WARNING: Grass may not be entirely free of snakes!

Professor John Robertson and the Talking Up Scotland Collective (TUSC) do a fine job of tracking and exposing the amateurish errors and grotesque distortions and blatant misrepresentations and downright lies that make up the British media’s ‘reporting’ of the coronavirus crisis in Scotland – the BBC and The Herald in particular. What they reveal is media intent not on informing audiences but on manipulating their perceptions in the service of a political agenda that long since ceased to be hidden. This isn’t even well-crafted propaganda any more. It is crude, clumsy and often inept. It is obscene. The perpetrators style themselves professional journalists and thus bring ever further into disrepute that once honourable profession.

We are accustomed to this. Although I am daily shocked by the dumb credulousness of all too many commenting on social media platforms such as Twitter, I know that more and more people are developing the capacity to filter the output of the British establishment’s propaganda machine. I’m confident that we are approaching a time when general awareness will neutralise all but the most subtle.

Of more concern to me are the new media outlets which purport to be ‘different’ and which claim to be committed to Scotland’s cause, progressive politics and principled journalism. When organs such as these parrot the British media’s lies and distortions while garbed as honest brokers and flaunting a Yes badge, then the propaganda has its insidiousness restored. Its perniciousness refreshed.

I suggest you read some of the TUSC analysis of British media reporting on how care homes are being affected by the current public health crisis. Then take a look at this article by Ben Wray on Common Weal’s horribly refurbished ‘news’ website – effectively Ben Wray’s blog but promising “The latest insight and analysis from across Scotland”. I challenge you to point to any significant difference between this article and the ‘analysis’ presented by the British media. Or to explain the similarities.

Look, for example at Ben Wray’s references to Rashielee Care Home without ever mentioning that it is privately owned and part of Littleinch Ltd. Observe the lengthy quotes from the company’s management railing against the Scottish Government but not a word about the incontestable fact that this being a private commercial enterprise responsibility for sourcing and stocking PPE rests wholly on those same managers.

My advice is to be as wary of Source as you would be of the BBC and as dubious about Ben Wray as you would be about Tom Gordon. Propaganda comes in many guises.

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Yes boss

sic_cwBehold! The latest attempt to set up the Scottish Independence Convention (SIC) as the ‘official’ umbrella group for the Yes movement. All credit to Common Weal director Robin MacAlpine for his persistence. Congratulations also go to Max Wiesznewski (formerly of Common Weal), who seems to be in charge of this scheme to impose a management structure on the Yes movement.

Which is not the same thing as taking control, of course. However much it may look that way, we should not be deceived into thinking that waddling, quacking thing is a duck. Just because SIC/Common Weal is talking about setting up offices and employing staff, we shouldn’t take this to mean they intend to run the Yes movement. When they talk of “getting on the front foot with the media” we shouldn’t take this to mean that they plan on presenting themselves as the ‘official’ voice of the Yes movement. When they talk of providing a “strategic vision for the Yes campaign” we mustn’t assume that vision will tend to align with that of a particular group.

It’ll be fine!

If you’re concerned about the grassroots Yes movement being transformed into a hierarchical organisation, don’t be! I’m sure that’s not what’s intended at all. If you’re worried about the possibility of SIC/Common Weal harnessing the power of the Yes movement to a narrow policy agenda, relax! There’s a distinct possibility that won’t happen.

If you’re apprehensive about SIC/Common Weal diverting resources from the de facto political arm of the independence movement – the SNP – fear not! There’s a fair chance somebody is looking at that issue.

If you are in the slightest bit dubious about the motives of those setting themselves up as ‘leaders’ of the Yes movement, set aside those doubts and suspicions right away. Just look at the individuals and groups who have already signed up for whatever this turns out to be. The unity card has been played. You’ve been trumped.

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The vanishing road

road_closedI would certainly prefer to be discussing the duration of a transition period between the decision to dissolve the Union and actual independence rather than the length of a delay in making that decision. But there is something else we must bear in mind regarding the “final principle that applies when it comes to project management”. We may not have a choice.

It’s all very well to say that we can pick any two out of ‘cheap’, ‘quick’ and ‘good’. But choices are constrained by circumstances. And the aspect of those circumstances which seems little considered is the reaction of the British state to the prospect of losing Scotland.

It is rightly pointed out that sketching plans for the future requires making certain assumptions. The manner in which the British state conducts itself would seem to loom large in any independence scenario. And yet, beyond a rather casual discounting of a “Madrid style campaign of political repression”, there’s precious little discussion of how the British state will behave. Or, more pertinently, the assumptions it would be prudent to make about how it will behave.

In this regard, the discussion of a transition period resembles ‘wait and see’ talk of postponing a new referendum. In nether case do we find any recognition of the fact that locking Scotland into a political union is an absolute imperative for the British state. Factoring that imperative into our thinking, along with what we know of how the British state responded in 2014 when it began to look like Scotland might vote Yes, the only sensible conclusion is that we must anticipate that the British establishment will resort to desperate measures. We certainly cannot afford to underestimate their capacity for the very lowest of low politics.

In terms of those project management options, it seems likely that, at least to some extent, both ‘cheap’ and ‘good’ may have to be sacrificed in favour of ‘quick’.

This, too, is true of both the transition period and the scheduling of a new referendum. In both cases, we are almost certainly going to be obliged to compromise on cost and quality in order to get the thing done quickly. There’s no point in complaining. There was always going to be a price to pay for the No vote in 2014. Part of that price is that the democratic road to independence is now much narrower and daily more littered with obstacles.

How long before that road becomes impassable, or is closed altogether? Is a three year transition period even a choice? And, even if it is a choice now, will it still be a choice should The Postponers get their way and there is a delay of one, two or even three years before that transition period can commence?

What mischief might be wrought on Scotland between now and 2025?

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A pointless currency plan

moneyRather than “Common Weal campaigners say start new currency on day one of independence“, the headline should read “Common Weal wants to postpone independence until 2025!“. Because that is the real story here. Scratch the surface of Common Weal’s ‘radical’ currency proposal and you find a stolidly conservative reluctance to rock the constitutional boat.

The significant part of Common Weal’s plan has nothing to do with currency. Although an ‘independent’ Scottish currency pegged at parity to sterling is more of a variation on what has been proposed by the Sustainable Growth Commission (SGC) than a massive departure from it. And that remains the case even if the comparison is with the rather dubious representation of the SGC report’s recommendations offered in the article rather than with what that report actually said.

The claim that “the Growth Commission’s plans would likely result in Scotland being without its own currency for 15 years” is based on a highly prejudiced reading of the document combined with Common Weal’s own very questionable timetable for achieving independence. The SGC report doesn’t actually stipulate a period of ten years for the transition from sterling to a Scottish pound. Sensibly, it leaves that transition period undefined. Such a transition cannot possibly follow a predetermined time-scale. It is circumstances which will influence the pace. Management of Scotland’s currency arrangements must be a matter for government of the day.

That is what independence means. A government yoked to a ‘plan’ devised prior to independence by some group or organisation with no mandate can hardly be described as independent.

So, let’s set aside the currency aspect of the Common Weal ‘plan’ and look instead at what really matters. Namely the proposal to postpone a new referendum until 2021 and then delay the actual break from the UK for at least another three years on top of that.

The prospect of being thirled to the British state for another seven years has to be horrifying for anyone who is aware of what that implies for Scotland. But what is truly shocking is that Common Weal appears to have taken no account whatever of what is happening in the real world outside the economic models that they love to play with. They abstract issues such as currency from the complexity of real-world politics and deal with it in isolation; in the process, forgetting that this abstracted portion must, at some point, be related to the whole again.

Common Weal’s ‘plan’ for postponing action on the constitutional issue takes absolutely no account of what the British government is, and will be, doing while they work out the currency arrangements to their own satisfaction. Nor does it take any cognisance of the attitudes and priorities and preferences of the electorate. It is quite blind to the Yes movement and oblivious to its activities. Currency is their focus. Realpolitik must not be allowed to impinge.

All of which is largely, if not entirely, explained by the left’s near-pathological aversion to effective political power. To say that groups such as Common Weal have no interests in political power such as actually gets things done would be a gross understatement. They actively shun any contact with or consideration of it. The result is analysis which is, at best, inadequate. If the idea works in their nice clean abstract model, that is sufficient. Implementing it in the messy arena of politics is not a concern.

The question of where the British political elite will take Scotland in the next seven or eight years is never asked. The matter of what the independence campaign will do in response is not addressed. Delay is presented as a consequence-free option. Like so much of the ‘intellectual’ left in Scotland, Common Weal only thinks about being independent. The fairly important matter of becoming independent doesn’t enter into their calculations at all.

Common Weal’s currency plan is nonsense. Not because it wouldn’t work. It is almost certainly no less feasible than most of the other currency proposals that are floating around. In fact, it’s neither particularly radical nor very novel. We’ve heard it all before from others who imagine independence to be and economic rather than a constitutional issue. Their currency plan is nonsense because it takes no account of where Scotland will be in 2025 if we fail to act on the constitutional issue as a matter of urgency.

Common Weal’s plan is nonsense because, even if the currency bit of it was a work of pure genius, the vacuous naivety of the rest of it means that there will be no opportunity to implement the currency bit. By 2021 we may not even have a Scottish Parliament. Absent urgent action to prevent it, Holyrood will, at the minimum, be stripped of powers that would be required to hold a free, fair and winnable referendum. Where is the sense in a plan which critically depends on a referendum which is made massively unlikely by the same plan?

What is the point of a plan which might deliver a shiny new independent currency, but which all but certainly precludes actual independence?

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Wake up and smell the petrol!

Craig Dalzell and Common Weal do excellent work. I have no doubt that their paper on a Scottish Statistics Agency (SSA) is a worthwhile addition to an impressive and valuable body of work. But I am focused on the fight to restore Scotland’s independence. And this sort of thing is, at best, no more than tangentially related to that fight.

Would Scotland benefit from better collection, collation and analysis of a wide range of statistical information relating to all aspect of our economy and society? Of course!

Would such an agency be absolutely required after independence? Of course!

We already knew these things. Craig Dalzell’s paper fleshes out the detail. But it asks no new questions and provides no new answers. It adds nothing whatever to the constitutional debate.

It may well be argued that this was not the intention. But, because Common Weal is closely associated with the Yes movement, it is inevitable that both sides of that constitutional debate will seize on the paper – each for their own purposes.

Had there been any question that Scotland needs a statistics agency, or any reasonable doubt about our ability to create and run such an organisation, then this paper would almost certainly have served to answer those questions and allay those doubts. But, just as there is no serious uncertainty about Scotland’s economic viability, so there is no reason to wonder about whether we can manage the nation’s infrastructure.

So why should we be talking about either as part of the constitutional debate?

There is not, and never could be, an economic argument against independence.

There is not, and never could be, a practical argument against independence.

There are very powerful economic and practical arguments against the Union. It doesn’t work at all well and costs Scotland dearly in terms of realising our potential. Let’s hear more of those arguments. Let’s stop being defensive. Let’s stop acting as if we have to prove our right and ability to be a normal nation. It is the Union which is anomalous. It is for those who advocate the preservation of the Union to persuade us of its value to Scotland. We don’t have to prove anything.

Discussion of what Scotland might be like after independence is perfectly fine. But not if it is seen as making the case for independence. That case is already made. The answer to the question of whether Scotland should be an independent country can only ever be ‘Yes’. It’s not even a sensible question. We should be asking whether there is any rational case at all for Scotland remaining part of the UK.

Useful as debate about post-independence policy may be, it is a distraction from the main issue. The constitutional issue. And it may be a very dangerous distraction. The threat to Scotland’s democracy from ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism is real and imminent. Our democratic institutions, our distinctive political culture, our most precious public services and our potential to develop as a fairer, greener more prosperous nation – all are in immediate jeopardy.

An arsonist is dousing our house in petrol. And we are arguing about what colour to paint the bathroom.

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