Many schemes. Little time.

Our First Minister’s stubborn insistence on abiding by the British state’s rules combined with the British Prime Minister’s unsurprising but equally obdurate determination to use those same rules for their true purpose of preserving the Union has provoked extraordinary levels of frustration among independence supporters. Which frustration has, in turn, led to the development of myriad schemes for taking Scotland cause forward despite these twin obstacles. Some of these schemes are more imaginative than others.

Without commenting on the extent to which any of these cunning plans depart the realm of realism, they share a flaw in that it is not possible to fit the timeframe of their execution within the timeframe of the British state’s less subtle but more evidently effective project to make permanent the Union which we seek to dissolve.

In order to seriously consider the idea of using entryism to change the policy position of the British parties in Scotland on the constitutional issue, we must first be convinced of the feasibility of persuading the leopard to abandon its British Nationalist Union Jack spots in favour of a fetching outfit in Scottish nationalist tartan.

We must then accept that it might be possible to fit the camel of a timescale defined by party policy development procedures through the needle’s eye of a timescale that can be whatever the British state wants or needs it to be.

The Yes movement may be regarded as having fully matured when we stop trying to devise fanciful schemes for going over under or around the reality of Scotland’s relative powerlessness within the Union and focus our energies on driving our cause right through the barriers to democracy inherent in the Union using the tools we already have – the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament and the Yes movement.

The limits of the human imagination have barely been tested. I don’t doubt the ability of independence supporters to devise a near-infinite list of schemes by which Scotland’s independence might be restored. I seriously doubt whether there is more than one way in which this can actually be achieved. Once we leave the distractions and diversions behind and start discussing the finer details of the ultimate solution then we can be said to be making progress rather than running on the spot hoping the terrain might spontaneously become more conducive to the final sprint.

I don’t doubt the good intentions of those who seek routes to independence through the courts or through the intervention of some external agency or through a conveniently dramatic transformation of the British political landscape. But they are asking the wrong questions if they’re asking how the rules devised for the protection of the Union can be forged into a tool by which the Union can be broken. And they are addressing the wrong issue if they are considering ways to weaken the imperative which drives the British state’s efforts to lock Scotland into a political union with England-as-Britain which formalises Scotland’s annexation.

My own cunning plan involves deciding on the things that would define Scotland as an independent nation and then devising ways of seizing these things against and despite the determined opposition of the British political elite and the entire British establishment. Start from where we want to be and work backwards to where we are discovering the steps which comprise this path.

Ultimately, the restoration of Scotland’s independence requires the dissolution of the Union. Ask how this can be achieved. Ask what must be the final step taking us to this destination. Ask how we got to that place. The answers to this series of questions within the context of a severely restricted time-frame, will be our route to independence.

I’m sorry, Craig, but your entryism scheme isn’t an answer to any of the pertinent questions.



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The wrong question

It’s the wrong question. Whether the British Electoral Commission should have any involvement is a moot point. The Scottish Parliament has decided. But it’s the wrong question.

One of those strange contradictions that seem to be a feature of politics is to be found in the observation that the new referendum will not be like the 2014 referendum coupled with an insistence that the new referendum campaign must be exactly the same as that for the 2014 referendum. Various politicians and other leading figures in the independence movement seem perfectly comfortable with pointing out all the ways in which the circumstances have changed, and advising that this fact inform our thinking on campaign strategy for the new referendum, and then describing a strategy that is indistinguishable from the one used in the old referendum campaign.

The language is identical. All the talk of “listening” and “conversation” and “being positive” is precisely what was inculcated into campaigners all through the first referendum campaign. The Section 30 process must be followed exactly as it was then. The questions must be the same as it was then. The entire referendum must be framed just as was the 2014 referendum campaign. No lessons have been learned from that campaign. None!

The main lesson to be learned from the first independence referendum campaign is that we should not conduct such a campaign again. This is not to say that the strategy adopted then was wrong. In many respects, there was no choice. Compromises had to be made. Much of what was done was perfectly appropriate in the circumstances that prevailed at the time. Context matters.

The context is very different now. It has been changed, not least by the first referendum itself and the British state’s response to it, both during and after. It was changed by EVEL. It was changed by the Smith Commission and the subsequent tinkering with devolution. It was changed, perhaps most obviously, by Brexit. What is appropriate to this new context is, in many ways, the opposite of what was suited to or dictated by the context of the 2014 campaign.

Things that weren’t mistakes back then now look like mistakes with hindsight and would be mistakes now. That is why they look like mistakes with hindsight. We are looking at them through the prism of the present context. Or, at least, some of us are.

Perhaps the most fundamental example of something that wasn’t a mistake then but would be now is making independence the contentious issue. Independence is normal. It is the Union which is anomalous. It is the Union which is the ‘naturally’ contentious issue.

And there’s another problem with putting independence front and centre rather than the Union. The following is from an article I wrote in September 2019.

Not only did the question on the 2014 ballot paper make independence the contentious issue, it ensured that the Yes campaign was built around a contested concept. There was then, and still is, no single agreed definition of independence. The term, as it applied to Scotland, meant many different things to different people. Myriad individuals and groups within the Yes movement all presented voters with their own conception of and vision for independence. The Yes campaign became a confusing fog of competing messages and was thereby rendered very much less effective than it might have been.

Because independence is a contested concept, it is inherently susceptible to being misrepresented and burdened with all manner of prejudicial associations. It was, in other words, highly vulnerable to precisely the kind of negative propaganda effort to which the anti-independence campaign predictably resorted.

That was NOT the question!

The lesson is not exactly subtle. Don’t do that again! For various reasons, it was the best – or only – way to go about things the first time, which we may best regard as preparing the ground for the referendum that actually matters. We’re not at that stage any more. We should have moved on. We should now be putting the Union on trial.

The question on the ballot paper must make the Union the contentious issue. Rather than asking if Scotland should be an independent country we should be asking if Scotland should dissolve the Union. The question should be formulated in such a way as to ensure Yes and No responses have the same implication as in the first referendum.

This would transform the debate and avoid it being no more than a rerun of the previous debate – which would tend to deter engagement. It would be an entirely new debate for an entirely different referendum.

Why is it not obvious that this is what is required?



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A 'UDI' of our own

James Kelly seems to have changed his tune about a course of action which he previously denounced as unthinkably irresponsible ‘UDI’. More acute observers, of course, realised a long time ago that if Scotland’s independence is to be restored this will never be by any process deemed ‘legal’ by the UK government. It’s either ‘UDI’ or nothing. Where ‘UDI’ is understood to mean a process which excludes the UK government from any involvement and which must, therefore, be branded ‘illegal’ by a British political elite intent on preserving the Union at any cost.

Calling the referendum at the centre of this process “consultative” is a cop-out. It is an attempt to appease British Nationalists by assuring them that we’re only pretending to exercise our right of self-determination and won’t actually do anything. It’s a binary question of the kind that is perfectly suited to being decided by plebiscite. Assuming a properly framed ballot question and an adequate turnout, the result cannot be other than a clear expression of the will of Scotland’s people. Which, in turn, cannot be other than binding on the government and parliament elected by the people of Scotland and accountable to them.

It didn’t take a survey to know that it was nonsense to assume that ‘UDI’ would alienate large numbers of voters. All it took was some understanding of human nature. To anybody with a modicum of such understanding, bold, assertive action is obviously just the thing to catch the public’s imagination – and the mood of the nation.

The only question remaining is who might take this bold, assertive action that will inevitably be dubbed ‘UDI’ by anti-democratic British Nationalists. And whether it will be done properly. Whether the words “bold” and “assertive” are taken to heart.

The current SNP administration doesn’t look a likely candidate. But we shouldn’t give up on them just yet. To get the job done, we need a particular tool. The SNP is what we have to hand. The parlousness of Scotland’s predicament makes delay seriously inadvisable. So we must use what we have. The Yes movement has to get its act together and force Nicola Sturgeon to do what needs to be done – or to step aside in favour of someone who will. The latter trailing as the second choice some distance behind the former.

Forget the less than half-measure of a “consultative” referendum. Appeasement will always be perceived as weakness and encourage retaliatory action. The Scottish Government must be absolutely resolved and determined. The aim is to break the Union, not caress it.



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The dilemma of conflicting imperatives

The trouble with saying that this isn’t what it looks like is that it induces people to think about what it looks like rather than what it’s being presented as. A bit like telling someone not to think about a pink elephant. Deferring the spring conference looks very like a pink elephant.

The problem wouldn’t arise, of course, if there weren’t reasons for supposing the SNP might wish to postpone the conference that have nothing to do with whatever it is that isn’t a pink elephant. If there weren’t widespread concern within the party and beyond about Nicola Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional question then people would not be able to ascribe ulterior motives to those responsible for putting conference off for three months.

People tend to think the worst of politicians and party managers. I wonder why.

Let’s deny them the benefit of the doubt for the moment. Let’s suppose the worst. Let’s assume the conference has been delayed to save the platform-sitters from having to face awkward questions from delegates who are less than enamoured with elements of their leadership’s performance. Will a two or three month delay solve the problem? Let’s think!

If the party hierarchy thinks a conference in March or April would be marked (marred?) by scenes of discontent and even dissent then they must reckon there to be cause for that discontent/dissent. And if they think it’s safe to have the conference in June, they must be calculating that the aforementioned cause of discontent and/or dissent will be eliminated before then. Which in turn suggests that something significant is going to happen in the interim.

What might that be?

Speculation is rife. Well, it is in my head. Thing is, there’s not that much to speculate about. It’s that old thing about imperatives and options again. The key to some kind of understanding of the ebb, flow and swirl of the political tides. Or at least, the key to turning idle speculation into informed analysis.

In terms of the constitutional issue, the British state’s overarching imperative – what drives its behaviour – is the need to preserve the Union at quite literally any cost. Their options all derive from the Union and the power relationship that it creates and perpetuates whereby the British state – or England-as-Britain or Borissia – is in all respects and at all times around eight times more powerful than Scotland. As if every voter in England-as-Britain had eight votes to every one vote for individuals in Scotland. (This, incidentally, is a major factor in the increasing number of English people in Scotland supporting independence. They are better placed to see the imbalance than ‘native’ Scots who have only ever lived in Scotland.)

What this means is that the British state has, if not unlimited options, certainly uncountable options. Effectively, the British political elite can do as it pleases with and to Scotland. The Union was intended to solve the ‘Scottish problem’. It was meant to remove Scotland as a threat to England. To achieve this, a grotesquely asymmetric political union was devised and imposed on Scotland. Even three hundred years ago the people detested the Union. But Scotland’s ruling elites were assured that they would be protected from the effects of this imbalance of power.

That constitutional arrangement; that grotesque imbalance of power, remains fundamentally unchanged to this day. Society has changed beyond recognition since 1707. But the Union has not changed accordingly. Such changes as there have been – notably devolution – were intended to reinforce and preserve the imbalance rather than to reform and rectify it.

In the UK, people in Scotland are second-class citizens at best. The Union makes it so. We have a second-class parliament. The Union so stipulates. We have a second-class government. The Union allows no more. Not second-class in the sense of qualitatively inferior. Certainly second-class in terms of political power. Our Scottish Parliament may have immeasurably greater democratic legitimacy than Westminster. But it must always be subordinate. Our Scottish Government may be considerably more effective in addressing the needs, priorities and aspirations of the nation’s people. But it must always be subordinate to even the worst of administrations in London. Our people may be little different from the resident of Borissia. But we do not have the same right to choose the government that best suits our needs. The Union underpins this inequity.

This is the reality of the Union. A reality that is abhorred by many who appreciate the true nature of Scotland’s predicament; tolerated by those whose fear or apathy outweighs their self-respect and sense of justice; embraced by those whose conceit of themselves is that they are, or can hope to become, part of the cossetted elite.

But to our speculation. The foregoing has, I hope, served to explain why the British state has so many options. Or, to put it another way, so few constraints on how it acts towards Scotland. This is why restoring Scotland’s independence will require an exceptional effort on the part of boldly imaginative and utterly determined people.

Which brings me to the Scottish Government. No! really! Settle down!

What is the Scottish Government’s imperative? What drives the SNP administration? There can be no doubt that in relation to the day-to-day governance of the nation, the SNP administration seeks to serve the interests of Scotland’s people. And does so with quiet competence. Perhaps too quiet. Everybody will have their pet gripes, of course. But overall, the SNP administration has done a truly remarkable job considering the daunting constraints of devolution and an increasingly hostile British state.

All of which may well be part of the problem. The SNP is not only supposed to provide good government. It is also the de facto political arm of the independence movement. A role which bestows upon the party duties and responsibilities quite distinct from the duties and responsibilities of government. In relation to its role as a party of government the SNP’s imperative must be to stay in office. To win elections. To conduct itself in such a way as will enable it to win elections.

In relation to its role as the political arm of the independence movement, however, the driving imperative must be the restoration of Scotland’s independence. But to the considerable extent that options for action are related to power, the SNP is relatively powerless against the British state and its uncountable options. This we know. This we understand. What may be less well recognised or appreciated is the conflict between the two imperatives driving the SNP. On the one hand, its role as the governing party means it must conform to and comply with the unjust conditions imposed by the Union. On the other, its imperative in relation to its role as the party of independence obliges it to behave contrary to those conditions.

Basically, the SNP can’t do its job as a government if it fulfils its role as the party of independence.

Which imperative wins? Ultimately, the party must choose. It may well be that this choice was on the cards for the SNP’s spring conference. Whispers are growing daily about grassroots pressure on the party leadership for a change of approach to the constitutional question. It would, from a pragmatic point of view, be understandable if the leadership preferred to postpone this confrontation. Much as they’ve avoided the confrontation with the British state which will come at some point if the shackles of the Union are to be broken.

If the postponement is to allow the party bosses time to prepare for the coming contest of priorities – or imperatives – I’m fine with that. It’s a crucial issue. It deserves and requires preparation. If the postponement is for the purpose of preempting the confrontation by taking some kind of extraordinary action, I’ll be even better pleased. But if the postponement turns out to be nothing more than kicking the can down the road from reluctance to face up to the issue, I will not be well pleased.



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What would YOU do?

What would you do? What’s your alternative, smartarse? You’re very good at criticising, but where are your positive suggestions?

I am asked questions like this all the time. Variations on the demand to know what I would do instead have become the standard response when I point out things that the Scottish Government and/or the First Minister are doing that I maintain are mistaken or misguided. There’s been quite a lot of that lately. Much to my dismay. And that’s something people would do well to bear in mind. I get no pleasure from criticising the administration and condemning Nicola Sturgeon. More the latter than the former because the administration, generally speaking does a good job. It is in the matter of the constitutional issue that I take exception and that is all on Nicola Sturgeon’s shoulders. Although Mike Russell may take a bit of flak as well.

I would much rather go back to my previous practice of circumspection. Not that I wouldn’t criticise the party, but I would only do so if the criticism was weighed against the interests of Scotland’s cause and tipped the scales. Even then, I was cautious about the tone of the criticism. I still am. I’m appropriately obliged to the hundreds of people who have been presumptuous enough to point out to me how essential the SNP is to the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence. I can only assume that these people comment in ignorance of my lever analogy. One really shouldn’t condemn from a position of ignorance.

I have to assume, also, that the interlocutors in question are afflicted with some form of reading difficulty. Because in all of the material I have written berating and bemoaning Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘strategy’ on the constitutional issue I have never once suggested or implied or hinted or left room for the honest impression that I didn’t acknowledge the vital role of the SNP in the independence project. Nor have I ever done anything other than encourage people to vote SNP at every opportunity. So much so that I was only today referred to by someone obviously unacquainted with my more recent output as an “SNP arse-licker”.

What would you do? The question, however it is framed and regardless of the accompanying epithets (mostly woefully unimaginative), irks me. It irks me somewhat for the false allegations, as described above, stated or implied. It irks me more because the question is commonly deployed, not as a genuine enquiry, but to divert from whatever criticism I’m making. Let’s not talk about what’s actually being done by the people with power. Let’s talk about what someone who has no power might hypothetically do if he did. It’s a feeble and rather cowardly way to avoid having to admit that they cannot address the criticism. They have nothing meaningful to say about whatever defect or deficiency it is that I’ve identified. They have no way to refute the arguments. So they try to change the subject. Pathetic!

It irks me when people imply, or explicitly state, that criticism cannot be valid if no alternative is offered. I’ll let that one lie here and steam gently taking care not to step in it as I move on.

But the question irks me most because it is very unfair. It asks me what I would do in a situation that is not of my making. A situation which, had I the power that is being hypothetically attributed to me, would not have arisen. It demand’s to know how I would clean up somebody else’s mess.

If people were to ask what would I have done, that would be a fair question. And no more hypothetical than the one I’m being asked. And it might even be a sensible, useful question. There’s a chance that figuring out how a situation might have been averted might reveal clues as to how it may be rectified. At the very least, such revision could provide insights relating to the actual situation and a better understanding of the problems. At the very, very least there may be valuable lessons for the future nested like pearls in the oyster of rewritten history.

I am now going to assume that somebody has asked the sensible question. I shall pretend someone has had the wits to ask what I would have done. All the while mourning the fact that I have to pretend.

What would I have done differently? How would I have avoided the present situation? Anyone with the sense to ask that question would almost certainly wish to point out that a future event or development can only be averted if it can be foreseen. You can’t avoid it if you don’t see it coming. I maintain that it was perfectly possible to predict how things would pan out given various educated assumptions.

The story of what I would have done begins on Friday 19 September 2014. Or maybe a day or two after that. But no later. I really did start thinking about a second referendum almost immediately after the unfortunate (euphemism!) outcome of the first one. I set myself the immediate task of working out the earliest possible date for this new referendum after which I undertook a review of the past campaign to see what lessons might be learned. I won’t go into the process by which I arrived at a date; I’ve told the story enough times to be bored with it and it’s not that important. What matters is that it wasn’t just picked at random. It was a rough calculation, not a complete guess. The date was Thursday 20 September 2018.

This was the earliest date for a new referendum. When the EU referendum came along, I had to take another look. By one of those weird coincidences that give superstitious folk goosebumps. it turned out that taking the EU referendum into consideration Thursday 20 September 2018 went from being the earliest date for a new referendum to the latest. This was due to the constitutional implications of what would come to be called Brexit.

Of course, I couldn’t know the result of the EU referendum beforehand. But it wasn’t difficult to figure out what the consequences would be whichever way it went. The September 2018 date was intended to allow Scotland to escape Brexit. Or, more precisely, the constitutional implications of the UK leaving the EU. Bear in mind that my calculations didn’t take account of the extensions. Cut me a bit of slack here! By the time we were at the Article 50 extension stage it was already too late for a September 2018 vote.

The preparation for that vote should have started in 2015. That left plenty of time before for a thorough review of the 2014 campaign, and sufficient time after for the process leading up to a vote – principally, the passing of legislation.

I would have fired the starting gun immediately after the 2015 UK general election on 7 May. I would have announced the date and set out a timetable for the preparations. I may be accused of exploiting 20/20 hindsight concerning the result of that election. But while I can’t and wouldn’t claim to have foreseen the scale of the SNP landslide, I was confident that, riding the wave of enthusiasm that followed the 2014 referendum, the SNP would do well. Certainly well enough to provide an excellent backdrop against which to announce the new referendum.

People will say that ‘we didn’t have the numbers’ at that time. But the surest way to get the numbers is to give people something to latch onto. The surest way to not get the numbers is not to do anything at all. People aren’t inspired by inaction.

The main problem with launching so far in advance would have been maintaining momentum. But we had the Scottish Parliament elections in 2016 as well as a number of other electoral events. And, with a big group of MPs at Westminster it would not have been difficult to engineer enough ‘activity’ to keep the issue live and lively. The 2016 Holyrood elections would not have been as fraught as they were because the spirit which existed post-2014 would not have been allowed to subside and dissipate in the way that it did. And there would have been the passage of various bits of legislation in the Scottish Parliament to keep the media interested. The Referendums Act just enacted last December was, like so much the Scottish Government has done, at least two and as much as four years late. I would not have allowed that time to be squandered.

Already it can be seen how things would have been totally different if we’d gone for #Referendum2018. And I am firmly persuaded we could have won. The conditions would have been better because we would have acted to make them better rather than sitting around waiting for them to magically improve. The campaign itself would have been better because, having properly learned the lessons of the 2014 campaign I would have ensured that the 2018 campaign was different in a number of significant ways. I’m not sure if details of this are relevant here. I’ll gladly answer questions about what I would have done in terms of the actual campaign. And, indeed, what I would still do were there to be a campaign in the future.

Instead of seizing the moment, we gave the British government time to recover from every one of its serial fuck-ups. Now, we’re up against an administration with a substantial majority, led by a man who, for all his buffoon image, has so far got everything he wanted and, most important, a British government with the ideological mindset to fully exploit the power afforded it by the Union without pause or scruple or any consideration of principle.

Most of the foregoing is stuff that I was happy to talk about in the years between 2014 and 2018. And talk about it I did – both online and at countless gatherings. And people were coming round to the idea of a 2018 referendum. But it was not to be. There were some things that I declined to talk about back then, however. Things that I could foresee, but which I foreswore to speak of. For reasons which should become obvious.

Even in 2015 I could see that the good ship SNP was going to hit the odd rock within a very few years. Not that I had specific predictions. Just that history tells us parties which are in government for a decade start to encounter problems. I think we can safely say I was correct. And you can see why it would have been inappropriate to say anything about this at the time. Just as in was both inappropriate and inadvisable to mention the fact that cracks would eventually start to show in the Yes movement. Fortunately, the Yes movement has proven to be remarkably resilient and robust. Without doubt, it is the best thing to come out of the 2014 campaign. But how long can people keep marching as they see their destination receding?

Similarly, it was possible five years ago to see which way the British government was headed. I don’t claim to have predicted that Boris Johnson would become Prime Minister. I wish I’d had a tenner on that in 2014! But it was entirely possible to read the trends. The British political system was bound to excrete a Boris Johnson eventually.

Brexit hadn’t even become a word and it was obvious it would be a total shambles. Without ten years of planning and preparation, it couldn’t be anything else. What was important to recognise was how this would influence the government in London and the electorate in England-as-Britain. It might have been assumed that the government would be weakened by making such a hash of things. But the way the British system works is that governments which fuck up deal with the problems they’ve created for themselves by making themselves stronger. And in the process they become more populist. So the anticipated backlash from the voters never materialises.

Five years ago it was possible to see where British ‘demockracy’ was headed. I would have avoided being dragged down with the rest of the UK. I would have been campaigning while these fuck-ups were happening or fresh in people’s minds. I wouldn’t have been asking the voters to think back and try to get angry again about something the British media barely reported at the time and have played down ever since. I wouldn’t have adopted a strategy of allowing the worst to happen in the hope of political advantage.

The one thing I came nowhere near to predicting is Nicola Sturgeon’s handling of the constitutional issue. Quite honestly, if you were to ask me what I would do now, I’d be stumped. I’m not even sure this can be fixed. In five years we’ve gone from the certainty that independence would be restored to clinging to the last vestiges of confidence that we will even have a referendum before the British Nationalist juggernaut crushes the final bit of hope.

It could all have been so different.



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The Scottish Spring

I wrote the following article for iScot Magazine last June.
For some reason, it sprang to mind today.

The rose of all the world is not for me.
I want for my part
Only the little white rose of Scotland
That smells sharp and sweet—and breaks the heart.

Hugh MacDiarmid

When it was suggested to me that there might be interesting parallels to be drawn between Scotland’s independence cause and the Arab Spring revolutions which took place at the start of this decade, I was sceptical. I could see the attraction of ‘Scottish Spring’ as a rhetorical device. But the Arab Spring is described by Wikipedia as “series of anti-government protests, uprisings, and armed rebellions that spread across North Africa and the Middle East in the early 2010s”. One doesn’t immediately associate the Yes movement with words like “uprising” or even “revolution”. And certainly not with “armed rebellion”. It is not at all unreasonable, however, to characterise events such as the All Under One Banner (AUOB) marches and rallies or the Hands Off Our Parliament (HOOP) demonstrations as “anti-government protests”. Perhaps there is something in the idea after all.

When I was at school history was taught as a catalogue of significant dates, crucial events, particular locations and important people which had to be memorised, because they were memorable. A claim contradicted by the fact that I almost immediately forgot almost all of them. Only later did I come to think of history as a process, or a network of processes, in which all those dates, events, places and people were connected in complex ways. At which point, history got interesting. Not least because, if everything was part of the same great historical mesh, then this meant that insignificant dates, trivial events, ordinary places and ‘common’ people were as much part of history as the things deemed worthy of inclusion in that catalogue.

From this perspective, the Arab Spring and the Yes movement are part of the same process. They are inevitably connected in some way – even if the connection is a bit tenuous and not immediately obvious.

The problem with thinking of history as a single process is that, in order to discuss any part of it, one must choose a starting point. And that choice will always be somewhat arbitrary. The starting point I select may not be the one others would opt for. Likewise, the connections I perceive may not be regarded by others as particularly meaningful or illuminating. Our view of history can be quite subjective.

Looking for a pattern – a number of points in the process of history that seem to form a trail which passes through the Arab Spring as it follows the inexorable flow of time – my mind lighted on 25 April 1974 in Lisbon, Portugal. On that date, a military coup was launched to overthrow the authoritarian Estado Novo regime. Hardly the first time that has ever happened. What was unusual in this instance, however, was the fact that the military coup was itself taken over by an impromptu campaign of peaceful civil resistance. A grassroots uprising which led to the restoration of democracy in Portugal with hardly a shot fired.

This is, of course, an oversimplification of these events. But what we are looking for here are large scale patterns rather than the fine grain of history. And what is significant for our purposes is the upsurge of popular dissent and non-violent action in support of democracy. Already we can discern aspects of Portugal’s Carnation Revolution which may presage the Arab Spring more than thirty years later. Already we may choose to see certain vague foreshadowings of Scotland’s Yes movement.

But history provides another piece of the pattern that fits nicely between the Carnation Revolution and the Arab Spring in the form of the so-called ‘Colour Revolutions’. This term refers to a number of related movements that appeared from around the turn of the century in the Balkans and countries of the recently collapsed Soviet Union. The media have a tendency to lump together lots of things that happen in the same time period or in the same geographical location and apply a label that can be used as shorthand for what may, superficially at least, appear to be a single phenomenon. The media’s judgement is not entirely or consistently reliable in these matters. The advantages of concision often take precedence over the demands of accuracy. But, again, for present purposes the broad and loose categories used by the media will suffice.

Under the rubric of ‘Colour Revolutions’ we will find such diverse events as Georgia’s Rose Revolution in 2003 and in Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004, although the term may be traced back to the 1986 ‘Yellow Revolution’ in the Philippines – which is often considered the first example of a new kind of non-violent popular uprising. Once you start looking for connections you start to find them everywhere.

What links all of these, from the Carnation Revolution in Portugal to the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and on even to the Blue Revolution in Kuwait (2005) and the Saffron Revolution in Myanmar (2007) is the idea of People Power. These revolutions may have had differing objectives and varying degrees of success, but all grew out of a dawning realisation that ordinary people might do extraordinary things if they combine in defiance of the established order.

For me, the event which best encapsulates this awakening of popular power was the moment on December 21 1989 when the crowd turned on Romania’s dictator President, Nicolae Ceaușescu, as he was making a speech from the balcony of the Central Committee building overlooking what is now Revolution Square. It started with some booing and heckling such as would be considered totally unremarkable at a speech in, say, George Square, Glasgow. But under the heel of Ceaușescu’s repressive regime, such behaviour was unthinkable – until it wasn’t.

The video of Ceaușescu’s last speech should be required viewing for everybody. It serves as a potent reminder, to the powerful and powerless alike, of how fragile established power actually is when it is confronted by mass dissent.

It is the notion of an awakening of people power which is captured in the term ‘Arab Spring’. Spring is the season of renewal. Of fresh beginnings. Of blossoming life. It conjures thoughts of emerging from the cold and the dark into the warmth and the light. It suggests an end to the old order and the birth of a new society. Spring is a time of relief and a time of promise.

Is this not precisely how we like to think of the restoration of Scotland’s independence? Does not the concept of restoration fit perfectly with the idea of Spring? Is it really so ridiculous to think that there might be a Scottish Spring that is in some meaningful way similar to the Arab Spring? Might not Scotland have its own version of a Colour Revolution?

Any suggestion that the people of Scotland are suffering oppression such as existed in Romania under Ceaușescu or East Germany under the Stasi is likely to be indignantly rejected. And rightly so. But oppression takes many forms. We are not denied the right to vote. But the Union means our democratic will can be treated with a contempt which differs only in degree from that in which democratic rights were held by the likes of Nicolae Ceaușescu. We may not need to fear being dragged from our beds in the early hours to be bundled off to some Soviet gulag or hell-hole Egyptian prison. But the Union means that people we would happily welcome to our country and embrace as part of our community are being dragged from their homes and sent to places like Dungavel; or being bundled onto planes and despatched to who knows what fate in the places from which they fled to seek succour in Scotland.

And what is the denial of Scotland’s democratic right of self-determination if not a form of oppression? The fact that it is not as brutal as the oppression imposed under some regimes is only of consequence to those who set their moral compass by such regimes. Oppression need not be brutal to be effective. Insidious indoctrination and pernicious propaganda may work just as well as the fist and the rubber hose. Imprison the mind and there is no need of steel bars and iron shackles. Military occupation is entirely redundant if the minds of the people have been colonised.

Is there any less call to shake off this oppression just because it is not directly comparable with the worst oppression ever suffered – or ever imagined? Where is the line to be drawn? At what point do we say “Enough!”?

There is a powerful sense at large that Scotland is awakening. It is easy to see how the Yes movement might fit in that pattern which runs from Portugal’s Carnation Revolution to the Arab Spring. Of course, we do things our way. As circumstances differ, so will the form of the awakening of people power. Constitutional particulars separate Scotland’s independence cause from that of Catalonia. But we are as one in our shared determination to assert and defend the right of self-determination. The same fundamental democratic principles form the common thread which runs through all the non-violent revolutions of the past few decades regardless of how dissimilar the specific conditions which have provoked popular uprisings.

As people take to the streets in their thousands to defend our nation’s democracy and a growing clamour demands an end to the Union, it is clear that nothing can stop Scotland’s White Rose Revolution!

This is our Scottish Spring!



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Scunnered!

On Friday, just after listening to Nicola Sturgeon’s much-hyped ‘next steps’ announcement, I had to travel to Edinburgh to attend events marking Brexit on Friday and Saturday. I also met up with my wife who was traveling back from a work-related trip to Denmark, for a rare evening out together. All of this by way of excuse for not responding earlier to that speech. Although the delay may have been a good thing. I have seen some of the responses made in immediate disappointment and/or frustration and/or anger and I’m rather glad I didn’t take a computer with me. Instead, I vented my initial reaction on Twitter where such things belong.

I have, for example, seen Stu Campbell’s article prompted by the First Minister’s speech and, while he is essentially correct in his analysis, he tends towards the intemperate in some of his comments and brings in matters which would be better discussed separately. The desire to lash out may be easy to apprehend, but in Stu’s case it turns what was a perceptive account of the inadequacy of Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue into a vitriolic attack on her and the SNP. I think that unfortunate. I have always respected Stu’s ability to get to the nub of the matter and appreciated his ability to communicate his thoughts on matters of importance to us all. The forceful and forthright manner in which he habitually expresses himself only adds to the power of his message. I’m hardly in a position criticise anybody for adopting a robust tone.

I should not have been disappointed by what Nicola Sturgeon said as I never had any expectation that she would say anything of significance. I had actually made an effort to damp-down expectations because I knew there was nothing significant she could say from the position in which she has placed herself. Short of renouncing her ill-advised commitment to the Section 30 process, all she could possibly have to offer was another reading of the charges against the British state peppered with platitudes and bromides and leading to the now standard rationalisations for inaction.

Even the one thing she spoke of that might have seemed superficially significant – the new independence convention – was stripped of any sparkle it might have had by being at least two years too late and by the fact that it joins an already overlong list of similar initiatives which failed to strike a match far less set the heather afire.

The truth is understandably painful for people to hear, but hear it they must. The de facto leader of the independence movement in whom we invested so much trust has driven that campaign into a narrow cul-de-sac where she can neither turn around nor proceed. And her speech of Friday made it clear that she is disinclined to reverse out of that dead-end road. This is not to say that she was not and is not worthy of our respect. As a First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon has done Scotland proud. Nor is it a call for her to be replaced, as has been the knee-jerk reaction from all too many people. There is no appetite in the party for removing her. And we can well do without the distraction of a leadership contest. Especially as that contest might not be as ‘civilised’ as previous contests for elevated positions in the SNP. And because there is no guarantee that a distracting and quite possibly damaging leadership battle would result in a change to the Scottish Government’s current fatally flawed approach. There is no sign of any high-profile questioning of the position taken by Nicola Sturgeon. Although I may be due Angus MacNeil an apology for saying this.

That the First Minister has made an error of judgement is now beyond dispute, although this will not stop some disputing it even though doing so requires that they turn a blind eye to the fatal flaws in the approach she has adopted – and clings to. I have previously set out my concerns about Nicola Sturgeon’s total and stubborn commitment to the Section 30 process. Concerns which have come to be shared by a number of people but which have never, to my knowledge, been addressed. The fatal flaws in Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘strategy’ derive almost entirely from this commitment and the refusal to consider any other perspective or course of action.

As an aside before I list the three fatal flaws which I maintain characterise the First Minister’s current approach to the constitutional issue, I want to say that one of the most disappointing and distressing aspects of her ‘next steps’ speech was the fact that she seemed to be totally oblivious to how that speech might be received by many people across the Yes movement. She just didn’t appear to appreciate that what she was saying – and not saying – would provoke a strong reaction. There was a distinct impression of taking support for granted. It would be gratifying to think that a salutary lesson might be learned. But experience tells us that those most in need of a lesson in self-awareness tend to be those least amenable to learning such a lesson. Look at Richard Leonard.

This is doubly distressing given that one of the things I have always admired most about the SNP is (was?) their connectedness to the people. If the party has lost that, then it is seriously diminished.

And so to the reasons Nicola Sturgeon’s approach is doomed to fail.

Firstly, there is the matter of time. Aside from anything else, Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘next steps’ speech was remarkable for its lack of urgency. At most, the threat to Scotland’s democracy was vaguely and tangentially hinted at. And there was nothing said about how this threat might be countered. The consequences of delaying meaningful action to restore Scotland’s independence were, from the evidence of that speech, not worthy of consideration.

This lack of urgency is extremely worrying. We have to assume that the British government’s aim and intention is to lock Scotland into the Union. Brexit provides an ideal opportunity to do this. And Brexit is upon us. Action to rescue Scotland from the rolling juggernaut of British Nationalism has already been delayed far too long. The message from Nicola Sturgeon and other leading figures in the SNP is that they are prepared to delay action indefinitely. The talk of a referendum this year is little more than a flimsy veil thrown over this desire to put off doing anything effective as long as possible.

I’m starting to get angry all over again as I write this. So I’ll move on to the next fatal flaw in Nicola Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue.

One of the central features of this approach is the notion that increasing support for a new referendum and/or for independence will put irresistible pressure on Boris Johnson to relent and grant a Section 30 order. Why is the fallacy of this not face-slappingly obvious? Given that preservation of the Union is an overarching imperative for the British state – one might readily argue that it is an existential imperative – then surely the greater the probability of a referendum leading to the dissolution of the Union the greater the incentive to ensure that no referendum ever takes place. And we know that the British political elite will be totally ruthless and completely unscrupulous in defending the structures of power, privilege and patronage which operate to their benefit.

The only thing that is going to win the kind of support Nicola Sturgeon demands before she acts is the action she refuses to take before she has that level of support. The idea that the British Prime Minister can be moved to grant a Section 30 order by an appeal to conscience or democratic principles isn’t far short of risible. Although I sure as hell am not laughing when I hear such drivel being spouted by our political leaders.

That’s the anger rising again. Time to move on to what is almost certainly the most telling of the fatal flaws in Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘strategy’.

The First Minister’s entire ‘strategy’ is critically dependent on gaining the willing and honest cooperation of the British government in a process which almost certainly would lead to an outcome to which the British government is fervently and implacably opposed.

Need I say more? Can I resist the urge to do so?

When the reality of the Scottish Government’s approach to the constitutional issue is stated as baldly as this it difficult – nay impossible! – to comprehend how any person of normal intelligence could consider an approach with such a ludicrous dependency viable. The question is not whether this fatal flaw is a reality – it is actually central to Nicola Sturgeon’s argument – but why she would embrace such self-evident nonsense and adopt such an obviously doomed approach.

But let’s leave such inquiries for another time. My purpose here is to consider what Nicola Sturgeon’s speech on Friday, and her commitment to a fatally flawed ‘strategy’ implies for Scotland’s cause. Where do we go from here?

What is obvious is that, wherever the Yes movement goes from here, it does so separately from the SNP/Scottish Government. We would be insane to follow Nicola Sturgeon into that dead-end street. This is in total contradiction to what I had hoped for and what I was urging a few months ago. Then, I envisaged Nicola Sturgeon providing the leadership that the Yes movement needs if it is to become a campaign – or give birth to a tightly focused and strongly disciplined campaigning organisation rather than a loose association of diverse groups all doing their own thing. I hoped to have the SNP providing the finely-crafted messages that would then be amplified and taken to the people by an army of Yes activists totally on board with the party’s campaign strategy. That’s not going to happen.

Nicola Sturgeon has effectively cut the SNP and the Scottish Government adrift from the grassroots Yes movement. It is my contention that we should simply accept this as it seems futile to kick against it and doing so will only result in acrimony between the party and the movement. What the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence needs is unity of purpose, not uniformity of thinking. So long a the party and the movement share the same goal, we should be able to approach the campaign in different ways without undermining that campaign. If the SNP’s approach to the constitutional issue is as deeply, fatally flawed as is now undeniably the case, then it would be disastrous to our cause if the entire Yes movement were to follow where Nicola Sturgeon leads.

There need be no bitterness or recrimination. A two-pronged campaign may be less than ideal. But as we clearly have no choice in the matter we must focus on making the best we can of the situation. We know the flaws in the SNP’s approach, and this is fortunate because it means we know what we must compensate for.

The precise form of this second prong of the independence campaign has yet to be decided. (Needless to say, I have my own ideas.) And the problem of leadership remains to be resolved. But the Yes movement is nothing if not resourceful. I see no insurmountable issues.

What we must constantly bear in mind, however, is that the SNP is crucial to the realisation of our goal. Without the effective political power of a pro-independence government and Parliament, there is not the remotest possibility of success. People power alone is not enough. That power has to be concentrated behind a government with the power to act for the people. As things stand, that means the SNP. And that situation is not going to change any time soon. So get to grips with it!

The second wing of the independence campaign must always be looking to and working towards the moment when the SNP is obliged to accept the folly and futility of its current approach to the constitutional issue and join with the grassroots movement in the final effort to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status.



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