Pillows against cannon

The Common Green is Craig Dalzell’s blog

I agree with everything Craig Dalzell says in his interview with The National, with two very important exceptions. The first regards his views on campaigning for a referendum on independence, rather than campaigning for independence itself. The second concerns his insistence that we should be campaigning for independence.

We always had two battles to fight over the past five years. Obviously, we had the fight to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. But before we could hope to properly engage in that battle we had first to affirm, secure and defend our right of self-determination. This was always where our opponents were going to attack. Because the British political elite continues to think as an imperial power.

To preserve the integrity of the homeland, the imperialist mindset is to always fight wars on someone else’s territory. That is why empires expand. Their borders are regarded as their weak points. The point at which the homeland comes into contact with the other and so is at the greatest risk of contamination. The impeccable logic of self-preservation demands that a ‘buffer zone’ be created to protect the sacred homeland. So, new territory is acquired by treaty or conquest or both. Or simply by disregarding the other’s sovereignty and daring them to object. Bullying, in other words.

To the British ruling elites, the Union represents the homeland. They would prefer not to engage in battle on that ground because to lose would be catastrophic. They are especially reluctant as an earlier skirmish which they thought they’d win easily almost cost them dearly. The innate defensiveness of the imperialist mindset means that they will seek to fend off any potential threat to the Union before it reaches their doorstep. Specifically, they will seek to deny and nullify Scotland’s right of self-determination – simultaneously undermining our sovereignty, this being inextricably entwined with the right to choose our constitutional status and form of government.

The mistake – and such it surely was – was to mount a campaign to get something we didn’t have (a referendum) rather than a campaign to protect something that was already ours (the right of self-determination).

For similar reasons, we should not have been campaigning for independence but against the Union. Such a campaign would have dovetailed nicely with the fight to protect our most essential sovereign rights as both the threat to the latter and the injustice of Scotland’s treatment at the hands of the British state both trace back to the same source – the Union.

By engaging in a campaign for independence we made independence the disputed concept which our opponents wanted it to be. Independence is normal. It is the Union which is anomalous. It is the Union which should be the disputed concept.

In every way, the defenders of the Union and established power have chosen the ground on which to engage with Scotland’s independence movement. Most particularly, they lured us into the valley of death for any campaign, economic argumentation. Those who insist we should continue to fight on this ground tend to do so because it is their turf. It’s where they feel comfortable. It’s the only place their weapons work. They are distinctly uncomfortable with the hand-to-hand combat of political campaigning on a constitutional issue.

Craig Dalzell seems like a decent chap. He has interesting things to say about the hypothetical economic policies in a hypothetical independent Scotland. But he is sadly lacking in his appreciation of what it will take to get us there. Any threat to the Union is, for the British political elite and potentially for established power, an existential threat. Their response is to either absorb the source of that threat – Scotland – or to crush it. Their existential threat becomes our existential threat. The battle is a constitutional fight for life. Perhaps, for Scotland at least, a fight to the death.

When asked why we lost the 2014 referendum, the short answer I usually give is that we took a pillow to a sword fight. I read and hear all this urging to continue doing what we’ve always done in the hope of a different – and better – outcome, and I despair. In the 2014 referendum campaign, we took a pillow to a sword fight. In the interim, we have allowed our opponents to rearm with guns. Meanwhile, we look set to go into battle with no more than a laundered, stitched and re-stuffed pillow to flap at the muzzles of British Nationalist artillery.



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A question of courage

A remark by Dr Craig Dalzell on his Common Green blog caught my attention. In an article discussing the post-independence fate of the British state’s nuclear arsenal on Scottish soil, he writes,

… it may be that the Scottish Government simply isn’t brave enough to demand the removal of the weapons…

Controversial as this statement may be, it was not what was suggested that struck me, but my reaction to it. Six months ago – maybe even three months ago – I would have responded angrily that it is totally ridiculous to imagine the SNP would renege on its commitment to remove this abomination from our land. I would have objected strongly to the suggestion that an SNP administration might go into talks with the British government unprepared and timid.

I would have pointed out what a strong hand the Scottish side in talks on the independence settlement would have. I would have mercilessly mocked the notion that SNP politicians could be unaware of that strength, or unwilling to use it.

Don’t get me wrong! I continue to be absolutely persuaded that arrangements for the removal of Trident will be a very important part of the settlement. The British state’s weapons of mass destruction must go. That is a political imperative. The precise nature of the arrangements will depend on a number of factors. But the bottom line is a red line. Trident must go!

No sane, sober and sensible person supposes that the whole shebang will be shut down and shipped out on day one. The single strong card that the Brits will have is safety. And that card trumps pretty much everything. The Scottish Government cannot set an unrealistic deadline for removal of the British state’s nuclear paraphernalia. It may be that the Scottish Government cannot set any kind of deadline at all without risking accusations of compromising safety for the sake of politics. But, whatever the arrangements are, it must be clear that the end-point is the total removal of Trident.

Personally, I favour the ramping rent solution. Craig Dalzell nicely sets out the problems – and potential problems – with a leasing arrangement. The danger that the Scottish exchequer grows over fond of – or reliant on – the revenue. The risk that a short-term lease becomes a long-term lease and then a rolling lease. I believe these issues can be overcome by making the lease increasingly expensive for the British state – rent rising annually by a percentage that also increases – so that there is a financial imperative to move out but no political pressure which might be portrayed as the Scottish Government lacking due concern for safety.

Also, revenue from the lease should be ring-fenced for one-off capital projects that otherwise would be unlikely to be funded. That way, Scotland’s budget doesn’t become dependent on income from the lease.

All of which is by way of an aside. The discussion of options relating to removal of Trident is interesting. But what troubled me about Craig Dalzell’s comment was the suggestion that ” the Scottish Government simply isn’t brave enough”. And the fact that, unlike a few months ago, I now felt disinclined to reject this out of hand.

I now find my self obliged to consider the possibility that the Scottish Government just isn’t brave enough. The long months, stretching into years, of hesitancy and prevarication and general reluctance to confront the constitutional issue has drained the confidence that I once had in the SNP and in Nicola Sturgeon.

The other day, as I was writing about the implications for Scotland of Boris Johnson being anointed British Prime Minister, I paused to reflect on how the Scottish people would react to something like the Scottish Parliament being ‘suspended’. Obviously, there would be anger. But I was surprised to find that, in my imagining, the anger was directed, not at Boris Johnson, the British state or the Union, but at the First Minister and the Scottish Government and the SNP. Being able to imagine something doesn’t make it true or likely. But continuing to envisage it, not in a reverie, but in the light of cold political analysis, causes alarm bells to ring.

The great American aviation pioneer and author, Amelia Earhart, once said,

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.

For far too long the de facto political arm of Scotland’s independence movement has been characterised by indecision and inaction. Whatever good the SNP administration has been doing – and it is undeniable that it has done a great deal of good – in terms of providing leadership for the independence movement and taking forward Scotland’s cause, the SNP’s performance has fallen far short of the hopes and expectations of many in the Yes movement. Opportunities have been missed. Initiative has been lost. Momentum has been squandered.

Maybe it’s true. Maybe the Scottish Government just isn’t brave enough.



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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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