Over to you, Nicola!

It was the best of elections. It was the worst of elections. It was certainly a good election for the SNP. But it was always going to be a good election for the SNP. It was only a question of how good. Despite the efforts of a party leadership which often behaved as if winning wasn’t their first priority and candidates who too often looked like the very concept of campaigning was unfamiliar and not well understood, the SNP did better than even the starry-eyed fantasists among the faithful had expected. I don’t recall any poll or pundit predicting 45% of the vote or 47 seats. (48 if we include Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath, spectacularly won by Neale Hanvey who was only an SNP candidate on paper having succumbed to the party’s passion for suspending and expelling members to appease whoever wants to be appeased. We’ll come back to that.)

But it was also a good election for Boris Johnson and the Mad Brexiteers. Not in Scotland, of course. Although perhaps not as bad as they might have feared. At UK level, which is all ‘One Nation’ British Nationalists supposedly care about, the Tories’ Christmas came early. Bad Santa brought them a majority which effectively means the lunatics now own the asylum.

In other news, British Labour is a joke and the Liberal Democrats are a dirty joke. It seems I was wrong about Corbyn. I had thought him merely ineffectual. It turns out that he is actually quite effective – at losing! I considered it unlikely that he would make much of an impact. Certainly much less of a transformative impact than was believed by those who saw him as some kind of socialist Messiah. In fact, he has presided over a decline in British Labour’s electoral fortunes that pretty much eliminates them as a significant force in UK politics and all but certainly gifts power to the Tories for the next decade at least.

In other words, he has done precisely the opposite of what he was supposed to do. At a minimum, it had been hoped that he would keep British Labour in contention and progressive politics in England-as-Britain alive, even if on life-support. Instead, he has officiated at the funeral of both and left the field to a rampantly triumphalist Boris Johnson. Nice one, Jeremy!

The Liberal Democrats differed from British Labour only in that nobody – other than the dementedly deluded Jo Swinson – expected them to do anything politically useful. And nobody who’d seen or heard Swinson either expected them to do well in the election or, indeed, wanted them to do anything other than embarrassingly badly. They duly obliged. If pressed, I might concede that the blame for British Labour’s woeful performance can’t be laid entirely at Jeremy Corbyn’s door. But there is absolutely no doubt who shoulders the blame for the Liberal Democrats’ humiliation. Making her leader was the political equivalent of necking a pint of hemlock. It’s just one more thing about British politics which is totally inexplicable.

And that’s about all there is to say about the election outcome at UK level. It long since ceased to be appropriate to consider the UK as a single political entity even for the purposes of a Westminster election. A reality which even the BBC may be forced to accept sometime in the first half of the 21st century. Just the other day, a lady who exuded matronly Britishness remarked to me that, much as it saddened her heart to acknowledge it, Scotland really is a different country now. “Different and better?”, I ventured. To which she responded with a rueful half-smile and one-shouldered shrug which intimated that, while she may have been even more reluctant to acknowledge this, she was not prepared to attempt to refute it.

Scotland and England-as-Britain have diverged in ways and to an extent evident from everything except the way we are governed. Two separate nations with increasingly distinctive and incompatible political cultures, but with one forced to accept the political choices of the other. That is a situation which is not only untenable but infeasible. Which distinguishes it from an ongoing refusal of a Section 30 order request, which has famously been described as untenable but which is perfectly feasible. It is certainly true that such refusal cannot be justified or defended. But it is also the case that it doesn’t have to be justified or defended. It can simply be done.

It is within the powers of the British Prime Minister to refuse a Section 30 order request and there is absolutely nothing in the law that requires him or her to explain or justify their action. It is at least possible, if not probable, that not even the courts have the authority to demand an explanation or justification. And if the courts don’t have that authority, then they certainly don’t have the authority to overrule the British Prime Minister and order the granting of said Section 30 order. At the core of this issue is the principle of parliamentary sovereignty. It is exceedingly difficult to see how any court – and certainly any court furth of Scotland – could effectively strike down that principle and set itself above the British parliament.

This is not simply a question of parliamentary procedure or the interpretation of rules. This is a matter of law. If refusing a Section 30 order is not unlawful, then overruling the refusal can only be an overtly political act. It might have been possible for the Scottish Government to argue that the refusal of a Section 30 order is unlawful, citing a body of international laws and conventions. But not after the First Minister and other senior figures have declared that the Section 30 process is. not merely lawful, but the only process which is “legal and constitutional”.

The SNP cannot extract a Section 30 order from Boris Johnson and cannot proceed with a new independence referendum without one.

In the same way, although for different reasons, there is no way even 47 (or 48) SNP MPs can “stop Brexit”. They simply don’t have the power. Not, in this case, because they have inexplicably squandered what power they may have had, but because the nature of the Union is such that Scotland cannot ever have such power. The Union means that Scotland must always be subordinate. The Union means that Scotland’s interests can only ever be served, even partially and inadequately, if they happen to coincide with the interests of England-as-Britain. The divergence between the two nations makes such coincidental convergence of interests as close to impossible as makes no difference. Which makes the Union unworkable – at least so long as some semblance of democracy prevails.

But the fact remains that the combined force of an SNP administration in Scotland and a large SNP group of SNP MPs can do absolutely nothing to halt Brexit. Or to prevent Brexit being imposed on a clearly unwilling Scotland.

All of which is rather unfortunate given that securing a Section 30 order and stopping Brexit were two of the four promises that formed the basis of the SNP’s election campaign. The others being, “locking Boris out of Number 10” – now undeniably as daft an undertaking as it always was; and “putting Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands” – which brings us to the question that I have long been asking. The question that will surely now be asked by increasing numbers of people and with increasing impatience.

How does the SNP plan on honouring its promises to the people of Scotland?

In a letter published in The National on the eve of polling day, Selma Rahman put it rather well when she wrote that, after the election,

… most of all, I will need even just an inkling as to how pro-indy parties, led by the SNP, see the next months panning out: the outline of a strategy.

Selma is far from being alone in this. People are not stupid. For the most part, they are perfectly capable of figuring out that those election promises were empty rhetoric. They voted SNP despite those promises at least as much as because of them. They voted SNP because they are well aware that the consequences of doing otherwise are quite unthinkable. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Nicola Sturgeon is trusted in a way that is quite extraordinary for any politician. Trusted in a way which, at the extreme, shades into blind faith. But even those of us whose confidence in her personal commitment and political skill is firmly rooted in reason, there is a large element of giving her the benefit of the doubt; if only because there isn’t a lot of choice in the matter.

As dubious as we may be about Sturgeon’s ability to deliver on those promises, the alternative is to abandon hope altogether of Scotland’s independence ever being restored. Few of us are ready to give up on that hope. As Alex Salmond said, the dream shall never die.

The dream is not enough. Making that dream come true requires a plan of action. And we need to be assured that Nicola Sturgeon has such a plan. Don’t fob us off with trite platitudes and empty assurances. Give us more than glittering generalities and glib slogans. And don’t dare tell us we must have faith! We are a constituency of adults not a congregation of adherents! There can be no secret plan. There are no options that aren’t knowable by the opposition. All that stuff about not showing her hand is just the sort of infantile drivel that is making folk angry. It is too obviously what somebody would say if they didn’t have a plan to make it acceptable as an excuse for not answering questions about that plan.

Selma Rahman ended her letter with a warning.

Westminster better listen, cos you truly haven’t heard us roar, not yet.

She might well have directed that warning to Nicola Sturgeon. The people of Scotland have given her yet another mandate. Now, she must deliver. And it is for her to convince us that she has a plan to deliver. She has not heard us roar yet. But the election of Neale Hanvey in Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath may be regarded as Scotland clearing its throat ready to let rip. There is a message there for the SNP leadership if they care to listen. It is a message about loyalty. The message is that, should it ever come to a choice between Scotland’s party and Scotland’s cause, not even Nicola Sturgeon will be able to save the SNP.



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Vote Neale Hanvey!

Neale Hanvey is entitled to the presumption of innocence. Especially when the allegations against him are so dubious. His suspension from the party and the withdrawal of SNP support for his candidacy in Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath amount to a pusillanimous knee-jerk reaction to appease a small but clamorous mob of self-appointed morality police. The charge of anti-Semitism has not been proved and does not stand up to scrutiny.

Despite this, and regardless of what Hanvey himself said in his hasty and ill-advised apology, it cannot be right for Nicola Sturgeon to declare him guilty before there has been the disciplinary hearing to which he is entitled. She has preempted and prejudiced that hearing by telling The Courier that “What Neale Hanvey said was anti-Semitic…”..

The SNP has form on this. Several people have fallen victim to their crude summary ‘justice’. The idea of reciprocating the loyalty shown by members doesn’t seem to feature in the thinking of the party’s officials or leaders. The message is clear. If you are an SNP member and you are accused, do not expect the party to be there for you. No matter how vexatious or malicious the allegations may be, you will be instantly abandoned and disavowed.

Anti-Semitism is a form of mindless bigotry no less repugnant than any other. It is because it is such a serious charge that it should not be lightly accepted. Intent must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. It is not possible to be accidentally anti-Semitic because anti-Semitism is an attitude. It requires that the particular mindset be present. If an individual shares an image or makes a comment totally unaware that others find anti-Semitic connotations in them, that individual cannot be guilty of anti-Semitism because they cannot possibly know the content of everybody else’s mind.

To see anti-Semitism in the puppeteer cartoon the viewer would firstly have to recognise George Soros and be aware of his reputation. They would have to know that Soros is Jewish. They would have to object, not merely to economically powerful individuals manipulating politicians, but to Jewish people in particular doing so. The viewer who comes to this image lacking any of this knowledge and without that attitude cannot be guilty of anti-Semitism. It could very easily be argued that posting that image proves that Neale Hanvey is not anti-Semitic. Because if he had the slightest trace of anti-Semitism in his mind he would have recognised the connotations that those others see.

There are things which are clearly anti-Semitic. And there are things which are only anti-Semitic because somebody has defined them as such. None of us can possibly be cognisant of all the things that everybody else deems offensive. We cannot hold that database in our heads. We certainly cannot update it minute by minute as ever more individuals and groups deputise themselves in the morality police.

If we allow others the power to label things at will then we better be prepared to see that power misused. Never more so than when that power is totally unaccountable. When someone yells “anti-Semitism!” the accusation invariably goes unchallenged. Those in power tend not to question the accuser or scrutinise the allegation. They more commonly behave as the SNP does and consider the charge proved until it is disproved and without the accused having the opportunity to plead their case.

The dictates of simple fairness demand that Neale Hanvey get the benefit of any doubt that may exist. And the circumstances of the allegations against him which are in the public domain suggest that there is considerable room for doubt.

Hanvey is still a candidate in the Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath constituency. He is still on the ballot paper as the SNP candidate. The party may have withdrawn its support, but it cannot now withdraw his candidacy. For that reason alone, the party should have stood by him. They should at least have considered the possibility of doing so. They owed him that.

SNP activists and pro-independence campaigners in Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath must follow their conscience. If their first loyalty is to the party, they may feel obliged to follow Nicola Sturgeon’s orders. But if their priority is to elect an MP who will support the fight to restore Scotland’s independence while serving constituents, then they may campaign and vote for Neale Hanvey with a clear conscience.



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The dictates of conscience

Most SNP members will, I think, know what George Kay means when he refers to a “darker group”. When the existence and activities of this “darker group” are taken together with what many people – myself included – consider to be the highly dubious nature of the allegations against Neale Hanvey this whole affair begins to look far from as clear-cut as Nicola Sturgeon suggests.

The Neale Hanvey affair raises a number of issues – all of them controversial. These include matters relating to the SNP’s internal disciplinary procedures; the activities of pressure groups within or close to the party; broader questions of loyalty and trust; and, of course, the issue of freedom of expression and the limits imposed on it.

All of these issues must be set aside for the time being. Important as they are, they must not be allowed to distract from the most immediate and pressing task – maximising both the number of pro-independence MPs and the SNP vote. This should be the only consideration for pro-democracy voters in the Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath constituency.

Being realistic, however, we have to accept that people can hardly help but be influenced to some extent by recent events. Nobody can tell them who to vote for. But any political party is entitled to expect that its members will support and campaign for the official candidate. They are certainly entitled to have rules against party members supporting and campaigning for candidates other than the official one. You’ll notice that Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t suggest SNP activists go to work for the Scottish Greens candidate. The rules apply to the party leader the same as to everyone else.

Asking SNP members to direct their efforts to helping official party candidates in neighbouring constituencies seems reasonable enough. Until we consider what these elections are really supposed to be about. The fundamental purpose is to elect the individual considered by the largest number of voters in a constituency to be the best person to represent the constituency’s inhabitants at Westminster. Elections have become all about parties and leaders. Which isn’t an entirely bad thing. Political parties are, after all, the means by which citizens exercise collective power in the sphere of public policy. And party leaders have a very important role to play, as Nicola Sturgeon is so amply demonstrating. But that fundamental purpose remains. We vote for candidates to represent our community as well as for parties to represent our ideology or political aims.

Campaigning for official candidates in neighbouring constituencies satisfies the latter, but not the former. It’s a question of how much weight we afford each of these purposes. Personally, I would not be uncomfortable with the idea of campaigning for candidates elsewhere. We do that in by-elections anyway. What would trouble me is not campaigning for a local representative. That seems like forsaking an important democratic responsibility.

Ultimately, we all vote according to the dictates of our conscience. We each must decide our own priorities. Voters in Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath simply have more to consider than most of us. For some, it will be easy. The party has declared Neale Hanvey persona non grata. Nicola Sturgeon herself has pronounced him guilty of making anti-Semitic comments despite the fact that he denies holding such views and without any kind of hearing that I am aware of. For some party members, that will be enough.

But what if, having interrogated your conscience, you still believe Neale Hanvey is the best person to represent you and your community in the British parliament? What if you have serious doubts about his guilt? What if you have reason to suspect he has been maliciously targeted by some “darker group”? What if you believe in due process and the presumption of innocence? What if you have a well developed sense of fairness?

I don’t live in the Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath constituency. I don’t know Neale Hanvey. It’s not for me to judge whether he might be the best MP for that community. But, having pondered the other issues, I cannot in good conscience do other than agree with George Kay. There is something not right about this whole affair. And Neale Hanvey deserves the benefit of any doubt.

Furthermore, I am deeply concerned about the way accusations of various forms of bigotry are used by assorted cliques as bludgeons to silence those who challenge their political agenda. As offensive as anti-Semitism, racism, sexism etc. undoubtedly are, what amounts to heavy-handed political censorship, intimidation and repression cannot be any more acceptable. A stand must be taken against those who would maliciously exploit our revulsion at such bigotry to incite baseless hatred every bit as vile as that directed at various minorities by the abysmally ignorant.

I disagree with George Kay on one point. I definitely have a problem with the SNP taking the action it did. I consider that, having vetted and selected Neale Hanvey, the party owed him a measure of loyalty. Other than that, I have looked to my conscience and I too have come to the conclusion that, regardless of what the personal consequences might be and for whatever it may be worth, I am obliged to give my support to Neale Hanvey.



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