Johnson’s game

During the 2014 referendum campaign when Better Together / Project Fear was peddling scare stories about Scotland being expelled and excluded from the European Union, one of the reasons I gave for discounting this possibility was the fact that the EU bureaucracy takes a pragmatic rather than a dogmatic approach to such issues. That pragmatism means they tend to be somewhat flexible in seeking to find ways of resolving issues which entail as few complications as possible. Which is why they would all but certainly have opted for the two successor states solution had Scotland voted Yes.

Boris Johnson has evidently learned the lesson of the EU’s pragmatism and flexibility. He took advantage of it to secure the semblance of a ‘new deal’ despite the EU insisting that negotiations were closed. He obviously assumes he will be able to pull off the same trick as regards securing something that can be portrayed as a ‘trade deal’ before the end of the transition period.

There is no way a fully worked-out trade deal can be completed in the time available. Not even if the UK administration was remotely competent. The evidence of Brexit tells us they are anything but that. Johnson is depending on the EU going along with his little ploy just for the sake of not stirring up a crisis.

Expect a rerun of the antics leading up to Johnson declaring that he had squeezed a brilliant new deal out of the EU. The trade negotiations will involve incessant carping about the EU not cooperating and trying to bully ‘poor little Britain’. Meanwhile, the tiniest movement on the part of the EU will be declared a major concession and a triumph for ‘powerhouse Britain’. The British will take exorbitant credit for anything that can be spun as a success by the British media. All criticism will be deflected onto the EU bureaucrats and, if possible, political opponents.

The EU could put a stop to these silly games. But they won’t. That would involve taking a firm stance of the kind that is not compatible with pragmatism.

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Empty lines

On December 12th, voters have the chance to send Boris Johnson a message and escape this Brexit fiasco once and for all.

The above quote is attributed by the Sunday National to SNP candidate for West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine, Fergus Mutch. It is not an original line. In fact, it is the line being pushed across the entire SNP election campaign at the moment – complete with the social media hashtag, #StopBrexit, and a rather intrusive gif. It’s a good line. That is to say, it sounds good. It has the superficial appeal common to all such glittering generalities. But neither Fergus Mutch nor, as far as I can determine, anyone else who speaks for the SNP has seen fit to explain or expand on the line in a way which might lift it out of the category of an emotionally appealing phrase amenable to being repeated with great conviction despite being devoid of supporting information or reason.

It looks good in a Tweet. It doubtless sounds good when parroted on the doorsteps. But what if somebody asks the obvious questions? What happens if Fergus Mutch, or any of the SNP campaigners instructed by the party to deploy this line, encounters an awkward bugger like myself who isn’t about to be satisfied with facile sloganeering?

What happens if somebody asks what message is being sent to Boris Johnson? Or why there might be any point in sending him any message at all?

What happens if somebody asks how this “Brexit fiasco” might be either escaped or stopped? What happens if they insist on being given an explanation of the process by which voting in a particular way – presumably for their local SNP candidate – on 12 December leads either to Scotland escaping an imposed Brexit or Brexit being stopped altogether?

Is it fair, or sensible, to send out candidates and campaigners to sell this line to voters without arming them to deal with such questions? And, if they have been armed with the answers, where might the rest of us access the relevant information?

While I’m on the subject of awkward questions, were we not assured that independence was to be at the heart of the SNP’s election campaign? Dare I suggest that #DissolveTheUnion is a lot closer to what we were promised than #StopBrexit. And it has the advantage of being something that could actually be done.

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All hypocrites together

Does anybody other than Jo Swinson believe that Jo Swinson might be the next British Prime MInister? She obviously believes it with all her mendacious, duplicitous, hypocritical heart. How else might she revoke Article 50 absent a new referendum on the matter – a so-called “peoples’ referendum”. Which, we note in passing, continues to be official Liberal Democrat policy despite the fact that Swinson made no mention of it.

Of course, she was speaking in Scotland. Like all British politicians, Swinson has two faces – the one she shows to voters in England, and the mask she puts on when she ventures north. In Scotland, she must occupy the throne recently vacated by Ruth Davidson. She must don the crown as ‘Queen of the BritNats’. She must strive to be the champion of British Nationalism in Scotland, because she is chasing the same votes that the ‘Ruth Davidson Say No To Indyref2 Party’ took in 2017. The votes of the most ardent British nationalists.

Although she has yet to be formally crowned by the British media, Swinson is the de facto ‘Queen of the BritNats’ and, as such, she must be as fervently opposed to a new independence referendum as her lately de-pedestalled predecessor. To avoid the accusations of hypocrisy and double-standards which inevitably follow from supporting a new referendum on EU membership whilst opposing a new referendum on restoring Scotland’s independence, Swinson has hit on the brilliantly simple tactic of omitting any mention of official Liberal Democrat policy on the former in the hope that nobody will contrast it with her opposition to the latter.

But then, we all do that, don’t we? We try to conceal or minimise inconvenient truths. I’m guilty myself. Look at how I’ve avoided alluding to the discomfiting hypocrisy of the SNP criticising Swinson for prioritising ‘Tory Brexit’ over Scotland’s cause.

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Realism and honesty

When I saw the headline Nicola Sturgeon lists demands to Jeremy Corbyn the first word to pop into my head was ‘why’. Why is Nicola Sturgeon making demands of the leader of the British Labour Party? He has no power to deliver on any of those demands. More to the point, he is very unlikely ever to have such power. Recent polling indicates the most likely outcome of the UK general election is a Conservative majority government at Westminster. The British Labour vote looks a lot more like “crumbling” than the British political elite’s determination to prevent a new independence referendum.

The polls can be wrong, of course. But even supposing British Labour did pull of an electoral miracle, the reality is any minority British Labour government that wanted to deliver any of its policies and sustain itself in government would do anything rather than rely on the support of the SNP. The imperative to preserve the Union transcends ideological differences and partisan rivalries that are, in any case, mostly theatrical. We know as a matter of absolute fact that the British parties will collude to thwart Scotland’s independence movement. We know this because they have done so in the recent past.

In theory, the SNP would have “significant influence and significant power” over a minority British Labour government. In practice, even the Tories would contrive to come to their aid if this was what was required to protect their “precious” Union. And the same is true of the Liberal Democrats – who may also have “significant influence and significant power” in the event of a minority government under Jeremy Corbyn.

Nicola Sturgeon observes that,

Jeremy Corbyn is somebody who supports self-determination for literally every other country in the world, it would be quite strange if he didn’t support it for Scotland.

No it wouldn’t! It wouldn’t be strange at all. In the context of British politics, duplicity, hypocrisy and mendacity are perfectly normal. It’s what we expect.

The British Labour Party has been as slippery on the matter of a new independence referendum as on many other issues. Nicola Sturgeon chooses to see this vacillation as opposition to a new referendum “crumbling before our eyes”. But it is at least as likely to be nothing more than reluctance to be as explicit about such opposition as the other British parties. A feeble effort to find a distinct position on the issue. A forlorn attempt to appeal to independence supporting traditional British Labour voters in Scotland whilst avoiding heaping further humiliation on the local chap up there – what’s his name? – Richard something?

But why are we even talking about deals with British Labour when, if the polls are anything like accurate, Nicola Sturgeon will be facing a triumphant Boris Johnson on 13 December? What is her thinking about that scenario?

… this election is a great opportunity for us to show Boris Johnson exactly what we think of such a contemptuous and disrespectful attitude towards Scottish democracy.

Undoubtedly, it is. And undoubtedly we should. We most assuredly must use this election to demonstrate our rejection of imposed British governments and our determination to defend Scotland’s democracy. But let us not be under any illusions! If Boris Johnson – and British politicians in general – are as contemptuous of Scottish democracy as Nicola Sturgeon says, why would they be at all concerned about any message the people of Scotland send via the ballot box?

Nicola Sturgeon says,

… the position Boris Johnson articulated yesterday is not a sensible, serious or sustainable position – that he will block Scottish democracy forever and a day.

As with the comment about Jeremy Corbyn’s support for self-determination above, this fails to recognise the nature of British politics. A position doesn’t have to be “sensible” or “serious” to be totally “sustainable” in the context of British politics. Look at the Mad Brexiteers! If ever there was a position that defied logic and rationality it is the determination to take the UK out of the EU in the absence of any compelling reason; any viable plan; and any credible alternative. For all the self-evident insanity of Brexit, it is happening. An insane position has proven to be perfectly sustainable.

Boris Johnson is not going to back down in the face of Scottish public opinion. There is no reason why he would. The polls suggest a majority approaching 100. With such a majority, he can pretty much do as he pleases. He may well contrive a no-deal Brexit. He will certainly dismiss Nicola Sturgeon’s demand for a Section 30 order.

Nicola Sturgeon notes that,

Nothing Boris Johnson has said in his short time as Prime Minister has turned out to be the case, so perhaps that should give us all hope for the future.

I note that, despite what must be the most disastrous premiership ever, Boris Johnson is still there. The malicious child-clown hasn’t been harmed at all by all those defeats in the House of Commons and the courts. He has come unscathed through numerous scandals. He lies with total impunity. So perhaps that should bid us despair for the future.

This is not intended as an attack on Nicola Sturgeon. Although it will inevitably be portrayed as such by those who have nothing more meaningful to say. All I’m doing is attempting to inject a bit of political reality into the discourse. And, maybe, a bit of honesty into the election campaign.

Asked if she would compromise on the timing of the new independence referendum in order to strike a deal with the British Labour minority government that almost certainly isn’t going to be more than hypothetical, Nicola Sturgeon responded saying that the timescale is “not for Westminster politicians to determine”. The reality is that the Section 30 process to which she has committed means that Westminster politicians can determine the timescale. Committing to the Section 30 process puts that power in the hands of those Westminster politicians. They can drag out negotiations on Edinburgh Agreement 2 for as long as they wish. And even as those negotiations are laboriously conducted, they can implement all manner of measures to hinder or prevent the referendum.

That is the reality. And I see no reason why we should not be honest about it. All it does is prove, as if further proof were needed, that the Union is disastrously detrimental to Scotland. It makes voting for the SNP in this election even more clearly an absolute imperative. Because, bad as the reality may be with a massive vote for the SNP, it will be many times worse without it.

By voting SNP in this UK general election and sending 50+ SNP MPs to Westminster, we at least keep our options open. When reality hits and the fantasy of British goodwill, good grace and good faith evaporates, only such an expression of our determination to defend Scotland’s democracy will sustain Scotland’s cause. It may seem horribly ironic, but is only by voting SNP that we can be prepared for whatever happens when the Section 30 process fails.

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Forget Scotland!

The British Nationalist threat to Scotland’s health service is not new. It predates Boris Johnson’s undeserved elevation by several years. All that has changed is that we now have a British Prime Minister who is so contemptuous of Scotland and its people as to speak openly of the British state’s malign intent.

You’d have to be terminally naive to suppose the British political elite weren’t itching to get their greedy paws on NHS Scotland. Absorbing Scotland’s public health service into one of those “UK-wide common frameworks” that David Mundell wasn’t considered capable of managing serves the purposes of the ‘One Nation’ project very well. For a start, it would be an important step in neutralising the Scottish Parliament. Stripping Holyrood of its most significant powers has to be a priority for British Nationalists as they seek to eradicate Scotland’s distinctive political culture.

Few things better symbolise Scotland’s distinctive political culture than NHS Scotland. For that reason alone, it must be considered a prime target for seizure by the British state.

All the preparations are in place. There is a new unelected and unaccountable shadow administration called ‘The UK Government in Scotland’ waiting to take over all the powers added to the reserved list appended to the Scotland Act (1998). Curiously, the legislation which allows the British Prime Minister to do this is Nicola Sturgeon’s favourite, Section 30. Here’s what it says.

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

For “Her Majesty” read the British Prime Minister. Schedules 4 and 5 are basically the choke-chain and muzzle put on Holyrood to stop the Sweaties getting ideas above their subordinate station. Section 30, as should now be clear, is an additional safety mechanism in case the choke-chain and muzzle don’t hold. It means the British executive can rewrite the Scotland Act to add anything to the list of reserved powers or protected provisions.

These powers are reserved and provisions protected for a reason. The British ruling elite would only accept devolution on condition there was no possibility that the Union could be compromised. The Union has to be protected at all costs because it is crucial to the British state’s conceit of itself as a global power. Without the Union – without Scotland – the rump of what had been the UK would not be able to strut the world stage with the big boys. The Jocks could have their pretendy Parliament. But it must always be under Westminster’s heel.

Needless to say, money comes into it as well. Particularly with the whole Brexit shambles. It is hardly a secret that the avaricious hyenas of corporate America are sniffing and slobbering around England’s NHS. The health service down south has been weakened to the point where it is easy prey for those who regard health-care solely as a source of profit.

But those US corporations want the lot. They won’t do a deal while part of the ‘English’ NHS is under the control of those ‘pinko liberals’ in Edinburrow. The British government needs those deals with the US. So they have to seize NHS Scotland. Simple as that.

If we don’t restore Scotland’s independence very soon, you can forget healthcare free at the point of need. You can forget a lot of other things as well. You can forget a fracking-free Scotland. You can forget universal benefits. In fact, you can forget the Scotland we know and the Scotland to which we aspire.

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Being used

Nicola Sturgeon is being somewhat disingenuous when she speaks of the “SNP plan”. Ian Blackford has been roped in by Jo Swinson; apparently without consulting his colleagues. The “plan” to which the First Minister refers is a Liberal Democrat plan. If it’s their plan, then we have to assume that they intend it to work to their advantage. Quite why Nicola Sturgeon and Ian Blackford suppose that the SNP and/or Scotland stand to gain from serving as Jo Swinson’s side-kick remains to be explained.

When any politician – Nicola Sturgeon most emphatically not excluded – says ‘there’s no other way’ then we may assume two things. Firstly, that there almost certainly is another way. Secondly, that they don’t want anybody scrutinising the way they are saying is the only way. They say ‘there’s no alternative’ when they’ve made a bad choice. Or when they’ve made a choice for bad reasons and want to pretend that it was out of their hands. So, it pays us to look at how this choice is justified.

Only a few days ago, Ian Blackford was describing the idea of a December election as “barking mad”. What changed his mind? How did this go, in the space of a couple of days, from being a totally daft idea to the only sensible course of action? Mr Blackford alone can answer that question. Until he does, we can only deduce his reasoning from his actions. And it looks very much as if he was ‘got at’ by the LibDems in some way. Somehow, they have persuaded him that partnering them in this little ploy was going to give him something that he wants.

According to Nicola Sturgeon, the putative gain from forcing a general election on 9 December is twofold – stopping Johnson pushing through his ‘deal’; and preventing a no-deal Brexit at the end of whatever extension might be granted by the EU. But, as Angus MacNeil correctly points out, this is a bit of a non sequitur. The claimed outcome does not necessarily follow from the action taken or proposed.

We first of all have to wonder about that action. Jo Swinson and Ian Blackford have written to EU Council president Donald Tusk. I’m sure Mr Tusk will respond as politely as he may. But why should he have any regard for a letter from two of the opposition parties in the British parliament? Not even from the official opposition, but from the leaders of two ‘lesser’ parties. The EU deals with the elected governments of member states. They do not deal with political parties. Not even the governing party. Only with the government.

There is no reason whatever to suppose the Swinson-Blackford letter will carry any weight at all. Even if Mr Tusk was minded to be influenced by it, the decision on an Article 50 extension is made by the governments of the member nations, not the president of the EU Council.

And what does the letter ask for? Only what was all but certainly going to be granted anyway. So, what is the point of the exercise? If/when the extension is agreed, will Jo Swinson and Ian Blackford claim credit? If so, they will be roundly and deservedly mocked. That’s not much of a gain.

Whether they can deliver on the 9 December election is also highly dubious. But let’s suppose they can. What might this achieve? The likely outcome of an immediate election – to the extent that anything can be described as ‘likely’ amid the current political chaos – is a UK Parliament dominated by British Nationalist Brexiteers to an even greater extent than at present. If, as is often assumed, these forces want a no-deal Brexit, then a UK general election makes that outcome more likely, not less.

If there is no decisive win for the Mad Brexiteers, then the next most likely outcome is a less-than-decisive win for the Mad Brexiteers. If they are forced to compromise then there is only Boris Johnson’s ‘deal’ to fall back on. There is no chance of another new ‘deal’. The EU went above and beyond what was required of them when they reopened negotiations. There is no possibility that they will do so again. So, if an election means there is to be a ‘deal’ it has to be the one that the Scottish Government has said is unacceptable.

No doubt the LibDems are hoping that an election will put them in a position to demand a new EU referendum. This doesn’t look likely, the way the polls stand. But a ‘people’s vote’ would almost certainly require another extension. The patience of the EU member states is not infinite. It would not be at all surprising if one or two governments broke ranks and vetoed any further extension.

Even if there was a new EU referendum, what are the chances it would resolve anything? Practically non-existent. We’d all end up pretty much back where we are now.

There is another justification (rationalisation?) for Ian Blackford’s action offered by an SNP spokesperson – getting rid of Boris Johnson. Is that likely to be the outcome of a general election? Even if Johnson were to be removed, would whoever replaces him be any better? What does Scotland stand to gain from a change of British Prime Minister?


Because it’s not Boris Johnson that’s the problem. Nor is it Brexit – with or without a deal. The problem is the Union. The problem is the grotesque constitutional anomaly which means Scotland will invariably have imposed on it British Prime Ministers and British governments and British policies that the people of Scotland did not vote for or explicitly rejected through the ballot box.

It will doubtless be argued that, in a UK general election, the SNP are likely to enjoy a landslide victory in Scotland on a scale similar to that of 2015. But what advantage did the SNP winning 56 out of 59 seats bring to Scotland? Obviously, it is better than the alternative. At least we can assume that SNP MPs will actually represent and defend Scotland’s interests. But how effective can they ever be? Even if the SNP group held the balance of power in numerical terms, the British parties would never allow them to use that power in any meaningful way.

Ian Blackford is getting the SNP group at Westminster embroiled in the British political game in an effort to at least look effective. But no good ever comes of getting into bed with the treacherous Liberal Democrats, or partnering with someone as brazenly self-serving as Jo Swinson. Blackford may imagine he’s formed an alliance. Swinson sees it as her using the SNP.

Angus MacNeil is right. As far as Scotland is concerned, there is absolutely nothing to be gained from a UK general election. There is nothing to be gained from Scotland’s presence in the parliament of England-as-Britain. Nor will there ever be.

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Damping the fire

Associating Scotland’s independence cause with Brexit must surely count among history’s great political blunders. The mandate for a new constitutional referendum in Scotland was never formally made contingent on Scotland actually being wrenched from the EU despite a decisive Remain vote. That’s not what the SNP’s 2016 manifesto says no matter how many idiots in the independence movement claim otherwise – invariably without having taken the trouble to read the relevant part of the document in question. But it cannot be denied that the SNP leadership have subsequently committed themselves wholeheartedly to linking the two issues of Brexit and a second independence referendum.

Scotland’s cause demands a certain amount of passion. People are not passionate about the EU. They just aren’t. There are no pro-EU counterparts to the ranting Europhobes with whom we’ve all become familiar over the past forty or fifty years. There are no Raving Remainers equivalent to the Mad Brexiteers who created the current mess. Lots of people hate the EU. A few even have reasons which rescue their detestation from total mindlessness. But nobody loves the EU. Not among the electorate.

There are people who understand why the EU exists. There are people who appreciate what the EU has achieved. There are even some who understand how it works. These people have not been taken in by the constant drip-feed of anti-EU propaganda that turned to a torrent before and during the 2016 referendum. They see the EU for what it is – a flawed but functioning attempt to create a novel form of post-imperialist international association. They recognise that, if the EU did not exist, it would be necessary to create something all but indistinguishable from what we have. They are pragmatic about the EU. They are not passionate about the EU.

Putting Brexit at the centre of Scotland’s cause has proved to be a very bad mistake. The cause of restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status needed no further justification. It is, and always has been, fully warranted by the inherent injustice of the Union. Self-evidently wrong as it is to act contrary to the democratic will of Scotland’s people, the core issue is not Brexit, but the Union which strips Scotland’s people of the right to have their democratic will honoured.

Brexit was never going to fuel the drive to restore Scotland’s independence. It simply doesn’t burn hot enough in the lives of Scottish voters. Scotland being dragged out of the EU against its will may stand as a particularly egregious example of how the Union serves us ill, but it clearly is not the issue that might unleash the passion needed to take the independence project forward.

Forty months on and after countless ‘poor-us-it’s-not-fair’ plaints from the SNP, there is still no sign of the hoped-for Brexit effect. Still no indication that the infinite patience approach is paying off. Scotland’s metaphorical cheeks are raw from being ever more viciously slapped by the British political elite. And still we are assured that stoically accepting yet more abuse is the winning strategy.

Eventually, we are told, people will realise the economic cost of Brexit and make the calculation that independence is a viable alternative. But Scotland’s cause is a matter of principle, not policy. It cannot be reduced to a pound value. To make that cause about economics rather than the anti-democratic injustice of the Union is to rip the heart from it and replace it with a calculator.

Whatever their conceit of themselves, people don’t vote on the basis of facts and figures. They vote on the basis of feelings. Their decisions come down to where they sit on the spectrum of fear/hope. They can feel enthusiastic. Or they can feel angry. Or they can feel despondent. It is that feeling which informs and drives their choices and not the mass of confusing, conflicting, contradictory data that is thrown at them. The graphs and charts and spreadsheets are useful only as a way of rationalising decisions made on the basis of how they feel.

When it comes to the EU, the vast majority of people don’t feel anything very much. A relatively tiny number are fervently opposed. Almost none have strong feelings in favour. Wrapping Scotland’s cause in Brexit was a sure way of damping down the fire that was lit eight years ago, and which still blazed in the aftermath of the 2014 referendum. Unless that was the intention – which I do not suppose to be the case – then the SNP’s obsessive focus on Brexit must be considered a serious misjudgement.

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