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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The reluctant rebel

Perhaps there would be no “rebels” if the First Minister did a bit less asserting and rather more explaining. She could, for example, explain what she intends to do if the British government obdurately refuses to grant her precious Section 30 order. She might outline how she proposes to deal with the British state’s efforts to sabotage the Section 30 process if and when the order is granted. she might, at the very least, give some indication that she has considered these things. She might show some sign of having listened, or being prepared to listen.

Maybe she could explain why the legal validity of Scotland’s exercise of our right of self-determination cannot be based on the very same body of internationally accepted laws and conventions which are considered good enough for every other nation making the transition to independence from some anomalous constitutional arrangement.

Or the First Minister could explain why the democratic legitimacy of our referendum cannot derive from the sovereignty of Scotland’s people. She might even try to give one good reason why the people of Scotland should accept their sovereignty being compromised to satisfy the legally dubious and democratically outrageous strictures of the British state.

She could explain why, if she truly believes Scotland’s constitutional claim to be just, she is afraid of a legal challenge.

She could explain why an openly and unimpeachably democratic referendum might be rendered unacceptable to the international community simply because it hasn’t been approved by the British state.

She could try to convince the doubters of the political wisdom of discarding options as if they were of no value. She could let us in on the new thinking which says it’s a good idea to close off all routes but one and, by effectively declaring the discarded options ‘illegal’ ensure they they are closed off irrevocably and for all time.

Of course, there are no “rebels”. There are only people who are understandably worried when they see a cause to which they are devoted put in jeopardy. It isn’t good enough to just brush those concerns aside. It isn’t acceptable to treat these concerns, and those who hold them, as if they don’t matter. It is, frankly, offensive to dismiss those who are worried by accusing them of causing division. If there is division then it is entirely due to the SNP leadership’s failure to take people along with them.

Speaking as one of those being branded a “rebel”, I have to tell the First Minister that there is nothing I want more than to give her my full support. I have spent much of the last five years striving to the best of my ability to persuade everybody in the Yes movement that we all have to get behind the SNP. I am extremely perturbed to have been put in a position where I have to question the whole approach to the constitutional issue adopted by the party. But question it I must. Because my first loyalty is, not to any party or politician, but to Scotland’s cause.

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