Over to you, Nicola!

It was the best of elections. It was the worst of elections. It was certainly a good election for the SNP. But it was always going to be a good election for the SNP. It was only a question of how good. Despite the efforts of a party leadership which often behaved as if winning wasn’t their first priority and candidates who too often looked like the very concept of campaigning was unfamiliar and not well understood, the SNP did better than even the starry-eyed fantasists among the faithful had expected. I don’t recall any poll or pundit predicting 45% of the vote or 47 seats. (48 if we include Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath, spectacularly won by Neale Hanvey who was only an SNP candidate on paper having succumbed to the party’s passion for suspending and expelling members to appease whoever wants to be appeased. We’ll come back to that.)

But it was also a good election for Boris Johnson and the Mad Brexiteers. Not in Scotland, of course. Although perhaps not as bad as they might have feared. At UK level, which is all ‘One Nation’ British Nationalists supposedly care about, the Tories’ Christmas came early. Bad Santa brought them a majority which effectively means the lunatics now own the asylum.

In other news, British Labour is a joke and the Liberal Democrats are a dirty joke. It seems I was wrong about Corbyn. I had thought him merely ineffectual. It turns out that he is actually quite effective – at losing! I considered it unlikely that he would make much of an impact. Certainly much less of a transformative impact than was believed by those who saw him as some kind of socialist Messiah. In fact, he has presided over a decline in British Labour’s electoral fortunes that pretty much eliminates them as a significant force in UK politics and all but certainly gifts power to the Tories for the next decade at least.

In other words, he has done precisely the opposite of what he was supposed to do. At a minimum, it had been hoped that he would keep British Labour in contention and progressive politics in England-as-Britain alive, even if on life-support. Instead, he has officiated at the funeral of both and left the field to a rampantly triumphalist Boris Johnson. Nice one, Jeremy!

The Liberal Democrats differed from British Labour only in that nobody – other than the dementedly deluded Jo Swinson – expected them to do anything politically useful. And nobody who’d seen or heard Swinson either expected them to do well in the election or, indeed, wanted them to do anything other than embarrassingly badly. They duly obliged. If pressed, I might concede that the blame for British Labour’s woeful performance can’t be laid entirely at Jeremy Corbyn’s door. But there is absolutely no doubt who shoulders the blame for the Liberal Democrats’ humiliation. Making her leader was the political equivalent of necking a pint of hemlock. It’s just one more thing about British politics which is totally inexplicable.

And that’s about all there is to say about the election outcome at UK level. It long since ceased to be appropriate to consider the UK as a single political entity even for the purposes of a Westminster election. A reality which even the BBC may be forced to accept sometime in the first half of the 21st century. Just the other day, a lady who exuded matronly Britishness remarked to me that, much as it saddened her heart to acknowledge it, Scotland really is a different country now. “Different and better?”, I ventured. To which she responded with a rueful half-smile and one-shouldered shrug which intimated that, while she may have been even more reluctant to acknowledge this, she was not prepared to attempt to refute it.

Scotland and England-as-Britain have diverged in ways and to an extent evident from everything except the way we are governed. Two separate nations with increasingly distinctive and incompatible political cultures, but with one forced to accept the political choices of the other. That is a situation which is not only untenable but infeasible. Which distinguishes it from an ongoing refusal of a Section 30 order request, which has famously been described as untenable but which is perfectly feasible. It is certainly true that such refusal cannot be justified or defended. But it is also the case that it doesn’t have to be justified or defended. It can simply be done.

It is within the powers of the British Prime Minister to refuse a Section 30 order request and there is absolutely nothing in the law that requires him or her to explain or justify their action. It is at least possible, if not probable, that not even the courts have the authority to demand an explanation or justification. And if the courts don’t have that authority, then they certainly don’t have the authority to overrule the British Prime Minister and order the granting of said Section 30 order. At the core of this issue is the principle of parliamentary sovereignty. It is exceedingly difficult to see how any court – and certainly any court furth of Scotland – could effectively strike down that principle and set itself above the British parliament.

This is not simply a question of parliamentary procedure or the interpretation of rules. This is a matter of law. If refusing a Section 30 order is not unlawful, then overruling the refusal can only be an overtly political act. It might have been possible for the Scottish Government to argue that the refusal of a Section 30 order is unlawful, citing a body of international laws and conventions. But not after the First Minister and other senior figures have declared that the Section 30 process is. not merely lawful, but the only process which is “legal and constitutional”.

The SNP cannot extract a Section 30 order from Boris Johnson and cannot proceed with a new independence referendum without one.

In the same way, although for different reasons, there is no way even 47 (or 48) SNP MPs can “stop Brexit”. They simply don’t have the power. Not, in this case, because they have inexplicably squandered what power they may have had, but because the nature of the Union is such that Scotland cannot ever have such power. The Union means that Scotland must always be subordinate. The Union means that Scotland’s interests can only ever be served, even partially and inadequately, if they happen to coincide with the interests of England-as-Britain. The divergence between the two nations makes such coincidental convergence of interests as close to impossible as makes no difference. Which makes the Union unworkable – at least so long as some semblance of democracy prevails.

But the fact remains that the combined force of an SNP administration in Scotland and a large SNP group of SNP MPs can do absolutely nothing to halt Brexit. Or to prevent Brexit being imposed on a clearly unwilling Scotland.

All of which is rather unfortunate given that securing a Section 30 order and stopping Brexit were two of the four promises that formed the basis of the SNP’s election campaign. The others being, “locking Boris out of Number 10” – now undeniably as daft an undertaking as it always was; and “putting Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands” – which brings us to the question that I have long been asking. The question that will surely now be asked by increasing numbers of people and with increasing impatience.

How does the SNP plan on honouring its promises to the people of Scotland?

In a letter published in The National on the eve of polling day, Selma Rahman put it rather well when she wrote that, after the election,

… most of all, I will need even just an inkling as to how pro-indy parties, led by the SNP, see the next months panning out: the outline of a strategy.

Selma is far from being alone in this. People are not stupid. For the most part, they are perfectly capable of figuring out that those election promises were empty rhetoric. They voted SNP despite those promises at least as much as because of them. They voted SNP because they are well aware that the consequences of doing otherwise are quite unthinkable. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Nicola Sturgeon is trusted in a way that is quite extraordinary for any politician. Trusted in a way which, at the extreme, shades into blind faith. But even those of us whose confidence in her personal commitment and political skill is firmly rooted in reason, there is a large element of giving her the benefit of the doubt; if only because there isn’t a lot of choice in the matter.

As dubious as we may be about Sturgeon’s ability to deliver on those promises, the alternative is to abandon hope altogether of Scotland’s independence ever being restored. Few of us are ready to give up on that hope. As Alex Salmond said, the dream shall never die.

The dream is not enough. Making that dream come true requires a plan of action. And we need to be assured that Nicola Sturgeon has such a plan. Don’t fob us off with trite platitudes and empty assurances. Give us more than glittering generalities and glib slogans. And don’t dare tell us we must have faith! We are a constituency of adults not a congregation of adherents! There can be no secret plan. There are no options that aren’t knowable by the opposition. All that stuff about not showing her hand is just the sort of infantile drivel that is making folk angry. It is too obviously what somebody would say if they didn’t have a plan to make it acceptable as an excuse for not answering questions about that plan.

Selma Rahman ended her letter with a warning.

Westminster better listen, cos you truly haven’t heard us roar, not yet.

She might well have directed that warning to Nicola Sturgeon. The people of Scotland have given her yet another mandate. Now, she must deliver. And it is for her to convince us that she has a plan to deliver. She has not heard us roar yet. But the election of Neale Hanvey in Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath may be regarded as Scotland clearing its throat ready to let rip. There is a message there for the SNP leadership if they care to listen. It is a message about loyalty. The message is that, should it ever come to a choice between Scotland’s party and Scotland’s cause, not even Nicola Sturgeon will be able to save the SNP.

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Turnout is key!

I wonder about the whole idea of arguments about policy or strategy being a distraction from the main event and the principal objective. It seems to me – and one can do no more than gain an impression about such things – that the vast majority of pro-independence voters are fully aware of what that main event is. And it is because they are clear in their minds about the principal objective that they are able to discuss other matters.

Even among the combatants in the “gender wars” there is an underlying determination to elect as many SNP candidates as possible. We are at the stage where the SNP is the default choice for most people. There is nothing the British parties can offer that might win over these voters. Neither is there anything the SNP, or any faction therein, can do to deter them.

Such is the blindingly obvious necessity of voting SNP that the party barely needs to campaign. The greater threat to that principal objective of maximising both the SNP vote and the number of SNP MPs is the idleness which may be bred by complacency. People are, I feel, considerably more likely to stay home on polling day because they reckon the battle is already won than because of some disagreement about policy or strategy.

As bloody as skirmishes in the gender wars may get, the unpleasantness is, in most cases, kept quite separate from voting intentions. It is a commonplace of social media to find raging diatribes about this or that policy which end with the assurance that the author will be voting SNP regardless. People, like myself, who have grave concerns about the commitment to the Section 30 process will not be deterred from voting for their SNP candidate on account of these concerns.

This overriding determination to vote SNP reflects the overarching nature of constitutional politics. Whichever side of any dispute over policy or strategy we may be on, all share the same conviction that the decisions on these matters must be made in Scotland.

There will always be a few who are shallow-minded enough put their narrow policy agenda before securing the means of realising that agenda. But the impact on the outcome of these people taking their vote away from the SNP and elther giving it to the British parties or chucking it in the bin must be negligible. Democracy works best when participation is greatest because that way the zanies and the zealots get lost in the numbers.

Thursday is the main event. Turnout is key. The principal aim being to maximise the SNP vote and presence at Westminster, every single vote counts. No disagreement about policy or strategy is more important than this.


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Not losing

Elections are not won, they’re lost. Outcomes are decided, not so much on the basis of who campaigns best, as on who fucks up least. What influences voters most is not a candidate’s personal appeal; or a party’s manifesto; or their record in government or opposition. The single most significant factor affecting voters’ choices is the number and quality of the gaffes, blunders, humiliations, pratfalls and car-crash media appearances. Forget party political broadcasts. What voters actually watch are those video clips on YouTube of politicians making total arse-danglers of themselves. The major political event of 2019 wasn’t anything to do with Brexit, but Jacob Rees-Mogg seen lounging on the green leather benches of the House of Commons oozing haughty disdain for the proceedings of what passes for democracy in England-as-Britain.

To be completely fair to the privileged prick, Rees-Mogg was probably exhausted following an arduous afternoon of braying and honking every time an SNP MP rose to speak. Those farmyard noises don’t make themselves.

That lounging incident – or ‘loungegate’ as I would be obliged to call it had I been sufficiently lobotomised to be a British newspaper hack – probably had more impact on the UK general election than even the biggest and most garishly liveried campaign battle-bus. In fact, British Labour missed a trick there. Emblazoning their campaign coach with that image of Rees-Mogg at rest could well have tipped the balance in their favour.

Gaucheries and solecisms have taken on such importance in British politics that it is no longer enough to lie in wait ready to pounce when one comes along. We might suppose that the average British politician could be relied upon to produce a substantial blooper reel for opponents to pick through looking for the juiciest bits. But they’re not dependable. They can’t be trusted to botch and bungle on cue. Supply must chase demand. So politicians – or their plausibly deniable media teams – have been obliged to get creative. Instead of trawling for a suitable snippet that might not even exist, they’ve taken to performing some subtle, or not so subtle, digital surgery on whatever is to hand.

We’ve all seen those sequences in which a whole season’s-worth of missed sitters have been strung together in rapid-fire succession in such a way as to almost make football appear entertaining. Election campaigns are now doing something similar. Digital media being almost infinitely manipulable, it is possible to quickly assemble a video clip seamlessly edited to feature only those moments that make even an opponent’s loving mother cringe.

Conversely, if the Prime Minister has performed the ceremony of laying a wreath at the Cenotaph in the less than dignified style of Mr Bean, he can have the state broadcaster replace the inappropriate comedy act with stock footage of Winston Churchill winning the war. (There probably should be at least one ‘allegedly’ in there. But, fuck it! I’m not in the mood!)

It’s all about perception. Acting on the mindless logic of the mob, electors give their mandate to whoever looks least like an incompetent buffoon or a swivel-eyed loony.

Or so it used to be.

Like much else in the world of politics, the old reliabilities have lately been turned on their heads. As Boris Johnson has demonstrated, it is now possible to be a faux pas on legs that support a bloated bag of triple-distilled mendacity, yet remain in contention for the highest political office in the land. A malignant child-clown. The bastard love-child of Katie Hopkins and Mr Pastry. And quite possibly the British Prime Minister that will be imposed on Scotland for the next five years by English voters acting on the mindless idiocy of the mob.

But let’s not complain too much. This electoral tolerance for sociopathy garbed as zaniness and ineptitude passed-off as eccentricity has knock-on benefits for the SNP. Inured to the antics of Boris Johnson and a British political elite that looks increasingly like a cross between an Ealing comedy and a Victorian freak-show, voters barely notice the SNP’s farcical capers in Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath; or the SNP candidate in Banff & Buchan emphatically disavowing the party’s main aim as set out in its constitution; or the big Boris/Brexit-shaped jobby at the centre of the election campaign where we were promised independence and #indyref2 would be.

Nicola Sturgeon is an astute and capable politician. There is no way she’ll ever fuck up as monumentally as Boris Johnson does constantly. The bad news is that relative competence, credibility and sanity may no longer be enough. The lunatics have taken over the asylum through a shell company registered in the British Virgin Islands.

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Presumption of guilt

Presumption of innocence does not apply to Donald Trump. He is to be presumed guilty until proven guilty. Even if he is proved innocent, we should probably continue to presume him guilty, just as a precaution. Trump never looks more guilty than when he is protesting his innocence. He’s like the guy sprawled in the gutter wearing only what you like to think is his own vomit but insisting that he’s not drunk. The more sober he says he is, the more inebriated he seems. Even if there is a perfectly innocent explanation for his predicament that doesn’t involve consumption of ill-advised quantities of alcohol, you’re still going to entertain the suspicion that he’s very, very pished.

Trump is prostrate in the political gutter, awash with lies and deceit, proclaiming his honesty and sincerity in a manner that makes him less believable with every utterance.

Two examples of his dishonesty stand out. The first is when he insists that US corporations have no interest in “the NHS”. Even if that predatory interest was not as evident as I have previously pointed out (https://peterabell.scot/2019/11/27/preparing-the-hyena-feast/), we know that he is now contradicting an earlier statement when he was quite explicit about US trade negotiators setting their sights on “the NHS”. Plus we have the recently revealed documents which confirm that “the NHS” is very much on the table.

Trump is lying.

The second lie is evident when you ask why Trump is telling the first lie. He has previously been far from reticent about the fact that US corporate hyenas regard “the NHS” as a juicy bit of prey. Why is he now saying that “the NHS” is so unpalatable even those corporate hyenas aren’t tempted. Could it be that he has been asked to say this by his British hosts? Might he have been nobbled?

It’s easy enough to imagine friend and fellow liar Boris Johnson having a quiet word in Trump’s ear, explaining that he was getting an increasingly hard ride on the issue of “the NHS” and, pretty please, could Donald help out his old Tory chums.

Trump has obliged. The nonsense about wanting nothing to do with “the NHS” is clearly intended to spike the guns of those warning about Tory plans to give US corporations unprecedented access as part of a desperately needed trade deal. Trump is interceding in the general election campaign on behalf of the Tories. Which is precisely what we would expect after he promised to stay out of it.

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Demands and threats

There seems to be a general assumption that the string of ‘ifs’ which leads to a hung parliament means an enlarged SNP group would be ‘kingmakers’. Or, as Nicola Sturgeon puts it in what looks rather like an attempt to lower expectations, a “strong, progressive influence”. If she is trying to stop people getting too carried away, she may have good reason.

If it is supposed that the SNP group of MPs will wield significant power over British Labour in a hung parliament, we must ask what is the nature of that power. It is not enough simply to look at the numbers and say that, because SNP cooperation is needed to get over the line separating government from opposition, the SNP will be in a position to make major demands. Nicola sturgeon has even gone so far as to list those demands. That list, as reported by this newspaper on 25 November, includes,

  • Stop Brexit
  • End austerity
  • Abandon Universal Credit
  • Axe the two-child benefit cap
  • Grant a Section 30 order

I doubt that many outside the ranks of irredeemable and irremediable Tory loyalists would take exception to anything in Sturgeons catalogue of demands. But are they attainable? Are they deliverable? How might British Labour respond were they to be handed this list in the course of post-election haggling among the parties at Westminster?

Having witnessed the strenuous, contorting effort they’ve made to avoid having a clear position on Brexit, does anybody believe British Labour is even capable of adopting a firm stance on the issue? Going from wherever they might be as you read this to an unwavering commitment either way doesn’t look at all like a journey Jeremy Corbyn is ready to undertake. This is the ‘leader’ who says he would remain neutral in any new EU referendum.

If the Tories can claim to be ending austerity, so can a British Labour administration. Whether this will be noticeable on the ground is a very different matter.

British governments tend not to do anything bold if they have a ready excuse for not doing so. Abandoning Universal Credit may well be that kind of bold action. It would be too expensive! It would cause even more disruption and suffering! Better to fix it than forsake it!

Axing the two-child benefit might be a concession British Labour could offer. But only so they could accuse the SNP of rejecting the chance to end an iniquitous Tory policy when it turned out to be the only concession and not enough to win their support.

The Section 30 order has been dealt with at length elsewhere. No British government is going to facilitate any process which puts their precious Union in jeopardy. For all British Labour’s efforts to differentiate themselves from the Tories’ hard-line anti-democratic position, they have no more intention of cooperating in the Section 30 process than any of the other British parties. They are certainly not going to grant permission for a new independence referendum until and unless they can be sure of being able to sabotage the process at some later stage.

On that final – and some would say most crucial – demand, British Labour would be likely to try and string the SNP along as much as possible. Hence the deliberate vague and open-ended ‘undertakings’ on the matter. They can put off even responding to the Section 30 request for as long as they wish.

It’s not looking too promising for Nicola Sturgeon’s list of demands. So, how might she react to these demands being rejected – either outright or by implication? What can she threaten Jeremy Corbyn with in order to compel his compliance?

There are, in principle, three ‘big sticks’ Sturgeon might be able to wave. She could threaten to enable a Tory government. She could threaten to bring down a British Labour government. Or she might be in a position to threaten to force another election. Another election would be no more likely to resolve things than the last one or this one. But the SNP would be vilified for forcing the people of the world’s greatest democracy to go out and vote. Don’t they know that’s not how democracy is supposed to work!

Enabling a Tory government and bringing down a British Labour government may seem like the same thing. That’s because they are. They just happen at different times. The threat to enable a Tory government would be wielded during initial efforts to reach an arrangement. The threat to bring it down would hang over a British Labour government for as long as it lasted. However, Nicola Sturgeon has decisively ruled out the SNP ever allowing the Tories back into power should they be ousted. So that threat is not available. Whether or not one approves, it is an option binned.

What we are left with is the SNP making demands backed up with the threat that, unless these demands are met, they might bring down the British Labour government at some point in the future. One would hope that this point remained undefined. To commit to taking action at a particular time or under specified conditions would severely limit room for movement.

How serious, from British Labour’s perspective, is this threat? Not very. In fact, it’s barely a threat at all. Nothing that isn’t happening right now, or is immediately imminent, can be considered a threat. Especially when pretty much the entire political environment is consists of threats of one kind or another. Once they were in power, it would be very easy for British Labour to call the SNP’s bluff. Bringing down a British Labour government, with the corollary of letting the Tories back in, would seem to be a draught of political hemlock for the SNP.

Would they do it? More to the point, can Nicola Sturgeon make Jeremy Corbyn believe that the SNP would be so bold as to effectively usher the Tories back into government. It is feasible. There is a line that Sturgeon could take which might see the SNP through the ‘scandal’ of ‘sabotaging’ a ‘progressive’ British Labour administration. It could be maintained that it is actually British Labour’s fault. They could be portrayed as the ones who have behaved in such a way as to make it impossible for the SNP to continue propping them up.

If this line was used in conjunction with saying it made no difference to Scotland which party was in power at Westminster, it could at least take the edge of the inevitable storm of vilification from the British media. But it would be massively risky. Does Nicola have the bottle? Can she convince Corbyn she does? Personally, I doubt it.

The SNP’s influence over a minority British Labour administration would be minimal. Because the only thing they can threaten them with would almost certainly do the SNP more harm.

It all comes down to one simple fact – Scotland’s interests cannot be served within the UK. Our MPs cannot wield meaningful power, or influence, in the parliament of England-as-Britain because the system is set up to ensure that Scotland (and all the periphery of England-as-Britain) will always be subordinate. That is what the Union is for.

If we send 45 or 50 or more SNP MPs to Westminster expecting them to be a major force, we are likely to be disappointed. But we absolutely must elect as many SNP MPs as possible because only thus can we keep alive the possibility of escaping the Union and bringing all of our government home.

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The dictates of conscience

Most SNP members will, I think, know what George Kay means when he refers to a “darker group”. When the existence and activities of this “darker group” are taken together with what many people – myself included – consider to be the highly dubious nature of the allegations against Neale Hanvey this whole affair begins to look far from as clear-cut as Nicola Sturgeon suggests.

The Neale Hanvey affair raises a number of issues – all of them controversial. These include matters relating to the SNP’s internal disciplinary procedures; the activities of pressure groups within or close to the party; broader questions of loyalty and trust; and, of course, the issue of freedom of expression and the limits imposed on it.

All of these issues must be set aside for the time being. Important as they are, they must not be allowed to distract from the most immediate and pressing task – maximising both the number of pro-independence MPs and the SNP vote. This should be the only consideration for pro-democracy voters in the Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath constituency.

Being realistic, however, we have to accept that people can hardly help but be influenced to some extent by recent events. Nobody can tell them who to vote for. But any political party is entitled to expect that its members will support and campaign for the official candidate. They are certainly entitled to have rules against party members supporting and campaigning for candidates other than the official one. You’ll notice that Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t suggest SNP activists go to work for the Scottish Greens candidate. The rules apply to the party leader the same as to everyone else.

Asking SNP members to direct their efforts to helping official party candidates in neighbouring constituencies seems reasonable enough. Until we consider what these elections are really supposed to be about. The fundamental purpose is to elect the individual considered by the largest number of voters in a constituency to be the best person to represent the constituency’s inhabitants at Westminster. Elections have become all about parties and leaders. Which isn’t an entirely bad thing. Political parties are, after all, the means by which citizens exercise collective power in the sphere of public policy. And party leaders have a very important role to play, as Nicola Sturgeon is so amply demonstrating. But that fundamental purpose remains. We vote for candidates to represent our community as well as for parties to represent our ideology or political aims.

Campaigning for official candidates in neighbouring constituencies satisfies the latter, but not the former. It’s a question of how much weight we afford each of these purposes. Personally, I would not be uncomfortable with the idea of campaigning for candidates elsewhere. We do that in by-elections anyway. What would trouble me is not campaigning for a local representative. That seems like forsaking an important democratic responsibility.

Ultimately, we all vote according to the dictates of our conscience. We each must decide our own priorities. Voters in Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath simply have more to consider than most of us. For some, it will be easy. The party has declared Neale Hanvey persona non grata. Nicola Sturgeon herself has pronounced him guilty of making anti-Semitic comments despite the fact that he denies holding such views and without any kind of hearing that I am aware of. For some party members, that will be enough.

But what if, having interrogated your conscience, you still believe Neale Hanvey is the best person to represent you and your community in the British parliament? What if you have serious doubts about his guilt? What if you have reason to suspect he has been maliciously targeted by some “darker group”? What if you believe in due process and the presumption of innocence? What if you have a well developed sense of fairness?

I don’t live in the Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath constituency. I don’t know Neale Hanvey. It’s not for me to judge whether he might be the best MP for that community. But, having pondered the other issues, I cannot in good conscience do other than agree with George Kay. There is something not right about this whole affair. And Neale Hanvey deserves the benefit of any doubt.

Furthermore, I am deeply concerned about the way accusations of various forms of bigotry are used by assorted cliques as bludgeons to silence those who challenge their political agenda. As offensive as anti-Semitism, racism, sexism etc. undoubtedly are, what amounts to heavy-handed political censorship, intimidation and repression cannot be any more acceptable. A stand must be taken against those who would maliciously exploit our revulsion at such bigotry to incite baseless hatred every bit as vile as that directed at various minorities by the abysmally ignorant.

I disagree with George Kay on one point. I definitely have a problem with the SNP taking the action it did. I consider that, having vetted and selected Neale Hanvey, the party owed him a measure of loyalty. Other than that, I have looked to my conscience and I too have come to the conclusion that, regardless of what the personal consequences might be and for whatever it may be worth, I am obliged to give my support to Neale Hanvey.

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A poll worth heeding

There are a couple of things worth noting about the YouGov poll which suggests a Conservative win with a substantial majority. The first is that it is very likely to be accurate. This because voting intentions in England, where UK general elections are decided, are based very substantially on Brexit. These voting intentions are fixed. They are unlikely to change because nothing about Brexit is going to change. Or, at least, nothing is going to change soon enough or dramatically enough to have any impact on voting intentions. Nothing is happening with the Brexit process. Not that is visible to the public, antway. And none of the parties are going to change their stance on the Brexit issue during an election campaign.

It is significant, too, that none of the 68 Tory MPs giving Boris Johnson a working majority is likely to be a ‘rebel’, They wouldn’t have been selected as candidates if they were not as committed to taking the UK out of the EU at any cost as their leader.

The second thing to note is that, as is commonly the case, Scotland cannot affect the outcome of this UK general election. The most Scottish voters might hope to do is slightly reduce the Tory majority. They can only do that by voting for their SNP candidate. As has been true for many years now, there is absolutely no point in voting for British Labour in Scotland. I dislike the expression “wasted vote”. As far as I am concerned, participation in the democratic process is always worthwhile. But a vote for British Labour in Scotland is certainly futile if the intention – or the hope – is to influence the outcome at UK level.

In Scotland, British Labour is irrelevant and the Conservative Party is anathema.

We have to think, calmly and rationally about what is the best outcome for Scotland in the coming election. A good case can be made for a British Labour minority government supported by a substantial SNP presence at Westminster. But we have no way of bringing about that outcome. Or even of contributing to it in any effective way. Whatever British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) may tell you, there is simply no possibility of them enjoying a miraculous resurgence. And, even if that miracle were to happen, the election would still be decided in England.

The best outcome that is actually achievable is a massive win for the SNP. A win on a scale that shakes the British establishment. A win so big it cannot be ignored.

What does Scotland gain from returning upwards of 50 SNP MPs? We know that the SNP provides the most vigorous opposition to the Tories at Westminster. Even if this opposition cannot have much actual effect because of the way the odds are stacked against them – both numerically and procedurally – it is SNP MPs who speak, not just for Scotland, but for democracy, decency and political sanity. It is SNP MPs who ask the awkward questions. It is SNP MPs who defend our NHS and other essential public services. It is SNP MPs who truly hold the Tory government to account in a way that only those with very long memories will recall British Labour doing.

No British government is ever going to facilitate or cooperate with any process which puts their ‘precious’ Union in jeopardy. That includes the Section 30 process to which the First Minister is so inexplicably committed. In terms of Scotland’s cause we must therefore consider what might best serve that cause when the time comes to seek the restoration of Scotland’s independence with the consent of the Scottish people but absent the involvement of the British state. Unquestionably, Scotland’s cause is best served by maximising demonstrable support for the SNP – the only party which is unconditionally and unequivocally committed to independence.

That commitment to independence necessarily entails so much more. It entails a commitment to protecting Scotland’s democracy; to defending the Scottish Parliament; to preserving our ability to develop a distinctive political culture informed by the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people. It entails dedication to maintaining our essential public services, such as NHS Scotland, and defending them against predation by corporate hyenas.

Even if you are not yet persuaded that Scotland’s interests can only be secured by ending the Union with England-as-Britain, a vote for the SNP is much more than a vote for independence. It is, first and foremost, a vote for al the positive things mentioned above. But it is also a vote against the chaos and corruption of British politics. It is a vote against a system which imposes Tory governments on Scotland regardless of how we vote – along with all their socially corrosive and economically destructive policies.

It is a vote against a political system which so favours a corrupt and incompetent elite as to allow Boris Johnson to become Prime Minister. It is a vote against a system intent on maintaining established power, privilege and patronage while actively excluding the worthy and the talented.

It is a vote against an archaic and grotesquely asymmetric political union which denies the people of Scotland the full and effective exercise of our sovereignty. It is a vote against everything that England-as-Britain has become and will become as its decline into ugly right-wing nationalism continues.

The YouGov poll has to be taken seriously. We must anticipate Boris Johnson continuing as British Prime Minister, but armed with a solid majority in the British parliament and emboldened by his victory. A Boris Johnson made all the more dangerous by being afforded almost unfettered power. A Boris Johnson determined to earn that most ominous of epithets – strong leader.

Behind this gleeful, gloating, malignant child-clown, a British government intent on locking Scotland into the Union and dragging us along on its wildly erratic journey into the political, diplomatic and economic unknown – leaving behind it a wasteland of public services in which the poor and the powerless must survive however they may.

The only thing which can function as a buffer between this and Scotland is a strong, determined and assertive SNP government in Scotland supported by a massive SNP presence in the British parliament. It may be that we have the former. On Thursday 12 December we must ensure that we have the latter. For Scotland’s sake, we must all vote SNP.

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