The labours of Sisyphus

I rarely watch the politics programmes on TV these days. Not out of apathy, but because listening to the likes of Andrew Neil for half an hour is a lot of effort for very little reward. I know that if anything interesting is said in the small gaps between Neil’s interruptions then I’ll find out about through social media. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the hardy souls possessed of greater tolerance for self-regard and pomposity than myself for sitting through these programmes and presenting what amounts to edited highlights on Twitter.

The edition of Politics Live that I want to discuss came to my attention, not via Twitter as is customary, but by way of a letter in The National. In his letter, Andrew Grant recounts a contribution to the discussion of a new independence referendum from historian and right-wing commentator, Simon Heffer.

Heffer stated that most people in England would agree that the British state had made a hash of Irish independence and that if there was a desire for a second independence referendum then “we” might agree to the Scots having another opportunity to determine their own future. But he claimed the issues of currency and EU membership were ignored in the first campaign and that “we” had a duty to Scotland as part of UK.

Heffer concluded by saying yes, let’s grant a second referendum, but only on condition that the Scots demonstrate first how Scotland will fund independence and “make a proper case that they can govern themselves responsibly afterwards”. The other panel members nodded wisely. Coburn let it pass since they were anxious to plug Heffer’s latest book.

The letter’s author was, as you might expect, offended by Heffer’s “pompous condescension”. Assuming Mr Grant’s account is accurate – and I have no reason to doubt it – then we have a few remarks which perfectly reflect the innate elitism, vaunting entitlement and presumptuous arrogance of British Nationalist ideology. Heffer simply takes as a given the superiority of the British ruling class. The concomitant inferiority of Scotland and its people is assumed to be the ‘natural order’. Were the tables turned and Heffer was asked to “make a proper case” that the British political elite were more fit to govern Scotland responsibly than the people who actually live here, the suggestion would surely be met with incomprehension followed by outrage followed by patronising amusement.

I confess that I was as irked by Heffer’s comments as Mr Grant. I was also dumbfounded by the total lack of self-awareness and empathy which was required even to think such thoughts far less give voice to them in a public forum. There can be no doubt that the attitudes of a past imperial age still pervade the very blood and bones of the British ruling classes. How dare he speak of Scotland in such a casually contemptuous manner? How dare he insist that Scotland must “pass some arbitrary tests” set and marked by the British establishment before we may hope to exercise our democratic right of self-determination?

Well, perhaps he dares because we have encouraged him. Perhaps he dares because we have at least made it easy for the likes of Heffer to think and speak as they do. Perhaps he dares because we have appeared, not only to accept the terms Heffer would impose, but to concur with his assessment of Scotland’s inferior status.

How often have we been told by SNP politicians and other leading figures in the Yes movement that we must “make the case for independence”? This has been the constant mantra of the Yes movement from its inception. Our purpose, according to those who presumed to define and direct it, has never been to challenge the attitudes expressed by Heffer and his ilk or dispute the ‘natural order’ that he describes or question the asserted right to examine and pronounce upon Scotland’s fitness to be a nation like any other. Our purpose, rather, has been to concede that right; accept that ‘natural order’; and embrace – or at least pander to – those attitudes.

The Heffers of the British establishment tell us we must “make a proper case” that we have the capacity to govern ourselves responsibly, and our response has been to scurry off and set about trying to make that “proper case”. Throughout the 2014 referendum campaign and since we have been urged on to ever greater efforts to pass the British state’s test of our fitness to have our rightful constitutional status restored. By all accounts, should there actually be another referendum, we will be told we must continue striving to demonstrate our ability to meet whatever standards the British political elite sets and satisfy every condition that they impose. Our task is, not merely to “make the case for independence”, but to make a case that will be accepted by the British establishment.

It is a task which bears comparison with the labours of Sisyphus. Legend has it that he was condemned to spend eternity pushing a great boulder up a hill only for it to roll back down again just as he got it within reach of the summit. In the case of the Yes movement, our ‘eternal’ task is to roll the boulder of our “case for independence” up an ever steeper incline towards a constantly receding summit.

The “arbitrary tests” set by the British political elite have no pass mark. They will never be satisfied. Scotland will always be inferior. Because how else can England-as-Britain be superior?

Not for the first time it occurs to me that the most crucial prerequisite for the restoration of Scotland’s independence is a new mindset. We are all, to a greater or lesser extent, tainted by generations of immersion in the culture British exceptionalism so well represented represented by Simon Heffer. Our minds are polluted with it. Some minds are totally colonised by it. It affects most people in Scotland to some degree. Otherwise, why would be trying to “make the case for independence” rather than demanding that British Nationalists justify their ‘precious’ Union?



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Not good enough!

The LibDems are throwing vows at the Scottish electorate again. I’m sure we all remember the one that was signed by the then LibDem leader, Nick Clegg, a couple of days before the 2014 vote. Now Jo Swinson is promising “practical steps to ensure that Scotland and Wales both have strong voices in the future of the family of nations”. It’s déjà vu all over again!

Of course, Swinson could only sensibly make this promise if the one made more than five years ago hadn’t been honoured. Even in the crazy world of British politics it wouldn’t make any sense to offer in an election manifesto something that had already been delivered. In 2014 we were assured that Scotland would “lead” if we did not leave. The voters chose to accept that offer. But instead of the promised leading role, we got EVEL.

The promise to ensure that Scotland has a “strong voice” in the UK has to be treated with great scepticism. Even if it was possible, why would we want a “strong voice” in the UK when we can have a strong voice in the world simply by dissolving the Union and becoming a normal country once more?

But it isn’t possible. We know that Swinson’s promise won’t be kept for two reasons. Firstly, the fact that the LibDems are proven liars. Secondly, the fact that the main purpose of Union is to ensure that Scotland cannot have a meaningfully influential role in the UK.

The Union is a constitutional device by which the people of Scotland are denied the full and proper exercise of their sovereignty. This, too, is proved by observable the reality. Scotland actually has a strong voice. The Scottish Parliament is our voice. But the British establishment parties deny the authority of the only parliament which has democratic legitimacy in Scotland. When our Parliament. When our Parliament says there is a mandate for a new independence referendum, the British parties simply refuse to recognise the validity of that mandate.

Scotland has a strong voice in the large number of SNP MPs we elect. But when they try to speak in the British parliament they are treated with utter contempt.

Scotland has a strong voice in it’s people. But when the people of Scotland vote decisive in favour of remaining part of the EU, we are told our vote doesn’t count. It doesn’t count because the Union decrees that, no matter how strong it may be, Scotland’s can never be stronger than that of England-as-Britain.

On Thursday 12 December, we have an opportunity to speak loud and clear to Jo Swinson and her counterparts in the other British establishment parties. By voting in overwhelming numbers for SNP candidates in the coming UK general election we can send the message that we do not want a “strong voice!. We want an equal voice! And the only we can have an equal voice is by dissolving the archaic, anomalous, grotesquely asymmetric Union and restoring Scotland’s status as a normal independent nation.



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Hope versus experience

Ian Blackford’s insistence that the next British Prime Minister will somehow be compelled to grant a Section 30 order is beginning to sound a bit desperate. Almost as if he’s trying to convince himself that respect for democracy will be the deciding factor. His entire argument hinges on the British political elite deciding that the imperative to preserve the Union is outweighed by the demands of democratic justice.

Does Jackson Carlaw sound like someone who has any understanding of democracy, far less respect for it, when he says “we will never give Nicola Sturgeon #IndyRef2” ? Does Boris Johnson’s bombastic ranting about “once in a generation” give the impression that he’s prepared to make any concessions to democracy?

However hard Ian Blackford tries to persuade himself, and us, that democracy must surely prevail, we cannot long avoid the reality that Carlaw’s ignorant, arrogant bluster represents the true attitude of the British establishment. And that includes Jeremy Corbyn.

Just as Ian Blackford entertains quaint notions about the British state deferring to fundamental democratic principles, so some are naive enough to suppose that Corbyn is different. Gerry Hassan’s rose-tinted, starry-eyed perspective is illustrative. Apparently,

Corbyn and McDonnell are not “against” Scottish independence per se. They believe in the principle that such a decision is fundamentally up to the people of Scotland. In this they recognise “the sovereignty of the Scottish people” which many pro-union politicians pay lip service to and which the Commons unanimously accepted in July 2018. They take it as a given.

If that is so, then why do they so assiduously avoid giving any firm commitment to a new referendum? While Ian Blackford strives, by force of rhetoric alone, to make the case that British intransigence on the constitutional issue is ‘unsustainable’, Corbyn is working just as hard to maintain a position which differentiates British Labour from their Tory cousins while not actually making any concessions at all.

According to Gerry Hassan,

Corbyn and McDonnell do not believe in the UK in the way that previous Labour politicians did. They see the UK as a force for imperialism, reaction and militarism around the world. This brings them to align themselves with a position which is anti-British establishment and notes its attachment to the politics of the union and its geopolitical interests. Scottish independence, they understand, is a body blow to such pretensions and power politics.

The idea of British Labour being “anti-British establishment” is every bit as fantastical as Ian Blackford’s notion that the British political elite might put respect for democracy before its own geopolitical interests. Gerry Hassan fails to see that it is precisely because those interests make preservation of the Union an overriding imperative that Corbyn would never be permitted to put the Union in jeopardy even supposing he was minded to do so. It is because of the British state’s pretensions to being “a force for imperialism, reaction and militarism around the world” that locking Scotland into the Union is an absolute necessity.

The obligations of democracy are as nothing compared to the dictates of the British state’s ambition.

Gerry Hassan ends by asking,

But does Labour have the political will and imagination to break with the last vestiges of the conservative elements of labourism as well as the ancien regime which has for too long defined power and privilege across the UK?

Pinning one’s hopes on that ever happening is, if anything, even less realistic than trusting that the next British Prime Minister might acknowledge Scotland’s right of self-determination and respect the democratic will of the Scottish people.



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Confusion and betrayal

There is no confusion at all about British Labour’s position on independence. Or their position on a new referendum. Their position on both is exactly the same as the position of the other British political parties. They are fervently opposed to independence and absolutely determined that there should be no new referendum. If there is any mystery here it concerns why anybody would be in the slightest doubt about Jeremy Corbyn’s British Nationalist leanings.

If people are confused it can only be because they’re making the two-fold error of listening to what Corbyn and other British Labour mouthpieces say and supposing these utterances should be taken seriously. They hear the inconsistencies and contradictions and strive to figure what is true. The reality is very simple. None of it is true!

All British politicians are bound by the imperative to preserve the Union. That imperative overrides everything. It certainly overrides considerations of democratic principle. It even overrides electoral expediency. Although some British politicians think they can conceal the truth of the matter in a fog of words. Hence the inconsistencies and contradictions. Hence the confusion among those who attend to the words instead of looking to what lies behind them. Instead of looking to the underlying imperative.

Not that Corbyn et al will be at all troubled by any confusion they cause. Where it is necessary to have different messages for different constituencies, inconsistency and contradiction are unavoidable. The idea then is to make a virtue of necessity. To ensure that the confusion is used to advantage. If your position is sufficiently vague and ambivalent, then it can be whatever you need it to be at any given time or whatever circumstances may arise. More importantly, it can be whatever potential voters want it to be.

More commonly than any of us like to admit, our electoral choices are emotional rather than rational. We like to think we’re making decisions on the basis of factual information and rational assessment. We are not comfortable admitting the extent to which facts and figures are used to put a varnish of reason on conclusion that owe more to our hormones than our neurones.

There are a great many ‘traditional Labour’ voters in Scotland who no longer vote according to tradition – mainly because they support the restoration of Scotland’s independence. A significant proportion of these ‘traditional Labour’ voters crave an excuse to get back to what was good enough for their forebears. If Corbyn says something that allows them to rationalise reverting to their old ways, they will seize it with relish. They will go back to voting for British Labour candidates having convinced themselves that the party is committed to ‘allowing’ a new independence referendum. They will even be able to quote something Jeremy Corbyn has said to ‘prove’ that they are not being conned.

These ‘traditional Labour’ backsliders will be aided in this process of rationalising their instinctual choice by the rhetoric of the other British parties as they accuse British Labour of planning to betray the precious Union by conspiring and colluding with the hated SNP.

Anybody in Scotland who votes for a British Labour candidate on the grounds that the party will ‘countenance’ a new independence referendum is a gullible fool. Even if Jeremy Corbyn were to become British Prime Minister – and there’s very little chance of that – he would be no more likely to respect the democratic will of Scotland’s people than Boris Johnson. When it comes to the ‘Scottish problem’, there is not a scintilla of difference between them.

No British politician will respect Scotland’s democracy if doing so puts their precious Union in jeopardy. If you vote for any of the British parties, you are voting to be treated with contempt. There’s no need to be confused about that.



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Neither grit nor gumption

It is clear from the comments on this article (Corbyn to be quizzed over next indyref as he begins whirlwind Scottish tour) that I am far from being the only one who is utterly baffled by Nicola Sturgeon’s position. She concedes that the UK Government has the authority to disallow an independence referendum, but demands that they refrain from exercising that authority. Instead of maintaining that the requirement for a Section 30 order is illegal and unconstitutional, she insists that it is, in fact, the only ‘legal and constitutional’ process, but claims that it would be undemocratic for the UK Government to utilise the authority that the process affords it.

I just don’t get it! I’ve tried a dozen ways of putting into words what the First Minister’s position is, and there is no way that it makes any sense. It is certainly possible for something to be both lawful and undemocratic. But to say that something is constitutionally legitimate but undemocratic seems like an obvious contradiction in terms.

How can authority be democratic, but exercise of that authority not? Surely if acting on the authority is contrary to the principles of democracy, then the authority itself must be likewise.

Ruth Wishart wrote recently about how she has come to abhor the word “allow” precisely because of its use in the context of a new independence referendum. I suspect she will be as offended as I am at being told that “Jeremy Corbyn will be under pressure to say when exactly he will allow a second independence referendum”. Not, you will note, under pressure to explain what makes him suppose he has the authority to deny Scotland’s right of self-determination. Not under pressure to explain why the exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination should require his consent. Merely under pressure to say when he might give that gracious consent.

Of course, were he asked to justify his presumption, Corbyn need only refer to the words of Scotland’s First Minister, who has repeatedly conceded that authority. It’s hard to imagine anyone in the Scottish Government or the Scottish media putting him under any kind of pressure to justify, in terms of democratic principles rather than Nicola Sturgeon’s stated position, how anybody might have the power of veto over a nation’s right of self-determination.

Scotland’s political leaders evidently lack the grit and the gmption to challenge the asserted authority of the British state. And, of course, it suits the media to paddle in the shallow waters of trivial questions about when something might happen rather than venture into the deeps of why it is being allowed to happen at all. Why risk the dangerous currents of political controversy when it’s so easy to create a simple but titillating drama out of timing whilst remaining close to the shore of mass entertainment?

It would come as a tremendous shock to all if Corbyn were to specify when he would grant permission for the people of Scotland to exercise our right of self-determination – were he ever in a position to do so. That’s not how the game is played at all. He has to pretend that there is actually a likelihood of him being the British Prime Minister. He has to pretend that he would respect the right of Scotland’s people to decide the constitutional status of our nation. The Media and the politicians have to go along with this pretence. Everybody knows that it’s a sham. Everybody knows that, in the unlikely event of there being a British Labour government after the election, Corbyn will be every bit as bound by the imperative to preserve the Union as Boris Johnson or anyone else who might be a candidate for the role of British Prime Minister.

In terms of Scotland’s cause, it makes absolutely no difference whatsoever what the outcome of this election is. That outcome will be a British government and a British Prime Minister. And no British government or British Prime Minister is ever going to allow the Union to be put in jeopardy.

Which is why it makes no sense to concede that the British state has the rightful authority to disallow a referendum. Or to allow it only under conditions determined by the British political elite. If you accept that the British state has this authority, and that the authority is ‘legal and constitutional’, what possible grounds can there be to complain when that authority is used?



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All hypocrites together

Does anybody other than Jo Swinson believe that Jo Swinson might be the next British Prime MInister? She obviously believes it with all her mendacious, duplicitous, hypocritical heart. How else might she revoke Article 50 absent a new referendum on the matter – a so-called “peoples’ referendum”. Which, we note in passing, continues to be official Liberal Democrat policy despite the fact that Swinson made no mention of it.

Of course, she was speaking in Scotland. Like all British politicians, Swinson has two faces – the one she shows to voters in England, and the mask she puts on when she ventures north. In Scotland, she must occupy the throne recently vacated by Ruth Davidson. She must don the crown as ‘Queen of the BritNats’. She must strive to be the champion of British Nationalism in Scotland, because she is chasing the same votes that the ‘Ruth Davidson Say No To Indyref2 Party’ took in 2017. The votes of the most ardent British nationalists.

Although she has yet to be formally crowned by the British media, Swinson is the de facto ‘Queen of the BritNats’ and, as such, she must be as fervently opposed to a new independence referendum as her lately de-pedestalled predecessor. To avoid the accusations of hypocrisy and double-standards which inevitably follow from supporting a new referendum on EU membership whilst opposing a new referendum on restoring Scotland’s independence, Swinson has hit on the brilliantly simple tactic of omitting any mention of official Liberal Democrat policy on the former in the hope that nobody will contrast it with her opposition to the latter.

But then, we all do that, don’t we? We try to conceal or minimise inconvenient truths. I’m guilty myself. Look at how I’ve avoided alluding to the discomfiting hypocrisy of the SNP criticising Swinson for prioritising ‘Tory Brexit’ over Scotland’s cause.



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Realism and honesty

When I saw the headline Nicola Sturgeon lists demands to Jeremy Corbyn the first word to pop into my head was ‘why’. Why is Nicola Sturgeon making demands of the leader of the British Labour Party? He has no power to deliver on any of those demands. More to the point, he is very unlikely ever to have such power. Recent polling indicates the most likely outcome of the UK general election is a Conservative majority government at Westminster. The British Labour vote looks a lot more like “crumbling” than the British political elite’s determination to prevent a new independence referendum.

The polls can be wrong, of course. But even supposing British Labour did pull of an electoral miracle, the reality is any minority British Labour government that wanted to deliver any of its policies and sustain itself in government would do anything rather than rely on the support of the SNP. The imperative to preserve the Union transcends ideological differences and partisan rivalries that are, in any case, mostly theatrical. We know as a matter of absolute fact that the British parties will collude to thwart Scotland’s independence movement. We know this because they have done so in the recent past.

In theory, the SNP would have “significant influence and significant power” over a minority British Labour government. In practice, even the Tories would contrive to come to their aid if this was what was required to protect their “precious” Union. And the same is true of the Liberal Democrats – who may also have “significant influence and significant power” in the event of a minority government under Jeremy Corbyn.

Nicola Sturgeon observes that,

Jeremy Corbyn is somebody who supports self-determination for literally every other country in the world, it would be quite strange if he didn’t support it for Scotland.

No it wouldn’t! It wouldn’t be strange at all. In the context of British politics, duplicity, hypocrisy and mendacity are perfectly normal. It’s what we expect.

The British Labour Party has been as slippery on the matter of a new independence referendum as on many other issues. Nicola Sturgeon chooses to see this vacillation as opposition to a new referendum “crumbling before our eyes”. But it is at least as likely to be nothing more than reluctance to be as explicit about such opposition as the other British parties. A feeble effort to find a distinct position on the issue. A forlorn attempt to appeal to independence supporting traditional British Labour voters in Scotland whilst avoiding heaping further humiliation on the local chap up there – what’s his name? – Richard something?

But why are we even talking about deals with British Labour when, if the polls are anything like accurate, Nicola Sturgeon will be facing a triumphant Boris Johnson on 13 December? What is her thinking about that scenario?

… this election is a great opportunity for us to show Boris Johnson exactly what we think of such a contemptuous and disrespectful attitude towards Scottish democracy.

Undoubtedly, it is. And undoubtedly we should. We most assuredly must use this election to demonstrate our rejection of imposed British governments and our determination to defend Scotland’s democracy. But let us not be under any illusions! If Boris Johnson – and British politicians in general – are as contemptuous of Scottish democracy as Nicola Sturgeon says, why would they be at all concerned about any message the people of Scotland send via the ballot box?

Nicola Sturgeon says,

… the position Boris Johnson articulated yesterday is not a sensible, serious or sustainable position – that he will block Scottish democracy forever and a day.

As with the comment about Jeremy Corbyn’s support for self-determination above, this fails to recognise the nature of British politics. A position doesn’t have to be “sensible” or “serious” to be totally “sustainable” in the context of British politics. Look at the Mad Brexiteers! If ever there was a position that defied logic and rationality it is the determination to take the UK out of the EU in the absence of any compelling reason; any viable plan; and any credible alternative. For all the self-evident insanity of Brexit, it is happening. An insane position has proven to be perfectly sustainable.

Boris Johnson is not going to back down in the face of Scottish public opinion. There is no reason why he would. The polls suggest a majority approaching 100. With such a majority, he can pretty much do as he pleases. He may well contrive a no-deal Brexit. He will certainly dismiss Nicola Sturgeon’s demand for a Section 30 order.

Nicola Sturgeon notes that,

Nothing Boris Johnson has said in his short time as Prime Minister has turned out to be the case, so perhaps that should give us all hope for the future.

I note that, despite what must be the most disastrous premiership ever, Boris Johnson is still there. The malicious child-clown hasn’t been harmed at all by all those defeats in the House of Commons and the courts. He has come unscathed through numerous scandals. He lies with total impunity. So perhaps that should bid us despair for the future.

This is not intended as an attack on Nicola Sturgeon. Although it will inevitably be portrayed as such by those who have nothing more meaningful to say. All I’m doing is attempting to inject a bit of political reality into the discourse. And, maybe, a bit of honesty into the election campaign.

Asked if she would compromise on the timing of the new independence referendum in order to strike a deal with the British Labour minority government that almost certainly isn’t going to be more than hypothetical, Nicola Sturgeon responded saying that the timescale is “not for Westminster politicians to determine”. The reality is that the Section 30 process to which she has committed means that Westminster politicians can determine the timescale. Committing to the Section 30 process puts that power in the hands of those Westminster politicians. They can drag out negotiations on Edinburgh Agreement 2 for as long as they wish. And even as those negotiations are laboriously conducted, they can implement all manner of measures to hinder or prevent the referendum.

That is the reality. And I see no reason why we should not be honest about it. All it does is prove, as if further proof were needed, that the Union is disastrously detrimental to Scotland. It makes voting for the SNP in this election even more clearly an absolute imperative. Because, bad as the reality may be with a massive vote for the SNP, it will be many times worse without it.

By voting SNP in this UK general election and sending 50+ SNP MPs to Westminster, we at least keep our options open. When reality hits and the fantasy of British goodwill, good grace and good faith evaporates, only such an expression of our determination to defend Scotland’s democracy will sustain Scotland’s cause. It may seem horribly ironic, but is only by voting SNP that we can be prepared for whatever happens when the Section 30 process fails.



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