Well played!

Dominic Cummings has been in receipt of a fair few epithets over the past few days. I’d like to add another – brilliant! This does not in any way detract or deflect from the many less complimentary names he’s been called. It is simply to acknowledge the rather evident fact that as well as living down to any or all of the unflattering ways he’s been described, Dom is a very clever individual.

Perhaps ‘cunning’ is a better word. And it has the benefit of the kind of alliteration so beloved of tabloid headline writers. In fact, I’d be surprised if ‘Cunning Cummings’ hasn’t already been used. Another contender might be ‘calculating’. It must be allowed that ‘Calculating Cummings’ is not quite as euphonious as my first choice, and it breaches the tabloid editorial guideline which stipulates that, unless they are scientific or technical terms currently in common usage – such as coronavirus, words of more than seven letters or three syllables should appear only in the ‘Brain-teaser’ crossword puzzle. But it has the advantage of being accurate. Dom Cummings gives the impression of being an exceptionally calculating individual. He has a habit of calculating correctly.

Before I’m sentenced on the fly to a thorough birching, stoning and/or burning for failure to join in the ‘Two Minute Hate’ with sufficient spittle-spraying enthusiasm let me just point out that if I seem to admire Dom Cummings it is only in the context of his work as a political technician. I don’t know him in any other capacity. Which apparently is no impediment to passing judgement on the man in all of his capacities, but I’m only talking about him as a special adviser (SPAD) to the British Prime Minister, Boris F Johnson. And in that capacity he is certainly distinguishing himself.

How long did Catherine Calderwood last under similar circumstances. Or Professor Neil Ferguson? And yet Cummings has managed to engineer a situation in which him resigning could arguably do more damage to the British government than him holding out. He has contrived to put himself front and centre while his boss isn’t even standing in the wings but is already out of the building and on his way to the pub. His press conference yesterday was a masterly piece of political theatre. It resolved nothing. It answered no questions. But it fogged the glass through which his guilt was being viewed just enough to let a few of his friends in the right places suggest he should be given the genuine benefit of the ersatz doubt. Brilliant!

Everything about Cummings’s performance in the afternoon sunshine yesterday was cleverly calculated. Even the fact that it was staged in the open air. Cummings knows that he is not particularly photogenic and that the TV lights do him no favours. Sunshine is his second-best friend some way behind total darkness. Sunshine says happy. Sunshine says normal. Sunshine says the things he wanted said. So did the plain white, open-necked shirt. He was playing it as the ordinary family man sitting in his back garden enjoying a bit of relief from lockdown. Just like everybody does or would like to do. If he could have got away with it he’d have had kids playing football or splashing in a brightly coloured inflatable paddling pool as a backdrop. Even absent that nice touch, the setting took the politics out of the occasion as much as possible.

Timing is everything. Actually, it isn’t. If it was, what’s the point of all that stuff about costume and scenery? But timing is certainly important. Timing in the sense of scheduling the show right before the daily coronavirus briefing and so having a perfect excuse to end the thing at any point. Timing in the sense of turning up late so as to build expectation, cut to a minimum the amount of time left for questions and, not least, demonstrate that he is an important man doing important work for an even more important personage at a time of national crisis. Brilliant!

Cummings’s communication skills were also on display. He was attempting that trick of appearing forthright while saying nothing. Looking like he’s opening up while revealing nothing. Striking that balance between authority and humility. Being neither this nor that so that it is as easy to describe him as that as it is to describe him as this. Saying nothing is better than saying the wrong thing. Being nobody is better than being the wrong person. Leave a tabula rasa and let the professional manipulators of public opinion do their work after the fact.

Don’t try to look innocent. Go for looking the right kind of guilty. Confess a little to conceal a lot. Leave the scent of apology in the air and let other’s imagine its source and subject. Say nothing notable or quotable on the matter under scrutiny. Save all the best lines for the alternative story. Don’t do a Tony Blair! He played a similar character under director Alastair Campbell but just came across as false and smarmy. Blair didn’t commit to role the way Dom Cummings knew he had to. The acting shouldn’t show. The audience only gets to see behind the curtain when exposing what’s behind the curtain is in the script. The emperor is too busy saving and protecting his people to be bothered with getting laced into his finest robes, but here’s a wee peek inside his wardrobe. SPAD’s are not supposed to be visible to the public. It must be true/real because we’re not really supposed to see this. Brilliant!

Dom Cummings handles situations. He plans several moves ahead. He sees where all the pieces of the puzzle go. Something made it imperative that he travel to Durham. He had to assume this would come out. He planned accordingly. Whatever it was that really compelled him to make that trip, he had to know the risks. Except he didn’t see them as risks. He was confident he could cope with the situation. And so far he has done just that.

You may not like the actors or approve of the action. But you have to admit that the acting is brilliant.



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Compare and contrast

Boris is back! There is no telling how thrilled I am. But being ever inclined to look for the silver lining – debased and tarnished as it may be – I welcome the fact that we now get to make direct comparisons between what the heads of the two governments are saying. And how they are saying it. We have grown accustomed to being informed about the situation in Scotland and the Scottish Government’s response straight from the horses mouth, so to speak. Now we get the output from the other end directly instead of having the stable-boys shovelling it up and delivering it to us in buckets. There is literally no telling how thrilled I am.

There’s not much more to be said about the way our First Minister has comported herself over the past few weeks. Her presentation style has been all but flawless. Clear, consistent, calm, confident and always briefed to the point where she speaks with great authority. Sombre as appropriate. Amusing when the opportunity arises. Quick-witted at all times. Restrained when she deems restraint to be called for. Ready to take questions from hostile media and just as prepared to answer them – often in ways they don’t expect; occasionally in ways they don’t like. Dignified but accessible. Straight-talking but courteous. Forthright but discreet. She’s bloody good!

If Nicola Sturgeon takes to the podium on the world stage like a seasoned statesman to speak on matters of great import, Boris Johnson takes the microphone at a wedding like one of the groom’s drinking buddies who has been ordered on pain of castration to put a gloss on a marriage everybody knows will be over before the DJ plays the The Cryin’ Shames – or whatever it is they close with now that it’s not 1968. If Nicola Sturgeon is the witness that the jury believes, Boris Johnson is the witness the jury think really did the crime and should be doing the time even if he didn’t do the crime because he’s such an shifty character.

Nicola’s The West Wing without the accent. Boris is Yes Minister without the laughs.

You get the picture.

Nicola Sturgeon is intent on giving people the facts and stating the situation as honestly as possible even if the news is not good. Or at least she gives that impression. And if that is not all that matters then it is certainly a very large part of it. Our FM inspires confidence. She commands respect. she earns trust. All of which is crucial because there is no strategy for coping with Covid-19 that is not critically dependent on the willing cooperation of the general public. People do what Nicola Sturgeon tells them to do. They have complied with the lockdown restrictions as comprehensively as they have largely because she has convinced them of the necessity and she is the one they look to for information and advice. They look to her as a leader.

Boris Johnson hasn’t a clue. Or at least he gives that impression. If he says hello your first instinct is have that fact-checked. When Donald Trump was suggesting coronavirus infection could be cured by giving internal organs an overnight soak in Domestos, Boris Johnson was the one wishing he’d thought of that first. He’s not interested in the science. He’s only interested in the optics. He’s not interested in providing information. He’s only interested in winning favour. For Nicola Sturgeon this is first and foremost a public health crisis that she is responsible for dealing with. For Boris Johnson it’s a bit of a bother that somebody really needs to get sorted out.

When Nicola Sturgeon says it might be a good idea to cover your face in situations where social distancing is impractical or impossible, people listen and think it’s a sensible precaution that they may well heed her advice on. Unless they’re listening from inside the British media bubble. In which case they’re wondering whether to go with indignant outrage (Daily Express), pompous condemnation (Record), sarcastic mockery (Sun), look at those shoes! (Mail), subtle misrepresentation (Scotsman), crude misrepresentation (Herald), three-legged dog delivers newspapers in Fife village (BBC Scotland).

When Boris Johnson says we’ve “passed the peak” of the crisis people listen and think this is what he’s saying having been talked out of announcing the end of lockdown and urging everybody to go out in the streets and parks of England’s blessed isle and ‘Hug for Britain’! Unless they’re listening in those parts of this blessed isle where they think themselves sufficiently blessed that they can afford to elevate Boris Johnson to the status of national hero and praise him as the man who saved England from that “orrible foreign bug wot the immigrants brought in”.

You won’t hear Nicola Sturgeon using terms such as “passed the peak”. Not that she’s incapable of saying the wrong thing. While lauding her handling of the current public health crisis I don’t forget those aspects of her performance as First Minister which are, shall we say, less splendid. Nicola Sturgeon wouldn’t utter those words only partly because she’s a smart politician who knows better than to give such hostages to fortune – even if she fails to act accordingly all the time. Mainly, I would suggest, she is more cautious about optimistic statements because she genuinely understands the nature of the threat – in a way that Boris Johnson can’t. Or is not disposed to. Or is not equipped to.

There are signs that Boris Johnson is about to give in to pressure and announce some kind of exit strategy and recovery plan. Nicola Sturgeon is, I suspect, very much aware that the virus is not going away and while plans and promises about life after the virus may be what people want to hear but that what responsible governments should be working on is planning for life with the virus.

The likelihood is that the UK Government will opt for a phased end to lockdown with a rapid and escalating response to any signs of a fresh outbreak. They will prioritise “getting back to normal”. That is to say, restoring the status quo ante. The Scottish Government may well part company completely with London on this. I feel certain Nicola Sturgeon is determined to take a more cautious approach, trying to get ahead of the virus and cut it off before considering any easing of restrictions. Or, as The Scotsman would put it, trying to pick a fight with Westminster.

I know which of the two I’ll be listening to. I’m not at all confident that Boris Johnson knows the difference between a peak and a plateau.



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Scotland’s cause needs a leader

If you’re going to jump on a bandwagon then do it with style. Kevin McKenna shows how with his column in The National. I am not being derogatory at all when I say this. The ‘bandwagon’ idiom suggests only that someone has come late to an issue or cause. It need say nothing condemnatory about their motives for doing so. I don’t keep track of Mr McKenna’s mood swings. His evident anger at the SNP may not be new. What matters is that it is evidently real. What matters is that it is fully justified.

Kevin McKenna is jumping on a bandwagon at least in the sense that he is adding his voice to a growing clamour of protest directed not at the ‘auld enemy’ of the British establishment but at the de facto political arm of Scotland’s independence movement. Nothing that he says in his column has not been said by others, including myself. But he says it well enough that it sounds fresh. I congratulate and commend him for this.

Some would contend that there is already a Cummings-like figure in the SNP. Or at least a Cummings-like force. Our lizard brains respond most predictably and vehemently to an identifiable ‘enemy’. The demonisation of and individual is a direct appeal to our basest instincts. Which helps to explain the personality politics that we have grown inured to. The reality is, as Kevin McKenna suggests, that true personalities in politics are uncommon whereas forces are ubiquitous. Those forces can be likened to the eddies in the flow of a river. Little eddies want to become the currents which direct the flow. Minor personalities seek the eddies which have potential to become currents. A few have the skill to make it appear that they are the force pushing the current rather than the flotsam riding on it. Fewer still can actually manage and manipulate the tides of public affairs; and then on in ways that are small and short-lived on the grand scale of history.

I have previously pointed out that it is a mistake to regard Boris Johnson as an aberration. Rather, we should think of him as the inevitable product of a political system lost to corruption. Johnson would not be where he is had there not been a tide flowing within the British ruling elites such as to carry him there. Similarly, Dominic Cummings would not have gained the influence he evidently wields had he not been astute enough to see the way the wind was blowing, to mix my fluid mechanics metaphors slightly.

Is such a wind blowing through the SNP? Perhaps! Is there someone who can both take advantage of the current and aid its flow by removing obstacles? Maybe! The Yes movement will decide. Only party members can sort out the cliques and cabals within the SNP. Like it or not, they will require a leader in order to do so. That’s just the way politics works. You won’t change that by snootily opting out, But it is the Yes movement which will decide. The relationship between the two – party and movement – is symbiotic. As is common with such relationships, either can seem like parasite or host depending on how you look at it. In reality, it doesn’t matter which is which. They need each other. Neither is likely to cease to exist without the other. But neither can flourish and prosper unless they work together.

Kevin McKenna’s column will resonate with many people across Scotland this morning. It will resonate with more people this evening. and more still tomorrow. A tide is running through both the SNP and the wider independence movement. The feeling is becoming ever more general that something has to change. Something is needed that will take both movement and party and from them mould a campaign. A campaign which does not pause any more than does the flow of politics or the tides of history. A campaign dedicated to a cause.

A passage from Kevin McKenna’s article struck a chord with me.

Cummings is a formidable political operator who is doing for Boris Johnson what Alastair Campbell did for Tony Blair: protect him; knife his enemies; put the civil service back in its box, and maintain the integrity of the project.

The project! That is the thing. Boris Johnson’s project is Boris Johnson’s advancement. There are signs that he considers that project complete and has grown bored with it. (There are indication that he may want to play at being a father for a while. One can only pity the child if Boris Johnson brings to parenting the same ‘attributes’ as have been his gift to politics.) If there is a next stage in that advancement it is his further elevation – whether this be the award of a Dead Stoat Clock or the rewards accruing to an ‘elder statesman’ (see Tony Blair) – he can be confident that the corrupt British political system will take care of that for him. That’s both cause and symptom of the corruption.

Dominic Cummings has prospered by pairing his project with Johnson’s. He may have a project of his own but if he has it is one which is served by being subsumed into the one that occupies his master.

Neither has a cause. Neither is working towards a greater goal. Both Johnson and Cummings think only of the next phase of the project. The next obstacle to be removed from Boris Johnson’s path. The next political foe to be brought down. The next bit of power to be added to the fortifications of power protecting the power they already have. The difference between them is that Cumnmings approaches the project with a full set of very sharp intellectual tools while Johnson relies on some quality or capacity which I must confess remains a complete mystery to me. They have no cause. The reality they seek to create is whatever reality happen to be once the current stage of the project is finished. There is no master plan. There is nothing at the end of their rainbow. They have no rainbow.

Is this, as Kevin McKenna suggests, the kind of person (or force) that the SNP needs? My finer feelings say no! But my political instincts say yes! In this instance, head wins out over heart. Both the SNP and the Yes movement need an injection of cold, calculating political pragmatism. They both need the Cummings-like figure or force that McKenna describes. With one very important difference. This force must be deployed in the service, not of the party or the movement but the cause. Scotland’s cause! We have a cause where they have only a project. To the extent that we have a project that project has a plan and an objective. A greater goal.

What Scotland needs is someone who knows the difference between a movement and a party and a project and a campaign. Someone who understands the relationships between and among all these. Someone who possesses the technical skills, political acumen and personal qualities needed to draw all these strands together and make them work for Scotland’s cause. The cause of restoring Scotland’s independence.

Scotland’s cause needs a leader.



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Default assumptions

My default assumption is that the British government is wrong. Always wrong. Entirely wrong. Wrong in every sense of the word. This is not a position based on prejudice. It is a position arrived at by reason. It is a position that is informed by evidence. The British political elite invariably gets it wrong. Whether it is pursuing partition, invading Iraq, imposing austerity or quitting the EU, British politicians are unequivocally, demonstrably and appallingly wrong pretty much all of the time. There are reasons for this. That they so consistently get it wrong can be explained in terms of British exceptionalism and numerous other factors. But none of that matters here. What matters is that I have perfectly rational cause to take as my default assumption that the British are wrong.

Nicola Sturgeon has just as good reason to work from a similar assumption. But she doesn’t. On the contrary, she appears inexplicably eager to assume that the British government’s approach is the correct approach. Not even Boris Johnson and Brexit seem to have disabused her of this ‘quaint’ nation. The Section 30 debacle has been further indication of this tendency to be overly impressed by the glittery goldishness of the British way.

Even when Nicola Sturgeon openly disagrees with the British government – as with Brexit – she nonetheless insists on adhering to the ‘British way’ of dealing with that disagreement. Which is to treat it as if it is not, in fact, disagreement at all. Not in any effective way. It may be described as disagreement, but no action may be taken which reflects this. Disagree, but go along. That is what the British state expects of its annexed territories. Nicola Sturgeon is ever willing to oblige.

She went along with the British government’s approach to the coronavirus pandemic. In the early days, she was at pains to stress that there would be a unified UK-wide approach to dealing with the public health crisis. Which essentially meant not treating it as a crisis. We now know that the British government got it wrong. Boris Johnson was stupidly, perhaps criminally, negligent for the first few weeks of the Covid-19 outbreak. Weeks that were crucial to any effort to minimise deaths – if not economic disruption and social dislocation. That would have been a good time for our First Minister to adopt my default assumption that the British government is wrong. But that is not what she did.

Only now are we starting to see some signs that Nicola Sturgeon is prepared to contemplate a parting of the ways with Boris Johnson and the simultaneously sycophantic and treacherous clown troupe he has gathered around him. Only now is she talking about the possibility of Scotland doing things differently. Only now does she seem willing to consider quitting the fuckwit collective which, it must be acknowledged, she never looked comfortable being part of.

Only now are we getting hints that the First Minister may decline to follow Boris The Bonehead into a reckless and over-hasty relaxation of the lockdown. Again, guided by my default assumption that the British are wrong, I was way ahead of her on this. I was way ahead of here even before I read the advice being given to the British government by their experts. This, for example, from more than a month ago –

We show that intermittent social distancing – triggered by trends in disease surveillance – may allow interventions to be relaxed temporarily in relative short time windows, but measures will need to be reintroduced if or when case numbers rebound.

Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team

If the stupidity of this is obvious to me then why is it not just as apparent to Nicola Sturgeon? I can appreciate that it may be beyond the comprehension of someone like Boris Johnson. But I expect better of our First Minister. It’s neither rocket science nor epidemiology! Absent rigorous intervention, an infectious viral outbreak has only one “trend” and that is to become a pandemic. If you are behind it, reacting to its spread then you are, by definition, not preventing its spread. You are losing. You are allowing people to become unnecessarily ill and needlessly die in preference to taking action which is merely politically problematic and economically costly. In that one sentence we have more than ample justification for putting as much distance as possible between ourselves and the British way.

But even now, when no doubt worthy of consideration remains that the British government got it wrong on this as on so much that went before, Nicola Sturgeon only hesitantly, tentatively, reluctantly speaks of diverging from the path taken by the British government. A path which would seem to be leading to one of the highest death tolls from Covid-19. Why? Why is it so difficult for Nicola Sturgeon to act on the assumption that Scotland is a very different country from England and that we therefore require and deserve an approach tailored to our needs? Why was this not her assumption from the outset?

Taking distrust of the UK Government as her starting point would have cost her nothing. She would still have had the option of emulating their approach where this was deemed appropriate. Of course, she would be accused of politicising the the issue and picking fights with London. But she would be accused of this no matter what she did by people who are themselves intent on politicising the issue and forces which have been conducting a low-level political war against the Scottish Government for at least a decade. She had nothing to lose by emphasising an independent approach from the outset.

Of all people, is this not what we would expect from the leader of Scotland’s independence party? Should she not be constantly thinking and acting as if independence were her default assumption?



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The leaders we deserve

Ruth Wishart opens her column in The National by observing that the world is “crying out for strategic vision, humility and seriousness of purpose” and goes on to note the dearth of these attributes in US President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Few of us, I suspect, would dispute the latter claim. Rarely have two concepts jarred quite so nauseatingly as ‘strategic vision’ and ‘Brexit’. Humility requires a degree of self-awareness that must surely be fatal to such towering egos. Seriousness of purpose is as evident in Trump on Twitter as it is in Boris on a zip-wire. Neither of these persons exhibits any of the qualities that would commonly be associated with the role of political leader in either of the countries where they have been elevated to that status. But thus elevated they unarguably have been. Which seems strikingly inconsistent with Ruth’s assertion that the world is “crying out” for leaders possessing the qualities that Donald Trump and Boris Johnson so evidently and entirely lack.

I have it on good authority that he UK and the US are two of the world’s greatest democracies. The Greeks may have invented it, but it took the Brits and the Yanks to show them how democracy should be done. We’re not supposed to laugh when it is claimed that Westminster is the exemplar of democratic parliaments and mother to all others. We’re not supposed to grimace at the idea of America bringing the light of democracy to those dark corners of the world where the wrong forms of tyranny reign. And yet, both these supremely democratic nations have somehow managed to contrive for themselves political leaders who are the very antithesis of what they are supposedly crying out for. How is this possible? How can it be that in nations where the people possess the power to choose their political leaders, the people end up with political leaders only vanishingly few would choose?

How can it sensibly be claimed that the UK and US are functioning democracies at the same time as implying that they have had political leaders imposed upon them by some power other than the people? For this is surely what Ruth Wishart is implying. Nowhere in an article bemoaning the paucity of their qualifications for their respective roles does she acknowledge that ultimate responsibility for this grotesque mismatch between requirement and incumbent must rest with the people. In a democracy, the buck stops with the people.

With what some might see as a certain lack of humility, Ruth Wishart closes by seeking to contrast Scotland’s political leadership with those of the US and the UK. She says,

There will not be a posse of the hard of thinking picketing the Scottish Government offices demanding to be “liberated”. And there will not be a trio of Scottish Government spokespeople railing at China, the WHO or any other useful scapegoat. This is a time for grown-ups. The UK and US got a short straw.

However well Scotland comes out of this comparison, humility demands we recognise that it would be extremely difficult to come out badly. And, while it may well be that this is a time for “grown-ups”, it cannot just as truly be claimed that the UK and the US “got a short straw” – as if ending up with Donald Trump as US President and Boris Johnson as British Prime Minister were a matching pair of unforeseeable and unavoidable mishaps for which nobody is at fault. We, the people, are at fault! We must be! For none is above us!

The UK and US didn’t ‘get’ a short straw. They chose the short straw! As electorates, they knowingly opted for the short straws. It was no secret what kind of person Donald Trump is. Boris Johnson’s blustering buffoonery was not concealed. That both can claim to have been democratically elected according to the constitutions of their respective countries must reflect on the people of those countries. It is no defence for the people to maintain that the democratic systems are dysfunctional. The democratic system in a democratic nation is as much a product of the will of the people as the political leadership. If the democratic system is dysfunctional then it can only be because the people have made it that way. Or allowed it to become that way.

If the people of the US and the UK really were “crying out for strategic vision, humility and seriousness of purpose” than that is what they would have. The hard truth is that we all get the governments we deserve and the political leaders we deserve. Whether because we choose them or because we fail to prevent them being chosen by choosing differently. Either way, the people are responsible. Like it or not, our political leaders are a reflection of us – collectively.

It is futile to hope for strategic vision, humility and seriousness of purpose in our political leaders if such qualities are a relatively rare exception amongst the people.



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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 her motive and purpose in penning an article that is entirely about him. Why the prolonged anti-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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