The power of disdain

Patrick Harvie is seriously mistaken if he imagines that Boris Johnson is “ignorant of the political fallout from his actions”. Or should we say inactions? He understands the implications perfectly well. Or, if he doesn’t, he has people around him who do. One might credibly suppose the moment of epiphany for Johnson came during the ghastly zip-wire incident. Ghastly for him, at least. Hilarious for the rest of us. That may have been the moment when he realised that it is better to do nothing than make a total arse of anything.

Do nothing, and there’s nothing for the media to latch on to. There’s only so many ways you can say nothing happened. If the media aren’t shoving it in the public’s face every twenty minutes then it isn’t happening. Pretty soon, it never happened. Do nothing and you skip straight to the ‘never happened’ bit.

Boris Johnson has a record for doing and saying things which get him entirely the wrong kind of attention. It makes sense, therefore, that his advisers would encourage him to do and say as little as possible. The basic rule is that if it has the slightest potential to become a YouTube sensation, leave it out. Boris’s propensity for inadvertent slapstick is such that, even with the best efforts of his minders, we still get episodes such as the great hiding in a fridge incident. But at least he didn’t get roasted by Andrew Neil.

It works! The tactic is effective. If it’s a bit awkward, dismiss it! Discount it! Disregard it! Treat it with disdain. The proof of the pudding is that the pudding is now Prime Minister.

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Who do we trust?

So, Patrick Harvie thinks it’s a good idea for the Scottish Government to trust the British Electoral Commission. But Patrick Harvie also thinks it a wizard wheeze to stand candidates in constituencies such as Perth & North Perthshire where the SNP’s Pete Wishart is defending a majority of less than two dozen votes. All things considered, I’m not inclined to put much faith in Mr Harvie’s judgement.

That is not to say that the British Electoral Commission is untrustworthy. It is only to say that it may not be entirely wise to take Patrick Harvie’s word for it. We should make our own assessment based on what we know, or can learn, about the British Electoral Commission and how it operates.

On paper, the British Electoral Commission looks to be sound. The organisation, which was set up in 2000, describes itself as

“The independent body which oversees elections and regulates political finance in the UK. We work to promote public confidence in the democratic process and ensure its integrity.”

A trawl through the British Electoral Commission’s website is very reassuring. If one takes everything at face value. The way commissioners are appointed, the decision-making processes, the expertise all appear totally satisfactory. One might be impressed by the fact that there is a dedicated commissioner for Scotland (and Wales) and, as the third largest party in the House of Commons, the SNP gets to nominate a commissioner. On the face of it, there seems no reason to disagree with Patrick Harvie’s assessment.

But there’s another organisation which, on paper, looks every bit as independent, fair and impartial – the BBC. And we all know how different the reality is from slick presentation.

But it’s not actually about trust. Whether or not the Scottish electorate can have confidence in the British Electoral Commission is not the point. It is a question of appropriateness. Regardless of whether or not we consider the British Electoral Commission trustworthy, we have to ask whether it is appropriate for an agency of the British state to have oversight of a referendum in which the people of Scotland exercise their right of self-determination. We have to wonder about the propriety of an agency of the British state having significant authority over a referendum in which the British state itself has a massive stake.

Much fuss is made about ensuring that the new independence referendum is ‘legal and constitutional’ in order that there should be no impediment to Scotland gaining international recognition once the nation’s independence is restored. We hear rather less about the fact that what the international community is most concerned about is that the process by which independence is restored should be impeccably democratic. Nor do we hear very much about how important it is that the people of Scotland have total confidence in the process.

We are entitled to question whether the democratic validity of Scotland’s referendum – actual and perceived – is served by the involvement of the British Electoral Commission. Or whether this is likely to be regarded as external interference such as would tend to undermine the democratic legitimacy of the referendum in the eyes of the international community and the Scottish electorate.

Ask yourself this, would you trust the BBC with a formal role in the referendum process? Would you think it appropriate?

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Harvie’s havers!

Well! That was disappointing! I read the headline and supposed we might be in for some serious, hard-headed thinking about the strategy for the new referendum campaign. I wasn’t long in being disabused of that notion.

It all started so well, with talk of the fundamental constitutional argument for independence. This gave the impression that Patrick Harvie was about to put that fundamental constitutional argument right where it belongs, at the very heart of the campaign.

Then he wrote of “…the need for the campaign to draw strength from its diversity…” and instantly dispelled any notion I’d had that Patrick Harvie might be about to contribute some significant insight. And, as if to confirm that this wasn’t just a momentary lapse, he comes out with this,

“…rather than expecting every Yes voter to bury the rest of their politics. There will never be a majority if independence appeals only to those who feel motivated by flags and patriotism…”

Our Patrick seems to have a bit of a thing about flags. Were I in a more light-hearted frame of mind after reading his article, I might have asked if his mummy had been frightened by a banner when she was expecting him. He certainly seems to suppose that they carry some dark meaning. I look at a Saltire and see only an emblem of Scotland and its people. Goodness knows what ghastly horrors poor Patrick sees.

What is perplexing is that, having correctly identified the essence of the constitutional argument – that the people of Scotland are sovereign and they alone should decide the nation’s future – he seems to forget it completely. Having paid lip service to this fundamental idea, he goes on to imply that, when you “bury” the rest of politics, all that’s left is “flags and patriotism”. What happened to that core idea that the people are the legitimate source of legitimate political authority? What happened to the “basic democratic argument, that it’s the people who live in Scotland who should decide the country’s future”?

The point that Patrick Harvie so tragically misses is that this is precisely what is left when you strip away all the various policy agendas. It all comes down to the question of who decides. To say that “flags and patriotism” is all you have left when these policy agendas are taken out of the equation is to put “flags and patriotism” where the fundamental constitutional argument should be. I don’t suppose, given his pathological aversion to such things, that this was Patrick Harvie’s intention. Which kinda makes it worse. Because one might have hoped that he would have put some thought into and article which is purports to be advising us on how to fight the next referendum campaign.

I sincerely trust nobody is listening to his advice. Because he clearly hasn’t a clue. After identifying the fundamental issue of the campaign, he woefully fails to follow the thought. If it’s the fundamental issue, then it’s what the campaign has to be all about. You don’t identify that core issue and then just drop it to and go off on a speculation spree about stuff that is not and cannot be part of your campaign strategy. You cannot sensibly base a campaign strategy on what your opponents might do or what might happen if something else doesn’t.

You can campaign for a thing. Or you can campaign against a thing. But in all cases it must be absolutely clear what the thing is. You cannot campaign either for or against a disputed concept. It has to be something on which there is general agreement within your campaign. Otherwise, your campaign spends all its time disputing the concept concept instead of campaigning for it.

The undisputed concept of the independence campaign is not independence. Because independence is a disputed concept. There are myriad definitions and explanations of independence. It means different things to different people. The one thing they all have in common is the desire to #DissolveTheUnion.

Patrick Harvie doesn’t understand the basics of a political, as opposed to and electoral, campaign. A single issue campaign must focus on that single issue. So, totally contrary to what Patrick Harvie commends, it is absolutely essential that Yes campaigners to “bury the rest of their politics” for the duration of the campaign and to try and persuade voters to do the same. To set aside those policy agendas until after independence is restored. To get voters to focus on the fundamental constitutional issue.

I realised as soon as he wrote of “the need for the campaign to draw strength from its diversity” that Patrick Harvie was making a tragic error. He is confusing the movement with the campaign. The Yes movement draws its strength from its diversity. But what is diversity in a movement is division and diffusion in a campaign.

Ignore Patrick Harvie. There are three key words you should remember when considering the shape and form of the new referendum campaign – SOLIDARITY! FOCUS! DISCIPLINE!

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To kneel? Or to stand?


For all Partick Harvie’s fine words, the tremulous vacillation and pathetic submissiveness exhibited by Ross Greer reminds us that there is only one political party that is, by virtue of its binding constitution, unequivocally and unconditionally committed to the restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status – the Scottish National Party.

Whilst all support for the cause of independence is, of course, very welcome, those who are dedicated to this cause simply cannot afford to rely on politicians who so meekly accept the asserted superiority of the British state in what is supposed to be a political union in which both (all?) parties are equal.

The right of self-determination – as enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations – is vested wholly in the people of Scotland, to be exercised entirely at their discretion. Scotland’s electorate has provided the Scottish Government with a mandate to hold a new referendum and, by necessary implication, the delegated authority to decide how and when that mandate will be exercised. This mandate has been affirmed by the Scottish Parliament. The only Parliament with democratic legitimacy in Scotland. The only Parliament which truly represents the democratic will of Scotland’s people.

And that is an end of it!

No organisation or entity has the legitimate political authority to deny Scotland’s right of self-determination. No law or regulation can be valid which denies or unreasonably constrains a fundamental, inalienable democratic right.

The British state’s claim to ultimate authority can only be enforced if we, the people of Scotland, voluntarily submit to their imperious diktat in the manner suggested by Ross Greer.

A new independence referendum is ours to demand. Independence is ours to take.

As Ross Greer has so amply demonstrated, only the SNP can properly and effectively serve as the political arm of Scotland’s independence movement. Where others bow before the self-proclaimed superiority of the British political elite, Nicola Sturgeon – as Scotland’s First Minister and as Leader of the Scottish National Party – is bound by a solemn and binding duty to defend Scotland’s democracy.

At a time when Scotland’s democracy is under severe and imminent threat from a rampant British Nationalist regime in London, every true democrat in Scotland must examine their conscience as they ask themselves whether they should kneel alongside Ross Greer, or stand behind Nicola Sturgeon.

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Facile assumptions, fallacies and falsehoods

The Green’s failure to capitalise on STV’s decision to include them in its pre-election debate line-up is far from an exceptional occurrence. They have form on this kind of thing. I well remember when, during the first referendum campaign, the Scottish Greens officially announced that they were joining Yes Scotland. This should have been an entirely upbeat moment focused on the aims of the independence campaign. Instead, Patrick Harvie found himself unable to resist some petty sniping at the SNP. He too readily succumbed to the very partisan politicking that the holier-than-thou Greens claim to eschew.

And yet Lesley Riddoch assumes that we must all “admire” the Greens. They are the eternal “good guys” of Scottish politics. Such is the myth.

Some might argue that these PR failures are trivial. That there are more important matters to deal with. Well, one can always make that claim. Whatever particular issue happens to be the focus of discussion, somebody can always resort to the diversionary tactic of insisting that we really should be talking about something else. And they will tend to do so whenever the discussion looks like it might get “interesting” in ways that make them uncomfortable.

The Greens aspire to play in the big leagues. They want to be taken seriously as a party of opposition and, potentially, as part of government. However much they might turn up their noses at the thought, presentation is a crucial part of politics. Always has been. If the Greens can’t get their act together in this regard, maybe there is less cause to “admire” them than Ms Riddoch takes for granted.

The coming election is crucial in ways that I would sincerely hope Lesley Riddoch understands. It is certainly not an occasion to be making decisions on the basis of facile assumptions about the inherent worthiness of parties or politicians. The Greens and other pro-independence parties (OPIPs) have to prove themselves worthy of electoral support. They are not entitled to demand votes simply on the basis of being pro-independence – however tentatively, nominally or conditionally. They have to demonstrate that they will be effective as parliamentarians. Particularly in regard to taking forward the fight to restore Scotland’s rightful constitutional status.

Dispassionate analysis – which seems to be lacking in much of what is being advanced by proponents of ‘tactical voting’ – strongly suggests that OPIP MSPs would add nothing to the pro-independence credentials of an SNP majority government. Indeed, such rational scrutiny suggests that they might diminish those credentials. For one thing, only the SNP is unconditionally committed to independence. The various OPIPs make their support for independence conditional on diverse and shifting policy agendas.

And, in purely practical terms, we can be sure that the British media would totally discount OPIP MSPs. They would be ignored. Just as Yes Scotland was sidelined in the first referendum campaign in favour of a simplified “all about the SNP/Alex Salmond” approach, so it would be with a handful of OPIP MSPs. They only time they’d get media attention would be when they were attacking the SNP and/or saying something that could be spun as problematic for independence. They would be more hindrance than help.

The facile assumption that more Green MSP must inevitably be a good thing needs to be challenged.

And if the decision in May is too important to be based on facile assumptions, it surely shouldn’t be informed by fallacies and falsehoods. The fallacy that there is a simple way to game the electoral system in order to achieve an outcome of dubious value need to be knocked firmly on the head. Especially given the vital nature of what is being risked in the almost certainly futile hope of contriving parliamentary diversity by including people and parties not strictly qualified to be there.

Then there is the fallacy that the essential SNP majority is a foregone conclusion on the basis of the constituency vote alone. This is, of course, pernicious nonsense. Yet it is ever part of the rhetoric of those promoting the notion of a Magic Pick ‘n’ Mix Parliament.

Most foolish of all, perhaps, would be to vote on the basis of a blatant falsehood. We had enough of that with the false prospectus flogged by the anti-independence campaign in 2014. The assertion that a second independence referendum is “not part of the SNP’s Scottish Parliament manifesto” is such a falsehood. It just isn’t true. But, again, it has been absorbed into the narrative of the Green/OPOIP effort to induce voters to put the crucial SNP majority in jeopardy.

It is, to say the least, disappointing to find Lesley Riddoch peddling this untruth. For the umpteenth time, let me remind her and all those who consider trying to mislead Scotland’s voters what Nicola Sturgeon said on the matter. I mean what she ACTUALLY said!

“Our manifesto will set out what we consider are the circumstances and the timescale on which a second referendum might be appropriate, but we can only propose.

“It’s then for people in Scotland, whether it is in this election or in future elections, to decide whether they want to vote for our manifesto and then if there is in the future another independence referendum, whether that’s in five years or ten years or whenever, it will be down to the people of Scotland to decide whether they want to vote for independence or not.

“So at every single stage this is something that is driven by and decided by the people of Scotland, not by politicians.”

It must be clearly understood that very particular circumstances prevail in the coming election. Circumstances which dictate that we must be especially assiduous in rejecting facile assumptions, simplistic fallacies and blatant falsehoods. Whatever our preferences and ideals, we must recognise the massively overriding importance of ensuring an SNP majority in the next parliament. Next to that, policy agendas and party loyalties are vanishingly inconsequential.

The only ‘tactical voting’ strategy that makes any sense in these circumstances is #BothVotesSNP.

And so it begins

A broad-based campaign
We’ve had the big media launch of the referendum campaign and, let’s be honest, it wasn’t all it might have been. Don’t get me wrong! I’m not about to resort to the kind of sneering, carping, pantomime-cynical negativity that pervades the press. The general response of the mainstream media to yesterday’s event has been as pitifully puerile as it was tiresomely predictable.
You could pretty much pick an article at random in order to illustrate the point. But David Torrance’s bitter little diatribe in The Scotsman is fairly typical. (Amateur hour at Yes campaign launch). This is a man who is rapidly becoming almost a caricature of the bilious, bleating British nationalist naysayer. Alan “Poor Old Cockers” Cochrane had better look to his laurels. There’s a potential new self-appointed anti-independence ranter-in-chief loitering in the wings.

It was always going to be thus. If the launch had been a perfectly staged and flawlessly choreographed piece of political showmanship then Torrance and his sulphurous ilk in the cold sick school of journalism would have just as assiduously earned their fees by denigrating and deriding it for what they would doubtless have called excessive theatricality. (What’s the betting Torrance had that piece pre-written just in case?)

In the event, of course, the launch fell a bit short of being a full-blown showbiz spectacular. Fine actor though he may be, the presenter, Martin Compston, was certainly no Billy Crystal. And I could go on. There is much that I could say about the presentation strictly by way of constructive criticism. I shall refrain from doing so, in part because I’m certain the organisers will hold their own review, but also because I’d be seriously concerned lest I sound even remotely as negative, nasty and nit-picking as David Torrance.

I will confine myself to asking a question that would surely have occurred to a competent professional political analyst were they not entirely, obsessively focused on their own narrow agenda. A question that, as far as I am aware, has not been asked by any of the mangy pooches and establishment lap-dogs that pass for press hounds in the fifth-rate, flea-infested, turd-strewn dog-show of Scotland’s media.


Why, when we know what the SNP’s party machine is capable of, did the launch event fail to sparkle quite as much as it might have?

I think there are two possible explanations – apart from the trivially obvious one of failings arising from the inherent organisational difficulties of staging such an event. Firstly, I think there was a conscious decision to try and tone it down. My suspicion is that the organisers were concerned about the risk of alienating the Greens and others with the kind of extravagant display that could only be mounted by the SNP. The event had to look more home-spun than it otherwise might in order to better accord with the expectations of smaller parties and their supporters. Not to mention a sizeable chunk of the SNP’s own support.

I also suspect that the SNP tried very hard to step back a pace or several from the practicalities of running the event. The aim would be to encourage the greatest possible involvement of non-SNP people such as it is hoped and intended will characterise the entire YES campaign going forward.

Some have commented that Alex Salmond seemed a little edgy. Not quite his usual self. I reckon this was the edginess of a man who had relinquished the kind of control he has grown accustomed to exercising. I reckon he was not his usual self because his usual self would have dominated the stage to an extent that he was all too aware would be inappropriate and potentially counter-productive. What we witnessed in that cinema was the rare spectacle of Alex Salmond trying to perform in a supporting role. Playing second fiddle is not something that comes easily to such a man, and I say he is to be applauded for making the effort for the good of the campaign as a whole, as well as for having the political nous to recognise what was required of him. Once again, Salmond has shown signs of admirable statesmanship as well as keen political acuity.

Whatever may be said of the presentation, the content was not at all bad. There were worthy people on that stage. And there was real substance in what they had to say. Watching and listening to the likes of Colin Fox, Elaine C Smith, Tommy Brennan and Patrick Harvie I was moved to wonder how long it has been since Labour was able to field such a cast of principled socialists and genuine progressives.

Then there were the celebrities. As there always must be at such events. But Alan Cumming and Brian Cox (among others) were not there merely to serve as a snappable buffet for the gathered paparazzi. They both contributed far more to the occasion than just the cachet of their names. Cox in particular made a keynote speech which I have not the slightest doubt resonated with a huge swathe of Scotland’s population. A speech which, as might have been expected, has been quite maliciously misrepresented in the media.

What was very noticeable also was that each speaker had a different message. This was not some trooping of the party faithful as they stepped up to the microphone to mouth snippets of the party line in sound-bites meticulously scripted by media professionals. This was people from different walks of life, with different experiences and different perspectives, each and every one of them speaking from the heart and on behalf of their natural constituency.

In terms of providing a glimpse of the breadth of support for independence, the Yes Scotland launch was a considerable success. It was a good start. But it was just the start.