Get the monster!

Mhairi Black seems to be under the impression that Boris Johnson is the problem. What chance does the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence have when the people we have elected to progress that campaign are so woefully misguided? Boris Johnson is a symptom. The Union is the disease.

Boris Johnson isn’t even a symptom of the pestilent Union. Boris Johnson is a symptom of the malady which has afflicted England’s politics. Being infected with the Union merely means that Scotland must suffer the symptoms of whatever ailment befalls England-as-Britain.

Mhairi Black is not a fool. So we are entitled to wonder why someone so astute might make the basic error of misidentifying the problem. And if we assume that she is not so foolish as to suppose Boris Johnson so be the problem, we are entitled to wonder what was here motive and purpose in penning an article that is entirely about him. Why the prolonged ant-Boris rant?

It could be because he’s an easy target. In fact, I’m certain that is part of the answer. He’s an easy individual to despise. As Mhairi Black demonstrates, it is no great task to assemble a catalogue of the ways in which Boris Johnson makes himself a fitting object of detestation among Scots not infatuated with the facile, vacuous, jingoistic clown-face he puts on the sulphurous British Nationalism that grips England-as-Britain. A catalogue which, while far from comprehensive, is sufficient to make the wordage required by The National.

Not that I’m suggesting Mhairi Black’s sole or primary reason for focusing so intently on the wrong target was as an effortless way to pad out a column doubtless written in haste as the deadline loomed and almost certainly while she was preoccupied with whatever matters so engage our SNP MPs as to distract them from the task for which we elected them.

As I mention distraction, it occurs to me that this might be the answer to those wondering what Mhairi Black was aiming for with this article. An explanation supported if not confirmed by the last few paragraphs. She doesn’t quite use that irksomely inane phrase which insists that “we’ve never been closer to independence”. But she barely avoids this idiocy. And only by coining another which is only less imbecilic than the imbecility of the “never closer” pish because the imbecility of the “never closer” pish is unbeatable. Mhairi Black’s variation on the “never closer” theme being “the Union is doomed”. There probably should be an exclamation mark appended to this portentous declamation. But not even Mhairi can get that excited about it.

It’s another empty assertion. Unless “the Union is doomed” because Boris Johnson is an arse – which seems unlikely – then Mhairi Black offers no explanation as to what exactly is going to bring about the doom which she so confidently predicts for the Union. If the Union was going to be brought down by having arses in the high offices of the British state then it wouldn’t have survived three weeks, never mind three centuries.

It seems Boris Johnson is a useful idiot extraordinaire indeed. He manages to be both a tool for forces the nature of which may be better hinted at by Dominic Cummings and a handy device by which the SNP can distract attention from the abject failure of Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘strategy’ for progressing Scotland’s cause.

When the Angry Villagers are heading your way, it’s good to have a monster to which you can direct the pitchforks of their anger. Even if only temporarily.



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No baby steps!

Chris McEleny is on the right track with this. But he goes neither far enough or fast enough. Holding a series of events to discuss alternative strategies would have been a great idea four or five years ago. And it might have been OK to drag things out until October and beyond if it was October 2018 we were talking about.

It’s pointless presenting Boris Johnson with an ultimatum in any case. Why would we give him a second chance to spit on Scotland? And an ultimatum only works if you have some sanction or penalty that you can impose in the event of the ultimatum not being met. What is Chris suggesting? Nicola Sturgeon goes to Johnson and says give us a Section 30 order or we’ll hold some meetings! Cough up, Sunshine, or we’ll form another group to look at ways of exploring new ideas for forums to discuss the best way to go about setting up new groups! And we’re not bluffing!

So long as the Scottish Government is committed to the Section 30 process Boris Johnson has all the power. This is not news. Some of us have been saying it for years. We warned that the Section 30 process is a trap. Nobody listened.

What else might the First Minister threaten Johnson with? Court? That’ll work. For the lawyers! They’ll get a nice payday. Boris Johnson will get a massive transfusion of smug. Nicola Sturgeon will get a faceful of smelly egg. Whatever the Scottish Government complains about all the British government has to do is point at Section 30 of the Scotland Act and remind the court that the First Minister herself called this the ‘gold standard’. They will then ask the Scottish Government’s lawyer to specify in what way they are contravening the terms of the ‘gold standard’ provision. And the lawyers will be lost for an answer. Because Boris Johnson may be an offensive arse but he hasn’t done anything illegal or unlawful. He has abided by the Section 30 rules. The ‘gold standard’!

The Scottish Government needs to do something bold. Something assertive. Something that isn’t in the British state’s book of traps and pitfalls. Chris McEleny is at least thinking outside the stultifying confines of the British box. For that, he is to be congratulated. Although this isn’t really much of a departure for him. But if you’re going to push the constitutional envelope then push it until it rips. No half measures. We don’t have time to take baby steps. We are at least three years late and 10 points behind where we should be. The gates are closing. If we are to get through them, we need to be taking giant strides.



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Stoppable

Words like “unstoppable” suggest denial of the stark reality that the momentum of the campaign for a new independence referendum is all too easily stopped. Boris Johnson simply has to say no. And keep on saying no. As Nicola Sturgeon has amply demonstrated, there is nothing she can do about it. Or nothing she is prepared to do about it. In the unforgiving realm of realpolitik, she has calculated that progressing Scotland’s cause costs her more than stopping it costs the British Prime Minister. Which isn’t a difficult calculation given that, as I’ve pointed out many times before, saying no costs Boris Johnson absolutely nothing, and may even garner kudos from the far from small number of British Nationalists – north and south of the border – who relish few things more than a bit of Jock-bashing.

But even if Keith Brown was right; even if his claim of the campaign to have Johnson agree to a new referendum having an “unstoppable momentum” made sense, it misses the essential point that such a campaign shouldn’t even be necessary. The fact that it is proves the anti-democratic nature of the Union. It illuminates the reality that Scotland is not and never has been an equal partner in a voluntary political union. Scotland is the annexed territory of England-as-Britain. It shows, at least as clearly as does the Brexit iniquity, that the Union denies the people of Scotland the full and effective exercise of the sovereignty which is theirs by absolute right.

Comments such as Keith Brown’s and the kind of headline The National makes of it, serve only to encourage dangerous complacency and promote the ludicrous notion that we need only wait and independence will come to us. Would that Keith or at least one of his colleagues among our elected representatives had the intestinal fortitude to tell the people of Scotland the truth that if Scotland’s independence is to be restored then it will involve a major political confrontation with the British state.

The British establishment will deploy every weapon at its disposal in defence of the Union. Its armoury is formidable. The British state’s propaganda machinery alone is more effective in suppressing democratic dissent than every club-wielding police officer on the Spanish government’s payroll. The British political elite will determine the nature of the fight; indeed, has already decided how it shall be, and it will not be pleasant. It will be vicious. It will be as vicious as it needs to be.

If our political leaders do not appreciate this reality and prepare for intense political confrontation then they will fail – and we will lose. To talk of “unstoppable momentum” is to talk as if the fight was already won. It hasn’t even begun in earnest. At present, Boris Johnson is taking full advantage of the power afforded him by the First Minister’s commitment to the Section 30 process. As noted, it costs him nothing to persist in refusing the permission the First Minister seeks and is politically paralysed without. But we should not assume from this that the British government is not prepared to pay dearly for the preservation of the Union. It would be naive to assume they will hesitate to incur a heavy cost in terms of international relationships and reputation to maintain their grip on Scotland. If we are not prepared to match them blow for blow at similar cost then we will lose.

The Yes movement is powerful. It has yet to realise its potential as a political force. Only when it does will Scotland’s cause become truly unstoppable.



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Welcome to Borissia

Living in Scotland, I tend to greet news of a Downing Street reshuffle with a shrug. How does it affect me? How does it affect Scotland? Isn’t shite still shite no matter how much you rearrange the turds? I have to remind myself that, because of the Union, these people exert extraordinary, totally unaccountable and invariably baleful influence in matters which should rightfully be the exclusive province of people we actually elect. We are therefore obliged to take at least some heed of what manner of individuals hold senior positions in the government of England-as-Britain. Or what I have lately taken to calling Borissia. I may occasionally fall into the habit observing the comings and goings of British politicians much as I would the wrigglings and squirmings of pond-life under the microscope, but it is as well to be mindful that this pond-life bites.

I read that the current Minister for the Constitution, Chloe Smith, is slated to be declared the new Minister for the Union and, tempted as I may be to note this tidbit of info-gossip and move on, I also read that Ms Smith apparently takes the view that the people of Scotland are neither worthy of nor entitled to news presented from a Scottish perspective. The British news is good enough for us. She isn’t about to encourage the idea that Scotland is distinctive in any way. It just the northern territory of Borissia.

Scotland’s cause being purely a constitutional issue it’s maybe a good idea to keep a watchful eye on Chloe Smith. In the Borissian government, the Minister for the Constitution is the official champion of British Nationalist ideology, and Minister for the Union is a diplomatically dishonest euphemism for the Minister for the Subjugation of Scotland.

I read that someone by the name of Rishi Sunak is the new Chancellor of the Borissian Exchequer having formerly been Chief Secretary to the Treasury – a role I inevitably associate with one Danny Alexander now Sir Daniel Grian Alexander having been duly rewarded for his part in creating the false prospectus on which the people of Scotland voted to give the Borissian government licence to do as it will with Scotland.

I know nothing of Mr Sunak other than that he is the MP for a part of Borissia called Richmond and that he must be a British Nationalist or he wouldn’t have been given the job. Of much more interest is the reason there was a vacancy. His predecessor resigned because of Boris Johnson’s intention to create a joint set of economic advisers for the Treasury and Number 10; a move that would further concentrate executive power in the hands of Johnson and his very special adviser, Dom Cummings. We have to refer to them as Boris & Dom now as they are at least as much an ‘item’ as deserves the ampersand. It’s surely only a matter of time before some wag hack with a depleted imagination coins a joint name for them – Bordom or Doris, perhaps. Which would be marginally less excruciating than The Johnster and The Cumster, I suppose.

But we should take this seriously. The combination of Boris Johnson and Dom Cummings may be revolting, but it is revoltingly successful. While BoJo plays the chief clown in the Borissian State Circus, Cummings is pulling strings and levers behind the scenes with such deftness that Boris & Dom have each and both got pretty much everything they want. There may not appear to be a plan. But what if the plan is to appear to have no plan whilst cunningly progressing a cunning plan cunningly concealed by cunningly contrived chaos? What if the shambles of the Brexit process was exactly what was needed to create the conditions for centralising power and upgrading Borissia from satirical epithet to stark reality?

Suppose someone was mounting a coup in the UK. Isn’t control of the treasury the first thing they would think of, given that there’s no need for them to take over the TV and radio stations? Exaggerated as it may seem, isn’t that thought enough to give one pause? Bear in mind that Boris & Dom haven’t only absorbed the team advising the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, they have installed someone they know is amenable to such external influence (control?) over his department. And, perhaps more importantly, removed someone who was evidently minded to resist such a move. And do so publicly.

The Treasury represents a constraint on executive power. That constraint has at least been loosened. We should ask ourselves why?

It seems that Alister “Union” Jack is to stay on as Downing Street’s man in Scotland and titular head of the unelected and unaccountable shadow administration created by the Borrissian government to take over powers stripped from the Scottish Parliament. Thus, my somewhat tongue-in-cheek prediction that Ruth Davidson would be installed as de facto Governor-General of North Borissia. Perhaps BorDom & Doris felt that the task of defanging Holyrood still required the skills and attitude of a predator rather than the gloss and grooming of a show animal. Or maybe Ruth has set her sights somewhat higher. Having lost her crown as Queen of the BritNats in the annexed lands of North Borissia, perhaps she’s not content with her reward for loyal service to the shrivelling Borissian empire. Maybe elevation to the Dead Stoat Cloak Club isn’t enough to satisfy that ravenous ego. Maybe she has her eye on another throne to replace the one she lost. Betty Windsor might be wise to review her security. Maybe employ a food-taster. Definitely don’t accept apples from cackling crones. Just saying.

The more likely explanation is that Jack the Lackey is being kept on because he’s just the man for the job. Unfortunately for the people of Scotland, his job is treachery. His remit is to undermine and then dismantle Scotland’s democratic institutions. In practical terms, his function is to roll out a series of ‘UK-wide common frameworks’ which increasingly impinge on and arrogate the powers of the Scottish Parliament. Alister Jack squats in Queen Elizabeth House like some obscene arachnid charged with sucking the juices from Scotland’s distinctive political culture until all that’s left is a dessicated husk no longer capable of being a nuisance to the Borissian state and its rulers.

We have to know this. We have to know that turds are being rearranged for a purpose. We have to realise that this purpose has only dire consequences for Scotland. If we value Scotland’s democracy and identity as a nation, we have to be prepared to defend them. We can’t afford to suppose that a cabinet reshuffle in London has nothing to do with us.



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A vacancy for vacant

This being a political appointment the normal rules probably don’t apply to the task of selecting someone to fill the role of Secretary of State for Scotland. Or, at least, not to the same extent. Usually, one would first define the role in order that a set of criteria could be established. This must still happen. But the established criteria may well be set aside in favour of considerations which have more to do with relationships of power within the ruling party than finding the best person for the job. And we have only the Westminster rumour-mill as our guide to who is in line to benefit from the Prime Minister’s patronage and who is looking like a loser.

Let us suppose, for the sake of something to write about if nothing else, that patronage was not a factor and that the choice of Secretary of State for Scotland was being made in an entirely pragmatic manner. In such imaginary circumstances, a detailed job description would be essential. Only then would it be possible to figure out what it takes to be an effective Secretary of State for Scotland.

What constitutes effective is, of course, a function of the job description – which will include one or more aims. We are asking what an effective Secretary of State for Scotland must achieve as well as what is involved in doing the job. The incumbent will be expected to deliver on some policy objective.

The post of Secretary of State for Scotland was originally created when the Union was imposed on Scotland. It was abolished in the wake of the 1745 ‘rebellion’ when the military occupation and brutal repression made explicit the fact that the Union was in, in reality, annexation of Scotland by England. The post was revived in 1885 and upgraded to full Secretary of State status in 1926.

Originally, the Secretary of State for Scotland was supposed to be Scotland’s man in the British cabinet. (Only one woman, Helen Liddell (Lab) has ever held the post.) It was almost entirely a sop to public opinion in Scotland – an attempt to make the Union seem less unpalatable. Notwithstanding the token nature of the job, a few individuals did good work on Scotland’s behalf. Tom Johnson springs to mind. And, perhaps, Willie Ross. But these successes tended to be more than offset by the likes of notorious liar Alistair Carmichael and just plain notorious Jim Murphy.

Overall, it has never been entirely clear whether the Secretary of State was Scotland’s man (or Helen Liddell) in London or London’s man in Scotland. Any doubt on this count has now been dispelled. He (or theoretically ‘she’) is now definitely and unabashedly the British government’s representative in Scotland. He represents the interests of that government and of the Union. In no sense does he (Sorry Helen, but I have to stop this.) represent Scotland’s interests. Quite the contrary. According to the British government’s website,

The main role of the Scottish Secretary is to promote and protect the devolution settlement.

Other responsibilities include promoting partnership between the UK government and the Scottish government, and relations between the 2 Parliaments.

Secretary of State for Scotland

The language disguises a far harsher reality. While it is certainly the job of the Secretary of State for Scotland to “promote and protect the devolution settlement” this aspect of the role must be understood in the light of what devolution means. First regarded as a way of killing Scotland’s burgeoning independence movement ‘stone dead’, devolution was always more about formalising the withholding of powers than devolving them. It would never have been permitted had it been thought that it might actually empower Scotland. It was only allowed because the British establishment was persuaded that it would not jeopardise the Union. In fact, it was maintained that it would strengthen England-as-Britain’s grip on Scotland.

Best laid schemes etc. Suffice it to say that it didn’t quite work out as anticipated. After the No vote in 2014, many commentators – myself included – considered it likely that the British political elite would use the power handed to them by No voters to abandon or at least roll back the devolution ‘experiment’. This would have been very controversial, of course. In fact, the Brits did a rather clever thing instead. Taking advantage of the Smith Commission and subsequent ‘reform’ of the Scotland Act, they sought to weaponise devolution against the SNP administration in Edinburgh. That didn’t go so well either. The Scottish Government deftly avoided all of the fiscal and political traps that had been laid for them. Or, at least, mitigated or deferred the impact of measures intended to undermine the Scottish Government and make the SNP unelectable. Then it would have been back to British business as usual. Scotland’s voters had other ideas.

This brief history was necessary in order to better understand what the role of Secretary of State for Scotland now entails. The incumbent no longer has to pretend to be representing Scotland’s interests – although the media may still portray him in this light. Today, the Secretary of State for Scotland is first and foremost the defender of the Union. His task is to ensure that the Union is preserved – at whatever cost to Scotland. Post-Brexit, his task is to implement a British Nationalist ‘One Nation’ solution to the problem of Scotland.

As soon as the first SNP administration was formed in 2007, the fate of the Scottish Parliament was sealed. If devolution was not to become the threat to the Union that the British establishment fears, Holyrood had to be reined-in. The Secretary of State for Scotland has a crucial role to play in this. He is to head a shadow administration which will take on powers stripped from the Scottish Parliament under the guise of managing the Brexit aftermath. What qualities and abilities would a person require in order to do this job?

Obviously, they would have to be ruthless and thick-skinned – uncaring of how they are perceived by the people of Scotland who have realised the true nature of the Union. The individual concerned will be actively betraying Scotland every moment that they are in office. They will necessarily and inevitably come to be despised by all but the most fervent British Nationalists. Although the ‘Jock-bashing’ may make them popular in England-as-Britain, their name will be cursed in Scotland.

This suggests that it should be somebody with a pathologically diminished self-awareness. Somebody who will do what is required of them in return for personal advancement. Somebody with a craving for the prestige of high office but lacking the talent to make it on merit. Somebody who can be bought.

The candidate needs no particular skills. The infrastructure of the shadow government is pretty much complete. What is needed is a ‘face’ to front the project. Someone with a bit of charisma. Someone with a measure of superficial charm. Importantly, someone who is media-savvy. Someone who can ‘sell’ what is being done to Scotland’s democracy. All of which rules out the present incumbent. Alister Jack was chosen because of his business experience. He was considered ideal as the person to manage the seizing of the Scottish Parliament’s ‘assets’- its powers – and managing their adoption and operation by the ‘UK Government in Scotland’. A functionary.

It is likely that the rumours of his removal have been prompted by the realisation that the machinery of the shadow government is better left in the hands of technocrats and civil servants. The project doesn’t need a manager. It needs a figurehead. Alister Jack is certainly not the kind of person who is likely to impress Dominic Cummings. And he has a great deal of influence with Boris Johnson.

We now have a job description and an idea of the kind of person who would be ideal for the role. The Secretary of State for Scotland needs to be venal, mercenary, ambitious, shallow and heartless with good media skills, fluency in the language of politics, a winning personality and a photogenic face. Someone who has mastered the art of the photo-op. Someone who can trivialise the most serious of issues and treat trivialities with undue solemnity and melodramatic indignation.

Someone who has not the slightest compunction about lying brazenly and who has a natural talent for hypocrisy. Someone who can flip from one position to another with consummate ease and hold to both effortlessly. Someone neither fazed nor embarrassed by inconsistency and contradiction. At the same time, they must not pose any threat to Boris Johnson. It must be someone who is liked within the party but who has no large following. It must be someone who can easily be sidelined should the occasion arise. If they are Scottish or can carry off the pretence of speaking for Scotland, this would be a bonus.

Dear readers! I give you the next Secretary of State for Scotland – RUTH DAVIDSON!



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The speech that never was

I was due to address the hundreds of Yes activists who attended the rally outside the Scottish Parliament on Saturday afternoon (1 February). Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties I was unable to make that speech. The following is what I had intended to say.

I don’t want to be making this speech. Or, to be more precise, this is not the speech I want to make. I would prefer to make a different speech.

It would be much easier to make one of those speeches in which I say something rude about Boris Johnson and everybody laughs.

Or perhaps a speech in which I say wise-sounding things about Boris’s position being “unsustainable.

Maybe a speech in which I go for resounding rhetoric about how we’ve “never been closer to independence.

But I can’t make those kind of speeches. I can’t dismiss Boris Johnson as a buffoon because he’s a buffoon who wins. Stop laughing at him – or raging at him – for a moment and think about it. He’s got everything he wanted.

People will point to him losing the court case on proroguing of parliament. But even then he got the delay and distraction he wanted.

Boris Johnson is now the British Prime Minister leading a Tory government with a substantial majority that has been purged of his opponents. And he’s ‘got Brexit done’. If that’s buffoonery, we could do with some in the Scottish Government.

Nonetheless, Boris is irrelevant. He will not be delivering independence for Scotland. Our independence will not be restored via Westminster. Why would I waste my energies trying to undermine his credibility. He has none. Why would I talk to him or about him when he has no business interfering in Scotland’s constitutional debate?

Boris Johnson doesn’t have a vote in a Scottish independence referendum. Other, that is, than the effective veto afforded him by the Section 30 process. And he’s already used that vote. By his own rules, he shouldn’t get to vote again until everybody who was alive for the first referendum has died.

I can’t talk about Boris Johnson’s position as being unsustainable. Because he is sustaining it. The reality is that it costs him absolutely nothing to keep on refusing a Section 30 order. If anything, it wins him favour among the constituency from which he draws the bilk of his support – the proudly ill-informed British Nationalists.

I can’t talk about how we’ve ‘never been closer to independence’ because not only is it not true, it’s a stunningly stupid claim to make. I could make a very strong argument that we were closer to independence in 2015 – when the SNP enjoyed an unprecedented and possibly unrepeatable landslide in the UK general election and we should have had our eyes firmly fixed on a referendum in September 2018.

And we certainly aren’t closer to independence than we were at 7am on the morning of Thursday 18 September 2014 when, for the next 15 hours the people of Scotland held in our hands total political power.

Regardless of the fact that the people of Scotland ultimately decided to hand that power back to the British political elite does not alter the fact that, as the polls opened on that day we were only 15 hours away from independence. Nobody can sensibly make the claim that we are closer now than we were them. Those who do are treating us as fools of the kind that will be influenced by a bit of witless, vacuous political rhetoric.

The best that can be said of the time since the first referendum is that the independence campaign has stood still. Which is not to say that Yes activists have been idle. Far from it! The Yes movement has been working as hard as ever. We’ve had a series of marches and rallies which attracted huge support. And scores of Yes groups the length and breadth of Scotland have been busy organising and keeping the momentum going for a new referendum

The trouble is that all this effort was to no avail so long as the Scottish Government was more concerned with stopping Brexit than with working to ensure Brexit couldn’t be imposed on Scotland.

The cause of restoring Scotland’s independence has made not one millimetre of progress in the five years since the first referendum. Despite the fact that circumstances were almost ideal and the British government was almost daily providing opportunities, no progress was made. All those opportunities were squandered. The ideal circumstance were not exploited.

Which brings me to the First Minister’s speech yesterday morning [Friday 31 January] in which she had promised to set out the “next steps” for the independence campaign.

As it turned out, she announced no steps at all. Just more running on the spot. To say the speech was disappointing would be an understatement. It may well have been the most important speech of Nicola Sturgeon’s political career. Although she gave no indication she was aware of this.

I shouldn’t have been disappointed. Having spent the period leading up to the speech trying to damp-down expectations because I knew there was nothing significant that the First Minister could say, the reality should not have been an anti-climax. But it was.

I expected little. I got nothing. I should have expected less when the speech was moved from the Wednesday to Friday, when the various events marking Brexit would provide a distraction. But, cynical as I was – and remain – I still held a glimmer of hope that Nicola Sturgeon would give the Yes movement something. Even that small hope was dashed.

The fact is that the approach to the constitutional issue adopted by the First Minster has failed.

A few days ago I watched as people celebrated a poll showing Yes at 51% and couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about when the polls should have been at least ten points higher.

The approach taken by the Scottish Government has failed to gain a significant lead in the polls despite the most propitious circumstances. If you don’t exploit opportunities offered by Boris Johnson becoming Prime Minister and Brexit being imposed on Scotland, your ‘strategy’ has failed by definition!

The approach is still failing. Despite all the fine rhetoric about a referendum in 2020, those who look at the situation absent the rose-tinted spectacles recognise that the chances of such a referendum are vanishingly small.

Even the superficially appealing idea of a new independence convention loses its sheen when one realises that it is at least two years late. It loses even more of its polish when one views the announcement in the context of all the other initiatives that have been announced over the past five years only to fizzle out like a damp squib.

The approach taken by the Scottish Government was always bound to fail. Serious concerns about Nicola Sturgeon’s unswerving commitment to the Section 30 process have never been addressed. The fatal flaws in this approach have been identified. But, if the First Minister heard those concerns there is no evidence that she heeded them.

My time is short today. So I will mention only one of these fatal flaws. Nicola Sturgeon’s entire approach to the issue, as typified by her commitment to the Section 30 process, is critically dependent on gaining the full, willing and honest cooperation of the British government. That is never going to happen.

No British Prime Minister will ever facilitate or cooperate with a process which might result in the dissolution of the Union. Should they choose to grant a Section order – and there is no way they can be compelled to do so – it will only be because they know that the process can be sabotaged at a later stage.

The independence campaign has been driven into a cul-de-sac. The engine may still be running. But the vehicle is going nowhere. Nicola Sturgeon insists that this is the only route to a new referendum and independence. But it is not a route at all. It could only become a route if the British political elite could be persuaded to demolish their own house and build a road. But even if they could be persuaded to do this, they would insist on putting a series of barriers across the road

It’s not clear where the Yes movement goes from here. But the one thing that we can take from Nicola Sturgeon’s speech is that, if we are to make progress, it must be despite the Scottish Government rather than in company with it.



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Unappealing options

As you get older and your memory starts to deteriorate, you have to deal with an increasing number of problems. You graduate from forgetting to do things to forgetting whether you’ve done things. Just as you get used to being unable to recall names, you start to forget faces. No sooner have you figured out a coping mechanism for that than the next – and probably the worst – stage is upon you and you begin to imagine you recognise faces. Before long, you start to dread leaving the house as every encounter with people involves a stressful struggle with fading faculties.

Similarly, having just resigned yourself to your inability to hold information in your head – such as your children’s names and, betimes, your own – you start reading or hearing bits and pieces of information and thinking you’ve already been given that information, but have forgotten. This may seem trivial, but if the information is important or significant or time-sensitive, it can cause flashes of panic such as an older person can well do without.

I had one on those momentary panic attacks this morning on opening the Sunday National to learn that “Nicola Sturgeon last week set out the next steps on indyref2 after the rejection of a Section 30 order by Boris Johnson“. Did she? How could I have forgotten that? What were these “next steps”?

As the panic subsided I realised this was just a case of a journalist looking for a good scene-setting opening for their article and plumping for one that plays small havoc with the reality. Of course, we’re still waiting to hear what the “next steps” are. A statement has been promised for next week – Wednesday, I think, but don’t take my word for it – when we may learn something memorable.

Not that there will be any great surprises. As Judith Duffy demonstrates when she’s done giving me palpitations, there aren’t that many options and, unless the First Minister has conjured something so novel as to be beyond imagining by anyone else, all the options are known. Judith helpfully lists them and examines each in turn. Almost as if she’s trying to make amends for that opening sentence.

The first, and many feel the most likely option is continuing to push for a Section 30 order, perhaps with the possibility of cross-party support thrown in to give the impression of something new. Not just Section 30 but Section 30 plus! New improved Section 30 with added grudging and condition-ridden concessions to democracy from a handful of British politicians.

Somehow contriving polling indications of a rise in support for independence and/or a new referendum is supposed to add to the pressure on Boris Johnson to change his mind about allowing us to exercise a right he has no legitimate authority to stop us exercising. Pressure that is presently notable only for its absence. Boris Johnson sleeps easy with a very strong hand which includes an 80-strong majority in the House of Commons, sovereignty of parliament enshrined in law by way of the Brexit Act and, of course, the Union. All of which militate against him feeling any pressure at all no matter how often Nicola Sturgeon ‘demands’ a Section 30 order. And no matter how many opposition politicians and assorted celebrities and academics take her side in the matter.

There may be an explanation here for the FM’s delay in responding to Johnson’s totally anticipated Section 30 knock-back. She may be waiting in hope that the first post-election poll(s) will show a significant rise in support for independence. She will be doubly relieved should she get her wish in this regard. She will be glad to see increasing support for independence, of course. But she will also be quietly relieved to have an excuse for continuing to try rely on the goodwill of a British government which, to date, has shown only ill-will in all matters relating to Scotland.

By persisting with the Section 30 process Nicola Sturgeon isn’t only hoping Boris Johnson will change his mind, she’s hoping he’ll undergo a change to his very nature. This conjures images of a cocooned ugly Boris caterpillar emerging as a beautiful butterfly having metamorphosed in the gentle heat of ‘pressure’ from various sources – none of which the now-transformed grotesque Boris-bug held in any regard at all.

Moving on before the corrosiveness of my cynicism about option one burns a hole in my laptop screen, next on Judith’s list is the option of holding a referendum without a Section 30 order. I think this is what is meant by the ridiculous term ‘DIY referendum’. As if there could be any other kind. A flat-pack referendum from IKEA, perhaps? Or a ready-made referendum advertised as requiring no home assembly with free next-day delivery for Amazon Prime subscribers? Maybe the alternative to a ‘DIY referendum’ is one held on our behalf by the Swiss – them having lots of experience. Or maybe it’s just a daft term that we should consign to the bin without further thought.

This option has been suggested by, among others, SNP MSP Alex Neil. He has called for Holyrood to hold its own “consultative vote” on independence. Another rather silly term given that every plebiscite is a consultation with the electorate. But by calling a referendum ‘consultative’ or ‘advisory’ it is implied that the result won’t, or won’t necessarily, have any effect. No immediate or automatic action will flow from the result. It’s a referendum that needn’t cause Unionists any concerns as it will do nothing and change nothing. Other than, maybe, the ‘dynamic’ of the constitutional debate.

What distinguishes this option is that it is normal. This is the way it would be done anywhere else. The government would make a judgement that there was sufficient public demand for a referendum and the whole thing would be dealt with under the auspices of parliament with oversight by some kind of electoral commission. Normality is NOT asking the permission of or inviting interference from any ‘foreign’ agency. If Scotland were a normal country, there would be no obstacles or hindrances to the people of Scotland exercising their right of self-determination.

However it may be dressed up, the real reason for rejecting this option is that Scotland is not a normal country. Scotland is, as has been explained elsewhere, more akin to annexed territory than a nation which is party to a voluntary political union. The difference being that the latter would have direct and unimpeded access to a process by which the political union could be discontinued. Because of the Union, we cannot freely exercise our right of self-determination. And because we can’t freely exercise our right of self-determination, we remain bound by the Union which denies us our sovereignty and our basic democratic rights.

Scotland is effectively annexed by England and trapped. As somebody once said of the 1707 Union, England has caught hold of Scotland and is disinclined to let go.

Next on Judith Duffy’s list of things Nicola Sturgeon might consider as a “next step” is the option of challenging the refusal of a Section 30 order in court. According to the experts, the success of such a legal challenge would be dubious at best. And even winning isn’t winning, because the British state can simply change the law so as to cancel out the win. And even if the case is won and the British state accepts defeat then all that’s been won is confirmation that an independence referendum must be authorised by the British state and a referendum that is critically dependent on the goodwill of the British state which, if it existed, would have obviated the need for a court case.

Apart from the legal issues, and the fact that a court case could be extremely protracted, the Scottish Government taking the British government to court would be a strategic error. As the saying goes, it’s better to ask forgiveness rather than request permission. The Scottish Government should, at all times, act as if it is the democratically legitimate government of Scotland. Because it is! An ‘official’ government wouldn’t seek consent from anyone to hold a referendum. It follows, therefore, that the Scottish Government should act first and be prepared to meet any legal challenge initiated by the British government. In the language of our times, the ‘optics’ are better. The British look like the ones trying to obstruct the democratic process. Which they are!

Which brings us to what I reckon is Nicola Sturgeon’s favoured option – putting things off until the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections. The SNP is good at winning elections. Unsurprisingly, I can’t remember how many elections they’ve won. All of them for the past 12 or 13 years, if I recall correctly. It is understandable, therefore, that Nicola Sturgeon would prefer – perhaps relish – the prospect of an electoral test rather than taking the matter out of the political realm and into the courts; perhaps to languish there for many years.

The problem is that Ms Sturgeon has already come close to exhausting the patience of SNP members and Yes activists. There is a serious risk that failure to deliver the not-quite-promised 2020 referendum will dishearten and even alienate the very people the SNP relies on to man their formidable campaign machine.

And what would be the point? From the outside, it might look like a landslide win for the SNP in 2021 would put even more pressure on the British government. Personally, I’m far from convinced that denying a fourth or fifth or sixth mandate is any more difficult for the British political elite than denying the first. If anything, it’ll get easier with practice.

Yet again with this option we come back to the problem that the Union makes Scotland less than a normal nation. The Union makes Scotland subordinate to England-as-Britain in all matters and at all times. The British state could, in principle, respond to the supposed increased pressure, not by acceding to the request for a Section 30 order, but by abolishing the Scottish Parliament. Something British Nationalists are eager to do anyway.

To the British political mind it makes perfect sense that Scotland’s drive to independence should be permanently halted solely on the grounds that it is a threat to the Union. The self-serving circularity of this ‘reasoning’ would trouble them not at at all.

The final option on Ms Duffy’s list is a referendum on having a referendum. A referendum to prove the level of public demand for an independence referendum. To me, this would seem to combine many of the problems of a so-called ‘DIY referendum’ and the difficulties associated with using the 2021 Holyrood elections as a proxy referendum.

I have long argued that, if the First Minister has the right to demand a Section 30 order then she has the right to hold a referendum. Or, to put it another way, if Boris Johnson has no right to refuse a Section 30 order, as the FM and her ministers have claimed, then he has no authority to block a referendum. Similarly, if the British Prime Minister can discount a mandate for a referendum why would he not discount a mandate to hold a referendum on holding a referendum. The proposal comes up against the problem of infinite iteration. A referendum requires a referendum which also requires a referendum and so on forever and ever. Once you start asking permission, you’re never done asking permission because the very act of asking permission acknowledges the other’s right to demand that you ask permission.

My memory may be defective, but my mind is, I think, still reasonably sharp. Certainly sharp enough to recognise that the statement to be made by Nicola Sturgeon next week may be the most important of her political career. All eyes will be on her. Expectations are high. It’s the sort of situation where a politician would like to have room to manoeuvre. The kind of circumstances when a politician realises the value of options. The moment when they may regret having squandered so many.

None of the options listed by Judith Duffy gets the First Minister out of the bind she has created by her commitment to abiding by the rules set by those who don’t want her to have any options at all. We will learn next week whether she has come up with some way out of the Union entanglement, or whether we’ll all be asked to tune in again next week. If we remember.



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