Crisis? What crisis?

Dictionary.com

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?

@BerthanPete

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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A man of many ‘qualities’

Did you gag on the sickening hypocrisy of Jackson Carlaw talking about respecting democratic votes and honouring promises? This coming from someone in thrall to a British Nationalist ideology which says that democratic votes are only to be respected when doing so doesn’t compromise the Union or threaten the structures of entrenched power, unearned privilege and corrupt patronage which define the British state. An ideology which insists that the democratic choices of the people of Scotland are only valid when they happen to coincided with the choices of voters in England-as-Britain.

To compound this sickening hypocrisy, a man closely associated with the false promises of the anti-independence campaign presumes to lecture us about the importance of good faith. And even as he does so he lies. He trots out the threadbare falsehood about an undertaking that the 2014 referendum would be a “once in a generation” occurrence. Of course, no such undertaking was ever made. Indeed, no such undertaking could be made. Jackson Carlaw exhibits the British Nationalists’ characteristic ignorance of and contempt for democracy when he imagines any politician might have the authority to impose constraints or conditions on a nation’s right of self-determination.

Scour the Edinburgh Agreement as you may, you will find no mention of any ‘once in a generation” promise. Nor will you find it in the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013. Or in any other agreement, act or formal accord associated with the 2014 referendum. The “once in a generation” thing simply doesn’t exist. It never existed. Carlaw is a liar.

Carlaw is also a craven coward. Had he the courage of his British Nationalist convictions then he would take responsibility for his own anti-democratic dogma rather than trying to rationalise it by reference to an entirely mythical promise.

Hypocritical, duplicitous, mendacious and cowardly. Such are the ‘qualities’ British Nationalists bring to our politics. Scotland can do better.



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The labours of Sisyphus

I rarely watch the politics programmes on TV these days. Not out of apathy, but because listening to the likes of Andrew Neil for half an hour is a lot of effort for very little reward. I know that if anything interesting is said in the small gaps between Neil’s interruptions then I’ll find out about through social media. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the hardy souls possessed of greater tolerance for self-regard and pomposity than myself for sitting through these programmes and presenting what amounts to edited highlights on Twitter.

The edition of Politics Live that I want to discuss came to my attention, not via Twitter as is customary, but by way of a letter in The National. In his letter, Andrew Grant recounts a contribution to the discussion of a new independence referendum from historian and right-wing commentator, Simon Heffer.

Heffer stated that most people in England would agree that the British state had made a hash of Irish independence and that if there was a desire for a second independence referendum then “we” might agree to the Scots having another opportunity to determine their own future. But he claimed the issues of currency and EU membership were ignored in the first campaign and that “we” had a duty to Scotland as part of UK.

Heffer concluded by saying yes, let’s grant a second referendum, but only on condition that the Scots demonstrate first how Scotland will fund independence and “make a proper case that they can govern themselves responsibly afterwards”. The other panel members nodded wisely. Coburn let it pass since they were anxious to plug Heffer’s latest book.

The letter’s author was, as you might expect, offended by Heffer’s “pompous condescension”. Assuming Mr Grant’s account is accurate – and I have no reason to doubt it – then we have a few remarks which perfectly reflect the innate elitism, vaunting entitlement and presumptuous arrogance of British Nationalist ideology. Heffer simply takes as a given the superiority of the British ruling class. The concomitant inferiority of Scotland and its people is assumed to be the ‘natural order’. Were the tables turned and Heffer was asked to “make a proper case” that the British political elite were more fit to govern Scotland responsibly than the people who actually live here, the suggestion would surely be met with incomprehension followed by outrage followed by patronising amusement.

I confess that I was as irked by Heffer’s comments as Mr Grant. I was also dumbfounded by the total lack of self-awareness and empathy which was required even to think such thoughts far less give voice to them in a public forum. There can be no doubt that the attitudes of a past imperial age still pervade the very blood and bones of the British ruling classes. How dare he speak of Scotland in such a casually contemptuous manner? How dare he insist that Scotland must “pass some arbitrary tests” set and marked by the British establishment before we may hope to exercise our democratic right of self-determination?

Well, perhaps he dares because we have encouraged him. Perhaps he dares because we have at least made it easy for the likes of Heffer to think and speak as they do. Perhaps he dares because we have appeared, not only to accept the terms Heffer would impose, but to concur with his assessment of Scotland’s inferior status.

How often have we been told by SNP politicians and other leading figures in the Yes movement that we must “make the case for independence”? This has been the constant mantra of the Yes movement from its inception. Our purpose, according to those who presumed to define and direct it, has never been to challenge the attitudes expressed by Heffer and his ilk or dispute the ‘natural order’ that he describes or question the asserted right to examine and pronounce upon Scotland’s fitness to be a nation like any other. Our purpose, rather, has been to concede that right; accept that ‘natural order’; and embrace – or at least pander to – those attitudes.

The Heffers of the British establishment tell us we must “make a proper case” that we have the capacity to govern ourselves responsibly, and our response has been to scurry off and set about trying to make that “proper case”. Throughout the 2014 referendum campaign and since we have been urged on to ever greater efforts to pass the British state’s test of our fitness to have our rightful constitutional status restored. By all accounts, should there actually be another referendum, we will be told we must continue striving to demonstrate our ability to meet whatever standards the British political elite sets and satisfy every condition that they impose. Our task is, not merely to “make the case for independence”, but to make a case that will be accepted by the British establishment.

It is a task which bears comparison with the labours of Sisyphus. Legend has it that he was condemned to spend eternity pushing a great boulder up a hill only for it to roll back down again just as he got it within reach of the summit. In the case of the Yes movement, our ‘eternal’ task is to roll the boulder of our “case for independence” up an ever steeper incline towards a constantly receding summit.

The “arbitrary tests” set by the British political elite have no pass mark. They will never be satisfied. Scotland will always be inferior. Because how else can England-as-Britain be superior?

Not for the first time it occurs to me that the most crucial prerequisite for the restoration of Scotland’s independence is a new mindset. We are all, to a greater or lesser extent, tainted by generations of immersion in the culture British exceptionalism so well represented represented by Simon Heffer. Our minds are polluted with it. Some minds are totally colonised by it. It affects most people in Scotland to some degree. Otherwise, why would be trying to “make the case for independence” rather than demanding that British Nationalists justify their ‘precious’ Union?



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Don’t arm Goliath!

It is easy to understand why Nicola Sturgeon talks about opposition to a new referendum “crumbling”. We are in a UK general election campaign. She has promised to put independence at the heart of the SNP’s effort in this campaign. It is entirely fitting and proper that she should be talking up the potential to advance the fight to restore Scotland’s independence by voting SNP and returning as many SNP MPs as possible. It is only to be expected that she will seek to promote the idea that the the British political elite’s determination to prevent a new independence referendum will “crumble” in the face of the “irresistible” demonstration of the democratic will of the Scottish people that a massive vote for the SNP would represent. Nicola Sturgeon’s rousing rhetoric is absolutely fine. Just so long as she doesn’t entirely believe it herself.

Let’s be clear about one thing – everybody who cares about Scotland is bound by their conscience to vote for their SNP candidate in this election. Scotland’s constitutional claim has, for some years now, been the dominant issue in Scottish politics. But, not since the 2014 referendum has the divide between the two sides in the independence debate been so starkly presented as the issue on which the people of Scotland are voting. All other issues are subsidiary to the constitutional question because all other issues crucially depend on whether the power to decide resides with the people of Scotland or with the British ruling elites.

Assuming you agree that Scotland’s future should be in the hands of Scotland’s people rather than the fumbling paws of British politicians such as Boris Johnson, you must vote SNP. Voting for any of the British parties in Scotland should be unthinkable for anyone who values the fundamental principle of popular sovereignty. If you maintain that the people of Scotland are sovereign, then to vote for any of the British parties is to vote against your own conscience. And to vote against basic good sense.

This election will not decide the independence issue. Nor even the issue of a new referendum. Sending as many as 59 SNP MPs to Westminster will not precipitate a crumbling of the British state’s determination to preserve the Union. This election is not about securing yet another mandate for a new referendum. It is about denying the British political elite a mandate to block a referendum and to proceed with the British Nationalist project to reimpose direct rule from London via the apparatus of the ‘UK Government in Scotland.

No demonstration of the democratic will of Scotland’s people can be sufficient to overcome the British political elite’s resistance to the restoration of Scotland’s independence. The imperative to preserve the Union is too compelling. Even if the SNP took all 59 seats and more than 50% of the vote in a high turnout, the British government and the British parties would refuse to acknowledge this as a valid expression of demand for a new referendum. There will be no buckling. There will be no crumbling of their resolve. For the British state, the imperative to preserve the Union is existential.

For Scotland, the imperative to dissolve the Union is existential. That is why anyone who cares about Scotland must vote SNP in this election. It is not so much about battering down resistance to the people of Scotland exercising their right of self-determination as it is about denying the British political elite a mandate to prevent us exercising that right. Because anything short of a massive victory for the SNP will be deemed such a mandate. Anything less than a landslide for the SNP will be interpreted as affording the British state a licence to do as it will with Scotland – just like the No vote in the 2014 referendum.

Power is finite and relative. Due to the grotesque asymmetry of the Union, voting SNP in huge numbers and sending 50+ SNP MPs to Westminster may not greatly empower Scotland. But failure to do so disproportionately increases the power of the British state over Scotland. Power that will certainly be deployed to Scotland’s severe detriment.

Nicola Sturgeon has chosen to focus on the importance of voting SNP because of what this might achieve. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a positive and honest message. Only SNP MPs put Scotland’s interests above all else. So it stands to reason that the more SNP MPs there are, the better Scotland’s interests will be represented. But the Union means that Scotland’s interests can never be adequately represented no matter how many SNP MPs go to Westminster. But the First Minister could just as honestly and accurately have stressed the need to elect as many SNP MP’s as possible, not for what they might achieve, but for what they will prevent.

Given her preference for a positive message, it is only natural that Nicola Sturgeon will choose to run with the line that voting SNP will provide the David of the independence movement with the sling that brings down the Goliath of the British state. She leaves it to others to point out that the most important thing about voting SNP is that it avoids giving Goliath a mighty club with which to demolish all that Scotland holds dear – and all that we aspire to.



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