Unblocking the road

Joanna Cherry is probably mostly right. Peter Wishart is dependably Pete Wishart.

My support for Joanna Cherry’s position is qualified for two principal reasons. The first is that it needs to be made clear that, while the Scottish Government should certainly prepare for a court battle, it must not be the Scottish Government which initiates court action. To support the claim that it is proceeding as it is entitled to, the Scottish Government must proceed as if it was so entitled. Why should the Scottish Government initiate court action to establish the Scottish Parliament’s authority to facilitate the exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination if it is claimed that the Scottish Parliament already possesses this authority?

The purpose is not to establish either the right of self-determination or the Scottish Parliament’s competence but to assert these.

Consider the ‘optics’. Rather than seem to be trying to extract from the British government something they have the power to withhold how much better, and more honest, is it if the situation is presented as the British government trying to deny our democratic rights.

Also, I see no point whatever in asserting the right to have a pretend referendum. Suppose the court confirms that the Scottish Parliament has competence to facilitate a “consultative” referendum. That still leaves open the question of competence to facilitate the full and effective exercise of our sovereignty in deciding the constitutional status of our nation and choosing the form of government which best suits our needs. And isn’t that what we’re fighting for?

The Scottish Parliament has exclusive democratic legitimacy in Scotland. We cannot and must not settle for it having less than the powers which this entails.

Pete Wishart’s refrain is, as is customary, “Not yet!”. And his insistence on procrastination is as devoid of explanation or supporting argument as ever it was. He boldly asserts that losing a legal challenge would ” set the case for Indy back significantly”. But he doesn’t elaborate. Presumably, we are supposed to just take his word for it. We are not supposed to question his wisdom. Sorry, Pete! I question everything!

I ask the obvious and necessary questions. Where are we now? Where would we be should a court case be lost?

Where we are now is at a road-block in limbo. We are wholly committed to a process which crucially relies on the goodwill and good faith of the British political elite. So, a process which can never lead to a referendum and/or the restoration of Scotland’s independence. We are going nowhere. We have no possibility of going anywhere whilst committed to the Section 30 process. And there seems no way that this commitment can or will be abandoned.

Where will we be if the court doesn’t find in our favour? That very much depends on the precise nature of the action and of the court’s finding. But the worst-case scenario must be that the court upholds the British governments claim that the Scottish Parliament does not have competence to hold a constitutional referendum. (Note that it makes no difference whether this is in relation to a “consultative” or a full referendum. If one is ruled out, they both are. So why aim low?)

It might be argued that this makes us worse off because the British government now has court backing for its anti-democratic position. But all it really means is that the case goes to a higher court. Which is, at least, some kind of movement. And it is movement towards the highest court of all – the one presided over by the people of Scotland.

It is difficult to see how asserting the thing we are fighting for puts us in a worse position than not asserting it. The idea that independence will come if we just continue to accept the Union for long enough makes no sense whatever. There can be no momentum without movement. Right now, because of some bad choices, we are in a place where we have precious little room for movement. Either we remain stationary at the road-block in limbo, or we go drive on and defy the British government to try and stop us.



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The Cherry approach

Keith Brown says “the reality is that people want [a referendum] and they want it to be made in Scotland, not in Westminster”. Which begs the question, why then is the Scottish Government so obsessed with the Section 30 process which, by definition, affords Westminster a role in the making of Scotland’s referendum?

He goes on to say “the longer the Tories try to block a referendum the higher support for independence will rise”. Which sounds to me like an attempt to rationalise prevarication on the part of the Scottish Government. It sounds as if the ‘plan’ is to invite the British government to spit in Scotland’s face repeatedly in the hope that repetitious disrespect will move the polls without the need for the Scottish Government to actually do anything – other than take the credit if the polls eventually twitch into favourable territory.

Could there be a more undignified way to go about the business of restoring Scotland’s independence?

Apart from which, the obvious problem with this ‘plan’ is that disrespect from the British state is the norm that people in Scotland have learned to live with. We are inured to the contempt. What indignation there is gets vented on trivial matters such as Scottish banknotes being refused by some ill-trained checkout assistant in an English supermarket.

And so to Joanna Cherry. The Sunday National reports her as suggesting “as a way forward against the “current impasse” could be for Holyrood to pass a bill to hold an advisory referendum”. Although when we look at the actual quote we find that the word “advisory” doesn’t appear. The Sunday National may have reason to suppose Ms Cherry meant to say “advisory”. But given that she is both a proficient politician and a highly experienced QC, my assumption would be that she tends to say what she means, and mean what she says. And what she says is,

Having Holyrood pass a bill to hold a referendum could be part of a multi-faceted strategy to move us away from the current impasse and stop the constant and unproductive talk about Section 30 orders and seeking ‘permission’ to act from Westminster.

Until the Sunday National spoiled it by inserting the word “advisory” this was looking like it might at least hint at an eminently sensible approach. The only sensible approach. We know that the Section 30 process cannot provide a path to a new referendum and the restoration of independence, regardless of whether a Section 30 order is granted or refused. We know that there is no effective process that the British state will not deem ‘illegal’. We know that the referendum must be made and managed entirely in Scotland.

We know that the primacy of the Scottish Parliament on the basis of its democratic legitimacy must be asserted. We know that assuming competence to conduct the exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination would be a practical and viable way of both rejecting the sovereignty of the British parliament and asserting the sovereignty of Scotland’s people. We know that this is the necessary next step on the road to independence.

Taking Joanna Cherry at her word, I am fully behind her on this. Which means nothing, of course. But if enough of the Yes movement gets behind her – including SNP members – then Nicola Sturgeon will surely be compelled to rethink her approach to the constitutional issue.



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Seduced?

The National concludes an article on the latest frantic manoeuvrings in the grotesque Brexit farce with the words, “There was scepticism over how it would work.” In this instance, it was referring to a draft bill that “could see Brexit reversed”.

The bill would give the Prime Minister and Parliament six weeks to reach a consensus on a way ahead.

If they can’t agree, then May would be forced to either extend or revoke Article 50 unilaterally.

You can see why there are doubts about the viability of this scheme. But those eight words at the end of a piece in The National could apply to Brexit itself as well as pretty much everything Brexit-related. And particularly to all the measures being suggested as ways to resolve the situation created – or, at least, given force – by the 2016 EU referendum. There is cause for serious scepticism about how any such effort would work. They are products of denial about just how totally irreparable the situation is. Quite simply, Brexit can’t be fixed.

When David Cameron opened the can clearly labelled with a warning that the contents were potentially lethal he released a host of highly venomous worms. Those nasties are not going back in the can. To egregiously mix my metaphors, the genie of narrow, insular, xenophobic, supremacist British Nationalism isn’t for returning to its bottle. The Leave vote carried by England’s voters (with a little help from Wales) gave licence to the basest, meanest, shallowest and most mindless political dogmatism. No matter how it plays out, Brexit will poison British politics for decades to come.

Not even stopping Brexit will prevent this. In fact, revoking Article 50 would only serve to concentrate and strengthen the poison. Not that this should be seen as an argument against revoking Article 50. It is merely to point out that if this is done in the hope of resetting everything to some pre-Brexit state of relative political stability, then that is a woefully forlorn hope. Polls suggest that anti-EU sentiments are as prevalent now in England as they were in 2016. It’s as if the further the Brexit process descends into chaos the more support for it hardens. The more clear it becomes how much Brexit is going to hurt, the more a perversely macho and ominously militaristic ‘Empire / Dunkirk / Blitz / 19666 World Cup’ spirit is invoked. Desolation? Devastation? Ruination? Is that all you’ve got? Bring it on! We can take it! ‘Cos we’re British, innit!

The Mad Brexiteers are going to be just as angry at being denied the masochistic rapture of a catastrophic Brexit as others are at being subjected to its cruelty. That anger may dissipate over time. But it will do a lot of damage while it is a significant factor in British politics.

Brexit can’t be fixed. Not even by stopping it. Anybody working on the assumption that there is a way of resolving the Brexit situation is operating on a false premise. There is no resolution. No prevention. Only damage limitation.

But it is not only the ‘usual suspect’ who are hooked on the notion that Brexit can be fixed – either by changing it or by stopping it. The otherwise very sensible SNP also seems to have been entranced by the notion. Go the increasing annoyance of many in the party and the wider independence movement, Nicola Sturgeon et al seem to be prioritising relieving the UK of Brexit over relieving Scotland of the Union.

So intent is the SNP on saving England from its own folly that one of the most influential and, dare I say, revered figures in the party has recently set out a quite astounding proposal. speaking at an event in support of a ‘people’s vote’, Joanna Cherry MP said,

I believe that, ultimately, what may be required is a temporary cross-party UK Government to seek an extension of article 50, to hold a second EU referendum and then revoke art 50, before holding a General Election.

This is being talked about by many commentators, including influential commentators in Scotland such as Dr Kirsty Hughes of the Scottish Centre for European Relations and Lesley Riddoch the pro-independence journalist…

I confess, I had not heard this suggestion before. Or it might be more accurate to say that it hadn’t previously caught my attention. I may have seen some mention of the idea, but dismissed it for the nonsense it so evidently is. Not that this has prevented others enthusing about it. Lindsay Bruce, for example. penned an article for Wings Over Scotland in which he even suggests that this coalition might attract some “disgruntled Tories”. Think about that for a moment. The SNP subsumed into a UK coalition government dominated by British Nationalists and including Tories. Try selling that one on the doorsteps in Glasgow and Dundee!

Claims are made for the efficacy of this ‘unity government’ which rival in hyperbole even 1960s TV washing powder commercials. The amazing things it can do include, not only fixing Brexit, but getting Scotland a new independence referendum and a host of new powers for the Scottish Parliament in the meantime. It will, proponents assert, give Scotland a stronger voice in the British parliament and make everybody think the SNP is wonderful and persuade thousands of ‘undecideds’ that they should opt for independence. Truly, the Cillit Bang of coalitions.

But the claims made for this coalition idea are all empty assertions not supported by any facts, evidence or reasoned argument. Simply saying “the SNP will be better placed to ensure Scotland’s voice is heard” doesn’t make it true.

In reality, there is absolutely no reason to suppose that being subsumed in a coalition UK government dominated by British Nationalists would strengthen the SNP Westminster group’s position in any way. Even at an intuitive level, this seems exceedingly unlikely. Just putting the reality of the situation into words reveals how counter-intuitive is the notion that it makes the group better able to represent Scotland’s interests.

Fantasy politics and wishful thinking aside, being subsumed in a coalition UK government certainly doesn’t strengthen the SNP group and would almost certainly constrain it in ways that don’t apply to opposition parties. For all the unthinking enthusiasm greeting this notion in some quarters, I have yet to see any mention of a single thing that the SNP could do in such a coalition that it cannot do now. Nothing! Not a solitary thing.

We are assured that the SNP would be able to demand all sorts of concession in return for allowing itself to be subsumed in a British Nationalist coalition. But scrutinise this assurance for even a few seconds and it evaporates. Ask the important and relevant questions. Why would the SNP be offered any meaningful concessions? Why would they be offered any concessions at all? If such a coalition came about it would be politically impossible for the SNP to refuse to join it. Especially after having shown enthusiasm for the idea. British Labour, who would dominate the coalition, need only decline to offer any concessions and dare the SNP to put the coalition in jeopardy.

And even supposing concessions were offered, could the British Nationalists be trusted to honour their commitments? History suggests otherwise. History suggests you’d have to be a complete idiot to put your faith in any promises made to Scotland by any British party or politician. How easily some people forget.

Oh! But the coalition could stop Brexit! Or it could reopen the negotiations that the EU has stated emphatically will not be reopened! Really? This British Nationalist coalition will be dominated by British Labour. Do they look like they might be ready to revoke Article 50? How many of their MPs would rebel against such a move? And even if the EU could somehow be persuaded to reopen negotiations despite having stated repeatedly and with increasing insistence that they will not do so, does British Labour look any more capable of negotiating a ‘deal’ than their fellow British Nationalists in the Tory party? I don’t think so!

You can be absolutely certain that no SNP MP would be allowed anywhere near those negotiations. It is a flagrant denial of political reality to suppose that British Labour would want to strengthen the SNP in any way. They want to destroy the SNP. Anybody who hasn’t realised that by now must have their head up their arse. British Labour’s only reason for inviting the SNP into a coalition would be to control or constrain them. To limit their options. To weaken them. And they would only associate the SNP with the Brexit negotiations in order to blame them when things went wrong.

That’s real-world politics!

But let’s suppose there were concessions offered, despite British Labour having neither a need nor an incentive to do so. would they be meaningful at all? We’ve already seen how massively dubious is the notion that this coalition could or would stop Brexit. What about the ‘powers’ that might be promised to the Scottish Parliament?

Firstly, we have to acknowledge – if we’re being realistic – that all indications are that the British state is intent on reducing the powers of the Scottish Parliament – if not on abolishing it completely. This subject has thoroughly enough dealt with elsewhere, so there’s no need to rehash it now. We may simply note that the EU power-grab is a very real thing. As is the shadow administration being set up by David Mundell. Anybody who thinks that’s an end to the stripping of powers from Holyrood is deluded.

But this may not prevent the promising of further powers. So, if we have any sense, we must ask why the British establishment would promise new powers when its purpose is to undermine the Scottish Parliament. There are two reasons.

Devolution has always been more about withholding powers from the Scottish Parliament than granting them. Crucially, what is granted can be withdrawn. Real power is never given. Real power is taken. Power that is given is not real power. But in light of the licence given to it by the No vote in 2014, the British establishment went further. Rather than being a tool by which the power of the Scottish Parliament could be controlled, devolution was forged into a weapon to be wielded against the hated SNP. The manner in which limited powers over such as tax and welfare were framed was intended to set numerous political and fiscal traps for the SNP administration. This too is a topic which has been dealt with at length elsewhere. The only reason there is not more evidence of these political and fiscal traps is that the SNP administration showed itself to be remarkably adept at avoiding them.

What does this have to do with powers which might be offered to the Scottish Parliament for the purpose of luring the SNP into a coalition? Quite simply, with the EU power-grab the British state now controls procurement and standards. It has always controlled the budget. Budget! Procurement! Standards! Control these, and you control everything. Whatever powers may be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, policy can always be ‘guided’ in whatever direction the British state desires through its control of the key powers.

Powers promised as part of any coalition deal would be completely meaningless. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be offered.

It is, when you stop to think about it, blindingly obvious that the SNP has nothing to gain from allowing itself to be subsumed in a British coalition. And that’s before we consider the damage that would be done in terms of support for the party. The independence cause has nothing to gain from this daft coalition idea. The new referendum that might be promised and then might be allowed to actually happen is already ours. It is not in the gift of Westminster.

A Section 30 concession could be an even worse trap than those devolved tax and welfare powers. Going down the Section 30 route means accepting that the referendum could only go ahead on the basis of an agreement between the two governments. Edinburgh Agreement 2! The British government need only seek to impose unacceptable conditions – such as a qualified majority – and there’s no agreement and therefore no ‘legal’ referendum. The independence cause is advanced not one millimetre.

More importantly, Scotland gains nothing from the SNP being subsumed in this putative British Nationalist-dominated coalition. The party that is supposed to be Scotland’s voice in Westminster would be all but entirely silenced. If you think the British media ignores the SNP now wait until they are in a coalition with Jeremy Corbyn as its official spokesperson.

Of course, this multi-party coalition is too unlikely to be taken seriously. But it must be of some concern that senior figures in the SNP and the Yes movement are even talking about such a thing. It suggests to me that they have lost sight of the goal. They have been fatally distracted by Brexit. And, perhaps, fatally attracted to the convoluted games of British political. Too intent on proving how good they are at playing those games.

This is deeply regrettable. The idea that there is a path to independence through the arcane workings of Westminster is sheer folly. No matter how adept SNP MPs may be at navigating the maze. Scotland’s rightful constitutional status will not be restored by becoming part of apparatus of the British state. The very thing we seek to break with.

If Joanna Cherry is offering an insight to the way SNP MPs are thinking; if they truly have been seduced by British politics to the extent that she implies, then it is clearly well past time we brought them home.


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