The viability test

If Plan A can work, then why are its proponents completely unable to explain how it will work? If the Section 30 process is a viable route to independence then it should be possible to describe each step in that process. Those steps should individually be credible and in aggregate lead to a free and fair referendum. Why is it that none of those who insist that the Section 30 process must adhered to are able or willing to lay out the process that they have in mind when they refer to that process? Why is it that nobody who claims that Plan A will work is prepared to even respond meaningful to any enquiry about the details?

All we know about Plan A – the Section 30 process – from direct observation is that it has a near perfect record of failure. The only time it even came close to working was 2014. But even though the 2014 referendum happened, the circumstances were totally different. Those circumstances will never arise again. We have to consider whether Plan A is viable now. And since 2014 Plan A has only failed. Requests for a Section 30 order have either been refused or they have not been made because refusal was a certainty. Plan A falls at the second hurdle. The first being persuading the Scottish Government to request the Section 30 order in the first place.

We either know or, mindful of the precautionary principle, we must assume from the available evidence that Plan A is bound to fail. The usual thing would be for the proponents of the plan to seek to persuade others of its viability. The absence of any meaningful effort to make a case for Plan A stands as further evidence that it is not viable. Simply asserting that it is the only ‘legal and constitutional’ process does not constitute a case. It is perfectly possible for a process to be both ‘legal’ and ‘constitutional’ and still be totally unworkable. Besides which, the onus is on the advocates of the British state’s “gold standard” to clearly demonstrate that the Section 30 process is ‘legal and constitutional’. And that it is the only process that is ‘legal and constitutional’. Otherwise, their claim is mere empty assertion.

Plan A’s proponents repeat like some kind of religious mantra the claim that refusal of a Section 30 order is “untenable”. But what does that even mean? I know that the word ‘untenable’ means unjustifiable and/or indefensible. But what does it mean in this context? Suppose we accept that continued refusal of a Section 30 order is, indeed, ‘untenable’. Suppose that it had shot straight to the top ten of the most ‘untenable’ things ever. Suppose it is now holding the number one spot despite numerous challenges from accomplished exponents of the unjustifiable and indefensible such as Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and the Israeli government. In what way does this make Plan A viable?

The insistence that continued refusal of a Section 30 order is ‘untenable’ is intended to suggest that the British Prime Minister is bound to back down. But why would they? Why should the British Prime Minister be in the slightest bit troubled by the fact that their position is unjustifiable and indefensible when there is nothing in law that requires them to justify or defend that position? The language is intended to imply that the position of denying a Section 30 order cannot be maintained indefinitely. But the reality is that it can be maintained indefinitely – and beyond. We know, or must assume this from the evidence. That evidence being the effortless ease with which the position has been and is being maintained.

The British Prime Minister’s refusal of a Section 30 order only becomes unsustainable – rather than merely ‘untenable’ – when there is a cost pursuant to that refusal which is greater than the benefit derived. There is no cost. The benefit is massive. Unless that changes, Plan A cannot sensibly even pretend to be workable.

If it is so certain that Plan A is not viable, why propose it? Why insist on it? That is for the advocates of Plan A to explain. But we might wonder why those who propose an alternative approach might demand that Mike Russell start the run up to the permission hurdle immediately. Why else but to demonstrate to the voting public that Plan A falters even at the first hurdle of getting the Scottish Government to submit a request, and so strengthen the case for their Plan B. Whether the Scottish Government refuses to submit a request or submits a request that is refused, the need for an alternative is more obvious and persuasive.

At this point we may postulate a position which is both untenable and unsustainable. If Mike Russell refuses to act on the demand to submit a Section 30 order he will be in a position that cannot be justified or defended and which could be electorally very costly for the SNP. And if the request is submitted only to be treated as contemptuously as its predecessors, Plan a is once again shown to be unworkable. Which is good news for Plan B.

But is Plan B good for Scotland’s cause? That’s a separate topic. It will be up to Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny to persuade us that Plan B is viable. They’ll have to do a lot better than the proponents of Plan A.

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It’s the waiting…

I see Pete “The Postponer” Wishart has issued his call to inaction again. All across Scotland his battle-cry echoes, “Once more unto the waiting room, dear friends, once more!”. Apparently, the fight to restore Scotland’s independence must wait while Pete trains a troupe of line-dancing ducks. As rationalisations for indefinite delay go, this has the advantage of novelty. But it is otherwise less than persuasive. Don’t get me wrong! I wish Pete well in his duck-choreographing efforts and I’ll probably watch the YouTube video when he finally manages to get them all in a row; but I may not be alone in holding to the opinion that of all the things that Scotland needs right now, performing farmyard fowl comes pretty low on the list. Just above a second spike of coronavirus infections.

I am curious, however. I’d like to know what he means by “another dead end”. In the title of his latest paean to procrastination he asks ‘PLAN B. PANACEA OR ANOTHER DEAD END?’. What might be the first “dead end” implied by the question? What else could it be but PLAN A? So we must assume, as no other candidate plans are mentioned. Is this Pete Wishart acknowledging that the Section 30 process is a “dead end”? Or is it just more evidence that he talks – and types – faster than he thinks. Never mind the meaning! Look at the cleverness!

Why ask if ‘Plan B’ might be a panacea anyway? Has anybody claimed that it might have the power to cure all ills? Come to that, has anybody claimed that it might be the “solution to all our indy woes”? Or that it could “break the constitutional stand off and get us swiftly and easily to independence”? Who has described ‘Plan B’ in such terms? When? Where?

Don’t ask Pete! (No! Seriously! Don’t ask him. He doesn’t like being asked questions about anything he’s said or written. He gets very upset if people don’t simply accept his pronouncements as gospel. Don’t you know who he is?) It seems he doesn’t know either. Having just told us what he insists people have said it is, he poses the question, “But what exactly is plan B?”. Call me picky, but should he not have asked that question first? Should he not have told his readers what was about to get the benefit of his disparagement? Did he not just give the impression that he knew what ‘Plan B’ was? Or at least enough to know what it was described as? Confused? Just wait! (To coin a phrase.)

Pete Wishart then tells us that “no one has actually outlined what the exact proposal is”. But we know that’s not true. And so does he. Because he goes on to refer to and describe the proposal that Chris McEleny and Angus MacNeil had developed in sufficient detail to be put to conference – and be met with boos from the audience and behaviour from the party bosses that was hardly less reprehensible. Having said that ‘Plan B’ had never been explained Pete Wishart then goes on to explain ‘Plan B’ in the very terms of the explanation he says has never been given. Aye! I know!

To confuse matters further, Wishart then makes some fairly good points about the proposal he says he’s unfamiliar with because “no one has actually outlined what the exact proposal is”. Don’t ask me how that’s possible. More importantly, don’t ask him. Anything. Ever. He doesn’t like it.

I have always been supportive of Chris McEleny and Angus MacNeil not because I agree with their proposal or think it a workable idea but because they at least want to have a discussion about the SNP’s approach to the constitutional issue, while Pete Wishart and others want only to close that discussion down. Wishart says he proposes to “ask a few gentle but searching questions” about ‘Plan B’. We might wonder how he proposes to do that when he says he has no way of knowing exactly what ‘Plan B’ is. We might also wonder why, if it is considered essential that “gentle but probing questions” are asked of a proposal that’s more caricatured than described, similar questioning of ‘Plan A’ is strictly prohibited.

As my regular readers will both be aware, I have been asking searching and latterly non-too-gentle questions about the Section 30 process for years. Just as I have been asking probing questions about Pete Wishart’s notion of an ‘optimal time’ to act on the independence issue. I have had no answers on either matter.

The strategy will be familiar to those who paid attention during the 2014 referendum campaign. The approach taken by the SNP and the Yes movement then was that we had to ‘make the case for independence’. Having put the onus on ourselves, the anti-independence campaign immediately and predictably set about demanding answers to questions asked only because asking them suggested doubt. As any sensible person would have anticipated, the questions were endless and the answers never sufficient even if they were acknowledged as having been given.

Meanwhile, there was no questioning of the Union. The entire campaign proceeded – with the full concurrence of the SNP and the bulk of the Yes movement – on the promise that the UK is unquestionably satisfactory and independence has to be proved a worthy and workable alternative. But no proof could ever be enough. No test could ever be passed. The case for independence can never be made to the satisfaction of the British establishment. And the SNP insist that the British establishment must be the ultimate arbiter.

Pete Wishart insists that “the SNP will enter the next Holyrood election with a route map to secure our nation’s independence”. Why, then, will he not explain that “route map” at least as well as he wants ‘Plan B’ explained? If he is so confident that the SNP’s approach is the right one and that it is winning, why the refusal to set out the steps in the process? He says the SNP has a “route map”. But there are only two points on this so-called route map. The destination – independence – and a starting point which is wherever he needs it to be in order to make that destination seem reachable. A route map, as the term suggests, portrays a route. It lays out all the critical points which must be passed through in order to reach the destination. Nobody in the SNP leadership or the second tier that Wishart occupies is able (or willing) to tell us what any of those critical points are, far less how we get by them.

He dismisses ‘Plan B’ as impossible because the British state can and will just say no and we must accept that refusal because to do otherwise would give them further grounds for saying no.

Isn’t that the very definition of the Section 30 process?

One thing Pete Wishart says caught my attention for reasons other than its evident ridiculousness.

There are only two ways to pursue independence, one is with the participation of the UK state, the other is through a unilateral declaration. 

He almost gets it here. Quite unwittingly, I’m sure, Pete Wishart comes tantalisingly close to pinning an essential idea. It may well be true to say that there are only two ways to pursue independence. But then he succumbs to his inability to question his own assumptions and preconceptions. That he accepts the ‘right’ of the UK state to participate in the process is symptomatic of a colonised mind. That he finds anathema the very idea of Scotland being proactive and assertive speaks of a mind that has fallen prey to British propaganda portrayal of Scotland as ‘Too wee! Too poor! Too stupid!”.

If there are only two ways to pursue independence then one – the one favoured by Pete Wishart and those above him in the SNP hierarchy – is not merely with the “participation” of the UK state, but with the full, honest and willing cooperation of the British state. That is what the Section 30 process requires.

The other way is for Scotland to take responsibility for itself and its own future. To reject the Section 30 process as a constitutional trap laid by the British state and recognise that the only process by which we can successfully pursue the restoration of our independence is a process which we create for ourselves.

One other thing is worth remarking on. When I visited Pete Wishart’s blog there were several comments on it. Not one of them favourable. Many of them highly critical. This is a marked change from a year or so ago, when he could confidently anticipate a sympathetic audience for his brand or timorous complacency trying to pass itself off as political nous. A tide is turning. Given that Wishart dutifully parrots the party line, might we hope that he will notice the rising waters threatening to sweep him away along with all the other worshippers at the altar of the ‘Gold Standard’. Might he recognise that party members, Yes activists and voters will not much longer tolerate the SNP leadership’s obdurate adherence to a process that simply cannot move Scotland’s cause forward.

Maybe. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Take a number. Mr Wishart will show you to the waiting room.

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Plan B(ollocks)

I think I’ve done this before. But I’m growing accustomed to repeating the same arguments over and over again in the hope that they will be understood and perhaps even addressed. I still detest this repetition. But it has to be done. Because these arguments are important. Before you dive at that keyboard to vent some righteous indignation at my presumption, I’m not saying that I am important. Or that these arguments are important because they are mine. I am just a blogger. I’m merely a conduit for these arguments. They don’t belong to me. They are part of Scotland’s political discourse. Even if a sadly neglected part.

I like admire and respect Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny. I like the way they think. The title of this article is an attention-grabber. It is actually unfair to the proponents of a so-called Plan B. They are certainly on the right track. Unfortunately, they take a wrong turning where the path forks, with one track leading to Section 30 and the other leading to independence.

Their Plan B, as I understand it, depends on or at least involves the Section 30 process. Whatever! It does not explicitly reject that process. And that is what is required.

I have certainly done the thing about the Section 30 process. Dear reader, you will be relieved to hear that I am not intending to rehash that whole subject. You can choose for yourself whether or not to read the article linked to and learn why Section 30 is not Scotland’s salvation. For present purposes I wish only to point out three flaws in the proposed Plan B.

As proposed, Plan B does not reject the Section 30 process. As I’ve said many times, it must be rejected. It affords the British state a role in the exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination to which it is not entitled; permits – invites! – external interference such as is prohibited by international laws and conventions; and gives the British ruling elite a direct influence which they will inevitably use in an effort to sabotage the process.

To even allow the legitimacy of the Section 30 process is to compromise the sovereignty of Scotland’s people. As one of those people I do not accept this. I do not consent to it. I will not tolerate it.

Plan B also proposes to use the next Scottish Parliament election as a proxy for a referendum by making the constitutional question central to the vote. It won’t work. Elections and referendums are totally different. Neither can be the other or be a substitute for the other. We’ve had referendums that were fought as if they were partisan contests, and the outcome was a result without a decision. I know of no instance of an election being fought on a single issue. Some may have attempted it. But they have never succeeded.

The constitutional question is the very definition of a single issue requiring a single-issue campaign leading to a single-issue referendum. Scotland’s independence movement has to date found it impossible to campaign on this single-issue either in campaigns or between them. What chance might there be of getting all the parties involved to fight an election on a single issue. And if all are not agreed, how can it be a single-issue campaign?

Besides, if as is being suggested the Scottish Government can be mandated to insist upon the granting a a Section 30 order why can’t it be mandated to initiate its own process leading to a referendum. The authority to do the latter is the same as the authority to do the former.

It is not a Plan B that we need, it is a better Plan A. A plan that will actually work. Nobody can explain how the Section 30 process would work to anyone’s benefit other than those so fervently opposed to Scotland being a normal nation. If that process won’t work, then we need another process. A process that will work. A process that will never be provided by the British ruling elite determined to preserve the Union at any cost.

I call that process #ScottishUDI. By which I mean a process which excludes any illegitimate involvement by the British government and its agencies. A totally democratic process. That, that and not some spurious notion of ‘legality’, being the criterion by which the process will be judged. A process founded on the undeniable sovereignty of Scotland people. A process formulated and conducted according to the fundamental principles of democracy. A process which facilitates the exercise of Scotland’s inalienable right of self-determination. A process which may produce a decisions and not merely a result.

That decision will be a choice between two options – Scotland or the British state. The campaign need only fairly describe each of those options for the voters to be able to make an informed decision. That is what Plan A should aim for. To devise a Plan B is to plan for failure. Scotland cannot afford failure.

I will support Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny because they are part of that rare breed which dares to challenge the narrative of the SNP leadership from within. Never was a narrative more urgently in need of being challenged. Only the Yes movement has the strength to challenge that narrative effectively. To do so, it must speak with one voice. And it must speak of independence! Nothing less! Nothing else!

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Us or them!

Angus Brendan MacNeil has called on Nicola Sturgeon to restart the independence campaign. It will come as a surprise to precisely no-one that I am in total agreement with him on this. The independence campaign should never have been stopped. In fact, it hasn’t been stopped. Nicola Sturgeon’s cease and desist order was never going to deter anyone who was truly committed to the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence. Faced with an unprecedented public health crisis, their first wasn’t that all campaigning must stop. Their first thought was about how the campaign could be kept going in spite of the lockdown restrictions. They never imagined that campaigning necessarily involved the kind of interpersonal contact that was rendered impossible by an infectious virus in the population. They had never considered campaigning to be entirely and exclusively about leafleting and canvassing and street stalls and public meetings and social events. They realised immediately that the required response to Covid-19 incidentally created ideal conditions in which to develop the online campaign.

Nobody expected Nicola Sturgeon to be at the forefront of this campaign, or even to be a visible presence. Quite literally everybody knew and was happy to acknowledge that, as First Minister, she must focus all her attention on dealing with the challenges of a massive public health crisis. But the more intellectually acute among us also recognised that politics doesn’t stop for anything. Because everything is politics. There is no aspect of life which is completely detached from politics of one kind or another or at one level or another. While Nicola Sturgeon seemed to suppose that the constitutional issue is an exception, others realised that there are no exceptions to the fact that everything is political, only things that are excluded from our political discourse for purposes that are always malign and never acceptable in a democracy.

It takes a very special kind of blinkered idiocy to imagine that the coronavirus crisis has nothing to do with politics. And an unimaginable level of stupidity to fail to recognise the relevance of constitutional politics. One of the main issues is the question of where and how and by whom decisions are taken. Here is just one example.

Perhaps, the most surprising aspect of the British COVID crisis is that the Scottish Government has allowed its strategy and the operations to be directed by Westminster, which has taken a London-centric approach to the epidemic and with respect to the lock down. 

Coronavirus Crisis: Underfunding, Restructuring, Privatisation and Fragmentation at the Heart of the Crisis in Holyrood and Westminster

This has to be political because the matter of who decides is the very essence of constitutional politics. Angus MacNeil gets it. Like myself and increasing numbers of other, Angus is no doubt wondering how the developing debate around a lockdown exit strategy and what follows can sensibly exclude the constitutional issue. How can we talk about how different things will be without reference to the question of who decides what this difference will be? How can we discuss shaping a new normal without considering the forces that will be doing the shaping?

I think our opponents will tell us its bad taste because they don’t want us to do it. The people themselves are receptive to argument. No amount of telling Jackson Carlaw it’s in bad taste to go shouting about the Union will stop Jackson Carlaw go shouting about the Union.

I have previously commented on the curious manner in which the constitutional issue is declared a ‘special case’.

And it is particularly the constitutional issue that is the matter we are supposed to put entirely from our minds. Nobody suggests that the coronavirus crisis obviates the climate crisis. Nobody has suggested that the conflict in Syria has ceased to be of any importance because only the coronavirus crisis can be important. The public health crisis certainly hasn’t put a stop to the British political elite’s constitutional machinations. If anything, the malignant child-clown in Downing Street is accelerating its plans and intensifying its efforts to forcibly mould these islands into a new state made in the image of the imagined ‘Great Britain’ of a grotesquely mythologised past. Only in Scotland are we expected – required – to abandon our aspirations for something better than Boris Johnson’s tawdry blend of Little England and Greater England where every day is a crossover between Dad’s Army and Terry & June. Don’t you ever ask yourself why?

Three crises

I am not saying that Nicola Sturgeon is stupid. She had reasons for issuing that ‘cease and desist’ command to the party and the Yes movement. I’m simply saying they were not good reasons. Her ‘cease and desist’ order was neither necessary nor sufficient. There was no need for it. And it was never going to work. It is puzzling that an individual who exhibits such superb leadership skills in her handling of the Covid-19 crisis can be so politically inept in other areas. It’s as if the Nicola Sturgeon who is First Minister and the Nicola Sturgeon who is the de facto figurehead of the independence campaign are two very different people. Or maybe just one person better able to cope with one role than the other.

I welcome Angus MacNeil’s intervention. I think it is both needed and timely. I also think it is futile – at least in terms of his headline demand. Nicola Sturgeon isn’t about to interrupt one of her daily media briefings to declare the independence campaign on again. I strongly suspect that Angus is well aware of this. His statement was framed to attract media attention, but he’s actually talking to us – the Yes movement. He is making the point that politics hasn’t stopped. He is stating the direct an inevitable connection between the Covid response and the constitutional issue. He is putting that connection out for debate. And he is making it clear that not only is there no good reason to silence that debate, there is very good reason for insisting on it.

It is more than half a century since, on winning the Hamilton by-election, Winnie Ewing declared “Stop the world! Scotland wants to get on!”. Rousing words which had the desired effect at the time. We’ve moved on a bit since then. Well, some of us have. Some of us have realised that the world isn’t going to stop for us any more than politics will stop because of a global pandemic. If we still want to “get on” then we have to keep up. We have to match the speed at which the world moves. If we don’t, then the world moves on leaving us where we are. Similarly, if we opt out of any aspect of the political process it won’t oblige us by stopping until we feel like rejoining. If independence activists aren’t involved in and influencing the debate about Scotland’s future then all we are doing is allowing others to decide that future for us. Do we really want to put Scotland’s future in the hands of people like Alister ‘Union’ Jack?

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Going down gracefully

There is no vacancy. There is no appetite within the SNP for a leadership contest. Discounting hard-line Unionists, there is little if any demand in the country for a different First Minister. Nicola Sturgeon has proved herself to be a competent and very popular party leader. It is hard to imagine anyone might be a better ambassador for Scotland in Europe and across the world. At home, she has shown herself to be highly proficient at handling the media and adept at explaining, promoting and defending her government’s policies and positions. All round, Nicola Sturgeon scores nines and tens across the board. Yet she may have to go. She may have to step aside due to a problem of her own making.

Angus MacNeil identifies the problem. When Nicola Sturgeon’s strategy for pursuing independence “hit the brick wall” she has nowhere to turn. She is so wedded to the Section 30 process that she has effectively ruled out all other options. She has no Plan B because she hasn’t left space for an alternative approach to the constitutional issue. An issue of such crucial importance to the party and the nation that failure in this area must outweigh all those high scores in other aspects of her roles as party leader and First Minister. It is in her third role as de facto leader of the independence movement that her performance has disappointed many – and continues to cause frustration and not a little anger among those who are otherwise totally supportive of Nicola Sturgeon.

What Angus doesn’t say; what he could hardly be expected to say, is that Section 30 process has already hit a brick wall. It was always going to do so. Any process which is crucially dependent on the honest and willing cooperation of the UK Government is bound to fail. And it has. Nicola Sturgeon’s strategy for getting independence is, in fact, part of the British political elite’s strategy for preserving the Union. The Section 30 process maintains the illusion of a democratic route to independence while keeping the British state firmly in charge of access to that route.

Nicola Sturgeon’s strategy has not only hit a brick wall but a brick wall at the end of a very narrow bind alley. There is no room to turn because the British state has erected an impenetrable barrier to progress. Thre is no room to turn because the walls on either side are hemming her in. She can hardly complain since she helped build those walls. She has no choice but to go into reverse. And she won’t want to do that.

Going into reverse would mean abandon the Section 30 process altogether. Nicola Sturgeon’s commitment to that process is so dogmatic that she has effectively staked her career on it. Politically, a U-turn on her approach to the constitutional issue would be an admission of failure such as might end a political career.

Apart from a handful of thoughtless individuals, nobody in the Yes movement is calling for Nicola Sturgeon’s head. But increasing numbers are demanding a change of approach to the constitutional issue. A clamour is growing for the Section 30 process to be ditched. It is certain that, if the project to restore Scotland’s independence is to proceed it must be by some route other than that to which Nicola Sturgeon has committed. She cannot unmake that commitment. She can’t reverse back to the blind alley’s entrance and drive off in another direction. The damage has been done. She did it. Relying on the goodwill, good grace and good faith of the British establishment was a mistake. A massive mistake.

With no ill-will whatever, and regardless of the protestations of her friends and allies, it looks very much as if Nicola Sturgeon will have to go. The only thing that might make this unnecessary – for the time being, at least – would be if Boris Johnson were to oblige her with a Section 30 order. This would not end the problem for Nicola Sturgeon, however. Grant of permission to hold a referendum would not demolish that brick wall. It would merely knock a hole in it just big enough for Nicola Sturgeon to crawl through. The wall will be rebuilt behind her and the apparently open and clear democratic route to independence will turn out to be littered with traps and landmines making it every bit as impassable as it had previously been.

What chance is there of the British Prime Minister relenting? How likely is it that he would act to save Nicola Sturgeon’s neck? How remote is the possibility that Boris Johnson would be allowed to initiate a process which puts the Union in jeopardy absent an absolute guarantee that the process could be blocked further down the way?

It is this, and not difficulties over any of her policies or ‘scandal’ involving her predecessor, that will force Nicola Sturgeon to quit. She might do the U-turn and hope she can ride out the ensuing storm. But the best option to secure her future career and preserve her political heritage, not to mention keeping her reputation and dignity relatively intact, is to step aside with dignity in order that the independence campaign can move forward.

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We need a different ‘Plan A’

Well, of course the amendment has been ruled out of order. It was, as the “SNP insider” said, having been assigned the task of feeding some information to The National in the hope of reducing the impact of the official statement when it comes, “completely incompetent”.

The amendment submitted by Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny was bound to be thrown out, not only because it sought to take one resolution and turn it into another, but because the resolution it sought to shoehorn in was the same one as had already been rejected.

I am not surprised that the amendment has been ruled out of order. And I will not be joining the inevitable knee-jerk protests about the SNP supposedly ‘suppressing debate’. I do not strongly object to the amendment being thrown out for precisely the same reasons as I accepted the initial ‘Plan B’ resolution being rejected. It just isn’t a very good plan. Whether put forward as a resolution that was never going to get past the conference agenda committee or as an amendment that was never going to get past the conference agenda committee, the fact remains that ‘Plan B’ is deeply flawed – as I explained back in July.

I was not merely being negative about it. I also suggested an alternative course of action which would have achieved much of what was intended by the original resolution. What I proposed was that Angus and Chris table an amendment to the resolution in the names of John Swinney and Maree Todd – which is what they did; although it’s hardly likely that it was at my urging. But, rather than the somewhat clumsy way the pair went about trying to hijack that resolution, my idea was to submit an amendment which would hitch a ride on it.

I would like to have seen Angus and Chris table an amendment that fitted with the self-congratulatory tone of the Swinney/Todd resolution but added a plea for the Scottish Government to recognise the urgency of Scotland’s predicament and the need to be aware of all the ways in which the UK Government would seek to put obstacles in the way of Scotland’s journey to independence. It would have been very difficult for the committee to reject such a motion. And ‘Plan B’ could have been referred to in moving and seconding the amendment.

Of course, this would not be a debate on ‘Plan B’ that would lead to a vote by conference delegates. But that’s probably just as well. Because any debate would surely expose some or all of the issues identified in the article mentioned earlier. It is even possible that the resolution could have been voted down. Which would pretty much be the end of the matter.

Angus MacNeil is correct when he says,

The clock is ticking, but we still don’t have a plan to save Scotland from a no deal Brexit in just two months time.

He goes awry, however, when he adds that he and Chris support ‘Plan A’. Because that ‘plan’ is doomed. It is, if anything, even more flawed than the alternative which they proposed.

I find it incomprehensible that Nicola Sturgeon should have so resolutely committed to a process in which Scotland is the inferior party in every respect. A process which acknowledges the superiority of the British state and all its agencies. A process which puts Scotland’s cause totally at the mercy of the British state’s rules and apparatus.

She is unquestionably right to maintain that the UK Government’s continuing refusal to grant a Section 30 order would, under prevailing circumstances, be wholly unreasonable and definitively undemocratic. What she does not seem to realise, or stubbornly refuses to formally recognise, is that the requirement for a Section 30 is iself anti-democratic in that it imposes constraints on Scotland’s inalienable and unconditional right of self-determination.

We do not need a debate about an alternative plan. We need an urgent reexamination of the plan to which the First Minister has committed. We don’t need a ‘Plan B’. We need a ‘Plan A’ which relates to the situation as it is now, not as it was in 2012.

We need a plan which recognises that there is no route to independence which adheres to the rules made by those who are determined to preserve the Union at any cost. A plan which recognises that those rules must be broken if the Union is to be broken. A plan which recognises that there is no route to independence which does not involve direct and acrimonious confrontation with the British state – and which prepares us for that confrontation.

That must be ‘Plan A’. Because, if ‘Plan A’ fails then it is highly unlikely that there will be an opportunity to implement any ‘Plan B’. The British state is far from averse to closing down democratic routes to social and constitutional reform. It is now clear that it is determined to do so in order to lock Scotland into a Union which is unilaterally redefined to serve a British Nationalist ‘One Nation’ project. A project which requires that Scotland’s democratic institutions be dismantled; our distinctive political culture eradicated; and our public services readied for feeding to the hyenas of corporate America.

Right now, the Scottish Government looks like it is isn’t even trying to save Scotland from this fate. In fact, it gives the impression of being oblivious to the threat. Only the power of the Yes movement can change that. And only if the Yes movement unites to put pressure on the First Minister.

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Options and priorities

As I have said on many occasions, the most valuable thing a political leader can have is a range of options. I have also acknowledged Nicola Sturgeon as a worthy pupil of one of the most astute politicians of our time – her erstwhile mentor, Alex Salmond. So I find it totally inexplicable both that she should discard options for taking forward the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence and that she should do so by choosing a route so fraught with potential pitfalls.

Unlike many other SNP members and a good number of my fellow Yes activists, I was perfectly content that the MacNeil/McEleny ‘Plan B’ resolution was rejected. I won’t go through all the reasons for this here, but they included the First Minister’s concern about distraction as well as recognition of the difficulties involved in making an election work as a substitute for a referendum. And the fact that a conference resolution isn’t needed for Plan B. The SNP can just stick in their manifesto for any election a declaration that a favourable outcome will be taken as a mandate to start negotiations. Who’s going to object? Apart from the usual suspects

I suggested then that Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny might have had more success putting forward an amendment to the resolution in the names of John Swinney and Maree Todd, which they have now done; although I don’t for one moment suppose my words had any bearing on that decision. Besides, I also advised that they should drop their ‘Plan B’ and instead submit an amendment advocating a greater sense of urgency from the Scottish Government and exhorting the First Minister to keep her options open on on the matter of process rather than insisting on rigid adherence to procedures established by the British government. Obviously, Angus and Chris have not heeded this part of my advice.

I take the view that getting Plan A right is vastly more important than having a backup plan. Not least because, should Plan A fail, it’s unlikely that there will be an opportunity to resort to Plan B. If the British establishment is aware of the potential of Plan B, and how could they not be, then they will have a countermeasure ready to be deployed.

Nicola Sturgeon is absolutely correct in sating that focus must be on her plan. Where I part company with her is that I insist this focus shout take the form of critical scrutiny, rather than obedient acceptance.

I suggest that the four SNP MPs now backing a Plan B route to independence would serve Scotland’s cause better were they to take the lead in questioning the efficacy and wisdom of following the Section 30 route.

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Evading the issue

There may be very good reasons for a resolution failing to make it onto the final agenda for the SNP conference. It is inevitable that people will feel aggrieved when a resolution is rejected that concerns a matter of particular interest to them. It is pretty much part of the pre-conference routine for there to be complaints that the agenda is being ‘rigged’ to avoid topics that some of those on the platform might consider potentially embarrassing. Folk have their ‘pet subjects’. Their personal estimation of the importance of that subject is likely to far exceed that of a dispassionate committee. It will be difficult for them to understand how a resolution on what they hold to be a topic of central importance can fail to be included in the agenda.

It may be that a topic has already been thoroughly debated at a recent conference. It may be that party policy on the matter is so firmly settled that further debate is seen as pointless. It may be that the resolution itself is not well drafted, or that the procedures and guidelines for submitting a resolution have not been adhered to.

I found it very easy to understand why the ‘Plan B’ resolution submitted by Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny was not accepted. Many others, perhaps being less objective, are incensed that it has been rejected. It would be an extraordinary agenda setting process that didn’t offend someone.

What, for me, was most disappointing about the MacNeil-McEleny resolution was the fact that it didn’t address the issue of urgency. If the party managers are keen to avoid discussion of independence it is not because the matter of a ‘Plan B’ might cause the leadership some discomfort. It is because any debate around the topic of independence has the potential to lead to awkward questions about ‘Plan A’. More specifically, about the timetable for ‘Plan A’. That’s what the SNP leadership desperately want to avoid.

Perhaps a more effective tactic would have been to submit a resolution directly – if, perhaps, subtly – addressing the evident lack of any sense of urgency in the Scottish Government’s approach to resolving the constitutional issue.

Alternatively, an appropriately worded amendment to the resolution in the names of John Swinney and Maree Todd might have served to get the issue of urgency before delegates. One advantage of such an amendment is that rejection would be tantamount to an explicit admission that the party leadership doesn’t want the issue debated.

There may be very good reasons for that too.

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Step back to step up!

I like Angus MacNeil. I regard him and Chris McEleney as two of the most potent allies of those in the Yes movement who are trying to inject a desperately needed sense of urgency into the SNP leadership’s lackadaisical approach to the constitutional issue.

I don’t like Angus MacLeod very much at all. I hold him largely responsible for the appalling treatment meted out to the individual known to most of us as Grousebeater. But I’d taken against the man long before that. Admittedly, my instincts could be wrong. Undoubtedly, Angus “Mumbler” MacLeod has fared badly on the conference platform in comparison with the likes of Derek Mackay, and that may have unduly influenced my attitude. But I just don’t like him.

So it pains me that I am obliged to agree with Angus MacLeod. It pains me even more to say that Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny haven’t handled this matter at all well. It’s going too far to describe their resolution as “whimsical” and Angus MacLeod’s use of such language serves only to reinforce the impression of an unfortunate lack of respect for party members. Nobody should doubt that Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny acted with the best of intentions and the worthiest of motives. But if party members deserve to be respected so too do the procedures adopted and approved by the membership. Angus MacLeod is surely correct to say that proper procedures were not followed. And it is certainly true that the MacNeil-McEleny resolution, while definitely not “whimsical”, was woefully ill-thought.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to have repeatedly pointed out the problems with this ‘Plan B’ ( To the best of my knowledge, none of the issues identified has been addressed by either Angus MacNeil or Chris McEleny. That is deeply unfortunate and suggests that the resolution might not have survived the heat of debate at conference. One should never make a proposal or express a view that one is not prepared to defend against all criticism.

This situation cannot be allowed to fester. My advice to Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny would be to avoid getting carried along on the wave of knee-jerk support that the pair are enjoying at the moment. It won’t last. And the conference agenda committee is not going to back down. Getting embroiled in a fight with Angus MacLeod and the rest is not a productive use of your talents and public profile. I’m not going to give you any of that s**t about ‘damaging the party’. The SNP is not harmed by internal debate, it is strengthened. But conference time is a scarce resource. It has to be allocated wisely and used efficiently. Debating ‘Plan B’ was never a good use of conference time.

The best thing would be to step away from this discarded resolution altogether. Normally, when a resolution is rejected, those responsible for drafting it will have the option to rework it and try again. The MacNeil-McEleny proposal is not worth the effort. It is a non-runner. Tacking new legs on it isn’t going to help. The second option when a resolution is rejected is to start afresh. And that is what Angus and Chris should do. I, for one, would be totally supportive of an appropriately worded and properly constructed resolution impressing on the Scottish Government the need for a sense of urgency. Such a resolution would have the added advantage of providing an opportunity to rehearse, in a very public forum, all the reasons why a sense of urgency is required.

I sincerely hope Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny have a bit of a rethink while they can abandon their ‘Plan B’ proposal with honour and pride and credibility intact. While I’m at the wishing tree, it would also be nice if Angus MacLeod could try to be a bit less of a tosser.

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Let’s get confrontational!

This whole ‘Plan B’ episode is painfully reminiscent of the time when Pete Wishart came out with that nonsense about postponing a new referendum indefinitely in the hope that the independence fairy would deliver something called the ‘optimal time’. Along with many others, I had a number of questions about this approach to addressing the constitutional issue. Or might one more pointedly say, this determined effort to avoid addressing the constitutional issue. Now, as then, nobody wants to answer the questions. Now, as then, the ‘plan’ really doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. But relatively few are subjecting it to any scrutiny. And nobody is responding to enquiries. Pete Wishart went as far as blocking me on Twitter so as to avoid questions about his outlandish notions.

Great as it is to have two such well-respected individuals putting some pressure on an SNP leadership which seems uncommonly relaxed about Scotland’s predicament, the ‘Plan B’ put forward by Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny simply doesn’t measure up. And debating it at conference would be a pointless waste of time. Let me explain.

There are, as I see it, three serious problems with the idea of using an election as a substitute for a referendum. For a start, there is the matter of the fundamental difference between a parliamentary election and a referendum. The latter is, or is meant to be, a binary choice between two clearly stated, deliverable options. It is difficult enough to set up a referendum in such a way as to get, not just a result, but an incontestable decision. What is difficult in the case of a referendum is as close to impossible as makes no odds using a necessarily multi-issue election as a substitute.

It might be possible to have a single-issue parliamentary election. In theory, it is possible – if all parties contesting the election cooperate. If they all agree that the election is to be fought on one issue only, and if they all campaign exclusively on that issue, then it effectively ceases to be an election and becomes a referendum.

What are the chances of the British parties cooperating in this way? And, if you’re contorting an election so as to make it something close to a referendum, why not just have the referendum? Because the British state won’t ‘allow’ a referendum! So why would they ‘allow’ a referendum thinly disguised as an election?

It is weirdly naive to suppose that a British state which would go so far as to deny Scotland’s democratic right of self-determination wouldn’t sabotage an attempt to use an election as a substitute.

And it would be so easy for them to do so. They need only contest the election on any and every issue except independence in order to be able to claim that not everybody was voting on the issue of independence. The one thing pretty much everybody in the independence movement is agreed upon is that the process of restoring Scotland’s independence must sport impeccable democratic credentials. An election used as a proxy referendum would be wide open to challenge.

Then there’s the matter of time. The next scheduled appropriate election – and surely a ‘Plan B’ worthy of the name cannot gamble on an unscheduled election – isn’t until the Scottish Parliament elections in May 2021. There is considerable doubt as to whether there will even be a Scottish Parliament by then. What is absolutely certain is that the British political elite will not be idle. An overarching imperative for them is locking Scotland into a political union unilaterally redefined for the purposes of the ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project. Any ‘plan’ for taking forward the cause of independence that involves delay beyond Brexit has to address the near certainty of the Scottish Parliament being ‘suspended’ and the likelihood of the British government unilaterally declaring Scotland part of an ‘indivisible and indissoluble’ British state.

Then there’s the fact that there is already a mandate for a new constitutional referendum. A very clear mandate with all the democratic legitimacy anybody could wish for. That mandate is being flatly denied by the British state. Why would it be any different for this new mandate? Why wouldn’t the British simply ignore that as well? Especially as we’d be implicitly admitting that the existing mandate was such as could be ignored. By saying we need another one, we’d not only undermine the democratic legitimacy of the mandate we already have, but of any and all mandates.

Any ‘plan’ that seeks to avoid confrontation with the British state’s anti-democratic denial of Scotland’s right of self-determination woefully misses the point that this bullying behaviour must be challenged, not side-stepped. It does Scotland no good whatsoever to work around the injustices of the Union, leaving them intact. The Union is a constitutional device by which the people of Scotland are denied the effective exercise of their sovereignty. It must be confronted. It must be challenged. It must be broken.

Finally, addressing the fuss being made about the ‘Plan B’ resolution not being selected for debate at conference; what would be the point? No debate is required. It’s not necessary to debate using an election in the way suggested by Angus MacNeil and Chris McEleny. The SNP can simply put it in their manifesto for any UK or Scottish general election. The SNP has a standing mandate to pursue independence by any democratic means. Using a majority in an election as a device is perfectly legitimate and requires no prior approval from members. Are members going to object? Is anybody in the Yes movement going to protest?

British Nationalists will be outraged, of course. When are they ever anything else? Ruth Davidson will put on her best scowl and denounce the ploy using the voice that she imagines to be Churchillian but actually makes her sound severely constipated. The British media… well… they’re the British media….

People are saying we need a ‘Plan B’. We really don’t. We need a ‘Plan A’ that works. We can’t afford to fail. We can’t even afford to contemplate failure.

Angus and Chris are to be commended for at least trying to press the issue. But their mistake is to suppose that there might be a path to independence delineated by the rules and procedures of the British political system. There is no such path. There is no route to independence which does not require the breaking of those rules and departure from those procedures. There is no way to walk out of the Union. We have to break out.

The Union’s grip on Scotland will not be broken by some cunning plan or devious ploy or artful political manoeuvre. It will be broken when Scotland’s First Minister stands up in Scotland’s Parliament and declares the Scottish Government’s intention to #DissolveTheUnion.

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