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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It's a people thing

James Kelly does excellent work when he’s wearing his psephologist’s hat. When he swaps it for a political analyst’s headgear, however, things start to deteriorate. There is something quaintly naive about a worldview in which British political parties regard polls as “food for thought” and “liberal commentators down south” have consciences for the pricking.

Here in the real world, if a British politician is shown polling results indicating that large numbers of people in Scotland think the UK is not democratic their first thought is to wonder why they are being shown this. If they have a second thought it won’t be about fixing the broken democracy. It’ll be about manipulating perceptions of democracy.

But why would they even have that second thought? Scotland is in the rather odd position of being both essential and irrelevant. It is essential to what Kelly refers to as the UK’s “self-image”. Or what I prefer to call the British political elite’s conceit of itself. That self-image – or conceit – is complex. But elements of it are hinted at by notions such as Westminster being the ‘Mother of Parliaments’. What is often remarked upon as snobbery is, in fact, the self-assurance of exceptionalism. The notional country of ‘Great Britain’ is held to be the source and exemplar of democratic governance. It is definitively democratic. So much so that it doesn’t actually have to act democratically in order to be democratic.

There’s also all that hang-over stuff from the age of empire which has ‘Great Britain’ strutting the world like a retired British Army colonel complete with swagger-stick and ill-fitting uniform barking orders at taxi drivers and observing incessantly that “It wasn’t like this in MY day!”. Except that they still think it’s MY day. And possessing Scotland is vital to this self-delusion. Scotland is absolutely crucial to that “self-image”. Without Scotland, the notional country of ‘Great Britain’ collapses under the weight of its own ridiculousness. The delusion evaporates. The conceit is punctured. The self-image becomes, to coin a term, ‘unsustainable’.

This is why Kelly gets it so horribly wrong when he says,

“If the facts on the ground are in conflict with that self-image, a tension will arise that could eventually bring about political change and an end to the wall of intransigence.”

Which is his way of saying that is people in Scotland complain enough about the democratic deficit then the British political elite will respond by rectifying, to some extent, that deficit. But the democratic deficit doesn’t stem from the British Tory party, as he seems to imagine. The democratic deficit is a function of the Union. It is ‘hard-wired’ into the British political system. Which is why however essential Scotland is to the ‘Great British Conceit’ it is also irrelevant.

British political leaders don’t care about public opinion in Scotland because they don’t have to. They don’t have to because the Union ensures that Scotland is always subsidiary to England-as-Britain. (Or Borissia, as I really enjoy calling it.) As essential as Scotland might be, that fact can never be reflected in our nation’s status and power because the Union is there to ensure that it can never be reflected in any concrete way.

James Kelly is immersed in the same folly that has all but submerged our First Minister. The foolish idea that the democratic deficit enshrined in the Union can be fixed by getting the British political elite to change. The fallacious notion that what Scotland is depends entirely on what ‘Great Britain’ does and NOT on what Scotland does. The ludicrous belief that Scotland’s independence can be restored by somehow using the democratic leverage that the Union denies us to force the British to yield to the leverage that we don’t have and give us the leverage which we can’t have because of the Union which the British can never put at risk by giving Scotland the leverage which the Union was designed to deny to Scotland in order that Borissia might exist.

This isn’t a numerical conundrum or a mechanical problem. It is entirely a political issue. A deep political issue. Politics isn’t bound by mathematical rules. Politics doesn’t operate on the basis of mechanistic cause and effect. That’s because politics is a people thing. You can know all there is to know about numbers and everything it’s possible to know about engines, but if you don’t get people you don’t get politics.

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Playing the fool

This could be seen as a highly controversial statement, but Jackson Carlaw may not actually be an idiot. Calm down! I’m not saying he’s particularly clever. Only that it’s possible he may not be as daft as you would assume just from listening to him. He might be a man of normal intelligence. How would we know?

You see, as a British Nationalist politician, Carlaw is obliged to say really stupid things. It’s the same for all of them. They all have to behave in public as if they’re in an episode of ‘BritNats say the craziest things!’ They all have to act stupid, whether or not they actually are. Take Richard Leonard, for example. (In case you don’t recognise the name, he’s the nominal ‘leader’ of a particular British Nationalist clique calling itself ‘Scottish Labour’.) He has to pretend that, despite having been an MSP (Central Scotland Region) since 2016, he still doesn’t know which powers are reserved and which devolved. He must be aware that this makes him look woefully ill-informed and not very bright, but he happily accepts the sacrifice of his dignity in the name of the British ruling elites to whom he owes unquestioning loyalty.

They’re all at it. All the British politicians squatting in the Scottish Parliament have to act stupid as required by their sole mission to preserve the Union at whatever cost to the nation and people of Scotland. Some, like James Kelly, play the fool with effortless ease; unfailingly giving a performance that is utterly convincing. Quite how he does that thing with the slack jaw and the blank eyes is a mystery, and must be the envy of stars of stage and screen from the great method actors to Nicolas Cage.

So, when you hear Jackson Carlaw banging on about a non-existent “commitment” that the 2014 independence referendum was a “once in a generation” event, cut him some slack. He’s probably just hamming it up for the cameras. And go easy on him when he compounds this idiocy by insisting that, having made a decision on the basis of what they believe to be the circumstances prevailing, the people of Scotland should not be permitted another opportunity to exercise their right of self-determination for forty years. That’s eight parliamentary terms. Potentially eight different governments. To put it in some kind of perspective, there was only a little more than forty years separating the first powered flight and the breaking of the sound barrier.

A lot changes in a lot less than four decades. Someone who is just old enough to vote in the coming UK general election will be 58 years old by the time Carlaw thinks it appropriate for that person to make a choice about their nation’s constitutional status. It is, whatever way you look at it, a ludicrous proposition. Made all the more ludicrous by the fact that there never was any “commitment” such as Carlaw refers to. It never happened. There were a few instances of phrases such as “once in a lifetime”. But, unless you’re genuinely stupid or unfamiliar with the English language, it is clear from the context that these phrases are being used idiomatically and hyperbolically to describe the opportunity and not literally to describe the event.

What you will not find is any reference to “once in a generation/lifetime” in the Edinburgh Agreement or the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013 or any legislation or concord which would constitute a “commitment”.

It may well be argued that the SNP administration at the time gave a hostage to fortune when they used that phrase. Maybe they should have seen how British Nationalists might take a common expression and weave around it an entire script to be parroted by British Nationalist politicians doing their ‘village idiot’ routine. (A script that has to be kept simple if it is to be used by such as James Kelly and Boris Johnson.)

It could be said that the SNP acted foolishly on a few occasions. But that is a very different thing from acting the fool constantly, as Jackson Carlaw and his fellow British Nationalists are wont to do.

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Treachery abounds

No part of the British establishment can be trusted. The imperative to preserve their ‘precious’ Union overrides all considerations of ethics, morality, decency and democratic principle. They will, quite literally, do anything to ensure that Scotland remains locked in a political union which denies the sovereignty of Scotland’s people and leaves the nation at the mercy of a disreputable and dysfunctional British political elite.

Or so we must assume. With so much at stake, we simply cannot afford to trust the British government or any of its agencies. We would be foolishly irresponsible to place any faith in the British political parties, wherein devotion to the Union and vaunting British exceptionalism combine with partisan loyalty and naked self-interest to create a noisome medium for breeding treachery.

Until the day that Scotland’s independence is restored we must proceed on the assumption that the entire apparatus of the British state is set on preventing this ever happening. Given that this is so, it was only to be expected that British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) would try and throw a big British Nationalist spanner in the machinery of the Referendums Bill. A Unionist boycott of a new independence referendum was always a strong possibility. James Kelly’s amendment is a totally transparent attempt to facilitate and encourage such a boycott and to increase the chances of it successfully wrecking the referendum.

It is somehow fitting that it should be Kelly who is introducing the amendment. Perhaps more than any other BLiS politician, he personifies the intellect-crippling hatred of the SNP and ingrained sense of entitlement which has so comprehensively alienated voters. But if it hadn’t been him, there are plenty of others among the British Nationalists squatting in the Scottish Parliament who would have relished the opportunity to help diminish and destroy Scotland’s democracy.

And if it hadn’t happened now, it would surely happen at some other time. Probably on many occasions. We can expect repeated attempts to prevent a new independence referendum completely or, failing that, to put ever greater obstacles in the way of a Yes vote. We can anticipate that, should a Section 30 order ever be granted, it will come so bound up and weighed down with conditions as to render a fair plebiscite impossible. The British establishment will only enable a new referendum on the strict condition that it does not pose a threat to their precious Union.

Many people are asking whether, as an agency of the British state, the Electoral Commission can be relied upon to be completely fair and impartial. This is not to suggest that there would be any deliberate attempt to favour the Union. But the entire British establishment is steeped in British Nationalist ideology. It must have some effect. So it is somewhat worrying to find Mike Russell pandering to the British Electoral Commission’s insistence that it must have a role in Scotland’s referendum.

The compromise that Mr Russell is offering may seem reasonable to some. But no compromise is acceptable to those of us who have learned not to trust any part of the British establishment. To those of us who maintain that, to counter the inevitable treachery, the new independence referendum must be entirely made and managed in Scotland, no level or form of British state involvement is acceptable.

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Petulant children and mindless vandals

James Kelly MSP
James Kelly MSP – Petulant child? Or mindless vandal?

When Alex Salmond talks about the way the British parties at Holyrood are behaving in relation to the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act (OBFA) his anger is genuine, palpable and fully justified. He allows his emotions to show to an extent which is rare in politicians. I think that is very much to his credit.

We should all be angry about this. Regardless of what interest we have in football; or our political or religious affiliation; or even any informed and considered opinion of the legislation, we should all be outraged by the way British Labour in Scotland (BLiS), in particular, has sought to exploit the issue solely to satisfy a base and vulgar urge to land some sort of blow on the SNP.

This has nothing whatever to do with whether or not OBFA is effective as a weapon in the fight against sectarianism. If that were the case then BLiS and their Tory allies would be proposing changes to the legislation in order to make it more effective.

Claims that this is not the way to tackle the blight of sectarianism beg questions about what other measures might. That the legislation is unlikely to be one hundred percent effective in eradicating sectarianism cannot, in itself, justify removing it from the statute books. Society uses laws, not only as a means of eliminating or minimising anti-social behaviour, but as markers which signal moral or ethical stance. Laws serve as a statement of our shared mores and standards. We don’t make laws against rape and murder in the hope or expectation that this will put an end to such offences.

We make such laws not least to define and formalise society’s attitude to certain behaviours. The effectiveness of OBFA in combating sectarianism may well be less important than its utility as a means of re-shaping public attitudes. The mere fact of the law’s existence may impact on awareness and perception of sectarian behaviour which is so ingrained as to have become accepted as an inherent and ineluctable aspect of our society.

We are entitled to wonder why certain politicians want this signal of social disapprobation removed. In fact, we have a duty and a responsibility as citizens to demand to know what motivates politicians who object so strongly to legislation which, even if it does nothing else, attaches a social stigma to behaviour which none of them would publicly admit to finding anything other than totally abhorrent.

It has nothing whatever to do with justice. Nobody has suffered any injustice as a consequence of the legislation. There is no human or civil right to public expression of sectarian abuse or provocation which might be infringed. To claim that OBFA unfairly targets football supporters is like saying drunk driving legislation unfairly targets motorists. Regrettably, football matches and their environs is where you find overt sectarian abuse just as the road network is where you find drunk drivers.

It has nothing whatever to do with responding to public demand. All the evidence is that OBFA is approved by an overwhelming majority of people in Scotland. The campaign to repeal OBFA totally disregards the views of Scotland’s people. Those responsible for this campaign exhibit a casual, sneering, supercilious contempt for the public which is now firmly established as a defining characteristic of the British parties in Scotland.

The only thing driving this campaign is British Labour in Scotland’s burning, bitter, intellect-crippling resentment of the SNP. There may be an argument that OBFA should never have made it to the statute books. Or that it should not have been enacted in its present form. There was ample opportunity to advance those arguments as the legislation made its way through Parliament. Self-evidently, no such case was ever adequately made. The legislation was passed by the Scottish Parliament. The only Parliament with any democratic legitimacy in Scotland. The only Parliament which has the rightful authority to represent the will of Scotland’s people. The Parliament which speaks for Scotland. That Parliament spoke for Scotland when it declared our rejection of sectarianism and our determination to drive it from the sphere of our nation’s public life.

To now repeal OBFA is to retract that declaration. It is a very different proposition to not implementing the measure in the first place. To now remove it from the statute books is to recant our previously stated detestation of sectarian bigotry. It is to say that sectarianism in football maybe isn’t so bad after all. Actively renouncing our refusal to tolerate sectarianism has to be perceived as demonstrating a willingness to tolerate it.

Such a momentously regressive change to our social conventions would be difficult to justify under any circumstances. To do it for reasons no more worthy than the pettiest of political point-scoring is the conduct of a petulant, over-privileged child or a mindless political vandal.

No wonder Alex Salmond is angry. Aren’t you?

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