What's to stop them?

Simple question. What’s to stop them? What’s to stop the British government denying Scotland’s right of self-determination indefinitely?

Ian Blackford asks,

How many times do the people of Scotland have to vote for the SNP to give the Scottish Parliament a mandate to have an independence referendum?

Rather than ask what the number is he’d have done better to ask if there is a number. If one mandate can be dismissed then so can two. And four. And eight. And any number you care to think of. It is no more problematic for the British government to dismiss mandate number 1,765 than mandate number three. Or four. Or whatever it is that we’re at now. If anything, it gets easier for them. They’ll quickly get into a routine.

There is no cost to them. It costs the British government nothing to ignore a mandate for a new referendum. The cost is zero. It doesn’t matter what zero is multiplied by, it is still zero.

Ian Blackford asks,

Is he [Borish Johnson] really prepared to ignore a party that has got 80% of the seats from Scotland in this place and has won 45% of the vote?

Yes, he is. We know he is. Because he’s said he is very often and with as much clarity as he is capable of. And why not? Why shouldn’t he ignore 100% of the seats on 100% of the vote? The set of rules and procedures which Nicola Sturgeon has called the “gold standard” allows any British Prime Minister to ignore any vote in Scotland. Look at our 62% remain vote. 62% is more than 45% and two successive British Prime Ministers have ignored it with effortless ease and at absolutely no cost.

Any British Prime Minister can ignore any vote in Scotland with effortless ease and at absolutely no cost because that set of rules and procedures which Nicola Sturgeon calls the “gold standard” is built on the foundation of a political union contrived and imposed for the purpose of ensuring that the British Prime Minister and the parliament of England-as-Britain will be able to ignore all votes in Scotland in perpetuity.

A question for Ian Blackford. How is that situation going to change if the SNP isn’t prepared, and the Yes movement isn’t allowed, to even mention the possibility of ending the Union?

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Dear Mr Blackford

SNP mandate for second independence referendum is ‘indisputable’ says Blackford

So, what has changed, Mr Blackford? The mandate to which you refer was indisputable prior to the most recent election. It has been indisputable for a few years now. Has that mandate taken on some new form or grade of indisputability as a result of the SNP landslide?

If the mandate is indisputable, how are British Nationalists able to dispute it? Might I suggest that it is because, while you say the mandate is indisputable, you don’t act as if it is indisputable? If it is an indisputable mandate, why have you not acted on it?

And, while you dispute Boris Johnson’s ‘right’ to dispute this indisputable mandate in one breath, in the next you acknowledge his ‘right’ to dispute it by committing to the Section 30 process. If the mandate is indisputable, why does it need Boris Johnson’s graceless approval to put it beyond dispute?

You insist that the mandate is indisputable. But, at the same time, you say it won’t be indisputable until Boris Johnson stops disputing it. Am I repeating myself? Perhaps that is because I’m trying to find a form of words which might elicit a response.

It’s a simple enough and sensible enough question, Mr Blackford. How can the mandate be indisputable AND in need of the British Prime Minister’s acknowledgement in order that it can be beyond dispute? Hmm, Mr Blackford?

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Hope versus experience

Ian Blackford’s insistence that the next British Prime Minister will somehow be compelled to grant a Section 30 order is beginning to sound a bit desperate. Almost as if he’s trying to convince himself that respect for democracy will be the deciding factor. His entire argument hinges on the British political elite deciding that the imperative to preserve the Union is outweighed by the demands of democratic justice.

Does Jackson Carlaw sound like someone who has any understanding of democracy, far less respect for it, when he says “we will never give Nicola Sturgeon #IndyRef2” ? Does Boris Johnson’s bombastic ranting about “once in a generation” give the impression that he’s prepared to make any concessions to democracy?

However hard Ian Blackford tries to persuade himself, and us, that democracy must surely prevail, we cannot long avoid the reality that Carlaw’s ignorant, arrogant bluster represents the true attitude of the British establishment. And that includes Jeremy Corbyn.

Just as Ian Blackford entertains quaint notions about the British state deferring to fundamental democratic principles, so some are naive enough to suppose that Corbyn is different. Gerry Hassan’s rose-tinted, starry-eyed perspective is illustrative. Apparently,

Corbyn and McDonnell are not “against” Scottish independence per se. They believe in the principle that such a decision is fundamentally up to the people of Scotland. In this they recognise “the sovereignty of the Scottish people” which many pro-union politicians pay lip service to and which the Commons unanimously accepted in July 2018. They take it as a given.

If that is so, then why do they so assiduously avoid giving any firm commitment to a new referendum? While Ian Blackford strives, by force of rhetoric alone, to make the case that British intransigence on the constitutional issue is ‘unsustainable’, Corbyn is working just as hard to maintain a position which differentiates British Labour from their Tory cousins while not actually making any concessions at all.

According to Gerry Hassan,

Corbyn and McDonnell do not believe in the UK in the way that previous Labour politicians did. They see the UK as a force for imperialism, reaction and militarism around the world. This brings them to align themselves with a position which is anti-British establishment and notes its attachment to the politics of the union and its geopolitical interests. Scottish independence, they understand, is a body blow to such pretensions and power politics.

The idea of British Labour being “anti-British establishment” is every bit as fantastical as Ian Blackford’s notion that the British political elite might put respect for democracy before its own geopolitical interests. Gerry Hassan fails to see that it is precisely because those interests make preservation of the Union an overriding imperative that Corbyn would never be permitted to put the Union in jeopardy even supposing he was minded to do so. It is because of the British state’s pretensions to being “a force for imperialism, reaction and militarism around the world” that locking Scotland into the Union is an absolute necessity.

The obligations of democracy are as nothing compared to the dictates of the British state’s ambition.

Gerry Hassan ends by asking,

But does Labour have the political will and imagination to break with the last vestiges of the conservative elements of labourism as well as the ancien regime which has for too long defined power and privilege across the UK?

Pinning one’s hopes on that ever happening is, if anything, even less realistic than trusting that the next British Prime Minister might acknowledge Scotland’s right of self-determination and respect the democratic will of the Scottish people.

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Reports of “buckling” greatly exaggerated

With all due respect to Ian Blackford, he is talking patent nonsense. There is absolutely no indication that “the Westminster parties are buckling under the pressure”. None! They are not “buckling” because there is no “pressure”. Not, at least, of the sort that they might be impacted by.

He says it himself. He refers to a “democratically unsustainable position”. By definition, this supposes that what renders the position “unsustainable” is respect for democratic principles. Until Ian Blackford can show evidence of such respect, his claim that the position is unsustainable entirely lacks credibility.

As does his analysis of the election campaign. Mr Blackford opines that the Tories’ denial of Scotland’s right of self-determination will “go down like a bucket of cold sick on Scotland’s doorsteps”, and that is true for many doorsteps. But the ‘Scottish Tories’ won 13 seats in 2017 by the simple expedient of portraying themselves as the party of the Union. With the active collusion of the mainstream media, they elevated a nonentity called Ruth Davidson to the status of ‘Queen of the British Nationalists’ and hoovered up the bulk of the hard-line Unionist votes from across all the British parties in Scotland.

The Queen may be politically dead, but those hard-line Unionist votes are still there. And the “Scottish Tories” know that those votes are theirs for the asking. In fact, they barely even have to ask. British Labour in Scotland is in no position to compete for them. The LibDems are benefiting from the BBC’s obsession with Swinson. But it is doubtful if that might be enough to overcome the inertia which will keep Unionist crosses in “Scottish Tory” boxes.

The Tories’ denial of Scotland’s right of self-determination will NOT “go down like a bucket of cold sick” on the only doorsteps that matter to them. On Unionist doorsteps, it will be lapped up the way Winnie The Pooh guzzles honey. In this election, the British parties in Scotland – and particularly the Tories – don’t have to win, they only have to avoid losing too badly.

It is absolutely crucial to Scotland and to the independence campaign that the SNP take as many seats as possible in the coming UK general election. That requires that the campaign be informed by a realistic appreciation of the situation. It also means the party must be honest with its supporters, the Yes movement and the electorate. Rather than regaling them with triumphalist rhetoric about the Westminster parties “buckling”, tell them the truth – that the opposition is as strong as it ever was and that the threat to Scotland is more real and imminent than it has ever been.

The challenge facing the SNP and the Yes movement in this election is huge. The task of targeting all of Scotland’s 59 Westminster constituencies is unprecedented in scale and ambition. Don’t let politicians carried away with the sound of their own voices persuade you otherwise.

Borrowing the words of Canadian author, Dennis Leigh, Scotland’s own Alasdair Gray urged us to “Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation!”. In this election we must work like we might otherwise find ourselves in the worst, and perhaps the final, days of our nation.

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Being used

Nicola Sturgeon is being somewhat disingenuous when she speaks of the “SNP plan”. Ian Blackford has been roped in by Jo Swinson; apparently without consulting his colleagues. The “plan” to which the First Minister refers is a Liberal Democrat plan. If it’s their plan, then we have to assume that they intend it to work to their advantage. Quite why Nicola Sturgeon and Ian Blackford suppose that the SNP and/or Scotland stand to gain from serving as Jo Swinson’s side-kick remains to be explained.

When any politician – Nicola Sturgeon most emphatically not excluded – says ‘there’s no other way’ then we may assume two things. Firstly, that there almost certainly is another way. Secondly, that they don’t want anybody scrutinising the way they are saying is the only way. They say ‘there’s no alternative’ when they’ve made a bad choice. Or when they’ve made a choice for bad reasons and want to pretend that it was out of their hands. So, it pays us to look at how this choice is justified.

Only a few days ago, Ian Blackford was describing the idea of a December election as “barking mad”. What changed his mind? How did this go, in the space of a couple of days, from being a totally daft idea to the only sensible course of action? Mr Blackford alone can answer that question. Until he does, we can only deduce his reasoning from his actions. And it looks very much as if he was ‘got at’ by the LibDems in some way. Somehow, they have persuaded him that partnering them in this little ploy was going to give him something that he wants.

According to Nicola Sturgeon, the putative gain from forcing a general election on 9 December is twofold – stopping Johnson pushing through his ‘deal’; and preventing a no-deal Brexit at the end of whatever extension might be granted by the EU. But, as Angus MacNeil correctly points out, this is a bit of a non sequitur. The claimed outcome does not necessarily follow from the action taken or proposed.

We first of all have to wonder about that action. Jo Swinson and Ian Blackford have written to EU Council president Donald Tusk. I’m sure Mr Tusk will respond as politely as he may. But why should he have any regard for a letter from two of the opposition parties in the British parliament? Not even from the official opposition, but from the leaders of two ‘lesser’ parties. The EU deals with the elected governments of member states. They do not deal with political parties. Not even the governing party. Only with the government.

There is no reason whatever to suppose the Swinson-Blackford letter will carry any weight at all. Even if Mr Tusk was minded to be influenced by it, the decision on an Article 50 extension is made by the governments of the member nations, not the president of the EU Council.

And what does the letter ask for? Only what was all but certainly going to be granted anyway. So, what is the point of the exercise? If/when the extension is agreed, will Jo Swinson and Ian Blackford claim credit? If so, they will be roundly and deservedly mocked. That’s not much of a gain.

Whether they can deliver on the 9 December election is also highly dubious. But let’s suppose they can. What might this achieve? The likely outcome of an immediate election – to the extent that anything can be described as ‘likely’ amid the current political chaos – is a UK Parliament dominated by British Nationalist Brexiteers to an even greater extent than at present. If, as is often assumed, these forces want a no-deal Brexit, then a UK general election makes that outcome more likely, not less.

If there is no decisive win for the Mad Brexiteers, then the next most likely outcome is a less-than-decisive win for the Mad Brexiteers. If they are forced to compromise then there is only Boris Johnson’s ‘deal’ to fall back on. There is no chance of another new ‘deal’. The EU went above and beyond what was required of them when they reopened negotiations. There is no possibility that they will do so again. So, if an election means there is to be a ‘deal’ it has to be the one that the Scottish Government has said is unacceptable.

No doubt the LibDems are hoping that an election will put them in a position to demand a new EU referendum. This doesn’t look likely, the way the polls stand. But a ‘people’s vote’ would almost certainly require another extension. The patience of the EU member states is not infinite. It would not be at all surprising if one or two governments broke ranks and vetoed any further extension.

Even if there was a new EU referendum, what are the chances it would resolve anything? Practically non-existent. We’d all end up pretty much back where we are now.

There is another justification (rationalisation?) for Ian Blackford’s action offered by an SNP spokesperson – getting rid of Boris Johnson. Is that likely to be the outcome of a general election? Even if Johnson were to be removed, would whoever replaces him be any better? What does Scotland stand to gain from a change of British Prime Minister?


Because it’s not Boris Johnson that’s the problem. Nor is it Brexit – with or without a deal. The problem is the Union. The problem is the grotesque constitutional anomaly which means Scotland will invariably have imposed on it British Prime Ministers and British governments and British policies that the people of Scotland did not vote for or explicitly rejected through the ballot box.

It will doubtless be argued that, in a UK general election, the SNP are likely to enjoy a landslide victory in Scotland on a scale similar to that of 2015. But what advantage did the SNP winning 56 out of 59 seats bring to Scotland? Obviously, it is better than the alternative. At least we can assume that SNP MPs will actually represent and defend Scotland’s interests. But how effective can they ever be? Even if the SNP group held the balance of power in numerical terms, the British parties would never allow them to use that power in any meaningful way.

Ian Blackford is getting the SNP group at Westminster embroiled in the British political game in an effort to at least look effective. But no good ever comes of getting into bed with the treacherous Liberal Democrats, or partnering with someone as brazenly self-serving as Jo Swinson. Blackford may imagine he’s formed an alliance. Swinson sees it as her using the SNP.

Angus MacNeil is right. As far as Scotland is concerned, there is absolutely nothing to be gained from a UK general election. There is nothing to be gained from Scotland’s presence in the parliament of England-as-Britain. Nor will there ever be.

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Anger is an energy

Given all that is happening, the relevant question must surely be why support for independence isn’t soaring. Or, to put it another way, why support for the Union remains so strong. We are quibbling over single-digit shifts that barely get out of margin-of-error territory when, by all accounts, we should be seeing changes dramatic enough to reflect the unprecedented political circumstances into which Scotland has been dragged because of the Union.

Day in and day out we have Nicola Sturgeon taking to Twitter to ‘slam’ some fresh iniquity perpetrated against Scotland by the British political elite. Ian Blackford endlessly reminds us of how awful everything is. Even the Unionist media can’t entirely conceal the preposterous fumble-fest that is British politics. So, why is this reality not reflected in polling?

Why is the claimed disintegration of the UK not translating into a massive surge in support for independence?

Why are people not angry about what is being done to Scotland?

In part, I suspect, the apparent unresponsiveness of public opinion may be explained by farce fatigue. People have grown weary of the whole Brexit bungle-circus. The have become inured to catastrophe as a constant. Even the most rambunctious parliamentary slapstick can’t long hold the attention of minds accustomed to the fresh gratifications at forty-second intervals offered by mass media entertainment. Rolling news on a twenty-minute loop of carefully orchestrated sensation, salacity and silliness has anaesthetised us to all but the most outrageous incidents.

Ian Blackford’s belligerent bombast has blended into the background noise of a political sideshow which many (most?) people are barely aware of. The condemnatory tirades which litter Nicola Sturgeon’s Twitter timeline have become as monotonous as the sponsored announcements – and as likely to capture attention. The interminable third-rate sitcom of Brexit is into its seventh season, and sharks are being jumped in every episode. People are switching off in droves.

Much of this tedium is strategically contrived, of course. Politicians know that, if you want the public to stop paying attention to something, the best was is to shove it in their faces 24/7. Even if the seeming decades-long dragging out of Brexit isn’t deliberately engineered, it nonetheless suits the purposes of a British political elite for whom apathy, alienation and anomie are favoured instruments of social control. Where diversion and distraction are not options, inundation may serve to let many a mistake and misdeed go unnoticed.

So it will be until someone throws a metaphorical grenade into the room. Something rude enough to bestir Scotland’s populace from the slumber of indifference. Something dramatic enough to seize both flitting attention and dulled imagination. Something extraordinary even in a time of unexampled political upheaval.

Scotland’s independence movement needs to be energised. Scotland’s cause requires an injection of anger. It’s no use simply informing people that something bad is happening. It has to be made personal and intolerable. It’s no use just telling people about this or that injustice. We need political leaders ready to inveigh against the source of that injustice. We need them to rail against the Union. We need them to fulminate. We need, not the quiet voice of reason and diplomacy, but the ear-splitting roar of outrage and indignation.

Mahatma Ghandi said,

I have learnt through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power which can move the world.

We don’t seek to move the world. We seek only to end the undemocratic and unjust anomaly of the Union and restore constitutional normality to Scotland. Whatever some may claim, this is not happening. The independence campaign is not where it should be at this time and in prevailing circumstances. It isn’t where it should be because nobody in a position of power is acting so as to take it there.

The mindset of the independence campaign must change – and with it, the mood.

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Westminster Syndrome

For the record, I don’t think our SNP MPs need any reminding that they were sent to Westminster to settle up. not settle in. I fully understand the frustration which drives people to say such things. But I just don’t think the accusation is justified. The SNP group at Westminster works hard for Scotland and for the cause of independence. If it sometimes seems otherwise then bear in mind that they are but a small group within a largely hostile parliament, and that they are severely constrained by the arcane procedures and archaic customs of that benighted place. But I simply don’t accept that there is any danger of them forgetting why they are there. They, more than anyone, are subject to constant reminders of how alien and uncongenial the parliament of England-as-Britain is for those who come to it from the periphery of the British state and a very different political culture.

This is not to say that SNP MPs remain unaffected by the experience of being in the festering heart of British politics. Everything about Westminster is designed to impress and intimidate. The pomp and ceremony; the outlandish costumes; the anachronistic language, is all contrived to make the individual feel small and insignificant. The exaggerated theatrics are intended to invest the place and all its doings with a mighty, majestic irresistible authority. The message comes across loud and clear; submit to the system, or be irrelevant. Allow yourself to be absorbed into the system, or prepare to be crushed by it.

Remember your first day at ‘big’ school? Remember that feeling of being overwhelmed by everything? That is the feeling that Westminster is supposed to engender constantly in those sent there by voters. The great edifices and ceremonials of religion and the temples of industrial and commercial power are designed to have the same impact. They are designed to make mere people seem small.

It would be naive to think our MPs might be immune to the effect of being inside a machine built and organised to induce simpering deference. Even if that machine has lost some of its potency as a result of people having become accustomed to built environments and civil institutions on a non-human scale, the wholed Westminster thing has to make some kind of impression.

We might call it the ‘Westminster Syndrome’. A range of symptomatic attitudes and behaviours associated with being swallowed up by the British political system, particularly while not being – or resisting being – part of that culture. As with any such syndrome, the symptoms vary both in form and degree. At one extreme there is complete absorption – becoming as one with the system. These are the MPs who have taken the myth of British exceptionalism entirely to heart. The ones for whom the facade and charade of Westminster is reality. At the other end of the spectrum there is total defiance, best exemplified by the Sinn Féin MPs who refuse to take their seats. In between there varying degrees of resistance to Westminster’s influence. Some of it more for show that for any other purpose. The tolerated rebels and beloved eccentrics are part of Westminster’s mythology.

What we see in SNP MPs is, not an inclination to ‘settle in’, but a susceptibility to Westminster’s malign influence. To a varying extent, they exhibit symptoms of ‘Westminster Syndrome’. Most notably – and most disturbingly – a tendency to suppose that they may rely on the goodwill, good grace and good faith of the British establishment. A disposition to accept that part of the Westminster myth which borrows on the associations of an ancient institution and ‘old-fashioned’ values to convey the notion that the British establishment can be trusted.

There’s more than a bit of doublethink about this, of course. In one breath SNP politicians such as Ian Blackford and Pete Wishart tell us how erratic, unreliable and untrustworthy the British political elite is. In the next breath they urge us to be patient and trust that the same elite will,.in time, make good on its promises and keep faith with those who enter into electoral or parliamentary ‘arrangements’ with British political parties.

Ian Blackford strongly hints at a possible ‘deal’ with British Labour. Something short of actual coalition, but presumably some sort of confidence and supply agreement contingent on British Labour granting a Section 30 order. Mr Blackford seems to suppose that British Labour can be trusted to deliver. He appears convinced that British Labour will not to renege on any deal with the SNP group at the very first opportunity. He is evidently suffering from ‘Westminster Syndrome’.

To many – perhaps most – people in the independence movement the term ‘British Labour’ is synonymous with betrayal. Not being subject to the pernicious influence of Westminster, we are not easily persuaded to trust the party which colluded with the Tories in Project Fear. Not being prey to the effects of proximity to Westminster we are not at all inclined to rely on the goodwill, good grace and good faith of any of the British establishment parties.

We have no illusions about British politicians. We know what Ian Blackford and his colleagues seem to have forgotten – that British Nationalists will do absolutely anything to preserve their ‘precious Union’. We know, from bitter experience, that they consider dishonesty, deceit, defamation and treachery to be perfectly justifiable in the name of defending the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.

We expect nothing from British politicians but perfidy. We anticipate that they will renege on any deal. We assume that, even now, British Labour is planning how to wriggle out of its end of any bargain struck with the SNP. We realise that, in political and electoral terms, British Labour has nothing to lose by ‘doing the dirty’ on the SNP. In fact, few things would better enhance their credibility with those whose votes they are chasing than being seen to have ‘outwitted’ the hated SNP.

Perhaps the worst effect of ‘Westminster Syndrome’ is the way those afflicted get drawn into playing the British political game. There are troubling signs that some SNP MPs are being sucked into the politics of England-as-Britain to the detriment of their responsibilities to the people of Scotland. To those of us who see Westminster as already irrelevant to Scotland’s politics, this is hard to swallow.

Scotland’s interests, needs, priorities and aspirations can only be served by Scotland’s Parliament. Wheeling and dealing at Westminster is the old way. Our SNP MPs must shake off that ‘Westminster Syndrome’ and adopt a fresh mindset which puts the Scottish Parliament and Scotland’s distinctive political culture back at the centre of their thinking. Such a ‘Scotland-centred’ mindset precludes putting trust in British Labour or any part of the British establishment.

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