Of questions and reframing

Michael Gove: A creature of unknown origins struggling to maintain human form.
Michael Gove: A creature struggling to maintain human form.

Michael Gove is correct. You won’t see or hear those words very often. And never without some qualification. My own qualifying supplement is that Gove is correct, but only partly, coincidentally and in a sense.

That the British Electoral Commission is wasting its time is true in the sense that, as an agency of the British state, it should have no role in the process that will restore Scotland’s independence. It is also true that the British Electoral Commission is wasting its time in the sense that it is testing the wrong question. But we’ll come back to that.

Given that the British Electoral Commission should not play any part in Scotland’s exercise of its right of self-determination it follows that whatever process the British Electoral Commission is involved in cannot be intended to lead to the restoration of Scotland’s independence. This necessarily implies that Scotland’s First Minister had some other purpose in mind when she formally requested that the British Electoral Commission re-test the question that was asked in the 2014 referendum. One more way in which Nicola Sturgeon is going over old ground and repeating the mistakes of the past and failing to learn lessons and acting as if nothing has changed since the first independence referendum and so it’s perfectly appropriate to do everything the same way as it was done then.

Michael Gove is almost certainly correct about this other purpose being to maintain the pretence of a 2020 referendum as not-quite-promised by the First Minister. It is difficult to fathom what other reason she might have for embarking on such an exercise. No legislation has been proposed or passed in the Scottish Parliament to enable a referendum this year. Until that legislation is passed, nobody can know what the question on the ballot paper will be. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that a different question might be suggested and that this could be the question chosen by MSPs. The First Minister may think it a good idea to act as if nothing had changed since the first referendum. But MSPs might disagree. It’s a gratifying thought, even if no more than that.

Which brings us back to Michael Gove’s assertion that the British Electoral Commission is wasting its time because the First Minister’s request that they re-test a question which has already been tested in the most effective way possible is merely “an exercise designed to persuade Scottish National Party members that a referendum is imminent”. He is only partly correct. The exercise is designed to fool the entire Yes movement into believing that a referendum is imminent. But, of course, there is no way a British Nationalist such as Michael Gove will admit to support for independence beyond the ranks of SNP members. He has to stay on-message. Scotland’s cause must be portrayed as a minority obsession.

As already noted, the re-testing of the 2014 referendum question is a waste of time not only because it has already been subjected to the ultimate test of use in an actual referendum in addition to passing all pre-testing but because, supposing the First Minister comes to her senses, it will not be the question asked in a future referendum and because, supposing the First Minister comes to her senses, no agency of any external government will be permitted a role in the process the next time Scotland’s people exercise their right of self-determination.

What that testing of the old question tells us is that, while it may have been adequate and acceptable when it was agreed, that was more than seven years ago. The political landscape has undergone tectonic changes since January 2013. It is, at the very least, questionable whether the same question could be adequate and acceptable in dramatically altered circumstances. I would maintain that it is unquestionably inadequate, unacceptable and just plain wrong.

I was never happy with the question asked in the 2014 referendum.

“Should Scotland be an independent country?”

Put that question to the people of any other nation and they’ll assume you’re ignorantly offensive or simply daft. Independence is normal. Independence is the default status of all nations. The people of other nations take it for granted that their nation should be independent. Other than those who have experienced occupation by an aggressive imperialist and/or totalitarian power, they would probably have difficulty imagining anything different. Independence is normal. Only in cringe-ridden Scotland would such a question be asked. Only in meekly, obsequiously subordinate Scotland could such a question be asked without provoking widespread outrage and anger. Only the colonised mind might find this question acceptable. Only the colonised mind would fail to challenge and reject the premise that Scotland “should” be anything other than a normal independent country.

The question originally proposed by Alex Salmond’s administration was only slightly better. Only marginally less offensive. And only is one were making generous allowance for the context of devolution and the constraints this imposes on the Scottish Government.

“Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?”

This at least hints at independence being the default assumption. Which is almost certainly why the British government objected to it. The British establishment cannot allow that anything other that the iniquitously asymmetric Union is ‘normal’. As one would expect, the British Electoral Commission sided with the British Establishment of which it is part. The question was disallowed, effectively for acknowledging normality.

To be fair, it is likely that Salmond anticipated this. He is, after all, one of the most astute and wily political operators of our time. The sort of player it would suit the British establishment to have removed from the field. He was bound to be aware that the British political elite would protest every proposal he proffered for no other reason than that it was he who was proffering it. They had to be seen to be keeping the uppity Jocks in line. Especially the uppiest of all uppity Jocks. Knowing the first proposal was going to be rejected, Salmond ensured that the second was something he could live with.

He did much the same with the so-called “second question”. Which was actually a third option on the ballot for some form of enhanced devolution – or ‘devo-max’. This was the last thing Salmond wanted as it would split the constitutional reform vote at significant cost to the Yes option. His crafty solution was to drop a hint in a speech that it was his preference. The response from the British government was precisely as he expected. And exactly what he wanted. The “second question” was excluded.

The ballot question that was settled on struck me not only as offensive to the un-colonised or decolonised Scottish mind, but as massively misleading in that it made independence the contentious concept. Independence is normal. It is not and never can be a contentious concept. It is the concept of a nation’s status that is assumed by pretty much everybody in every other nation. Although there are some in some nations who are eager to threaten the independence of other countries, few if any question the appropriateness of independence for their own nation. Only in Scotland will you find people who consider the independence of their own nation a contentious concept – and a horrifying prospect.

Making the concept of independence the focus of debate gave the anti-independence campaign a huge advantage. It got Unionists and British Nationalist off the hook very nicely. The last thing they wanted was a debate about the Union and what it means for Scotland. But, by rights, that is what the referendum campaign should have been. It should have been a rigorous examination of the Union and forceful interrogation of those who seek its preservation at any cost to Scotland. It wasn’t. The question defines the campaign. And the question in the 2014 referendum forced the Yes side to defend the constitutional normality of independence rather than attacking the constitutional aberration that is the Union. And it allowed the forces intent on continuing to deny the sovereignty of Scotland’s people to dodge questions about their ‘precious’ Union and to focus on generating a thick fog of doubt around the concept of independence. The question in the 2014 referendum was an absolute gift to the anti-independence campaign.

It was doubt wot won it! A more apt nickname for Better Together than ‘Project Fear’ would have been ‘Project Doubt’. The entire No campaign was an exercise in reframing. The issue was reframed from being about the Union to being about independence. The question on the ballot did much of the work for them. Questions generate doubt. It’s human nature. If as you leave home to go on holiday somebody asks if you remembered to lock the back door, it doesn’t matter how certain you were that you had, as soon as the question is asked you start to have doubts. Doubts that may haunt you and ruin your holiday. Doubts that may even put you off going away altogether.

So it was with ‘Project Doubt’. The No campaign was essentially just an incessant stream of questions blasted into the minds of Scotland’s voters by the British media. Questions create doubt. The British establishment and its lackeys in Scotland knew that this was all they had to do. People tend to be averse to change of any kind. They also tend to be risk averse. All that was required was that the independence which is generally regarded as normal should be made to appear a very dubious prospect for Scotland. A step into the unknown. A leap in the dark. The question provided the foundation for a No campaign that was entirely an edifice of lies and intimidation.

All of this was aided by the fact that independence itself is not in undisputed concept. There is no single definition. There could be no unified Yes message because the Yes movement is so proudly diverse. The campaign for independence itself generated doubt because it was never clear which of the variations on the theme of independence was the independence being campaigned for. A situation that was only aggravated by the tendency of all too many in the Yes movement to run with propaganda cues being fed to the anti-independence campaign by the British media.

It all stems from the question asked on the ballot paper. National independence may have some legal definition. But in the context of Scotland’s civic nationalism the term refers at least as much to intangibles such as promise and potential as to a status specified in law. It is not possible to build an effective political campaign around a disputed concept. An effective campaign message cannot be vague or diffuse or ambiguous or ambivalent. The question asked in the 2014 referendum campaign ensured that the Yes side would be obliged to attempt the impossible. That the Yes campaign did so well was entirely down the the huge numbers of Yes campaigners and the massive effort they put in. They did Scotland proud. And they did it despite a question that stacked the deck against them from the outset.

Nicola Sturgeon proposes to use the same question. Think about that.

The 2014 referendum should have been, in the words of Dr Elliot Bulmer, a “constitutional conversation” about “rights, identity, values and principles”. Instead, it ended up being an unseemly and unedifying squabble about money. This was the second wave of the No campaign’s reframing exercise. The constitutional question was reframed as an economic issue. How better to generate doubt than to let loose the economic doom-mongers who can be hired to make an economic case against breathing if the intention is to suffocate the credulous en masse. Which, perhaps counter-intuitively, would be very, very wrong.

There were lessons to be learned from this. None appear to have been learned. Nicola Sturgeon is still talking about “making the economic case for independence”.

Independence is normal. It is the Union which is anomalous. It is the Union which should be under scrutiny in a constitutional referendum. It is the constitution which should be the topic of debate.

Self-evidently, this describes a referendum and a campaign both entirely different from the previous one. And yet Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP seem determined to replicate that first referendum and campaign in every way possible. The same Section 30 process. The same referendum question and, given that the question defines the campaign, the same unseemly and unedifying squabble about money. No lessons learned and no meaningful account taken of the drastically altered political landscape. It makes no sense!

If it did make some sense, somebody would be able to explain it. I have been questioning this ‘strategy’ for some years now. Certainly since 2015. As I write, I have yet to receive a sensible response. I am inundated with requests and demands to stop asking the questions. But I have been given no answers to questions I have asked inter alia about the Section 30 process. Nobody is willing or able to address the serious concerns that are now being voiced by more and more people in the party and the Yes movement. Attempts by others to open up discussion about strategy have been shut down quickly and with an efficiency that is slightly disturbing. And still none of it makes any kind of sense.

The lessons of the past are clear and easy enough to take on board even if not quite so simply translated into action. Those lessons can be distilled down to two statements about a new referendum.

The referendum process, from beginning to end, must be entirely made and managed in Scotland. It must, in compliance with international laws and conventions; in keeping with best practice; of necessity; and insofar as it may be practicable, prohibit and exclude any and all external interference and influence in the exercise by the people of Scotland of their inalienable democratic right of self-determination.
The referendum must seek the verdict of the people of Scotland on the Union. The referendum campaign must be focused on the constitutional issue being decided. The question on the ballot must relate to the Union. However the question is worded, it must ask that the people of Scotland decide whether they want Scotland to remain bound in the Union.*

Achieving this will require that the entire idea of the referendum be rethought and the campaign reformulated. It will involve an exercise in reframing at least as comprehensive and effective as that by which the British state thwarted Scotland’s aspirations in the first referendum.

It will require a Scottish Government and a First Minister prepared to act boldly and decisively and determinedly. It will require that our elected representatives act like the political leaders of a nation for which independence is a natural condition and rightful status. It will require that we all act as the citizens of an independent nation would if called upon to defend their independence and their distinctive political culture.

And it all needs to start five years ago.

* I should have said something about the form of the ballot paper and the manner in which the question is put. This was a clumsy omission for which I apologise and which I shall now seek to rectify.

The question should take the form of a proposal to dissolve Union with voters being invited to agree (YES) or disagree (NO). This YES/NO arrangement must be maintained. The Yes ‘brand’ is far too well-established and much too intimately bound to the independence campaign for it to be altered without causing confusion. To a lesser degree perhaps, the same could be said of NO. These words now define the two sides in the constitutional debate. Messing with that is a recipe for disaster.

The proposal on the ballot paper will reiterate the proposal passed by the Scottish Parliament. It may be feasible, and thought wise, to have a concise statement of the proposal on the front of the ballot paper and a longer, fuller explanation on the reverse. Copies of the proposal, in all relevant languages, will already have been widely distributed in the course of the campaign.

I shall offer two distinct and valuable advantages to putting the question in this way.

Firstly, everybody will know exactly what they are voting for (or against). There can be no subsequent argument about what a particular vote ‘means’. It’s there in clear print on every ballot paper.

Secondly, neither official campaign organisations nor the media will be able to misrepresent the issue. It may be considered efficacious to require that campaign organisations be required to carry the proposal text on all publications. It may even be a good idea to make misrepresentation of the proposal a criminal offence.

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A wise move?

Once again, a Minister in the SNP administration offers us rousing rhetoric and encouraging noises but nothing of substance. Mike Russell assures us that independence is coming, but says not a word about how. He says a new referendum this year is “perfectly feasible”, but fails to explain how such a hope can be sustained in the face of the First Minister’s commitment to the Section 30 process.

He urges the people of Scotland to campaign and argue for a new referendum as if that wasn’t what most of us have been doing while he and his colleagues were preoccupied with Brexit. What he doesn’t tell us is how all this campaigning and arguing can have any effect on a British political elite which has not the smallest regard for democratic principles and only contempt for Scotland and its people.

Mike Russell proclaims his belief that “faced with the choice of Brexit Britain or an independent membership of the EU” the people of Scotland would choose the latter. But his belief can be no more than a faith position unless and until it is supported by a credible strategy for making it something more. We don’t need belief. We don’t need a faith position. We don’t need mere fine words. What we need is a practical plan to achieve a positive outcome. And we need Mike Russell or someone at least as senior in the Scottish Government to explain how the Section 30 process can be consistent with any credible strategy or practical plan to facilitate the exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination.

I cannot imagine Mike Russell is unaware of the fact that the administration he serves in has taken the independence project down a blind alley. I do not suppose him to be totally oblivious to Scotland’s true predicament or the growing clamour for action to deal with that predicament. Where are the proposals for such action? Where are the ideas? Where is the sense of urgency?

Is there no-one close to the SNP leadership who is passing on the concerns of those who see the Section 30 process as the trap that it clearly is? Personally, I had hoped Mike Russell would fulfil this role. Perhaps he intends to do so. Perhaps that is why he has given notice of his intention to quit. Maybe he is setting himself up to challenge the First Minister on her stubborn commitment to a process which is wholly dependent on obtaining the willing and honest cooperation of the British government. Maybe he is getting ready to propose a change of approach to the constitutional issue ahead of the SNP’s postponed Spring Conference. Maybe he has decided he has nothing to lose and, by announcing his decision to stand down has neutralised any leverage the First Minister might have had.

Somehow, this doesn’t seem believable. It doesn’t sound much like Mike Russell. And surely if he was about to make some proposals for taking the independence projet forward then he would want to stick around to see it through.

It could, of course, be that Mr Russell has simply had enough and wants to retire. That would be understandable. But he is an astute politician. He must have known that the announcement of his decision to bring his parliamentary career to a close would spark speculation. His motives were always going to be the subject of much conjecture. Some might even suppose that he is anticipating the backlash as more and more people realise how bad the situation is and has decided to remove himself from the scene before the mob arrives armed with a battery of awkward questions. I can only commend the wisdom of such a choice.

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What would YOU do?

What would you do? What’s your alternative, smartarse? You’re very good at criticising, but where are your positive suggestions?

I am asked questions like this all the time. Variations on the demand to know what I would do instead have become the standard response when I point out things that the Scottish Government and/or the First Minister are doing that I maintain are mistaken or misguided. There’s been quite a lot of that lately. Much to my dismay. And that’s something people would do well to bear in mind. I get no pleasure from criticising the administration and condemning Nicola Sturgeon. More the latter than the former because the administration, generally speaking does a good job. It is in the matter of the constitutional issue that I take exception and that is all on Nicola Sturgeon’s shoulders. Although Mike Russell may take a bit of flak as well.

I would much rather go back to my previous practice of circumspection. Not that I wouldn’t criticise the party, but I would only do so if the criticism was weighed against the interests of Scotland’s cause and tipped the scales. Even then, I was cautious about the tone of the criticism. I still am. I’m appropriately obliged to the hundreds of people who have been presumptuous enough to point out to me how essential the SNP is to the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence. I can only assume that these people comment in ignorance of my lever analogy. One really shouldn’t condemn from a position of ignorance.

I have to assume, also, that the interlocutors in question are afflicted with some form of reading difficulty. Because in all of the material I have written berating and bemoaning Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘strategy’ on the constitutional issue I have never once suggested or implied or hinted or left room for the honest impression that I didn’t acknowledge the vital role of the SNP in the independence project. Nor have I ever done anything other than encourage people to vote SNP at every opportunity. So much so that I was only today referred to by someone obviously unacquainted with my more recent output as an “SNP arse-licker”.

What would you do? The question, however it is framed and regardless of the accompanying epithets (mostly woefully unimaginative), irks me. It irks me somewhat for the false allegations, as described above, stated or implied. It irks me more because the question is commonly deployed, not as a genuine enquiry, but to divert from whatever criticism I’m making. Let’s not talk about what’s actually being done by the people with power. Let’s talk about what someone who has no power might hypothetically do if he did. It’s a feeble and rather cowardly way to avoid having to admit that they cannot address the criticism. They have nothing meaningful to say about whatever defect or deficiency it is that I’ve identified. They have no way to refute the arguments. So they try to change the subject. Pathetic!

It irks me when people imply, or explicitly state, that criticism cannot be valid if no alternative is offered. I’ll let that one lie here and steam gently taking care not to step in it as I move on.

But the question irks me most because it is very unfair. It asks me what I would do in a situation that is not of my making. A situation which, had I the power that is being hypothetically attributed to me, would not have arisen. It demand’s to know how I would clean up somebody else’s mess.

If people were to ask what would I have done, that would be a fair question. And no more hypothetical than the one I’m being asked. And it might even be a sensible, useful question. There’s a chance that figuring out how a situation might have been averted might reveal clues as to how it may be rectified. At the very least, such revision could provide insights relating to the actual situation and a better understanding of the problems. At the very, very least there may be valuable lessons for the future nested like pearls in the oyster of rewritten history.

I am now going to assume that somebody has asked the sensible question. I shall pretend someone has had the wits to ask what I would have done. All the while mourning the fact that I have to pretend.

What would I have done differently? How would I have avoided the present situation? Anyone with the sense to ask that question would almost certainly wish to point out that a future event or development can only be averted if it can be foreseen. You can’t avoid it if you don’t see it coming. I maintain that it was perfectly possible to predict how things would pan out given various educated assumptions.

The story of what I would have done begins on Friday 19 September 2014. Or maybe a day or two after that. But no later. I really did start thinking about a second referendum almost immediately after the unfortunate (euphemism!) outcome of the first one. I set myself the immediate task of working out the earliest possible date for this new referendum after which I undertook a review of the past campaign to see what lessons might be learned. I won’t go into the process by which I arrived at a date; I’ve told the story enough times to be bored with it and it’s not that important. What matters is that it wasn’t just picked at random. It was a rough calculation, not a complete guess. The date was Thursday 20 September 2018.

This was the earliest date for a new referendum. When the EU referendum came along, I had to take another look. By one of those weird coincidences that give superstitious folk goosebumps. it turned out that taking the EU referendum into consideration Thursday 20 September 2018 went from being the earliest date for a new referendum to the latest. This was due to the constitutional implications of what would come to be called Brexit.

Of course, I couldn’t know the result of the EU referendum beforehand. But it wasn’t difficult to figure out what the consequences would be whichever way it went. The September 2018 date was intended to allow Scotland to escape Brexit. Or, more precisely, the constitutional implications of the UK leaving the EU. Bear in mind that my calculations didn’t take account of the extensions. Cut me a bit of slack here! By the time we were at the Article 50 extension stage it was already too late for a September 2018 vote.

The preparation for that vote should have started in 2015. That left plenty of time before for a thorough review of the 2014 campaign, and sufficient time after for the process leading up to a vote – principally, the passing of legislation.

I would have fired the starting gun immediately after the 2015 UK general election on 7 May. I would have announced the date and set out a timetable for the preparations. I may be accused of exploiting 20/20 hindsight concerning the result of that election. But while I can’t and wouldn’t claim to have foreseen the scale of the SNP landslide, I was confident that, riding the wave of enthusiasm that followed the 2014 referendum, the SNP would do well. Certainly well enough to provide an excellent backdrop against which to announce the new referendum.

People will say that ‘we didn’t have the numbers’ at that time. But the surest way to get the numbers is to give people something to latch onto. The surest way to not get the numbers is not to do anything at all. People aren’t inspired by inaction.

The main problem with launching so far in advance would have been maintaining momentum. But we had the Scottish Parliament elections in 2016 as well as a number of other electoral events. And, with a big group of MPs at Westminster it would not have been difficult to engineer enough ‘activity’ to keep the issue live and lively. The 2016 Holyrood elections would not have been as fraught as they were because the spirit which existed post-2014 would not have been allowed to subside and dissipate in the way that it did. And there would have been the passage of various bits of legislation in the Scottish Parliament to keep the media interested. The Referendums Act just enacted last December was, like so much the Scottish Government has done, at least two and as much as four years late. I would not have allowed that time to be squandered.

Already it can be seen how things would have been totally different if we’d gone for #Referendum2018. And I am firmly persuaded we could have won. The conditions would have been better because we would have acted to make them better rather than sitting around waiting for them to magically improve. The campaign itself would have been better because, having properly learned the lessons of the 2014 campaign I would have ensured that the 2018 campaign was different in a number of significant ways. I’m not sure if details of this are relevant here. I’ll gladly answer questions about what I would have done in terms of the actual campaign. And, indeed, what I would still do were there to be a campaign in the future.

Instead of seizing the moment, we gave the British government time to recover from every one of its serial fuck-ups. Now, we’re up against an administration with a substantial majority, led by a man who, for all his buffoon image, has so far got everything he wanted and, most important, a British government with the ideological mindset to fully exploit the power afforded it by the Union without pause or scruple or any consideration of principle.

Most of the foregoing is stuff that I was happy to talk about in the years between 2014 and 2018. And talk about it I did – both online and at countless gatherings. And people were coming round to the idea of a 2018 referendum. But it was not to be. There were some things that I declined to talk about back then, however. Things that I could foresee, but which I foreswore to speak of. For reasons which should become obvious.

Even in 2015 I could see that the good ship SNP was going to hit the odd rock within a very few years. Not that I had specific predictions. Just that history tells us parties which are in government for a decade start to encounter problems. I think we can safely say I was correct. And you can see why it would have been inappropriate to say anything about this at the time. Just as in was both inappropriate and inadvisable to mention the fact that cracks would eventually start to show in the Yes movement. Fortunately, the Yes movement has proven to be remarkably resilient and robust. Without doubt, it is the best thing to come out of the 2014 campaign. But how long can people keep marching as they see their destination receding?

Similarly, it was possible five years ago to see which way the British government was headed. I don’t claim to have predicted that Boris Johnson would become Prime Minister. I wish I’d had a tenner on that in 2014! But it was entirely possible to read the trends. The British political system was bound to excrete a Boris Johnson eventually.

Brexit hadn’t even become a word and it was obvious it would be a total shambles. Without ten years of planning and preparation, it couldn’t be anything else. What was important to recognise was how this would influence the government in London and the electorate in England-as-Britain. It might have been assumed that the government would be weakened by making such a hash of things. But the way the British system works is that governments which fuck up deal with the problems they’ve created for themselves by making themselves stronger. And in the process they become more populist. So the anticipated backlash from the voters never materialises.

Five years ago it was possible to see where British ‘demockracy’ was headed. I would have avoided being dragged down with the rest of the UK. I would have been campaigning while these fuck-ups were happening or fresh in people’s minds. I wouldn’t have been asking the voters to think back and try to get angry again about something the British media barely reported at the time and have played down ever since. I wouldn’t have adopted a strategy of allowing the worst to happen in the hope of political advantage.

The one thing I came nowhere near to predicting is Nicola Sturgeon’s handling of the constitutional issue. Quite honestly, if you were to ask me what I would do now, I’d be stumped. I’m not even sure this can be fixed. In five years we’ve gone from the certainty that independence would be restored to clinging to the last vestiges of confidence that we will even have a referendum before the British Nationalist juggernaut crushes the final bit of hope.

It could all have been so different.

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Wellness is a thing

Michael Fry may not be familiar with the word ‘wellness’, but that in itself does not bring it into the kind of disrepute that he implies. In fact, the term has been around since the mid-17th century; although, as with many words, its meaning has undergone some change through usage, it originally served as the most obvious antonym of ‘illness’. That it’s meaning has changed somewhat should not surprise us, as language is organic. It evolves.

I have another word for Michael to add to his vocabulary; ‘misoneism’ meaning hatred or dislike of what is new or represents change. From this, we get the word ‘moneist’, which may or may not describe him. Also, ‘moneistic’, which would certainly apply to his attitude.

Michael informs us that “there is not a professional economist in the world who places absolute, unquestioning faith in GDP figures”. I’m glad about that. Because there are a fair few of us who are disinclined to place absolute, unquestioning faith in economists. When he assures us that “economists are always wary of placing total trust in them [GDP measures] “, many of us read this as “economists are always wary of being pinned down to any number”. They do like a bit of deniability. And who can blame them? If John Kenneth Galbraith is to be believed – and he surely is – then “the only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable”.

The difference between economics and real science is that, whereas the latter seeks to arrive at conclusions which take account of all the facts for which there is evidence, the economist is better known for omitting facts that are in evidence but which don’t sit comfortably with the desired conclusion. An eversion to the holistic flows naturally from this.

Measuring wellness may be more difficult than counting beans. But I suspect the biggest problem for economists is that it is an attempt to include in estimations of economic performance some of the things that economists prefer to leave out. The National Wellness Institute lists these factors as the six dimensions of wellness: emotional, occupational, physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual. In a sense, wellness is a measure of the effects on people of economic models in operation.

To me, this seems eminently sensible. Imagine if you designed and built a car which performed exceptionally well on all the customary measure – fuel consumption, emissions, acceleration, carrying capacity – but which, in use, cause the occupants to die of asphyxiation. Would it not be advisable to take account of the effect on people in such circumstances?

Wellness may be a novel concept to Michael Fry, but it is simply a convenient label for the aggregate of all the things we might take into account if when somebody asked: “How are you?”, we attempted to provide the most honest and comprehensive answer possible. (Don’t do this at home, children. People will think you’re weird.) It may seem like it’s strictly for the New Age crystal huggers and Gwyneth Paltrow worshippers, but it’s actually fundamental to a proper understanding of economic performance. Wellness may be thought of as one of the outputs of the economy. We should be striving to maximise wellness in the same way, and for the same reasons, as the widget-maker tries to maximise her output of widgets.

Experience and history tell us clearly enough why economists would baulk at their models being assessed in terms of the effect they have on people’s wellbeing. To date, they haven’t had too much success with mechanical economic systems in which people are regarded as mere production and consumption units and any wellness deficiency attributed to their inadequacy rather than being accounted for as a function of the economy.

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It is time!

“It’s time to give Scotland the chance to choose our own future.” – Nicola Sturgeon

Give? Really, First Minister? Not to be pernickety, but how can the British government possibly “give” the people of Scotland something which is inalienably ours? How might they gift us something which isn’t in their gift?

And even supposing it was theirs to give, why would we want it? Why would we want anything the British state might be prepared to give to us? If they are prepared to give it, they must consider it worthless. And if it turns out not to be worthless in our hands, they reserve the right to take it back.

Language matters, First Minister. It both expresses and shapes our mindset. If you habitually speak as if you are a supplicant carving a boon from their superior, then that is how you will tend to think of yourself. It is certainly how others will be led to think of you. Especially if you are, by your words, merely confirming their prejudices.

In refusing a Section 30 order Boris Johnson is not clinging jealously to something that is his. He is trying to impede our taking something that is ours. He is attempting to deny us the full and effective exercise of our sovereign right to determine the constitutional status of our nation and choose the form of government which best addresses our needs, priorities and aspirations.

To speak of Scotland being ‘given’ the chance to choose our own future implies that there is some doubt about the fact that the choice must be ours because the future is. It implies a mindset which regards independence as something that would be nice to have if only we could persuade the British state to grant it to us. Better for that you, as First Minister of Scotland and leader of the SNP, should think of independence as an essential thing that is rightfully ours but which is being wrongfully withheld from us by the British state.

Asking for “the chance to choose our own future” also implies a persistent hope that the British political elite will eventually relent. That they can be won over by incessant appeals to reason or principle or conscience. I ask you, First Minister, what cause is there to suppose this to be anything other than a forlorn hope? Does not all evidence and experience indicate that the British political elite is determined to preserve the Union at any cost? Do the words and deeds of British politicians not tell of an abiding disrespect for Scotland and for democracy? Has it not yet become clear to Scotland’s political leaders, as it has to increasing numbers of Scotland’s people, that locking Scotland into the Union is an overarching imperative for England-as-Britain?

And even supposing the right of self-determination was theirs to give and they could be persuaded to give it, do you not recognise that this ‘gift’ would come wrapped in caveats and conditions and conceals traps such as to make it useless for our purposes?

Please, First Minister, stop saying, “It’s time to give Scotland the chance to choose our own future.” Start saying that it is time for Scotland to take what is rightfully ours. Time to defy Boris Johnson and the British government. It is time to stop trying to avoid a confrontation that can only be avoided by abandoning Scotland’s cause. It is time to accept that the route to independence does not and never can lie through Westminster but must be by way of the only Parliament which can claim democratic legitimacy in Scotland. It is time!

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Power and effect

Neil Mackay

It’s not often one gets to say this, but Gerry Hassan’s column in the Sunday National (Scottish independence: the rise of people power in Scotland) is an enjoyable as well as an interesting read. Enjoyable – perhaps even inspiring – because it is about something which is inevitably close to the heart of everyone associated with the Yes movement – people power. What is the Yes movement but a wonderful example of people coming together to use their collective democratic power for a worthy purpose?

Like all the best popular movements, the origins of Yes are a bit vague. Inevitably so since such movements are not created but, rather, emerge from the populace – the demos. Popular movements are not launched, they arise. There may be a single spark, but it ignites many fires. In the case of the Yes movement, the spark was the 2014 referendum and the separate fires were the various Yes groups which sprang up all over Scotland. Initially, these groups were initiated by Yes Scotland, the official pro-independence campaign organisation. With a speed which I think it’s safe to say startled everyone, these groups began forming spontaneously, facilitated and fanned by social media. At some indefinable point, due largely to the networking capacity offered by the web, that scattering of individual groups became a movement. An amorphous, organic and rather chaotic phenomenon gradually realising the potential of its power.

Power itself is useless. In order to do anything it must be fed into some kind of machine. It is the machinery which does the actual work. As Gerry Hassan makes clear, All Under One Banner (AUOB) is an illuminating example of a mechanism by which raw people power is transformed into operational effect. It is organisations such as AUOB which draw together the different strands of disparate and diffuse people power, amplifying it and applying it to specific tasks or functions.

Which brings us to what I have previously referred to as the ‘organisation problem‘.

Yes is a diverse, open, inclusive, unstructured popular movement. It is NOT an organisation. That is as it should be. That is its strength. It is not hierarchical. It is an amorphous, informal, organic network. That is the essence of its power.
There are no leaders of the Yes movement. But there are leaders IN the Yes movement. Leadership arises as leadership is required. When that leadership ceases to be necessary, it merges back into the movement ready to be called upon if needed. The Yes movement has no need of leaders so long as it has this potential for emergent leadership.

Some of the Yes movement’s activities demand organisation. People put effort into creating the appropriate organisation within the movement. This is NOT a simple task. Creating an organisation within an organisation is relatively easy. Creating an organisation within a movement which eschews and is averse to formal structures is a hugely demanding task.

In that article I went on to observe that,

It takes a special kind of character to even attempt such a task. It takes extraordinary commitment, dedication and sheer hard work to see it through.

Neil Mackay is representative of that kind of character. Although anything but a ‘one-man band’, Neil’s name serves as a metonym for AUOB and, to some extent, for all the organisations which have been formed within the Yes movement.

The lesson here is that, however much the idea of people power may appeal to us, it doesn’t actually do anything absent the individuals and organisations which give it operational effect. The idea of Scotland’s independence being won by people power is at best misleading fallacy and at worst counter-productive delusion. There is a purist notion of people power which rejects, or only reluctantly accepts, the need for any machinery. This is simplistic nonsense. Ultimately, power of any kind has to use, or be used, by some form of organisation in order to have any effect. And organisations rely on individuals with particular abilities and attributes. Organisations like AUOB. Individuals like Neil Mackay.

Political parties are also part of the machinery which gives effect to popular power. All too many people won’t accept this. How often do you hear people say that they ‘hate political parties’, or ‘detest party politics’? I could discuss at length how this is a prejudice which established power is happy to encourage. And why wouldn’t they? What could suit prevailing power better than that countervailing power should spurn the means to challenge the status quo?

People power requires the machinery of organisations in order to build a campaign. That campaign requires a political party in order to be translated into effective action through the institutions and processes of democracy. There is, and can be, no direct connection between people power and social or political reform. It is critically important to recognise that movement, campaign and party are separate and distinct. They interact. But each has its function and all are crucial to success in effecting change.

The analogy which best represents this relationship portrays the SNP as the lever by which Scotland will be prised out of the Union; the Scottish Government is the fulcrum on which the lever turns; the Scottish Parliament is the base on which the fulcrum rests, and the Yes movement is the force which must be applied to the lever. No component works without the others. Each component must perform as required and work well with the rest of the system.

Which brings me (at last!) to my main point. From all of the foregoing it can be seen that it matters a great deal that people power is correctly directed. No useful purpose is served if that power is organised into a campaign only for that campaign to be spent on a political agent which cannot translate that power into the desired political effect. Which is why I was delighted to see the following quote from Neil Mackay.

AUOB’s aim is to push the Scottish Government and to emphasise the power underneath them. We are here to hold them to account and to hold their feet to the fire as much as we do to Westminster.

Look back at that lever analogy. Do you see any mention of Westminster? It is not there because it has no place. It contributes nothing to the process of restoring Scotland’s independence. If Westminster was to be shoe-horned into our analogy it could only be as the resistance to the lever’s movement. Scotland’s independence will not be restored by, or by way of, Westminster. People power applied to the British establishment is, in terms of the objective, all but entirely squandered. The British state has a capacity for disintegrating and/or deflecting and/or absorbing popular pressure that has been acquired and perfected over several centuries. There is no possibility of help for the Yes movement from that direction.

Neil Mackay is right. The power of the Yes movement must now be turned on the Scottish Government and Nicola Sturgeon, both in her role as our First Minister and in her role as leader of the SNP. Their purpose is to provide the Yes movement with effective political power. The Yes movement must put pressure on them to use that power effectively.

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Here we go again!

Assuming he is offering even the vaguest insight into current thinking at the top of the SNP then Toni Giugliano’s article in The National will make depressing reading for all but the most mindlessly complacent independence campaigners. The message I’m getting is that we should expect the First Minister’s ‘demand’ for a Section 30 order will be treated with the same contempt as the previous request to Theresa May and that the First Minister’s only response will be to try and whip up some outrage at the contempt with which Scotland is treated by the British political elite. Outrage which, when combined with anger at the impact of Brexit – not the fact of Brexit but the consequences – will generate a massive groundswell of support for independence propelling the SNP to an equally massive victory in the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections that will “make a Section 30 irrefutable”.

Haven’t we been here before? It’s like déjà vu on an endless loop. It’s like somebody lost the last two reels of Groundhog Day. It’s like the entire independence movement has come under the leadership of the Grand Old Duke of York. We’re repeatedly marched up the hill only to have John Bull send us scurrying back down the slope where we stand around telling each other how close we were and how we’ll make it to the summit next time. But the hill never gets any lower. And John Bull is tireless as he blocks our path.

The cycle is endless. The Grand Old Duke of York is set in his ways and won’t even listen to suggestions of another route to the top which bypasses John Bull. Talk of confronting John Bull is considered mutinous. The Duke is an officer and a gentleman and insists that John Bull be respected and obeyed
It would, he insists, be pointless reaching our fortress atop the hill without John Bull’s permission because even with an entire army we would not be able to defend it.

Mostly, the troops dutifully follow the leader. A few wonder aloud why we are unable to get back to Independence Castle when we own it and all the roads that lead to it. But their voices are drowned out by the bugles and the bands and the battle-cries as the Yes army sets off on another futile expedition.

I’ve probably strained the metaphor beyond breaking point. But I try to find different ways of saying the same thing even if Toni Giugliano doesn’t.

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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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Mhairi’s voice

If, as Mhairi Black states, the purpose of this Saturday’s rally is to “send a message to the Westminster establishment” then it will be a wasted effort. The Westminster establishment isn’t listening. The Westminster establishment doesn’t care.

Why should they care what Scotland says? The Union ensures that the Westminster establishment will always have the power to slap Scotland down. The No vote in 2014 gave the Westminster establishment a licence to do as it pleased with Scotland. The Nicola Sturgeon’s commitment to the Section 30 process allays any fears the Westminster establishment might have had that the Scottish Government intended to challenge its authority. The Westminster establishment has every reason to be confident that England-as-Britain’s grip on Scotland is secure.

Sending a message to the Westminster establishment will have no effect at all. If Mhairi Black and others want to shake things up, they should be addressing their speeches to Nicola Sturgeon. They should be urging her to take a more assertive approach to the constitutional issue. They should be telling her the time has come to challenge the power of the Westminster establishment. They should be insisting that she defend the principle of popular sovereignty. That she assert the authority of the Scottish Parliament. They should be demanding that she reject the alien concept of parliamentary sovereignty

They should press her to defy the authority of the British establishment. . Authority which may be ‘legal and constitutional’ in terms of British law and the British constitution, but which can never be just or rightful in terms of fundamental democratic principles.

Speakers at The National’s rally on Saturday should not waste their time talking to a British political elite which regards them with open contempt. They would do better to use the opportunity to remind our First Minister that where Scotland goes from here is up to her. It is the decisions she makes at this time which will determine Scotland’s future. It is her actions, and the actions of her government which matter; not the Westminster establishment.

They should be pointing out to the First Minister that, if she truly believes Scotland’s future should be in Scotland’s hands then she must accept that it will only get there if she wrests control from the Westminster establishment, rather than hoping that they might graciously give it up if she abides by their rules.

They should be emphasising that the overriding reason for seeking the restoration of Scotland’s independence is that it is right. The Union must be ended because it is wrong.

Mhairi Black’s is a powerful voice. A persuasive voice. She should not be wasting that voice talking to the Westminster establishment. She should be using it to inspire Nicola Sturgeon to be the bold, assertive leader Scotland needs.

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No miracles

Brexit can’t be fixed. The notion that there might be a “route out of this mess for the UK” is naive and nonsensical. The clock cannot be turned back. That which has been fucked cannot be unfucked. And much has been monumentally fucked by the British political elite.

What Nicola Sturgeon seems to be hoping for is a triple miracle. Firstly, a UK general election which restores some semblance of sanity to British politics. This to be followed by a second EU referendum which provides, not just a result, but a decision. Finally, an orderly return to a pre-Brexit status quo ante.

In the 1937 film adaptation of an HG Wells short story, The Man Who Could Work Miracles, the lead character – a mild-mannered haberdasher’s assistant named George Fotheringay – is granted the power to work miracles. Needless to say, he proceeds to make an almighty mess of things – albeit with the very best of intentions. His final miracle is to return everything to the way it was before he acquired the ability to mould reality.

Brexit may not be a folly quite on the same scale as George Fotheringay’s catastrophic stopping of the Earth’s rotation. But we’re not in a movie. Here in the real world, the last four years cannot be wiped from history. What has been done remains done. Little, if any, of it can be undone. The impact of Brexit is deep, wide and abiding. Repairing the damage is rather like trying to patch a pot-hole the size of the crater left by an asteroid strike.

Even if Article 50 was to be revoked, which seems exceedingly unlikely, none of the agencies, organisations and businesses which have already moved out of the UK are likely to return. Those that are in advanced stages of planning their departure may not consider it either desirable or economically feasible to reverse their plans. And that’s before we start to take account of the vast reservoir of distrust, resentment, lost credibility and bitterness that has been engendered by the reckless escapades of the Mad Brexiteers. You don’t cure that with a smear of Savlon.

Relations between the UK and the EU will be in turbulent flux for decades no matter how, or even whether, Brexit proceeds. Not only is there no easy fix, there is no fix at all.

Scotland still has the chance to escape the worst of the Brexit mess. The Union is the millstone which threatens imminently to drag us down with England’s self-destructive choice and simultaneously expose us to the threat of a rabid British Nationalism which regards Scotland’s distinctive political culture as anathema.

It wouldn’t take a miracle to save Scotland. Only a First Minister and a Scottish Government prepared to take bold, decisive action.

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