Endeavour to persevere!

Mike Russell’s column in the Sunday National stressing the importance of maintaining a positive attitude and “keeping going” falls a bit flat. Not that he is wrong. The current public health crisis has just the elements of threat, uncertainty, lack of control and isolation which can trigger despair. It is important to talk up whatever positives can be found in such an extraordinary situation both for the sake of our own mental well-being and as a counter to those who take delight in emphasising and exaggerating the negatives. What can’t be cured must be endured! Dwelling on inconveniences and misfortunes over which you have no control is seriously unhelpful. There is almost always an upside. Find it and put it at the forefront of your thinking. Congratulate yourself on how well you’re coping. Keep going.

The words that popped into my head as I read Mike Russell’s piece were “Endeavour to persevere!”. You might immediately suppose this to be an allusion to the eponymous inspirational poem by George Wootton. I confess, however, that I was unaware of this gentleman and his works. More prosaically, I was put in mind of a scene from the 1976 Clint Eastwood movie The Outlaw Josey Wales in which the character Lone Waite – played memorably by Chief Dan George – recounts an ‘inspirational’ anecdote of his own.

I wore this frock coat in Washington, before the war. We wore them because we belonged to the five civilised tribes. We dressed ourselves up like Abraham Lincoln. We only got to see the Secretary of the Interior, and he said: “Boy! You boys sure look civilised!” he congratulated us and gave us medals for looking so civilised. We told him about how our land had been stolen and our people were dying. When we finished he shook our hands and said, “Endeavour to persevere!” They stood us in a line: John Jumper, Chili McIntosh, Buffalo Hump, Jim Buckmark, and me — I am Lone Watie. They took our pictures. And the newspapers said, “Indians vow to endeavour to persevere.”

We thought about it for a long time, “Endeavour to persevere.” And when we had thought about it long enough, we declared war on the Union.

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Now, I’m not saying that Mike Russell’s encouraging words are as empty as the rote platitude offered by the unnamed politician in Lone Watie’s tale. But his stress on “keeping going” is strangely at odds with pronouncements by other politicians – notably, Nicola Sturgeon. She, you will surely recall, was at great pains to insist that the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence should most definitely not keep going. It must stop – completely and immediately. Keeping going is, it would seem, good advice so long as you don’t keep going with the things that certain people would rather weren’t kept going. Endeavour to persevere, by all means. But on the strict condition that you’re persevering only with endeavours which don’t inconvenience certain vested interests.

It’s not only Nicola Sturgeon who wants to be selective on our behalf about where and how our perseverance is applied. One of the emerging tropes of the current public health crisis is the diverse ways in which we are importune to be mindful exclusively of Covid-19. The many variations on the familiar theme of “Now is not the time!”. It seems that whatever one ventures to discuss that is not immediately virus-related someone will respond with “Now is not the time to be thinking about [whatever]!”. There seems to be no topic other than the pandemic and its impact which one will not be chastised for broaching. The back burner is getting decidedly crowded.

There are exceptions, of course. Just as everybody has a seemingly endless list of things that can or must be put off until after Covid-19 has been ‘dealt with’, so they tend to have some issue deemed too important to be deferred. In marked contrast to the independence campaign in Scotland, time and attention must be reserved for the Brexit process. Now is always the time for pet projects and personal hobby-horses.

I find this odd. After all, many and perhaps most of us find ourselves with an unusual amount of time on our hands. This must be so as employment is reserved for those deemed essential while the rest of us are required by law to stay almost entire within the confines of our homes. We are not permitted to do anything that might involve coming withing two metres of other people. Which means we are prohibited from doing most of the things that we would otherwise be doing. We can’t all be occupied testing mucus, stitching face-masks or re-purposing vacuum cleaners as ventilators. You’d think most of us would have plenty time to ponder what would be the important issues of the day were it not for the pandemic, and will inevitably still be the important issues once the prohibition on thinking about anything other than Covid-19 has been lifted.

One might almost think our politicians were aware of this and rather anxious about the possibility of the proletariat using new-found free time to study and reflect upon and discuss those important issues. There is just a hint of desperation about the way we’re selectively told that “Now is not the time!” for this or that. The eagerness with which we’re urged to keep on keeping on is somewhat undermined by then being told not to keep on going here or there. We’re not quite in the realm of control-freakery. But we’re on the border.

If we must endeavour to persevere why can’t we choose what we endeavour to persevere with? Why can’t we endeavour to persevere with whatever we think is important? If we are to keep on keeping on, why should we not take advantage of the chance to keep on keeping on with things that we would normally be distracted from by the demands of work and the pleasures of socialising?

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Won't somebody think of the millions

One of things about writing a blog that is the source of much fun and often a deal of frustration is the process of deciding what to write about. Obviously, when you’re a politics anorak like myself there are the major political topics of the day. Occasionally, however, there’s just nothing that pokes your imagination with a sharp stick. You look at the news web sites and it’s wall-to-wall scandal involving some celebrity or royal or politician. If the streets are littered with journalists writhing in the throes of orgasmic ecstasy you can assume a particularly salacious story has broken involving one or more individuals combining the essential attributes of substantial wealth, unearned privilege, elected office and an uncommon (preferably unnameable) sexual peccadillo. That sort of stuff leaves me cold.

Then there’s the situation we have just now, What I call a mono-crisis. As the term suggests, and as is illustrated by the COVID-19 megafuss, this refers to the sort of incident or development that comes to occupy all the top spots on the news pages. The sort of thing that quickly becomes a hook on which to hang any and every piece of reporting and writing. When you scroll down a bit from Coronavirus death toll and find Coronavirus recipes you know you’ve got a mono-crisis.

Somewhere between these extremes you get the single-issue campaigns and hobby-horse issues trying to piggy-back on the mono-crisis frenzy while it lasts as well as the well-meaning advice and the ‘Lovejoys’ – collectively known a the colon pieces. (I hasten to point out that this refers to the punctuation mark and not the lower intestine.) Here’s an example from today’s Sunday National – Coronavirus: ‘We need new ways to protect women from violence’. This is not to diminish the issue of domestic violence. It is merely to illustrate a piggy-backing colon piece headline. No judgement on the article itself is implied or, indeed, possible given that I haven’t yet read it. There’s bound to be an article somewhere in today’s papers that brings together coronavirus and climate change and/or coronavirus and nuclear disarmament and/or coronavirus and some other hobby-horse issue. Often involving an appeal for charitable giving. Again, no judgement.

The Sunday National also provides an example of the advice variety of colon piece, although this time the colon is implied. How can you take care of your emotional well-being during COVID-19? In a lesser publication, this might well be a quick rewrite of a piece that appeared last November or early December under the headline How can you take care of your emotional well-being during the Festive Season?

What about the ‘Lovejoys’? Named for the character in The Simpsons this refers to the appeals to consider a particular demographic or special interest group. The line ‘Won’t somebody please think of the children!’ has passed into everyday language, often replacing ‘children’ with some other specific category of people. Recently, for instance, we’ve heard ‘Won’t somebody please think of the self-employed!’. You can probably think of your own examples. Again, I am obliged to state that these may well be deserving groups of individuals. I’m talking here about media, not people.

The point is that a mono-crisis breeds predictable offshoots of various sorts which pack the media and push everything else out of sight. Which may suit some people just fine.

One last mention of a particular type of offshoot – the gesture. This is the pieces urging people to make a common gesture to mark, celebrate or memorialise a date event or person. You know the sort of thing – ‘Put a candle in your window as an expression of the nation’s gratitude for the work done by candle manufacturers!’. That sort of thing.

The focus of the mono-crisis becomes almost like a commodity or a brand. Or even a celebrity. It is attached to all manner of things either to pique he interest of browsers or to fill the spaces between advertising material. Coronavirus/COVID-19 is no different. It gets used. It gets exploited in diverse ways. That’s neither necessarily a good thing nor a bad thing. It’s just the way people work. And the way the media work. It can be a good thing if it leads to people being better informed and more aware. It can be a bad thing if it trivialises a serious issue or misleads people.

The latter is an aspect of the mono-crisis phenomenon which is a significant concern. The mono-crisis can drag on for weeks or months or years. People being what they are, interest wanes. So there is always the temptation to embellish mono-crisis-related stories to make them more titillating. Just yesterday, I encountered some buffoon on Facebook talking about the population being “wiped out”. We may dismiss this as being of no consequence both because it is such an obvious and ludicrous exaggeration and because it’s on Facebook – where stupid goes to get a lobotomy. Research that I’ve just made up has shown that your IQ drops by one point for every hour spent on Facebook. The guy ranting about coronavirus wiping out populations had obviously been on Facebook for several days.

Early estimates put the case mortality rate no higher than 1%. That’s a much smaller percentage of all infections, around 80% of which will result in only mild symptoms and may not even be noticed. At population level the impact is negligible.*

It would be good if we could dismiss such nonsense. But how often have we found that today’s social media drivel is tomorrow’s Herald headline? One Facebook reference is enough foundation for some ‘journalist’ to author a piece ‘asking the question’ as to whether there is growing panic about mass deaths. The sort of article that offers solemn warnings about irresponsible exaggeration spiced with lurid language of the kind it purports to be condemning. MILLIONS WILL DIE! has the same effect as WILL MILLIONS DIE? when shouted from headlines.

I was thinking all this as I perused the papers looking for inspiration. The train of thought was prompted, in part, by Mike Russell’s comment piece in the Sunday National, the gist of which may be gathered from the headline – Politicians are solely focused on Covid-19 fight. That headline caught my attention. It is interesting, not so much for what it says, but for the reaction it is likely to prompt. It’s surely safe to assume that most people seeing that statement would feel reassured. They’d think it a good thing and a proper thing that politicians should be exclusively focused on the public health emergency. It is a mono-crisis, after all. We all know what ‘mono’ implies from common expressions such as ‘monotonous’, monosyllabic and ‘monomaniacal’. And we all know what a crisis is because there is never a time when we aren’t in the midst of a crisis, just recovering from a crisis or preparing for an imminent crisis. It’s appropriate that our politicians should be “solely focused” on the current mono-crisis. Isn’t it?

A few people – probably very few – would look at that headline and think to themselves that this exclusive focus on a single matter was extremely irresponsible. No matter how serious the issue, there are always other issues. Some of these are chronic and will deteriorate rapidly if not properly managed and overseen. We don’t elect politicians to deal with a single issue. We elect them to manage all the nation’s affairs. ALL the nation’s affairs! Either Mike Russell is indulging in a bit of rhetorical micturation or our elected representatives are being derelict in their duty.

Context is essential to a proper understanding of any situation. It allows us to bring to bear a sense of proportion. Of course, it is right that there should be concern for those affected by COVID-19. But what about the 99.997% of the population who will not die from coronavirus-related causes? Do they not deserve some consideration also? Should our politicians not be focusing at least partially on the future beyond this mono-crisis?

Another thing that nudged my neurons when considering what to write about today was a comment on a previous blog article. The individual posting the comment gave the impression of being incandescent with indignant out rage calling me “inhumane” and suggesting that articles such as mine should be the target of some kind of official censorship. My offence? Apparently, I am a monster because I wrote about the pandemic from the perspective of a political commentator rather than from the point of view of someone actually witnessing the suffering of the afflicted. It seems that this is the only perspective that is permissible. To even entertain in one’s private thoughts, never mind one’s published writing, the wider implications of the pandemic equates to some kind of heresy. Context is prohibited. A sense of proportion is forbidden. Proper understanding is improper. It all lends a new and ominous meaning to the term mono-crisis. Not only must we focus solely on the one issue, we must see it in only one way.

This comment had a profound effect on me. I decided not to write about coronavirus.

* https://www.vox.com/2020/3/5/21165973/coronavirus-death-rate-explained

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Lies and scapegoats

What Mike Russell might have said was he under the influence of some magical truth potion is that the Scottish Government is delighted to have an excuse for ‘calling off’ a referendum that was never going to happen. His letter to Gove is a device to reinforce the message that it’s not the SNP administration’s fault that the independence project is totally staled, it’s the virus. Mr Russell and his colleagues are hoping we’ll forget that the independence project was idling in a blind alley long before the COVID-19 outbreak hit the headlines. The campaign hasn’t moved since 2014. The public health emergency is not a reason or an explanation. It’s an excuse and a post hoc rationalisation.

It is important that people know this for the same reason it’s always important that people know when their government is trying to deceive them. Awareness aids prevention. Just as being aware of how contagion spreads and what can be done to protect against it improves your chances of avoiding infection, so awareness of official dissimulation improves your ability to resist manipulation.

Untruth is a disease that infects politics and weakens democracy. Like a virus, lies spread through society by various means. Like a virus, lies mutate in order to survive. Like a virus, lies disrupt the organism. Awareness is our best defence. It would be good if we could eradicate all the ‘bugs’ which cause disease, but those bugs are part of the matrix of life. Even if it were possible to wipe them out the consequences would be unknowable and potentially very harmful to the rest of the matrix. Similarly, deceitfulness is part of human nature. Eliminating it would require that we change all of human nature. Given that our success as a species is largely accounted for by the way we think and behave, tampering with the model might not be a good idea.

We have to live with lies just as we have to live with other disease-causing agents such as viruses. We have to both resist and accommodate them. Awareness is essential to both resistance and accommodation. If you can’t recognise lies or don’t understand how they work, you can’t develop resistance or discover what compromises can safely be made.

It’s all about power, of course. Everything is. All human interactions are transactions in power; a constant and largely unconscious bargaining process in which we seek to optimise our power so as to minimise our fear. The name for this process is ‘politics’. We may only call it politics when it moves sufficiently far from the realm of interpersonal relationships and into the realm of society, but it’s all politics. It’s all the same process. The social and societal life of every human being is one long political negotiation of relationships of power.

It is beyond ridiculous to imagine that this process can be stopped. It is beyond ludicrous to suppose that it might be possible to opt out of the process. And yet this is precisely what Nicola Sturgeon is insisting we do. Precisely what she is asking us to believe is feasible. And far too many people are falling for this deception.

Politics doesn’t stop for anything other than death and extinction. All that can be stopped is active participation in politics. Politics proceeds regardless of whether one participates or not. So the idea that the active participation of the independence campaign can be halted for a period of months and perhaps years without deleterious effect is borderline insane. When British Labour MP Ian Murray says “This is no time for constitutional politics.” he is talking delusional nonsense. Either that or he knows perfectly well that constitutional politics cannot be stopped and what he is actually doing is trying to get ‘wethepeople’ to self-isolate from it. To disengage. To cease and desist from participation.

The same is true of Mike Russell and Nicola Sturgeon. Although the underlying motives and motivations may be different, they are now just as eager as Murray and other British Nationalists to shut us out of ‘their’ politics. Quite simply, our engagement and participation threaten their power. So they orchestrate a deceit in order to put our engagement and participation on hold.

We know very well by now what drives British Nationalists. What we need to be aware of – and far too many aren’t – is that the cease and desist order from Nicola Sturgeon to the Yes movement is no different in its fundamental purpose from the British Nationalist ‘Say no to indyref2’ campaign with its portrayal of the democratic process as ‘divisive’ and of participation in that process as an onerous imposition. Both are intended to have use decouple ourselves from the political process and ‘leave it to the professionals’. Give them the power. It’s a ruse as ancient as politics itself. Power is relative. What better way to increase one’s own power than to dupe others into voluntarily relinquishing their power?

The SNP’s version of this well-worn old ploy differs only in the details of the motive. There was a growing realisation among activists and supporters that the independence campaign had been driven into a blind alley by Nicola Sturgeon. The rumblings of disquiet and dissent were growing even within the party. A tipping point was approaching at which the SNP’s power would be seriously threatened. That power is critically dependent on the financial and electoral support of the pro-independence constituency. Once it became evident to all that the SNP had not only dropped the independence ball but stabbed it, crushed it and set fire to it, then the supply of both votes and cash would dry up.

The COVID-19 outbreak is the perfect scapegoat for the SNP’s failure. If it hadn’t been the public health crisis it would have been something else. Although it is as difficult to see just what they might have pushed the blame onto as it is to discern how the independence campaign moves forward from here. Before COVID-19, the party was in a very serious quandary. No way forward. No way out. No options. No room for manoeuvre. Promises had been made which couldn’t be kept. Commitments had been made which couldn’t be met. Objectives had been set which couldn’t be reached. For professional politicians, this is both a nightmare and a disgrace.

So they lie to us. They tell us “all campaigning” must be “suspended”. That is a lie. There is never a good reason to disengage from constitutional politics because constitutional politics is absolutely fundamental to democracy. Obviously, the precise nature of the campaigning would have to change due to the restrictions necessitated by the public health crisis. But instead of encouraging us to adapt to the situation the SNP has sought to have us disengage. Why?

They tell us the independence campaign can be halted for the duration of the emergency and then picked up again afterwards. That is a lie! Politics doesn’t stop just because you disengage from it. Politics simply proceeds without you. For example, the Brexit fiasco and its attendant constitutional implications for Scotland. That isn’t being “suspended”. So, whenever Nicola Sturgeon decides it’s acceptable to resume normal levels of campaigning, the ground will have shifted. If the emergency is ‘managed’ in such a way as to drag it out for up to two years, as some are suggesting, the ground will have shifted on a tectonic scale. Resumption of business, as usual, will no more be possible for the Yes movement than for any other organisation that fails to move with events.

They tell us that COVID-19 is to blame. That it’s the virus which makes this disengagement by the Yes movement necessary. That is a lie! It is inevitable that the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence will be affected by the crisis. But the manner in which it is being affected and the extent to which it is being impacted are entirely matters of political expediency. And everybody in Scotland needs to be aware of this.

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A wise move?

Once again, a Minister in the SNP administration offers us rousing rhetoric and encouraging noises but nothing of substance. Mike Russell assures us that independence is coming, but says not a word about how. He says a new referendum this year is “perfectly feasible”, but fails to explain how such a hope can be sustained in the face of the First Minister’s commitment to the Section 30 process.

He urges the people of Scotland to campaign and argue for a new referendum as if that wasn’t what most of us have been doing while he and his colleagues were preoccupied with Brexit. What he doesn’t tell us is how all this campaigning and arguing can have any effect on a British political elite which has not the smallest regard for democratic principles and only contempt for Scotland and its people.

Mike Russell proclaims his belief that “faced with the choice of Brexit Britain or an independent membership of the EU” the people of Scotland would choose the latter. But his belief can be no more than a faith position unless and until it is supported by a credible strategy for making it something more. We don’t need belief. We don’t need a faith position. We don’t need mere fine words. What we need is a practical plan to achieve a positive outcome. And we need Mike Russell or someone at least as senior in the Scottish Government to explain how the Section 30 process can be consistent with any credible strategy or practical plan to facilitate the exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination.

I cannot imagine Mike Russell is unaware of the fact that the administration he serves in has taken the independence project down a blind alley. I do not suppose him to be totally oblivious to Scotland’s true predicament or the growing clamour for action to deal with that predicament. Where are the proposals for such action? Where are the ideas? Where is the sense of urgency?

Is there no-one close to the SNP leadership who is passing on the concerns of those who see the Section 30 process as the trap that it clearly is? Personally, I had hoped Mike Russell would fulfil this role. Perhaps he intends to do so. Perhaps that is why he has given notice of his intention to quit. Maybe he is setting himself up to challenge the First Minister on her stubborn commitment to a process which is wholly dependent on obtaining the willing and honest cooperation of the British government. Maybe he is getting ready to propose a change of approach to the constitutional issue ahead of the SNP’s postponed Spring Conference. Maybe he has decided he has nothing to lose and, by announcing his decision to stand down has neutralised any leverage the First Minister might have had.

Somehow, this doesn’t seem believable. It doesn’t sound much like Mike Russell. And surely if he was about to make some proposals for taking the independence projet forward then he would want to stick around to see it through.

It could, of course, be that Mr Russell has simply had enough and wants to retire. That would be understandable. But he is an astute politician. He must have known that the announcement of his decision to bring his parliamentary career to a close would spark speculation. His motives were always going to be the subject of much conjecture. Some might even suppose that he is anticipating the backlash as more and more people realise how bad the situation is and has decided to remove himself from the scene before the mob arrives armed with a battery of awkward questions. I can only commend the wisdom of such a choice.

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Lost moments

There is a whiff of desperation about Mike Russell’s continuing efforts to provoke the elusive “Brexit Bounce” which was supposed to push the polls high enough to perhaps overcome the inertia which has left the independence campaign in a parlous state and Scotland’s predicament more precarious than ever. Mr Russell does a pretty good job of describing that predicament. But I see nothing here that suggests a plan for rescuing Scotland from the looming threat of British Nationalism, not to mention the latest and most ominous incarnation of the ‘Greater England Project’.

The Scottish Government, it appears, is still pinning all its hopes for the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence on anger at a catastrophic Brexit being imposed on Scotland. The impact of this public outrage on the polls is always just around the corner – except when it’s just over the horizon. It’s been imminent for long enough to have necessitated repeated revision of the time-scale to which the term applies. That time-scale has been expanded from months to years and could well be further stretched to decades.

If there was to be a “Brexit Bounce” then it should have started to be apparent within days of the EU referendum as it became evident that Scotland’s democratic will would be treated with customary contempt by the British political elite. Yet here we are, approaching four years later and those polls have barely twitched out of margin of error territory. Taking account of the fact that the entire Brexit debacle has been considerably worse than foretold by all but the most woeful Jeremiads, it would not be unreasonable to expect that the polls would be favouring Yes by around ten points more than they are.

But still Mike Russell clings to the hope that the “Brexit Bounce” is just waiting in the wings ready to make an appearance calculated for greatest dramatic effect. It seems that this “Brexit Bounce” was a crucial element of the administration’s strategy. Without it, the strategy stalls.

We are entitled to wonder why the Scottish Government chose to be so totally reliant on something that is so much out of its control. Public perception of Brexit was always going to be more important than the reality. And the machinery for manipulating public perception is almost entirely in the hands of the British establishment. Thus, despite all the doom-laden rhetoric from Mike Russell and Ian Blackford and the rest what the public has perceived is, not an unfolding disaster, but an ongoing farce. Brexit is seen more as a tediously unfunny comedy than as an alarmingly developing catastrophe.

The SNP has been trying to keep Brexit in the exclamation marked headlines while the British propaganda machine has been deployed to relegate it to the ‘meanwhile’ section. We know which is the most effective.

There are a perhaps surprising and certainly disturbing number of people ‘out there’ who fail to realise the importance of understanding the problem in order to develop a solution. How often do we see criticism of the SNP’s approach to the constitutional issue met, not with a considered response to the critique, but with vitriolic condemnation of the critic’s ‘disloyalty’ and diversionary demands for their alternative? How often do we see people insisting that no criticism of Nicola Sturgeon’s strategy can possibly be valid unless it is accompanied by a suggested alternative strategy? How often do we see that alternative itself declared invalid so as to avoid the need to respond meaningfully to the concerns being expressed?

How might it be possible to develop an effective strategy while the attitude prevails that only the existing strategy can possibly be effective? Even in the face of the increasingly evident failure of that strategy?

Instead of obdurately depending on the phantom “Brexit Bounce” and persistently promising its appearance Mike Russell and his colleagues should be asking why it has not happened. And they should be prepared to entertain posited explanations – from whatever source – rather than ignoring or dismissing them.

My own explanation would be that the SNP has made the same mistake as the party made in the 2014 referendum campaign. It has let the Brexit issue be taken into the realm of economics rather than constitutional politics. The crucial point about Brexit was (is?) the fact that its imposition on Scotland in contemptuous disregard of the will of Scotland’s people represented a particularly egregious manifestation of the constitutional injustice of the Union. Rarely has there been a clearer demonstration of the inherently anti-democratic nature of the Union.

That is what the SNP should have focused on while encouraging the Yes movement to do likewise. The imposition of Brexit on Scotland by the British state should have prompted an immediate all-out attack on the Union. The economic stuff could have been left to the Scottish Government.

Instead of a short, sharp, focused onslaught against the Union, we’ve had a prolonged ‘poor us’ moan-fest about Boris Johnson and the Tories accompanied by a litany of economic doom-mongering of the very sort that was deployed by Project Fear and which we had urged people to ignore.

Instead of an assault on the cause of the problems we’ve had a repetitive recounting of the symptoms and accounts of the prognosis which are no less monotonous for being ever more horrific.

All of which is grist to the mill of the portentous rhetoric that has become Ian Blackford’s favoured schtick in the British parliament and excellent material for Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp’s presentations. But it bores the skitters out of your average punter. It fails to engage the disengaged. It fails to inspire the apathetic.

If there was to be a “Brexit Bounce” it would be driven by righteous and justified anger at a constitutional outrage. It was never going to be provoked by cold calculation of economic consequences.

The opportunity to boost the independence campaign offered by Brexit has been squandered. The moment is gone. And there is nothing Mike Russell can do to bring it back.

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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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Choosing sides

Five years ago mine was one of very few voices warning of the British Nationalist threat to Scotland’s democratic institutions. It seemed obvious to me that, not only did the ‘One Nation’ project require the emasculation or closure of the Scottish Parliament, but that the political culture growing in England could not tolerate the continuing existence of a contrasting and competing political culture in Scotland. An effort to eradicate Scotland’s distinctive political culture would be inevitable. Such distinctiveness is anathema to British Nationalist ideology and contrary to the interests of the forces which have put Boris Johnson in power.

I mention this not by way of saying “Ah telt ye!” – although I reserve the right to do so – but by way of highlighting how significant it is that my warnings are now being vindicated by politicians as senior as Mike Russell.

I just responded to a Tweet from a businesswoman saying that, only a week or two ago, she would have considered my anxieties misplaced and my calls to action “extremist”. Her views have changed. People are waking up to the true nature of what I refer to as the British state, or England-as-Britain. By which I mean those forces which have co-opted Boris Johnson to serve their interests. The very forces which, by means of the Union, have foisted Johnson on Scotland in the same way as they have imposed on an unwilling nation Brexit and austerity and much besides.

Please do not imagine that those forces will be discouraged by this growing awareness of their purposes and intentions for Scotland and the rest of what they regard as the periphery of their domain. Do not imagine they will be in any way deterred by Mike Russell’s warning. Just as these forces see democracy and the law as things to be flouted or circumvented, so they see democratic dissent as something to be suppressed. From the British Nationalist perspective, the most effective way to suppress the wave of democratic dissent rising in Scotland is to eliminate the Parliament which gives a voice to that dissent. It is the obvious thing to do if your purpose and intent is the eradication of Scotland’s distinctive political culture, along with all those aspects of Scotland’s national identity which are not considered exploitable.

Gratifying as it is to see our political leaders recognising the real and imminent threat to Scotland’s democracy, this is worthless unless it is backed up with action. Both Nicola Sturgeon and Mike Russell have now acknowledged the reality of this threat. Many other politicians and commentators will surely follow. We need to know that they are prepared to effectively address this threat. We need to know that they are ready to do whatever is required to counter the threat. And we need to back them to the hilt as they confront the might of the British state.

Scotland’s Unionists are faced with a choice. It is important that those of us who long since realised the true nature of the Union should be mindful of how difficult this choice is going to be for many who have maintained a lifelong loyalty to the Union. But choose they must. Scotland is in jeopardy of a kind that it has faced only rarely in it’s long history. Jeopardy such as might sensibly be regarded as unprecedented. Sometimes, you just have to pick a side. Sometimes the choices are just so stark that there can be no compromise; no middle way.

The choice now confronting everybody who calls Scotland their country is between the Scotland we know, the Scotland we aspire to, the Scotland we hope to bequeath to future generations; and a Scotland pressed into serving those forces which put Boris Johnson in power.

What side are you on?

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The right way

Mike Russell will be doing no more than stating the obvious if he chooses to tell the SNP Conference that restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status must be done “the right way”. Who is arguing that it should be done the wrong way? This is just one of those glittering generalities with which politicians like to pepper their speeches to gatherings of the party faithful. It’s emotionally appealing. Even intellectually appealing, in a very superficial way. As with most such rhetorical devices, the glitter starts to come off once we start to ask the kind of questions the rhetoric is intended to preempt and evade.

Precisely what is meant by “the right way”? The glibly facetious answer, of course, would be “my way”. Saying that things must be done “the right way” is not dissimilar to insisting that “there is no other way”. In the family of propaganda phrases, they are close cousins. Both refer, not to a policy or course of action which is provably necessary or preferable according to any objective criteria. Glittering generalities, by definition, allude to high value concepts which tend to attract approval even in the absence of any solid information or reasoned argument. When a politician says “there is no other way” people are likely to solemnly agree whether or not they know what the “way” is, and without considering whether there are alternatives. It is a lightly disguised emotional appeal to the desire to be regarded as realistic and sensible. Or to avoid being labelled a woolly-minded dreamer who fails to appreciate the harsh realities.

Likewise, nobody wants to be perceived as being inclined to do things wrongly. So, when a politician states that things must be done “the right way”, we will tend to respond unthinkingly with approval. This approval is then associated with whatever “way” said politician is proposing even though the details remain unspecified.

Obviously, Mike Russell’s speech to Conference will be intended to gain approval for the course of action set out by Nicola Sturgeon in her recent statement on a new independence referendum. The glittering generality about doing things “the right way” is intended to attract such approval in spite any misgivings about that course of action. Or doubts about the appropriateness of the word “action”.

Just as “no other way” is supposed to steer us away from asking about alternatives, so “the right way” is meant to prevent questions about how this claim is justified on behalf of the SNP leadership’s chosen course of action.

It seems to me that, in relation to taking forward the cause of independence, there are two contending definitions of “the right way”. The British way involves recognising the concept of parliamentary sovereignty. It involves accepting the supremacy of Westminster. It involves allowing that “the right way” is whatever way the British state defines. It involves legitimising the authority of the British political elite to decide the rules and control the process by which constitutional change might happen.

It necessarily and inevitably involves denying the sovereignty of Scotland’s people – even while insisting that the people of Scotland are sovereign. It involves an intractable contradiction. Either the people of Scotland are sovereign, or our democratic will can be overruled by a clique of British politicians. Both things cannot be true.

Let’s just be clear that, when Mike Russell talks about “the right way”, he is referring to the British way. When he trots out the glittering generality, this is what he is asking SNP members to approve.

I have another definition of “the right way”. I maintain that “the right way” must adhere to fundamental democratic principles. I maintain that the principle of popular sovereignty must be upheld in all circumstances. I maintain that there can be no compromise with the alien doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty which is not fatal to the principle that all legitimate political authority derives from the people. I maintain that the sovereignty of the people is absolute and inalienable.

I maintain that the right of self-determination is absolute and inalienable.

I maintain that there is the “right way”, and there is the British way. And these are totally irreconcilable.

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Worthy winners

Ian Blackford had a hard act to follow in Angus Robertson and it would not be contentious to say that, for many in the SNP, his background in the financial industry made him a controversial choice to lead the SNP group at Westminster. I think we can safely say that all such doubts have been dispelled by Blackford’s performance in the role.

It might be argued that Jeremy Corbyn’s all but total abdication of his duty as leader of the official opposition in the British parliament provided Blackford with a relatively easy opportunity to shine. It could equally be said that he had exceptional responsibility thrust upon him and that he has acquitted himself admirably in the face of growing hostility towards SNP MP’s and increasingly bitter contempt for Scotland at the heart of the British political system.

Mike Russell’s appointment as Scotland’s Brexit Minister also raised a few eyebrows. Not that anybody doubted his abilities. You don’t survive five years as Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning without being an adroit politician and tough operator. But there was a certain feeling that Mike Russell’s political career had peaked and that, in selecting someone in the “twilight stage of his political career”, Nicola Sturgeon may have been underestimating just how demanding the Brexit brief was going to be.

As it turned out, Ms Sturgeon’s judgement has been fully vindicated. The Brexit brief has even more demanding than anyone could have imagined. And Mike Russell has been more than up to the task. It is no exaggeration to say that he has been outstanding in the role and totally worthy of the confidence the First Minister had in him.

Given the way SNP MPs are treated by the British political elite, and the manner in which the British establishment has sought to exclude the Scottish Government from the Brexit process, it might be tempting to cast Ian Blackford and Mike Russell in the role of underdogs. I prefer to think of them as unlikely heroes. Unquestionably, they are deserving joint winners of The National’s politician of the year accolade.

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Mystery prize?

I am baffled. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why Mike Russell continues to cling to the hope that there might be a “better deal for Scotland” in sight. There is no reason to suppose that Jean-Claude Juncker is only joking when he says there will be no return to the negotiating table if the ‘deal’ is rejected by the British Parliament. There is no way for the EU to offer Scotland a separate arrangement keeping us within the European single market and customs union. And it’s an absolute certainty that the British government isn’t going to seek such an arrangement on Scotland’s behalf – or agree to it if, by some unknown means, the EU were to make the offer despite having said that there would be no further negotiation. So, where is this ‘deal’ going to come from? Who are these “others” with whom the Scottish Government is going to work in order to secure the ‘deal’?

Mike Russell does not strike me as the type to indulge in wishful thinking. Presumably, he has identified some way that a special arrangement for Scotland might be achieved. Presumably, he has a realistic hope of success in this venture. I just can’t figure out how. What am I missing?

I sincerely hope I’m missing something. Because the alternative is that Mike Russell’s talk is just another delaying tactic putting off the moment when Nicola Sturgeon must take some kind of decisive action to resolve the constitutional issue. If, as I strongly suspect, this special deal for Scotland is a political impossibility, then talk of it can only be an attempt to rationalise more of the waiting which seems to have become established as the Scottish Government’s main strategy.

There really can’t be any justification for further delay. Even if a deal to keep Scotland within the European single market and customs union was a realistic prospect, it is not what we voted for. It would not negate that 62% Remain vote. To even consider such a deal is to contemplate compromising Scotland’s democracy in a manner and to an extent that even those who understand the rationale for compromise will find very hard to accept.

It’s not all or only about Brexit. Even if it were possible to significantly mitigate the impact of Brexit, as Mike Russell appears to believe, this would do absolutely nothing to address the grotesque constitutional anomaly which makes it possible for the British ruling elite to treat Scotland with utter contempt. And inevitable that they will continue to do so.

So long as we are bound by the anachronistic, anti-democratic Union, the people of Scotland will be denied full and effective exercise of our sovereignty. If we accept Scotland being dragged out of the EU contrary to the will of the people – regardless of the terms – then we will be expected to endure further and greater abuses at the hand of a British political elite resolved to impose its ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist ideology on Scotland.

It is time for Mike Russell and all of us to acknowledge that, even if there was some Brexit ‘deal’ that we’d be prepared to accept, however reluctantly and at whatever cost, beyond that lies another affront to our democracy and insult to our pride that we will not wish to tolerate. And beyond that, another. on and on. Worse and worse. Until we end the Union.

Why wait? It is time!

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