I have questions

Like many people in Scotland, I suspect, I have been struggling to come to terms with a seemingly inexplicable contradiction. I can illustrate the problem with a couple of comments culled from Twitter – both from Nicola Sturgeon. (Ignore the BBC Tweets as you would normally.)

The first is a near-perfect political statement. The wording, the tone, the content, the entire package is almost flawless. I’d advise any politician to avoid phrases such as “I’ve made clear”. If you have made something clear then it should be clear and it must therefore be entirely redundant to state that you’ve made it clear. If you feel the need to state that you’ve made it clear then this can only be because you haven’t, in fact, made it clear at all. Or so people will tend to assume. It is one of those overused phrases which have come to suggest the very opposite of what it says. It’s the kind of thing people use when they want to caricature a generic politician. Unless you want to be that caricature, don’t say “I’ve made it clear”. You might as well end every statement with the words “Honest! Would I lie to you?”.

A textual analysis of that first post would strongly suggest an exceptionally astute politician and a very capable communicator. It’s hard to believe that the second example was authored by the same person. The words “It’s got nothing to do with the constitution” would be woefully naive enough coming from any politician. But from the leader of a party which has a fundamental constitutional issue at its very core, it is nothing short of jaw-droppingly stupid.

The leader of a party which has as its principal aim the restoration of Scotland’s independence should never be caught talking down the importance of constitutional matters. Their every instinct should be tuned to emphasising the overarching importance of the constitution. Because the constitution is about who decides. It is about where power lies and how it is used. It is about political legitimacy and authority. The constitution, and any issues or questions relating thereto, takes precedence over all matters of policy. It must do. Because the constitution defines, describes and delineates decision-making authority in all matters of policy. It is senseless to claim that anything has “nothing to do with the constitution” because the constitution has something to do with everything.

It is a doubly foolish remark on account of the angry denial of constitutional relevance being immediate followed by an observation which points up the relevance of the constitution as well as anything might. When Nicola Sturgeon says “the ‘stay at home’ message remains in place in 3 of the 4 UK nations” she is referring explicitly and directly to the constitutional issue of policy decision-making power. The contradiction is jarring. The statement as a whole speaks of a politician quite unlike the one revealed by the first Tweet. It suggests a politician who simply doesn’t understand the function and purpose of the constitution. How can the person who is so dismissive of the constitution possibly be the leader of a party whose constitution declares its first aim to be arguably the most fundamental constitutional reform there can be?

That is the nub of it. That is what I and others find both perplexing and disturbing. On the one hand we have someone who is all but universally acknowledged to be an outstanding politician. Someone who earns all the plaudits that come her way. Someone who deserves the trust that is placed in her by the public. Someone who, with due regard for her feminist credentials, is worthy of being described as ‘statesmanlike’.

On the other hand we have someone who bears ultimate responsibility for bringing the independence campaign to a grinding halt. It can readily and persuasively be argued that the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence has gone backwards under her stewardship. We look at Nicola Sturgeon’s record as First Minister and see mostly uncommon competence. We look at her record as de facto leader of the independence movement and see only serial misjudgement. We watch in admiration her handling of the current public health crisis. We watch in horror her handling of the constitutional issue. It’s as if we are looking at two different people.

Retiring SNP MSP James Dornan is also perplexed, it seems. If I understand aright from his column in The National, Mr Dornan is baffled by the fact that some people who in his opinion “should know better” are troubled by the ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ situation described above. He seems to be perplexed about why we are perplexed about the perplexing contradictions in Nicola Sturgeon’s comments and the curate’s egg of her performance.

In keeping with this incomprehension, Mr Dornan seems unable to distinguish between the SNP as an administration and the SNP as a political party. Not exactly a trivial distinction. He also appears to be a bit confused about the purpose of political campaigning. He is dismissive, if not disdainful, of those who maintain discourse in “their own bubble of like-minded people”. He neglects to explain how it can be both “their own bubble” and a bubble they share with “like-minded people”. More importantly, how and where does he imagine discourse relating to a particular issue might proceed other than in just such a bubble. Is it not to be expected that those involved in a campaign should be “like-minded”?

Contrary to what James Dornan seems to suppose, there is nothing at all wrong with ‘preaching to the choir’, as some would put it. How else might a campaign be developed and maintained other than by those involved talking to each other?

As if we didn’t already have a considerable surfeit of perplexity, I am unable to understand why the First Minister’s unquestionably laudable handling of the coronavirus pandemic would forfend criticism of Nicola Sturgeon’s performance in other areas. The good must be weighed with the bad. It might sensibly be argued that the good outweighs the bad. But it cannot reasonably be maintained that the good completely eradicates the bad. I recall being counselled by a very close friend who had a hard neck giving anybody relationship advice. He said that when a man sees a beautiful woman – poised, elegant, decorous – he should always bear in mind that she farts in bed. We all have our faults. Nobody is perfect. Although, if James Dornan is to be believed, Nicola Sturgeon comes very close. So long as we completely disregard the reality of what she has done to the independence campaign.

But, unsurprisingly, Mr Dornan agrees with Nicola Sturgeon that there should be no independence campaign at this time. We are all supposed to sit at home thinking about nothing else but Covid-19. We all must be totally and exclusively focused on coronavirus-related matters. To entertain so much as a passing thought on any matter other than the mono-crisis is to show callous disregard for those who have died, scant concern for those who may die and disrespect for the front-line key-worker heroes and angels who care for the suffering.

I exaggerate for effect, of course. James Dornan doesn’t go to such lengths. Although others certainly do. Nonetheless, his attitude is painfully reminiscent of the dour religionists who blighted many a childhood holiday on the Isle of Arran with the diktat proclaimed on behalf of a deity with too much time on her hands (she shouldn’t have made so much) that Sunday must be a day of profound and often inelegantly contrived inactivity. I well recall the swings and roundabouts ironically made equal in their uselessness by chains and padlocks. I still can hear the stern warnings from the Joysucker General’s deputies that to contemplate the kicking of a football on the Sabbath would result in consignment to a hell which to my child’s mind at least, could not possible be worse than the one I had to endure on a weekly basis.

One might wonder whether James Dornan is toying with damnation (inc. hellfire) by taking time out from his fretting over the virus to write a newspaper column. That, as they say, is between him and his conscience.

Similarly, Mr Dornan and those who populate his “bubble of like-minded people” take the view that all of politics and most of life has been brought to a halt by Covid-19. Which rather seems like conceding victory to the virus. This isn’t managing a crisis. It is being dominated by it. Managing a crisis is, almost by definition, keeping as much as possible as normal as possible under the circumstances. Which, incidentally, is what makes the First Minister’s management of the situation so admirable. She may not have been able to keep very much very normal, but she succeeds in persuading people that this is what she is striving for. And that the measures she has taken are normal under the circumstances.

I have to tell James Dornan that politics does not stop for a virus. Politics doesn’t stop for anything. All of life is politics. So long as there is human life there will be politics. Because politics is the management of power relationships – from the interpersonal all the way to the international and sooner than many imagine, the interplanetary. All human interactions are transactions conducted in the currency of power. From chimpanzees grooming in the forests of tropical Africa to ambassadors manoeuvring in the UN building in New York, it’s all politics. From the minute to the monumental, it’s all the power trades and trade-offs which allow society to function. Negotiations continue.

You can’t stop politics. Your involvement only ends with death. Sometimes not even then. You can opt out of certain aspects of the negotiations. But the politics goes on without you. And it may not be possible to catch up.

Here’s James Dorman,

Now, I’m a pretty tribal political animal but I would not be comfortable at all if our party was trying to put independence at the forefront of our thinking just now. Thankfully, outside of a few loud voices in Westminster and some activists online I think most of the party would agree with me.

Concentrate on seeing our people safely through this virus, get politics back to normal, or as normal as anything is going to be after this pandemic, and I have no doubt we will see the support for independence rise substantially.

James Dornan: Why independence cannot be the SNP’s priority for now

I have some questions. I have so many questions!

Those loud voices at Westminster and online may be few, but does that make them wrong? Why are there no such voices in Holyrood? Why only Westminster and online? Isn’t the Scottish Parliament the place where we would hope and expect voices to be raised in defence of Scotland’s cause?

Has the public really suspended all concerns other than the virus? Does Mr Dornan suppose we think and talk about nothing else? Given that it ranged over a multitude of topics which could not even pretend to be coronavirus-related, how strongly would James Dornan have disapproved of the WhatsApp video chat I enjoyed (and I mean enjoyed!) with a well-known independence activist yesterday?

How can independence not be the SNP’s priority now and always? How can independence not be at the forefront of the party’s thinking now and always? Has Mr Dornan ever read the party’s constitution? Has the commitment to restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status been removed?

Do any of of us need James Dornan to tell us that the public health crisis must be the Scottish Government’s priority right now? Would it not be more helpful if he used his column to explain why this necessarily means that the SNP and everybody else must cease and desist from all independence-related activity and even discussion until we’re told it’s OK to carry on?

Is James Dornan genuinely so ignorant of the real, on-the-ground effects of lockdown as to be unaware that there are thousands of people who are neither front-line nor key-workers but who are stuck at home abiding by our First Minister’s strictures and with little else to do but engage with others online? Is he truly oblivious to the opportunity that this affords the Yes campaign? Why is he so determined that we should not seize this opportunity? Why the intense effort by the SNP leadership to close down completely the entire independence campaign?

Does James Dorman seriously imagine that we will just be able to pick up where we left off? (Does anyone think that was a good place anyway?) Is he really pinning all our hopes for independence on a grateful electorate rewarding Nicola Sturgeon for her handling of the crisis – even when she herself has declared that “it’s got nothing to do with the constitution”?

Is James Dorman persuaded that the virus has stopped the forces of British Nationalism to the same extent as he hopes to stop the campaign for independence? Have his years in politics taught him nothing?

On one thing James Dorman and I agree. We are most certainly beset by “opportunists seeking to gain advantage, not for the cause of independence but for themselves”. We have the ‘cunning plan’ parties looking to exploit the very dissatisfaction with the SNP that he and his “bubble of like-minded people” have engendered. But what of those who are trying to silence Yes activists and put the entire independence campaign into a covid-induced coma? Should we not reckon on them having an agenda? Should we not suppose that they too are seeking advantage for themselves or something that is definitely not the campaign for independence?



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It’s not rocket surgery!

It is actually very simple. There are no circumstances in which we do not need an SNP administration following the next Scottish Parliament elections. NO circumstances! Regardless of whether the party makes any sort of commitment regarding independence, we still have to ensure an SNP administration.

I shouldn’t have to explain why this is. But for those already reaching for their ‘independence isn’t all about the SNP’ boilerplate, I’ll gently suggest that they still their jerking knees long enough to reflect on the alternative to an SNP administration.

Let me put it bluntly. If in the coming Holyrood election campaign you are not working flat out for the biggest SNP win possible, then you might as well go and work for the Tories. Because if we don’t get that decisive SNP win Jackson F Carlaw gets the keys to Bute House.

So, that’s our first priority sorted out. The second priority is to have that SNP administration committed to bold, decisive action in the first half of its term to facilitate the exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination. A firm commitment. An iron-clad commitment. A commitment with a date and a timetable attached.

A commitment, what is more, to a process which keeps the organisation and management of the referendum entirely within Scotland. A commitment which categorically excludes any involvement from the British state or its agents.

I like to think of this as a Manifesto for Independence. Something quite separate and isolated from a party manifesto. A Manifesto for Independence to which any party or candidate might sign up regardless of their own policy platform or political agenda.

This Manifesto for Independence should be written by the Yes movement and presented to all of the parties standing in the election along with an ultimatum – a promise and a threat. Those who sign up to the Manifesto for Independence will have the electoral support of the Yes movement. Those who do not may anticipate the Yes movement’s best efforts to wipe them off the political map completely.

Forming and campaigning for cunning plan parties doesn’t make it onto our list of priorities. Because if our effort to ensure an SNP administration with a working majority fails then any MSPs from those parties will be powerless to do anything. And if that effort succeeds then those extra MSP’s will be superfluous to our needs.

Told you it was simple! Two priorities! Two tasks! Get on with it!



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Misplaced concreteness

I do believe that dismissing their efforts as “gaming the system” should not be the knee-jerk response of any movement embracing diversity and democracy.

Ruth Wishart

But apparently you believe it’s OK to dismiss as a “knee-jerk response” the arguments of those who question the feasibility, utility and wisdom of pop-up parties exploiting understandable dissatisfaction and impatience with the SNP’s handling of the constitutional issue.

The pro-independence troops comprise hundreds of thousands of true believers, but within that overarching ambition lie very many different views as to how it might be most effectively realised. This is no more than healthy.

Ruth Wishart

For a movement, perhaps. But it’s not “healthy” for a campaign. A campaign needs to be unified, focused and disciplined. In many ways the very opposite of a movement. People must decide whether they are content to be part of a diverse movement which supports the idea of independence or whether they want to be part of a campaign to actually get Scotland’s independence restored. It is, of course, possible to be both. But if the former gets mistaken for the latter then the latter is fatally undermined.

The enemy being anyone who has demonstrated the absolutely criminal behaviour of disagreeing with your view.

Ruth Wishart

That is one of the all-time great cop-outs. It’s saying you don’t have to deal with my arguments against your position because my arguments are prompted solely by the fact that you are disagreeing with me. It is making the debate about the disagreement rather than about the position that is being disagreed with. It is making the difference in views the issue so as to avoid having to deal with criticism of the content of those views.

Should I add “black-and-white thinking” to the ridiculously long and ever-growing list of things that don’t “help the independence cause”? Or should I consider the possibility that there’s more than a bit of black-and-white thinking involved in regarding black-and-white thinking as a necessarily bat thing. In fact, it is very often helpful to reduce a disputed issue to its basic elements. Abstracting an issue from “life, real life” can be an effective way of clarifying the matter. What is important is to remember that your abstraction must fit back into “life, real life” when you’re done with it. So long as one assiduously avoids what Alfred North Whitehead called the fallacy of misplaced concreteness black-and-white thinking is another tool in the analytical thinker’s toolbox.

Which, not at all coincidentally, is precisely the fallacy which characterises the diverse notions of a ‘cunning plan’ that will circumvent the voting system and flood the Scottish Parliament with pro-independence MSPs. Proponents of these ‘cunning plans’ afford to the outcome they desire a concreteness which rightfully belongs only to an objective assessment of what the ‘cunning plan’ is actually capable of achieving in “life, real life”.

I have explained this fallacy elsewhere. I shan’t repeat myself here. I would, however add a further point to what I’ve previously said about the ‘Cult of the Cunning Plan’ misidentifying the problem as being a lack of pro-independence MSPs. Another mistake they make is assuming that the ‘SNP 1&2’ strategy has failed. It has only failed if one defines success in a very particular way. Think more deeply about what the slogan is for and why it is such a powerful campaign message and it becomes clear that the strategy has actually been quite successful.

In another of those unremarkable non-coincidences, dismissing the ‘SNP 1&2’ strategy as a failure turns out to be an illustrative example of black and white thinking.



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To a Cunning Plan Cultist…

You fall for the old ‘more is always better’ fallacy. 6 pints of beer is ALWAYS better than 1 pint of beer in your calculations. More thoughtful calculation, however, takes due account of the fact that you only have one glass. Once it is filled, the other five pints are no use to you. They end up spilt on the floor and no use to anybody.

You have decided the goal is to get as many pro-independence MSPs as possible. I have decided the goal is to get Scotland’s independence restored. We are never going to agree because your objective is not my objective. What is important to you is not important to me.

Even if your cunning plan was as cunning as the dogma claims it is, it’s a cunning plan to flood the Scottish Parliament with pro-independence MSPs. It is NOT a plan to get independence. If the outcome sought is action taken in the Scottish Parliament for the purpose of restoring Scotland’s independence then your cunning plan doesn’t do that even if it succeeds in achieving the goal that you have set – lots and lots of pro-independence MSPs. If only you were thinking in terms of restoring independence and what that requires then it would be immediately obvious that flooding Holyrood with pro-independence list MSPs does not serve that goal. In terms of what is needed to get independence, those additional pro-independence MSPs are entirely redundant. As scientists would say, they are neither necessary nor sufficient.

As I said, my priority is restoring Scotland’s independence. I am not obsessing about getting the maximum possible number of MSP’s. These are two entirely different projects. You have a cunning plan to achieve your goal. I have a very straightforward plan to achieve mine. Your cunning plan requires something not far short of a political miracle in order to succeed, and even then it succeeds only in putting more pro-independence MSPs in the Scottish Parliament. For you, that is success. My plan aims, not at flooding the chamber with indy-friendly MSP’s, but at forcing the action which brings about the restoration of Scotland’s independence. For me, success is a Scottish Government acting through the Scottish Parliament to end the Union. What I have called #ScottishUDI.

I think my goal is more important than yours. More importantly, my goal is definitely achievable while yours is only doubtfully achievable. Most importantly of all my goal gets independence. Your goal doesn’t.

You have failed to properly analyse the problem, so obviously you’ve come up with the wrong solution. You think the problem is a lack of pro-independence MSPs and that the problem can be solved with a cunning plan to get more of them. In fact, the problem is the lack of a Scottish Government with the political will and the testicular capacity to take the necessary action in the Scottish Parliament. That problem is solved, not by flooding Holyrood with pro-independence MSP’s but by a simple majority of pro-independence MSPs willing to take the necessary action.

Without that – without an SNP administration committed to #ScottishUDI in some form, all those pro-independence list MSPs can do absolutely fuck all to bring about the restoration of Scotland’s independence. Not one fucking thing! They are not SUFFICIENT. And that SNP administration needs only an overall majority of one to initiate #ScottishUDI. So your additional list MSPs are not NECESSARY.

Again, the Yes movement most certainly has a part to play. On one thing the cunning plan cultists are correct. I totally agree that, as things stand, the SNP cannot be relied upon to initiate #ScottishUDI. THAT is what we have to change. NOT the number of MSPs in favour of #ScottishUDI. So long as that number is one more than the British parties squatting in Scotland’s Parliament, we’re golden! Only the Yes movement has the potential political clout to force the SNP to commit to #ScottishUDI prior to the next Holyrood elections. And the Yes movement’s potential to do this can only be realised if it speaks with one voice and does not divert any of its energies to any cunning plans.



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A response

The following started as a response to a comment on an earlier article by someone I assume to be Stu Campbell of Wings Over Scotland. If I have misidentified the individual in question then I apologise to both the parties concerned and to my readers. As you can see, the comment turned into a bit of an outpouring. I make no apology for this. I would only ask that as you read it you are mindful of its somewhat accidental origins. I intend this to be my last comment on the issue of ‘list parties’ and ‘cunning plans’ in general. We’ll see.

Recipe for success

It is to be expected that many of those who have been taken in by the novelty of the list party fantasy will resolve the conflict with their support for independence by convincing themselves that encouraging voters to abandon the SNP cannot possibly have any ‘unfortunate’ consequences. They are absolutely persuaded of the efficacy of their magic solution and cannot tolerate that being questioned. Not even in their own minds. Especially not in their own minds.

Life’s experience has taught me to be extremely wary of such evangelical fervour. I find cynicism a more substantial shield than delusion.

We saw – and still find – this near-religious belief in consequence-free action among those I have branded ‘The Postponers’. That is to say, those who adhere to Pete Wishart’s faith in the existence of an ‘Optimum Time’ (for a new independence referendum) which will come to us as surely as the dawn if only we take patience to a ‘higher plane’ where it morphs into a kind of intellectual hibernation. Just as ‘The Postponers’ will not entertain questions about the implications of delay, so believers in the pure power of the list party cannot abide to have their dogma challenged.

But those of us who are disinclined to abandon their intellectual capacity for the false comfort of religious faith realise that actions always have consequences. And that, especially dealing with people, and even more so when dealing with people en masse, there is no necessary mechanical relationship between the action and its consequences. People are complicated. Relationships between and among people are complicated. The relationships between deeds and their effects could hardly be the exception that the faithful need theirs to be.

The consequences for Scotland’s cause of abandoning the SNP as the lever by which our nation’s independence will be restored are potentially catastrophic. To contemplate any action which has this effect must be to gamble with the cause. One might sensibly argue that the consequences are minor. One cannot sensibly assert the absence of any consequences. To sensibly argue that the consequences are minor one would necessarily have to identify those consequences and make a persuasive case for them being trivial. One would also be obliged to rule out all other possible and possibly more serious consequences. This would be a rational response to those who question the proposed action. This would, in fact, be the rational approach to formulating the proposal. Healthy cynicism bids one question everything, first and foremost one’s own preconceptions and prejudices.

This is most assuredly not what is happening either in the case of the indefinite postponement of a new referendum or as regards a list party ‘strategy’ to flood the Scottish Parliament with pro-independence MSPs.

The list party strategy is being sold entirely and exclusively on the basis of a presumed highly desirable effect. Look at this wonderful outcome! Would you like to have this wonderful outcome? Then do as we say without question! The strategy is presumed to be ‘The Solution’ in the same way that the Union is presumed by Unionists to be the ideal constitutional settlement. Its wondrousness does not have to be proved. It just is!

I’m not buying it! Being more open-minded than adherents to the faith, I accept that it is possible the strategy might work. If absolutely everything goes as its proponents insist it will and if absolutely nothing deviates from that in the slightest way there is a theoretical possibility that the outcome might be some approximation of that which is promised. Being a cynic, however, I am bound to observe that this would not be characteristic of the real world. If things don’t always go wrong then the precautionary principle demands that we assume many things will go wrong. We plan for reality. No matter how dull and boring that may be.

I am an ‘ordinary’ person to the same extent that any of us conform to such a standard. I am a citizen of Scotland and a voter. I am not untypical of the people who must be persuaded if the list party strategy is to have any chance of working in the way its advocates insist it will. Not only am I not persuaded, but no effort is being made to persuade me. The list party strategy is being sold to me, but nobody is making a persuasive rational case for it. It is being sold to me in the same way as online adverts try to sell solutions which will transform your ten-year-old Dell laptop into a super-computer. Look at what it does! Don’t ask how it does it! And definitely don’t wonder out loud how something powerful enough to do what is promised can have no side-effects.

Open as I am to the idea that the list party strategy might work in something like the way promised I cannot accept that it is the ideal solution. Because not being blinkered by a prior commitment to this novel strategy I am unable to ignore the other strategy. The one we’ve had for as long as might as well be forever. The one we have used before. The one that is tried and tested. The one that has been examined and scrutinised and interrogated and found to have no significant deleterious consequences. The one which, even if it hasn’t been entirely successful up to now, at least has a well-established potential to bring success. Nobody, as far as I can tell, is arguing that using the SNP as the tool with which to restore Scotland’s independence cannot work. Nobody – other perhaps that the odd obvious nutter – is suggesting that using this tool that we have already fashioned for the purpose would risk catastrophe for Scotland’s cause. The thing about using the SNP as has always been the intention is that if it fails, it fails safe.

That there are problems with the SNP is undeniable. I would be the last person to deny it. I have hardly been anyone’s idea of the party loyalist. But I don’t look at the faults and failings and immediately assume the tool is fucked beyond any possible utility. I ask WHY it is not working. Or has not worked. And I conclude that it hasn’t worked because we are not using it properly. As is so often the case, it’s user-error. Rectify the user-error and we have the powerful tool we need. It is not necessary to go running around looking for an alternative. What we have is perfectly adequate for the task. What we have would be ideal if we applied our energies to deploying it in such a way as to realise its potential. And if it still fails, it fails safe. Or at least relatively safe.

I ask questions. All the time, I ask questions. I hope and strive to ask every possible question. And to recognise every possible answer. That won’t happen. But I find it a useful way of approaching problems. For example, I ask what is the worst possible outcome of the next Scottish Parliament election. (I trust we’re all agreed that this should be our focus at the moment.) I identify the worst possible outcome as the British parties retaking control of our Parliament. That is the stuff of nightmares for anyone who cares about Scotland. The alternative to an SNP administration is a ‘Scottish’ Tory government serving its masters in London without the slightest regard for the interests of the people of Scotland. It’s a no-brainer! Whatever else the Yes movement does as a force in Scottish politics we MUST ensure a decisive win for the SNP in 2021 – or whenever the election is held.

This is so important, so crucial, that it must be the focus of all our energies. We simply cannot afford to give the slightest impression that it is not vital to vote SNP. It doesn’t matter if we’re saying its OK not to vote SNP in the regional vote only, there is no way of avoiding this message spilling over into the constituency campaign. That is just one of the consequences that the list party advocates decline to address. It is a consequence which cannot sensibly be dismissed, The situation is such that even a small negative effect on the SNP vote could have massive implications.

Naturally, I also ask what would be the best outcome of the next Holyrood election. The outcome I, would wish for both in the context of good governance and in consideration of the fight to restore Scotland’s independence. The outcome I identify is a massive victory for the SNP. A substantial majority necessarily made up of both constituency and regional seats. Ideally, 50%+ in both votes. Thus we create the lever that will be strong enough to break open the British state and allow Scotland to escape the Union.

It is the only way we can create such a lever. Even if the list strategy worked perfectly and didn’t lose us the pro-independence majority and SNP administration it’s outcome would not produce a lever such as the SNP might be. We are working within the British political system. We have no choice but to do so. That is what there is until we can create and fully implement a system of our own. The British political system responds only to brute strength. It is vulnerable only to brute strength as typified by first-past-the-post, winner-take-all elections. It follows that in order to break the British state in the ways that we must be strong according to the criteria recognised by the British political system. That means channelling all our strength through one party. And only the SNP can serve this purpose.

This is not a proposal for a one-party state as some exceptionally shallow people may shrilly insist. It is a one-party solution to a particular problem. A problem which cannot otherwise be resolved.

A ‘Rainbow Parliament’ may sound wonderful. There is good reason to suppose it would be wonderful. Or pretty good. There is cause to suppose this is what will arise as Scotland develops a distinctive political ethos. But a multi-party situation would be utterly useless to the independence movement. Worse than useless. It would maximise potential divisions of the kind that the British political elite is so adept at exploiting. It just wouldn’t have the clout. It wouldn’t work. So, even if the list party strategy succeeds in it own terms, it inevitably fails in terms of restoring Scotland’s independence. And there’s always the other consequences – up to and including the risk of losing the SNP administration and/or the pro-independence majority, both of which are vital.

The worst thing about the alternative party proposals is not the disregarded potential consequences. The worst this is not the risk involved. The worst thing is that it is pointless. It is unnecessary. It serves no purpose. Not so long as we have and use the SNP. The worst thing is not that the tool we’re being offered is a very poor tool. The worst thing is that we are being asked to shun the tool that we know with something approaching absolute certainty can be effective if we use it well!

In arguing for the novelty of their wondrous solution the advocates of the various ‘cunning plans’ that have proliferated since 2014 point with bitterness at the SNP’s failures over that same period. The opportunities that have been missed. This argument only has persuasive power to the extent that we assume the SNP is necessarily like this. That it must inevitably fail us. That it will always miss opportunities. That the way things have been is the way they must always be. That the Yes movement – including SNP members – lacks the power to change things. If that is the case, Scotland’s cause is doomed.

If the Yes movement lacks the power to influence its own de facto political arm what possible hope might there be that we might influence affairs such as to bring our government home and build a better Scotland and create a better society and follow our aspirations rather than being driven by our fears. If we cannot harness the effective political power of the SNP in the service of Scotland’s cause then the question must be asked whether we are even fit to call ourselves the sovereign people of Scotland.



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The next trick

Joanna Cherry gets it! She understands the situation and the circumstances and the dynamics. This much is evident from her column in The National today. She sees the opportunities and the potential pitfalls. And she is not shy about presenting a perspective which contrasts sharply with that set out by Nicola Sturgeon. All of which is very welcome. We needed this.

The contradiction of Nicola Sturgeon’s cease and desist order to the independence movement is explicit enough to be effective but framed in such a way as to avoid constituting a direct challenge to the party leader. Almost as if it had been composed by a lawyer. But let us not mistake this for anything other than a challenge – not for the leadership but to the leadership of the SNP. A challenge to the ethos of small ‘c’ conservatism and hyper-caution with which the leadership has lately become imbued. A challenge to the mindset which allowed the independence campaign to become moribund long before the current public health crisis was even on the horizon.

It was always the case that the SNP, both in Edinburgh and in London, was going to have to work within the British political system even as the party sought to break Scotland free from it. That is the nature of devolution. It is the nature of the Union. It’s the realpolitik. This meant that there was always the danger of the party becoming mired in that system. It’s how the British state operates. Those challenges to established power which cannot be crushed are absorbed. Or they are absorbed only to be crushed.

This is not to imply that the SNP group at Westminster has ‘gone native’. Not completely, anyway. Nor does it imply that the party leadership, rightly centred at Holyrood, has become ‘tame’. Not completely, anyway. It is only to say that there is a necessary compromise to be made between being the radical spanner in the works of the British political system and being enough of a cog in the machine to function as an administration in Scotland and Scotland’s (token) representation in the British parliament. The barely veiled sub-text of Joanna Cherry’s article is that the current leadership has got that balance wrong.

Somebody had to say it. Somebody other than a cantankerous, irascible, contrary and most of all inconsequential old blogger, that is. Somebody with presence had to speak out. Somebody with political heft and clout. Somebody who would be listened to even by those disinclined to hear any criticism of Nicola Sturgeon or the SNP. With all due respect to Angus Brendan MacNeil MP, this was always going to be Joanna Cherry MP. Angus’s interventions have been very welcome and have served the important purpose of keeping alive the spirit of the independence movement which Nicola Sturgeon was attempting to subdue. But I’m sure he understands full well that Joanna Cherry’s voice is the one which will reach those who need to hear.

Nicola Sturgeon cannot afford to ignore either Joanna Cherry’s warning about the fate of Winston Churchill or her call for the lifting of that cease and desist order. This will have to be addressed. Concerns about her commitment to the Section 30 process were not addressed – were pointedly and even contemptuously ignored – because those concerns were not voiced by anyone of Joanna Cherry’s stature. Ms Cherry cannot be ignored. Not even the First Minister may treat her with disdain. Belatedly, the SNP leadership will be obliged to rethink its strategy of disregarding constructive criticism and closing down ‘inconvenient’ debate.

Nicola Sturgeon has proved herself as a political leader. Even before the Covid-19 outbreak hit us, she was recognised as an extraordinarily able party leader and a highly competent First Minister. She is popular and respected. Her handling of the public health crisis has greatly enhanced a reputation such as few politicians can aspire to. But, as Joanna Cherry points out, this is not enough. As Winston Churchill discovered, people always want to know what your next trick will be no matter how amazing the last one was. They always demand more no matter how much they have been given. They always ask, “What have you done for us lately?”, no matter how much you’ve done for them recently.

The electorate may be occasionally grateful, but is is always demanding. And the Scottish electorate is arguably more demanding than most.

Joanna Cherry’s intervention provides Nicola Sturgeon with an opportunity to signal a shift in strategy. It need not be dramatic. Not immediately. It need not come from Nicola Sturgeon herself in a manner which might be portrayed as a climb-down. The signal could come from anyone close to the leadership. A few names spring to mind, but I suspect none of them would be grateful is I mentioned their names in this context. Just ask yourself who among Nicola Sturgeon’s closest allies speaks with an authority to match that which Joanna Cherry brings to this issue.



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The best of reasons

I don’t see independence as a party-political issue. Apart from the fact it is a core policy of the SNP, there is no reason why other parties can’t support it. It’s not tied to any political ideology.

Morag Williamson

Some would say that yet another Yes group can only be a good thing. Some would doubtless proffer a neatly pre-packaged opinion couched in the scriptural language of repenting sinners and/or returning prodigals. The more the merrier, some might say, choosing threadbare cliche over tired Biblical quote. Neither of which is an acceptable substitute for rational, analytical thinking.

There is a very narrow sense in which it is fair to say that more is indeed cause for merriment regardless of any other consideration. In terms of votes in a referendum to determine Scotland’s constitutional status, numbers are all that matters. Nobody is required to pass an exam to be allowed to vote. There is no space on the ballot paper for a compulsory explanation of why the individual voted as they did. Nobody is under any obligation to justify the choices they make when exercising their democratic right to vote. There are no marks for style. As far as the process is concerned, reasons are of no consequence.

It may be contended that if an individual opts to make public how they voted and their reasons then they should be prepared to defend their stated choice and the thinking behind it. But they cannot be required to do so. Democracy not only means that you get a vote it also means that you can use that vote as you please. The reasoning is irrelevant. Only the vote counts. In that sense, more people making the journey from No to Yes is always a good thing.

It may just as reasonably be contended, however, that when it comes to campaigning for votes the reasoning is highly relevant. An individual’s attitude to an issue is bound to influence the manner in which they campaign. The core idea around which individuals coalesce to form a group must have a bearing on what that group brings to the campaign. As Richard Dawkins explained to his young daughter, there are both good and bad reasons for believing. What is true of religious belief is also true of political attitudes. The latter being more important due to its more immediate implications for public policy.

There are good and bad reasons for wanting to restore Scotland’s independence. I should be able to say that there are also good and bad reasons for wanting to preserve the Union. This is problematic because in a lifetime of deep interests and involvement in the constitutional debate I have never encountered or been offered a positive case for the Union. This is not mere rhetoric. To the extent that reasons may be objectively assessed, there are no good reasons for Scotland remaining in the Union. Or, if there are, Unionists themselves have yet to discover them. Or perhaps they’re keeping those good reasons secret. In which case, why?

Better, perhaps, that we say reasons lie on a spectrum of rationality. Simplistic dichotomies are seldom other than abstractions, which may be useful as thinking tools but should never inform conclusions. There are not only bad reasons reasons for wanting to preserve the Union there are also very bad reasons. By the same token, there are good reasons for wanting independence and there are better reasons. The quality of the reasoning affects the form and content of the arguments deployed in campaigning. In this context, reasons matter.

All of which explains why I am not greeting the arrival of Yes for EU with a ticker-tape parade and a pyrotechnic display. I consider it natural and essential to ask what this new group brings to the Yes movement and to Scotland’s cause. I look for clues in the public statements of the group’s spokesperson(s). It doesn’t look promising.

The words of Yes for EU executive committee member Morag Williamson quoted above this article do not inspire confidence that the group is bringing anything new or valuable to the independence campaign. I intend no offence to Ms Williamson when I observe that her statement is, in its parts and in aggregate, fallacious. She may not see independence as a party-political issue but that doesn’t mean it isn’t. In fact, she goes on to contradict herself when she observes that “it is a core policy of the SNP”. Can she not see that this makes it party-political by definition? All issues are party-political to the extent that political parties take a stance on them. That independence is a “core policy” of the SNP means that the party has taken a stance on the issue to the greatest extent possible.

Morag Williamson confuses/conflates the hypothetical attitudes of individual party members with official party policy. That individual members of the British parties in Scotland may, in theory, be persuaded of the merits of independence does not mean that the party’s stance on the matter can be changed – either as readily or at all. The one does not necessarily follow from the other. An individual cannot campaign and vote for a British party and actively pursue the restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. The two things are entirely contrary to one another. In Scotland, you pick a party you choose a side in the constitutional debate. If that’s not party-political nothing is.

She goes on to say that “there is no reason why other parties can’t support it [independence]. It’s not tied to any political ideology”. This is just plain wrong. There is every reason why the British parties cannot and shall never support independence regardless of the attitudes of members. It’s because they are British parties. They are parties of the British establishment. They are parties of the Union. They cannot be other than that because the Union is critical to the structures of power, privilege and patronage with which they have a profoundly symbiotic relationship.

To say that nationalism need not be “tied to any political ideology” is not the same as saying that it cannot be associated with any political ideology. Indeed, nationalism as an ideology in and of itself would, if it could exist, be an arid and vacuous thing. Rather, nationalism is a component of ideology; as is social conscience and appreciation of human nature. In practice nationalism is a component of all ideologies and – contrary to Morag Williamson’s claim – is always tied to an ideology. Nationalism is politically neutral. It is merely the measure of concern with the affairs of a particular legislative area. The particular community of communities within which the holder of the ideology has direct democratic influence. It is the ideology which lends meaning to the nationalism. It is ideology which determines the form and nature of the nationalism. It is the ideology to which the nationalism is tied which makes it good or bad.

There is a shallow but regrettably widespread tendency to associate nationalism only and exclusively with extreme and/or totalitarian ideologies; and, therefore, to consider it bad. People are all too often blind to the nationalism in their own ideology precisely because it is neutral. It is benign so long as the ideology with which it is associated is not malign. The benign tends to go unnoticed.

It would appear that Yes for EU brings to Scotland’s cause fallacies which are unfortunately all too common already. An impression which intensifies as Ms Williamson continues,

A few of our group were very keen on keeping the UK together and many have come round to the view that the EU is so important that a campaign for independence is the best way to get back in.

Ultimately, it may not matter why people vote Yes in the next independence referendum just so long as they do. But, as noted earlier, the motivations of campaigners must be significant. It may be perfectly valid to argue that independence is the best way to rejoin the EU. It may even be argued that independence is necessary for the purpose of rejoining the EU. But is rejoining the EU a sufficient reason for restoring Scotland’s independence? More prosaically, to what extent is the Yes campaign helped or hindered by arguing that rejoining the EU is the only or main reason for restoring Scotland’s independence? It may be a reason. But can it be the reason? It may be necessary. But does it satisfy the other essential criterion? Is it sufficient?

There are many such secondary or ancillary arguments for restoring Scotland’s independence. There are, I suspect, always such supplemental arguments for (or against) any public policy proposal. There may be economic or cultural arguments, for example. But what is the nub of the matter? Any and all valid arguments may legitimately be deployed in pursuing reform. But there surely must be a core cause that is served by these supplementary arguments. The fundamental reason for seeking reform. The thing that must change for the cause to be realised.

Whatever other arguments may be used, a campaign must be founded on and informed by this fundamental argument. It follows, therefore, that all individuals and groups involved in the campaign should be aware of this fundamental argument in order that they may ensure that their secondary arguments actually serve the cause and neither distract nor detract from it.

The restoration of Scotland’s independence is a matter of basic justice. It is a matter of fundamental democratic principle. It is a question of righting a wrong. Of rectifying a gross and grotesque constitutional anomaly. The Union is unjust and undemocratic. And that is why it must be dissolved and Scotland’s rightful constitutional status restored. That is what lies at the heart of the constitutional issue. That is what must inform the campaign for independence.

Some may welcome new groups into the Yes fold unquestioningly, on the assumption that more is always better. Only better is always better. And it is better if campaigning groups are motivated not just by good reasons but by the best reason.



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