Demands and threats

There seems to be a general assumption that the string of ‘ifs’ which leads to a hung parliament means an enlarged SNP group would be ‘kingmakers’. Or, as Nicola Sturgeon puts it in what looks rather like an attempt to lower expectations, a “strong, progressive influence”. If she is trying to stop people getting too carried away, she may have good reason.

If it is supposed that the SNP group of MPs will wield significant power over British Labour in a hung parliament, we must ask what is the nature of that power. It is not enough simply to look at the numbers and say that, because SNP cooperation is needed to get over the line separating government from opposition, the SNP will be in a position to make major demands. Nicola sturgeon has even gone so far as to list those demands. That list, as reported by this newspaper on 25 November, includes,

  • Stop Brexit
  • End austerity
  • Abandon Universal Credit
  • Axe the two-child benefit cap
  • Grant a Section 30 order

I doubt that many outside the ranks of irredeemable and irremediable Tory loyalists would take exception to anything in Sturgeons catalogue of demands. But are they attainable? Are they deliverable? How might British Labour respond were they to be handed this list in the course of post-election haggling among the parties at Westminster?

Having witnessed the strenuous, contorting effort they’ve made to avoid having a clear position on Brexit, does anybody believe British Labour is even capable of adopting a firm stance on the issue? Going from wherever they might be as you read this to an unwavering commitment either way doesn’t look at all like a journey Jeremy Corbyn is ready to undertake. This is the ‘leader’ who says he would remain neutral in any new EU referendum.

If the Tories can claim to be ending austerity, so can a British Labour administration. Whether this will be noticeable on the ground is a very different matter.

British governments tend not to do anything bold if they have a ready excuse for not doing so. Abandoning Universal Credit may well be that kind of bold action. It would be too expensive! It would cause even more disruption and suffering! Better to fix it than forsake it!

Axing the two-child benefit might be a concession British Labour could offer. But only so they could accuse the SNP of rejecting the chance to end an iniquitous Tory policy when it turned out to be the only concession and not enough to win their support.

The Section 30 order has been dealt with at length elsewhere. No British government is going to facilitate any process which puts their precious Union in jeopardy. For all British Labour’s efforts to differentiate themselves from the Tories’ hard-line anti-democratic position, they have no more intention of cooperating in the Section 30 process than any of the other British parties. They are certainly not going to grant permission for a new independence referendum until and unless they can be sure of being able to sabotage the process at some later stage.

On that final – and some would say most crucial – demand, British Labour would be likely to try and string the SNP along as much as possible. Hence the deliberate vague and open-ended ‘undertakings’ on the matter. They can put off even responding to the Section 30 request for as long as they wish.

It’s not looking too promising for Nicola Sturgeon’s list of demands. So, how might she react to these demands being rejected – either outright or by implication? What can she threaten Jeremy Corbyn with in order to compel his compliance?

There are, in principle, three ‘big sticks’ Sturgeon might be able to wave. She could threaten to enable a Tory government. She could threaten to bring down a British Labour government. Or she might be in a position to threaten to force another election. Another election would be no more likely to resolve things than the last one or this one. But the SNP would be vilified for forcing the people of the world’s greatest democracy to go out and vote. Don’t they know that’s not how democracy is supposed to work!

Enabling a Tory government and bringing down a British Labour government may seem like the same thing. That’s because they are. They just happen at different times. The threat to enable a Tory government would be wielded during initial efforts to reach an arrangement. The threat to bring it down would hang over a British Labour government for as long as it lasted. However, Nicola Sturgeon has decisively ruled out the SNP ever allowing the Tories back into power should they be ousted. So that threat is not available. Whether or not one approves, it is an option binned.

What we are left with is the SNP making demands backed up with the threat that, unless these demands are met, they might bring down the British Labour government at some point in the future. One would hope that this point remained undefined. To commit to taking action at a particular time or under specified conditions would severely limit room for movement.

How serious, from British Labour’s perspective, is this threat? Not very. In fact, it’s barely a threat at all. Nothing that isn’t happening right now, or is immediately imminent, can be considered a threat. Especially when pretty much the entire political environment is consists of threats of one kind or another. Once they were in power, it would be very easy for British Labour to call the SNP’s bluff. Bringing down a British Labour government, with the corollary of letting the Tories back in, would seem to be a draught of political hemlock for the SNP.

Would they do it? More to the point, can Nicola Sturgeon make Jeremy Corbyn believe that the SNP would be so bold as to effectively usher the Tories back into government. It is feasible. There is a line that Sturgeon could take which might see the SNP through the ‘scandal’ of ‘sabotaging’ a ‘progressive’ British Labour administration. It could be maintained that it is actually British Labour’s fault. They could be portrayed as the ones who have behaved in such a way as to make it impossible for the SNP to continue propping them up.

If this line was used in conjunction with saying it made no difference to Scotland which party was in power at Westminster, it could at least take the edge of the inevitable storm of vilification from the British media. But it would be massively risky. Does Nicola have the bottle? Can she convince Corbyn she does? Personally, I doubt it.

The SNP’s influence over a minority British Labour administration would be minimal. Because the only thing they can threaten them with would almost certainly do the SNP more harm.

It all comes down to one simple fact – Scotland’s interests cannot be served within the UK. Our MPs cannot wield meaningful power, or influence, in the parliament of England-as-Britain because the system is set up to ensure that Scotland (and all the periphery of England-as-Britain) will always be subordinate. That is what the Union is for.

If we send 45 or 50 or more SNP MPs to Westminster expecting them to be a major force, we are likely to be disappointed. But we absolutely must elect as many SNP MPs as possible because only thus can we keep alive the possibility of escaping the Union and bringing all of our government home.



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Preparing the hyena feast

The article in The National under the headline Corbyn reveals unredacted document showing ‘NHS is on the table in trade talks’ refers throughout to “the NHS”, implying a single entity. This is misleading. There are, in fact four quite separate and distinct public health services in the UK.

  • NHS Scotland
  • NHS England
  • NHS Wales
  • Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety for Northern Ireland

We may, however, assume that the US corporations seeking access to and control of “the NHS” think of it as a single entity even if, as we should expect, they are sufficiently well informed to be aware of the reality. What is certain is that they will want the same access to and control of all four health systems. And, with the support of the US Government, they will demand that the UK Government facilitate this as a condition of any trade deal.

We know also that, post-Brexit, the UK Government will be so desperate to conclude a trade deal with the US which can be spun as an example of the benefits of leaving the EU that they will agree to pretty much any and all conditions set by the US negotiators. We must ask ourselves, therefore, how the UK Government might go about facilitating this ‘sell-off’ of all four health services as part of a single deal given that there are significant differences in the way they are structured, funded and managed. We should also ask ourselves what demands the US negotiators might make in this regard.

It seems extremely likely that the US negotiators will want the four health services combined under a common UK-wide framework. Which is handy, because the UK Government has prepared for just such an eventuality. Readers may recall discarded Scottish Secretary David Mundell referring to these “UK-wide common frameworks” on numerous occasions – and with great relish as he at the time supposed he would be in charge of the Scottish bit of these common frameworks through the shadow administration called ‘UK Government in Scotland’. We may also note that these “UK-wide common frameworks” are openly being discussed in relation to agriculture, agricultural support, fisheries etc.

While there has been no mention of a “UK-wide common framework” for health services we would anticipate that any proposals of this nature would be kept under very tight wraps. Tighter even than those that secured – or failed to secure – the document Jeremy Corbyn now claims to have in his possession. Even if no specific proposals exist, which seems highly unlikely given the language of the aforementioned document, the UK Government has seized powers which could provide the means to ‘surreptitiously’ force the four health services into adopting common practices in various areas – notably, powers over public procurement.

Additionally, the UK Government has seized powers over elements of reciprocal healthcare, which would allow them to claim some kind of precedent for the imposition of a common framework in other aspects of health services. We know how that argument goes – there is already a “common UK-wide framework” in respect of that, and this is closely associated with that, so obviously there should also be a “UK-wide common frameworks” for this.

And let us not forget the provisions of Section 30 of the Scotland Act (1998), which gives the British Prime Minister sweeping authority to unilaterally alter which powers are devolved and which reserved. Read with due trepidation.

“Her Majesty may by Order in Council make any modifications of Schedule 4 or 5 which She considers necessary or expedient.”

Taken altogether, we may safely conclude that the intention of the UK Government is to effectively abolish the separate health services by absorbing them into NHS England in order to present a more tempting prey for America’s corporate hyenas. We can be sure that NHS Scotland will be particularly targeted due to the fact that those predators find distinctly unpalatable the Scottish Government’s commitment to preserving a genuine public health service founded on a principle of universality that is alien and anathema to them.

Some will protest that this is overstating the threat to NHS Scotland. Can we afford to take the chance?

PS – How could I have forgotten this? ‘Boris Johnson warns SNP will ‘forfeit all right’ to manage NHS‘?



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The list

Nicola Sturgeon’s list of demands is, of course, premised on a minority British Labour government which, as things stand, looks like a very remote possibility indeed. The Tories have a 10+ point lead in the polls, and that doesn’t look like changing. Boris Johnson appears to be bullet-proof. It doesn’t seem to matter what he does, so long as he’s a Brexiteer, England-as-Britain wants him as its Prime Minister. Which means he and all his idiocy also gets foisted on Scotland.

Nor is Corbyn looking like someone who can transform things. Whatever lights of charismatic radicalism he may be hiding under the bushel of his unremitting dullness, he is obliged by the British political system to chase the same voters as have apparently pledged unquestioning fealty to Boris Johnson and the freak-show which is the British Conservative Party.

Nicola Sturgeon is certainly aware of this. She knows that she can demand this and that for no other reason than to highlight the fact that British Labour is not going to stop Brexit; or scrap Trident; or do any of the things their faithful followers have convinced themselves their party would do if only it could steal enough of Boris Johnson’s clothes to fool those critical voters without actually becoming indistinguishable from the malignant child-clown. Or, alternatively, if Jeremy Corbyn could stir the apathetic masses to action in a way that one wouldn’t really expect of someone who has the compelling presence and personal magnetism of a substitute geography teacher.

What Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t seem to be aware of is that British Labour is no more likely to accede to her demand for a Section 30 order than it is to revoke Article 50 or dismantle the British state’s nuclear deterrent. All of these belong on the same list as Nigel Farage’s image appearing on a commemorative €100 note – the list of things that just aren’t going to happen.

It’s easy to understand why she demands things like an end to the Brexit insanity. Forcing your opponents to reject policies which are popular with voters can be a very effective campaigning tactic. But that’s not what is happening with the attempt to make Jeremy Corbyn signal his readiness to immediately grant a Section 30 order in exchange for SNP MPs serving as a crutch for a minority British Labour administration. Albeit a rather wobbly crutch. Nicola Sturgeon genuinely seems to suppose that this is a realistic possibility.

Why anyone might believe something so far-fetched is a mystery. To give credence to the notion that any British Prime Minister might facilitate or cooperate with a process which jeopardised the ‘precious’ Union flies in the face of the stark political reality of British Nationalist ideology and England-as-Britain’s need to maintain its grip on Scotland.

There’s lots of truly weird stuff going on in politics right now. But all of that weirdness would be as nothing compared to the British state sacrificing its interests in the name of democracy and decency. That stands on its own right at the top of the list of things that just aren’t going to happen.



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Hope versus experience

Ian Blackford’s insistence that the next British Prime Minister will somehow be compelled to grant a Section 30 order is beginning to sound a bit desperate. Almost as if he’s trying to convince himself that respect for democracy will be the deciding factor. His entire argument hinges on the British political elite deciding that the imperative to preserve the Union is outweighed by the demands of democratic justice.

Does Jackson Carlaw sound like someone who has any understanding of democracy, far less respect for it, when he says “we will never give Nicola Sturgeon #IndyRef2” ? Does Boris Johnson’s bombastic ranting about “once in a generation” give the impression that he’s prepared to make any concessions to democracy?

However hard Ian Blackford tries to persuade himself, and us, that democracy must surely prevail, we cannot long avoid the reality that Carlaw’s ignorant, arrogant bluster represents the true attitude of the British establishment. And that includes Jeremy Corbyn.

Just as Ian Blackford entertains quaint notions about the British state deferring to fundamental democratic principles, so some are naive enough to suppose that Corbyn is different. Gerry Hassan’s rose-tinted, starry-eyed perspective is illustrative. Apparently,

Corbyn and McDonnell are not “against” Scottish independence per se. They believe in the principle that such a decision is fundamentally up to the people of Scotland. In this they recognise “the sovereignty of the Scottish people” which many pro-union politicians pay lip service to and which the Commons unanimously accepted in July 2018. They take it as a given.

If that is so, then why do they so assiduously avoid giving any firm commitment to a new referendum? While Ian Blackford strives, by force of rhetoric alone, to make the case that British intransigence on the constitutional issue is ‘unsustainable’, Corbyn is working just as hard to maintain a position which differentiates British Labour from their Tory cousins while not actually making any concessions at all.

According to Gerry Hassan,

Corbyn and McDonnell do not believe in the UK in the way that previous Labour politicians did. They see the UK as a force for imperialism, reaction and militarism around the world. This brings them to align themselves with a position which is anti-British establishment and notes its attachment to the politics of the union and its geopolitical interests. Scottish independence, they understand, is a body blow to such pretensions and power politics.

The idea of British Labour being “anti-British establishment” is every bit as fantastical as Ian Blackford’s notion that the British political elite might put respect for democracy before its own geopolitical interests. Gerry Hassan fails to see that it is precisely because those interests make preservation of the Union an overriding imperative that Corbyn would never be permitted to put the Union in jeopardy even supposing he was minded to do so. It is because of the British state’s pretensions to being “a force for imperialism, reaction and militarism around the world” that locking Scotland into the Union is an absolute necessity.

The obligations of democracy are as nothing compared to the dictates of the British state’s ambition.

Gerry Hassan ends by asking,

But does Labour have the political will and imagination to break with the last vestiges of the conservative elements of labourism as well as the ancien regime which has for too long defined power and privilege across the UK?

Pinning one’s hopes on that ever happening is, if anything, even less realistic than trusting that the next British Prime Minister might acknowledge Scotland’s right of self-determination and respect the democratic will of the Scottish people.



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Confusion and betrayal

There is no confusion at all about British Labour’s position on independence. Or their position on a new referendum. Their position on both is exactly the same as the position of the other British political parties. They are fervently opposed to independence and absolutely determined that there should be no new referendum. If there is any mystery here it concerns why anybody would be in the slightest doubt about Jeremy Corbyn’s British Nationalist leanings.

If people are confused it can only be because they’re making the two-fold error of listening to what Corbyn and other British Labour mouthpieces say and supposing these utterances should be taken seriously. They hear the inconsistencies and contradictions and strive to figure what is true. The reality is very simple. None of it is true!

All British politicians are bound by the imperative to preserve the Union. That imperative overrides everything. It certainly overrides considerations of democratic principle. It even overrides electoral expediency. Although some British politicians think they can conceal the truth of the matter in a fog of words. Hence the inconsistencies and contradictions. Hence the confusion among those who attend to the words instead of looking to what lies behind them. Instead of looking to the underlying imperative.

Not that Corbyn et al will be at all troubled by any confusion they cause. Where it is necessary to have different messages for different constituencies, inconsistency and contradiction are unavoidable. The idea then is to make a virtue of necessity. To ensure that the confusion is used to advantage. If your position is sufficiently vague and ambivalent, then it can be whatever you need it to be at any given time or whatever circumstances may arise. More importantly, it can be whatever potential voters want it to be.

More commonly than any of us like to admit, our electoral choices are emotional rather than rational. We like to think we’re making decisions on the basis of factual information and rational assessment. We are not comfortable admitting the extent to which facts and figures are used to put a varnish of reason on conclusion that owe more to our hormones than our neurones.

There are a great many ‘traditional Labour’ voters in Scotland who no longer vote according to tradition – mainly because they support the restoration of Scotland’s independence. A significant proportion of these ‘traditional Labour’ voters crave an excuse to get back to what was good enough for their forebears. If Corbyn says something that allows them to rationalise reverting to their old ways, they will seize it with relish. They will go back to voting for British Labour candidates having convinced themselves that the party is committed to ‘allowing’ a new independence referendum. They will even be able to quote something Jeremy Corbyn has said to ‘prove’ that they are not being conned.

These ‘traditional Labour’ backsliders will be aided in this process of rationalising their instinctual choice by the rhetoric of the other British parties as they accuse British Labour of planning to betray the precious Union by conspiring and colluding with the hated SNP.

Anybody in Scotland who votes for a British Labour candidate on the grounds that the party will ‘countenance’ a new independence referendum is a gullible fool. Even if Jeremy Corbyn were to become British Prime Minister – and there’s very little chance of that – he would be no more likely to respect the democratic will of Scotland’s people than Boris Johnson. When it comes to the ‘Scottish problem’, there is not a scintilla of difference between them.

No British politician will respect Scotland’s democracy if doing so puts their precious Union in jeopardy. If you vote for any of the British parties, you are voting to be treated with contempt. There’s no need to be confused about that.



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Neither grit nor gumption

It is clear from the comments on this article (Corbyn to be quizzed over next indyref as he begins whirlwind Scottish tour) that I am far from being the only one who is utterly baffled by Nicola Sturgeon’s position. She concedes that the UK Government has the authority to disallow an independence referendum, but demands that they refrain from exercising that authority. Instead of maintaining that the requirement for a Section 30 order is illegal and unconstitutional, she insists that it is, in fact, the only ‘legal and constitutional’ process, but claims that it would be undemocratic for the UK Government to utilise the authority that the process affords it.

I just don’t get it! I’ve tried a dozen ways of putting into words what the First Minister’s position is, and there is no way that it makes any sense. It is certainly possible for something to be both lawful and undemocratic. But to say that something is constitutionally legitimate but undemocratic seems like an obvious contradiction in terms.

How can authority be democratic, but exercise of that authority not? Surely if acting on the authority is contrary to the principles of democracy, then the authority itself must be likewise.

Ruth Wishart wrote recently about how she has come to abhor the word “allow” precisely because of its use in the context of a new independence referendum. I suspect she will be as offended as I am at being told that “Jeremy Corbyn will be under pressure to say when exactly he will allow a second independence referendum”. Not, you will note, under pressure to explain what makes him suppose he has the authority to deny Scotland’s right of self-determination. Not under pressure to explain why the exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination should require his consent. Merely under pressure to say when he might give that gracious consent.

Of course, were he asked to justify his presumption, Corbyn need only refer to the words of Scotland’s First Minister, who has repeatedly conceded that authority. It’s hard to imagine anyone in the Scottish Government or the Scottish media putting him under any kind of pressure to justify, in terms of democratic principles rather than Nicola Sturgeon’s stated position, how anybody might have the power of veto over a nation’s right of self-determination.

Scotland’s political leaders evidently lack the grit and the gmption to challenge the asserted authority of the British state. And, of course, it suits the media to paddle in the shallow waters of trivial questions about when something might happen rather than venture into the deeps of why it is being allowed to happen at all. Why risk the dangerous currents of political controversy when it’s so easy to create a simple but titillating drama out of timing whilst remaining close to the shore of mass entertainment?

It would come as a tremendous shock to all if Corbyn were to specify when he would grant permission for the people of Scotland to exercise our right of self-determination – were he ever in a position to do so. That’s not how the game is played at all. He has to pretend that there is actually a likelihood of him being the British Prime Minister. He has to pretend that he would respect the right of Scotland’s people to decide the constitutional status of our nation. The Media and the politicians have to go along with this pretence. Everybody knows that it’s a sham. Everybody knows that, in the unlikely event of there being a British Labour government after the election, Corbyn will be every bit as bound by the imperative to preserve the Union as Boris Johnson or anyone else who might be a candidate for the role of British Prime Minister.

In terms of Scotland’s cause, it makes absolutely no difference whatsoever what the outcome of this election is. That outcome will be a British government and a British Prime Minister. And no British government or British Prime Minister is ever going to allow the Union to be put in jeopardy.

Which is why it makes no sense to concede that the British state has the rightful authority to disallow a referendum. Or to allow it only under conditions determined by the British political elite. If you accept that the British state has this authority, and that the authority is ‘legal and constitutional’, what possible grounds can there be to complain when that authority is used?



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I don’t do faith

Nicola Sturgeon may be “a believer in the power of democracy”, but her confidence that any British Prime Minister might accede to her ‘demand’ for a Section 30 order requires that they share her belief. Nothing that’s happened in British politics over the last thirty years or so persuades me that democracy has much to do with it,

The people have already demonstrated their desire for a referendum. The Scottish Government has a ‘triple-locked’ mandate. What is it about another mandate which makes the British political elite’s opposition unsustainable? They’ve been sustaining that opposition rather well up to now. What is it about yet another SNP election victory that is going to change their attitude? The First Minister declines to explain. So we are left with empty rhetoric.

Not granting a Section 30 order is both preferable and easy for the British Prime Minister. It doesn’t matter who the incumbent is, the role of British Prime Minister requires that the holder of the office be absolutely committed to the preservation of the Union. The notion that Jeremy Corbyn could be an exception would be naive in anybody. In the First Minister of Scotland it is positively outlandish.

Given that the British Prime Minister – whoever it may be – is bound by the imperative to preserve the Union; and given that they can so easily prevent a new independence referendum happening, to believe that they won’t is entirely a faith position. It is a belief of the same order as being absolutely convinced that you will win the lottery this weekend because… well… just because.

I don’t do fantasy politics. I don’t do faith positions. I don’t believe in magic. If something happens which appears to defy nature or logic, I want a rational explanation. I invite Nicola Sturgeon to explain what it is that is going to make her demand for a Section 30 order irresistible.

From where I stand, the First Minister’s strategy relies entirely on the goodwill, god grace and good faith of the British Prime Minister. Or some fluke by which the British Prime Minister fails to stop a new referendum despite this making no demands on them whatsoever. Or magic. I’m not seeing anything here that I’d be prepared to gamble Scotland’s future on. Evidently, Nicola Sturgeon sees something I don’t. What is it?



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