Federalism fails

When British Labour brings out the ‘F’ word it’s because they fail to recognise three things.

  1. For any federal settlement to be acceptable to the people of Scotland it would have to be freely negotiated in a way that is not possible under the conditions imposed by the Union. Scotland’s independence would have to be restored first.
  2. No federal settlement can address the issue of asymmetry and be acceptable to the people of both Scotland and England. Parity would, with justification, be perceived as relegation by the people of England. Disparity would, by definition, fail to address one of the principal issues with the Union leaving Scotland no better off.
  3. No federal settlement can possibly achieve anything which couldn’t be better achieved by a new form of association freely negotiated between two nations in an atmosphere of parity of status, mutual respect and commonality of interest which can only exist with the restoration of Scotland’s independence.

Federalism either couldn’t possibly be negotiated, couldn’t possibly resolve the main issues or would leave an evidently better settlement which the people of both England and Scotland must surely aspire to and strive for.



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Confusion and betrayal

There is no confusion at all about British Labour’s position on independence. Or their position on a new referendum. Their position on both is exactly the same as the position of the other British political parties. They are fervently opposed to independence and absolutely determined that there should be no new referendum. If there is any mystery here it concerns why anybody would be in the slightest doubt about Jeremy Corbyn’s British Nationalist leanings.

If people are confused it can only be because they’re making the two-fold error of listening to what Corbyn and other British Labour mouthpieces say and supposing these utterances should be taken seriously. They hear the inconsistencies and contradictions and strive to figure what is true. The reality is very simple. None of it is true!

All British politicians are bound by the imperative to preserve the Union. That imperative overrides everything. It certainly overrides considerations of democratic principle. It even overrides electoral expediency. Although some British politicians think they can conceal the truth of the matter in a fog of words. Hence the inconsistencies and contradictions. Hence the confusion among those who attend to the words instead of looking to what lies behind them. Instead of looking to the underlying imperative.

Not that Corbyn et al will be at all troubled by any confusion they cause. Where it is necessary to have different messages for different constituencies, inconsistency and contradiction are unavoidable. The idea then is to make a virtue of necessity. To ensure that the confusion is used to advantage. If your position is sufficiently vague and ambivalent, then it can be whatever you need it to be at any given time or whatever circumstances may arise. More importantly, it can be whatever potential voters want it to be.

More commonly than any of us like to admit, our electoral choices are emotional rather than rational. We like to think we’re making decisions on the basis of factual information and rational assessment. We are not comfortable admitting the extent to which facts and figures are used to put a varnish of reason on conclusion that owe more to our hormones than our neurones.

There are a great many ‘traditional Labour’ voters in Scotland who no longer vote according to tradition – mainly because they support the restoration of Scotland’s independence. A significant proportion of these ‘traditional Labour’ voters crave an excuse to get back to what was good enough for their forebears. If Corbyn says something that allows them to rationalise reverting to their old ways, they will seize it with relish. They will go back to voting for British Labour candidates having convinced themselves that the party is committed to ‘allowing’ a new independence referendum. They will even be able to quote something Jeremy Corbyn has said to ‘prove’ that they are not being conned.

These ‘traditional Labour’ backsliders will be aided in this process of rationalising their instinctual choice by the rhetoric of the other British parties as they accuse British Labour of planning to betray the precious Union by conspiring and colluding with the hated SNP.

Anybody in Scotland who votes for a British Labour candidate on the grounds that the party will ‘countenance’ a new independence referendum is a gullible fool. Even if Jeremy Corbyn were to become British Prime Minister – and there’s very little chance of that – he would be no more likely to respect the democratic will of Scotland’s people than Boris Johnson. When it comes to the ‘Scottish problem’, there is not a scintilla of difference between them.

No British politician will respect Scotland’s democracy if doing so puts their precious Union in jeopardy. If you vote for any of the British parties, you are voting to be treated with contempt. There’s no need to be confused about that.



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Westminster Syndrome

For the record, I don’t think our SNP MPs need any reminding that they were sent to Westminster to settle up. not settle in. I fully understand the frustration which drives people to say such things. But I just don’t think the accusation is justified. The SNP group at Westminster works hard for Scotland and for the cause of independence. If it sometimes seems otherwise then bear in mind that they are but a small group within a largely hostile parliament, and that they are severely constrained by the arcane procedures and archaic customs of that benighted place. But I simply don’t accept that there is any danger of them forgetting why they are there. They, more than anyone, are subject to constant reminders of how alien and uncongenial the parliament of England-as-Britain is for those who come to it from the periphery of the British state and a very different political culture.

This is not to say that SNP MPs remain unaffected by the experience of being in the festering heart of British politics. Everything about Westminster is designed to impress and intimidate. The pomp and ceremony; the outlandish costumes; the anachronistic language, is all contrived to make the individual feel small and insignificant. The exaggerated theatrics are intended to invest the place and all its doings with a mighty, majestic irresistible authority. The message comes across loud and clear; submit to the system, or be irrelevant. Allow yourself to be absorbed into the system, or prepare to be crushed by it.

Remember your first day at ‘big’ school? Remember that feeling of being overwhelmed by everything? That is the feeling that Westminster is supposed to engender constantly in those sent there by voters. The great edifices and ceremonials of religion and the temples of industrial and commercial power are designed to have the same impact. They are designed to make mere people seem small.

It would be naive to think our MPs might be immune to the effect of being inside a machine built and organised to induce simpering deference. Even if that machine has lost some of its potency as a result of people having become accustomed to built environments and civil institutions on a non-human scale, the wholed Westminster thing has to make some kind of impression.

We might call it the ‘Westminster Syndrome’. A range of symptomatic attitudes and behaviours associated with being swallowed up by the British political system, particularly while not being – or resisting being – part of that culture. As with any such syndrome, the symptoms vary both in form and degree. At one extreme there is complete absorption – becoming as one with the system. These are the MPs who have taken the myth of British exceptionalism entirely to heart. The ones for whom the facade and charade of Westminster is reality. At the other end of the spectrum there is total defiance, best exemplified by the Sinn Féin MPs who refuse to take their seats. In between there varying degrees of resistance to Westminster’s influence. Some of it more for show that for any other purpose. The tolerated rebels and beloved eccentrics are part of Westminster’s mythology.

What we see in SNP MPs is, not an inclination to ‘settle in’, but a susceptibility to Westminster’s malign influence. To a varying extent, they exhibit symptoms of ‘Westminster Syndrome’. Most notably – and most disturbingly – a tendency to suppose that they may rely on the goodwill, good grace and good faith of the British establishment. A disposition to accept that part of the Westminster myth which borrows on the associations of an ancient institution and ‘old-fashioned’ values to convey the notion that the British establishment can be trusted.

There’s more than a bit of doublethink about this, of course. In one breath SNP politicians such as Ian Blackford and Pete Wishart tell us how erratic, unreliable and untrustworthy the British political elite is. In the next breath they urge us to be patient and trust that the same elite will,.in time, make good on its promises and keep faith with those who enter into electoral or parliamentary ‘arrangements’ with British political parties.

Ian Blackford strongly hints at a possible ‘deal’ with British Labour. Something short of actual coalition, but presumably some sort of confidence and supply agreement contingent on British Labour granting a Section 30 order. Mr Blackford seems to suppose that British Labour can be trusted to deliver. He appears convinced that British Labour will not to renege on any deal with the SNP group at the very first opportunity. He is evidently suffering from ‘Westminster Syndrome’.

To many – perhaps most – people in the independence movement the term ‘British Labour’ is synonymous with betrayal. Not being subject to the pernicious influence of Westminster, we are not easily persuaded to trust the party which colluded with the Tories in Project Fear. Not being prey to the effects of proximity to Westminster we are not at all inclined to rely on the goodwill, good grace and good faith of any of the British establishment parties.

We have no illusions about British politicians. We know what Ian Blackford and his colleagues seem to have forgotten – that British Nationalists will do absolutely anything to preserve their ‘precious Union’. We know, from bitter experience, that they consider dishonesty, deceit, defamation and treachery to be perfectly justifiable in the name of defending the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.

We expect nothing from British politicians but perfidy. We anticipate that they will renege on any deal. We assume that, even now, British Labour is planning how to wriggle out of its end of any bargain struck with the SNP. We realise that, in political and electoral terms, British Labour has nothing to lose by ‘doing the dirty’ on the SNP. In fact, few things would better enhance their credibility with those whose votes they are chasing than being seen to have ‘outwitted’ the hated SNP.

Perhaps the worst effect of ‘Westminster Syndrome’ is the way those afflicted get drawn into playing the British political game. There are troubling signs that some SNP MPs are being sucked into the politics of England-as-Britain to the detriment of their responsibilities to the people of Scotland. To those of us who see Westminster as already irrelevant to Scotland’s politics, this is hard to swallow.

Scotland’s interests, needs, priorities and aspirations can only be served by Scotland’s Parliament. Wheeling and dealing at Westminster is the old way. Our SNP MPs must shake off that ‘Westminster Syndrome’ and adopt a fresh mindset which puts the Scottish Parliament and Scotland’s distinctive political culture back at the centre of their thinking. Such a ‘Scotland-centred’ mindset precludes putting trust in British Labour or any part of the British establishment.



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The habit of treachery

It is always good for the people of Scotland to be reminded that we simply cannot trust British Labour.

Anybody who was naive enough to fall for the recent ‘assurances’ from Corbyn and McDonnell that they would not stand in the way of a new independence referendum is probably stupid enough to have missed the point that these ‘assurances’ presumed the right to stand in the way of that referendum. Corbyn and McDonnell, just like their counterparts in the other British parties, take it for granted that the British state has the authority to deny Scotland’s right of self-determination. They assume that the Union bestows this right on any British executive regardless what colour of rosette they sport.

Apologists for British Labour will doubtless seek to dismiss this back-pedalling on those earlier assurances as just the British Labour leadership throwing a bone to the craven curs in their North British branch office. But those of us who have not forgotten or forgiven British Labour’s treacherous complicity with the Tories in the 2014 referendum campaign will realise that if they can treat the existing mandate for a referendum with such casual contempt then there is no rational reason to suppose they won’t do the same with the next one. And the one after that.

Why should British Labour, or any of the British parties, feel bound by any of the assurances they offer to Scotland when the Union gives them licence to indulge in whatever deception or dishonesty may be politically expedient? If they assume they have the rightful authority to treat Scotland’s Parliament and people with contempt, surely we would be extremely foolish to assume that they would shy away from exercising that power.

It cannot sensibly be denied that the constitutional issue is central to Scotland’s politics. The people of Scotland would do well to remember that, in terms of this overwhelmingly important issue, there is absolutely nothing to distinguish British Labour from British Conservatives of any other British party. They are all Unionist by conviction. They will never respect the will of Scotland’s people if doing so might in any way compromise their ‘precious Union’.



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No change

Tommy Sheppard tells us that British Labour’s still highly dubious acceptance of Scotland’s right of self-determination is a “long-standing position”. Which is odd given the following from British Labour’s 2017 UK general election manifesto.

Labour opposes a second Scottish independence referendum. It is unwanted and unnecessary, and we will campaign tirelessly to ensure Scotland remains part of the UK.

British Labour Manifesto 2017

That statement is still on British Labour’s website.

In September 2018, Jeremy Corbyn told the BBC,

We don’t want another referendum, we don’t think another referendum is a good idea, and we’ll be very clear on why we don’t think it’s a good idea.

Labour to block new Scottish independence vote

And, of course, British Labour in Scotland has always been fanatically committed to denying the fundamental democratic rights of Scotland’s people.

How’s that “long-standing position” looking now, Tommy?

It never ceases to amaze me how easily those who profess themselves on the independence-supporting left of Scotland’s politics succumb to the inexplicable allure of British Labour. It often seems that they spend their lives on tenterhooks just waiting for some soundbite that they can seize upon as an excuse to discount the gross betrayal of British Labour making common cause with the Tories in the appalling campaign to deny the sovereignty of Scotland’s people. The party’s participation in Better Together / Project Fear is, with ample justification, regarded as totally unforgivable by many (most?) in the Yes movement. But there are some for whom British Labour has the same irresistibly magnetic appeal as the mother ship has for alien visitors.

There is a more general feature of British politics at play here. The notion, powerfully encouraged by the media, that only the latest thing matters. History is treated as a series of discrete events linked only in those ways which happen to fit the current narrative. Everything is a one-off, unless it’s convenient that a pattern should be identified. Every wrong-doer is a ‘lone wolf’ or a ‘bad apple’ unless it’s useful for them to be associated with some out-group. The public are evidently reckoned to be incapable of dealing with anything more complex than a single soap-opera plot-line, and assumed to have an attention span no greater than the length of this sentence.

I’m not suggesting Tommy Sheppard has fallen foul of this ‘syndrome’. And there is much merit in his argument that “while we remain part of the UK, it is better for Scotland that it is governed from the left”. But the idea that British Labour offers any hope for Scotland just seems utterly naive. The idea that “there’s a deal to be done” with Jeremy Corbyn is politically misguided. The idea that any British party can be trusted relies on a ‘blanking’ of recent history that borders on the pathological.

British Labour is a party of the British establishment. It is a British Nationalist party. It will renege on any deal without hesitation or guilt because anything is justified in the name of preserving the Union. To imagine that Jeremy Corbyn’s British Labour is any different from the British Labour of Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband, Alistair Darling or Richard Leonard is to embrace a dangerous delusion.



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All the policies anybody could want!

It’s not often any thinking person finds cause to agree with the odious Jackie Baillie, but she is perfectly correct in reminding her bosses that ““Scottish party policy is very clear”. It is very clearly as arrogantly anti-democratic as Tory policy on the matter of Scotland’s right of self-determination. As dogmatically anti-democratic as the policies of all the British parties. They all state emphatically that their policy is to deny Scotland’s democratic right of self determination. Each is as anti-democratic as they others.

Where Baillie bids farewell to reality and departs for the land of dumb delusion is when she says,

… Labour’s position on Scotland’s future is a decision for Scottish Labour, which the UK party must accept.

This is just wrong. There is no ‘Scottish Labour Party’. There is only the British Labour Party. The entity calling itself the ‘Scottish Labour’ is, in fact, ‘British Labour in Scotland’ (BLiS). Not being a party, BLiS has absolutely no policy-making powers. And no party may present different policies to different constituencies. That’s the law! One party! One policy! The reality that Jackie Ballie has lost her tenuous grip on is precisely the opposite of what she asserts. British Labour’s position on Scotland’s future is a matter for British Labour. And the pretendy wee party in Scotland must accept that policy.

It gets weirder. Because, notwithstanding Ballie’s tantrums, British Labour’s policy on the matter of a new independence referendum actually accords with that of BLiS, even though there is no need for it to do so. British Labour’s 2017 election manifesto spells it out in no uncertain terms. In a section titled – with unwittingly hilarious irony and characteristic hypocrisy – ‘Extending Democracy’, we find the following.

Labour opposes a second Scottish independence referendum. It is unwanted and unnecessary, and we will campaign tirelessly to ensure Scotland remains part of the UK. Independence would lead to turbo-charged austerity for Scottish families.

British Labour Manifetso 2017

Evidently, democracy isn’t to be extended as far as Scotland. That passage could have been written by Jackie Baillie herself. Or any British Nationalist ideologue from any of the British parties. So what is she making such a fuss about?

It seems she’s upset about some remarks made by one of her many superiors which, on the face of it, appear to state another British Labour policy which is perfectly clear. Former Scottish Labour Party chairman Bob Thomson points out that McDonnell’s position is “a restatement of existing, long-standing Scottish Labour Party [sic] policy”. He reminds all concerned that policy dates from the 1989 Claim of Right,

…which was signed by every Labour MP – including Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling – except Tam Dalyell and endorsed by the annual conference of the Scottish party.

Bob Thomson goes on to explain,

This position has never been rescinded. There is also a lot of hypocrisy from Labour MPs and MSPs who support a second referendum on Brexit but oppose a second referendum on independence, the democratic principles are the same. (emphasis added)

The particular and relevant “democratic principle” to which Bob Thomson refers is stated in the opening words of the 1989 Claim of Right.

We, gathered as the Scottish Constitutional Convention, do hereby acknowledge the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs…

Claim of Right 1989

This is as explicit an acknowledgement of Scotland’s right of self-determination as we might wish for.

Remember what I said about “One party! One policy!”? Well, it seems I was wrong. Because British Labour clearly has two policies (at least) on the matter of Scotland’s right of self-determination. John McDonnell says one thing, backed-up by British Labour’s extant endorsement of the Claim of Right. Jackie Baillie says the opposite supported by British Labour’s 2017 general election manifesto. British Labour simultaneously acknowledges and denies Scotland’s right of self-determination.

Confused? You will be! Because, while the position referred to by John MCDonnell must take precedence over that stated by Jackie Baillie – he speaking for the real party while she speaks for a bit of the pretendy one (don’t ask!) – that isn’t British Labour’s true position. Their true position is the one stated by Baillie. The anti-democratic position which denies Scotland’s right of self-determination is the reality behind the soothingly democratic facade presented by McDonnell.

As I wrote at the time,

John McDonnell is undertaking to respect the Scottish Parliament. not now but at some unspecified time in the future, because he is as certain as he needs to be that there will be no Scottish Parliament by that time.

He is undertaking to respect the democratic will of the people of Scotland, not now but at some unspecified time in the future, because he is confident the Tories have a plan to ensure that the people of Scotland are prevented from ever deciding the constitutional status of our nation or choosing the form of government that best suits our needs.

John McDonnell is attempting to deceive the people of Scotland in the name of preserving the Union. Don’t be fooled!

Read the words!

You could devote time and effort to untangling this web of lies and deceit. Or you could simply accept that it is a web of lies and deceit and that this is all you need to know.



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Read the words!

If I am cynical about British Labour it’s for good reason. This is a party of back-stabbers who have no qualms about turning their blades on voters should self-interest demand it. They betrayed Scotland for their precious Union before. They will do so again. They colluded with the Tories in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum campaign because of their mutual interest in maintaining the structures of power, privilege and patronage which constitute the British state. Those structures have not changed. Nor has the shared imperative of the British establishment parties to keep a political system which serves them well, even as it fails the people in all manner of tragic ways.

In an otherwise rather silly column which imagines British Labour supporting independence, Kevin McKenna notes that their operation in Scotland hasn’t changed since the British parties lost control of Holyrood. Discussing what he persists in calling ‘Scottish Labour’, McKenna observes that British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) “has been in retreat for 12 years”. It is a commonplace of Scottish political commentary that this retreat has been into a bubble of bitter resentment towards both the SNP and the voters who had the effrontery to rob BLiS of what they regard as their entitled status in Scotland. A resentment so corrosive that neither rational nor creative thinking can survive.

It’s difficult to know whether the resentment which has paralysed BLiS for all that time also infected the rest of the party, or whether the resentment is simply more concentrated in BLiS, them being more directly affected. What we can know for certain is that, in terms of policy, there is but one British Labour. If BLiS didn’t adapt to Scotland’s new political and electoral reality in 12 years, neither did British Labour as a whole.

The question that arises is why would British Labour change now. If, indeed, it has genuinely changed in the ways that many seem to suppose are implied by John McDonnell’s ‘promise’ that British Labour would not block a new Scottish independence referendum.

I look at this ‘promise’ with the jaundiced eye of my cynicism and I smell deviousness and duplicity. This is, of course, the hallmark stench of British politics. But the stink seems particularly strong around John McDonnell’s comments. My first thought is that this is a ploy to split the pro-independence vote in Scotland. A ploy which, were it effective, would serve both to undermine the independence movement and weaken the SNP. There is obvious advantage here for both British Labour and the British Nationalist ideology it shares with other British establishment parties.

So what! I hear some in the Yes movement say. If BLiS drops its dogmatic opposition to anew independence referendum this only strengthens the mandate to hold such a referendum. But that mandate requires no strengthening. It is already as strong as it needs to be – and then some. And British Labour are not in power at Westminster. They are not in a position to decide whether the British parliament should grant gracious consent allowing Scots to exercise the fundamental right of self-determination. So John McDonnell is giving us precisely nothing with his ‘promise’ not to block a new referendum even if we are naive enough to suppose that promise would be kept should it be put to the test.

McDonnell is aware that a large proportion of traditional British Labour voters in Scotland support the restoration of Scotland’s independence and that many of them have been ‘lending’ their votes to the SNP knowing that this is the only way to achieve that objective. He will know, also, that many of those people are itching to get back to voting as their fathers did and their fathers before them. They feel a certain loyalty to British Labour – or to the values which British Labour once represented – and they will seize on any excuse to return to the fold. John McDonnell’s ‘promise’ provides that excuse.

This still leaves the question of why McDonnell has decided to make this ‘promise’ at this time. But we’ve already seen that the ‘promise’ isn’t worth much even if taken at face value. And its value gets increasing dubious the more closely we scrutinise it. Let’s remind ourselves of his precise words.

The Scottish Parliament will come to a considered view on that and they will submit that to the Government and the English parliament itself.

If the Scottish people decide they want a referendum that’s for them.

We would not block something like that. We would let the Scottish people decide. That’s democracy.

There are other views within the party but that’s our view.

Note the final sentence. That’s a get-out clause if ever there was one. Who is he referring to when he says “our view”. How are we to be sure that view prevails against those “other views within the party “. Note what he doesn’t say. He doesn’t say that this is now official arty policy. His words can easily be interpreted, or portrayed, as implying that the matter is being debated within the party. There is nothing conclusive there. Nothing anybody should be clinging to.

Perhaps even more significantly, note the use of the future and future unreal conditional tense. The Scottish Parliament “WILL COME to a considered view”; “they WILL SUBMIT that to the Government”; “we WOULD NOT block something like that”; “we WOULD LET the Scottish people decide”.

At no time does John McDonnell acknowledge the existing mandate. At not time does he recognise that the Scottish Parliament has already “come to a considered view”. Nowhere does he mention that this “considered view” has already been submitted to “the Government and the English parliament [sic]”. To do so would be to respect the authority of the Scottish Parliament. Which no British Nationalist politician can or will ever do.

Nor will they respect Scotland’s people. John McDonnell also says,

“If the Scottish people decide they want a referendum that’s for them.”

He refuses to allow that the Scottish people have already made known their choice in this matter by voting for parties with a clear manifesto commitment to holding a new referendum.

It may be thought that John McDonnell is taking a bit of a risk with this ‘promise’ to break with British Nationalist dogma and respect democratic principles. What if British Labour does end up in power and all the conditions he stipulates are met? Wouldn’t that make it awkward for British Labour to renege? Which brings us, finally, to an answer to the question of why this ‘promise’ is being made now.

John McDonnell is a professional politician and so is not inclined to take risks where the cost would fall on himself or his party. Therefore, he must have reason to be sure that British Labour will never be put in the position of being expected to honour his ‘promise’. He would only make such a promise if he was confident that the Tories were about to apply a ‘final solution’ to the Scottish problem.

John McDonnell is undertaking to respect the Scottish Parliament. not now but at some unspecified time in the future, because he is as certain as he needs to be that there will be no Scottish Parliament by that time.

He is undertaking to respect the democratic will of the people of Scotland, not now but at some unspecified time in the future, because he is confident the Tories have a plan to ensure that the people of Scotland are prevented from ever deciding the constitutional status of our nation or choosing the form of government that best suits our needs.

John McDonnell is attempting to deceive the people of Scotland in the name of preserving the Union. Don’t be fooled!



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