Things to come

It was all so predictable. That’s what makes it all doubly frustrating. So much of what is happening could be foreseen and forestalled. Indeed, it was foreseen. If not in detail then certainly in general terms and with predictions necessarily being updated as events unfold. I was warning about the rolling back of devolution as far back as 2012, perhaps earlier. I expected that the British government would begin stripping powers from the Scottish Parliament if there was a No vote in 2014. I warned that it was one of the consequences that No voters would have on their conscience, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one issuing such warnings. But it would not be proper for me to associate others with what I have to say.

The Scottish Parliament’s fate was decided in 2007 when the SNP formed the first Scottish Government since the Union was imposed. That wasn’t supposed to happen. It wasn’t supposed to be possible. Devolution was only permitted on the strict understanding that it could never imperil the Union. The electoral system was designed to ensure that no one party could ever achieve a majority. This was intended to ensure that the British parties would retain control in perpetuity by forming coalition governments. Unionists strenuously deny that the system was designed to keep the SNP out insisting, rather, that it was designed to promote a more collegial, consensus-building Parliament. But it’s the same thing. Purposeful or not – and you can make up your own minds about that – the effect was to obviate any threat to the Union by ensuring that the British parties in Scotland were kept firmly in control.

Any plans to weaken the Scottish Parliament after the British parties lost control in 2007 were blown out of the water by the electorate. In 2007, voters had put a big dent in the system. In 2015, they smashed it to pieces by giving the SNP an overall majority. Plans to put the brakes on devolution, or put it into reverse, were derailed. As were the predictions made during the referendum campaign. But if reining in Holyrood had become more problematic, it had also become more imperative. The thing the British establishment feared most; the thing they’d been assured would not follow from devolution, was happening. The SNP was in power. What was worse, they were doing a good job. The administration was competent. That wasn’t supposed to happen either. Worst of all, Scotland under the SNP was visibly diverging from the rest of the UK (rUK) in myriad ways. If that continued, the Union would surely become untenable.

It is not my purpose here to essay a potted history of the period. Suffice it to say that where the British establishment thought it was getting a Scottish Parliament that was unadventurous and a Scottish Executive that was meekly compliant, instead they got a Parliament that threatened to compete with Westminster in terms of authority and a Scottish Government that put Scotland’s interests first. The scene was set for confrontation.

But that confrontation never really came about. There were skirmishes between the two governments. The media made a big fuss about the Scottish Government always “picking fights with Westminster”. But there was no major confrontation. The British political elite still wanted desperately to undermine and weaken Scotland’s democratic institutions. They wanted this more than ever. Hobbling Holyrood had become a political imperative. The Union was meant to do that. But the devolution ‘experiment’ had put the Union in jeopardy.

The British government tried a new tactic. Rather than try to directly trim the powers of the Scottish Parliament, they decided to weaponise devolution and turn it against the Scottish Government. Changes to the devolution settlement, principally in the area of finance, were set up as a mesh of political and fiscal traps. The idea was to discredit the SNP by subtly forcing the administration to make unpopular political decisions and to cause budgeting problems that would be portrayed as ‘SNP incompetence’.

This plan backfired. Largely due to the skill of then Finance Secretary, John Swinney, the Scottish Government managed to avoid most of the traps. They even found money for impressive new projects and to mitigate socially or economically damaging Westminster policies in reserved areas. And they were doing it deliberately!

The situation was desperate. Scotland had always been a separate country, but now it was becoming very much a different country in ways that were obvious even to the politically disengaged. Something had to give.

Then came 2016 and the EU referendum and the beginning of the protracted tragi-comedy that is Brexit. The British establishment saw its opportunity, and seized it. Once again, the consequences of a Leave vote were foreseen. Obviously, nobody anticipated the monumental incompetence of the British government. Nobody predicted they would make quite such a disastrous mess of the whole thing. But certain implications of the UK’s departure from the EU were accurately foretold. Some are about to be proved painfully accurate.

It was entirely predictable that there would be long and loud squabbles about the economic entailments of Brexit. Politicians invariably take debate on to this battleground for the simple reason that they can get economists to say whatever they want. Maybe it would be fairer to say that they can always find an economist who is saying what they want. Economic arguments have the further benefit that they are rarely, if ever, conclusive. No politician wants to find themselves on the wrong side of a concluded argument. So long as they’re arguing, they’re not losing. Not losing is better than winning. If there’s a winner, there must be a loser. And one of these times it might be you. By keeping debate in the realm of economics that risk is minimised.

I probably should leave it there. But I can’t resist pointing out another benefit to established power of making it all about money. Not only does it allow politicians to pick and choose from among a plethora of statistics and charts and tables and graphs in order to construct an economic argument for any purpose, this deluge of data baffles the electors and induces them to switch off and leave it to the experts. Contrary to the received wisdom, I postulate that no voter was ever swayed by an economic argument. Just as politicians can select the economic ‘facts’ that work for them, so voters can pick the economic argument which gives a sheen of rationality to choices that are anything but rational.

But I digress. While dispute raged over the economic consequences of Brexit, little attention was paid to the constitutional implications. During the campaign for the EU referendum I warned that, whatever else it might entail, Brexit would provide the British state with an opportunity to unilaterally redefine constitutional arrangements within the Union. That is what is happening now and it’s what will happen more in the very near future.

The groundwork has been done. The ‘power grab’ of the EU Withdrawal Bill is just the start of it. The endpoint for the British establishment is Scotland locked into UK redefined as a unitary state, indivisible and indissoluble. All significant powers stripped from the Scottish Parliament and absorbed into ‘UK-wide common frameworks’ administered by the ominously named ‘UK Government in Scotland’. A final solution to the Scottish problem. Greater England realised at last!

You can take that as another prediction.



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Preparing the hyena feast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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This is our fight

“The Tories think they can do whatever they want to Scotland and get away with it.”Deidre Brock MP

filthy_handsAnd why wouldn’t they think this? Why wouldn’t the British establishment blithely suppose they can do whatever they want to Scotland and get away with it? After all, this is precisely what we, as a nation, told them in 2014. That’s what a No vote meant. It’s effect was to give the British political elite licence to dispose of Scotland as they wished. To deal with us as they might find expedient.

And, for all Ms Brock’s splendid assurances that “the SNP is determined not to let them”, what has actually been prevented? What measures have been blocked? From EVEL to Brexit and the ‘power-grab’, the British state has proceeded unfettered in its abuse of Scotland’s interests and contempt for our democratic will. All objections have been ignored. All protests have been brushed aside. All demands have been ineffectual.

This is not to doubt that the SNP are Scotland’s champions. Nobody else is carrying our demands and protests and objections into the heart of the British political system. Nobody else is in a position to do so. The SNP is the de facto political arm of Scotland’s independence movement. We rely on them.

But what is actually being achieved? And, if not enough is being achieved, what needs to change?

There’s no point in blaming the SNP. They may not get everything right, and we can always wish that they would do more. But they cannot do it alone. We must take responsibility. We must play our part. It was we, the people of Scotland, who consented to being treated as we are by the British state. It was we who granted that licence to the British political elite. In 2014, we held in our hands the power to determine our nation’s future. We chose to hand that power to a bunch of corrupt and incompetent politicians in London. We did that! It’s up to us to put it right. It’s up to us to rectify our mistake.

If the SNP lacks the power to be more effective in championing Scotland’s interests it’s because we haven’t provided them with that power. It can only come from us. All political power and democratic authority ultimately derives from the people. If we expect the SNP to take a stand against the forces of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism then we must stand with them.

This is our fight. The SNP is our weapon. Let’s use it!


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Face off!

There is a tone of bemused incomprehension in David Mundell’s remarks concerning the Scottish Government’s position in the current wrangle over powers. He simply cannot understand why the Scottish Government refuses to bend to the will of the British state. The concept of a fundamental principle is totally lost on him. Accustomed to a political culture in which supposedly cherished precepts are reduced to mere trade goods, Mundell is obviously deeply perplexed by the SNP administration’s disinclination to do business.

Mundell clearly supposes that a vote of the Scottish Parliament might be bought with a meaningless ‘concession’. As a mark of the British political elite’s contempt for Scotland, this would be bad enough. But the assumption that the Scottish Government might be had so cheaply may signal something arguably far worse than mere disdain for Scotland and its people.

Most of us, it is safe to assume, recoil in disgust from the uber-patriotic ideology encapsulated in the expression, ‘My country! Right or wrong!’. How much more repugnant is this kind of mindless exceptionalism when it relates, not to a country, but to a particular ruling elite and the political system by which it maintains its status. A certain commitment to the land one calls ones own may be normal, even admirable. But unthinking devotion to a select group and dogmatic belief in this group’s righteousness is the very essence of extremism.

David Mundell is genuinely shocked that anyone should challenge the authority of the British political elite with which he identifies. He is sincerely baffled by the SNP’s refusal to accept the supremacy of Westminster and their insistence that the will of the Scottish Parliament must be respected. He must know, at some level, that the ‘concession’ being offered by the British government is as worthless as the tawdry beads and shiny baubles with which European imperialist colonisers sought to purchase the servitude of indigenous peoples. But Scotland is supposed to be grateful for whatever it receives. We have no right to anything. Whatever the British state may offer is to be accepted with humility. The value of the ‘concession’ lies, not in its effect, but in the fact that it is being proffered at all by our superiors.

The SNP isn’t playing the British political game of token opposition readily bought-off with some trinket. They were supposed to follow the example of British Labour in Wales and meekly accept Westminster’s authority to seize devolved powers in return for a totally unconvincing assurance that this would be temporary.

The dispute between Westminster and Holyrood is not mere haggling over powers. It is a truly momentous clash of political cultures. On one hand we have the openly anti-democratic ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism so ably represented by David Mundell. On the other, we have a political culture based on fundamental democratic principles such as popular sovereignty and the right of self-determination being defended by the SNP. The latter is alien and incomprehensible to the former.

Depending on who prevails, Scotland’s democracy will either survive and prosper, or be crushed out of existence. Mundell and his fellow British Nationalists may be incapable of appreciating the Scottish Government’s stance, but they certainly recognise the threat posed to the established order by the wave of democratic dissent rising in Scotland.


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Shall there be a Scottish Parliament?

national_power_grabThere shall be a Scottish Parliament. But only if we are prepared to fight for it.

There shall be a Scottish Parliament. But not if we allow the British political elite to have its way.

There shall be a Scottish Parliament. But we must now decide, as a matter of great urgency whether it is to be a Parliament which exists and functions only by the grace and favour of the British state, or a Parliament which exists by the command of Scotland’s people and functions as the instrument of their democratic will.

This matters. It is important. It is crucial. It matters because the fundamental nature of our Parliament, and the manner in which it operates, reflects and defines what kind of nation Scotland is and what kind of people we are. If we are to be a nation where all political authority derives from the people, we must fight to be that kind of nation. If we, the people of Scotland, are to be sovereign in our own land, we must forcefully affirm and vigorously defend our sovereignty.

The Scottish Parliament is the rock upon which our sovereignty rests. It is the sole guarantor of our democracy. It is the only Parliament with democratic legitimacy in Scotland. It is not just the Scottish Parliament, it is the Parliament of Scotland. It belongs to the people of Scotland.

Only the people of Scotland possess the rightful authority to define and constrain the powers of our Parliament. The British government – unelected by and unaccountable to the people of Scotland – has no such authority. A lawfully established and democratically elected Parliament cannot be subordinate to any external power that is not ultimately answerable to the people of Scotland. The attempt by the British political elite to assert supreme authority over the Scottish Parliament is an assault on democracy. It is an affront to the nation of Scotland. It is an insult to the people of Scotland.

The time has come to choose what kind of people we are and what kind of nation we want Scotland to be. The time has come to decide where power lies now and in the future. Will it lie with a Scottish Parliament serving the needs, priorities and aspirations of the people of Scotland? Or is power to be usurped by faceless, unelected, unaccountable appointees of the British state serving only the structures of power, privilege and patronage which advantage the few at increasing cost to the many?

There shall be a Scottish Parliament. But only if we resolve to make it so.


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