A BritNat referendum?

I doubt very much whether there are any senior ‘Scottish’ Tories who “now back indyref2”. It may well be that there are many senior ‘Sottish’ Tories who believe it necessary to rethink the arid and blatantly anti-democratic denial of Scotland’s right of self-determination which characterised Ruth Davidson’s reign as Queen of the BritNats. Which was, in fact, the sole characteristic of that undistinguished reign.

It would be surprising if anyone of normal intelligence wasn’t prompted to reconsider a one-line manifesto which, having hoovered up the votes of all Scotland’s most hard-line British Nationalists, had nowhere else to go. A party whose appeal is to the extreme must be limited by the appeal of that extreme. Its potential support hits a sharp cut-off point where that extreme comes up against the mass of moderate opinion. In electoral terms that cut-off point seems to be within a point or two of 20%. It is all but inevitable that some in the upper echelons of the ‘Scottish’ Tories must have recognised this. Even if Jackson Carlaw lacks the intellectual acuity and political nous to do so.

But advocating for a new independence referendum? I don’t think so. Preserving the Union is as much, perhaps more, of an imperative for British Tories as it is for the other British parties. None of the British parties will ever facilitate or tolerate any process which places the Union in jeopardy. The Union must be preserved at any cost to Scotland and its people. Unlike when David Cameron agreed to the 2014 referendum, a vote now would all but certainly favour the restoration of Scotland’s independence. So there is no way any senior ‘Scottish’ Tory is going to “back indyref2”. Unless they can be assured that the Yes campaign might be thwarted.

There is a strong possibility that those senior ‘Scottish’ Tories, along with other British Nationalists, have identified Nicola Sturgeon’s commitment to the Section 30 process as a weakness that they can exploit.

Andy Mciver is correct when he says that the SNP administration’s supposed policy problems aren’t sufficient to significantly weaken the party, far less have any knock-on effect on support for independence – which all but the most blinkered British Nationalists realise is a separate thing. But a referendum held under the constraints of the Section 30 process can quite readily be manipulated to greatly disadvantage the Yes side. After all, the whole purpose of Section 30 is to serve as a choke-chain on the Scottish Parliament. Given that the Scottish Parliament is crucial to any process which might lead to independence, the British political elite retains ultimate control so long as the Section 30 process is being adhered to.

The ‘Scottish’ Tories are unlikely to come out in favour of a new independence referendum. They cannot afford to lose the British Nationalist vote. But they may seek to broaden their electoral appeal by softening the rhetoric and being less openly anti-democratic. Carlaw will go wherever the political wind blows him. If it is decided that the party should go into the 2021 Holyrood elections portraying itself as grudgingly prepared to accept a new referendum on certain conditions, Carlaw will read whatever script is handed to him. The worst that might happen is that their vote would hold. Which is probably the best that they might realistically hope for.

Should this less strenuous opposition to a new referendum become apparent it may be seen as cause for cautious celebration in some quarters. It will certainly be hailed by the British media as making the ‘Scottish’ Tories more electable and Jackson Carlaw a credible contender for the office of First Minister. It may even be welcomed by the less thoughtful parts of the Yes movement. Which would be a serious error.

We must all be mindful of the fact that anything British Nationalists are prepared to countenance must, by definition, be contrary to the aims of the independence movement and against Scotland’s interests. Any referendum that British Nationalists find acceptable must be powerfully suspect from a Scottish perspective.

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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 touch of the Daisleys

Stephen Daisley exemplifies the anti-democratic obscenity of British Nationalist extremism. But he serves a useful purpose in that he reveals the reality of a vile ideology that harks back to the supposed glories of belligerent Britannia’s bloody imperialist past.

Read Daisley’s spittle-flecked rants about Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP and you’d think he was referring to some murderous terrorist cult and its super-villain leader rather than the democratically elected First Minister of Scotland and the party chosen by the people to govern Scotland – insofar as the constraints of devolution permit.

Much of this is personal, of course. Daisley has hated the SNP with a vengeance ever since an SNP politician drew attention to something phenomenally stupid and unprofessional that he’d done leading to an embarrassing rebuke and a bit of a career blip. Seeking a vehicle for his bitter resentment, Daisley found a natural home on the far-flung fringes of Unionist loonydom.

His columns offer a stomach-turning glimpse into the manic minds of those who embrace a political philosophy based entirely on a mix of mindless hatred and elitist exceptionalism. Only such a mind could react with Daisley’s venomous malice towards a perfectly legitimate, lawful, peaceful, democratic political movement such as that which seeks to restore Scotland’s independence. Such minds are not uncommon among British Nationalists.

Daisley acknowledges that the “SNP is in its 13th uninterrupted year” of duly elected administration. He admits that support for independence is “close to 50 per cent”. He allows that “almost half of Scots want to walk away from the UK”. How does he respond? Does he respond with reasoned counter-argument and some approximation of the mythic ‘positive case for the Union’? Does he evince a determination to pursue his political aims through the democratic process in the way that Scotland’s civic nationalist movement does? No! Faced with a democratic threat to the constitutional arrangements he favours he immediately reaches into an arsenal of draconian measures reminiscent of the repressive impositions of totalitarian governments.

Much as one’s instinct might be to dismiss Daisley’s demented diatribes as the ravings of a political outlier, it would be a mistake to do so too readily. The frustration of hard-line Unionists who supposed the 2014 referendum would kill the independence movement and the SNP ‘stone dead’ is such that the bilious barbarism spewed by the likes of Daisley is entering the mainstream of British Nationalism.

Don’t think of Daisley’s fervid fulminations as a curiosity. Regard them rather as a symptom of the cancerous British Nationalist fanaticism that now poses a real and imminent threat to Scotland’s democracy.

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Crisis? What crisis?


Ian Blackford proclaims that UK faces a “constitutional crisis” over Brexit Bill votes in the three devolved parliaments. The National notes that,

While none of the devolved institutions have [sic] granted permission for Westminster to go ahead with the legislation, the Withdrawal Bill is still likely to pass through Westminster.

Ian Blackford: UK faces constitutional crisis over Brexit Bill votes

What The National doesn’t say is that Westminster does what it pleases with no apparent discomfort or unease. The British parliament completely ignores the devolved parliaments, each of which has greater democratic legitimacy than Westminster, and does so effortlessly. If there is a “constitutional crisis” then the British establishment is, to all appearances, unaware of it. There is certainly no sign that it is at all troubled by this “constitutional crisis”.

Can it qualify as a crisis if one of the parties to events and developments is unaware of it? Or, to put it another way, if the party at the centre of the affair perceives no crisis, are we justified in calling it such?

Or could it be that Mr Blackford has misidentified the parties to the purported crisis? Perhaps he is simply mistaken in thinking that the crisis affects the British political elite. Perhaps, if crisis there be, it is only a crisis for the devolved administrations; particularly the one in Edinburgh. Maybe the explanation for the British political elite’s equanimity in the face of this crisis is simply that it doesn’t really involve them.

If, indeed, we have reached a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, especially for better or for worse, is determined, then perhaps the British political elite doesn’t regard this as a crisis because, to whatever extent the trend of all future events is being determined, they are fully confident that this implies no changes that might be to their detriment.

If there is a condition of instability or danger in the affairs of the UK such as might occasion decisive change, maybe they know with a high degree of certainty that this decisive change will not be to the disbenefit or disadvantage of the established order.

Or maybe the British political elite is exhibiting the smug self-assurance that accompanies overweening power. Maybe they consider the established order invulnerable. Maybe they feel safe in the knowledge that, having the power to make, amend or exempt themselves from the rules of the game, they cannot possibly lose.

Why should this be a crisis for the British state? Nothing can oblige their parliament or government to heed the decisions of the devolved parliaments. The British state suffers no penalty for treating the devolved parliaments with supercilious disdain. Quite the contrary, in fact. Particularly in relation to Holyrood, Brexit has provided the British state with just the opportunity it needed to roll back devolution, slapdown the presumptuous SNP and put those uppity Jocks firmly back in the box labelled ‘Property of England-as-Britain’.

From the outset, discourse around the whole Brexit farce has focused almost exclusively on the economic impact. Little or no attention was paid to the constitutional implications. This despite the fact that the constitutional implications were always huge – as Ian Blackford and the rest now acknowledge. The constitutional implications were also obvious. When I argued for a Remain vote in the 2016 EU referendum the main reason I gave was the fact that leaving the EU would provide the British political elite with an opportunity to unilaterally redefine the UK and the constitutional status of the troublesome peripheral nations. At the extreme, which wise counsel would have us anticipate, this might involve the British constitutionally redefining the UK as an indivisible and indissoluble unitary state – putting Scotland in relation to the UK much as Catalunya is in relation to Spain.

The question was never whether the British would do this. The question was always whether there was any reason that they might not. Any just cause, that is, which they would see as such. Bearing in mind the nature of the British state and its ruling elites, considerations of ethics, morality or democratic principle were never going to enter into the calculation. The British political elite would do whatever was required to preserve and reinforce the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. The Union at any cost! To anyone but them!

There is no crisis for the British state. Ian Blackford has misread the situation. The British can, in this matter as in all matters relating to Scotland, act with total impunity. The crisis falls entirely on the devolved administrations and parliaments. Arguably, it falls most heavily on the Scottish Parliament and the SNP administration in Edinburgh. They will be judged on how they respond to this crisis. And it doesn’t look promising. Ian Blackford says, “really it is about this issue of respect”. Well, if it is, then it’s about how well he and his colleagues earn the respect of the people of Scotland. Because it’s as certain as anything might be that they will never get respect from the British political elite.

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BritNat plans?

It is not only Tories who are “fearful of independence”, as John Drummond seems to suppose (Tories are fearful of independence … let’s ask them to share their plans for it). it is all British Nationalists. Remember Better Together / Project Fear? This focus on the Tories rather than the British state is seriously ill-advised. We are not seeking a change OF British government. We are seeking a change FROM British government.

The comparison with South Africa is spurious. Where FW de Klerk and the National Party came to recognise that apartheid represented an economic threat, British Nationalists are either convinced that independence will be economically disastrous or they don’t care. They want to preserve the Union at any cost. They are driven by a ‘blood and soil’ nationalist ideology and only use economic scare stories to rationalise what is entirely an emotional devotion to a myth of Britishness.

Thus, British Nationalists – Tory or otherwise – see no need to plan for independence. They are absolutely determined to prevent it from happening. For many, even imagine independence is heresy.

The question we should be asking these British Nationalists is what they intend to do about the ~50% of the population that wants independence should their anti-democratic ambitions be realised. I suspect there’s vastly more chance of them having plans for that than for Scotland’s independence being restored.

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Things to come

It was all so predictable. That’s what makes it all doubly frustrating. So much of what is happening could be foreseen and forestalled. Indeed, it was foreseen. If not in detail then certainly in general terms and with predictions necessarily being updated as events unfold. I was warning about the rolling back of devolution as far back as 2012, perhaps earlier. I expected that the British government would begin stripping powers from the Scottish Parliament if there was a No vote in 2014. I warned that it was one of the consequences that No voters would have on their conscience, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one issuing such warnings. But it would not be proper for me to associate others with what I have to say.

The Scottish Parliament’s fate was decided in 2007 when the SNP formed the first Scottish Government since the Union was imposed. That wasn’t supposed to happen. It wasn’t supposed to be possible. Devolution was only permitted on the strict understanding that it could never imperil the Union. The electoral system was designed to ensure that no one party could ever achieve a majority. This was intended to ensure that the British parties would retain control in perpetuity by forming coalition governments. Unionists strenuously deny that the system was designed to keep the SNP out insisting, rather, that it was designed to promote a more collegial, consensus-building Parliament. But it’s the same thing. Purposeful or not – and you can make up your own minds about that – the effect was to obviate any threat to the Union by ensuring that the British parties in Scotland were kept firmly in control.

Any plans to weaken the Scottish Parliament after the British parties lost control in 2007 were blown out of the water by the electorate. In 2007, voters had put a big dent in the system. In 2015, they smashed it to pieces by giving the SNP an overall majority. Plans to put the brakes on devolution, or put it into reverse, were derailed. As were the predictions made during the referendum campaign. But if reining in Holyrood had become more problematic, it had also become more imperative. The thing the British establishment feared most; the thing they’d been assured would not follow from devolution, was happening. The SNP was in power. What was worse, they were doing a good job. The administration was competent. That wasn’t supposed to happen either. Worst of all, Scotland under the SNP was visibly diverging from the rest of the UK (rUK) in myriad ways. If that continued, the Union would surely become untenable.

It is not my purpose here to essay a potted history of the period. Suffice it to say that where the British establishment thought it was getting a Scottish Parliament that was unadventurous and a Scottish Executive that was meekly compliant, instead they got a Parliament that threatened to compete with Westminster in terms of authority and a Scottish Government that put Scotland’s interests first. The scene was set for confrontation.

But that confrontation never really came about. There were skirmishes between the two governments. The media made a big fuss about the Scottish Government always “picking fights with Westminster”. But there was no major confrontation. The British political elite still wanted desperately to undermine and weaken Scotland’s democratic institutions. They wanted this more than ever. Hobbling Holyrood had become a political imperative. The Union was meant to do that. But the devolution ‘experiment’ had put the Union in jeopardy.

The British government tried a new tactic. Rather than try to directly trim the powers of the Scottish Parliament, they decided to weaponise devolution and turn it against the Scottish Government. Changes to the devolution settlement, principally in the area of finance, were set up as a mesh of political and fiscal traps. The idea was to discredit the SNP by subtly forcing the administration to make unpopular political decisions and to cause budgeting problems that would be portrayed as ‘SNP incompetence’.

This plan backfired. Largely due to the skill of then Finance Secretary, John Swinney, the Scottish Government managed to avoid most of the traps. They even found money for impressive new projects and to mitigate socially or economically damaging Westminster policies in reserved areas. And they were doing it deliberately!

The situation was desperate. Scotland had always been a separate country, but now it was becoming very much a different country in ways that were obvious even to the politically disengaged. Something had to give.

Then came 2016 and the EU referendum and the beginning of the protracted tragi-comedy that is Brexit. The British establishment saw its opportunity, and seized it. Once again, the consequences of a Leave vote were foreseen. Obviously, nobody anticipated the monumental incompetence of the British government. Nobody predicted they would make quite such a disastrous mess of the whole thing. But certain implications of the UK’s departure from the EU were accurately foretold. Some are about to be proved painfully accurate.

It was entirely predictable that there would be long and loud squabbles about the economic entailments of Brexit. Politicians invariably take debate on to this battleground for the simple reason that they can get economists to say whatever they want. Maybe it would be fairer to say that they can always find an economist who is saying what they want. Economic arguments have the further benefit that they are rarely, if ever, conclusive. No politician wants to find themselves on the wrong side of a concluded argument. So long as they’re arguing, they’re not losing. Not losing is better than winning. If there’s a winner, there must be a loser. And one of these times it might be you. By keeping debate in the realm of economics that risk is minimised.

I probably should leave it there. But I can’t resist pointing out another benefit to established power of making it all about money. Not only does it allow politicians to pick and choose from among a plethora of statistics and charts and tables and graphs in order to construct an economic argument for any purpose, this deluge of data baffles the electors and induces them to switch off and leave it to the experts. Contrary to the received wisdom, I postulate that no voter was ever swayed by an economic argument. Just as politicians can select the economic ‘facts’ that work for them, so voters can pick the economic argument which gives a sheen of rationality to choices that are anything but rational.

But I digress. While dispute raged over the economic consequences of Brexit, little attention was paid to the constitutional implications. During the campaign for the EU referendum I warned that, whatever else it might entail, Brexit would provide the British state with an opportunity to unilaterally redefine constitutional arrangements within the Union. That is what is happening now and it’s what will happen more in the very near future.

The groundwork has been done. The ‘power grab’ of the EU Withdrawal Bill is just the start of it. The endpoint for the British establishment is Scotland locked into UK redefined as a unitary state, indivisible and indissoluble. All significant powers stripped from the Scottish Parliament and absorbed into ‘UK-wide common frameworks’ administered by the ominously named ‘UK Government in Scotland’. A final solution to the Scottish problem. Greater England realised at last!

You can take that as another prediction.

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It matters

Nicola Sturgeon to lay out ‘detailed case’ for second independence referendum

Why? Why should Scotland’s First Minister be required to argue for a new referendum? It is plainly evident that the people of Scotland want one. So, why is Nicola Sturgeon, who has an unarguable mandate, having to petition Boris Johnson, who has none? More to the point, why is she simply accepting this obvious perversion of democratic principles and affront to basic fairness? Come to that, why are we meekly accepting it? Why aren’t we on the streets protesting this iniquity?

The default position in any system purporting to be democratic is that everybody should have a vote and that all decisions should be put to a vote. From that starting position arguments are made for exceptions. Infants aren’t permitted to vote, for obvious reasons. Young children aren’t permitted to vote for reasons which, while less clear-cut than for infants, are still perfectly adequate. Once a person reaches 16 years of age, the arguments for withholding the franchise on the basis of age begin to crumble. Where those arguments are weak, the benefit of the doubt favours the default position. Better that a hundred people should be allowed to vote despite being somewhat immature than that one person who is capable should be denied.

Denying the vote to someone who is capable must always be a breach of democratic principles. Allowing someone to use their vote can never be a breach of democratic principles. The necessary implication of this is that it must always be the ones who wish to deny the vote who have to make the case for doing so. If they cannot make an adequate case, the default democratic position holds.

The British political system turns this on its head. In the British system, voting is not a right but a privilege – to be granted or withheld at the whim of the British political elite. The British system fails this test of its democratic credentials.

Voting on every single issue is impractical. So we delegate most of the decision making to elected representatives. It is only on really major issues, such as constitutional reform, that a plebiscite is deemed necessary. Although other countries, such as Switzerland, have referendums on a much wider range of issues, here in the UK they are relatively rare events. But the principle of individuals in a democracy voting on everything still holds. It’s just that we vote at one remove. We lend our democratic franchise to a politician we trust to vote on our behalf.

That the British political system has many ways of allowing the executive to introduce and implement measures without parliamentary scrutiny is another reason it should not be considered fully democratic. The royal prerogative is an archaic, but powerful tool in the hands of those who crave unfettered power.

The case against democracy

That the British establishment doesn’t want a referendum to happen is all too apparent. That the British establishment is vehemently opposed to Scotland’s independence being restored is not in any doubt. The reasons for this are well known. None of those reasons has anything to do with what is best for Scotland and its people. None of those reasons is concerned with genuine democracy. All of those reasons are about preserving the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. All of those reasons are concerned with maintaining established power.

That the restoration of Scotland’s independence would disbenefit England-as-Britain is disputed only by those who view the world through the red, white and blue miasma of British exceptionalism. This in itself is not – indeed, cannot be – an adequate reason for denying Scotland’s democratic right of self-determination. If it were, we would still be living in the age of European imperialism and Scotland truly would be a colony of the British Empire.

If disbenefit to the British political elite and its clients is not a good reason to obstruct democracy and deny Scotland’s right of self-determination, what might be? Supposing democracy prevailed in the British state and the right of the people of Scotland to decide their nation’s constitutional status was assumed. What arguments might the British political elite deploy as they tried to make a case for Scotland being an exception to the normal rules of democracy? Happily, we know what their arguments would be, because they have been brash enough to speak them aloud.

The most commonly used argument against a new referendum is also the most obviously idiotic. Which may be indicative of something. That it was the line fed to Boris Johnson as his stock response to questions about Scotland’s independence movement is probably because it is the one he can get his head around. It is favoured because it is simple enough to be understood even by the intellectually challenged. The fact that it is nonsensical is not regarded as important. Countless times a day we hear it argued that Scotland should not be allowed to have another vote because we were promised the 2014 referendum was a “once in a generation” event. Or, in the sole variation on this theme, that it was a “once in a lifetime” occurrence.

We are told that the Scottish Government made a solemn undertaking that no new referendum would be pursued for a period that was unspecified and, therefore, open to interpretation. This period has been stated as 5 years, 40years and many figures in between. Which is odd because one would have supposed that, had the Scottish Government given a formal undertaking, it would have been couched in more precise language. Contracts tend not to use terms such as “for a while” or “until the cows come home”.

In fact, the undertaking doesn’t exist. It is to be found nowhere in the legislation pertaining to the 2014 referendum. The argument is based on nothing more substantial than casual remarks made by some Scottish politicians. There was no “once in a generation/lifetime” promise. And, even if there had been, it would be meaningless. No government can bind its successors and no politician has the authority to constrain the right of self-determination. The argument is ludicrous and its use serves only to illustrate ignorance of and contempt for democracy. It cannot possibly be sufficient cause for denying the people a vote.

Another common argument against democracy deployed by British Nationalists is that holding a new independence referendum would cause division, polarisation and uncertainty. All of which are held to be entirely and invariably ‘Very Bad Things’. Generally speaking, no further explanation is offered. We are expected to take it for granted that division, polarisation and uncertainty are Very Bad Things because that is how they are portrayed. It’s a given. Or is it?

Is division a Very Bad Thing? Not if politics as seen as a contest of ideas and democracy as a way of resolving this contest without resort to drastic measures. Division is not only a natural part of democratic politics but a vital attribute. Division is what inevitably arises when people are free to think for themselves and express their views. Division is essential to democracy because it it powers the debates and discussions which inform subsequent decisions.

Where there is no division, there is no democracy. Only under repressive totalitarian regimes can public political discourse be an arid wasteland devoid of disagreement and dispute. Only the heel of the dictator’s boot can crush the individuality and freedom of thought that breeds division. Remember that next time a politician tries to persuade you that division is a Very Bad Thing.

Is polarisation a Very Bad Thing? True, it can be unhelpful in some – perhaps most – situations. Taken to its extreme, polarisation leaves a void where diverse thinking should be. It splits thinking into two discrete, rigidly defined and deeply entrenched camps and makes it difficult, if not impossible, to venture into the no man’s land in between. Were it a ubiquitous and permanent feature of our politics it might well be a Very Bad Thing. But we are not discussing politics in the broad sense. We are focused on a very particular issue. An issue that is deemed serious enough to require a referendum and dichotomous enough so that a referendum can produce a decision and not merely a result. As I explained in an earlier article,

To be effective, a referendum must offer clear options – preferably no more than two. Ideally, the choice should be binary – yes or no – with the meaning of each being totally explicit. If the proposition can’t be put, without ambiguity, in twenty words or less, then it is probably too complicated for a referendum. If explanatory notes are required, then it is almost certainly too complicated for a referendum. If those explanatory notes run to more than a single side of A4, then trying to decide the matter by means of a referendum is just plain daft.

If a referendum is to be decisive it is essential that both options are spelled out in a manner which leaves no room for dispute. If one or more of the options is undefined then the referendum can produce a result, but never a decision. And, for the purposes of referendums, ‘poorly defined’ is defined as ‘undefined’.

Alpacas might fly

In the special circumstances of a referendum, polarisation is not a Very Bad Thing. It is an essential thing. If opinion is not polarised, the referendum isn’t working. If the protagonists are free to wander the space between positions then those positions become blurred. Voters will be left unsure whether they are voting for one thing or the other thing or something that is neither. Such a referendum will produce a result. But it cannot produce the clear and incontestable decision that is required.

If a politician is arguing that polarisation in an issue to be decided by referendum is a Very Bad Thing, it is because they do not want a clear and incontestable decision. They want a result that is vague enough to be defined in whatever way they find expedient.

I hate to do this to you, but look at Brexit. The EU referendum in 2016 is an object lesson in getting it all horribly wrong. To catalogue the ways in which it was wrong would take an entire book, rather than an essay. But we know that it produced a result without a decision because the aftermath was dominated by acrimonious debates about what Brexit actually meant and what flavour of Brexit people had actually voted for.

Far from the potential for polarisation being an argument against facilitating a vote, it is a basic prerequisite of a referendum.

Is uncertainty a Very Bad Thing? Well, if it is, it’s a Very Bad Thing we’ve learned to live with. There is always uncertainty. None of us knows with total certainty what tomorrow may bring. The number of things we can be certain of, such as sunrise and sunset, is dwarfed by the uncertainties of day to day life. If certainty was an absolute necessity for human existence, none of us would be here. If uncertainty was seriously deleterious to life, we’d all be dead instead of merely dying.

Uncertainty is not the Very Bad Thing. Insecurity is. We can cope easily with the vagaries of life so long as we feel secure. We don’t trouble ourselves unduly about what the future will bring if we know we’ll be OK. We will venture out on the tightrope of tomorrow without crippling fear if we know there is a safety net. That safety net may be provided by family or community or the state. Possibly all of these to varying degrees. It may, of course, also be provided by personal wealth. The extent to which we can deal with uncertainty is in direct proportion to the confidence we have in that safety net. If that safety net is damaged in such a way as to diminish our confidence; or if that safety net is removed altogether, only then does uncertainty cause stress. Only then does uncertainty become a Very Bad Thing.

When politicians speak of the horrors of uncertainty, they are admitting their own failure to provide and maintain the social safety net that most of us need.

In the circumstances of a referendum, uncertainty is no more a Very Bad Thing than it is in any other aspect of our lives, so long as we can be reasonably sure that the result – the decision – will not plunge us into chaos and catastrophe. If that was even a remote possibility, the question of putting the issue to a vote wouldn’t even arise. Nobody demands a plebiscite to decide between two options when one or both of those options spells disaster. It is one of the prerequisites of a referendum that both options be deliverable. And deliverable without causing the sky to fall or the seas to rise.

When politicians, who have to live with the outcome as much as everyone else, proclaim uncertainty to be a Very Bad Thing we can be sure that they are referring to the uncertainty that they intend to create as part of their referendum campaign. We have seen it all before. We have seen Project Fear.

It matters

The case against a new independence referendum is as insubstantial as Donald Trump’s hair. And just as likely to be blown into disarray by even the most gentle breeze of scrutiny. The case for allowing the democratic process is unnecessary and redundant. There is no justification for obstructing the democratic process. There is no reason the people of Scotland should not exercise their democratic right of self-determination. There would have to be a very powerful reason for denying a referendum. A reason which is acceptable, however reluctantly, to the people who are being denied access to the democratic process. There being no such reason, a new constitutional referendum should proceed automatically and without hindrance.

Yesterday, I used Twitter to put a question to Nicola Sturgeon. I asked,

Do you agree that the question of Scotland’s constitutional status and the choice of the form of government that best meets Scotland’s needs are matters to be decided entirely and exclusively by the people of Scotland?


To date, I haven’t received a reply. I wasn’t really expecting one. The question was not intended to elicit a response from the First Minister so much as to give others something to think about.

If you answer that question in the affirmative, without hesitation or equivocation, then you are a true democrat. If you need to consider your response, or if you answer in the negative, then you are no friend to either democracy or Scotland.

We have to assume that Nicola Sturgeon falls readily and completely into the first category. I don’t need her to answer the question to be sure that she is, indeed, a true democrat and Scotland’s champion. I choose to think she would not burden her affirmative response with a string of caveats, conditions and provisos. I would be extremely disappointed if she did. And very, very concerned for Scotland.

This begs the question, however; if you believe that the question of Scotland’s constitutional status and the choice of the form of government that best meets Scotland’s needs are matters to be decided entirely and exclusively by the people of Scotland, why do you feel the need to explain yourself to the British Prime Minister? Why do you think it necessary to petition for something that you believe should follow from the fundamental principles of democracy? Why do you suppose the democratic process requires the consent and approval of any external agency?

If you believe the right of the people of Scotland to decide our future is, as the right of sovereign people, entire and exclusive, why would you compromise that sovereignty by inviting the involvement of anyone other than the people of Scotland?

If I am the last and only person asking this question, I will persist in asking it. Because it matters.

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