A confection

There’s a piece in yesterday’s National which you may have passed by on account of it looking like countless other reports of Ian Blackford or one of his colleagues feeding us vacuous platitudes and lecturing us about how we have to do things a particular way without telling us what that way is or how it might work. This claptrap became tedious long ago. It has grown irksome. People have two ways to go. They can either ignore these feeble efforts to fob off or slap down the growing number of people expressing concerns and asking questions about the SNP’s approach to the constitutional issue. Or they can make the mistake that I made last night and read the article then go to bed angry. Which is not conducive to personal well-being.

There’s no substance to the rhetoric. No filling. Like Smarties with just the bright, colourful outer coating, but when that’s gone there’s nothing. No crunchy sugar shell. No chocolate kernel. No substance.

There are, I think, four flavours colours of SNP Smarties currently being tossed to the party member kiddies and their pals from the Yes movement. The red ones are Ian Blackford’s favourites. The red of well-rehearsed outrage at Boris Johnson and his regime for being British Nationalists and acting accordingly. The pointy-fingered denunciations and eye-widened outrage and fist-raised warnings. All very am-dram. All totally without substance. I watch Mr Blackford at the dispatch box as he does his indignation shtick to an audience of disappearing British backs and I am put in mind of Kruschev at the United Nations banging his shoe on the lectern to emphasise his point. I can’t remember what the point was. But I remember the empty shoe. I remember wondering if it was one he’d brought specially for that purpose – like a theatrical prop. I remember wondering if the shoe was smelly. But I don’t remember what he said. Just the shoe. Just the prop. Just the stuff that was there for show.

The yellow smarties are those peppy popsters Pete & The Postponers singing their big hit 500 Months. You know how it goes,

I would wait 500 months
And I would wait 500 more
Just to be the man who waits a thousand months
To wait 500 more

It’s a bit banal. But the kids love it. The tune doesn’t actually go anywhere. Just as Stephen King can’t write endings for his stories, Pete & The Postponers have no idea how to finish their song. But that’s OK. Because it’s easy to sing and play and people join in and doing an ending is scary because then they might be asked to do another number and they’ve got fu nothing! Under the yellow coating there is just emptiness.

You could try suggesting that they do a verse or two about what happens while they’re waiting 500 more months. But that’ll get you chucked out of their fan club. They won’t speak to you at gigs any more. And they’ll tell all their other fans to shun you. They’ll work very hard at pretending to be real Smarties. But eventually the colouring rubs off. And when that happens Pete & The Postponers will be remembered only on those TV list shows when they do the most deserving one-hit wonders of all time.

Then there’s the blue smarties. These are the solemn warnings about what will happen if we chew our Fruit Pastilles instead of sucking them. Our teeth will rot and fall out and we’ll get tummy-ache and, worst of all, the grown-ups will take away our sweeties and tell us we’re not entitled to them because we weren’t eating them the right way.

Once again, beneath that glossy blue exterior there is only space. The grown-ups aren’t even paying any attention to us. And they don’t care if we chew or suck so long as we share the sweets fairly and brush our teeth afterwards.

Finally, the green Smarties. These are the inspirational speeches from the likes of Nicola Sturgeon. The shiny green ones draw us in. They stand out from the other colours. They really look like there must be something good inside. You always think the next one will have a centre. You consume them by the handful, but all you get is a green tongue and a feeling inside of emptiness as empty as the faux Smarties.

The green colouring is very high quality. It doesn’t rub off easily. The green Smarties never lose their gleam. They never fade. But they cannot satisfy. Because they’re empty. They have no substance.

I’ve really got a notion for some real Smarties. Anybody know where I can get some?

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Crisis? What crisis?


Ian Blackford proclaims that UK faces a “constitutional crisis” over Brexit Bill votes in the three devolved parliaments. The National notes that,

While none of the devolved institutions have [sic] granted permission for Westminster to go ahead with the legislation, the Withdrawal Bill is still likely to pass through Westminster.

Ian Blackford: UK faces constitutional crisis over Brexit Bill votes

What The National doesn’t say is that Westminster does what it pleases with no apparent discomfort or unease. The British parliament completely ignores the devolved parliaments, each of which has greater democratic legitimacy than Westminster, and does so effortlessly. If there is a “constitutional crisis” then the British establishment is, to all appearances, unaware of it. There is certainly no sign that it is at all troubled by this “constitutional crisis”.

Can it qualify as a crisis if one of the parties to events and developments is unaware of it? Or, to put it another way, if the party at the centre of the affair perceives no crisis, are we justified in calling it such?

Or could it be that Mr Blackford has misidentified the parties to the purported crisis? Perhaps he is simply mistaken in thinking that the crisis affects the British political elite. Perhaps, if crisis there be, it is only a crisis for the devolved administrations; particularly the one in Edinburgh. Maybe the explanation for the British political elite’s equanimity in the face of this crisis is simply that it doesn’t really involve them.

If, indeed, we have reached a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, especially for better or for worse, is determined, then perhaps the British political elite doesn’t regard this as a crisis because, to whatever extent the trend of all future events is being determined, they are fully confident that this implies no changes that might be to their detriment.

If there is a condition of instability or danger in the affairs of the UK such as might occasion decisive change, maybe they know with a high degree of certainty that this decisive change will not be to the disbenefit or disadvantage of the established order.

Or maybe the British political elite is exhibiting the smug self-assurance that accompanies overweening power. Maybe they consider the established order invulnerable. Maybe they feel safe in the knowledge that, having the power to make, amend or exempt themselves from the rules of the game, they cannot possibly lose.

Why should this be a crisis for the British state? Nothing can oblige their parliament or government to heed the decisions of the devolved parliaments. The British state suffers no penalty for treating the devolved parliaments with supercilious disdain. Quite the contrary, in fact. Particularly in relation to Holyrood, Brexit has provided the British state with just the opportunity it needed to roll back devolution, slapdown the presumptuous SNP and put those uppity Jocks firmly back in the box labelled ‘Property of England-as-Britain’.

From the outset, discourse around the whole Brexit farce has focused almost exclusively on the economic impact. Little or no attention was paid to the constitutional implications. This despite the fact that the constitutional implications were always huge – as Ian Blackford and the rest now acknowledge. The constitutional implications were also obvious. When I argued for a Remain vote in the 2016 EU referendum the main reason I gave was the fact that leaving the EU would provide the British political elite with an opportunity to unilaterally redefine the UK and the constitutional status of the troublesome peripheral nations. At the extreme, which wise counsel would have us anticipate, this might involve the British constitutionally redefining the UK as an indivisible and indissoluble unitary state – putting Scotland in relation to the UK much as Catalunya is in relation to Spain.

The question was never whether the British would do this. The question was always whether there was any reason that they might not. Any just cause, that is, which they would see as such. Bearing in mind the nature of the British state and its ruling elites, considerations of ethics, morality or democratic principle were never going to enter into the calculation. The British political elite would do whatever was required to preserve and reinforce the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. The Union at any cost! To anyone but them!

There is no crisis for the British state. Ian Blackford has misread the situation. The British can, in this matter as in all matters relating to Scotland, act with total impunity. The crisis falls entirely on the devolved administrations and parliaments. Arguably, it falls most heavily on the Scottish Parliament and the SNP administration in Edinburgh. They will be judged on how they respond to this crisis. And it doesn’t look promising. Ian Blackford says, “really it is about this issue of respect”. Well, if it is, then it’s about how well he and his colleagues earn the respect of the people of Scotland. Because it’s as certain as anything might be that they will never get respect from the British political elite.

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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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