The fate of sheeple

My philosophy of life is that the meek shall inherit nothing but debasement, frustration, and ignoble deaths.

Harlan Ellison

I was spoilt for choice when considering an apposite quote with which to open. I rather like the one from J Paul Getty – “The meek shall inherit the Earth; but not the mineral rights.”. There’s no shortage of quotable wisdom warning of the perils of meekness. You’d think people would have learned. Unless you knew any people. In which case you might be shocked by the docility with which they march to their doom, but not surprised. If scripture is to be our guide then the meek would surely have inherited the entire solar system by now. Instead, all we get is debasement, frustration and ignoble death. Such are the true wages of meekness.

To be meek is to be submissive. Tractable. Manipulable. Docility is a self-reinforcing condition because being meek means that you can be manipulated into being more meek yet. The meek are ripe for plucking by those even moderately skilled in the art and science of manipulation. Everybody thinks that everybody else is too easily manipulated by politicians and the media, while nobody admits that they are. Nobody likes to admit that they’ve been manipulated. Not even to themselves. The the greater the extent that they have been manipulated into a particular conclusion the more fervently they will tend to insist that the conclusion was arrived at entirely independently and by reason alone. The meek inherit more meekness.

Meekness is a close cousin to apathy and complacency. Together, they consign the masses to the fate that has always been the fate of the masses. Complacency, apathy and humility combine to ensure that the many will uncomplainingly accept the discomfort and disadvantage that is the price of comfort and advantage for the few. ‘Twas ever thus.

It is also the case that few resent the activist more than those who are resigned to their fate. The powerful long since learned that the submissiveness of the masses was more cost-effectively ensured by fear of loss than by fear of the sword. The less people have the more desperately they will cling to it. But those who have nothing have nothing to lose. So the trick to keeping the masses in line is to get the right balance of well-being and insecurity. Most lives some of the time and many lives most of the time are too preoccupied with the effort to secure what they have to protest at what they’re denied. And those who protest on their behalf are regarded as putting at increased risk whatever little the dispossessed still possess. And so it goes on.

Scotland seems to have more than its share of meekness. We’re awash with humility. Where apathy hasn’t sapped the spirit complacency has. Here’s tae us! Wh’s like us! Nane, it seems when it comes to turning an endless series of cheeks to be slapped by the British political elite. Nane when it comes to being manipulated. Nane when it comes to being contentedly misled.

Only a week or two after being told that action to restore Scotland’s independence would have to wait indefinitely while Nicola Sturgeon dealt with Scotland’s portion of the coronavirus pandemic and its economic aftermath we are now being assured that she has made an explicit commitment to indyref2 in SNP 2021 manifesto. She didn’t. I listened to the radio interview. I heard no “explicit commitment”. And even if she had made an explicit commitment as claimed the commitment would have been meaningless because it is it would be a commitment to a process that cannot possibly achieve what is promised.

But none of this matters to the meek. There’s a majority for Yes in the polls. Nicola Sturgeon has achieved celebrity status. Now there’s an explicit commitment to indyref2 in SNP 2021 manifesto. This means that independence has never been closer. And this proximity to the goal can only be jeopardised by pointing out that there is a huge difference between something being close and it being reachable. Nobody wants to hear that things they celebrate as signs of approaching success don’t actually relate to success in any way at all. None of it satisfies the criteria of necessity and sufficiency. What they are clinging to may not be worthless, but it isn’t worth what they’ve allowed themselves to be convinced it’s worth. It isn’t worth enough.

A majority for Yes in the polls is a nice thing to have. But it doesn’t bring independence any closer unless there is the means to translate that public support into a formal declaration of the will of the people. A popular leader is a nice thing to have. But it doesn’t bring independence any closer unless that leader is committed not merely to the concept of independence but to the course of action required to achieve it. The promise of a new referendum is a nice thing to have. But it doesn’t bring independence any closer unless the promise can be honoured and honoured in a way which will make the referendum a step towards the restoration of Scotland’s independence.

The meek are content with what they have. The meek are easily manipulated into believing what they have to be more than what it is. The meek are easily convinced that the biggest threat to what they have comes from those who point out that what they have is an emperor in underpants. The sheeple are being herded into the abattoir and bleating protests at anybody who tries to warn them of what lies ahead.

I’ll finish with another quote which should make the meek think, but probably won’t.

The English are mentioned in the Bible; Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Mark Twain

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A home for hope?

Like many people, I have come to regard Joanna Cherry as the person who might jolt the SNP leadership out of the cloth-eared inertia which has beset the party since 2014 and left the independence campaign run aground on a reef of obdurate hyper-caution. I saw in Ms Cherry someone who might look at the increase in support for independence indicated by polls over the past year and rather than unthinkingly accepting this as a vindication of the SNP’s approach to the constitutional issue, would ask the awkward questions. Such as, why only over the past year? Circumstances have been close to ideal for an anti-Union campaign since Friday 19 September 2014. Since then, there have been numerous opportunities to further Scotland’s cause. All of them were missed. Why? If the SNP’s approach to the constitutional issue is appropriate and effective, why was there no evidence of this over a period of five years or more?

I thought Joanna Cherry might be the bold voice within the SNP pointing out the unpalatable facts. Such as the hard reality that high and rising support in the polls is utterly meaningless in the absence of a process by which that support is connected through actions and decisions to an outcome. Strength of public opinion alone changes nothing without the means to translate it into effective political power. The SNP in government is supposed to is supposed to provide that means. Instead, the party’s leadership remains absolutely committed to a process – Section 30 – which does not connect to anything. And now has indefinitely postponed action even on a process which suits only the purposes of the British state.

I was encouraged in my hopes of Joanna Cherry when I read that she was urging the SNP to accept that the anti-Brexit campaign was over and lost. I would have been happier if she were to explicitly acknowledge that the obsession with Brexit should never have been permitted to supersede and supplant the commitment to restoring Scotland’s independence which gets top-billing in the party’s own constitution. But we take what we can get.

Some will say that it is pointless harking back to the past. Generally, these would be the people who stand to be embarrassed by the past. Their sensitivities should not be allowed to stand in the way of learning lessons from past mistakes. Not only has the current leadership of the party failed to learn any lessons, it is in denial about there being anything to learn. Nicola Sturgeon – for it is she as First Minister and party leaders who must shoulder the blame – has ignored and/or denigrated anyone who suggests alternative approaches which take due cognisance of past errors.

But we are where we are. Even if all too many in the Yes movement imagine we’re in a different place altogether. We must move on. With each passing day the need to extricate Scotland from the Union grows more urgent. Only the SNP can provide the means to translate popular support for Scotland’s cause into effective political action on behalf of that cause. I had come to look on Joanna Cherry as the individual who, with popular support of her own, might snap the SNP leadership out of its Brexit-induced torpor and make it fit for purpose.

Imagine my disappointment when I got to the final third of Joanna Cherry’s column in The National only to find something that reads like it has been pinched from Pete Wishart’s blog. She does that thing that so many SNP politicians do. She reaches out to the British state’s propagandists and validates their carping. She hints at fresh thinking, then proceeds to trot out stale material left over from the 2014 referendum campaign. She says, “we need to advance a fresh positive case for an independent Scotland”. No we don’t! We need to advance the idea that independence is simply normal. We need to make the case that it is the Union which is the constitutional anomaly and that Brexit isn’t the problem. The problem is the Union which allows the British political elite to ignore the democratic will of the sovereign people of Scotland in all matters and at all times!

She goes on,

This means providing answers to the questions that in the full glare of an independence campaign will come into focus…

No it doesn’t!

Joanna Cherry needs to ask how these questions are brought into focus, by whom and for what purpose. Only by asking such questions might the realisation dawn that these questions are brought into focus through British propaganda fed to us through the British media on behalf of the British state for the purpose of manufacturing doubt about independence.

She says,

From my experience talking to voters these questions revolve around three issues: the economy and concern about what currency an independent Scotland will use, including whether we could be forced to join the euro; how the process of accession to the EU would actually work, and how to maintain cross-border trade with England.

But where did these people get the questions form? The got them from the British media! The vast majority of voters have neither immediate interest in nor any knowledge of these matters. They are told by the media that it is absolutely vital that they get an answer to the ‘What currency?’ question. So the think they need an answer to that question – notwithstanding the fact that even if any answer they could be given constituted real knowledge, it would be knowledge that they could do nothing with. And whatever answer they are provided with and however comprehensive and convincing that answer is, the British media will tell them that they didn’t get an answer and they will thereby suppose that they didn’t get an answer and they will be outraged despite the fact that they had previously accepted an answer that is of no real use to them to a question it would never have occurred to them to ask in the first place.

Even if the ‘What currency?’ question is answered there is no answer that can be given that doesn’t spawn a score of other questions. Merely by being asked every one of those questions generates doubt. By attempting to answer them the SNP validates the questions asked, amplifies the doubt and prompts further doubt-inducing enquiries.

Joanna Cherry says,

These are all legitimate questions.

No they’re not!

The ‘legitimate’ question would be is Scotland capable of managing its monetary affairs? Why doesn’t that question “come into focus”? Because attempting to answer that question would cause the British political elite considerable and obvious difficulty. So they use the facile ‘What currency?’ question to divert attention.

The same or similar applies to every other question. Politics for Dummies! When your opponent asks a question the purpose is rarely if ever to elicit useful information. Always assume malign intent. Always ask yourself what question is not being asked. Then ask it!

How do I know all this? Because it is exactly what happened in the first referendum campaign!

I have grown accustomed to SNP politicians and Yes activists behaving as if Scotland needed to pass an exam to even be allowed to exercise the right of self-determination that is ours by absolute right. I had hoped that Joanna Cherry would be different. I had hoped that she would understand the need to reframe the constitutional issue and rethink the campaign strategy. If not quite dashed, that hope is now seriously undermined. Which leaves me with a genuinely legitimate question. If not Joanna Cherry, then who?

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So what?

Apparently, those pesky Russkies may have been interfering in the UK’s democratic processes. Or maybe they haven’t. I’m tempted to congratulate our new Russian overlords on finding the UK democratic processes with which they interfered. Or not. But in an effort to avoid sarcasm I’ll simply wonder how they hoped to figure out how their interference would interact with the interference carried out by other governments. Including the UK government. If, of course any governments interfered at at all. Because the evidence seems not very evidence-like. In fact, I’d like to see some evidence that the evidence is evidence. But that’s just me slipping into facetiousness again.

Not that I’m saying the alleged interference by the Russians (and assorted others) didn’t happen as alleged. In fact, my default assumption would be that there was foreign interference in the alleged democratic processes. Allegedly. Because that’s what states do. It’s what they’ve always done. I’ll warrant there isn’t a nation in all the world or in all of history that didn’t attempt to influence the course of events in some other nation at some point. They’re all at it! WE are at it! Everybody’s doin’ it! Everybody always has done it. It’s politics.

Long, long before Machiavelli was born state actors were being Machiavellian. There never was a state actor that didn’t think itself the most masterful practitioner of the Machiavellian dark arts since Machiavelli. Or before. They all think they’re running the world. They all see themselves as the ‘Great Engineer’ manipulating the levers of espionage and diplomacy to ensure advantage. And they all fail more or less disastrously more or less all the time.

All that changes is the technology. The underlying motivations and machinations haven’t changed. When carrier pigeons were cutting edge technology the coded messages strapped to their legs concerned precisely the same kind of things that now fly massively farther and faster and in infinitely more indecipherable form courtesy of the carrier pigeon’s successors. State actors have always wanted to know what other state actors are doing and thinking and thinking of doing. And they’ve always sought to manipulate what others do, think and think of doing. It’s kinda their job. Otherwise they’d be state non-actors.

In one of those curious quirks of human nature, these state actors simultaneously think themselves the secret bee’s covert knees when it it comes to the state acting and fret endlessly that other state actors might be out-Machivelliing them with devious new devices and gadgets and techniques and methods. State actors are desperately in need of counselling. But who can they trust!?

What we are being encouraged to worry about is nothing more than the environment in which politics proceeds. Of course, we should be on the lookout for serious abuses. But if any of those state actors had found a way of interfering in the affairs of other states that was effective in any significant way even in the face of efforts to counter that interference then, by definition, we wouldn’t even know about it. And all that would happen if we found out would be a shift to a new reality that was a product of the same process that was the product of the old reality. It to would be a political reality that had been subject to interference and manipulation and, just as importantly, the measures implemented to prevent interference and manipulation every bit as much as the old reality.

If you want to worry about Russian interference in Scottish elections and referendums then you are, of course, perfectly at liberty to do so. But doing so makes no sense unless you also worry just as much about American interference and EU interference and Israeli interference and Chinese interference and – worst culprit of all – British interference.

I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark here and venture that most people aren’t looking to expand their worry-list to anything like that extent.

What can’t be cured must be endured! There are many ills in life for which we are well-advised to develop coping mechanisms given the remoteness of the possibility of a solution. By far the most effective way of coping with and minimising the impact of unwelcome external interference in the democratic process is mass engagement and participation. State actors become small in the presence of the people united.

The Russkies almost certainly do have their tentacles reaching into Scotland. But when there is a frantic pointing at them and their activities (alleged) then my first response is to wonder which state actor’s activities I’m being distracted from. Being in Scotland, I don’t have to wonder long.

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It’s the waiting…

I see Pete “The Postponer” Wishart has issued his call to inaction again. All across Scotland his battle-cry echoes, “Once more unto the waiting room, dear friends, once more!”. Apparently, the fight to restore Scotland’s independence must wait while Pete trains a troupe of line-dancing ducks. As rationalisations for indefinite delay go, this has the advantage of novelty. But it is otherwise less than persuasive. Don’t get me wrong! I wish Pete well in his duck-choreographing efforts and I’ll probably watch the YouTube video when he finally manages to get them all in a row; but I may not be alone in holding to the opinion that of all the things that Scotland needs right now, performing farmyard fowl comes pretty low on the list. Just above a second spike of coronavirus infections.

I am curious, however. I’d like to know what he means by “another dead end”. In the title of his latest paean to procrastination he asks ‘PLAN B. PANACEA OR ANOTHER DEAD END?’. What might be the first “dead end” implied by the question? What else could it be but PLAN A? So we must assume, as no other candidate plans are mentioned. Is this Pete Wishart acknowledging that the Section 30 process is a “dead end”? Or is it just more evidence that he talks – and types – faster than he thinks. Never mind the meaning! Look at the cleverness!

Why ask if ‘Plan B’ might be a panacea anyway? Has anybody claimed that it might have the power to cure all ills? Come to that, has anybody claimed that it might be the “solution to all our indy woes”? Or that it could “break the constitutional stand off and get us swiftly and easily to independence”? Who has described ‘Plan B’ in such terms? When? Where?

Don’t ask Pete! (No! Seriously! Don’t ask him. He doesn’t like being asked questions about anything he’s said or written. He gets very upset if people don’t simply accept his pronouncements as gospel. Don’t you know who he is?) It seems he doesn’t know either. Having just told us what he insists people have said it is, he poses the question, “But what exactly is plan B?”. Call me picky, but should he not have asked that question first? Should he not have told his readers what was about to get the benefit of his disparagement? Did he not just give the impression that he knew what ‘Plan B’ was? Or at least enough to know what it was described as? Confused? Just wait! (To coin a phrase.)

Pete Wishart then tells us that “no one has actually outlined what the exact proposal is”. But we know that’s not true. And so does he. Because he goes on to refer to and describe the proposal that Chris McEleny and Angus MacNeil had developed in sufficient detail to be put to conference – and be met with boos from the audience and behaviour from the party bosses that was hardly less reprehensible. Having said that ‘Plan B’ had never been explained Pete Wishart then goes on to explain ‘Plan B’ in the very terms of the explanation he says has never been given. Aye! I know!

To confuse matters further, Wishart then makes some fairly good points about the proposal he says he’s unfamiliar with because “no one has actually outlined what the exact proposal is”. Don’t ask me how that’s possible. More importantly, don’t ask him. Anything. Ever. He doesn’t like it.

I have always been supportive of Chris McEleny and Angus MacNeil not because I agree with their proposal or think it a workable idea but because they at least want to have a discussion about the SNP’s approach to the constitutional issue, while Pete Wishart and others want only to close that discussion down. Wishart says he proposes to “ask a few gentle but searching questions” about ‘Plan B’. We might wonder how he proposes to do that when he says he has no way of knowing exactly what ‘Plan B’ is. We might also wonder why, if it is considered essential that “gentle but probing questions” are asked of a proposal that’s more caricatured than described, similar questioning of ‘Plan A’ is strictly prohibited.

As my regular readers will both be aware, I have been asking searching and latterly non-too-gentle questions about the Section 30 process for years. Just as I have been asking probing questions about Pete Wishart’s notion of an ‘optimal time’ to act on the independence issue. I have had no answers on either matter.

The strategy will be familiar to those who paid attention during the 2014 referendum campaign. The approach taken by the SNP and the Yes movement then was that we had to ‘make the case for independence’. Having put the onus on ourselves, the anti-independence campaign immediately and predictably set about demanding answers to questions asked only because asking them suggested doubt. As any sensible person would have anticipated, the questions were endless and the answers never sufficient even if they were acknowledged as having been given.

Meanwhile, there was no questioning of the Union. The entire campaign proceeded – with the full concurrence of the SNP and the bulk of the Yes movement – on the promise that the UK is unquestionably satisfactory and independence has to be proved a worthy and workable alternative. But no proof could ever be enough. No test could ever be passed. The case for independence can never be made to the satisfaction of the British establishment. And the SNP insist that the British establishment must be the ultimate arbiter.

Pete Wishart insists that “the SNP will enter the next Holyrood election with a route map to secure our nation’s independence”. Why, then, will he not explain that “route map” at least as well as he wants ‘Plan B’ explained? If he is so confident that the SNP’s approach is the right one and that it is winning, why the refusal to set out the steps in the process? He says the SNP has a “route map”. But there are only two points on this so-called route map. The destination – independence – and a starting point which is wherever he needs it to be in order to make that destination seem reachable. A route map, as the term suggests, portrays a route. It lays out all the critical points which must be passed through in order to reach the destination. Nobody in the SNP leadership or the second tier that Wishart occupies is able (or willing) to tell us what any of those critical points are, far less how we get by them.

He dismisses ‘Plan B’ as impossible because the British state can and will just say no and we must accept that refusal because to do otherwise would give them further grounds for saying no.

Isn’t that the very definition of the Section 30 process?

One thing Pete Wishart says caught my attention for reasons other than its evident ridiculousness.

There are only two ways to pursue independence, one is with the participation of the UK state, the other is through a unilateral declaration. 

He almost gets it here. Quite unwittingly, I’m sure, Pete Wishart comes tantalisingly close to pinning an essential idea. It may well be true to say that there are only two ways to pursue independence. But then he succumbs to his inability to question his own assumptions and preconceptions. That he accepts the ‘right’ of the UK state to participate in the process is symptomatic of a colonised mind. That he finds anathema the very idea of Scotland being proactive and assertive speaks of a mind that has fallen prey to British propaganda portrayal of Scotland as ‘Too wee! Too poor! Too stupid!”.

If there are only two ways to pursue independence then one – the one favoured by Pete Wishart and those above him in the SNP hierarchy – is not merely with the “participation” of the UK state, but with the full, honest and willing cooperation of the British state. That is what the Section 30 process requires.

The other way is for Scotland to take responsibility for itself and its own future. To reject the Section 30 process as a constitutional trap laid by the British state and recognise that the only process by which we can successfully pursue the restoration of our independence is a process which we create for ourselves.

One other thing is worth remarking on. When I visited Pete Wishart’s blog there were several comments on it. Not one of them favourable. Many of them highly critical. This is a marked change from a year or so ago, when he could confidently anticipate a sympathetic audience for his brand or timorous complacency trying to pass itself off as political nous. A tide is turning. Given that Wishart dutifully parrots the party line, might we hope that he will notice the rising waters threatening to sweep him away along with all the other worshippers at the altar of the ‘Gold Standard’. Might he recognise that party members, Yes activists and voters will not much longer tolerate the SNP leadership’s obdurate adherence to a process that simply cannot move Scotland’s cause forward.

Maybe. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Take a number. Mr Wishart will show you to the waiting room.

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As things stand, Scotland falls

I realise Shona is trying to smile through the pain here. Using humour to cork her bottled anger. But I’m obliged to take her to task for a particular comment. She writes,

Perhaps Johnson imagines the MP for Orkney and Shetland is in fact in favour of bypassing the referendum process and going for UDI?

I can’t let that one slip by. It just isn’t the case that UDI means “bypassing the referendum”. UDI – or more precisely and to avoid just such confusion – Scottish UDI is simply another route to a referendum. An alternative to the Section 30 process which is so greatly admired by both our First Minister and any British Nationalist you might care to mention. The Section 30 process that Nicola Sturgeon refers to as the “gold standard”. She’s almost correct. The Section 30 is the BRITISH gold standard. That’s why it’s in the Act of the British parliament which serves to justify the withholding of powers which rightfully belong with the Scottish Parliament.

Section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 is a constitutional catch-all in case anybody found a loophole elsewhere in the legislation by which Scotland might challenge the Union. It’s there to give the British Prime Minister authority to strip even more powers from the Scottish Parliament. It’s there as the British state’s safeguard against the Scottish Parliament becoming troublesome. It’s there to reassure those who thought devolution would put their precious Union in jeopardy.

It’s there to maintain the pretence of a democratic route out of the Union within the legal and constitutional framework of the British state. It’s actual purpose is to allow the British Prime Minister an effective veto over the right of self-determination which, according to international laws and conventions, cannot be denied or constrained.

Failing an outright veto, the Section 30 process (NOT the legislation but the established process) affords the British state a role in Scotland’s exercise of the right of self-determination such as is deprecated by international laws and conventions. A role which can all too readily be used to sabotage the entire exercise.

It’s easy to see why the Section 30 process might earn the “gold standard” accolade from those who are determined to formalise the 313-years of annexation by having Scotland subsumed into a ‘Greater England’ called Britain. It’s not so easy to see why the Section 30 process is so favoured by the de facto figurehead in the fight to restore Scotland’s independence. Not easy at all. Impossible, in fact.

A thought occurs. Nicola Sturgeon is reputed to be a smart lawyer. Given the true nature of the Section 30 process, I’m prepared to venture a small wager that had she been involved in the negotiations she would have fought tooth and nail to have Section 30 removed. Now, she all but signs a pledge to it in her own blood. Section 30 hasn’t changed. What has?

Maybe it’s the weight of the irony that’s getting me down. Or maybe it’s reading comments from within the Yes movement which help to feed and amplify and propagate the British Nationalist / Nicola Sturgeon line that Scotland pursuing withdrawal in the more normal way would be “illegal and unconstitutional”.

The Section 30 process will not work as a route to independence. That is not its purpose. That would be totally contrary to its purpose. It follows, therefore, that there must be an alternative process. A process entirely made and managed in Scotland under the auspices of the Scottish Parliament and other of Scotland’s democratic institutions – even if those institutions have to be created.

It is this alternative process – actually the ‘default’ process to the extent that there is such a thing – which is referred to as #ScottishUDI. At the very heart of that process lies a referendum. Far from #ScottishUDI bypassing or foregoing or excluding a referendum, it is entirely built around the principle of popular sovereignty. It is NOT as liars on both sides of the constitutional divide maintain, a means of preventing the people of Scotland from having the final say. #ScottishUDI is the only way the people of Scotland will have their say.

Section 30 is all about denying and curtailing democracy. #ScottishUDI is all about enabling and facilitating democracy.

It hardly matters. As we move into the end-game of the constitutional battle, the process of locking our ancient and once-proud nation into a Union which defines Scotland as an integral part and mere region of an indivisible and indissoluble British state, is considerable in advance of any moves towards independence. Which is inevitable because there are no moves towards independence. Nicola Sturgeon remains immovably wedded to the Section 30 process. Unless and until she and her party and her government explicitly vacate and renounce their absolute commitment to that process there can be no moves towards independence.

It appears that the lady is not for turning.

Things can change. As I’m sure someone will point out under the illusion that uttering such banalities makes them seem wise. But, as things stand, Nicola Sturgeon is not going to be persuaded from the folly of committing to a process which is critically dependent on the full, willing, unstinting and honest cooperation of the very people most determined to ensure that Scotland never regains her self-respect never mind her independence.

Those people are winning.

To prevent the British Nationalist juggernaut crushing Scotland out of existence, the Section 30 process must go! Or Nicola Sturgeon must go! But only if she is replaced by someone who is prepared to face up to the reality of Scotland’s predicament.

That is not going to happen.

It’s not going to happen because there is nothing and nobody to make it happen. The only possibility of ‘persuading’ Nicola Sturgeon to abandon the Section 30 process was a unified Yes movement. And there’s as much chance of that as there is of Nicola Sturgeon unilaterally declaring Scotland independent.

As things stand, Scotland falls.

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The single issue

There’s an article in today’s National penned by Iain Black. He is described as “a Voices for Scotland board member and vice-convenor [sic] of the Scottish Independence Convention”. We are assured that the views expressed are his own. They’re not! Or they might be. But they echo the official line taken by the Scottish Independence Convention (SIC). Iain Black’s ideas of how the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence might best be advanced accurately reflect the attitude which prevails in the SIC and in a plethora of other special interest groups which have latched onto ‘independence’ as a useful marketing device for their policy agenda.

The SIC should call themselves ‘Voices for Everything Except Yes’. And they could do with buying a calendar. This is not 2012! It is a long way from 2012. It is considerably more than eight year’s worth of change since 2012. The SIC seems oblivious to the change. They want to fight the same campaign as for the 2014 referendum. They want to fight the campaign in the same way and according to the same rules. It simply doesn’t occur to them that different may be possible, or necessary.

I have some advice for SIC to ignore with their customary elitist arrogance. You will never build a case for independence around which the entire Yes movement can unite. And if you can’t unite the Yes movement then you can’t win the campaign. A single-issue political campaign cannot be built on and around a disputed concept. And ‘independence’ is a disputed concept. Scotland’s cause is a single issue. That issue is the Union. The Union that denies us the agency to effect any meaningful change. The Union which denies the sovereignty of Scotland’s people.

It is an issue which must be addressed in a referendum. A single-issue referendum. There is no other kind. If you are talking about currency you are not addressing the issue. You are, therefore, not part of the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence by ending the Union. You are part of this other thing that should be running in the background.

Partisan politics and ideological agendas have no place in the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence. They distract from the mission, divide the movement and dilute the message.

This is not to say that the policy agenda is bad. Invariably, a policy agenda will have bits that some agree with and bits they disagree with. Different people will take different views. And that is precisely the problem. There is no such thing as a ‘case for independence’ on which the Yes movement can agree. Therefore there is little possibility of there being a ‘case for independence’ on which the voters can agree. When I say “very little possibility” what I mean is none.

This is why we have political parties and elections. Elections are different from referendums. (This will sound condescending to some ears. But if you read Iain Black’s column you’ll understand that it has to be said.) Elections provide a mandate for a particular administration to pursue a particular policy agenda as spelled out in the party manifestos. That’s the simple version. In real life politics all is fudge and compromise. A referendum cannot – must not – result in fudge and compromise. The 2014 independence referendum and the 2016 EU referendum each produced a result but no decision. They failed as referendums. Hence the debacle of Brexit. Hence the continuing effort to get a decision on Scotland’s constitutional status. Hence, too, the Union as it has become – an instrument of annexation for Scotland and subordination for Scotland’s people.

People talk about “when the referendum campaign starts”. It has started. It might be more true to say it never stopped. It has most certainly not been conducted effectively over the past five or six years. But it is there. We now need to get that campaign working effectively. We need to move on to the next phase of that campaign. We cannot afford to have a campaign running round the mobius strip of policy debate. We need to get off that treadmill and focus on the one thing that all in the Yes movement should be agreed upon – the need to end the Union.

Everything that Iain Black talks about and everything that all the other special interest groups talk about depends critically on ending the Union. And yet this fundamental necessity is never mentioned. That may be because people like Iain Black reckon the Scottish people can’t cope with the issue being stated so baldy and forcefully. It may be because they are too distracted by vital matter such as the colour of postage stamps after independence. It may even be because they genuinely fail to recognise the fact that dissolving the Union is the single common aim of the entire Yes movement.

The Union or independence. That is the stark choice that will face Scotland’s electorate as they contemplate the referendum which must decide this question. There will be nothing on the ballot paper about the colour of postage stamps. It is a single issue. Therefore, the campaign must be fought on that single issue.

If, as Iain Black insists, we need “new case for independence” for independence today, is it not entirely within the bounds of possibility that we will need another “new case” tomorrow? Or next month? Or next year? Which case is it that we are trying to sell to the people of Scotland? Is any one of these cases a case upon which a clear majority can agree and so produce a decision as well as a result?

Policy debates have their place. They are part of the general political discourse. I would encourage people to engage with this discourse. But I would caution them against supposing these debates are the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence. They are a separate thing altogether. Something which should run alongside the single-issue campaign. Otherwise, how might it be the single-issue campaign that it must be for what cannot be other than a single-issue referendum?

Iain Black and SIC and ‘Voices for Everything Maybe Including Yes’ have failed to learn the lessons of the 2014 campaign. They fail to recognise the new reality. (Of which the viral pandemic is only a part.) They suppose that Scotland’s cause can effectively be pursued by the old means utilising the old process. They are wrong! Badly wrong! Tragically wrong!

Unfortunately, so is the SNP. The SIC and similar organisation don’t connect the different elements of the independence movement. They act as a buffer between the Yes movement and both the SNP and the intellectual elites with their ideological agendas and their utter conviction that it is their role to guide the masses. To speak for the masses. To exploit the masses in the service of that ideological agenda. It doesn’t matter how attractive that agenda might be to however many people, it does not relate to the question being asked.

The Yes movement needs to break through these barriers. The Yes movement needs a unified voice in order that it can speak to power. In order that it can instruct power. In order that it can join its strength with effective political power and thus create the force which will lever Scotland out of the Union.

White Rose Rising is the campaign against the Union. That is all! It is a campaign intended to address the actual choice that the people of Scotland will be asked to make. It is a campaign to force the Scottish Government to facilitate that choice through the Scottish Parliament – the only parliament with democratic legitimacy in Scotland.

White Rose Rising is an idea. It exemplifies what the Yes movement must become in order to effectively pursue the restoration of Scotland’s independence.

Independence! Nothing less! Nothing else!

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Pioneers wanted!

Traveller, your footprints
Are the path and nothing more;
Traveller, there is no path,
The path is made by walking.

Antonio Machado

We commonly talk about the path or route to independence. People will refer to this or that path. They will insist that their favoured route is best. They will decry other paths as too rugged and potholed or leading in the wrong direction. It is a powerful idea; the image of a well-signposted road leading to a desired destination is very alluring. All we must do to reach that destination is choose that road and go where it takes us. The path need not be straight or smooth. It is accepted that if a place is worth going to then it is worth making some effort to get there. The path may be winding, rutted and steep but the need to reach that destination – or the imperative to leave the place you are – make even an arduous journey worthwhile.

We speak, also, of people making the journey from No to Yes. From rejecting the idea of restoring Scotland’s independence to embracing that aspiration wholeheartedly. People describe that journey. They describe the path that led them from one place to another. They tell of the obstacles they had to overcome. They tell of the things that urged them on. They acknowledge the people who have helped them on their journey. The people who have pointed out the path and given directions as required.

But what if there is no path. How would people make that journey from No to Yes if the independence movement had not pioneered a route. How might they even contemplate the sojourn if they were unable to see the destination or the path leading there? There being no path, how might they even know that such a journey was possible? Even if they could imagine the journey, the absence of any path would mean they had no starting point.

Now consider that there is no path to independence. No route by which Scotland’s rightful constitutional status might be restored. Suppose that the destination can be seen well enough, but that there is no apparent way of getting there.

I came close to this conclusion back in January when I wrote an article titled Shackled! which, with your indulgence, I shall quote at some length. The opening paragraph should give a feel for the piece.

If you know where you want to go but need to figure out how to get there then you also need to know where you are. Only when you know the starting point and the end point can you begin to plot a course from one to the other. I say “begin” because identifying the start and end points is only part of the task. Arguably, the easiest part. Because plotting a course between the two requires that you take account of all the points that lie on your proposed course. You need to know where all the obstacles and potential bottlenecks are. You need to know as much as possible about everything that you may encounter on your journey.

The point I was making in that article is that the Section 30 route is most definitely not the path to independence. I described it as,

…nothing more than a device by which the pretence of democracy could be maintained. A way of keeping alive the hope and belief that Scotland has a democratic route out of the Union. The Section 30 process is a lie.

I was put in mind of this article as I ploughed my uncomprehending and incredulous way through British Labour MP Ian Murray’s mind-bendingly, jaw-droppingly deranged responses to Michael Kettle as he was interviewed for the Sunday Herald. To venture into this article is to step through the looking-glass, go down the helter-skelter and out the back of the wardrobe. About a third of the way through I began to be genuinely concerned for Mr Murray’s mental well-being. At the two-thirds mark I started to fret for Mr Kettle. By the end I was seriously worried that I might be adversely affected by what I’d read. Some things are so detached from reality that in reaching for such sense as might be found one fears for ones own grip on sanity. You have been warned.

When it was suggested that if the SNP won an overall majority in next year’s Holyrood poll, it would insist it had a mandate to demand a second referendum, Mr Murray stressed how this would become a “ridiculous” proposition in 2024, three years after the Holyrood elections, if Labour took power.“By that hypothetical, Keir Starmer would take the Labour manifesto into government and then rip up everything he has talked about on radical federalism to give somebody a referendum he disagrees with on the basis of a mandate that could be less than 50%,” argued the Shadow Scottish Secretary.

Please take a moment to cautiously try and get your head around this. It’s as if he’s talking about two things each and either of which can be whatever he needs it to be for the purposes of whatever argument he’s utterly failing to make. Foolishly, Ian Murray tries to clarify this puddle of murky pish.

He added: “You can’t say one half of the equation has a mandate and not the other. The mandate for Keir Starmer, if he becomes PM in 2024, would be to deliver on the manifesto commitment of the radical federalism that he wants to try and achieve.”

Apparently, you “can’t say” exactly what he then goes on to say. He says that his half of the equation must have a mandate and the other half can’t even if its numbers are bigger. Whatever mandate the SNP is granted by the Scottish electorate that mandate is outweighed and overruled by whatever mandate British Labour might get from voters in England-as-Britain. Plug whatever numbers you like into Ian Murray’s “equation” and the result is always the same – Scotland loses!

Take the most extreme scenario you can imagine. Suppose the SNP, standing on an explicit independence manifesto, wins every single seat in the Scottish Parliament at the next Holyrood election. Suppose that in the following UK general election British Labour suffers the loss of its sole remaining MP (A tragedy for them made measurably less traumatic by the fact that this happens to be Ian Murray.), while the SNP again sweeps the board and takes all 59 seats with 100% of the vote on a 100% turnout. (Shut up! I’m making a point!) Suppose further that by some quirk of the British political system British Labour actually manages to ‘win’ that UK election despite getting precisely no votes in Scotland and with only 35% of the UK-wide vote. Apply the ‘Murray Maths’ and what do you find? There still isn’t a mandate for a new referendum and it is “ridiculous” to think there might be!

Heads they win! Tails we lose! Even if it’s a double-header!

Stu Campbell has emptied out some more of Murray’s big box of inanities and poked them with his forensic stick if you feel like delving deeper into the murk and mire of a monumentally muddled mind. (Murray’s mind, that is. Lest there be any misunderstanding.)

There is only one conclusion to be drawn from all of this. Within the Union there is no democratic route out of the Union. Because the situation which Ian Murray has tried to explain, or tried to avoid explaining or whatever, is the same regardless of which of the British parties holds power in London. It’s just that the other parties have more sense than try to explain this. And far more sense than try make it sound like democracy. Look at the fool Ian Murray has made of himself as he attempted this.

Back to that article of mine from January.

Without a process by which Scotland can get out of the Union at will it can no longer be maintained that Scotland remains in the Union by consent. Consent that cannot be withdrawn as readily as it is given isn’t consent at all.

Without an accessible process by which consent can be freely withdrawn Scotland’s status cannot be that of a party to a political union freely entered into and continued. Rather, Scotland must be regarded as annexed territory. Scotland must be regarded as having been annexed by England by stealth over the period since the Union was first imposed on us. Either the Treaty of Union was, in reality, a Declaration of Annexation, or the terms of that treaty have been unilaterally altered by or on behalf of England over the last 313 years.

There is no path, There is no route. Scotland is trapped. Shackled to England-as-Britain and whatever corrupt, incompetent bunch of imbeciles manages to pauchle the reins of power in that increasing foreign land. As Antonio Machado says, the path must be made by walking. There is no path we can take, Therefore we must make our own path.

Scotland’s situation is unique. Scotland’s circumstances are unprecedented. Anybody who claims to be able to show us the path out of the Union is a liar and a fraud. No such path exists. It remains to be constructed. Which is good news for us. It means there are no constraints. Or no more than are imposed by the basic principles of democracy. There is no map. There is no defined procedure. The process by which we restore Scotland’s independence will have to be devised anew. We start from scratch. Let no-one tell you this or that is ‘illegal’. How can there be precise and detailed rules for something that is being done for the first time ever?

We must forge our own path. We don’t need lawyers. We need adventurers! Trail-blazers! Pioneers!

By walking the path is made
And when you look back
You’ll see a road
Never to be trodden again.

Antonio Machado

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Just the ticket

It goes without saying that the current public health crisis must be the Scottish Government’s first priority at the moment. But Chris McEleny is correct to point out that “there are still other major issues facing the SNP and Scotland”. Perhaps more importantly, he reminds us – all of us – that however much some might wish it, these issues are not going to simply evaporate while the government and the media are distracted by more immediately newsworthy matters. The coronavirus outbreak is undoubtedly a genuine problem. But don’t imagine for one minute that politicians around the world weren’t thinking of ways to exploit it before they started thinking of ways to deal with it. Scotland NOT excluded.

As obvious as the fact that the coronavirus outbreak must preoccupy the Scottish Government for the next several months is the fact that the British parties squatting in our Parliament together with their political masters in London will be eagerly looking for ways of turning the situation into a cudgel with which to pummel the SNP administration and the independence movement. The British state’s propaganda machine doesn’t stop just because people are falling ill and dying. It has no heart. It has no conscience. Expect no let-up in the relentless campaign of smear and calumny targeting NHS Scotland. To the slobbering hyenas of the British media, the additional burden on our health services means only new openings for attack. An overburdened system is a vulnerable system. The pack has scented prey.

Boris Johnson’s regime will be glad of attention being diverted from the Brexit shambles and the trade deal negotiations which have been rapidly descending to the same level of grim farce as has characterised the rest of the Mad Brexiteers’ asinine adventure. It is entirely possible, too, that the coronavirus will provide Johnson with a fine excuse for going back on his word not to seek another extension. Who could condemn him if he pleads inability to cope with concurrent cock-ups? He’s barely human, after all.

It is not only in Downing Street where the worry of dealing with a major public health threat will be laced with a vein of relief. I don’t for a moment suppose that Nicola Sturgeon will dwell on the fact, but fact it remains that the coronavirus outbreak is politically very convenient. It is perfectly possible for something to be both a tragedy and blessing, of sorts. It’s an ill wind that can’t be turned to some political advantage. Were unfolding events not all too regrettably real but following the script of some Netflix drama, one would be forgiven for thinking the pandemic too timely to be true. Fate can be cruel and/or kind. But very rarely both in such accommodating conjunction.

The health crisis comes at a time when the SNP, both as a party and as the administration, was facing increasing disquiet about its approach to the constitutional issue. None will admit it, but many in the party’s upper echelons will be discreetly heaving a sigh of relief that they will not now be required to face delegates any time in the near future. A chicken-wire screen in front of the stage is one movie cliche that conference managers will gladly eschew.

There will be some relief also that public health precautions now preclude other large gatherings at which criticism of Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘strategy’ may have been voiced along with ever more insistent calls for a rethink. Or a ‘Plan B’, as Chris McEleny might say. But the disquiet and discontent don’t go away just because there’s a public health crisis. The constitutional is all-pervasive and all-encompassing. It is overarching and underlying. It is more than three centuries old and only becomes more urgent as time passes. Injustice does not diminish with time. The longer it persists, the more corrosive it becomes. Nor is it diminished by intervening events – no matter how serious these may be. The coronavirus tragedy will not be the first to be outlasted by the imperative of restoring constitutional normality to Scotland.

There is absolutely no reason why the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence might not or should continue by whatever means are left to us and by whoever is not otherwise occupied dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. We can expect a screeching chorus of “Now is not the time!” from the BritNat harpies. We should be thoroughly inured to their self-serving faux outrage by now. There is never a time when it is not appropriate to act in defence of democracy and for the ends of justice.

The Yes movement may not be able to march. Yes groups may be obliged to cancel planned events. SNP branch and constituency meetings will fall victim to essential restrictions on gathering of any size. But this means only that we are freed to apply our energies elsewhere. There is much that can still be done online, for example. It may be a good time to start your own blog. Or to devote more time to reading and sharing existing material in support of Scotland’s cause. The web provides us with unparalleled facilities for communicating and collaborating on all manner of projects. Writing letters to newspapers may be something you’ve always intended to do but never found time.

Email still works fine. Why not let SNP MSPs and MPs know how you feel about the fact that the independence project has stalled – and not because of the pandemic! Tell them of your concerns. Ask them questions. And when answers aren’t forthcoming, ask again!

It would be all too easy for this latest setback to become a cause for despondency and despair, coming as it does on top of the disappointments and frustrations of the past five years. We must avoid this. We must use this time. If politicians can exploit such situations, so can we. We just need to use our imaginations, our skills and the networks built by the Yes movement.

As some of you may have suspected, all of this has been leading up to my own suggestion as to what the Yes movement and SNP members could be doing over the coming weeks. Regular readers will be aware that I had previously envisaged Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP providing the leadership that the Yes movement requires in order to become an effective machine for fighting our political campaign. This has not happened. Let’s say no more at this juncture than that the necessary leadership has not been forthcoming. My own ‘Plan B’ is that the leadership should come from within the Yes movement. The question which remained to be answered concerned the practicalities. How would it be done? I believe I may have the answer to that question.

I had been thinking that building a campaign with the necessary unity, focus and discipline would require a new organisation born out of or hived off from the Yes movement. The aims of the organisation would be threefold –

  • to compel the Scottish Government to take a more assertive approach to the constitutional issue
  • to facilitate by any means necessary the exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination
  • to devise a strategy to force constitutional reform built on the twin aspirations to build a better nation and end the injustice of the Union.

It has been brought to my attention, however, that a suitable organisation may already exist in the form of the SNP Common Weal Group. The stated aims of this group are, I am persuaded, sufficiently in accord with the aims set out above as to make it a suitable candidate for transformation into the kind of pressure group and campaigning organisation that is required if Scotland’s cause is to progress. I would urge everyone in the SNP and the Yes movement to at least consider how they might contribute to this transformation.

In the short-term, my hope is that this article might spark a more focused debate about taking the independence campaign out of the doldrums. In the longer-term… well… there is no longer-term. I am convinced that if the grassroots does not seize the initiative – seize it hard and seize it quickly – then the project to restore Scotland’s independence may suffer setbacks from which it will not easily or soon recover.

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Of questions and reframing

Michael Gove: A creature of unknown origins struggling to maintain human form.
Michael Gove: A creature struggling to maintain human form.

Michael Gove is correct. You won’t see or hear those words very often. And never without some qualification. My own qualifying supplement is that Gove is correct, but only partly, coincidentally and in a sense.

That the British Electoral Commission is wasting its time is true in the sense that, as an agency of the British state, it should have no role in the process that will restore Scotland’s independence. It is also true that the British Electoral Commission is wasting its time in the sense that it is testing the wrong question. But we’ll come back to that.

Given that the British Electoral Commission should not play any part in Scotland’s exercise of its right of self-determination it follows that whatever process the British Electoral Commission is involved in cannot be intended to lead to the restoration of Scotland’s independence. This necessarily implies that Scotland’s First Minister had some other purpose in mind when she formally requested that the British Electoral Commission re-test the question that was asked in the 2014 referendum. One more way in which Nicola Sturgeon is going over old ground and repeating the mistakes of the past and failing to learn lessons and acting as if nothing has changed since the first independence referendum and so it’s perfectly appropriate to do everything the same way as it was done then.

Michael Gove is almost certainly correct about this other purpose being to maintain the pretence of a 2020 referendum as not-quite-promised by the First Minister. It is difficult to fathom what other reason she might have for embarking on such an exercise. No legislation has been proposed or passed in the Scottish Parliament to enable a referendum this year. Until that legislation is passed, nobody can know what the question on the ballot paper will be. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that a different question might be suggested and that this could be the question chosen by MSPs. The First Minister may think it a good idea to act as if nothing had changed since the first referendum. But MSPs might disagree. It’s a gratifying thought, even if no more than that.

Which brings us back to Michael Gove’s assertion that the British Electoral Commission is wasting its time because the First Minister’s request that they re-test a question which has already been tested in the most effective way possible is merely “an exercise designed to persuade Scottish National Party members that a referendum is imminent”. He is only partly correct. The exercise is designed to fool the entire Yes movement into believing that a referendum is imminent. But, of course, there is no way a British Nationalist such as Michael Gove will admit to support for independence beyond the ranks of SNP members. He has to stay on-message. Scotland’s cause must be portrayed as a minority obsession.

As already noted, the re-testing of the 2014 referendum question is a waste of time not only because it has already been subjected to the ultimate test of use in an actual referendum in addition to passing all pre-testing but because, supposing the First Minister comes to her senses, it will not be the question asked in a future referendum and because, supposing the First Minister comes to her senses, no agency of any external government will be permitted a role in the process the next time Scotland’s people exercise their right of self-determination.

What that testing of the old question tells us is that, while it may have been adequate and acceptable when it was agreed, that was more than seven years ago. The political landscape has undergone tectonic changes since January 2013. It is, at the very least, questionable whether the same question could be adequate and acceptable in dramatically altered circumstances. I would maintain that it is unquestionably inadequate, unacceptable and just plain wrong.

I was never happy with the question asked in the 2014 referendum.

“Should Scotland be an independent country?”

Put that question to the people of any other nation and they’ll assume you’re ignorantly offensive or simply daft. Independence is normal. Independence is the default status of all nations. The people of other nations take it for granted that their nation should be independent. Other than those who have experienced occupation by an aggressive imperialist and/or totalitarian power, they would probably have difficulty imagining anything different. Independence is normal. Only in cringe-ridden Scotland would such a question be asked. Only in meekly, obsequiously subordinate Scotland could such a question be asked without provoking widespread outrage and anger. Only the colonised mind might find this question acceptable. Only the colonised mind would fail to challenge and reject the premise that Scotland “should” be anything other than a normal independent country.

The question originally proposed by Alex Salmond’s administration was only slightly better. Only marginally less offensive. And only is one were making generous allowance for the context of devolution and the constraints this imposes on the Scottish Government.

“Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?”

This at least hints at independence being the default assumption. Which is almost certainly why the British government objected to it. The British establishment cannot allow that anything other that the iniquitously asymmetric Union is ‘normal’. As one would expect, the British Electoral Commission sided with the British Establishment of which it is part. The question was disallowed, effectively for acknowledging normality.

To be fair, it is likely that Salmond anticipated this. He is, after all, one of the most astute and wily political operators of our time. The sort of player it would suit the British establishment to have removed from the field. He was bound to be aware that the British political elite would protest every proposal he proffered for no other reason than that it was he who was proffering it. They had to be seen to be keeping the uppity Jocks in line. Especially the uppiest of all uppity Jocks. Knowing the first proposal was going to be rejected, Salmond ensured that the second was something he could live with.

He did much the same with the so-called “second question”. Which was actually a third option on the ballot for some form of enhanced devolution – or ‘devo-max’. This was the last thing Salmond wanted as it would split the constitutional reform vote at significant cost to the Yes option. His crafty solution was to drop a hint in a speech that it was his preference. The response from the British government was precisely as he expected. And exactly what he wanted. The “second question” was excluded.

The ballot question that was settled on struck me not only as offensive to the un-colonised or decolonised Scottish mind, but as massively misleading in that it made independence the contentious concept. Independence is normal. It is not and never can be a contentious concept. It is the concept of a nation’s status that is assumed by pretty much everybody in every other nation. Although there are some in some nations who are eager to threaten the independence of other countries, few if any question the appropriateness of independence for their own nation. Only in Scotland will you find people who consider the independence of their own nation a contentious concept – and a horrifying prospect.

Making the concept of independence the focus of debate gave the anti-independence campaign a huge advantage. It got Unionists and British Nationalist off the hook very nicely. The last thing they wanted was a debate about the Union and what it means for Scotland. But, by rights, that is what the referendum campaign should have been. It should have been a rigorous examination of the Union and forceful interrogation of those who seek its preservation at any cost to Scotland. It wasn’t. The question defines the campaign. And the question in the 2014 referendum forced the Yes side to defend the constitutional normality of independence rather than attacking the constitutional aberration that is the Union. And it allowed the forces intent on continuing to deny the sovereignty of Scotland’s people to dodge questions about their ‘precious’ Union and to focus on generating a thick fog of doubt around the concept of independence. The question in the 2014 referendum was an absolute gift to the anti-independence campaign.

It was doubt wot won it! A more apt nickname for Better Together than ‘Project Fear’ would have been ‘Project Doubt’. The entire No campaign was an exercise in reframing. The issue was reframed from being about the Union to being about independence. The question on the ballot did much of the work for them. Questions generate doubt. It’s human nature. If as you leave home to go on holiday somebody asks if you remembered to lock the back door, it doesn’t matter how certain you were that you had, as soon as the question is asked you start to have doubts. Doubts that may haunt you and ruin your holiday. Doubts that may even put you off going away altogether.

So it was with ‘Project Doubt’. The No campaign was essentially just an incessant stream of questions blasted into the minds of Scotland’s voters by the British media. Questions create doubt. The British establishment and its lackeys in Scotland knew that this was all they had to do. People tend to be averse to change of any kind. They also tend to be risk averse. All that was required was that the independence which is generally regarded as normal should be made to appear a very dubious prospect for Scotland. A step into the unknown. A leap in the dark. The question provided the foundation for a No campaign that was entirely an edifice of lies and intimidation.

All of this was aided by the fact that independence itself is not in undisputed concept. There is no single definition. There could be no unified Yes message because the Yes movement is so proudly diverse. The campaign for independence itself generated doubt because it was never clear which of the variations on the theme of independence was the independence being campaigned for. A situation that was only aggravated by the tendency of all too many in the Yes movement to run with propaganda cues being fed to the anti-independence campaign by the British media.

It all stems from the question asked on the ballot paper. National independence may have some legal definition. But in the context of Scotland’s civic nationalism the term refers at least as much to intangibles such as promise and potential as to a status specified in law. It is not possible to build an effective political campaign around a disputed concept. An effective campaign message cannot be vague or diffuse or ambiguous or ambivalent. The question asked in the 2014 referendum campaign ensured that the Yes side would be obliged to attempt the impossible. That the Yes campaign did so well was entirely down the the huge numbers of Yes campaigners and the massive effort they put in. They did Scotland proud. And they did it despite a question that stacked the deck against them from the outset.

Nicola Sturgeon proposes to use the same question. Think about that.

The 2014 referendum should have been, in the words of Dr Elliot Bulmer, a “constitutional conversation” about “rights, identity, values and principles”. Instead, it ended up being an unseemly and unedifying squabble about money. This was the second wave of the No campaign’s reframing exercise. The constitutional question was reframed as an economic issue. How better to generate doubt than to let loose the economic doom-mongers who can be hired to make an economic case against breathing if the intention is to suffocate the credulous en masse. Which, perhaps counter-intuitively, would be very, very wrong.

There were lessons to be learned from this. None appear to have been learned. Nicola Sturgeon is still talking about “making the economic case for independence”.

Independence is normal. It is the Union which is anomalous. It is the Union which should be under scrutiny in a constitutional referendum. It is the constitution which should be the topic of debate.

Self-evidently, this describes a referendum and a campaign both entirely different from the previous one. And yet Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP seem determined to replicate that first referendum and campaign in every way possible. The same Section 30 process. The same referendum question and, given that the question defines the campaign, the same unseemly and unedifying squabble about money. No lessons learned and no meaningful account taken of the drastically altered political landscape. It makes no sense!

If it did make some sense, somebody would be able to explain it. I have been questioning this ‘strategy’ for some years now. Certainly since 2015. As I write, I have yet to receive a sensible response. I am inundated with requests and demands to stop asking the questions. But I have been given no answers to questions I have asked inter alia about the Section 30 process. Nobody is willing or able to address the serious concerns that are now being voiced by more and more people in the party and the Yes movement. Attempts by others to open up discussion about strategy have been shut down quickly and with an efficiency that is slightly disturbing. And still none of it makes any kind of sense.

The lessons of the past are clear and easy enough to take on board even if not quite so simply translated into action. Those lessons can be distilled down to two statements about a new referendum.

The referendum process, from beginning to end, must be entirely made and managed in Scotland. It must, in compliance with international laws and conventions; in keeping with best practice; of necessity; and insofar as it may be practicable, prohibit and exclude any and all external interference and influence in the exercise by the people of Scotland of their inalienable democratic right of self-determination.
The referendum must seek the verdict of the people of Scotland on the Union. The referendum campaign must be focused on the constitutional issue being decided. The question on the ballot must relate to the Union. However the question is worded, it must ask that the people of Scotland decide whether they want Scotland to remain bound in the Union.*

Achieving this will require that the entire idea of the referendum be rethought and the campaign reformulated. It will involve an exercise in reframing at least as comprehensive and effective as that by which the British state thwarted Scotland’s aspirations in the first referendum.

It will require a Scottish Government and a First Minister prepared to act boldly and decisively and determinedly. It will require that our elected representatives act like the political leaders of a nation for which independence is a natural condition and rightful status. It will require that we all act as the citizens of an independent nation would if called upon to defend their independence and their distinctive political culture.

And it all needs to start five years ago.

* I should have said something about the form of the ballot paper and the manner in which the question is put. This was a clumsy omission for which I apologise and which I shall now seek to rectify.

The question should take the form of a proposal to dissolve Union with voters being invited to agree (YES) or disagree (NO). This YES/NO arrangement must be maintained. The Yes ‘brand’ is far too well-established and much too intimately bound to the independence campaign for it to be altered without causing confusion. To a lesser degree perhaps, the same could be said of NO. These words now define the two sides in the constitutional debate. Messing with that is a recipe for disaster.

The proposal on the ballot paper will reiterate the proposal passed by the Scottish Parliament. It may be feasible, and thought wise, to have a concise statement of the proposal on the front of the ballot paper and a longer, fuller explanation on the reverse. Copies of the proposal, in all relevant languages, will already have been widely distributed in the course of the campaign.

I shall offer two distinct and valuable advantages to putting the question in this way.

Firstly, everybody will know exactly what they are voting for (or against). There can be no subsequent argument about what a particular vote ‘means’. It’s there in clear print on every ballot paper.

Secondly, neither official campaign organisations nor the media will be able to misrepresent the issue. It may be considered efficacious to require that campaign organisations be required to carry the proposal text on all publications. It may even be a good idea to make misrepresentation of the proposal a criminal offence.

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The final option

As an ‘early adopter’ of opposition to the Section 30 process, I have been pointing out the folly of hoping that process might serve Scotland’s cause at least since it became clear that the First Minister intended committing Scotland to this folly. Reviewing the 2014 independence referendum in the days and weeks subsequent to the tragedy of the vote, the first conclusion I came to was that there would have to be another referendum. The second conclusion was that pretty much everything about this new referendum would inevitably and necessarily be very different from the first one. It now seems to me that we should not think of this as a new referendum at all, but as the completion of a process begun in 2011.

One of the responses I often get when criticising Nicola Sturgeon’s commitment to the Section 30 process is the insistence that she must be seen to be trying to use this process so that she can say she tried everything. Of course, this response is nonsensical on the face of it because doing the same thing again isn’t trying everything. It is not trying anything different. It is avoiding trying anything that hasn’t been tried before. Therefore, the best that she can say to whoever it is that she feels the need to say it to is that she had tried everything except anything that hadn’t previously been tried. Which, logically, would be likely to mean most things.

If Nicola Sturgeon was determined to try everything before moving on to whatever it was she was minded to do having tried everything else, why did she not toss some eye of newt and toe of frog in a cauldron and simmer gently until Scotland’s independence was restored? The reason she didn’t resort to magic is, obviously, that the chances of potions and incantations being effective were as close to zero as made no difference. Why then did she feel obliged to try something which had barely a better chance of being effective? It’s at least as easy to imagine Scotland’s independence being restored by a process involving a lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing hell-broth as it is to suppose it might come about through a process that is critically dependent on obtaining the full agreement and willing cooperation of the British establishment.

What about the thing she was minded to do after she’d expended lots of time and energy trying things that had been tried before and things that were vanishingly unlikely to work? Surely this thing must be something she considered likely to succeed. Otherwise, why hold it in reserve? But if she had in mind something that she thought would work, why was she bothering with things that wouldn’t? Why not just go straight to whatever it was that she was minded to go to when she’d tried everything else – except witchery?

What is this thing that she was minded to do when she’d…. blah blah blah? Why has she not gone to this thing now that it is clear that the thing that was tried before and was never going to work has been tried again and, as anticipated, hasn’t worked? Why has she not at least hinted at the nature of this ultimate option? Why has nobody been able to figure out what it may be?

By far the most common response to my criticism of Nicola Sturgeon’s whole approach to the constitutional issue isn’t really a response at at. Not a meaningful response. More of an evasion. With monotonous regularity I am asked what my alternative is. Why is Nicola Sturgeon not asked what her alternative is? After all, she is the one with the power. She is the one making the decisions. Why are her apologists more interested in what I would do in a hypothetical universe than in what is going on here in the real world? Strange!

It shouldn’t be that difficult to figure out what the final option is. To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, once you’ve eliminated magic and the honest cooperation of the British political elite whatever is left is your only option. As Nicola Sturgeon has squandered whatever other options she might have had while trying things that were tried before and things that self-evidently could not work, whatever is left must be the thing that she was going to do when she’d finished farting around with futile efforts.

So why doesn’t she just get on with it? As we try to work out what this final option is, it appears that we must consider only things which are better done later rather than sooner. Apparently, it is something that had to wait until after Scotland had been wrenched unwillingly from its place in Europe. But being thus forcefully deprived of our EU membership was, according to Nicola Sturgeon, the worst thing ever. So, whatever the final option is, it must be something so good as to be worth having even at the cost of Scotland suffering the worst thing ever. What could it be?

Could somebody check and see if Nicola Sturgeon has recently submitted an expenses claim for a cauldron? Maybe have a look at Peter Murrell’s Amazon wishlist while you’re at it.

I’m not being flippant. No more flippant than the situation warrants. The situation really is as confused and ridiculous as the foregoing implies. When the most glaringly obvious lesson of the first referendum was that the next one had to be totally different, Nicola Sturgeon decided to try and approach it as if the circumstances were unchanged. It cannot sensibly be claimed that the situation now, in 2020, is in any way similar to the situation in 2011. And yet Nicola Sturgeon acts as if the old solutions are relevant to the new reality. It is truly inexplicable.

Two underlying constants remain. The two imperatives to which the situation may be reduced as an aid to understanding. The British state’s existential imperative to preserve the Union. And Scotland’s existential imperative to end the Union. But even these constants are not unchanged since 2011. Both are very much more intense now than they were then. Scotland’s imperative is the irresistible force. England-as-Britain’s imperative is the immovable object.

But this simplification doesn’t tell the whole story. The irresistible force versus immovable object analogy doesn’t hold because it assumes parity of power. And we know that no such parity exists. We know that the Union, by its essential nature, tips the balance of power massively in favour of the immovable object. There is balance only in the sense that the situation is irresoluble. Scotland’s imperative isn’t going away. The asymmetry of the Union means that it can, in principle, be resisted forever. But the force that turns out not to be irresistible is nonetheless ineradicable.

It is assumed, by the terminally naive, that the British state’s role as immovable object is untenable or insupportable or otherwise fated to fail. It is assumed, by the incredibly credulous, that the British state’s intransigent immovability will serve to intensify the irresistibility of Scotland’s force unto the point where the immovable moves. But that only works if the immovable object gives a shit about the strength of Scotland’s aspirations. It doesn’t. It is assumed that there is a magic number which, when touched by the polls, will cause the immovable object to split and sunder. There is no such magic number. There is no level of support for independence which can require acknowledgement from England-as-Britain. Again, that is the nature of the Union. As in all things, the Union stipulates that Scotland’s imperative must always be subordinate to that of the British state.

It was ever thus. Even in 2011, this was the reality of the situation. The difference was that the reality remained concealed beneath the polite pretence of democracy. The British political elite, represented by David Cameron, was maintaining the charade of democracy when they agreed to the first referendum. Alex Salmond went along with this charade because it was expedient. He had to deliver a referendum even if it was all no more than political theatre. Whether he was aware that it was a sham is not known. Astute political operator that he is, it’s easy to believe that he knew full well the British had no intention of honouring the Edinburgh Agreement. No mere concord or contract could overcome the imperative to preserve the Union. Whether Scotland’s political leaders knew it or not, the Brits were always going to renege on the deal.

The mask began to slip almost immediately as the campaign got underway. By the time Yes was hitting 50% in the polls, the ugly face of jealous Britannia was plainly visible to those who were prepared to look. Even victory could not fully restore the pretence of respect for democratic principles that David Cameron had worn as he signed the Edinburgh Agreement with perfidious fingers crossed behind his back.

This is what makes Nicola Sturgeon’s approach to the constitutional issue so hard to comprehend. There is no longer any attempt to hide the fact that the British state simply will not countenance democratic principles which put the Union in jeopardy. And yet Nicola Sturgeon remains stuck in the role Alex Salmond had to play when he was on stage with David Cameron. It’s a different play. The actors have all changed and they are all working from a new script. They’re all doing it wrong except oor Nicola!

We are now in the third act of this four-act drama. And Nicola Sturgeon still shows no signs of being aware that she’s not in the play she thinks she’s in. She is intent on reprising a familiar part. The gossip columns hint that she has her eye on a leading role in Broadway production.

It may be testing the limits of this theatrical analogy but I would suggest that Scotland’s voters are the audience while Yes activists are the producers. Currently, most of the audience is still applauding Sturgeon’s performance because, even reading from the wrong script, she sells it like a pro. And the punters appreciate the work she’s doing in Holyrood so are reluctant to stop clapping. The producers, however, see what’s happening and are appalled. They know they need to intervene before the drama turns into a farce.

I promise I’m now done with theatrical allusions. The metaphor has served its purpose. It nicely describes the situation in terms that are easily understood. But it still leaves us wondering what happens next. And not in the good way associated with a well-written mystery.

There’s a reason for abandoning the theatre analogy other than that it has grown tedious. I mentioned earlier that we were in the third act of a four-act play. We really don’t want to stay for the fourth act. The fourth act is interminable and very, very ugly.

What is clear is that something truly dramatic has to happen. The impasse must be broken and broken as a matter of urgency. That means going off-script. It means going improv. (Sorry!) It means we must accept that the new situation demands a fresh approach. The old ways don’t work in the new reality. The idea that we can somehow revert to the pretence of British democracy (demockracy?) that existed prior to the 2014 referendum is sheer fantasy. And we somehow have to get this through to Nicola Sturgeon – as a matter of extreme urgency!

A different approach was always going to be required. That has been apparent for at least five years. And that approach was always going to be basically the one thing. The only thing that is left when all the other things are ruled out. Early in that five years, there may have been a number of options or variations available. It was always going to be necessary to confront the British state. But there were opportunities to ‘finesse’ the political manoeuvring. It is doubtful if that can be done now. It is doubtful if it is even worth trying.

The final option is UDI.

Not UDI (unilateral declaration of independence) as this tends to be understood. The term is only used because of the pejorative connotations that were hung on it during the Rhodesia crisis of the mid-1960s. The term is nonsensical in that any independence must be declared otherwise nobody would know it had happened. And all declarations of independence are necessarily unilateral as only the people of the state assuming or resuming independence have the right and authority to make that choice. Use of the term is intended to imply an equivalence between Scotland today and Rhodesia more than half a century ago which is totally specious. Rhodesia’s declaration of independence was deemed illegal by the UN not because it was unilateral but because it lacked democratic legitimacy. There was no majority rule in Rhodesia. The African nation was governed by the tiny (5%) white minority. That minority could not possibly qualify for the right of self-determination. That white minority was guilty of withholding from the black majority its right of self-determination in a manner comparable with the way in which the British ruling elite is denying Scotland’s right to choose the form of government which suits our needs.

There is absolutely no question of Scotland’s declaration of independence being anything other than unilateral because nobody else has the authority to to declare Scotland independent. There is absolutely no question of Scotland’s unilateral declaration of independence being undemocratic as that declaration is entirely conditional on affirmation by a majority of Scotland’s people as determined in an impeccably democratic plebiscite. The government of England-as-Britain may denounce it as illegal. In fact, it almost certainly will. But neither the UN nor the EU nor any of the international community will echo the rUK’s denunciation because they would have no grounds for doing so. The indignant outrage of British Nationalists has no standing in international law.

UDI it is! But our UDI, defined by us.

All we have to do is ensure that the process by which the unilateral declaration of independence is endorsed is indisputably democratic. This requires, among other things, that the UK government be totally excluded. Under international law, it can have no role as its status is that of an external agency. To be unarguably democratic, the referendum must be entirely made and managed in Scotland.

Other democratic criteria that apply are such as the widest possible franchise (Black people get to vote so not at all like Rhodesia!) and independent oversight of every stage in the process. (Just not by the British!) None of this is rocket surgery. It’s all stuff that has been done before many times and stuff which Scotland is perfectly capable of and qualified to do.

Nor need the referendum precede the declaration. The declaration of independence must take the form of a proposal by a grand assembly of Scotland’s democratically elected representatives that the Union be dissolved and Scotland’s rightful status as an independent nation restored. This proposal having been approved by the Scottish Parliament it can be put to a popular vote. This is a declaration of intent that is, of democratic necessity, subject to confirmation by the electorate. Indeed, the declaration must come first, and as a matter of the utmost urgency, in order to secure a democratic route to a referendum (and the restoration of independence) that the British will otherwise do absolutely anything to obstruct.

This is what must happen. There is no point in debating it because it is the only option still open to us. It is a Scottish UDI or it is a return to London rule via the British state’s agents in Scotland and rapid absorption into a right wing British state with eradication of any distinctiveness.

“But what if it all goes wrong?”, I hear you wail. What if it does? We will certainly be no worse off than we would be if we didn’t make the effort. Consider that the change of approach being suggested (demanded?) does not merely apply to the process by which we get to a referendum but to the form of that referendum and the nature of the campaign prior to the vote. Even if you suppose it possible that the people of Scotland might be offered a case for maintaining the Union that they find sufficiently persuasive to vote accordingly, the British Nationalists simply resume where they left off before being so rudely interrupted by democracy.

We literally have nothing to lose by acting as if we are a nation worthy of a place among the independent nations of the world. We have everything to lose by imagining we can trust Scotland’s fate to British ‘demockracy’.

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