the ways in which the media manipulates information. This was not some cunning trap laid by Neil Mackay. It was one of the oldest tricks in the book. And yet these three traipsed into it like children gaily following the Pied Piper into the chasm.

Perhaps Nicola could start by passing on to all her colleagues Kevin McKenna’s message to Angus Robertson, Stewart McDonald and Alyn Smith.


Leave the Unionist propaganda to your opponents. Re-double your efforts on doing what we pay you for: fighting hard for the communities and the lives that have been destroyed by your political foes. Don’t pretend to be upset at the uncouth and uncivilised language of the cybernats. Instead, when you’re sharing cocktails in all your kilted finery at your next £100-a-head dinner you could try using some of it on the bankers and industrialists you’re all fond of meeting and who are guilty of much, much more than a few obstreperous cybernats.


My message to the SNP on ‘cybernats’: Stop perpetuating a Unionist myth

That seems like a good way to introduce a crash course in dealing with the media. And perhaps those who qualify as “leading figures in the SNP” will indulge me if I presume to offer a bit of advice specific to the situation in which that particular trio found themselves.

When the phone rings at some odd hour when you might be expected to have at least partly unwound after a hard day of politicking and you answer to be greeted by a journalist who informs you in slightly breathless tones that he is about to submit a piece on [hot topic] and asking if you would like to comment, BEWARE!

The sensible thing to do in that situation is to offer to submit a written statement by email within the hour. If the hack insists this would be too late for inclusion, politely end the exchange and hang up. You won’t get your name in the paper. But neither will you get yourself in the shit.


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