Relying on alchemy

Another serving of stale platitude purée from Ian Blackford. Chunks of it don’t even make sense.

Asked if he was disappointed support for independence wasn’t higher, Blackford said he thought that people were waiting to “see the direction of travel” over the course of the last few years.

Waiting to see what has already happened? Really?

Perhaps Ian Blackford could tell us exactly how long he reckons it will take for the reality of Brexit to hit home. He might even hazard a guess at how many mandates the SNP administration in Edinburgh will have by the time it does. Or maybe he’ll just keep spouting this kind of drivel so that he doesn’t have to admit the plain folly of shackling the independence cause to something that the SNP couldn’t hope to influence, far less control. Like hitching Scotland’s cause to a runaway truck and hoping it heads in the direction of a referendum.

Day in and day out I have people telling me that Mr Blackford and his colleagues know what they are doing. That they have a ‘secret plan’. That claim ceased to be credible some time ago. The SNP leadership staked everything on Brexit while tragically failing to recognise that it is not the reality of Brexit that matters, but the perception. And who controls all the main tools for manipulating public perceptions?

The SNP has got the independence project into a mess. I have no interest in recriminations. But can we please just recognise a failed strategy when it is slapping us repeatedly about the face. Can we get past the denial and start figuring out how to rectify the mistakes of the past five years.

The leaden lump of the SNP’s strategy isn’t going to turn to gold no matter how long it’s left steeping in the noxious alchemists’ brew of Brexit. Ian Blackford might as well stop throwing banalities and bromides into the cauldron.

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Inappropriate language

I don’t need an opinion poll to tell me “it would be unacceptable for any government in Westminster to block Scotland’s democratic right to choose“. This is not a matter of opinion. It is an incontrovertible fact that nobody has the legitimate authority to deny Scotland’s right of self-determination; least of all the entity from which Scotland is ‘seceding’.

I know I quibble about the language used by SNP politicians such as Ian Blackford and John Swinney. But language is important. Issues are perceived as being defined by the language politicians use. Particularly when operating in a hostile media environment, politicians have to be constantly aware of which narrative they are following. They must be on their guard against slipping into the pervasive narrative of that hostile media. They need to be ever mindful of the language they use.

Of course it would be “unacceptable” for the British government to “block Scotland’s democratic right to choose”! But it would be more than that. It would be wrong! In every sense of the word, it would be wrong! Even to attempt to deny the fundamental democratic right of self-determination is wrong. It cannot be right. It cannot rightfully be done.

Every word spoken by Scotland’s elected representatives should be informed by an unshakeable belief in Scotland’s cause. Every utterance must be couched in the language of an independent nation. There can never be the slightest suggestion of concessions which could be seen as compromising the sovereignty of Scotland’s people.

If Scotland’s right of self-determination is not subject to the approval of the British political elite, how much less might it be affected by the vagaries of opinion polls. Only the Parliament elected by the people of Scotland has the legitimate authority to determine whether there is sufficient demand to warrant a constitutional referendum in Scotland. Our Parliament has already made that determination. Opinion polls are irrelevant. The notion that the opinions of people furth of Scotland might have some bearing on the matter of a new independence referendum is beyond ridiculous. It is a matter for the Scottish people alone.

So why the hell is Ian Blackford hailing this poll as “significant”? Why is he not challenging the narrative which imbues it with significance? Why is he using such inappropriate language?

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Fine words

Ian Blackford portentously declares that the next UK general election will be “one of the most important in Scotland’s history”. If we are to take him at his word, we must know what makes it so. What is it about this election that makes it so significant for Scotland? How might the election impact Scotland? In what way will the outcome of the election determine Scotland’s future?

What are Ian Blackford’s – and, we must assume, the SNP’s – priorities in this election? What do he and they hope to get out of it?

Of course, as Mr Blackford speaks, there is no election. Under the terms of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, the next UK general election isn’t due until 5 May 2022. Few people, however, expect the current regime to last that long. The smart money isn’t betting on anything right now. But there is talk of opposition scheming to bring down the government and force an election in December. Spare a thought for the canvassers and leafleters who will have winter weather to contend with.

What you may have noted is that this date is beyond the most recent Brexit deadline. So it’s not at all clear what the point might be in “putting Scotland’s opposition to Brexit” at the heart of the election campaign, as Ian Blackford states is the SNP’s intention. Whatever else might be achieved, there is no way for an election to turn back the clock or alter the past. By December, Brexit will be a fait accompli. Scotland will have been wrenched from the EU against the will of the Scottish voters. By December, the deluge of Mad Brexiteer triumphalism provoked by a no-deal Brexit may just be starting to abate. The harsh realities of Brexit may even be beginning to bite despite the British government’s efforts to bury them under a pile of money and propaganda.

Is Ian Blackford suggesting that the SNP will be asking people to vote for them as a protest against Brexit and/or the contempt shown for Scotland’s democratic will by the British establishment? It’s a strategy of a sort, I suppose. But ‘Vote SNP as a futile gesture’ is hardly the most compelling campaign slogan ever devised.

Maybe the SNP is hoping for a further extension in the further hope that there may yet be hope of stopping Brexit. Some hope! It is true that the British parliament has passed legislation which will force the British Prime Minister to request another Article 50 extension if, by October 19, he hasn’t managed to persuade MPs to vote for either the ‘deal’ that they’ve already repeatedly rejected or a ‘new deal’ which currently exists only in Boris Johnson’s roiling imagination. Commentators are busy speculating about the possibility that the malignant child-clown might simply ignore this legal requirement.

There is little reason to suppose Boris Johnson might be prevented from breaking the law by a personal moral code evidently even less substantial than the ‘new deal’ which hasn’t actually been proposed and which the EU isn’t actually prepared to negotiate even if it actually had been proposed. But Boris probably won’t have to risk whatever penalty he might incur by defying the law and refusing to ask for more time. There’s a very good chance that the EU will not grant this request; especially if there are no fresh proposals – not involving wishful thinking and magic – which might break the deadlock. Johnson need only deploy the dithering and bluster which are his political stock in trade and the UK leaves the EU at 23:00 on 31 October by default.

The hope of stopping Brexit is looking rather forlorn. Opposition after the fact is a decidedly hollow basis for an election campaign. Indeed, the SNP might be well-advised to avoid any mention of Brexit, lest they remind voters of just how ineffectual their opposition has been. What else might they say about Brexit other than that they failed to prevent it being imposed on Scotland. Perhaps the campaign slogan might be ‘At least we tried!’.

Fortunately, Ian Blackford isn’t suggesting a campaign which relies entirely on a combination of credit for effort and post hoc protest. Alongside that “opposition to Brexit” at the heart of the SNP campaign will be a demand that Scotland’s people be given “our right to choose our own future with independence”. Which immediately prompted me to wonder why we are asking for this right if it is already ours. If it’s a right it requires no permission. If it’s ours we have no need to seek that permission. Already this second prong of the SNP’s election campaign strategy is starting to look as wobbly as the first.

What Ian Blackford is referring to is, needless to say, the Section 30 order that our First Minister has declared essential for a ‘legal’ independence referendum. On the matter of the process which must be followed to make the referendum legitimate, Nicola Sturgeon is in full agreement with those who are determined to ensure that a referendum doesn’t happen. You may count me among those who find this a curious position for the First Minister to have contrived for herself. She has committed to a process which is fraught with problems and pitfalls and, in doing so, she has ruled out all other options by effectively branding them illegal. You may count me among those who find this squandering of options totally incomprehensible.

But let us set aside, for the moment, the fact that the Section 30 process is undoubtedly toxic. Let us consider only the demand for a Section 30 order as a plank in the SNP’s platform come the next UK general election. Various questions may be asked of such a demand. Is it reasonable? How you answer that will depend on whether you recognise the toxic nature of the Section 30 process. And whether the question relates to the reasonableness of the requesting or the granting. A better question might ask if it is reasonable to be required to ask for permission to exercise a right which you already have the right to exercise. However, we’ve already covered that ground.

Another question that might be asked of a demand made as part of an election campaign is whether it is realistic. Is it possible for the demand to be met? How likely is it to be met? Is there any point to it?

The answer to these questions depends on the outcome of the election. Whether the demand is realistic or attainable or meaningful is all down to the make-up of the House of Commons in the wake of the election. Rather helpfully, Stu Campbell on Wings Over Scotland has done the arithmetic for us. He has modelled various scenarios ranging from the highly probable to ludicrously fantastical. In none of these scenarios does the SNP Westminster group end up in a position to secure that Section 30 order. Even winning 51 of Scotland’s 59 seats, the SNP simply wouldn’t have the necessary numbers.

None of Stu Campbell’s scenarios had the SNP win all the seats. But I suspect the end result would be the same. Whatever the weight of public support for independence it will always be outweighed in the British parliament by the overwhelming majority of Unionist MPs. The obvious conclusion being that it is utterly pointless to suppose Scotland’s independence might be restored via Westminster. It will only be restored by the Scottish Government acting through the Scottish Parliament in a way that breaks the British state’s rules but with the support of the Scottish people.

In summarising, let’s look at what Ian Blackford said,

The SNP will be putting Scotland’s opposition to Brexit and our right to choose our own future with independence at the heart of the contest… 

Scots urged to register to vote ahead of ‘crucial’ General Election

In the next UK general election, it looks like the SNP will be campaigning to stop something that’s already happened and to get something we already have by demanding something they can’t get and which they shouldn’t be asking for because asking for it does harm and getting it does even more harm.

You may count me among those who are not at all impressed. Not for the first time, Ian Blackford offers fine words which leave the parsnips quite devoid of butter.

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Bold words

Bold words from Ian Blackford. We get a lot of bold words. What we don’t get is much in the way of effective action. The SNP’s Westminster leader assures us that he and his colleagues “will not sit idly by” while a British government led by Boris Johnson imposes a no-deal Brexit on Remain-voting Scotland. But what can they actually do?

It looks very much as if the SNP’s obsession with Brexit has blinded them to the fact that it stands as but one particularly egregious example of how the Union impacts Scotland. They seem to have forgotten that their purpose is, not merely to stop Brexit, but to stop Scotland’s democratic will being rendered null and void by a political union which acts to deny the people of Scotland the full and effective exercise of their sovereignty.

It appears that the SNP will do anything to stop Brexit except pursue, as a matter of urgency, the restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status.

What is this talk of a no-confidence motion but yet another instance of the SNP dutifully abiding by the rules and procedures of the British political system? A system designed to protect and preserve the structures of power, privilege and patronage which constitute the British state. A system which, not at all incidentally, treats Scotland’s elected representatives with cold contempt. If there was any possibility of a no-confidence motion threatening established power, the SNP would be prevented from following that procedure.

And make no mistake, once Boris Johnson becomes Prime Minister, as is generally expected, he immediately embodies established power. No matter how much of an idiot he may be, or what kind of jeopardy he promises, he is the British Prime Minister. The status of that high office must be maintained whoever the incumbent may be. Because, as with the absolute monarchy from which it derives, all power flows from that office and depends on its status.

When the SNP is not targeting Brexit, they’re targeting the Tories. And when they’re not targeting the Tories, they’re targeting whoever happens to be the British Prime Minister. The one thing they never seem to target is the Union. Which is more than a little disappointing given that the Union is the issue. Whatever party is in power at Westminster; whoever happens to be Prime Minister, and whatever policy is being imposed of Scotland against the will of the people, it is the Union which empowers that party, enables that Prime Minister and facilitates the imposition of policies which are anathema to Scotland.

Put a different party in government! Nothing changes for Scotland! Install a different Prime Minister! Nothing changes for Scotland! Succeed in stopping a particular policy being imposed! Nothing changes for Scotland! Nothing changes for Scotland so long as the Union maintains its baleful influence over our land.

Nothing changes for Scotland until we #BreakTheUnion. The only way to break the Union is to #BreakTheRules. The SNP isn’t even trying to break the Union because the SNP isn’t prepared to break the rules of the British political system.

We have a problem. The problem is that the SNP is the problem. The further problem is that only the SNP can resolve this problem. And the problem with that is that to resolve the problem the SNP would have to do the very thing which is the cause of the problem because they refuse to do it.

Until the SNP is prepared to confront the British political elite with more than bold words from Ian Blackford, Scotland’s cause is stalled. Becalmed at the very moment when it should be driving forward with every ounce of energy the Yes movement can put behind it.

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Wrong target

Why? Why is Ian Blackford demanding the release of the “Boris Johnson bust-up tape“? Of what possible concern is this to the people of Scotland? It’s not as if we are currently deceived about Johnson’s character. Few, if any at all, are in need of being disabused of notions that the man is other than unworthy for public office, low or high. The content of this recording could add nothing useful to our knowledge.

It is not Johnson’s behaviour that Ian Blackford should be deploring, but the fact that such an individual as we already know him to be can be imposed on Scotland by a combination of British Tories in thrall to a demented British Nationalist ideology and English voters whose appreciation of democratic politics has been so soured by experience and media manipulation as to bid them see in Johnson some manner of dragon-slaying hero.

If Ian Blackford’s purpose is to ensure that Johnson’s elevation is thwarted, again we must ask why? How is Scotland served by preventing Boris Johnson becoming British Prime Minister only to hand the role to someone who is different only in the particulars of his unsuitability for that role?

Mr Blackford’s outrage is surely justified; and may well be regarded as virtuous as his demands are reasonable. But he should be wary. British politics is so corrupt that even to touch it with the barge-pole of condemnation is to risk contamination. Better to stand aside from and above the mess.

Better to direct that outrage and condemnation at the device by which Scotland is made subject to the vile machinations of the British political parties and the irrational whims of the English electorate. Rather than urging the release of some entirely redundant evidence of Boris Johnson’s debauchery, Mr Blackford would be more usefully employed demanding Scotland’s release from the abomination that is the Union.

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The mechanical and the organic

There’s a strong sense that Ian Blackford is being politic. That he is saying what was required in response to direct criticism. I do not get the impression that this is a thoughtful response. The sentiment is worthy. But sentiment alone is not sufficient.

The criticism that the wider Yes movement is being ignored by the SNP is dismissed with just the right amount of sincerity tinged with precisely the correct degree of indignation. The warmth of the reassurance is nicely calculated. The idea of a shared aim is well conveyed. But what does any of it mean in practical terms?

I want to know how, exactly, we are all supposed to “work collectively together”. I know the Yes movement takes lectures from nobody when it comes to networking and cooperation. I also know that the SNP runs a formidable election-winning machine. What I want to know is how the various components might be brought together to develop and conduct an effective referendum campaign.

I know that Nicola Sturgeon is just the kind of political leader the nation needs at this time. I know that the Yes movement has evolved to find find leadership as it is required. But can Nicola Sturgeon provide the leadership that the Yes movement needs. And can the Yes movement accept Nicola Sturgeon as the source of that leadership?

I know that a political movement and a political party are very different beasts. How might both be harnessed to a campaign which stands apart from both party and movement?

I appreciate the conciliatory tone of Ian Blackford’s remarks. But I want to hear his thoughts on how party and movement arrive at a functioning accommodation. Or, if that is too much to ask, at least some indication that he and his colleagues are thinking about the practical aspect of that accommodation.

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Identifying the problem

Boris Johnson is not Scotland’s problem.

Brexit is not Scotland’s problem.

The horribly dysfunctional British political system is not Scotland’s problem.

None of this is Scotland’s problem, unless we choose to make it our problem. Which is what Ian Blackford seems to be doing. He seems to be of a mind to treat England’s self-inflicted woes as part of Scotland’s domestic politics when we really need to be developing a mindset which places this firmly in the category of external affairs.

Boris Johnson, Brexit and the dysfunctional British state are not the reasons Scotland needs urgently to restore its independence. The reason is that the Union makes these things Scotland’s problem when they most definitely are not.

The Union renders Scotland subject to the vagaries of the Westminster/Whitehall machine. The Union makes Scotland’s democratic choices conditional on England’s concurrence and the British political elite’s approval. The Union stipulates that the likes of Boris Johnson will speak for Scotland regardless of how much we despise and detest everything that he represents.

Boris Johnson is not Scotland’s problem.

Brexit is not Scotland’s problem.

The ineptitude and maliciousness and corruption of the British political elite is not Scotland’s problem.

Scotland’s problem is the Union. The solution is obvious. We must dissolve the Union. Why won’t Ian Blackford just say so?

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